Here we trace the fortunes of one of the more recognizable British model engine manufacturers of the second half of the 20th century—the Davies-Charlton company. This manufacturer's D-C range was destined to enjoy a relatively long period of success in the British marketplace, but as we shall see in due course, it fell on hard times for a number of reasons, finally succumbing to the inevitable in the mid 1980's.
As far as we are presently aware, the full start-to-finish story of the Davies-Charlton enterprise has never previously been summarized in a single published article. Portions of the story have certainly been told, and in fact the outlines of the company's golden years appear to be reasonably well known due to the ongoing coverage of the range in the modelling media during its hey-day. However, the early and later periods have been veiled by comparison. There was also a certain amount of behind-the-scenes activity which has largely gone unreported. Here we hope to shed a little more light on those matters by placing them in context with the company's better-known history.
But before getting started, there are several acknowledgements to make. Firstly, I owe an immense debt of gratitude to David Owen for sharing his first-hand recollections of the latter years of the Davies-Charlton enterprise and for reading through the original text and offering some excellent suggestions. Although I accept full responsibility for the following text, David's input added a great deal to this story.
Secondly, I'd like to express my gratitude to Jim Woodside for making me aware of a number of facets of this saga from his own personal knowledge. It's this kind of background detail that really breathes life into these studies of early model engine history!
The late and much respected Ron Moulton was good enough to add a few details from his extensive store of knowledge about English modelling matters during the period in question. I'm extremely grateful to Ron for taking the time to assist in this manner.
Perhaps the greatest reward for the considerable amount of effort involved in the preparation of these articles is the receipt of additional information as a result of their initial publication. Following the original appearance of this page, we were absolutely delighted to hear from former D-C Managing Director Bill Callow. Bill was kind enough to correct a number of errors in our coverage of the later years of the company as well as fill in a number of details which had escaped our notice. For this, we are very much in Bill's debt.
Finally, I'm delighted to be able to acknowledge the very generous contribution of Mrs Christina Crosby. Chris worked in the Davies-Charlton office for several years during the mid 1950's. She read this article in its original form and was kind enough to provide us with a number of first-hand recollections which do much to add interest and authority to this essay. Our sincere thanks to Chris for her kind assistance.
Adrian Duncan, May, 2010
revised, December 2010
The Davies-Charlton company had its origins in 1946, when a young Welsh toolmaker named Hefin Nathaniel Davies established a one-man design office in the small Lancashire town of Barnoldswick. Speaking many years later to Bill Callow, Davies recalled that his start-up capital for this venture amounted to £40 which he had saved up entirely in the form of silver sixpences (2 1/2 p). A total of 1,600 sixpences—quite a collection!
The late Ron Moulton characterized Davies as having a somewhat "fiery" temperament, which fits with some of our later knowledge of his interactions with others. By all accounts, he was a difficult individual to work with. This may have been part of the motivation for Davies branching out on his own as he did and thus becoming his own boss.
Initially, Davies produced drawings for the use of home constructors, but soon expanded his range of services to include sets of castings and machined components for the featured designs. These kits were produced by others at this stage. The Mk I Wildcat diesel was one of the designs offered for sale in this form, along with a hot air (Stirling cycle) engine.
In 1947, Davies bought his first lathe and commenced the in-house production of his designs. He also adopted the company name of Davies-Charlton. The name of the company implies the involvement of an individual named Charlton and I recall the odd reference to such a person in long-ago conversations with other modellers. However, nothing more definite was known until April 2012, when we heard from Christina Crosby following the initial publication of this article. Although then 82 years old, Chris retained some very clear recollections of her time with Davies-Charlton, which she was kind enough to share with us.
As far as Chris could recall from her conversations with him, Hefin Davies came from a small community in the vicinity of St David's in South Wales. He remained very proud of his Welsh heritage and was a dedicated Freemason. One very interesting recollection of Chris's which adds human interest to our story is the fact that Hefin Davies was always known as Evan to his colleagues and employees. Presumably this was simply an Anglicized corruption of Hefin, which is pronounced as Hevin in the Welsh language.
Chris also recalled that while Davies was indeed a somewhat volatile individual, his energy and enthusiasm were catching. Although she was not immune from being yelled at by Davies in one of his more excitable states, these moods apparently did not last. Chris always liked him very much despite this tendency.
Most importantly, Chris was able to confirm that there was indeed a Mr Charlton (first name unknown), a fact which has never to my knowledge been previously established on the basis of authoritative first-hand information. Like Hefin Davies, Charlton was a former Rolls-Royce employee who evidently left that company in 1947 to join Davies in starting the Davies-Charlton enterprise which was to make their fortunes. Chris recalled Charlton as a quiet, studious and gentle man, in direct contrast to the "fiery" Hefin Davies. In Chris's recollection, Charlton kept a low profile while collaborating with Davies on the design side and acting as works superintendent. One interesting point upon which Chris was able to shed some light is that the design/drawing office was maintained in separated premises on the outskirts of Barnoldswick, some distance from the main workshops which were located near the centre of town on Rainhall Road. Apparently Mr Charlton spent a considerable amount of his time at this location, away from the centre of the company's activities (and perhaps away from the vagaries of Hefin Davies' temperament!).
From the outset, Davies-Charlton's primary purpose was to undertake custom precision engineering work for others under contract. Indeed, this type of activity occupied a substantial proportion of the company's technical resources over much of its active lifetime. Bill Callow recalls the fact that during its heyday Davies-Charlton was one of the most successful aero-space sub-contracting companies in the whole of the UK.
Model engine production was quickly added to the company's range of activities and developed into an important facet of Davies-Charlton's business portfolio, albeit subsidiary to the company's sub-contracting work for much of its existence. The early addition of the model engine sideline reflects Hefin Davies' personal passion for model engines which lasted throughout his lifetime, as clearly recalled by Bill Callow.
Davies-Charlton's original production facilities were established in the small town of Barnoldswick (colloquially known as Barlick and its inhabitants as "Barlickers") in eastern Lancashire at an address on Rainhall Road. At first sight, this would appear to be a rather odd location for a model engine manufacturer! Barnoldswick was a cotton mill town until the late 1950's and was served both by a branch line of the Midland Railway (since closed) and by the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. However, the town was (and is) less well served by road. With a present-day population (in 2010) of some 12,000 people, it remains the largest town in the British Isles not served by any A-roads. To make up for this, a Roman road still serves the area, as it has for almost 2000 years!
It comes as something of a surprise to learn that despite the town's relatively small size, cotton mill background and seeming isolation, Davies-Charlton were by no means the first precision engineering firm to be located in the community. The now-defunct Rover automobile company had operated a factory there before the war, using a converted cotton mill as their premises. By 1941 this facility was disused, but in that year part of the plant was converted into a hush-hush aero engine development facility which was operated by Rover until January 1943. At the time, Rover were involved in the initial development of the turbojet engine in association with Frank (later Sir Frank) Whittle, and the first Rover-built test engines of Whittle's design were completed in October 1941 at Barnoldswick.
In January 1943 a deal was concluded whereby no less a company than Rolls Royce would take over the jet engine program from Rover, who would in turn assume responsibility for the production and further development of the Rolls Royce Meteor tank engine, a derivative of the famous Merlin aero engine. Under the terms of the deal, Rover took over the Rolls Royce tank engine factory in Nottingham and surrendered their Barnoldswick jet engine plant to Rolls Royce, who established their own jet engine design center at the site. Rolls Royce have remained a major employer in the town ever since and have recently (2010) completed a new plant there to manufacture a range of specialized jet engine components.
According to the late Ron Moulton, Hefin Davies got his start by working for Rolls Royce as an apprentice and had become a skilled toolmaker through that experience. One outcome of Davies' early experience with Rolls Royce was a firm commitment to the proper training of his own employees. Speaking years later to Bill Callow after the latter had become the Production Manager for D-C Ltd, Davies recommended that if a former D-C apprentice ever appeared at the door seeking employment, Bill should hire him because he would know that the individual had been properly trained!
It seems that Davies saw an opportunity to set up in business for himself, using the Rolls Royce connection to establish a profitable business line right from the outset. This of course fully explains Davies-Charlton's decision to co-locate with Rolls Royce in Barnoldswick. Jim Woodside recalls that Davies-Charlton's main business continued to be the contract manufacture of precision components for Rolls Royce even during their hey-day as model engine manufacturers. The engine manufacturing was a secondary, albeit important, source of revenue for the company during that period.
Barnoldswick must have provided Davies with a sizeable pool of skilled workers upon which to draw. The successive presence of Rover and Rolls Royce would have ensured that as of 1947 the town was home to a significant pool of highly skilled precision engineering personnel, a few of whom might have been surplus to Rolls Royce's immediate requirements or might have been persuaded to make a change. Alternatively, skilled workers may have been enticed there by the prospect of being taken on by the prestigious Rolls Royce company on the basis of their experience with Davies-Charlton.
The first Davies-Charlton model engine to be manufactured at this location made its debut in 1947. This was the 5.3 cc D-C Wildcat diesel, a bulky but well-made and dependable sideport unit with a useful "sports" performance by the standards of its day. It appeared in three successive variants over a period of several years, and a glow-plug conversion kit was also developed. The company recommended that the use of this kit be restricted to engines which had been well used previously in diesel configuration. The Wildcat was notable for the excellent quality and finish of its castings.
It was during this period that Davies-Charlton first entered the flying model kit market. They did so with a control-line stunt model designed expressly for the Wildcat diesel and sharing the "Wildcat" name. As far as the record shows, this was the only kit produced by the company during the early years. It's unclear whether or not this kit was actually manufactured by D-C Ltd, but it seems unlikely—wooden kit manufacturing and precision engineering are rather incompatible activities under the same roof.
After a production run of the better part of three years which earned the company a good reputation among modellers, the trusty Wildcat was replaced in 1950 by the far more up-to-date and equally well-made 3.44 cc D-C 350 diesel, which again appeared in several variants and was offered in both diesel and glow-plug versions. It attracted very favourable media reviews and was evidently well received by the modelling public since it was destined to enjoy a comparatively long production run. As far as we know, these early products were designed primarily by company founder, Hefin Davies.
During the early 1950's the company's ongoing involvement with contract work through Rolls Royce and others began to take up an increasingly disproportionate amount of Hefin Davies' time, deflecting him away from the design of further new model aero engines. This situation prompted a significant change in 1952 when Davies-Charlton joined forces with Alan Allbon, who had been marketing his own rather more diverse engine line since 1948.
Allbon had started with two successive variants of a very workmanlike 2.8 cc sideport diesel, but had successively added the 1.5 cc Arrow glow motor and 0.55 cc Dart diesel to his line-up in addition to the Mk I version of the famous 1.5 cc Javelin model, which was a highly-regarded diesel version of the not-so-successful Arrow.
The Allbon engines were initially manufactured at a plant located at 51A Thames Street, Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey (not Middlesex as reported by Lawrence Sparey!), just to the west of London. This was nowhere near Barnoldswick but was very close to the successive haunts of the E.D. company at Kingston-on-Thames, West Molesey and Surbiton, and not all that far from the International Model Aircraft (IMA) plant just to the east at Merton, where the Frog range was manufactured. The model engine industry was a significant employer in South-West London in 1948! Think of the craic in all those engine-maker's pubs!
The Dart was introduced in late 1950, and its immediate and overwhelming popularity forced Allbon to limit production of other models, the Arrow in fact being dropped altogether. Even with these changes to the production schedule, the demand for the Dart evidently outstripped Allbon's ability to produce it at his existing facility. As a result, by mid 1951 Allbon found himself faced with a significant challenge—he had an extremely successful product but was unable to produce it at a rate which matched the demand. This situation appears to have resulted in Allbon entering into discussions with Davies-Charlton regarding the possible mutual benefits of some level of cooperation.
The initial consequence of these discussions was Allbon's late 1951 closure of his Sunbury-on-Thames facility. By January 1952 he was advertising his products from a far more bucolic address at The Forge, Cople, which is a small rural community of some 700 people lying out in the countryside to the south-east of Bedford. Interestingly, the only model advertised by Allbon during most of 1952 was the Dart, implying that the Mk I Javelin had joined the Arrow in being suspended due to the pressure on Allbon's production capabilities to meet demand for the Dart.
Initially there was no mention of any involvement at this time on the part of Davies-Charlton (who continued to advertise separately), creating an impression that the Allbon engines were still being independently manufactured by Allbon Engineering, albeit at the Cople location. However, in his "Accent on Power" column in the April 1952 issue of Model Aircraft, Peter Chinn let slip the fact that the manufacture of the Dart had actually been taken over by Davies-Charlton. It was undoubtedly this move that had permitted the closure of the Sunbury-on-Thames plant and prompted Allbon's relocation to Cople, an odd location for a model engine manufacturer if ever there was one! It appears that Allbon had simply moved his residence and his business office to Cople, leaving Davies-Charlton with the job of actually making the engines.
It's significant that during this period Allbon continued to advertise independently from his Cople location under the Allbon Engineering banner, while Davies-Charlton in turn continued to advertise their own distinct range from the Barnoldswick address. The clear implication is that at this stage no actual merger of the two companies had taken place. In all probability, Allbon had taken advantage of Davies-Charlton's previously-mentioned willingness to undertake contract work for others and had simply contracted out the manufacture of the Dart to Davies-Charlton. Hence the relationship at this stage was purely contractual.
This arrangement must have worked out well for both parties, since the next step towards a full merger was the combination of the distribution arrangements for the Allbon and D-C ranges. This was a logical move given the fact that the Dart was in reality being manufactured by Davies-Charlton despite Allbon's ongoing reluctance to openly admit this fact! By mid 1952, Allbon's advertisements were confirming that the distribution (as opposed to the manufacturing) of the Dart had been taken over by Davies-Charlton, although Allbon still continued to advertise separately from his Cople location and still stopped short of crediting Davies-Charlton with the manufacture of the Dart.
Allbon was still advertising the Dart independently from his address at Cople in October of 1952, but the distribution of both the Allbon and D-C ranges had then been taken over by E. Keil & Co. This arrangement was to continue for some time following the completion of the merger.
The amalgamation of the two companies was apparently completed prior to the end of 1952. No more was heard of the Cople location, although it's quite possible that Allbon maintained both his residence and his design office there. Production of the Allbon engines by that name was now openly consolidated at Davies-Charlton's Barnoldswick plant in Lancashire along with that of the continuing Davies-Charlton models.
The exact nature of the merger remains very much unclear. Allbon's name was never added to the registered company title, implying that the arrangement had either a contractual or an employer/employee basis. While she was the clerk/typist at Davies-Charlton, Christina Crosby does not recall ever seeing any wage/salary statements for Alan Allbon. However, it's quite likely that management salary statements were prepared elsewhere. More to the point, Chris does not recall ever having seen Allbon in person at the Rainhall Road offices, although she was well aware of his name. In fact, the responses to her quite natural inquiries about him generally received somewhat evasive answers! It thus seems most probable that Allbon entered into a long-term contract with D-C Ltd. under the terms of which he would lead the engine design effort (doubtless assisted by Charlton), with a condition of the contract being the attachment of his name to the designs which he produced.
Under such an arrangement, there would have been no pressing need for Allbon to relocate to Barnoldswick. In fact, the evidence suggests that he did not do so - if he had become a Barnoldswick resident, it seems inconceivable that he would not have visited the main office from time to time and thus met Christina Crosby. In reality, there would have been nothing to prevent Allbon from maintaining his own design office and residence at Cople, although he would doubtless have had to visit the D-C design office in Barnoldswick on a semi-regular basis. Naturally, Christina Crosby would have remained unaware of any such visits given the separation of the design office from her own Rainhall Road location.
Regardless of the actual form which it took, the merger allowed Davies to continue to lead the doubtless-lucrative contract work while Allbon assumed primary responsibility for the subsidiary model engine development and production program. It also allowed the expansion of the Allbon range at production levels which could be tailored to meet demand. Hence there were clear benefits for both parties.
Initially, the distinct identity of the two ranges was maintained, with Mk II versions of both the Allbon Dart (now with a red head in place of the original pale green) and the Allbon Javelin appearing more or less concurrently with the merger, along with the newly-introduced 1 cc Allbon Spitfire. Moreover, the Allbon name continued to be applied to other new designs as time went by, including the 0.15 cc Allbon Bambi which was launched upon the marketplace in June 1954. The well-established 350 models (diesel and glow) carried on under the D-C banner at the same time.
It was during this period that Christina Crosby was employed at Davies-Charlton. Her presence in Barnoldswick resulted from her engineer husband being recruited to assist Rolls-Royce in their ongoing experimental jet aero engine program. While her husband worked for Rolls-Royce, Chris found employment with Davies-Charlton as a clerk/typist and general factotum from 1953 until 1955. Among other things, she was responsible for maintaining the wage records, and she recalls that she only did wage statements for around 20 people, thus providing us with a good estimate of the workforce at this time. The office staff during this period consisted only of herself, a book-keeper and a semi-retired man who packed and posted shipments of the company's production. All of the other employees worked in the various technical fields with which the company was involved.
The amalgamation of the D-C and Allbon ranges must have severely taxed the existing model engine production facilities at Barnoldswick. Moreover, by mid 1954 plans were well advanced for the introduction of several new models to augment the existing ranges. All of this must have underscored the need for expanded production capacity.
The introduction of the very popular Allbon Merlin in October 1954 was apparently the final straw, and a move to the Isle of Man was put in hand soon thereafter, presumably in part to address the above-mentioned need but also doubtless at least in part for tax and business incentive reasons. The company continued to advertise from their Barnoldswick location through the early part of 1955, but by June of 1955 the move to the company's modernised factory at Hills Meadow, Douglas, Isle of Man was evidently complete. All subsequent Davies-Charlton model engines were manufactured at the new location.
Christina Crosby remained with Davies-Charlton until just prior to the move to the Isle of Man. Along with other employees, she was offered the option of relocating to the new location, but she and her husband declined this opportunity, remaining in Barnoldswick and starting their family there. This ended her direct involvement with Davies-Charlton. Once again, our sincere thanks to Chris for so generously sharing her most interesting recollections.
The Isle of Man is part of the British Isles but is not part of the United Kingdom, having its own laws and government under the ultimate authority of the British Crown. It is in fact defined as a self-governing British Crown Dependency. At the time in question, the Manx government was making a determined effort to attract investment to the island, and we may be sure that Davies-Charlton took full advantage of the various available incentives. Bill Callow understands that Davies did receive a grant from the Manx government of the day to help finance the establishment of the company on the IOM.
It might appear at first sight that this move must have rendered Davies-Charlton's ongoing contract work for Rolls Royce somewhat more problematic from a logistical standpoint given the fact that the two companies were no longer co-located. However, the fact is that the Barnoldswick factory remained in operation for some years after the move, presumably to facilitate the ongoing sub-contracting work for Rolls Royce. It was also later used for a time as a centre for the production of the model engine fuels marketed by Davies-Charlton.
There were other high-tech aviation-related industries located on the Isle of Man at this time, including Ronaldsway Aircraft, Manx Engineers, the Dowty undercarriage-making firm and the Martin-Baker company who made ejection seats for the RAF and others. There have been credible suggestions that Davies-Charlton undertook contract work for local firms such as these, which may have taken up some of the slack for a time at least.
Regardless, there are indications that it was from this time onwards that the model engine manufacturing began to assume a greater relative importance in the affairs of the company. It is certainly true that following the completion of the move to the Isle of Man, the company acted quickly to expand both its model engine range and its line of associated products.
The July 1955 introduction of the 0.76 cc Super Merlin with its red head and spinner plus plastic fuel tank was followed in November of the same year by the introduction of the Super Merlin-inspired 1.49 cc Allbon Sabre which replaced the very popular Allbon Javelin Mk II. Davies-Charlton's re-entry into the kit manufacturing field followed immediately in December 1955. Their first two kits were the Chipmunk semi-scale control-liner and the Ballerina free flight model, both specifically tailored to the Super Merlin. The D-C Bipe control-line biplane kit, again designed for the Super Merlin, was added to the range in August 1956, and finally the Wimpie control-line trainer for the same engine appeared in November 1956. The latter kit was not a success and didn't last long on the market. However, the others all survived for some years.
It's presently unclear whether or not the kits were actually manufactured by Davies-Charlton. They were after all set up as a speciality precision engineering concern, and the manufacture of kits was a highly distinct business line requiring quite different tooling. Moreover, woodworking and precision metalworking don't mix well in the same premises! It seems entirely possible that the kits were manufactured by others under contract, perhaps by KeilKraft, with whom Davies-Charlton had been closely associated only a few years previously. If anyone knows more about this, please speak up!
The company also produced a neat and very practical engine test stand as well as fuel tanks, radial mounts, fuel cut-outs, airscrews and an adjustable control-line handle. There was also the Allbon diesel fuel, which was tailored to the company's engine range. Another interesting product of the company during these years was their hot air (Stirling Cycle) stationary engine, which sold for 30 shillings and was advertised as the "Hot Air Engine for boys of all ages"! These intriguing engines are much sought-after collectors items today among aficionados of stationary engines.
The decade following their relocation proved to be the golden age of Davies-Charlton as model engine manufacturers, since it was during that period that the range established itself as one of Britain's most popular and recognizable model engine marques. Although the company's smallest-ever design, the 0.15 cc Bambi, was only modestly successful in sales terms and served more as a "manufacturer's statement" than anything else, their other sports diesels such as the 0.76 cc Merlin (in standard and "Super" formats), the 1.5 cc Sabre and the Sabre-derived 1 cc Spitfire Mk II (February 1957) quickly established themselves as sport-flier's favourites. In September 1957 the company also entered the popular model boating field in a big way by introducing marine versions of their entire model engine line-up from 0.55 cc to 3.5 cc. Both the range and the market scope were expanding, and business was good!
There were of course disappointments along the way. The 3.5 cc Manxman diesel which replaced the old D-C 350 in March 1956 was an extremely well-made and attractive engine, but it seems to have enjoyed rather limited sales success and was phased out relatively quickly. To make up for this, the 2.5 cc twin ball-race Rapier which appeared in February 1957 alongside the Spitfire Mk II was somewhat better received and remained in production for some time. It was a really nice engine—I still fly one regularly today.
In 1958 there was a limited-edition version of the Rapier with a red-anodized head which was otherwise identical to the original green-head model. Very few of these were produced—a former employee of the company suggested around 200 in total.
Although the Dart, Spitfire and Sabre "twins", and the Rapier were all initially marketed under the Allbon name, that name was progressively dropped following the move to the Isle of Man, seemingly disappearing entirely in 1958 after lingering for a while on the company's diesel fuel labels. It appears that a gulf progressively developed between Hefin Davies and Alan Allbon which eventually resulted in Allbon parting company with Davies-Charlton in 1959. He initially joined forces with a Mr. Saunders to make the excellent little 0.55 cc AS 55 diesel in the early 1960's before abandoning the model engine field for the optical industry. The staff of Davies-Charlton was subsequently brought up to strength by the addition of Harry Hundleby, who was a former editor of Aeromodeller magazine and was then resident in the Isle of Man.
Meanwhile, Davies-Charlton maintained their prominent position in the British model engine industry in addition to continuing their contract precision engineering work for Rolls Royce, among others. In mid 1958 Hefin Davies decided that Davies-Charlton would re-enter the glow-plug field, and with this in mind he undertook an extensive tour of the USA to study American production methods. Since Davies-Charlton was not seen in America as a competitor, he was apparently welcomed by the manufacturers whom he visited. The fact that Davies took the time and spent the money to undertake this trip is another indication of the increasing importance of the company's model engine manufacturing activities.
The immediate result of this initiative was the 1959 introduction of the innovative and technically very successful Tornado Twin 5 cc glow-plug motor. In my personal view, and speaking as a former user of this engine, this was Davies-Charlton's finest achievement in the model engine field. It was quickly followed in late 1959 by the more mundane but commercially successful Bantam 0.76 cc glow motor, which was a derivative of the Dart diesel model. There was also talk of a high-performance 2.5 cc glow motor, but this never actually materialized.
The Tornado Twin was an outstanding technical achievement which richly deserved to succeed, but it must have cost a great deal to develop and in all likelihood never repaid its development costs. It didn't find that many buyers and only lasted a few years in rather limited production. It seems likely that this experience had its effect upon Davies-Charlton's appetite for the development of new models, since such development appears to have stalled for quite a few years following the demise of the Tornado. In fact, as events were to prove, the golden days of product development at Davies-Charlton were effectively over as of 1960, although this was not apparent to the average aeromodeller (like myself) at the time...
1959 also saw the introduction of what was in my personal view one of D-C's less praiseworthy ideas—the Quickstart spring starting system. This consisted of a coil spring which was secured at its inner end by the spraybar and wound around the front of the main bearing. It had an arm at the front end which engaged with the tips of a "cam" made from aluminium alloy plate which was sandwiched between the airscrew and the prop driver. The idea was to enable owners to start their engines without having to learn to "flick" them! You simple engaged the arm with the tip of the "cam", wound the engine backwards over compression and then let go!
The presence of the pointed cam behind the prop hub made hand-starting a pain (literally!). In any case, the ends of the cam soon wore away or broke, forcing owners to bend the outer arm of the spring to engage with the actual airscrew. This generally ended up with the spring breaking or at the very least gouging chunks out of the rear of the airscrew. The coil spring also marred the surface of the main bearing quite fiercely. You can see this on the main bearings of many D-C engines encountered today.
But the really aggravating thing about the Quickstart device was the fact that it was quite unnecessary—provided there were no base compression leaks, the D-C engines were actually very easy starters using conventional methods. Moreover, reliance upon the Quickstart device did nothing to teach new owners the correct approach to hand-starting a model engine—their real education only began once the dratted spring set-up finally failed! Many owners (including myself) found this device to be more a source of annoyance and unnecessary dead weight than anything else and generally discarded them straight out of the box.
Finally, the latter part of 1959 saw the introduction of Davies-Charlton's famous triangular box, along with the adoption of the "Quickstart" label for their engines and fuel. The box was inspired by the three-legged emblem of the Isle of Man with its associated motto "Whichever way you throw me, I stand". It was doubtless relatively costly to produce and was only used for a few years before the company reverted to the use of more conventional cubical boxes.
The Bantam achieved great popularity despite being a less-than-stellar performer, and ushered Davies-Charlton into the 1960's on a very positive note. It was in fact Britain's top-selling engine for a number of years and outlasted all of its British 1/2A glow competitors. In addition, Davies-Charlton maintained production of the sports diesels for which the firm had become well-known during the 1950's, and these continued to sell well also. In 1963 they also took over the manufacture of the Frog range of engines on behalf of A.A. Hales, who had acquired the Frog line following its discontinuation by Lines Brothers and their IMA subsidiary in 1962. This is perhaps another indication that Davies-Charlton's involvement with outside contract work had entered a decline, leaving them with more resources to devote to model engine manufacture.
Production of the original 2.5 cc Rapier had been somewhat sporadic after 1959 and appears to have ended entirely when Davies-Charlton took over the manufacture of the Frog line on behalf of A. A. Hales. This was likely due to the fact that they were now manufacturing the Frog 249 BB for A. A. Hales, and the Frog was actually a superior engine in performance terms. Production capacity considerations doubtless underscored the undesirability of continuing to manufacture what were in effect two competing 2.5 cc models side by side. Happily, the Rapier was to gain a new lease on life in later years, as we shall see in due course.
In 1960, some local competition for Davies-Charlton appeared in the form of the M.E. engines which were manufactured by a new company known as Marown Engineering which was located in Glen Vine on the Isle of Man. This venture was established by Walter Kendall, who had previously been an associate of Hefin Davies in the Davies-Charlton business. The M.E. engines were extremely well-made and undoubtedly represented significant competition for Davies-Charlton.
We may well imagine that Davies was not best pleased with this development, particularly given the fact that the design of the M.E. engines displayed clear evidence of their D-C ancestry! Not only that, but to add insult to injury, the Marown Engineering company later joined Davies-Charlton in competing for a share of the lucrative aero-space subcontracting work from Rolls-Royce and others.
Throughout the 1960's Davies-Charlton continued to maintain their position in the marketplace with their established D-C and Frog line-ups. Bill Callow began his career with D-C Ltd during this period, starting as an engineering apprentice in 1968 and advancing to the position of charge-hand on the grinding section before leaving for a period of 5 years to work for others as a Rolls Royce-approved inspector. Bill estimates that the company's workforce at its peak may have totalled some 120 individuals.
During this busy period, the company had no fewer than three distinct facilities in operation. Firstly, there was the main Hills Meadow factory, which was fully occupied with the aero-space sub-contracting work as well as the production of the Frog engines and the components for the D-C engine range. There was also a second IOM facility housed in an ex-WW2 Nissin hut a few hundred yards away from the main factory on the Hills Meadow estate. This included the company's model engine assembly, testing, packaging and warehousing operations as well as the gravity die-casting and painting operations involved in the production of D-C's well-known and very popular adjustable control line handles.
The Barnoldswick plant also remained in operation well into the 1960's, although it was eventually closed down later in the decade and sold for other uses. From that point onwards, all of D-C Ltd's activities were concentrated in the IOM.
The company thus entered the 1960's as a major player in the British model engine industry. However, new models failed to appear. As the decade of the '60's wore on and the 1970's began, both the Frog and D-C ranges were falling increasingly behind the times. In addition, people were beginning to notice that quality control was undeniably suffering
The decline in standards at Davies-Charlton probably commenced not long after Alan Allbon's departure in 1959. By all accounts, Hefin Davies was not an easy man to work for. The number of high-tech industries on the IOM was relatively small and although there were undoubtedly opportunities for employee mobility between these firms, few individuals would have been willing to risk being "black-listed" by the doubtless close-knit group of engineering firms on the Island.
This gave such employers a considerable amount of collective "leverage" over their employees, and Hefin Davies reportedly exercised the resulting domination over his own "captive" work force to the full. In consequence, former employees generally remember Davies-Charlton as a somewhat unhappy workplace. Under such circumstances, a diminished level of attention to the quality issue might be expected—an unhappy workforce never delivers its best work.
In fact, it may have gone even further than that! In later discussions with David Owen, Isle of Man resident OFW "Peter" Fisher of Performance Kits fame intimated that employee sabotage of engines was not unknown. Fisher went so far as to express his personal conviction that this took place with the collaboration of the engine testing and quality control staff and that some faulty D-C products were deliberately sent out to unsuspecting buyers. I actually recall getting a new Super Merlin in the 1960's that wouldn't start. When I checked, I found that the spraybar had not been cross-drilled for the jet holes! At the time, I assumed that this was merely an isolated error, but now I'm not so sure as David Owen has similar recollections from his time as a D-C distributor in Australia.
There is some evidence to suggest that Hefin Davies was aware of this situation. At some point in the early 1960s, Davies wrote to Gordon Burford, the late and much-missed Australian maker of the Taipan range. This letter was hand-written and was mailed by Davies from his home address. Davies specifically mentioned that it had not passed through his office, indicating that it was very much an "under-the-table" initiative undertaken by Davies personally without the knowledge of his associates. A further indication of the secrecy surrounding this letter was the fact that Davies stopped short of actually signing it.
In the letter, Davies suggested to Gordon that collaboration between Taipan and D-C might be of value to both parties and further, that if things worked out well he (Davies) might even re-locate to the "colonies" and set-up a joint venture with Taipan. Such a suggestion made without the knowledge of anyone at the factory certainly reflects an awareness on Davies' part of a degree of disquiet at Davies-Charlton and a ruthless willingness to take drastic steps to deal with this—if you can't beat 'em, ditch 'em!
Davies' somewhat imperious attitudes are further reflected by his rather condescending suggestion that he might start the ball rolling by sub-contracting some parts to Taipan, namely prop-drivers, backplates and needle valve assemblies. If those parts proved to be within Taipan's capabilities, they might move on to more complex components! This despite the fact that Taipan manufactured engines which were widely recognized as being superior both in design and execution to those of Davies-Charlton! Not surprisingly, Gordon had no interest in pursuing a liaison with Davies-Charlton, and the matter went no further.
This was not the only instance of Hefin Davies' relations with his Australian contacts being less than satisfactory. Former Australian D-C distributor David Owen also recalls Davies' refusal to deal appropriately under warranty with the issue of a batch of flawed crankshafts which were fitted to a number of examples of the D-C Sabre. Davies in effect claimed that D-C crankshafts were well made and didn't break, and that if they were breaking in Australia it was down to the collective incompetence of their "colonial" users! David recalls that such matters were handled far more amicably when Bill Callow returned to D-C Ltd as Production Manager in the mid 1970's.
Meanwhile, back at Hills Meadow... The glow-plug motor and the R/C field were now very much in the ascendant, but Davies-Charlton stubbornly continued their reliance upon the "standard" diesel as the mainstay of their D-C and Frog ranges. In 1971 they did produce an updated .049 glow motor—the Wasp—to replace the Bantam, a good and indeed long overdue move given the vastly superior performance of the new model. However, the 1/2A glow boom had passed by this time, and although the Wasp did enjoy a period of some popularity it was not the massive seller that it would have been ten years earlier. A sad case of opportunity lost.
According to Bill Callow, it was at this point that Davies-Charlton finally abandoned the aero-space sub-contract work which had up till then been a major facet of their business. Instead, they now began to focus solely upon their model engine manufacturing activities. The main event which precipitated this change was apparently the 1971 entry of Rolls Royce into receivership and subsequent Government ownership, followed by the separation of their aeronautical and automotive components. Hefin Davies decided at this juncture that thenceforth the company would cease to place any reliance upon outside contracts and would instead live or die on the basis of its self-directed involvement in the model engine industry.
In support of this change in focus, Davies made a considerable investment in new equipment which allowed the application of updated manufacturing processes. An example of this was a major change in the method of producing the critical piston/cylinder fits. A number of very precise CNC grinding machines were acquired which eliminated the former skill-based individual honing process using relatively inexpensive machinery in favour of a largely automated grinding process. Another improvement was the addition of an aqua-blasting process for finishing the crankcases. Bill Callow recalls that the equipment upgrading process took some six years to complete at a total cost of some £500,000.
There's no doubt that an investment of this magnitude represents a very strong statement regarding Hefin Davies' commitment to the future of his company. However, I have to say that as a loyal user of the resulting products, I never noticed any improvement in the quality of the fits in the later D-C engines—in fact, I formed the personal opinion that if anything the manufacturing standards had declined somewhat. The new equipment may have reduced unit production costs and certainly did result in the achievement of some truly excellent piston/cylinder fits, but the badly-designed con-rods and gudgeon pins plus poor fits elsewhere continued to let the engines down. Overall, major quality improvements were not apparent at the consumer level. Discussions with my contemporaries show that I am far from being alone in holding this perception.
It actually seems a pity in hindsight that some of the funds expended on new equipment by Bill Callow's account were not directed instead towards the development of new models. This might have done far more to extend the life of the company than the changes in production methods applied to the existing designs appear to have done.
Regardless, while these production changes were being pursued, the company still had to pay its way. Davies-Charlton supplemented their income by releasing several cosmetically re-packaged versions of some of their old stand-by's. Beginning in 1973 several further revised versions of the Rapier were released, using a re-designed cylinder with only three sets of ports instead of the previous four. One of these variants had a blue head and a muffler and the other sported a green head sans muffler. The former was well down on power and tended to run hot, but it was so quiet with the muffler fitted that you could run it in your back garden without bothering anyone! The latter was intended as a "collector's replica" of the original 1957 Rapier, but the fact that the cylinder had only three exhaust ports hiding behind the four exhaust slits of the green cooling jacket was a dead giveaway! These engines were supplied with both green spinner nuts and conventional prop nuts as well as alternative long and short needle valves, both of which were equipped with brass end caps similar to those fitted to the original Rapier compression screws.
As true replicas of the original, the re-issued greenhead engines were quite unconvincing, although they were very nice engines in their own right and are legitimate collectibles today. David Owen sold some 15-20 examples in Australia and recalls that whilst the piston/cylinder fits on these latter-day Rapiers were quite good, several were let down by very poorly fitted races and shafts. My own example is very well-made in all respects.
In the mid 1970's Bill Callow returned to D-C Ltd to assume the position of Production Manager. His brief was to advance the company's production, and he was successful to the extent that by 1980 production had reached the impressive figure of almost 1,000 engines per day! Bill states that every engine was tested before being packaged—an impressive challenge by any standard.
In the latter part of the 1970's the firm introduced a revised version of their old Merlin design, which by then dated back around a quarter-century to 1954. The original Merlin was un-anodized, did not have a tank and featured a plain prop-nut, but its late 1970's replacement had light green fins and a turned metal tank, albeit still with a plain prop nut. It was supplied in a green box. The old Super Merlin continued to be offered with its red head, but there was in fact very little difference between the two models apart from the use of a spinner nut and a red box for the Super Merlin. Internally, the two models were identical.
These moves were purely cosmetic in nature and did not represent any real attempt by the company to update its range in keeping with the changing marketplace. The firm did undertake some experiments with a 1 cc version of the Wasp, including one which was schnuerle-ported and had a tuned pipe, but unfortunately these never amounted to anything in a production sense. In addition, it must be said that the quality of the firm's later products was in no way comparable to that of their earlier efforts. All of these factors combined to create a steady erosion of Davies-Charlton's market position.
As 1980 came around, the company was beginning to struggle. The Frog range had already disappeared and the D-C range was steadily losing ground. Thanks to Bill Callow's success in advancing the production, supply was beginning to outstrip demand by an ever-increasing margin. And there was worse to follow—in late 1980 Hefin Davies died following a period of illness. It had been largely his energy and commitment (or just plain stubbornness) that had kept the company going as long as it had, and now that asset was lost.
Bill Callow recalls that the future of the company was very much on Davies' mind during his final weeks. Almost right up to the day of his death, he continued to work to ensure the continued viability of the company after his demise. He had always been very devoted to his children, and one wish that he expressed to Bill Callow was that his son Graham should eventually work for the company. This wish was later fulfilled when Graham spent several summers away from his university studies working in the office at Hills Meadow.
The premature death of Hefin Davies was clearly a major blow to the company. His most sincerely-expressed wish during his last few weeks was that the D-C range should continue after his death, and Mrs. A. A. Davies and the rest of the family agreed that a serious effort should made to fulfill this desire. The role of Managing Director was assumed by former Production Manager Bill Callow, who was tasked with the advancement of the company's production while the remaining D-C wholesalers focused on the sales side.
In order to sustain the company through this difficult period, Bill Callow applied for and received some £80,000 in operating funds from the Manx Government. This amount was repaid in full when the company was wound up a few years later.
In 1981 the reorganized company produced a second version of the green-head Merlin. This was basically a cosmetic revision of the same engine, sporting a dark green head and an opaque cream plastic tank. This engine was supplied in a flimsy white box with a label overlay—even the packaging was going downhill.
Another proposal which received considerable attention at this time was a planned revival of the 0.15 cc Bambi, which had been dropped from production way back in 1959. Doubtless the company was hoping to take advantage of the revival of interest in the engine among the growing model engine collecting community. In fact, Bill Callow believes to this day that the survival of the company might best have been assured by focusing on a revival of some of their vintage designs to tap into the growing nostalgia market which was developing at the time and which continues to this day.
From surviving correspondence between Bill Callow and David Owen, it appears that they did manage to produce some prototypes, even going so far as to make a new mould for the gravity die-casting of prototype crankcases at their own facility. However, they were advised by their outside pressure die-casting contractor that the long-disused Bambi dies had suffered water damage and needed refurbishing at a cost of over £1500. Considerations of the consequent unit manufacturing cost along with less-than-optimistic sales projections combined to make the project appear uneconomic, and it was shelved in early 1982. Despite this, it appears that a few examples of the "Mk II Bambi" such as the one pictured in Mike Clanford's A-Z of Model Engines, and the example illustrated on Tim Dannel's Model Engine Collecting web site were produced later by others, apparently using some of the gravity die-cast prototype castings.
Bill recalls that he would also have liked to re-introduce the old Stirling cycle hot-air engine, but that this idea failed too due to the dies for that model also requiring costly re-furbishment.
By the middle of 1982, it must have became obvious to all concerned that the days of mass-production of engines by Davies-Charlton were a thing of the past. Unsold inventory had grown to problematic levels and a major proportion of the staff had been laid off. Hard though it must have been, Mrs Davies and the rest of the family came to the decision that the time had come to wind up Davies-Charlton and dispose of the company's assets, thus releasing the considerable amount of family capital tied up in the business.
Bill Callow recalls that the wind-up of the company was handled in a manner that fully respected the interests of the remaining employees. All staff were found alternative employment prior to the closure taking effect, and they all received redundancy pay in addition. In consequence, many of the affected employees remained (and still remain) on the best of terms with Bill.
Despite the decision to wind up the Davies-Charlton enterprise, there was a general desire to do what could be done to keep the D-C model engine range alive, at least for a time. To this end, Bill Callow established a new company to be known as Dav-Cal (thus maintaining a name match with the initials cast onto the crankcases of the engine). Under an agreement with Mrs Davies, Bill's new company took over the engine designs and considerable existing stock of the former Davies-Charlton company as well as elements of the company's manufacturing facilities. The agreement took effect on November 1st, 1982, at which point Davies-Charlton Ltd. ceased to exist.
The financial terms of this deal were in two components. Firstly, payment at one agreed level was to be made for the sales of any existing engines by Dav-Cal. Secondly, a reduced payment was to be made for the sale by Dav-Cal of any engines which were completed by them following the sale. In effect, this was a form of licensing agreement.
The disposal of Davies Charlton's assets was both complex and interesting, and we are most grateful to Bill Callow for clarifying this matter. Some of the machinery was sold to other engineering firms on the IOM, while the remainder was shipped to the UK mainland to be sold. The Hills Meadow property itself was divided into three distinct segments. Part of it was leased to the Manx Government for the purpose of establishing the island's first engineering training centre. Some of the former D-C equipment and machinery remained on site for use in this venture.
Secondly, the main factory area was leased to a car sales company, which set up motor vehicle sales and servicing facilities there. Finally, Dav-Cal Ltd leased a section of the premises, which were modified to give all three lessees their own power supply systems, entrances, etc. The Dav-Cal lease included sufficient machinery to manufacture all parts that went into a model engine, as well as the anodising facilities required to produce the coloured components. However, this equipment did not include the latest CNC internal grinders or top-range centreless grinding machines which had been introduced by Hefin Davies, but rather some of the old faithful equipment which had been used to manufacture parts prior to the CNC era. A mere handful of staff were retained to use this equipment.
Dav-Cal also took over approx £100,000 worth of inventory, which comprised many thousands of engine cases, piston/contra piston sets, shafts, etc, all in various stages of manufacture, but enough stock to continue producing the standard range of engines for many years to come. Bill Callow was able to fund the Dav-Cal venture by drawing upon funds which were due to him in consideration of his efforts in disposing of Davies-Charlton's assets, negotiating leases with the new site occupants, etc.
D-C engines were now sold either by the "Model Engine Section" of Dav-Cal Ltd or by another business entity named "Quickstart Products", which in reality was simply another Dav-Cal Ltd division. These two entities both listed their addresses as Lake Road, Douglas and shared the same phone number (0624 74224).
One of Dav-Cal's customers was the aforementioned OFW "Peter" Fisher, who had them make a number of engines to his own specifications. These were being marketed as of February 1984 as the PK range of engines, but they were basically just "tarted-up" D-C engines with darkened (anodised?) cases and polished fins. The range included the PK Z-12, a 1.2cc engine in standard and deluxe versions; the PK F-80 (0.8cc) and PK F-100 (1.00cc) and the P.K. Dart Special and PK Rapier Special. Coincidentally, despite the extra attention lavished on the PK range, it sold for exactly the same price as the former D-C range. Fisher's efforts notwithstanding, the range did not last long on the market.
Bill Callow recalls Fisher as being a less-than-satisfactory customer. He only ordered engines in small quantities, basically as many as he could quickly turn over for a profit and thus avoid any inventory build-up. Typically he ordered no more than 10 engines at any one time.
None of the above measures was sufficient to stem the tide and the manufacture of the D-C engines at Hills Meadow ceased at some point in mid 1983, after which the site was turned over to the other uses mentioned above. As far as can be determined, the final advertisement for the Davies-Charlton engines appeared in the May 1983 issue of Aeromodeller magazine.
Dav-Cal continued for some time to offer engines for sale, but it appears that these were assembled from existing parts in a former car garage at a location known as The Loop in a run-down part of Douglas. Even this activity ceased as soon as the supply of any one part for a given model became exhausted, since the company no longer had the capability of making (or contracting for) additional parts.
At the time, David had a continuing interest in importing Davies-Charlton engines into his native Australia. In response to his inquiry, Dav-Cal Ltd. wrote to David on January 14th, 1984 stating that although Dav-Cal was a distinct company which was under no legal obligation to honor agreements reached formerly with Davies-Charlton, they intended to do their very best to maintain good relationships with former D-C customers. The letter also introduced Mrs. D. J. Risker, who was now acting as Dav-Cal's Export Sales Manager working from an address at Ballasalla on the Isle of Man.
During a visit to the Isle of Man in early March of 1984, David Owen visited the Hills Meadow site in the company of Peter Fisher, who appeared to be privy to much of what had transpired in previous years. Model engine production at Hills Meadow had long ceased by that time, and the only surviving evidence of Davies-Charlton's former presence was a faded display of engine boxes in a glass case on the office wall.
David also visited the above-mentioned location in Douglas at which Davies-Charlton engines were then still being assembled. There he encountered an elderly chap (name not recorded) who was assembling D-C engines from barrels of parts. This worthy told David that certain engines were no longer available because specific parts for them had run out and no-one could make or obtain replacements for him to use. This confirms our earlier statement that as soon as any one part for a given model was exhausted, that was the end of the line for that model.
Dav-Cal wrote to David once again on 14th March 1984, referring to Davidís visit to their "Workshop Department" earlier in the month. This could not have been a reference to the Hills Meadow factory, which was clearly no longer in any way connected with Dav-Cal, so the letter must have been referring to the previously-mentioned former car garage at which engines were then still being assembled from existing parts.
Although it had originally been formed expressly to continue with the Davies-Charlton model engine range, Dav-Cal soon found that this alone would not suffice to keep it in business. So during 1983, the new company begun to undertake a range of sub-contract engineering production for various local companies. This included tool manufacture using plastic injection moulding, automated production of small components for garden sprinklers, a considerable amount of work for Horton Crossbows (most of which were sold into Canada at that time) and metal components for an electronic sound mixer unit used by the BBC/ITV and most other TV companies.
More significantly in the context of this article, Dav-Cal also undertook contract work for a company called EWDEC. This was a newly-founded venture on the Isle of Man which had been established by the inventor of an underground pipe relining system. The company was now engaged in the design of robotic units to cut side entry holes in those pipes once relined.
It seems that EWDEC were favourably impressed with Dav-Cal's contribution to their efforts, since in 1984 they bought a controlling interest in Dav-Cal from Bill Callow and then proceeded to invest heavily in new equipment. Their activities were initially centred upon the Lake Road location, but soon expanded into two other sites in addition. EWDEC had a number of business lines, the model engine division being only one of these. In fact, this was a very minor element of EWDEC's business portfolio, employing only a handful of staff.
Soon after taking control of Dav-Cal, EWDEC made a surprise move by converting their business loans into shares in the parent company. At this time, they made an offer to Bill Callow to purchase his remaining shares in Dav-Cal. Bill's acceptance of this offer gave EWDEC 100% ownership of Dav-Cal Ltd as well as the license held by Dav-Cal with respect to the D-C engines. From that point on, Bill Callow had no further involvement with the D-C engines.
EWDEC continued for some time to offer D-C engines, trading from the former Lake Road address and with the same phone number as before. Their main claim to fame was the fact that they sold the notorious gold head Darts, many of which broke their crankshafts after a short run. It was this situation which encouraged Progress Aero Works (PAW) to make a run of Dart crankshafts for the open market, a venture which ultimately led to the development of the PAW 55. It also spelled the end of attempts to resuscitate the Davies-Charlton range.
It's perhaps a little ironic to consider the fact that Fisher undoubtedly had the resources to finance the resumption of Bambi production by Davies-Charlton or one of its successor companies. Had he done so, the resulting engines would have constituted a great legacy! Too bad it didn't happen.
So as of 1984 the last vestiges of the Davies-Charlton range which had started with such great promise in 1947 were no more. A sad end for a company that did so much for British aeromodelling, but all things, as they say, must pass.