[In which that great enthusiast, Anthony S. Heal, keeps the ball rolling. – Ed.]
Your contributor, Captain L. Roy Taylor, suggests that this interesting series of articles should be confined “to those whose names are household words in motoring circles.” I hope that his suggestion will not be adopted, otherwise we shall miss many amusing and interesting stories from genuine enthusiasts and this humble manuscript will be still-born.
Like many of your readers, at quite an early age I found that a growing interest in motor-cars was not regarded altogether favourably by parents and other grownups. The cause of my downfall was undoubtedly The Autocar’s account of the 1921 Grand Prix at Le Mans. That excellent journalist, W.F. Bradley, then Continental correspondent to the National Motoring Journal, had set me on the downward path. Little did I realise when I read his account of the Straight Eight Sunbeam and Ballot racing cars on the Circuit de la Sarthe that 20 years later I should be the proud possessor of two of the actual cars entered for that race.
At the time I was barely old enough to hold a licence to ride a motor-cycle. For a year or so I engaged in a kind of guerilla warfare with my fond parents on the subject of motoring, but eventually I achieved a notable success by dint of much hard saving. Having scraped together, by all the means at my disposal, the very considerable sum of £5, I bought from a dealer in Oxford a single-geared N.S.U. which was little, if at all, my junior in age. It had handlebars like the horns of an ibex and an I.O.E. engine. The inlet valve was operated by a Heath Robinson device and, owing to the lack of a carburetter float, the petrol level had to be regulated by means of the petrol tap as one rode along. After blowing up the tyres and re-timing the ignition the machine ran and, without bothering about such trivialities as insurance and taxation, I motored round the local lanes until I ran out of petrol. Having no money to buy more, I found that the engine ran equally well, when hot, on ordinary paraffin, which could be easily obtained, by means of a jug, from the family store cupboard.
During school holidays I used to manage somehow or other to get to Brooklands meetings and to hill climbs at Kop Hill. My earliest recollections of these events include H.W. Cook’s “Rouge et Noir” Vauxhall, Parry Thomas’s immaculate white Leylands, Count Zborowski’s Ballot and Indianapolis Bugatti, Eldridge’s enormous Fiat and hosts of others. With my No. 2 Brownie box camera I took a number of photographs at each meeting I attended. Many of the pictures were unsuccessful, but some were not too bad, and to-day they are among some of my most prized possessions.
A kind of truce with my parents was arranged when my father offered to make a contribution towards the cost of a motor-bicycle if I got through the “School Certificate” at the close of my school career. He must have thought it a pretty safe bet! Somehow I managed it and duly became the owner of a 1925 two-speed Scott “Super Squirrel” (YK9242). Those of your readers who interest themselves in two-wheelers will recall that these machines were remarkable for their excellent steering and road-holding. The water-cooled twin-cylinder two-stroke was particular about its lubrication and one had continually to adjust the two drip feeds on the oil tank according to the speed and load. Top speed was about 65 m.p.h. Bottom gear was 6.28 to 1, which made starting on steep hills rather tricky. This Scott machine went with me to France and Germany, where my education was to be extended, if not completed. During the winter we did some motoring in the French Alps round Grenoble with a chain round the rear wheel to give added grip on the frozen snow. In the spring I went to Munich and I rode the Scott from France, across Switzerland, to Bavaria without any mishap. In Munich I got to know the local A.J.S. and Sunbeam agent, whose showrooms almost adjoined those of B.M.W. Thus it was that I encountered several people whose names have since become known over here – Bauhofer, Ernst Henne and Uli Richter. Henne rode my Scott and in return I was allowed to sample the o.h.v. B.M.W.
After a year in Germany I was apprenticed to a firm at Broadway in Worcestershire, and the Scott was still my means of getting about and going home at weekends. As an introduction to motoring the motor-cycle is much to be preferred to the small pseudo-sports car. With a solo machine one can obtain considerably better performance than the buzz-box can offer and the expense is much more suited to the slender purses of the majority of youthful and impecunious enthusiasts.
My first car was a “Redwing” Riley (YP4333), which covered a considerable mileage with the utmost reliability. Not at all a fast car, but one that was pleasant to handle on account of its steering and brakes. On it I made my first ascents of Porlock, Beggar’s Roost and Nailsworth Ladder.
The never-ending search for greater performance led me to Isleworth, and eventually I departed from there in a six-year-old 1925 Frazer-Nash (YK116). This car had the side-valve engine, three speeds and not very good brakes. Its maximum was about 65 m.p.h., but its acceleration was its greatest virtue. It was with this car that I made my first venture into reliability trials, in the Land’s End of 1931. Before the event I was dismayed to find that I was unable to climb Hustyn on the 10 to 1 bottom gear. The makers said this was no doubt due to my bad driving, but they obliged by fitting a larger sprocket, giving a ratio of 11 to 1. Full of excitement we set off from Virginia Water, but Hustyn again proved our undoing. After climbing the worst part with the rock outcrop, the bottom gear chain parted, and we finished the climb on the wrong end of the rope. My first trial was not altogether without reward, however, as I claimed a “Silver” and my picture appeared for the first time in Motor Sport.
I kept this ‘Nash for about two years, ultimately changing it for another (GU7768), a 1929 Anzani-engined model, which, it was alleged, had run in the T.T. It weighed about 15 cwt. and, with its four speeds, had even better acceleration than the older model. Top speed was about 75 m.p.h., but its main charm lay in its “all-in-one-piece” feeling on corners. GU7768 was, however, an unlucky car for me. One Sunday evening, coming home from a pre-view of some of the hills for the “Land’s End,” the crankshaft broke with an expensive noise. My passenger rang up his worthy father and asked in a casual sort of way if he could come and tow us home. “Yes,” said papa, little knowing what was coming to him. “Where are you?” It is greatly to his credit, on learning that we were 140 miles away, that he stuck to his promise and came to our rescue. The result of this contretemps was to bring about a severe financial crisis.
To balance the budget I had to trade-in the ‘Nash, and with a greatly diminished bank balance I became a pedestrian for a time. For my summer holiday I accompanied a friend who was competing in the 1934 Alpine Trial with an Aston-Martin. We nearly blotted our copybook on the last day when we had three punctures during one etape, but after a heroic dice along some of the narrowest Austrian mountain roads we managed to get to the checking point on time, only to find that the “Kontrolle” was not there! Quite unannounced it had moved itself 20 miles farther on. We reached the finish strafpunktfrei, thus winning a Glacier Cup and a Roneoed letter from the Sportsführer beginning “Dear Sport-comrade.”
Having built up a small bank balance, I decided to expend most of my limited resources by procuring some means of locomotion. I looked for a 3-litre Bentley, but the good ones were all too expensive. Ultimately I came across a 1924 “30/98” Vauxhall car (XW4212), which was at that time 10 years old. Really this excellent car deserves a whole article to itself. It endeared itself to me, with the result that I still have it and up to the end of 1940 it was in constant use.
On acquiring OE168 I had the engine dismantled to make sure that all was well inside. The 820 x 120 tyres were replaced by 5.25″ x 21″ and the wheels were rebuilt. My first impressions of the “30/98” were its extremely good acceleration (due largely to its excellent power-to-weight ratio) and its phenomenally poor brakes. The transmission brake produced only a smell of burning oil when used hard and the drums on the rear wheels merely made a faint hissing sound, Retardation was negligible.
Driving a fastish car with rather inadequate braking is extremely good training. It teaches one to look much further ahead than is usually necessary and to anticipate trouble before it arises. One learns that acceleration and the proper placing of the car are much more important factors in avoiding accidents than the most powerful brakes.
OE168 took me through a number of trials with a certain degree of success. We got a Premier in the “Exeter” and “Land’s End,” but due to the driver’s absent-mindedness we failed to negotiate quite an easy corner on the observed section of Wrynose during the “Edinburgh.” It was in the Vintage Sports Car Club’s Chiltern Trial that I first encountered Marcus Chambers with his 4 1/2-litre Bentley. He beat me in the Reversing and Acceleration Test on Maiden’s Grove, although I managed to put up the best time in the stop and restart on Lewknor. Result: a resolution to extract some extra horses from the Vauxhall engine.
For the V.S.C.C. Speed Trials at Aston Clinton I had higher compression pistons fitted, and in this form the Vauxhall was run in a number of events in 1936 with a fair measure of success.
During the winter Monaco, of Watford, rebuilt the engine completely, but we suffered from a number of contretemps which prevented our running in any speed trials until almost the end of the 1937 season. At the 1937 Brighton Speed Trials we clocked 32.5 secs., but Hughes’s and Windsor Richards’s “30/98” Vauxhalls were both quicker than mine.
I bought another “30/98” engine (alleged to be the one used by Munday when he won the Gold Star at 112 m.p.h.), intending to keep it for competition work. It had two Zenith triple-diffuser carburetters, and with it we improved our time at the 1938 Brighton Speed Trials to 30 secs. Unfortunately, other people improved their times too, so we were still out of the money. Lycett upheld the Vintage colours by winning the “Unlimited Sports Car” in 29.1 secs. with his 4 1/2-litre Bentley. I was drawn to run in the same heat with him and for a short distance I managed to hold the lead. The high third gear of the Bentley was much better suited to the standing half mile than the Vauxhall’s lower ratio, so I had to change into top and watch the 4 1/2-litre Bentley cross the line some 50 yards ahead of me. We also ran at the first Open Hill Climb at Prescott and, although we did not manage an award, there was a private race between B. Hughes, A. May and myself with Vauxhalls and D. Monro’s Invicta. Hughes was fastest, with my car second in 56.6 secs. At one of the United Hospitals Club’s Donington meetings we again encountered R. Hughes’s very “Special” “30/98” 2-seater, which many of your readers will remember. His best lap was over 69 m.p.h., while the best I could do was 68.58 m.p.h. I well remember during the last race it came on to rain and I toured round in great comfort in the “30/98 ” with the screen up and the wiper working, passing one or two people who were having a miserable time in their buzz-boxes with “racing aero screens.”
In between times the Vauxhall was regularly used on the road, including a summer holiday in the South of France. We followed the 1938 Paris-Nice Trial for Motor Sport and with three up we sat on the tail of Yarburgh-Bateson (H.R.G.) and Camerano (Simca Fiat) during the ascent of the Col de la Croix Haute. The heat and the dust as the three cars whisked round the hairpin bends were something to be remembered. We were all trying hard, so it was pretty exciting. The Vauxhall suffered a disadvantage, as the low octane “essence” prevented the use of full throttle below 2,500 r.p.m. My passenger took shorthand notes at my dictation as we rushed along.
Just before this trip I had a Delage front axle and brakes fitted and the rear axle was adapted to take Delage drums. This made a very considerable improvement to the braking, which was decidedly welcome in view of the increased performance which the engine was then giving. The top speed was 92 m.p.h. with 3.3 to 1 axle ratio. I also had a 3 to 1 ratio which gave very effortless high speed cruising, but with the touring engine it did not give any higher maximum speed. In 1939 the Vauxhall was pressed into the service of the “Ecurie du Lapin Blanc” at short notice before they left for Le Mans. Loaded with spares we set off from Dieppe behind Jack Fry’s 4 1/2 litre Bentley truck. Never shall I forget the two heavily laden cars thundering down the last 20 kilometres towards Le Mans at over 80 m.p.h. The H.R.G. followed behind with Peter Clark at the wheel. During the week before the race the never-tiring Vauxhall, rewarded for its hard work by a tank full of “Ternaire” (the only respectable fuel in France), carried and fetched and was diced around the circuit by all and sundry. I remember going out to the practice one night, the “30/98” acting as tender to the H.R.G. Carrying Jack Fry, our chef d’equipe, our 15-year-old “fast tourer” overtook one of the small modern racers on the winding leg of the course from Mulsanne to Arnage.
About two years ago I had two S.U. carburetters fitted in place of the original single Zenith. I was very pleased to find that this alteration improved the maximum to just over 100 m.p.h. The consumption was about 14 m.p.g.
At the time of the Dunkirk evacuation the Vauxhall again rose to the occasion when called upon to deliver some urgently needed “stores” to an aerodrome in Wiltshire. With 6 cwt. in the back we covered our journey of just over 100 miles in two hours. Only 40 miles were completed in the first hour as we had some 10 miles of London streets to cover.
In the seven years I ran “OE168” a number of modifications were made and many of the wearing parts had to be re-ground or re-bushed. Apart from the brakes, I think the universal joints of the propeller shaft are the weakest part of the design. The steering is high geared and not unduly heavy by vintage standards. It has the merit that one can feel when the front wheels begin to slide. I found I was able to navigate my Vauxhall round the curves as rapidly as I would most motor-cars. I was, of course, familiar with the way she behaved on corners, but I believe that some people discovered a tendency to understeer. I remember one well-known vintage exponent leaving the high road for the undergrowth after approaching a corner at what I considered to be une allure exageree. I just had time to tell him that we should undoubtedly have an accident before it all came to pass. On the other hand, quite a number of drivers, who have followed the “30/98” along winding roads, expressed surprise that it should corner so rapidly and hold the road so well. [I vividly recall its stability when cornering at really high speed. – Ed.]
Although already considered obsolete when I bought her eight years ago, this “30/98” Vauxhall has still got the legs of most sports cars, and during seven years of very happy ownership she has generally performed with some measure of distinction.