Rare Rides: An Air-cooled Berkeley Twosome From 1959

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
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.

[Images: seller]

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  • -Nate -Nate on Oct 31, 2019

    I knew a few guys who had these, they were incredibly cheaply made . When seen in the flesh they looked like jokes . IIRC the drive was by a rubber band . A word about the S.U. carbys : like all other carbys, they never, _EVER_ go out of adjustment !. Well meaning un knowledgeable people hear popping sounds that are caused by ignition woes and touch the carbys instead causing havoc . I'm a vintage British car owner along with old Porsche and dual carby VW's, _NONE_ have ever needed the carbys touched after they were set up and properly adjusted . -Nate

    • See 2 previous
    • -Nate -Nate on Nov 01, 2019

      @JimC2 In the early 1970's I used to set up and adjust multiple carbys on vehicles for smog testing by ear . Then my hearing went and I could no longer "listen to the hiss" , bummer that . A properly set up 4 BBL American carby can also be very good and even fairly thrifty on the fuel as long as you keep your foot out of it . I recently struggled with a 1979 Dodge D200 9,000GVW 360 V8's original Carter Thermoquad, I just couldn't get the idle mixture right neither could anyone else so I swapped it out for a newer 4 BB carby and the truck runs reat again . S.U.'s were, when designed, the only true variable venturi carby in the word, meaning altitude and so on had no detrimental effect on how your engine ran . -Nate

  • Lokki Lokki on Oct 31, 2019

    I just don’t know.... I am sure that these were a blast to drive, but I when I think of one of these and then think of a 1959 Plymouth, the image that pops into my mind is “I may be too poor to buy a regular sports car but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a death wish!”

  • Ajla Trucks and SUVs had taken over the consumer market by this time so these weren't quite to the risk level of the '85 Taurus but doing a nonpremium RWD tweener size car in the mid2000s was still a bold move as that kind of vehicle had been dead since the mid 1980s. Pulling it off with a unit cost comparable to a Panther or W-body was the biggest success though. The difference between what GM spent on RWD cars between 2004 and 2022 versus what ChryslerCo spent in the same period must be huge.
  • Tailpipe Tommy Ask Tyler Hoover, Jason Cammisa, Joe Raiti, Sreten @ M539 Restorations (he's really spectacular), and oh yeah, that Doug DeMuro cat. For better or worse, automotive journalism has moved to YouTube.
  • Ajla A lot of journos liked to sh*t on the NAG1 but I never had an issue with its performance and the forums don't really show it as a trouble spot by the time it got into these. It probably needed just a touch shorter gearing in base form (I think the Magnum offered that on a tow package and the Charger offered it with a performance package or Daytona trim).
  • Fahrvergnugen NA Miata goes topless as long as roads are dry and heater is running, windscreen in place.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic As a side note, have you looked at a Consumers Report lately? In the past, they would compare 3 or 4 station wagons, or compact SUVs, or sedans per edition. Now, auto reporting is reduced to a report on one single vehicle in the entire edition. I guess CR realized that cars are not as important as they once were.