Richard Joseph (Dick) Ifield



In 1932, Dick began producing his foot gear change device to orders, in a small garage machine shop which he rented. This was an attractively finished product, with chromium plated external components, supplied and fitted to customers motor cycles at 2-10-0 pound each, or sold through distributors at 2-0-0 pound each.

The business began in a promising way and he put all the income he could afford into ordering gross lots of increasing numbers of components, to increase his profit margins. Although he had no money, the future seemed promising enough for his marriage to his wife Hannah Muriel (nee Livesey) on the 1st July 1933, but this promise was never fulfilled.

Dick's venture was a failure, because motor cyclists at the time had little money. Many wanted the gear change but could not afford it. Some ordered and promised to pay next week, but next week never came; others wanted time payment and few of these completed the payments. Later, when people said that they used his gear change, Dick wondered if they paid for them.

It was necessary to increase his income, so he and Muriel rented a 'live in' shop in Summer Hill, where he supplemented his income from the sale of his gear changes and by the sale of cycles and motor cycle spares. Dick also sold a few special RJI bicycles, his sole contribution to their manufacture, being the supply of the bronze RJI badges brazed to the steering heads, but he was always a 'soft touch' for the non paying fraternity and he found that he was working long hours for a very bare living. His responsibilities increased with the birth of their first son, Richard James, at Summer Hill.

Dick had gained an interview with S. F. Edge, of Napier fame, who was visiting Sydney and he had shown him his Provisionally Patented invention for an infinitely variable transmission for motor cars. He liked Dick's ideas, but Dick did not like his. He offered to introduce Dick to important people in the British motor car industry, in return for a 50% share of all profit from the sale of his Patents. Dick decided to move to England and to seek sponsors for his inventions, without such costly help. He believed that he could establish a reputation as a successful inventor within five years and could then return to Australia, with an open market for his later inventions. Dick was always an optimist, "without which characteristic no inventor could ever begin along the road to success."

Dick sold his business at the bare cost of the stock at that time, the price, he figured, was about 100 pounds and the purchaser agreed to pay this off at 10 pounds per month, by remittances to me in England. Dick then borrowed sufficient money from his wife's relatives for their boat fares and a little more for their first few weeks in England.

The sea journey took eleven weeks, then they travelled directly to Coventry, where they found lodgings in the home of a crusty old woman, until he found a sponsor for his inventions.

He wrote several letters to the person who had contracted to pay for his stock in Australia and eventually he received a reply from the police, informing him that the addressee was in jail for fraud and there was no possibility of recovering any money owed to him. Because of this, the financial position soon became so desperate that Dick sold his gold watch chain and some items of his wife's jewellery, in order to survive.

This struggle for survival continued until December of that year, after which Dick received a retaining fee from the Riley Car Company, who agreed to sponsor his inventions. The family was never without food, clothing and somewhere to sleep, but throughout that period Dick was continually worried about the tomorrow's.

At the time of their arrival in England, the technical press were showing much interest in new transmission systems, so Dick decided to concentrate on seeking a sponsor for his variable speed transmission invention, which was based on a differential friction drive, where only part of the power was transmitted through the friction drive mechanism. Austin car company, had developed the Hayes transmission for fitting to their largest cars; this was an ingenious mechanical friction drive transmitting the whole power and Dick regarded his scheme as being superior.

Hobbs was another Australian inventor of an automatic transmission system of ingenious design. This had been developed by Maudsley and its performance was highly praised in the technical press. A. C. Wickman had developed a more complex version of the Hobbs transmission, under contract to its Swedish inventor and this also gave an excellent performance in road tests. On the other hand, there were many impractical proposals by would-be-inventors and it was difficult to arouse interest among motor car manufacturers for yet another automatic transmission scheme.

On arrival in Coventry, Dick wrote to all the motor car and motor cycle manufacturers enclosing a drawing and description of his transmission scheme. Most of the replies he received were refusals, either kindly or curtly worded, but he received some requests to visit company engineers for discussions.

A. C. Wickman were interested only in a development contract from Dick, so they were of no use as sponsors.

Velocette wanted only to offer Dick a position as a designer, but he did not expect them to be interested in his transmission, as designed for motor cars.

The Rover Company referred him to Scott Iverson and he learned later that this was like selling coals to Newcastle, because he was regarded as the most prolific inventor in Britain at that time. He spent several hours with Dick, offering kindly constructive criticism and although he rejected Dick's proposals on behalf of Rover, his advice was of considerable value, because it caused Dick to think about alternatives, which later led to his hydrostatic transmission scheme, the pump of which formed the basis of his ultimate successes in his inventive career.

...Back to Top of Page

© 2003 - Colin Ifield         Web Design by DMT - WEB Design