Vintage Postbag, August 1979

“Those Chronic Straight-Eights”


I must rise to John Oldham’s comments on the straight-eight Lanchester. It is true that individual cars varied in the silence and sweetness of their engines. I remember the firm themselves telling me that their 1930 London demonstrator was one of the worst they had produced! While the one I owned from 1931-1939 (engine number 8074) was beautifully quiet, as well as marvellously smooth running. The one I have owned since 1941 was never, in my ownership, so quiet and smooth; but even now I am frequently unable to hear the engine on the tick-over.

The petrol consumption of the former car, weighing 45 cwt., was 12 1/2 m.p.g., with 13 1/2 on long runs. The present one 43 cwt. did not drop to 11 1/2 m.p.g until over 30 years old (with its present non-standard carburetter it does 12 1/2).


W. Stuart Best


Your article “Those chronic straight-eights” was of considerable interest, particularly your opinion that the Lanchester was a “very fine straight-eight”. This is confirmed by contemporary opinion, thus The Motor road test of January 7th, 1930 spoke of a “fast car of exceptional merit” a “really high grade vehicle (which) develops nearly 100 b.h.p. smoothly and entirely without vibration, the road performance is equal to that of many sports cars but is devoid of any of the disagreeable features usually associated with the highly efficient racing or sports machine”.

Concerning refinement and silence, The Motor continued “mention has already been made of the quietness in operation and general refinement of the whole chassis,so that there is no need for us to elaborate the point. Suffice to say that, mechanically the engine is extremely quiet throughout its whole range of speed, and the only indication when travelling at high speeds that the engine is pulling hard is a very slight induction roar. This however is not in any wise unpleasant, as it has a low pitched note. The mechanical silence will be realised when it is stated that as soon as the throttle is closed one has the impression that the engine has stopped running, despite the fact that the unit may be turning over at anything between 2,000 r.p.m. and 4,000 r.p.m.” High speeds meant 80 m.p.h.

Whilst the custom of the period was to praise test vehicles wherever possible there appears little doubt as to the mechanical silence of the Lanchester engine. A brief study of the design shows how the silence was obtained: the o.c. drive consists of a vertical shaft terminating in a hardened steel parallel worm gear (thermal expansion thereby being accommodated very simply) driving a bronze wheel on the camshaft. The point of contact of these gears is liberally lubricated by a jet of oil whilst an oil bath provides lubrication on starting. The single camshaft runs in five generous bearings and is fitted with a harmonic damper to minimise torque reversal loads. The cams operate via rockers mounted on eccentric bushings thereby providing simple and easy adjustment of clearances. The entire assembly is enclosed in a cast aluminium cambox whose thickness would be sufficient to dampen any residual noise; its rigidity is such that no gasket is needed to effect sealing.

The point of this lengthy description is to place in context the comment made by Mr. John Oldham that the Lanchester was “far too noisy being overhead camshaft”. Whether this opinion is Mr. Oldham’s own or that of the apparent final arbiter of engineering excellence, his Mother, is not clear. It is evident, however, that the opinion is not supported by facts. The two straight-eight Lanchester engines I have heard running are extremely silent.

Similarly the Lanchester in the opinion of “Mother” had a difficult gearbox. The Motor tester reported “At the same time the gearbox and clutch are as refined in operation as the rest of this notable chassis, the gears being particularly quiet and the clutch exceptionally smooth during both engagement and disengagement. As the free-member is light in weight – the Ferodo friction rings are incorporated in the flywheel and pressure plate – gear changing is simplicity itself, and does not call for the driver to be particularly careful in estimating the relative speeds of the meshing pinions. It is possible to change down from top to third at over 50 m.p.h. without making a sound, if one double-declutches and gets the relative speeds of the meshing pinions only approximately correct. The change from third to second is just as simple.”

My own straight-eight Lanchester gearbox is just as simple to use.

Evidently Mrs. Oldham had distinctive views on motor vehicles. Whilst in no way disparaging her preference for the Hupmobile, the outstanding feature of this car was its Americanism; it was a simple side-valve machine with little pretension to excellence as exemplified by the higher quality European cars. This view of the Hupmobile 8 is shared by a good friend of mine who owns one. The fuel consumption of both cars is 12-15 m.p.g.

Perhaps the points above are not of wide interest but would the Editor care to settle the issue by testing a Lanchester straight-eight? Ten survive from the 125 produced.

Mr. Oldham’s penultimate point referring to the demise of Lanchesters, is accurate as far as it goes, but the immediate cause of the company’s failure was the bank calling in the overdraft of £50,000. It is interesting to note Mr. Oldham’s more favourable view of the later 4.5-litre Daimler straight-eight, as this car had a cheapened push-rod version of Lanchester’s earlier engine.


Ben Yates

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Vintage Pedal Cars


As a regular reader of Motor Sport for about thirty years, I have noticed periodically references to Child’s pedal cars. I enclose two photographs which I think may be of interest. The Lines Bros’ Vauxhall was given to me for Christmas 1933. At that time this was one of the largest pedal-cars in the district. It had leather seats, a small Klaxon horn, and glass fold-flat windscreen. The end came about 1938, when a back wheel collapsed. The second photograph, also of myself, age four, was taken at Blackpool in 1932 (the car belonged to a photographer by the name of Charles Howel). Would this be a model of “Bluebird”?

[Yes. — Ed.]


T. B. Ash

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A Problem Solved


In reply to Mr. Steven P. Dickinson’s letter in your May issue. The Sunbeam photographed was the property of the late Betty Firth and was a gift to her from her parents on the occasion of her twenty-first birthday in 1923. The two-seater with long pointed tail was painted pale blue and was a “one-off”. Miss Firth and her family lived in Wood Lane, Headingley, Leeds and she and the car were constant visitors to te headingley golf Course. The family business is Firth’s of Dewsbury. How do I know all this? I am an old friend of the family.

London, SW1

J.B. Hepworth

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Autovia Facts


I read your review of Michael Frostick’s new book “V8” with interest, as I was awaiting my copy from my local bookseller.

I was disappointed. Firstly no photograph of an Autovia, merely the well-known artist’s impression rendered in the 30s and if I am not mistaken used by yourself in the series “Fragments on Forgotten Makes”. Then, no picture of Riley or Autovia V8 which is surely more interesting than a picture of a Standard V8 in the Raymond Mays Special described in the text as “from which its general similarity with Ford can be seen”.

Secondly, how can an author who one can assume to have done some research into the subject come up with a well used pitfall, claiming the Autovia engine to consist of two 1 1/2-litre blocks. If he had ever bothered to examine an example of each he would not make this inaccurate statement.

Thirdly, to quote, “They also offered a rather more clumsy looking limousine – of which at least one was made.” Of the 50% of production I have so far traced, five were limousines, three limousines having survived to my knowledge.

Fourthly, “with the coming of the Second World War the project folded”. Untrue. The receiver was appointed on March 16th, 1938.

I know I have just picked points out of a mere 11 lines of text which I happen to know to be incorrect. It is a pity that historical accuracy is a victim of commercial journalism.


N. W. Plant

Autovia Car Club

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V-E-V Odds & Ends

In the annual Vintage Motor Cycle Club’s Banbury Run the Feridax Trophy was won by Fred Body’s 1911 Campion, the Sheldon Trophy by Trevor Innes’ 1927 Walker Bull Pup, the Twycross Trophy by James Groves’ 1914 BSA, the James Groves Memorial Trophy by David Roberts’ 1914 Royal Enfield and the Opposite Class Trophy (to the Feridax) by Ray Carter’s 1928 AJS. There was a special gathering of Fraser-Nash and HRG cars at this year’s VSCC Shelsley Walsh hill-climb and the programme was a special Basil Davenport commemoration issue. After the event members of the “Chain Gang” took a meal on a Severn Valley steam-train while riding from Bridgnorth to Bewdley and back. Which reminds me that anyone interested in this kind of non-motoring travel, who is on the road between Bridgnorth and Wolverhampton, really should try a ride on the Hilton Valley 7 1/2″-gauge line, once a gentleman’s private-estate railway but now open to the public on Sundays, until September 30th. Proceeds go to charity, there is no waiting about, the car-park is free, and you cannot begrudge 20p for a mile-long ride behind a model steam locomotive, one of which dates back to 1925. The Daimler & Lanchester OC is giving up a losing battle to restore a post-vintage Daimler ambulance although its Historian owns a fine ex-Royal Daimler Hooper DK400 limousine, also post-vintage, dating from 1954. But the STD Register is, I believe, doing its best with its Roesch Talbot ambulance. The Morgan 3-Wheeler Club’s July Bulletin contains an article about tackling Prescott speed hill-climb in a three-wheeler and Wings, the newsletter of the Vintage Austin Register, for the same month, carries some interesting production figures for Austin Twelves, showing some 80,000 produced in 13 1/2 years. It is interesting that saloon bodies did not become really popular until about 1929. The newsletter also refers to the LAP overhead-valve conversion that was offered for Austin Twelve, Morris, and Fiat cars in the vintage years and asks if any have survived. Those Inter-Register contests still take place, between some of the one-make Clubs, the next one due being the Alvis Register’s Driving Tests on August 19th. The best vintage Austin at the Vintage Austin Register’s Ashover Rally was a 1928 12/4 Windsor saloon owned by A. Fox and the distance award went to a 1929 Open Road 12/4 Austin from Sussex. The best non-Austin vintage car was judged to be K. Beevers’ 1929 16/50 Humber.—W-B.

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Brooklands Items

Fresh items relating to the ever-fascinating topic of what went on at Brooklands will, it seems, never quite fade away. For example, from “A Clubman at Brooklands” by A. C. Perryman – see “Book Reviews” in this issue – we are reminded that between 1922 and 1939 when the Track closed, the BMCRC awarded 183 Gold-Stars for laps at 100 m.p.h. or over and two Double-Gold-Stars for laps at 120 m.p.h. and over, and that the smallest machine to qualify for the former was of 250 c.c., in 1933. These Gold-Stars compare with the 84 special 120m.p.h. badges and the 17 special 130 m.p.h. badges awarded to car drivers by the BARC in the same period (three-wheelers counted as motorcycles). The Foreword to this book is by Les Archer who, Perryman says, won more motorcycle races at Brooklands than any other rider. He, too, recalls some interesting Brooklands facets, such as his twin-sisters taking long-distance records of up to four hours there with a 100 cc. Atom-JAP in 1930, when they were only 14 years old, and of how the Archers took their racing motorcycles to Brooklands from Aldershot in 1927 in a box-sidecar attached to belt-drive 4 1/4 h.p. Quadrant, which was later replaced by a Model-T Ford van. This is the very stuff that made the old Track so endearing. Incidentally, it seems about time someone persuaded the Archers to give us their autobiography. . . .—W-B.