The article I wrote about Adrian Liddell’s ex-Brooklands Straker-Squire (Motor Sport, December 1977) has resulted in much interesting correspondence, including a letter from Mr. Denham Brown, who, as a fitter at the Edmonton factory in the early 1920s, worked on the car when it was being so successfully raced by H. Kensington-Moir. This was passed on to Adrian, who suggested we went in the old car to show it to Mr. Brown. So, on a warm and sunny day in June, this pleasant task was duly undertaken.
We left Andover around 10.30 on this perfect summer morning in this splendid Straker-Squire ex-racing car, which is perfectly well able to keep up with the faster-moving traffic, shall we say at speeds legally-permitted on the ordinary roads and Motorways of this country, and effectively to overtake the “mimsers”, driven with skill and enthusiasm by its proud owner. (After the 1976 FIVA Rally, for example, it averaged 50 m.p.h. on the run home from Harrogate to Andover.) He took an interesting route to our luncheon appointment near Croydon, explaining that he enjoyed using roads he knew well in earlier days. Thus we motored along very pleasantly in the sunshine, exhaust booming away behind, through Petersfield, Midhurst and Petworth, bringing recollections of runs to and from Goodwood motor-races, when I lived in Hampshire, until we emerged onto the M23 that took us to the brink of the Metropolis. In spite of the heat, lots of slow traffic, and an annoying number of hostile contractors’ traffic-lights, the ancient racer took it all in its back-braked stride and never showed any signs of overheating, the thermometer needle around 70 deg. and oilpressure steady at 20 lb./sq. in.
The somewhat strident war-cry of the o.h.c. six-cylinder engine in the lower gears must have indicated to Mr. Brown that the car he had worked on all of 57 years ago was approaching. This was obviously an exciting and moving moment for him, coming face-to-face once more with this famous motor car….
Over a most welcome lunch he recalled what he remembered of it. The radiator, now brass, was originally German-silver, the gaitered Springs were then cord-bound, and the control-levers on the steering-wheel boss, the inlet manifolding and carburetters are non-original. We found the holes that had been used to bolt on the bracket for the one-time bonnet-strap, and clearly the battery in the tail evoked more memories. The engine used to be stripped down between races and painstakingly tuned, Mr. Brown recalled; he remembered long sessions grinding-in the valves, finishing them off with Brasso after the thin grinding paste, after which the cylinders would be left overnight on a sheet of cardboard with some petrol in them, and if any petrol had seeped out the valve-grinding would begin again! It was he, not fellow-fitter H. j. Bentley, who once forgot to replace the carbon-brush in the magneto, resulting in an extra three b.h.p. on the bench, presumably due to the improved spark-gap; instead of jubilation there was consternation and the engine was hastily stopped, for a check-over. Incidentally, the magneto in those days was an Ericson, a make of which Mr. Brown confesses he has never heard of since. The bench-bests were always carefully carried out, with data noted on a board and the temperature had to be 90 deg. before the engine was opened-up.
Another interesting detail which Mr. Brown remembers is that at the time when the car was given six separate organ-like exhaust pipes an attempt was made to avoid valve bounce by fitting a bar above the camshaft housing from which a tension spring was hooked onto each rocker, thus holding these against the cam-lobes.
The car was usually driven to Brooklands or to speed trials, said Mr. Brown, from Edmonton but sometimes it would be laboriously pushed up planks into an old Straker-Squire lorry. After it had gone away to be dazzle-painted in those zig-zag black-and-white Stripes it was exhibited for a time in the Company’s Shaftesbury Avenue showrooms. Mr. Brown remembers it having the present Reg. No. MD 7901 but I believe that when Philip Mann acquired it, its Reg. No. was CM 4404 and that MD 7901 was used also on a front-braked four-seater Straker-Squire that took part in an MCC London-Exeter Trial so maybe there was the then-customary changing about of number plates! In those days the car never wore mudguards or headlamps. The day when Moir hit a tree and damaged the n/s. front dumb-iron was recalled. A carpenter made up a wooden wedge to strengthen the weakened dumbiron and this remained in place for a long time afterwards. Further confusion arises because, according to a correspondent, Mr. H. B. Murphic writing from the Wirral, there were two StrakerSquires in the Birkenhead district around I94, with similar bodies, one of which was a dark grey one owned by a Mr. Roberts, says Gordon Aston, who was W. B. Horn’s racing mechanic at the time….
Mr. Brown confirmed what George Brooks has taken me to task over, namely that the bevel-gear drive for the o.h. camshaft was quieter than the earlier skew-gear drive and he remembers engines that ticked over in virtual silence. He thinks that the housing for the skew-gears may have acted as a sounding-box that increased the noise and remembered that they could never make the later bevel-gear housings completely leak-proof. (But I must say Adrian’s engine was notably clean, after our morning journey.) Sydney Straker, very smart, with waxed moustache, was remembered as driving a very smart and fast two-seater Straker-Squire. Davidson, who raced for them in 1920, was an Army Captain, hoping for a foot in the post-war Motor Industry, but largely a hanger-on, in Mr. Brown’s view. Before the then-new London-Cambridge arterial road past Edmonton was opened it was used for impromptu testing, Moir’s car roaring up it at a good 90 m.p.h….
It was apparently H. Hagens, of Temple-Anzani racing motorcycle fame, who designed the later c.i. inlet manifold for the 24/90 model which replaced the original fine alloy-manifolding, and the engine for the 1923 Straker-Squire light car, which apparently did not have a Dorman power unit as some historians believe. The pre-1915 15 h.p. car was also reintroduced, mildly updated. Hagen’, says Mr. Brown, was a Belgian who brought a number of young Belgians with him, and persuaded them to acquire Morgan three-wheelers with Anzani engines, which they then pestered the English mechanics to tune for them, which was done grudgingly, “sometimes with the aid of carborundum powder….!” Straker-Squire’s experiments with front-wheel-brakes are remembered, “hydraulic pipes and bits of bicycle-chain”, and how the great Roy Fedden was regarded with considerable awe. Unfortunately, Mr. Brown couldn’t tell us what the “pillar-box” slot in the o/s. of the scuttle of the racing Straker-Squire was for…
After he left the Motor Trade Mr. Brown joined the Police and speaks highly of their Advanced Driving Course. He began in the Jowett days, and with Police Beans with very difficult gearboxes, remembers Moir’s firm, Woodcote Motors at Epsom, supplying Police cars (which was the excuse for a great reunion incidentally, in the racing days “Bentie” Moir Provided crates of beer and cream cakes for his mechanics) and the Bentley, Railton and Invicta Black Prince cars used by the Hendon Police school. He now drives a 1960 Hillman Minx.
All too soon it was time for the return journey, the old Straker-Squire making light of the increasing traffic congestion in Croydon and later overtaking many modern cars that were steaming along the M3 toward, the West Country.
Eight days later this elderly racing-car was placed third in a handicap run at Oulton Park among more recent machinery. Indeed, it is going so well that its present owner is unlikely to dazzle-paint it, give it organ-pipes, or cowl its radiator. The only show of temperament it permits itself is the occasional loss of a sparking-plug, due not to sooting-up, but whiskering of the points, and, in my experience, this scarcely holds it back at all. – W.B.