MARINE folk in general and fisherfolk in particular know
all about 'Kelvin' engines and regard them as the Rolls-Royce of their
Modern Kelvin Marine Engines are
priced at anything from £200 to £2,300 each, and it has
been said that the expansion of the fishing fleets round British shores
has been very largely due to the reliability of these famous engines,
which are built in a factory containing no less than 350 machine tools
and extending over five acres.
The Kelvin engine, however, had its
origin on dry land. At the end of May 1904 a concern calling itself
"The Bergius Car & Engine Company" entered premises at
No. 169 Finnieston Street, Glasgow. The annual rent paid was but £75,
for the premises consisted merely of the first floor and attic. The
staff consisted of twenty year old David Willocks, the Commercial Manager,
but usually found at the bench; G. Rutherford, the Patternmaker and
Bodywork maker, and W. Hunt, the Machinist, assisted by J. Muir. They
drew an average salary of not more than 25s. per week, and in that week
worked 54 hours.
Directing affairs was Walter Bergius,
himself only twenty-three years of age. He was designer and built the
first car, ably assisted by the above-mentioned staff. He did not commence
to draw any salary until 1908.
The plant of The Bergius Company
included a centre lathe which had been bought new for £66, and
a very aged 9 H.P. gas engine provided driving power. £500 covered
the value of all the plant for Insurance purposes. Yet this small concern,
having decided to enter the Motor Industry, had its first "Kelvin"
car finished in seven months.
It had in that comparatively short
space of time built the engine, transmission, axles, wheel hubs, radiator
and bodywork on the premises. The result was a solid- tyred, rear-entrance
car, with low-tension ignition working on the system devised by the
late Doctor Murray who was designer of the Arrol-Jolanson and Albion
cars of that era.
The Kelvin has a three-speed gearbox
in which the gears were in constant mesh and selected by dog clutches,
and a live rear axle driven by a propeller shaft, at a time when chain-drive
was more normal. The engine developed about 14 H.P. at 900 r.p.m.
The original Kelvin irrevocably damaged
its cylinders on its very first trial run but the staff set to work
with a will and after new cylinders had been designed, altered the pattern,
cast, machined and completed new cylinders within three weeks.
After this, production got into its
stride and a new side-entrance body was introduced. One Kelvin was bought
by a gentleman living in London and history relates that he set off
on the long run home "with a light heart". Another Kelvin
did well in the 1906 1,000 mile Scottish reliability trial. The car
entered cost £350 and weighed 16 cwts. 2 qr. 2+ lbs. The engine
with a bore of 90 m.m. and stroke of 121 m.m. developed 16 H.P. at 950
r.p.m., and the petrol consumption over the 1,000 miles was 22.56 miles
per gallon. The trial was of four days duration, and the car had non-stop
runs on the first, third and fourth days; unfortunately 15 marks were
lost on the second day for being stuck for 15 minutes on Devils Elbow.
It is interesting to note that the car was fitted with Gaulois Pneumatic
tyres (of French manufacture) and that there were no tyre stoppages
during the 1,000 miles.
In all twelve cars were sold, but
by then the resources of the Company were at a low ebb. William Bergius,
Walter's brother, suggested modifying the car engine for use in boats.
To prove his point he put a Kelvin engine in a 23 foot rowing gig and
proceeded to win practically all the motor boat races at that time.
Soon the Kelvin engine was in demand for fishing boats, and after most
of the Scottish fishing fleet had been equipped with 7 H.P. units driving
a folding side propeller, which was another idea of William Bergius',
larger models were designed and proved equally popular for this arduous
work. Incidentally, these original 7 H.P. marine engines had neither
clutch nor reverse gear and the price, installed and ready to act as
auxiliary to sail, was only £70. This the fisherman usually borrowed
half from his friends, and half from The Bergius Company, but so greatly
was the fishing capacity of the boat increased that the loans were soon
That, then, was the origin of the
famous Kelvin marine engine, a Scottish achievement if ever there was
one and note that it was a case of racing improving
the breed. Incidentally, in earlier years the premises at No. 169 Finnieston
Street, Glasgow, where the first Kelvin car saw the light of day, were
occupied by J. & G. Thomson, now John Brown & Co. Ltd., and
later by The Albion Motor Car Company.