Vintage car modifications

Good as no doubt are the intentions of your correspondent F. Dorman Byers, and great the import of his qualifications, I would be loth to allow to pass unchallenged any suggestion of vandalism levelled against Peter Binn’s, as would most others in the V.S.C.C. who know also his unamputated O.M. and Riley Nine. To suggest a certain frigidity in the design of the ‘twenties was to invite consideration of the question of conserving the integrity of such cars from another viewpoint, one from which the 30/98 is particularly vulnerable. Perhaps the primary consideration, as the club moves slowly and inexorably, towards its end as an association of curators, is indeed to maintain a substantial body of the appropriate cars in their originally intended order. (Should there be those who doubt such a fate for the club, let them go to a Slough rally and see how slowly some of us drive compared with the zest of a few years ago.)

But so long as this condition may be satisfied, then the promptings of the desire to improve, undertaken in a spirit of research, and to do justice to a design which did not go sufficiently far to fulfil its promise, may properly be applied to the modification of at least a few of each model. This is where there become concerned the design of the ‘twenties and of the 30/98. The word “design” imports an intention for the vehicle to perform certain given functions, and from those original data which specified a touring four-seater possessed of a performance which was high for a touring car, the 30/98 may well have been a reasonable solution. But sports-car competition, not only in the current club meetings but also in the ‘twenties themselves, demonstrated that the majority of English supposedly sports cars, which were largely of a touring calibre, required a more specialised approach, a more rigorous application of the principles of competition-car design. For instance, the touring bodies of the day were not far removed from those which deliberately provided for the wearing of a top hat aboard. Now Peter Binns does not wear his top hat while he is driving, so there is the foundation for one modification—the reduction of frontal area. As for chassis design, I have always felt that the 30/98 had even less design than it had chassis, and that this latter was intended merely as a sort of datum line relative to and about which the rest of the car was constructed. Even Tim Carson, who seems to like them as they are, had recourse to surgery on more than one. It is only fair to recall, albeit with some reluctance, the vintage race at Gransden Lodge in 1947, when I saw Alan May, in a standard looking perpendicular Vauxhall, trounce with contemptuous ease a field of Anakim which included Pierre Marechal (Speed Six) and Messrs. Butterworth, Lycett and im Thurn on 4 1/2 Bentleys. This state of affairs, so deplorable to those of us who hold that the only good thing that Laurence Pomeroy Senior ever produced was Laurence Pomeroy Junior, was no doubt brought about by the quite original lack of brakes, those instruments which, as the Mantuan was wont to observe, serve only to make one go slower.

Much of the above is, I fear, somewhat obiter, but I have already made, at the beginning of my third paragraph, my main point. I mean that it is possible without guilt, and provided always that there is a sufficiency of models likely to remain in their original condition, so to modify a vintage car in certain aspects as to alter, eradicate, or substitute its idiosyncrasies without affecting its character. In the case of some cars of which the 2-litre Lagonda with its splendid engine and pantechnicon remainder is a good example, it seems only fair to give free rein to a design whose excellence may have been bridled by some consideration which need no longer be postulated. So Peter, by the substitution of new desiderata, has produced his brevicorporeal Octopus, a vintage car which has certain of its faculties more highly developed in return for a permissible and not in the premises undesirable sacrifice of other original characteristics. Another person requiring a touring 4 1/2-litre car to do something else, and oddly wanting it to be a Vauxhall, might do quite different things to the car without it being thereby any the less a vintage car, and without any criticism of the original design for a given purpose being implied. Quot homines tot sententiae; suo’ quoique mos.

I see, Mr. Editor, that I have already named two of the presidents whom the club has in the past enjoyed. May I, by a pleasurable digression, mention number three by saying how delighted I am once again to rejoice in the prose of that most charming of laudatores temporis acti, “Baladeur,” who seems at last to have returned from his presumably Phoenician fire. How must he blush to appear within the same covers as that puerile correspondent of yours, he who has been unbalanced by the current spate of space-fiction yellow-dollar dreadfuls.

I am, Yours, etc.,

London, N.13. Leonard Setright.