The Making of a Dennis Fire Engine… the Components

Investigating what makes up the 1930 Dennis Dart fire engine, I found interesting stories: not just from Dennis Brothers themselves, but from various makers whom the Dennis company trusted to supply the appliance’s top-quality mechanical and electrical equipment.

“Top quality” was held important by Dennis because the company long had a policy that its appliances must always be serviceable, ready to respond to fight fires in those communities around the globe which had purchased – and relied on – a Dennis fire engine in times of emergency.

1930 Dennis Brothers’ Dart Low-load fire engine

Dennis Brothers, thus, chose only makers with proven products for their fire engines. Research into the componentry turned up the almost unbelievable story behind Albert Champion, originally of spark plug fame, then the connection between the Dart and the first armoured car (or was it a tank?), along with the innovative oil filter and also the maker of the Dart’s ammeter, Frederick Simms who coined the name “motor car”, the prolific inventor Edward Weston who on his death owned more than 300 patents. And Dennis Brothers themselves, who reputedly made one of the first motor vehicle in England. Here are their stories…

 Dennis Brothers – Patented Worm Drive

This was developed and patented (Patent Number 3224) in 1904, creating acrimonious debate among the motor engineers of the day, many of whom favoured the bevel drive. Ray and John, the Dennis brothers, persisted and showed their worm drive to be much more durable under rough treatment. They included the worm drive in a racing car they built in 1903.

Dennis Brothers said the advantages of the worm drive over chain drive included less clunking noise, smoother take-off without jerks and less maintenance on the chains and cogs. Without chains, vehicles with the worm drive were arguably safer: no exposed moving parts to get caught up in while the car was underway. By the end of 1904 the brothers had turned their attention to the design of commercial vehicles and late that year showed their 15 cwt. van at the Crystal Palace Motor Show. It had a 12 horse-power De Dion engine, and of course the, now, notable worm drive.

Dennis Brothers’ first-ever commercial vehicle,                        1904.  Dennis Society

The reputable Harrods Department Store purchased it – this immediately led to other sales and by 1905 the Dennis Brothers were making more commercial vehicles than cars – charabancs, vans, trucks and buses. The Patented Worm Drive played its part in the vehicles’ enviable record. Customers wanted reliability above all else and they liked the relative quietness. Reliability was reflected during World War One when Dennis Brothers received full Order Books from the Military, mostly for trucks.

In 1906 a Dennis staff-member was recruited by Pierce Arrow in the USA to take the worm drive principle to that company’s vehicles.

The Worm Drive                   components

The drive shaft was enclosed in a “torque tube” which was at first slung above the rear axle and to one side where it entered the worm drive. Later (1924) the tube was lowered beneath the axle, re-positioned to the centre line (the low load models from c 1929) and braced to the axle case.

This meant the whole vehicle could be lower, which was a plus, particularly, for Dennis buses with fewer steps for passengers’ convenience and also allowed greater stability for (later) double-deckers.

An outline drawing of the Worm Drive often featured in the Company’s letterhead along with the text “Pioneers of the Worm Drive”.

Tamini – Patented Water Pump

Mario Tamini, of Milan, Italy, invented a version of a centrifugal pump, patented in 1922. He called it a multiple rotary pump.

Patent Papers for Mario Tamini’s Rotary Pump, 1921, Patent/US 1392090

The American publication “Fire Engineering” said in 1922 that the Tamini pump being shown in New York “… is of quite simple of construction and is said to have a very wide range of capacity. In the construction of the pump, in order to make possible a more compact arrangement, the various passages are arranged in such a manner that the water flows in opposite directions in alternate passages and the delivery outlets are arranged on the same side of the pump as the suction inlet.

Tamini No. 2 pump on ex-Masterton Fire Board’s 1922 N-type Dennis

Known as the Tamini Pump, it is made in a number of sizes ranging from the smallest, which weighs 86 lbs. with a capacity of 150 to 200 gpm (gallons per minute) at 80 to 100 lbs pressure, to the largest, which has a capacity of 700 to 760 gpm at ICO to 150 lbs. pump pressure and weighs 322 lbs. with primers. The pump is equipped with primers which are brought into action by means of a control valve operating a specially designed clutch on the main pump spindle, and when not in use remains cut out completely”.

Dennis Brothers at first used Gwynne pumps on their appliances, replaced by the Tamini in the very early 1920s, styled the Tamini-Dennis pump. But the inner workings were modified by Dennis engineers to give better pumping capacity. The name Tamini was dropped and Dennis Brothers patented their improved “turbine pump”, the first granted in 1921.

Mario Tamini continued inventing – in 1926 he was granted a patent for the “Means for tightening the glands of stuffing boxes” and in 1927, he took out a patent for another of his inventions that became universal on fire appliances, the means of having two drive shafts, one to provide locomotion, the other to power a pump or other equipment, both independent of each other. In Tamini’s words “a manually controlled clutch associated with said shafting to throw said machine into and out of operation while the engine is running, a second shaft concentric with said first shaft, means to associate said second shaft with said engine shaft independently of said second shaft whereby the engine may be cranked without turning said machine”.

Not sure if this was used on the 1930 Dart appliance.

But it has exactly this arrangement and was one of the first models (if not the first?) that had the revolutionary design with the drive-shafts (one to the transmission, the other to the pump) side by side, rather than one above the other as hitherto. This enabled the chassis to be lower to the ground making it easier for firefighters to get on and off the appliance and to unload/load equipment. Hence the name Dennis Dart Low-load.

Among Tamini’s other inventions was a 1932 system of improved priming for water pumps, preventing vapour locks.

Dennis Brothers – Patented Turbine Fire Pump  

Dennis fire engines have always had turbine pumps. Early models had Gwynne pumps up to 800 gpm, such as was fitted to the appliance purchased by Auckland Fire Board in 1910.

Most powerful fire pump, the Auckland Fire Brigade’s 1910                       Dennis/Gwynne fire engine. Sir George Grey Special Collections,                                        Auckland Libraries, NZG-19101102-23-1

In the early 1920s Dennis replaced Gwynne with the Italian Tamini pump (see above). Then Dennis soon began making its own multi-stage pump based on the Tamini design, but improving capacity and pressure. A range of this pump was developed with outputs from early 100 gpm (portable pumps) to 1,000 gpm (1950’s F12 appliance).  Letterheads for Dennis Bros Ltd (the style they used from very early on) in 1922 proclaimed “Pioneers of the Turbine Fire Pump”.

And the pump did not always have to be on a Dennis vehicle. Advertisements in the 1920’s show the company’s willingness to supply their pumps for other makes, with an illustration of a front-mounted pump on a Model T Ford.

Dennis Brothers Ltd – The Bodywork

This was carried out by coach builders in the Dennis, Guildford, Works. The timber is Ash (Fraxinus excelsior, Linn.), from a tall, handsome tree, common in Britain and readily distinguished by its light-grey bark. It’s the only representative in England of the Olive tribe, Oleaceae, and specimens have been known to live for more than 400 years. Ash timber is exceedingly valuable, not only because it grows relatively quickly, but it is among the toughest and most elastic woods of European trees.

The wood is also heavy, strong, stiff, and hard with a long straight grain. Ash shrinks only moderately in seasoning and bends well when seasoned. It will take a high polish. In olden days it was used for spears (spear = aesc in Old English, = Ash). Arrow shafts made of Ash dating back to the Middle Bronze Age have been discovered.

The timber has been used in railway and other wagon carriage building, automotive and caravan frames. From axe and spade handles to hop-poles, ladders, carts, and fence posts, it also makes the best of oars and the toughest of shafts for carriages. Ash takes a shock or strain, and absorbs it smoothly without risk of fracture.   Durable and used underwater, it does, however, rot if in constant contact with the earth.

The finest Ash was grown in the Midlands and because of a shortage of first-class timber at the end of the 1800s, the Coachbuilders’ Association in 1901 appealed to the President of the Board of Agriculture to try to stimulate landowners to grow more Ash trees to help ensure supplies of the valuable timber.

In several locations on the vehicle’s bodywork timbers the vehicles’s Box (or Body) number appears, stamped into the wood – 15373, which coincides with the maker’s plate on the firewall.

One piece of the original ash in the bodywork was found to be rotten when the Dennis was being restored. It was replaced with recycled New Zealand native timber, Rimu, Dacrydium cupressinum, a durable wood used in furniture and house building.    

Clayton Dewandre  – Servo Assist Rear Brakes

The Clayton Dewandre Company derives from Clayton and Shuttleworth a well-known engineering works in Lincolnshire. Nathaniel Clayton and Joseph Shuttleworth went into partnership in 1842 and, at first, made threshing machines and farm machinery then branched into steam-driven traction engines, steam rollers and shovels. Expanded to 3 works about 1900, C and S went on to make planes (Vickers and Handley Page), armaments, and railway rolling stock.

In 1931 they invented a heater for cars, piping hot water from the engine and fitting a  fan to blow hot air around the car. There was an enlarged model for buses. And a patented ticket machine for buses was made. Railway engine construction became rail car manufacture in the 1930s and later again, once the company was taken over as Clayton-Dewandre, there was an amalgamation with Westinghouse Brakes.

Clayton-Dewandre servo assist brake systems, at first connected to rod systems, later hydraulic, were fitted to such makes in the 1930s as Daimler, Rover and early Triumph cars.

White and Poppe – Clutch, Engine Design (Dennis, but based on W and P)

Dennis Brothers saw the ready market for fire engines in 1907 (“motorised appliances will reach the fires quicker than horse-drawn and steam pumps won’t either have to be kept fired up, or firemen wait for them to get up steam”). The Brothers figured 60 hp engines would be needed, bigger than the Aster engines they favoured until then.

They approached Coventry engine manufacturers White and Poppe… Alfred White and Peter Poppe (pronounced Poppy)…  agreed to supply suitable engines and the Dennis brothers set about designing their first fire engine which, when completed in 1908, was purchased by the Bradford Fire Brigade. This appliance had a 4 cylinder 50hp W&P engine, though a 6 cylinder later became optional which realised better pumping capabilities. The cylinders were in pairs, like similar contemporary engines.

White and Poppe logo
Benjamin Hawkins

In 1912 Dennis Brothers found they had more orders on the books than White and Poppe could provide engines for. White and Poppe, it must be remembered, had other motor vehicle manufacturers to supply, too.

Many motorcycles had W&P engines including Aerial, Sunbeam, Enfield and Calthorpe. The very first Morris (Oxford) car had a 9hp W&P engine, and so did Singer and Whippet cars. The first Guy trucks in 1914 had a W&P engine as did trucks made by the Danish company, Thrige, notably a 100 hp version in its military vehicles. The French Artillery Railways used a smaller 60hp W&P to power locomotives used in shunting yards.

White and Poppe honoured those on the
staff who served in World War One

Supply must have dried up to other customers in 1919 because by then Dennis was buying White and Poppe’s entire output and later that year the company was absorbed into Dennis Brothers. Alfred White and Peter Poppe became Directors alongside Ray and John Dennis and others. The Coventry factory was closed, the Guildford plant enlarged to cater for the engine production line.

The Dennis brothers had much earlier (1901) modified the De Dion engines used in the famous French cars of the same name. Changes resulted in an extra half horsepower. Now the brothers turned their attention to improving (and eventually redesigning) the White and Poppe engine, but with their own name on it. By 1924 they had a 40/50-hp engine powering a truck which boasted a 6-ton payload.

In 1925 a revolutionary engine for heavy vehicles was unveiled, a 36 bhp model which had its cylinder block cast all in one piece with the crankcase and a clutch unit and gearbox all bolted together in a single unit. This became known as Unit Construction in the industry.

 Autovac – Petrol Pump (Original?)

Autovac Manufacturing Company Limited of Heaton Norris, Stockport, England, manufactured early automotive fuel systems used by many vehicle makers, including Rolls Royce, Bentley, Thornycroft, Vauxhall, Alvis and the French manufacturer Salmson. The Autovac on these models was their mechanical in-line petrol pump, not to be confused with the vacuum powered fuel system that Autovac developed.

One Higginson, a champion driver in hill climb events in his day, is said to have invented this system which was used extensively on heavy trucks and buses. It is connected to the main fuel tank and is a kind of header tank holding a few gallons. Vacuum pressure from the engine keeps the tank topped up, thus ensuring a steady flow out to the carburettor, especially when the vehicle is travelling up inclines.

The Build Sheet shows the Dennis was fitted with an Autovac petrol pump, but there is some doubt about this.

AC – Petrol Pump (Present)

This was manufactured by the company which was founded in the USA by French-born Albert Champion.

Albert Champion

He had been a keen cyclist and motorcyclist: for the latter he made his own spark plugs. This became a prosperous business by 1899, Champion Ignition Ltd. Partners, the Stranahan brothers, acquired the undertaking, including the brand-name Champion and continued the firm’s success.

R M Sotheby

This left Champion unable to use his own name. But through associations and a series of mergers, Albert Champion was by 1916 heading a separate company as part of the General Motors conglomeration. Its products were branded AC (Champion’s initials)

In 1927 GM acquired 100 per cent of the company and much later in 1974 changes meant the name was changed to AC-Delco – the company distributing its products worldwide.

The A type AC petrol pump was current until 1931 when it was superseded by other models. Given that the petrol pump presently on the Dennis was made in January 1929, and that this model was widely used in English commercial vehicles at the time, it is likely that the Works Build Sheet is incorrect… rather than an Autovac petrol pump, an AC was fitted. “Commercial Motors” by H. Scott Hall, Vol 2, p. 99, talks about an AC petrol pump fitted as standard to Dennis 3 and a half and 4 ton models, followed by a diagram of the AC pump and the cam arrangement.

Auto-Klean – Oil Filter/Cleaner

Developed by a British Company, this is an in-line oil filter and cleaner incorporated in many engines of early motor vehicles and later developed for aircraft and larger engines. (An Auto-Klean was found to have been installed in a captured Italian tank during World War Two).

During circulation in the engine, the oil flows in the top of the Auto-Klean where, inside, any impurities are caught in a series of tapered overlapping combs made of very thin metal slivers. A handle on the exterior is turned periodically, and this gradually scrapes the impurities down the combs until they reach a small sump at the base of the Auto-Klean.

In many versions the Auto-Klean is turned, ratchet effect, by a lever connected to the foot or clutch pedal. Each time the pedal is worked in the course of driving the spindle is turned one notch, thus revolving the combs and gradually brushing impurities to the small sump.

The system has since been further developed by a company that took over the original Auto-Klean, to enable vegetable and other oils to be cleaned in commercial quantities, with particles up to 38 microns in size caught in the combs.

Simms – Magneto

The magneto takes the name of the “Father of the British Motor Industry”, Fredrick Richard Simms (1863 – 1944), who together with Herr Robert Bosch invented the Simms-Bosch Magneto about 1902, before forming his own company in 1907, Simms Magneto Co Ltd.

Frederick Simms, coined the word “motorcar” in England: it stuck!

The magneto greatly improved the running of the internal combustion engine, producing the spark in co-ordination with the engine’s revolutions.

Simms is credited in 1890 with starting the English term “motor car” bringing it with him on his return to England to describe the new “horse-less carriages” he had been working with for Daimler in Germany. He set up as an agent for Daimler in England.

In 1896 he founded the Royal Automobile Club and on 14th November that year he and Gottlieb Daimler took part in Emancipation Day Procession, a run from London to Brighton to celebrate the lifting of the speed limit under the Locomotive Act which had required vehicles to travel no faster than 4 mph (6 km/h). This Emancipation Day drive is still commemorated by its annual replay, the London to Brighton run.

In 1900 he invented and patented the first 4-cylinder engine with mechanical overhead valves.

The following year he designed and built what he called his “motor war car”, a kind of tank that ran on rails. He refined the design to a wheeled version. Simms is thus credited with creating the first-ever armoured car

Simms, I applying for a patent for his design stated -”This invention relates to a motor driven car adapted for use in warfare and as a means of defence, attack transport or traction….”.

Simms’ “motor war car”, first armoured car

In 1902 the Simms-Welbeck automobile was on sale and in the same year Simms had invented an 8 hp engine. In 1905 he demonstrated another of his inventions, the safety bumper bar for cars and fitted them fore and aft to his 1908 model of the Simms-Welbeck. car

The makers of the Arrol-Johnson car selected Simms-Bosch electrics for the vehicle they modified especially for Shackleton’s 1912 Nimrod expedition to the Antarctic.

Dennis Brothers used Simms engines in some of the earliest models of their cars.

Fredrick Simms changed the name of his company in 1913 to the Simms Motor Union Ltd to carry on a wide range of developments in automotive ignition systems, which were also used in some aircraft engines.

In 1930 Simms oversaw the development of his diesel injection motor. The Bosch Company went on to become an international conglomerate making and distributing automotive parts, heavy electrical gear and appliances.

MCL and Repetition Ltd – Starter, Dynamo and Lighting System

This Langley, Birmingham, company manufactured automotive ignition and lighting equipment using the “Midgley patent”. A. H. Midgley is regarded as one of the pioneers in the field of automobile electrics. In 1930 MCL was advertising that “most commercial vehicles now being used and purchased by the War Office Subsidy Scheme have MCL equipment”.

Midgley’s dynamo design was revolutionary in that it has four poles, 2 each for North and South, but each are then split, an arrangement that provides constant current at all speeds. (In other designs the current increased together with the speed, until, after a certain point it decreased and stabilised).

The controller arrangement enables the dynamo to generate enough output to power the lighting system, independent and regardless of the state of the battery.  The controller design also gives both a positive make-and-break movement (rather than vibration), and operates at a higher voltage, 15.5 – 15.8 volts, than other models on the market. This voltage increases if the battery becomes sulphated, thus breaking down the sulphate, lengthening the life and efficiency of the battery.

This company is also credited with making bayonets with its own registered mark M166, the “m” standing for Midlands. It was one of a number of companies the War Office turned to when its usual suppliers could not satisfy demands. MCL is listed in the UK Companies records until the mid-1980s when it apparently disappeared in a series of takeovers/amalgamations. Involved were BDD Bolts Limited and GEI Realisation, Number One Account, Limited.

Weston Electrical Instrument Company – Moving Coil Ammeter

While the ammeter on the Dennis is American-made, there is consolation that it was invented by an Englishman, and a famous pioneer in measuring current, at that. The name, Weston  Electrical Instrument Company, Newark, New Jersey, USA, derives from its owner, the British-born American electrical engineer and industrialist, Edward Weston (1850 – 1936) who in 1886 invented a practical precision, direct reading, portable instrument to accurately measure electrical current, a device which became the basis for the voltmeter, ammeter and watt meter.

Edward Weston
                   IEEE History Center

By 1893 Weston had developed and was using the alloy Manganin for the series resistance coils in voltmeters, which has essentially zero temperature co-efficient for resistance. This allowed greater precision. His inventions became precision laboratory measurements of voltage, and the standard for calibrating other meters worldwide.  Weston also improved and perfected electroplating techniques and invented tungsten and other filaments for incandescent light bulbs.

He set up several companies to make and market his various major inventions, like the dynamo, improved carbon arc lights, together with their generators and the cadmium cell, including Weston Dynamo Electric Machine Company, Weston Dynamo Machine Company, Weston Electric Light Company, Weston Electrical Instrument Company and Weston Instruments.

He went on to invent the electric arc furnace, electric motors, transformers and foot candle meters. In 1933 he invented a blind-landing navigational device for aircraft. In 1935 he introduced the Weston photographic light meter which is still sold globally. Edward Weston had 334 patents to his name when he died.

Smith and Sons, (England) Limited – Speedometer and Dashboard Clock

Smiths trace their history to a jeweller’s shop opened by Samuel Smith in 1851. Clocks and watches were also sold.  One of Samuel’s sons began providing clocks, “motor watches’, for earliest automobiles and in 1904 the company produced its first speedometer, followed by the manufacture of acetylene lights, carburettors and electrical equipment. The separate S. Smith and Sons Motor Accessories Ltd was created for this side of the burgeoning business,  (this is what the “Smiths MA” stands for, the trademark included on products over 3 or 4 decades and which shows on the clock on the Dennis). By 1913 Smith’s motor accessory manufacture had moved into Speedometer House, Great Portland Street, London. Just 3 years later there was another move to Cricklewood occupying  what was billed as one of the biggest factories in the United Kingdom, housing some 3,000 staff.

Smith’s dashboard clock, same model as the one on the Dennis. ebay

During World War One Smiths opened a big factory at Cricklewood, London, to cater for its extended range of products, including aircraft instrumentation.

Post-war Smiths took over, or amalgamated with, a number of other companies in similar business adding magnetos to the range, and by 1927 it had control of KLG spark plugs. Smiths also took shares in Ed Jaeger Ltd (London), giving access to the French watchmaker and instrument-maker’s expertise. A joint venture was created to make escapements for Smiths and Jaegar clocks.

In 1930 Smiths shed its ML Magneto Syndicate Ltd to Joseph Lucas Ltd together with an agreement that each company would not “poach” the other’s territory. Smiths could thus concentrate, unhindered by threat of competition, on new developments like automatic pilots for aircraft, new marine instruments (acquiring Henry Hughes and Sons Ltd) electric petrol gauges for automobiles and oil pressure switches. The first electric impulse clock was made in 1937.

About this time an arrangement was entered with Bosch, the German spark plug maker, for Smiths to use the Bosch design to make ceramic plugs with the KLG brand and using Bosch’s secret formula for making the mica plugs. The price was reduced to meet the market, the idea that volume would be better for business. KLG plugs were provided in new Austin, Rolls-Royce, AEC, MG and Leyland.

Smiths produced car heaters in the late ‘30s by they were slow to catch on and at first were based on imported components, with British Klaxon providing the motors.

During the Second World War there was tremendous increased production across all fields, especially aircraft-related manufacture. KLG plugs were developed especially for aircraft applications (despite difficulties with the Bosch arrangements which were severed in 1944) while competitors Champion and AC-Delco concentrated on vehicle and other requirements.

In 1944 operations were changed … under S. Smith and Sons (England) Limited, there were 3 subsidiary selling companies covering motor, aircraft and instruments. Clocks were another separate selling company. Jaegar was, slowly, totally taken over.

Post-war, Smiths built up the car heater business and many of the items it made across the board were converted to electric operations. Arrangements with Jaegar France and Switzerland were revisited and lasted until 1961.  KLG carried on, improving components to spark plugs and in 1972 Smiths acquired the whole of Lodge Plugs Ltd. It also supplied plugs to Rootes’ factories for the group’s new cars.

The Company, presently Smiths Group plc, has retained few of its manufactures developed over a century, but added others like security and medical electronics. Its clock making facility was shut down abruptly in 1970.


The Smiths clock that was purchased for the Dennis at Murray’s Antiques Shop in Tirau, appears to be the right vintage… it is exactly the same model as the one in the ex-Christchurch Dennis Dart and it fits perfectly in the hole in the dashboard where a clock was once installed. The original clock was missing when I purchased the Dennis. Teagle Smith’s (Wellington auto merchants) 1930 catalogue shows the same model Smiths clock, with a distinctive letter “N” on the dial.  The catalogue lists it as “Type Number A237, Flush-fitting with provision for dial illumination, 8-day, Black Dial, Clamp fitting. Diameter over flange 3 and a quarter inches, rear wind and set”.  My brother Noel engineered a suitable bracket to hold the clock in place.

The Smiths speedometer had not worked since I purchased the Dennis. In addition to 0 – 60 mph it showed total miles travelled and there was also, a trip odometer. The glass was pitted, the bezel a little twisted and the dial shabby. Compared to the look of the refurbished clock, it was showing its age and so it was removed, together with the cable to the gearbox, and taken to Robinsons Instruments, Sale Street, Auckland City, for refurbishment. It was overhauled, bearings replaced, re-calibrated and then refitted. The odometers were re-zeroed.

Labelled model MRN on the face, it has a black dial with white Arabic figures and white needle. The numbers for both the “total distance travelled” and the “trip” odometers show through separate holes from behind the dial, the “trip” odometer shows tens, units and tenths, i.e. 99.9 maximum,  while the “total distance travelled” odometer shows tens of thousands, thousands, hundreds, tens, units and tenths, i.e. 99,99.9 maximum. The tenths on both odometers are shown in white figures on red while all the others figures are white on black. At some time “3360 rpm” has been etched on the casing with what looks like a screwdriver blade.   Noel fashioned a knob to replace the one that hadn’t been on the speedometer since the vehicle was purchased.. the knob re-zeros the trip odometer.

 Bluemel  Brothers – The Steering Wheel      

The original steering wheel was manufactured by Bluemel Brothers of Wolston, Warwickshire near Coventry. The wheel itself is made of steel while the spokes of an alloy similar to aluminium. There are 4 spokes and 8 finger indents in each quarter. These are, in fact, small formed metalled pieces riveted to the inside of the wheel. It’s diameter is 50 cms (19 and a half inches) across, about 155  cms (5 feet 2 inches) around the circumference, with 25cms, (10 inch), spokes measured from the hub to the outer circumference of the wheel.

The Bluemel Brothers, Frank and Douglas, first registered their company in 1891 and moved to a new “greenfield site” in 1904 as it was near Coventry, the centre of British cycle manufacture and eventually auto manufacture.

Bluemels Brothers was a company manufacturing car and cycle accessories and worked in a new Bakelite material, cellulose acetate (Celluloid). Their steering wheels were used by many car manufacturers, with the “sprung” so-called “Brooklands” model with 5 metal rods (often chromed) incorporated into the spokes to minimise vibration.

The famous five wires of the later Brooklands wheel.

This is also known as “The Great British Steering Wheel” and sold for 24 shillings in the 1930s. Some were 17 inch diameter wheels, some were adjustable, most had either 14 or 15 finger indents to each of the three segments.

Bluemels steering wheels were used by Jaguar, Bristol, Continental, Rennsports (Borgward), MG, Morgan and the Austin 7 Type 65EB. There was also a Bluemel wheel on the novel £20 3-wheeler car. In the mid-1920s Bluemels were sole makers of steering wheels for MG cars.  Bluemels  company records (1891 – 1968) are held at Coventry Archives.

Ripaults – Bonnet Catches    

The bonnet catches are steel (latch) and brass knob (adjusting head) and are of the screw type. Turning the knob adjusts the latch… screwed clockwise the hook on the inside of the bonnet cover rises to engage in the staple attached to the scuttle. Ripaults manufactured bonnet catches/latches along with automotive electrical goods in England from the early 1900s and for decades many British marques had Ripaults as standard factory fittings.

An early product was an automotive battery, as well as electrical harness wiring, insulated high and low tension cabling and connectors. The company is still going, known as Ripca, now based in Holland.

1930 Dennis Dart Low-load fire engine: its makers carefully chose quality componentry throughout.



“The Illustrated History of Dennis Buses and Trucks”, Nick Baldwin, Haynes Publishing, 1987.

“Dennis World Trucks No 6, Pat Kennett, Patrick Stephens, 1979

“Dennis, 100 Years of Innovation”, Stewart J Brown, Ian Allan Publishing, 1995

“Report on the Supply of Electrical Equipment for Mechanically Propelled Land Vehicles”, Monopolies Commission,1963, published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office

Smiths Company – history



RCC 12th May 2002, July 2019 pix added. May 2020 updated.