Veteran to classic

The roads of the 1920’s

We left Owen John driving various cars in the short-lived General Strike of 1926. 1 have a personal recollection of this emergency, as a boy living in south London. The newspaper told of a bus being overturned in Piccadilly, and although we were nowhere near this incident, it alarmed me that such terrorist happenings could be taking place in London’s West End. Yet how mild, compared to inner-city riots of recent times! I was somewhat placated to learn that racing drivers such as Parry Thomas were manning the strike-bound London buses, however. . .

Perhaps to escape memories of the strike, OJ enthused over his continental touring in a Morris Leon-Bollde. He remarked that France had been popularised by that novel of Mr and Mrs Williamson, The Lightning Conductor (I cannot understand why some enterprising film producer has not made a cinema or TV play of this romantic motoring story), and by the writings of Hilaire Belloc (who has the pedestrian middle-classes so nicely sewn up in relation to the Ford-owning lower-classes and the rich in their Rolls-Royces).

OJ also noted how attractive was the country of the Vosges, called the “Blue Alsatian Mountains” in an old song (which reminds me that I used to think the “Old Bull & Bush” of another song was fictitious, until I came across a reference to the real pub of that name on the Great North Road. The cavalcade of crude Grahame-White Buckboards passed it on the Press demonstration I mentioned last month on their return route to Hendon).

OJ had had a letter from an hotelier who was off to the Continent to see whether the food and drink surpassed that offered in his own English country hotel. OJ thought that on his return there might be some improvement, but that nothing would better his native Wisbech asparagus. Maybe he felt guilty of so much praise for the Continent, because next he bestowed praise on summertime in England and Ireland (although as I write the wind is blowing and the rain falling in June). OJ became quite poetic, in fact, over the beauty of England in summer, but in the pages of Motor Sport I will spare you that. He also had another slant to his commendation of closed bodywork — it protected his head and his eyes from a hot sun. Moreover, clothes could be smart in a saloon car, whereas a dust-coat was necessary in open touring cars.

Then OJ was off to play golf at Sandwich, in The Autocar Trophy match. He went down with JK Starley, Rover’s managing director, sitting behind the driver in the latest four-cylinder Rover Saloon, a car like his own. It was able, he said, to challenge six-cylinder cars, and was sprung as well as the best cars ought to be. The run was easily accomplished because of the new road through the “Garden of England”; after negotiating the “horrid south-east suburbs” good time was made, after a 7pm start. But in spite of the speed possibilities of that new 1926 highway, OJ disliked it, seeing from it little more than if he had travelled by train, though getting to his destination more quickly. He described the new road as an ugly, businesslike superhighway, good as a speedway but seldom more elegant than the Great North Road.

So here, over sixty years ago, was a hint of subsequent motorways. OJ observed that, although such a road ruined the outlook from some great houses, other places were allowed by its presence to sleep in the everlasting calm of by-roads and back-waters.

The travellers paused in Maidstone to rest their driver, after which he was game to run without another stop to Cliftonville, where they stayed at the Queen’s High Cliff Hotel. The fine hospitality was appreciated, but did nothing for either gentleman’s golf. This run reminds me of one I did not long ago from mid-Wales to Margate and back in a day, which was made quite easy by the M25 ringing London and, as it was an icy and snowy Sunday, by the 4WD and ABS of the Ford 2.8 Granada Scorpio I was using.

On that London-Cliftonville journey, OJ remarked that the driver was nice and gentlemanly, which was appreciated because most of OJ’s friends, on taking him out for a drive, thought the best way of impressing him was by trying to make him grey with terror (it is the same for any motoring writer, as I well know, especially if the driver thinks his car likely to be written about!).

After the golf, in which neither OJ nor Starley got anywhere, OJ came back to London by train, an experience he described as appalling compared to the comfortable drive down in the Rover. They bumped and clanked slowly along the sad north Kent coast and only got a move on after Rochester. OJ then dug out his own Rover — how nice is the feeling of regaining one’s car after a day out at a meeting or, as in this case, after a train journey! He was able to surprise an uncle for Sunday lunch and still get home about 2.30pm, after motoring along the Great West Road.

On that dismal train ride he had studied the clever Rover publicity stunt of Dudley Noble, whereby four people travelled in a 9/20hp Rover “Nippy Nine” a distance of 2007 miles, on a £5 note for petrol and other car requirements. After all this, one is surprised that OJ confessed to sometimes getting bored with motoring and taking to the railway, saying the mighty Great Western from London direct to Exeter or a sleeper from ‘King’s Cross to the north had cars cold. Perhaps! But I must say I haven’t been in a train or coach for years and years — the last time must have been when the car I was using broke down and I was obliged to go from Kingston-upon-Thames to the office by rail. I recollect being surprised at how costly this was, and how frustratingly slow.

Commenting on road behavior in 1926, OJ thought riders of motorcycle combinations were out for blood, probably their own; and he regarded as none more brave than the fair sex, “mostly long pink legs”, who were on every flapper-bracket or pillion seat.

He went on to the subject of all cars becoming alike in appearance, which seems odd at this period but has been much accentuated since the war; this may have been brought on in 1926 by the beginning of the Americanism of cars such as Citroen and Morris. It made OJ think in terms of the two-stroke engine, presumably because it was different, and he recalled the Dobson-Valveless car he once had, of which he was also reminded because some of the new 1926 racing cars had two-cycle engines. This car used to eat its piston-rings, and at the very time OJ was remembering it his two-stroke Atco motor-mower stopped working, as did the similar Evinrude engine in a boat outside on the river, although OJ’s Ner-a-Car motorcycle was satisfactory.

Well, I never have liked tiny-cylinder two-strokes, though aware that this type of power-unit functions splendidly in modern racing motorcycles and commercial vehicles. Perhaps I have never quite forgotten the engine in a certain 172cc Excelsior-Villiers bike that invariably holed its piston’s deflector-crown in races at Brooklands in the 1930s. When we bought a post-war mower, we made sure it had a little Clinton four-stroke motor, in spite of which our odd-job man, on the rare occasions when even it proved an obstinate starter, was convinced that was because it was a two-stroke!

At the 1926 AA annual general meeting OJ got into hot water from the ever-defensive Mr SF Edge, over his advocacy of closed bodywork. So OJ set it all out again, adding the advantage of coming back to dry seats after parking a car in the rain and of not having to endure the torment of sitting on hot ones if the vehicle has been left standing in the noon-day sun. He even dismissed an open-car user in Carcassonne, by reminding him of the dust the Mistral wind invariably brought with it.

On the matter of safety when driving enclosed cars, OJ used stop-lights and turn-indicators on his Rover saloon, operated from the Eural Ring on the steering-wheel, as he had on his Crossley. This gave the effect of a firework display when he wanted to change direction, and amused his local policeman. OJ would have found it incredible that now, and for a very long time indeed, stop-lamps and turn-indicators have been compulsory on all but the older cars . . .

It is significant perhaps, in view of this enthusiasm for closed cars, that Austin had just introduced its Seven saloon, at £169. Today closed cars represent the everyday run of motoring, and only vintage-car people and very few others are alive to the joys of open-car, fresh-air (away from cities) driving. But quite why Edge was steamed up about criticism of open cars in 1926 remains obscure, although he had been a bit worked up some years earlier about differentials, as we saw last month! It may have been because the bulk of the exhibits on the AC stand at the 1926 Show were open cars. A four-door sin-cylinder AC saloon had just been announced, and was shown finished in Durobelle cellulose of AC-3 blue. It cost a lofty £650, however.

Let us leave OJ for the time being, about to set off on an August tour of the West Country and Potteries in his Rover, which had done 600 miles “most excellently”, so he did not see why another 600 should trouble it. WB


Obituary: Lance Prideaux-Brune

This modest enthusiast died within weeks of his wife Constance, at the age of around 90, his close association with motor racing remaining unknown to many of the present generation. For a time he ran the Aston Martin Company, prior to Sir Arthur Sutherland taking it over, so it can be said that but for him AMs could not have won the 1932 Rudge Cup at Le Mans.

Through the Winter Garden Garage in Tottenham Court Road he was able to help the manager Dick Anthony campaign Miss Fawcett and Geoffrey White in the Morgan at Le Mans, and in later times he financed Raymond Mays, making the successes of ERAs such as R4D possible and helping the Raymond Mays sports car to be built. Lance and Constance ran a number of dh coupes for which he designed the bodywork, such as on Aston Martin chassis. Replicas of these were built by Winter Garden Garages, and with them this unassuming but enthusiastic pair took part in pre-war rallies and Concours d’Elegance. WB

Obituary: David Scott-Moncrieff

Dear old Scott-Moncrieff has gone from us, sadly within a few days of his 80th birthday party. But this versatile sporting motorist’s funeral was the wake he had asked for, attended by all manner of older cars.

Bunty, as his friends knew him, was of a famous family. After Eton and Cambridge he entered the motor trade in 1927, selling improbable cars, I suspect because that way he could drive what he liked. He dubbed himself “The purveyor of horseless carriages to the nobility and gentry”, and who will forget his advertisement in Motor Sport headed by a picture of Chitty II upside down, captioned: “Seen from the bar at Brooklands”?

Bunty had an enormous amount of fun as a used-car dealer, but l think his favourite cars were big Mercedes, Hispano Suizas and 30/98s. He gained enough knowledge of them to write a book of personal anecdotes about most of those made between 1930 and 1940. He was a born writer — of the first serious history of Benz and Mercedes published in this country, of tales of the supernatural, and of a book about a tour of Europe in a 5-litre Bugatti when the war was scarcely over. Bunty loved travel in unusual places and his stories of people and places were masterpieces of fun and Edwardian-style glamour.

He and his sons opened a business primarily concerned with used Rolls-Royces, from Leek, site of the ancestral home, Basford Hall. But the Scott-Moncrieffs (he had married the charming Averil) continued to run and race all kinds of machinery, from Lotus to Bugatti, and Bunny continued to write about them, making even the dullest saloons seem desirable. If you do not believe me, read his Cars I Have Owned (Motor Sport, August 1950).

Right to the end this remarkable man, one of the true characters of our time, raced his 30/98, and Averil her Bugatti, in VSCC events and continued to travel abroad — he made light of various illnesses with extreme bravery. No-one will be remotely like him again. To his sporting wife and his sons, we convey. our deepest sympathy. WB