Thursday May 3, 2018
Today, we often see such words as ‘bold’ and ‘innovative’ being all too readily hurled at any number of vehicles, but 72 years ago a sports saloon from Bradford truly deserved these descriptions.
Jowett was formed in 1906, and during the Second World War, the factory was turned over to the production of military equipment and aircraft parts. However, as early as 1941 the company's MD Charles Calcott-Reilly was considering the marque’s future when hostilities eventually ceased, and he had the idea of a ‘universal car’.
By 1942 he recruited Gerald Palmer from MG's Drawing Office, and in July 1946 the new Javelin took part in the SMMT-organised celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the British Motor Industry. Full production commenced in late 1947 and with waiting lists for home market cars running to literally years, the new Jowett seemed almost unattainable science-fiction to many drivers; one advertising slogan read ‘One day - it has to be yours’.
But here was a defiantly new looking machine that was worth enduring a long wait, the sleek monocoque coachwork having no trace of exposed headlamps, running boards and other pre-war design tropes. At a time of divided V-windshields, the curved front screen of the Javelin was equally remarkable while the grille was subtly trans-Atlantic.
Beneath those handsome lines that put some faintly in mind of a Citroen Traction Avant, there was torsion-bar suspension and rack and pinion steering. Power was from a flat four 1.5-litre engine capable of ‘sports car performance at instant command’. Inside, there was a US-style steering column gear change – a first on a British car – benches fore and aft and a flat floor. Trim levels were standard or De Luxe, the latter boasting such pleasing touches as folding armrests and a detachable rear parcel shelf that doubled as a picnic tray.
At £818 10s 7d, the Jowett was definitely a car for the solicitor/GP/chartered accountant who might have otherwise looked at the Riley RMA or the Singer SM1500. Such types might have invested a further £31 19s 6d in an HMV wireless set to listen to the BBC Home Service when on route to the office and to generally enhance the Javelin’s ‘outstanding qualities of power, acceleration, spaciousness, comfort and appearance’.
It is quite refreshing to read a British car brochure of the late 1940s that does not take refuge in false modesty, for the Jowett was quite a remarkable machine. The 75 mph-plus top speed was reasonable by the standards of the day, and as it was combined with a low centre of gravity, the Javelin was one of the best-mannered cars in its class. Naturally, it was a favourite of the motoring press, and in June 1947 Motor Sport raved that ‘The Jowett Javelin is an astonishing car and a credit to the British technician. At last we have a saloon car which can hold up its head when it encounters the Continentals’.
Yes, those dashed Alfa Romeos and Lancias had better take heed of the car from Yorkshire. Two years later a Javelin won the 1 ½ litre class at the Monte Carlo Rally - See video below - while The Motor found it offered ‘outstanding performance, economy and comfort over rough roads’. And in June 1951 Autocar referred to the Jowett as ‘a shining example of the better kind of family saloon, and this praise cannot be overstated’. Incidentally, the phrase ‘better kind of family saloon’ is quite wonderfully indicative of early 1950s social snobbery.
Alas by that time, Jowett was on the verge of severe difficulties, due to the combined weight of the Javelin's reputation for having a problematic transmission and various engine issues, body supply issues and a Purchase Tax increase.
An outright victory at the 1953 Tulip Rally was the last hurrah for one of the great post-war British cars, and the firm ceased trading in 1954. Had the fates been kinder, a young professional circa 2018 might well be driving a Jowett rather than a BMW 3-Series but the Javelin still lives up to its famous sales slogan - ‘Take a good look when it passes you’ was Jowett’s famous sales slogan. And many still do.