Lost Storage Space: 1959 Berkeley SE492

At a time in England when “men in sheds” produced a number of now-obscure cars, Berkeley gained a reputation for building fun-to-drive sports cars at budget-friendly prices. You have a chance to own one of these buzzy little cars with this one being auctioned here on eBay in Hollywood, Florida with a current bid of just over $2,000 and there is no reserve.

Berkeley cars came about when Lawrence Bond designed a fiberglass sports car that would be competitive in racing in the popular 750cc class, but comfortable enough to drive every day. Bond partnered with Berkeley Coachworks who built caravans (travel trailers to us Americans) and had a great deal of experience in molding fiberglass. Production of Berkeley-badged cars began in 1956, but by 1960 the party was over and the firm went bankrupt.

The car being auctioned is one of around six hundred of this series built by the Biggleswade, UK firm. The seller says that it is a project, with its engine and transmission removed. It is said to be a numbers-matching engine and body combination and there are photos provided to back up this claim. Power is provided by a three-cylinder, triple carburetor Excelsior motorcycle engine of 492cc displacement. It is front wheel drive and a four-speed transmission handles gear swapping duties.

The seller says that the bodywork exhibits no major cracks so restoration of the body should be reasonably simple. He has very helpfully provided extensive photos of the body and steel subframes and they appear to support that claim. What little chrome is on the car looks as though it might polish up nicely. There are plenty of parts that are unique to the car and help could come from the UK-based Berkeley Enthusiasts Club.

We do not have any photos of the interior furniture, side curtains or top, so a bidder would be wise to ask if the pieces are with the car. The dashboard has gauges made by AC, which is unusual for a 1950s British car since Smiths was the dominant instrument maker in the UK at the time. The tachometer is most likely not what the factory installed since it looks like it is an industrial unit. The floor shifter is out of the car but the gate shows the notches for a sequential-type gearbox.

In all, this little sportster has a lot going for it: Attractive styling; Simple mechanical parts; Rarity, and a reasonable price. It’s the kind of British sports car that you won’t see at every British car show and for those who enjoy answering the inevitable “what is it,” questions it could be the perfect choice for fun driving. Someone is going to get a rare classic British sports car project. Could it be you?

 

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Comments

  1. Ralph

    There was a British AC parts plant too, you see some AC parts on some English cars.

    2
    • luke arnott

      There was an AC Delco factory in Dunstable,Bedfordshire for many years.It is now many houses!

      2
  2. bobk

    First, I would not do this to a car with the rarity and historical value of the above, but I have to admit, for just a second (or two), I wondered what this would be like with a Hayabusa-based drivetrain.

    3
  3. Gaspumpchas

    Motorsicle engine–must be a ball of fire!!! Good luck to the new owner!!!

    Cheers
    GPC

    1
  4. rustylink

    a H1 Kawasaki 500 Triple motor would be more: 1. screamier 2. smokier 3. much easier to shoe horn in to the tiny engine area vs. a massive Hayabusa drivetrain. At 60 hp more then a enough to bring a smile yet reasonable enough as to not to take flight.

    3
  5. Derek

    That engine was never fitted to a bike; it was only produced for car use. The crank, c/cases and probably an ignition plate’ll be the unique bits; I’d hazard a guess that cylinders/barrels/pistons/gears will be a standard item from some other Excelsior – or maybe Villiers – product.

    If only Excelsior had produced a 3 cylinder stroker! The joy that Kawasaki brought us could’ve been available earlier!

  6. Bill McCoskey

    If I’m not mistaken, one of the problems these cars have is no reverse gear. [Remember, motorcycle gearboxes don’t have a reverse.] I had an early 3-wheel Berkeley come into my restoration shop. It had a large chrome handle in the center of the body at the back. The owner explained that if you needed to move the car backwards, you grabbed the handle and pulled the car back.

    2
    • Richard C

      The Berkeley SE 492 has a four-Speed plus reverse. But, unlike most cars, it has a sequential shift pattern. Quick to shift if it’s set well — and a pain in the neck if it’s not.

  7. stillrunners

    Like….and just happen to have an extra H1 motor or two….besides my runner….

    1
  8. sluggo

    i had a friend who had one of these, was a terror with it at the Portland All British Field meet and other events doing slaloms with it. I dont know what he did with the original mtr,, But when I knew him it had a Honda 4 cyl CB 550 with a big bore kit, cams and elect ignition and some other hop ups, Sir Eddy said it “Went like the clappers!” His son still has the car, As to the engine, I have been into British bikes for decades and own a wide variety of them, But never saw one of these engines before, Im betting it was made by Villiers, Would make a cool display engine,, not too sure about running it, But SUPER enjoyed seeing that rack of Amal Monoblocs! You see on later Triumph/BSA triples (T150-T160) they used a rack of Amal Concentrics, and had a LOT of problems, especially with the center cyls,, But the Monoblocs were not great for cornering, (all sorts of methods used to attempt to address that). Ignition would be problematic as well. Later Triples were legendary for timing problems and the only solution was a Boyer EI, and now the Trispark.. Hard to imagine this much earlier version fared better.
    But very cool find. Values on these are speculative at best,, they simply dont chart. You buy them because you love them,not for resale. Restoration??? By what standards??? I bet few were made the same, The brits called it “parts bin engineering” and its not like a 65 Bonnie with comparables. But still super cool. Whats missing in the description is it LOOKS like a AC Cobra when done but 1/3rd the size,, kind of an oversized go-cart. NOT all DMVs are going to license this… Sir Eddys WAS street legal, but he admitted its only because in Oregon we dont have much for inspections. It was strictly a paper transfer. He got pulled over in his from time to time by the Police as many couldnt believe it was a legal car.
    (Eddys was Pearl White with twin Blue rally stripes and a small roll bar.)

  9. Doug

    IF one were going to put in a later Japanese engine, my choice would be a Suzuki GT750 ” Water Buffalo”. Gobs of low end torque. I raced one back in the late 70’s that had been modified to Ron Grant specs with the Krober magneto ignition, modified ports, and hogged out Mikuni carbs. Only 107 Hp , but she started pulling at 4000 rpm, and from 4500 to 9500 it felt like a big MoPar – pure thrust! The great thing about those engines is that they are water cooled, so don’t tend to have the issues a built up air cooled engine would have, especially when the engine is enclosed in a body shell. Our sidecar rig would top 150mph at Ontario or Riverside, so this little Berkeley would probably be faster than most sane folks would want to drive it with one of those engines.

  10. Roger Buck

    Two comments: 1. The write-up doesn’t mention that it’s a two-stroke engine, so you’d better carry a gallon gas can to mix the oil with some gas before filling up. 2. The car has a Ciba Dynastart, a combination dynamo and starter, on the crankshaft. Because there is no reduction gearing, when you push the button on the dash, the engine is running with no noise. (You have to open the hood and push the button on each Amal carburetor float bowl so the fuel pump will prime the engine).
    Because the body has a continuous bottom with the suspension arms sticking out of slots, it will glide over snowdrifts.
    Ask the man who own[ed] one.

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