Late in 1910, two young engineers named Godfrey and Frazer-Nash formed a partnership for the production of a really simple and inexpensive car with an air-cooled twin-cylinder engine and belt transmission. Unlike so many other people who had the same idea, they did this (in a splendidly light-hearted manner) with considerable success, for the G.N. had an appreciably better performance than the average cycle-car of the period, and quite a number were made until 1915 to the original specification.
This included a light wooden frame, quarter-elliptic suspension, and steering by cable and bobbin, and the whole car was considerably less liable to fall off the road than other similar layouts --- although there was a fairly marked tendency for the wheels to fall off the motor-car.
During the war this design was revised to include a four-chain final drive, but the chassis and engine remained the same, though the latter was now set across the frame instead of along it. The engine had various markedly agricultural features, which were accounted for by the homely equipment of the factory. The car was seriously produced from 1919 to 1923 in this form.
At this time motoring of any sort was extremely expensive, and few, if any, cars as cheap as this were capable of performing and handling as well. Although the G.N. was crude and noisy and gave little comfort, the combination of a fairly powerful small engine in a two-seater car weighing about 8 cwt. gave excellent acceleration to a maximum of over 50 mph, as well as outstanding economy; many owners claimed up to 70 m.p.g. The price in 1921 was in the region of £250, whereas some orthodox light cars of far inferior performance cost nearly twice as much; but the G.N. appealed to a rather different public who were looking for a small sporting car.
As such it was highly successful, and the cars are remembered with affection by many who owned them, though there are extremely few in existence today. Special versions such as "Mowgli" and "Akela" were successful in competition, too, and the 1100 c.c. class of the 1921 200 Miles Race was won by a G.N. driven by Frazer-Nash, after a lap at 77.4 m.p.h. The very light weight of the cars also led to outstanding appearances at hill-climbs and speed trials, and in a different sphere they were used by the Paris police as staff vehicles.
In 1922 the policy of the firm unfortunately changed. The intensive development of light and cheap cars by such big concerns as the Rover Company had rendered the limitations of the G.N. design more prominent, and the effort to mitigate them by adding bigger and better coachwork inevitably resulted in loss of performance. A shaft-driven chassis with a little water-cooled engine with an overhead camshaft was introduced for 1923, and the two founders of the firm left. The shaft-driven G.N. proved disappointing and in a year or so G.N.s ceased to be made altogether, in spite of a hasty reversion to the older type of chassis. Godfrey retired from car production until his successful introduction in 1937 of the H.R.G., which even today bears faint traces of its G.N. ancestry. Frazer-Nash set up on his own to make an improved car on G.N. lines, which should be a sports car in its own right, rather than an economy car which happened to go better than most in its class.
As such, the Frazer-Nash had much in common with the G.N., and when production started early in 1925 it was apparent that quite an exceptional sports car had been born. The earliest cars had an overhead-valve engine of high compression known as the "Powerplus", but later the tough, light, and surprisingly potent British Anzani 12 h.p. was adopted. This side-valve engine, which was supposed to deliver about 40 b.h.p. was strong but noisy; it was incapable of much development, though, even when a Cozette supercharger was added in 1927 to some models. It was finally superseded by the popular 4ED Meadows engine of the same dimensions in 1929, when a fourth speed was added. This gave an altogether more vivid performance, even with the heavier coachwork (15-i cwt.) then fitted, and combined a maximum of over 80 m.p.h. with a fuel consumption better than 30 m.p.g.
In the Anzani-engined 'Nash, three-speed (four to special order) and reverse chain drive and quarter-elliptic springs were used as on the G.N., and coupled with elegant and very light aluminium coachwork gave an extremely snappy performance. A touring version was tested by the motoring press at 70 m.p.h. in 1925, and gave 40 m.p.g. thanks to an all-up weight of only 13 cwt. It is an interesting reflection that even then it was thought worth mentioning that such a car would "carry on all day at 40 m.p.h."-although in fact such a car would cruise between 60 and 65 m.p.h. Considering its fairly low price of £315, the "Nash", though distinctly crude in places, with almost solid suspension at low speeds, represented very good value for money, for such performance could not be bought elsewhere for the same cost.
The chain drive and very smooth plate clutch gave an exceptionally rapid gear change and the solid rear axle made the car stable under the most difficult conditions, although with some tendency on greasy surfaces to go straight on. The steering was always of the highest quality, absolutely accurate and devoid of play, rather heavy, and very high-geared (usually less than one turn from lock to lock).
A downturn in the business in 1928 coincided with a serious bout of nephritis for Archie (he later recovered and started an engineering firm which exists to this day, Frazer-Nash Limited) and the Frazer Nash Company was sold to H.J. Aldington ("Aldy"). Aldy's brothers Donald and Bill joined him in the business and about 360 chain-drive Frazer Nash cars were built, in many models, by AFN Limited (AFN, A.F.N., Ltd.) until production ceased in 1939.
Undoubtedly what singled out the G.N. from its contemporaries, contributed largely to the great success of the Frazer-Nash, became the foundation of innumerable specials, and survived in limited production until 1939, was the unique system of transmission. The propeller-shaft ended in a bevel-box and cross-shaft under the driver's seat. This shaft carried four loose pinions and four corresponding dog-clutches, sliding on and keyed to the shaft.
The back axle also carried four sprocket wheels connected by light chains to the pinions on the cross-shaft. Thus, by engaging any one of the dog clutches, a silent and direct ratio was obtained. By a special refinement on the Frazer-Nash, which was absent from the G.N., it was made impossible to connect two different ratios at the same time. The resultant gear change is unique and tremendously enjoyable, contributing largely to the outstanding character of this great car- tough, light, simple, fast, and eminently controllable. The Frazer Nash was always and still is in a class by itself.
While racing and touring in Europe in 1934, Aldy recognized the merit of BMW's sport/touring car, the 315 Model. AFN then became the importer of BMW's to England, rebadging these cars as the "Frazer Nash-BMW". The BMW Model 328 later became well known for its advanced design and performance after its introduction in 1936. Three Model 328s with special aerodynamic aluminium bodies, competed in the 1940 Mille Miglia very successfully, in spite of their relatively small 2 litre engines.
Immediately after the end of WWII, Aldy returned to Munich while still on active duty and rescued one of the factory-team BMW "Mille Miglia" sports-racing cars, bringing it to England under the guise of his personal 328, which had been left at the factory before the beginning of the war. This same car quickly assumed a third identity as the new 1946 Frazer Nash "Grand Prix" model.
Aldy then managed to bring the 328 designer, Fritz Fiedler, to England, where he updated the 328 design for intended production by both the Bristol Aeroplane Company and Frazer Nash. A plan to directly share production didn't work out, but Bristol tooled up for the production of the BMW-design engine, now the "Bristol", for use in their newly designed touring models. Bristol intended to diversify from airplane manufacturing. Bristol also agreed to supply AFN with engines and other mechanical parts for their planned line of sports cars, which was based on an update of the BMW 328 Mille Miglia chassis.