Out of the past, August 1984

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The other day I discovered that Basil Howard, who in 1982 contributed the article that made up the “Fragments On Forgotten Makes” on the Invicta, as he had worked for Sir Noel Macklin as an electrician, was on holiday quite near me, so we met to recall more of the old days. His father ran a garage at Ripley in Surrey and his mother had a tea-house opposite, where most of the well-known motoring personalities and racing drivers called, when going down the Portsmouth Road to the Track or elsewhere.

The garage hack at that time was a 1912 Vulcan tourer, from the back of which the seats had been removed. Howard gained his driving experience on this, but was far from expert when he joined the Invicta concern as its fifth employee, so that when Macklin, assuming he could drive proficiently, told him to take the Morris-Cowley and meet the three employees who arrived each morning at Cobham station from London, they had some hair-raising rides for a time! There were two old Dennises of different horsepowers, used by the garage as hire cars, and a sleeve-valve Minerva is remembered, used for shooting trips to Scotland, whose owner had its station wagon body removed and put on a Sunbeam chassis.

Howard had been apprenticed to J. A. Prestwich of Tottenham, and he shared lodgings with Le Vack’s mechanic Twist (known, naturally, as Oliver Twist) who at the time was also preparing engines for another Zenith rider, R. A. Mallet. His father used to get tickets for many of the Brooklands Meetings, to which his son would ride on one of his many motorcycles. These included a belt-drive Zenith-Gradua, a 2¾ hp ex-W. D. Douglas, New Imperial, Excelsior and a much-loved spring-frame ABC. His first had been an NSU, which blew its cylinder off.

While working for Invicta’s at the Fairmile, Cobham, Howard, Cushman and Shaddick all owned GNs, the two latter employees coming from the works, and being able to supply all spares required to keep these three cyclecars running, invariably at 2/6 (12½p) each, no matter what the part was. . . Shaddick also owned a 2½-ton yacht. At lnvicta’s (started at Noel Macklin’s house “Long Orchard”, now the Glengariff road house, before the move to the Fairmile factory), with finance from Oliver Lyle, Hatcher was in charge, doing experimental work behind locked doors, Robinson was a fitter, Bill Stringer a turner, and Bill Bing helped Howard on the electrical installations. Watson looked after design and Summers was his draughtsman. Bill Mills, whose reminiscences we published recently, drove the test chassis and ran-in new ones at Brooklands, with Howard, staying at their tea-house. I was very sorry to hear of his recent death, from a heart attack, while in Oxford Infirmary.

Asides from those Invicta days — when Lyle asked “the chaps” to try to think of a suitable name for the new car, “Golden Syrup Six” was immediately suggested! Merlin was another name, thought about, before they decided on Invicta, in spite of this incurring cracks about heavy steamrollers! When Hartford shock-absorbers were being fitted there was argument as to which way the blades should be and whether there should be two or three of these, and in spite of what is written in “Lost Causes”, Howard says that only two, not six, of the Coventry-Simplex engines intended for the earliest production lnvictas were lost due to an overnight frost with no anti-freeze in use, the other four being repairable.

When space became cramped at Cobham due to the introduction of the new l½-litre models the bigger chassis were taken to the Beverley-Barnes works in London, where Howard was posted to wire them up and do similar works on the straight eight Beverley-Barnes chassis, and where he recalls the Managing Director, a Belgian called Dolphens, having heated arguments with Alfonso the Foreman, throwing his arms in the air and his hat on the floor, the latter retrieved quietly by the office boy. Today, all these years later, Mr Howard retains his interest in Invicta history and now drives a Ford Fiesta. If you want more, I would refer you to MOTOR SPORT for December 1982, pp 1620-1630. — W.B.