Bill’s Blog

No, not THAT Henry Allingham

I recently got involved in a discussion on a Facebook page, as we do from time to time and it resulted in someone raising an old chestnut. The post featured a picture of an MG Airline Coupé and mentioned its designer, the coachwork stylist Henry Allingham. I said that not much was known about him but someone else said that we did, and supposedly to prove it, he posted a link to a Wikipedia page that said that Henry Allingham was “… the longest-lived man ever from the United Kingdom, a First World War veteran.”

Sadly, the contributor had fallen into a familiar trap, in thinking that Henry Allingham the war veteran and Henry Allingham the designer of the MG Airline Coupé were the same person. They most definitely were not. Henry Allingham the war veteran’s story has been widely told, but who was the other Henry Allingham the coachbuilder, and what did he do?

“Our” Henry Allingham was born in Surrey in 1882, the youngest child of artist Helen Allingham (née Paterson) and the Irish poet William Allingham. Though his parents filled their home with art and literature, they recognised that you Henry was a natural engineer, so they sent him to University College School in London. His early career was with the Westinghouse Corporation’s Morse Chain operations and when he married Nell Lomax, he started working for Renold’s Chain in Manchester. During the Great War, he became a consulting production engineer for the Ministry of Munitions, then, in 1921, he joined forces with Henry Hoyer and Ernest Chalmer, in their new coachbuilding company, Chalmer & Hoyer.

Chalmer & Hoyer were based in a former aircraft production factory at Hamworthy, Dorset, where they also built motorboats under the brand name Hoyal Craft, a name derived from “Hoy”, of Hoyer” and “Al” of Allingham. In the mid-1920’s, Chalmer & Hoyer began building bodies for two of Britain’s biggest car manufacturers, Morris and for Austin and to cope with the work, they took over the works of the defunct Lang Propeller Company in Weybridge, Surrey, a growing number of which were closed types that were replacing the open tourers of the day.

By 1926 the company, renamed The Hoyal Body Corporation Ltd because Chalmer appears to have severed all connections with it, was said to be turning out around 100 bodies per week, but a threat to their survival was already looming. Morris had begun fitting cheaper more durable all-steel bodies to his cars. This change, rolled out across the British motor industry signalled the end of not only Hoyal, but of the traditional British coachbuilding industry as a whole. Hoyal struggled on with diminishing sales, but in 1932 it was wound up.

A Hoyal fabric body on a 1928 Morris Cowley chassis

Allingham had already seen the writing on the wall for Hoyal, because in 1930, he set up a consultancy, Allingham Design to act as an agent for finding special bodies for other makers. As he now had no works of his own, he engaged other coachbuilders to build the bodies. Rover was the first car maker to sign up and for the 1932 season, Allingham signed up six coachbuilders to provide the bodies. The agreement was renewed for the 1933 season, but at the end of 1933 Rover’s board decided that they should abandon the use of all outside coachbuilders.

Allingham’s next move was to form a company called Vehicle Developments Ltd, which he set up in 1934. Allingham went to Ambi-Budd Presswerke GmbH in Germany, who designed the tooling for all-steel A-posts and doors for drophead coupés. Was used on chassis such as Vauxhall, Wolseley and Ford.

The design for which Allingham is best known is the Airline Coupé, an elegant 2-seater body that followed the new vogue for streamlining. Introduced in 1934, it could be had on MG’s P-Type Midget and N-Type Magnette chassis, but it was not cheap and just 40 were built, with the last example finding a customer in 1936.

Allingham also designed a unique 2/4-Seater Tourer body, which was fitted on MG N-Type Magnette and Vauxhall Light Six chassis. Despite its attractive lines, it was more expensive than the standard NA tourer body and had less rear legroom. Just twelve were sold, the last going in December 1935 to the Cambridge spy Donald Maclean.

As the 1930s drew to a close, so did Allingham’s career in coachbuilding. Independent coachbuilders had supplied not only the standard bodies, but sports and special bodies to car makers. Now the bigger makers cut the number of special bodies they offered in their catalogues to a minimum and Allingham’s services were no longer needed.

Vehicle Developments Ltd became the sole agent for Handa Engineering Ltd of Croydon, which Allingham may have formed with Henry Hoyer, H and A standing, one would assume for Hoyer and Allingham. Handa was known, in 1958 to produce a bolt-on transmission overdrive unit, which acted on all forward gears. It was aimed particularly at Fords and Vauxhalls, which at the time only offered 3-speed gearboxes. One is known to survive, fitted to a 1960 Ford 100E Popular.

Henry and Nell Allingham eventually retired to Brighton, though Henry was not happy there, complaining that he couldn’t get out as much as he’d like, because of the crowds in the summer and the cold winds in the winter. He died at Hambledon, Surrey in 1960, aged 78 .

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