Specials

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The Vintage Sports Car Club, in its wisdom, is having a slight frown at specials built from vintage, p.v.t. or Edwardian-period components. The idea is to ensure that pukka cars in these categories do not have to be withdrawn from service because bits have been removed from them in order to build a special, or more correctly a hybrid, or because parts which could have been used to restore them to running order have been incorporated in such a hybrid.

Wise, maybe, but rather a pity, remembering that the vintage period was prolific with specials, from the Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bangs to the 1½-litre Eldridge Specials and similar cars. Even those who are not confused by Grand Prix cars and other professionally-built racing cars which the later 200-Mile Race regulations demanded be called “Specials”—thus Talbot Special, and even Bugatti Special for a catalogued G.P. Bugatti—must realise that the years 1920 to 1930 were the heyday of hybrids. These were often road cars, built by enthusiasts who presumably thought they could improve on current catalogue cars or who wanted the end-product of individuality and all the fun and frustration of getting cars of their own devising to function properly. Anyway, whatever the reason, hybrids were rife during the Vintage years. They ranged from fearsome aero-engined monsters to things like the Guy North Special, the identity of which is only now becoming apparent, and those Beckenham Specials, of which I can never remember whether they were Amilcars with Salmson engines or Salmsons with Amilcar engines. There were, indeed, so many Specials at this period that John Bolster was able to write a book full of them, explaining the mechanical bastardry of those seen in competition events.

Shelsley Walsh bred hybrids and Brooklands had its share of them. The road cars must have been products of fun and lively imagination, because they surely cost at least as much to construct as the very low-priced used sports-cars then available? The idea of getting a performance bonus by installing a big engine in a flimsy chassis, the speculation as to whether the radiator to be fitted would adequately cool the power unit that would be installed behind it, and such items as would the gear ratios be anywhere near correct, the brakes function, or the device steer, these were the ingredients of which vintage specials were conceived. Today, when so many vintage spares are advertised tor disposal, I feel a pang of pity that the V.S.C.C. has said officially, leave it alone. It is already well endowed with splendid specials, from the A.C./G.N. and G.N.-A.B.C. to that magnificent 24-litre Napier-Sunbeam. Surely a few more won’t do any harm, even some road-going hybrids? Incidentally, Harry Bowler, a past-President of the V.S.C.C., was a great specials exponent in his embryo motoring days, with the Waverley-G.N., etc. . . .

I write from the heart, as it were, having acquired my vintage “boy’s racer” Riley Nine just before the The Bulletin of the V.S.C.C. published a very strong indictment against such cars and having had the chance of buying a road-equipped vintage Morris-special not long after the Club was campaigning against such hybrids! No doubt the V.S.C.C. Committee knows what is best in the vintage world; but how do we answer the letter from the owner of a pre-war Allard, asking why his car is ineligible for p.v.t. competitions when a Railton was allowed to race at Silverstone by the V.S.C.C. . ?—W. B.