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Berkeley B105: Not so Fast and very Furious

This is not a long tale, of one man’s short experience of Berkeley B105 ownership

Purchased in spring 1970, and sold in that summer, an eleven year old glass fibre monocoque motorcycle engine sportscar of somewhat dubius design.

My first sportscar, bought via Exchange & Mart , driven home from University to show my garage owning father. He walked around it, peered under the bonnet and into the very basic cockpit, and then exclaimed ” I wash my hands of this car son”.

Berkeley production, picture via

My girlfriend of the time was astonished to see me turn up outside her house in a red open car. Her delight turned to disappointment after getting in and seating herself on the extremely thinly upholstered bench seat almost at floor level and finding that the only place for her handbag in the miniscule passenger area was her lap . Fury followed at the end of her first noisy bumpy trip vocalised by “its either me or this horrible car”. Needless to say I kept both for a while, but she outlasted the car.

Picture via

Plenty of my fellow engineering students had sporty cars, including a Porsche 356C, MGA, 3.4 XK engined Triumph Roadster, Mini Coopers,Unipower and a Piper GTT. We organized an unofficial race around the campus perimeter road at the weekend, with marshalls posted to stop other vehicles and pedestrians from entering the track. My little Berkeley made FTD, but the Piper and Porsche didn’t enter. No idea how fast it was going, scuttle shake at speed was so severe that the instruments were just a blur, but I think it was flat out .

Berkeley in race mode, via

I don’t know how many B95/105 were sold but total Berkeley sales were only about 2000, all glass fibre monocoques with aluminium reinforcement bonded in. The 105 cost roughly the same as a Frogeye Sprite, a slower but vastly better made car and somewhat roomier, so its not surprising that Berkeley ceased production.

A few snippets of the ownership experience will reveal the perils of being a Berkeley driver. With the hood down, the roof paraphernalia took up the entire boot, and re-erecting same was definitely not a matter of a moment. Care had to be taken when exiting a steeply cambered tight parking spot because the very high first gear coupled with the motorcycle type clutch could result in the torque of the 700cc twin Royal Enfield Super Constellation engine overcoming the Hooke joints of the front wheel drive shafts resulting in either a rapid uturn for the unwary or quickly backing off the throttle once out in the road so as to allow the steering to be straightened.

Berkeley SA328 Excelsior engine, via

Speaking of the clutch, care had to be taken not to apply it too sharply as the duplex chain back to the Albion gearbox was stronger than the aluminium gearbox mounts.As for the driveshafts, the lack of CVs meant that the poor old Hooke joints had to be greased every one hundred miles. Wheels were detachable rim type, bolted directly to the drums. The back was so light, the whole car only weighed less than 8 cwt, that it could be picked up and the car turned round in its own 131 inch.length. The jack was a pressed metal affair pedal operated using a pawl for locking. Needless to say letting the car back down onto its wheel was a tense moment. The car was equipped with a Siba Dynastart starter generator driven connected to the engine by a belt, which in the case of my old car was made from Ballater belting. Little was I to know that in 2018 I would own another car with a belt-drive starter generator, the Hyundai Ioniq HEV.

Lorenzo Bandini won the 750GT class at Monza 12 Hours in a Berkeley © Berkeley, via

The Berkeley Caravans made Berkeley cars were designed by the same man who designed the Bond Minicars made by Sharps Commercials. The earlier SE492 model had a 492cc 3 cylinder 2 stroke but only weighed about 50 pounds less ; somehow it won the 750GT class of a Monza 12 Hours in the hands of no less a driver than Lorenzo Bandini. I cannot imagine that he stopped every 100 miles to grease driveshaft joints. 105s apparently competed in Solo 2 events in the USA.

Berkeley B95/B105, picture via

The moment that I finished my Finals, I advertised the car for sale, and the viewing by a whole gaggle of Berkeley owners travelling in convoy, and the resulting sale, gave me great cause for rejoicing, particularly as the car had developed an electrical fault the night before. The AA man who responded to my call couldn’t make head nor tail of the car and just gave up trying after only a few minutes, much to my disgust.

A cyclecar for the 1950s is my conclusion.

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