Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin

| 22 Nov 2019
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin

Why you’d want a Jowett Javelin

Alec Issigonis wanted the Morris Minor to have a flat-four engine, but Lord Nuffield decided that it was too expensive to develop. Meanwhile, up in Yorkshire, the tiny Jowett concern – undaunted by its antiquated equipment and desperate shortages of raw materials – just went ahead and built one, along with an aerodynamic monocoque body to put it in.

Gerald Palmer was the young designer responsible for the Jowett Javelin, poached from MG in the middle of WW2. He grew up in Rhodesia, so he knew well the needs of such export markets. He devised a compact and powerful 1.5-litre flat-four, calling in Harry Weslake to advise on induction tweaks to get the best out of it.

The Jowett’s structure was immensely strong, with a steel shell welded to a substantial box-section chassis, which was designed before it was decided to weld the body to it. Yet the car was still light compared to its competitors. Cart springs were out, torsion bars being used all round, with double wishbones at the front and four-link location for the live rear axle.

The first Javelin took to the road in 1944 and it was almost ready by the time that hostilities ended. It was also the first British car fitted with a curved, toughened Triplex windscreen.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin
(l-r) Classic saloons used to lean much more in period racing; neat engine installation plus torsion bars all round

Far better than it deserved to be from such a small firm, the Jowett ran rings around most contemporary saloons under 2 litres, and many larger ones. Javelins took class wins in the 1949 Spa 24 Hours and on the Monte-Carlo Rally.

The change to an in-house gearbox in 1951 brought unexpected troubles that dogged Jowett for over a year and led to an unfortunate reputation for unreliability. Ultimately this, and under-capitalisation of the business, led to its downfall.

Briggs Motor Bodies had been bought by Ford and was reluctant to extend credit to Jowett or to build in small quantities, so the firm had nowhere else to go. Its attractive new CD model, which could have saved the company, took too long and cost too much to develop. 

Bradford’s brave car manufacturer simply faded away, leaving enthusiasts to enjoy an innovative and effective saloon that was still one of the liveliest in its class when production ended.

Even in 1953 (on its fourth road test of a Javelin, a model the testers clearly loved), The Motor described the Jowett as: ‘In many respects one of the most attractive medium-sized cars built anywhere in the world.’

Images: Tony Baker


Jowett Javelin: what to look for

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin

Bodywork

See above for trouble spots

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin

Engine

Provided the wet liners have been correctly seated, the engine has no inherent faults, although, like all flat-fours, it is prone to oil leaks. Look for drips below and make the standard checks for wear – blue smoke, excessive oil breathing, knocking/rattling sounds. Lower grille is easily removed for access. This engine runs an alternator.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin

Suspension

Inspect front suspension: multiple grease points need attention every 500 miles on earlier cars; less (but same interval) with Metalastik bushes from late 1952.

The transverse torsion bars for the rear suspension are hidden under back seat. Their rot-prone mountings are tricky to repair, so confirm they’re not festering.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin

Gearbox

Jowett-built gearboxes from 1951 had production issues that hit the firm hard. It shouldn’t be a problem now; many have been rebuilt with roller bearings.

Radiator

Rear-mounted radiator will silt up with age, so look for signs of overheating and oil/water mixing. Here an electric fan has been fitted behind for peace of mind.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin

Interior

Though durable, leather dries out and cracks over the years. A good trimmer can either repair the original or let in a new section, but modern hide is thinner.

The standard painted dashboard is rare: most survivors are de Luxes with lots of wood. See that it’s in good order and all matches, and that all instruments work.Gea


Jowett Javelin: on the road

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin
Javelin is great fun to hustle along country back roads, with sharp rack-and-pinion steering as well as an excellent ride

The Javelin was lively for its day and had notable success in races and rallies. The engine makes a throaty, almost Subaru-like growl and should pull well through the rev range.

Worn or unbalanced carburettors can retard performance; blue smoke will reveal if sluggish response is due to worn bores. Check what work has been done on the engine: though durable, they need frequent maintenance to last well. Inhibitor levels should be maintained to avoid rapid silting of the cooling system and the radiator, plus damaging corrosion in the aluminium crankcase waterways.

The unusual alloy-crankcase, cast-iron head, wet-liner arrangement works well if put together properly by someone who knows what they are doing – if not, it can give trouble. Spare engines and ’boxes can still be found through the club.

The column gearchange should be precise and well defined, though it cannot be rushed. There is no synchromesh on first, but it should be effective on the other gears. Confirm that it doesn’t jump out of gear, and dip the clutch at tickover while listening for bearing wear/rumble. Vibration from the drivetrain is likely to be a worn Layrub coupling in the long propshaft.

The steering box, a clever Jowett design with a curved rack inside, is prone to oil leaks but is durable and precise. The ride should feel comfortable, with long-travel but effective damping from telescopic shock absorbers (at a time when most rivals were still on lever-arms). The brakes are part-hydraulic, part-mechanical on early models, full hydraulic from late 1950. Hydraulics are prone to seizing up if rarely used.


Jowett Javelin price guide

  • Show/rebuilt: £12,500
  • Average: £8000
  • Restoration: £1500

Jowett Javelin history

1944 Aug Original prototype hits the road

1946 Jul Shown at London Cavalcade of Motoring

1947 Jul First production body of 31 built that year

1949 Javelins take class victories in the Spa 24 Hours race and on the Monte-Carlo Rally

1950 de Luxe model added with leather and wood, plus heavier bumpers and more instruments

1950 Autumn Full hydraulic brakes adopted, larger headlamps, solid tappets replace hydraulic

1951 Jowett gearbox supersedes Meadows

1952 Metalastik bushes replace many grease points in the front suspension; revised, mostly timber dashboard; stiffened crankcase

1952 Dec S-type Javelin available (nine made): Jupiter engine, wheels, axle ratio, rev counter

1953 Oct Last Javelin produced


The owner’s view

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin
Owner Ian Roxburgh has a 1952 de Luxe

JCC Southern Section chair Ian Roxburgh owned a Javelin from 1957-’60 and bought his 1952 de Luxe in 2000.

“I rebuilt it from 2002 to ’06,” he recalls. “It was a sound car that had been thoroughly undersealed. The mudguards unbolted, though I did have to weld in new sections to the door bottoms. It’s my own choice of colour, specially mixed – so now it’s a nightmare to match!

“I bought a rusty late car for spares that was equipped with overdrive; we believe it was a factory prototype. The unit is remotely fitted in place of the prop coupling and works on third and fourth, giving relaxed 65-70mph cruising. I’ve also added a servo and a huge number of other mods over the years, so I can drive it with more confidence.”


Also consider

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin
Citroën Light 15 (left) and Singer SM1500 are alternative buys

CITROËN LIGHT 15

One of the best pre-war saloons continued well into the 1950s, with front-drive, great roadholding and spacious cabin. Three-speed ’box and heavy steering, plus corrosion can be severe.

Sold 1935-’57 • No. built 759,127 • Mpg 23-32 • 0-60mph 23.4 secs • Top speed 73mph • Price new £1067-1082 (1952) • Price now £10-15,000 


SINGER SM1500

One of the last designs from the independent firm, it boasted an overhead-cam engine and hydraulic brakes, but still had separate chassis. ‘Modern look’ somewhat childlike; now ultra-rare.

Sold 1949-’56 • No. built 22,154 • Mpg 25-34 • 0-60mph 23.5 secs • Top speed 76mph • Price new £1129-1168 (1952) • Price now £7-10,000


Jowett Javelin: the Classic & Sports Car verdict

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Jowett Javelin
Understated Javelin looks of its time but not out of date, thanks to Gerald Palmer’s attractive lines

The Javelin is an attractive and intriguing machine that will give a great deal of pleasure and whose practicality belies its 65-70 years. Only motorways show its age, but owners have found various solutions to give higher gearing. The club is a huge help with spares and advice: with a car of this age, someone will always have had – and solved – the same problem!

FOR

  • Innovative and practical
  • Comfortable ride
  • Surprisingly powerful for its era
  • British engineering at its best

 

AGAINST

  • Corrosion can be extensive
  • Original panels are very scarce
  • Unitary construction is complex to repair, so not really suitable for home restorers

Jowett Javelin specifications

  • Sold/number built 1947-’53/23,307
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine alloy-crankcase, iron-head, wet-liner overhead-valve 1486cc flat-four, with twin Zenith 30VM4 or 30VM5 carburettors
  • Max power 50bhp @ 4100rpm-52.5bhp @ 4500rpm
  • Max torque 76lb ft @ 2600rpm
  • Transmission four-speed, three-synchromesh manual, driving rear wheels
  • Suspension: front independent, by torsion bars, double wishbones rear Salisbury live axle, torsion bars, four trailing links; telescopic dampers f/r
  • Steering Jowett rack and pinion, 3 turns lock-lock 
  • Brakes Girling 9in drums, hydromechanical at first, full hydraulic from 1950
  • Length 14ft (4267mm)
  • Width 5ft 1in (1549mm)
  • Height 5ft 1in (1549mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft 6in (2591mm)
  • Weight 2380lb (1082kg)
  • 0-60mph 22.2-20.9 secs 
  • Top speed 77.6-82.4mph
  • Mpg 27-35
  • Price new £1129/1261 (standard/de Luxe)

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