Another half-forgotten chapter in the Streamline Story is a luxury car developed by Dennis (Sir Charles Dennistoun) Burney.
Burney, the son of former Admiral of the Fleet Sir Cecil Burney Bt., is mostly known as the managing director of a private venture that built the R100 airship, where he was assisted by Nevil Shute, later to become famous as a writer. He invented the highly successful Paravane during the First World War a device used for cutting cables from mines. In 1939 he was again joined by Nevil Shute in the development of an early air-launched gliding torpedo, the Toraplane, and the gliding bomb, Doravane. Despite much work and many trials the Toraplane could not be launched with repeatable accuracy and the Toraplane was finally abandoned in 1942.
Burney was Member of Parliament for Uxbridge from 1922 until he retired in 1929. His private interests led him to set up a company Streamline Cars Ltd to build technically advanced aerodynamic rear-engined cars. With the ending of the airship programme he used some of his ideas to create a revolutionary car.
The cars incorporated such features as independent suspension, hydraulic brakes, a heater and all seating within the wheelbase. Ignition and other controls operated though flexible cables encased in copper tubing, which followed contemporary aircraft industry practice. The cars were rear engined with twin radiators. The first car used an Alvis front wheel drive chassis effectively turned back to front but adapted so the new front wheels steered. Later cars used Beverley straight 8, Lycoming and Armstrong Siddeley engines.
Superficially, the Streamline had much in common with the concepts of Emile Claveau. But it was larger and far more lixurious. Most important, Burney placed the engine behind the rear axle, while Claveau used a mid-engine layout.
Starting in 1927, thirteen cars were made at Maidenhead. Each was different, as they were intended as showcases for his patents rather than for serious production. The streamlined bodywork is very long at just under 20 feet (6.1 m). The spare wheel was carried inside one of the rear doors which must have put an enormous strain on the hinges and door pillar.
The equivalent space in the opposite door was occupied either by a second spare wheel or by a cocktail cabinet. The car's unusual aerodynamic design was eye catching, with very little front overhang, but a long rear overhang (containing the engine).
The underside was also covered in sheet metal to enhance aerodynamic efficiency. The Streamline pointed to the future in terms of space efficiency, featuring a seven seat interior and, even by the standards of the time, excellent headroom, which seems to have been a particular concern for the designer.
A contemporary report commended the lack of mechanical noise from the driver's seat and the excellence of the ride. The car's considerable weight - 38 cwt or about 1900 on the 1930 model - may have been one cause of the clutch-slip reported at 76 mph (about 122 km/h) which was close to the car's claimed maximum. The engine was mounted wholly behind the rear axle, and the car was therefore alarmingly unstable in wet or windy weather.
A remarkable turning circle of 39 ft was belied the car's length: no two Streamlines were identical and the version tested was "only" 18 ft 7 in (approximately 5.6 meters) long with a 12 ft 5 in (3.8 meter) wheelbase which made it unwieldy in restricted spaces. It was longer than the longest available Rolls-Royce and only about £350 cheaper.
Each car was priced at around £1,500. A blue one was bought by the Prince of Wales late in 1930, and another crossed the Atlantic to be exhibited at the Detroit Car Show. In total, 12 Streamlines were built between 1929 and 1931, but none appear to have survived. The Straight eight Beverley-Barnes engines in the earlier cars proved unreliable, and in the final three cars examples were replaced by US built 6 cylinder Lycoming or UK built Armstrong-Siddeley units.
Later, in 1934-1935, a smaller Burney-designed Streamline has been built by Crossley Company. The Streamlines were powered by a rear-mounted six cylinder engine, producing 61bhp according to contemporary paperwork. Two examples are known to exist - one car is at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu (reg. BGU 217), while the "Motor" road test car (reg. ANB 487) survives in private hands.
Streamline Cars finally closed in 1936.