1958 Berkeley
1958 Berkeley. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

During the 1950s when such British sports cars as MGs, Jaguars, Austin-Healeys and Triumphs were popular, a trailer-making company decided there was a market for a smaller, more affordable, entry level sports car. This had been tried by others, including Powel Crosley’s Crosley Motors of Cincinnati, Ohio, with its Hotshot introduced in 1949; but unfortunately, Crosley ceased production in 1952.

When Berkeley Coachworks of Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, found its house trailer manufacturing business slowing in the mid-1950s, it set out to build a sports car. To design their car Berkeley engaged the services of consulting engineer Lawrence “Lawrie” Bond in 1956. Bond was well known for the design of the three-wheeled Bond minicar.

Bond came up with a unit construction, fibreglass roadster reinforced with aluminum, the first such application in a car. It complemented Berkeley’s expertise because the company was well versed in the use of fibreglass in constructing its trailers.

To say the Berkeley B60 was small is an understatement; it was tiny, even smaller than the 2,159 mm (85 in.) wheelbase and 3,480 mm (137 in.) length of the diminutive Crosley Hotshot. The Berkeley two-seater had a 1,778 mm (70 in.) wheelbase, was 3,124 mm (123 in.) long, and rode on 5.20 X 12 inch tires. It weighed a feathery 322 kg (710 lb), so light that the rear end of the car could be lifted by one man.

A slightly larger four-seater Foursome model would also be offered but few were built. In spite of its diminutive size, the Berkeley was an attractive little car with a cross-hatch grille and headlamps recessed into the fenders and protected by glass covers.

Power initially came from a 322-cc, two-stroke, two-cylinder, air-cooled Anzani motorcycle engine mounted transversely ahead of the front wheels. It developed 15 horsepower which went to the front wheels through a three-speed motorcycle transmission and chain drive.

The transmission was of the progressive, motorcycle type with a floor-mounted lever (early cars had column shift) and the shift pattern in almost a straight line. It started in low gear, which was farthest forward, and then moved progressively back to second and high.

The engine had a “Dynastart” system which combined the generator and starter in one unit. The fuel tank was behind the engine, with the mixture of gasoline and oil reaching the carburetor by gravity.

Suspension was independent all around using coil springs, with swing axles at the rear and A-arms in front. When unladen, the pronounced positive camber of the rear wheels gave them a definite “bow-legged” look, but they straightened out with passengers aboard.

Riding so close to the ground and the general racket of the motorcycle engine made the Berkeley feel fast, but its performance was pretty modest. Road & Track (1/58) recorded zero to 80 km/h (50 mph) in 28.0 seconds, and a top speed of 93 km/h (58 mph). But it did get up to 50 miles per gallon, always followed by the two- stroke’s tell-tale little blue cloud.

R & T’s testers found the cabin cosy, with the driver and passenger rubbing shoulders. The seats were constructed using wide rubber bands fastened to steel tubing and covered with plastic.

It was soon realized that the Berkeley needed more power, so they began fitting an Excelsior air-cooled, 328-cc twin producing 18 horsepower, which was the engine that Road & Track tested. This was soon followed by an even larger 492-cc three-cylinder, 30-horsepower Excelsior and a four-speed transmission.

Having had a taste of power, Berkeley went even further in 1959 with its B95 and B105 models. They had a large, rather ugly square grille with horizontal bars, and the headlamps were of the conventional type, not hiding behind windows. Power now came from a Royal Enfield 692-cc two cylinder, four-stroke, air cooled engine developing 40 horsepower in the B95, and a hot 50 in the B105.

This injection of power made the Berkeley’s performance more sports car like, with zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) dropping to the 15 second range, and raising top speed to 137 to 145 km/h (85 to 90 mph).

Also in 1959 Berkeley brought out a three-wheeled version, the T60, which enabled it to take advantage of Britain’s lower tax on three-wheeled vehicles. It was not, however, suitable for North America.

Berkeley’s last try was its 1961 Bandit model fitted with a 39-horsepower, overhead valve Ford Anglia engine and running gear, and Triumph Herald rack-and-pinion steering. It was not designed by Bond, and its fibreglass body was now mounted on a separate frame. It was intended to compete with the recently introduced British Motor Corp. Austin-Healey Sprite.

But it was not to be. The Bandit didn’t get into production, and Berkeley went out of business in 1961 after a total of some 4,000 cars had been built. Its demise was the result of poor sales, articularly in the United States, uneven quality, and too much competition from the popular Sprite. Thus another of Britain’s famous “cottage industry” enterprises disappeared.

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