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“A SPORTS CAR IN MINIATURE,” R&T called the Berkeley in its January 1958 contents page. And so it was, hitherto the smallest engined car tested by the magazine (albeit not for long).
Berkeley History. The marque’s history is diminutive as well: Wikipedia notes, “Berkeley Cars Ltd /ˈbɑːrkliː/ of Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, England, produced economical sporting microcars with motorcycle-derived engines from 322 cc to 692 cc and front wheel drive between 1956 and 1960.”
The marque’s pronunciation is close to “Barkley,” like the Anglo-Irish Bishop/philosopher, or “Barkshire,” the county west of London containing Windsor Castle and my old pal Innes Ireland’s Kiln Cottage, Wickham Heath, nr Newbury, Berks.
The R&T test car was a Sports SE328, one of approximately 1259 produced between January 1957 and April 1958, as identified by its 328-cc 2-stroke air-cooled twin Excelsior motorcycle propulsion.
They Laughed. R&T said, “People do laugh at the Berkeley—that is, those who haven’t driven it. As these heart-warming little sports car become more numerous here, you may see their drivers laughing too. We did, and for the fun of it.”
Ingenious Simplification. “The car is so small,” R&T wrote, “that it seems impossible for a large driver even to get in, much less drive in comfort. The latter is by far the easier, particularly when the Berkeley is parked by a curb, with which the seat is likely to be approximately level.”
R&T continued, “Once inside, conditions improve. There is lots of foot room around the pedals and on the seat, though shoulders are cramped with a passenger aboard. The windshield is adequately high. The seat, covered with plastic, is suspended on broad rubber strips from a tube frame. For more or less distance from the pedals and wheel, the strips can be loosened or tightened.”
I’m reminded of traditional Morgans, their seating height adjustable by inflating or deflating rubber-tube inserts.
Motorcycle Familiarity Helps. R&T noted, “The only checking-out needed for the first-time Berkeley driver is on the motorcycle-style progressive gearbox.… Reverse, 1st, main neutral, 2nd and 3rd are in a more-or-less straight line from front to rear; gates give the clue to the different gear.”
“A mere flick shoots the lever from 2nd to high and back,” R&T reported. “A great willingness to rev up and the characteristic smoothness of a 2-stroke make acceleration a pleasure and the 20-cubic-inch displacement even less probable. ”
R&T wrote, “The acceleration figures at right [here, above], though they cannot compare with those for big cars, give no indication of the feeling while driving. A loud exhaust and the low seat tend to cancel out the objective evidence of the speedometer.”
Corn Popping. R&T admitted, “Decelerating and idling produce sputtering and popping that can irritate the sensitive. Though we continued to be aware of them, they did not bother us after the first few minutes.”
Handling a Delight. “Steering the Berkeley is pure delight,” R&T said, “Though the front wheels support nearly 70% of the total weight, that portion amounts to all of 500 pounds. Accelerating through a corner will counteract the fly-away feeling of the light rear end and convert it to tractable understeer. When pressed beyond prudent limits on slippery roads, the front end will be the first to wash out.”
A Contemporary Brit View. Wikipedia notes, “Motor magazine tested a 328 cc Berkeley in 1957 and found it to have a top speed of 62.1 mph (99.9 km/h) and acceleration from 0-50 mph (80 km/h) in 30.6 seconds. Fuel consumption of 58.3 miles per imperial gallon (4.85 L/100 km; 48.5 mpg U.S.) was recorded.”
It also cited Pat Moss, highly-regarded rallyist and Stirling’s sister, having driven a Berkeley in the 1958 Liège-Brescia-Liège Rally. The Berkeley team led the sub-500-cc class as far as Slovenia, only to be plagued by hill climbing in July heat.
Pat said, “They told me, ‘It’ll seize. When it does, stop, have a cigarette, and by the time you’ve finished it will have freed off.’ And it did—but we had to have so many cigarettes, we couldn’t make the time control!” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2023