W F Holdsworth - featuring the Whirlwind
Posted: Wednesday 12th August 2020
In the 1940s and 50s many club riders were quite snooty about Holdsworth frames; it was said that Holdsworths were not really ‘proper’ framebuilders as they had started out in business originally with cyclist’s clothing. This was definitely an unfair judgement, they employed some of of the top framebuilders around from the very beginning. Certainly in post-war years they made large quantites of frames rivalling the output of the other larger specialist framebuilders such as Claud Butler, Hobbs and Rotrax probably around 13000 frames over the seven years 1946–53 and this included some very pretty ones too. Framebuilding almost certainly started around 1933–4; their first foreman was Bill Rann who was the originator behind the child trailer cycle, Holdsworth’s trike conversion set and designed their lugless La Quelda frame.
He was an engineer and a first class builder who later built under his own name too. He was joined in 1938 by Bill Hurlow who had already worked for F H Grubb for several years and one of the most highly rated framebuilders in post-war years. Holdsworth moved into a new large factory just before the outbreak of WWII but it was not until after the war that full use was made of the space. Production was now stepped up a notch – in all there were about eight or nine people working in the framebuilding shop. Amongst these was Charlie Roberts – later to found Roberts Cycles now continued by his son Chas.
It was in 1948 that the first truly fancy lugged Holdsworth was produced – Cyclone de Luxe with cast and long spearpoints added. This model continued until the end of 1951. 1951 however saw the introduction of the model that was to become the Whirlwind, the Sirocco. This featured quite original fancy cut cast lugs, including a cutaway seat lug and some beautifully chamfered seatstay eyes. It was built from Reynolds 531 double butted tubing and was the top model in Holdsworth’s range.
For 1952 it was renamed the Whirlwind with the same beautiful lugs and available in a choice of Reynolds 531 or Accles and Pollocks Kromo tubing. At 17 Gns it was not a cheap frameset rivalling a Thanet Silverlight pricewise andescribed as ‘The Best’. As a complete bike with quite a basic specification (Williams C34 chainset, Dunlop HP rims on Bayliss Wiley small flange steel hubs, GB brakes etc) it cost £35 2s 3d. Sandy Holdsworth’s ideal spec with Chater Lea chainset, FB large flange hubs, Scherens rims, Brooks Swallow saddle and Holdsworth Allez steel stem with fancy lugs, GB Coureur brakes and Mafac brake levers would probably have been close to twice that. Bill Hurlow left Holdsworths in 1952 – he went to build frames for Condors and later the fancy lug Mal Rees as well as under his own name.
For 1953 the Whirlwind received a completely new design of lug – the same as that on the featured bike. With large fancy windows it was almost the rival of anything from Hetchins. The small details wre not missed out either – the rear brake bridge was gracefully curved and featured some lovely scrolly pieces where it was attached to the seatstays. Many at this time began to be fitted with Campaganolo or Agrati forged dropouts; the Holdsworthy Company, a sister company was the first Campagnolo distributor in the UK. The Whirlwind continued for several years but was dropped by 1959
Norman Kilgariff has devoted a complete Web Site to Holdsworth bicycles and in particular their 1970s team. He has interviewed many who were involved – in short it is superb and is where most of the information in this article came from. It can be found at http://homepage.ntlworld.com/nkilgariff/
The Featured Bike
This is a c1955 Holdsworth Whirlwind; the head badge design which is fitted is thought was introduced in 1955. It is equipped with typical 1950s kit – Campagnolo Gran Sport gears with handlebar end control levers, Stronglight steel chainset with TA adaptor rings, GB brakes with GB Superhood levers fitted with ‘honking’ rubbers and GB bars and stem.
Other Fancy Lug Holdsworth Models
At the same time the Scirocco was introduced in 1952 Holdsworth revised the the Cyclone’s lugwork – this featured pretty spearpoints with small windows. Both the Tornado and the Zephyr models featured hand cut lugs too but less ornate. Later Typhoon models inherited the Tornado’s lug design. It can be quite tricky to sort exactly which model you have! Finally the Monsoon was introduced in 1954 with simple short spearpoints with nice curls at the base. The Monsoon went on into the 1960s.
Holdsworth frame numbering from the early post-war years is a quite simple sequential mumbering system; frames numbers ran from about 6000 in 1946 through to about 30000 by 1962.