Vintage Postbag, August 1972

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Crossley Bugattis

Sir,

The Crossley-Bugatti story that Mr. Manners refers to has been reasonably well documented and one accepts that the chassis numbers were in the Series 1600 to 1625. No. 1622 is thus the 23rd car, so this is consistent with the number BC23 found by Mr. Manners on his car. Molsheim, however, continued to use a consecutive series of numbers and there is a ‘genuine’ 1622 in the USA.

Just for the record, we should say that the TT cars of 1922 were made complete in France with numbers 1397 to 1399, and were real Brescias with different cranks and rods, front axles, and so on. 1398 is still in existence in South Africa. As far as we know Crossley produced only the longer-chassis touring cars, not the short-chassis Type 13.

London, W.2. H. G. Conway.

* * *

Tyre Inflation

Sir,

“Breathes there a man with soul so dead

Who never to himself has said

The thing I cannot understand

Is why we pump our tyres by hand.

The thing is done—perspire no more—

Just throw that useless hand pump or’

And buy instead hard labour hater

A BRAMCO VALVE CAP TYRE INFLATER.”

I saw this advertisement many years ago.

Craven Arms. W. F. Collins.

[But did a Bramco function like the modern Schraeder inflater we mentioned recently ? — Ed.]

* * *

What Is It?

Sir,

My attention has been drawn to the letters in your March and May issues concerning the identity of the fire engine, photographs of which you printed in your Vintage Postbag section.

Johannes Zwicky, my father, built this fire engine for Tottenham Council 1906/1908 and I quote under details as given in the Daily Graphic of the 8th July 1908 which accompanied the photograph shown in your May edition.

“The accompanying picture shows the new petrol pumping engine just constructed in the Tottenham Council’s works by Mr. J. Zwicky, who has been ably assisted by the other members of the Council’s staff.

The 100-h.p. motor is by the Simms Company and the pumps by the Haste Company.

It is well known that the first idea of having motor fire escapes originated with Superintendent Eddington, Tottenham’s fire chief, nearly six years ago, and just as many brigades, which at first ridiculed the motor fire escape, have since copied it, and so, in all probability, will Tottenham’s latest production be adopted by others when its merits are known.

This newest fire-fighting appliance differs widely from the ordinary engine. In designing it Mr. Zwicky aimed at two leading features. The first was efficiency in the machine, and the second simplicity for the driver. By means of a small lever, moved by two fingers, the driver can regulate the entire machine when pumping, reducing the pumps to about four revolutions a minute or running them up to over 300. The supply of water in the tank for pumping is registered by an indicator. There is no canvas cistern or suction to fix for street pumping, and even the tank of petrol announces the fact that its supply is getting low by a bell ringing. A device for absolutely preventing the escape of petrol when refilling the tank at a fire has also been made. Vibration is reduced almost to the vanishing point by the adoption of water as a balancing agent. A monitor enables the fireman to sweep the area of a large fire from the street in perfect safety, while four deliveries for ordinary hose are fixed, two at each side. The radiators are automatically fed, while in case of excessive pressure existing on the pumps at any time or from any cause a relief valve opens. The engine can be worked so as to do less than a manual or more than several steamers. In fact, to use Mr. Eddington’s phrase, “she is equally at ease with a window curtain alight or a timber yard”.

I clearly remember this vehicle being brought to our house in Tottenham when I was very young, sometime in 1907 I should imagine, and my sister and myself being sat on the engine and our photographs taken.

You may be interested in a short history of my father. He was born in Switzerland in 1874, the thirteenth of a family of sixteen. In his early twenties he came to London to learn to become an engineer and first lived in the East End and worked for the engineering firm of Donkins. The first company he formed was Zwicky Liquid Pump Co. at Stoke Newington, just before the First World War, later he moved to Camden Town. In 1923 he again moved, this time to the trading estate at Slough and the company changed its name to Zwicky Ltd. and specialised in the design and manufacture of pumps and filters. At this time he was responsible for the design and installation of the pumping equipment used at Cardington in the mooring mast for airships. I used to work for him in the office and can remember around 1925/26 that one of our best selling items was a filter used in the ordinary “kerb side” petrol pumps. In 1934 he sold his interests in Zwicky Limited and immediately started the firm of Newcon Filters. All his life until his death in 1941 he was inventing and designing all manner of mechanical equipment. Right up until 1958 I received royalties from some of his patents. Of the cars he had the only one I recall as being out of the ordinary was during 1923, when he owned an Albert.

Gillingham. O. F. HUNT (Mrs.).

———

Sir,

Referring to the remarks under “What is it ?”, I can confirm all the information supplied and possibly add to it, as I lived even nearer than Mr. Gray; in fact, I lived in the now-disused fire station. I am the son of the then Chief Officer of the Tottenham Fire Brigade and by virtue of that position my father had married quarters over the station. The machine was in fact designed by Mr. J. Zwicky (a Swiss) and was built in the Council’s own yard by Mr. Zwicky (who was on loan from Merryweather Ltd. with whom he had been a senior designer and engineer) in response to a request by the Council to build a machine to my father’s requirements and specification so far as the fire-fighting requirements went, in consequence of Merryweathers having been unable (or unwilling) to build such a machine. The engine was a 100 h.p. Simms. The requirements (broadly) were to produce a machine that could at a stroke deal with, say, a small contained fire in a room or such like to the biggest possible conflagration such as Messrs. Lebus Ltd. who had an enormous furniture factory right alongside the river Lea, or any other large factory, the idea being the water was delivered via the rotatable monitor thus obviating the strain of attacking with multiple lengths of hose and using many men to hold them under pressure. The whole idea was quite revolutionary but worked well over many years. The chief difficulty was (I believe) that owing to the huge and ungainly size of the vehicle its use had to be eventually restricted to large fires, only as manoeuvrability made its use impossible in restricted areas. The large cylinder and small hose reel shown at the rear with a 60 to 80 gallon copper cylinder alongside was the first aid idea for use in combating small containable fires by the use of a chemical of whose constituent contents I am not sure (I was only 14-15 at the time) but I know that there was a lead bottle of about a quart or two that had to be inverted by the movement of a lever to produce a mixture that was very effective and needed no pump to produce its discharge from the nozzle of the hose (like a garden hose) and just as effective as the modern type of fire extinguisher seen in factories, etc., etc.

Hoping this sketchy information is useful. I myself did not take more than a sort of family pride in what was, I can now see, many years before its time thanks to my father’s complete dedication to a service in which he had his whole mind and spirit, so much so that throughout the First World War he refused to take any holiday and allowed himself only one recreation, i.e. attending the Spurs home matches.

He was the FIRST professional Chief Officer ever employed by the Tottenham Council having gone to them in 1893 and retired in 1925 having put Tottenham Fire Brigade so much on the map (Tottenham also had the first fire station ever built without any accommodation for horses which housed a motor fire escape and self-propelled steamer) and professional visitors came literally from all corners of the globe to inspect the fire station where there were no horses and no accommodation for them. This I believe was in 1903 but as I was then a 13-year-old schoolboy I am not quite sure, but this could be checked by Council records.

Braintree. G. W. Eddington.

[This correspondence is now closed — Ed.]

* * *

The EEC and Old Cars—A letter from the person who started the stir

Sir,

Following our recent correspondence and your excellent article regarding the clause in the Common Market regulations restricting the use of cars over a certain age, thought you might be interested in the latest development.

When I first saw that article in the Guardian and started my enquiry, including writing to you, I also approached a friend, Mrs. H. Elrick, who has contacts with our MP. She premised to look into the matter and indeed did so. However, she heard no more about it until last week, when she rang me up after receiving a ‘phone call from a member of the local Council. This Councillor had apparently received a letter from our MP following a conversation between them which was repeated on the ‘phone to Mrs. Elrick. It seems that a question was raised in the House on this issue and put to Mr. Peyton who said the clause had now been deleted. There were hints that if such publicity had not been given to this Regulation it would probably have slipped through unnoticed. Mrs. Elrick promised to let me see the letter and passed it on to me today. I was hoping it would contain some information about what had transpired, in which case I would have forwarded it to you. However, it only states that there is no such regulation.

I am puzzled as to why Lord Montagu categorically denies the existence of this clause in his magazine Veteran and Vintage, yet says in a reply to a letter from the Singer OC that the situation will be closely watched. Why watch something non-existent?

I would like to add how much I enjoyed your article on the Singer team cars. I noticed you mention the single-seater Singer raced by Mr. Carr. I saw this car some years ago in Sussex.

St..Leonards-on-Sea. Gillian I. Rogers (Miss).

[This correspondence is provisionally now firmly closed ! —Ed.].

* * *

Whittle Belting

Sir,

I have been a reader of your excellent magazine since before the war, and I, like most readers I imagine, have been variously informed, amused and—on rare occasions—infuriated, by your utterances. However, without wishing to appear condescending, I can truthfully say that I have never been bored!

In your recent somewhat “Orwellian” article, “The Beginning of the End” your customary penchant for accuracy seems to have lapsed, for when you cite Whittle belting as being amongst those items “scarcer, if obtainable at all”, you do the manufacturers less than justice. I am engaged in a 100% rebuild of a 1933 3-litre Lagonda„ which uses a Whittle belt to rotate it’s fan, as is right and proper for a vehicle of such breeding. In the interests of originality and with more pious hope than expectations, I contacted Thos. Whittle and Son, located in Rose & Crown Street, Warrington, to enquire if, by any remote chance, they still had the odd peice lying about. By return, they sent a leaflet, a sizing chart and their courteous offer of assistance. I wrote back, and by return again, they sent a brand new, real leather belt of exactly the same construction as the original. Politely declining my offer for a C.O.D. sale, an invoice arrived five days later. The price ? £1.77!

Occurring as it did, within days of quite a disgraceful display of disinterest and gross imcompetence by a B.M.C. Main Dealer over a matter of some perfectly ordinary spares for my Wife’s 1100—derails of which would be wholly inappropriate in a section devoted to proper motor cars, you can imagine that I was vastly impressed with Mr. Whittle and his Company. Full marks, and whilst I have no connection whatever with them, I should like to think that other “Vintage” owners will give them the business they most certainly deserve.

Claverley John Downes-Ryder.

[Our apologies to Thos. Whittle and Son. — Ed.]

* * *

Bird defends W. B.

Sir, I share the relief some readers have expressed that W. B. has been proved wrong over the scare he raised about a fifteen year retirement rule being enforced, but let us not be too ready to make mock. He could well have been right, and may yet be right. Soothing assurances from the Department of the Environment, or any other Government department, should not be taken without a very large pinch of salt; and anybody who would unhesitatingly accept any Government’s word on anything must live in cloud-cuckoo land. The Department of the Environment is already beginning to shuffle its feet about the permissible size of giant lorries, and its all Regent Street to a raspberry ice that in a few years time we shall be dancing to tunes piped in Bonn or Brussels, no matter how inharmoniously they sound in the ears of Balham or Birmingham.

It seems a little hard, too, that W. B. should be taken to task so harshly for his strictures on inflated car prices. Of course, Mr. W. K. Parker is right about market forces and the depreciation of currency encouraging people to put their wealth into chattels. The comparison he makes between veteran and vintage cars and antique furniture or objets d’art is apt, and peering through the holes in my tattered antique dealer’s hat I see similarly deplorable developments in both fields of investment.

These developments involve what may be called the “snob value” which becomes added to the increase in real values of antiques with the result, very often, that the greatest in values enhances objects which are not worthy of such enhancement. An example may he found in Stevengraph mass-produced, woven-silk pictures, which have advanced more than a thousandfold in value in the last twenty years, by comparison with antique English clocks which have increased in value only at a route roughly commensurate with the depreciation of money.

Every sensible collector has an eye to the money side of his hobby, but once the investment value becomes of greater importance than the “hobby” or aesthetic, or engineering merit then things begin to go badly wrong. This, I think, is the point Mr. Parker fails to see as clearly as W. B., and the great risk is that an unjustifiable or artificial rise in values tempts the faker to do his stuff. The business of faking cars is now becoming a serious menace, and one to which the responsible bodies and clubs are not paying sufficient heed. In all innocence, the Veteran Car Club Gazette has published three parts of a long article called “First, You Find a Radiator”, which provides a step by step guide to what the antique trade (in its honest moods) would call the construction of a fake. Nobody, as things stand, could call in question the integrity of the writer of this article, and his honesty matches his skill and enthusiasm, but there is very little doubt that in a few years time the “veteran” car he has made front a small percentage of old but unrelated parts, plus a very large admixture of new or reproduction pieces, will be accepted as genuine and valued accordingly. The crass stupidity of the inland revenue people in exempting motor cars from the capital gains tax, which is levied on all other chattels of more than £1,000 value, has encouraged the construction of fakes. As Mr. Parker rightly bases part of his argument on the effects of the depreciation of money, it is right to remind him that Gresham’s Law applies to other things than currency.

Potbridge. Anthony Bird.

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