The Test That Went Wro
In the earlier days of motoring, car owners paid great attention to tyres. Punctures were frequent, skids dreaded, and the mileages obtainable from the covers of the pre-1914 era were very miserable indeed. No wonder there was endless controversy about which was the best equipment to invest in. Choice wasn’t easy, with 31 different makes — and I mean makes, not types, of which each maker offered a considerable variety, in many sizes; if you think I exaggerate you had a choice in 1913 between Avon, Beldam, Clincher (made by North British), Collier, Continental, Dunlop, Gamage, Gaulois, Goodrich, Grimston, Helsby, Hermetic, Kempshall, Liversidge, Lomax, Macintosh, Michelin, Midland, Moseley, Palmer Cord, Peter Union, Pirelli, Prowodnik, Harrods Shell, Sirdar, Skew, Spencer-Moulton, Stelastic, Stepney, Victor, Wood Milne, and probably a few more.
In this situation, no wonder there was keen competition and appealing advertising to tempt car owners into deciding which was the best tyre to buy. All well and good. Until the Victor Tyre Company thought up a test of their tyres against what they, flatteringly, announced as the other three top makes — Continental, Dunlop and Michelin. The unusual thing about this comparative test was that instead of a Victor tyre being submitted for an officially-observed trial under RAC jurisdiction, the Victor people were the organisers. They put their own tyres into direct competition and comparison with those of the other makes they had decided on, buying these tyres from suppliers who were not aware of the reason for the purchases, in the same way as Which buys cars and other goods it tests, that is anonymously, to avoid bias or special preparation. Three types of each tyre were tested, studded, grooved and plain, each changed round at 150-mile intervals, for which purpose the test car, a 1905 chain-drive 30/40 hp Fiat tourer, was provided with Shrewsbury and Challiner rims to facilitate the changes. Mr W Yarworth Jones, Managing Director of the Victor Tyre Co Ltd, whose tyres were the product of Challenge Rubber Mills of City Road, London, must have been an influential man, for he persuaded many celebrities to
interest themselves in his test, and endorse its impartiality and fair conduct. Thus, on the committee of private motor-users who agreed to supervise the test were Marshall Hall, the eminent King’s Council, Col Harrison Hogg, Lord Denbigh, Lord Norbury, Lord de la Ware, Lord Kingsdale, Lord Clifford, Lord Tenterden, Sir Thomas Upton, Bt, Admiral Sir John Hopkins, Admiral Sir George Neville and Viscount Exmouth, the last-named doing the longest stint of all as an observer. In addition, E C Stewart represented the Dunlop Company, A Braithwaite Dickinson the Continental Co, and two sub-committees, one of which was composed of 12 well-known newspaper men and magazine journalists, the other of private motorists, controlled the actual contest. One hundred district committees of some 1,300 persons from the Church, the Services, the Bar and the Nobility, assisted, there was a supportive Press Committee, and letters of approval came in from Lord Dewhurst, the Bishop of Birmingham, the Earl of Lonsdale and about 550 others. Lord Clifford examined the tyres at his Devonshire residence, as did Lord Dewhurst at his country seat Pirton Court in Worcestershire, and Prince Leopold and Prince Maurice of Battenberg inspected progress at Kensington Palace. Formidable! It had all begun in July 1912, under rules drawn up by the RAC. It seems that set routes were not used, one very tough run up to Scotland not being repeated; perhaps it was felt that the stress imposed on the tyres might reflect unfavourably even on the Victor covers.. . Then things began to go wrong. First, although the tyres on test had been selected from ordinary sources by unknown purchasers, and stored at the Financial News offices beforehand, on one occasion, when an overnight garage was unavailable for the Fiat, another bedroom was booked and the four wheels locked therein, while the car spent the night on jacks, someone was unkind enough to suggest that maybe the Victor Company had fitted a specially-made 920 x 120 steelstudded cover for the first of the tests. Lord Norbury had vouched for the test tyre and cannot have been too pleased! Anyway, it, with two used Victor tyres of other sizes, selected at random by Faraday House, were tested by
them (after the AA had refused to do this) and it transpired that the test tyre was identical in respect of its studs, rubber, canvas (six layers) and canvas-spread to the sample 135 mm tyre, the smaller 105 mm sample cover likewise, except for slightly better studs but mildly inferior canvas. The test results were based on aggregate mileage of each tyre, with repairs when considered necessary. As this elaborate affair ran on into 1913, the third stage having started from Bath the previous December, with the test car photographed outside Eaton Hall, the Duke of Westminster’s Cheshire seat, the plain Victor tyre had done a trouble-free 1999 miles but the Dunlop and Michelin covers had both required repairs (by Harvey Frost), as did the Continental, at 1,752 miles. (The pace must have been fast, because normally tyres would run at least 4,000 miles at this date before wearing out). The Michelin then burst, so although on aggregate Continental was in the lead, the Dunlop and Victor tyres were fighting it out in this round, until the Dunlop tyre burst, at 3,112 miles.
Then it went badly wrong! The test car was being driven rapidly along the Portsmouth road when it skidded on ice coming down from Hindhead, near the Devil’s Punch Bowl. One person described this as “merely going into a ditch” but as the car somersaulted, tearing off the body, with one occupant pinned beneath this and four others badly injured, that is not how I would have dismissed it! However, the remaining Victor tyre, which was to have been driven to destruction, was still inflated. So, after this 15,000-mile test of 12 tyres each, of the four makes, the Victor tyre was unanimously declared the winner, amid much publicity, at the Holbom Restaurant. (The great KC, Marshall Hall, was to have presided, but excused himself as ill). More trouble followed, with letters pouring into the Press criticising the test. The RAC had withdrawn its influence because the Victor people would only allow their tyres to be bought from one source, and this was the subject of long and boring attacks by Victor’s Mr Yarworth-Jones. Opinion was expressed that the accident placed an unfair condition on the Dunlop tyre, in spite of which the Victor was declared “the proven best tyre”. The pioneers of the Industry resented this. A further (RAC) test at Brooklands of a Victor tyre was refused, on the grounds that one tyre might not be representative — the case of the Palmer Cords on the 100-miles-in-thehour Talbot was cited, when one set had failed on the first attempt, but another set of the same popular tyres had survived the record run. There was disapproval that Dunlop had been represented by Mr Stewart, who defended himself by saying he worked for their advertising agents, A 1 Wilson & Co (long before Higham’s and Saachi & Saachi?) and was unbiased. There were aspersions that Victor tyres were not as British-made as they were implied to be. The RAC banned them from further tests. Lord Exmouth opposed the RAC’s decision. It rumbled on, good and bad publicity for all concerned. But how many 1913 motorists bought Victor tyres as a result. I wonder, and not just because they were guaranteed for 1,000 miles? W B
V-E-V Odds & Ends, April 1985
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