A vintage birthday treat

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Went the other day to see some of the cars Ben Collings is restoring for various people. Coming upon the Mexican-owned 1912 Type KM 10.6-litre four-cylinder Isotta-Fraschini was breathtaking — that enormous radiator somehow more Teutonic than Italian, and the chassis of enormously long wheelbase. The top of the cambox, nearly as high as the radiator, conceals the four slightly-inclined valves per cylinder, operated by overhead camshaft. The massive four-speed gearbox is in keeping. It has an inboard brake drum on each side, the brakes operated independently from two pedals. Characteristically IF is the narrow-angle vee-bracing rod below the radiator and the rear snubbers with enclosed springs. The chassis has the typical rod-and-pedestal bracing beneath the side-members. I have often wondered whether this really was effective, but Ben tells me that it does definitely keep the chassis frame in shape.

In another garage was a 3-litre Bentley looking just like the Le Mans cars of around 1927, with its long strip mudguards and lightweight upholstery. A spare car perhaps, if there was such. The make-up is definitely racing, with duralumin rockers, close-ratio gears, fuel tank pressure pump close to the driver’s left hand, a vacuum servo just ahead of the brake pedal, and a professionally cord-bound steering wheel. I then went to my birthday lunch kindly laid on by Judy and Roger Collings, after which we drove home on this sunny day, before winter set in again.