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British Anzani - a company history

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British Anzani - a company history

The original Anzani Moteurs d’Aviation was situated at 112 Boulevard de Courbevoie, Courbevoie, Paris and was established in 1907.
The British Anzani Engine Company was an agency of the original French operation and the first premises were established on November 20th 1912 in Scrubbs Lane, Willesden, London NW10. The majority shareholder was General Aviation Contractors a company which had been established in 1911 under Mr Ridley Prentice to supply aircraft and spares for the emerging British aviation market and which already handled the sales of the French built Anzani motors. They had been given 1500 £1 shares as compensation for the loss of their sole rights.
British Anzani was then solely concerned with making aero engines which were sold from the salesrooms of General Aviation Contractors in Regent Street, London and constructed by Coventry Ordnance Works Ltd., an engineering company known for their contract engineering skills.
The first chairman of the new company was Dominic L. Santoni a former director of British Deperdussin and listed in the company documentation as an ‘aviator’. Many of his fellow directors also had aviation in their blood. Lt. J.C. Porte was a naval officer and well known pilot who had connections with the American company Curtiss as well as also being a former British Deperdussin director. W.R. Prentice was the third director with flying experience as was Captain J.C. Halahan (Royal Dublin Fusiliers and R.A.F.) and Claude Schofield. Schofield’s Anzani career wasn’t long-lived as his name was removed from the company records in 1913 with the word ‘dismissed’ crossed out and ‘resigned’ entered over it!
The original capital investment of £10,000 was enhanced by another £12,000 raised on a debenture in 1915. In December 1916 Hubert Hagens joined the board along with accountant Richard Simpkin. Hagens was a Belgian motorcycle racer and an extremely talented engine designer. The engines he designed and his influence on the company would be significant.
Another important arrival was Gustave Maclure. ‘Mac’ Maclure had joined the company as Works Manager in 1917 from Rolls Royce car division where he had been employed as head of the testing department at only 25 years of age. The addition of Maclure strengthened considerably the engineering expertise available at British Anzani and many rated his talent among the very best in the British engineering industry at the time. He had been brought into the company to oversee the production of the 5 and 10 cylinder aero engines and stayed to design possibly their most successful engine, the 11.9 hp side-valve car engine.
There were many comings and goings at board level and another well known executive was it’s general manager Mr A.M. Ramsay (who was later also MD of the British Caudron aircraft company of Cricklewood and Alloa from 1914-24). There is evidence of a significant alliance with British Caudron and this sharing of directors may be illustrative of that.
After World War I the British aviation industry contracted and consolidated behind the larger companies and many of the smaller firms disappeared. One of these was British Caudron who made no aircraft after 1919 and eventually went into receivership in 1924. In the depths of the War though they had needed more engines and had given British Anzani the finance to expand and build a production capability at their Willesden site. This led to their most productive year of the war delivering 107 100hp models. Later, a change in buying policy by the Allies meant fewer companies supplying the War effort effectively freezing out the smaller contributors and by February 1918 British Anzani had all but given up trying to compete in the aero engine business. They were still making spares for Curtiss however and doing development work for the Government. They refurbished and repaired old engines and were desperately trying to gain contracts for new engines - and it was with these brand new engines that British Anzani faced the post-war challenge.
One of these engines was to be a Hagens designed 35hp 60° V-twin of 1,100cc which eventually found applications in motorcycles, light cars and aircraft right up until the start of the Second World War. It was based on a 500cc single cylinder French Anzani engine that had been sent over just after the War but Hubert Hagens development skills produced a marvellously powerful engine that appeared in a multiplicity of formats over the next 15 years. It was this little engine that took Claude Temple to a land speed record on two wheels in 1923 and powered AJW, OEC, McEvoy, Trump and Montgomery motorcycles, Morgan sports cars and a score of different types of light aircraft. The engine had first appeared in 1921 and British Anzani had only ceased to produce the engine themselves in 1938 saying that “due to a rush of subcontract orders and the fact that a new light aero engine is in the design stage” it was surplus to requirements although they did continued to manufacture small numbers on behalf of Luton Aircraft until that company’s demise during the war.
Airplane manufacturers liked the powerful little motor: ANEC (The Air Navigation and Engineering Company) of Addlestone, Surrey used it in their ANEC I & II monoplanes, Mignet in their HM14, and Hawker powered their little Cygnet biplane with it in 1924. The same year it also appeared in the Bristol Prier-Dickson. The design was eventually purchased in 1938 by the Luton Aircraft Company of Gerrards Cross, who had been fitting it to their Luton Minor and Luton Buzzard range of homebuild light aircraft popularly known at the time as Flying Fleas. The engine was modified yet again by Luton with a slight over-bore and fitted with dual ignition and a different carburettor and was marketed as the Luton-Anzani. Luton went out of business during WWII.
In August 1919 Mr Ramsay resigned and British Anzani was reformed as a limited company under the joint control of Mr R.H. Simpkin (also general manager of the British Caudron factory at Cricklewood, north London) and Hubert Hagens.
The story of how Anzani came to design a car engine is slightly curious. During their search for new business a man approached Gustave Maclure and suggested that if he were to build an engine of a certain type at a certain price then this person would certainly purchase them from him for the new car he was considering building. Maclure designed the 11.9 hp side-valve saying later “the side-valve Anzani was the product of everything I learnt at Rolls Royce, especially from Royce. You could say it was a Rolls Royce design.” It was a gem of an engine; strong, light, reliable and tuneable it was just a pity that his ‘customer’ had no company, no car and no money to pay for his work. Fortunately Maclure was to hear that someone else might find a use for his engine...
In 1918 AC Cars directors John Weller and John Portwine had decided to replace the French Fivet engine in their light car and they were designing a 1500cc 6 cylinder engine for this purpose. The engine (which was later to become the classic 2 litre AC engine) was costing them a fortune to develop and the offer of an off-the-peg replacement while the six was perfected was too good to miss. So the British Anzani 1496cc four cylinder side-valve 11.9hp motor was to be built at the Willesden factory and an order was placed by AC in 1919 for 2,000 of them. In recognition of this order AC Cars were given 2000 shares in Anzani and John Weller and fellow AC director Selwyn Francis Edge took up their places on the British Anzani board of directors.
Other events were taking place though and in 1923 Gustave Maclure resigned from British Anzani to set up his own company (with fellow Anzani director Richard Simpkin) just around the corner from his old employer in Willesden. He was to manufacture a new engine under the Plus-Power Engine Company name and in less than a year the new engine was ready. It came to the attention of Archie Frazer-Nash who was on the look out for an engine for his cars and Maclure’s Plus-Power (a 1500cc OHV) which was in many respects just a more sporting version of his original design suited the dashing Frazer-Nash perfectly. Events in the motor industry were overtaking Plus-Power however and independent manufacturers were falling by the wayside with the effects of the cheaper mass produced Morris and Austin cars. In less than a year Plus-Power were calling in the receivers and Maclure was a much poorer man for his venture. The company did not have limited liability and with debts rising the directors decided to pull out quickly before the damage grew too large. They had sold engines to only three companies and of these Frazer-Nash was by far the biggest customer and it was to them that Maclure turned asking them to buy his ailing company. Nash refused and meanwhile H. J. Aldington, a fellow Frazer-Nash director, invited Nash to try a car powered by the British Anzani and from then on British Anzani supplied Frazer-Nash with their engines.
In January 1925 AC cars managing director Mr S. F. Edge decided to manufacture their own version of the British Anzani engine at the Aylesbury factory of the Cubitt Car Company (in which he had a financial interest) and he immediately cancelled the 30 engines a month order from Anzani which caused a receiver to be appointed in February 1925. Edge had had a team of engineers strip down an Anzani engine to make patterns and they then redesigned the exterior slightly to avoid direct comparison with the original. To add to the pain felt by Anzani the managing director of Cubitt’s approached Gustave Maclure to remedy some teething problems they had had with the new engine and so Maclure ended up working on a plagiarised version of his own engine design! By the end of 1925 Maclure had cured the faults he had found in the Cubitt engine and production continued for another two years until the four cylinder cars were withdrawn in 1927.
Anzani struggled on in receivership until November 1925 when British Anzani’s newest director decided to take a hand. Charles Fox of Fox Pianos had only joined the board in January 1925 and yet within a year had taken over the company renaming it the British Vulpine Engine Company and embarked on a programme of expansion. Gustave Maclure was invited back once more and rejoined his old firm as works manager and stayed there until 1927 when he left to go to Riley cars where he became works manager. The new company was not to last long. By July 1926 it had itself gone into liquidation forced into bankruptcy by some ill luck and poor judgement on behalf of Charles Fox.
Morgan cars ordered their engines by the hundred thereby playing one manufacturer off against the other as each new contract was bid for. Because of the increasing keenness of the prices inevitably some quality had been sacrificed and a problem developed with exhaust valves in the Anzani/Vulpine engines. Morgan complained and Anzani provided replacement valves - Morgan demanded more and Fox objected. Morgan cancelled their order and Fox sued for breach of contract, and lost. The company was bankrupt again and had lost a valuable customer into the bargain. Fortunately for Anzani/Vulpine’s other big customer, Frazer Nash, there were a number of engines already made and there was no immediate shortage for the Kingston-on-Thames based company to worry about.
Archie Frazer-Nash was looking about for other suppliers though and wasn’t particularly happy with what he’d found. Then a chance meeting with Eric Burt in August 1926 changed everything. Eric Burt was a director of Mowlems (as was his father) the international civil engineering company and enjoyed the lifestyle of the young and rich. Nash had met him at a motor racing event where Burt was competing with his Burt Special Aston Martin/Anzani and they got to talking about their engines. Nash thought the young man was just another keen garage proprietor/racer and invited him to the factory for a chat but by the time he turned up a week later Nash had realised who he was and an idea began to form.
Eric Burt and his brother were persuaded by Nash to put up the bulk of the money to resurrect the Anzani/Vulpine company. They renamed it the British Anzani Engineering Company and with Eric Burt’s wife Elizabeth as his nominee on the board of directors and with other directors Archie Frazer-Nash and R.G.H Plunkett-Greene (the financier of A.F.N.) the next phase of Anzani history began. The new company began it’s life on February 18th 1927 still in the old Scrubbs Lane factory but it wasn’t long before the first factory move came. The lease on the Scrubbs Lane site expired at the end of that year and Burt moved Anzani’s into an adjacent site of the Kingston-on-Thames factory of A.F.N. Ltd. (the Frazer Nash company name). The new company was further encouraged when Morgan relented and returned to Anzani with more orders for engines for their three-wheelers.
The Fox programme of range expansion continued and several new innovations were adopted. The 11.9 hp was adapted for marine use and marketed as an inboard engine and was still sold in various states of tune for car use. The V-twin range was expanded to incorporate three 1,000cc and 1,100cc motorcycle engines (also sold as the aero engine) and two 1,100cc water cooled cyclecar engines plus the 500cc single.
Whilst on his third period at Anzani Gustave Maclure had designed his third engine and the new company decided to look again at this SOHC design. It was of similar capacity to his predecessors but had hemispherical heads and a chain driven overhead camshaft. Burt’s draughtsmen built Maclures engine and used it in a test-bed racing car called the Slug (for it's low slung appearance) and the engine proved very powerful.
Things changed dramatically again for Anzani’s in 1929. Archie Frazer-Nash temporarily retired from the firm with ill health and the new managing director H. J. Aldington decided to make some major changes. Firstly he decided to use the Meadows 4 ED engine in their cars only using the side valve in supercharged form for racing engines - he also decided against incorporating Anzani into the business thereby casting adrift what had become their specialist engineering arm. The situation was made more awkward because Anzani and A.F.N shared stores and drawing offices in the factory. Some benefit came Anzani’s way in the fact that they no longer did subsidized work for AFN but the fact remained they had lost by far their biggest customer. It is also widely recognised that 1929 marked the end for the specialist independent manufacturers of cars and engines. The surviving builders of cars and motorbikes now built their own engines and the era of mass production had finally won through. A decision was made to not look for new orders for engines although they were still made to order and Burt did his best to help his company through this difficult time by giving them contract work from Mowlems and for a time they became builders of concrete mixers and pneumatic road drills. The next traumatic change came when Aldington announced that the company should move to a new site in London Road, Isleworth in Middlesex.
In 1931 Frazer-Nash, now out of hospital, resigned from the company and with Plunkett-Greene already gone after Aldington took over in 1929 many of the old faces were no longer there. Significantly one new face to join was T.D. Ross from Austin.
Ross argued for the company to manufacture a new racing engine which would be sold in a detuned state to sports car manufacturers; an argument which flew in the face of the current industry thinking. The decision was agreed however and the R1 (the Ross 1) was put into development. It was a very powerful motor, producing over 100bhp through it twin Solex’s and twin overhead camshafts. Much of the internals of the new engine were based on Ross’s experience at Austin and he was later to comment that it was basically an Austin design and the tappets he said were pure Austin 7. The problem was there were no customers for the new engine until one day the young manufacturer Adrian Squire came to see Ross and his new engine. The deal was clinched when Ross agreed to cast the Squire name in the cam covers and thereby make his new car appear an all Squire Car Manufacturing Company product.
Ross made his second engine the R2, a redesign of the old V-twin, for a 500 engine order for the Bristol Tractor Company for a small tractor they were building and later he got a further order from Bristol for another 1,000 R2 engines. He was also involved in working on a new order from holiday camp entrepreneur Billy Butlin for their Dodgem Boats and generally things were looking up for Ross when in August 1933 he fell out with Burt and offered his resignation on a point of principle and to Ross’s amazement Burt accepted it! Ross left and joined the Army and Burt went back to his contract work.
In 1934 Aldington became a director of British Anzani after buying a large number of shares with a view to having BA make a new SOHC engine for Frazer Nash popularly known as the Gough. He had had Anzani’s immediately develop a supercharged racing version of the engine and although the manufacturing never actually did come their way the company had entered yet another new phase of it’s history.
In 1936 Aldington bought out Burt completely and the company became a fully integrated member of A.F.N. making a living doing special development work and race engines for Frazer Nash, engine refurbishments, spares for the old engines plus their perennial contract work and all was quiet - for the time being anyway...
A.F.N. at this time were developing their links with the BMW car company and finding it a very profitable business. This relationship was to become a defining feature of the company and the Anzani side of the business was left to fend for itself. The staffing level at this time is thought to have been around 25 people, far removed from the heady days of the AC contract in the early 1920’s when they employed over 100 people in the Willesden plant.
Among the directors though was a man who was to have a big influence on British Anzani for the next 30 years. This man was a motor boat and motor cycle racer, an ex-world record holder and an engine designer - his name was Charles Henry Harrison.
The company had been slowly failing and in 1938 Charles Henry Harrison A.M.I.Mech.E., an ex-J.A.P apprentice and keen motorcycle and powerboat racer, took over as their Chief Designer and Managing Director and moved the company to their next home in Hampton Hill, Middlesex.
He was previously the technical director of the British Motor Boat Manufacturing Co. and held two Outboard World Speed records set in 1930 and 1931 when he was works driver for Elto and Evinrude. He was also Chairman of the British Outboard Racing Club, owner of Bedfont Lake (a well known racing venue) and whilst at BMBM had designed the successful Britannia outboard motor. BMBM were also known for producing funfair equipment (dodgem cars and roundabouts) which Harrison now brought to British Anzani also. When the Second World War began British Anzani started development work on a stationary industrial engine which driving through a flexible underwater unit was used to propel landing craft and they also did contract work for the Air Ministry. Meanwhile they designed the Super Single outboard motor and from 1940 supplied 50-60 a month to the Admiralty throughout the war. This successful design was later sold to the public and was still in production into the late 1970’s.
Over the years they built outboard motors that ranged from ½ hp up to 40 hp models and included some of the most successful racing engines of their era and by 1956 their 344cc Racing Unitwin was the only British built racing outboard left in production.
The need for additional war time food production required innovative products and the extremely successful British Anzani Iron Horse two-wheeled tractor was introduced in 1940.
Advertised as ‘the agricultural machine built with aero engine accuracy’ it was fitted with a 4 stroke 6hp Anzani/JAP engine giving a top speed of 4 mph. A centrifugal clutch, three forward gears and reverse and with adjustable track from 24" to 36", a range of steel wheels, extension rims, pneumatic tyres or crawler track options meant it really was a machine to tackle any terrain. You could also purchase a ride-on carriage for the driver turning it into a normal tractor capable of pulling farm carts with up to a ton load.
A range of accessories increased its functionality with attachments for mowing, ploughing, spraying, hoeing, crop lifting and harrowing. It also had a multifunctional belt driven power take-off system which provided farmers with additional tools that were continually developed and added to over the years. Uses included saws, concrete mixers, pumps and generators.
These popular machines proved robust and reliable in use and sold in thousands all around the world. They cost £140 in 1940 or alternatively could be bought on hire purchase or even rented from the factory for £3.10s.0d. a week!
For lighter work the Planet Jnr. motor hoe could be had for £39.10s.0d. Introduced in 1948 it was powered by a 1hp Anzani/JAP engine and had a range of implements similar to the Iron Horse. The advertising brochure claimed it ‘made work a pleasure’ and the little hoe went into use in market gardens and smallholdings around the globe.
Production of agricultural tractors stopped in 1956.
Early customers for Anzani V-twin motorcycle engines included McEvoy, the Derby based motor cycle maker financed by Cecil Birkin who used the 1100cc Anzani engine between 1925 and 1929, and AJW who used the same engine from 1926 to 1931. This top of the range bike was latterly sold in racing spec only and had a four speed Jardine gearbox and interconnecting brakes among many advanced features. Another customer was Montgomery motorcycles of Bury St Edmunds, who used the engine from 1925.
Mass production of motorcycle engines had ceased the 1930’s but was restarted in 1953 with two new engines: the 242cc and 322cc twin cylinder models. They were based on the successful 1951 Unitwin outboard motor design and were very different from most British motorcycle engines made at the time. The crankcase was split horizontally and it breathed through a rotary inlet valve embodied in the middle journal of the crankshaft.
From 1954-58 the Norman TS motorcycle was fitted with the 242cc British Anzani 2 stroke twin engine. From 1955 to 1960 Cotton used the 242 and 322cc engines in their Cotanza models and Greeves had both variants in their Fleetwing and Fleetmaster models from 1953 to 1958. Tandon produced 242cc Twin Supreme and 322cc Viscount motorcycles in 1954 and 1955 and also in 1955 the 250 Scrambler competition bike.
When motor cycle production slowed Anzani went into light car production and in 1954 a subsidiary division developed the Astra. This small utility vehicle had been designed and produced originally by JARC Motors of Isleworth and known then as the Little Horse but lack of funds meant the production rights were sold off. British Anzani immediately installed their 322cc motorcycle engine into the rear underfloor engine compartment, changed some of the design specifications, renamed it the Astra Utility and marketed it to 'tradesmen, travellers and service engineers'. It had a load carrying capacity of 37cu.ft or 3½cwt and it's 15bhp engine and three speed gearbox gave a claimed top speed of 55 mph with 60 mpg economy. It had independent suspension by swing axles, hydraulic brakes and it seated two in relative comfort all at an on the road price of £347.16s.0d including purchase tax Towards the end of it’s existence it was also sold in kit form with or without body parts for home assembly.
As sales slowed production was taken over by Gill Cars of Paddington who produced two new cars based on the Astra chassis and mechanical parts: a two seater coupe called the Getabout and a saloon. After a short and not very successful career production ceased in 1959 although there is evidence of sales into 1960.
Among other cars that used the Anzani 322cc engine at that time was the Powerdrive. This sporty looking 3-wheeler made in Wood Green, north London made it’s debut in July 1955 and retailed for £330 plus purchase tax. The engine was mounted in the rear driving the rear wheel through a chain drive. It had a 3-speed gearbox and independent front suspension and could seat three across it’s bench seat. The Powerdrive’s 65mph/65mpg performance claim and it’s good looks and generous space and comfort made an immediate impact.
The very pretty Berkeley Sports of 1956 initially used an Anzani 322cc 15hp engine to produce it’s 70 mph/60 mpg performance while Fairthorpe also had an Anzani in their ‘Atom’ and Peel used the 250cc version in their 1955 ‘Manxcar’.
The 1956 Laurie Bond designed Unicar also had the ubiquitous 322cc Anzani onboard. Built by S.E. Opperman of Boreham Wood these small saloons provided family motoring for £399 10s 0d. Capable of 60mph/55mpg performance from its rear mounted Anzani the glass fibre bodied saloon was more of 2+2 than a genuine four seater. With it’s 6’ wheelbase the tiny saloon was another interesting development of the ultralight economy car trend of the 1950’s.
Outboard motor production became Anzani’s biggest selling (and perhaps best known) item over the years and numerous models were produced: the Minor (1955-79) a small ½hp general purpose dinghy motor, Super Single (1942-79 158cc, 5hp) the engine that was produced for the longest time and arguably the best known - another general workhorse. Jet (Single, 60cc, 3hp) a fibre glass cowled engine with ‘guarded drive’ protection for swimmers etc, Sports Twin (1950-51) 316cc 14hp, speedy but short lived, Unitwin (1951-67 Twin, 242cc 10hp, and 322cc 15hp, plus full race versions of both) the most advanced engine of it’s day, powerful and reliable, Pilot (Single, 60cc, 2.5hp) another general purpose engine with the distinguishing bar around the cowl, Seamaid (Single, 60cc 3hp) fibre glass cowled general purpose engine, Startwin (1960 Twin, 344cc, 18hp) renamed Magnatwin, powerful twin featuring ‘Contrastart’ electric start with instant forward or reverse, Supertwin 15 (Twin, 322cc, 15hp) streamlined fibre glass cowled Unitwin, Fleetwin 20 (Twin, 344cc, 20hp), Triton (1960 3 cylinder 30hp, 492cc), Magnatwin (1958-1960 Twin, 344cc, 18hp) a large electric start model which could be remotely controlled, Model 65 (1964-67 6.5hp), Model 180 (1964-67 18hp), Model 400 (1964-67 40hp) which were the Oliver/Perkins engines. There was also an inboard version of the 4hp Super Single called the ‘Dinghy Motor’ (1952).
The production of outboard motors was given a fillip in 1964 when the Company bought the remnant of the Chris-Craft/Oliver marque which they acquired from the car makers Rootes Group.
In 1959 Perkins had come to an arrangement with the US company Oliver to manufacture their range of outboards in the UK. The American designs were technically more advanced than their British counterparts and at the time US supplied engines carried a heavy UK import duty so the British-made versions could be sold up to 40% cheaper than the American-made originals. Mechanical reliability problems soon meant Perkins had sold the rights to the Rootes car making group of companies (Sunbeam/ Humber/Hillman) who sold them through their car dealerships with the Rootes nameplate.
However marketing confusion with car salesmen unfamiliar with outboards and service engineers likewise brought about another short tenure. British Anzani bought the parts, jigs and tools in 1964 but despite some design changes failed to cure the unreliability problems and production ceased in 1967. The engines were marketed as the Anzani 65, 180 and 400 models.
Anzani went into lawnmower production in the late 50’s with a range of equipment of mostly larger scale 14”, 16” and 24” mowers for professional purposes. Production went on until the late 1960’s from their new factory in Aylesford in Kent. The range included the Lawnrider (a 150cc 4 stroke sit-on mower in 18” and 24” widths), the Ridamow (another sit-on mower with a detachable seat for self propelled operation, 150cc 4 stroke 24” width), the Powermow (a self propelled 24” width mower) and for smaller areas the Easimow, (a 14” self propelled 4-stroke 48cc machine). All the petrol driven mowers included the Heli-Strand flexible drive power take-off system which provided a range of additional tools that could be driven directly from the mower. These included a chain saw, hedge cutter, log saw, pruning saw and rotary grass cutter. The range also saw the Company’s first electric mower the Whispamow, a 14” two-speed battery driven machine with built-in charger. They produced add-ons too for a descendant of the Iron Horse: the Honda F30 tractor. The Heli-Swift 30 was a 20” grasscutting attachment belt driven from the tractor costing £35 15s 0d. The Foldakart was a heavy duty wheelbarrow designed to compliment the mower range.
In 1961 British Anzani had bought a company called the Maidstone Sack & Metal Company which was owned by the entrepreneurial Faull Bros. (Gerald and Stanley) who then completed a take-over in reverse by buying out British Anzani and turning themselves into the British Anzani Group. The new company expanded into not only scrap metal but paper conversion, quarrying, civil engineering, contracting and fatally, property development and warehousing. For a time they were very successful and employed over 200 people but the high interest rates and depressed property market of the late 1970’s brought the property rich company down. By 1973 (around which time it is believed Charles Harrison died) the remaining British Anzani outboard production had been taken over by Boxley Engineering of Maidstone in Kent who continued to manufacture the Pilot 3hp ‘30’ model and the 5hp Super Single ‘50’. By 1979 however production of these last remaining Anzani engines had ceased completely.
The British Anzani Group finally went into liquidation in 1980.