Veteran specialist

Francis Hutton-Stott Jnr, has concentrated all his energies on veteran motoring. In this interesting article he describes one of his historic cars— his 1903 2-cylinder Lanchester—not from the “museum” aspect, but as it was prepared and run in Veteran CC and other events, a task Hutton-Stott applied himself to as thoroughly as other enthusiasts do participation in racing, sprint events and trials.—Ed

At a recent Veteran Car Club party the untiring Editor of Motor Sport suggested that it would be a good thing if more articles of veteran interest appeared in the paper, to which I heartily concurred. He then said, “Wouldn’t I do something about it ?” Hence this.

To trace the beginning of my interest in veteran cars it is necessary to go back to one Saturday evening in November 1931. I was sitting comfortably by the fire idly turning over the pages of the current Motor Sport when I spotted an announcement about the Annual Veteran Car Run from London to Brighton. It gave the best times and places to see the cars, and mentioned that a number of well-known racing and trials drivers were taking part. So, the following morning, the family Lanchester set forth for the Brighton Road ; this we joined at Reigate and proceeded towards Brighton until we found a wide stretch of road (always pick a wide road when watching a veteran event !) on an up grade. We had just settled down to wait for the cars when an RAC scout hove in sight and enquired if we wanted the official programme of the entries, price one penny. This we acquired and discovered that there were 57 entries, that Sir Malcolm Campbell was driving a 2-cylinder Rolls-Royce, Brian Lewis a Sunbeam-Maberley, R Shuttleworth a 1897 Paris-Amsterdam Panhard-Levassor, HR Marker a Crowden and Victor Riley a Riley, etc. Then along came the cars, some quite quickly, others chugging slowly up the grade. There and then I made up my mind, come what may, I must possess a veteran.

Presently an AA scout appeared on the scene, and, seeing the family Lanchester, volunteered the information that although no car of this make was running this year, there had been one in previous Runs, usually driven by Lord Ridley, that it always performed very well, and had finished the previous year. Then, noticing, I suppose, the state of enthusiasm and excitement into which I had worked myself, he further volunteered that he knew of a very old belt-drive Benz on a scrap dump at Forest Row, in Sussex. For this piece of information the scout received the price of a very expensive drink and departed, everybody being well pleased. How I was able to get through any work during the next week I will never know, for the thought of the Benz kept me in a fever of excitement. I had made up my mind to journey to Forest Row on the Saturday, so when the day dawned I set forth with very mixed feeling. Would the car still be there ? Had, indeed, it ever been there ? We eventually found the dump, and a superficial glance round showed the place to be devoid of any veteran. We then found the owner, who told us it was quite true about the Benz, but that he had sold it three days ago to a gentleman from Nottingham, and that he had had it running round the yard and that it was a very early one, quite 1897 ! Finis to that hunt. Then came a couple of  months of chasing. phantoms. I almost gave up hope of becoming the owner of a veteran. I had spent pounds in advertising in all sorts of papers, likely and unlikely. Then, one day in January, 1932, I received a letter from a gentleman who, it appeared, lived in a hollow oak tree near Wokingham, offering a 1903 6-hp De Dion. I went straight over, as it was not very far from home. There it was, complete with good tyres and in running order, for the owner gave a demonstration run round the piece of waste ground which did duty as a garden. But even to my then untutored eye the car appeared to be of later manufacture than 1903. I didn’t like the look of the honeycomb radiator and, anyway, it wasn’t a bit like any of the De Dions I had seen in the Brighton Run. I duly noted the engine number and the registration number and prepared for my departure, whereupon the owner suddenly reduced the price from £15 to £12 10s ! I then wrote to the registration authority at Reading, and received the reply that the car in question had been licensed on January 1st, 1904, by a Reading doctor. However, I had also written to Captain Wylie, of the Veteran Car Club, enclosing the engine number. When Wylie’s reply came it appeared that the engine bearing the number I had given was of 1907 manufacture. Something was obviously wrong somewhere, so I again wrote to Reading. They very kindly made a thorough search through their records, and produced the information that in 1907 the doctor had apparently disposed of his 1903 De Dion, and purchased a new 8-hp model and had transferred his original number to it. Hence the mystery was solved. I wrote regretfully to the owner telling him that his car was a 1907 model and too young for my purpose. And so I was still without a veteran ! Followed two more months of fruitless search, and I was almost resigned to thinking I would never possess a veteran when, glancing through The Autocar one Friday about the middle of March, I spotted the following: “Veteran Lanchester for sale, chassis No 277. Telephone Stevenage —–.” I could hardly believe my eyes, but I dashed to the telephone. To my intense relief and joy the car had not yet been sold, in fact, I was the first applicant. I said I would buy the car subject to an inspection the following day. I then telephoned to GA Upton, for many years Lanchester’s London service manager, whom I had known for somc years in connection with the servicing of our Lanchester cars. We agreed to meet the following afternoon for tea at the Clock House on the Welwyn By-pass. This we duly did, and Upton produced a 1903 Lanchester driving manual and showed me the type of car we thought. we were about to see, and said that he was in the Birmingham factory actually working on the cars at the time they were built. So, fortified with tea and hot scones, we set forth up the Great North Road for Stevenage. By the time we arrived I don’t know who was the more excited, Upton or myself. I will never forget the first view of that car! In the first place, I had never seen anything in such an appalling state of disrepair ; the wire wheels had almost collapsed, parts of the body were so rotten that one’s fingers would push through it, and the whole thing seemed to be in the last stages of decay. However, Upton, nothing daunted, had ripped off the engine cover, and here I received my second shock. Never had I seen anything so diabolically complicated. It appeared to be a 2-cylinder engine, yet there were six connecting rods, two crankshafts and two flywheels. There appeared to be three valves per cylinder and the most incredible low-tension ignition system. I meekly enquired where the sparking plugs were, and Upton, who was by this time really warming to his subjeet, informed me it didn’t have any, and that the curious-looking things with mica handles which locked into the cylinders like the breech of a gun were called igniters and took the place of plugs, After Upton had made a most thorough examination, from as far as I could see every possible point of the compass, I enquired what he thought. He informed the that it was a 12-hp water-cooled model, and that it was manufactured in either 1903 or 1904, that it appeared to be complete, and that with plenty of hard work there was no reason why it could not be made to run. It appeared that the present owner had bought the Lanchester, together with a 1902 Oldsmobile, at Bishop Stortford with a view to running them in the Brighton Run, but on getting them home the complicated appearance of the Lanchester had frightened him, so he had decided to sell it and to keep the Oldsmobile.

I purchased the Lanchester for £12, and we left with the promise that it would be delivered to my home near Guildford in about a month’s time. I then parted from Upton with another promise that he would give me all the help he could in restoring the car ; little did I realise at the time how much this was to mean to me. On my return home I wrote two letters, one to the Lanchester Motor Co Ltd, and one to the Hertford County Council. I received a courteous reply from the Lanchester Co, who at that time still retained very complete records, that the car “Registered Chassis No. 277” was delivered from the works in September 1903, to an agent. That it was “one of the first of the new 12-hp water-cooled models,” and that they would be happy to render any assistance they could in helping me to restore the car. They enclosed a copy of the 1904 descriptive manual and a short history in booklet form of Lanchester cars produced from 1896 to 1912, and written by Archie Millership, who drove the Lanchester in the 1900 Thousand Mile Trial. I also received a very helpful reply from the Hertford County Council, stating that the index mark and number AR021 had been allotted in 1904 to a 12-hp Lanchester owned by Mr PJH Coldham, of Essendon Old Rectory, Hatfield, Herts. In 1905 the car passed to Walls Breweries, of Bedford, and on January 13th 1906, the licence was cancelled, after which date they bad no further record. They said I could re-licence the car with this number if I wished. One lovely April morning the car arrived and after much heaving and tugging to get her down the planks, obscene language by the gardener as a wheel rolled over his foot, and caustic comments from the assembled multitude who had miraculously appeared from thin air (the fact that they were on private property perturbed them not in the least), she was finally put to rest on the garage wash, a sight to warm the heart of any marine-store dealer. I telephoned Upton, and we arranged that be would come down early on the Sunday and that we would hold a thorough inquest and decide just where to start and what wanted doing. Came Sunday, and Upton, as good as his word, arrived early and we settled down for the day, meals being brought out to the garage. My father’s driver-mechanic, Shanks, evinced great interest in the new arrival and had entirely stripped the chassis of all bodywork in readiness. We decided to start with the chassis, as we considered it most important to have everything as roadworthy as possible. The four wire wheels were to be rebuilt because they were definitely unsafe, as quite a number of the spokes had rusted right through, the ball races of the nearside front wheel had packed up, the key in the near-side rear wheel hub had sheered, end-play in the back axle worm shaft was appalling, the universal joints were badly worn, the springs would have to be set up as the car was sitting on axles, the radius link holes were oval and the shackle pins almost worn through (one pin had only 1/16 in of metal left). All the rubber buffers on the shock-absorber-cum-radius arms had perished and fallen away, the steering joints wanted rebushing, and the ball thrust races at the top of the king pins wanted renewing. As far as we could see the car had literally been driven to a standstill, and I must confess to being rather puzzled about this, because, according to the Hertford County Council the car had not been used after 1909. However, this little mystery was to be solved later. There followed a rough examination of the engine and the epicyclic gears and complicated system of pre-selection. We found that the engine bearings were all fairly bad, but the only things either broken or missing were the armature for the low-tension flywheel magneto, the winding of which had completely collapsed, and one igniter locking handle and igniter. The second speed friction drum had almost worn through. The valves and overhead camshaft appeared to be in excellent order, as was the complicated governor gear. When we opened up the wick carburetter its appearance more resembled a gorgonzola cheese than anything else I could think of, and the smell all added to the general impression. The spindles in the water pump were so worn that the wheels wouldn’t mesh, and the lower copper pipes of the gilled tube radiator were burst, due, no doubt, to the car being abandoned with water in it, and the seven-gallon water tank at the back of the engine leaked like a sieve.

Then followed months of work, grime, and at times almost despair. It was no longer considered possible to send meals out to the garage, and as changing and washing was a waste of valuable time, a carpet of newspapers was spread through the house to the dining room, with others on the chairs to sit on.

Such girl friends as still remained faithful had long given up suggesting “It would be nice to go dancing on Saturday evening,” or “What about a run to the sea on Sunday ?” Had it not been for the fact that the car was a Lanchester, and therefore of special interest to the family (as my father had, with the exception of his first car, which was a 1912 16/20-hp Wolseley, always owned Lanchesters, and my first car had been a 21-hp Lanchester drophead coupe) I don’t think the job would ever have been completed. However, by the end of July things began to take shape. Upton, who had spent most Sundays and some Saturdays working on the car, had produced some spare igniters from among his treasures, also an engineer’s manual and an illustrated list of components. Lanchester’s London Service Dept had produced a brand-new armature from stock, and George Lanchester, who had taken the greatest interest throughout, produced from his private museum an igniter handle and a vacuum pressure gauge for the water circulation. We had concentrated on the chassis, and this was at last considered 100 per cent. A beautiful new set of Michelin 875 by 105 tyres and tubes were fitted. We decided that, as time was getting short for the next “Brighton,” we would let the engine go as it was, just fitting the new armature, overhauling the water pump, brazing up the radiator, repairing the water tank and machining the second gear drum and shrinking on a new collar. My mother had taken charge of those gorgonzola-like carburetter wicks, and after many washings in Lux, had produced them beautifully white and soft. Shanks in the meantime had executed wonders of carpentry on the bodywork, this being just up his street, as he had been in the Pioneer Corps shops during the 1914-18 -war.

At last, August 27th, day of days, for after a final check of the timing, we prepared to start the engine. The cylinders were primed, the carburetter was filled with a gallon of 680 spirit, and cranking began. We all took our turn, but not so much as a backfire was produced. Upton, not in the least dismayed, remarked, “I expect we will have to flash the magnets.” I discovered that this was the term used in the early days for re-magnetising. My heart fell ; this, I thought, ruined any hope of a run that day. However, Upton said there was nothing to it. He produced a length of electric-light flex, plugged one end into the house-lighting circuit, then fixed one wire to the engine frame, a length of’ fuse wire with a 1-in steel washer on the end of the other wire, pulled round the flywheel until he came to a place engraved “Magnetising Point,” then switched on the current and proceeded to tap the flywheel at this point with the washer about six times, a blinding blue flame resulting each time he did this. He then remarked, “I think that will do,” and then added, “I am glad we haven’t blown the main fuse.” He then recounted how, when stranded in Manchester in the early days, he had flashed his magnets at the power station, and had plunged the entire city into darkness ! After this performance the engine fired first turn and blew what appeared to be a complete rat’s nest out of one of the exhaust boxes. I might mention here that the car is fitted with twin exhaust systems. The engine speeded-up slowly and the clatter and noise seemed terrific. We clambered aboard, Upton let in the clutch, and off we went, though not very quickly, in fact we just managed to make the grade up the drive on to the Hog’s Back in first gear. Out on the comparatively level main road we gradually gathered speed, but Upton said she had very little power. He then began trying the independent hand governors for each cylinder (the foot pedal synchronises the two), and then announced that one cylinder was giving no power at all, although both cylinders were firing properly. After a run of about ten miles up and clown the Hog’s Back we returned home to investigate. So ended the first test run. When the engine was idling we noticed a terrific “blow past” on one cylinder, so, as it was still quite early, we dismantled the engine. We discovered that there was a hole right through one piston almost large enough to put one’s fist through, hence the low power output. Upton took the piston to London with him, and Laystalls made a very good job of welding the head. We decided that, as the engine was down, we would take up the play in the big-end bearings, which were absolutely oval, so they were filed down and scraped until they were a fairly good fit. The main bearings we could not improve, as they were not split bearings.

By October 15th all was again ready, and as the engine was vastly improved we decided on a more ambitious run, and covered a distance of about 14 miles via Godalaiing and Guildford, back up on to the Hog’s Back. The car now showed quite a good turn of speed, and we seldom dropped below second gear. One rather amusing incident took place on this run. We were motoring quite rapidly along a straight piece of road, when Upton remarked, “We must do something about the play in this steering,” at the same time waving the tiller backwards and forwards. I looked over his shoulder to discover that the handle had parted company with the rest of the tiller, and Upton was just holding the handle ! We were able to stop and fix the handle, and arrived home none the worse. (To be continued.)