Barn Finds 1958 Berkeley SE328!

A few days ago, we featured a Berkeley SE328 that reader Ikey H tipped us off to. Shortly after Russ D wrote it, we realized that this little rarity was right here in Boise, Idaho. We’ve been on the lookout for one of these interesting little sports cars for many years, so Jesse quickly sent the seller an email. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a response back and with finds like this, time is of the essence. So, we got to work doing some sleuthing and in what can only be described as destiny, we were able to track the car and seller down!

As I was studying the seller’s photos, I kept being drawn to one particular photo of the car that showed the next-door neighbor’s house. In the beige world that is suburban sprawl, a house with bright blue trim has a way of sticking out and for some reason, I kept getting the feeling I had seen this house before but couldn’t quite place it. As I was looking at another photo that revealed a crosswalk sign, a memory came to mind of a recent incident where my car’s alternator failed and the battery drained out, leaving me stranded in a neighbor directly across from a high school that had a very similar crosswalk. My phone battery also happened to be drained, so I had to hike to the nearest gas station to get someone to come rescue me and that’s when I remembered walking past a grey house with bright blue trim! So, I pulled up Google Street View and dropped a pin right where I had broken down and started retracing my steps right.

With the address in hand, we decided to take the risk of stopping by the seller’s house unannounced. We figured the worst-case scenario was that we would at least get to look at a Berkeley in person. So, we made the 7-minute drive to the seller’s house, knocked on their door, and were greeted by a wonderful individual. Tom, the seller, was obviously confused about how we found him, but we explained that I recognized his neighbor’s house from the photos after my car died not 500 feet from his house. He was impressed that I would remember something like that and told me I should consider a career at the CIA.

The car was sitting on a perfectly sized trailer in the seller’s driveway with a tarp over it. From the street, you would never have guessed there was a car on the trailer. Once we got the tarp off, it started to sink in just how tiny this car is! It makes a Modern Mini Cooper seem giant and even a Triumph Spitfire would seem big sitting next to this thing. But, that was the point of the Berkeley. It’s an engineering marvel when you consider that it was developed in the 1950s and weighs in at just 700 pounds. Yes, you read that correctly! To put it in context, this car weighs about the same as a dry Chevrolet 427 V8… Just the V8.

After World War II, the British economy was struggling, so for most people owning a car was pretty much out of the question. That was until people like Lawrence Bond came along and developed cheap little micro cars, he is probably best known for his Bond Minicar that got people moving again. The Berkeley came about as a collaboration between Bond and Charles Panter, the owner of Berkeley Coachworks. Berkeley was already building fiberglass campers, so they had the skills necessary to bring Bond’s vision to fruition. As we were inspecting the car, I was immediately struck by how modern the struck seems compared to the other fiberglass cars I’ve seen from this time period. Clearly, Bond drew inspiration from the aircraft that he had worked on during WWII.

Since the car is so extremely light, it doesn’t need much power to move it along. So, a two-cylinder two-stroke engine was used and is paired to a 3-speed transmission with reverse. Berkeley sourced the drivetrain from Excelsior Motor Company. The engine is good for just 18 horsepower, so these cars aren’t particularly fast, but with so little car to move around, you don’t need much to have fun. Unfortunately, finding replacement engines and transmissions for these cars is a rather difficult task since they didn’t build many. Thankfully, this one appeared to be complete and in good condition. The seller assured us that it ran when he bought it 5 years ago and we were able to turn the engine over by hand.

It isn’t every day that you come across something like this, so we made the seller an offer. After the usual back and forth, we came to an agreement that involved him delivering it to our shop the next morning. He rounded up all the parts, remounted the front wheels, hooked his truck up, and trailered it to our shop the next morning. Talk about service! We unloaded it from the trailer and pushed it into the garage.

We will be doing more updates as we make progress on this wild little machine, but I can tell you that we already have it running! You can even watch our first attempt to start it above. We’ve had the amazing opportunity to work on all kinds of cool cars over the years, but I can honestly say that none of them have been as odd or special as this Berkeley. If you’d like to follow along as we get this thing back on the road, make sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel and sign up for our daily email!

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Comments

  1. Kirt M.

    I did some similar sleuthing years ago when I bought my 1993 Suburban. The guy was a little freaked when I told him that I could tell the truck was parked behind one of the local car dealerships! Neat looking car – I’ve always had an interest in oddball cars… congratulations!

    Like 4
  2. Somer

    I had one in the 70’s. Twin carb as I remember ? Later ones came with a Royal Enfield 700CC 4 stroke engine. Cool little cars. Good score. I think Excelsior bits can be sourced from UK.

    Like 2
  3. IkeyHeyman Member

    Such a cool car, glad you could track it down!

    Like 2
  4. Malcolm Boyes

    I had two Berkeley T60’s (BTW the real pronounciation is the British BARkley). The T60 was exactly the same to the back of the doors where is went to one wheel at the back instead of 2 and could be driven on a UK motorbike license..making it their biggest seller. These are great ,lovely to look at, cars. Check for serious corrosion in metal frame inside the car as this can make them flexibile!. Another problem I had was the rod that disegages the clutch would wear down and I had to adjust the clutch every few days. These cars are actually quite speedy..good for 65/70 and corner on rails> I would really encourage you to join the Berkeley Enthusiasts Club out of the UK..lots on info and parts avilablity. You can get more power out of the motor with a twin carb setup..Good luck ..you have a really great Barn Find!!!

    Like 4
    • Jesse Mortensen Staff

      @Malcolm – Luckily, cars usually don’t rust here in our arid climate. Can you give us any pointers on how to adjust the clutch? Thanks!

      Like 1
  5. Frank Armstrong

    It’s in amazing condition for a 62 year old car! The previous owners have obviously cared for it. Congratulations on a cool find, and for tracking it down clue by clue.

    Like 2
  6. Malcolm Boyes

    Got to dig back into the old grey matter re the clutch but, as I remember it was very simple.The clutch cable pulls a lever that pushes the rod into the clutch to disengage it. The trouble I found was that , because the rod turns with the clutch it kept wearing down. I think you just adjust the cable at the lever and make sure the rod is well greased. When mine ran out of adjustment I put ball bearings in the tube!. Some Berks were steel reinforced and some aluminum..probably no worries if yours is aluminum and it looks like it is from the pix..which is a real plus. One other tip..as I remember. The Club suggested pumping grease into the differential as opposed to oil. No sure if they still recommend that but worth checking as the diff was quite fragile. My first Berk T60 was roadster but my second was a coupe with the windshield as part of the , very attractive, hardtop. That really made the car nice and stiff. I am very envious of you guys find that car. I am currently sniffing around a Barn Find Thing in the neighbourhood here..

    Like 4
  7. Dennis M Young

    When I was about 12 years old (1960 plus or minus) my neighbor found one of these bodies with a crunched rear corner. The body was complete with windshield (minus braces), doors, “bonnet” lid and hood but nothing else. He let me help as he obtained a Crosley rolling chassis with complete, running engine, transmission, suspension, rear differential, etc. He cut down the Crosley frame and fabricated a new rear suspension for it which would fit under the Barkeley body. For the floorboards he formed in a fiberglass one with a raised “deck” dimpled for “bucket” like seating. He padded the bottom of the seats and repaired the previous body damage. The hood had to have a cutout and a raised scoop was made to allow for the height of the Crosley engine. Lighting and a horn, as well as other necessary street equipment were installed and the little car ran like it wanted to go to LeMans or something. Was very much fun to run around in (and do donuts on the tennis court in the local park) but it seemed like it took him months to get all of the paperwork sorted out to register, license and title it. He did not keep it long as he was over six feet tall and the windshield was actually beneath his face level, along with foot pedals being far too close for his lanky body…but we did have some fun in it when it was finished. Painted it a pale yellow with dark grey inside…cute. Car may still be toodling around Houston, Texas as far as I know. Just thought I’d let you know about this one.

    Like 1
    • Kim

      Well I also have been picking up odds and ends and I have the parts to complete a body. I’m building a custom chassis using frame parts and front suspension from a Spitfire. Rear suspension will be fabricated unless I can find something to alter. My engine will be a v4 made by Motus, now out of production but I bought a crate engine before they lost funding. It’s a work in progress.

      Like 1
  8. Kim

    Oh I wish that I had spied this one. I have one also in Idaho. I know of four now.
    My story is that my father bought one new and sold it before I was 6 years old. In 1992 I found it by accident while showing pics of it to a friend and he immediately said “oh, its a Berkeley!” How did you know what it was I asked. My brother in law has one in Salmon ID. A little research before the internet came up with an old insurance paper from dad’s old file cabinet with the VIN. It was dad’s alright. I was there the next day but he didn’t want to sell. I asked him to keep my name and staple it to the title. Two years passed and he called me and said something came up and he needed the money. It was for sale. $2000 and a 180 miles later and it was in the back of my pickup. Yep no trailer needed. 4 of us just lifted it up and loaded it. All restored and afraid to drive it due to parts unavailability.

    One quirk is that when the 1st gear is engaged the trans pops or jerks the chain as most motorcycles do and it sometimes breaks the chain. Yes it’s chain drive. The chain is really hard to get to to replace after the link is fixed. She’s a peach though. No rust issues because it’s nearly all aluminum and fiberglass. The A-arms on the front suspension are literally strap metal. Pretty light weight.

    Like 2
    • Jesse Mortensen Staff

      @Kim – Would you like to buy it? We put it all back together and got it running but are onto another project!

  9. Malcolm Boyes

    Jesse..what are you asking for the Berkeley?

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