Forgotten British Pioneer - the Majesco range
Here we take what I believe to be the first ever in-depth look at a model engine range which was one of the early post-WW2 pioneers of the British model engine manufacturing industry but which failed to survive in the highly competitive model engine market which quickly developed during that period. I’ll be examining the all-too brief story of Majesco Miniature Motors, who manufactured a number of highly serviceable engines to very acceptable standards but were unable to keep up with the rapid advances in model engine design which characterized the early post-war years.
This article was originally published in late 2014 on the late Ron Chernich's now-frozen but still accessible "Model Engine News" (MEN) web-site. It was in fact the last article of mine that Ron was able to add to his site before his final illness tragically claimed him. Unfortunately, the images associated with the MEN article do not come up as they should, and Ron is no longer around to fix this, nor did he leave instructions, passwords, etc., to allow his successors to do so. Accordingly, I saw no option other than to re-publish the article complete with images on my new web-site.
Given the inevitable progressive corruption of material on a long-term web-site that is no longer being maintained, I imagine that similar action on my part will become necessary for other articles as time goes by. I will do my best to monitor this situation and to respond accordingly.
Majesco Miniature Motors was one of the first companies in England to commence the commercial manufacture of model engines in the post-war period. Sadly, it was also one of Britain's shortest-lived such ventures, never managing to achieve mainstream status and hence being virtually forgotten today by all but a few dedicated enthusiasts. Due to its very brief presence in the marketplace, it was also relatively poorly documented in the contemporary modelling media.
This being the case, I’ll just have to do the best that I can with the few resources at my disposal. When writing this article, I was fortunate in having actual examples of both the Majesco 2.2 cc diesel and the rarest Majesco model, the 0.735 cc Mite, available for direct examination, a fact of which I took full advantage.
An earlier article on the Majesco Mite appears elsewhere on the MEN site. However, that earlier article does not not include a full evaluation of the engine. I’ll address that omission in the present write-up.
Before commencing, I would as always like to recognize the invaluable assistance rendered to me by others. The preservation of model engine history is very much a shared responsibility, and I’m fortunate in having a number of colleagues who recognize this undeniable fact and are unstinting in their willingness to assist where possible. In the present instance, I must record a debt of gratitude to Ken Croft, Kevin Richards, Jon Fletcher and Eric Offen, all of whom assisted me very materially during the course of this exercise. Jon's successful efforts to rectify a few structural issues with the Mite were particularly appreciated.
That pleasant duty fulfilled, let’s get right on with the story of the Majesco range!
All sources agree that the designer and manufacturer of the Majesco engines was a certain J. E. S. “Jack” Colyer. Apologies for the abysmal quality of the attached image, but it’s the only one that I've so far been able to find. If anyone has a better image of Colyer, please share it!!
Following the original publication of this article, I was fortunate enough to hear from reader Richard Thick, who kindly contacted me after perusing the original text. Richard is actually Jack Colyer's son-in-law, having married his daughter Rosanne and hence having a good deal of knowledge about the Majesco venture. Richard tells us that the letters "MA" in the Majesco name were derived from the initials of Colyer's wife Miriam Annette, who was of course Richard's mother-in-law. The next three letters "JES" were obviously derived from Jack Colyer's own initials.
One of the challenges involved in tracing the story of our subject company is sorting out the unusual number of different addresses with which the venture was associated. According to the instruction sheet which accompanied the kit version of the company’s initial offering, the Majesco “45” (see below), the company’s original manufacturing facility was located on Church Street in Littlehampton, Sussex, a seaside town of modest size lying between Brighton and Chichester on England’s south coast.
However, the business was geographically quite fragmented at this stage, since the general office was located at a nearby but nonetheless separate address at 35 St. Flora’s Road in Littlehampton. To make matters even more confusing, sales and general inquiries were directed to a third address at 10a Hayne Road in Beckenham, Kent, a little to the north-east of Croydon in South London and hence quite remote from Littlehampton. This was evidently an agency set up by Colyer to serve the major market area of Greater London.
A certain amount of light was thrown on this situation by Richard Thick. It turns out that the Littlehampton business address on St. Flora's Road was in fact the residence of Jack Colyer's parents-in-law!
At some point after July 1946 (see below), and almost certainly within the first year of its existence, the company relocated some distance further west along the south coast to a new address on Vale Road in Parkstone, Dorset. This is the address which has most commonly been associated with Majesco Miniature Motors. Confirmation of this move is found on a box label which accompanied a kit version of the Majesco "45". The box label carries the original general office address on St. Flora’s Road in Littlehampton, but a stick-on supplementary label refers to the company’s “new address” as being Vale Road in Parkstone. Thanks to Eric Offen for providing these vital pieces of evidence.
This was a major relocation, since Parkstone lies a considerable distance to the west of Littlehampton. Given the logistical challenges involved, it's obvious that there must have been a very compelling basis for the decision to move to Parkstone. Richard Thick has clarified this matter too - he tells us that this relocation was based upon a combination of both manufacturing expediency and personal motivations. In summary, the move was prompted by a combination of a need for expanded premises together with a desire to achieve a higher degree of personal independence from the family on Colyer's part. One can read between the lines here ............ In addtion, Poole may have had its own attractions for Colyer (see below).
Whatever the circumstances, the move to Parkstone was duly accomplished, almost certainly before the end of 1946. As of the present day (2015), Parkstone is more or less a suburb of Poole lying a little to the east of that town’s centre in the direction of nearby Bournemouth. At the time of which we are speaking, however, it’s possible that it was a separate community.
It may come as a surprise to some readers to learn that the Bournemouth area was a significant centre for modelling activity and related commercial ventures during the early post-WW2 period. In addition to Majesco (following the move), the long-established Hallam company of nearby Poole remained very active, having begun the commercial manufacture of model engines well prior to the onset of WW2. Model engines were also produced in the area by Bijou Mechanical Productions (Bournemouth) Ltd., makers of the B.M.P. diesels which were designed by Henri Baigent. These were sold through the agency of J. W. Kenworthy of 295 Charminster Road, Bournemouth, who did much to promote them. An in-depth article about the fascinating history of the B.M.P. venture may be found on MEN.
Although actually manufactured in Leicester by Rogers & Geary (makers of the prewar Spitfire 2.5 cc, Hornet 3.5 cc and Wasp 6 cc spark ignition models), the well-known post-war Stentor 6 cc spark ignition engines were primarily marketed by Model Aircraft (Bournemouth) Ltd., better remembered today for their Veron kit range. The area was to retain a strong identification with model engine manufacture in subsequent years following the March 1955 relocation of the Oliver workshops from Nottingham to Ferndown, a little to the north of Poole.
The strong post-war focus on model-related activity in the Bournemouth area probably had much to do with the fact that two of the most influential figures in post-war British aeromodelling were local residents - Phil Smith of Veron fame and the noted pioneering power modeller and author Col. C. E. Bowden. Phil Smith’s excellent Veron designs successfully introduced many individuals to the aeromodelling hobby, myself among them. Col. Bowden was indefatigable in promoting power modelling, publishing numerous books and articles on the subject in addition to sponsoring major competitions both in the Bournemouth area and elsewhere. He was also a participant in the model trade, advertising his model designs as of mid 1946 onward from an address at 43 Westover Road in Bournemouth under the trade-name B. M. Models.
In his 1949 book “Miniature Aero Motors”, Ron Warring recalled an association with Colyer dating back to 1936, when Colyer reportedly acquired one of the first Brown Junior engines to reach Britain from the USA. Colyer clearly had a very sincere interest in model engines to go along with some excellent connections in the USA plus the means to indulge his interests, since Warring tells us that he went on to assemble a collection of some fifty different engines representative of then-current design and construction practise, thus becoming one of the very first recorded engine collectors! No doubt he drew heavily upon the information embodied in this collection when developing his own designs.
It appears reasonably certain that Colyer was a model engineer who made engines for his own use prior to his entry into the commercial manufacturing field. In his later advertising, he claimed to have constructed the first prototype of the initial post-war Majesco offering, the “45” spark ignition motor, as early as mid 1939, long before Majesco Miniature Motors came into being. This claim of earlier experience seems completely consistent with the improbability of Colyer establishing a commercial model engine manufacturing business without first acquiring some hands-on experience in the design and construction of these high-precision little powerplants.
The fact that several of the Majesco designs were made available as kits of castings and materials for home construction provides further support for the notion of Colyer’s having a model engineering background. The range appears to have been targeted as much towards the “model craftsman” fraternity as to the average aeromodeller who merely needed an engine to power his models and was prepared to pay others to make it for him. This certainly implies a model engineering background or at least a strong interest in that field.
This in turn gives rise to the entirely unsubstantiated possibility that Colyer may have gained at least some of his model engine manufacturing experience working with the previously-mentioned Hallam company of nearby Poole in Dorset. This company had a very similar focus to that later adopted by Majesco. It had begun by making the pre-war Hallam Nipper spark ignition engine of 5.4 cc. There was also a 10 cc version of the same engine during the pre-war period.
The Hallam company was principally engaged in war production from 1939 through to 1945 but resumed model engine manufacture for a few years following the conclusion of hostilities, producing an astonishing number of different models such as Series II and Series III versions of the Nipper, the 3 cc Baby, the Aero 13.5 cc, the Little Briton of 1.5 cc and the Super Nine. Both complete engines and kits for home construction were produced, a pattern which was followed by the Majesco company.
The final effort of the Hallam company was a neat 2.5 cc sideport diesel which was produced in very small numbers in 1947 and 1948, thus being contemporary with the Majesco diesel models. According to Mike Clanford in his well-known but frequently unreliable "A-Z" book, one of these engines won the 1947 Bournemouth Model Aircraft Power Cup, a contest sponsored in part by our friend Col. Bowden.
Considerations of interest, time and place certainly make it appear possible that Jack Colyer worked for this company both before and during the war. However, there’s now no way of confirming this one way or the other. I merely point it out as a completely unsubstantiated possibility.
There is some purely circumstantial consistency between this scenario and the relocation of the Majesco operation from Littlehampton to Parkstone, since a prior Hallam connection would mean that Colyer had been a long-term resident of the Poole area. This would certainly explain his well-documented close friendship with Poole resident Col. C. E. Bowden. It would also explain his choice of the Poole area for the relocation of his Majesco operation from Littlehampton, a move which must have involved considerable expense and inconvenience.
However, a long-term residency in the Poole area would raise the question of why Colyer would commence the Majesco venture at distant Littlehampton in the face of a clear desire to remain resident in the Poole area - why wouldn't he just set up shop at Poole from the outset? The most likely explanation is that Colyer was unable to secure suitable premises in the Poole area at the time when Majesco production commenced, but siezed upon a later opportunity. In the interim, he took full advantage of premises made available at Littlehampton by his in-laws.
As far as the production equipment used in the manufacture of the engines is concerned, it's possible that Colyer acquired an existing up-and-running workshop facility on Church Street in Littlehampton at a favorable price, with the intention from the outset of relocating the equipment to Poole as soon as circumstances allowed. Many small precision enginering operations had sprung up to support the war effort, a significant number of which would have become redundant following the conclusion of hostilities. Colyer may well have acquired such an operation at a fire-sale price with the full intention of relocating it at the earliest opportunity.
Now let’s see what we can do to present a coherent picture of the products of the short-lived Majesco venture.
The Beginning - the Majesco “45”
The Majesco company started out in early 1946 with a side-port petrol engine of 4.5 cc displacement. This was known as the Majesco “45”, a name which tends to confuse American model engine enthusiasts! It refers of course to the engine’s nominal metric displacement of 4.5 cc (0.275 cuin.) rather than the more familiar .45 cuin. Similar confusion was also to arise in connection with the metrically-designated FROG and Allen-Mercury ranges of diesels, among others.
It’s unclear at present exactly when the Majesco “45” first appeared, but it must have been in the first half of 1946 since the engine was being advertised as of July 1946 in terms which suggested that it had been on sale for some time. This would make it one of the first new model engines to appear on the post-war British market.
The attached advertisement from the July 1946 issue of “Model Aircraft” is interesting insofar as it makes the previously-noted claim that the “45” had been under development for no less than 7 years! The advertisement claimed that the prototype was still in use as of mid 1946 after seven years of service! If this was in fact the case, that prototype must have dated from 1939, prior to the onset of World War 2. Incidentally, this advertisement is also important in that it confirms that the Majesco venture was still based in Littlehampton at the time in question.
The Majesco “45” was a more or less conventional design apart from its use of considerably over-square internal geometry, still a relatively uncommon feature at this time. Bore and stroke were 0.750 in (19.05 mm) and 0.625 in. (15.87 mm) respectively for a calculated displacement of 4.52 cc (0.276 cuin.). In his previously-mentioned book, Ron Warring reported that the engine weighed 6.25 ounces (177 gm) without the ancillary ignition support equipment. It sold in ready-to-run form for a fairly healthy price of £6 10s 0d (£6.50). It was also made available at a far more economical price of £1 16s 0d (£1.80) in kit form for home construction by the model engineering fraternity.
Structurally, the “45” was built around a main crankcase which incorporated the main bearing housing in unit. This component was die-cast in aluminium alloy, as were all of the other cast components. The crankcase casting terminated in a circular flange just above the crankcase itself. An upper casting incorporating the location flange, cylinder barrel, cooling fins, exhaust port, bypass passage and cylinder head was attached to the upper crankcase flange with four screws. Somewhat unusually, these screws were inserted from below, as was the steel cylinder liner. In common with many other engines at this time, a 3/8 in. spark plug was generally employed in the factory-built models, although kit constructors were of course left free to use a ¼ inch spark plug if they so chose.
The bypass passage was a composite affair, being open to the external atmosphere as cast. It was externally sealed using a separate die-cast cover plate which was secured to the main cylinder casting with two screws, a gasket being used to ensure a good seal. This arrangement was reminiscent of that seen in the earlier GHQ and Dallaire Pee Wee models from America. The exhaust stack was another separate die-casting which was attached to the main cylinder block with a pair of screws.
Internally, the engine featured a cast iron baffle piston to go with the steel cylinder liner. The piston drove the crankshaft through a die-cast aluminium alloy connecting rod. The steel crankshaft was a composite affair which was built up from three components - the main journal, the crankweb and the crankpin. These components were pressed together and then silver soldered. The shaft ran in a plain main bearing formed directly in the material of the crankcase casting. The timer was an open-frame affair which was actuated by a cam formed at the rear of the steel prop driver.
The fuel system was built around a cast venturi with integral tank top. A plastic hang tank was attached to this using the light alloy fuel pickup tube for support. Some examples used an acorn nut in conjunction with a clear plastic tank, while others featured a screw-on tank molded in red plastic. The latter tanks had the word “MAJESCO” formed in relief on their sides. The complete assembly simply screwed into a boss at the rear of the upper cylinder casting. The needle valve was of the surface jet type then in very common use.
Recommended airscrews as reported by Ron Warring in his book were 11x6 for free flight and 8x8 for control line. These are relatively light loads for a 1940’s engine of this displacement, presumably reflecting the engine’s short-stroke geometry. In the instruction leaflet for the kit version of the engine, the manufacturers confined themselves to recommending props in the 10 inch - 12 inch diameter range, no pitch being specified. Claimed output was 0.200 BHP @ 7,500 rpm - probably not that far out of line with reality for a good example.
Somewhat oddly, Warring also reported that the selling price of the “45” was £4 4s 0d (£4.20), which is at odds with the advertisements that I've so far encountered. Perhaps this represented a price reduction during the inventory clearance phase at the end of the company’s production activities, which seems to have pretty much coincided with the writing of Warring’s book in late 1948.
All Majesco engines that were manufactured by the company (as opposed to being sold in kit form) carried serial numbers, invariably in my experience stamped onto the backplate. The numbering seems to have started either at engine number 1 or at engine number 100. The former possibility is supported by the fact that the numbering on the later Majesco Mite diesel (see below) is definitely known to have started at 1. It seems unlikely that the company would have displayed an inconsistent approach to the serial numbering of their products
Be that as it may, reported serial numbers for the Majesco “45” range at present from a low of 114 up to a high of 500, apparently proving that at least 500 examples were built by the company (setting aside the possibility that the numbering sequence may have started at 100). There may well have been quite a few more - my sample remains relatively small. Un-numbered examples also turn up fairly frequently. These are almost certainly home-constructed efforts, the quality of which may vary somewhat. The engine actually seems to have sold quite well in kit form.
Although we can’t be definite regarding how many examples of this model were made, it appears to have remained in production or at least on sale for much of the company’s existence. As of June 1947 the engine remained available to order from Gamages of Holborn in London, orders being filled in strict rotation. This suggests that at that time (well over a year following the engine's introduction), demand was still exceeding supply. The “45” was still on offer from Paramount Model Aviation of Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex as of May 1948, at an unchanged price of £6 10s 0d (£6.50). The fact that its selling price had evidently held up for two years is a further indication of its ongoing popularity.
The implication of all of this data is that the Majesco “45” remained in production for well over two years, during which time a considerable number may have been produced both in kit form and as complete engines. The fact that the engine’s selling price appears to have been maintained all along despite the emergence of less expensive alternatives from mid 1946 onwards suggests that it was highly regarded and hence in considerable demand despite its relatively high price.
According to those who have used them, these engines are very dependable runners which are well able to give good service. For this reason, the Majesco “45” is much favored by today’s vintage fliers in Britain. As an example, I attach a picture of Ken Croft’s model fitted with factory-built Majesco “45” number 114 which had been in regular service for the previous eight years as of 2013 when Ken sent me the photo.
Although the Majesco “45” seems to have been a steady seller for the Majesco company, Jack Colyer’s attention evidently became increasingly drawn towards model diesels as 1946 wore on. The rapidly rising interest in diesels among British modellers almost certainly had much to do with this change in focus. The result was the appearance of Majesco’s first diesel model by the end of the year.
A False Start - the Majesco 10 cc prototype
The Majesco "45" was not Jack Colyer's only venture into the world of model spark ignition engine design. In his previously cited 1949 book “Miniature Aero Motors”, Ron Warring included a photograph of an large sparker that he called the Majesco 10 cc prototype. This was an impressive-looking design, featuring cross-flow loop scavenging along with disc rear rotary valve (RRV) induction.
The tank and timer appear to be the same components used in the Majesco "45", making it appear likely that the 10 cc prototype was a contemporary of the smaller model. The fact that Warring applied the Majesco name to it implies that it post-dated the establishment of Majesco Motors in early 1946.
Warring evidently saw this engine run, because he commented that it performed well up to par with American non-racing designs. However, for reasons regarding which Warring was silent, the engine never entered production.
It's entirely possible that this was not the only Colyer design to stall following the prototype stage. Jack Colyer was evidently an inventive individual, and he had that large collection of American engines from which to draw inspiration. We only know about this example because of Warring's decision to include an illustration in his book. Thanks, Ron!!
The Majesco “22”diesel
In late 1946 or perhaps early 1947, Majesco Motors released their first diesel model, the “22” unit of 2.2 cc displacement. This dating is suggested by the fact that the Majesco range was not mentioned in the 1946-47 first edition of the pioneering book “Model Diesels” compiled by D. J. Laidlaw-Dickson. This book appears to have been finalized in late 1946, since the Mills 1.3 model which was first announced and publicly demonstrated in July 1946 but did not become widely available until October of that year was said to be just reaching the market in limited quantities at the time of writing. If the Majesco diesel had appeared or even been announced prior to late 1946, it would surely have been included.
On the other hand, the “22” was frequently mentioned in the 1947 first edition of Col. Bowden’s book “Diesel Model Engines”, also being featured in the Colonel’s commentary on model diesels which appeared in the June 1947 issue of “Aeromodeller”. By that time, Col. Bowden had built a sizeable number of models using this engine, of which he claimed to have two examples. Realistically speaking, he could only have managed this in time to meet the mid-May editorial deadline for the June issue if the engine had appeared by the beginning of 1947 at the latest. On balance, a late 1946 introductory date actually seems more probable.
Like its larger spark ignition predecessor, the new diesel model was made available both ready to run and in kit form. It was based upon the same crankcase casting as the earlier “45” sparker. However, the internal geometry was significantly changed. At the time in question, the employment of long strokes was widely considered to be the most effective approach to model diesel construction, taking advantage of their ability to develop high torque figures. Jack Colyer went along with this in his new diesel design, using bore and stroke measurements of 0.500 in. (12.70 mm) and 0.6875 in. (17.46 mm) respectively for an actual displacement of 2.21 cc (0.135 cuin.). Thus the “22” actually had a slightly longer stroke than the larger “45” model!
This engine provides us with yet another example of the seemingly odd-ball displacements encountered with astonishing frequency among the early products of the post-war British model engine manufacturing industry. However, this impression is a result of our present-day conditioning regarding “normal” displacement categories. An appreciation of this matter in relation to the Majesco and other contemporary engines having similar "odd-ball" displacenments requires that it be considered in a late 1940’s context as opposed to a 21st century one.
At the time in question, the “magic” displacement of 2.5 cc (0.151 cuin.) had yet to be adopted by the FAI for International competition, resulting in the competitive use of engines covering a wide displacement range in the same contest categories. Under these circumstances, no particular displacement really had much of an edge over another. The only issues were what size of model was desired and whether or not a given engine could do the job of flying that model to the standard required.
Notable contemporary examples of early post-war engines having what appear to present-day modellers to be oddball displacements include the Mills 1.3 of late 1946 and the 2 cc E.D. Mk. II from early 1947, both of which enjoyed considerable sales and competition success. Aerol Engineering of Liverpool entered the model engine business in mid 1947 with their 2 cc Gremlin and (later) Hurricane diesels which were the forerunners of the famous Elfin 1.8 cc model of mid 1948. There were many other contemporary examples of engines having what we would view today (2018) as “offside” displacements.
Seen in this 1947 context, there was nothing at all extraordinary about Majesco Miniature Motors releasing what was doubtless intended to be a “popular” new model with a displacement of 2.21 cc. It was only later, when the 2.5 cc limit was formally adopted by the FAI and the British Class 1 (later 1/2A) displacement limit was set somewhat confusingly at 1.5 cc that the attention of manufacturers became increasingly focused on engines built to the new competition limits, leaving the 2.2 cc displacement category as something of an orphan lying between competition classes. By that time, the Majesco range was long gone.
The pre-production prototypes of the new model used a steel upper cylinder with integral cooling fins in place of the cast jacket used on the “45” and the later version of the “22”. The bypass was relocated to the front of the cylinder, being formed from a brass channel which was soldered onto the cylinder. The motivation for the relocation of the bypass was clearly the designer’s wish to use twin exhaust ports, one on each side. This arrangement closely mirrored the design of the then-current E.D. 2 cc models.
The fuel system appeared to be carried over more or less directly from the “45”, the sole evident difference being the addition of a vertically oriented spring-loaded plunger-type fuel cut-out. This fitting was of course required for the diesel model since the engine could no longer be shut off simply by switching off the ignition circuit. In addition, the boss for the screw-in venturi was soldered to the steel cylinder rather than being formed integrally with it. This latter change was of course dictated by the different form of construction.
It appears that a few examples of the “22” may have reached the market in this form. Certainly, by his own statements Col. C. E. Bowden had at least two of these variants - his examples appeared in many of the illustrations to be found in his 1947 book “Diesel Model Engines”, complete with a surprising number of models that he had built for them prior to publication. The engine was also included in Col. Bowden’s article on power topics in the June 1947 issue of “Aeromodeller”, as mentioned earlier.
At some point quite early on in the production program, the design of this model was refined somewhat. The former all-steel cylinder with integral fins was replaced by an upper cylinder casting in light alloy with a steel liner, much like the configuration of the earlier “45” spark ignition model. However the porting arrangements for the diesel remained unaltered from those of the prototype version, with a single bypass located at the front and twin exhaust ports, one on each side. These exhaust ports were completed by a pair of stacks which were attached to the upper cylinder casting by two screws apiece. In other respects, the design appeared to be more or less unchanged.
The engine used a cast iron piston operating in a steel cylinder liner. The con-rod in this instance was of hardened steel, a not-uncommon choice for diesels at this early stage of development. A further change was the use of a cast iron main bearing bushing in place of the plain bearing used in the former “45” model. In this final production configuration, Warring cited the weight of the engine as 6.0 ounces (170 gm), very little less than the figure for the larger “45” model. I’m not sure how this figure was arrived at - my own example number D 734 weighs all of 7¾ ounces (220 gm) as illustrated here! Recommended props reported by Warring were 12x6 for free flight and 8x8 for control line.
In common with the prototypes, the revised version of the “22” retained a tank assembly which incorporated a fuel cutout. As before, this was of the spring-loaded plunger type, with a wire release clip to actuate the device. The difference was that the integrally-cast barrel of the cut-out was now oriented horizontally rather than vertically.
In his “Collector’s Guide to Model Aero Engines”, the late O. F. W. Fisher commented that this model suffered from overly-fragile mounting lugs but was otherwise a reliable general-purpose unit. It’s perfectly true that the mounting lugs appear somewhat on the fragile side, as does the rather skimpy unbraced main bearing housing. It must also be said that the screw-in carburettor assembly also looks pretty vulnerable - E.D. had a great deal of trouble with the similarly-designed unit used on their original Mk. II models, to the extent that a design change to a far more sturdy arrangement was soon implemented. I would actually not give this engine much chance of coming out of a really hard crash unscathed ........
Otherwise, the construction of the “22” appears to be well up to current standards of quality among British model engine manufacturers. Indeed, it’s actually better made than many of its competitors, especially where it counts. All working fits in the illustrated example are outstanding.
The Majesco “22” appears to have sold quite well in this form, remaining on sale for some time. The engine was featured in Henry J. Nicholls’ February 1948 advertising placement in “Aeromodeller”, selling at that time for a rather uncompetitive figure of £5 12s 6d (£5.62). For comparison, the E.D. Comp Special of similar 2 cc displacement could be purchased for £4 17s 6d (£4.87), while the 2 cc E.D. Mk. II was available for only £4 4s 0d (£4.20). The larger Allbon 2.8 cc Mk. I which had then just been released was priced at £4 16s 0d (£4.80). This made the Majesco one of the most expensive engines in its displacement category. Ron Warring tells us that later in 1948 the price was dropped to £3 10s 0d (£3.50) - a far more competitive figure, although Warring may well have been referring to the engine’s inventory clearance price.
It’s worth noting in passing that the only Majesco model which appeared in this advertisement was the “22”. This is consistent with Fisher’s statement to the effect that the firm’s attention was very much concentrated upon the manufacture of this model, the result being that the “22” was reportedly produced in relatively substantial numbers.
This statement is supported by the known serial numbers. It appears that the numerical sequence was restarted for the “22”, with the addition of a “D” prefix to indicate that the engine in question was a diesel. The only three serial numbers of my present acquaintance are Kevin Richards’ former example number D 707, my own engine number D 734 and engine number D 823 which appeared recently on eBay. This may be a very small sample, but if we assume that the sequence followed the usual Majesco pattern by starting at D 1 or even D 100, the implication is that at least 723 examples were made - possibly 824. The true number may of course have been substantially greater than this.
Quite apart from its price, a factor which must surely have contributed to the eventual disappearance of the Majesco “22” from the marketplace was surely its weight and bulk. For its displacement, it was both excessively heavy and unusually bulky, even by sideport standards. It must also be remembered that by 1948 the far more futuristic FRV Aerol engines had already appeared to point the way ahead in model diesel design. Faced with this kind of competition, there was no way that the poor old “22” could have competed successfully in the long term, regardless of the merits which it undoubtedly possessed.
The Majesco “22” on test
The Majesco “22” was never the subject of a published test during its period of production. This being the case, it’s up to me to put it on the bench and attempt to form some kind of rational opinion regarding its performance and operating qualities.
I decided to try the same props with the Majesco that I had previously used in my testing of the Allbon 2.8 variants which appeared during the final year of Majesco production. Bearing in mind the recommendations recorded by Ron Warring, I also elected to add the 12x6 and 8x8 airscrews which appeared in his table for free flight and control line use respectively.
The engine proved to be extremely easy to start. Once the initial start with the engine full of storage oil was out of the way, a prime was never necessary at any time. A couple of choked flicks with the needle set at 3 turns open was all that was required - the engine almost always started within one or two flicks following this preparation. The main thing to remember was to open the cut-out before attempting a start - I got caught out once myself in this manner, giving both my flicking finger and my vocabulary plenty of unnecessary exercise before I realized my error!
Response to the controls was excellent at all speeds tested. Both controls held their settings perfectly while remaining fully adjustable at all times. Accordingly, the establishment of optimum settings was very easy indeed, making the testing a real pleasure. Another aid to enjoyable testing was the fact that the cut-out worked flawlessly - even Lawrence Sparey (who frequently had trouble with cut-outs) should have been able to get this one to operate! The engine ran very smoothly indeed, draining the tank completely with no apparent suction problems. In terms of its starting and running qualities, I’d have to give this engine very high marks indeed.
So far so good ....... however, when it comes to the results obtained, it must be said that the Majesco proved to be a rather modest performer, especially for an engine of its bulk and weight. The speeds obtained on the various props were as follows, with implied BHP figures also listed.
The above figures imply a well-defined peak output of around 0.098 BHP at 6,000 rpm. Somewhat less than the output of 0.109 BHP later reported by Lawrence Sparey for the slightly smaller and considerably lighter 2 cc E.D. Comp Special ("Aeromodeller", May 1948), and also well down on the prop/rpm figures obtained in my own previously-published tests of the admittedly larger Allbon 2.8 model, which may be found in my earlier review of the Allbon engines on MEN.
However, context is everything in such matters. It must be recalled that the Majesco predates both the Comp Special and the Allbon 2.8 by a full year. In terms of specific output, the Majesco’s figure of 0.043 BHP/cc is in the same general ballpark as the equivalent figure of 0.051 BHP/cc reported by Sparey for the slightly higher-displacement Allbon 2.8, which dated from late 1948 in the form in which Sparely tested it ("Aeromodeller", December 1948). By the standards of its release date (late 1946/early 1947), the Majesco was well in the hunt.
Moreover, the engine delivered its peak output at very moderate rpm. It was a torque producer rather than a powerhouse, being able to swing a prop of very useful size at moderate speeds. It was also very controllable through judicious use of the compression and mixture settings. All of this would have made life very comfortable for many contemporary power modellers. Factor in the excellent handling together with the high quality of construction, and it’s clear that Majesco had a very useable product here, at least by the standards which prevailed at the time of its introduction.
In a free flight context at least, the use of small internal combustion engines offered the great advantage over the previously-standard rubber power of providing a steady output throughout the powered portion of any flight. Perhaps even more importantly, it offered a level of convenient power output controllability which could not easily be matched by rubber power - a very useful characteristic during the trimming stages of any free flight model’s development. Jon Fletcher has shared the very useful and doubtless valid insight that the use of the small I/C engines which the development of model diesel technology made practicable during the pioneering era was initially seen less as a revolutionary new category of model flying in its own right than as a potential (and in many ways superior) replacement for rubber power. As long as an engine would get a model built along typical rubber lines into the air, all-out power output was far less important than dependability, controllability and ease of operation.
The Majesco "22" scored heavily in all of these categories. Indeed, the very steady and readily adjustable performance characteristics of the Majesco along with its easy and dependable starting were probably exactly what most early post-war modellers required. It was only when control line became a major preoccupation that all-out performance became a dominant factor in an engine’s marketability.
The recommended prop sizes noted by Ron Warring do seem a little offside based upon these results. The 12x6 which is cited as the suggested free flight prop pretty much brings the Majesco to its knees, at least in its APC guise. I would have thought that far better results would be obtained with an 11x6, which the engine turns at only a little below its peak, or perhaps a 12x4. The APC 8x8 takes the engine well past its peak even on the bench, thus appearing to be a poor choice for control line. However, a “slower” 8x8 having wider blades might work just fine. Not possessing details of the props on which these recommendations were based, we can’t really settle this question. All that can be said is that for best results the engine would have had to be propped for around 6,000 rpm in the air.
The Majesco Mite Diesel
Paradoxically, although very few were produced by comparison with the “45” and “22” models, perhaps the Majesco company’s best-remembered model among present-day model diesel enthusiasts seems to be the Majesco Mite, a cute little radially-mounted 0.735 cc diesel of highly unusual layout. Although in the past it has often been assigned an introductory date of 1948, the production of this little unit actually seems to have been confined to the year 1947. In fact, the Mite appears to have been introduced quite soon after the “22” diesel already described, probably in the early part of 1947.
The Mite had undoubtedly been in production for some time as of mid 1947 since it was featured in Col. Bowden’s previously-mentioned article on power topics in the June 1947 issue of “Aeromodeller”. The gallant Colonel had clearly been using the Mite for some time when that article was written. The engine was also a prominent inclusion in the 1947 first edition of Col. Bowden’s book “Diesel Model Engines”, complete with photographs of a surprising number of models that Col. Bowden had built for it prior to the appearance of the book.
The contents of Col. Bowden’s book make it abundantly clear that there was a close association between Col. Bowden and Jack Colyer, doubtless in part arising from their common residency in the vicinity of Bournemouth as well as their shared enthusiasm. One of these illustrations shows Colyer holding both his own and Col. Bowden’s models, both powered by the Majesco Mite. In addition, many of the other illustrations feature the companion “22” diesel in its original pre-production or early production guise, although an image of the later production version was also included. It seems not unlikely that Col. Bowden acted as one of the official “factory testers” used by Colyer to evaluate and improve his products.
Bore and stroke of the Mite were 0.375 in. (9.52 mm) and 0.4062 in. (10.32 mm) respectively for a displacement of 0.735cc (0.045 cuin.). As far as I’m presently aware, it was the first engine of this displacement to appear on the British market, presaging the later appearances of such models as the Mills .75, the 0.79 cc Wilsco 79, the Allbon Merlin 0.76 cc, the FROG 80 and the E.D. Pep. The little Mite weighed in at 2 ounces exactly (56 gm) all complete as illustrated. Selling price was £3 19s 6d (£3.97). Dream on, present day collectors ...........I’m not clear as to whether or not the Mite was offered in kit form like its companions in the range, but it is certainly possible.
The Mite was built around a cleanly die-cast crankcase featuring a plain bearing cast in unit. Unlike the other models in the Majesco range, the engine was arranged strictly for radial mounting. A cast iron piston was used together with a steel cylinder. The con-rod was made of aluminium alloy. The engine employed crankshaft front rotary valve (FRV) induction with an unusual side-mounted venturi and fuel tank. Another unusual feature was the method of compression adjustment, which involved rotation of the entire screw-on cooling jacket using a lever mounted in a spigot at the top of the jacket. This mirrored the approach used by E.D. in their Mk. II diesel, although the Majesco arrangement with built-in lever was far more convenient than E.D.’s “penny slot”.
The venturi bore was parallel throughout, having an unusually narrow diameter of 0.094 in. which was carried through to the actual induction port in the side of the main bearing. The induction port in the crankshaft was of similar size to the venturi bore, giving an extremely restrictive induction period of only 107 degrees. The needle valve was of the surface jet type as used in other Majesco designs. A brass split thimble was used to retain the needle setting. The entire fuel system screwed into an internally-threaded boss at the side of the main bearing housing.
It must be said that the location of the fuel system on the Mite was not the most convenient arrangement in many ways, particularly if cowling was involved. The engine was also quite unsuitable for control line use as supplied. These factors may well have contributed to the Mite’s seemingly very brief tenure in the marketplace.
Transfer was accomplished through a single rather constricted bypass passage formed in the left side of the cylinder wall (facing forward in the direction of flight). The upper portion of this passage was created by the simple expedient of cutting a slot completely through the relatively thin cylinder wall, leaving the passage open to the atmosphere on the outer surface of the cylinder wall. This necessitated the use of a soldered-on external plate to create the required seal.
The slot naturally could not be carried through the cylinder installation flange. Accordingly, the lower portion of the bypass passage was created by milling a flat into the lower wall of the piston on the transfer side. The resulting bypass passage was both restricted and convoluted - hardly a recipe for high performance! A further negative factor was the elimination of much of the piston skirt on the bypass side, which is of course the most heavily loaded side when the engine is running.
The exhaust port was located at 90 degrees to the bypass passage, the cylinder being shimmed so as to have the exhaust discharge to the rear. This is not an incidental arrangement - in order for the composite bypass just described to work, the engine has to be assembled in this manner so that the two elements of the bypass passage line up correctly.
A serious design flaw needs to be mentioned at this point. The amount of thread available for cylinder installation purposes is very marginal indeed. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that the cylinder needs to be secured quite tightly in order to maintain the correct alignment of the ports against the considerable turning forces generated by compression adjustments. Moreover, the amount of metal available to restrain the threaded socket for the cylinder in the case against the considerable wedging stresses caused by the screw threads is itself extremely marginal. The illustrated example actually had a hair-line crack through the case at the rear, doubtless caused by this unfavorable situation. An expert repair by Jon Fletcher was necessary to restore the engine to dependable working order.
Interestingly enough, Col. Bowden’s book includes an illustration showing both the “22” and the Mite in component form. The “22” is clearly the early pre-production version with all-steel cylinder, which appears to confirm that the initial appearance of the Mite was more or less contemporary with that of the original variant of the “22”. Significantly, the Mite is shown as featuring a conventional T-shaped compression screw which is separate from the cooling jacket. It appears that this too may be a pre-production model, since the later production versions of the Mite invariably featured the previously-noted moving jacket form of compression adjustment with the compression adjustment arm mounted directly in a spigot at the top of the jacket. Presumably this was a weight-saving measure. I would personally have stayed with the compression screw arrangement - the torque applied to the cylinder during compression adjustments would be greatly reduced.
The Mites carried serial numbers which were stamped into the centre of the backplate casting at the rear. My own illustrated example bears the serial number 14. The rarity of the engine is such that this is the only serial number of my present acquaintance. I’d love to hear of more ........
According to Ron Warring, the recommended airscrew for free flight was an 8x4. No recommendation was noted by Warring for control-line use, although Col. Bowden’s book included an illustration of an example in tethered Round-the-Pole service. It’s certainly true to say that the Mite as supplied was very poorly configured for control line.
Setting aside the previously-noted design flaws, the quality of construction of the engine leaves little to be desired. I’d say that it was at least as well-made as the majority of its competitors, and better than many.
It seems significant that the Mite did not appear alongside its larger 2.2 cc sibling in the previously-mentioned February 1948 advertising placement from Henry J. Nicholls. The impression created by this omission is that production of the Mite had already ceased as of early 1948. This is consistent with the comment made by Fisher in his “Collector’s Guide to Model Aero Engines” that the Mite was manufactured in very small numbers and that Majesco for the most part concentrated on their 2.2 cc diesel model. Certainly, original Mites are very rarely encountered today. Probably at most only a hundred or so were made, if that.
Engines of this rarity invariably attract the attention of replica constructors. Examples of the engine in replica form may be encountered from such makers as Ivan Prior, although such replicas are probably at least as rare as the originals! In order to provide today’s model engineers with an opportunity to construct their own close replica of this extremely rare little engine, the late and much-missed Ron Chernich produced a Motor Boys plan of the engine from rough drawings provided by Ken Croft. We’ve illustrated a fine example of a replica built from these plans by Les Stone. All we can say is - well done, Les!
The Majesco Mite on Test
None of the Majesco engines were ever subject to the attentions of any of the engine testing gurus of their era. This seems to be an omission which should be rectified! Given the fact that I'm fortunate enough to have a fine example of the Majesco Mite on hand for evaluation, there appears to be little excuse for missing the opportunity to mount it on the test stand and attempt to form a first-hand impression of its operating qualities. This being the case, let’s get right to it!
As of 1947 when the Mite appears to have been manufactured, it had no direct competition in its immediate displacement category. Its closest competitor was the AMCO .87 Mk. I which appeared in August 1947. The Mills .75 Mk. I did not make its initial appearance until 1948, by which time the Mite was apparently history. How would it have fared against the Mills if it had remained in production? Only one way to find out - run a comparison! So that’s what I did - I dug out Mills .75 Mk. I no. 34013 to serve as a bench-mark for this test.
I began with the Mills. I’m always up for any excuse to run one of these well-behaved and fine-running little beasts! No wonder they were so popular in their day - starting is an absolute breeze on a few choked flicks, as is finding the optimum settings thanks to the excellent response to both controls. The little Mk. I ran flawlessly and developed a lot more urge than you might expect from an engine of its rather “primitive” sideport design layout. The figures obtained suggested a peak output of somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.062 BHP @ 9,000 rpm - a very worthy performance for a 1948 engine, and one which the Majesco would be pushed to beat.
Then it was the turn of the Majesco. It proved to be another very easy starter, although a prime seemed to be the best way to get fuel into the cylinder - the very small crankcase volume caused a tendency to flood on a few choked turns. Once started, it ran just as smoothly as the Mills and was equally non-critical on the controls. That said, the moving jacket form of compression adjustment is definitely far less user-friendly that a conventional comp screw with tommy bar. The control is actually extremely stiff in operation, raising the possibility that it could shift the cylinder in its threaded socket or over-stress the socket in the upper crankcase. Jon Fletcher installed a PTFE (Teflon) washer between the contra-piston and the head, which helped a lot, although the action is still very stiff. A conventional compression screw would undoubtedly be far better.
Another issue is the fact that the action of flicking the engine over to start tends to cause the crankcase to unscrew from the backplate radial mount. Once again, the fact that there's relatively little metal in the crankcase to resist the wedging forces created by the backplate thread argues strongly against over-tightening this thread. I adopted the approach of actually holding the cylinder in my left hand while flicking with my right. Once running of course, the engine's torque tends to tighten this thread, so there's no danger of it coming undone while the engine is in operation.
It only took a few runs to demonstrate convincingly that the Majesco was not going to get to within a block of the ballpark occupied by the Mills! It was well down on all props tested. It has to be recalled that as a design it dates from at least a year prior to the Mills, but there’s no doubt that its performance falls further short than might have been expected. The relative figures are shown in the following table, along with the derived power curve:
Even allowing for a few seemingly missed settings (probably due to the stiffness of the compression control), the implied output of only some 0.035 BHP @ 6,500 rpm is pretty marginal for anything other than sport free flight applications using lightweight airframes. However, it was for precisely those applications that the engine was arranged. It’s noteworthy that the engine turns an 8x4 prop as recommended for free flight at 6,500 rpm, right about its peaking speed. Hence this recommendation appears to be entirely appropriate.
So .... certainly not a powerhouse by any means, but a well-made and very user-friendly little engine apart from the unduly stiff compression control. If it has a downside other than its marginal power output, it is that it appears to be somewhat vulnerable to crash damage. The tank is definitely hanging “out there”, and the cylinder installation thread length is pretty marginal. Definitely one to keep out of the ground!!
Having said this, there can be no doubt that the Mills simply buries the Majesco in performance terms as well as being a far more practically-arranged design. Once the Mills appeared on the market, it’s my considered opinion that the Majesco would have stood no chance at all.
The End of the Line
At present we have no definite information regarding the date upon which Majesco production was terminated. All that can be said for certain is that by March 1949 there was no longer any mention of the Majesco range in Henry J. Nicholls’ “Aeromodeller” advertisements. Moreover, the Majesco range was not included in the list of British engines which was featured in the 1948 “Aeromodeller Annual” which was published at the end of that year. The clear implication is that Majesco production almost certainly ceased prior to the end of 1948.
Further confirmation of this is to be found in the pages of Ron Warring’s previously-mentioned book “Miniature Aero Motors”. The Majesco “45” sparker and the Majesco Mite and “22” diesels were all included in the data tables which formed an appendix to Warring’s book. However, all of these models were specifically noted by Warring as being out of production. Since there’s a good deal of internal evidence in the form of inclusions and exclusions to suggest that the book was mostly compiled between late 1948 and early 1949, this seems to prove that all Majesco production had ceased as of late 1948.
So the Majesco range was gone after a market presence of only some 30 months or so. Presumably Jack Colyer found that he could not compete in the evolving British marketplace with the mass-production capabilities of firms such as E.D., International Model Aircraft (FROG) and Mills and still make a livable income. In fact, the manufacture of the Majesco engines may well have been a labour of love which was in fact a sideline to Colyer’s main employment activities. Regardless, a sad end to what was surely a very sincere attempt by a genuine enthusiast to offer a quality product to his fellow modellers.
Article © Adrian C. Duncan, Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
First published February 2015