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HENRY RONALD Godfrey and Archie Frazer-Nash were car nuts in the Edwardian era. Like many enthusiasts circa 1910, they hankered for personal transportation offering more sociability and better weather protection than a motorcycle-sidecar rig’s. And like hundreds of other people, they became fledgling automakers. Unlike many competitors, though, their G.N. cyclecar, as in Godfrey Nash, introduced in 1911 was to evolve into two classic sports cars—even if G.N. didn’t survive beyond 1924.
Cyclecars were expected to be basic, bordering on crude, but really now! The original G.N. had a vee-twin mounted in line with its ash wood chassis and driving the rear wheels, sans differential, through simple two-peg clutches and chains. The G.N.’s steering was rudimentary wire-and-bobbin, which occasionally got reversed in what was called “the lighthearted atmosphere of their Hendon factory.”
In his G.N. Profile, renowned Brit automotive journalist William Boddy, rest his soul, also shared a classic verse appearing years later in a Vintage Sports Car Club Bulletin: “Nash and Godfrey hated cogs,/Built a car with chains-and-dogs./And it works—but would it, if/They had made it with a diff?”
Indeed, they built 150 G.N.s prior to World War I, those after 1913 having a Godfrey-designed 90-degree vee-twin replacing the motorcycle-sourced 45-, 50- or 60-degree counterparts. Cleverly, he adapted motorcycle handlebars for the engine’s inlet plumbing. Perhaps less wisely, the 90-degree engine used magneto ignition hardware converted from 45- or 60-degree designs. Because of this electrical imbalance, one G.N. cylinder always got a stronger spark than the other.
The Godfrey vee-twin was mounted conventionally, i.e., set across the frame. A prop shaft drove to a bevel box, out of which emerged a shaft with sliding dog-clutches and sprockets. Chains carried the drive from these sprockets to the rear axle. Boddy noted that before the selection mechanism was perfected it was not impossible to engage two speeds at once. Ouch.
By 1920, the G.N. came in a multiplicity of models, among them the Standard, Popular, Touring, Three Seater, Grand Prix and, reflecting its continental spirit, the Vitesse (French for speed) and Légère (French for light). These last two weren’t simply Brit-hype. More than 3000 G.N.s were built in France under license.
In the 1920 Junior Car Club Fuel Consumption Trial, a G.N. recorded 90.8 mpg (still impressive when converted from Imperial gallons to U.S., 75. 6). Even in less competitive (and possibly less-finessed) settings, a Boddy-cited owner averaged 47.15 mpg (U.S. 39.2) over a year’s G.N. use, with “no involuntary stops except when he rolled over twice on Exmoor.” The Exmoor trial was, and is, a Brit mud-plucking event; see Dellow.
Matters were in hand until 1922 and introduction of the Austin Seven. Not that the Seven was without quirks of its own, but this small car put cyclecars in sad perspective. That year, Frazer-Nash started his own car company and Godfrey made a go at servicing the 60 G.N.s used by Cherry Blossom traveling salesmen. Eventually, Godfrey too started his own car company.
You may not have heard of Cherry Blossom Boot Polish, but perhaps Frazer Nash (sans hyphen) and H.R.G. sports cars may be familiar. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015