Universal Apollo (Singer 15-30 “clone”/HA-1 generic) aka “The Experiment”

Isn’t she pretty?

Prepare for a bombardment of photographs!

Unfortunately her story is not as triumphant as the Singer 328P.

I spotted her on TradeMe, advertised as just “Apollo Sewing Machine”, at a mere $1 reserve and bided my time until nearer the auction end time. In the mean time I had a quick squizz online for information and came up with absolutely nothing.

Shrug.

I figured she was some sort of re-badged Singer 15-something so I decided, working or not (there was a suggestion that it did “sew”, but we know what that means don’t we?), I wanted her. She was just so cute looking, sparkly green and smaller sized. If she went cheap enough she would be worth getting if only for pulling apart to learn more about the internals.

After a fierce 7-bidder battle in the dying 2 minutes, of which I was the victor of course, I organised to pick her up. This involved climbing up a super steep driveway – this is Wellington after all, shaped by violent geological forces – waaaay on the other side of the harbour. I do wish people would be more specific with their suburb listings!

She cost me a tiny $23.50

The lady was very nice (face-to-face contact this time) and even offered to carry it down the driveway with me to my car. On the way I learnt that the seller had been gifted several machines from an estate of a friend. He had been a sewing machine repairer/restorer so had quite a collection.

At first I was quite excited to hear this thinking that a machine from a repairer/restorer would most certainly be in sewing condition…and then Sensible Kiwi realised that actually it was quite possible there was a very good reason why this machine was residing with the former owner!

Once I was at home I put her up on my table and had a good look at her. She was dirty but even more cute IRL, a smaller and older looking version of the 201 with a few other style differences.

The power cord, plug and foot controller all looked in excellent condition, no exposed wiring or dodgy looking connections, but just to be safe I tested all the movable parts by hand first.

My first discovery, not very surprisingly, is that she needs a new drive belt and bobbin winder ring. Both are badly degraded, but I know where to buy those from.

Then I immediately spotted something more seriously amiss – there was no thumb screw in the curved slot beside the stitch length lever, hmm…

The tension knob also turned round and round past the numbers without any stopper, something must be missing inside there as well.

I unwound it for a quick look. When I had the 328’s assembly apart I remember there was a sort of tabbed stop washer inside which doesn’t seem to be present in this model, this is either by design (doubt it) or perhaps this is the All Knowing Vintage Sewing Machine Buyers Powers That Be keeping my 2 for 2 tension-dial-has-been-fuxed-with-on-every-machine-you-have-bought-so-far record in check (more likely).

I was feeling a bit deflated now so I tipped out the accessory tin to see what goodies were in there. A bobbin case but no bobbin, three extremely rusty feet (zipper, binding and whatever that other things is?!), screwdriver thingee and some other unidentifiable metal bits that may or may not have belonged to my machine or indeed any machine.

Sigh.

It was time for a cup of tea and a bikkie.

I chatted with Nerdy Hubby and he reminded me that I had said I didn’t mind if this machine ended up as my sacrifice, something on which to experiment and learn a bit more without ruining something that cost me 10 times as much.

He was right, I was just feeling disappointed because she looked like such a cutie and I was hoping for another triumphant vintage machine buying win.

So I went back into my room and took a better look at those random metal bits.

That’s when it clicked!

There was a thumb screw…and a metal disc with a funny cut out that had a thread hole…they fitted together. I took them over to my 201 and peered inside the slot…yup, pretty sure that’s two parts found!

Perhaps this miserably beat up looking accessory tin is actually a Magic Tin!

I imagined my repairer/restorer guy popping bits in it as he found or salvaged them with the intent to put it all together once he had everything and now I can finish his work!

Ok, maybe that’s going a little too far…

There wasn’t any sort of extra washer for the tension assembly but I bet I can buy one of those cheaply online and maybe after I learn a bit more about the model I could find a sort of exploded parts list to help me work out the other bits and bobs and what else I am missing.

I was feeling happier already.

To the Internet!

As you might imagine, a company name like “Universal” is extremely difficult to Google and since we are talking pre-internet the only way I could probably find out more is to look it up old-style hard copy in a old company register somewhere.

What I did learn is that this style of Japanese manufactured machine is more commonly referred to as an HA-1 Generic or a Singer Class 15 “clone”, clone is in quotation marks because it isn’t an exact copy, although many Singer parts are interchangeable.

A cheeky visit to the Singer ID website and I also discovered that the closest Singer my machine represents is a 15-30.

I also learnt that there are over 5000 different “brands” of these clone machines that were made in Japan by more than 15 different companies. During the 1930s a combination of weak yen and trade restrictions meant it was cheaper to produce machines locally and their domestic sewing machine manufacturing began.

After WWII there were a lot of people looking for work, plenty of idle machine shops and Singer’s patent had expired, manufacturing of these machines (most commonly based on the Singer 15 & 99 class machines) increased in earnest and Japan began to export.

Some machines were given American or European sounding names to appeal to the overseas markets and they didn’t just come in black. They came in metallics or flat colours of pink, green, blue, yellow and more! They were well made and often ran more quietly and smoother than their Singer equivalents. Any retailer could purchase a clone machine and have it badged to sell under their own brand.

Here is how I imagined the story of my machine went:

Mr (or Mrs) Entrepreneurial Kiwi thinks these new fandangled sewing machine things seem to be pretty whiz bang popular! They decide they better get on board and start their own sewing machine company pronto. Ohh but those pretty black Singers are quite expensive! There must be a market for a cheaper machine…hmmm…those Japanese ones seem like quite good quality, I’ll ask them to badge some up for me. I’ll call my new company Universal Sewing Machines, it sounds like a quality international brand and it will be a difficult name for a  collector to Google in the future!

I’m off on an imaginary sewing tangent again, sorry, let me backstitch… ;)

There is the plan, it is a “best case scenario”, fingers crossed kind of thing, please excuse me while I share my nerdy little flow chart:

This is not going to be a quick project for me. Instead it will be something to tinker away at over the next few weeks and months but, having said that, I most definitely do not want this to languish into years. So, I’ll keep you posted :)

I am also working on a new page for my top menu that will mention each of my machines (modern & vintage) and their stories/links to posts as they crop up, I’ll let you know when it is live.

Thanks for reading! :)

They are multiplying, all the better for taking over the world (*evil laugh)

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11 thoughts on “Universal Apollo (Singer 15-30 “clone”/HA-1 generic) aka “The Experiment”

  1. Hello,
    l loved your tale of the Apollo. I got an HA1 recently and am trying to fix up the tension assembly. Did you ever find out if the “tabbed stop washer” was missing or it doesn’t have one? My machine doesn’t have one and I don’t know if it needs one. The assembly seemed pretty good before I took it apart, but now I am having the dangest time trying to get it back together right. Instructions for the Singer 15 aren’t detailed enough. Any hints?

    Ingrid

    • Hi Ingrid, I am embarrassed to say that I haven’t started working on the Apollo yet so I do not know if it needs the tabbed washer but I have seen diagrams without it since. I can’t help with the correct assembly because I am pretty new to this myself and just giving it a go really. Google is sometimes and sometimes not helpful. I hope to start properly on it after Christmas and I will be sharing my progress here as I go :)

    • Thanks, I missed out on a cute little grasshopper so this has cheered me up, with all this sun however it might be a Winter project, plus I haven’t had the courage to start yet, lots of planning though, like lots of little plastic bags to put all the bits and bobs in, it will be a nerdy disassembly in-line with the my orderly flowchart.

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