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A long extinct British automobile manufacturer, James and Browne Ltd. were established in Hammersmith, a borough of London, in 1901. They survived until 1910. Two vehicles manufactured by the company still exist.

I don't know where one of them is today, but the other, much better known example is today the property of the City and Guilds College, London (the engineering department of Imperial College) and is kept in running condition. The car serves as the College's official motorised mascot and for official duties.

Named by the students 'Boanerges' (normally shortened to 'Bo', and allegedly from the Bible, where it means "Sons of Thunder"), and always referred to as 'he', rather than the 'she' or 'it', Bo is a 1902 example of the marque, with a tonneau body (which means open top, with no cover whatsoever; insanity in the British climate, and clearly indicating that he was built as a fair-weather toy).

Mechanically, the car is a good illustration of how not to build an automobile. James and Browne's main claim to fame was that their vehicles mimicked the then-fashionable look of the electric car, with a short, snub bonnet and hidden mechanicals. The engine and most other mechanical components of a James and Browne sit beneath the floor.

The crankshaft runs across the car beneath the feet of the driver and front passenger. Starting is via a hand crank that engages a dog at the driver's (right) hand side. Two cylinders protrude forward of the crankshaft, like a boxer's fists. Each is of one and a quarter liters' displacement, making the car a 2.5 liter. The fuel/air mixture from the carburettor, mounted above the engine, is drawn in through large diameter (approx 2") atmospherically operated (i.e. suction) inlet valves on the top of each cylinder. The exhaust valves on the bottoms are operated by a simple cam.

The crankcase and gearbox cases are aluminium castings, to save weight, and must have made the car expensive for its time. A whoppingly large flywheel is required to keep the engine turning at the stupendously low rpm it manages. The clutch is an evil metal on metal device with a sharp, savage bite. The gearboxes (one on each side of the flywheel, linked by shafts) feature massive, straight cut gears, for maximum crash and crunch. Final drive is by big, buzzing chains to the hub of each rear wheel.

Braking is via band brakes on the rear wheels, and a brake on the transmission. It should not be ignored that these all ultimately act on only the rear wheels. Lubrication is on the 'drip oil in at the top, drip oil out at the bottom' principle.

In order to totally confuse a modern driver, the two foot pedals, clutch and brake, are mounted the opposite way round from what one expects. The throttle and ignition advance/retard are ratcheted devices mounted beneath the steering wheel and swinging in a vertical plane. In modern traffic, they absolutely cannot be controlled by the driver, who lacks sufficient hands; the co-driver must lean over and operate them, leading to some interesting coordination problems. Outboard is the gear shift (swinging fore and aft only, with stops for each of the four forward gears), the reverse stick (which pushes outwards!) and the rear-wheel brake.

This horrendous contraption produces about 9 horsepower and drinks fuel at a rate of about twelve miles per gallon from a tank underneath the drivers' seat. Downhill with the wind behind it, it might make thirty miles per hour.

As if driving it through the streets of London wasn't enough, the college enters it each year on the London to Brighton Run. It finishes most years, not bad for a vehicle nearly a century old. James and Browne didn't know how to build a car right mechanically, but they certainly knew how to build one to be tough -- everything is over-engineered. Bo has actually been disqualified quite a few years for finishing at a higher average speed than is allowed by the regulations.

Overall, the craziest vehicle I have ever driven. Recommended to everyone, if only to make you feel privileged to drive a 21st century automobile!

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