Vintage Postbag, April 1957

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Sir,

Reading the paragraph on the discovery of more old cars reminds me that I too have discovered one, in a car-breaker’s yard at Hanover, Germany. This one does not appear to be decaying— the only thing I could see damaged or missing was a broken lamp glass! I didn’t look inside the bonnet so I can’t give any details of the engine.

The body was a very huge saloon with electric lighting, solid rubber tyres, no front-wheel brakes, and the name BENZ in capital letters on the radiator.

As my knowledge of the German language is poor I didn’t engage the attendant in conversation about it, so I pass this information to you as it may be of interest to yourself or some member of the V.C.C. who may be in a position to obtain this car.

I am, Yours, etc., R. Saxby. B.A.O.R., 26. 

 

Sir,

Perhaps I may be permitted to reply through the medium of your paper to Mr. C. H. Sutton, of Woodbridge, whose letter regarding O.M. cars was published in your January issue.

With due deference, Sir, to your own extensive knowledge in these matters, the following may be a interest to Mr. Sutton and other readers.

O.M. or, to give its full name, Societa Anonima Officene Meccaniche was founded at Brescia with the main object of producing general engineering equipment. It was in 1918 that the company started to build motor cars. The policy was to build a medium-size vehicle to the highest standards then known to the motor-car industry. The numerous successes of O.M. cars in competition and racing bore witness to the success of the company’s aims. Here is a list of some of their achievements:—

1925: O.M. won the Tripoli Grand Prix.

1926: O.M. first, second and third in the Mille Miglia.

1926: O.M. won the Rudge-Whitworth Bienniale Cup and another O.M. was third in the General Classification at Le Mans.

1927: O.M. second in European Grand Prix.

1928: O.M. second in Mille Miglia.

1929: O.M. second in Mille Miglia.

1931: O.M. third in Mille Miglia.

There seems to have been little doubt that but for the Axis activities in preparation for war, a great deal more of O.M. would have been seen in subsequent years. Already in 1933, when I visited the factory, car production had virtually ceased and emphasis was on military equipment. Today, O.M. forms part of the Fiat group and production is apparently only for tractors and commercial vehicles.

During the period of their car successes a number of different models were produced, but basically the theme was with emphasis on the 2-litre side-valve engine with Ricardo head. The following models were current, of which there are still a few running in this country

1½-litre four-cylinder s.v.

2-litre six-cylinder s.v.

2,200-c.c. six-cylinder s.v., supercharged.

2,350-c.c. six-cylinder s.v., supercharged.

A number of o.h.v, push-rod conversions were effectively carried out in this country by the British concessionaires, L. C. Rawlence & Co., Ltd. The unblown cars being capable of 80 m.p.h. and the supercharged version attaining the then greatly coveted 100 m.p.h.

If anyone is interested in further information regarding these cars I would refer them, Sir, to your own book, “Continental Sports Cars,” or to an article which I wrote and which appeared in the Bulletin of the Vintage Sports Car Club, Vol. XII, No. 4.

Finally, I would be interested to learn the present whereabouts of the o.h.v. model mentioned by Mr. Sutton—registration No. CJH 222—or a similar car, UL 91, which I ran in the International Alpine Trial in 1933.

I am, Yours, etc., W. W. Blackstone. Maidenhead

 

Sir,

Although I have been unable to find the name of the designer of O.M.s, during my search I did find some facts which may be of interest to readers.

The O.M., or more fully Officine Meccaniche of Brescia, was developed from the Zust car, which raced in the Targa Florio in the years 1907-08.

The first reference to O.M.s in racing being the 1921 Italian Voiturette G.P., when a team of three cars followed home the victorious Bugattis. When again they entered the 1922 Voiturette G.P. the entire team were non-starters. Their next racing success was in 1925, when they scored fourth and fifth places at Le Mans.

Three years later, in 1928, they were all-conquering in the Mille Miglia, O.M.s gaining first, second and third places, the winning drivers being Minoia and Morandi, at a speed of 48.27 m.p.h. In 1929 Morandi and Rosa drove an O.M. into second place.

The Mille Miglia cars were, I understand, the 15/45 model of 1,991 c.c., side valve, fitted with triple 30-mm. Zeniths and Bosch coil ignition.

In the 1930 Targa Florio Morandi drove an O.M. into sixth place at a time of 7 hr. 18 min. 31 sec.; tenth place was also taken by an O.M., driven by Minoia . . . time, 7 hr. 32 min. 13 sec. Again, in the Targa Florio of 1932, O.M. took sixth place, this time driven by Rondina in a time of 8 hr. 39 min. 38 sec.

It was shortly after 1932 that, I think, O.M. was absorbed into the Fiat organisation and production was concentrated on commercial vehicles.

I hope Mr. Sutton finds this interesting, and perhaps some other reader can add to the history of this interesting make.

Finally, I should like to congratulate Motor Sport for a most welcome re-introduction of a vintage section; long may it flourish.

I am, Yours, etc., Roger Wareing. Rochdale.

 

Sir,

Referring to C. H. Sutton’s letter in “Vintage Postbag.” O.M.s discontinued car manufacture because the firm became a subsidiary of Fiats. (The Italians apparently do not subscribe to English marketing methods, otherwise the O.M. name would have been continued as a thinly-disguised Fiat).

Signor Fuscaldo was (I understand) the designer. He was also responsible for the Caproni-Fuscaldo fuel injection system, which was by solenoids instead of cams. This seemed to offer such marked advantages, and was indeed used by Alfa-Romeo to win one of the most important races of 1940, that one wonders why everyone uses cam-operated fuel injection, 16 years later. Can anyone enlighten us?

O.M.s were 1-2-3 in the first Mille Miglia of 1926.

I am, Yours, etc., R. Radford. New Haw.

 

Sir.

The Deemster light car was manufactured by the Ogston Motor Company, which was founded some time before the First World War by Mr. J. N. Ogston, who was previous to this Chief Designer with D. Napier and Son, Acton, London, W.3, and a Mr. Schofield, who was the Secretary at Napier’s.

During the First World War, the Ogston Motor Company was a government-controlled establishment and were contractors to the War Office, Ministry of Munitions, Admiralty and Air Ministry.

The Ogston Motor Co.’s works were attached to the Wilkinson Sword factory at Southfield Road, Acton. W.3, the grounds of which abut on to the grounds of the Napier works. Later a large piece of land was purchased at Willesden and a very grandiose scheme was drawn up, but all that went to Willesden was the office staff. A very fine office block was built facing down Horn Lane, but the rest of the works was never transferred from Southfield Road.

I remember in 1919 being on the Deemster stand at the Motor Show at Olympia when Mr. Routledge, then Chief Draughtsman at Napier’s, who later went to Rolls-Royce, viewing the models then showing, remarked what a very fine job it was—very few castings, plenty of drop forgings.

There was a two-seater Standard Model (345 gns.), a cabriolet coupe (440 gns.), sports model (380 gns.), and standard four-seater (440 gns.). There was also a light delivery van. All these models were fitted with the Deemster engine, a four-cylinder mono-block, water-cooled, of 62 mm. bore by 90 mm. stroke, capacity 1,086 c.c., 10 h.p. The bodies of the car were made by the Auto Steel Metal Co., at Shepherds Bush, London. The Managing Director of which was the before-mentioned Mr. Schofield.

The Ogston Motor Co.’s machine shop was very fine and contained the latest (at that time) American machine tools, Gisholts, Fay automatic Jone & Lampson lathes, automatic milling machines, etc.

Unlike the last war when the boom lasted some 10 years or more, by the third year after the 1914-1918 war there was a slump and many famous firms went out of business. In 1921 the Ogston Motor Co. was being run by the Official Receivers. During this period Anzani engines were fitted and a very fine body was adopted; had this body been fitted earlier the Ogston Motor Co. would, I think, still be in existence today.

Mr. Ogston was an old Etonian and his father lived in Kildrummy Castle, Aberdeenshire.

I am, Yours, etc., J. G. Giles.

 

Sir,

Mr. Robert Peaty’s letter in the February issue of Motor Sport, dealing with the vintage Graf & Stift is somewhat incomplete and I may be able to supplement the information for the benefit of those connoisseurs familiar with Continental high-class machinery.

The Graf & Stift car was certainly made in the post-1918 era and my father bought one of these cars in the early 1920s. It was then one of the most exclusive cars made on the Continent and in the lsotta-Minerva-Hispano class in terms of price. As far as I can remember they made two models and got involved in a legal battle with Rolls-Royce for the alleged infringement of R.-R. patents, and the Austrian company had to pay a heavy fine which put them out of the passenger-car business. The firm is still very much in existence today and makes high-quality lorries and most of the Austrian Post Office ‘buses.

Unfortunately, I remember very little about the technical data of the car, except that the workmanship was superb, but the design rather heavy and clumsy. The engine was a six-cylinder, side-valve and slow revving, propelling the car at some 80 m.p.h. It had a special foot pedal for by-passing the exhaust silencer and this was opened with great joy on approaching a major hill. The brake shoes were cast iron without linings and rather noisy, there was a transmission brake, also a mountain brake which was a two-pronged spiked affair which dug into the road surface and was releaeed by cable from the driver’s seat. The car was fitted with an Auster windscreen and had a host of English fittings.

I am surprised Mr. Peaty did not mention the Steyr car, which has been in production for a good many years in Austria. Since World War II this firm has been producing cars under Fiat licences.

I am, Yours, etc., S. Bentall. London, N.2.

 

Sir,

May I add to Messrs. Cross’ and Peaty’s letters on Graf & Stift and other Austrian cars?

Graf & Stift was an old-established coachbuilders firm in Vienna, “by appointment” to the Court, who got “motorised” in the first decade of the century. They built large “quality” cars, first open carriages, later limousines. In the early ‘thirties they took the Austrian licence for Citroen’s “moteur flottant” (the last r.w.d. Citroen) and later made or assembled this model in Austria, still maintaining the “Graf & Stift” marque but superimposing on it Citroen’s inverted corporal’s chevron and swan. I think they went out of business around 1936 or ’37.

The best-known Austrian make is Steyr. They made passenger cars of their own up to 1939, assembled Opel at one time, and their air-cooled V8 diesel lorry was the most successful in the German Army. Steyr amalgamated with Austro-Daimler and Puch in the mid-‘thirties, and Steyr and Austro-Daimler cars, as well as Puch two-stroke motor-cycles, were manufactured. The Austro-Daimlers were large, sporty “upper-income-bracket” cars of good design and performance, and their “Bergmeister” could be classed alongside such cars as the Speed Six Bentley or a later V12 Lagonda; it was a straight-eight single o.h.c. and the radiator design was similar to that of the Lagonda. Dr. Porsche was associated both with Austro-Daimlers and Steyrs—the Steyr 50 can be regarded as the Volkswagen’s forerunner.

Austro-Fiat also made passenger cars before retiring into the lorry and ‘bus field, and Puch made cars as well as motor-cycles. In all there were at least six independent car manufacturers — far too many for that small country.

The most popular foreign car was the Tatra — at that time an aircooled flat twin and flat-four with tubular backbone chassis and swing axles, which does not make the Panhard Dyna or 2 c.v. Citroen particularly “modern.” I.F.S. and i.r.s. were a necessity on the bad roads and cars had to be “bergfreudig” — mountain happy.

I am, Yours, etc., G. W. Burger. London N.W.2.

 

Sir,

I should like to take to task Mr. Robert Peaty of Paris regarding one of his statements on the Graf und Stift car, and correct him historically and geographically.

On June 28th, 1914, the Bosnian town of Sarajevo was visited by the Hapsburg Heir, the Archduke Ferdinand and his morganatical wife Sophie, riding in a flat-radiatored Mercedes tourer painted yellow with black wings and bearing the Hapsburg Eagle insignia. The car was chauffeured by Otto Mertz, who later distinguished himself by tearing mudguards off a 38/250 SSK at Le Mans.

A bomb was tossed onto the hood of the car and rolled off into the road, partly pushed by the Archduke, and exploded injuring some of the following retinue.

On being given a welcoming address at the Town Hall, Ferdinand, not unnaturally made a sarcastic remark and pushed off to visit the injured, now in hospital.

The town was insufficiently policed, and Mertz was wrongly directed en route to the hospital. He made a wrong turn and as he engaged reverse gear, a Serbian youth, member of an anarchist movement and going by the name of Gavrilo Princep, dashed out of the crowd and opened fire with a Browning automatic pistol. Ferdinand was shot in the neck, Sophie in the abdomen and I believe Mertz was also wounded but I wouldn’t swear to it. He at any rate tried to get the car clear of the crowd, but the cars behind and reverse gear hindered him and, of course, the results were fatal.

After the war, the car got into the hands of an American showman, but it brought him no luck and was I believe destroyed by a fire which bankrupt the owner. I am, Yours, etc., Peter Blackbury. Harlow 

 

Sir,

The remarks on the Graf and Stift in the January and February issues interested me considerably. I’m afraid the information I have is meagre, but it may be of interest to your readers.

I last travelled in one of these vehicles in Salzburg some two years ago. This, I regret, was no vintage thoroughbred, but a ‘bus of the Salzburg Municipality. The ‘bus was, if I remember correctly, of post-war vintage. so it would seem that the concern is still going strong. By the way, isn’t it a regrettable omission that our more prosaic manufacturers have no such name as “Count and Abbey” among their ranks?

Incidentally, there is one Austrian product Mr. Peaty seems to have forgotten, the Steyr. At the moment, their output seems to be confined to diesel lorries and Fiats manufactured under licence. But pre-war Steyrs, whose appearance is, to say the least, unusual, still abound in Austria. I would be interested if any reader has any more information on the Steyr.

I am, Yours, etc., Alan K. Peterson. Middlesborough.

 

Sir,

I received much pleasure from reading “Fifty Years of a Nobody’s Motoring,” by Major Mills.

One afternoon, above the noise of a machine-shop, I heard a voice ring out, “Drop everything and run.” I did not know if the shop was on fire, or whether the roof was falling-in. I ran to where the Lt.-Col. was standing and saw a bi-plane coming towards us seemingly out of control and only a few feet from the ground. It passed between the works and the second largest gas-holder in the country; the ‘plane was far below the top of the gas-holder and the sight was terrifying. Grahame White was on his way to Manchester in his quest for the £1,000 given by the Daily Mail.

I have a 12/60 1931 TK but I cannot get 70; perhaps the Major will let us know how it is done. I do not think the Major kept his 1915 5/6-h.p. 683-c.c. Indian long enough. There were very few of these machines in this country, but to me they were one of the finest machines built, for in 1913 they had all-chain-drive, a three-speed gearbox, a perfect clutch, the engine was bolted into the frame, the little pots were of cast iron and machined all over — even the fins — and they had a wonderful system of twist-grip control, throttle on the left, and advance and retard and an exhaust lifter all in one grip on the right. There were no cables and the controls never one let me down. The engine was the slowest-running V-twin I have ever known and caused favourable comment where-ever I went; it was a lovely machine to drive. I gave £75 for it in 1920 but owing to circumstances over which I had no control I had to give it away.

I now ride a little two-stroke but often think what joy I should get from a ride on that 1915 Indian.

I am, Yours, etc., W. C. Stevens. Wembley.

 

Sir,

As one who invariably reads your “Vintage Postbag,” I thought the following might possibly be of interest to fellow vintage fans.

In December last I was fortunate enough to locate, and subsequently acquire, a Ford Model-T light van, of 1916 manufacture. With the commendable help of the vendor, who had got the vehicle into good running order, and the able assistance of a fellow-enthusiast, Mr. D. E. Morse, of Norwich, the van was driven from a farm in the north of Kent to my home in just seven hours’ running time; distance approx. 160 miles.

The only incident was the failure of a valve in the offside rear tube just eight miles from home; the vehicle, considering its age, putting up, to my mind, a very good show.

I hope, in course of time, to restore this van to something approaching its original condition, as it is basically very sound.

I am, Yours, etc., G. M. P. Wigg. Beccles.

 

Sir,

Mr. Bayley wishes to know what make the car is he sent a picture of. I think he will find it is a 7-h.p. Fafnir of about 1903 pattern. They were a German car, known until the outbreak of the Kaiser War, after which they seemed to disappear. They were well known too for the proprietary engines they made for other cars.

Mr. Peaty tells us that there were only two known cars of Austrian manufacture. To his two may I add the Steyr, Laurin and Kilement, Puch and Maja which were all well known too.

Mr. Hiam wishes for news of the Deemster car. They were known as the Wilkinson until 1912 when they sold the design and all rights to the Ogston Motor Co. of Victoria Road, Acton. Their trade mark was a black cat and later models had Anzani engines. They were good cars and were made until 1924. The company later moved to Southfield Road, Acton.

I am, Yours, etc., G. A. Shaw. Knaresborough.

 

Alfa-Romeo Register

Stuart G. Wilson, of Headley Park Farm, Headley, Surrey, is the Registrar. Geoffrey Wilson, of 60, Church Street, Littleborough, Lancs. handles the spares for these pre-war Alfa-Romeos. A bi-monthly news sheet is to be produced. Owners of cars of this make should contact Stuart Wilson for information and assistance.