Fragments on forgotten makes

No. 22: The Silver Hawk

Although the Silver Hawk had a very short life span and cannot have been made in any numbers, it deserves inclusion because it was one of the first cars built expressly for competition. Moreover, from time to time dealers send us photographs of Silver Hawks, so it is a make which has not been altogether forgotten.

In 1918, to celebrate the Armistice, Capt. (later Sir) Noel Macklin, father of racing-driver Lance Macklin, turned the sheds behind his house “Glengariff” near Cobham in Surrey into a motor factory and built up a sporting light car of good power/weight ratio, by using the frame, springs, gearbox and axles of a pre-war 7 h.p. Swift and a side valve Coventry-Simplex engine. He called this car an Eric Campbell, gave it an imitation Rolls-Royce radiator and polished aluminium bodywork, and persuaded Handley-Page Ltd. to assemble similar cars in their Cricklewood hangars.

Financial disaster came a couple of years later, caused, according to Lord Montagu (“Lost Causes,” page 79), by a too ambitious competition programme, which had included the 1959 Targa Florio.

But Capt. Macklin decided to persevere—this was before his great contribution to gunboat design and the evolution of prefabricated houses—and his workshops behind the house yielded the first Silver Hawk in 1920. Basically the car was an Eric Campbell, but the 1,498 C.C. Coventry-Simplex engine was given lightened and modified internals. It was to be sold only as a chassis, each one guaranteed to exceed 70 m.p.h. on Brooklands Track, where prospective customers were to have the opportunity of seeing their own chassis tested, and to reach top speed in under 500 yards. The 66 x 109.5 mm. engine had drilled light-alloy pistons, flywheel and rods were steel, the clutch a leather-to-metal cone, and the axle ratio was 4 1/5 to 1, the tyre size 710 x 90 mm.

I called recently at the pleasant offices of the Fairmile Construction Co. Ltd., in an old private house on the Fairmile estate near Cobham to meet Mr. H. L. Bing, who was with Capt. Macklin when the first Silver Hawks were assembled. Before the war Mr. Bing had been with the London concessionaire for the Fafnir in Upper Thames Street. As a youth he and Ted and Bill Watson, the latter responsible much later for the early Invicta cars, had built up their own motorcycles, using Chater-Lea components and Fafnir engines—fast single-speed belt-driven machines. He had met Fafnir previously while with the City Garage in Peterborough, where a sporting de Dion Bouton using a Fafnir engine with automatic inlet valves was built up for the Raymond Mays family. Fafnir chassis were imported complete by this London agent and endowed with bodies made in Southport, the 13.9 h.p. model proving a notably popular car.

Incidentally, Mr. Bing, Senr. had been Works Manager with the Iris Company at Aylesbury, many of their 15 h.p. chassis going to Manchester as taxis.

Reverting to the Silver Hawk, Capt. Macklin decided to stake everything on putting up a good show, if not winning, the 1920 Coupe Internationale des Voiturettes, at Le Mans. Three cars were specially built for the contest, having, as our heading picture shows, high narrow chassis, Invicta-like radiators, bolster tanks and Coventry-Simplex engines. The services of René Thomas, the Brooklands driver Gedge, and Pickering were secured, as drivers, and after tests on the Portsmouth Road adjacent to the factory, when these Silver Hawks were thought to be “ever so fast,” they left for France, Capt. Macklin going over with Mr. Bing in his 40/50 Rolls-Royce.

René Thomas named his car Le Crocodile and painted this on the scuttle and the other drivers chose suitable nicknames for their cars. In the race the engines overheated. Thomas caulked a leak with oatmeal, but Pickering poured cold water into a red-hot block and cracked it. Even so, the Silver Hawks of Gedge and Thomas finished in 6th and 7th places, behind Friderich’s victorious Bugatti, which averaged 57.6 m.p.h. for the 256 1/2 miles, two Bignan Sports, a Majola and another Bugatti. It is said that Thomas put in more than 100 gallons of water and that another Silver Hawk stopped 16 times during the race and they were running for 1 hr 10 min after the winner had been flagged in.

Mr. Bing recalls the subdued journey home, the stricken Silver Hawk of Pickering towed by the other two cars, which took turns at leading because the white dust of the post-Armistice French roads rose in choking clouds, making life anything but enjoyable for the drivers who were following. As Le Mans had been a vast American Army Camp during hostilities, Camel cigarettes abounded, and a formidable supply was safely brought through the customs.

The anticipated race victory having eluded Macklin, sales were slow in coming and it was necessary to rush to London and sell the works model-T Ford van in order to pay the wages of the half-dozen or so employees at Cobham! Mr. Bing saw no future in this and left to join the B.A.C. Company, run by a wild Irishman named Wilson, who had taken the firm over from Tom Whiting and assembled the B.A.C. small car at the premises in Little Portland Street, W.1. Bill Watson got to work on an o.h.v. engine for the B.A.C. but this tended to blow up while being run on the Heenan & Froude dynamometer and the production B.A.C.s, of which perhaps 20 were made, continued to use the side valve Belgian Peters engine (assembled at Kingston) until its demise in 1923. No doubt B.A.C. (British Automobile Company) wished it had retained its agencies for Dodge and Scripps Booth cars…

To return again to the Silver Hawk, although victory at Le Mans eluded them, a bold bid was made in competitions at home, with successful results. At Brooklands, Light Car Class records were established by C. M. Harvey early in 1920 and improved upon later that year by a Silver Hawk driven by Gedge and Miss Cordery. Silver Hawks were driven by Capt. Keddie, who was extremely successful in sprints, and Miss Cordery. George Duller drove Macklin’s blue 1,499 c.c. Silver Hawk into first place in the Light Car Short Handicap at the 1921 B.A.R.C. Summer Meeting, lapping at 72.18 m.p.h. David Drummond, the banker’s son, ran a scarlet Silver Hawk and altogether the make was well known at the Track.

There was one car built with a Sage engine, but whether this represented future intentions isn’t known. The three entries for the 1921 J.C.C. 200 Mile Race were scratched and before the end of the year production of Silver Hawks had ceased. Lord Montagu suggests that “perhaps a dozen” were built in all.—W.B.