Veteran - Edwardian - Vintage, August 1985

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A section devoted to old car matters

Motoring as it was

A Look-Back to the Roads of the 1920s (Continued from the lane issue)

We left Owen John, whose vintage diary we are using to look back at that period of motoring, sampling a brand-new Rover Fourteen in 1924 and liking it very much. This was at a time when open touring cars were still far from outmoded, Lord Dunedin for instance, having just graced Renault Ltd. of Pall Mall, with an order for a 17.9 hp Renault of this kind. It was an age when lots of optimistic light cars were off to Wales to be far harder tested in the RAC Six Days Trials than they arc in the VSCC’s Welsh capers today, with a Gwynne Eight coming out victorious. It was the time when people listened to broadcasting through Amplion loud-speakers separate from their wireless sets and when Prime-Minister Ramsay MacDonald had just rescinded the McKenna import duties on foreign cars, on the odd assumption that more people would find employment garaging, cleaning, driving and repairing cheap foreign cars than they would in manufacturing British cars.

O.J. pondered this as he took a night stroll past the Morris engine works in Oxford, where a huge building was being erected, the noise of the workmen engaged on it competing with the sounds emanating from the night-shift producing thousands of Morris engines a week. All this was rather prophetic, although in 1985 it is competition from Japan and from Japanese factories in Britain we have to contemplate, and not that from cheap Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge and other American cars. O.J. had also been to Coventry in the Rover and was anxious to see the day when it would pull down “its huddled and horrible middle and exhibit all its antiquities that are clustered around its tapered spires and are now hidden by the most sordid rows of shops and houses that ever were”. Well, it took the German bombers of WW2 to put that into effect.

O.J. had extended the new Rover over the old Fosse Way between Nottingham and Derby, which he likened to the big French roads, but better surfaced. Prior to that our traveller in those vintage years had stopped at the Clinton Arms Hotel in Newark, then a decent day’s run by car from London, and highly recommended. 0.1. had known it to feed travellers well when he had arrived by dog-cart and in 1924 he (blind it just as good, and with 20 “lock-up boxes” for cars. Resuming his Crossley, which was converted into “an apparent limousine” by erecting its Calso hood, O.J. sped down the London road from Atherstone in heathenish weather, noting that what had been a fair surface two years back was now ruined, he supposed by heavy traffic. As if in confumation, between Virginia Water and Ascot “a million-ton boiler was being hauled over a brand-new road by a machine that would have made a very good trenchdigger”. O.J. not only told the driver of the steam-roller who had just rolled the new surface, but complained to the police, as a disgruntled Berkshire rate-payer and large contributor to Road Board funds, by way of his car licence. Apparently the whole thing later went through the road, and one gathers some action was taken. If public-sector spending is cut back much further in 1985 similar situations will need watching. . .

Next we find O.J. Quoting from a letter from a keen fisherman who had been touring the Pyrenees with his wife in a 1922 12/40 hp DFP four-seater, its bucket seats pushed back to accommodate his 6′ 3 1/2″, leaving just enough room for three-months’ luggage in the back of the body. They had left Boulogne in March, and at Brionde stayed four days, catching salmon of 16 to 30 lb, 800 km from the sea. Which shows that motoring abroad was nothing unusual, sixty and more years ago. . . O.J. had also received a letter from a resident in Burma, who had started his long motoring career in the same year — 1903 — as Owen John, with a bicycle using a Singer engine within its back wheels, which had to wait until the advent of Michelin butt-ended tubes before it got along rather better than before. This chap had been home once since 1911 but was returning to England again in 1924, he hoped in time for the Motor Show. In Burma he had been restricted to Model – T Fords for seven years, so envied O.J. his new Crossley, but for the past 3 1/2-years had been driving a pre-war Swift, which was going well, and the makers were pleasant to deal with. He intended to buy, for not more than £300, a small four-seater to get him around and then ship out to Burma. The problems, what? He had thought of Wolsley Ten but couldn’t tolerate its unsprung back-axle gearbox. The 14 hp BSA, a Galloway or a Hampton seemed possibilities but he had never seen them. He then outlined conditions as they were India in 1924, with bullock-cart roads limiting speed to about 25 mph, tempratures of 100 deg in the shade, and native labour, so that the elderly Ford was about as suitable as a Rolls, and with seat covers to humour white clothing, looked about as good. The 30% import duty went against cars like the Star, Crossley 14 and Armstrong Siddeley. although their home prices made them appear suitable. For these reasons Ford, with the correct wheel track so fit the bullock-cart ruts, reigned supreme, and as Europeans were apt to sell a car after three years when they went on leave, and cheap American cars sold well to native buyers up country, Dodge, Buick. Chevrolet and Overland were popular.

Next, O.J. was off on a 300-mile tour of Kent, the Garden of England. For this he used a rather interesting car, about which I had not known previously, although I expect it is common-knowledge to the historically-minded Morris Register. For the car O.J. borrowed was one of the darkblue 14 hp Morris-Oxfords which had been used at boat-race time by the Oxford crew (somewhere I have a book about this famous sporting contest but it refuses to come to hand, however, I expect someone will know whether Oxford won that year and, if so, whether this may have led to jollifications that on boat-race night, according to O.J. resulted in the car having a nasty bump on the back!) Anyway, that bump did not prevent this Morris-Oxford getting along very well, “without bumping its occupants to bits and generally proving vastly uncomfortable’. In fact, O.J. called this touringcar, which I would have rated as rather staid, “a very fast car indeed” — well, I suppose everything is relative. He said its capabilities surprised him, as his previous experience of Morris cars in their early days had not led him to expect much more than the general all-round utility and docility that has caused them (in 1924) to be the cherished pet of almost every home.

Be that as it may, our traveller went through Windsor and Ascot, arrayed in its best in readiness for its boating occasion, Bagshot, Chobham, Worplesden, Woking and all the way to Aldershot, “sliding through one long maze of blazing colour”, because it was rhododendron time (although he preferred the bluebells of the Chiltern beech-woods to artificial blossoms). On “underneath the very walls of Brooklands” the Oxford-blue Morris went, to Cobham, where Mr C. A. Smith had been replaced by a lady who was making this hostelry even more attractive. at is still there and worth a visit, as the HQ of S. F. Edge during his 24hour record run on the Napier that opened Brooklands and a place ever after very popular with Track habituees).

Because of the Derby, O.J. avoided Epsom, going instead via Box Hill and Dorking, along the much-straightened road into Reigate, to Oxted, where 2L0 was wont try to capture the song of the nightingale for wireless listeners, which brought scathing comments from O.J., who was even then listening to a car radio in that 1924 Morris-Oxford. He took tea at a little blue cafe in Westerham, which might be difficult to do today, continuing to Tonbridge, to stay at the Trust House and watch an outdoor performance of Richard III — until the performance was washed out by a tropical thunderstorm! (Incidentally, the tastes of motoring writers may have changed, but I am reminded that select members of the VSCC went to Glyndebourne, last year.) The following day O.J. was able to enthuse over the excellent road from Sittingbourne to Canterbury, few straighter than the Street, a foreshortening, he said, of “straight”.

After castigating the silted-up harbour of Richborough for its ugliness O.J. criticised 1924 cars for being so good that nothing ever seemed to happen to them for a motoring journalist to write about! At least, not to those O. J. drove, causing him to almost pine for a bad can (Barry Clarke, please note!), and to use the lack of any incident as fullsome praise of the latest Morris-Oxford. Incidentally, the reason for the run to Sandwich was a golf tournament; O.J. found the Guildford Hotel there a veritable motor exhibition of fine cars and observed that until Sandwich Bay joined up with Ramsgate and Deal it could rejoice in its splendid isolation. What, I wonder, is it like, today?

V-E-V Miscellany. — The Veteran CC of Ostrava announces a race meeting and a hill-climb for historic cars (the former on September 14th/15th for racing and sports cars, the latter for sports cars) at Most and Sternbrok, respectively, details of which Czechoslovakian events can be obtained from: Jivi Vanek, VCCO, CSSR, 72:39, Ostrava I, Postovni, Schranka 139, Czechoslovakia. We foolishly fell for the incorrect caption supplied by Derek Green of the Lagonda CC with the photograph of the Fox and Nicholl Lagondas taken outside that garage in 1933. The team-cars shown were not about to set off for Le Mans but to the Ulster TT, and, in fact, only two of the cars ever went to Le Mans, and then not until 1935, these being the winning car, now owned by David Johnson, and the second 41/2-litre, now owned by Robbie Hewitt. The third car shown, also now owned by Mrs Hewitt, never went to Le Mans.

It must be some 30 years since I went very far by train, apart from a brief excursion into London after my car had broken down, but this was rectified in June when I was invited to travel from Bridgenorth to Kidderminster and back to Highworth for a buffet supper, on the restored Severn Valley bline, on a train hauled by a circa-1950s British Rail steam-loco, the occasion being the 25th Anniversary of the County of Salop, Steam Engine Society, some 250 happy members joining in the celebrations. This Society will be holding its very popular annual Bishops Castle Rally over the August Bank Holiday week-end, at which all manner of attractions are presented, highlights being the traction-engines in steam, the vintage and veteran and later old cars, vintage motorcycles, stationary engines, etc. I recommend it, as a typically English happening, in a very rural and suitable setting. Bishops Castle is on the B488, about 20 miles SW of Shrewsbury.

A reader remarks on a recent picture in Motor Sport showing Bugattis outside a garage during the 1932 MCC Land’s End Trial and sends photographic evidence that the premises were those then belonging to Donald Healey, from where, in the middle 1920s, he operated a Garbed ‘bus, which figures in the picture along with a £100 Carden cyclecar, etc. With reference to recent comments in this column about the first motor car fatality at Harrow, the Harrow Observer ran an interesting feature about this last April, from which we learn that there was a fatal accident there involving an electric car in 1898 but that the calamity to which the plaque erected in 1969 at the top of Grove Hill, near the Harrow School Speech Room, refers was the first fatal accident to the driver of a petrol-engined car. It seems that a Mr Greenhill, manager of the Army and Navy Stores, was interested in selling Daimler cars and it was suggested that the six-seater Daimler wagonette in which he was interested should be demonstrated to him. Daimler’s chief test-driver, Mr Sewell, was sent to take Mr Greenhill for a ride, and this gentlemen invited colleagues from the Army and Navy Stores, a Major Richer, Mr Nutt, Mr Allchurch and a Mr Brennan. to accompany him. They started from London and Mr Greenhill decided to go to Harrow, where he had been born. All at first went well. They had a drink at a pub in Stonebridge Park and took tea at the “King’s Head” on Harrow Hill.

While tea was being served a Mr Hay, of Howard House, who was also contemplating buying a Daimler, was taken for a drive by Sewell. All expressed themselves as well satisfied with the car and its speed, but the point was raised, could it stop quickly? Sewell told them that if he used the brakes hard they would be Hung off the car. They returned along the High Street at what was thought to be faster than the 12 mph speed-limit and Mr Greenhill asked for a demonstration of the brakes, although apparently the others would have preferred to have gone more slowly. The Daimler went down Grove Hill at a pace variously estimated at from 13 to 20 mph. It was in neutral and at the bottom of the hill Sewell applied both brakes hard. The spoon brake on the near-side pulled the solid tyre from the wheel and the car stewed round, the spokes collapsing in the off-side rear wheel. The Daimler left 60-yard Add marks, it was said and seems to have come to rest facing up-hill. All were thrown out and Major Richer and Sewell received fatal injuries. The date was February 25th, 1899. The inquest was held in the “Half Moon” on Roxeth Hill, the verdict being accidental death, with a rider that the wheel spokes were of inferior quality, carpenters who gave evidence having been scathing on this score. A Daintier representative promised that in future better wood would be used; one can assume that no surviving 1899 Daimler is likely to have inferior spokes still in operation. I am grateful to the Harrow Observer and to Mr Jim Golland of the Pinner Local History Society, for this piece of motor history.— W.B.

V-E-V Odds & Ends. — The Packard AC of Australia is holding its 20th Anniversary Rally at Mildura in the NW of Victoria from November 2nd/5th and anyone interested in going can obtain details from the Rally Directors, PO Box 508, Mildura 3500, Australia. The Tiger Club has its Air Show at Redhill aerodrome on September 1st, this being where the late Sir Alan Cobham held the first air display there, 50 years ago. Jeanne Frazer on Caterham 44237 has the details. M.L. said last month, that MOTOR SPORT prides itself on its accuracy and we do like to be precise in every detail, so may I just say that the Cozette supercharger on Wilkinson’s 1921 Brooklands Replica AC is driven by a toothed-belt, not by two belts (I misheard, above the noise of racing engines), and that at VSCC OuIton Park the fastest lap by Llewellyn in the 3/8-litre Bentley in the first part of the Vintage Seaman race was at 78.32 mph and not as stated in the report? A 1923 Matchless light car that is thought to be the only specimen left is being restored in Oxfordshire, and its history is sought. It was owned originally by a vet in Peterborough and was in the Neil Smith Collection before before being sold by Sotheby’s in 1936, after which it went to Holland, where the present owner found it.

That Young Special we have been talking about turned up in a dilapidated state at the Brooklands Reunion. It has an engine and radiator from a Marlborough Thomas, two of which Parry Thomas prepared for the 1923 racing season, their drivers being Thomas, Duller, and T. B. Andre. That year they ran in the JCC 200 Mile Race, with engines reduced to 11/2-litres, but retired with ignition trouble; I believe one went to New Zealand. In the Young Special, which is said to have been said recently for £8,000 in spite of its condition, four Amal-type carburetters are used but the Thomas valvegear, with leaf springs and oh-camshaft driven from the rear by eccentrics, survives. The chassis, including the centralised steering, is Frazer Nash and the rear shock-absorbers probably came from an Amilcar.

The ex-Cholmondeley-Tapper Type 37 Bugatti, now with supercharged engine, which Leslie Ballamy converted to ifs in 1936 and which Dick Seaman once raced at Brooklands, is being rebuilt in Australia by Tom Roberts. It was raced there in the 1950s with a Holden engine, which was apparently easy to install, but a Type 37A Bugatti engine is to be used for the rebuild, and the new owner would like to trace more of the car’s history and any photographs.

In America R. J. Burdeman, who owns a Type 54 Bugatti, has rebuilt or recreated the 1917 ex-Barney Oldfield Miller racing car, called “The Golden Submarine” because of its gold-hued enclosed racing body, full details of which appear in the current “Automobile Quarterly”. Burdeman has also bought from its original owners, the FWD Company, the 1932 4-wheel drive Miller racing car just as it was when it won the Mount Equinox Hil’climb in 1950 but now due for restoration. — W.B.

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