The Bergius Company Ltd.

By Mr. George Bergius, March 2000

   In May 1904 Walter MacDonald Bergius, aged 23, founded The Bergius Car & Engine Company at 169 Finnieston Street,Glasgow. The first car was on the road by Christmas that year, a good effort for five 'workers', bearing in mind that the engine, transmission, axles,wheel-hubs, radiator and bodywork were all made on the premises.

   After fifteen cars had been built Walter's elder brother William, in 1906, suggested putting a car engine into a 23ft Rowing Gig which he obtained for £7. The 4 cylinder 3 1/2 bore * 4 3/4" stroke engine developed 14hp @ 900rpm and 'KELVIN', as she was named won practically every race it was entered for on the Clyde Estuary. In the summer of 1906 three 4 cylinder engines were installed in Scottish fishing boats and a 2 cylinder version was installed in William Bergius's 28ft sailing yacht 'DODO II' which he had designed and had built with James Litster, a joiner/carpenter in Kirn in 1903. Also in 1906 a 'KELVIN' car was entered in the Scottish Reliability Trials covering 800 miles, over 4 days, of some of the worst hill climbs in Scotland such as the Devil's Elbow.

   As only fifteen cars had been sold in the first two years and the demand for marine engines was increasing it was decided to concentrate on producing marine engines and a range of standard motor launches. The range of engines was extended by making them suitable to run on paraffin in addition to petrol. By 1908 a heavier range 5 1/2" bore * 7" stroke was introduced with 1, 2 and 4 cylinders and the company name changed to 'The Bergius Launch & Engine Co.Ltd '.

   In 1910 the company moved to larger premises at 254 Dobbie's Loan,Glasgow and also brought out a heavy duty range 7 1/2" bore * 10" stroke with both 2 & 4 cylinders and with the addition of a 3 1/2 " bore single cylinder in 1915, now had sixteen models covering 3 - 60hp. This range was known as KELVIN Poppet Valve Engines and approximately 16,800 units were sold until the last of the range was produced in 1968.

   The next range of engines to be designed by Walter Bergius, in 1921 & 2, were single sleeve-valve models in three bore sizes:-

Model A 3" bore * 4 1/2" stroke 2 cyl - 7 1/2hp & 4cyl - 15hp
Model B 4 1/4" bore * 6 3/8" stroke 2 cyl - 15hp & 4 cyl - 30hp
Model C 6" bore * 9" stroke 2 cyl - 3Ohp & 4 cy l- 60hp

   All three sizes were available for running on petrol only or petrol-paraffin. The KELVIN Sleeve Valve Engines were extremely silent running, as they had no reciprocating valves or noisy tappets. However wear at the top end of the sleeves where they overlapped the top-hat cylinder heads was more than a company which prided itself in the longevity of it's products was prepared to accept. The last sleeve valve engine was built in 1946 and by that time approximately 3,750 had been sold. During the Second World War a special order was received for three Model C2's, it was later learned that they were, because of their quietness, used on the Commando raid on the Lofoten Islands in North Norway.

   To replace the sleeve valves, though they were still supplied if asked for, the KELVIN-RICARDO range was designed between 1927 and 1930. These were designated Models E, F & G, size and power- wise they were the same as the sleeve valves A ,B & C .Many of the components were common to both, such as gearboxes, pistons, con- rods, flywheels, silencers etc. Sir Harry Ricardo was, what we would call to-day 'a consulting engineer' and specialized in combustion chamber design amongst many other internal combustion engine facets, his ideas were and still are used by many engine makers. By the time production of KELVIN-RICARDOs ceased in 1971 approx; 6,700 had been sold.

   In 1931 the first KELVIN-DIESEL was sold it was a Model K2, 44hp two cylinder engine. The model K range was 6" bore * 9" stroke 22hp per cylinder and was made in 1, 2, 3, 4,& 6 cylinder models. In those days electric starters which were only 12 volts were not man enough to turn such heavy engines, so a special petrol-start system was employed. By 1933 a smaller range, Model J, was put into production. The J's were 4 1/4" bore * 6 3/8" stroke developing 11hp per cylinder and produced in 2, 3 & 4 cylinder models, they were available as petrol-start or plain hand-start with larger diameter flywheels. The last Model K was built in 1974 after approximately 5,000 had been sold, the last Model J was built in 1970 after approximately 2,650 sales.

   The Model L's were freshwater cooled Model Ks, made in 2, 3, 4 & 6 cylinders,they came out in 1945 and continued until 1966, by then just over 300 had been built.

   In 1956 the first KELVIN engine not designed by Walter Bergius, who died in 1949, was the Model P KELVIN-DIESEL with either two or four cylinders developing 10 or 20hp. This range was designed by Wm. Miller who joined the company from Petters c1954. The Ps used the Model A & E gearbox first built in 1921 for the Model A sleeve valve engines, a simple, practical and well tried unit, otherwise the Model P bore little resemblance to earlier KELVINS. During their twenty years in production 1,750 were sold.

Engine output over the years 1910 to 1950 varied as follows:-

per annum
Poppet Valve engines only
Poppet & Sleeve Valves
Poppet, Sleeves & Ricardos
the above plus J & K Diesels
Poppet, Ricardos, J & K & L's

    During the years covered by this early history of the company it also manufactured steering and control gears, marine service pumps, fuel-tanks, stern gear, propellers and exhaust-pipes.

   Up until the mid-1940s almost 1,500 standard KELVIN launches were sold. Designed by Walter Bergius but the bare hulls built by various boat builders and then finished at the Company's Boat shed on the Forth and Clyde Canal at Port Dundas, Glasgow. The range varied in size from eighteen to over forty feet in length, many of the more common models were kept in stock and could be delivered within 2 or 3 days of receipt of an order.

   Due to the demand of death-duties after Walter Bergius's death, in 1953 the Company ceased to be a family firm when it was taken over by The Associated British Engineering Company and after a number of name changes is now known as KELVIN DIESELS plc and is based at Uddingston near Glasgow.