What happened and why during the early years of the Frisky car has always been a little confused with various degrees of speculation over the years in the motoring press, mostly restating or building upon previous best guesses.
Recently I had the good fortune to be contacted by Raymond Flower who was delighted in the resurgence of interest in the Frisky and finally put the record straight for me on those early years.
The following only covers his involvement with the Meadows Frisky car, in its self a small part of his long and distinguished career which I intend to cover in more detail at a later date.
Raymond Flower ran his family's business interests in Egypt which included The Cairo Motor Company that held the Nuffield Group contract to import cars into Egypt. An enthusiastic and well-known racing driver he initiated several projects, to try and establish an Egyptian built car, most carried the Phoenix name. They included both domestic and competition cars. Perhaps the most famous being the Phoenix 2SR6 race car built initially to carry Egypt's purple racing colours. His good friends Gordon Bedson and Lord Raglan (Fitzroy Somerset) both made design contributions on this car.
The end was in sight when in 1952 Colonel Nasser came to power. He nationalised the Suez Canal and, after Britain's unsuccessful invasion of Egypt, expelled all the British residents. Like them, Raymond Flower and his family lost their homes and their livelihoods along with everything they owned in Egypt.
Returning to the UK, in 1956 Raymond brought the 2SR6 race car to Kieft in Wolverhampton. At the same time, he approached Henry Meadows Ltd Wolverhampton with his original concept of a small basic car intended for "Third World" countries, however, the petrol rationing caused by the Suez conflict had created a growing demand for small fuel-efficient cars at home and this market was given priority and the project upgraded.
Meadows were interested and provided factory space and facilities at their Park Lane Works for its development. Gordon Bedson, who had been with Meadows as Export Sales Manager since he left Kieft in 1954, was moved over to the project and Keith Peckmore, a development engineer previously at Kieft with Bedson, was recruited.
By December 1956 the first prototype was ready and underwent a seven day, 9000 miles, proving trial at Oulton Park. The car was driven continuously by a team of drivers including Raymond Flower himself and acquitted its self well. Nicknamed "The Bug" at the factory it patently required restyling and Gordon Wilkins of the Autocar suggested that they consider having the body styled in Turin by Michelotti who was then unknown.
The amount of money required to build prototypes and put the vehicle into production was substantial, and the events in Egypt meant that Raymond no longer had it available. So an arrangement was reached that he would get a royalty and Meadows would take over the project. A new subsidiary Henry Meadows (Vehicles) Ltd was formed.
Due to be launched at the Geneva Motor show next March, time was of the essence and Neville Flower, Raymond's brother was despatched to Alfredo Vignale in Turin. He was a small coachbuilder with a reputation for producing prototype bodies quickly. Alfredo called in his designer, a young man in his thirties, called Giovanni Michelotti who then freelanced for most of the Turin coachbuilders. Over cups of cappuccino in a nearby bar the Gull Wing design that was to astound the motoring press was created.
Two Gull Wing Friskys went direct from Turin to the launch at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1957. They were a sensation and motoring journalists queued to drive the second prototype test car.
Alick Dick MD of Standard-Triumph met Raymond Flower on the stand (Cairo Motor Company had distributed their cars in Egypt for many years) and asked to meet the Frisky's designer. This led to a consultancy partnership between Michelotti and Triumph that was to last many years resulting in many well-known cars including the Triumph Herald.
Wolverhampton was inundated with enquires. Telephone lines were jammed with inquires, the mail arrived by the sack full and visitors arrived to buy cars and seek dealerships. Journalists demanded cars to test. Unfortunately, Meadows was not happy at the disruption caused. It seemed the Frisky team were regarded as "Mavericks" who had jumped the gun and were now gumming up the works!!
Delightful though the Gull Wing was, the body was just too expensive to build and Michelotti's design was transformed by Gordon Bedson and his team into a conventional runabout with a soft top. This being easier (and cheaper?) to build in fibreglass. The deadline was its proposed launch at the Earls Court show in November.
Henry Meadows Vehicles accountants carried out a feasibility study that suggested, on the basis of 200 cars per week, there would be substantial profits and good cash flow as the cars were paid for on delivery whereas suppliers offered three months credit.
Components for 200 cars were put in stock ready for production, but over the next few months, only around 20 were actually made.
The situation did not improve and Adrian Mackay contacted Raymond Flower to say the directors at Meadows had had a change of policy and were prepared to sell him the controlling interest in Henry Meadows (Vehicles) Ltd, the work in progress, the staff and the lease of the Frisky part of the factory for a small amount.
Raymond and his brothers agreed to go ahead and so they were back in the driving seat! As he recalled, Gordon Bedson summed it up saying "At last you have a stake in British industry"
The Frisky production occupied the original Meadows works were the engines for cars such as Lagonda, Lea Francis, Fraser Nash, Invicta etc had been made pre-war. Raymond's office had once been Henry Meadows's own inner sanctum and still reflected a functional efficiency with its steel desk and black armchairs. In contrast, he reflected the activity on the shop floor outside!
Neville Flower now a member of the board was not happy about what had been done to Michelotti's original design but there was now no option other than to go forward with what they had inherited.
A new production engineer was taken on to set up a proper assembly line. Gus Stewart took on the daunting task of organising supplies from over 100 suppliers and the new FriskySport began to roll off the line ready for delivery.
Cash flow was substantial but capital resources were slender. To avoid going bust production needed stepping up to 80 cars a week to reach the break-even point. Stanley Dyer, Raymond's accountant stressed that time was of the essence. Problems with component supply and suppliers increasing their prices did not help the situation.
At that time three-wheel vehicles carried a purchase tax of 30% half that of the four-wheel Sport. A saloon with a hardtop was cheaper to produce than an expensive folding hood and a smaller engine would also cheaper. So it was decided to develop and produce what became the Frisky Family Three. The FriskySport would be made just for export.
It took Gordon Bedson and his team three months of working round the clock to make this new Frisky ready in time for the 1958 Earls Court Show. It was well-received being £100 cheaper and yet gave a higher profit margin bringing break-even point down to a more manageable level of 60 cars a week.
Things began to look up, Vickers Armstrong had spare capacity at their Swindon Plant and suggested they could make the mechanical parts of the Frisky. No difficulty in producing up to 200 chassis a week.
At the Earls Court Show, S H Arnolt a major distributor of British cars in the States said he would like to handle the Frisky franchise for the East Coast and he placed a pilot order for 20 FriskySports. (Arnolt was also one of the organisers of the Indianapolis 500 which probably accounts for a FriskySport being used there as a track runabout, this car has since been restored and is now in France))
Whilst still not making money, things were progressing. The first batch of Chassis arrived from Swindon and additional body shells were coming from Armstrong Siddeley in Coventry Things were looking good and then........... the thunderbolt arrived.
The Vickers Board had refused to ratify the agreement to construct Frisky chassis, despite the fact that their MD had already confirmed the arrangement! There had been a board room row and the Frisky lost. Time was again of the essence and ruled out litigation; Vickers agreed to complete the remaining chassis in the course of the production.
Further bad news was on its way. A firm in California had ordered 100 FriskySports, some had already been delivered and the rest were on their way. The first batch was giving trouble and until the fault was rectified they weren't going to pay or accept any more shipments.
Investigations revealed that the fuel in America was dissolving the lining in the petrol tanks which then clogged up the carburetion. This meant devising new tanks that could withstand the gas used over there and in the meanwhile, there were a number of unpaid-for cars landed in California.
A board meeting was called just before the August Bank Holiday break to appraise the situation. Stanley Dyer the accountant announced that if a company continued to trade after the directors were aware it was insolvent, the directors were acting fraudulently and could be held personally responsible for the firm's debts. According to our accounts, this company is technically insolvent having lost all the paid-up capital. Unless fresh funds are immediately forthcoming it must cease trading forthwith.
There were plenty of assets in the shape of stocks and equipment, orders were coming in and the cash flow was healthy. Yet none of this counted and as Raymond refused to accept going into liquidation the other directors resigned immediately. Thus leaving, Raymond and Neville with Gordon Bedson to face the music.
An injection of fresh capital was desperately needed otherwise it looked like some sixty employees would lose their jobs and all the effort that had gone into setting up the stores, the now well organise assembly line, all cars under construction and the shells and waiting sub-assemblies would be lost.
Raymond went down to the development bay to take the Frisky Sprint out for a run. When he got back Gordon and Keith were standing at the drawing board. " what do you make of her" Keith asked, she's a beauty it's a pity we can't put her into production.
Gordon Bedson scratched his nose "have you thought of Henry Stone?" he asked.
Henry Stone was the London distributor, a dapper mild spoken businessman in his forties whose office near Gt Portland Street tube station gave little indication of his manifold activities.
They lunched at Wilton's and were driven around Regents Park in a chauffeured Armstrong Siddeley whilst they discussed the situation at Wolverhampton. The suggestion was that Henry Stone would receive a controlling interest in the firm for a fairly nominal sum and provide the funds to run it. He studied the balance sheets and order book and lighting a schmillinpeke(?) cerute cigar he blew a smoke ring out of the window and said I'll give you my answer tomorrow.
He was as good as his word, the answer was yes.
The factory continued working after the holiday break, Meadows had bowed out and Henry Stone became the new Chairman. Raymond, Neville and Alde Flower remained on the board as minority shareholders.
Henry Stone bristling with know-how made arrangements with his bankers, and wrested extended terms from the suppliers, In his skilful hands, the finances improved and Frisky Cars was moving forward once again.
Raymond Flower and his brothers eventually withdrew their interest in Frisky Cars following the ill-fated Car for Egypt project.
John Meadows April 2012
I am deeply indebted to Raymond Flower for all the information he has provided which has enabled me to give this account of the Friskys early years.