Case of the lost aero car

Just what was the exciting aero-engined car the late Lord Donegall had when he was up at Oxford? A Sherlock Holmes addict, Donegall edited the Baker Street Journal, but when, 50 years later, he decided to write his autobiography, he could remember little about the car.

The car was known as an HS and Donegall believed it might have been the famous Count Zborowski Higham Special. But his inability to recall the number of cylinders, type of engine, or whether his car had had chain or shaft drive made identification a problem for me back in 1973, when Lord Donegall was living at Vaud, in Switzerland. Having ruled out all known aero-engined giants, I concluded that His Lordship’s car must have had a Hall-Scott engine.

The Zborowski legend (an account of which should appear soon in the late David Wilson’s comprehensive book) is that the Count built his first famous Chitty-Bang-Bang in 1920, and that it won its first race at Brooklands in 1921. But there was a little-known earlier aero-engined car with which he was associated.

Its exact date is unknown, but it was around 1919 that Zborowski had seen a big Itala chassis over at racing driver Giulio Foresti’s premises in Bryanston Square, London, and had brought there a Hall-Scott aero-engine (said to be of 250hp/ 13.5-litres) to have it installed therein. This took four months, and when Foresti made a test run round the Square, the propshaft broke away from the gearbox, and carried with it the flywheel and brake gear. The HS crashed through Foresti’s vehicle-lift gates and embedded itself in the far wall.

Zborowski decided to take the car away as it was, either to his Higham estate down in Kent, or perhaps to the British Mercedes Motor Co in Long Acre, WC2, where in the war he used to call upon the manager, Walter Dewis. When Clive Gallop arrived at Higham to help build the first Chitty, I assume the HS would have been sold.

A friend who shared rooms with Donegall remembered how he had had to delay dinner, waiting for the arrival of the HS which Donegal was collecting from London, and how it had a notice on the front: ‘For Registration’, presumably to draw attention away from the fact that this rather obvious car was untaxed.

Donegan had then apparently had the car registered, indexed with the number FC1799 (asked the engine size he didn’t know it and was modestly taxed in consequence).

I have no idea whether the accompanying picture is of Donegall’s car. The Mercedes(?) radiator could have been supplied by Zborowski with the HS engine, or as a replacement for that damaged in Foresti’s prang, while the London number may be from the Itala, before the Oxford redeclaration.

If not, whose car was this?