Vintage postbag , April 1976

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“Another look at Nanette”

I was most interested to read your article on Felix Scriven’s car “Nanette” to which I may be able to add a little more information.

Nanette was built in 1924 by F.W. Bond and Co. of Brighouse, the two man company responsible for the prototype chic car (Motor Sport, October ’69) and the seven Bond cars, of which I own the 1928 Supersports model. Mr. Scriven added the aluminium bodywork and road equipment which seems to have been confined to number plates, klaxon; side lights and one large headlight.

The chassis, of all the Bond cars, was made by Rubery Owen with engine, gearbox, etc. as you stated, brakes were on the rear wheels only and the sloping radiator was “borrowed” from a partially completed Bond. The original bodywork had a cowl over the radiator; beetleback tail and a stepover entry into the cockpit.

When Nanette appeared at Brooklands in 1925 the beetleback had been replaced by a low pointed tail, the sides, of the cockpit being completely open, radiator cowl had been removed and another front axle with disc wheels had been fitted, but the Sage engine was still proving unreliable.

By the Easter meeting of 1926 the Hooker Thomas engine had been installed, radiator cowl replaced, a new front axle with wire wheels and brakes had been fitted, and the Felix Nanette was born.

Although it does not show in your photograph, taken as Nanette returned to the paddock after winning the 90 m.p.h. Long Handicap, Mr. Scriven was drenched in hot engine oil, which had Splashed through the louvred dashboard for most of the race.

The previous evening, while practising for the race, a petrol pipe came adrift and petrol poured into the undertray, Mr. Scriven having to work throughout the night to put right the damage from the resulting fire.

Nanette was entered for the 100 Mile, Evening News Gold Cup race in August 1926, so a couple of days before the meeting Mr. Scriven set out for Brooklands for a bit of practice. However, as he passed through Bawtry, near Doncaster, the rear petrol tank split and the fuel was ignited by the hot exhaust. By the time he had stopped the car his clothing was on fire but he managed to put the flames out, and suffered only minor burns. Nanette, however, was a different matter for the front petrol tank also caught fire and to use Mr. Scriven’s words “there were three explosions, much of the aluminium was melted and the car was completely destroyed, except for the engine and front wheels”.

Mr. Scriven was determined to have a race that weekend, so he brought “‘Sergeant Murphy” out of mothballs and entered for the President’s Gold Plate but retired before the end.

What happened to the “completely destroyed” Nanette after the lire is a hit of a mystery, for she reappeared in supercharged form for the August meeting .vt 1927 and I have been unable to find out just floss much of her Mr. Scriven was able to salvage. but from your article it would appear to he quite a lot.

I would be most interested to see photographs of her in her present condition as it may be possible that Mr. Scriven rebuilt her from parts discarded in the past.

As always, I would be grateful for any information on Bond cars, particularly YW 9887.

Altrincham E. SAWYER

Sir,

I read With much interest the feature “Another Look at Nanette”, and in particular the reference to “Nanette’s” camshaft drive from the rear of the engine. I own a Super-Sports low-chassis Arab, a car designed by Parry Thomas’ friend and assistant Reid Railton, but with which Thomas hirnself had at least some influence. In the course of a complete strip-down of this engine in my car, a casting date of August 30th 1923 was revealed on the cylinder block. The “prototype” of the Arab was the Spurrier-Railton, or SR, which was raced by Railton himself at Brooklands in early 1924 and subsequently appeared at Southport and else where in the hands of the Shorrock brothers, and others, perhaps. But this was a full two years before the Arab was to make its debut in the motoring Press.

This casting date on the block of my engine, which is No. 20, by the way, and therefore cannot be thought of as a prototype, coupled with the evidence of dimensions and appearance, tends to confirm the theory that all the 4-cylinder Thomas engines…

Hooker-Thomas, Marlborough-Thomas, the 4-cylinder “flat-irons”… and the SR and the Arab shared a common cylinder block. Certainly the Arab has the characteristic Thomas leaf-spring valve gear, as does “Nanette”, but in the case of the Arab the camshaft drive is taken off the front of the engine and transmitted via a vast chain and sprocket, with the added refinement of an ingenious timing adjustment by means of a multiple choice of relative positions between the sprocket and the flange on the front of the camshaft itself. So, if as logic seems to suggest as reasonable, one considers the Arab engine as a Thomas engine, here is another variant on the eccentric-and-connecting-rod-drive method. [Originally, “Nanette” had the eccentric-drive like other Hooker engines. -Ed.]

I am told on excellent authority that Leylands themselves cast fifty of these four-cylinder blocks for Peter Hooker, and also that the oft-accepted theory that these engines were destined for a design of taxi (of all unlikely and unsuitable vehicles to house such an engine), may he discounted, as in fact they were destined for high-speed newspaper delivery vans, which seems much more plausible. A taxi would seldom if ever be called upon to make use of the high-speed potential of these engines, which one would not imagine to take kindly to town pottering. The Super-Sports Arab was reputedly credited by the makers with a maximum of 90 m.p.h., and with the 3.63:1 back-axle ratio that my car has this should, at least in theory, be possible without excessive r.p.m. Railton put up a lap speed of 91.89 m.p.h. with the SR on its first Brooklands outing in 1924, and the Super-Sports Arab was a very much more sophisticated chassis than the SR, or even, for that matter, than the high-chassis Sports Arab.

If any of your erudite readers can throw any light on these matters or offer any substantiation of the intention to produce the Thomas-engined newspaper fliers… (for whom?) . . I would he delighted to hear from them. ( And so would I.-Ed.)

Tenbury Wells A. B. DEMAUS

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