Rumblings, December 1946

This year of Jubilee has served as a reminder that no adequate history of the Motor Industry has yet been written. The task of compiling such a history, admittedly, would be involved and arduous, and much of the required information would have to be supplied by the manufacturers themselves. This leads to the suggestion that if individual manufacturers would undertake to compile histories of their own businesses, the complete story could be got by collecting all such books issued. Already Dennis Bros. of Guildford, and Vauxhall Motors, Ltd., of Luton, have published such books, and we believe that Daimler and Wolseley have similar histories in hand. The time has temporarily passed when adequate advertisement was to be had from participation in observed runs, trials and other competition events. This form of publicity is likely to return with revived vigour later on, when competition becomes keen amongst rival manufacturers striving for the Home Market. Meanwhile. exhibitions of firm’s products, backed by veteran car, and scale models, are more popular. The issue of a history of the manufacturer and his products would constitute a valuable extension of such publicity methods, and the cost might well be offset by making a reasonable charge, as Vauxhall’s do. Naturally, we consider that competition achievements should be included. The Dennis book covers the T.T. and Dewar Trophy Dennis cars, and in his frank and honest little work about. Vauxhalls, L. C. Darbyshire deals with Vauxhall competition successes from 1908 to the introduction of the famous “30/98,” four pre-1914 Brooklands Vauxhalls and one of the 1922 T.T. cars being illustrated — although the 1913 Coupe de “l’Auto” and 1914 G.P. cars are not mentioned. The Vauxhall book also contains a useful identification table of the production cars from 1903 to 1938.

We commend the issue of such history books to the Public Relations Departments of other manufacturers in the British Motor Industry. The present time is opportune for the publication of such works and we shall be glad to give publicity to any further histories which appear.

In a secondhand bookshop, but a stone’s throw from the Motor Sport offices, where a friend the other day got a clean copy of S. C. H. Davis’s “Motor Racing” for 7s. 6d., we espied “Self Portrait,” by Gilbert Frankau. The list at the front of people in the story included S. C. H. Davis and Sir de Hane Segrave, and we have since found so much of motoring interest in this brisk biography of the author’s life, that we regret not having received a review copy when it was first published in 1940. Frankau learned to drive in “a ponderous open Renault” at Aix-les-Bans in 1905. His mother bought a 40-h.p. “Dustless Spyker” in 1908 and “on this imported chassis Mulliner fitted a colossal landaulette body.” Frankau once stalled the engine attempting to ascend from St. James’s Palace to Piccadilly in top gear, but the car could obviously perform, for later the chauffeur was fined £10 for doing “between fifty and sixty along the front at Eastbourne.” In 1909 Edgar Thomas Ware is quoted as saying: “The modern automobile is as dependable as the railroad.” In his open Charron, driven by the Charron expert Tiersch, Frankau journeyed from England, via Paris to Aix-les-Bains. Paris to Aix, 300 miles, occupied two days and used up some seven tyres, which Tiersch and Frankau changed on the rims, the tyre bill being about £56. At this time we read that Harold Brooke-Alder was “always changing his cars.” Of a new purchase — “There aren’t any gears,” he explained. “Just these two leather belts. They slip off their driving wheels if you’re not careful. But she’s not too bad otherwise; and she’s the cheapest thing on the market. Comes from America.” The make is revealed as Ford, but our records show the Ford models of 1909 to have had epicyclic transmission, so perhaps Frankau was in error here. In 1896-7 Frankau had his first automobile ride, with his cousin Otto. “The single-cylinder De Dion Bouton was started by lifting what is now the dicky and swinging the thus-exposed flywheel.” This sounds more like a Benz to us — perhaps St. John Nixon, records secretary to the Veteran Car Club, will comment on this. There is also the “enormous Mercédès” of Don Luis Marx, in 1907, in America, the chauffeur of which produced a dish of hot partridges for lunch from its luggage trunk.

Frankau’s first car was “a large blue Armstrong-Siddeley limousine,” purchased in 1923 and chauffeur-driven. In 1928, when editor of Britannia, he bought a Hillman from W. E. (“Billy”) Rootes for the paper, and “a large new Siddeley with a Weymann saloon body, built by Gurney Nutting, and driven by my English chauffeur, Knell,” for himself. Later “a new 9-h.p. Renault camionette” was used when Frankau rented a French villa from the Perrins, a Buick was hired from Godfrey Davis in England, and Walter Creighton, originator of the Aldershot Tattoo, is recalled in connection with a crash in an Amilcar in 1927. But Frankau did not sell his 1928 Siddeley until, in 1930, A. H. Clarke, “a really honest salesman,” brought him “the air-cooled Franklin, red and black 30-h.p. sports coupé” to try — which he found “a revelation and a temptation from the moment I took her wheel.” In the Franklin, Frankau experienced “a shimmy in her full-elliptic springing that made her solid steering column feel like india-rubber and nearly hurled me off the Colnbrook by-pass” (it was traced to a king-pin not screwed home!) and the car “spat at him like a wild cat” on his first run (excused because “any car with Delco ignition will voice a protest if the distributor wires jump out of their sockets”). Down one of the switchbacks after one turns right for Sainte Maxime and Beauvallon, coming from Avignon to Fréjus, the “slightly optimistic speedometer touched 90 m.p.h.” Probably this car inspired the author to write his motor-racing novel, “Christopher Strong.” He admits that S. C. H. Davis vetted the technical parts, and it was he who persuaded Frankau to get the right atmosphere at Brooklands. Going down in the Franklin, he did five laps of the Mountain Circuit in the 100-m.p.h. Invicta — Sammy does not suffer from floating foot. My breath left me as we shot up the Mountain. The door swung open — and I couldn’t close the thing. Sammy reached over and did it for me with his tyres squealing on the black danger line at the top of the grade. Then we were round the corner, and diving — flat out — for the Fork.” Twentyfour hours later Sammy had his crash and lay in Weybridge Hospital. And Frankau recalls his subsequent bravery in pushing the Bollée the last ten miles into Brighton in a Veteran Car Run (only he calls it the “old crocks’ race,” of course !)

Through “Billy” Rootes and his brother, Frankau met de Hane Segrave – “twelve years my junior and a fellow Etonian, the tall, sparse-haired, blue-eyed de Hane fascinated me as much as any man I have met. We soon became friends. Memory recalls a night drive from the Café de Paris in Bray and a borrowed Stutz in which be brought me back to the Mayfair at an average speed of a mile a minute. I never felt safer in my life. Something of the Frenchman and something of the Irishman united in de Hane. All French was the cold objectivity with which he told me about the death of a young guardsman to whom he sold that colossal Renault [the 45 h.p. — Ed.] in which he would leave Biarritz after lunch to sup in Paris — no mean feat. ‘I was afraid it would kill him,’ said de Hane. I told him so. But he wouldn’t believe me.’ ” Segrave prophesied his own end to Frankau, standing between the Golden Arrow” and the boat “Miss England” in Rootes’ Piccadilly showrooms. They met for the last time before Segrave left to make his ill-fated record attempt on Lake Windermere. “Strolling down Piccadilly the badges on a Rolls-Royce attracted my attention. ‘Hullo, Gilbert,’ called de Hane from the white wheel. We chatted for a minute or so. How’s the world? ‘ I asked. ‘Pretty bloody, old chap.’ ” Less than a fortnight later Frankau’s friend Duveen switched on the radio and they heard the worst — just as, in his book, Sammy Davis tells how he heard of the fatal accident to Zborowski. Frankau also recounts a rather dubious story of the late Filson Young.