Birch, John North
||VCC (unaccessioned) General
||Engine from the first car built in New Zealand and the only car built in the South Island. The touring car was built by John North Birch (see notes) in his garage in High Street, Blenheim and named the "Marlborough". She was begun in 1912 and completed in 1919 and had a four cylinder engine with a four-inch bore and seven-inch stroke, five main bearings and full force feed lubrication. Valves were two and a half inches across the face, cam lift was half an inch. It is claimed the Marlborough was capable of over a 100 miles an hour on a good straight road with a good set of tyres.
The car was bought by James Fuller of Seddon who reported that she was very reliable but hard to start. With a bore the same as a tractor, two inches more stoke and no impulse starter it is not surprising. He had her for 21 years, but then the second World War came along and through a shortage of benzine and tyres she was put off the road. Even at a price of 10 pound there were no takers and she was given away and the recipient broke her up for scrap. The only part saved was this engine. It, too, was to be sold as scrap, but about 1951 the owner, Ron Osgood, couldn't get his eight-pound sledge hammer to make much of an impact and so decided to rebuilt it instead.
Ron Osgood donated the Marlborough engine to the Marlborough Vintage Car Club sometime after 1968 (see notes). It was purchased from his estate.
The Marlborough engine is cast differently to standard motors today . The way it was cast means it can be serviced from the top down.
The compressor block (which is missing) was on the left front side and used for blowing up the tyres.
There are no pistons in the engine now.
Each cylinder has a decompression lever. When this type of engine was used in boats the last cylinder was used for refridgeration.
The air intake is the large round pipe on the left which goes up and over.
A brass plate on the clutch reads, "British Hele-Shaw patent. Clutch Co. Ltd. Sutlers Street, Oldham. 2051 Class MO5. Charge with pints of thin mineral oil."
Image one is a picture of the Marlborough car and one of the two men is James Fuller. The image is from a photocopy of a photograph, originally from the photograph album of Graham Fuller. The photocopy belongs to the Marlborough Vintage Car Club. The reverse of the photograph says, "Uncle Jim" and is then stamped JAMES FULLER, PICTON.
Article, published in Better Business, March 1968, page 9.
"Before the Nova.
When ANZIEL announced plans last year, to produce a New Zealand-made car, there was immediate public interest. This really Is something people were saying, this really is ambitious. We thought so too, and decided to take a closer look. Had such a venture been attempted before? We started to delve. We noted the Trekka, which has a high local content, then we went back another ten or so years and came across the Mistral, an unsuccessful attempt by a Christchurch firm to manufacture kitset cars. Then, arriving at 1930, we stumbled on a unique car and a story which took us back, ultimately, to a small town in England, to the birth of the bicycle, the motyor cycle, and the automobile. It is the story of John North Birch, a brilliant inventive engineer and a superb craftsman, who spent 40 of his 78 years here in New Zealand. Had his ambitions been realised New Zealand by now could have been world famous for its cars. Had he not come out here in the first place there is little doubt, in our minds at least, that he could have become another Nuffield, a Rootes or a Ford. But it was not to be. The story of this remarable character begins on page 10 and will run over two issues." [For the full article see John North Birch's biography in the People file. For a synopsis, see below].
John North Birch is the rightful name of the car builder, however, he was commonly known in New Zealand as George (see image 30), which was his father's name. He also had the nickname, "Old Bill" and many remember him by that name alone.
Before he came to New Zealand in 1905, John North Birch built his first push bike about 1888 which he named the Foleshill. About 1898 he built his second push bike which he named the George Eliot. About 1900 he built his first motorcycle which he also named the George Eliot (see image 27). After building his first car in Blenheim in 1919 (see image 28), he moved to Gisborne where he built a second (see image 29) and third car after 1922. The second car was also called Marlborough but at some stage was renamed the Carlton. Both the second and third car were extensively damaged by fire, but the second car was redesigned and sold as a three-ton truck and the third car was used as spares by the owner of the truck. After 30 years, the second car, now a three-ton truck, was dragged out of a swamp and rebuilt as a car by the Gisborne Vintage Car Club. It is still driven by members of their club in 2008. Birch built a fourth car, the baby Carlton, which was completed about 1928, but then came the depression and his Carlton Car Company was a casualty. He built no more cars after this. [All information about John North Birch and his inventions is from two articles written by Desmond Snell and published in the magazines, Better Business, March and April 1968.]