Vintage postbag, April 1986

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Bugatti Royales

Sir,

I have read with interest the venous comments regarding Bugatti Royales, including E.N.B. Carmichael ‘s letter in the February issue, and can maybe add a little about my Great Uncle Cuthbert Fosters Bugatti which has recently been mentioned in your pages. By luck, my Uncle Peter Clay, who is Cuthbert Foster s son-in-law, has been staying with my parents. He had some amusing tales to tell when I asked him if he remembered the Bugatti.

Cuthbert originally lived near Bournemouth and around 1930 moved to a comfortable house in Barnet, North London. The Bugatti was purchased about 1933 (no doubt this is well documented by others) and was purchased because he liked to be a little different and it was the largest car available! My uncle, Peter Clay, went in the car on a number of occasions and remembers that around London the fuel consumption was 3 mpg and on the open road 7 mpg was normal. It also had three gears which were known as “bottom”.”medium” and “top” and it was possible to change into “top” at 70 mph.

Cuthbert never drove the car himself as he had a life-long problem with arthritis in his ankles and the car was always chauffeur driven, and was only used for local trips etc, and no Scottish or Continental touring was undertaken.

Uncle Peter remembers that the car was laid up at Barnet in the garage for the duration of the war. After the war, the car was sold and Uncle Peter distinctly remembers the figure of £477 being mentioned as the price which was received for it. It has of course re-surfaced and its present history is well known. Cuthbert himself was a man of great character a. joi de vivre, and his mother, Madeline (nee Jordan) was American and a member of the Jordan family of Boston, Mass, who owned Jordan Marsh’s department store in Boston amongst other things. She was also a motorist and owned a Daimler Double Six.

Cuthbert was obviously interested in new developments as he had a television set in Barnet before the war and picked up broadcasts which were transmitted from Alexandra Palace. He was also a superlative shot and was renowned for his accuracy and used tupelo all the great shoots of the period.

One summer while slaying at Invercauld in Aberdeenshire the house party found it impossible to catch any salmon and the host offered £5 to anyone who was successful. Cuthbert promptly went down to the river with a rifle and shot a salmon dead as it leapt from the river!

After the war, Cuthbert and his wife went to live in Boston and, on arrival purchased the largest Cadillac available and due to his by then, Churchillian appearance, was continually saluted by the Boston police as he passed and immediately waved through the road crossings, etc, as they thought that Churchill himself was visiting Boston.

The Sunday Times Magazine of April 17th 1977 had an article on the Schlumpf Collection and in it they captioned a photograph of Cuthbert s Bugatti by saying that he was a custard manufacturer and this, I am afraid, was quite untrue. Also, Uncle Peter remembers that the interior was trimmed in dark leather and not in the rather startling patterned moquette that is shown in the Sunday Times photograph — could it have been re -trimmed, (hope these few facts can add a tittle history to a fascinating story.

Lenchars, Fife J.L.W FOSTER

Alta Cars I

Your feature in the February issue on Alta Sports Cars prompts me to write, as I was associated with them in the late thirties. The company name, I understand was derived barer Alva Lillian Taylor, Geoffrey Taylor s mother a joint founder of the company. The cars’ unique design features, such as the gas filled sealing ring between cylinder head and barrel, the supercharging, and the large flow capacity oil pumps, were due more to Geoffrey Taylor’s common sense approach to overcoming problems experienced by contemporary cars, than any desire just to be different. It is interesting to recall the twin rear-wheeled version that was introduced to overcome problems of traction on hill climbs. The Brighton, Speed Trials were also a popular venue for the Alta. With reference to Performance. my 1937 brochure fails to provide bhp figures, but claims 125 mph for the supercharged 1,100 cc. and 142 mph for the supercharged 15, both independent racing models. The prices were £1,150 and £1,250 respectively.

A very elegant sports body with a concealed hood is illustrated, which I have not seen published elsewhere, and a 180 mph vee eight at 2.976 cc, employing two banks of cyls from the 1 5-litre, but I do not recall seeing this version. In addition to the works manager, H.I. Griffiths, Geoffrey Taylor attracted a colourful and enthusiastic staff around him, who possessed some interesting vehicles. Among the mechanics and filters, were the brothers Scott and Bernie Roger, who ran a large Meadows engined Invicta (4 1/4-litre I believe) very hairy (the car not the mechanics), also Paul Emery, later to form Emeryson Cars, who ran a Gwynne 8, another car overlooked by the history books, which he claimed his father raced at Brooklands.

Towing the spares to the tracks on race meetings in veteran Austin 7s, was Frank Dew an authority on A7s of all vintages. Finally, a young draughtsman, Johnny McDermot, sadly lost piloting an RAF fighter during the war, who rode a 600 cc Scott Flying Squirrel whose speed was just too fast for the local police on the Kingston by-pass. These people formed the majority of the staff at the time. I agree with your Editorial, that a little more of the spirit shown by the motor racing industry would stand our country in good stead, but unto engineers and salesmen enjoy the status that is afforded them in Germany and Japan and other Western countries. I feel it is a forlorn hope.

Chichester R H DEADMAN

Alta Cars II

Sir,

I was must interested to read W.B’s article on the sports Altas in the February issue. As a long-time owner of some of Geoffrey Taylor’s cars and engines, perhaps I can add a few additional details. Of the 13th 1,100 cc cars built, three different engine types were used not two as suggested in the article. In between the early engines with vertical shaft driven camshafts and the later ones with chain driven camshafts, some engines were constructed with the shafts driven by a train of gears. I believe they were discontinued because of noisy running but probably costs entered into it as well. I have one of these engines, No 18 and it is supercharged as also is the chain driven engine for car No 22 which I own. suggesting that there were probably more than the three blown cars produced mentioned in your article.Incidentally all of these engines had their exhausts on the rear side not just the early ones. As for horsepower a subject which W.B. perhaps wisely sidestepped in his article. Taylor on his advertising quoted 50 and 100 bhp for the unblown and blown engines. Probably 45 and 80 would be closer to the truth, with over 90 mph being available from the road equipped blown two seater. Cormack’s mountain lap record of 57.26 sec (73.56 mph) is a very creditable time indeed and it should be remembered that the two previous holders were Richard Seaman in a K3 Magnette and Humphrey Cook or his ERA. The car was driven down from Scotland for the record attempt.

Of the six or seven larger engined sports cars (1 1/2 and 2 litres) four of them are now in Melbourne — Nos 54s, 55s, 66s and 70N, a remarkable coincidence if ever there was one. All of these cars are now of two litre capacity. No 55s is, as mentioned in your article, the infamous “stolen” Alfa. The legal and financial tangles surrounding this car have now been resolved and it sits in my garage, awaiting a complete resurrection — unfortunately it is in a very sad state. I look forward to future articles on, this very interesting marque. Victoria, Australia. GRAEME LOWE

A 3-litre Bentley Achievement

Sir,

I was most interested to read your account of your emulation of Bill Boddy s trip, made in 1938, from Westminster to John O’Groats. I thought you in turn might be interested in a trip I did in a 3-litre Red label Bentley in 1932.

At the time I was working in a garage in Essex The manager there had this Bentley. One Christmas he asked me if instead of a Christmas present, would I like to borrow the Bentley over the holiday, of course I jumped at it!

Now then, I thought, “must do something special with this opportunity” I discussed this with an old friend (another car enthusiast) and we decided on a trip from London to Dartmoor to walk to Cranmere pool which was reputedly the most inaccessible place in England. We told our families we would be back in time for 6 o’clock Christmas dinner. We set off at 4 am. The roads were quite deserted Maximum speed achieved was 88 mph across Bayshot heath. Of course we had to re-fill on the way and knocked up a rather cross garage proprietor!

Anyway we achieved our goal, we got to Cranmere pool, signed the book in the lead-lined box and arrived track in time for 6 pm dinner. Our average running speed was 60 mph and the fuel consumption 15 mpg. The tyres were visually more worn than when we started. I forget how much oil was used. Anyway it was a wonderful run and one that has lived in my memory ever since.

Rugby M.H. BLAND