Lanchester 15/18 and 18 (1931-1934)
The first new Lanchester following the takeover by the BSA Group, the first to have a six cylinder 18HP engine and the first to be mated to a fluid flywheel and Wilson preselect gearbox. Although initially designed by George Lanchester much of the design was revised by Daimler's Laurence Pomeroy. At the 1931 Motor Show no less than 12 Lanchester 15-18 models were displayed by various coachbuilders showing the enthusiasm with which the new model was received. Sales of the 15-18 exceeded those of the equivalent Daimler model.
Price (Dec 1931): £565 in standard saloon form or £435 for bare chassis for special order coachwork. The price of a complete car by individual order could be as much as £795 (Grosvenor Carriage Co. – 4 seat Coupe de Ville)
Number produced (maximum):
10000 - 10800
Wheelbase 9ft 7ins.
Track 4ft 4 ins.
Overall length 13ft 9ins.
Width 5 ft 1 ½ ins.
Body space 7ft 1 ½ ins.
Ground clearance 6ins.
Turning Circle: 38 ft
Chassis weight: 21cwt.
Tyre size 5.25 x 18.
Parts Book: TC68
Engine : overhead valves, push rods, coil ignition,Seven bearing crankshaft, Six bearing chain driven camshaft, Detachable cast iron cylinder head Full pressure fed lubrication system extended to pistons’ gudgeon pins, SU Carburettor
Number of cylinders:
Capacity (c.c.): 2,504
(69.5mm bore x 110mm stroke)
R.A.C. Rating: 17.96
Compression ratio: 6:1
Inlet - 50 thou; exhaust 50 thou.
Firing order: 1,5,3,6,2,4.
1st ------- 4.85
2nd ------ 7.16
3rd ------- 11.1
Top ------ 19.4
Clayton Dewandre vacuum servo with Lockheed hydraulic brakes.
Hand brake (also referred to as Emergency brake) operates an internal expanding brake on the transmission at the rear of the gearbox.
Stopping distance 12 yards from 30mph. 37 yards from 50mph.
Bishop cam and lever type.
3rd 50 m.p.h.,
Minimum speed top gear 1/2m.p.h.
Engine speed at 20mph on “top” 1090r.p.m.
Rest to 60mph; 35 secs,
57.1bhp at 3,600rpm.
Petrol consumption: 17 m.p.g.
The Motor. Sept 29th, 1931
The Motor. Dec 8th, 1931
Pre-selective Wilson gearbox mated to Daimler fluid flywheel
Lanchester 15/18 1931-1933
Lanchester 15/18 1931-1933
Useful data. 1932/34 Lanchester 18 (17.96h.p.)
Number produced (maximum): 1237
Chassis Nos. 10,801 - 11,753. Parts book no.TC72
Chassis Nos. 11,754 - 12,037. Parts book no.TC82.
The 18 was a revamped version of the 15/18. The radiator shell was made narrower and more upright and the bottom of it was shaped to accommodate the starting handle. The earlier model had a separate apron with a hole for the starting handle. A redesigned dashboard included a dual gauge for water temp and petrol level. The chassis frame was slightly modified to allow for small changes to the swivelling stub axles and steering arm design. Track was increased to 4ft 4 ½ ins. Permanently fitted jacks were installed. Slightly modified cylinder head to improve cooling water flow. Note. Earlier models had the possibility of fitting a slightly revised head gasket to achieve the same effect.
Price (1932) £595 in standard saloon form or £450. for bare chassis for special order coachwork.
Coachbuilders known to have built bodies for the 15/18 and 18 (there may be others)
Arthur Mulliner Ltd
Carlton Carriage Co.
Gill of Paddington
Martin + King (Australia)
Grosvenor Carriage Company
Maddox + Sons Ltd
Mayfair Carriage Co
Maythorn + Son
Known surviving cars (24)
Charlesworth DHC (1932)
Unknown coachbuilder. 6 Light Saloon (1932)
Carbodies 6 light Saloon (1932)
Carbodies 6 light Saloon (1932)
Special bodied Tourer (1932)
Carbodies 4 light Saloon (1933)
E. D. Abbott Limousine (1932)
Martin Walter DHC (1934)
Salmons + Sons / Tickford roof (1932)
Mulliners Sports Saloon (1933)
Martin + King Golfers Coupe (1932)
Special Bodied Tourer (1933)
Mulliners 6 Light Saloon (1934)
Unknown coachbuilder. 6 light Saloon (1932)
Martin + King 4 Light Saloon (1932)
Mulliners 4 Light Dummy Pram irons Saloon (1933)
Motor Bodies of Coventry. Berkeley Coachwork, M.B.&E. Co Ltd. Tourer (1932)
Martin Walter DHC (1932)
Mulliners 4 light Saloon with pram irons (converted from a 6 light)
Unknown body (1932) converted into a pickup truck
Charlesworth DHC (1933)
Mulliners 6 light saloon – smokers hatch (1932)
Mulliners Ltd Landaulette (1933)
Unknown Coachbuilder. 2 seater Tourer with Dickie seat (1932)
The first cars had a 3 piece bonnet. However, at certain speeds, the bonnet had been known to detached and fly off. This was cured by changing the bonnet design to a centre hinge / 4 piece unit, tightened down to the chassis using screw down fasteners.
Some cars became stuck in top gear. George Lanchester designed a multi-plate clutch to overcome this and subsequent Wilson gearboxes also used a re-designed cone-clutch.
The First RAC Rally (1932). Lt Col Loughborough won this event in a Lanchester 15/18 GW 3081 (Chassis 10023) Mulliners bodied saloon purchased on 3rd Dec 1931 from Stratton-Instone, London Showroom.
The Daimler LQ range of cars was launched in 1933 and was of the same design as the Lanchester 18hp but with a longer chassis, wider track and increased cylinder capacity of 2,687cc.
Stratton-Instone Ltd London sold their first 15/18 (Chassis 10025) on 4th Nov 1931 and their first ‘18’ on 1st Nov 1932.
On 1st February 1932 Rolls Royce purchased a Lanchester 15/18 (Chassis No. 10237). This was tested to compare it with their 20/25 model.
HRH The Duke of York (later King George VI) purchased a 15/18 registration no. GX5 (Chassis 10571) on 22nd March 1932.
Leonard and Virginia Woolf purchased an ‘18’ on 13th January 1933.
The Lanchester 15/18 Instruction Manual
Lanchester Motor Cars by Anthony Bird and Francis Hutton-Stott
The Lanchester Legacy 1931 – 1956 C.S. Clark
Virginia and Leonard Woolf and their new Lanchester 18.
The following is an article written by
R McCallum, 15/18 and 18 Registrar
I think most of us are aware of the fact that the Duke of York (later King George VI) purchased one of the first Lanchester 15/18s. This model with minor modification soon became the Lanchester 18. I’m
sure research will show many other well known names associated with these models. I was lucky enough to discover one of them, whilst studying a list of Lanchester and BSA cars sold by Stratton-Instone Ltd from their London Showrooms.
The name which stood out of the page was Mr Leonard Woolf. The sales record also provides the registration number; JJ 3826 /18 Saloon 11286/59986; Grey 13.1.1933.
A quick email to The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain resulted almost immediately in confirmation that the car must indeed have been the Woolfs’. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was an English novelist, essayist, biographer, and feminist. Leonard Woolf (1880 – 1969) was an author and publisher.
The purchase of their Lanchester which boasted a Tickford roof was clearly a significant event and, as one would expect of a literary couple, the subject of several diary entries. These are a rare and delightful insight into the period and also the lives of Virginia and Leonard.
"We've bought a Lanchester: to be delivered on Dec. 10th . Grey & green." (VW Diary Vol.4, p.130)
"L. [Leonard] is off to Lanchester's in a rage." (VW Diary Vol.4, p.133; fn: "LW ordered a new Lanchester car on 3 November; through prevarications and delays he did not finally get it until 14 January 1933.")
Presumably in compensation they were lent another (VW Diary Vol.4, p.139).
"We have bought a new and very expensive car. This has been promised us weekly since Dec 10th. As now arranged it will be delivered here [Rodmell] on the 14th. ... It is the apple of L's eye. It is on the fluid flywheel system. It will cruise--how I love technical words--at 50 miles an hour"
(VW Letters Vol.5, p.146, 6/1/)
Then: "The Deluge came yesterday. It was expected at 1.15 ... at 4 ... L. pruning cried out its come. And it had gone. It swept up the village [Rodmell] past us, but returned. In colour & shape it is beyond the wildest dreams--I mean it is elegant green silver beautifully compact modelled firm
& not too rich--not a money car. We drove it to Lewes, & shall now take it to London" (VW Diary Vol.4, p.143, Sunday 15/1/33).
She also told T. S. Eliot about the fluid flywheel (VW Letters Vol.5, p.150, 15/1/33), and there is an amusing story when Mrs Keppel (Edward VII's former mistress) came to tea. Her daughter wrote: "... they certainly seemed very animated. 'Personally, I've always been in favour of six cylinders though I know some people think four are less trouble.' 'My dear Mrs. Keppel, you wouldn't hesitate if you saw the new Lanchester with the fluid fly-wheel!'
Neither knew a thing about motors; both thought they were on safe ground, discussing a topic on which they both could bluff to their heart's content." (Violet Trefusis, "Don't Look Round: Her Reminiscences", Hutchinson, 1952, pp.107-8)
VW wrote to Vita Sackville-West on 14/2/: "our car has come--silver and green, fluid fly wheel, Tickford hood--Lanchester 18--well what more could you want? It glides with the smoothness of an eel, with the speed of a swift, and the--isn't this a good blurb?--the power of a tigress when that
tigress has just been reft of her young in and out up and down Piccadilly, Bond Street. The worst of it is we cant live up to it. I've had to buy a new coat But what's the good? Theres my hat Thats all wrong--thats a Singer saloon hat." (VW Letters Vol.5, p.157, 14/2/; their previous 2 cars were Singers)
They took it to France in May ‘33 (VW Diary Vol.4, p.153-4)
Two photographs have come to light. I firmly believe they both show the car but unfortunately neither image is ideal (from the perspective of car identification!). The earlier photograph was taken on 28/29 April 1934 at Bowen’s Court, (now demolished), Kildorrey (The man on the L is Alan Cameron, Elizabeth Bowen's husband). The second (blurred) photograph was taken at Loch Cuan, Scotland during a trip in 1938. If I am correct and these are both the same car, it had spare wheels mounted on both wings.
The Woolfs took a motor tour to continental Europe in 1935, including pre-war Nazi Germany. A bold move given that Leonard was a Jew. At that time they also had a pet marmoset, Mitz. In the fourth volume of Leonard's autobiography, Downhill All The Way (Hogarth Press, 1967) LW says
“I took Mitz with me when on May 1, 1935, we crossed from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. At that time I had a Lanchester 18 car with a Tickford hood so that, by winding the hood back, one could convert it from a closed-in saloon to a completely open car. Most of the day Mitz used to sit on my shoulder, but she would sometimes curl up and go to sleep among the luggage and coats on the back seat” (p. 188).
Presumably after being laid up during the war, and after Virginia’s premature death, Leonard put the car back on the road in the summer of 1947. Almost at once he was in trouble, summonsed for driving after midnight without lights, and receiving a hefty bill for parking at Lewes station 11 times without paying the parking fee. (There never used to be a parking fee and Leonard did not see why there should be one now.)
There may be more references to the car in Leonard Woolfs’ pocket diaries and also in a section of his papers which are held at The Keep in Brighton. If anyone reading this article is inspired enough to visit The Keep and take this story further, I would be very interested to hear from you.
My thanks principally go to Stuart N Clarke and Stephen Barkway, Virginia Woolf Society GB.
Also to Brian Smith, Daimler Historian and to Houghton Library, Harvard University for permission to use their photographs (MS Thr 560 (122) and MS Thr 562 (158).
Ranald McCallum, Lanchester 15/18 + 18 Registrar (written March 2017)