Out of the Past . . ., August 1949

Far too few people remain with us who remember the pioneering days of motoring or the grand Edwardian era and consequently any correspondence on the subject which is received at the Motor Sport offices is of more than passing interest. Recently we had a most interesting communication from Capt. W. H. Naylor, late K.O.Y.L.I., of Cross Hills, Keighley, Yorkshire, referring to a letter from Mr. Emmett, published in our April issue, about Sizaire-Berwick cars. Capt. Naylor enclosed many excellent photographs of veteran cars which he has owned. One of these cars was a 1915 20-h.p. Sizaire-Berwick originally run by F. W. Berwick himself, then sold to a Mr. Barlow, and purchased by Capt. Naylor in 1918. The chassis had cost £585 new, and carried one of the first Barker bodies, an open tourer, which put the total price up to £770 and made the car reminiscent in appearance of a post-war “Silver Ghost” Rolls-Royce. The car was the four-cylinder 90 by 160 mm. model and Capt. Naylor describes it as “a really beautiful piece of work,” bestowing equal praise on the later “25/50” cars. His 20-h.p. did 20 m.p.g., and 10,000 miles on a set of tyres, a good figure for a large car in those days — just as well, as a new set cost about £50! The £6 6s. annual tax was some compensation, however. Capt. Naylor and his father first met the Sizaire-Berwick in 1913 or early ’14, when Mr. Lamb, who was at one time with Ariel-Simplex, brought an experimental version to Sheffield. Later he was quite often at the Park Royal works, in the days when Cmdr. G. F. Harmer, who married Sir Alfred Herbert’s daughter, was one of the leading spirits, along with Capt. Keiller, Mr. Nightingale, who came from Rolls-Royce and later joined Packard, and Heath Robinson’s brother. A “Baladeur” reference to the front-braked Argyll reminds Capt. Naylor that the first car his father bought was a “10/12” Argyll with a two-cylinder Aster engine and a gate-change. Later Capt. Naylor’s father became a director of the Argyll Company, Col. J. S. Matthews of Dunlops afterwards becoming managing director, also Eustace H. Watson, who went to the Flanders and Slade Baker Company. Capt. Naylor’s family had about a dozen Argylls — “10/12,” “12/14,” “14/16,” “16/20,” “26/30,” the 1911 12-h.p. four-cylinder with front brakes, and the 1913 single-sleeve-valve “15/30,” Our correspondent, who still possesses a 1915 Sizaire-Berwick catalogue, also recalls a 1911 “10/16” 75 by 88 mm. Stoewer two-seater, bought from Turner Smith of Brompton Road, which, probably due to its short stroke, would attain 3,000 r.p.m. and do 65 m.p.h., climbing quite stiff hills at 45 m.p.h. in third gear, and having a bottom gear, like a late model Austin Seven, of 23 to 1. Other photographs show his father standing by a 1911 23-h.p. six-cylinder “Silent Knight” Daimler with Windover landaulette body, a two-speed 45-h.p. Sheffield-Simplex four-seater, driven by Percy Richardson in competition events in about 1907-9, a vast “28/36” Daimler four-seater which Albert Farnell of Bradford drove in the 1907 or 8 Sheffield Hill-Climb and many pictures of the Sizaire-Berwick and Argylls — the former’s registration letters were appropriately “SB,” while the 1911 12-h.p. 72 by 120 mm. Argyll two-seater is seen to be a solidly-constructed car with front brakes actuated by a pedal and the rear brakes by hand lever.

Then, from the Hon. Richard de Yarburgh-Bateson, M.A., A.R.I.B.A., A.A.Dipl., came some large and beautifully preserved photographs of very significant historical value. They are a tribute to the quality of comparatively early photography (for which praise appears to be due jointly to the builder of the cars depicted and to Lives, Pomeroy and Stewart of Reading, Pa., U.S.A.), but less of a tribute to American automobile progress, for the vehicles depicted, with one exception, all suggest the pre1900 era and, although veteran cars are never as old as one hopes they may be, it is a bit of a shock to find that these Duryeas, for such are the cars depicted, date from 1909 onwards. Chas. E. Duryea was, of course, a well-known American pioneer and, according to Doyle, he started to build cars at his Duryea Motor Wagon Company at Prospect Heights, Peoria, in 1894 and, moving later to Waterloo, Indiana, later still to Reading, Pennsylvania, continued to do so until 1913.

The photographs which the Hon. Yarburgh-Bateson has so kindly unearthed for us show, mainly, the Duryea Buggyant, of 1909. It is a remarkable vehicle. Possessing four large carriage-type wheels of almost equal size, shod with solid tyres, two bench seats, tiller steering and a vertical leather apron where by 1909 you usually found a bonnet, its mechanical features were in keeping. As the picture we reproduce shows, the frame was a slender tubular affair, sprung on a transverse leaf-spring at the rear and on 1/2-elliptics at the front — sometimes, however, an arrangement of light coil springs seems to have sufficed at the front. Truly remarkable was the engine, which consisted of two in-effect-separate single-cylinder two-stroke units united by a common crankshaft with a central flywheel. Each crank throw was at 180 degrees to its fellow and there appears to have been a normal two-port cylinder with transfer passage and a single-port cylinder with a poppet-check valve in the piston crown, although we must confess that how a valve was accommodated in a piston with a substantial deflector-top, or what was its purpose, remains obscure. Indeed, the chassis picture suggests that there was no connection between the cylinders other than the crankshaft, a tiny carburetter set some four feet or more ahead of the engine feeding via a long pipe with a Y branch in it to each inlet port, above each of which was a doubtless much-used priming-tap, and each cylinder exhausting to a common transverse silencer. It seems, indeed, ignoring a caption on one of the pictures, that what valves there were, were automatic inlet valves on the crankcase ports. Another remarkable feature was the cylinder construction, the barrel being machined with a coarse thread over which were wound-on a number of copper spines the ragged edges of which acted as heat-dissipating fins. Ignition was electric, for there is a quite modern-looking sparking plug in each cylinder, but on what principle remains a mystery.

Now we come to an even more remarkable and less easy to understand feature of the Duryea specification. Each end of the crankshaft was extended through bearings supported by the engine frame and on each extremity was a tiny ribbed driving member. This member seems to have engaged a similar member which, in turn, engaged vast rings, similarly ribbed, which were clamped to the spokes of the wooden rear wheels. Don’t ask how it all worked — it must be assumed that a very low-geared friction-drive was obtained until “Baladeur” or some other historian corrects this surmise. At all events, an advertisement for “Duryea’s Electa — a Carriage for the Elect” (which seems to have been a two-seater version of the Buggyant, with slightly smaller front than rear wheels and coil front suspension, but otherwise the same) refers to the absence of “punctures, delays, complicated mechanism, differential, clutch, propeller shaft, universal joints, gears, chains, complicated oilers and freezing water.” There are two pedals, one obviously a brake, although its operation is again wrapped in mystery, and another seeming to control the engine-frame — could it be that to disconnect the drive the entire engine was moved slightly, to disengage the driving members from the intermediate driven members? At all events, the “Electa,” which cost $850, was claimed to combine “the elegance, comfort, cleanliness, noiselessness and simplicity of the electric with the reliability, long range, low weight, low cost and everreadiness of the gasolene car” and, further, it was said to be “faster, handier, simpler, lighter, more durable and less expensive than an electric.” Clearly, the bearded Chas. E. Duryea felt the challenge of the many electric carriages offered for sale to the American public of his day!

Certainly he has quite a display of his products in these wonderfully well preserved pictures which are before us as we write. There is a Duryea Buggyant bearing the reg. No. D 4582 and apparently delivered to St. Servan, France. The name “Duryea” is depicted in vast and very full metal letters on its leather front apron, its maker’s name is repeated on the rear panel, together with the Reading, Pa. address, and there is a sort of taximeter on the back of the front seat. But the gas headlamps and carriage side and rear lamps strike a rather antiquated note in August, 1909.

There are some photographs of a similar Buggyant on the Hamburg Pike road taken on July 13th, 1909, on “the last day in Reading, Pa.,” and further views of the other Buggyant journeying across France with two ladies in the tonneau. Other pictures — still remarkably sharp — depict a two-seater version of the Duryea Buggyant, with a tiny pointed tail, a fine hood with a roll-up back-panel and a short, square bonnet. The first pictures, dated May, 1909, show this spidery vehicle at Mt. Plun Boulevard with the City of Reading, Pa., neatly serried, in the valley below, and the remainder are dated June, 1909 — the hood has now been fitted! — and confine themselves to some pretty views of this same Boulevard, Mineral Springs Park and City Park. Mr. Duryea, in chauffeur’s cap, drives and “A.P.W.,” his passenger, has forsaken the bowler he affected when driving the four-seater for the sort of mackintosh cap which Pentony wears in present-day trials.

From the data supplied by the remainder of this historic collection of photographs it is clear that a Duryea Rig (similar to the four-seater Buggyant) was shipped to South Africa, that a four-seater Buggyant endowed with the two-seater-type radiator made itself useful on a farm by driving a corn-shelling machine by belt after its off-side rear wheel had been removed and that in 1910-11 Duryea brought out a far more modern-looking Runabout, with a proper radiator and bonnet and a sporting two-seater body sprung from the chassis at the rear on four coil springs, but retaining the characteristic and astonishing two-cylinder, two-stroke, gearless and clutchless motive-power. Additional models included a farm wagon and a three-wheeled “quick-delivery” van, the latter rather like those ancients which you sometimes see near Dunlop’s Albany Road depot in London today.

So do old photographs, stowed away for many years, provide intriguing sidelights out of history when they reach the Motor Sport offices.