Rare Rides: An Air-cooled Berkeley Twosome From 1959
Today’s Rare Ride comes from one of those little European brands you’ve never heard of. The company was in business for just a few years, and produced tiny cars powered by even tinier engines. Let’s take a look at the Twosome, from 1959.
Berkeley originated via a collaboration between an automotive designer and a company which produced travel trailers (the English call them caravans). Lawrence Bond was the designer, and he approached the owner of Berkeley Coachworks, Charles Panter.
Mr. Bond wanted to build small, lightweight sports cars. The caravan factory seemed an ideal place to bring such an idea, as Berkeley had much experience with building things from fiberglass. The factory had a considerable off-season, as the demand for caravans fell off reliably each year.
Plans were drawn, and Berkeley started production of its small cars that were affordable, easy to fix, and nice to behold. The company’s first model went on sale in 1956.
Berkeley changed its offerings rapidly in its short time on the market. The introductory Sports SA322 was produced from October 1956 through January of 1957. It was immediately replaced by the Sports SE328, which expereinced a long run from January 1957 to April 1958.
Another version, the Sports SE492 was built between October 1957 and March of 1959. SE492 used a three-cylinder motorcycle-sourced engine that was air-cooled, and 492-ccs in displacement. It was two-stroke, transversely mounted, and had three carburetors. That meant 30 horsepower were available in the tiny roadster, which allowed a surely terrifying top speed of 80 miles per hour.
The SE492 was renamed in late 1958 to Twosome, to coincide with the company’s largest roadster offering of all, the Foursome. The Foursome stretched the 70-inch wheelbase of the Twosome to a limousine-like 78 inches, and also increased the car’s width.
Both the Twosome and Foursome were finished in 1959, as Berkeley switched gears to a new Q range, with the B95 and B105. They built 178 examples, and Berkeley was struggling. Caravans weren’t selling circa 1959, and the company had cash flow issues. Incredibly, between late 1959 and December of 1960, the floundering company introduced six new roadsters, one of them being a three-wheeler. They made a few of each version, and then went bust.
Berkeley left its small mark on the motoring world with its five-year run of cars amongst its caravans. The factory was sold to an underwear company after all employees were laid off at Christmas time 1960.
Today’s Rare Ride is in restored condition, and its scale is noted by the steering wheel that’s fully half the width of the passenger area. It’s located in Dubai, and is on offer for $27,000.
Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Writing things for TTAC since late 2016 from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can find me on Twitter @CoreyLewis86, and I also contribute at Forbes Wheels.
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