A Daimler Item

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Brian Smith, author of that definitive Daimler history and that great study of the Royal Daimlers, kindly sent me a photostat of a booklet called “Hints on Driving”, which was issued by the Daimler Company Ltd. (“By Appointment”) in, I would think, the middle of the vintage period. It was written obviously with Daimler publicity in mind, yet does not exactly mince matters about the difficulties a novice can encounter when faced with driving a car for the first time, or with very little experience.

The Daimler was a dignified motor-carriage, scorning any clue as to its make on certain models, deigning the fluted radiator sufficient identification, being a Royal car, and so on, but it was also a complicated car to service and to drive, which is probably why this booklet was issued. It came out before the great Daimler breakthrough of the fluid flywheel and self-change gearbox and was aimed at any ladies who might find themselves brave enough to get behind the steering wheel of one of these cars. It was published, indeed, just after “smooth, light single-plate clutches” had been adopted by Daimler. The gear lever was in the centre, “in order to facilitate entrance to the driver’s seat from the off-side” (I wonder how many would-be lady drivers knew which was the o/s).

The writer made it quite clear that maintenance of Daimler cars was covered in a separate series of manuals. This one was simply about driving – “Owing to the ease with which they are steered and controlled, no less than to the perfect safety inherent in their quality of design and construction, Daimler cars are ideal for ladies to learn to drive.” The writer was quite honest, however, about not churning the starter if lack of sparks or fuel was the cause of non-starting. The Daimler carburetter was made to sound superior to “a crude carburetter consisting of a petrol pipe in an induction pipe” (did the ladies understand?); indeed it was said “in a sense to possess an intelligence of its own” in anticipating, in compensating for too hasty prodding of the accelerator by the driver. Its primer and sliding-sleeve system was illustrated. There were ten stages in starting up a Daimler, commencing with getting the gear lever into neutral.

The detailed descriptions of how the strength of an accelerator spring had been determined by experience to give just the right degree of firmness, how the accelerator was connected to the lubrication system to enable more oil to be fed to the engine on hills (no mention of clouds of blue smoke aft), and how the Daimler carburetter had been designed “after years of experience” to respond to a driver’s foot movements, are good publicity in themselves. The “economy lever” was explained (it was connected to the carburation water hot-spot and you could adjust the water-valve to suit the terrain). The ignition lever was apparently of less importance, its setting being “a matter for discretion” and for “the pleasure resulting from using it properly”. The “igniter” (shades of Dr. Lanchester) was illustrated.

Steering and the problems of keeping a Daimler out of the ditch got a chapter to itself, beginning: “. . . the car virtually steers itself, and is guided, like a horse, more by pressure than by movement”. What I find of especial interest is the chapter devoted to gear-changing. Not only is double-declutching explained in very simple language but first, note first, the novice was encouraged to practise changing cogs without using the clutch, which I have always thought to be advanced driving. Do this, says the book, at 20 m.p.h. on a clear road, changing up and down every few yards for half-an-hour. The thought of timid lady drivers progressing thus, crunching sounds emerging through the haze of blue smoke, is a disturbing one . . . It is also interesting that when descending steep hills a driver was encouraged to engage a low gear and switch off the ignition. The more timid among the ladies may not have enjoyed being told to practise steering with one hand, in order to be able to use the other hand for operating the brake lever, or for signalling (presumably after all else failed). Incidentally, on a Daimler the foot brake, operating on the wheels, was the service brake. The link between the Daimler Company and Daimler Hire was emphasised by the quote about the latter’s drivers “having a tradition not only that they must avoid accidents on their own account but that they must never let their cars be in a position where careless people can run into them”. Break with tradition and get the sack, presumably! There was a plug for six-cylinder engines, which called for less frequent gear changing, and novices were warned not to drive too close behind other cars in case of running into them – “In some parts of America, where motoring is occasionally a procession, so crowded are the roads at certain hours, it is not uncommon for the brake mechanism to be connected to a signal-lamp at the back of the car . . . “

I am indebted to Brian Smith for this glimpse into the mind of the Daimler Company and historians may care to be reminded that in those days this illustrious Company had a London Wholesale Centre at Chapter Street House in the Vauxhall Bridge Road, and London Service and Repair Depots at Highgate Hill and The Hyde, Hendon. The telegraphic codes were “Unpassable, Holway” and “Daimladepo”, that of Daimler Hire “Daimlerdom”. – W.B.