Historic Sporting Trials Association









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For Sale
& Wanted







Article from the THE MOTOR April 19 1961


Keen driver as well as manufacturer, Michael Cannon came from Tasmania to settle near Tonbridge, where he has family connections.

“British car manufacturers,” we read somewhere, “must get down to earth”, so we thought it was time to seek out Britain’s most down-to-earth manufacturer, a chap whose business, and hobby - one might almost say bread-and-butter is simply not earth but mud. Great sporting hillocks of churned-up gumbo, mud of true Championship gooiness: in a word, Michael Cannon. His one-man factory is to be found at Gover’s Hill, near Plaxton in Kent, and is surrounded by some of the finest farming and woodland mud in the home counties. From this farmyard of Mike’s go out the Cannon cars that have won the R.A.C. Trials Championship every year since 1953, although on two occasions Cannon has been pronounced Harford, because that is what T.C. and Edward Harrison have always called their cars, at any rate since Cuth first won the championship in 1952.

That car, like Reg Phillips’ 1953 winner, was built on pre-Cannon lines; that is to say it had hard springs with limited travel, as on all vintage and post-vintage designs that had been winning trials for over 30 years.

Early Cannon, called Harford by Cuth Harrison

Five-week Prototype:

Michael Cannon, a tall, quiet Tasmanian who left the Royal Australian Navy to settle in Kent soon after the war, built his first trials car after his 750 formula racer had expensively shed its flywheel at the time of a Silverstone meeting. It took him just seven weeks, during two of which, he explains apologetically, he was laid low with a cold. He gave it a space frame for strength, rigidity and lightness, set the engine as far back as the regulations allow (one-fifth of the 6-ft. 6-in. wheelbase from front axle to number one sparking-plug), and fitted a Ford Ten front spring with half the leaves taken out so that the wheels would follow the bumps instead of bouncing off them. He copied the Dellow in using coil springs aft, but set a new fashion by fitting four Newton telescopic dampers of the type used on Cooper 500s. Independent front suspension has been tried, but Mike threw it away because it does not give a wide enough range of movement.

As soon as Mike and his brother David started winning, other drivers wanted cars too. Geoff Newman bought the frame of that first car, and when Rex Chappell found that he could climb hills in a Cannon that his Cotton Austin Seven always failed, Mike ran him up a Special* in a fortnight. Next, Geoff Newman built up a complete Cannon, won the Gloucester, and then took the championship twice. Since then customers have queued up to fill Mike’s free time and take his mind off farming. Imperceptibly the hobby has become a job and Mike is in business.

Each car is different, of course, because he sells not complete cars but sets of components. Most of the boys supply their own pet bits, like engine , gearbox and back axle, because most of the most popular parts are now out of production. Mike’s own car, 6 KKK, shown in L.C. Cresswell’s drawing, has a Y-type Ford front axle, Ford 8 gearbox, and the rear axle from an ex-Army Austin Eight. The main bottom tubes are 1-in. and the top tubes 3/4-in., but production frames have 13/4-in. tubes at the bottom and fewer diagonal braces. Almost everyone uses the 1,172c.c. Ford engine. The best weight for a trials car seems to be 8 cwt. Lighter than that it will not cut through the mud, and if much heavier it will not pull.

The tyres, held to the wheels with security bolts, are rather special, having remould treads of an obsolete but very effective Goodyear diamond pattern on a new carcase, the secret being in the lugs on the side wall which act like paddles. Tyre pressures vary but are always very low, 16 lb. for road use but in trials as little as 2 lb. or even less in the back, 6 lb. in the front. On observed sections with sharp corners or adverse camber, drivers often have the tyres harder on one side than the other. There are five brakes in all. Besides the normal umbrella-handle parking brake under the dash, there is a big fly-off lever outside; and then there are the “fiddle brakes”. These are an extra pair of levers on the floor, one for each back wheel. These are used to skid the car, tank fashion, round sharp corners; they are also put to crafty use in quelling wheelspin. The normal braking system is interesting too. As the Morris Minor brakes on the front are hydraulic and the Austin Girlings at the rear are mechanical, the driver can apply either set at will – by pedal forward or handbrake aft: this allows extra braking and/or steerage on very slippery slopes. The entire makings of a Cannon trials chassis ready for engine, transmission, wheels, etc., cost only about £70 – which means that with the owner’s own bit it will stand him in at £300 or less.

All the work of the design and manufacture is done by Michael Cannon himself, with the aid of a part-time welder.

The later Cannon with lower body line and triangulated sides

Mike Cannon in his workshop in 1977, note the rack and pinnion steering and twin central front shocks.

Mike Cannon enjoyed competing as well as constructing!

Mike Cannon demonstrating the amazing axle articulation of his car.


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