Brief History of Fisher & Paykel Top Loading Autowashers [2]: Hotpoint Washers

As noted in part 1, Associated Electrical Industries (AEI) in the UK had the British rights to the Hotpoint brand and around 1965 introduced the Hotpoint 1500 automatic washer. These were a top loading design with a number of sophisticated features. Although their exact history in NZ is not too clear at present, Fisher and Paykel evidently took out a license to manufacture these and in many respects the machines they produced were identical to their British parents except for the control panels and exterior styling. From my own recollations of the 1970s and early 1980s, several series of these machines were produced with progressive updates in appearance and controls but without any real adaption of the internal components. Referencing a historical web site called automaticwasher.org, the earlier Hotpoint machines found on that site are clearly using practically identical parts to our F&P machines and in fact I believe the mechanical arrangements in general were mostly unaltered. Hotpoint continued to make their series of machines into the 1990s, long after F&P had ceased production in favour of their new electronic designs, of which more in subsequent parts. Whether F&P bulk imported parts from the UK or made them locally from dies and castings supplied by AEI is not known, but F&P’s adaption was mostly cosmetic in nature. F&P’s general design and styling apart from controls stayed mostly the same whilst successive Hotpoint generations changed considerably, and NZ never saw some of the more advanced HP features such as the timeline dial which showed wash progress, nor did NZ bring in Hotpoint front loaders which became quite common in the UK in that era.

The last series of F&P machines produced, probably from the beginning of the 1980s, comprised three models: 370, 380 and 400. The 370 was a basic model and from memory it had no programme selector switches, although you could control the wash temperature by turning the hot or cold tap off, but you always had to wash a full load as there was no low level water selection available. The 380 was the middle range model with five rocker switches to select wash and rinse temperature, water level, spin speed and number of rinses. The 400 was the most expensive model and added another rocker switch to control an internal water heating element. This element was combined with a thermostat to start the wash automatically at a temperature of 60 degrees C. Fisher and Paykel also made a matching dryer similar in design which was at this time model 405 I believe. Earlier F&P washer models had options selected by knobs or push buttons that I recall. Various brand names were used including Savaday, Whiteway and Kelvinator (licensed from its US parent). Machines were also made for Prestcold and Frigidaire, some of these had an extra switch to select a gentle wash action. This was probably in the period after parent company General Motors had sold Frigidaire, as the brand under GM leadership was noted for its own innovative designs with an agitator that cycled up and down, variously called Unimatic, Pulsamatic, Multimatic, Rollermatic and Jetamatic, at least the latter of which was marketed in New Zealand in the 1970s as I recall.

The F&P 380s were essentially a well designed and engineered electro-mechanical system. A single motor was permanently coupled via a V-belt drive to the pump and the wash/spin gearbox. The motor could rotate in both directions and was selected to run in one direction for agitation and in the other for spin. The selected direction engaged different drive features so that the gearbox would drive the agitator in an oscillating motion for the wash, whilst for spin the inner tub rotated continuously in one direction. The water pump always operated when the motor was running but the water flow was directed in one of two directions depending on whether a wash or spin was taking place, and this was controlled by a three way valve called a “flapper” at the back of the machine. For the wash cycle the water was recirculated through a filter tray which sat on top of the agitator, and for spin it pumped out through the drain hose. The other functions of the drive mechanism were the brake which brought the inner bowl to a standstill at the end of the spin cycle and which also locked the bowl to prevent it from rotating during the wash; and the drive clutch for the spin cycle. The clutch had friction shoes pressed against the drive shaft and its outer housing by springs. When the machine was set to spin, the inner tub was held stationary with the brake and the clutch slipped so that the motor would run and drive the pump to remove the water from the tub. When the actual spin started the brake was released and the clutch housing gradually spun up to speed as the shoes progressively took up more of the drive from the motor shaft. When slow spin was selected the brake was held on throughout most of the spin cycle (several minutes) until it was finally taken off and the spin commenced for just 30 seconds before the motor was cut off. The slow spin cycle was responsible for clutch shoes wearing out rapidly and the more astute owners preferred to avoid this cycle and instead take drip-dry articles out of the machine at the end of the wash for manual rinsing and wringing, to avoid annual service calls and bills.

These machines had a number of innovative features for the era. Some of these include: the maximum spin speed of about 1000 rpm which was quite high compared to some of the other machines in the NZ market; the adjustable simmerstat which controlled the warm fill temperature (less sophisticated machines had flow restrictors inserted into the cold inlet hose to balance the hot and cold flows); the lint filter tray which sat on top of the agitator; and the pressure switch that automatically sensed the water levels in the bowl (a less sophisticated way of controlling water levels was to cut off the water intake after a pre-determined time delay). They were noted for having a suspension and balancing system that included a concrete block within the lower part of the cabinet which was attached to the springs and helped to make them quite heavy (a previous post I made suggested they weighed 88 kg). Whilst this may seem crude by today’s standards, in that era quite a lot of washing machines were required to be bolted to the floor to prevent them from “walking” during a spin cycle. It is unclear if these machines had an out of balance cutout switch and I never saw any evidence of such a capability (it was easy for the machine to be unbalanced when washing a single heavy article and more often than not with a full load the machine was slightly out of balance resulting in higher noise level when spinning up from the cabinet rattling).

The F&P Hotpoints were very solid machines that with occasional servicing (mostly replacing the V-belt and clutch shoes) could run for decades with minimal expense. Our family owned a 380 model from about 1975-1985 off recollection (and a 405 dryer for considerably longer). As we were a large family of two adults and five children, the machine was in almost daily use and gave about ten years of reliable service until the bowl seals failed resulting in water leaking onto the floor. It was decided at that time to trade in the machine on a new Shacklock ECS which will be referred to more in the next part. There was then a gap in ownership of F&P hotpoints in our family until the ECS machine came into my possession in 2003 having been in storage for a couple of years after my parents took ownership of my grandparents’ Smartdrive machine. The ECS at that point did not last much longer as the bearings had rusted up in storage and it was showing its age in other ways and so I acquired a refurbished F&P 380 as there was at that time several companies in Christchurch that were engaged in restoring used machines to service which was no mean feat considering they had been out of production at that stage by some 18 years. This machine was only ever serviced once when I owned it to replace the V-belt and therefore gave me another 17 years of trouble free service except for the three way drain “flapper” valve not sealing properly in later years until I finally replaced it just last week after the valve stuck completely open resulting in the bowl being siphoned dry during the wash.

All the F&P/Hotpoint machines relied on a mechanical timer to control the various aspects of the wash cycle. At the time of the 370/380/400 series machines, the timer had two different cycles which could be selected by turning to different start points. The first cycle was a soak and hold – a quick wash, after which the machine stopped indefinitely to soak. At the time of the user’s choosing, the timer could be manually advanced to a short spin cycle after which the machine would automatically enter the regular wash cycle, albeit a long wash only unless the timer was manually advanced at that point. The regular wash cycle could have its start point (heavy wash, normal wash or light wash as labelled on the timer) chosen by the user, after which it would proceed automatically through wash, rinse and final spin cycles. The first or only rinse (depending on selection on the 380/400 models) was preceded by a spray rinse during the spin cycle at the end of the wash phase, and the bowl was then allowed to coast down to a stop whilst the machine filled for the rinse proper. If the double rinse was selected there was a second short drain/spin phase before refilling for the second rinse, and then the final spin; if single rinse was chosen, the drain/spin cycle between the two rinse periods was omitted and the timer simply advanced through this section with the machine silent. The single rinse was thus made up of two separate agitation sections with a pause in between. Slow spin when selected, for potentially up to four spin phases, held the brakes on the inner tub at stop until 30 seconds before the end of the spin phase when the machine was briefly allowed to spin up. The timer was really the “brains” of the machine and had multiple electrical contacts to which were connected numerous wires that ran to the motor, the spin brake solenoid, the cycle selection switches, pressure switch, water inlet valves and lid safety cutout. A motor drove the timer, presumably a stepper. Electric clocks generally use a stepper motor which moves 6 degrees at a time (60 steps of 1 second duration each) for the drive to the second hand and the other hands are geared off this drive. This can be clearly observed in the operation of the second hand which generally moves quickly through a precise distance and then stops until the second is up. The F&P Hotpoint timer actually physically advanced every 30 seconds, and had some sort of time source that provided the appropriate delay for each step, which was probably a synchronous AC motor off the mains. The timers in operation were fairly noisy, at least in the 380 I owned from 2004-2021, with whirring gears clearly audible, the main other noise being the pronounced click as the dial advanced a step every half minute. The timer knob was pulled out to start the machine and pushed in to turn the timer, which action disengaged the motor drive from the dial. It could only be turned clockwise.

Here are some photos of my F&P 380 taken in 2007 after I had owned it about three years at that stage.

General view of the machine.
Closer view of the control panel. The brown panel trim on this machine is less common as most of them were a silver colour and also had a clear plastic “guard” fitted over the timer dial. Perhaps the style seen here was specific to the Kelvinator models whereas plainer trim was a Whiteway.
Looking into the bowl with the lid open. A lot of commonality with earlier Hotpoint models is quite apparent with the possible exception of the filter tray. In later years these filters were more often white with dark brown trim. Prestcold machines made by F&P had a blue filter more similar to UK ones which generally did not use these brown or beige colourings.
This one is a UK hotpoint in pretty run down condition. The different filter tray is apparent, as are the identical top deck cover, hinges and filter spout. (photo from automaticwasher.org)
Again from the UK hotpoint designs, this shows the internal componentry of the early Hotpoints. A lot of what you can see here is the same as the F&P models. The plastic agitator was called a “spiraclean” and was quite an advanced shape compared to most other offerings out there.

Well in the next part we will take a look at the ECS series machines, a highly innovative microprocessor controlled design that was to lead the way into new technologies and standards in washing machine design worldwide. The ECS was a real revolution after 20 years production of the same Hotpoint design with almost no changes. Stay tuned…