14 September 2015

Adventures On Three [ and occasionally two ] wheels - Ross' Berkeley T60

As editor of the Classic Corvette Club UKs magazine - www.corvetteclub.org.uk - Ross is doing a series on his personal transportation evolution. He has kindly agreed to share the story of his first car here.
Like many of us, he started his life of motorised transportation and fascination with powered wheel things on motorbikes. The story of the AJS is pretty darn humourous, but you'll have to look that one up yourself. We'll pick up here where the first car story begins...

"After  the Steroidal Dumper Truck AJS Combo, my urge to progress on to cars began to beckon to me and and eventually swapped the pre-cafe racer AJS 500 for a rather tatty looking white 1960 Berkeley T60 three wheeler complete with a hand painted red Ladybird on the bonnet. Was this an early example of custom airbrushed paintwork(probably not!)? Squint rather hard and you could almost imagine the Berkeley from the frontal view as being a bit like a miniature E Type Jaguar with its concealed headlamps and open grille (OK, perhaps not).
Library photo of a Berkeley - mine was white and not quite this tidy...

 During the 1950’s Berkeley started manufacturing caravans following the post second war and mid 1950’s caravan boom. Berkeley decided to use their ‘expertise’ in lightweight caravan building and ventured in to building glass fibre ‘sports cars’. The post war austerity had eased somewhat and Berkeley like many other ‘small players’ were to feed the new demand for inexpensive bubble cars, three wheelers and micro cars. Three wheeled and four wheeled versions of the attractive and lightweight little Berkeley sports car were produced. The basis foundation of the Berkeley was a pressed steel ‘punt’-like central floor/chassis pan with aluminium reinforced glass fibre moulded front and rear body sections. The front moulded body mouldings were simply pop riveted to the floor sections at the front bulkhead/door and sill section (more about this later) and the rear body sections were similarly fixed. Engines were Anzani and then 328cc air cooled two stroke Excelsior Talisman twin motor cycles engines (note – 328cc not 327 cu in!) T60 stood for three wheels and 60 mph. Well, you wouldn’t expect much more from 18 bhp would you? There were more engine choices with the 4 wheel cars with a 30 bhp 500 cc three cylinder version of the Excelsior two stroke twin and with B95 and B105 4 wheel models using Royal Enfield’s air cooled twin cylinder 700cc 40bhp and 50bhp engines. These larger engined versions were very competitive in circuit racing during the 1960’s. With such diminutive lightweight bodies they had very good power to weight ratio’s. The three wheeled Berkeley T60 in its time was quite an advanced concept with single rear wheel and two wheels up front. It featured front wheel drive utilising a gate-shift gear linear 4 speed floor mounted gear selector with reverse gear and a differential. In handling terms it was streets ahead of any other three wheeler and most small cars of its time, probably on a par with a Mini in terms of ‘chuck-ability’. Size wise Berkeleys were similar to some of the recent tiny Japanese ‘town’ cars like Suzuki’s Cappuccino or Daihatsu’s Coppen roadsters. For starting the engine and charging the battery Berkeley used a Dynastart generator/charger unit fitted to the end of the crank shaft. This was quite unique for its time and this concept is only now being seen now on hybrid vehicles, replacing conventional starter motors. There were some very significant design inadequacies with the Berkeley (more about this shortly) With general improvement of living standards and disposable incomes in the late 50’s and early 60’s and better availability of more ‘conventional’ and affordable cars like the Austin/ Morris Mini added most plus poor management and Berkeley went bankrupt in 1960. This was a fate that would befall many other small volume car and motorcycle manufacturers later in the same decade. I mentioned design inadequacies earlier. Anyone who has ever driven an American muscle car fitted with a ‘Detroit Locker’ rear axle will know of the typical characteristics of these axles when pulling out of a ‘T’ junction, turning and accelerating at the same time. The ‘outside’ rear wheel will try to rotate at the same speed as the inner wheel (something a differential allows for). The ‘locking’ axle causes the inner wheel to ‘hop’ and spin as it tries to get grip. Other road uses will think that you are trying to do a ‘smoky’ burn-out at every junction. Now relate that to Berkeley’s front wheel drive. Each drive shaft has a universal joint at each end (not unlike Corvette drive shafts). All modern front wheel drive vehicles now use ‘constant velocity’ joints. CV joints give a far smoother and more linear method of power transmission than universal joints. Universal joints, when operating at an acute angle, are quite inefficient in operation will have a tendency to try and straighten themselves up – creating a condition known as ‘surge’. Now relate this to the Berkeley T60 waiting at a ‘T’ junction to pull out with the wheels on full lock. With only 18 bhp to power the car, as you can imagine, your foot is frequently ‘flat to the floorboards’ to achieve any form of forward motion, the drive shafts would be surging and the engine shuddering and hunting, yet without anywhere enough power to brake traction the end result would frequently be a broken drive chain or worse. This was all very hilarious to the casual onlooker. Structurally the Berkeley would suffer from some of the rivets holding body sections together pulling through the glass fibre moulding allowing a degree of body flex as the panels pulled apart. I experienced this one morning going to work in Spring Gardens, Romford. Trying to look ‘cool’ I sped down the factory entrance road in to our works. At that time my employer (Colvern Electronics) was a fairly large and leading manufacturer of specialist potentiometers for the Radio, TV, Aeronautical and marine industries with several hundred staff. Many of these would be walking in to the works at that time of the morning. I had not seen the company’s financial director just pulling up and about to get out of his new 3.4 Mk2 Jaguar. My intention had been to brake at the very last minute and swing a hard right into the workers factory car park entrance which was situated to the right hand side of the factory main gates. The gates were in front of the entrance
canopy to the offices (also where the directors parked their cars) Well, that was the plan. What actually happened was as I braked hard the body flexed upwards in the centre (due to the failed pop rivets) and caused the rear of the doors to raise up over their retaining catches and open-up. As I swung hard right in to the car park the nearside passenger door swung open wide open to almost 180 degrees, braking its leather check strap and snapping-off the cast aluminium door hinges. The passenger door itself being a ‘hollow’ glass fibre moulding was filled up with spanners, screwdrivers and other assorted tools, so was quite heavy. As the door broke off it went skidding off down the road and through the main factory entrance scattering all the tools in front of the main entrance doors, stopping close to the feet of the company financial director, who by then was standing beside his nice new Jaguar. Mr Mildren never said anything to me then or even later. I guess he just didn’t believe what he had just witnessed. As for me, well I had just made myself look a complete ass. Little did I know then that far, far worse things were to happen with the Berkeley! Early Mini’s from this period used 10” diameter wheels and tyres. These were conventional wheels and brake hubs. The Berkeley used 12” diameter wheels (same size as Austin/Morris 1100/1300 series cars) Berkeley’s however used a lightweight wheel that was very similar to the type you would see on Vespa and Lambretta scooters of that period. The wheel rim was just that – a centre-less wheel rim with bolt holes around its inner diameter attaching to wheel studs that were fitted to the outside of the brake hub (unlike conventional wheels studs fixed through the brake drum). There may have been good production reasons for doing this – however it did mean that the only thing holding the brake drum/wheel hub in place on the splined drive shaft was a 1” castellated nut secured - with a split pin. I am guessing that Berkeley’s selection of materials for major components were somewhat lacking in quality. The brake hub was cast iron. The drive shaft was cast and machined from what seemed to be a low grade steel. Wear on splined drive shaft/brake hub was to be an issue for my car! One morning setting off on the usual 7:30am 3 or 4 mile trip to work I had just got a few hundred yards or so into the journey on the first (and slightly downhill) section of the journey when a sudden jolt precluded an uncontrollable 270 degree turn in an anti-clockwise direction with total loss of braking followed by an immediate flip back to a forward direction and the Berkeley slithering (or should I say ‘grinding’) to a halt in the kerb. At the same moment I was aware of the left hand front wheel overtaking the Berkeley on the pavement and rolling off down the hill. I got out of the vehicle and chased the wheel, which now was a couple of hundred yards in front of me and now going straight along the middle of the road. Two building workers were walking across the road, one of them put his foot up to try and stop the wheel,
but with no effect. Still running after the wheel I turned my head (to see behind me) the worker limping up the road. The runaway wheel had now changed direction slightly and was heading towards the other side of the road. The wheel ran straight in to the front of a Unigate three wheeler milk float parked in the kerb. The milkman who was sitting in his cab was bent over and marking-up his customer book, literally jumping out of his skin when the wheel hit the front of the cab. He was so surprised and shocked he didn’t even notice the badly cracked glass fibre front of the milk float!
Unigate milk truck
Later inspection of the Berkeley showed that the nearside drive shaft and brake hub were so badly worn and ‘floppy’ that the split pin holding the centre spindle nut had sheared, resulting in the centre nut working loose and the nearside wheel coming off. The fact that the brake hub comes off too with the wheels means that all braking is lost with nothing to stop the brake shoes ‘popping’ open and ejecting all the brake fluid when brake hub comes off. Can’t really remember how, but somehow managed to get the whole thing back home. Whilst there was some wearing away of the underside of the front steering it was not sufficient to prevent me putting things back together, and making sure the centre nut was really secure with a new split pin. Within a week the Berkeley was mobile once again. Unfortunately history has a way of repeating itself and a few days later exactly same thing happened again, this time later in the day and on Lower Brentwood road (which was parallel with the previous one only a week or so earlier). It was the same left hand wheel that came off, but now the wheel became momentarily trapped under the wheel arch, bursting out of the wheel arch at an angle of nearly 90 degrees to the car. It hit the kerb coming out and bounced up in the air and right over the top of a front garden wall and hedge, striking the front wall of the respective house unbelievably some 15 to 20 foot up at first floor level!. It narrowly missed going through an upper bedroom window, simply falling down in to the front garden of the house with no damage other than some flattened flowers and plants! Amazingly (and much like the previous occasion) there were very few other vehicles or people around to witness things. No one came out of the houses and no one in the street seemed to be bothered or really took notice of what had just happened. It was odd (and probably very fortunate) that on both occasions there was very little other traffic around. This time the front nearside suspension was badly worn away from grinding down the road and a total re-build was needed. With full engineering facilities to hand I bored out the king pin trunnion blocks and made some phosphor bronze bushes for the king pins to sit in properly and some spacers to help take up some of the drive shaft wear. At this stage I didn’t have any other form of transport and relied on work mates to run me from Romford to Prices Garages at the Broadway in Leigh on Sea if I needed specific parts. Prices were the only place in Essex that kept parts for Berkeley vehicles (and I guess Excelsior engines). ‘Monty’, the same work colleague who sold me the Steroidal Dumper Truck AJS Combo had now ‘upgraded’ his own transport to a Berkeley T60. With the Berkeley being so light in weight it was possible for one person to lift up the rear of the vehicle. Workmates learnt this very quickly and would lift up the back of the cars and would often hide them in an outbuilding somewhere in the works. A popular conversion during this period was to replace the two stroke twin and its transmission with the subframe, engine, transmission from an Austin or Morris Mini. Many years later large capacity Japanese 4 cylinder bike engines would be subjects of transplants in to both 3 and 4 wheel Berkeleys.
Anyway, the Berkeley was soon thereafter replaced by a Ford Zodiac that returned 30 MPG...in oil consumption. But that's another story."

1 comment:

  1. Love the picture and it reminds me of the Ross Berkeley T60 I had in college. It was a real head turner, but it took me months to finally get down the steering. I can not tell you how many times that I would take a turn to fast and we were on two wheels and almost flipped over each time.