A Veteran Car Enthusiast
The Editor Visits Edgar Pilkington —
The other day I had the pleasure of talking to Edgar Pilkington, whose special motoring interest has been veteran and Edwardian cars. He explained that his grandfather, having founded a company making weldless tubing at the time of the cycling boom in the 1880s, at Aston in Birmingham, which with others became Tubes Ltd and later the great TI organisation, due to differences with a majority shareholder, turned up to the new motor trade, putting up finance and building a factory in Earlsdon, Coventry, which he and his brother ran from 1899. It became the Rex Motor Mtg Co, which absorbed the earlier Allard cycle concern, that had made cars from 1899 to 1902.
The Rex single and twin-cylinder motorcycles were “as good as any made” and were used by many famous riders, including W.O. Bentley and S.C.H. Davis from our world. Rex forecars were also made for a few years; they were called the “King of Little Cars”. Also, for a short time the rather crude International Charlotte was made, mainly for delivery to Oscar Seyd for his Great Portland Street Agency. Apparently deliveries were apt to get behind schedule and taking these not very satisfactory little four-wheelers down to London by road often meant that they arrived with worn-out tyres etc. So that project died, along with Rex on the outbreak of the 1914/18 war. In fact, the four-wheeler Rex products “were never a howling success”, and no two were quite alike, which probably contributed to their lack of appeal, compared to the fine reputation of the Rex motorcycles, some of which used the Roc two-speed gear devised by Arthur Wall. Mostly the Rex used its maker’s own engines but later the Rex-JAP vee-twin was introduced. Mr Pilkington had also formed the Premier Motor Co. in 1906, dealing in motorcycles of all makes. One of the cars he owned at about this time was a 14/20 Renault, of which he took delivery only after a long wait and some acrimonious correspondence with Billancourt. Having trouble with the back axles of the Rex cars, he dismantled the Renault’s axle to see how Louis Renault did it, discovering large ball-races where Rex had been using far too small ones.
The war put paid to the motor business and any hope of making small cars, and afterwards William Pilkington Jnr turned to road-haulage, at first with early single-chain Sentinel and transverse-boiler Yorkshire under-type steam-waggons. These were replaced by ex WD Pierce-Arrow and Peerless petrol lorries brought from the Government disposal dump at Slough. The Peerless were “all right” but the Pierce-Arrows were “damned good”, one of them, converted to pneumatic tyres, being in use almost up to the outbreak of WW2. It was in this motoring atmosphere that Edgar Pilkington was brought up, his father later running a car agency and an Austin distributorship. So how did his interest in veteran and Edwardian cars come about? It commenced in 1953 when, returning home one night, he saw on an Erdington garage forecourt a 1909 two-cylinder 8 hp Renault two-seater, with “For Sale” on the windscreen. Remembering that the first car his father had had after the 1914/18 war was one of these very well designed and put together Renaults, a staunch little car made of excellent materials, he went in to see the owner, Tommy Johnson, and purchased it. (Incidentally, after the Renault Mr Pilkington Sr had had a very useful 15 hp Peugeot tourer, useful in the business.) The 1909 Renault was found to have badly worn bushes and its gears were not much good but some work in the tool-room and the acquisition by luck of another gearbox, put it back on the road in good shape, ready for the 1954 VCC Worcester-Malvern Run.
This persuaded Edgar’s father that he should have an old car, and he bought a 1910 12/20 Renault and the ex-Queen Alexandra 1906 14/20 Renault landaulette, the same model that had given his father such excellent service years before. The ex-Royal Renault had been owned by John Hampton, so its leather upholstery and the leather mudguards were in very fine condition and all the original fittings seemed to be in place. The gearbox was on the well-known Renault “tumbler” kind, in which the layshaft gears not only slide but the pinions roll into mesh. This makes the change in and out of second gear very difficult and the new owner probably wished he had had the later sliding-gear change model. Hampton delivered the car to Banbury in 1954 and the proud new owner drove the Royal landaulette home, to complete a stable of Renaults. The three cars have been used for many VCC and other events and must be well-known to many of our readers.
The score was now father two, Edgar one, so the purchase of another VCC-type car was indicated. Thus in 1955 Edgar Pilkington bought a 1908 four-cylinder Type BH De Dion Bouton with original Roi de Belge body from Ivor Hudson of Loughborough, a well-known VCC member. Some tidying up was required, but this is not usually regarded as the most successful of the pre-1914 De Dions. It was taken to the 50th Anniversary Meeting at Shelsley Walsh in 1955 but needed assistance to negotiate the Esses. This wouldn’t do, so the engine was attended to and at the 60th Anniversary of the MAC celebrated at the same famous hill, a non-stop assent was accomplished, four up. The De Dion has since been seen in many VCC and other appropriate events. It has a very smooth metal-to-metal clutch, which is withdrawn when the handbrake is applied, making it a very easy car to use in conditions of heavy traffic. A trifle temperamental, in general it runs very well.
To compete with this, and also to run at Shelsley, Edgar’s father purchased a 1915 20 hp Colonial-model Napier, which presumably had seen war-service, judging by its VCC dating. It is notable for a clean-looking four-cylinder engine and is of battleship-like construction, so that, although the tourer body must be quite light, this Napier weighs 32 cwt. Edgar Pilkington has a particularly soft spot for this one, because both he and the Napier are the same age, and it was the last car of any kind his father drove. It was used, as I have said, at Shelsley Walsh, in VCC Main and Section rallies, and at various local events. It is very low geared but runs well. On one occasion, it went with the De Dion to a local garden fete when the Vicar asked for the two Edwardian cars as a fund-raising attraction.
Mr Pilkington Snr had always wanted to own a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. He heard of one, the owner of which had died, but the solicitors took so long to clear up the estate that, in the meantime, he acquired, in 1959, two “ropey” specimens, a 1920 Ghost equipped with a hideous “DIY” shooting brake body, which still exists as a chassis, and a 1924 model with a hearse body, which had been usefully commodious to a gaggle of students but in which his son refused to be seen. An advertisement in MOTOR SPORT then led to the purchase of a 1924 Ghost in Wales, which they drove home, but with what is thought to be a body from a Rolls-Royce Phantom I and non-standard mudguards, this is rather a “bitzer”. Then, after some two years of negotiations, the Solicitors relented and in 1962 the 1912 40/50 Rolls-Royce tourer was finally acquired.
The last pre-1914 car that Edgar Pilkington purchased, because he had always admired it and knew it to be in very good order, was the little 1902 single-cylinder De Dion Bouton, formerly driven in Brighton Runs by James Webb of Bloxwich, and acquired after the death of this well-known VCC member in 1965. It is “interesting” to drive, because there is no floor accelerator or clutch, the only pedal being the brake, which is where you would expect the clutch pedal to be, all the other controls being on the steering column.
That is the story of how one enthusiast and his father collected their pre-1914 cars. Mr Pilkington Snr used to run mainly American cars for ordinary purposes, including Cadillacs, a La Salle, and two Packards, but he then went over to Rovers from 1935. His son was brought up mainly on Austin Tens, as by then the agency included Austin, but he also had a post-war Wolseley Eight, which he liked although its hard suspension sometimes made the steering drop-arm work loose. He then cut his teeth on cars like MG TF, MG TD, and MG-A, enjoying the TD, but finding an Austin-Healey 100/6 to have poor brakes and other snags. He also ran an MG 1 ¼ litre Series Y saloon from new in 1950 until 1973, which he describes as having a traditional Abingdon pedigree. It was a joy to drive and quite nippy for the time, although a bit weighty. Today he drives a Vauxhall Chevette and a Fiat Panda. — W.B.