Bill’s Auto-blog

No, not THAT Henry Allingham ...

I recently got involved, as you do, in a discussion on a Facebook page, which invoked an old chestnut. What generated the debate was a picture of a beautifully restored Rover Speed Fourteen Streamline Coupé (similar to the one pictured, upper left) from the mid-1930s. It and its 6-light sibling saloon were designed by coachwork designer Henry Allingham and I said, off the top of my head, that not much was known about him. "Not so," One participant said, "We know a lot about him. He posted a link to a Wikipedia page that said he was:

"... the longest-lived man ever from the United Kingdom, a First World War veteran, and, for one month, the verified oldest living man in the world."

This is certainly true for that particular Henry Allingham, but the man answered my comment and posted the Wiki link made the same mistake as a lot of people who try and find information about Mr Allingham. The war veteran with his own Wiki page didn't design the Streamline Rovers, or for that matter the MG Airline Coupés (pictured lower left).

They were two different men; namesakes, yes, but they were most definitely two entirely different people.

What confuses people, and in particular those who have done any on line research is that both men worked in the motor industry, in coachbuilding. Wiki says of war veteran Allingham was that he served in the Royal Naval Air Service as a rigger. After the war, in 1921, he married and moved to Eastbourne. It goes on to say, "His employers included Thorns Car Body Makers, Vickers General Motors and H.J.M. Car Body Builders. He started his longest stretch of employment in 1934 designing new car bodies for the Ford Motor Company at their Dagenham plant, which had opened only a few years previously in 1931." War veteran Allingham had moved back from Eastbourne to Essex, a few miles away from his native Clapton, East London. He died on July 18 2009, aged 113 years, 42 days at Ovingdean, East Sussex.

Henry Allingham the coachbuilder, the man who designed the Streamlined Rovers and Airline Coupés worked variously in Dorset, Weybridge and Central London. In 1921 in Dorset he formed a coachbuilding company, Chalmer and Hoyer, with H Hamilton Hoyer and also a Mr Chalmer, about whom nothing has yet been found. As the company bears Chalmer's name, it's possible that he was a financial backer, rather than anyone with an executive job in the company. Chalmer and Hoyer used the brand name Hoyal, derived from the "Ho" of Hoyer and the "Al" of Allingham. Later it became the name of the company.

At Chalmer and Hoyer, Hoyer was the production man. He may well have been in the business since before the Great War, as a company with his initials, 'HHH' was, according coachbuilding authority, the late Nick Walker, the in-house coachbuilder for De Dion Bouton. Allingham was Chalmer and Hoyer's salesman. They were in fact the first British company to take out a licence to build Weymann bodies. We don't know how much Allingham contributed to the company's designs, though in supplying standard saloon and tourer bodies direct to the industry, including Morris and Austin rather than to private customers, the focus was on the conventional, rather than the fashionable or sporting.

The amount of work produced for these and others enabled Chalmer and Hoyer to open a new factory in the old Gwynne car factory in Weybridge, Surrey. But Morris was growing massively and was outgrowing its suppliers, so production of standard bodies was moved to Pressed Steel in the late 1920s, which could produce bodies much quicker and cheaper than the coachbuilders. This left Chalmer and Hoyer with a big gap in their order book, which they hoped to make good with work from other sources, but as the economy slumped, so did their work. A diversion into bus body building didn't save the company and it went bust in 1930.

From there, as the other larger companies moved over to pressed steel standard bodies, Allingham turned to specialisation and the design of open top and sporting bodies, setting up his design studio in Central London. He avoided the temptation – if indeed he was tempted –to start a coachworks of his own, and his designs were built by companies like Carbodies, Ranalah and Whittingham and Mitchel. Outstanding amongst the designs were the Airline Coupé, almost exclusively for MG, though a single example was fitted to an HRG and the Rover Speed 14 Streamline saloon and coupe.

Having lost his original company to the relentless drive towards pressed steel bodies and being fully aware of cost savings offered by such operations, Allingham formed another company, Vehicle Developments. In 1934, in cooperation with the German company, Ambi-Budd he developed a standard design for a pressed steel A-pillar and door for drophead coupés. This was incorporated into bodies fitted to the "Sandringham'" body, which found its way onto Vauxhall, Ford and Wolseley chassis. They were built by Ranalah and Whittingham and Mitchel and, interestingly, Jones Brothers, who by this time were turning out taxicab bodies for the Austin 12/4 that was sponsored and sold by Mann and Overton's. Where he went, or what he did with the onset of the Second World War is not known, or even if he was of working age then, is not known, but one cannot think that someone with such a creative mind would want to miss the opportunity to serve his country if he possibly could. There is much more to discover about this man's fascinating career.

Fascinating characters though both men were, with lives fully lived, Henry Allingham the salesman at Chalmer and Hoyer and designer of the streamline bodies and Henry Allingham the RNAS veteran, Ford employee and super-centenarian were not the same man.

Old beliefs die hard, if indeed they ever do.

April 16 2020

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