Beaverette

The first version of the vehicle was built in 1940 by Standard Motor Company at the instigation of Lord Beaverbrook, then Minister of Aircraft Production (hence the name Beaverette). It was based on commercial car chassis, on which a simple riveted armoured hull was mounted. The 11mm of steel was backed by 3-inch-thick oak planks. The hull was open at the top and at the rear. The armament consisted of Bren light machine gun which could be fired through a slot in the glacis armour. Subsequent versions received all-around protection and a machine gun turret – an enclosed one with Bren MG or an open-topped one with twin Vickers machine guns. Some vehicles also carried Boys anti-tank rifles. Some had No. 11 or No. 19 radio set. The production was stopped in 1942. About 2,800 units were delivered.

The Beaverette was used by the British Army and Royal Air Force for home defence service and training.

It also quickly gained a reputation for being difficult to handle, as although its armour was light, the oak cladding behind the armour plate made the vehicle distinctly top-heavy, which produced some more than interesting cornering traits! Later Beaverettes found an appropriate home in the Irish Army.

DRIVING A BEAVERETTE – Phil Homer, historian of the Standard Motor Club

Mechanically, the Beaverette is based on, and very similar to the Standard Flying 14. The 1776cc four-cylinder side-valve engine is employed together with the four-speed and reverse gearbox. A double-reduction gearbox has been added in front of the differential which helps pull the weight along although it means that the vehicle is straining at high revs whilst not making a lot of forward progress. The single rear gear makes for not a very hasty retreat!

It’s quite difficult to get in. I duck my head to enter through the heavy door at the rear centre of the vehicle and then have to negotiate a route over the hump enclosing the differential and reduction gearing to reach the front of the cabin. There’s a canvas driver’s chair with a lightweight tubular frame to sit on, but no passenger seat. The turret occupies most of the rest of the cabin, the only part that isn’t occupied by the turret is the square petrol tank sitting in the front left corner. I suppose the occupants were glad it was inside the armour, not outside!

The Beaverette starts quite easily with the choke control operated, then settles down to a loud bubbling roar which is less intrusive than I expected, for there is positively no sound-deadening. It has a bespoke Solex carburettor with a built-in governor, to prevent over-revving. The driver sits on the right and has conventional car controls. There are two slots in the armour up front and one either side all at high level. Each can be closed but visibility, which is otherwise acceptable, becomes nil at that point. Someone ought to have provided a periscope! There is a small dashboard to the driver’s right with just two instruments, one displays speed, the other fuel, oil pressure and ammeter. There is no rev-counter.

I set off to do a circuit of the industrial estate on which Historic Engineering has its workshops. The gearbox is surprisingly crisp and the synchromesh works well. The revs build up very quickly and the vehicle encourages one to move up smartly through the gears. I soon find myself in top, but that is at no more than 20mph (32km/h). I am very conscious that there are three tons of armour to pull along and the top speed is less than 40mph (64km/h). I suspect it would be quite noisy if I were ever to attain that speed. Of course, I am conscious that other traffic will be keeping out of the way (wouldn’t you, when seeing a war-time and mean-looking camouflaged armoured car approaching you?) The semi-elliptical springs in all four corners are doing a good job at keeping the Beaverette flat when cornering and the ride is none too harsh, in fact it’s really surprisingly supple. The Marles-Weller steering is understandably heavier than the car version and there is no power assistance. The wheel can’t be moved when the vehicle is stationary, but it’s perfectly acceptable when on the move. The brakes are almost unnecessary, which is just as well, as soon as one’s foot is taken off the accelerator all forward momentum is lost almost immediately and the Beaverette comes quickly to a halt without application of the brakes.

I must say I am enjoying it and having to give it back all too soon is a chore.

BACKGROUND

Beaverettes were named after Lord Beaverbrook the newspaper magnate, and were issued to the Home Guard for civil defence and training. Beaverettes came in four flavours. The Mk I was put together in pretty short order and consisted of a steel plated hull mounted on the Flying 12 chassis but fitted with the Flying 14 engine. The 12hp chassis was chosen over the 14hp because it had a simpler frame supported on semi-elliptical springs all round, rather than the more complex Independent front suspension of the 14. The body used leftover front wings from car production. It was charming, but pretty ineffective as a fighting machine.

The Mk II was much as before, except this time the front panel was armoured to prevent bullets entering the radiator, a noted deficiency of the Mk I. There was no roof on either model and there was no door, the occupants having to exit over a lowered rear panel. As before, the steel armour was backed by oak planking.

The Mk III was shortened, the chassis and the rear extension being dispensed with. Having run out of car wing pressings, it had fully armour-plated wings. It was totally enclosed and carried a gun turret on top. The Flying 12 car underpinnings were discarded, the hull itself supporting the rear of the vehicle and a purpose-built front chassis, though the 14 engine and gearbox were retained.

The Mk IV is the last and most sophisticated of the range, the main difference over the Mk III being the redesigned Glacis armour to improve visibility for the driver – and this is the example that Historic Engineering has completely restored. It’s thought that around 3800 Beaverettes were built at the Standard Works at Canley in Coventry but few have survived, making this runner a real rarity.

Variants

    Mk I – original version.

    Mk II – had all-around armour and the radiator grill was moved from a vertical position to a horizontal one.

    Mk III Beaverbug – had shortened chassis, redesigned hull without curved front wings, with top armour and a machine gun turret.

    Mk IV – glacis armour was redesigned to improve visibility.

    A similar vehicle, known as Beaverette (NZ), was produced in New Zealand Railways workshops, Hutt Valley. The car used a Ford 3/4 or 1-ton truck chassis and plate salvaged from the ships Port Bowen and Mokoia for armour. They had a crew of 4 and 208 units were built.

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