Vintage Veerings

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56

You know, when you listen to the experiences of those who have taken delivery of new cars you have reason to feel prouder than ever of your aged, but vintage, machinery. For instance, a 1½-litre £888 saloon that lost all its big-ends in 2,000 miles and another that has had endless propeller-shaft trouble. A modern economy car that sets you back something like the price of a good blown Alfa-Romeo, or Frazer-Nash, apart from the chunk of purchase tax, and needs an exhaust valve re-grind every 3,000 miles, ruins handbags and nylons (my wife’s) on jagged edges of its “one-piece structure,” and in 100 miles knocks its slump off on a bump and splits a water hose (that dreadful crinkly stuff, necessary because the engine waves about like an aspen leaf on its flexible mountings). This little car handles impeccably, but would find any good “12/50” Alvis a match for it over 200 main-road miles, while it sadly lacks character, like the “perfect gentleman” who is also a “perfect bore.” Oh yes, and there is a 1½-litre saloon priced at over £913 that in less than a year has required two new back axles and still isn’t right, its propeller shaft whipping so much that the bearings fall to bits. And there is the modern finish that flakes off after a few months and “upholstery” consisting of panels of cardboard clipped to the body by tabs . . . Gentlemen, the toast is the vintage car.
* * *
It never rains but it pours, or something of the sort. Last January we published a picture and gave some notes on a very fine “duck’s-back” “12/50” Alvis which had appeared in a film. Now come details, from Individual Pictures, Ltd., of a car they used while filming the comedy “The Happiest Days of Your Life,” now showing in London and due for release this month—you should go to see it for it is a first-rate comedy, although the car in question, which is something of a puzzle to us, is seen only for a fleeting moment, in plan view. It was apparently borrowed from a Mr. Bridger of Hindhead, but is now owned by Lt. Wilson, R.A.S.C. It is said to be a 1927 2,688-c.c. four-cylinder twin-cam Salmson, converted from a four to a two-seater and capable of a “comfortable sixty,” together with good roadholding considering its height. In the film Guy Middleton, as Hyde-Brown, sports-master at Nutbourne College and an ex-R.A.F. fighter pilot, uses it as an exciting means of locomotion. Whether the sports-master of a public school should be seen in such a car we leave to your judgment, after studying the picture of it which we reproduce on page 188.
 
Returning to our puzzle, there was, so far as we can ascertain, no 2,688-c.c. Salmson, the bigger of the two 1927 models being 1,195-c.c., although the 1, 630-c.c. “15/30” was introduced later. A picture of the engine shows this to be a typical Salmson unit, with vertical shaft drive at the front for the twin o.h. camshafts, a positively-driven fan, a four-branch exhaust manifold on the near side, and a vast dynamotor on the nose of the crankshaft. But the front dumb-irons suggest “12/50” Alvis and the frame somehow looks unusual, although the rear ¼-elliptic springs, brakes and knockon wheel could be Salmson. However, the radiator has obviously been lowered and moved forward, and autovac petrol feed borrowed, we should say, from an Alvis. The car certainly isn’t in the same category is the Alvis which figured in “Another Shore” and isn’t improved by the quick-action radiator cap, modern headlamps and “cluster” horn. But it may strike a chord of some sort with Salmson folk.
* * *
We will continue with some more letters from the vintage in-tray:—
 
Sir,
I was most interested to read your column on the “Film Star” “duck’s-back” “12/50” Alvis, which is being rebuilt by T. Laxton. This machine is, as you say, a very fine example. In this connection it is not out of place, I think, to bring to your notice to an even rarer model of which I am now guardian. I enclose two photographs.
 
In your article you mention that an outside exhaust system was used, but the Laxton machine seems to have lost it in the years.
 
As you will observe H.P. 6161 still has this unit which makes as much noise as you might expect from a drain pipe of such proportions.
 
H.P. 6161 was in fact No. 1 competition “12/50” Alvis as delivered to T. Simister in 1923 after M. Harvey had performed with it for Alvis. It had one of the first, probably the first, big-port engine, the others being fitted to the 200-Mile Race cars.
 
The car was completed in the middle of 1923 and delivered to T. Simister in December of that year. The following year it passed into the hands of Mr. A. J. Linnell, of Wellingborough, who has had it ever since.
 
The present body is not original. In the first place, apart from an unlouvred bonnet, there was practically no body. The two low sides finished just behind the staggered seats leaving a large cylindrical petrol tank exposed, athwartship, naked and unashamed. The crew felt pretty much in the open, too!
 
The car is still in very reasonable trim and, apart from a broken rod and piston, all moving parts are original despite its very considerable mileage. Even the timing gears are fairly good—which means something on an Alvis.
 
Old age has, of course, slowed the old girl down a bit, but on an aerodrome runway, suitably marked out, she still managed a 21 sec. s.s. quarter-mile, and 34.7 s.s. half-mile. The maximum is 80 plus or minus 2 m.p.h. according to how she feels at the time. I feel sure that a little more alteration will make for an improvement right through the performance range.
 
An easy 80 m.p.h. within the reach of a “12/50” is, I think, a bit much (see your column, January).
 
The weight is just wider 16 cwt.—the chassis having been much drilled by Alvis.
 
Naturally I could go on enthusing over this car for some time—but enough for now.
 
I am, Yours, etc.,
Kettering. R. J. Wicksteed.
* * *
Sir,
The recent correspondence in “Vintage Veerings” prompts me to write to you in praise of the vintage Humber, a marque which is rarely mentioned in the columns of Motor Sport.
 
I am the fortunate and happy owner of a 1928 “14/40” Humber in a fine state of preservation and with a total mileage of under 50,000 in which all lay motoring (basic only, alas!) is done. My happiness derives not only from the present performance of the car, but also from the contemplation of its prospective longevity. For the condition of my own car, and the experience of owners of similar models whom I have met, suggests that a mere 50,000 miles is nothing to a vintage Humber.
 
I recently came across an identical model with 207,000 miles to its credit. It was just beginning to show signs of requiring its second rebore, the first having been done at 110,000 miles. No replacement of any part or bearing (except, possibly, big-ends—I cannot remember whether they were original or not) had been required so far. The inlet valves had been ground in only once. The owner was, however, a little worried about his king-pins since they seemed likely to want renewing after another 40,000 miles or so! This record is, not unique. I know also of it 1929 20-h.p. model with over 100,000 miles behind it that has not yet been rebored and does not need it. The condition of my own engine after nearly 50,000 miles confirms these experiences.
 
The chassis of the “14/40” contains several interesting features that are belied by the conservative (even for 1928) appearance of the bodylines. The four-cylinder 75 by 116 engine of 2,050-c.c. has o.h. inlet and side exhaust valves and is flexibly mounted with a friction-type vibration damper at the rear. Excellent braking is provided by rod-operated anchors in 13-in. drums with two-leading-shoe brakes on the front axle.
 
As far as performance is concerned, though in no sense a sports car, my Humber is by no means the comparative sluggard I expected when I acquired it nine months ago. It will cruise indefinitely at 50-55 m.p.h. without all feeling of strain or effort or over-driving and averages 23-24 m.p.g. (this is capable of improvement, I think, when I have the time). I have been surprised to find myself regularly averaging 10 m.p.h. on the 60-mile journey from Oxford to my home in London, although I have never been trying to put in it high average and I have too much respect for vintage machinery to indulge in anything that could possibly be called driving the old lady hard. Road-holding and springing are delightful.
 
The spacious and beautifully up-holstered open five-seater body of aluminium could hardly be more comfortable, and it possesses one feature I believe to be unique among production vintage bodywork—sidescreens that wind down into the doors. The great benefit of this will be appreciated by those who have battled, armed with hammer or screwdriver, with the conventional type peg-and-hole fitting sidesereens when their frames have become slightly distorted.
 
I hope that Motor Sport will be able to find space in the not too distant future for an article on the pre-Rootes Humbers. With the exception of the T.T. cars of before 1914, they were not sports cars, but they are and remain fine examples of vintage engineering at its best.
 
In conclusion, I would like to add one more reason to the many already mentioned, for motoring in vintage cars. One has the satisfaction of knowing that one is sitting in the middle of a solid, well-built structure. As an old chauffeur said to me after a joyful inspection of my car, “If one of they little modern cars hit you, concertina ’em up, that’s what it would.”
 
I am, Yours, etc.,
Oxford. John J. Woodcock.
* * *
Sir,
I live 12½ miles away from my Station and so have to drive 25 miles a day over Pembrokeshire lanes, with occasional long runs when I’m on leave. For the first 14 months I used a 1928 Delage D.1 open tourer; and for the last 11 months have used a Sunbeam “20/60”; a 1929 chassis with 1931 body. Neither car has ever failed to start, on the coldest morning, often after a night out. Two years concentrated vintage motoring convinces me more than ever that cars virtually ceased to be built after 1930!
 
I am, Yours, etc.,
Haverfordwest. D. W. Radcliffe,
Lieutenant, R.N.
* * *
Sir,
I have been running my Senechal now for five months, and it is a very pleasant little car. The condition is nearly original.
 
The performance is quite brisk, especially in the lower gears and, due to the high axle-ratio, it will cruise all day at 45-50 m.p.h. Petrol consumption is good—about 45 m.p.g. without really trying; one day I’m going to try a long economy run and see how far it will go on one gallon.
 
These cars are very good fun to own and drive, and while perhaps they need a little more maintenance than more recent sports cars, I think it is well worth while.
 
The Senechal seems a very good compromise between a touring and sports car and is just as happy in traffic as on the open road, due mainly to the excellent brakes, which are really powerful.
 
I am, Yours, etc.,
Hugh Wycombe. J. F. Taylor.

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