It was “vintage day” at Silverstone on July 12th, when the V.S.C.C. ran its second race meeting over the short club circuit. The day commenced with a Concours d’Elegance, in which such diverse vehicles as an 8-litre Bentley and an astonishing little rear-engined Hanomag coupe with sporting-prints gracing the interior, vied with one another in spickness and spanshine. Kent Karslake arrived in his 1921 37.2 Hispano-Suiza tourer to assist in allocating the awards.
The first race was a five-lap vintage-car handicap, in which Dr. Pinkerton’s “limit” Ulster Austin ran away easily from the field, averaging just 50 m.p.h. Eminson’s Type 37 Bugatti came up strongly from the 15 sec. position into second place on the last lap but Rivers-Fletcher in his Type 35 Bugatti thought he was in the British G.P. and went straight on at, Beckett’s! Dr. Ewen brought the beautifully-balanced Itala home third, holding off the 1929 blown 1½-litre Alfa-Romeo of F. H. Moss with his 1908 motor car. Vaughan’s 1925 14/40 Delage exhibited definite under-steer characteristics to the accompaniment of much tyre-anguish. T. J. N. Deaville spun his neat Riley-Nine-engined Morris Minor at Beckett’s, whereupon it discarded its throttle spring.
A similar race, but mostly full of post vintage thoroughbreds, followed. Alas, A. Archer apparently enjoys such rude health that he forgot he had to have a medical certificate before he could drive the 8 miles in his 30/98. Again the “limit” man won, A. A. D. Underwood in a Riley with reversed headlamps which the programme called an Aston-Martin, getting comfortably away from Stokes’ Riley/M.G. and Rawcliffe’s 1½ -litre H.R.G. The Riley didn’t sound altogether well, but averaged 56.09 m.p.h. The big feature of this race was the return of John Bolster in his two-engined “Bloody Mary.” John went really well, passing ever so many thoroughbred sports cars in his bastard racer, and lapping at a very excellent 71.82 m.p.h. Moreover, he looked safe, even if the front wheels did flap a bit under the anchors. Miss Bode was a splendid third in Gilling’s odd little Salmson. Bolster had to be content with fifth place from the 10-sec. mark. At this point Sam Clutton threw some pearls of wisdom into the comic commentary by the Tubbs/Turner combine and then we had another vintage-car five-lap handicap. J. G. Vessey, from his lofty seat-of-government, worked skillfully through from the 75-sec. mark in his 1928 Lancia Lambda and rounding Woodcote for the last time contrived to pass Rolls’ 20/60 Sunbeam Sports on the inside just before the finish, aided by the Lambda’s over-steer tendency. G. H. Fisher drove his Amilcar Six carefully and Rivers-Fletcher lost the foot-anchorage on his Bugatti, while Rolls’ Sunbeam developed an inbuilt squeak. Walker’s 4½-litre Bentley was third, the Vernon-Crossley fourth; the latter was Vernon Ball’s idea of a T.T. Crossley Ten, not a special Vernon-Derby as a contemporary imagines! Moss’ Alfa-Romeo and Eric Sears in the grand 1914 T.T. Sunbeam indulged in a gentlemen’s duel, the cornering of the Sunbeam a credit to its present driver and past designer. Vessey averaged 56.86 m.p.h.
Came the Frazer Nash and G.N. five-lap Handicap, the only G.N.-base car, Hardy’s odd Riley-powered Special, absent due to a pre-Silverstone prang, although it was in the Paddock. Hard-trier R. C. C. Palmer’s 1935 “T.T. Rep” won at 61.3 m.p.h. from B. E. Brown’s 1930 model, with scratch-man C. M. Sears third in his immaculate 1934 car after a fine, corner-sliding drive, out-rivalled only by A. C. Sears. For a change the next race was a five-lap scratch affair, for vintage cars. Smith’s Bentley. with 100 m.p.h. radiator and organ-exhausts, jibbed at the start and created a mild “traffic jam,” with Jones’ Bugatti involved. G. G. McDonald’s 4½-litre Bentley led at first, hotly pursued by Major Bailey’s 4½, a locking front brake rendering hectic the latter’s approach to corners. Finally, Bailey won, at 65.54 m.p.h., from McDonald, Sargent’s very well-driven Riley Nine third. Gibb’s Riley took the 1,100-c.c. class, Sargent the 1½-litre class, Jones the 3-litre class.
The historic and vintage racing cars now lined up for the 100-kilo, 39-lap Richard Seaman Memorial Trophies Race. The field was sadly depleted but the line-up nostalgic enough. The starters were Poore’s 1934 3.8 Alfa-Rmneo, Graham Whitehead in the 1937 Shawe-Taylor E.R.A., Dutt’s 1933 2.6 Maserati, Wilkinson’s 1936 E.R.A., Kennington in Finch’s 1935/37 6C Maserati, Denton’s 1936 blown 1½-litre Alta, C. J. Hamilton’s 1935 E.R.A., Heal’s beautiful 1924 G.P. Sunbeam and Clairmonte’s 1935 2-litre Riley which we feel sure did not look like it does now in 1935. Poore was expected to win and did so, although he hadn’t quite the right axle-ratio in the big Alfa-Romeo, so could only snatch top cog three times per lap. After 28-laps excitement ran high as Whitehead closed on Poore, actually came level out of Woodcote with him, then passed. But almost immediately Poore pulled away and one supposes he was only playing with the E.R.A. Both Poore and Whitehead lapped at 77.18 m.p.h., a record for this circuit, and although Graham had caught Dennis napping on lap 16 and was momentarily baulked by the Alfa, an idea that the Italian car had, as last year, lost a plug, or that its brakes were weakening, was dispelled as Poore drew away near the end, to win at 74.21 m.p.h., although oil on the corners mid-way through had caused him to slow around lap 7. Poore actually lapped Heal in 10-laps, Hamilton in 12-laps, he and Graham finishing two-laps ahead of Hamilton, who spun on the oil, later lost his brake fluid but bravely carried on to finish third. Heal was blackflagged for oil-loss, so was Dutt, anti Wilkinson’s E.R.A. seemed to break its transmission on get-away. Clairmonte went well, only to run out of fuel, or worse, after 21-laps. Kennington was having a duel with Denton, and losing it, when the Alta lost a core-plug and stopped before Woodcote on lap 27. Kennington’s Maserati went into its pit, continued sounding very flat, but took fourth place due to the retirements. An interesting finish, but rather too long a race, and on this circuit, hard on old cars, which is why Clutton’s Delage wasn’t entered, for although it was doing 130 m.p.h. on Pool (a record!) it could never have got into top gear on the club circuit.
As light relief, a five-lap Edwardian race was put on. It was worth all the money we hadn’t paid, to hear the war-song of Heal’s 1910 10-litre Fiat, driven by Densham, although actually the car wasn’t very well, so wasn’t fully extended. Lord Charnwood’s Coupe de l’Auto Delage was disappointingly slow but John Bolster, quick changing from commentator to race-car driver, and now to 1911 Rolls-Royce driver, enjoyed an enormous duel with Dr. Taylor’s 1912 Rolls-Royce. But it was B. M. F. Samuelson’s 1914 Rolls-Royce tourer which won from 1 min. 45 sec., at 49.12 m.p.h., followed by Ewen in the Itala and J. G. Sears in the T.T. Sunbeam.
Race 8 was over 10-laps and even the commentators didn’t know who was winning or when. But the keepers-of-the-clocks pronounced from their omnibus that it was Bailey in his Bentley again, at 64.87 m.p.h. from the 70 sec.mark, followed in by Jones’ Bugatti and Cuff-Miller’s “Brooklands” Riley. Clutton, from scratch, got fourth place in the big V12 Delage; someone said, of his cornering, that his “pistons were working like arms”! We noticed Lycett’s godson, Brewer, pressing-on in a 1928 Amilcar with Singer radiator and Isherwood going unexpectedly well in a 1929 1,829-c.c. Mathis with plated strips along its bonnet.
Graham Whitehead, fine driver that he is, won the second 10-lap Handicap in the E.R.A. splendidly from scratch, at 75.06 m.p.h., equalling his lap-record speed of 77.18 m.p.h. Mrs. Pannell was second in the Riley/M.G., ahead of Col. Ridley’s blown 750-c.c. M.G. racer. But the race was marred by the sad misfortune which befell Cecil Clutton. On his third lap he was accelerating down the Beckett’s/Woodcote straight when the near-side rear cylinder of the V12 engine collapsed. The whole engine burst into flames. Sam got out of gear and climbed on the seat at probably well over 100 m.p.h. He was unable to reach the short, central handbrake and with the bonnet well alight concentrated on steering off the course at Woodcote, shouting to the spectators beyond the safety bank to keep clear. They in turn called to him to jump but he stuck to his task and was finally flung off, and mercifully clear of the flames, as the Delage hit the bank head-on at some 40 m.p.h. The spectators and fire squad were prompt in extinguishing the renewed blaze which resulted but the historic old car suffered a bent chassis and front axle, apart front the wrecked engine. After some time Clutton was taken to hospital (? why is the Silverstone ambulance hemmed in on the circuit itself) with badly-burnt hands. Eye-witnesses were warm in their praise of his truly courageous action, which undoubtedly saved the burning car from running into the commentator’s Citroen or other parked cars or perhaps swerving amongst the competitors.
This unhappy episode, resulting in injury to a well-loved V.S.C.C. member and virtual loss of an historic “one-off” car, cast its shadow over the meeting and the stands had practically emptied before the 12-lap Relay Handicap was contested. This was a victory for the Frazer-Nash team—they make a habit of it—the Sears and Brown team jointly averaging 60.51 m.p.h. to beat the Eminson, Pratt, Gahagan Bugatti team, which had 36 sec. handicap advantage. Third home was a mixed bag—the Rawcliffe (H.R.G.), Jane (Lancia), Frost (Alfa-Romeo) team. After which the ever-intriguing carriages of the non-competing members took them in search of liquid and solid sustenance and we spied a cream fixed-top XK 120 Jaguar shyly posing for its picture amongst the vintage machinery.—W. B.
Indicative of the widespread interest in vintage cars was a 3½-page article in the May issue of Good Housekeeping by Barbara Spencer and Mary Dinsdale about “Jemima,” a Morris Fourteen shooting-brake which they bought for £55. Although quite inexperienced they had no particular difficulties over vintage motoring, although the insurance-problem presented itself, also the inevitable magneto trouble. Indeed, for complete novices attempting to motor on 20s. a week in the present day and age, their experiences show what can be done with even the more inexpensive vintage cars. Incidentally, the age of this Morris-Oxford was quoted as 21 years but its magneto-ignition suggests a 1929 model, which would make it genuinely vintage.
I have just finished reading a book by Katherine Pinkerton called Two Ends to our Shoestring, and I came across a rather amusing passage which may interest your readers and may possibly be a somewhat unique record. Incidentally, this book is a travel book —non-fiction.
The passage is as follows:–
“We stared at a strange apparition on the road ahead . . .
‘Is that a car coming towards us or driving backwards ‘ I said.
Robert assured me he’d satisfied himself that it was travelling in reverse. We overtook it . . . An ancient Chandler, filled with children and camping paraphernalia, was backing sedately up the road. The man leaning out of the driver’s seat waved cheerfully as we drew alongside.
‘ Need any help’ Robert said.
The man shook his head. ‘Getting along fine ‘ he said, ‘drove this way moreth’n 200 miles.’
As we went along I remarked that the mystery would torment me. Robert felt the same way and we loitered at the next gas station … waiting for the backwards driver to arrive.
When finally he did so I counted heads. I counted twice to make sure that there really were nine children and two adults in that small car . . .
The man had been a labourer in a shoe factory in Massachusetts when he’d heard that in California whole families made their living picking fruit. Nine children were too great an asset to be wasted. He’d bought a car, loaded children and possessions aboard and started out. He’d just reached California when he’d stripped the gears. Having no money for repairs, he’d taken the transmission apart, found the reverse alone to be intact and had started on his 200 mile back-marathon. Now that his goal was practically in sight, he wanted to make it through alone.
‘It’s not a bad way of travelling’ he concluded ‘except I got an awful crick in my neck.'”
Quite a man ! ! !
I am, Yours, etc., A. Sedgwick, Handworth.
The Last Tram
As the Editorial 1926 15.9-h.p. Type P 4B Delaunay-Belleville limousine had been in hibernation for a year or more it was deemed a worthwhile, if (in view of next year’s new taxation rate) extravagant, indulgence to put it on the road for the summer quarter. After a few test miles in country lanes on the Hampshire/Berkshire border a run to the Metropolis was undertaken at short notice in the teeming downpour which terminated 1952’s first heat-wave. This journey, taken cautiously at the same speed as used to be accomplished in a 1934 Austin Seven, albeit in far greater comfort, served as a reminder of the many merits of a gentleman’s high-grade vintage carriage.
We did not progress fast, it is true, being an easy prey for tile faster lorries and vans and sometimes even of London ‘buses in a hurry. But our straightforward ½-elliptic suspension absorbed shocks from roads formerly able to shake one’s teeth out and there was no denying the beautifully smooth action of clutch, steering anti gear-change, providing that, in the case of the last-named, the massive central lever was not hurried unduly. The brakes, too, worked admirably, considering the weight of the ensemblage, which is really of Edwardian conception if of mere vintage antiquity. Those on the front wheels and transmission come on under firm pressure on the pedal and really do arrest the car, without a trace of skidding in the wet, to the accompaniment of alarming rumblings and grumblings from beneath the floor-boards. The hand-lever holds surely, through the agency of small, unribbed back drums, even on severe gradients.
One scarcely refers to road-holding in respect of so sober a carriage but it is a fact that this Delaunay-Belleville refuses to roll and steers tautly and accurately with but light pressure on its steering-wheel, the lightness of the steering probably owing much to the ball races for the king-pins, for it is geared 2⅛ turns lock-to-lock. So generous is the lock that the wheels seldom reach the stops and thus only very occasionally is that “over-centre” sensation, which afflicts many vintage steering-gears at full lock, experienced.
Maythorn & Son built the body beautifully, with inlaid wood, soft leather, automatic window lifts to all four windows and sensible occasional seats front which children cannot fall no matter how inopportune is the moment when a door is opened. The car is really an astonishing combination of Edwardian and vintage, allying a mechanically-silent o.h.c. dual-ignition engine with c.i. pistons and massive flywheel cum clutch assembly, artillery wheels with centre-lock hubs, and possessing an appearance more in tune with the year Mercedes won the French G.P. than the age when Bentley was supreme at Le Mans. What has this to do with London’s Last Tram?
Simply that, having attained the soaking Metropolis and stored the car away, the Editor went next day to his office, the ‘phone rang, and a Miss Foster said, please could someone lend her an old motor car, on behalf of the Infantile Paralysis Fellowship which was organising a collection in conjunction with the last private-charter electric tramcar to run in London? If so, said car would be filled with actresses from the cast of the forthcoming film “Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Sullivan.” Now, would you have missed a chance like that? In any case, it seemed only fitting that a car whose 880 by 120 tyres must so often have been sorely tried over London’s tramlines—the sole, previous owner lived in Chiswick—should be present at the final demise of these monstrosities!
So we agreed to go and the following day set out again on the 40-mile run to the Metropolis, and the appointed rendezvous. It turned out to be quite a party! Lord Charnwood persuaded charming Ann Hanslip into his 1911 Coupe de l’Auto Delage. John Bolster piled most of the remaining actresses, all in period costumes, into his 1911 RollsRoyce, we lured an actor, a lady journalist and the Producer’s wife into the parlour of the Delaunay-Belleville, and along the route other veterans and Edwardian, including Welham’s Renault, joined in.
The police entered into the spirit of the evening and let us follow our gaily-decked tram over the red traffic lights, our presence proclaimed by the Delaunay’s horns, which give either a Klaxon or a more polite note, depending on which side of the button is pressed. True, our speed was no match for the Delage and Rolls and soon we were boiling over, the big fan in its cowl behind the radiator stationary having discarded its whittle driving-belt. But a South London “pub” provided a bucket of water and in the end all came safely home, after that tram had been well and truly cheered on its way to its last resting place.