Malvern cyclecars

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These strange machines came in response to an appeal by VSCC member Bob Jones, who had hastily put together a typical example, with singlecylinder JAP engine, Sturmey-Archer gearbox, belt final drive, wire-and-bobbin steering and, would you believe, wooden front axle, track-rod and back springs. You wouldn’t expect me to describe every one of the 600 plus cars in the main events, would you? Or every one of the 42 cyclecars Jones had inspired to enter for his display? The latter were delightfully explained, with much humour, in his souvenir booklet. There had been two previous gatherings of such primitives (apologies to Morgan, GN and a very few others!) in 1975 and 1978, reported in MOTOR SPORT, so some of the vehicles at Malvern had been seen before.

New to me were Brian Bowles’ Spacke, a 1921 USA confection imported into Sweden, then England, and now used for brief runs while being restored, and John Firth’s 1925 Alcyon, which may well have been the one bought in France for £5 after spending years in a duck pond.

Also of virgin interest was Tim Armitage’s Fafnir-powered two-seater of unknown make, distinguished by professional bodywork, a fine vee-radiator and an underslung tubular chassis, run by him for the first time the day before. Deafening everyone, the prop-propelled, ABC-powered Leyat was being driven slowly about by its truly intrepid rebuilder, Roger Smith.

Anna Gordon had brought her tricycle, also prop-driven, which she apparently uses to go to the shops. Until I had seen the weight of husband Chris riding it in circles, I would not have believed the tiny French Micromotor engine, driving direct a coursepitch two-bladed propeller about two feet in diameter, would have made it go at all. But go it most certainly does, and if you had a sledge or boat instead of a bike or trike, it could have been clipped on to that. The prop is encased in a wire-mesh cage, the circumference of which consists of a wheelrim — vintage, of course.

Seeing two such vehicles in action made me wonder whether the gentlemen who are at present constructing aero-engined monsters might one day take on the building of airscrew-driven specials? Thus dispensing with clutch, gearbox, prop-shaft and final drive, maybe even the need for a licence, as the power is not directly connected to the road wheels?

Back to reality, Chris Gordon had got his Tamplin running, as had Robin Batchelor his 1913 Rollo, another loud one; it seemed that an indoor Grand Prix was about to happen, forestalled only when Robin pulled off a front tyre. The static show included a recently-discovered chassis of mysterious make. Mark Walker was rushing about, literally, in his tiny sidecar-like Bramble, Mike Bullett had his well-known and well-liked Bedelia, Paul the AV, and Arthur Jeddere-Fisher arrived in 11 Pampero, so representative of the amateur-contrived cyclecar; but it and others found the ramp into their haven from the rain a difficult ascent!

The BRT Museum of Coventry contributed its smart Crouch Carette three-wheeler, Keith Shaw’s 1913 rear-engined GWK was in what organiser Jones describes as “recommissioned but not restored” state, and David Sewell cocked-a-snook at them all with the ex-Peter Hampton, Bugatti-designed, four-cylinder Bébé Peugeot. Among the rarities was Peter Ward’s converted 1904 Garrard forecar with circa-1909 Speke 90 deg vee-twin aero-engine, which Peter told me he couldn’t make run properly until he had removed the push-rod and rocker-operated inlet valves and replaced them with suction valves, after which this unusual engine began to breathe more freely.

Of course there were the GNs of Edward Riddle (1921), Tony Mitchell (1913), Tony Hutchings (1922) and John Blake (1922), a reminder that cyclecars could be quite practical, endorsed by the Morgan exhibits. As we left we met Roger Edmunds’ 1923 Family model hurrying back from competing in the trial; the Malvern make was enlivened by the presence of the exciting racing specimens of Stu Harper and Laurie Weeks.

The racy-looking Baughan and the flattwin Sima-Violet were present and no doubt others from the “motoring for the millions” era turned up later. The award for Cyclecar of the Day was presented by Peter Morgan to Mike Bullett (Bedelia), runner-up being the Leyat. It was the greatest fun, and although there may be no need for a new club for the breed, because the VSCC’s Light Car & Edwardian Section caters for cyclecars, it is to be hoped that more will be unearthed and another rally held for them. W B