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Coventry Climax history

Coventry Climax was a British fork-lift truck, fire pump, and specialty engine manufacturer.


The company was started in 1903 as Coventry-Simplex by H. Pelham Lee, a former Daimler employee, who saw a need for competition in the nascent piston engine market. An early use of Coventry-Simplex engines was to power the tractors that were to be used in the Shackleton trans-antarctic expedition in 1914. In 1917 the company was reformed as Coventry Climax but they continued to supply Coventry-Simplex engines throughout the 1920s to mainly light-car companies such as Abbey, Ashton-Evans, Crouch and GWK.

Coventry Climax engines powered many pre-war marques, including Triumph, Morgan, Clyno, Crossley, Swift, AJS, Marendaz, Crouch and Standard. With the closure of Swift in 1931 they were left with a stock of engines that were converted to drive electric generators giving the company an entry into a new field. This in turn led to the development of fire pumps and the "Godiva" which saw widespread use during the Second World War. 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 diesels for marine and fire pumps and fork lift trucks. In 1946 the ET199 was announced, which the company claimed was the first British produced forklift truck.

In 1950 Walter Hassan, ex Jaguar and Bentley joined them, and a new lightweight overhead camshaft engine was developed called the FW (Feather Weight).

Away from the car engine business Coventry Climax used their marine diesel experience to further develop and build the Armstrong Whitworth supercharged H30 multi fuel 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.

In the early 1970s the fire pump business was sold back into private ownership, and the Godiva Fire Pumps company was formed in Warwick.

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.

By the late 1980s Kalmar Industries had acquired the forklift truck interests of Coventry Climax and it was trading as Kalmar Climax.

The engines

The OC was an 1122 cc straight-4 with bore of 63 mm and stroke of 90 mm with overhead inlet and side exhaust valves producing 34 bhp. It was introduced in the early 1930s and also built under licence by Triumph. A six cylinder version of the engine, the JM, was also made with a capacity of 1476 cc developing 42 bhp.

The FW 38 hp 1020cc straight-4 was adapted for racing as the 1097cc FWA, producing 72hp. Other FW variants included a tiny 750cc FWC used by Dan Gurney, the 1500cc FWB and the FWM marine engine. The marine engine was adapted to automotive use as the FWMA and used in Lotus cars and the Hillman Imp. Climax powered Lotus cars won the "Index of Performance" numerous times during the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The FPF was a pure-racing development of the FWB — it started life as a 1.5 L Formula Two engine, and was gradually enlarged as an F1 unit; a 2.0 L version took Stirling Moss and Maurice Trintignant to Cooper's first two Grand Prix victories against 2.5 L opposition; the engine later grew to a full-sized 2.5 L Formula One and grew to 2.7 L for Indy and the Tasman Formula, and even saw use as a stopgap in 1966 3.0 L Formula One racing.

One special engine from the company, developed from the marine engine, was the FWMV Coventry Climax V8. It produced 174 hp and was used by many racing cars from Lotus, including the Lotus 24, Lotus 25, and Lotus 33 and Cooper including the Formula Junior Cooper T51-Climax. Climax powered Lotus 25's and 33's won the Formula One World Championships in 1962 and 1965.

Climax built two notable engines unraced in their original form — first the V8 FPE ("Godiva"), which was intended for the start of the 2.5 L Formula One in 1954 (withdrawn due to fears about the rumoured power of Mercedes and other engines, but in fact it would have been competitive). 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 unraced 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 the formula ran out before it showed any clear advantage over the V8.

Climax-powered vehicles

Some notable Coventry Climax-powered cars:

  • 1929 AJS Nine
  • 1930 Crossley 10, 1122cc straight-4
  • 1934 Morgan Aero, 1122cc straight-4
  • 1935 Triumph Gloria
  • 1935 Crossley Regis, 1122cc 4 cylinder, 1476cc and 1640cc 6 cylinder
  • 1957 Lotus Elite, 1216cc FWE
  • 1958 TVR Grantura, 1216cc FWE

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