Mr. Hounsfied's Trojan

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Almost throughout automotive history there have been individuals and companies seeking to make their mark - and their fortunes - with a car which was simple, cheap to buy and economical to run. The quest for these objectives has often led to unorthodox solutions and in the marketplace unorthodoxy has more often brought failure than fame. However, there have been notable exceptions and known to us all are Henry Ford's marvellous Model-T, Citroen's 2CV and the legendary VW Beetle, the latter still in production after more than 60 years. As non-conformist as any of these if less enduring was Leslie Hounsfield's Trojan, which enjoyed a strong following in its day.

Hounsfield's company Trojan Ltd of Croydon was first registered in 1914. Its core business was general and precision engineering but L H had been working on his ideas for a car since 1904 and had already built a prototype. Five pre-production cars were constructed during a period of six years - the private car had low priority during the First World War - but then Hounsfield decided to license his design rather than make it in his own works. An agreement was concluded in 1922 with Leyland Motors who, already famed as manufacturers of commercial vehicles, had recently diversified into the ultra-luxury car business. Their Straight Eight, designed by J G Parry Thomas and costing £1850 for the bare chassis alone, seemed an incongruous stablemate for the first Trojan 4-seater tourer which was launched at just £175 complete.

From its very foundations the Trojan was different. In place of the conventional chassis of the period, the basis was a punt-like steel pressing. The suspension front and rear was by long, soft cantilever leaf springs. These were deemed adequate to provide ride comfort and, when pneumatics had long been the norm for passenger cars, Trojans continued to roll on solid tyres as standard with pneumatics an extra cost option. Hounsfield also eschewed the trend by other manufacturers to add frontwheel brakes during the twenties. His cars continued with a footbrake acting on the rear wheels and a handbrake engaging on the transmission until Trojan car production ceased well into the thirties.

If you know the Trojan you may recall that it employed a two-stroke engine. However, this again was an unorthodox design. The 1 1/2-litre unit had four cylinders cast in 'four-square' configuration and was mounted horizontally. The cylinders worked in pairs, each pair sharing a common combustion chamber. The transfer (inlet) port - which admitted the fuel/air mixture which in the usual two-stroke manner had been compressed in the crankcase - was in one cylinder and the exhaust port in the other of the pair. The advantage of the Trojan design was improved scavenging of exhaust gases and less loss - as happens with two-strokes - of a proportion of the fuel/air mixture with the exhaust. The Trojan engine gave excellent economy and although power output was very modest (11 bhp at 1200 rpm) it produced excellent torque from low speed.

To damp the uneven impulses of a two-stroke on small throttle openings, Hounsfield interposed springs between the flywheel and the gearbox input flange. He took a leaf from the Ford Model-T book by choosing an epicycling gearbox - two-speed and reverse - which made for ease of gearchanging, which could be done clutchless if you wished. From the gearbox the drive went through a 2:1 reduction gear and then by chain to the solid rear axle. The Trojan was unconventional yet again in not employing a differential. This omission made the Trojan something of a martyr to the dreaded 'side-slip', with progress sometimes somewhat diagonal on wet cobbled streets. However, with its good low speed torque and no propensity to spin a wheel on steep and slippery slopes a Trojan could keep going - even if very slowly - where more fancy machinery came to an involuntary rest. The Trojan had not a little sporting success in hill-climbs and reliability trails where speed was not of the essence.

Trojans used fuel frugally and seldom saw the inside of a workshop. Whilst conventional four-stroke engines were in frequent need of de-cokes and valve grinding, these two-strokers only need an occasional scraping around their exhaust ports. Some owners claimed 100,000-plus miles without trouble. Understandably the Trojan was not popular with the garage trade but it was embraced by the penny and pound conscious private motorists and Trojan vans sold well to businesses. Older readers will remember the bright red vans which used to deliver Brooke Bond tea - and were that company's best form of advertising long before the TV chimps got hooked on PG Tips. BB's Trojan fleet numbered 2000 even as early as 1927 and there were many other major companies with hundreds of the two-strokers toting their wares as well as many small traders. Most of the under 10 cwt transportation for the Royal Air Force was performed by Trojans and it was probably this military link which encouraged Hounsfield to develop a six-wheeler cross-country version of his popular workhorse in 1928, the year that the Trojan works took over the manufacture of the vehicles from Leyland.

The Trojan 'chassis' was extended and two rear axles were mounted at the ends of two long inverted semi-elliptic springs. The forward axle was driven by chain as before and a second chain-drive took power to the rear one. The new 6 x 4 gained a three-speed epicyclic gearbox and a two-speed reduction 'box increased the choice of ratios to six. This cross-country version enjoyed considerable success and it was undoubtedly the foundation which Leslie Hounsfield, decided he had earned some time for recreation, picked when he determined to build himself a motorhome.

The Trojan motorhome looks much like its contemporaries - there were a few others at the time which also boasted six wheels - but like the Trojan cars it hid quite a few novel features under its skin. The latter incidentally is canvas stretched over a frame of one-inch square timbers and, in the fashion of its time, it would have been weatherproofed with numerous coats of paint. An inner of 3mm oak-veneered ply completed a cavity wall structure to combat condensation, whilst similarly appreciating the essentials of caravan construction window sills were provided with drains.

There is nothing elaborate about the layout of the interior, to whose detailed design Mrs Hounsfield had a considerable input, but there is much which is practical. The 6ft 3in long side seats become the beds at night after their feather cushions have been replaced on the stretcher-style bases which by day are rolled away at the back. The seal lockers have sectioned tops for easy access and in turn the floors of the lockers can be lifted to reach the road springs and drive chains. Shelves above add to stowage space when on site. In the rear corners are two cupboards. One is shelved for pots and pans, crockery, foodstuffs including a special shelf for the eggs. The other opens to reveal a circular wick paraffin stove with flue taken up and through the rear of the body. Openings top and bottom allow air to circulate by convection, warming the interior of the caravan, while the products of combustion are discharged outside. This is an airing-cupboard or drying-cupboard for clothes.

Between the cupboards and below the caravan's rear window an aluminium tray serves as a kitchen work surface. There's storage space for stoves and other cooking gear underneath and then below gain - in the coolest area - a larder. The table mounts on an ingenious pillar system and, yet another practical touch, a second and narrower tabletop is also provided which can be used when cooking, allows room to pass by and can double when bridged between the two seats to extend seating capacity.

On the front of the Luton of the Hounsfield motorhome, you'll note, is what looks like a radiator. It does serve a similar purpose. L H contrived to supply his outfit with hot water. There is a 3-gallon tank set among the cupboards in the Luton; the Trojan's radiator is allowed to boil and to pass through an enlarged pipe in the tank so heating the water, the condenser recirculates its condensate to the radiator.

And that's not the end of the mod cons in this 1928 model. It boasted electric lighting. There was one central light for the living area and a second light above the door to the cab, where incidentally the seat which can take three by day can do duty as a third bed at night. There was a ventilated battery box to the rear of the passenger door, which also served as the entrance to the caravan, and on the step to the driver's door a metal box designed to carry a tent. Even the problem of giving the caravan a sweep out had been considered with a trap door set in the rear floor through which sweepings could be 'vanished'. And, with no propshaft to obstruct the underfloor up front another trap door gave access to a locker big enough to take pails, the paraffin can and other grubbier gear better kept out of the real interior.

Back in the twenties the best one might have expected from a commercial vehicle by way of indicating the driver's intentions was a hand signal. Mr Hounsfield was ahead of his time in matters of signalling and safety. The motorhome's rear light only one was required to meet the regulations of the day) was set high up on the right; it was arranged to show through to the interior so a glance in the mirror could show if it was working. Below the number plate was a signalling panel on which a 'turning right' arrow or the word 'Overtake' could be illuminated. And Mr H was ahead of the game in providing himself with a decent view to the rear, in addition to designing his outfit with a good rear window he fitted the twenties equivalent of the Fresnel lens. The round 'window' flanked by curtains which you see in our drawing is, in fact, a large lens which, as a contemporary report said, 'gives one a comprehensive view of the country as one might see a reflection in a convex mirror.'

As far as we know, the Boss' motorhome was the only one built on a between-the-wars Trojan. It's a pity Leslie Hounsfield did not put his talents as a motorhome designer to commercial use.He was an ideas man who could have done a lot for the infant industry.


Note: Article published in Motorhome Monthly, Britain's former number one motorhome magazine, by Chris Burlace, now an author at Motorhome and Campervan Magazine.

Did You Know?

The longest highway in the world is the Trans Canada highway. It stretches a whopping 4,860 miles across Canada. Beginning on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the road makes its way across the Continental Divide, 5 time zones, and 10 provinces, and includes several car ferries before it terminates in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Why are traffic lights red, green and yellow? The choice of these colors for traffic signals was based on the colors used as signals to control the trains. Red was an obvious choice for stop. For millennia red has been the color of danger in the wild; red is the color of blood. If it is necessary to stop something, red will get the attention. The other two colors could have been any color and, in fact, there were some changes made in the early days of railroad traffic. Originally GREEN was the color for caution and WHITE or CLEAR meant go. This had problems from the beginning because the white lights in other lights such as street lamps or even stars could easily be confused with the WHITE go signal. The signals lights were colored by using RED, GREEN and CLEAR filters. One railroad crash was caused when the RED filter of a stop signal fell out leaving only the white bulb signalling go. After these experiences, railroad engineers suggested changes. RED would be the stop signal; GREEN, the go; and YELLOW, caution. Under these rules if a lens ever did fall out, the white light would indicate to the engineer that something was amiss.

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