|Arrol-Johnston was one of the most famous early makes of car in Scotland, and was introduced at a time when the fledgling industry looked like being an important part of Scotland’s industrial fabric. This early promise soon faded, for no cars were made north of the Border after the 1920s until Rootes set up a new plant in the 1960s to manufacture Hillman Imps.
The Arrol-Johnston marque was founded very early in the life of the British motor industry, in 1897, when Sir William Arrol (the noted civil engineer) and George Johnston got together to develop the original ‘Dogcart’ model, which went into production in a factory at Camlachie, an industrial area of Glasgow. The city was not short of industrial skills, of course, but in the Victorian era they had been applied mainly to heavy industries, such as shipbuilding.
A ‘dogcart’ was a particularly compact style of horse-drawn carriage, where two rows of seats were placed back-to-back. The carriage was so small and light that, on a private estate at least, it could be drawn by a pony or a large dog! Like many ‘horseless carriages’, the pioneering Arrol-Johnston’s style was lifted from the earlier era, though in this case the solid-tyred wheels were altogether larger, and the flat-twin opposed-piston engine was positioned under the floor, driving the rear wheels by chain. Although the performance was distinctly limited (and, even then, it was beginning to look old-fashioned), this was such a strong, reliable, popular and practical layout that it was produced, with only minor changes, until 1907, by which time a more modern front-engined 12/15 model had appeared.
The brakes were arranged in the form of shoes which could be pressed on the back of the solid rear tyres not very effective in dry weather, and virtually useless when it was raining. The suspension, on the other hand, was relatively comfortable, for there were full elliptic leaf springs at the front, and half-elliptics at the rear. Transmission and brake control levers were mounted close to the driver’s right hand, and some cars were fitted with magnificent bulb horns.
This was a good foundation for the marque, which prospered into the 1910s and 1920s but, like many other companies, suffered badly from the arrival of cheaper, series-production machinery made in the Midlands. In spite of a move to Dumfries in 1913, and a merger with Aster (of Wembley, Middlesex) in 1927, the pedigree fell away, the last of all being produced in 1931.
The Dogcart’s layout owed as much to the past, as to the future the large wheels were constructed from wood, there was no weather protection for the passengers, and the brakes were virtually non-existent. The flat-twin pistoned engine was positioned under the floor, driving the rear wheels by chain, but its performance was limited.