Monday, April 6, 2009

Jowett Javelin

In 1965, after a couple of years with the Morgan 3-wheeler as my everyday, all-year-round transport, I felt I needed & deserved a bit of warmth & comfort.
So I bought a 1952 Jowett Javelin for £50.

Jowett had been making rudimentary cycle-cars & light commercial vehicles since about 1910 but in 1947, seemingly out of nowhere, they introduced the astonishingly advanced Javelin saloon.

About as far as you can get from a Morgan 3-wheeler, the Javelin was a very expensive, very aerodynamic 6-seater "sports saloon" with a 1.5 liter alloy flat-4 engine.
The "unitary" body/chassis still had a recognizable box-section chassis frame, but this was exceptionally well-designed & rigid.
Front suspension was by double wishbones with torsion bars & telescopic dampers, while at the rear was a rigid axle but again with torsion bars, telescopic dampers, 4 trailing arms & a Panhard rod.
The suspension was long-travel, soft, precise & just beautiful.

Steering was by a unique "pinion & internal sector" system which gave all the precision of the then-new rack & pinion systems, without the associated friction.
Again, just beautiful.

The water-cooled engine sat very low, right at the front, with the radiator strangely above & behind, which presumably helped the aerodynamic nose shape more than it helped the cooling.

In spite of some competition successes, including class wins at Le Mans for the weird-looking Jupiter sports derivative, Jowett had serious technical, production & financial problems & Javelin production ceased in 1953.
The most serious problems were with engine fragility, especially crankshafts breaking, which is hard to ignore or forgive.
They fixed it in the end, but too late.

Basically they probably paid the price for daring to introduce a 100% new, technically advanced vehicle which was completely outside their previous "comfort zone".
Today, we would say they never had a hope of selling a luxury sports saloon with the existing brand value of Jowett, it would be like Trabant trying to sell a BMW competitor, but maybe such considerations were happily less valid then.

I ran my Javelin for just over a year and am left full of admiration for it, especially the suspension & steering.
And the space-efficient layout – though I rarely filled the roomy back seat or spacious boot.

Less impressed by the steering-column gearchange, front bench seat & offset driving position, all part of the price of having a 6-seater, which was "in" at the time.
How much better it would have been with 2 well-aligned seats & a central gearchange.
The "suicide" front doors did not cause any raised eyebrows at the time.
There was a picnic table built into the back of the front seat, but it never got used, any more than the similar items on our Renault Espace.

Browsing through the owners manual now (see dirty old cross-section drawing) I notice the 7 grease nipples needing attention every 500 miles or 2 weeks.
Change engine oil & oil/grease 13 other items, mostly under the car, every 2500 miles or 3 months.
Heaters were fitted as standard to "deluxe" models, with a warning that draining the cooling system "normally" does not drain the heater, so you need to use an anti-freeze mixture.

One still going:

Parting thot: "It costs several times as much to acquire a new customer as to sell something to an existing one." - Deloitte & Touche

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