A Brief History of Car Manufacturing in Leeds

Hunslet Engine built Scootacar
Scootacar made by Hunslet Engine Co (Photo - Andrew Johnson)

Were there any cars made in Leeds? The simple answer to this is YES. It gets rather more complex as the majority of the vehicle makers in Leeds were involved with commercial and military vehicles. In the early days of motoring we also find several small firms in little back street garages that might once have been the local smithy turning their hands to vehicle production. In some cases there is little more than a reference in an old trade directory to tell of these firms and below we list some of the firms found in the directories available online through the Graces Guide website.

Companies Manufacturing Cars in Leeds
Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co
Day - Leeds
Dougill's Engineering
Electromobile (Leeds)
Glover's Motors
Greenwood & Batley
Hunslet Engine Co
Rice & Co
Rodley
Sterling Engineering
West Leeds Motor Co


Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co
Robert Blackburn built his first aircraft in 1908, as fully covered on the aircraft builders page. In 1913 he moved to the Olympia Works in Roundhay Road, Leeds (formerly the Olympia Skating Rink) and the following year renamed his business as the Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co., suggesting that there were plans to diversify the product range. Any such diversification was delayed by the demands of the First World war, however.
Initially the aircraft produced at Roundhay Road were test flown from nearby Roundhay Park, but as production stepped up this became unsuitable so, in 1915 a site was acquired at Brough, East Yorkshire, with facilities for testing both land and sea planes. In 1916 the Brough site was requisitioned by the Government, being returned to Blackburn's following the end of hostilities.
After the war Brough was briefly used by a subsidiary of Blackburn's, the North Sea Aerial Navigation Company, to operate a passenger and freight service to Holland, as well as resuming its testing duties.It was already becoming clear that it would make sense to move aircraft production to Brough (although it would be a number of years before this happened- the process was begun "by 1925" and completed in 1932) so the plans for diversification were dusted off, the intention seemingly being to keep the Leeds factory fully occupied by increasing the output of other products as aircraft production wound down.
The first manifestation was the production of a small number of luxury motor car bodies, beginning in 1919. It is stated that Robert Blackburn had financial links to Jowett Cars Ltd of Bradford; the latter was reformed as a limited company in 1919 so it is likely that this involvement was as a shareholder. Jowett had moved to a new factory (at Springfield Works, Idle) following the end of the First World War, but it was not ready to start production until 1920, the implication being that some production was carried out at Roundhay instead. It is not known if the resulting cars were branded Jowett's or Blackburn's.

Day - Leeds
Job Day & Sons Ltd; produced a cycle-car between 1912 and 1924 which was powered by a Turner engine.

Dougill's Engineering
Dougill's Engineering built the Loidis [The name Leeds derives from the Latin "Loidis"] between 1898 and 1904. They also built cars and commercial vehicles under the Frick name. Engines were supplied by De Dion Bouton, a French company with a UK office in London.
Extract from the Motorists from Motoring Annual and Motorist's Year Book 1904: "DOUGILL, ALFRED W., Longclose Ironworks, Leeds, drives an 8-horse and to-horse Loidis. Desires to see motors more successfully used in public service and commercial work. Is not in favour of the Scott-Montagu numbering proposal. Is the active secretary of the Yorkshire Automobile Club." The firm was fairly short lived though, being wound up in 1907

Electromobile (Leeds)
This Otley based firm was established in July 1914 at the Prospect Works. They imported electric vehicles made by Buda in America and imported / assembled electric vehicles made by C.T. in America as well as making their own electric vehicles. The firm went on to make a number of electric locomotives and are covered in their own article which can be found here

Glover's Motors
Glover's Motors, of Woodhouse Lane, Leeds Sold an "American car" designed and assembled in the UK in 1920's. Few were sold.

Greenwood & Batley
We may think of electric cars as being a 21st Century innovation, however they go back as far as motoring itself. In 1902 Electromobile of London (not to be confused with Electromobile (Leeds)) announced their intentions "This company has been formed for the purpose of establishing, first in London and subsequently in larger provincial centres, depots for the sale, hire, storage, repair, and charging of electric vehicles."
They qualify for inclusion on our site as the chassis of their electric vehicles were produced by Greenwood & Batley in their Albion Works in Armley. "The Company has entered into an agreement with Messrs. Greenwood & Batley, Ltd of Leeds, under which the latter company, who are the owners of the patents for the manufacture of Electric Motor Carriages."..."to manufacture the chassis or under-carriages for eletric landaulettes, broughams, victorias and other carriages.
Under the agreement Greenwood & Batley supplied 303 chassis, though most of these are believed to have been in the first five years. Many of the bodies were supplied by Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon works.



Above - Electromobile's Victoria car (Photo - Graces Guide).

Electromobile's designs seem to have remained the same until after the First World War when their Elmo model appeared, though the company seems to have disapeared around 1920. This is possibly a consequence of the development of petrol cars over the war and the large number of surplus petrol vehicles after the war that found their way in to civilian use.
Electromobile were also the sole UK importer of German built Opel cars from 1908, a deal which was presumably ended at the start of the First World War.

Hunslet Engine Co
Hunslet's first venture in to car production was the Attila in the early 1900s. The Engineer of 24th March 1905 describes a petrol wagon version on display at a motor show at Islington. "The Hunslet Engine Company, Limited, Leeds, exhibits a four-ton wagon which is propelled by a three-cylinder petrol motor, 120mm by 120mm, capable of developing 20 horse-power." Little seems to have been written about Hunslet's early venture in to road vehicles so it would seem that they can't have been a great success, however The Engineer goes on to note "The wagon shown at Islington is of substantial construction and gives the impression of soundness and simplicity of design."
About 1955 Henry Brown who had previously developed the Rodley car looked around for another backer and he found a keen Rae Fryers at Hunslet who were looking at diversification. Scootacar was devised as a Hunslet subsidiary company. Design work was carried out to provide a vehicle which could accommodate a driver and passenger with good all round vision. Power was provided by a 197cc Villiers air cooled motor cycle engine. Production of three different models ran to about 950 cars. The Scootacar Register (owners club) think that as many as 10% of these survives. To purchase the Scootacar cost 235 10s 3d plus tax (60 19s 9d). As a comparison a Bentley Mk VI cost 3,100 plus 1,292 15s 10d tax.



Other rubber tyre fitted vehicles were produced by Hunslet in more significant quantities. A range of mines tractors designed around the flame proofed successful mines locos were produced for locations without rail lines. Models such as the MT25 (25hp) all wheel drive slew steered tractors were approved to operate underground. Other tractors with more powerful engines were also produced.
As airlines purchased larger aircraft with the introduction of the likes of Boeing 747 many airports needed to get more powerful tractors for positioning these planes at terminals. As a result Hunslet produced the ATT77. Four of the planned seven were built, three of these were used at Heathrow and one at New York JFK. Axles were designed and manufactured at Kirkstall Forge (also in Leeds). One of these was heavily disguised and is a star of the film Alien (picture below.)



Rice & Co
The Korte was produced by Rice & Co. Ltd (1903 - 1905) of Low Hall Mills Holbeck. Details of the 1903 Motor Show held at Crystal Pallace show "Stand No. 32. RICE & CO. (Leeds) Ltd., Engineers and Motor Car Manufacturers. One 12 h.p. Korte car, a four-seated tonneau, double cylinder, four speeds, engine 12 h.p., double cylinder type, fitted with half compression cams, transmission by gear and chain drive, four speeds and reverse, high tension ignition with commutator fitted on dash board with stationary wires, pump, gear driven, fitted with electric indicator, showing any stoppage in circulation. One Korte convertible Tonneau Brougham."

Korte Car

Above - Korte car image (Photo - Graces Guide).
The works building survives to this day and is included in the Holbeck today walking tour.
Below - The Low Hall Mill building in recent times (Photo - Kris Ward)

Low Hall Mill, Holbeck

Rodley
In 1953 Henry Brown designed and had built a micro car in Rodley. A production line was set up to make the Rodley but it proved to be not very successful and about 50 were made of which only one survives. It would appear the vehicle suffered from a cooling issue as a number were reported to have seriously overheated. Despite this setback Henry Brown went on to find a new backer at the Hunslet Engine Co and produce the Scootacar there.

Sterling Engineering
Sterling Engineering produced a few cycle-cars powered by a JAP V2 8hp engine.

West Leeds Motor Co
Dennell were motorcycles produced from 1906 to 1908, by Herbert Dennell
In 1906 A machine was built for a J. W. Fawcett. It had an 8hp three-cylinder in-line sv JAP engine with the cylinders mounted on a round crankcase. Skew gears turned the drive to across the machine frame and from this two belts ran to the rear wheel, one on each side. It was fitted with rigid forks.
In 1908 A more conventional machine was built for a Mr Bates, with a 4.5hp V-twin Minerva engine in a Dennell frame with belt drive, Roc two-speed gear and braced forks. The frame was low-built and had straight tubes. Nothing further is recorded after that year.

Internal Website Links
If road vehicles is your thing, the next size up on our site is our page on bus making in Leeds
As well as the Hunslet vehicle used in the Alien film we have a list of Leeds built items in films

External Website Links
Much of the information on this site was found in Graces Guide online material on Britain's industial heritage.
Scootacar Register

Acknowledgements
This article was produced by Kris Ward and Andrew Johnson, any feedback or contributions about the Leeds engine making industry would be greatly appreciated.

This website is maintained by AM Johnson and K Ward
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