The Editor returns to the subject of racing cars in retirement.
In Motor Sport for September, 1930, E. K. H. Karslake had a short, but fascinating, article querying the whereabouts of ex-racing and other veteran cars. The information which came in enabled him to conduct his now famous “Veteran Types” articles, a series which has been ably revived for me, of recent years, by other writers — incidentally, where-is “E.K.H.K.” now, and when will he take up his pen again? It seems a thousand pities he faded out of the veteran car field, as such cars began to receive decent recognition. When last I heard of him he was driving a V8 Ford. This “Veteran Types” series (did much to arouse interest in what we now call Edwardian vehicles, particularly the ex-racing types. The so admirable and energetic Vintage S.C.C. furthered the cause, and more and more of these venerable old cars came to light. So embracingly, indeed, that I have remarked of recent times that it seems likely that no more ex-racing jobs remain undiscovered. I have always hoped I was wrong in this supposition, and on going through a pile of photographs the other day I was encouraged to believe that I was a thought pessimistic.
Before we consider the possibility of unearthing the few remaining ex-racing cars — I am quite ready to believe that lots of veterans and touring Edwardians will continue to be found — let us review those cars covered in the intriguing “Veteran Types” series, in order to see if any of these have been mislaid again.
The first car to be dealt with was the ex-Zborowski Maybach-Mercédès 4-seater “Chitty Bang Bang II.” This car is, I believe, still at Dover, but now exposed to the elements and so halfway to being lost. I consider that it should definitely be saved — more especially since John Morris broke up “Chitty 1” completely to obtain the gearbox for the 200-h.p. Benz. No. 2 of the series was concerned with a 1914 T.T. Sunbeam 4-seater, at the time owned by a member of Pass & Joyce’s staff, and consequently seen frequently in the Ruston Road district.
Soon after it was written-up it vanished completely, but, motoring the Scott-Morgan to the Cockfosters’ Rally, I spotted it outside the premises of T. P. Breen. It duly turned up at the recent Veteran C.C. Rally, and after that meeting I was able to have a short run in it. It motors very nicely, but will have to be endowed with better anchors before being entered for speed events. How grand that it is “on the strength” again and in such good hands, completely overhauled since Karslake drove it.
No. 3 article covered a 1903 “Sixty” Mercédès, which car was. I think, owned by Mr. Martin, of Old Windsor, and competed in the Brighton Run. I confess I have not seen it for a long time and only hope it is safely preserved.
The next “Veteran Types” was about Karslake’s own car, the 1924 3-litre s.v. Itala, which Rebuffo drove into fifteenth place in the Coppa Florio race that year. Alas — I think while Karslake was abroad — this car was sold and someone tried to put a “23/60” Vauxhall engine into it. For a while it lay behind a garage near Benson, opposite that aerodrome at the top of the hill. Without a doubt it has been broken up completely long since.
After this the series took in a 1902 6-h.p. De Dion Bouton, also Karslake’s own, and while I confess I am not sure where the car is now, I feel it is pretty certain to be in the safe keeping of a V.C.C. member. B. S. Marshall’s bolster-tank Brescia Bugatti was described next and, again, the car seems to have disappeared. I believe G. Griffiths had it in his emporium for a time and it may have been the car driven by him at Chalfont, but where is it now? It was rare to find a Brescia with an “uncarved” bolster-tank body even in 1931, so it is sad that it has vanished. The registered number was XN 2191 and it had Perrot front brakes, if anyone has any clues.
No. 7 of the series told of a 1914 T.T. Humber, rejuvenated by Wallbank for B.A.R.C. racing. I have lost touch, too, with this grand car. I heard, I think from Cecil Clutton, that it went to Wales and that stupidly large bags of gold would be needed to acquire it. Definitely this is not the beautiful car owned by Kenneth Neve, but I am not sure Sam’s reference was not to this car before Neve purchased it, making the mystery of the whereabouts of the Brooklands-aired Humber still deeper.
Really, this is becoming most disturbing. I find that in No. 8 Karslake went down to Brooklands one spring evening to try an “Alphonso” Hispano-Suiza. I have an idea this car, a 1914 black-and-white 4-seater, was a different one from the ex-Lycett 4-seater used daily up to the time of his death by Seth-Smith, and obviously it was not the chassis bought from Fuggle by Bridcutt. Nor must it be confused with Karslake’s own car, a 1913 model with the multi-plate clutch in place of a leather cone, only three speeds, and 1/2-elliptic, not 3/4-elliptic, rear springs. I do not think it is the car found later by Hill up Southport way, so whose was it and where is it? It had an S.U. carburetter, incidentally. Karslake usually made a practice of not disclosing the owners’ names when he wrote-up these cars, so it is difficult to know where to start in trying to trace those now missing. Next we have a 1900 Benz to consider, one of C. S. Burney’s cars, and this is unquestionably on the V.C.C. books to-day.
No. 10 deals with a 1914 G.P. Opel, at the time for sale by a firm having a yard off Park Lane. This car was later restored to original order by Mavrogordato and is still owned by him. Followed a fine story of Karslake’s 1904 “Flying Fifteen” Darracq, which E. N. Frost now has.
Some months went by and then, in December, 1932, a 1913 “80-90” Mercédès was described — B. Blyth’s pride and joy. When Vintage S.C.C. veteran events started, Blyth said that this and another “90” had been put away, and for the life of him he could not recall where! Maybe a leg-pull, but where are these great cars now? Which reminds me that a pre-1914 V-radiator Mercédès found on a Berkshire farm during the recently concluded war is presumably still unsaved, while I have heard rumours that a Harrogate doctor owned a couple of “Nineties” before the war, so these cars may be also somewhere around.
In 1935 the 1908 Itala (later owned, and so ably driven, by Clutton) came to Karslake’s notice in a garage at Ilford, and it was duly included in the “Veteran Types” series. In 1937, Karslake continued describing the famous Fiat “Mephistopheles” and Bradshaw’s 1908 9 1/4-litre Daimler. I presume Wike still has “Mephistopheles”(?), but I have heard that the Bradshaw veterans were destined to enter a museum and never re-emerge. Between doing the Itala and the last-named write-up, ” E.K.H.K.” had written of his 1908 single-cylinder Sizaire-Naudin. That car the late Seth-Smith afterwards owned, and it was offered to me in pieces before the war. Next “Veteran Types” was the 1921 3-litre Ballot, then owned by Clutton, but now in Heal’s inimitable collection, which fortunate members of the N.L.E.C.C. visited last October. The 10-litre Fiat followed, also a notable resident in the Heal stable and safe for all time. Likewise, the 1912 Lorraine-Dietrich “Vieux Charles Trois” escaped the bombs and Nash has him in safe storage.
After 1938, Karslake could not write for us, but I was able to enlist the aid of Heal, Clutton and Clark, and the “Veteran Types” series went on. No. 21 dealt with a second 1914 T.T. Sunbeam, now in Heal’s care. Then the ex-Major Veal 1914 G.P. Mercédès, so beautifully restored by Clark and later such a frequent visitor to veteran events, was covered, followed by the 1911 8-litre Delage, with which Bablot won the Coupe de “l’Auto” race. The latter car was owned by the late Capt. L. Corah, of Leicester, who was killed in action in 1915. He left it to a cousin, Mr. R. Corah, who has kept it ever since and, I gather, has no intention of selling it. When Heal wrote-up this fine car for us (1941) block-making was a bit of a headache, so we did not publish pictures. I append one now, showing the car in 1915, with the late owner at the wheel. One hopes some day that this Delage will take the road again. Other cars in the series were the Bugatti “Black Bess,” safe in Brig.-Gen. Giles’s care; the 1919 5-litre Ballot of Heal’s, Neve’s 1914 T.T. Humber, Hutton-Stott’s 1903 De Dietrich (which I thought, shame on me, of non-Brighton age and lost for ever by way of punishment!), the 2-litre G.P. Sunbeam and the 1908 Hutton in Heal’s collection. Such have been the cars included up to now, and perhaps I may be excused for having thought that every existing ex-racing car had been traced.
Let us, then, consider the fresh evidence to the contrary – contained in the two remaining photographs. The Mercédès would appear to be a “Ninety” of about 1913 vintage — I admit not a racing car. I came upon it before the war in a coachbuilder’s off the Edgware Road, whither I had gone with John Eason Gibson — the photograph is his. The car stood beside a white “38/250” and had been rebodied and given new tyres. It was in splendid order and, unless memory plays me false, was the property of a Capt. Belleville. His name was not known to the Vintage S.C.C., and I never heard where this car — probably the finest of the old “Nineties” — went or what became of it.
The final photograph shows one of the 1922 Wolseley ” Moths” converted into a road car. It will be recalled that these cars ran in B.A.R.C. races and broke records in Capt. A. G. Miller’s hands. I write “cars,” and I think there were at least two, but early small-car history is most involved, and I must confess I have been guilty of confusing this type with the 200-Mile Race Wolseleys. The “200” cars, of course, were 2-seaters, whereas the “Moth” was a very well streamlined single-seater, and took the Class Hour Record at over 90 m.p.h. It was obviously given a 2-seater body for road work, and the bonnet was altered to suit, but the original radiator cowl was retained, while a note on the back of the photograph says wheel discs were used. My recollections of an attempt to find this car are hazy now, but I think that the person who last raced it sent me the photograph, and I have an idea that a breaker had the car and told me it was sold to a person studying Law at Oxford — which is as far as I got. Can anyone say where the Mercédès and Wolseley are now? It would also be interesting to know whether anything more has been done about the 1905 “St. Petersburgh-Moscow” Hala, in the Isle of Wight, and what has become of Mrs. Tom Rolt’s 1922 “200-Mile” Horstman and Rook’s 1913 8-valve Bugatti. Where, too, is the 1914 6 1/2-litre Peugeot, driven at a Lewes meeting by B. M. F. Samuelson?
Having devoted all this space to nebulous veterans, I must attempt to justify myself, especially in the eyes of those readers who think we devote too much space to old cars. Well, if anyone needs convincing I commend a study of L. T. C. Rolt’s masterful article which we published last March, and, which was recently reproduced in the journal of the S.C.C. of America. But quite apart from this argument as to whether vintage breeding and quality makes up for lack of performance and mod. cons., I have another reason in favour of the older cars. Simply this. The present and the future are not so palatable as to obviate a strong desire to have done with them and withdraw to a happier age. Atomic destruction in future warfare clouds the horizon, while official restrictions and bureaucratic control over everything that seems worth while, allied to shortage of houses, shortage of food, scarcity of clothes and precious little petrol, blot present-day existence. What better than to be able occasionally to transport oneself back into the past, forgetting current cares? To us, that means ownership of a vintage or a veteran car, preferably of some potency. These cars are representative of a greater age — an age when men flew in open cockpits, in Sidcots, enjoying the mingled odour of. burnt castor oil and petrol vapour and, grounded, motored in like manner. An age when physical ability, not brain alone, counted. To-day’s controls, rationing and suppression of individual effort seem to rob even jet-propulsion, 600-m.p.h. aircraft, and record-timing by Radar of all glamour. And there is not any motor-racing, anyway.
You can argue that vintage and veteran cars offer better value than modern mass-produced machinery, as does Tom Rolt so convincingly. You may say such cars possess more individuality than the moderns, and consequently form a more absorbing study — although Mrs. Bill Shortt once opposed this argument by saying that later models are just as varied and interesting if you trouble to study them, and I am not sure she is not prefectly correct. You may excuse ownership of an old car on grounds of economy.
But I think that, whatever is true and whatever is false in these arguments, to own vintage cars simply because they remind one of an age far better than the present is sufficient excuse for upholding them and writing of them. Remember that the sort of cars built in the days of Boillot, Goux, Rene Thomas and Bablot will never be made again. Do all you can to save and restore them. Very few undiscovered examples remain, yet I do not know if they are any more elusive than the modern car and charming house depicted in a photograph from a recent Ford publicity handout! — such is the present age. If some readers feel that we qualify for the title of “Vintage and Veteran Gazette,” I must remind them that the new capacity tax may well encourage preservation of old cars and, more to the point, that Heal’s 1910 Fiat (which is not really a racing car at all) once beat some E.R.A.s at Poole. The veterans justify themselves in every way.
Commencing next month Motor Sport will publish a series of interviews with personalities famous in the realm of motoring Sport.
Each “subject” will be asked a number of pertinent questions and the replies should prove of great interest to the present and future generation of competition drivers.
We wish to emphasise that this series will follow no set order. However, as is fitting, No. 1 will deal with Earl Howe who, besides being a very successful racing driver, is President of the B.R.D.C. and Chairman of the R.A.C. Competitions Committee.