It was truly a very fine Edwardian, none other than his beautifully-preserved 1918-14 “Alphonso” Hispano-Suiza, which Major W. T. Pitt presented for my inspection one day last month.
Major Pitt bought the car when he was at Cambridge and has kept it in a magnificent state of preservation ever since. It is one of the four-speed cars, with 3/4-elliptic rear springs, cone clutch and what is probably the original body, a most comfortable two-seater with a low screen, very staggered seats and a big bolster tank built into the tail. The car is finished in fire-engine red, its metal-work highly polished, and the famous T-head 3.6-litre engine is maintained in a condition matching the exterior. A starter has never been fitted, but the engine commences easily on the handle. A dynamo is, however, installed, and an ammeter on a switchboard tucked away below the scuttle showed a healthy charge. Adjacent is a very “period” Smith’s speedometer and a screw-down control for opening the exhaust cut-out. On the facia is the plaque which this Hispano-Suiza so ably won in the R.A.C. Rally of 1934. This could not have been so difficult as it sounds, for the old car has been used almost daily by its present owner for many years; indeed, as late as 1946 he took a successful tour of Switzerland in it. The engine has an unheated Zenith carburetter and gives approximately 20 m.p.g. at a cruising speed of about 35-40 m.p.h., which Major Pitt deems a fair pace to maintain with such faithful and aged machinery. Oil pressure is good and the car performs in a typically “Alphonso” manner, pulling lustily away on high gear ratios from astonishingly low engine speeds with that delightful full-throated exhaust-beat, and possesses a smooth clutch, a beautiful gear-change and quite useless metal-to-metal rear brakes which, when applied, emit a delightful hiss. To improve the braking Major Pitt searched until he found a f.w.b. axle with the correct spring-centres — it came from a Sunbeam — and the pedal now operates these brakes and the rear brakes, the hand-lever being coupled to the transmission brake which the pedal originally applied. The car is still on 880 by 120 b.e. tyres and uses them remarkably sparingly, for one of the two on the wheels strapped behind the tail of the body was with the car when it was purchased, some twenty-one years ago. The engine has had one re-bore, not because it wore out, but because a gudgeon-pin scored one of the cylinders. The minor controls are original and in beautiful condition. The engine oil normally used is Castrol XXL.
I took a short ride in this glistening Edwardian, its broad, untapering bonnet recalling that of my own “Alphonso.” Seen from the high seating position the countryside rolled by sedately and the occupants of little saloons peered upwards in awe at the passage of this beautiful motor-car. It is pleasing to know that it is in such good keeping, particularly as it is thought that only three other examples still exist in this country. Major Pitt appreciates such cars and has owned an impressive selection in the past; to-day the Hispano’s stable-companion is a very fine 61/2-litre Bentley two-seater. — W. B.