An S.U. Sort of Story
Have You Hugged Your S.U. Today?
The Spitfire pilot scanned the skies, trying not to think
about his family and countrymen as he looked down at the
devastated city of London. Suddenly, in the fading sunlight,
his eyes caught the reflection from the wings of the
Messerschmitt below. He reacted instinctively, all emotions
leaving his mind and body, as he became one with his
machine. He opened the throttle and the Rolls Royce Merlin
engine instantly howled in response. In a steep dive now, he
was upon the enemy in no time at all. He felt his aircraft
shudder ever so slightly as his Vickers machine guns spewed
their deadly rounds into the hapless enemy aircraft. He saw
a puff of smoke and watched on as the Luftwaffe pilot tried
in vain to keep his aircraft under control. Out of
ammunition now, and almost out of fuel, the British airman
headed his aircraft back towards base. His thoughts again
returned to his family; he wondered if the German pilot he
had just shot down had a family. He then lifted his flying
goggles and with his sweat and oil-stained glove wiped the
tears from his eyes.
At the turn of the century, when the automobile was in its
infancy, brothers Carl and George Skinner could be best
described as pioneer motorheads. They enthusiastically
sought to improve on the primitive form of carburettor of the
day, which was best suited for constant speed engines, in
that it required separate controls for both throttle speed and
fuel mixture. The brothers designed, built and patented a
carburetor in 1905 in which the fuel mixture was
automatically controlled by engine speed and load. (This
very first model of the "constant depression" type
carburettor used a leather bellows to seal the piston, not
surprisingly so, since the brothers had been born into the
family of Lilly and Skinner shoemakers!)
Things were not spectacular at first for what was literally a
backyard business, and the new "Skinner Union" company
accepted various contracts for materials for the war effort
and did some outside engineering work in order to expand
their carburettor project.
By the 1920's, their unit attracted the attention of Mr.
William Morris, who eventually bought the company. Mr.
Morris, later to become Lord Nuffield, relocated and
modernized the factory. Before long, all the cars in his
empire, the "Nuffield Group," used the S.U. and many were
used by other manufacturers.
World War II came along (herein the connection with the
little introduction story to get you interested!), and S.U.
went into the production of material for the war effort, most
notably, carburettors, fuel pumps, various system
components for England's most famous fighters, the
"Spitfires" and "Hurricanes" and various others. (I chuckle
at a mental picture of a pilot pounding his fist on the side of
the fuselage trying to get his engine to quit sputtering!)
Following the war, S.U. rebuilt and resumed production of
its automotive market business, and eventually the vast
majority of Europe's production cars were fitted with the
S.U. carburettor. Rights to build the carburettors were also
sold to the Japanese company Hitachi, and soon many
Japanese vehicles used them. Butec (as the division was
known) remained a vital part of the Leyland Empire.
Emission regulation helped bring us the Stromberg "C-D"
type carburettor, virtually identical in theory and operation,
differing, only in construction. We here in the United States
were the unlucky ones to get this carburettor. (Actually, I
shouldn't say anything bad about the Stromberg since it is,
like its cousin the S.U., relatively trouble-free. Running
problems are usually the result of something other than the
carburettor's malfunctioning, usually more likely lack of or
improper servicing having been done.)
So when the next person asks you what "S.U." means or
you have to explain that it is not a carburettor made by
Indians out in the Midwest, you can trace the lineage from a
couple of brothers working at home throughout the entire
evolution of the Austin Car Company/M.G./BMC/B.L./JRT/
Rover group and now--shudder at the thought--BMW!! --?--
(Come to think of it though, an old BMW 2002 with a pair of
1 3/4" S.U.'s would probably be pretty hot!)
For lack of space and fear of boring you, I am going to
complete this article next month with a brief explanation of
the principle of operation of the "C-D" type carburettor
which will hopefully be written in understandable terms.