Simanaitis Says

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YESTERDAY, THE CONCEPTS of single- and double-sleeve-valve automotive engines were discussed. Today in Part 2 we’ll focus on the Scottish Argyll marque, the high point of which came between 1910 and 1914.

Classic Cars in Profile: Volume 3: Profile Nos. 49-72, Anthony Harding, general editor, Doubleday and Company, 1968.

These Argyll tidbits are gleaned from “The Single Sleeve-Valve Argylls,” by George A. Oliver, Profile No. 67 in Classic Cars in Profile, Vol. 3. In describing the Argyll’s engine, Oliver noted, “In each cylinder there were three specially shaped ports for inlet and exhaust respectively, but the sleeves had five ports only, the central one in each case being of double form, to serve both inlet and exhaust.”

Argyll innards: a sleeve (inverted), a valve-actuating gear-wheel, a well-pierced piston, and a combustion head (inverted). This and the following images from Classic Cars in Profile, Vol. 3.

Oliver quoted the catalogue: “The peculiar twisting motion of the sleeve has been found to possess inherent advantages. Its motion may be likened to screwing a plug into a plain hole, where, by twisting the plug round, and at the same time pushing it in, it can be entered with comparative ease.”

“In practice,” Oliver wrote, “this arrangement seems to have worked extremely well, and the 100 m.p.g oil consumption claimed may well have been true. The writer, who well remembers Argylls in use between the wars and has had comparatively recent road experience of the 1914 15/30 now in the Transport Museum in Glasgow, can vouch for the fact that they were not smokers on the Daimler scale.”

Argyll Four-Wheel Stopping. In 1914, Argyll chief engineer Henri Perrot acquired rights to a rarity at the time: four-wheel braking. Actuated by cable through either the pedal or hand brake, the braking had diagonal compensation and worked reliably in minimizing side-slip (a common hazard of rear-only retardation).

Oliver noted, “The unkind have suggested that Argylls were better at stopping than going…. The fact remains that their safety factor was higher than that of any of their home-produced contemporaries.”

Argyll Records at Brooklands. In 1913, a streamlined Argyll 15/30 was taken to the Brooklands Circuit, the plan being to run for 12 hours. Matters went so well that two more hours of lapping were added and no fewer than 26 records were set.

“Before it went to Brooklands to break so many records in 1913,” Oliver wrote, “the 15/30 was Kodaked at the front door.”

“Over the whole time,” Oliver noted, “an average of 72.59 m.p.h. was maintained—a most praiseworthy performance for an engine of 2614 cc capacity with 2726 lb. to pull.”

A Brooklands pit stop. W.C. Scott, the works driver, is replaced by L.C. Hornsted. The pit staff is overseen by chief engineer Henri Perrot.

On the matter of oil consumption, Oliver reported, “The driver had an extra hand-operated oil pump under his control and Perrot indicated when the engine needed oil by waving a white flag; as soon as blue smoke appeared from the exhaust, he signalled to the driver to stop pumping by waving a blue flag.”

The Argyll passes under the Member’s Bridge at Brooklands, May 19, 1913.

Demise, Yet Vindication. Argyll never recovered from a change of management in 1914. The factory suffered from overcapacity in the 1920s, made its final appearance in the London Motor Show in 1927, and ceased operations completely in 1932.

“The Argyll disappeared from showrooms and exhibitions,” Oliver wrote, “though not from motoring history. In the end, its supporters were fully vindicated, for in 1934 the Bristol Aeroplane Co. adopted the Burt McCollum principle for use in air-cooled radial engines so well that Bristol power units of this type had great commercial and military success until the coming of the jet.”

And, besides, Argylls always smoked less than Daimlers. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019


  1. Skip
    February 14, 2019

    The magnificent single-sleeve Bristol Hercules 14 cylinder twin row radial designed by Sir Roy Fedden was an intriguing power plant. There are some animations online that are simply memorizing to watch, like something a bunch of Swiss watch makers would introduce and perfect. The Bristol Beaufighter acquired the nickname “whispering death” on account of her sleeve valve engines.

  2. simanaitissays
    February 14, 2019

    Agreed. Skip. See also “Sleeve Valves Aloft.”

  3. Grey McGown
    February 14, 2019

    Denis…thank you for the many hours of pleasure I’ve received from your blog.

  4. Gordon Craig
    February 14, 2019

    My Dad, shortly before he passed on in ’91, told me he served a short time at the Argyll Works as an apprentice draughtsman in the late ’30s as the place was gearing up for possible wartime production. It did, producing tanks and armed personnel carriers. By that time Dad was mustered into the RAF, considered too tall to fit in fighter aircraft and assigned to various convoys as a ship engineer, working steam turbines. He was so thrilled to have worked there, albeit a short stint, his first real job after Draughting school.

    The Argyll Works languished after the war, gutted except for the massive facade entrance and was eventually developed as a shopping center. When I visited it in the early ’90s, there was a small Scottish Automotive Museum in the basement featuring models of Argyll cars. The Works faced what I was told was the former estate and grounds of the founder and owner.

    Thanks for this column Dennis, learned something new about sleeve valves, and everyday reading a subject you’re posting is delightful, cheers, gordon

    • simanaitissays
      February 14, 2019

      Thank you, Gordon, for filling gaps in Argyll history. And also for your kind words about the website.

  5. carmacarcounselor
    March 8, 2019

    Daimler held a Royal Warrant for automobiles from 1896 until 2008. Smoky or not, the Royal 1910 Daimler Limousine by Hooper currently resides in the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. When it left the Royal Mews (The Royal Family doesn’t just have a “garage.”) it was acquired by Willys, who had the inscription “Owned by His Royal Majesty, King George V of England” lettered in gold leaf on the windows and used it in promoting the sleeve valve engine. The car is seven and a half feet tall, so unless you are permitted to visit the Museum shops, you never see it. It won’t fit through any door in the Museum proper.

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