Vintage Postbag, April 1984

VSCC will help


Prompted by DSJ’s excellent and timely piece on replicas and fakes in your February issue, I am moved to point out that the phrase “VSCC accepted” is one to of which to beware when it appears in advertisers’ blurb.

The VSCC can have no control over what advertisers put in their copy. Nor does the Club often issue certificates of anything in connection with old cars, knowing that it can have very little control over what people may do with those cars after certification; it doesn’t take long to change the engine, wheels, or some other significant item.

Cars entered for our events are checked thoroughly for roadworthiness, but rather less carefully for originality – unless there has been a complaint about the car on that score. Our more conscientious members offer newly acquired or built cars to the Club’s committee for checking before entering the event; others just enter their possibly doubtful car anyway, and hope that nobody will grumble about it; some never enter an event at all, but put their doubtful car in our members list where, after some years, it will acquire a patina of respectability.

All these cases could reasonably described by the advertiser in your or any other periodical as VSCC accepted; really the only way for a possible buyer to check the credentials of such a car is to contact the VSCC office, preferably by letter (121 Russell Road, Newbury), which will give our staff time to sort the myths from the realities.

Until they are checked, claims of the VSCC acceptability should be treated with much caution. They may mean that the car to which they refer has been, or remains, rather doubtful.

As Mr Aesop (he of the Fables) pointed out some 2,500 years ago: “Men often applaud an imitation, and hiss the real thing”.

T. J. THREFALL (President, VSCC)



I note that in the “V-E-V Odds & Ends” W.B. makes reference to the Talbot Barlby Road Factory as being “the first purpose-built Motor Factory in Britain”. I know this is the commonly held view, but I wonder if in fact it is correct? I enclose a couple of pages copied from that oddly-titled book Why Dennis — and How, which if the information in it is correct, implies that this factory was built in 1901, some three years before Barlby Road.

When I photographed the building last Spring its fate was in the hands of Guildford Planning Committee. The options included: clearing and redevelopment of the site; office development within the existing façade; a “land-swop” between the developers and the Council; therefore an uncertain future. By now one of these has probably happened. Admittedly it is not a very attractive building but it looks as if another link with the pioneer days will / has been lost. Even it if is not the first, it is certainly of Local, if not National, motoring significance.

One other point. In his introduction to the Pre-War American Tracks, W.B. does not include Miramas in his list of purpose-built European circuits. Apart from hosting the 1926 3-car French G.P. it was little used, but when I last passed it a few years ago it was still in use by a French manufacturer as a proving ground, but offhand I can’t remember by whom.


[I was quoting from the STD Register’s hand-out and accept that Dennis Bros., mainly commercial vehicle makers, beat the Earl of Shrewsbury to the first proper car factory. The pictures herewith, from Mr Jeal, show how Dennis’ factory looked whenever and today. I did not refer to Miramas among European race circuits because I was writing of banked tracks, but I should have included the Littono circuit in Italy. — W.B.]

American Tracks


I enjoyed your article in the February issued entitled “Pre-War American Race Tracks”, as I followed racing in the States, between the two world wars, with great interest. There were 23 board tracks (I have a complete list) built between 1910 and 1928. They consisted of four of two miles, one of a mile-and-a-half, 10 of a mile-and-quarter, two of a mile-and-an-eighth, three of one mile, and three of half-a-mile.

The first to open was the one-mile circular track at Playa del Rey, California, in 1910 and the last at Woodbridge, New Jersey in August 1928. The former held its last race in April 1913, and the latter, in October 1931. Perhaps the most outstanding feat on any of these tracks was in the inaugural 300 mile race at the Atlantic City speedway, Amatol, N.J., when Harry Hartz covered the distance, non-stop, in 2 hr 14 min 14 sec at an average speed of 134.103 mph, a staggering performance for a 2-litre car in 1926. Hartz never received the credit for this performance that was his due, but he did go on to become the AAA National Champion that year.

I very much doubt if there are any remains of these tracks, for many of them were constructed on land that became valuable for building in later years, and are now part of some town, notably Beverly Hills and Culver City. Others deteriorated due to weather conditions, while one was destroyed by fire and another by hurricane.

The Twin City track was of concrete construction, not wood, the inaugural 500-mile race held in 1915 being won by Cooper (Stutz) by a bonnet length from his team-mate Anderson, at an average speed of 86.35 mph. There was a 150-mile race in 1916 and a 100-mile race in 1917 but, with the USA’s entry into the war, interest in racing greatly diminished, and the company owning the track went into liquidation.

Of the board tracks, the 1¼-mile at Altoona, Pennsylvania lasted the longest, from September 1923 until September 1931, but the excessive high speeds achieved by 1929 making racing very dangerous, the high maintenance costs, followed by the financial collapse on Wall Street, and the general business depression, were the deathknell of this most spectacular form of racing.

From 1930 onwards, racing was confined to Indianapolis, and the one-mile dirt tracks mentioned in your article, on which 100-mile AAA Championship races were run, the only exceptions being the races at Altoona in 1930 and 1931, and the Vanderbilt Cup Races of 1936 and 1937 on the Roosevelt Raceway, the dismal attempt to build a European-type road circuit. There were two National Championship races run in California in the “thirties”, a 150-mile race on the one-mile paved Speedway at Oakland and a 200-mile race on an aerodrome circuit of 1.5-mile at Mines Field, Los Angeles.

The photograph on page 159 is of the 250-mile race at Culver City Speedway, California, on March 1st, 1925. There was no race at Laurel, Maryland in 1924; the track was not opened until the inaugural race on July 11th, 1925.

Vichy, France

Big Ends


I have been interested in your “Balance and Bearings” article in February MOTOR SPORT as I have always been fascinated by the subject of the relative smoothness and quietness of engines of four, six and eight cylinders and have preferred sixes, other things being equal.

It so happens that at different times I have owned the two cars which so impressed Rolls-Royce by their lack of engine vibration — the Hudson Terraplane 6 and the eight (a Railton in my case). Also I was fortunate enough to have run a 20/25 Rolls and 3½ Bentley before they became collector’s cars. I too was immensely impressed by the American 6 and considered it considerably smoother and quieter than the two Rolls engines.

Your article does not say whether R-R ever arrived at a conclusion for the reasons. They must have done tests, as described by you, without “the pound of rubber”. Did the Americans know more about balancing crankshafts? Rather surprising, if so.

You also write about the theory that long crankshafts can set up vibrations which can cause bearing failures. In fifty eight years of driving I cannot remember a single case of bearing failure in any four-cylinder car I have owned, but my 3½ Bentley ran one big-end, my Terraplane six ran the same big-end twice, and an Alvis six broke up all its big-ends.

Back onto the matter of smooth engines I often think my Alfa Sud “Boxer” engine is as smooth running as any six, and I can remember clearly my first run on my Douglas E.W. motor-bike which had a flat twin. And, for good measure, how came it that in 1923/4 Talbot, with their little four cylinder ohv, made what must have been the smoothest little four ever made. Shame on some of the modern makers — I had to dispose of my BMW 2002 due to a horrible engine period at around 70 mph (not to mention its terrible rear suspension).

May I join you in saying it would be interesting to have the view of “other Engineers of other Motor Companies” on this subject?

Little Shelford
Gp. Capt. J. B. Altham

Balance and Bearings


With reference to your article on “Balance and Bearings”, another car to add to those purchased by Rolls-Royce Ltd, is Glen Kidston’s type 35 GP Bugatti. When visiting the late Jack Bartlett’s showroom in March 1929 I noticed this car, which had a label on it marked “SOLD”. I asked Jack, who was the buyer, and was greatly surprised when he answered, “Rolls-Royce”. He took me for a short run round the houses at Pembridge Villas and at one point we trickled along at 10 mph in top gear! Four years later I saw the car again, at the Autumn Meeting at Donington, now owned by a fellow called Houldsworth, an apprentice at Rolls-Royce. He had bought the car after the Experimental Department had finished pulling it to pieces, including the roller bearing crankshaft. I think that it was this car he was driving when he crashed, fatally, in the British Empire Trophy Race at Brooklands the following year.

I owned an Essex Terraplane in 1934, as I was given very good part-exchange terms for my £12 Chrysler with which I had done some 3,000 miles. The Essex gave me excellent service during 1934, and I can confirm that the engine was exceptionally smooth, with excellent acceleration, satisfactory road-holding and brakes, but lacked top speed. I changed it for a Ford V8 in 1935.

Vichy, France


In your most interesting article “Balance and Bearings” you express surprise at the difficulties Bentley and Rolls-Royce had in solving engine balance and bearing problems. I too am sometimes surprised at things which motor manufacturers do, or do not do.

For example, in 1965 I rebuilt a 1955 Humber Hawk gearbox because a tooth had broken off the third speed gear wheel. It had broken off because there was a drilled hole ¼ in in diameter very close to the root of the tooth. Rootes told me they had had several similar failures and had modified the wheel. The replacement they supplied did not have the hole. It would seem to be obvious that metal absent from very near the root of a gear wheel tooth must weaken it.

Reverting to engine matters, I have been a 6-cylinder Jaguar enthusiast for some years. Your article caused me to feel even more affectionate towards the XK engine whose smoothness and quietness (except perhaps at high revs), reliability and longevity (except for those in early XJ6 saloons which were a disgrace to the name of Jaguar, once again because of avoidable technical weaknesses) I have always valued highly. Sincere congratulations for restoring the reputation of Jaguar are due to John Egan and his team.

London, N4
Philip F. C. WATKINS


I was interested in W.B.’s article on bearings.

As far as I know the original engine was the Rolls 20/25 which never had bearing trouble.

Gradually it was upgraded to the 25/30 and then the 3½ and 4½-litre Bentleys, but still with the same bearings which by then must have been grossly overloaded if they were originally designed for the 20/25 Rolls. The same may be said about the clutch; I can hardly remember the number of clutch plates I have fitted in my Bentleys. My R-Type Continental must have had about three or four in 150,000 miles.

As a result I find it rather difficult to agree with W.B.’s theories.

I have had many six-cylinder cars including Alvis and Riley and others, but I have never experienced similar bearing trouble.


Valve Multiples


In his article on “Valve Multiples” W.B. suggests that Bugattis adopted a three-valve layout “with induction advantages in mind”. This seems doubtful seeing that he made the combined throat area of the two inlet valves less than that of the single exhaust. The contrast between his beautiful exhaust manifolds and tortuous inlet passages suggest that he was more concerned with emptying the cylinders than filling them and that he chose twin inlet valves to make room for a very big exhaust valve.

Henry, on the other hand, anticipated modern practice by making the inlet valves larger than the exhausts. This was a feature of the 1914 G.P. Peugeots, according to Vadier, and was certainly a feature of all the twin-cam Ballots and the 1922 G.P. Sunbeams.

Kings Lynn


The Nazaro I had more than 50 years ago — it seems like another world — had 2 valves per cylinder. What looked like a third valve was a camshaft-damper with no clearance on a very odd-shaped cam — one per cylinder. The “valve” was a stem with no head, and a spring.

I hope this description is understandable.


All in top gear


Your article “All in Top Gear” makes me think of two other notable top gear performers.

The first was a 1937 Buick (straight-8, 5.3 litre, so it should have been) that my father drove many miles in after the war, which seemed as though it hardly needed the lower two of its three speeds.

It was probably responsible for making me appreciate over the last eleven years the similar characteristics of my 2.3 Vauxhall Victor, which goes surprisingly far to emulating your illustrious examples. I have with passengers gone up the back road on Box Hill without rushing the bend at the bottom, and regularly climbed out of Glossop over the Snake Pass with full load, neither needing other than top. Granted that the former did cause a loss of speed, but no gear change, whilst the latter merely reduced the rate of acceleration.

I fancy that not many cars of any sort could manage as well, and after giving it a decoke and some new exhaust valves recently at 185,000 miles, I reckon it could still do so. What’s more, it does it smoothly and without any protest down to under 25 mph.

What should I replace it with when the time comes?


A VSCC Austin 7


I thought you might like to know that the Austin Seven “Chummy” you kindly mentioned in your series “Still They Turn Up” on p 1477 October 1979 edition, has just completed its first “season” of VSCC Driving Tests.

I competed with the car at Madresfield, Enstone, and Goodwood. The most successful was Goodwood where I managed to win the Light Car award, while Patrick Marsh, who shared the car after his own Chummy had mechanical problems on the way to the tests, took a second class award.

The intention stated in 1979 was kept to. The car returned to the road with as much as possible original. In appearance it is “clean and tidy” rather than concours. I get a lot of satisfaction and pleasure from the car, which surely is what vintage car ownership so about.

Since I started driving in 1960 I have taken MOTOR SPORT regularly giving me many enjoyable hours of reading. Congratulations.