A section devoted to old-car matters
More about vintage motoring in Wales
Last year I had something to say about motoring in the 1920s on the roads and lanes of remotest Radnorshire. Recently I learned more about early motoring in Wales in conversation with Mr EM Lowndes, whose late father, Frank L Lowndes, was closely associated with the Motor Trade in that part of Britain, in those now distant times.
Although he had been born and educated in Leicestershire, Mr. Lowndes Snr was in Loughborough when war broke out in 1914. Already a serving soldier with the Leicestershire Imperial Yeomanry, he found himself in France, attached to the Life Guards, immediately after mobilisation. He had taken his favourite Triumph motorcycle with him, having been a pioneer rider from 1906 with an early Minerva, and he saw most of the savage fighting around Ypres from the beginning.
After demobilisation Mr. Lowndes came to Carmarthen as Manager of the Carmarthen Automobile and Posting Company, with the premises in the centre of this busy Welsh market town, the Non House Garage. The premises still exist, occupied today by a Building Society, after having been taken over by Smith’s. It was from here that Mr. Lowndes had to endeavour to convert a farming community to the motor-car! It took a long time, for not many cars were in use in some parts of Wales even into the late nineteen-twenties. At first a good line was the new 13.9 hp Overland, which came from Manchester and sold as a roomy tourer for £270.
I asked Mr. Lowndes’ son how these were collected. It was simple. The GWR had introduced a few motor-buses onto the more rural Welsh routes and their drivers got concessionary fares in the railway. So it was an economical move to give them a pair of Trade-plates and send them up to Manchester at week-ends or on their other days-off, to collect the new cars. The Garage also sold “Wolseley Autocars” and dealt in Lodge plugs, Ediswan automobile lamps, and Martinsyde motorcycles, etc. It was hard going, until Mr. Lowndes took on the Morris agency. He had known people like Watson in Liverpool, one of the earliest Morris Dedico, who had raced a Hutton, Tom Norton of the Automobile Palace in Llandrindod Wells (still very active today) and others, who were prepared to recommend him to William Morris (later Lord Nuffield) and to Stewart & Arden’s. Once accepted, Morris was very pleasant to work with, as had been the Overland Crossley people; he was a formal man who would write his appreciation of a good sales year, etc.
The business prospered, now selling mainly Morris cars, and it moved to near the Cattle Market, to premises which became the Capitol cinema, and moved again in 1928, away from the town centre, when Mr. Lowndes formed his company, at Priory Street (now a furniture store), as Lowndes Garages – “The House of Service”, selling Morris and MG cars and commercial vehicles, and becoming Wolseley Distributors from 1932. Further new premises were opened in 1934, with Morris, Wolseley, MG and Riley Distributorships by the time the business had become a Limited Company in 1939. It was eventually taken over by the Howells Group and Mr. Lowndes retired in 1964. He was a great Riley enthusiast but had also retained a 1923 Morris-Cowley, now owned by John Carter. In the hey day of building up Morris business one day’s delivery might consist of more than a dozen new cars, mostly Morris Tens or Twelves, but with a Morris Eight tourer among them, even in 1935. The garage had a 1929 D-type Morris half-track 6-wheeler One-Tonner as its breakdown truck, (used in the bad winter of 1946/7 to take bread to cut-off villagers and not scrapped until 1962). Some of the War Office contract was not taken up, so Morris Distributors were offered one each as breakdown vehicles. It soon developed fine repair and servicing departments. It had all stemmed from a humble advertisement which Frank Lowndes had taken in The Welshman in 1919. He became a well-known member of the IMS and the West Wales Division of the MAA – which held its members’ annual conference on the loM, so that they could watch the TT, etc. – the British Legion, etc. With the advent of the Nuffield tractor, Agricultural branches were formed, with which EM Lowndes retains a connection, using a rugged Saab for his journeys.
However, what we are here concerned with is the kind of cars sold in Wales in the 1920s. Fortunately Ford, after the Model-T, did not make much penetration and Rootes were never effectively introduced. There is an amusing story told to Mr. Lowndes by Tom Norton of Edsel Ford coming to the Automobile Palace in Llandrindod Wells. Apparently in his office in Detroit he faced a big map, with a flag stuck in the centre of Wales. But when he came on a visit to the Auto Palace he discovered it was not all that easy to find! By the mid-1930s Welsh doctors prefered Wolseleys to the coupes offered by other makers and the Police Forces would go for Wolseley Hornets and Wasps, into which, by letting air out of the pneumatic cushions, they could just squeeze without removing their helmets.
So the business flourished. There exists a letter signed by William Morris himself, congratulating the Company on selling one hundred Morrises during the slump year of 1929; the majority were Minors and only two of the new six-cylinder Isis had found buyers. In 1931 a rather pathetic letter came from Wolseley’s, asking Mr. Lowndes to confirm his promise to take the new ohc Viper when he had “exhausted existing stock”! He was, his son recalls, almost 100% a Riley man in later years. He had no great opinion of the ordinary MG models and this was endorsed when he took delivery of a Show Model Lagonda Rapier, which was regarded as so much better than an MG Magna, although he was not amused when this car became stranded in floods at Bala when taking his son back to school. In earlier times his pet-hates were Armstrong Siddeleys and Singers ….
The real purpose of my visit was to look at some of the more unusual cars which the Company had sold, between 1921 and 1928, as recorded in one salesman’s notebook which has been retained. Although a successful Company like this was always being accosted by salesmen for new makes, such as Clyno and others, trying to obtain an agency, this was stoutly resisted by this Morris-orientated concern. However, there were the odd cars, used and otherwise, that were sold; the aforesaid notebook lists 60 different makes in those eight years alone. Some of the unexpected vehicles that found their way to the distant Carmarthen area are distinctly interesting.
For example, in 1921, before the Morris agency, Mr. Lowndes bought up the entire stock of Whitehead light-cars with his Army gratuity and managed to dispose of them, about five in all, at prices around £200-£220 each. He took a Wolseley-Stellite in exchange for a Calcott, sold an Overland EB (I would like to think the “EB” stood for Ettore Bugatti and that this was a Crossley-Bugatti, but am sure it wasn’t) to a Superintendent of the County Constabulary and was instrumental in obtaining the first German Imports to Wales, a number of Hansa-Lloyds being shipped from Bremmerhaven to Swansea and several Horchs being sold in 1922. An American Dixie-Flier was disposed of in the same year and Arrol-Johnston, a number of AA trucks and char-a-bancs and the odd AC and Hampton were introduced to Welsh buyers by 1923.
Unusual cars sold in 1923 included a Vandy and a Briton light-car, as well as a more likely Buick, two Dodges for £400 a piece, and a 4-ton Liberty truck. The Vandy was a demonstration model from unsold maker’s stock and fetched £200 and a Pierce-Arrow came up for sale from the same source, at £150. One notes a De Dion Bouton lorry sold to a quarry, probably a converted car chassis, and in 1925 Mr. Lowndes went personally to Morris Garages in Oxford to obtain a Morris Sports, for £308 6s, which he claimed to be the first MG sold in Wales (Years later he was at Brooklands for a “Double-Twelve”, no doubt when MG Midgets dominated that race).
Against Mr. Lowndes’ advice a local dentist insisted on having a Show Model Waverley. In 1923 an Alvis was sold to a publican and the first of six Napier hire-cars found a buyer. Used cars were cheap then – like a Rhode sold in 1927 for £40, a Durant for £50, and a Briscoe in 1926 for £45. That gives a picture, to those with imaginations, of what you might encounter in Welsh towns and by-ways in the mid-vintage period.
The Mr. Lowndes who introduced me to this interesting glimpse into the past served his engineering apprenticeship just after WW2 with the Nuffield Organisation, first at Morris Motors at Adderley Park and then at SU Carburettors. He thinks that by then there was an unfortunate tendency to spoil designs through false economy, to spoil a ship for a ha’porth of tar. He quotes the overhead-camshaft Wolseley 6/80, as sold to many Police Forces. It got a bad name for burning out its valves. But this was because the sodium-filled valves and rotating tappets needed for “Pool” petrol had been deleted before production, to save cost. Then there was the Saurer diesel engine, which could have been so effectively used in Morris Commercial vehicles, but instead of its four-valves-per-cylinder and efficient Bosch injectors the Nuffield plan was to ask why two valves per cylinder wouldn’t do, and to use CAV injectors. The original 4-valve Saurers were put into their own Morris trucks and used for ferrying engines from Coventry to Cowley.
Mr. Lowndes recalls how SU’s tuned cars for the Police, the aforesaid Wolseleys being far more powerful than the ordinary models, for example. This resulted in local policemen expecting the same treatment for their own cars, so that a motley assembly of those awaiting attention would fill the SU Service Department. He also remembers a young Peter Collins bringing in his side-valve Ford Ten to have twin SUs fitted to it. SU had inherited a very fine engineering team, largely from the Wolseley Service Department when this was disbanded, under John Morris, with such expert tuners as Kesterton and Best Day. It was John Morris who fitted an SS Mercedes-Benz engine with SU aircraft fuel injection ..
The SU was in the nature of a precision instrument but the production carburettors had needles machined by girls on pre-war Swiss lathes, wluch were not very accurate and had to be hand-finished for fine tuning. It was recommended not to polislt the dashpots but William Lyons resolutely refused to listen, when fitting SU’s to Jaguar-engines. Bentley and lnvicta and Aston Martin compromised by using a black enamel finish. Because SU’s had become part of the Nuffield Group they could report on other maker’s engines for the parent concern. Mr. Lowndes says they took a good look at the flat-twin Dyna-Panhard with its desmodromic valve-gear.
Johnnie Claes’ Talbot-Lago was completely transformed before a British Grand Prix when its Zenith carburetters were replaced by specially-prepared SU’s Mr. Lowndes recalls. Incidentally, the SU factory had an old MG as its service van. It is also remembered that MG TC power-curves obtained on the bench at SU’s never seemed to compare with the optimistic claims made in catalogues and subsequent books! All so interesting, and incidentally, the complete set of Morris catalogues saved by Frank Lowndes was used by Philip Gamons-Williams for his great book “Morris Cars – 1913-1930”. – WB.
(An article aDout Mr. Lowndes” collection of mascots will appear next month)
It looks as if prices of the older cars are tumbling and more that are reasonably priced coming back on the market, as the effects of galloping inflation are felt. Whereas ‘ for a long time the One-Make Club’s circulars carried practically no used-car announcements, these are returning. We noticed recently a 1934 Standard Little Nine said to be 100% complete, in use until nine years ago and stored in a dry garage since, advertised at £375 in The Standard, newsletter of the Standard Motor Club, several Rileys for sale in the Riley Register’s Newsletter, including a 1934 Monaco saloon in what sounded like sound condition, apart from tidying, for £1,100, and the HCVC’s last-seen Newsletter contained the offer of an ex-war-time original condition Civil Defence Fordson van described as in good running order for £50 or near offer! So there is hope again for the less affluent to get motoring.
Press references to Brooklands have been kindly sent to us by readers and include the memories of TJ Aspley in This England – he worked there as a skilled woodworker in the glorious summer of 1914, describes the pre-Track area as a market garden, the strawberries from which still grew on the banks of the Wey, and remembered the twopenny teas served in the Blue Bird Cafe, of a good cup of tea and three or four full rounds of real bread and farmhouse butter! – and a long article by Bob Lacy from the Reading Chronicle about the fatal accident to Bernard Hieatt during the 1930 BMCRC 200 Mile Sidecar Race. It is interesting that Hieatt, the son of a Reading butcher, was an early member of the flying club at Woodley and had flown to the Track on the day of the accident in his own DH Moth. At his funeral this machine and others from Reading Aero Club flew over and dropped a wreath. Hieatt’s gravestone in Reading displays “an almost lifesize statue of him in racing leathers” and an engraving of a motorcycle and an aeroplane. There were also some unexpected references to Brooklands, with some very clear photographs of past and present happenings there, in the June issue of Automobil & Motorrad Chronik, with comments based on an article by Wilson McComb which prompted this journal to conclude: “But it would cost millions, in pounds sterling, to buy back the land and rebuild the track – therefore any dream of a modern Brooklands must fail”. – WB.
V-E-V Odds – Ends. – The magazine of the Austin Seven Clubs Association, numbered 1980 B, contained a worthwhile article on Austin Seven racing, the memories of Bob Burgess, and a charming account of an Army Lt Col who although a “horse-man”, bought an Austin 7 two-seater for £25 in 1931, which he still uses.
The 14th Paris-Deauville Rally of the Club de L’ Auto will take place from 4th-6th of October; details from 11 Bis, Rue Berteaux-Dumas, 92200 Neuilly-sur-Seine. Entries close on July 26th and the colour cover of the Regulations is worth seeing, on its own! The sponsors are Talbot.
Renault (UK) Limited announce that they are again sponsoring the 1980 Veteran Car Run to Brighton, for which 150 entries have already been received, including Mr. Palumbo’s 1894 Benz which Cecil Clutton usually coaxes through, two from America, of which a 1904 Maxwell may be driven by the American Ambassador here, and a 1904 Decauville to be shipped over from Mexico. It is expected that the entries will total 300; entry forms from Mrs. Susan Winwood, RAC Motor Sports Association, 31 Belgrave Square, London SWl.
A 91-year-old reader of the Daily Telegraph recalled recently having seen Walter Bersey’s “motor wedding” of the 1890s, at which he sang in the choir – and he is still singing in a choir.
The Eastern Evening News had a picture of an assembly of cars got together in 1911 to celebrate the opening of St. John’s Garage in Regents Road, Yarmouth, with the Mayor and Mayoress in attendance. The parade ended at Caister Manor Hotel for tea and the cars included a Model-T Ford Landaulette, a big Standard tourer, a small Renault and many others, some with Norfolk registrations. The picture was found by the Foreman who worked there from 1925 to 1945. The premises are now a remodelled shopping arcade, the garage having moved to Southtown Road in 1970.
Jack Alderson, who co-authored that excellent book “Morgan Sweeps The Board”, wants to trace the whereabouts of Harold C. Bate, who raced his Morgan 3-wheeler at Donington in the 1930s, later he ran his cars on chicken manure during the war, and is thought perhaps to live in the West Country, possibly running an old Hillman Minx. Letters can be forwarded. – WB.
Morris Register – A Long Journey
The Morris Register club historian, Harry Edwards, has just returned from a trip to Australia where he was guest of honour at the second national rally of the Morris Register of South Australia. The cost of his air fare was met by a fund contributed to by members of the Morris Register as a tribute to Harry for his unfailing work during the twenty year life of the club as historian and Journal editor; members of the Bullnose Morris Club and the Morris Register branches in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia also gave generous contributions.
Harry arrived in Adelaide amidst a blaze of publicity, and a local member loaned him a Morris 8 tourer to drive in the convoy to Victor Harbour where the four day rally was based. After taking in some of the local scenery in a 60 mile observation run, Harry was able to show films of UK Morris Register events to the Australians at an evening reception. As virtually all pre-war Morrises in Australia have locally built bodies, Harry’s task of judging the concours d’elegance gave him first hand experience of the Australian breeds of Morris, many differing in considerable detail from the home grown variety, which previously he had only been able to read about.
After the rally, Harry travelled with a convoy of Morrises the two day journey to Melbourne, during which one of the modern Escort vehicles was badly damaged by a 50 mph kangaroo! While staying with club members in Melbourne, several days were spent both sightseeing and