Vintage Postbag, August 1960



I was most interested in your May issue with an article on my old Belsize-Bradshaw car. The article is at least 90 per cent correct and I cannot quarrel with any of it but it has occurred to me that some of your readers might like to know, from the designers of these older models, the real reason for some of the drastic changes they have made and how technically sound have these changes been established —if at all. (It was jocularly called “The Oil-Boiler” though it never lived up (or down) to that achievement)

Going back to the earliest days, I was designing water-cooled four-cylinder aeroplane engines and I well remember the day when the late Harry Hawker obtained for me The Michelin Cup and the British duration record by staying in the air for 8 hours 23 minutes. Cody had done 7 hours odd and to us on the ground the minutes seemed like hours—especially when. at about 6 1/2 hours my engine started to miss on one cylinder. He was in a Sopwith-Wright plane with the engine alongside him and after he had beaten Cody’s record we cheerfully waved him down—but he stuck it out for nearly another hour and I was delighted to hear the engine was running on all its four cyliaclers. Imagine my horror when he came down and showed me his fingers. The engine had open exhaust ports and an exhaust valve spring had broken—and Hawker had been holding the valve up with his fingers till he could stand it no longer. I have never had the chance to tell this story. [Asbestos fingers ?—Ed.]

Then, about 1916 I was building small “flat-twin” air-cooled engines for pumping out our trenches and my engine got a shocking name for unreliability. I was constantly sending out spare pistons but they were still corning back—until a friendly motorcyclist (who owned one of my early A.B.C.s) came 100 miles to tell me the truth. “The boys in the trenches were shelled immediately the engines started up.” They would rather be up to their waist in water than have shrapnel pouring down on them so one of them creeps out, removes one of the sparking plugs, unscrews one of the nuts from the tinting case, drops this into the cylinder head, replaces the plug and restarts the engine. With its hollow crowned piston everything went well until the nut got to a certain angle and position (usually about three minutes) when a hole was knocked through the piston crown. But I never got my good name back from the War Department.

Then I designed a “flat-twin ” for the late A. M. Low and his wireless controlled tiny aeroplane and I had some qualms about the cooling of this cylinder because it was about four inches in bore and in those days no air-cooled engine was considered possible unless it had rotating cylinders (Gnome, Le Rhone. Clerget, B.R.I., B.R.2 and others). However, my four-inch bore engine successfully passed its six hours tests, cooled only by its own propeller, so we built three engines and planes and took them down to Netheravon near Salisbury Plain for the most secret tests—with all the Brass Hats in the country to watch them. I must have saved a dozen lives when the following happened:

The engine on the first of the three planes was started and a famous pilot was at the controls of the wireless in a nearby shed. He pulled the elevator and it slowly came down—driven by the engine. Then he moved the runner from side to side (for rudder) and it worked but ever so slowly (when we know that the pilot in a fighter plane almost anticipates the trouble and can correct it before it really happens).

The first engine was started by my motorcycle racing rider Jack Emerson (who until his death about three years ago was the head tester of the Le Mans racing Jaguar engines).

The chocks were puffed away and the tiny plane took off on a slight down grade but, within a quarter of a mile, it nose-dived into the ground and was a complete wreck.

Another plane was brought out and started up but the pilot. this time made sure of upward flight by setting his elevator to a very considerable “lift” (and the carburetter and petrol tank were both behind the engine). The engine had tons of power because the plane soared vertically upwards to about 300 ft.–when the petrol ran out and, to my horror it turned over into a vertical nosedive immediately -above the fascinated crowd of ” Brass-hats ” until I shouted ” It’s coming down—run for your life ” and they did.

An interesting thing I never saw put in the papers at the time or since. It was the longest day and all went to Stonehenge to see the sun rise and fall on the altar stone but it didn’t and my friend (who went along before I did as I could not “make it” said there was an awful fuss about it because the R.A.F. had built a long row of sheds along the top of the hill over which the sun had to shine and only on the longest day and over that very spot on the hill did the sun illuminate the stone.

Never before in its 3,500 years of history had it failed.

The last time I was there (some years ago) one of the sheds had been removed and the top of the hill carefully levelled.

Anyhow that was the end of that project and the Ministry wisely began again with a piloted plane with all the wireless controls as a separate system which he could switch on or off. But it was my next engine that started me on the “oil-cooling” path :

A fighter pilot friend of mine who was home on leave (his plane had a rotary engine) told me quite seriously that he would never come back again as he was certain to be shot down in a week or two. When I inquired why—with some alarm—he said that all our rotating gave the plane a definite turn to the right and a different turn to the left (from the Gyroscopic force of the revolving mass of engine) and the Germans had two guns set one to the right and one to the left so that all they had to do was to get on the tail of a rotary engined plane and—without having to turn themselves they merely pressed the trigger of the right or left gun—and the fighter pilot could not get away from the stream of bullets.

He was killed within a week and I was more, than shaken.

I immediately decided to build the first “static Radial” and, although I was told that it could not be kept cool I hit upon a plan to have the thin fins, which were machined from the solid, heavily copper plated so that the copper would carry the heat from the rear of the cylinder and prevent the pistons seizing.

This, through various stages of test ended in the A.B.C. ” Wasp ” which flew very successfully and was taken on by the Air Ministry for their 1919 programme.

But the big chiefs came from the front and said that, as it was only 160 b.h.p. and the Gernians had now got a 240 b.h.p. six-in-line water-cooled (I think it was the Maybach) we must go a lot bigger.

So I designed the A.B.C. (“Dragonfly”) which was built in the record time of one month and it gave 360 b.h.p.

It did 72 hours on the test-bed, flew immediately at nearly 100 m.p.h. faster than any of our “rotary engines” and was standardised for “the 1919 programme.” A “flight” of 36 was sent out to France to “mop-up ‘ the Maybach Germans—but they knew what was coming. A member of our Aero Club in London was a German spy (and we all knew it). In fact we used to entertain him.

When dawn came and they were all ready to take off they were told to await further instructions. At 11 a.m. the “all clear” went. It was November 11th and the Armistice had been signed. I never got an engine in the air.

Lord Weir (my Chief and Director General of Aircraft production) told me that the Germans knew they were beaten in the air and that my engine had certainly hastened the signing of the Armistice.

If only they could have taken off in that first flight and demonstrated their 100 m.p.h. superiority.

Anyhow, I earned an award of £40,000 and an O.B.E.

But to get back to oil-cooling.

During our tests at Farnborough on my “Dragonfly ” engine everything “under the sun was tried “—as only Farnborough can.

Oil temperatures, oil quantities as well as air velocities and cowling and what came out most prominent was the fact that the oil played the most important part.

Oil in the crankcase splashing over the cylinder walls and across the crowns of the pistons did a great deal more in maintaining full-throttle efficiency than did any with the air blown on the outside of the cylinders—and we did not even need special oil-coolers.

When, therefore, I went to civilian work I firstly designed the A.B.C. car and the A.B.C. motorcycle. Thousands of orders were booked for the motorcycle, which was taken over by an ex-aircraft firm, who had not the experience and machinery but it was very popular and many thousands were sold. To me it was a sad end to what many thought to be a revolutionary design. The A.B.C. car (a flat twin air-cooled) sold well and the directors floated a public company (which was over-subscribed) but to my astonishment the majority of shares had been bought by a new “Group” who were trying to ‘control a lot of companies.

The A.B.C. car had a very light rear axle made of an aluminium centre with sheet steel cones. They were extremely light and extremely strong but the “New Bosses” had bought a company in the Midlands that could not sell its cars because they had the gearbox in the rear axle and this was so heavy that it could not hold the road. Over 6,900 of these axles had been made and the new directors said that with so many orders on our books we ought to be able to get rid of these rear axles. So I immediately resigned from A.B.C. I was immediately asked by Mr. Mariana (Senr.) of Phelon and Moore (P. & M. and now Panther) to design a new engine for them and it must be capable of being fitted to take the place of their front down-tube.

This I designed and they paid me excellent royalties for seven years. It was the first engine with totally enclosed valve gear (as an air-cooled job) and it has been copied throughout the world.

Also it is virtually identical in its present design and shape to my original and is certainly the model that has been in longest continual production of any known engine—about 40 years. At about the same time I was asked to design a motorcycle engine for a firm in Preston, Lancs., and in this I derided to adopt the well-tried oil cooling. Sink the cylinder in the crankcase, put an annular groove round the top of the cylinder. feed it with plenty of oil and make a crankcase with a large cooling surface.

It was the best engine I ever designed but my very old and good friend J. A. Prestwich (he and his Wife and me and my wife dined together in the R.A.C. Restaurant every Friday evening) did not like the competition so he dropped the price of his 350 to some ridiculous figure of about £3 5s. each–and the firms who were selling motorcycles with bought-out engines were quoting some £8 more for the same machines with the Bradshaw.

But my oil-cooling principle scored a great suceess in the T.T. Harry Reed, who built the “Dot” motor-cycle, decided to enter one in the Isle-of-Man T.T. sidecar race which we all thought was ridiculous because it was only 350 c.c., he weighed 16 stone and his passenger weighed 17 stone. All the remaining racers had 1,000 c.c. engines and there were 22 of thorn (speaking from memory).

Harry Reed came in third and when his engine was stripped for examination it was in better condition than any of the big 1,000 c.c. engines. Therefore, when I was asked to design the Belsize Bradshaw I decided that ”oil-cooling” must be the feature.

the A.B.C. was designed to compete with the little air-cooled Rover car—and I think it beat it because it was a more sporting type of model. But they were both very noisy and my old friend Tom Sopwith (now Sir Thomas, of course) when he first came to inspect the A.B.C. said “It sounds exactly like a shovelful of gravel” and I think he was not far wrong.

I therefore set out to design the Belsize Bradshaw with a view to making it as quiet as any water-cooled model of its day. And I certainly succeeded in this. I decided on a 90˚ twin in order to obtain the best balance with a big crankcase (compared with the flat-twin), I adopted side valves and made the cylinders a hit bigger because c.c. capacity did not mean a thing in those days. I cast the inside of the cylinders hollow right to the upper surfaces, and with large quantities of oil thrown up entirely front a well-drilled crankshaft and projected into the cylinder space round the outside of the valves. And the engine never looked like overheating. In fact our nearby test hill was the “Snake ” on the way to Sheffield and our test cars used to romp up there on a hot summer’s day and laugh at four or five water-cooled engines that were standing by the roadside with their radiator caps off and steam pouring from them. (But that was a long time ago.)

What, however, is missing from your correspondent (W.B.’s) narrative is from my own point of view, the most vital of all. I refer to it untimely demise.

The Belsize directors called me in because their taxi trade was finished (and they had made a very good London taxi). They had no money and confessed to it. I toured round the agents in the north (I was born in Preston) and showed them the designs and they helped with financial support—on the strength of my name which (for some reason or other—probably the A.B.C. motorcycle) was good enough.

They tackled the job at once and being such a simple design they reached an output of fifty cars per week – with agents on the doorstep waiting for them. Within about two months they were turning out 100 cars per week (and I had a royalty of £2 10s. per car–with tax only about 9d.). More and more orders came in and more and more parts were ordered in the shape of castings, stampings, dynamos, chassis frames. etc., and, of course, they had to give two-months bills.

The blow fell when “The Engineering Employers Federation,” having serious labour troubles, ordered all their members to close down their factories—and Belsize, being members, had to shut down.

We were not downhearted because nobody thought it would last more than it week or two. But it lasted ELEVEN WEEKS and, in the meantime, all the bills fell due and were dishonoured. So the bank put in a Receiver who eventually wound them up.

But I would like to tell you about the sequel (which might be apt in these days of “take-over-bids”). I had bought 500 Belsize shares of £1 each when they were 18s. as I was sure they would rise. Anil when I saw the Receiver walk in I knew they would drop like a stone. So I quickly got on to my London broker and told him to sell at once at the best price he could obtain. To my surprise he sold them in Manchester at 25s. a share. But we can all live and learn. Manchester knew what was coming and they were selling many thousands of shares “short” – and when settlement day came they could not deliver. If I had hung on I could have got as much as £5 a share.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Granville Bradshaw
Ryde, I. of W.



I have never seen any mention in your columns of a car called the Briton. My grandfather had one of these from 1910 until 1925. I remember he had a small notebook giving all his runniug costs. It started with a first-class single rail ticket to Wolverhampton, null included the hotel costs during his stay there whilst he learned to drive.

Speaking from memory the car cost £250 plus £25 for a dickey seat, £5 for a toolbox, £5 5s. for a set of oil lamps and extras for acetylene headlamps, spare wheel, etc.

I can remember no details of the car, but it ran well until 1924 or ’25 when it broke down at Maidenhead and was traded in for a Morris-Oxford Tourer. I believe Hewins the Morris agents there used it, very successfully, the next year for pulling stranded ears out of the floods.

If any readers are interested further details may be had from my father, together with a photograph, and I will try and get them.

I am, Yours. etc.,

James E. Kingston.
Salisbury, S. Rhodesia.



It is well that Mr. Buen emphasises that the unreliability of his Morris-Oxford was due to unfortunate circumstances; members of the Bullnose Morris Club, I know, will testify that the 13.9 Oxford does not go wrong!

I venture to suggest that my 1926 two-seater coupe (max. accommodation to date, nine persons) is in many ways superior to its modern counterparts. The reasons? It procures more admiring glances on its daily round than almost any modern car; it cost me £30 and is increasing daily in value; it has a hood with a substantial lining and wind-up windows and is therefore equally effective as a saloon or tourer. These wind-up windows are completely foolproof having chain operation unlike the £8,000 (?) Continental Bentley which has (or had) wires that snap. The seating is adequate in width and length, unlike many modern cars tailored for 3/4 person in length and for 2 1/2 people sideways, with a monstrous transmission hump in the middle ! It has no unsightly weld marks similar to those I spied on the top of a Bentley coupe windscreen at a recent motor show. The bodywork panels are well fitted—on most modern machinery I notice anything up to 1-in. gap between body panels! So much for the revolutionary close-tolerance engineering of today! The starter is quieter than that of a modern Rolls-Royce.

Here are some technical innovations : (1) The dickey lid has no water-collecting crevices with bits of rubber precariously stuck on. yet it is 100 per cent. waterproof; (2) the steering wheel is dished for safety! (3) The battery is mounted away from the heat of the engine and does not therefore require frequent topping up (battery lid supplied as standard fitting!); (4) Visibility round corners with hedges very superior; (5) Handbrake specially designed to stay “on” on steep hills, also so that it does not release itself when the crew disembarks; (6) Independent suspension is not considered necessary for British roads, 100 per cent, less tyre wear and roll-free cornering being considered more important on balance; (7) The lamps can be dipped to any convenient angle–handy for picking out the drunks or reading abnormally high signposts; (8) A small, but adequate, rear window provides a modicum or privacy; (9) With a spares register second to none, club members will. I’m sure, be forgiven their amusement on reading all the tales of woe, etc. – 10 weeks for a Sprite petrol tank ! Really !

Finally, I would say that the driving position is exeellent—none of those off-set steering columns, intruding wheel arches and transmission humps and so forth, being present. “The delightful central gearshift falls readily to hand”–fitted as standard are, oil gauge, petrol gauge (calibrated in gallons—readable to 1/4 -gallon), thermometer, ammeter, clock, reading light, “smoker’s companion ” and trip-setting speedo. All serviving can be done by the average handyman, apart from a rebore and magneto service every 30 years or so (B.M.C. now recommended engine changes every two years!!).

I am, Yours, etc.,

J. Woodward



Last July Mr. S. C. Budge very kindly gave some particulars of seven Pilgrim cars which were in his records.

It would seem that only nine cars were made altogether, and it also appears that they all varied which draws the conclusion that they were made to individual order.

The Pilgrim cars were made by my father, Mr. F.T. Martineau, who was at one time associated with the James & Browne cars. All my father’s records were lost in the Plymouth blitz and I am therefore endeavouring to find out if any Pilgrim cars still exist. Any information would be very welcome. 

Iam, Yours, etc.,

P. L. Martineau.
Sutton Coldfield.



It was with some interest that I read the correspondence on Abner Doble and his patents relating to steam cars. It is of course quite wrong to say that these patents were bought up to prevent competition. indeed it is on a par with the stories that the Rolls-Royce engine is sealed, and that the Stanley Company would give a new car to anyone who could keep the throttle wide open for a minute on one of their steam cars.

Having made a close study of the subject I can say that Doble did not live at Thetford; his stay in this country was spent at Shrewsbury when he was working with Sentinals. I have a fairly complete collection of the patent specifications taken out by Abner Doble, the first United States one being No. 1,030,983 which was taken out in 1912, No. 1,040,289 was also filed in this year. No. 1,067,101 was filed in 1913. Nos. 1,099,029 and 1,107,271. in 1914, No. 1,191,408 in 1916. The following British patents were filed in 1916: Nos. 105,554, 110,150 and 110,151.

The list goes on regularly up to 1953, Which was for the engine for the Paxton-Phoenix car which unfortunately did not reach the steamer stage, but that is another story.

It is quite true that Abner Doble is still living in the United States, and as far as I know, is still turning out designs relating to steam power. He was a perfectionist in all his work and it is doubtful if the small number of cars which he produced were sold at a profit, it is doubtful if this concerned him. Be that as it may, most of the cars that were produced (these number less than 50) are still running in various parts of the world. Two only remain in this country.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Robert G. Davis

Amongst cars and parts reported to us this month are Some model-T Ford spares in Norfolk, a 1923 Cleveland in a Durham scrap yard and a circa 1914 model-T Ford landaulette for sale in running order but needing restoration, in Lancashire. Letters can be forwarded.

• • •

A reader requests data on his 1907 (?) Darracq. engine, No. 9636TC. Loan of photographs or drawings of such a car would be appreciated.

• • •

Seen recently. A vintage or near-vintage Albion lorry in use in London, a vintage Wolseley saloon in Scotland, probably serving as a taxi, and the vintage Morris Commercial shooting brake employed as an office at the Wiscombe Hill-Climbs.

• • •

Historians will be interested in a very complete and well-illustrated history of the Lancia Lambda which appears in Spring Number of the Bulb Horn— inevitably it includes a reprint of the article on these cars published in Motor Sport in 1942—and articles on Barney Oldfield and the collection of historic racing cars owned by Lindley Bothwell in the U.S.A., in the June/July issue of the Antique Automobile.

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Amongst vehicles reported to us by readers as worth investigating are an early Ferguson tractor with oil lamps, in a breaker’s yard in Surrey, a Star saloon, circa 1930, in Lancashire, a p.v.t. V8 Autovia in a yard in Middlesex and a very interesting 1927 Chrysler tourer alleged to have been used by its millionaire-owner for an Australian tour and which is thought to have run 12,000 miles on that occasion and not to have been used since.

• • •

According to a local newspaper story, there is a 1929 Swift Ten saloon in Plymouth, which has covered 387,000 miles without a rebore and is still used at least once a week by its 82-year-old owner.

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Another old car which has got itself into the newspapers is a 1925 Chrysler tourer discovered with a peach tree growing through it in Southern Rhodesia. Apparently this car covered 50,000 miles in the hands of its original owner and was laid up in 1937. It is IIOW being fully restored by two young enthusiasts.

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A reader is restoring a 1924/5 20.9 Maxwell tourer and would like any information, technical material, road-test reports, etc., that anyone can supply for this car. He also requires spares, including a radiator shell. The car has covered only about 8,000 miles in its life arid still has the original plugs, fan-belt and licence disc.

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We hear of an early Model “T” engine for disposal in Middlesex.