Veteran to classic

Lots of cars

Some people have more cars than others. The recollections of those who have owned considerable numbers of different makes and models seems of interest, so I am glad to be able to quote from a faded manuscript I have unearthed. It was written by a keen motorist who claimed by the outbreak of WW2 to have covered a million miles in 22 years, and to have owned 100 cars.

In even earlier times he had been associated with makes like Zedal, Le Zebre, La Buire, Cottin-Desgoutte, Pipe, Minerva, Excelsior, a four-cylinder Sizaire-Naudin remembered for its uncertain gear change, and a six-cylinder Lanchester with wick carburettor. After WWI this prolific car owner bought some of his cars new but many were used ones which rarely cost more than £150.

Of the many makes owned, the first was a 1912 16/20 Be!size two-seater with dickey seat and a Stepney spare wheel. A good car, it was followed by a 1913 10/12 hp Be!size, which had detachable wheels and was a most attractive and popular car. Then came a 1914 RMC Underslung, noted for a high top gear, a roadster that was "a joy to handle". An earlier 10 hp de Dion with coachbuilt body was next, sold for a high price and "worth every penny". A series of Morgan three-wheelers, the last a Grand Prix model, with ohv JAP engine and aero screens, terminated in an incident involving the tramlines at Tooting. So a 1914 Th-Schneider was acquired, "one of the finest cars ever built". So good that it was bartered back and forth with a friend four times — until it caught fire. Three ex-WD cars followed this, a Chapuis-Dornier-engined Le Gui and a Foy Steele, and a fine 15.9 hp Talbot, given an aluminium two-seater body, which provided much joy for the owner and his wife. The Le Gui had a Roi-des-Belge body: "I loved that car" . . . During the post-war boom an Eric-Campbell was bought for £500. Running in a hillclimb, the throttle stuck open at the same time as the engine was pre-igniting so badly that it refused to be switched-off, "a car best forgotten". A 1920 Super Maxwell with aluminium pistons put up some good average speeds "but was not built for big mileages." A 6 hp Mathis was bought new, "a joke but a good one", sold because no one wanted to ride in it . . . A 10/23 Talbot Coupe was remembered with affection: "If ever a small Rolls was made, this was it — a gem!" Four Chandlers, some with 'Pike's Peak' engines, gave good performance and economy, but three Hudsons that followed were "undertyred and I hated their split rims", but they were dismissed as "good of their type". Of a Moon, "it was supposed to resemble a Rolls-Royce but certainly didn't behave like one!" Three 25 hp four-cylinder Sizaire-Berwicks were owned in succession and well-liked, but their heavy flywheels made acceleration inferior to that of a RollsRoyce. Four of the 40/50 hp Napiers were then acquired, "wonderful cars, but the transmission brake was too powerful for the back-axle". They were replaced by five Rolls-Royces, two Silver Ghosts and three P1 s, but the long bonnets were disliked, they were tiring over long distances and not suited to modern traffic, but the service was good.

A 25 hp Crossley was regarded as a really honest job", but again the transmission brake destroyed the back axle.

Remembering the quality of previous continental makes, the next purchase was of a 30 hp Lancia, "a grand chassis". Then back to Crossleys. First, a 15.9 hp two-seater with frighteningly sudden FWB, but "the rest was good". Next, an RFC-type, "one of the most solid of my cars and a real honest job", as were the four Golden Crossleys which came afterwards, although the pre-selector gearbox of a Crossley Ten "Regis" saloon was disliked. A Vauxhall Velox is mentioned; its 25 hp rating suggests a 23/60 but did these have "amazing brakes, with the simplest adjustment yet"?

A big side-valve one-door sporting Sunbeam was recalled as "pulling like a train" and there were a "very long" Lanchester 40 and a Lanchester straight-8 with fabric four-light saloon body. But a much-publicised pre-Ford V8 Lincoln, although possessing the best slow-running of them all, had "lamentable steering and brakes". The very modern design of another wellpraised car, which Sir Malcolm Campbell described as steering well for a long-bonnet car, and which "cost around £2000", proved a disaster. The owner did not pay £2000 for his, kept it only for a month, and sold it for £50, not agreeing with the great racing driver about its steering! But it was an early specimen. (Could it have been a Siddeley Special?) Pleasurable driving returned with the purchase of a Lancia Dilambda. One of four, in fact. "The car was superb!" The only faults poor starting from cold and a tendency to front-wheel wobble if these were not kept properly balanced. The fourth Dilambda, the last to be imported into England, was using no oil to mention after 100,000 miles. To keep it company there was the "Car Unique", a 28/120 hp Voisin. Its sleeve-valve engine nearly broke its owner but otherwise it was "the equal of the Lancias on all counts" and on a run from Bordeaux to Paris and back it beat a Speed Six Bentley by a small margin.

For private instead of business motoring there were various Rovers, a Ten, two Fourteens and two Sixteens, their quality "difficult to define" but justifying the thenslogan "One Of Britain's Fine Cars". When WW2 broke out the writer of these recollection was about to licence a two-litre MG saloon, an early model with heavy steering and gearchange, and he also had a Roesch Talbot, a big Humber and that Lancia, the last-named remembered as "steering to a hairsbreadth, able to turn on a sixpence with threepence change", and one of the only cars to get to Leicestershire from London in a memorable wartime blizzard. And he was negotiating for a 1937 25/30 hp Rolls Royce. As he expressed his dislike of long bonnets, self-change gearboxes and electric petrol-pumps this million-miler was thinking back again to other of his cars an ABC that had the vertical-gate gearlever and usually required a push-start, a Cadillac with copper water-jackets, three large Buicks, two of which were Southdown models, a couple of Big Six Studebakers and a four-cylinder Dodge which wouldn't wear out. . .

It takes one back to the time when most of the cars on the road were easily recognisable and had definite characteristics. Thank you. Mr V Huffam. W B