The First Raven

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Norman Wilkinson-Cox was the proprietor of Service Garage in Ravenscourt Park, West London. Like many of the pioneer caravan constructors he started out by building an outfit for his own use. The idea of a self-propelled house-on-wheels for free and easy touring, faster too than a horse-drawn rig, appealed and with his motor engineering background he had all the necessary knowledge and skills.

Although Ford’s ‘Tonner’ with its extendedwheelbase and greater load capacity was available, and would have been a more suitable basis for a motor caravan, Mr Wilkinson-Cox chose to use a Model-T 12 cwt van chassis for his creation. Probably the chassis was secondhand and our picture shows that the standard artillery-style rear wheels with pneumatics had been replaced by disc wheels with solid tyres. Maybe there were other alterations to help the rear axle cope with the weight of the caravan body. For example, from the extensive list of proprietary ‘improvements advertised for the ‘T’ he might have picked the ‘Truss Rod’ marketed by S Smith & Sons to beef up the rear end.

The Ford ‘T’ van shared the same mechanical specification as the car. Its wheelbase was 100 inches (against 126in. for the Tonner). The 2.9-litre side-valve engine, with bore and stroke of 95mm by 101.5mm, developed just 20 bhp at 1600 rpm but a more useful looking maximum torque of 80 lb.f.ft. at 850 rpm. Drive was via a two-speeds-and-reverse epicyclic gearbox operated by foot pedals and bevel gear rear differential. The overall gearing gave 11mph on low ratio and 24 mph per 1000 rpm on high. For normal braking use a pedal operated transmission brake was employed, this being supplemented by lever operated drum brakes on the rear wheels only in case of “emergencies’.

The ‘Raven’ motor caravan first took to the road in 1923, when, according to a feature on ‘Raven History’ in ‘The Caravan’ in March 1936, Mr and Mrs Wilkinson-Cox had many enjoyable weekends in it. The ’van was also let out on hire at £10 per week but this proved to be less than rewarding for it often came back damaged. Trailer caravans, concluded Norman Wilkinson-Cox, would be a better bet and his company went on to become one of the leading, and innovative, producers. They were among the early exponents of streamlining and in the mid-1930s introduced vacuum-servo brakes and improvements such as effective insulation and heating systems and mains electric’s to give the caravan not just a warm-seasons role but the make it viable all year round. In 1947 the control of the company passed to Bruno Jablonski.


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?

First cross-Canada trips by car: In 1925, at the age of 64, Perry Doolittle, founder of CAA, drove a Canadian-built Model T Ford from Halifax to Vancouver. He carried a commemorative scroll that was signed by mayors of towns and cities along the 7,670 km route. On the morning of September 8, the Model T was backed into the Atlantic on a sandy strip of beach near Halifax. Forty days later, on October 17, 1925, the front wheels were dipped into the Pacific Ocean in Vancouver. There were only a few hundred kms of paved roads in Canada at the time, mainly in or near the larger cities. In the Maritimes, Doolittle and his Model T pushed through roads so narrow that tree branches and bushes scraped the sides of the car. In Northern Ontario, the pace slowed to less than 30 kms a day as the car crawled over rocks and through mud holes. Later came stretches of prairie mud and a spine-chilling descent through the Rockies on roads designed for horse drawn wagons. The Model T, which proved to be remarkably hardy, never-theless averaged 190 kms a day for the entire trip and suffered only four punctures. On 14 occasions, the car's rubber wheels were replaced with steel flanged rims so that it could be driven along the transcontinental railway lines. Of the 7,670 kms covered, some 1,365 kms were done on the rails. The arrival in Vancouver marked the first successful comple-tion of a cross-Canada trip by a car under its own power, without leaving Canadian soil.

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