Forgotten makes: No 85 Lammas-Graham

Trans-Atlantic tie-up

The project of the enthusiastic Lord Avebury, who thought that an Anglo-American car based on Graham components might be viable in the mid-1930s following in the tradition of such makes as the Allard, Railton, Jensen, Batten Special and Brough Superior, the Lammas-Graham took shape in the offices of Cleverlys Ltd, at 32 St Mary Abbot’s Terrace in Kensington. Cleverlys was the Graham importer, which solved any problems over the supply of engines and other parts.

Lord Avebury’s fellow directors were Michael Richardson, whom he had met while up at Cambridge, and Frank King, who had been Lagonda’s sales manager. Alan Lamburn, C Eng, Fl Mech E, MSAE, who had been responsible for supercharging the Rapier and who kindly helped me with this account, also came from Lagonda, and three more Lagonda men were to join the company: GH Hammond, who had raced Lagonda light-cars in the 1920s and was to become a practical works superintendent, and road-testers Charlie Gray and Alf Tucker.

The Lammas-Graham factory itself was established late in 1936 in Sunbury-on-Thames, at first near the Sundeala company which made compressed fibre-board as used on Tamplin cyclecars and later in nearby Green Lane. Here assembly was undertaken, Graham power-units arriving from the USA in packing-cases. Lamburn was kept busy designing alloy pillars to take Lucas headlamps and fittings to take Wilmot-Breedon stabilising bumpers, while liaising with the various coachbuilders and suppliers.

Whereas the Railton had a straight-eight Hudson engine at this time, Lord Avebury used the six-cylinder 82.5mm x 111mm (3250cc) Graham engine which had the distinction of being supercharged.

This side-valve unit had an aluminium “Turbulence Control” cylinder-head. Its 21/2in-diameter crankshaft was counterbalanced and ran in four cadmium-silver bearings, pressure-cast alloy pistons were used, and the coil ignition had automatic advance and retard. Unlike the Hudson, the Graham engine had full pressure lubrication from a camshaft-driven submerged gear-type pump, with additional jet-feed to the cylinder walls. The centrifugal blower was mounted horizontally above the cylinder head and driven, via a clutch which would slip under violent acceleration, from the crankshaft by dual belts on the nearside; the pulleys turned a short shaft, with two universal joints, which drove the worm gears at the base of a vertical shaft coupled to the blower. This was normal Graham construction.

Centrifugal superchargers ran at very high speeds, to give a low but useful boost. That on the Lammas-Graham ran at about 53/4-times crankshaft speed, so it was usually turning at something like 15,000 rpm or more. There was no provision for lubrication of the pulley-shaft bearing, but it gave no trouble. In the USA a Carter updraught carburettor fed the blower, but the Mk 1 Lammas-Graham used a single down-draught SU; for the Mk II two horizontal Zeniths on a T-pipe were substituted (so arranged that at low throttle-openings only one was feeding) to lower the bonnet-line. An alloy bulkhead was also used, and Lamburn was asked by Lord Avebury to alter slightly the shape of the radiator to make it “more like Bentley”!

The claimed power output was 128 bhp al 4400 rpm, and the maximum speeds quoted were 30,65 and 95-100 mph in the gears, the synchromesh helical-gears box having ratios of 10.97, 6.61 and 4.27:1. The steering column was adjustable, with a sprung 18in steering wheel.

A lone open tourer by Abbott’s Of Farnham was made for the Mk 1 chassis, which featured half-elliptic suspension, a 5in pressed-steel frame with double’ dropped side-members, Lockheed hydraulic-brakes with 11in-diameter-drurns, and centre-lock wire wheels shod with 6.50 x 18in Dunlops. An open prop-shaft took the drive to the semi-floating hypoid-bevel back axle, and there were driver-controlled Luvax shock-absorbers and Jackall inbuilt jacks. The chassis weighed only 19 cwt, and the wheelbase was 10ft. A mechanical pump fed petrol from the 16-gallon rear tank.

As first announced, the chassis was available for £510, the handsome tourer cost £675, a two-seater £695 and saloon, sports-saloon and drop-head £735 each. By comparison, the Railton saloon cost £628, the Brough Superior £596 in saloon form and £665 as a drop-head (the latter £755 with a supercharger).

Lammas-Graham bodies were made by various firms — the four-door saloons mostly by Ranalah, the drop-heads by the Carlton Carriage Co, and there were two Bertelli bodies manufactured, one of which was exhibited at the 1937 Motor Show. It is amusing to note the prices of the available extras: for 14 guineas the customer could have wheel-discs in special colours, a special paint job or leather upholstery cost a mere £2.10s, an inside mirror was 10s 6d, and a licence-holder 7s 6d.

Lord Avebury did his best to publicise this attractive but perhaps rather expensive car. He drove a green Lammas-Graham at the 1936 October Meeting at Brooklands, losing a Mountain race by only 3.4 seconds (with a best lap at 65.61 mph) to an MG Magnette which had started six seconds before him. In the Oxford v Cambridge Mountain race he was unplaced, but increased his lap-speed to 67.50 mph.

Charles Follett had taken on an agency from his Berkeley Street showrooms, and at this same Brooklands meeting Frank King entered him for an outer-circuit race; he was unplaced, but lapped at 96.52 mph. Follett then ran a Lammas-Graham for a three-hour observed run at the Track, the stripped tourer doing 260.76 miles at an average of 86.92 mph, with a best hour of 95.78 miles and a best lap at 97.65 mph. So it was a fast car. Its abilities were also demonstrated in the 1937 Exeter Trial, when Avebury and motoring writer Douglas Clease both gained bronze medals.

The tourer was now offered at the reduced price of £620, the saloon at £660 and the drop-head at £695; by then the Railton tourer cost £598, the Brough Superior saloon £695, the Jensen V8 Salmons drop-head £765 but in sports-tourer form only £645, albeit with atmospheric Ford power. The Graham power-unit, like most of these American engines, was essentially reliable if left alone, but attempts to increase its speed by shaving the head and blower-casing resulted in broken piston-ring lands.

Lord Avebury found an outlet for some of his Lammas-Grahams within his own family: his mother Lady Wardington had two (but also kept her 20/25hp Rolls Royce), his uncle another, and his aunt, the Hon Mrs Pitt-Rivers, a Mayfair-bodied saloon. Incidentally, Avebury’s family’s stately homes, such as Wardington Manor near Banbury and Lepe House on Southampton Water, made useful backdrops to Lammas publicity pictures.

Frank King also made the most of the promotional possibilities offered by the purchase of a drop-head coupe by the famous boxer Tommy Farr. The very first production car, chassis No 1001, a Ranalah saloon driven by Avebury and used for development and publicity purposes, was later sold to a well-known post-war racing driver (and chairman of Manganese Bronze and Norton-Villiers) RD Poore.

Alas, in spite of the apparent appeal of its cars, Lammas-Graham lasted for only two years. In 1938 Lord Avebury had to call in the Receiver, turning to racing an Alta but forming Lammas Service Ltd to look after his old customers. After the closure Alan Lamburn joined Fairey Aviation, but following the Second World War he worked on the revolutionary Fedden car and also as project engineer for the front-wheel-drive transverse-engined Duncan Dragonfly (which was bought by Austin and pre-dated the Issigonis Mini). He is now a consultant engineer, and, in view of his former association with the Rapier, it is nice to know that as well as his Alfasud (personally collected from Milan) and Mini he still keeps a 1934 Abbott bodied Rapier. WB