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|Former type||Limited company|
|Industry||Speciality machinery and engine manufacture|
|Fate||Purchased by Jaguar Cars, businesses merged by British Leyland or divested|
|Successor(s)||Kalmar Climax (forklift business)|
|Defunct||1986 (Coventry Climax Holdings Ltd)|
|Key people||Lee Stroyer, Henry Pelham Lee|
The company was started in 1903 as Lee Stroyer, but two years later, following the departure of Stroyer, it was relocated to Paynes Lane, Coventry, and renamed to Coventry-Simplex by H. Pelham Lee, a former Daimler employee, who saw a need for competition in the nascent piston engine market.
An early user was GWK, who produced over 1,000 light cars with Coventry-Simplex two-cylinder engines between 1911 and 1915. Just before World War I a Coventry-Simplex engine was used by Lionel Martin to power the first Aston Martin car. Ernest Shackleton selected Coventry-Simplex to power the tractors that were to be used in his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914.
Hundreds of Coventry-Simplex engines were manufactured during World War I to be used in generating sets for searchlights. In 1917 the company was renamed to Coventry Climax and moved to East Street, Coventry.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s they supplied engines to many companies manufacturing light-cars such as Abbey, AJS, Albatross, Ashton-Evans, Bayliss-Thomas, Clyno, Crossley, Crouch, GWK, Marendaz, Morgan, Triumph, Swift, and Standard. In the 1920s the company moved to Friars Road, Coventry and in the late 1930s they also acquired the ex-Riley premises in Widdrington Road, Coventry. In the early 1930s the company also supplied engines for buses.
With the closure of Swift in 1931, the company was left with a stock of engines that were converted to drive electric generators, giving the company an entry into a new field. The economic problems of the 1930s hit the business hard and Leonard Pelham Lee, who had taken over from his father, diversified into the production of water-pumping equipment and the "Godiva" was born. This fire engine (which saw widespread use during the Second World War) was better known to the public as the "Green Goddess". Post-war Coventry Climax users included Clan, Hillman, Kieft, Lotus, Cooper, and TVR.
In the late 1940s, the company shifted away from automobile engines and into other markets, including marine diesels, fire pumps, and forklift trucks. In 1946, the ET199 was announced, which the company claimed was the first British-produced forklift truck. The ET199 was designed to carry a 4,000 lb (1,800 kg) load with a 24-inch (610 mm) load centre, and with a 9 ft (2.7 m) lift height.
In 1950, Walter Hassan (previously employed by Jaguar and Bentley) joined Coventry Climax, and a new lightweight overhead camshaft engine was developed. This was designated the FW, for "Feather Weight". The engine was displayed at the Motor Show in London and attracted attention from the motor racing fraternity. Lee concluded that success in competition would lead to more customers for the company and so Hassan designed the FWA, a FW engine for automobiles. The first Coventry Climax racing engine appeared at the 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans in the front of a Kieft chassis, but this car failed to finish the event. The engine became popular in sportscar racing and was followed by a Mark II and then by an FWB which had a capacity of nearly 1.5-litres. The new Formula Two regulations suited the 1.5-litre engine and it quickly became the engine to have in F2 racing. The following year, the first Climax engines began to appear in Formula One in the back of Cooper chassis. Initially, these were FWBs but the FPF engine followed. Stirling Moss scored the company's first Formula One victory in Argentina in 1958, using a 1.9-litre version of the engine. In general terms, however, the engines were not powerful enough to compete with the 2.5-litre machinery and it was not until the 2.5-litre version of the FPF arrived in 1959 that Jack Brabham was able to win the World Championship in a Cooper-Climax. At the same time, the company produced the FWE engine for the Lotus Elite and this enjoyed considerable success in sportscar racing, with a series of class wins at Le Mans in the early 1960s. In 1961, there was a new 1.5-litre formula and the FPF engine was given a new lease of life, although the company began work on a V8 engine, designated the FWMV, and this began winning races in 1962 with Jim Clark. There would be a total of 22 Grand Prix victories before 1966 when the new 3-litre formula was introduced and Coventry Climax, having decided not to build engines for the new formula, withdrew from racing.
Away from the car engine business, Coventry Climax used their marine diesel experience to further develop and build the Armstrong Whitworth supercharged H30 multifuel engine for military use. This has been fitted as an auxiliary engine in the British Chieftain and Challenger battle tanks and Rapier anti aircraft missile systems.
The company was purchased by Jaguar Cars in 1963, which itself merged with the British Motor Corporation (BMC) in 1966 to form British Motor Holdings (BMH). BMH then merged with the Leyland Motor Corporation in 1968 to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation, which was then nationalised in 1975 as British Leyland (BL). Coventry Climax became part of the British Leyland Special Products division, alongside Alvis, Aveling-Barford and others. At the end of 1978, BL brought together Coventry Climax Limited, Leyland Vehicles Limited (trucks, buses, and tractors), Alvis Limited (military vehicles) and Self-Changing Gears Limited (heavy-duty transmissions), into a new group called BL Commercial Vehicles (BLCV) under managing director David Abell.
In 1977 Coventry Climax acquired the Warrington forklift truck business of Rubery Owen Conveyancer, renaming it to Climax Conveyancer.
1982 saw the sell-off by BL of the Coventry Climax forklift truck business back into private ownership, to Coventry Climax Holdings Limited. Sir Emmanuel Kaye, also chairman and a major shareholder of Lansing Bagnall at the time, formed the company, independent of his other interests for the purpose of acquiring Coventry Climax.
In 1986 Coventry Climax went into receivership and was acquired by Cronin Tubular. In 1990, a further change of ownership came with the engine business being sold to Horstman Defence Systems of Bath, Somerset, thus breaking the link with Coventry.
'Coventry Climax' logo is owned by Peter Schomer's company Coventry Climax Engineering Ltd. (England) www.Coventry-Climax-Engines.com Registered Trade Mark # 2527892 is protected under the Trade Mark Intellectual Property and Patent Office of Great Britain.
The OC was initially made with a capacity of 1122 cc straight-4 with bore of 63 mm and stroke of 90 mm with overhead inlet and side exhaust valves producing 34 bhp (25 kW). It was introduced in the early 1930s and also built under licence by Triumph.
A six-cylinder version of the OC engine, the JM, was made with a capacity of 1476 cc developing 42 bhp (31 kW). The JMC version had a capacity increase to 1640 cc by increasing the bore to 63 mm and produced 48 bhp (36 kW).
The FW 38 hp 1020 cc straight-4 SOHC was designed by Walter Hassan and Harry Mundy as the motive unit for a portable service firepump. In 1953 it was adapted for automotive racing as the 1098 cc FWA, with a bore of 2.85 inches and a stroke of 2.625 inches it initially produced 71 hp (53 kW) and was first used at Le Mans in 1954 by Kieft Cars. The larger bore (3 inches) and longer stroke (3.15 inches) 1460 cc FWB engine followed, it retained the FWA head and produced a nominal 108 bhp (81 kW). The most significant of the series was the FWE which used the FWB bore size and the FWA stroke; it was specifically designed for the first generation Lotus Elite but became a firm favorite with a number of sports car racing firms for its racing durability and high power-to-weight ratio. Other FW variants included a short-stroke version (1.78 inches) of the FWA to produce the 744 cc FWC, as used by Dan Gurney early in his career in US club racing. The objective of this engine was for Lotus to campaign for the 750cc Le Mans Index of Performance prize in 1957, three engines were made for this purpose and they successfully won the prize; Lotus also campaigned in 1958. The FWMA engine was a 742cc follow up to the FWC but was based on the smaller FWM marine engine. In its automotive guise as the FWMA it was less successful than the FWC when used by Lotus cars, but was eventually adapted by Rootes to provide the lightweight engine for the Hillman Imp. FWE powered Lotus Elite cars won their class six times and the 'Index of Thermal Efficiency' once during the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Notably FW series engines in modified forms also powered Lotus Eleven cars which took three class wins at Le Mans and one 'Index of Performance' win.
Technical significance of the FW series includes an interpretation of Sir Harry Ricardo's intake turbulence theory, whereby intake and exhaust valves are tilted to the same side of the engine where intake and exhaust ports are located. In the SOHC reverse-flow cylinderhead design, this arrangement allowed intake and exhaust flows to encourage a swirl in the combustion chamber to increase efficiency. Later crossflow engines such as the DOHC FPF design incorporated the same concept in a completely different arrangement where the tracts in the intake manifold are connected to the intake ports adjacent to the valves in a staggered fashion, unaligned to the center axis of intake valve seats, to create the turbulence.
The FPF was a pure-racing double overhead cam four cylinder that was essentially half of the still born FPE V8 engine of 1954. It started life as a 1.5 L Formula Two engine, and was gradually enlarged for use in Formula One. A 2.0 L version took Stirling Moss and Maurice Trintignant to Cooper's first two Grand Prix victories against 2.5 L opposition in 1958. The engine was subsequently developed into a full-sized 2.5 L Formula One unit and Jack Brabham won the World Championship of Drivers in both 1959 and 1960 driving FPF powered Coopers. The FPF was then adapted to the new 1.5-litre Formula One of 1961 and won three World Championship Grand Prix races in that year. In addition, capacity was increased to 2.7 L for the Indianapolis 500 and this larger variant was also utilised for sports car racing, the Intercontinental Formula and Formula Libre racing. It also served as a stopgap in the new 3.0 L Formula One which was introduced in 1966. The seemingly obsolete 2.5-litre FPF gained a new lease of life in 1964 with the introduction of the Tasman Formula and the Australian National Formula, both of which had a maximum engine capacity of 2.5 litres.
Another successful engine from the company was the 1.5-litre FWMV V8, developed from the marine unit. It produced 174 hp (130 kW) and made its debut in 1961. From the following year through to 1965 it powered Cooper, Lotus and Brabham Formula One cars to victory in a total of 22 World Championship Grand Prix races. Scotland’s Jim Clark won the World Championship of Drivers in both 1963 and 1965 with FWMV powered Lotus 25 and 33 models.
Coventry Climax built two notable engines un-raced in their original form — first the V8 FPE ("Godiva"), which was intended for the start of the 2.5 L Formula One in 1954. Because of fuelling issues, the engine could not be properly tested until mid-1956; the press at the time reported to the effect that the engine was not run because of fears about the rumoured power of Mercedes and other engines, quoted as being up to 300 bhp. Shortly after the first proper tests, John Cooper brought a race-winning, works Maserati F1 engine he had on loan into Coventry Climax, where it produced 225 bhp on the same dynamometer the partially developed FPE had made 264 bhp. Ultimately, development on the engine was abandoned in favour of focusing on the FPF engine, which was already performing well. Paul Emery acquired a Godiva and fitted it to an old F3 chassis to make the Shannon F1 car in 1966, and the engine later ran in something close to its original form in the Kieft Grand Prix car when that was finally finished in 2003.
The other un-raced engine was the flat-16 FWMW; work on this continued through the later years of the 1.5 L formula with Lotus and Brabham the likely recipients, but there were a number of design issues still to solve before the formula ran out. At this time the engine had not only shown little power advantage over the V8 it had a number of design complexities that would either have taken a major rework to solve or at least resulted in the need for complete engine rebuilds after 3 hours running. The fact that the conjoined 3 part crank tended to move radially resulting in the engine becoming two aphasic V8s, also the central spur gear drive to parallel quill shaft driving the flywheel caused several problems.
The F1 engines were as follows:
- 1954 2.5-litre V-8 2.94 x 2.80" 264 bhp (197 kW) @ 7,900 rpm Godiva
- 1959 2.5-litre 4 cyl 3.70 x 3.50" 220 bhp (160 kW) @6,500 rpm
- 1960 2.5-litre 4 cyl 3.70 x 3.54" 240 bhp (180 kW) @ 6,750 rpm
- 1960 1.5-litre 4 cyl 3.20 x 2.80" Formula 2
- 1961 2.75-litre 4 cyl 3.78 x 3.74" Indianapolis and Formula Libre
- 1961 1.5-litre 4 cyl 3.22 x 2.80" 150 bhp (110 kW) @ 7,500 rpm
- 1962 1.5-litre V-8 2.48 x 2.36" 180 bhp (130 kW) @ 8,500 rpm
- 1963 1.5-litre V-8 2.675 x 2.03" 195 bhp (145 kW) @ 9,500 rpm fuel injection
- 1964 1.5-litre V-8 2.85 x 1.79" 200 bhp (150 kW) @ 9,750 rpm
- 1965 1.5-litre V-8 2.85 x 1.79" 210 bhp (160 kW) @ 10,500 rpm 4 valve/cyl
- 1966 2.0-litre V-8 2.85 x 2.36" 244 bhp (182 kW) @ 8,900 rpm 2 valve/cyl
- 1965 1.5-litre F-16 2.13 x 1.60" 220/225 bhp @ 12,000 rpm 2 valve/cyl (209 bhp measured)
Some notable Coventry Climax-powered cars:
- 1929 AJS Nine
- 1930 Crossley 10, 1122 cc straight-4
- 1933 Vale Special
- 1935 Triumph Gloria
- 1935 Crossley Regis, 1122cc 4-cylinder, 1476 cc and 1640cc 6-cylinder
- 1936 Morgan 4-4, 1122 cc straight-4
- 1954 Kieft GP F1 racer
- 1955 Kieft 1100 LeMans
- 1956/7 Lotus Eleven, 1100cc FWA, 1460cc FWB
- 1957 Lotus Elite, 1216 cc FWE
- 1958 TVR Grantura, 1216 cc FWE
- 1958 Kieft-Climax 2.5 FPF
- 1963-76 Hillman Imp, 875 - 998 cc derivative of the FWMA, adapted by Rootes
- 1965-75 Bond 875 and Bond Ranger, low compression version of Imp engine
- Simister, John. Legendary Car Engines: Inner Secrets of the World's 20 Best. MotorBooks/MBI Publishing. p. 76. ISBN 0-7603-1941-3 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]. Unknown parameter
- "Aston Martin: Car Manufacturer: Great British Design Quest". Design Museum.
- Coventry Transport Museum
- Kalmar Industries ltd. : About Us
- Ricardo, Harry R. Sir(1941). The High-Speed Internal Combustion Engine (3rd ed.). Glasgow: Blackie.
- ML Twite, The World's Racing Cars, Second Edition, 1964, page 74
- ML Twite, The World's Racing Cars, Second Edition, 1964, page 56
- Hammill, Des (2004). Coventry Climax Racing Engines: The Definitive Development History. Veloce. ISBN 978-1-903706-83-1 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].