LONDON-BRIGHTON IN NINE HOURS THROUGH THE R.A.C. VETERAN CAR RUN ON CAPT. WYLIE’S 1896 HURTU
THAT in every way excellent fixture, the annual Veteran Car Run to Brighton, found me this year the honoured passenger to Capt. J. H. Wylie, Secretary of the Veteran Car Club. The Sunday morning dawned foggy and frosty and conditions had not improved when a London taxi, that in several aspects seemed itself qualified to compete, conveyed me towards the Magazine in Hyde Park at 7.45 a.m. I found Capt. Wylie and his Hurtu all set for zero hour, in our case 8.32 a.m. This Hurtu is an 1896 four-seater dog-cart, but as the rear seat, set over the engine, has no footrest and notably little protection for the occupants, Capt. Wylie was wisely
travelling two up. The engine is a 127 x 137 mm. single, of gas-engine type, set horizontally at the rear. Cooling is by twin tanks on the body sides, ignition by coil with exposed contact breaker and a trembler that buzzed delightfully, and lubrication by a small drip-feed tank. The big-end is quite exposed, a metal shield closing down over it after inspection. The transmission is by fiat belts running over drilled pulleys, to provide two speeds and reverse, final drive being by chain. The chassis is sprung on full elliptic springs, steering is by a verticallymounted wheel on the near side, there are pedal controls and a ratchet hand-brake lever on the driving side. The change speed mechanism comprises two wooden handles on the steering column. Candle side lamps, an oil rear lamp, a mirror, a bulb horn, and a tool locker in the wooden ” scuttle ” completed our equipment and as ” kit” we carried a suit case full of tools, a further set of loose tools and a two gallon can of Shell Aviation fuel. The wire wheels are shod with solid tyres, so we could happily dispense with pump and jack.
Before the start there were great feats of activity being excitedly enacted along the road beside the Serpentine. Charlie Martin, making a welcome reappearance with Shuttlevc orth’s ” Paris-Madrid ” bodied de Dietrich, had a Stepney rear wheel in use, and the Hon. MitchellThomson.’s 60 Mere, thundered up, blowing its exhaust whistle. Karslake’s 1902 Regal De Dion was resplendent in snowwhite paintwork and F. Jarrett’s White steamer had a truly imposing closed body. Dick Nash arrived on his dignified Panhard, its big Victoria hood erect, and busied himself tightening plug leads. The tick over of the de Dietrich attracted a crowd of which the size at this early and dismal hour is astonishing and puts Lord Mayor’s and other shows on their mettle, while the big silver ringed star on the radiator of J. Bradshaw’s 1902 Mercedes-Simplex was much admired. G. Oliver’s 1903 Pan.hard had one of the longest bonnets of all and looked very modern. ” Ebby ” was now ready to dispatch us, as the earlier numbers were nonstarters, and our ” No. 4″ was due to lead the run. Unfortunately the engine, which had previously started up at once, now proved obstinate and the plug had to be changed, so that we got away rather late. However, recalling a similar worry last year, when I rode with Nash on his 1900 Peugeot and subsequently had an almost trouble-free run, I was not at all pessimistic. Capt. Wylie could be relied on to humour his car and drive efficiently, for his knowledge of veterans is unsurpassed and last year he made best performance of all in his famous 1903 Wolseley. But our mount was an uncertain factor, for it had not run since the 1929 event. We could but pin our faith in St. Christopher and the knowledge
that Hurtu had largely copied the design of the very famous Benz Ideal of the same period, on one of which I had a thoroughly successful run from ‘Weybridge to a Tilburstow hill-climb and back, with C. S. Burney four years ago. At last the engine turf-turfed into -life, the leather shield and lid of the boot could be shut, and with much encouragement from the crowd we were away. The Hurtu seemed to me both more rapid and more stable than a Benz. There was some anxiety about hustling through the dense fog with primitive brakes, particularly as the first car in the run, and at first I thought we would overturn at every corner, as one does when one rides only occasionally on a veteran. Actually these early cars are surprisingly steady and although Capt. Wylie says he prefers to cross tramlines at right angles, and although I once had proof that our tyres and track definitely suited them, we only experienced one bad lurch from this evil. Mr. Taylor’s smart M-type M.G. Midget, which had volunteered to act as tender, tucked in behind us and we got along famously. Near Kennington, Sammy Davis came up on the blue Bollee, most cheery, and eventually passed us, only to stall his engine at the Brixton townhall traffic lights, as he had done at Kennington. The disadvantage of being an early number was apparent, as later the police were most helpful in ensuring the cars a clear passage. We had bad luck with the Belisha lamps in Brixton and again at Streatham, but were not worrying, as we were running some 10 to 15 mins. ahead of schedule, an advantage that seemed destined to increase, especially as we were not too slow up Brixton Hill, after which a quantity of steam drifted astern. Capt. Wylie had been busy adjust ing the mixture and ignition controls, in the form of serrated racks and queer buttons, on the seat front by his left hand, and now all was well in that department. Moreover, a Hillman police car piloted us through Brixton and Streatham and informed us that there was bright sunshine ahead, which was happily correct. Alas, at the lights at Thornton Heath Pond we were held up for a long time and the engine stopped in attempting to restart. Escorted by the inevitable crowd we pushed the Hurtu into a side street and found the cotter missing from the automatic inlet-valve. After much juggling, rendered difficult as the valve could only be held up by pressing a screwdriver onto its oily stem, I managed to replace and pin the cotter. We then refilled with water and two gallons of fuel and replaced the plug, Capt. Wylie putting the one removed into his pocket to ” keep it warm for next time ” So, sending the M.G. in search of the precious “Aviation,” we got away, now considerably late, and amongst the late numbers. A brief rise before the By-Pass brought us to a standstill but eventually we restarted, though it was obvious that the surface carburetter was not :giving a very suitable Mixture, so that our climb up past a frost-bound Croydon Aerodrome was a drawn-out business and we were almost last in the line of competing cars. Delay at the Purley lights and we swung right onto the Brighton Road, pursued by a man dressed as a schoolmaster, with two small boys in his sidecar, displaying advertisements for a ” Narkover ” dance. This comic element always creeps in, but it is to be deplored, another example being an old Morris .Cowley covered in silly sayings, that rattled up and down the
route. Infinitely preferable was an old car belonging to a brush manufacturer, which always turns out this day tit is, I believe, 4 De Dion of about ’09; and :another veteran acting tender to its competing veteran. Although we were now hopelessly late things seemed brighter, as the Hurtu was certainly hustling. Again, alas, for somewhere on a straight bit of rOad near Reigate we stopped with dead engine, the inlet valve once more finding itself left to its own devices Luckily I soon found the missing pieces, but our juggling was rendered more difficult than before as the thread on the valve stem had stripped and was obstructing the cotter. By tying up the spring we at last succeeded, the cottcr pin now taking all the strain. Then the engine wouldn’t start and Our very low petrol supply had to be further diminished in an effort to humour the carburetter. The plug was changed, the one in use proving to be distinctly bow-backed, and all the while a self-confessed engineer told us just why the engine could never restart. Someone else spied one of the control knol)s and brightly announeed
that we had radio installed. At last the welcome turf-turf, after Capt. Wylie’s determined attention at the flywheel . . The M.G. had not returned and fuel supplies were a source of worry, so we stopped at a garage in Reigate and I went off in a Hithnan Minx in a fruitless search
for supplies Capt. Wylie decided to stop the motor, to reserve tha, remaining fuel and avoid overheating, and it now refused to re-function. Capt. Wylie tried everything and confessed he was puzzled.
Once more people came to watch . . . We refilled with much water from a partially frozen tap, and I went off to buy another Lodge “CM,” not very hopefully. Returning, I was greeted by the merry turf-turf and we were soon packed up and slowly ascending the hill out of the town. Indeed, the Mirth seemed to have recovered its pulling powers and we got along well, especially as the Sunlit Brighton Road was now quite empty, for we were well behind the others. At Povey Cross we drove into a garage which assured Us that it stocked ” Aviation ” but, though they pulled up the very floor to search, could not find any. Capt. Wylie had wisely not stopped the motor, for we already had ample proof that those tales of the pioneers, about :,’appar
ently sound engines refusing to restart, were not unfounded. At -the ” lunch ” stop I espied a certain 1923 Austin Seven and its very enthusiastic owner, as I expected, at once agreed to drive me to Gatwick Aerodrome, where we were able to get the fuel, from pumps beside which Hawker biplanes of the R.A.F. Reserve glittered in the winter sun. I then just had time to buy some hot sausage rolls, remindful that I had last broken fast at 6.30 a.m., and we were ready to restart, the pilot M.G. having also turned up from Gatwick with fuel, wire having beer put in to replace another broken Cotter pin, and fuel and water tanks replenished. Nearly everyone else had left, in. hiding Nash, whose Panhard had passed us, running late, while we were en panne near Reigate. People shot their last films at us. Capt. Wylie told ” Jackie Masters” we were all set to ( limb Fingle and we set out on the remaining 25 miles, followed by the M.G. and the faithful Austin with our spare fuel. The hills now proved tiring to our Hurtu and some outside assistance was occasionally needed, as the low ratio belt was slipping. Presently, on the Robley By-Pass, we seemed to be losing petrol. It proved to be a fractured top water connection, so Capt. Wylie caulked it with soap and we did a lightning refill at the next garage. Then, stopping outside a cafe for more water, our old trouble with inlet-valve re-occurred. However, the M.G. driver and Capt. Wylie effected a very quick repair. So off yet again, with every hope of finishing, in spite of a noise which Capt. Wylie suspected was the cylinder working loose. At last we had crawled over the final rise and knew it to be an all-downhill run into Brighton. We saw a few other veterans in trouble, and, indeed, we had left J. H. Woodin working on the magneto of his Riley tri-car at the half-way stop. K. Kirton’s Rolls tourer glided by and soon the faster veterans were seen returning home, the 60 Mere. amongst them. Charles Martin, whose de Dietrich had stopped at a garage, thundered past, Stepney still in place. We were doing well—I timed one mile at about 15 m.p.h.—and Capt. Wylie, who now wore goggles and beret as his hat flew off at this speed, was as cheerful as ever, albeit he admitted to glancing aloft for a rear-view mirror when drawing out to pass and I remembered vividly being nearly impaled on a police-car at Norbury and a timber-lorry at Redhill, so the long day was beginning to tire crew as well as car . . . I should not, perhaps, have mentioned my feelings as we shot into Brighton’s traffic, for brakes of 1890 really were not too bad and, as you will retort, ” It hasn’t hurtu I ” At the welcome Pylons a final stop was made to light our oil rear-light and candle side-lights,, so rapidly done by our now well trained helpers that I was guilty of holding up proceedings by waving a spectator’s imposing Alfa onto the road. Then we went through Brighton like the wind and along to the Hotel Metropole, as the check on the Madiera Drive had closed some 45 mins. ago. So, at about 5.80 p.m. Capt. Wylie grabbed his bag from his Rolls-Royce in which Miss Jean Batten had been brought to Brighton, and dashed away to change, having invited all the helpers and myself to the Dinner the Veteran C.C. hold after this run. Here even a self-respecting journalist might be justified in drawing a veil over the remainder of the day, but I can say that I was somehow inserted in the back of the Austin Seven and driven to Seaford in full war-kit, to be made as presentable as is possible in half-an-hour when wearing trials rig and having no change of clothes. Then we went back, in a Morris taxi that seemed to me fiendishly fast after the Hurtu. The dinner was in every way admirable and the speeches excellent, Miss Jean Batten, our Guest of Honour, telling us of her recent aerial adventures and saying, amid applause, that although she did not feel that she deserved the gold medal presented to her at tea, for coming to Brighton on schedule in a veteran, she did hope one day to compete in this old car’s race.” F. S. Bennett, in proposing our Guests, reminded us of the many famous pioneers present that night, Lt.-Coin. Grahame-White, J. W. Stocks, S. F. Edge, and St. John Nixon, amongst them. The prizes were then presented with signs of universal enthusiasm and appreciations, this year’s list comprising J. M. Turner, Sam Wright, E. L. Wood, R. C. Blake, G. H. Eyre, S. E. Sears, E. A. Marshall, W. H. Remmington, H. J. F. Parsons, J. Shearman, K. G. Moss, H. G. Adams, E. P. Shaw, F. W. Hutton-Stott, G. E. Soloman, J. Belmont-Taylor, G. W. Goodall, C. S. Cowper-Essex, R. E. Dennis, G. W. G. Allen, Capt. Colver, J. W. Thomson, Major Allen, Capt. Wylie, J. V. Bolster, W. Browning, C. G. Tanner, W. R. Brown, and M. Estler. And so back to Seaford and, eventually, to bed, to sleep like a top and awake at 8.30 a.m. to find a grey sea lapping the front and a watery sun tracing weird golden pictures on the rain-clouds over the Sussex Downs . . . Last year, when I rode with Nash, we had an almost trouble-free run. This time the element of adventure and perseverance had crept
in in no uncertain fashion. It was all so thoroughly well worth doing, and in thanking Capt. Wylie for the experience I would like also to congratulate him for his skill in handling the Hurtu and in his unflagging keenness to get it into Brighton. More than ever I do feel prompted to go out and unearth a veteran myself, but I feel that those who are already members of the Veteran Car Club have anticipated me. RESULTS (103 Started ; 95 Finished)
Class 1, 1894-1896 (10 m.p.h. schedule) :None qualified—all were too fast and were consequently officially, if smilingly, disqualified.
Class II 1897-1900 (12 m.p.h.): 1, J. W. Mills (1899 Benz).
H. J. Wellingham (1900 De Dion-Bouton) also lost, no marks.
Class III, 1901-1902 (14 m.p.h.); 1, H. G. Adams and C. R. Southall (1902 Be Dion-Bouton).
R. A. H. 0. Messer (1902 Wolseley) also lost no marks.
Class IV, 1903-1904 (18 m.p.h.); 1, A. C. Fairtlough and Oliver Bertram (1904 Panhard Levassor).
The following also lost no marks :—F. W. Hutton Stott (1903 Lanchester), G. A. Upton and P. Simpson (1903 Lanchester), P. J. Simmonds (1903 Renault), H. R. T. Swiney (1903 Sunbeam), j. Morris (1904 Cadillac), r. Twyford and J. L. Sears (1904 Darraeq).
Team Prize (three cars of same vintage) : F. W. Hutton Stott (1903 Lanchester), G. A. Upton and P. Simpson (1903 Lanchester), and H. R. T. Swiney (1903 Sunbeam).