The Berkeley was another Lawrie Bond design (see Bond). This time a compact sportscar with a GRP body, and powered by a small two stroke motorcycle engine driving the front wheels..
In 1956 Lawrie Bond aproached Charles Panter of Berkeley Caravans with his new design. It was an ideal project for Berkeley who had developed considerable skills in the use of GRP, and were looking for something to fill the gaps in the very seasonal caravan market.
The first Berkeley cars used a 322cc British Anzani motorcycle engine fitted with a Siba Dynastart to provide both battery charging and electric starting. The Anzani engine was already used by various small motorcycle manufacturers such as Cotton and Greeves. It was a very clever little two stroke engine which incorporated an inlet valve mechanism in the centre of the crankshaft.
One of the early cars was driven round a race circuit by none less than Stirling Moss who was very impressed by its handling which allowed it to be driven flat out even round the corners.
Supplies of the Anzani engined proved to be unreliable, so an Excelsior 328cc unit was substituted. This was an enlarged version of the unit fitted to the 244cc Excelsior Talisman motorcycle. Later the Talisman was available with the 328cc unit fitted.
The Berkeley proved to be popular both as a road car and for competition use. Exports started especially to America.
Excelsior produced a special three cylinder version of their two stroke engine for Berkeley. This took the capacity up to almost 500cc and gave the car 90mph performance. At this point the car became very competitive and scored a number of class victories in various events.
The next development used the Royal Enfield 700cc engine, this time a four stroke twin cylinder unit. It was available in two states of tune, approximately as fitted to the Super Meteor and Constallation motorcycles. The latter giving genuine 100mph performance at a time when the average family car struggled to exceed 60mph. The new engine was much taller than the two stroke units which necessitated a redesign of the front of the car.
The cars had been designed as two seaters, although there was a small space behind the seats where it was possible to squeeze in a child or two. To address this slightly stretched versions were produced of both the 500cc and 700cc cars.
At the time three wheeler cars were popular, especially with motorcyclists in the UK who could drive them on a motorcycle licence without needing to take the car driving test. Berkeley redesigned the rear of the original 328cc car to fit a single rear wheel. The result was a sporting three wheeler which filled a gap in the market which had been left wide open since the last Morgan three wheelers were produced. This car, known as the T60 was Berkeleys most successful model and about 1800 T60s were produced. Most were open top cars, though a few cars fitted with hard tops were also made.
The miniature Jaguar E-type looks of the Berkeley T60 made it continue to be popular long after production ended. Unfortunatly many were modified by fitting other engines, a few were modified in the original spirit of the car using units from other motorcycles. A large number had the bottom cut out of them so that the body could be dropped straight onto a BMC Mini engine/gearbox/suspension/subframe unit. This unit was much too big for the car, so most cars modified this way ended up with increased ride height and many ugly bulges added to the bodywork.
There was increasing competition in the small sports car market especially from cars such as the Austin Healey Sprite. Berkeleys answer to this was a totally new car, this time using a car derived engine instead of a motorcyle unit. The Berkely Bandit used the new Ford engine as fitted to the 105E Anglia or Classic. Prototypes were built, exhibited at car shows, and test driven by the press.
Unfortunately for Berkeley the bank that was funding the company got nervous and called in a loan.(Probably due to other companies in the caravan industry failing) This left Berkeley unable to continue so in 1961 the company was wound up. Ironically examination of the companies trading position in later years showed that the company was probably viable.
Although the Excelsior motorcycle company had managed to sell its engines to other micro car manufacturers none of these bought engines in the same quantities as Berkeley. So the demise of Excelsior followed that of Berkeley, however the Talisman engine continued to be produced by another company in water cooled form for marine use for several years afterwards.
Many years later the Japanese motor manufacturers re-invented the micro sports car, and Berkeley sized sports cars are once again on the roads in the form of cars like the Honda Beat and Suzuki Cappuccino. I wonder where they got the idea from ....... ?