History Su Chapter 1

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The History > Chapter 1

George Herbert Skinner (also known as Bert) and Thomas Carlyle Skinner (also known as Carl) are the two names we have to thank for the creation of the SU brand. If they hadn’t experimented with fuel mixture in the early 1900s, they wouldn’t have made their first carburetter in 1904 and they certainly wouldn’t have formed The SU Company in 1910. We owe George and Thomas a great debt of gratitude for creating the legendary SU brand.

In 1896 Bert passed his driving test and became fascinated by the motor car, purchasing a Léon Bollée three-wheel voiturette in 1898, followed by a Benz, a New Orleans and a 1908 Mors. But it was the Léon Bollée that started the SU story as Bert spent many hours trying to improve the cars performance issues, and it was this work that led him to file 3 patent applications for carburetter improvements in 1900.

In 1903 Bert bought a Star motor car and it was on this vehicle that he and his brother Carl continued to experiment by trying to achieve better atomisation of fuel and to maintain the correct fuel to air ratio needed, whatever the engine speed. They were convinced of the need for a carburetter which would automatically provide the correct air to fuel ratio at varying engine speeds without the need for a hand-controlled air valve. This was the start of the SU journey and the brothers started to develop the levels of performance the SU brand is known for to this day.

In 1904 the brothers developed their first prototype ‘Union Carburetter’, filing a patent for an original design in 1905. This patent was accepted in 1906 enabling Carl to enter into a partnership with a gentleman called Reginald Wailes to manufacture Bert Skinner’s development carburetters as well as the first SU (Skinners Union) carburetters.

1908 saw the Skinner brothers publish an article in The Autocar describing the production carburetter soon to be manufactured. In 1909 the brothers offered a fitting service to replace car owners’ original manufacturer units with an SU item, guaranteeing improved flexibility, economy and power. That same year, SU took a stand at the Olympia Motor Exhibition to further their promotion.

Officially the SU Company Ltd was founded in 1910 and, just one year later, The Rover Company became the first motor manufacturer to fit an SU carburetter to a production car, the 12hp. Wolseley were the second when, in 1912, they fitted an SU to their 16/20hp model.

SU continued to develop relationships with motor manufacturers and, in 1914, Napier launched the Napier-SU carburetter built to SU patents. Fitted to the 16/22hp and 30/35hp models it incorporated a number of refinements to aid cold starting.

During the First World War SU continued to make carburetters and related components in limited numbers, eventually pausing manufacture altogether in 1915 as they concentrated on manufacturing Vickers machine gun components, munitions and aero engine carburetters.

Thanks to these lucrative government contracts SU now employed over 250 staff, mostly women, as the majority of men had been called into National Service and saw turnover increase by 230%.

As the war continued, Bert Skinner continued to work on carburetter developments and designed his first cold starting enrichment carburetter. During the same year Bert agreed to forego the 5% royalty he earned on each carburetter for a single payment of £500 – approximately £33,000 at todays rate.

Post war the staff count at SU dramatically reduced, a direct result of government contracts ending. Their fortunes improved when Napier developed a carburetter to SU patents for their luxurious 40/50hp model, a deal that provided much-needed royalty payments.

In 1921 Bert Skinner introduced the controllable-jet, cold start ‘sloper’ carburetter. Soon the product was taken on by Morris Motors to be fitted as standard to their Bullnose Morris Cowley and Oxford models.

While the courting of UK manufacturers continued, a significant development was on the horizon. In 1923 Captain John Duff used an SU carburetter on his Bentley 3-Litre destined for the Le Mans 24 Hour race. This decision would see Bentley fit their Red Label 3-Litre Speed models with an SU G5 sloper carburetter as standard in 1924.

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