Vintage Postbag, April 1967

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What Was a Brook’s Super Sparker?

Sir,

I wonder if you can help me. Recently I found in an old tool-box of my late father, a Brook’s Super Sparker, bearing the Pattern No. 252608.

It is a little rectangular metal box with a detachable front cover in which there is a glass window. Inside are four adjustable sets of contacts, each numbered 1-4. On the back of the instrument are eight terminals to which I believe the high tension tables would be attached. The spark would have to jump its appropriate contact set, prior to wending its merry way to the spark plug. If you have any information on this little, I would imagine, accessory, such as where it was fitted, to what it was fitted, and about what period, I would be more than grateful.

Todwick — N. BUXTON

***

That Mystery Car

[Below is a letter from the reader whose picture of a vintage Hands baffled everyone, including me—although the 4-stud wheels should have been a clue.—ED]

Sir,

My interest in motoring began at an early age as my father had, in 1917 or thereabouts, a de Dion Bolton, Belsize, and two Ford Ts to deliver the goods from a grocery business at Ilkley (it must have been a good business although when young this does not occur to one), and it was not motoring sport that accelerated my father’s age!

I had always wanted to own a Scott motorcycle but ended up buying the Hands, of which a photograph is enclosed. We found motoring expensive but enjoyed every moment. (Price £80, but sold for £22!)

I bought it in the dark, in a garage at Hull, and could not drive at the time and asked the seller to take it home for me! Needless to say the car had many faults (a “pup ” in fact) but with many helpers all was put in order.

I worked for a multiple firm at the time and the purchase of a car in those days it would appear to me meant a speedy transfer to another part of Great Britain, which duly happened.

I used to travel up from London many a weekend to have a tour in my car, which, by the way, in my absence had been used by all and sundry.

These excursions into the country were a little hazardous as when we broke down, which seemed a little frequent, I was in the heart of the country and the excursion train was due back in a few hours. I well remember an A.A. man mending a broken rotor arm with copper wire and my hitch-hiking back in a Rover car after waiting some time for any vehicle at all.

After the Hands I had two Scotts, a Swift, Austin Ruby, Morris Ten Series II, a Lea-Francis (one of the best cars for steering and gears I will ever experience), and lastly a 2-1/2 -litre Daimler and two Rovers, a 75 (now owned by my younger daughter) and now a 3-litre which gives me a lot of pleasure with its power and reliability.

I won’t mention my age but hope to motor for many years to come.

York. — G. H. WRIGHT, M.P.S., A.R.P.S.

***

Memories of the Rhode

Sir,

I should say that there is not much doubt that the car illustrated on top of page 94 in the February issue is a Rhode Occasional Four [No—see previous letter ! —E.D.] I. I had one of these cars new from Messrs. Mebes & Mebes in Gt. Portland Street about 1924 and ran it for two years.

The Rhode was remarkable for two reasons—an engine of 1,100 c.c. which, in retrospect, seemed to be quite a bit in advance of the times and a transmission which was years behind. The engine had an overhead camshaft driven by bevel gear in the front, from which the dynamo was also driven. The electrics were Brolt and carburetter Cox-Atmos. No starter, but throughout the two years I had it it never failed to start with the first pull on the handle and only once let me down on the road and that was through a blocked petrol pipe. But—oh boy—the transmission! Solid back axle. Propeller shaft splined at the front end which engaged with a three-pronged spider coupled to a Hardy-Spicer u/j. If one greased the splines they were gradually ground away by the collected dust. I used to get over this for a time by fitting distance pieces between the spider and the u/j which brought the former back on to the unworn part of the splines but this didn’t last for long naturally. I had three new shafts in the two years, all of which were fitted free. The handbrake was externally contracting on the shaft and if one adjusted it close enough to have any effect it usually caught fire on a long run. I remember putting one such out with a bottle of lemonade in the middle of Salisbury Plain. The back brakes were virtually useless however often one relined them. It was lucky there was not much on the roads in those days! The 1/ 4-elliptic springs used to become flat after a time and had to be reset. The last time I had this done, or maybe had a new pair of rear springs, coincided with the fitting of the third propeller shaft. At this time I had advertised the car for sale and took out two prospective customers for a trial run. Having gone over a largish bump I seemed to be suffering from loss of drive which, on investigation, was due to the new springs flattening out and letting the shaft come-clean out of the spider. Of course, it was raining at the time and, needless to say, “No sale ” was registered.

Your correspondent is the only other person I have ever heard of owning Rhode.

Ruislip — B. S. GOODMAN.

[I owned a 1924 Rhode just before the war and even used it to visit the Motor Sport offices in the City, although it had no starting handle or starter, at the time! A policeman on traffic duty at the Bank helped by telling me to stop the engine as it was smoking heavily !—ED.]

***

The twin o.h.c. engine

Sir,

I was particularly interested in Anthony Blight’s letter in which he expounds the theory that in vintage days the quick way to financial suicide was to produce for public consumption a twin overhead camshaft engine. I would not pretend to be an automobile engineer but I am by profession concerned with the production of other types of mechanical engineering. The subject of twin overhead camshaft engines has always intrigued me because the design seems so very right as a basic engineering concept. I have always felt that once M. Henri had produced the racing Peugeot of 1912 with this valve arrangement it should have been only a matter of time before all other designers would follow suit. The question is, why haven’t they done so?

We can start with the premise that there is nothing very difficult in making a twin o.h.c. engine, in fact there are certain aspects such as the symmetry of the cylinder block casting, as opposed to one in which the push-rods have to be enclosed on one side, which simplifies the manufacture. The number of pieces involved is slightly higher, two camshafts instead of one and a certain number of drive components. However, on an expensive car this is not sufficient to deter anyone.

I think that one real snag lies in the servicing. Before the war decarbonising was a necessity which has now disappeared with the improvement in petrols and oils. With any type of overhead camshaft engine the removal of the cylinder head immediately becomes more difficult and there is the possibility of the valve timing being wrongly set on re-assembly. Add to this the obsession of many designers in the vintage era that the block and head should be in one piece and obviously the normal annual decarbonisation and valve grind gets out of the range of the average garage mechanic to perform satisfactorily.

Another basic snag was that of noise. It is very much more simple to bury a noisy cam and tappet mechanism in the relatively massive surroundings of the crankcase than to achieve a cam form sufficiently quiet to be housed only in a thin cast aluminium cover. The drive, which nowadays can be extremely reliable and quiet with a roller chain, now made to very much closer limits than the chains of years ago, was prone to maladjustment on re-assembly after servicing. This is particularly so if gear wheel meshing adjustments are involved.

An example of just how good a twin camshaft engine of the ‘twenties could be is the Model T Duesenberg. I had one of these engines some years ago and fitted it into a Bentley chassis purely as an experiment to see what the engine was like to drive behind. It was excellent and mechanically very quiet despite a very respectable power output for its size. Here the drive was by inverted tooth chain and a great deal of attention must have been paid to the cam profile because the camshaft covers were only of very thin aluminium.

Summing up, my feelings are that the twin overhead camshaft layout is not difficult nor particularly expensive to make and is definitely the ideal solution. In the past the necessary periodic removal of the cylinder head and the quest for a quiet engine made most designers use push-rods. Nowadays the former is unnecessary and quiet cam shapes are better understood.

I think that we shall see more makers turn to this method of operation in the future.

Streetly — B. MORGAN.

***

Sir,

I see from Mr. Blight’s lengthy epistle in February Motor Sport that he misunderstood my previous letter.

Mr. Blight states that twin o.h.c. was commercially unacceptable in 1930 and backs up this statement by saying that Salmson (and Alfa Romeo) marketed t.o.h.c. because they had already developed a racing version, and that the attempt brought failure to the firm. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I would like to quote from an article written by Emile Petit himself last year (my own translation unfortunately): “.. at the end of July (1921) the engine (four push-rod push-pull) was converted so that the rockers were replaced by twin overhead camshafts with inverted bucket tappets….In October 1921 the production programme was finalised:

(1) With engines with valve actuation by four rockers.

(2) With engines with t.o.h.c., reserved for ‘sports’ cars, then at the beginning of 1922 for four-seater tourers and saloons (cylinders bored to 65 mm. for cars weighing over 1,100 kg.).

In 1922 four racing cars were constructed with t.o.h.c, and desmodromic valve operation. These cars represented Salmson in most of the major 1,100 -c.c. events between 1922 and 1928….”

In 1929, Petit left Salmson and they stopped racing. In 1930, the t.o.h.c. engine was redesigned and remained successfully in production until the outbreak of war. Between 1934 and 1938 these engines powered the British Salmson. After the war, a still more advanced 2 o.h.c. was produced until 1954, when Salmson finally lost its identity.

I am not saying that t.o.h.c. was necessarily the best design for a car in 1930, but merely that it was possible to produce them without bankrupting the firm.

London NW7 — M. J. D. WHITE

***

The Price of Vintage Cars

Sir,

There are one or two points arising from the letters of Messrs. Carmichael and Robertson which I would like to take up. Firstly, the letter of P.E. L. Carmichael. For some reason he incorrectly assumes me to be a dealer in vintage cars which primarily I am not. Over the last ten years I have not sold as many vintage cars as I have seen advertised under his name in the last two or three years so his touching concern as to whether anyone will buy a car from me as a result of my previous letter is quite unfounded. From the prices at which I have seen his cars offered, I am surprised that he of all people should write in such vein—perhaps he is using me to ease his own guilty conscience! To P. E. L. Carmichael I would say, ” People in glass houses . . .”

Mr. Robertson accuses me of being hysterical in my defence of the dealers’ side. I have read my letter sentence by sentence and find it perfectly logical. I defy any person to argue against the simple business principles contained therein. If I had misvalued a car by nearly £400 I would certainly not write to a magazine advertising the fact! The person who subsequently bought the Rolls-Royce from the dealer would not have done so had it not appeared to represent value to him so he was apparently satisfied. The dealer was happy, which only leaves Mr. Robertson, who was unhappy when he learned of the resale price, remember, he too was satisfied with the dealer’s price when selling! Who can say what represents a reasonable profit? Who can say what a vintage car is worth? As I see it, a vintage car is worth as much as you can get for it. Mr. Robertson clearly did not try very hard when it came to selling his.

Otley — C. A. WINDER

[On this unhappy note this sordid matter is now closed.—ED.]

***

More About Elcosine

From Sir Anthony Stamer, Bt.

Sir,

Your article this month, connecting this fuel with the Bugatti racing teams of the mid-’30s surprised me, for I had always assumed that this fuel was an Alfa Romeo monopoly.

The story, as I know it, was that Ing. Jano was looking around for a new fuel to boost the performance of the 1,987 c.c. 8-cylinder P2 Alfa Romeo for the 1925 season.

In 1924 this classic Grand Prix engine was developing 140 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m. with a 6:1 compression ratio, but any efforts to improve upon this figure had resulted in chronic “knocking.”

Team driver Antonio Ascari then produced two friends of his, the brothers Werner, who manufactured ethyl alcohol and were also devotees of motor racing. The Werners reckoned that they could produce the answer to Jano’s problems, and though dubious, the latter agreed to try their product.

Thus Elcosina was born, and on its first trial, the P2 engine produced 154 h.h.p. The first race run on Elcosina was the 1925 European G.P. at Spa, when Ascari and Campari led with ease throughout, Campari winning at 74.56 m.p.h.

There followed the French G.P. at Montlhéry on July 26th, when Ascari and Campari again jumped into the lead, and at half distance their position appeared unassailable. But tragedy stepped in when Antonio Ascari crashed fatally, and the Alfa team was withdrawn from the race.

The only reliable reference that I have, states that Elcosina was composed of 44% ethyl alcohol and ” a percentage of ether “—which doesn’t help much. One would guess that the remainder might be Benzole plus 1% of oil for supercharger lubrication.

The use of Elcosina led to severe consumption and temperature problems. Further, it was highly unstable, the presence of only a drop of water causing its components to separate and statify; when a stabilising agent was introduced, the fuel corroded engine components, particularly the bronze carburetter body.

Small wonder, therefore, that with the end of the 1924-25 2-litre formula, Alfa Romeo signed up for their fuel requirements with NAFTA, the Italian division of Shell, whose brilliant Swiss-born technician Ing. Somazzi worked in conjunction with Sir Harry Ricardo and the British Shell Company eventually to produce in 1932 the well-known sports-racing fuel Shell Dynamin.

As a matter of interest, the composition of the Dynamin supplied for the 1932 Mille Miglia was ethyl alcohol 20%, Benzole 30%, special aromatic benzene from Borneo 49%, and castor-base oil 1%.

Teffont Magna — ANTHONY STAMER

***

Sir,

You refer to Elcosine. H. R. Scott’s notebooks (which I have), recorded when he was chief development engineer at British Anzanis at Kingston (part of the Frazer Nash “empire”), refer often to tests carred out using Alcozene.

On July 18th, 1928, a series of tests was carried out on the supercharged “Slug” Anzani engine when with Discol various main jets were tried, with the 240 main jet 107.7 b.h.p. was raised at 14-1/2 – lb. boost. With the 250 and 260 main jets, raised 116.6 b.h.p: at the same boost.

Tests were then carried out with 50% Discol, 50% Alcozene and a 240 main jet then raised 114.8 b.h.p. With pure Alcozene the main jet dropped to 220 and the former to 105 b.h.p.

The fact that the main jet sizes are the same prove that this was a petrol or Benzole based fuel with a very small alcohol content. RD1 and PMS2 were used with the supercharged side-valves but there are no test figures on the Slug with pure alcohol fuels, which proves that it probably ran cool.

One set of test bed figures on an aircooled cyclecar engine for a Morgan also shows about 22 b.h.p. briefly achieved their “Speed in front cylinder,” after which the engine then achieved 30.2 b.h.p. at 4,000. This engine was then taken down, big-end changed and piston eased. The “Speed Powder” was obviously not efficient on engine No. AM1658, later in the book it also refers to “flowers of sulphur added.”

Stourbridge — DAVID THIRLBY, Registrar of the ‘Nash Section of the V.S.C.C.

***

Rhodes on Roads

The Hands pictured in your February issue drew forth some amusing guesses, particularly as three of your correspondents declared it to be a Rhode.

As a motorist for some 56 years I recall and quote a slogan coined in the 1920s: “If you had Rode in a Rhode you’d have knowed.” Evidently they hadn’t rode !

Coulsdon — HAROLD A. COX

***

Keep them in the Clubs

Sir,

It was flattering to read in your ” Measham ” report your remark that the Riley Register was commendably well equipped to help enthusiasts to find low priced p.v.t. cars of this breed. Why ? Our advertisement-bearing newsletter cannot be so very unusual. Surely it is just that we have managed to keep our heads and a sense of proportion. Others could well take this advice, we do not have to have anything to do with the investor cum gambler fraternity who in effect seek to take cars off the road.

I have recently received a letter from some “Auctioneers and Estate Agents” in Sussex advertising an auction of vintage car parts etcetera. I fail to see how enthusiasts will get spare parts cheaper this way than through the advertisements of the V.S.C.C., Riley Register, and similar organisations.

Horsham — J. STOTON, Hon. Sec., The Riley Register

***

A G.W.K. Memory

Sir,

My uncle bought one of these machines new, in the middle ‘twenties, after owning an earlier 2-cylinder, rear-engined model. I think it must have been an “F” type, as the layout is identical to that shown in your article.

Our garage was very hard to get into, requiring a sharp turn from a narrow lane into a yard, and then two reverses in mid-yard to get into a garage. Usually I put visitors’ cars away, but the G.W.K. was one car I refused to drive.

The trouble was that the friction material was not on the driving disc, but was a narrow strip around the driven wheel, which is stationary when you’re getting the car going. Remember, the only clutch you had was the contact area of these two wheels, the clutch pedal simply separated them against a spring load.

As well as this, with insufficient reduction through the friction drive, there was an internal gear reduction back of each brake drum. This was very cunningly arranged so that, when you let the clutch in, the whole back of the car rose several inches, and vice versa when you went backwards. I can still conjure up a picture of my uncle, in that rather small yard, letting the clutch in quickly to avoid a flat, then jamming the brakes on to avoid hitting a wall, with the car hopping up and down wildly and my uncle hanging onto the wheel and bouncing even higher than the car.

My uncle only kept this awful piece of machinery for a month or so, replacing it with a Galloway, with which he never really came to terms as it had a clutch stop which he never mastered, but that is another story.

Cheltenham — FRANK DAVISON