|A Royal Enfield powered Berkeley sports car as seen on YouTube.|
According to the Encyclopedia of the Car, "the Berkeley had chain drive to the front wheels from a motorcycle engine... The most potent had the 692cc Royal Enfield power unit, which gave it 90 mph allied to a reputation for performance at the expense of reliability."
That seems a bit of a cheap shot, but the Encyclopedia of the Car pulls no punches.
The copy I have, on loan from my friend, author Douglas Kalajian, is from 1993, which means it includes a lot of my old favorites that might be missing from more modern books.
The encyclopedia is a peculiarly British undertaking, as you realize when the cut-away diagram of a Porsche 356 shows it with right-hand drive. But the element I really associate with the English is the readiness to criticize bad automobiles with relish. Jeremy Clarkson could have written some of this.
Particular target of the encyclopedia is a whole class of vehicles it refers to as "cyclecars." Almost invariably powered by motorcycle engines, these spindly one and two-seater insults to common sense sold in some numbers early in the 20th Century.
More than one of these was so crude as to feature center-pivot steering — like a child's toy wagon, and just as unstable. Steering might be controlled by cables. Chain drive, poor brakes and lack of reverse gear were givens.
The encyclopedia does not spare the lash:
The Carden car was "crude and lethal," a "horrific design," and "possibly the most suicidal design created in the cyclecar craze of 1912-14."
Yet the Carden design was sold to another maker, AV, which supplied bodies "made of whatever materials happened to be to hand — mahogany, plywood or compressed paper."
Carden figured in yet another atrocity, the Tamplin, "whose chassis was an offense against any normal engineering standards, for it was made of ash panelled with waterproof fibreboard...
"Sliding-pillar independent front suspension was an advanced feature, although one suspects that it was adopted because it was cheap to make rather than any consideration of roadholding.
"A particularly thoughtful piece of design was the tandem seating, which omitted to provide any accommodation for the rear passenger's legs, which had to be hung out over the side (long plank running boards prevented them from becoming entangled in the drive belts)."
The cyclecars were finally driven from the English scene in the 1920s by the affordable Austin Seven, an actual automobile, although in miniature.
The Royal Enfield powered Berkeley of the 1960s may have been miniature but it was certainly no cyclecar, despite the encyclopedia's somewhat grudging approval.
A true lightweight (less than 800 pounds) the Berkeley was a response to a heavy problem: the cut-off of oil to England during the 1956 Suez Crisis. With a Berkeley you could have fun while burning very little fuel.
The car's designer was was Lawrence Bond, whose three-wheeled Bond minicar is sadly omitted from the encyclopedia.
Its maker, Berkeley Caravans, was experienced in producing quality fiberglas bodies for travel trailers, forming them like two halves of an eggshell and gluing them together. The cars were made in the same advanced fashion.
If there's a chuckle to be had from the Berkeley, it's the name of the maker's headquarters town: Biggleswade, England.
Sounds to American ears like a place out of "Harry Potter."
There is an active Berkeley Enthusiasts Club.
Here's an interesting YouTube video of a Royal Enfield powered Berkeley. Does it make you wonder how hot that Royal Enfield motor gets under the hood with no cooling fan?