No, not THAT Henry Allingham ...
I recently got involved, as you do, in a discussion on a Facebook page, which invoked an old chestnut. The debate was generated by a picture of a beautifully restored Rover Speed Fourteen Streamline Coupé from the mid-1930s. It was designed by coachwork stylist Henry Allingham and I said that not much was known about him. "Not so," Someone commented, "We know a lot about him." He posted a link to a Wikipedia page.
This said this Mr Allingham was "... the longest-lived man ever from the United Kingdom, a First World War veteran."
The contributor was right in one sense, but wrong in another. That particular Henry Allingham was most certainly Britain's longest living man, but it wasn't the man I was talking about. The contributor had fallen into the same trap as a few others. Henry Allingham the war veteran was not the same man as Henry Allingham the designer of the Streamline Rovers and the MG Airline Coupés.
They were most definitely two entirely different people. What confuses people is that both men worked in the motor industry, in coachbuilding.
Henry Allingham the War Veteran
War veteran Allingham served in the Royal Naval Air Service as a rigger. From 1921, he worked for several companies in the motor industry, including Thorns Car Body Makers, Vickers, General Motors and HJM Car Body Builders. After that, in 1934 he joined the design team working on vehicle bodies for the Ford Motor Company at their Dagenham plant. He stayed there until he retired. He died on July 18 2009, aged 113 years, 42 days at Ovingdean, East Sussex. Nobody else in Britain is known to have lived longer.
Henry Allingham, Coachbuilder
Henry Allingham the coachbuilder was older than Allingham the war veteran. And where Henry the war veteran was happy to work for someone else, "our" Henry was very much the entrepreneur. In Dorset in 1921 he formed a coachbuilding company, Chalmer and Hoyer, with H Hamilton Hoyer and a Mr Chalmer. Hoyer may well have been in the business since before the Great War. A company with his initials, "HHH", according coachbuilding authority, the late Nick Walker, supplied bodies for the De Dion cars imported into Britain. There is no specific proof that Hoyer started HHH, but surely the initials would be too much of a coincidence for it to be anyone else. We know nothing about Mr Chalmer, though, but as the company bears Chalmer's name, it's possible that he was a financial backer.
Chalmer and Hoyer used the brand name Hoyal, derived from the "Ho" of Hoyer and the "Al" of Allingham and later it became the name of the company. Hoyer was Chalmer and Hoyer's production man. was Chalmer and Hoyer's salesman. We don't know how much Allingham contributed to the company's designs, though the focus was on the conventional standard saloon and tourer bodies. This was where the regular money was, with the big players in the industry like Morris and Austin.
Hoyal's Growth and Collapse
Austin and Morris sold more cars than any other makers in Britain and Chalmer and Hoyer opened a new factory in the old Gwynne car factory in Weybridge, Surrey to cope with demand. William Morris, though, had a habit of outgrowing his suppliers. When he did, he usually bought them out and absorbed them into his ever-growing empire. Not so with most of his coachwork suppliers. Instead, he got into bed with American entrepreneur William G Budd, the pioneer of all-steel bodies to set up The Pressed Steel Company of Great Britain. This he used to produce all his own standard steel bodies. Now Chalmer and Hoyer had a big gap in their order book. They hoped to make good with work from other sources, but it didn't happen and the company went bust in 1930.
New Horizons for Allingham
From there, as the other larger car makers like Austin and the forthcoming Rootes Group adopted pressed steel standard bodies, Henry Allingham saw a gap in the market. Pressed steel bodies made cars cheaper, but they made them all the same, which were, for the most part family saloons. The makers no longer offered the variety of open bodies they once did. Allingham decided to design open coachwork for the big makers. He did not want, though, to find the resources to set up his own coachbuilding company. There were plenty of those around, all crying out for work as their old customers turned to pressed steel bodies.
He set up a design studio in Central London, where he laid out designs for open bodies, including tourers and drophead coupés. Rather than build them himself, he contracted out the work to companies like Carbodies, Ranalah and Whittingham and Mitchel. The first of these designs were up to date, but not exceptional. Then, "streamlining" became the vogue. Allingham moved up a gear, producing the Rover Speed 14 Streamline models and the Airline Coupé, almost exclusively for MG.
Allingham's Vehicle Developments Ltd
Allingham knew of course that pressed steel bodies were a lot cheaper than coachbuilt ones. And he realised he could reduce the cost of coachbuilt bodies by incorporating standardised pressed steel parts into them. In 1934 he formed a company called Vehicle Developments Ltd to do just that. In cooperation with the German company, Ambi-Budd he developed a design for a pressed steel A-pillar and door for open cars. He incorporated this into the "Sandringham'" body, which Ranalah and Whittingham and Mitchel built for Vauxhall, Ford and Wolseley.
We don't know where Allingham went at the onset of the Second World War, or even if he was of working age. It seems inconceivable, though that someone with such a creative mind would not serve his country if he possibly could. There is much more to discover about this man's fascinating career.
So it's clear that Henry Allingham, the coachbuilder was NOT the same man as Henry Allingham the RNAS veteran. But old beliefs die hard, if indeed they ever do.