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Gurney Nutting

Gurney Nutting

J Gurney Nutting & Co Limited was an English firm of bespoke coachbuilders, founded in 1918 as a new enterprise by a Croydon firm of builders and joiners of the same name. The senior partner was Mr. John (Jack) Gurney Nutting (1871?1946). Nutting had done well from wartime government building contracts and with his partner from that business, a man named Cresswell, they set up operations in the old Marlborough Carriage Works in Oval Road, Croydon.

The mood of post-armistice optimism which made 1919 a boom year for the motor industry persuaded several already established companies into motor manufacture and its associated activities. Among those who saw their future in the bespoke motorcar was J. Gurney Nutting, but unlike most of the newcomers his company prospered. No small credit for this must be taken by his talented stylist and designer A. E. 'Mac' McNeil, and within a decade the company had established a reputation quite equal to that of firms which had already been in business for over a century.

The first Gurney Nutting designs made their appearance at the London Motor Show in October 1920. In 1921 they displayed their 'all weather' body, the roof folded in the usual way but the great beauty of the arrangement was the side windows, which lowered into the doors.

After the Croydon premises were destroyed by fire during Easter 1923 the business - at that time titled J. Gurney Nutting & Company Ltd - was moved nearer their customers to the upmarket address of Elystan Street, off King's Road Chelsea, London. Two years later the first Rolls-Royce body was built, and it was not long before the company was supplying coachwork to the Duke of York, Prince George, and other members of the Royal Family. A Weymann fabric saloon on a new Phantom Rolls-Royce for Edward, Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VIII ) followed, and by the early thirties the company held the Royal Warrant.

The year 1924 brought two events that lifted the firm into prominence. The purchase of a licence to employ the Weymann technique of body construction gave a new silence and lightness to the cars and, more important, Scotsman A.F. McNeil (1891-1965), who had been with Cunard, joined the firm as chief designer. McNeil's designs would give the firm the greatest and most successful of its years. The Weymann construction forced a square-rigged style but McNeil's designs had a carefully calculated relationship in their proportions which seemed instinctively right.

A 1929 show car, a Bentley Speed Six Sportsman's coupe, used a specially polished fabric material to look as if it were an old-fashioned coachbuilt body. The economic crisis hit. Noting how the older Weymann bodies showed their age, the customers began to choose glossy cellulose-finished more rounded and traditionally coachbuilt bodies. Metal panels replaced fabric on some Weymann bodies but the time of Weymann flexible coachwork was over by 1932.

Full of confidence, on September 4, 1930, Nuttings moved, less than a mile, to badly needed, more spacious, premises in Lacland Place SW10. A few weeks later they showed at Olympia a metal panelled Weymann Bentley Sportsman's coupe beside another Bentley of traditional construction for the first time exhibiting Nutting's trademark, a deep chrome-plated beading strip running from the grille to above the rear mudguards and emphasising the sweeping new lines of the car.

The 1930s were the firm's greatest years. Bodies were built to order on other chassis but mostly these were the years of the Rolls-Royce and Bentley saloons, Coupes de Ville and Sedancas de Ville. McNeil's proportions and always elegant, sweeping curves continued to seem instinctively right. In 1931 the company secured the contract for the streamlined all-enveloping body of Sir Malcolm Campell's Land Speed Record car, 'Bluebird'.

Near the end of the decade Jack Barclay tempted A.F. McNeil to James Young Limited and his place was taken by John Blatchley (1913-2008). Still in his early twenties Blatchley was a graduate of Chelsea School of Engineering and the Regent Street Polytechnic. After the war he was appointed chief stylist of Rolls-Royce and Bentley and he retired from there in 1969.

In 1940 an interesting straight-eight Daimler limousine emerged from Lacland Place, the curves replaced by razor edges. The Daimler had been given square-cornered windows, a flat waistline and a raked but square-edged tail. It was greeted as "very very handsome, in a totally new idiom" but there was a war on.

With the outbreak of World War II all coachbuilding work was suspended. During the war Gurney Nutting built boats, from lifeboats to patrol boats. In 1945 John Gurney Nutting was a sick man nearing the end of his life, but he was anxious to ensure in those days left to him that not only should his company recommence production of bespoke coachwork, but that it should do under the aegis of a suitable parent. The business became part of the Jack Barclay group which had acquired James Young Limited in 1937. Following Nutting's death, 10 February 1946, at the age of 75, the company was renamed Gurney Nutting Ltd. and the premises were mainly employed in the refurbishment of Barclay-owned Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars which had been laid up for the duration of the war. Following the removal of Jack Barclay Ltd. to Merton and the demolition of Lacland Place, Gurney Nutting Ltd. were also accommodated there and production of bodies recommenced on a limited scale. After McNeil had been appointed Chief Designer to both companies, this activity proceeded in close collaboration with James Young Ltd. Timbers were cut in the latter;s Bromley wood mill and transported to Merton for assembly and wings were manufactured both at Bromley and Merton.

Other activities during this period included the construction of a number of composite bodies for long-distance passenger coaches and a batch of delivery vans for The Evening Standard. As the demand for one-off bodies died away in the post war years the Gurney Nutting name was allowed to die too. Their last show stand was in 1948 when they showed two cars built on the Bentley Mark VI chassis.

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