Veteran - Edwardian - Vintage, April 1978

A section devoted to old-car matters

The 1914 Grand Prix Opels

We have received the following letter from Mr. N. Mavrogordato bearing on the recent article and subsequent correspondence on these cars.


Since many people have shown much interest in the 1914 Grand Prix Opel story, I venture once again to write to you about them. I enclose a most interesting letter, which I have received front T.A.S.O. Mathieson, together with three photographs, one of each individual Grand Prix car, all of which you may like to publish. I enclose also a photograph of the three team cars together. After a careful study of these photos, it is quite clear that the three cars did differ materially in several respects; and that the only one which corresponds with my car is Karl Joerns’ Opel I (car no. 2). Quite apart from the fact that Opel II (car no. 16) and Opel III (car no. 30) both had their gear levers inside the body, whereas Opel I (car no. 2) had it outside, it is possible to see very clearly that Joerns’ car no. 2’s scuttle is the only one which exactly matches the one on my car, as regards its shape, depth, length and proximity to the steering wheel. There are other differences also, which your readers may notice; for example, car no. 2 appears to be the only one with a ratchet for the hand brake, the rear end of the drag link is exactly as on my car, and so is the petrol tank filler cap.

Neil Corner, in his letter in Motor Sport of November 1977, cast doubt on the truth of my 46 year old claim to own the famous Joerns’ ( Jorns’) Opel 1, and asked for written proof. I suggest that this photographic evidence is better proof than the written word; such as, for example, Cull’s contradictory letters to Boddy and Sears.

It is interesting, though not significant, that Westwood’s car had the gear lever inside the body. His car, i.e. Corner’s, also has the cranked drag link; I guess that all three cars ended up with cranked drag links (possibly even before the start of the 1914 Grand Prix race itself) because the straight link could very easily have hit the bottom of the front spring shackle on full deflection; particulary as the shock-absorbers became slack.


 The letter front Mr. T.A.S.O. Mathieson reads:

Dear Mr. Mavrogordato,

I have been following the Opel correspondence in Motor Sport with the greatest interest for, although I am a Mercedes enthusiast, I have a very soft spot for these 1914 Grand Prix Opels. Rather than write through Motor Sport I thought I would write direct to you giving the following information which, apart from one fact, makes it clear that you are, indeed, the owner of Joerns’ car.

I have photographs of all the starters in the 1914 Grand Prix, taken at the pesage, and as a result of the correspondence I have examined the photographs (broadside view, off-side) of the three Opels very carefully. They are almost identical, until studied closely, when the following facts emerge:

(Opel I) Car No. 2, Joerns. The gear-change lever is outside the body beside the handbrake, and the drag-link is straight.

(Opel II) Car No. 16, Erdtmann. The gear-change lever is inside the body on the right of the cockpit, while the body in front of the driver is slightly different to the other two cars. The drag link is cranked.

(Opel III) Car NO. 30. Bruckheimer. The gear-lever is inside the body on the right of the cockpit, the drag-link is straight, but the body between the Scuttle and the scat seems longer than on car No. 2 although the shape is the same.

I should imagine that Bruekheimer must have been considerably taller than Joerns, and the bodies of all three cars made to measure, and to the personal likings, within reason, of the drivers. There seems little doubt, in examining these three photographs and the coloured photograph of your car on page 1128 of the September 1977 issue of Motor Sport, that your car is indeed Joerns’, except for the difference in the drag-link. I can offer no explanation for this, nor why two cars should have straight links and the third a cranked.

I hope the foregoing may be of some interest to you, and may I take this opponunity of congratulating you on the marvellous way you have not only preserved the Opel over the years but also on the splendid way you have restored it to its ancient glory.


Fragments on Forgotten Makes

No. 37: The Saxon

It is rather curious that America, a country which until now has never really accepted small motor cars, and which never got very far with the cyclecar boom of 1912/ 1924, in fact made one quite good little car, the Saxon. It was made in Detroit during this period and was notably successful; it is said that 27,800 were delivered in America during 1916 alone.

It was a vehicle of simple concept, so that it was possible to sell it at British ports of entry for as little as £105. Advertised as “A Good Low-Priced Car”, the tax at this time, before the First World War, was £3 3s. a year. The left-hand-drive Saxon two-seater had wire wheels shod with 28 x 3 Clincher tyres and a so-called “streamlined” body. The water-cooled, four-cylinder 67 x 102 mm. engine was made by Continental, although Ferro power units were apparently used in some Saxons. It was described as a smoothrunning engine, able to throttle down to five m.p.h. Crankcase and cylinders were a common casting and the inlet and exhaust manifolding were integral. Drop-forgings were !Ased instead of castings to save manufacturing costs and the crankshaft ran in two babbitlined bronze bearings. The drop-forged camshaft also ran in two bearings and was driven by helical gears.

The carburetter was a Mayer, said to have been specially adapted to the engine, and lubrication was by splash, fed by vacuum, which obviated an oil-pump. Ignition was by means of six dry-cells, on the antiquated Atwater-Kent system, these cells being claimed to last without replacement for “the entire season”. The distributor was above the cylinder head, at the back of the engine, driven by a long vertical shaft. The engine drove through a dry-plate clutch, with five asbestos-lined discs, to a two-speed, sliding-gear transmission on the Saxon’s back axle. Controls were conventional, and even the spark lever was on the dash, leaving the 16 in. diameter steering wheel unencumbered. Wooden-spoke Wheels later became available as a substitute for the wire-spoked wheels. The back axle had a differential and was of semi-floating type.

The chassis had an undertray, or “sod pan” as Saxon called it, which was part of the frame and this pressed-steel structure also formed the base of the wooden body, which had 18 in. doors and a 16 in. x 40 in. seat. Two sets of brakes worked on the back wheels in 8 in. x 1 1/4 in. drums, the emergency brake being steel-to-steel, the service brake lined. The chassis was of 3 in. x 1 1/4 in. x 1/8 in, channel steel, the wheelbase being 8 ft. 3 in., or two feet longer than that of the first postwar Austin Sevens. This chassis was sprung on 22 in. long x 1 1/2 in. wide front leaf-springs, 23 in. x 1 1/2 in. back springs, the main leaves being of vanadium steel. The axles were said to be of the quality used on £500 cars, the front one a drop-forging of I-section, with ball-bearing hubs. Anyone dismantling a Saxon engine would have found a drop-forged crankshaft with journals measuring 1 3/4 in. in diameter and respectively 2 in. and 3 in. long, with 1 3/4 in. x 1 1/2 in. big-ends, a 1 in. diameter camshaft with integral cams, and valves of 1 3/16 in. diameter, having a 3/4 in. lift; they had nickel-steel heads on carbon steel stems. The con-rods were f-shape drop-forgings, 8. in. between centres. A fan assisted the cellular radiator to cool this engine, dispensing with a water-pump.

The makers explained that the low-price was possible due to the simple design aimed at reduced production costs and because of sound financial backing. The price of £105 in this country included an adjustable windscreen, gas lamps (electric lighting came in 1915), horn, hood, tools, tyre-pump and a luggage-box to fit behind the body.

It is interesting that a Saxon was bought by Jack Nicholl, whose brother Bob later formed the well-known company of Fox & Nicholl Ltd. at Tolworth in Surrey, which raced those Roesch Talbots, as well as Lagonda, Singer, and other cars, Arthur Fox having left Wolseley’s to partner Nicholl in 1926, so that for some years after its formation the company dealt mainly in that make of car. The Saxon was delivered to Jack Nicholl’s parents’ house, Merthyr Manor, Bridgend, on January 1st, 1914. Its owner joined the Welsh Regiment as a Lieutenant shortly afterwards and was killed near Ypres early in October 1915. The Saxon was then used by his two sisters and his younger brother Bob. One of these ladies, now in her 87th year, recalls that it had a top speed of about 40 m.p.h., at which it would cruise happily. You could see out of it easily, she remembers, the left-hand-drive being no handicap, and it was mechanically reliable and thus an excellent bargain for an American Car, at £105 delivered. It was disposed of in 1921 and replaced by a fraction-drive GWK. Bob Nicholl had by that time acquired a Vauxhall, but from 1924 to 1928 he ran a Bignan, this make being one of Fox & Nicholl’s interests, of which they sold a number in their formative years. After that Bob Nicholl bought his first 2-litre Lagonda. The Bignan is remembered as having a large aluminium body, powerful front wheel servo brakes and a transmission brake, but no back brake drums (like a Chenard-Walcker), and a top speed of probably 80 m.p.h. It had an exhilarating performance for those days”, says Mr. M. J. Campbell, who has kindly provided the information, “especially as driven by Bob Nicholl”.—W.B.

V-E-V Miscellany. C. H. Peacock’s k’s 1913 four-cylinder Straker-Squire chassis s now n good running order and awaits a body. Incidentally, he recalls the two-seater body and bonnet with Vauxhall Rules from the Maples’ emporium, as mentioned in the article on Adrian Liddell’s racing Straker-Squire (Motor Sport, December 1977) being in a garage behind a public house in Battersea for a time. It went eventually to Northern Ireland to be fitted to an Austro-Daimler chassis. The 5th Annual Gordon Bennett Commemoration Rally for pre-1931 cars divided into Antique, Veteran and Vintage classes is due to take place in Ireland from July 7th to 9th. There will be runs of varying length each day, at average speeds ranging from 15 to 24 m.p.h., over the 100-mile course of the 1903 Gordon Bennett Race, which was won by Jenatzy’s Sixty Mercedes. The entry fee is £7 per car and the regulations and entry forms are now available, from: L. Bradshaw, Stradbally Road, Portlaoise, Co. Laoise, Ireland. Entries close first post on June 12th. The Rally headquarters will be at Ireland’s oldest occupied castle, Kilkea Castle in Co. Kildare.

The Veteran Car Club announces that the 1978 Brighton Run will take place on November 5th. The 1977 winners of some of this Club’s many annual awards include R. Pullham’s 1911 Gregoire, Mrs. Flavell’s 1911 Rover, D. Ryder-Richardson’s 1904 De Dion Bouton, G. Pilmore-Bedford’s 1901 Lanchester, R. Middleton’s two Locomobile steamer, A. J. Hancock’s 1910 Rolls-Royce, C. J. Bendall’s 1911 Rolls-Royce, F. A. Harvey’s 1908 Renault, A. J. Hancock’s 1902 Colombia Electric, F. Smith’s 1914 Darracq, Mr. and Mrs. Dutch’s 190t De Dion Bouton, W. Laarman’s 1913 De Dion Bouton, D. R. Grossmark’s 1909 Napier, B. W. Garrett’s 1896 Lutzmann and R. G. Coulthard’s 1904 Century, besides awards to many officials. The Hillman Register has 46 members owning pre-war Hillmans, mostly Minx of various kinds, but including 19 Hillman Fourteens, one of them Baker’s Husky, a 1933 Hillman Wizard and a 1931 straight-eight Hillman Vortic. The oldest car is a 1920 two-seater in Bournemouth. The Registrar is: Tim Barnes, 119, High Street, Stoney Stratford. D. B. K. Shipwright has been in the news, having received a top Red Cross Society honour. He was described as a Brooklands ace driver. In fact, he won one race, with a 30-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley. Later he had the 3-litre Ballot, which Joan Richmond drove for him, now restored by Humphrey Milling. A nice touch was that Shipwright had an Armstrong Siddeley Lancaster after the war, displaying a pre-war BARC badge.

Having quoted some of the VCC top-awards of 1977 above, it is only fair to do the same for the VSCC, although the list seems even longer. Anyway, the Lycett Memorial Trophy was won by Bernard Kain, the Thoroughbred Trophy to Derek Edwards, the Alvis Trophy to M. U. Hirst, the Edwardian Trophy to Roger Collings, the Ladies’ Trophy to Angela Cherrett, the Light Car Trophy to I. A. McEwen, the Historic Racing Trophy to Dan Margulies, the Kane Tronh y to Bernard Kain, the ERA Trophy to Patrick Marsh and the Navigators Trophy to Jim Whyrnan, to name the more understandable ones. Now they are hard at is again, building up points towards the 1978 awards! A pre-war Austin Seven race will feature at the 750 MC Race Meeting at Mallory Park on April 16th. A 1918 Harley-Davidson motorcycle has turned up in Cumbria and awaits restoration. Phillip Mann has added another historic aeroplane to his collection a 1931 Civilian coupe which had been stored in a barn since the war and which was knocked down to him at a Welsh auction sale for £5,000. Ronald Barker’s Sixty Napier appeared in the BBC’s “Wings” programme recently, as the car of the wealthy young RFC flying-instructor. Cheltenham is to be the centre of the VMCC’s International Assembly from June 23rd to 25th. The MCC Land’s End Trial at Easter is the 70th. Anniversary of this famous event and a special class for pre-1940 vehicles. Entries have closed.

The Essex Austin Seven Club is staging a National Austin 7 quiz at the Post House, Brentwood, on April 22nd, when twelve Austin 7 Clubs will answer questions, TV fashion, on Austin 7 history, etc. Wilson-Kitchen tells us that, having long craved a 14/45 Talbot like the one his father owned, he has bought a 1927 saloon, the first he had seen advertised in Motor Sport. The 1939 ex-Le Mans V12 Lagonda that was entered for Indianapolis in 1946 by Robert Arbuthnot, exists in Canada without a body. The Toronto Automobile Museum has the difficult task of rebuilding this Lagonda, sister to the ex-Lord O’Neill car, to original condition mechanical and historical data is requested. Vintage Tyre Supplies Ltd. have received a shipment of brand new Firestone 14/ 15/16 x 50 Bibendurn tyres, the first that have been made for many years. These should interest owners of Delage, Hispano-Suiza, Delahaye and similar cars. Firestone 12/13/14 x 45 Bibendums are also available. –W.B.

Deutsches Museum Rally

To celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the German Technical Museum at Munich and in memory of the automobile days there dating from 1903, an International Rally for pre-1931 cars is being staged in this famous German town from May 4th-7th, the idea being that veteran and vintage cars from all over Europe, or indeed the World, can converge to pay homage to the very first automobile, the 1886 Benz. The arriving vehicles will be accommodated in the Museum garage when they are not driving round the Starnberger See, out to the Benz Memorial, or parading through Munich. The usual round of social activities will support the automotive events and there will be visits to the BMW and Deutsches Museums, Already Torn Lightfoot has entered his well-known 1902 Mercedes for the journey from London. Details from the Deutsche’s Museum, Munich.

V-E-V Odds & Ends. The January issue of the Citroen CC’s magazine Citroennian contained historical pictures from the life of Andre Citroen and a drawing of the rare Citroen B14 torpedo-sport or “Caddy” model of 1928. The first VSCC Race Meeting of 1978 will be at Silverstone, on April 22nd. The Amilcar Register Newsletter thrives, under the new Editor, Peter Black. A Miss Beck is anxious to trace any references to a Mr. Beck who worked for Parry Thomas as a draughtsman and who may have had other motor-racing connections, and a reader wants to discover anyone who remembers his grandfather, Bernard Bate, who was a mechanic in the Sunbeam Racing Department before the First World War; a big photograph exists of him sitting in one of the 1914 TT Sunbeams. Mr. Bate’s brother Clarence also worked for “The Sunbeam” in those days, before the brothers started a haulage business at Upper Gornal, near Dudley, in Worcestershire, which was sold to British Road Services in 1949. In the vintage years they used Star, Peerless, Reo and Leyland lorries, the Leylands being later converted into ‘buses, thought to have been used by the Ribble ‘Bus Company. Letters can be forwarded. This year’s International Air Fair and Motor Pageant at Biggin Hill will be in aid of the Battle of Britain Museum Appeal, the date being May 20th/21st. The Historic Commercial Vehicle Club will hold its popular Brighton Run, starting from Battersea Park, on May 7th. Entries have closed at the impressive total of 339, out of which only 180 can be accommodated. There is to be a Cardiff HCVC Rally on June 25th. The 3rd Monte Carlo Rally for vintage cars is scheduled for July 9th/15th, and details are available from the AC de Monaco, 23 Boulevard Albert 1st, Monaco. The Railton OC Bulletin is trying to sort out mysteries relating to the pre-war prototype Brough Superior cars and Graham Robson, answering recent correspondence about Triumph Southern Cross bodies, points out that no-one has contradicted his statement that Salmons built the production bodies for these cars and that if Patrick Motors of Birmingham also made one for this chassis, it was presumably a special one-off body, sold by themselves. W.B.

A Morris Six Rebuilt

Leyland Historic Vehicles Ltd., of which C.S. Maple, Director, Quality of British Leyland, has been made the Director, of this BL Department which looks after all the Company’s historic vehicles which preserve the heritage of the many companies now under the central banner, has benefited from a fully-restored Morris Six Coupe once used by Lord Nuffield himself, when he was William Morris.

It is one of a series of these side-valve, F-type, 2.3-litre, six-cylinder models, which were, in effect, lengthened editions of the popular 11.9-h.p. Morris-Cowleys. At Olympia in 1922 this so-called “Silent Six” was priced at £375 as a chassis, £575 with a cabriolet body. It was one of the latter, very beautifully appointed, that William Morris had. These F-type Morris cars were the first venture by that maker in the six-cylinder field but they were not very successful. The suspension was not suited to a luxury-type car, the chassis had been lengthened to accommodate the longer power unit but did not provide much passenger space, and production was retarded by the demand for the fourcylinder Morris cars. Moreover, the engine was sluggish and suffered from chronic vibration that could fracture the crankshaft.

The ex-William Morris coupe de luxe, BW 5415, dated 1921, was stored at Cowley for many years and fell into a poor condition. It has recently been restored (or should I say rebuilt ?) by Kennings Ltd. of Sheffield. The work commenced in the second month of last year, when the car was stripped for examination. The front axle was bent but was in mainly good order. The front springshackle bushes, of wood, were fairly badly worn. The back axle and differential were in good order, but a small crack in the torque tube spherical joint needed welding and, surface restoring. The road springs were in good condition but one rear mudguard was damaged. Surprisingly, the radiator, tested by Kennings’ Radiator Department, was found to have survived in excellent order.

In March 1977, the engine was dismantled and it was found that the centre and rear main bearings had run and that the cam had worn badly and the cam followers also.

The gearbox was sound, as was the clutch, and the dynamotor likewise, apart from some of the wiring; its drive-chain was also sound. The brake drums needed only a mimimum of skimming. Specialists were called in to cope with the crankshaft grinding, re-metalling of the bearings, and front axle re-alignment. All the usual overhaul treatment was done by Kennings, and it is remarkable that four of the existing tyres were pronounced sound by Dunlops. Kennings’ Tyre Service obtained five new inner tubes, one new Dunlop Cord tyre, and respoked one wire wheel. It is also astonishing that the exhaust system had survived, apart from external rust. Specialists restored the camshaft, etc., the Gabriel snubbers were rebuilt, with correct canvas webbing, and new running-boards made.

That took the overhaul through to April and in May much re-assembling was done. This continued in June and the body was given a cellulose finish, over which the final enamel would be applied. Many coats of black paint were applied to chassis, bonnet, and mudguards. Much detailed re-assembly occupied July and in August 1977 the engine was started. The new cylinder-head gasket was unsatisfactory and oil leaked from the dynamotor joint. The former fault seems to have arisen because the gasket did not align with the head studs; I believe the 12/50 Alvis Register has had this trouble but I must say the head gaskets made for me by James Walker Ltd., of Lion Works, Woking, have always been 100% satisfactory. I also note that gaiters were specially made for the Morris’ road springs from templates supplied to the coach-trimmers; I have found the Waco people expert at this task.

After the gasket had failed, letting water into No. 1 cylinder, a new one was made from a sheet of solid copper. The work was completed in November of last year and the car delivered to its new owners—on a trailer. This worthwhile task was done during Kennings’ 100th Anniversary. Although this Morris Six is described as William Morris’ personal car, he actually had four of them. Other owners were Lord Reedesdale, the Earl of Macclesfield, Fodens, Associated Newspapers, Mr. Pratt of Hollick and Pratt, and Sir Miles Thomas, etc. But after 49 had been made, including the prototype, parts intended for a further 451 F-types were flung into a lake. – W.B.


Not the religious sort (although I remember that, because the officiating clergyman arrived in an 11.4 h.p, Citroen tourer) but bearing on the erudite articles John Oldham has been writing about the six-cylinder Austins, for Lord Montagu. He remarked in one of these that he has found it difficult, if not iMpossible, to overheat the engine of an Austin car and that he used to run all through the year with a blanking plate Of aluminium in the lower section of the radiator, even when climbing Swiss passes. John says this applies to 16 h.p., i8 h.p. and zo h.p. pre-war Austins, although I think he had in mind his Austin Twenty landaulette, on which I remember this radiator blanking plate.

Shortly after reading this I happened to glance at the infernal Television machine, because I heard it telling us that some 1930 pictures were about to be shown Humphrey Spender’s fine Leica photographs taken in places like Bolton and Blackpool. for the “Mass Observation” series, about 1936 I think. In one of them an Austin Twenty hearse was shown at a funeral in a dreary North Country working-class street and there was was a blanking plate at the base of its radiator…. –W.B.

Vintage Postbag

Bentley Bombshell


I was delighted to read your review of my book and the bit about Bentley.

After the war Bentley with Bastow were consultants to Armstrong Siddeley. Bentley designed a 3-litre twin overhead camshaft engine with Cotal gearbox and chassis for a new Armstrong Siddeley.

You can check on these facts if you find Mervyn Cutler who was in charge of car engineering or John Densham who was in charge of development.

The engine was made by Siddeley at Coventry and apart from teething troubles showed great promise. On its first full power run it gave 118 b.h.p. The chassis was conventional coil spring i.f.s. and semi elliptic leaf spring rear suspension. The chassis showed the influence of Rolls-Royce.

The Cotal gearbox was never developed to a reliable condition and Siddeley built a version of their very good pre-selector gearbox for it.

At the same time the 2-litre engine was being developed as a 2.3-litre unit and a number of all light alloy 2.6-litre units. Charles Goodacre and Charles Fisher were much involved with this work.

I believe the 4-litre Sapphire engine came from some ideas of A. C. Sampietro who was very keen on hemispherical heads. You will remember the unsuccessful head T & T built for us for the Nash Healey and the later single cam hemispherical Jeep engines.

I do not think there was any intention of using Aston Martin engines. It just happened Bentley designed what he thought best for the job.

Armstrong Siddeley were a great company, having a great reservoir of engine knowledge in the acro engine side. Warwick G. C. HEALEY