Veteran to classic: Small ads.

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Fun amongst the classifieds

Classified or small advertisements in the old motor papers are an enthralling field through which to browse. In the mid-vintage period the two leading weeklies (this at a time when your sister paper Motoring News and many others were not even thought of) claimed to be publishing some 3000 of these mixed used-car announcements each week, so there was plenty of choice. Let’s see what they offer modern-day historians.

In 1919 “the war to end all wars” was over, but the motor industry was in a sorry state, with a few new cars to sell and strikes disrupting what efforts were being made to produce more. Obviously, those who sought the joys of the open road as a means of forgetting bombardment in the trenches, going over the top and fighting in aeroplanes without parachutes devoured the small ads avidly, looking for “wheels” of one kind or another. Lady Diana Manners’ wedding to Duff Cooper was the social event of the year (she was still driving a Mini round London in her nineties), the Olympia Tournament was attended by the King in his 57hp Daimler, and private motoring was back in many people’s minds.

But new cars were very much confined to dreams. Manufacturers were only just beginning to advertise again, and those makes with a good war record, such as Crossley, Sunbeam and Vauxhall, were much in demand when available.

Vauxhall Motors announced the 25hp Kington tourer at £1120, or £1125 with “knee-flap”. Sunbeams were less expensive, a 16hp tourer costing £790 and the 24hp version £1100, but with no prospect of delivery until May. You had to wait until at least July for your Albion truck Studebaker Six or AV cyclecar, and were unlikely to get a Vauxhall or Straker-Squire before the autumn.

Light cars such as AC, Calthorpe and Standard were in such demand as to be virtually unobtainable, but some foreign (sorry, Allied!) makers were advertising new models, including Minerva, Renault (from Seagrave Road, where Rolls-Royce and later Rover had premises) and Delaunay-Belleville from Carlton Vale.

All Sheffield-Simplex could offer, apart from used cars, was ABC Dragonfly engines, and until the new Twenty was available Austin could only whet appetites with descriptions of the jobs of motor touring. Under these conditions, it was to the “smalls” that many buyers turned.

The shortage brought rare, even “unheard-of”, makes onto the market, Rolls-Royces dating from 1909 were being advertised, and if you wandered around London in 1919 you could buy at least three 1914 Bugattis in a week –and what of four Mitchell tourers, a 10hp Fondu-Pacquis looking for a customer in New Bond Street, two eight-cylinder Vincent-Holliers, a Taunton, a Little, a Witney-Grant and a Simms? In that long-gone age when cars actually smelt of petrol and leather, it might have been hard to resist a 70 mph Brouhot racer with “huge sprockets”, at £200.

Perhaps someone remembers buying a car from the remarkable Douglas S Cox, “the absolutely straight motor man”, who claimed he had forty experts looking after his used-vehicle emporium at Lansdowne Hill in West Norwood, and that all his datings were absolutely correct. Filling whole columns of “smalls” with his wares, he advertised massive price reductions weekly in 1919 –one De Dion destined to be given away if not sold soon at £25. In later years, Chick’s similar ads were most amusingly worded.

Jobs might have been scarce and all too many ex-servicemen chasing them in this sorry period, but the classifieds were thriving: new and used car announcements, cars for hire, engines for sale, drivers wanted and available, tuition, spares, tyres, taxis, bodies for sale, and even Benzole depots.

Bodies were being made by all manner of firms. Stockport Garage had sheet-steel vans for Fords, and Lichfield’s on the Edgware Road offered a fine selection, including several nearly new 10hp Swift bodies, whereby must hang a tale. Grahame-White Ltd declared that it had turned part of its aeroplane factory into a body-shop. In 1919 you could get a seven-seater body off a Renault, with hood, or a sports two-seater from a six-cylinder Napier, for £10 apiece; but not all of this discarded carriage-work sold, it seems, because used bodies were still being advertised in surprising numbers by the mid-Twenties.

Some vendors quoted chassis numbers of their old cars to sound more convincing, but less explicit was on advert for a racing Darracq: “about 1912, looks 100hp”, but rated at 20hp; “hot stuff but very economical”, with an electric headlamp but oil side and tail-lights; no price quoted for this bright red 10ft-wheelbase four-seater, but “the paint job had cost £100”. You could obtain a photograph for 6d, and a Mr Bird of Northampton was ready to demonstrate it at any time.

There was no let-up in “smalls” browsing in the middle of the vintage era. All manner of used cars were seeking buyers in 1925 and some of them, such as a Paige-Glenbrook, American-Singer, Castle-Newey, Albeford and Sage, would today bring on a mild Georgeanoist headache. Many sellers restricted themselves to certain types of car: there was the “Two-Seater Man” and the “Landaulette Specialists”.

But how little was needed to get out on the road! You could pick up a Carden cyclecar, or go along to the Upper Richmond Road and come home in a Blériot Whippet, for £20. Or, for £28 (less if you part-exchanged a motorbike) you could have a “fast” sports Bébé Peugeot. R Watson of Alderburgh quoted odd prices, including £49 for a wartime Daimler or Clegg-Darracq, to woo the customer, taking a lot of column-inches to advertise seemingly cheap cars. But £50 then was worth some £3300 today . . .

Would-be racing drivers could find a 200-Mile Race Horstman for 100 guineas in 1925 –“any trial, guaranteed speed, easy to drive in traffic” –and from his home in Epsom Harold Purdy was offering his primrose Horstman (another 200-Mile Race car which had lapped Brooklands at 94 mph with four new Englebert racing tyres and five ss Dunlops) for £325. And if those left you cold, Captain Trubi Moore invited offers for his Horstman, which the manufacturer said was the fastest car it had turned out.

An oddity was the 1923 racing Hornsted, which by 1925 had found its way to Wandsworth and was claimed to have a three-cylinder engine (surely a misprint), two mags, a five-speed gearbox and special cantilever springs, all for 195 guineas, with a 500-mile trial offered for this rare but successful car which was said to be worth £1000.

Another rarity was the Benz-Hornsted, claimed to have been one of the 1922 12hp cars specially designed for captain Hornsted and made to Rolls-Royce standards, to which the aforementioned Mr Watson devoted two column-inches but for which he was asking a mere £79.

Better known was the 3-lite Ballot for which Captain Malcolm Campbell hoped to get £500. These cars did not necessarily sell, of course; one which stuck for ages, in spite of its advanced 1.7-litre overhead-camshaft engine, was a Dawson three-quarter coupé.

Well-known emporiums were rife in this period (some no doubt remembered still) – Mebes & Mebes, Cass’ Motor Mart, Moore’s Presto of Croydon, Palmers Garage in Tooting, Bamber & Co in Southport, Ben-motors, Alan Bennett of West Croydon; and even Wm Whiteley, where you could buy anything from safety pin to an elephant, was trying to get rid of a rare Guy V8 with that advanced engine and chassis-lubrication system. The choice was infinite. Was the Hall-Scott racing car with dual-mag six-cylinder ohc engine which was offered for £100 in Ealing the mysterious monster which Lord Donegal owned while up at Oxford?

The 1914 twin-cam Nagant with which Esser finished sixth in that fateful French Grand Prix could be bought from Sporting Cars of Euston Road in 1925 for far less than such a car would be priced amid the greed and inflation of the 1980s. Even so £1900 was being asked four years earlier for one of the 1914 GP Vauxhalls!

The fun continues today, but at vastly inflated prices, for those still seeking used-car bargains. WB

Fact or fiction?

Several people have asked me about a statement in the VSCC Silverstone programme alleging that the ex-Douglas Fitzpatrick 21-litre Metallurgique-Maybach is “famous for its Brooklands racing history”. This is absolute nonsense, and when Motor Sport sampled this impressive giant at Sheringham Hall in 1956 its owner made no such claim.

As far as is known the original car, built in 1907 for a record breaking, was a 60/80hp Met with a high-ratio crown wheel and pinion. Installation of the Maybach marine/aero-engine was undertaken in 1919-21, perhaps by EAD Eldridge, who later raced the Isotta-Maybach at Brooklands with a similar engine. Whoever put in the May-bach sold the revamped car to a Mr Cole, a non-racing driver, who lived not far from Fitzpatrick (who only discovered this in the mid-1950s, when the old monster was decaying in Mr Coles’ garage; he bought it, got it running, and had a three-seater roadster body made for it by Panelcraft of Putney).

“La Met” may have been driven to Brooklands, even run at the Track in the 1920s, but I am quite certain that it was never raced there in the re-engined form. Whether the original 60/80 ever did so is more difficult to establish.

In 1908 Oscar Cupper, who had lost Match Races against Edge’s Napiers with smaller-engined Mets, caused some unfavourable comment by racing his Metallurgique “Gollywog” without ever disclosing its horsepower rating. It might just be that this was the 1907 record car. but even if it was, “Gollywog” appeared in only two heats and two finals, retiring from one, having trouble in another, and never placing higher than fourth – hardly the stuff of which “famous Brooklands history” is made!

From then until 1912 the only Mets to race at the Track were much smaller cars than the Sixty, which raced spasmodically.

I hope this answers the queries of those who may think it unfortunate, to say the least, that inaccurate statements (particularly about a car which is up for sale) should distort history. However, perhaps the writer who thinks the Fitzpatrick car merits his description will tell us how he reached his conclusion, for the edification of Brooklands historians? WB