In 1950 a small commemorative booklet was issued by Reliant that detailed Tom Williams’ personal history of Reliant. What better way to detail the early years than from the main founder himself:
The Birth and Growth of the “RELIANT”
by T. L. Williams. (December 1950)
When the Raleigh cycle company decided to discontinue the manufacture of mechanical contrivances, which included the three-wheeled vehicles (*The Raleigh Safety Seven), I decided there was a market to be further exploited.
To me it seemed a great pity that the development work and experience gained on this particular type of vehicle, should be thrown to the winds.
This gave me the urge to set out and build up a business of my own.
My capital was very limited, but I found a friend and ally in Mr. W. J Bennion, of a branch of Barclays bank, Nottingham, who gave me all the assistance in his power. So now you understand why we bank at Barclays, Nottingham, the branch of which Mr Bennion is the manager.
To pursue the project I installed myself in an office in the garden of the house (*Bro-Dawell on the Kettlebrook Road in Tamworth) in which I resided, and commenced the design of the prototype vehicle in August 1934, which was afterwards to be called “The RELIANT”.
My idea was that the vehicle should replace the motor cycle and box-carrier giving ample weather protection for the driver. Therefore it was to be a single cylinder: air cooled engine, three speed, and reverse gearbox, with a chain drive to the rear axle, having a carrying capacity of 7 cwts., a ready sale would be found. However, I discovered I was wrong in my prediction, as I shall tell you later.
Before leaving the Raleigh Cycle Co. I told Mr Thompson and Mr Bridcutt of my ambitions. They both wished me well, and stated that they would be pleased to join me at the appropriate time.
On the 1st October, 1934, Mr. Thompson came along. He assisted me in the work of designing and producing the prototype vehicle. By the use of a hand drilling machine, files and hacksaw, the first chassis was produced. The necessary machining work had to be produced outside.
To complete the vehicle, a friendly garage in the town (Tamworth Motor Garage in Aldergate run by John & George Jenson) enabled us to use their premises and the prototype vehicle was ready for the road and licensed on 1st January 1935.
While Mr Thompson was engaged on the final assembly, I was busily engaged in preparations for the manufacture of the undertaking.
Premises were eventually found on the present site. This consisted of a corrugated iron and wooden structure, with sliding doors at the front. It had been used as an omnibus garage. (*The old Midland Red Garage in Two Gates) A lease was secured for 14 years; there were two one thousand gallon petrol tanks but no pumps.
Wooden office accommodation was built by Mr Thompson and myself. This is where my early training in the use of carpenter’s tools stood me in good stead, being the son of a builder of no mean standing. Two electric petrol pumps were installed and by this means a small income was secured by the sale of petrol, etc.
A limited amount of plant was purchased in order to launch the production of the new vehicle. The first was delivered on the 1st June 1935. I discovered that Mr Ford and Mr Rowley were interested in my activities, and they introduced me to Mr Halland, so that in July 1935, a Limited Company was formed with these three gentlemen joining as directors.
The formation of the Company was undertaken by Mr F W Flint, of Messrs. Boaler & Flint, who was introduced to me by Mr Bennion, and they became our auditors. I should like to pay a special tribute to the attributes of Mr Flint. Besides being a gentleman he has been a friend and a counselor to me during the varying fortunes of the Company’s life.
At this time Mr William Rutherford was appointed Solicitor for the Company.
I have previously referred to the single cylinder, chain driven type of vehicle being considered the right type, but something approaching a car type vehicle was soon deemed necessary. Therefore we introduced a very much more ambitious layout, by employing a twin cylinder water cooled J.A.P. engine, with shaft drive, and spiral bevel rear axle, and having a carrying capacity of 10 cwts.
The first of this type of vehicle was produced on 26th March 1936.
It was during the later stages of the production of the single cylinder engine model that Mr O. S. Bridcutt joined the company as Sales Director.
During a visit in 1937 to the Commercial Vehicle Show, I enquired from the Industrial Dept. of the Austin Motor Co. whether they would be prepared to supply us with their 7 h.p. Engine and gearbox units, and they agreed.
Then, having discovered the price was acceptable, we were able to install this unit into a smaller vehicle, a prototype was built in three months, and we were prepared for the production of the 8 cwt vehicle which is virtually with us today.
We commenced deliveries of this type on the 12th March 1938.
This proposition was very well received, because it marked a great step forward in design, providing the driver with a smooth, quiet unit, free from vibration, and moreover enabled us to produce bodies with metal panels.
The purchasing of a complete unit with all its fittings such as carburettor, petrol pumps, starter motor, dynamo, etc., enabled production to be considerably increased; so much that we were obliged to have additional premises in which to manufacture our bodies.
The lease covering this adjunct provided for an optional purchase of the whole site and room for extensions such as we cover today, and this option was exercised in June 1939, thus making us holders of the freehold.
At this stage we virtually had a four wheeler on three wheels. Many of my friends have asked me when are we going to make a four wheeler, and I have replied, “Why should we”.
The three wheeler has decided advantages over the four wheeler, the myth that it easily turns over has been exploded. I could turn a four wheeler over if I wished.
Economy in running and ease of maneuverability are its chief advantaged. What are its disadvantages? I don’t know!
Mr. Bridcutt left us to engage in other sphere; consequently the sales were directed from here, with the assistance of Mr E H Slater operating in the Northern counties, and Mr S Huntley in the South West, and not forgetting Mr Waring in London.
From our early years we enjoyed a proportion of export sales to various markets.
Now we come to a real body blow. Many rumours were current that Austin’s were discontinuing the production of the 7 h.p. unit. However that Company would not confirm the rumours, but in late 1938 the facts came to light. Production was to cease and we were therefore left with no alternative but to produce our own unit. . I decided to copy the Austin Seven so far as it suited us; so that the gear drive to the cam shaft and dynamo was eliminated and substituted by chain drive to cam shaft, and an extension of the oil pump shaft to the distributor, mounted on the cylinder head. Quite normal practice. Assisted by Mr. Thompson I set about the task but before we could bring our unit into production, supplies form Austin’s had ceased.
You will appreciate that during the period 1935-1939 we had grown considerably. The introduction of our own engine unit demanded the purchase of still more plant, (building a machine shop stage by stage), and when it was found impossible to get crankshafts machined, because of the small quantity, and the pre-occupation of firms in the re-armament programme, we tackled this work ourselves.
Our own engine was produced in September 1939 - the first week of the war; and we continued into early 1940. Then we turned our attention wholeheartedly to the machining of parts for the various ministries, and by the end of hostilities we had contributed to the war effort by machining one-and-a-half million parts.
During this period further machine tools were bought, so that from the machine tool angle we were in a happy position to restart our activities on a peace time basis.
We had an excellent opportunity in judging the results of service given during the war of our own unit, and this was most satisfactory and encouraging.
One major problem was now floor area. We had less than before the war – the factory adjoining having been requisitioned on behalf of a nut and bolt manufacturer- took away more than fifty per cent. of our pre-war floor area. We had nowhere to produce our bodies and with the production of our own engine and gearbox unit we needed much more floor area – not less that we had in pre-war days. A permit was obtained for the building of a shop in which to produce our Bodies, and with the production of our own engine and gear-box unit we needed much more floor area - not less than we had in pre-war days.
A permit was obtained for the building of a Shop in which to produce bodies.
I should like to thank Mr. Weller, of the Ministry of Supply, for his sympathetic help to overcome our real difficulty.
The shop was completed in July 1946.
We ought to record that permanent office accommodation was provided by piecemeal construction over several years, and later a flat was constructed over the office building in which I could reside.
All these buildings were laid out with a view to a final grand scheme such as we see this day.
We managed to bring our post war vehicles into production - delivering the first on the 13th March, 1946, but the difficulties of obtaining supplies was very real, with still limited floor space - the going was very hard.
In June 1946, Mr T H Scott approached us for an engagement. He had been for some years in the R.A.F. After careful consideration we decided he would fit into our organisation in the Sales Department, thus relieving me to devote more time to the other sides of the business. In October 1947, he was appointed Sales Manager, which position he still enjoys.
We sort a licence to erect an Assembly Shop, and after much striving this was secured, and here again, was erected by direct labour. This addition secured a further 10,000 sq. ft. of floor space.
With the advent of the completion of this shop in October, 1947, the need for help in securing supplies and assistance in running the business on the commercial side stood out very clear to me.
I had been impressed during the war, of my association with Mr Engledow of the Rootes Organisation, and consequently I approached him with the suggestion that he should join me as General Manger. After careful consideration he accepted my offer and commenced his duties on 1st September, 1947, and was also elected a Director. He has been of great assistance in developing the Company Mr. Thompson was also elected Works Director as a reward for his service.
During 1948 Mr. Engledow contacted in Coventry a very small firm with a limit plant for Gear-cutting. We became very interested in this small business, realizing the possibilities of manufacturing our own Gears. Consequently, as they were lacking in the commercial side, being already blessed in the person of Mr. T. Law, with a practical expert in this particular branch of industry, we suggested acquiring their practical value to become a subsidiary of the Reliant Engineering Co. Ltd. This proposition was agreed so now we have with us the Morson Engineering Co. Their plant has been removed from these premises and since has been added to. I am pleased to say this business is flourishing.
Mr. Ken Wright joined the Company in August, 1948, in charge of Accounts and Wages Dept. On the works side we had so far constructed a Body Shop and Assembly Shop, but the Machine Shop sadly needed reconstruction. The roof leaked badly and the natural light was very poor. The heating was also far from satisfactory. So we embarked upon a scheme of reconstruction which enabled us to extend the width of the shop by 40ft., up to our land boundary, together with re-roofing the existing Shop. This work commenced in April and completed during September, 1949.
We paid very particular attention to the lighting problem, and this proved of great benefit to the operators and their productivity capacity. A heating was also installed which is an extension from the Body Shop and Assembly Shop.
Our Modern Office Block and Factory at Tamworth, Staffs.
The office staff has been increased and the accommodation was quite inadequate to keep pace with our growth. Lavatory accommodation was badly needed so we applied for a licence, which we felt covered our minimum needs. This was granted in January this year. The building was carried out under my supervision, and by our own labour, except the heating, which is an extension of the Works system, and which we entrusted to our good friend Mr. Evans.
I should be lacking if I did not mention that our future development is largely in the hands of our local authority, The Tamworth Rural District Council. Unfortunately we are not entirely in their hand, for we have to deal with The County Council, The Ministry of Supply, The Board of Trade, The Ministry of Transport. The Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Works.
On the engineering side the greatest step forward has been the conversion of our engine from jet lubrication to pressure feed. Mr Fred Holister was responsible for this work, and the production change made on the 22nd of February this year. At the same time we introduced the Regent Van, replacing the 12 cwt model. These two improvements have been the major changes and mark stepping stones forward in our march of progress. I should state that Mr. Ron. Taylor, who is in charge of our Body Department, was mainly responsible for the Regent Body.
The large amount of improvements and developments which have taken place has not been achieved by distributing profits to the Directors and share-holders, but by plowing back as much as possible, making for the reconstruction, erection of buildings and the purchasing of plant. However, we are not sleeping on our laurels and I hope that by this time next year we shall have in production three-wheelers which will for ever silence the critics and doubters.
Before closing I would like pay tribute to the loyalty of our staff and the unity of purpose which exists.