White Elephantitis

An Edwardian overhead-camshaft 25/30 Maudslay
Shot in colour at its old stamping ground

I had not been on safari for some time, not, in fact, since May 1970 (“A Tale of Two Panhards”) but I had been keeping a hunter’s eye open for anything else worth pursuing. The trouble is, white-elephant cars, beasts excitingly big and sufficiently rare not to be commonplace at every Club meet, are, like animal wildlife, becoming scarce. However, it is the habit of some species to return in old age to their former haunts, which could be why I found the subject of this most recent expedition in Coventry, at the Museum I described in these columns last month (admission to which, incidentally, is free, which is not always the case at other museums . . .) for this infrequently-encountered make hailed originally from the Motor-City.

Maudslay were engineers of high repute, who were making steam engines in Lambeth before cars were thought of, from around 1790, in fact. They apparently had the honour of providing the power for the first battleships in the Royal Navy, some 130 years ago, and you can hardly have better credentials than that. Maudslay also supplied a boiler for Sir Goldsworth Gurney’s personal steam-drag and made the Field water-tube boilers used in many Victorian fire-engines and for the Amédée Bollée steam carriages, and built the enormous paddle engine for the Great Eastern.

By 1902 this long-established concern of Maudslay Sons & Field decided to make motor cars. For this purpose it seems that they used a factory (and later sited their sports ground) just outside Coventry, close to where Maudslay Road exists today and opposite to the site on which now stands “The Maudslay” public house, the inn-sign of which is a car perhaps intended to be symbolic of both the first Maudslay with its square radiator and oil lamps and the last experimental one with its ribbed front brake drums. The Maudslay Motor Co. Ltd. operated in later times from Parkside, Coventry.

For their car engine, Maudslay employed the free-lance designer Alexander Craig, who at that time had performed a like service for Standard and Lea-Francis. He was a most ingenious pioneer, of the overhead-camshaft and full pressure lubrication. I referred last month to the remarkable long-stroke Lea-Francis engine in the Coventry Museum, which has an “upstairs” camshaft that swings clear of the valves beneath it, so that they and their springs can be removed without disturbing the valve timing. Presumably Craig felt obliged to provide this instant-accessibility to avoid people looking askance at his valve gear at a time when the automatic inlet valve had not long been discarded and valves were easily withdrawn through detachable caps.

All the same, at this early date driving a camshaft so remote from the crankshaft would have been quite enough for most engineers, without indulging in extra tricks . . .

By hiring Craig, Maudslay got the benefit of about the first o.h.c. engines ever. They were originally 20 h.p. three-cylinders but by doubling-up on this design they were able to enter the six-cylinder field by 1904, another significant piece of pioneering. A year later they adopted the round radiator, shared as a distinguishing feature with Delaunay-Belleville, Hotchkiss and a few others. They also evolved a silent-chain gearbox. Four-cylinder Maudslays followed and by 1910 these constituted the 90 x 130 mm. “Sweet Seventeen”, the 114 x 127 mm. 25/30, and the 127 x 127 mm. 35/45, the respective chassis prices being £425, £575 and £700. The final models at the start of the war were the 17 h.p. and a 27 h.p. six-cylinder with the same size “pots”, while if any indication were needed of Maudslay longevity, their very first car, sold in 1902 to someone in Leamington Spa, had not required an overhaul until late in 1912, after which it left the works to return to regular use, which included an annual Scottish tour.

That is the car-side of Maudslay. Mainly, however, they were commercial vehicle makers and after the Armistice private car manufacture was abandoned, except for an ambitious but abortive attempt at revival in 1923. This concerned the 15/80 2-litre six-cylinder Maudslay known as the 2LS, designed by J. A. Kemp who later went to Albions, and J. R. Hamilton, who stayed with Maudslay, the work being supervised by Mr. Craig. This exciting car had twin-overhead camshafts driven by coupling rods and eccentrics, roller bearings throughout, and Perrot front brakes. Alas, apparently only two chassis were built and one was destroyed by fire at the coachbuilders on the eve of the 1923 Show. The test chassis was hastily substituted but nothing more was heard of this advanced Maudslay. Nevertheless, their commercial vehicles used o.h.c. engines, except those having proprietary power units, and in 1927 Maudslay built a six-cylinder ‘bus with inclined valves actuated by twin-overhead-camshafts, which was, I like to think, a follow-on from the 15/80 car engine. After the Second World War the Company moved to Alcester. This factory was taken over by AEC after 1950 and thus the Maudslay name faded out after some 170 years.

The beast I stalked on safari, setting off armed with notebook and flying helmet instead of gun and topee, is a very well-preserved 1910 25/30, of which the Coventry Museum are the third owners. They bought it in Shrewsbury in 1962 from someone who had acquired it from its original owner, Mr. Richard Evan Jones of Aberystwyth, who took delivery of this fine dark green motor-carriage in May 1910. It is chassis no. 301 and the engine no. is 1088.

Although the engine is of 32.2 RAC h.p. and has a capacity of 5.2-litres, the massive radiator and bonnet suggest a much more powerful car; this Maudslay with its high and roomy body (by W. & F. Thorn of London) is one with which the proverbial Mr. Toad of Toad Hall would have been well satisfied . . .

When one examines the Maudslay’s engine it is apparent that marine practice prevails. There is no dip-stick or float for ascertaining the level of the oil in the sump; Craig used a better method—there are two boxes on the n/s of the crankcase, the lids of which can be lifted, to reveal the big-ends happily turning over! If anything appears to be amiss, these internals can be inspected and dealt with through huge detachable plates on the side of the crankcase. Oil-pressure is indicated by a dash-located button, as on early Austin 7s. The oil-box lids have small gauze-topped circular breathers and two more breathers, splendid vertical wrought-iron affairs, grace the n/s of the engine.

The most interesting aspect is the o.h.c. valve gear. The camshaft is driven from the front by a slender vertical shaft slightly biased to the o/s to accommodate the enclosed reduction gears at its upper end. It also incorporates a big exposed spherical u/j, which permits the top end of the camshaft drive to swing over with the camshaft, after four clamps on the n/s have been released and the camshaft has been folded over on four pivots on the o/s of the engine, though 90º to expose the valves. As the valves live in cages in the fixed heads they can be removed as well as inspected after this has been done. The camshaft operates the valves directly via bucket-ended tappets with threaded adjustment.

Designer Craig may have pioneered pressure-lubrication but he was content to let the chauffeur oil his clever valve gear. The cambox covers have to be hinged up and the cams lubricated by hand and there are various greasers for the camshaft bearings; even the steady bearing for the vertical drive-shaft is attended to via a greaser. At the back of the camshaft substantial exposed pinions drive a magneto which hides in a big black box on the dash, These pinions also require hand oiling.

A Zenith carburetter supplied by an Autovac feeds through a vintage style manifold on the o/s; this is a mod., as originally fuel feed was by exhaust pressure. The exhaust manifold is on the n/s, with finning in two sections, and there are four copper water outlets to the round radiator, which has as its badge an “M” within a circle inscribed “Maudslay-Coventry”. A belt-driven, multi-blade fan assists cooling. The crankshaft runs in five bearings and the con.-rods are tubular. The valve gear was covered by Pat. No. 25566 issued on November 21st, 1902, as plates on the engine inform one.

Springing is by 1/2-elliptic front, 3/4-elliptic rear springs. The wood wheels were beyond redemption so accurate replicas were cast in LM 8 alloy by Phoenix Castings and to these genuine-looking wheels the original Warland Dual Rims, shod with 875 x 105 Dunlop Cord tyres, were shrunk. The spare tyre is mounted at the side, on a cast Dunlop Spare Carrier. The light-alloy back axle casing is stamped 2022, and has a tie-rod beneath it. The car’s rugged appearance is enhanced by leather side valances, coconut mats on the running boards, a can for BP Motor Spirit, and a vast brass-bound screen with hinged glass panel for looking through in wet weather. The back compartment is very spacious and comfortable; in it are folding seats for the maids. So vast is the cape cart hood that, even when furled, it isolates one from what is happening behind (see page 886).

The front seat is divided, with a covered stowage-well in the centre as on a modern Ford Cortina (and which I overlooked in last month’s road-test report!). Climbing up behind the small steering wheel I was confronted with a 1/4-quadrant above its spokes, for the ignition and throttle levers. Outside on the right are the gear and brake levers, of true signal-box proportions and travel. On the dash I found an exhaust cut-out lever, a clock, a coil-box the lid of which constitutes the ignition switch, turned left for the trembler coil, right to bring in the magneto, a two-dial brass-surrounded S. Smith (of 9, Strand) two needle speedometer and patent trip-odometer, and a control for the flywheel-driven hooter which augments the bulb horn.

With luck the engine will start “on the switch”. The cone clutch is about the fiercest I have experienced, so that once it begins to engage you are committed and the car lunges away, but the gearbox is quite manageable, especially if the change from first to second isn’t rushed. One has, however, to remember that the gate is back-to-front and that the hand-brake, which gives very good retardation, pushes on. The foot-brake works on the transmission and is used to steady the car. Third gear is a direct drive, notably quiet, so much used in traffic, but on the open road the gear lever, which is inboard of the hand-brake, is pushed forward to engage the geared-up top, when this impressive Maudslay motor-carriage gallops along effortlessly, and with a commendable absence of mechanical noise. Considering that it was far less expensive than a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, one can see what an attractive proposition it must have been, sixty years ago, providing you had a man who would look after the oiling of its mechanicals. It is willing rather than fast, gives roughly 8 to 12 m.p.g., and rides well; its least attractive feature is very high-geared steering from an alarmingly small steering box, so that uneven roads affect control to some degree (the Edwardian Maudslay chauffeur no doubt cursed the ruts) and parking calls for good muscles. But anyone who expects the camshaft to clatter or the exhaust to bellow with the cut-out open is a pessimist . . .

Should the beast roam at night its way is lit by Rushmore “Searchlights” fed from a square Rushmore generator made in Plainfield, USA, and supplemented by Lucas No. 654 “Kings of the Road” sidelamps. The latter, with the two horns, make a fine display of brightwork by the o/s screen pillar.

The brakes rub but do nor squeal and once in the high geared-up top speed this Maudslay runs very nicely, the beat of its exhaust the most prominent sound. It has the distinction of being both rare and practical and I am told that it is insured for £4,000. — W. B.

Previous articles in this series covered:

No. 1: A Siddeley Special .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. June 1959

No. 2: Albertoni’s tulipwood, Hispano & 8C Isotta Fraschini .. Sep. 1959

No. 3: A Model-I Duesenberg .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. April 1960

No. 4: A 35/120 sleeve-valve Daimler motor-carriage .. .. .. .. .. Feb. 1961

No. 5: A sleeve-valve Minerva motor-carriage .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. May 1962

No. 6: A Cadillac V16 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Nov. 1962

No. 7: A Roamer with Duesenberg engine .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Sep. 1963

No. 8: A Renault 45 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Mar. 1965

No. 9: A V12 Packard .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Nov. 1966

No. 10: A low-chassis Daimler Double-Six 50 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Dec. 1966

No. 11: A tale of two Panhards .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. May 1970