The Crossley Shelsley 15.7 hp Six – a handsome car!

Any museum curator worth his/her salt has a sound acquistions/deacquistions policy. One that reflects the mission of her/his museum, and is laid out so that the Acquistions & Deacquistions Committee and the Trustees can aid the curatorial staff in the furtherance of their common goals. There, sounds all rather fine, doesn’t it? Well, in practice it doesn’t QUITE work out like that. I must admit that almost any curator of a technology museum, who, say, was presented with a working simulator of a Concorde flight deck would not turn it down, and instead would start thinking of the increased attendance figures!

The Manchester Museum of Science & Technology (MOSI) has got it right. Local objects, telling a regional story, in many cases with national significance. It usually comes as a shock to many to find out that what is now the Greater Manchester area was once very significant in the manufacture of road vehicles – cars, ‘buses, trucks and military transport, even armoured cars. Ford established their very first factory outside the U.S.A. at Trafford Park (influenced by access to the sea via the Manchester Ship Canal) and there were many other local manufacturers. One of these was Crossley Motors Ltd – not to be confused with the American firm of Crosley, thank goodness, whose vehicles were not noted for their reliability.

Crossley Motors began manufacturing the Otto internal combustion engine under licence as early as 1880, but their first cars were built in 1903. As with many high-quality vehicles of the time, the buyer could either settle for a ‘works’ body (and very good they were too, eventually being used by certain members of the British Royal family, such as Edward, Prince of Wales on a tour of India) or have a ‘rolling chassis’ sent to a coachbuilder of his/her choice, and completed with bodywork and interior to their own specifications. The Crossley you can see here is a splendid example of the ‘Shelsley 15.7 hp Six’, designed by T.D. Wishart, and is in the MOSI collection. This model was first built in 1928, and continued until 1931, until replaced by a development of the design called the ‘Silver’. I should perhaps explain that 15.7 hp, refers to its Royal Automobile Club horsepower rating, an arcane (and incorrect) formula which was used by the Government to calculate the taxation on the car per year. The manufacturers were forced to accept this, but many began quoting the ‘official’ and the actual horsepower of their models, e.g. Rover 10/25. In this case, the Crossley’s 1,990 cc six-cylinder overhead-valve engine put out 45 hp (although could be tuned to produce up to 62 hp, as in the ‘sports’ version). Taxation was fixed in 1921 at £1 per horsepower. Top speed was 70 mph, although Crossley advertisements of the day stated that it could achieve ‘more than 70 mph’. Amazingly, the engine was so flexible that the top gear of the four-speed gearbox could be used down as low as 5 mph! ‘The Motor’, the eminent motoring magazine of the day tested it, and found that it gave 25 miles per gallon (Imperial, of course) and reached 50 mph in 33 seconds; hardly impressive by today’s standards but not bad in 1929.

The Crossley engine was equipped with a Crossley-Stromberg carburettor and magneto ignition via a Scintilla PN6; the exhaust had a single silencer box (muffler for my US reader!), located under the front passenger seat. The rolling chassis was immensely strong with a ‘A’ shaped framed and five cross members, and was equipped with semi-elliptic springs and shock absorbers (offset at the front). The braking system was by cable to all four wheels, and there was one oddity in that the hand brake (emergency brake in the U.S.) operated on the rear wheels – as was usual – but used a completely separate set of brake shoes!

For those of you who can remember what a grease nipple looks like, and have spent hours on the floor of a garage forcing molybdenum-based grease into a recalcitrant nipple using a leaking grease gun, then you will groan when you hear that the Crossley chassis had no less than 23 lubrication points! Henleys Ltd were the London distributors, and their showrooms in the Euston Road and Piccadily began pushing the Crossley Shelsley Six to the luxury market – ‘With its triple alliance of luxury, liveliness and low price, the 15.7 Crossley Six stands out among the 1930 models as brilliantly as it did among the 1929’; ‘The good points of every car, and the bad points of none’; and then there was this rather enigmatic claim ‘It will be the one car from which the owner with moderate ideas can obtain the maximum of genuine pleasure and satisfaction’

The car was NOT cheap. The ‘Standard’ version with pressed steel ‘artillery’ wheels and a front bench seat cost £498, the ‘De Luxe’, with Rudge-Whitworth wire wheels and individual front seats, cost £575. This was roughly the price of a three bedroom semi-detached house in the suburbs of Manchester, at that time!

Overall the Crossley was a great marque, but one that was overtaken by circumstances. After being heavily involved in military vehicle production (again) in World War Two, the company withdrew from the car sector post-war, concentrating instead on their ‘bus business. They were eventually bought up by their rival AEC, and closed down. A sad end. Of the 1,263 ‘Sixes’ made, there are 24 survivors, worldwide, including no less than 11 in Australia. The Crossley Shelsley Six – a fine car.

One comment on “The Crossley Shelsley 15.7 hp Six – a handsome car!”

  1. 1st I had to learn about spanners, boots and bonnets — now silencer boxes 😉


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