1931 Trojan
1931 Trojan. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

The unusual English Trojan’s roots went back to 1904 when engineer Leslie Hounsfield set up the Trojan company in Clapham, South London to do a variety of light engineering projects. He became interested in automobiles, but eschewed their complexity, so in 1910 be built his first prototype car. It was to be a basic, simple and cheap “utility car.” While other makers of affordable transportation such as Ford’s Model T and Austin’s Seven would produce fairly conventional designs, Hounsfield ventured far from the normal engineering path.

The prototype was powered by a two-stroke, four-cylinder engine mounted vertically between the seats. The engine’s four cylinders, however, were deployed in a square pattern. Each two pistons operated as one by virtue of being attached to the two-throw crankshaft by a long, one-piece, V-shaped connecting rod. The combined cylinders shared a common combustion chamber with a single spark plug. Cylinder charging was by crankcase compression through transfer passages and ports uncovered by the pistons.

Trojan built five more prototypes over the next few years, and in 1922 a manufacturing licence to produce the car commercially was sold to bus and truck maker Leyland Motors of Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey. Hounsfield was put in charge of Leyland’s Trojan Division.

Daimler had decided to move into passenger vehicles after the First World War, and would take the unusual step of offering cars at both ends of the spectrum. Its Leyland Eight, which appeared in 1920, was the most expensive on the British market. Built to rival the Rolls-Royce, it had a 7.3-litre, overhead cam, straight-eight engine developing 115 horsepower with one carburetor, or 145 with two. Only some 18 would be made before production ceased in 1923.

Seeing its attempt in the luxury field failing, it looked to the other end of the market with the Trojan that would become the cheapest car on the market. Production began in 1922 and the production version remained similar to the original prototype except that the 1.5-litre, two-stroke, square four was now mounted horizontally under the floor. Power was delivered to the solid rear axle through chain drive and a two-speed planetary gearbox.

The chassis was nothing more than a metal tray-like box. Suspension was by long cantilevered, semi-elliptic, longitudinal springs with tubular axles attached to their ends. For cost saving and reliability, solid tires were fitted (pneumatics became optional in 1924), as were two-wheel brakes acting on a single brake drum on the differential-less rear axle. Under the hood were the fuel tank and the carburetor, which was located several feet from the engine! The engine was started with a lever; electric starting became optional in 1930.

Despite its basic mechanical specifications the Trojan gained a good following. Its engine was long-lived and reliable, no doubt mostly due to its slow speed. Maximum revolutions per minute were about 1500, and the power band was very flat: 10 horsepower at 400 rpm, 11 at 900, and back down to 10 at 1200. This gave the Trojan the ability to climb just about anything in low gear, albeit at a painfully slow pace. Top speed was approximately 50 km/h (30 mph).

The body was equally basic, a two-door open type of decidedly snug proportions. Rear passengers were severely cramped. For commercial hauling, the rear seats could be removed.

Simplicity, cheapness and reliability made Trojans especially popular with ministers, its blend of frugality, mobility and lack of pretention making it appropriate to the clerical pursuit. It was the only marque that advertised in the Church Times.

A new Trojan, the RE Type, appeared in 1929, by which time Trojan Ltd. had taken back the manufacture from Leyland. The RE retained its two-stroke engine, although now located in a rear trunk-like enclosure, hence the RE name. It was still chain driven through a three-speed planetary transmission and differential gears. The body was made of fabric and pneumatic tires now were fitted but braking was still rear wheel only, and it had semi- elliptic springs.

While motorists were now seeking more luxury and mechanical sophistication than the Trojan provided, due to their durability
and economy, commercial Trojans remained popular. The Brooke Bond Tea fleet was particularly well known.

Despite attempts at modernizing with a centrifugal clutch in 1932 and a fluid flywheel a couple of years later, the cars gradually fell into the build-to-order category. The RE could not be called a success.

An upscale new model called the Mastra with a rear mounted, two-stroke, six cylinder engine and four-wheel brakes was shown in
1935, but didn’t make it to production. That marked the end of Trojan cars. The company continued making commercial vehicles, producing its last van in 1964.

The company seemed addicted to unconventional pursuits, however, because it re-entered the passenger car business briefly in the early 1960s building the German-designed, three-wheeled Heinkel bubble car under licence. It was called the Trojan 200. Unfortunately for Trojan, cars like the Mini had by then made bubble cars obsolete. Trojan also built the MG-engined Elva Courier sports car from 1962 to about 1965.

To Trojan buffs those off-beat odd little two-stroke machines were irresistible. They provided transportation that, the company claimed in an elaborate tongue-in-cheek advertisement, was “cheaper than walking.” A Trojan owner’s club keeps the flame alive to recall those days of simpler motoring.

Connect with Autos.ca