Veteran to classic

Another Forgotten Journey

Bruce Dowell, the Sunbeam man, has kindly sent me details of an interesting journey undertaken circa 1926 by a 25hp Sunbeam tourer, which was considered sufficient of an accomplishment for the Sunbeam Motor Car Company of Wolverhampton to issue a publicity booklet about it, illustrated with tinted pictures. It is this rare publication which tells the story.

The Sunbeam Company had received an account of the run from the Secretariat of His Excellency the High Commissioner for Iraq, after he had been supplied with the 25hp tourer, priced then at £950. The car was shipped crated to Beyrout (Syria). A ‘prominent trans-desert motor transport company’ then uncrated the Sunbeam and cleared it for delivery. After a short test run of about five miles His Excellency’s representative commenced the journey of some 600 miles to Baghdad. The car was carrying the equal of four or five passengers and on the descent into Tchourah the servo-assisted brakes of the car were found to be very effective and the steering light round many hairpin bends on the route to Damascus. The adjustable front seat allowed the driver a comfortable position, and the engine ‘toyed with the gradients’.

No trouble was experienced on the 530 mile crossing of the Syrian desert. Another car was leaving at the same time, so it accompanied the Sunbeam. After flocks of sheep had been left behind nothing was seen moving, but the track was by then well defined, as a convoy linked Baghdad with Damascus twice a week. Having left at 9.30am the car was at Rutba, the mid-desert post, by 8.30pm. The hard clay with a pebbly surface had persisted for much of the way, but it was thought what a good crop-bearing region this would be with irrigation and in late spring of each year rainstorms gave the desert a mantle of grass, bringing the sheep further into its fastnesses.

Stopping for a good meal at the restaurant in the Rutba fort, which had a refrigerator for supplying cold comforts in a summer temperature of 118 deg, the Sunbeam was then refuelled, and at l0pm set off into the night. Incidentally, the Fort was 260 miles from Damscus, the first water hole, with not another until 200 miles nearer Baghdad. The car was now on British territory and so the English rule of the road could be observed. An excellently defined and good track got the driver to Ramadi by daybreak, 200 miles from Rutba. Habitation now recommenced and the road ran beside the Euphrates river for many miles, the Sunbeam crossing it by pontoon bridge at Fallujah and reaching Baghdad by mid-day, the driver very little fatigued and the car having given ‘not a moment’s anxiety’, although smothered in desert dust. The total journey time was 26-1/2 hours. — WB


Out of the Past

The ban on public road speed events in Britain having fallen in 1925, the rush was on to discover suitable speed-trial and hillclimb courses on country estates. Many such courses eventually became available, through the co-operation of generous landowners, adding a fragment of history to the sporting motoring scene. Thus in 1927 the Sutton Coldfield & N Birmingham AC and the Ace MC held their speed trials along a private road it had found on Lord Warings’ estate. The course was bordered on either side by trees and was undulating and rather narrow, but the surface that May was fairly good. Incidentally the back of the programme carried the message: “The place for speed is on the drive, not when going home”, which applies just as much today as then, and “Sportsmen leaving the meeting will drive with care and courtesy; the local constabulary will deal with the others.”

In the public road days the N Birmingham Club had used Style Kop and then Angle Bank for its speed events but the ban seems to have stopped these activities until the new speed trial course was found.

Three A7s dominated the 750cc class, running it was said in uncanny silence at around 60 mph, the winner JD Barnes’s, in 31.8 sec for the 800 yards, into which a 10 yard rolling start was given. Lones’s Morgan three-wheeler (27.2 sec) vanquished a Senechal in the 1100cc division and Frank Taylor’s road-equipped ex-Raymond Mays’s Bugatti “Cordon Rouge” took the 1-1/2-litre class (29.8 sec) from Potts’s Frazer Nash, Nicholson’s Bugatti meanwhile amusing the not inconsiderable crowd by bursting its hood, which flapped and trailed behind the speeding car.

Fastest car time was Taylor’s but in the racing car class Lones improved his time to 26.8 sec, making FTD, with a straight-eight Bugatti second (31.0 sec). It has been a mild passion of mine to try to locate past speed venues of this kind.

The course used was actually in Gopsall Park, along Shakerstone Avenue. The Club had used it some years before 1925 and returned there in 1926, when FB Taylor made FTD in his 2-litre Bugatti without getting into top gear (25.8 sec). SUNBAC, as the Club was called, held its speed trials there again in 1927, when interesting entries were a supercharged Arab and the 1-1/2-litre Hodgson-engined British Eagle of CEB Starling. The Morgans were exciting, Lones’s seizing-up 20 yards from the finishing tape, snaking to a standstill, while RT Horton’s Morgan made FTD (24.3 sec, 66.5 mph) despite its engine cutting in and out. TN Shorthouse (Bugatti) took the 1500cc class.

I wonder if anyone remembers those Gopsall Park speed trials? I had intended to see if the course still exists, but I believe it is now on Crown property. Tourists, though, pass near to it as the Market Bosworth Light Railway runs close by. — WB


A reader is hoping that someone can provide a link with a Daimler landaulette which his father drove, as a chauffeur to the Johnson family of York, before and just after the First World War. In a TV film of an Agatha Christie play this reader saw a Daimler which looked like the one he remembered from childhood and which carried a York Reg No. Wondering if the car his father used to drive had survived, he tried to discover who the present owner is, via the DVLC, but met with the usual refusal to supply the required information. However, the TV company told him that the car in the film is owned by Bill Allen of Cheltenham, its Reg No being DN 568. Mr Allen does not know the early history of his Daimler but if anyone can link it to the Johnson family in York when it was a new car, letters can be forwarded.


News has reached us of a new club being formed for modsports cars. The aim of the Historic Modsports Club is to gather together as many suitable cars as possible with a view to forming a new racing championship for the 1992 season in which all cars will be expected to run to the 1985 Modsports Regulations as defined by the RAC Blue Book. There is even a chance that a few races may be organised this season if sufficient people are interested.

Anyone interested in this club are asked to contact the Secretary, Gill Patten, 19 Frimley Avenue, Hornchurch, Essex RM11 3PX or telephone 04024 74085 (evenings) for an application form and further information about the club. The next meeting of the club will be held on Thursday March 28 at 8.30pm in the Kentagon Bar at Brands Hatch Race Circuit. All interested people are invited to attend.


The 750 MC is having an Open Day at Snetterton on April 7, with a display of all ages of A7, including specials and kitcars, an autojumble, gymkhana and racing to the Club’s formulae from 2pm. Entry forms from: Ken Cooke, 26, Whomerley Road, Stevenage, Herts, SGI 1SR.


The Daimler & Lanchester OC announces that it has the largest stock of parts for these cars ever in its store at Gamlingay, with a computerised list of parts some of which date from Edwardian times, the system administered by four full-time staff. The number to ring is : 0767-50430. The Club’s magazine The Driving Member for last February had on its front cover a picture of a Daimler which might well have been contemporary with the one referred to above and an article on the rebuild of the Tessie O’Shea DB18, etc. This year’s Annual Rally will be held at the Doune Motor Museum, from June 6/12.