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Hood of the 1950 Jowett Javelin Deluxe (Robin Fairservice)
Hood of the 1950 Jowett Javelin Deluxe (Robin Fairservice)

Classic Cars

Jowett: gone, almost forgotten Add to ...

Jowett isn't a name that readily springs to mind when thoughts turn to famous British car makers - after all, it side-slipped through the gates of history's scrapyard more than half a century ago - but the company was an industry pioneer and, in its dying days, the maker of advanced designs that deserved a better fate.

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The first Jowett production model, the Short Two, was built in Bradford, England, 100 years ago and was followed by the Long Four, at which point pragmatism in the naming department succumbed to influence from the avian world and that of small animals with sharp teeth.

Model names included the Curlew, Kestrel, Falcon, Blackbird, Kingfisher and Wren, the Weasel and the Flying Fox and the Black Prince, Grey Knight, Jason, Javelin and finally Jupiter.

Jowett enthusiasts aside - the owners club claims to be the oldest one-make group in the world - the cars that a few may still recall are the Javelin sedan pictured here - owned by Robin Fairservice, who lives near Prince George B.C. - and the Jupiter sports car of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Founding brothers Benjamin and William Jowett, who were in the bicycle business in the 1890s, began playing with internal combustion engines by the decade's end and then moved on to motorcycles and cars.

They created Jowett Motor Manufacturing Co. in 1904 and their first car in 1906, but other engineering work, including building the first Scott motorcycles delayed production until 1910.

The first Jowett, an open two-seater, was powered by a horizontally opposed, 816-cc twin, had a three-speed gearbox and tiller steering. Only a dozen were built and then just 36 of an improved model, with a steering wheel, before the First World War.

The company, renamed Jowett Cars Ltd., resumed car and light "lorry" production in 1920, still using the flat twin. A horizontally opposed four appeared in 1936 and powered various models until 1940 when production was suspended again.

The company was sold during the war and former MG designer Gerald Palmer was handed the job of designing a new car, the Javelin, which appeared in 1948.

It was powered by a 1,486 cc, overhead valve, water-cooled flat four making 50 hp at 4,100 rpm and driving the rear wheels via a four-speed gearbox with column-mounted shifter.

The aerodynamic four-door body, with fared-in headlamps, was part of a full monocoque structure with torsion-bar-based suspension, independent up front and with a solid axle at the back. It was 4,300 mm long, weighed about 900 kg and had a top speed of almost 130 km/h.

While not overtly sporty, it had decent power and good handling, which allowed it to finish 14th overall and first in class in the 1949 Monte Carlo Rally and win the under 2-litre class in the 24 Hour race at Spa that year.

The Javelin was joined by the Jupiter, the company's first sports car, in 1950. It was built around a tubular frame, clad in attractive open bodywork fitted with a bench seat for three and powered by the flat four tuned to 60 hp, which gave it a top speed of almost 140 km/h.

Neither car sold in the volumes required to be profitable - only 23,307 Javelins were produced - and Javelin production ended in 1953 with the Jupiter built into 1954.

All this was going on at about the time Fairservice was in the process of acquiring a civil engineering degree from London University, after which he began a career that saw him work on sewage and drainage schemes in Great Britain, Africa and what was then Ceylon, before moving to B.C. in 1974. He retired in 2000 from the B.C. Ministry of Environment after working in a variety of capacities and founded Rondane Consultants.

Fairservice says his parents never owned a car but he became interested in road racing in his teen years. A trip to Brands Hatch in 1953 led to his becoming a marshal with the Half Litre Car Club (500 cc Formula 3). He flagged at Brands, Crystal Palace, Snetterton, Castle Coombe and Silverstone, and got a close-up look at motor racing's greats in action and in the paddock.

"It was such a different world in those days, you could talk to anybody," he says. "I used to chat with Colin Chapman (of Lotus fame). He was just a special builder then."

And, as Fairservice and a friend were working on an Austin 7 special themselves, they pumped him for some advice. "He was very tight with information. A very cagey gentleman."

On another occasion, Fairservice found a wheel centre badge that had come adrift from a Lotus. "I found Rob Walker [the legendary team owner]and gave it back to him. He said, 'Thank you very much.' And then turned to Colin [Chapman]and said, 'These are so expensive to buy.'"

Fairservice continued his flag marshaling duties in Canada and was involved with every one of the Vancouver Indy races. Now 74, he also competes in Solo II events in his 1984 Corvette.

He found his 1950 Jowett Javelin Deluxe in Penticton in 1995, but the connection to the brand had been made long before. He'd owned two of them and thought them marvellous cars.

Fairservice did as much of its full restoration as he could, but says he would be better described as "project manager, general labourer and financier " - a job title that put him in touch with Jowett enthusiasts around the world as he sought information and parts.

Only 412 postwar Jowetts were imported to Canada and Fairservice's is one of only two or three Javelins on the road here. He says it's a great car to drive, but also enjoys its rarity and oddity.

"Nobody knows the first thing about them," he says.

People at car shows look under the hood and see an empty space and the radiator on the firewall and "scratch their heads. It's hilarious watching them try and figure out where the engine is."

To be helpful, Fairservice has made up a little sign directing the curious to peer deeper into the void to view its low-slung, flat-four powerplant.

Do you have a suggestion for a Classic Cars story? E-mail globedrive@globeandmail.com

 

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