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Engines & Us: 1904 Lanchester

Article by: Hannah in Engines , Projects - 2 July

There are many interesting engine models that pass through the roller shutter door of Fiennes Engineering. All are important but sometimes a little more appreciation is required when the engine surpasses the 100 year old mark. So when Frank, our Technical Director, told me Fiennes Engineering had been asked to assist with the repair of the 117 year old Lanchester engine of 1904, I had my blog hat on ready!

Before we look into the works we’ve been carrying out on this particular engine, let’s take a step back in time to 1895..

This was the year that Frederick Lanchester built the first ever British 4 wheel petrol driven car that made its debut on public roads in early 1896. In 1899 he then founded The Lanchester Engine Company in Birmingham with his brothers George and Frank. Their first cars were produced in 1900 and sold from 1901. The Lanchester Engine Company had various designs of vehicle and sold around 350 between 1900 and 1904. Beating their competitors by many years, they were also the first company to sell disc brakes to the public. But despite their popularity the business ran out of money in 1904 and, immediately after entering bankruptcy, The Lanchester Motor Company was formed which was to operate until 1931. 

The models of 1900 – 1904 were twin cylinder air or water cooled, ranging from 4033cc to 4838cc with Lanchester Ten as the first production model. In 1904, the models started to change in their design, with the engines mounted with the gearbox between the front seats and not common to the time, the engines featured pressure lubrication. From 1908, a wheel steering option was made available, a more conventional operation rather than steering by a side lever. Over the years following, and before the war, the car developed further still with the engine moving to the traditional position with a 5.5 litre six cylinder engine. However, before the start of WW1, very few were made of this type.

But now, back to our hub in the Cotswold countryside – this 1904 engine in our workshop consists of 2 single cylinder barrels and pistons, 2 single throw big end crankshafts, and 6 con rods. Even of this time the engineering around this model was fascinating. The single big end crankshafts accommodate 3 con rods on each of the big end journals. Due to the original crankshafts suffering considerable overheating and looking very tired, it was recommended that both crankshafts be replaced along with newly manufactured bronze big end bearings and bronze small end bushes. Using the original sample and as per OEM specification, we commissioned the remanufacture of these crankshafts.

But we did encounter another issue. Both of the crankshafts on this engine have 2 large removable balance weights filled with lead. During operation, the engine had generated so much heat that the lead in one of the balance weights had melted at 400°c+ and been deposited into the sump. To overcome this, we refilled the weight in question with lead, ensuring to carefully match the weight with the existing balance weight.

Fiennes Engineering are proud to be a little piece of this fantastic vehicle’s history, using our skills and experience built over many decades and manufacturing a majority of these components by reverse engineering – a subject we’ll dive a little further into in the coming weeks. Our in-house CNC capability alongside our unique and traditional machining methods and access to our sister company Fiennes Parts means projects like these are fully achievable and quite frankly, a pleasure to be a part of.

Follow us on social media to see how this project progresses, as well as other exciting projects that come through the workshop!