A section devoted to old car matters
Motoring as it was – A look-back at the roads of long ago
THINGS motoring, like women, motoring journals, the cars themselves and the roads we drive on have changed so much, that looking back to what driving was like in the days when even prominent owners of today’s vintage cars had not been born, seems a worthwhile exercise. So I propose to look at those times through the eyes of someone who had begun his driving in the real dark ages, first with a Brushmobile, circa 1903 and who in what we now term the vintage years, was a keen user of Crossley and Rover cars, which had succeeded a war-time Overland. This person was known by the nom-de-plume of “Owen John”. Let’s join him in the summer of 1921, when motors and motoring were just emerging from the war and the post-Armistice industrial depression, Sir Huckumchard Sampchand (really!) had taken delivery of a superb aluminium-panelled 30 h.p. Daimler saloon and the chronicler whom I propose to quote had recently survived the, for him, new experience of sampling one of the new breed of light-cars, in the guise of a fierce and unrefined air-cooled ABC, about which “Owen John” was attempting not to be too rude. . .
Before opening the doors of his motor-house, this gentleman amateur, who confessed to oiling the oil-holes, filling the tank with petrol, filling and screwing-down all the grease-cups he could reach, stopping rattles as far as he could, but otherwise leaving the rest very nearly to chance, tried not to get drawn into the prevailing discussion about which really was the “Best Car the World”. His big Crossley tourer had gone 10,000 miles before its speedometer broke again, so that its total mileage was unrecorded, with one run big-end but no other troubles out of the ordinary, but its owner never thought of referring to it as the World’s best. He put in a plea for cars in general, remembering that nothing else half so complicated had had to fight against trouble as had an automobile — something that applies to today’s cars, started-up and run at once from cold, their brakes and clutches used so frequently in the modern traffic. He was, in fact, thinking of how well a car driven at 40 to 50 m.p.h. (speeds were lower in 1921!) over hopeless road-surfaces (which the parsimony of the present Government over road repairs is rapidly returning us to) stood up to such abuse – “The rocking of an oil-tanker in a gale is but hush-a-bye baby to it; the progress of a car is one long, endless, pitched battle against a hard and forward world, yet cars stand up to it, come in smiling, and, probably, go out as they came in, ungroomed, unwashed, and uninspected”. In those times fabulous prices for discarded oldsters were well in the future. . .
It was recalled how, sometime around 1911, when “O.J.” had referred to the Lanchester as a fine town-carriage, he and Walter Stance were bidden by Mr. Millership of Lanchester’s to come out in the spring time, when the apple blossom was out around Broadway, and try a Lanchester among the hills, as a country conveyance. They did and ever after, such comfort, such ease, such pulling, had remained in the memory. Then the steam-car seemed to have definite merits. But old “O.J.” refused to quote his opinion on the subject of the World’s best, remarking sagely that it was the car that suited one best — “. . one is beginning to feel just as out of place in the wrong kind of car as one would in running-shorts in Piccadilly” — or streaking at Twickenham, one could now add. Which is, I suppose, how cars are still chosen and bought. . . .
However, it is with roads as well as cars of the nineteen-twenties with which we are here concerned, especially as that summer an amateur road inspection had been undertaken, using a fine 40 / 50 Rolls-Royce tourer (Reg. No. AA-19), which was the least-suitable of cars for detecting bad surfaces, especially as it was shod with 7″ Palmer tyres inflated at 45 / 50 lb. / sq. in., front / rear. The roads of Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, Roxburghshire, Berwickshire and Mid-Lothian were examined. From London to Hatfield, considerable tarring was in progress with not too much grit being thrown on to it and surfaces, except for a roughish stretch in and around Barnet, were quite good. It was felt, however, that the placing of telegraph-poles along the ridiculously narrow Great North Road would hamper future widening operations of this important thoroughfare — alas, the A1 remained like this to the end of WW2 and after. What would the writer who thought the road poor in 1921, with only two lanes just north of Stevenage and dangerous bends at the foot of Woolmer Green, have thought if finding it much the same some 25 years later?
Stevenage itself was considered a model of good town-planning but the A1 narrowed again beyond Baldock and the surface was poor. On the whole though, nothing too bad was encountered as far as Grantham, where the party had a good lunch at the George Hotel, before meeting the County Surveyor of Notts., who said that the farmers disliked him tarring the roads because horses could not get a grip on such a surface, and equipping their animals with the Grey footpad was too expensive! His road improvements included up-dating the 31-mile Nottingham-Doncaster road through the Dukeries and constructing a reinforced concrete bridge over the Trent, just south of Newark. Newark had unilluminated direction-signs; the new Government sugar-beet factory was passed on the right.
There were too many level-crossings between Newark and Retford, where the Lincs. County Surveyor nearly got himself run down as he spotted the Rolls-Royce. Bituminous material was less in use than waterbound stone in Lincs. The A1 was left at Bawtry, for the Austerfield-Thorne route, and from there to Selby and on to Stockton from York, the winding roads with high hedges making every twist blind, chars-a-bancs from the York races were difficult to overtake, the good tarring that kept down the dust ceasing after York. The day’s run of 250 miles, done at 17 m.p.g., ended at Craythorne. Next day poor surfaces led to the well-tarred and wide A1 just north of Darlington. At Durham, to where the roads had been magnificent, they met the Road Surveyor. He was completing, at a cost of some £30,000, the Ferrybridge by-pass started in 1830-1840 but abandoned with the coming of the railways.
Durham CC, over sixty years ago, was spending large sums on its roads, and had its own tarmacadam works. Some 1,000 formerly unemployed men were at work on the new £270,000 W. Hartlepool — Easington coast-road and a new, safer bridge over the Wear between Ferryhill and Durham was planned for 1922. Mr. Brookes, OBE, the Road Surveyor, wasn’t convinced that bitumen was better than tarmac. Lunching in Newcastle with Northumberland’s County Surveyor, the investigators were told he needed £1,500,000 to repair war-damaged roads, with 700 bridges involved, which he didn’t think the Ministry would meet. Six miles south of Newcastle an experimental ferro-concrete road had been laid, more costly than tarmac, a reminder that, at Birtley, square setts set in reinforced concrete had been laid, being regarded as everlasting — are they still there? The Rolls-Royce had now run 416 miles, to the North British Hotel in Edinburgh. The next day it returned via Carlisle, over the fine bridge over the Esk near Gretna, built in 1916. The coal-strike had stopped road work in Cumberland because there was no tar. The only truly bad roads that far had been at Otterburn and south of Shap, and interesting observations were that the 10 m.p.h. speed-limit in Penicuik seemed quite unwarranted, that there were three times the tonnage of motor-coaches using Lake District roads as in 1914, and 1,000 licensed in Lancashire, where strong roads were made of natural and bitumen surfacing, the road-rate varying from 4d to 1/3d in the pound.
After tea in Lancaster a moorland by-road was chanced, to Clitheroe, which for about the first time put the Rolls down onto 3rd-gear, passing through the Trough of Bowland. There was comment that the “Starkie Arms” charged as much as £1I for b.&b. . . There was excellent, if expensive, stone-paving at Whalley, beyond Preston, but the going to Chester from Warrington, where thousands of unemployed stood or sat by the roadside, was very rough, poor, or fair, in patches. In Cheshire, where road-stone had mostly to be imported from Wales, the Surveyor liked tarmacadam if on a good foundation; of his 650 miles of main road, 380 were of tar-sprayed water-bound surface, 200 of tarmacadam, and 70 of granite paving, the first to be changed to tarmacadam as quickly as funds permitted.
The Welsh authorities were blamed for taking little interest in their roads in 1921 (I can say that this has since changed), and in 1921 the Chester-Clark road was “abominable”. Blind cross-roads were a danger on the Holyhead road. There was little else to report, apart from the very fine road from Kidderminster to Worcester (even if the by-pass in the former town was badly signposted) and the Rolls-Royce taking Much Wenlock Hill in 3rd after stopping for sheep at the first bad corner, 3rd also sufficing up Fish Hill. At Oxford it looked as if road repairs would soon cost ratepayers 3/- in the £, a penny-rate raising only £2,978, compared to some £38,000 in Durham. A night was spent very comfortably at “The Lygon Arms,” in Broadway, where many Press pre-views of modern cars are now staged, and the lock-up garages there contained the Rolls, a big chauffeur-driven Daimler, which looked very under-tyred beside the Rolls-Royce, and a large pre-war Renault. The survey ended at Beaulieu, over forest roads made loose by the rains, and so I think the Rolls-Royce must have belonged to Lord Montagu, the present Edward Montagu’s father, who had written articles on the country’s roads for The Times.
I readily present the foregoing to the British Road Federation, in its attempt to persuade Mrs. Thatcher, who doesn’t want to spare the finance, that our 1980’s roads require repairing and extending. No doubt the R-REC or the 20-Ghost Club could find a member with a suitable car, for a re-enactment of the old survey, to see how things look today. . .
However, the intention was to look at “O.J.’s” driving experiences. After the sporting ABC he sampled the latest Humber Ten and praised it excessively, finding fault only with its similarity of brake and gear levers and how these made it necessary to enter from the near-side. He drove the little car about half-a-dozen counties in the north, finding the Birmingham tram-lines a help in getting through that city from Worcester to Lichfield, which brought the observation that therein no town so easy to pass through — but try it today, sans tram-lines! The hotels were thought too expensive for the depression-period and 4/-(20p) expensive for garaging a car overnight in a shed. This was a touchy point, then topical, as the AA was recommending a 5/- (25p) fee and in Leighton Buzzard the ABC had to shelter in a stable-yard and there be pushed about when the local ‘bus wanted to go out or come in, the charge being 18d (71/2p), when in France hotels were advertising Garage gratuit.
Going down to Worthing to play golf in Lionel Rapson’s latest Rolls-Royce was a reminder of how crowded the road back to London was on summer Sunday evenings (it was 1921, remember) and a new Buick, owned by one of the amateur golfers, was found by “O. J.” to be as uncomfortable in its seating as most other American tourers. Too much tar-spraying was objected to, which we still suffer from today, so the Crossley went unwashed, on the principle that tar does not adhere to mud. Otherwise, the roads were considered mostly good, except for the Watling Street to Banbury route, but from Henley to Oxford they had improved. — W.B.
(To be resumed as space permits)
VSCC “Measham” Scatter Rally (Feb. 28th/March 1st)
REPLACING the former Measham Rally and snowed-out at the first attempt, this new VSCC exercise, with Mark Joseland as Clerk-of-the-Course, and Dick Carter as Secretary-of-the-Meeting, was finally held on a mild night, starting and finishing at the floodlit Maesmawr Hall Hotel at Caersws, to the call of the night owls. An entry of 21, in three classes, had to find their way round a 150-mile route, by solving obscure clues; it is said that at one stage Harris’s 4 Vz-litre Lagonda Rapide was put on course by navigator Filsell’s knowledge of Houseman’s poems!
Freddie Giles was early in trouble with the bevel-box of his TT Replica Frazer Nash, so that she Strettons in their Super Sports ‘Nash had to carry “Chain Gang” honours. Runners ranged from the Austin Chummies of Price and Jane Arnold-Forster (navigated by her father, to a Railton and a disc-wheeled 41/2-litre Bentley saloon, and the Sudjic Silver Eagle Alvis Saloon from Scotland, badgeless but with hare present was seen to have been painted for the new season.
The best performance of the night was put up by Potter and Hughes in a pretty 12/40 saloon Lea-Francis, which was running in the Touring, Saloon and Light Can Class. — W.B.
Measham Trophy: L. Stretton/ M. Stretton (1927 Frazer Nash).
PVT Cup: J. F. Harris/ D. O. Filsell (1936 Lagonda Rapide).
Jeddere-Fisher Trophy: J. M. Potter/B. Hughes (1930 Les Francis 12’40).
First Class Awards: A.D. Jones / Miss A. Jones (1923 Vauxhall 30/98) and J.R. Cattell / T. Cork (1933 Riley Lynx).
Grand Prix Models of Radlett announce the importation from Italy of a “C.A.R.” miniature of a Ferrari P4, and their own new twin-rear-wheeled Alfa Romeo P3 single-seater, for the hill-climb fans. The latter sells for the UK retail price of £7.95, in kit form. — W.B.
V-E-V-Miscellany — The Daimler / Jaguar Club of Holland is having a fifth-birthday celebration from June 12th-15th and is inviting European owners of both makes. The event will be held in the Dutch National Sports Centre near Arnhem. Details from: K. S. Elvery, Campanula 14,3317, HC Dortretch, The Netherlands. A reader wants to trace the history of an MG Magnette he acquired ten years ago. It is an ND Magnette with an N-type chassis and a K2 two-seater touring body, Reg. No BKL 265. The car was first owned and registered in September 1934 by a Mr. H. B. Shaw and it is thought that W.B. rode in the car in contemporary trials, when an NE engine may have been used, or even the engine from one of the 1934 TT MGs. The chassis number is 050 suggesting a March or April car. (I used to ride in trials’ MGs at the time, owned by a keen amateur competitor, but memory of the car is hazy. — Ed.) Although it is slightly out of the context of this column, another reader is trying to trace the history of his 1949 MG TC, which he has owned since 1968. Bill Beedie, who owned and raced this MG in the mid-1950s, has been traced. The car is thought to have been built for the 1949 Le Mans race and then went to Sir Thomas Beaver, who raced it successfully here and abroad, after which Hugh Selsby-Ladd had it, who likewise raced it. It was found abandoned at an RAF camp. The Reg. No. is KAH 767 and its blue and black paintwork caused it to answer to the name of “Bluebottle”. Letters can he forwarded.
The Borders Vintage AC is holding its 12th annual rally at Mellerstain House, near Kelso, on June 5th / 6th. All types and classes of vehicle up to 1959 are eligible. Entry forms from: R. G. Licence, Riverslea, Waverley Road, Melrose, Roxburghshire, Scotland. A 20 / 30 Crossley, possibly a 1916 / 17 model, with a four-seater body put on it about 1920, has been salvaged in Suffolk, lacking only its radiator, which has been overcome by using one from an AEC Matador. The owner wants to hear from other Crossley Owners. A 1904 12 h.p. Sunbeam, Reg. No. DA 71, which has been stored for the past 14 years, has changed hands. It is thought to have been owned by the Rootes Group and to have taken part in post-war Brighton Runs and photographs of these and other relative archival material is sought by the new owner. A Berkshire reader has acquired the remains of an 8.3 h.p. Renault with a van body apparently built by Glover, Webb, and Liversidge of the Old Kent Road, London, with the front compartment open, details of the body and how it blended with the rear doors, are required for the rebuild. It appears to be similar to those used in the 1920s on these chassis by Galeries Lafayette of Regent Street. The STD Register is anxious to discover the history of any BA75 Roesch Talbot Special Sports saloons, sometimes incorrectly called Airline saloons, and those who have not yet contacted the Register about such Talbots are asked to write to their Mr. Keyth Richardson.
The Winter issue of the Bentley DC’s Review contained a long and interesting article by Johnnie Green comparing the H6B Hispano Suiza with the 61/2-litre Bentley, written after he had driven a 1922 Labourdette tourer version of the former, belonging to Jules Heumann, some 400 miles in America. The report is distinctly favourable to the Hispano, inspite of Mr. Green’s knowledge of and love for the Bentley. There was a tribute to Brooklands Aerodrome, 1908-1942, in the March Issue of Aeroplane Monthly, with some good pictures. But in describing the race-track as having been left to deteriorate no tribute is paid to the clearing-up of rubbish from the bankings by members of the Brooklands Society. It is stated that only Air Hanson helicopters now operate from the aerodrome. A picture of an SE5 which crashed on the Byfleet banking, the date of which was quoted as of the 1914-1918 war period in that recent book on flying at Brooklands, is captioned as July 1927, which explains the girl with the bobbed hair, which we commented on as unusual, when reviewing this somewhat disappointing book; in fact, the crash happened the day after one of the Saturday afternoon BMCRC motorcycle race meetings.
A 1928 Brooklands-model Riley Nine, Reg. No. WK-7162, chassis no. 60/4, sans body and thought possibly to be one of the T & T-built cars, has been bought by a reader in Somerset, and as it is to be restored to original form, body drawings or photographs are required. There is to be an ambitious rally for the older cars in Portugal from May 19th to May 29th, the classes corresponding to the recognised ones, except that what we term post-vintage thoroughbreds will be for “Vintage-A” cars and extend from 1931 down to 1945. Details from: Raul Jose C. Dias Tavares, Clube Portugues de Automoveis Assigns, Rua Do Duque De Saldanha, 308, Portugal. The Fleet Carnival and Autojumble is being held on Sunday 11th July, the proceeds go to charity. Entry forms and details can be obtained from Mr. D. Vincent, 18 Kings Road, Fleet, Hants. — W.B.