Jowett Javelin

Perhaps a car has never been so aptly named. The Javelin. Intended to complement its streamlined shape and performance, in retrospect it can be seen that it also reflected the life of the model. After its launch it rose to a glorious zenith and then fell somewhat helplessly to earth again. It was undoubtedly the right post war car, "New Right Through", but it was born to a company that just could not cope with its genius offspring.

The design of a car is the result of work by many people and sometimes the character is as bland as a committee. Then there are those that are forever linked with just one individual. The famous BMC Mini will forever be Alec Issigonis' epitaph, (despite his immense input to so many other projects) and so it is that the Javelin will seldom be mentioned without recalling Gerald Palmer. Indeed, reading the enthusiast press one might suppose that the Javelin was the only car that Palmer designed when this is of course not so. It might be argued though that it was a car that had so much design in it. No rearranging established off the shelf components in the manner so beloved of the Austin and Morris empire. When in 1942 the Jowett board were planning an optimistic future they can scarcely have realised where it would take them.

Often it is supposed that the Javelin brought about the down fall of Jowett, but in effect it was the company that failed the Javelin with its failure to develop the model. When production ceased in 1953 the Javelin had been in production for seven years without any significant changes. The difficulties with body supply from Briggs of Dagenham and the warranty problems with gear boxes were only nails in the coffin for a company desperately short of cash (well, asset stripped actually) and sales of the exotic Javelin, even at its best, would have been unable to pull the company out of its nose dive. It was the desire to bring gearbox production in house and away from Meadows that was to prove the Javelin's final undoing. Although the design was the same, Jowett were unable to attain the build quality of the Meadows boxes and there were many failures. Completed cars would be standing around the factory, ready for sale... if only they had gear boxes. This at a time when Jowetts needed to sell as many cars as they could.

Too late the company realised that the small production of the Javelin could only be supported by a bread and butter car. Unfortunately the Bradford van, with its pre war roots, by this time hardly had buyers flocking to the show rooms. The proposed new range of cars (the CD) was really too big a change for a company that did not have enough money to underwrite their development. Too much and too late. In any case the CD was a plain looking vehicle (probably partly styled by Briggs). Even if it had reached production it would have almost certainly lost out heavily to the might of the mass produced and similar looking Ford Consul and Popular. Ironically at the last moment the expensive and equally exotic Jowett Jupiter was developing into just the car that could have saved the company, albeit in a quite different persona. Had the R4 Jupiter been properly supported then we might have been talking about Jowett in the same terms as Lotus and TVR. Jowett's management seemed to be forever in a state of flux and it is unlikely that there was enough stability for proper decision making. Jowett were much too conservative for their own good and decided that they were really a mass family car maker (and their idea of "mass" fell woefully short of what was actually required for the economics of production). If they did not have the where with all to do this they might as well close up shop and retire relatively gracefully. So in 1954, they did.

Gerald Palmer was however beyond all this. He had left Jowett in mid 1949 and returned to Morris Motors. The direction of car design (certainly the body styling) predicted by Palmer directly after the war was in fact erroneous. That is not to say that it was wrong, just that things did not develop in the way he suggested. The Javelin has often been compared with the Lancia Aprillia of 1937. This really was just journalists searching for some kind of descriptive comparison. The alusions to the sloping tail were slightly tenuous as many other continental makes also featured this styling statement. The Aprillia was a car of similar character and driving style and this was really what the motoring periodicals were referring to. Palmer refutes that he was influenced by the Lancia. He has said that he was influenced by the style of the Lincoln Zephyr. (In a similar way, Walter Belgrove, stylist at Standard Motors noted styling cues from cars parked outside the American Embassy in London and eventually came up with the Standard Vanguard). Indeed, given the number of American cars appearing in the streets during the war, who could have predicted that while their size and fuel economy made them unwieldy on British roads their shape would also prove too extreme for conservative British tastes? In the austerity of post war Britain, to be described as "having a flash motor" probably meant you were some kind of spiv to boot. Such is the British angst, that while one wanted to engender a little envy for your new car, very few wanted heads to actually swivel as you drove by.

On the other hand the mechanical formula of the Javelin was well established, but actually only Palmer seems to have got away with putting all the ingredients into one car. Before leaving MG for Jowett, Palmer had worked with Alec Issigonis who was at that time developing his thoughts for what was to become the Morris Minor. Issigonis would have liked a flat four engine for low centre of gravity and maximised passenger space. Cost dictated that since Morris did not already make an engine like this then an existing unit would be used. Issigonis would have liked four wheel torsion bar suspension with a properly located back axle but this too was deemed to be more expensive than necessary and consequently rejected. Taking these ideals to Jowett, Palmer was able to build them, unfettered into the Javelin. I hasten to add that I am not suggesting that Palmer's design was un original. He was merely using "best practice" . The Minor was built down to a price and sold millions. Jowetts allowed themselves to be carried away, the Javelin prototypes developing into something too good to be restricted by penny pinching. It had been intended that the Javelin body should be built at their own factory at Idle near Bradford. In the end the body became far too complex for the simple facilities at Idle and were eventually made by Briggs Bodies Ltd., first at Dagenham and later at a new plant at Doncaster. They were delivered fully trimmed to Idle where the mechanical units were attached on a special inverted assembly line. In effect, the Javelin was not built, it was merely assembled by Jowett. They had unwittingly laid themselves open to disruptions in supply and the inflexibility of change requiring large tooling costs. The Javelin was out of their league. Of course, in the fifties many other motor manufacturers went to the wall and it is quite clear that there was absolutely no way that the smaller companies (who like Jowett, believed themselves "volume" car producers) could survive. But, Oh! What a legacy.