Charlesworth

Alvis were a major partner to their neighbouring business in Coventry, see Graces Guide to Charlesworth and most of the 1930s models had coachwork options. These are some recently acquired period photos of some of them:


For more Charlesworth photos, click on

Crested Eagle– 352 made

Speed 20 SA  – 96 made;  Speed 20 SB SC SD  162 SB ; 165 SC ; 109 SD made

Speed 25 – 329 made; 4.3 – 72 made; The 3½ litre  – 16 made

The Silver Crest– 10 made; Firefly– 76 made

The late NICK WALKER wrote in 2004…….

Charlesworth Motor Bodies Ltd were located in Much Park Street, Coventry, for the whole of their comparatively long life. Founded in 1907, they at first concentrated on supplying contract bodies to local manufacturers such as Hillman and Singer. During World War 1 they undertook experimental work for the Siddeley–Deasy aircraft engine company, and afterwards continued with the policy of supplying contract bodies. They allied themselves with the new Dawson company, but the Dawson car proved to be too expensive and that company ceased business in 1921. It was at this point that Charlesworth began their connection with the Alvis company and its first car, the 10/30.

In 1921 Alvis listed a four-seater by Charlesworth, but the two–seater model proved much more popular and the four–seater was discontinued. The next year Charlesworth bodied the prototype Buckingham cyclecars which Alvis had started to manufacture, but again this project came to nothing and the opportunity for a long–term contract with Alvis evaporated. At the same time (1921) Charlesworth began exhibiting at Olympia, and they were soon bodying a great diversity of chassis. Daimler, Bean, Peugeot, Rolls–Royce, Calcott, Armstrong–Siddeley, Minerva, Bentley, Sunbeam and Talbot were just some of the makes which went through the works within the space of four years.

In 1925 they gained a contract from Morris for saloon bodies, but maybe only because Hoyal had insufficient capacity. Later on (1929 and 1930) they would seem to have been working with Humber (drophead coupes), Hillman (sunshine saloons) and Daimler (Weymann saloons). This workload, however, was not enough; suddenly Charlesworth were absent from the 1931 Motor Show, and in the next month (November) their reconstruction as Charlesworth Bodies (1931) Ltd was reported. James Butlin, principal shareholder until then, left and formed a new company under his own name. The bright spot in this bad news was that it brought in James Reynolds as managing director and major shareholder. Under his management and as the car industry began its climb out of the Depression—the new Charlesworth company began to secure contract work.

In 1931-32 there was the first of two important contracts for Rover (and one presumably carried over from the old company); this was for the “Pirate” foursome coupe. Then in 1932-33 and exhibited at the 1932 Show, came a novel four–door close–coupled pillarless saloon on the Speed Pilot chassis, together with a racy–looking “super–sports” saloon on the same chassis and an updated “Pirate” coupe; all three were catalogued Rover models.

Meanwhile the new company had wasted no time in renewing contact with Alvis. The first sign was the announcement in early 1932 that the new Speed 20 model would be offered with a choice of standard bodywork – a four-door tourer by Cross & Ellis, and a sports saloon by Charlesworth. However there was more to this news than appeared on the surface. Charles Follett, the London distributor, who was using Vanden Plas as his “in-house” coachbuilder, had apparently taken the Alvis management by surprise when he revealed his own saloon design. Up to then the view had been that the Speed 20 was essentially a sports car, and a rapid re–think ensued. The result was the Charlesworth saloon, but there was a long gap between its announcement and the first deliveries, which only took place in May.

However a prototype made an appearance in March at the RAC Rally, in the hands of the Birmingham Alvis dealer, Frank Hallam. Another oddity was the appearance in mid-1932 of a Charlesworth fixed–head coupe on an early SA Speed Twenty chassis, which had previously been bodied as a Cross & Ellis tourer. In the hands of Bill Scott Brown (father of the famous Archie) it won prizes in the RSAC Rally that year. Presumably this was a one–off contract, firstly to determine if there might be a market for such a car and secondly to see how the new Charlesworth company performed.

It was probably pressure, again, from Follett’s Vanden Plas designs which led to a second Alvis contract—the Speed 20 Drophead Coupe. Charlesworth’s first example was completed in July 1932, yet deliveries did not get into their stride until the middle of the following year. These delays were a continual source of frustration for Alvis, as evidenced in their board minutes, and it would appear that Charlesworth were put under strong pressure to increase their capacity. The Speed 20 saloon was a highly important contract for Charlesworth, as can be seen from the production figures: 96 on the SA chassis, 137 SB’s, 131 SC’s and 97 SD’s. In addition they produced 64 Speed 20 Drophead Coupes. However there was plenty of other work about, and the company gained contracts from Lanchester. Daimler and MG.

One of the keys to their success was undoubtedly the quality of their designs, which were outstandingly stylish. Particularly attractive in their appearance were the four—seater tourers on the MG SA and WA chassis. Daimler production consisted of saloons and tourers on the Straight Eight chassis. Charlesworth also produced a good-looking saloon on the 1938 Brough Superior V-12 chassis. Their experience with the Daimler and MG tourers no doubt helped them when Alvis handed them the contract for eleven Speed 25 tourers, after Cross & Ellis folded in 1938. The Speed 25 and 4.3 models were something of a lifeline for Charlesworth, pulling them out of a period of short-time working during 1937. Total saloon production for these two models (and the preceding 3½ Litre) was 342, plus 66 Drophead Coupes. This should be set against the company’s total annual production at that period of about 500 bodies.

The company’s last known bodies before they moved to aircraft work in 1940 were the Daimler Dolphin saloon prototype and a Phantom III Rolls-Royce for King Farouk of Egypt (possibly a contract picked up from Hooper’s). After World War II they tried to rebuild their coachbuilding business, winning the contract for the three prototypes of the Invicta Black Prince. Unfortunately this very advanced car proved too expensive for the market in 1947 and Invicta collapsed. The next job proved to be Charlesworth’s last, a new six—light saloon from Lea-Francis, their near-neighbours in Much Park Street. Once again, this never went beyond the experimental stage, but this time the outcome was different: Lea-Francis decided they needed their own bodybuilding facilities, and obtained them by buying out Charlesworth.