Coventry Climax
Former type Limited company
Fate Purchased by Jaguar Cars, businesses merged by British Leyland or divested
Predecessor Coventry-Simplex
Successor Kalmar Climax (forklift business)
Founded 1903
Defunct 1986 (Coventry Climax Holdings Ltd)
Headquarters Coventry
Key people Lee Stroyer, Henry Pelham Lee
Industry Speciality machinery and engine manufacture

Coventry Climax Godiva Fire pump-Driffield-P8100503

Coventry Climax engined Godiva fire pump

Kalmar Forklift in ROI - IMG 1681

A Kalmar Forlift truck on a dock in ROI

Coventry Climax was a United Kingdom fork-lift truck, fire pump, and specialty engine manufacturer.


The company was started in 1903 as Lee Stroyer, but two years later following the departure of Stroyer, was relocated to Paynes Lane, Coventry, and renamed to Coventry-Simplex by H. Pelham Lee[1], a former Daimler employee, who saw a need for competition in the nascent piston engine market.

An early user was GWK, who produced over 1000 light cars with Coventry-Simplex two-cylinder engines between 1911 and 1915. Just before World War I a Coventry-Simplex engine was used by Lionel Martin to power the first Aston Martin car[2]. Ernest Shackleton selected Coventry-Simplex to power the tractors that were to be used in his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914.

Hundreds of Coventry-Simplex engines were manufactured during World War I to be used in generating sets for searchlights. In 1917 the company was renamed to Coventry Climax and moved to East Street, Coventry.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s they supplied engines to many companies manufacturing light-cars such as Abbey, AJS, Albatross, Ashton-Evans, Excelsior Motor Company (Bayliss-Thomas), Clyno, Crossley Motors, Crouch Cars, GWK, Marendaz, Morgan Motor Company, Triumph Motor Company, Swift Motor Company, and Standard Motor Company. In the early 1930s the company also supplied engines for buses. In the 1920s the company moved to Friars Road, Coventry and in the late 1930s they also acquired the ex-Riley premises in Widdrington Road, Coventry.

With the closure of Swift in 1931 they were left with a stock of engines that were converted to drive electric generators giving the company an entry into a new field. This in turn led to the development of fire pumps and the "Godiva" which saw widespread use during the Second World War. Post-war Coventry Climax users included Clan, Hillman, Kieft, Lotus, Cooper, and TVR. A Coventry climax engine was also used in the early Ferguson-Brown tractors, till they changed to David Browns own engine design.

In the late 1940s, the company shifted away from automobile engines and into other markets, including diesels for marine and fire pumps and fork lift trucks. In 1946 the ET199 was announced, which the company claimed was the first British produced forklift truck. The ET 199 was designed to carry a 4000 lb load with a 24 inch load centre, and with a 9 ft lift height.[3]

In 1950 Walter Hassan, ex Jaguar and Bentley joined them, and a new lightweight overhead camshaft engine was developed called the FW (Feather Weight).

Away from the car engine business Coventry Climax used their marine diesel experience to further develop and build the Armstrong Whitworth supercharged H30 multi fuel engine for military use. This has been fitted as an auxiliary engine in the British Chieftain and Challenger battle tanks and Rapier anti aircraft missile systems.

The company was purchased by Jaguar Cars in 1963, which itself merged with the British Motor Corporation (BMC) in 1966 to form British Motor Holdings (BMH), BMH then merged with the Leyland Motor Corporation in 1968 to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation, which was then nationalised in 1975 as British Leyland (BL). Coventry Climax became part of the British Leyland Special Products division - alongside Alvis, Aveling-Barford and others. At the end of 1978 BL brought together Coventry Climax Limited, Leyland Vehicles Limited (trucks, buses and tractors), Alvis Limited (military vehicles) and Self-Changing Gears Limited (heavy-duty transmissions), into a new group called BL Commercial Vehicles (BLCV) under managing director David Abell.

In the early 1970s the fire pump business was sold back into private ownership, and the Godiva Fire Pumps company was formed in Warwick.

In 1977 Coventry Climax acquired the Warrington forklift truck business of Rubery Owen Conveyancer, renaming it to Climax Conveyancer.

1982 saw the sell-off by BL of the Coventry Climax forklift truck business back into private ownership, to Coventry Climax Holdings Limited. Sir Emmanuel Kaye, also chairman and a major shareholder of Lansing Bagnall at the time, formed the company, independent of his other interests for the purpose of acquiring Coventry Climax.

In 1986 Coventry Climax went into receivership and was acquired by Cronin Tubular. In 1990 a further change of ownership came with the engine business being sold to Horstman Defence Systems of Bath, Somerset thus breaking the link with Coventry.

By the late 1980s Kalmar Industries had acquired the forklift truck interests of Coventry Climax and it was trading as Kalmar Climax.

The enginesEdit


The OC was initially made with a capacity of 1122 cc straight-4 with bore of 63 mm and stroke of 90 mm with overhead inlet and side exhaust valves producing 34 bhp. It was introduced in the early 1930s and also built under licence by Triumph.


A six cylinder version of the OC engine, the JM, was made with a capacity of 1476 cc developing 42 bhp. The JMC version had a capacity increase to 1640 cc by increasing the bore to 63 mm and produced 48 bhp.


The FW 38 hp 1020cc straight-4 SOHC was designed by Walter Hassan and Harry Mundy as the motive unit for a portable service firepump. In 1953 it was adapted for automotive racing as the 1097cc FWA, producing 71hp it was first used at Le Mans in 1954 by Kieft Cars. The larger bore and longer stroke 1460cc FWB engine followed producing a nominal 108bhp. The most significant of the series was the FWE which used the FWB bore size and the FWA stroke; it was specifically designed for the Lotus elite but became a firm favorite with a number of sports car racing firms. Other FW variants included a short stroke version of the FWA to produce the 750cc FWC as used by Dan Gurney early in his career in US club racing. the objective of this engine was for the successful Lotus campaign to win the Le Mans Index of performance prize in 1957. The FWMA engine was a follow up to the FWC and was based on the FWM marine engine. In its automotive guise as the FWMA it was less successful than the FWC when used by Lotus Cars cars, but was eventually adapted by Rootes to provide the lightweight engine for the Hillman Imp. There was also an Outboard Motor unit based on the FWB produced by Bearcat in the USA. Climax powered Lotus Elite cars won their class six times and the 'Index of thermal Efficiency' once during the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Climax engines had previously powered Lotus Eleven cars which took three class wins at Le Mans and one 'Index of Performance' win.


The FPF was a pure-racing development twin cam version from the basic FWB layout — it started life as a 1.5 L Formula Two engine, and was gradually enlarged as an F1 unit; a 2.0 L version took Stirling Moss and Maurice Trintignant to Cooper's first two Grand Prix victories against 2.5 L opposition; the engine later grew to a full-sized 2.5 L Formula One and grew to 2.7 L for Indy and the Tasman Series, and even saw use as a stopgap in 1966 3.0 L Formula One racing.

One special engine from the company, developed from the marine engine, was the FWMV Coventry Climax V8. It produced 174 hp and was used by many racing cars from Lotus, including the Lotus 24, Lotus 25, and Lotus 33 and Cooper including the Formula One Cooper T51. Climax powered Lotus 25s and 33s won the Formula One World Championships in 1963 and 1965 driven by Jim Clark.

Climax built two notable engines un-raced in their original form — first the V8 FPE ("Godiva"), which was intended for the start of the 2.5 L Formula One in 1954 (withdrawn due to fears about the rumoured power of Mercedes and other engines, but in fact it would have been competitive). Paul Emery acquired a Godiva and fitted it to an old F3 chassis to make the Shannon F1 car in 1966, and the engine later ran in something close to its original form in the Kieft Cars Grand Prix car when that was finally finished in 2003. The other un-raced engine was the flat-16 FWMW; work on this continued through the later years of the 1.5 L formula with Lotus and Brabham the likely recipients, but there were a number of design issues still to solve before the formula ran out. At this time the engine had not only shown little power advantage over the V8 it had a number of design complexities that would either have taken a major rework to solve or at least resulted in the need for complete engine rebuilds after 3 hours running. The fact that the conjoined 3 part crank tended to move radially resulting in the engine becoming two aphasic V8s, also the central spur gear drive to parallel quill shaft driving flywheel caused several problems.

F1 enginesEdit

The F1 engines were as follows:

  • 1954 2.5 litre V-8 2.94 x 2.80" 264 bhp @ 7,900 rpm Godiva
  • 1959 2.5 litre 4 cyl 3.70 x 3.50" 220 bhp @6,500 rpm
  • 1960 2.5 litre 4 cyl 3.70 x 3.54" 240 bhp @ 6,750 rpm
  • 1960 1.5 litre 4 cyl 3.20 x 2.80" Formula 2
  • 1961 2.75 litre 4 cyl 3.78 x 3.74" Tasman and Indianapolis
  • 1961 1.5 litre 4 cyl 3.22 x 2.80" 150 bhp @ 7,500 rpm
  • 1962 1.5 litre V-8 2.48 x 2.36" 180 bhp @ 8,500 rpm
  • 1963 1.5 litre V-8 2.675 x 2.03" 195 bhp @ 9,500 rpm fuel injection
  • 1964 1.5 litre V-8 2.85 x 1.79" 200 bhp @ 9,750 rpm
  • 1965 1.5 litre V-8 2.85 x 1.79" 210 bhp @ 10,500 rpm 4 valve/cyl
  • 1966 2.0 litre V-8 2.85 x 2.36" 244 bhp @ 8,900 rpm 4 valve/cyl
  • 1965 1.5 litre F-16 2.13 x 1.60" 220/225 bhp @ 12,000 rpm 2 valve/cyl (209 bhp measured)

Coventry Motor MuseumEdit

The Coventry Transport Museum has a display of Climax engined racing cars and Coventry Climax engines in the Motor sport section upstairs.

Coventry-Climax powered vehiclesEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. Simister, John [2004-04-01]. Legendary Car Engines: Inner Secrets of the World's 20 Best. MotorBooks/MBI Publishing, 76. ISBN 0-7603-1941-3. 
  2. "Aston Martin: Car Manufacturer: Great British Design Quest". Design Museum.
  3. Coventry Transport Museum
  • 'Coventry Climax Racing Engines: The Definitive Development History' Author — Des Hammill (ISBN 1-903706-83-1)

External linksEdit

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