[Donald Monro, whose extremely cheery countenance is a prominent feature of Bugatti Owners’ Club meetings, has made motoring one of his chief relaxations, an interest which Mrs. Monro largely shares. Knowing that he keeps very careful records of the performance and behaviour of his cars, we asked him to let us have an account of all those that he has adopted, or, as Monro himself would have it, has “owned and ill-treated.” This account follows, and it will be seen that, apart from his Invictas, Monro has had a varied experience of other interesting, and in some cases little-known, makes.—Ed.]
IN 1920 my parents gave me a Rover Eight, and I suspect that it was selected owing to its moderate speed. The maximum speed of this particular one was 35 m.p.h., which was well beyond my “safe ” capabilities—I had had one driving lesson of half-an-hour, apart from steering my father’s Lancia round Regents Park. The magneto was in a rather exposed position, and picked up any water that was about, so the car was not very easy to start. On one occasion I left it by the kitchen stove to dry and forgot to replace it, when starting was even more difficult.
Finally, I followed my father’s car on a holiday to Bournemouth, and as his Talbot 25 saloon had a maximum of 65 and my touring speed was something less than my maximum (but not much), I dropped well and frequently behind. On the return trip I was regarded as “less nuisance if I went first,” and I took the alternative route at Farnham and lost them. It was on this occasion that a copper remarked that “He had seen a car with a body like a box, but the young chap looked as if he would not get very far.” He was quite wrong— I got back to North London.
So in 1922 I was given a new Talbot Eight open two-seater, with the solid back axle. Average tyre mileage was 3,500. The car cost £375, which is a guide to ruling prices that year. She was an excellent job, having a maximum speed of 53, and a propensity for maintaining her maximum with reliability, which was very necessary in my case. Once I was unwise enough to drive an uncle to a golf club at Radlett, and it was then that my family really found out that I took blind corners on the right side of the road, and allowed petrol to leak into the cockpit from a defective petrol tap while my uncle was smoking. I sold this car in June 1923, and after that she was twice turned over, once on a Welsh Pass, but nevertheless she ran for many years.
I then bought a 12/28 o.h.v. Vinot, with a most elaborate body in aluminium, with a bulbous tail. It had a maximum of sometimes 56 and sometimes 62, and did not very much like maintaining 50 for long spells. I took her on the Track once, and drove her back to Golders Green. There we opened the bonnet to see where the oil was leaking from, and found two large holes in the base chamber.
She had a starter that rang like a gong, and footbrake on the transmission, and a consulting engineer once remarked after a run that she was a nice motor-car, and tried to buck you over her head whenever you put on the brakes.
On another occasion the clutch seized up when going North, and my “audible warning device” was, as usual, out of action. I was towed, and ran over the tow-rope, finishing up with my near side wheels three or four feet higher than the others, being well up a bank at an angle of 45°.
My next item might be more relevant in an article on zoology. Polished aluminium bodies have their disadvantages, as I found when I met a herd of cows in a narrow Welsh lane: one saw its own reflection, took fright, and charged straight at my radiator, causing minor damage.
My next item is about a car I did not own: it may be of interest. I took a great fancy “on sight” to a clover-leaf Bignan 2-litre sports in Great Portland Street, but thought the salesman, who was asking £375, seemed unduly eager to make a sale at a lower figure, so I waited a week, when it was offered to me at £225. After some difficulty I traced the distributor and made an appointment. I climbed a rickety wooden staircase and entered a small upper room lighted by two candles over a diminutive mantel-piece. There the distributor, a Frenchman, was decent enough to inform me that the car was a Desmodromique model (it was Greek to me, but I believed valveless, and he told me that the slightest piece of grit “fait tout-a-fait arreter le machine.” The alleged French is my own). [The author is not quite accurate here. The Desmodromique Bignan was not valveless, but had positive-closing of the valves. We believe a hydraulic actuation may have been used, but are not certain. This car was shown at Olympia in 1928, but it is doubtful if any were sold here, as an o.h.c. 2-litre sports was also listed. This gave 85 b.h.p. per litre against the 40 b.h.p. per litre of the Desmodromique 2-litre.—Ed.]. I then tried a standard chassis, which had a most attractive layout, excellent brakes, and fine acceleration, but I could not afford the price, which was, I think, about £600. I also tried a 2-litre sports Ansaldo (driven by a young man who had one speed of 38-40 in traffic Irrespective of cross-roads) with a speedometer maximum of seventy—which I reckoned to be just over sixty—and a short, light and rather “skiddy” chassis. I also tried an 18-70 Itala and a Panhard 18, all these being second-hand, the Panhard oiling profusely.
Finally, I bought a really excellent 12.8 side-valve D.E. Delage, with an exceptionally well-finished Kelsch four-seater boat body, which cost new £650, and fell to me after fifteen months’ use, in December, 1924, for £285. Acceleration was rather woolly, and the maximum 65 (a reasonable speedometer said 68), the lap speed being 59 odd. This car was most reliable and well-found, and the only snag was that one sat high over the steering wheel, and felt as if one was piloting a yacht. I used her for eighteen months, sold her to my brother-in-law for a£115, and after a further eighteen months he sold out for £65. She had one good engine repair after some Brooklands laps, when conrods lay in the sump at queer angles, but otherwise she was trouble-free. On one occasion we left London at sixish, and got to Carlisle for a late lunch having averaged 39, which I thought a great improvement on my previous cars. She had one small carburetter and a “North East” magneto.
About January, 1926, I was very impressed with the test figures of the 12/40 Star, then handled by University Motors, and at this time one of these cars held the Ballybannon Hill Climb record (which I noted for future attention). I had new two-seater mottled aluminium body built by Star, and on the salesman’s advice (he was a friend), a higher radiator, the scuttle line giving them a great deal of trouble, though they were most helpful. This model had rather long flexible springs, but was quite fast, covering the half-mile at seventy, and zero to 50 took 20 seconds. Third showed 50 m.p.h., and the back axle ratio was 4.75 to 1. My first Shelsley ascent took 83 seconds.
The very young do queer things, and I remember that it was a point of etiquette in the very early morning going south, to business, to see how fast one could take the corner by Lord’s cricket ground. One morning I gave my brother-in-law a lift, and we took it at forty-two on grease. To our port side a cemetery, to starboard a lighting standard. How we missed both when the tail came round I really don’t know, but we sat there with queer feeling in the tummy, facing the way we had come, while a bus conductor expectorated from the curb, and remarked “Don’t hurry to the cemetery, guvnor!” Three days afterwards, a large “GO SLOW” notice appeared on the standard, so as there was only the one witness I imagine that the bus conductor had passed on the glad news.
Wanting more speed and lighter bodywork, I bought a three-seater 12/40 Star, scrapped the body, and fitted a rakish fabric two-seater by Hill and Boll, of Yeovil. I fitted a pump-type Zenith carburetter and a Thomson & Taylor exhaust, the police once paying me the compliment of taking a technical interest in the latter, in spite of the fact that they had to leave an accident to do so. She again had a maximum of 70, but cornering was much improved, and on one occasion I was third in the 2-litre class at Shelsley, in 71 seconds. The main competitors in that class were Fairrie’s 2-litre Bugatti, Cyril Durlacher’s great team of three Diattos (they were mighty fine cars), 2-litre 0.M.s (Oats), blown Lea-Francis, and Brescia Bugattis, the latter two makes being fast when all their plugs fired at the same time. Fairrie was generally in the lead with about 62 seconds, which seemed terrific to us then.
After this I ran a 2-litre (high chassis) 1928 Speed Model Lagonda for the best part of a year, and the best fun I had was when I finally ran her at Ballybannon Hill Climb in Ulster, and made fifth fastest time out of eighteen nondescript cars. Really there were two T.T. Lea-Francis, one T.T. Bentley, and the rest. We practised about 6 a.m. with the road open, and just missed a donkey-trap; at about 11 a.m. I nearly got drowned in my host’s lake, and I had four climbs (one extra for luck as a stranger), while on each run my third gear slipped out at 4,000 r.p.m. A bright soul in the house party sent me a wire :—”Your white helmet much appreciated on Ballybannon.” I needed that helmet’s moral support, as the car had a maximum of 74 (speedometer 82), and a real 68 on third, but we did beat the record-holding Star, which was past its best.
This car had a much better chassis than the Star, but was heavy, and took 24 seconds from zero to 50. The plugs oiled up a lot at low speeds, but in general she was one of the most reliable cars I’ve ever owned, and very well sprung.
I then bought a Mark I 18/80 M.G. tourer second-hand: it had a very fast and smooth engine, but the body was heavy and rattled a good deal, while suspension was not too good.
I changed her for an M.G. Mark I Speed, which was better sprung and cornered better, but a tall driver sat very high, and the body was narrow, so she was a smart but very chilly car. She did 81, and took 16 seconds to 50, being 4 m.p.h. faster than the Mark I tourer, and having the same acceleration to 50.
Both these M.G.s were good usable, production cars, their limitations to my mind being that they were rather narrow in proportion to their wheel-base, and suffered from the lack of a four-speed gearbox. The Mark II, which had a four-speed gearbox, cost £100 more, however, and was reported to be not quite so fast, and heavier.
I then acquired from the factory direct a used experimental model, with a shortened Mark I Speed chassis, and a Mark II gearbox, which was called, I believe, an “Experimental Tigresse,” though it differed materially from the Mark III Tigresse. I fitted outside exhaust pipes of a non-standard type, which Mr. McConnell did not very much like—and I now think rightly so. The petrol distribution in this particular car was always difficult and the valves tended to stick as well: also I had non-standard carburetters, with vent holes at the top. The petrol used to shoot up through the vent holes on to the exhaust pipes in merry fountains, catching fire four times on one Saturday at the track, so that the approach of my car reminded one of the beacons that heralded the Spanish Armada.
The car was a fawn and chocolate two-seater, and looked like an enlarged edition of the first Midgets. She had a maximum of 82 on top, and 70 on third, and in view of the experimental features I incorporated, any failings the car had were my personal responsibility. She had her good points, being fast and interesting to handle, and I enjoyed using her. She took me up Shelsley in 62¾ (compared with 71 seconds for the overloaded Mark I with three-speed box) and if on this occasion I was over-conscientious enough to enter her as a racing car, she was hardly a standard sports model. Her class consisted of two Nacional Pescaras and myself, and I did not at all object to taking 20 seconds longer than the best racing cars Spain could produce as a national effort.
I shall always remember the beautiful layout of the M.G. factory and its picturesque surroundings, while service there was a pleasure I looked forward to.
In November, 1931, I was offered a really grand car, this being the spare Talbot 90 road-racing chassis (No. 4) which had never been raced, and had been fitted by its only owner, Prince George Imeretinskv, with a close-coupled touring body, and had seen extensive Alpine touring in his hands. We tested his car against my M.G. on the Barnet By-Pass as a prelude, and the two cars had identical acceleration right up the range. We each had a maximum of 82, and ran “yard for yard,” until we called it a draw.
This car had a 25 gallon tank, and a wonderful instrument board. She held the road like a leech, but was a little heavy on sharp corners.
In the first R.A.C. Rally (1932) She covered the 100 yards slow top-gear test at an average of 2.2 m.p.h. being pitted against the fluid fly-wheel cars, and others with unconventional clutch and transmission layouts, and then accelerated from a five-yard start to cover the 100 yards acceleration in 8 seconds, with four people “up,” being beaten in this test only by Healey’s Invicta. As she crossed the line she stopped from 43 m.p.h. in 51½feet, “The Autocar’s” test figures being 50 feet from 40 m.p.h. After 1,000 miles of fast touring, we had made no brake adjustments, and never have I enjoyed such magnificent “all-round” brakes.
I raised the compression from 7 to 1 to 7½ to 1, changed the Champion plugs from R.8 to R.11, and raised the maximum speed to 87 at 4,600 r.p.m., with a lap speed of 82. Zero to fifty improved from 143/5 to 134/5, seconds, and Shelsley Walsh improved from 601/5 to 58 seconds dead. Petrol consumption averaged 15.6 with all traffic included. This 2¼-litre car weighed 27 cwt.
My next event was a wedding! We wanted a more economical car, but with plenty of luggage space for our holiday suit-cases, and a compromise between first cost, road-ability, performance and long life led me to a one-year-old 12/45 Invicta tourer, which had a maximum of 70, and would tour at 65 indefinitely without trouble. This car cost us £315, and we used her for 18,000 miles without any major repairs, although she was driven flat-out through the J.C.C. One Hour High Speed Trial. I subsequently raised the back axle ratio from 6 to 1 to 5 to 1, and the maximum remained the same, but third gear speed improved from 50 to 60.
For several reasons I remember her complete fidelity in the second R.A.C. Rally, when I took the westerly route, and my brother-in-law took my old two-seater M.G. up North. He had the most appalling bad luck in skidding and buckling a wheel, on top of which his head-light fuse went at speed, and his timing wheels passed out at Newcastle, where he spent a week while it never stopped raining.
The Invicta had a trouble-free run through torrential rain, until finally we lost our way in the middle of the night coming out of Torquay, and ran into one-way lanes with many unsignposted turnings between the main road and the sea. When all appeared to be lost, we met the main road again, and covered 91 miles in appalling rain at a very respectable speed. Nerves were a little ragged, but my passenger remained composed until afterwards, when he merely said, “Donald, I would not have minded if you only had some remote idea how headlamps should be focussed.” We reached the control in time, and as we sailed in my sleeve caught our special long ignition lever, which snapped off, and the car started to boil.
In the elimination tests, cars were flagged off from 100 yards ahead, and I noticed in the crowd two red dresses that appeared to be flags through a misty windscreen, which had to be left erect. I saw the dresses, but not the flag when it fell.
An uncle subsequently introduced me to a friend as “A keen motorist who motored 1,000 miles to see a flag fall, and then went to sleep at the critical moment.”
By this time the Invicta mechanics were my firm friends, and in 1934 I bought a 3-litre L.C. Invicta saloon, then seven years old, at an auctioneer’s for £40. We overhauled her thoroughly, and then fitted a white close-coupled sports body of my own design. This car had a beautiful engine, the only real fault being chassis flex under braking. I put her into a ditch in Sweden, and a stub-axle went on the way down from Newcastle on a greasy road, causing some gyrations which ended near a very unpleasant manure heap. The insurance permitted me to fit the heavier type axles used in the 4½-litre cars. As a 3-litre, this car did 82 on her 3.6 to 1 top at 3,000 r.p.m., and zero to 60 took around 20 seconds. She had a trouble free run through the J.C.C. 1934 High Speed Trial.
In mid-1935, after another Continental trip, I converted her to a 4½-litre, and this gave the same acceleration in top as third previously recorded, maximum being 87 at circa 3,500 r.p.m. In the Vintage Club’s Aston-Clinton acceleration test she made fastest time by a Vintage car in 20.3 seconds for the standing quarter, and won the Aggregate Cup for that year.
This car went in for every Bugatti Owners’ Club event, and many other Hill Climbs and Gymkhanas, and was finally sold to a neighbour, who still maintains her in new condition, to his great credit. She is thirteen years old now.
In March, 1936, I changed her for an N.L.C. heavy chassis 4½-litre Invicta fabric saloon, making up another touring body with one of Miss Violette Cordery’s discarded shells and some of her other spare parts, the car being rendered as new in sea-green. This car must have been the lineal descendant of my old Talbot, having a lap speed of 85, similar road-holding, and a complete weight of 32½ cwt. At Aston-Clinton she took 20.8 seconds for the quarter, and was quite out-classed.
However, she was a most successful machine, and reduced my Shelsley figure to 54.99 seconds, having by now 6.8 to 1 compression ratio, and a maximum of 90 (3,800 r.p.m.) on the lower 8.9 ratio. MOTOR SPORT tested this car, so I must not duplicate the figures. [See issue July 1937.—Ed.]. Her engine is now in my Special tourer “Red Gauntlet,” and her present owner again keeps her with a standard engine, exactly as I myself would wish.
In October, 1937, I bought my first low chassis Invicta, a special job built by Flood St. for Messrs. Gardner Diesel, and the last but one to be turned out (actually in 1935). Having bought her “less engine,” we converted her to spark-combustion, with an “A” type 4½ engine, having the steel sports con-rods; later additions being a sump-trap, clutch ventilator, and the new thin-metal bearings. The car weighs 31½ cwt. She is a little tail-light, but the tail has only come round twice, once on the Invicta Club’s Rally when at midnight a flock of sheep concealed in a slight dip in the road were encountered at high speed. I pulled into the Conway Control with wheels over an inch out of line, emitting a queer whistling sound from the tyres, the Club’s verdict being that “The Artful Monro had concealed the fact that the car was supercharged.” On the other occasion, we met a treacherous patch of ice, and she settled down in a reverse direction, when we were able to steer her perfectly straight to a standstill. These cars are not therefore the “Death Trap” that so many people seem to imagine. Her performance is 92 on top, and 77 on third (4,000 r.p.m.). She takes 20.6 for the standing quarter-mile, and 15 seconds from zero to 60, handling perfectly at Shelsley (51.5 seconds), and Prescott (57.09 seconds). I am still using her regularly as an alternate car.
This February we stripped another closed car, and Invicta’s late head tester, Tom Rotherham, put in all he knew to make this a real competition job. The chassis is shortened 6 in. and has an 8 gallon tank and skeleton mudguards, while a lot of drilling has taken place. She is the red two-seater known as “Red Gauntlet,” and weighs 25½ cwt., all in. She laps Brooklands at 94, maximum being 99 at 3,800 r.p.m. off the banking, and many of Healey’s features are incorporated, as Rotherharn was with him when the three Invictas won Glacier Cups in the Alpine. The braking system is his, and special: it is far more efficient, and the chassis is much more rigid than standard, without being uncomfortable.
Shelsley takes 49.7 seconds, this time with the third gear usable, and reaching 60 m.p.h. on this ratio before the changing down for the Esses and at the finish. Prescott takes 54½ seconds.
Special features of all Invictas I have owned are excellent seating position, and abnormal visibility, smooth and tireless engines, instantaneous starting, and a (to me) handsome radiator, set well back.
To conclude, for a short time I owned an O.M. 2-litre as spare car; an ex-Long Chassis saloon. I fitted her with roughly half a “tin” body, and her maximum was only 66, but steering, cornering and “balance of weight” were abnormally good. She, alas, is now in the breaker’s hands, as the engine was “past it.”
My wife now owns a 12/70 Alvis saloon, an excellent and most likeable car, but I must not comment on a current model, except to say that 78 m.p.h. with a 1,800 c.c. engine and 25 cwt., makes my sports Stars seem rather old-fashioned.