The late, great Colin Chapman knew it all along: size does matter. And so does weight.
Create a nimble, lightweight, and aerodynamic roadster, focus on what's really needed to make it go, and leave off the rest. Except for the brakes, of course.
While Lotus cars proved to be true dragon slayers, Colin's minimalist concept was taken to the extreme by the English manufacturer Berkeley. Weighing in at a mere 660 lbs, less than a "fully dressed" Harley-Davidson motorcycle, the diminutive Berkeley Roadsters, built for just a few years during the late 1950s, performed extremely well while being powered by small, frugal motorcycle engines. How's 60 miles per gallon grab you, for starters?
Ideally suited for club racing, many Berkeleys met their demise at the hands of enthusiastic pilots during the Fifties and early Sixties. Many others were severely modified with "updated" drivetrains, often beyond the limits of sanity. Rarely, if ever, will you find a true survivor, untouched and unmolested, from California, featuring very low miles and its old set of black-and-yellow license plates.
The 1956 Berkeley 328 SE Roadster presented here, VIN *1074*, is such a rare bird. Just rescued from lengthy hibernation in a secluded Grover Beach, Calif. garage, this one's as virginal as it gets after 51 years.
Sold new in California, the car has not been on the road since 1968! Its odometer shows only 4,316 miles, and those are of the true, original kind.
A very interesting detail: this Berkeley still carries its super rare, U.S.-legal "export" headlight pods. The original headlight openings--non-conforming to the American vehicle code of the 1950s--are located below the pods, which can be removed in a matter of minutes, if so desired.
Click on any of the above images for a full-size view
A BERKELEY SPORTS CAR Maintenance Handbook accompanies this car, giving detailed information about specs, setup, and even fiberglass repair!
Also with the car: both period black-and-yellow California license plates!
40 years ago, the Berk's owner decided to spruce up his toy and painted it maroon (it came bright blue from the factory), which is as far as the refurbishment went. The fiberglass body is in excellent condition, virtually free of cracking or other damage. Most importantly, the aluminum honeycomb sub-structure looks to be phenomenally well-preserved, with no delamination or corrosion anywhere. The maroon paint displays myriad nicks and chips, since the little car had to live in close quarters with various bicycles, lawn mowers, and children's toys; it's also a certified California earthquake survivor.
Almost complete, even the original aluminum hub caps are still present. Only items apparently missing--apart from the battery and spare--are soft top, side curtains, and seat upholstery.
Below the forward-hinged bonnet rests the original equipment EXCELSIOR 2-cylinder power plant # 9589 of 328cc capacity, good for 18 lively horsepower. After cleaning the fuel lines and sparking plugs, injecting a bit of Marvel Mystery Oil into the cylinders, hooking up a battery, and feeding her some 2-stroke mix borrowed from our Goggomobil, we pushed the button for the SIBA Dynastarter and the old girl came to life. She ran for a while, on all two cylinders. Before a first test drive, however, the carburetors need to be cleaned. Condition of ALBION tranny and GIRLING brakes is unknown; being of rather simple construction, a bit of fettling may very well get this Berkeley going in no time at all.
By the way, the Berkeley Four Wheeler features front wheel drive and independent suspension all around, quite advanced for its era!
Cockpit presents itself all original. Steering wheel is stock Berkeley unit, shows a few cracks. Gauges were made by "AC" and look very nice. All dash knobs and switches seem to be present. Headlights and taillights actually work.
Note the sequential shifter.
The Berkeley's interior can rightfully be called "basic." Originally, rubber bands were strung across the round tubing, Morgan-style, then covered with a yard or two of black leatherette. Inside the hot and dry garage, the flimsy rubber and fabric deteriorated during decades of storage. Replacements are readily available and simple to install.
There's a good-sized, locking trunk. Or, you could remove the trunk lid altogether and accommodate a couple of kids on the rear bench. Originally a manufacturer of caravan campers, Berkeley's engineers incorporated many practical solutions into their little Sports Roadster design.
Twelve-inch wheels are original and wear the oldest tires we've seen in years. They look great and still hold air!
Knowing that the Berkeley comes equipped with AC instruments, and that the 289 and 427 Shelby Cobras were built with help from AC Cars . . . what could this sexy rear view remind us of?
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Smooth undercarriage looks like a full belly pan, is free of any damage. No wonder modified Berkeleys have gone over 200mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats--these little suckers are very aerodynamic.
Factory tools, jack, owner's manual, and a few extra bits and pieces accompany the car. Berkeleys are very straightforward to work on (as long as the body's sub-structure is intact) and are even more rewarding to drive. It goes without saying that a microcar like this Berkeley is the ultimate people magnet wherever it appears. It's the proverbial crowd pleaser!
Here you have it: a wonderful relic from a different era, when young-at-heart folks were happy to own a 4-wheeled sports car like this Berkeley, even if it was very small. Surprisingly fast, early 18hp Berkleys could top 60mph in street trim; modified, the sky's the limit.
This rare 1956 example--titled as a 1955--is the proverbial California garage find; it oozes integrity and yearns to be the star at this summer's car shows. All it takes is a bit of mechanical fettling, an ounce of chrome, and a quart of paint!
This Berkeley sold in February 2007 to a customer in Japan.