Rumblings, December 1949
The Vintage Car
In spite of the fact that this is nearly A.D. 1950, letters still arrive in numbers at the Motor Sport offices extolling vintage cars. The other day we fell to wondering just what it is that gives “true-believers ” such a glow of real pleasure to own and motor in aged cars. This warm glow experienced by the vintage-car enthusiast is a very real one. It got the Vintage Sports Car Club off to a fine start in the nineteen-thirties when ownership of a new car meant opening the garage doors to a chromiumed bird-cage, and look where that Club is today — vast membership, full-time secretary, and some “moderns” let in on sufferance and not at all essential to continued existence. Now, we can understand enthusiasm for the immortals — G.P. Bugatti, “17/50” Alfa-Romeo, old-school Bentleys and the like. But what of those lesser, yet sound, old cars of no very pronounced apparent character? We are thinking of comparatively sober touring cars. There were lots of them in the mid-twenties, so quite a few have survived to this day. You know the kind of thing — solid, sensible, yet undistinguished and all rather like one another until you probe for details. What, then, is the point of owning such a car, if it hasn’t independent suspension, or twin overhead camshafts, or an unusual cylinder arrangement or “banana” tappets, or a light-alloy block or some distinctive something or other to which you can claim to have taken a fancy?
Well, in the first place there is the essential fitness for purpose and stolid dependability of the old tourer. Then there is pride to be taken in its solid, “real” radiator and adequate mudguards when you leave it in a parkful of shabby tin-wear. There is a surprising degree of comfort in its roomy interior. And there is pleasure in knowing you can handle effectively a gearbox devoid of “aids to ladies” and that you are able to use safely the earlier idea of brakes and (high-geared) steering. Withal, the thing is cheap to buy, cheap to run if you tax it for pleasure only (in spite of the unfair dispensation of the £10 tax) and there is no purchase tax to forfeit to a Government of which you may or may not approve. It is rather nice, too, to project yourself back into a healthier, happier era every time you leave your neon-lighted, televised lounge for the garage, and to dig about in dog-eared motoring journals to discover just where your car fitted into the scheme of things when it glistened new in somebody’s showroom.
Motor Sport isn’t turning into a vintage-car gazette, any more than usual. It’s just that we believe there is joy to be had from “12/50” Alvis, Austin Twelve, Bean, “Redwing” Riley, “22/90” Alfa-Romeo, 2-litre Ballot, “14/40” Vauxhall, “14/40” Sunbeam, “14/40” Delage — we are becoming engulfed in this “14/40” nonsense again! — and similar outwardly-rather-dreary cars which are seen on our roads more often than might reasonably be expected. Certainly it seems there may be no two ways about it — either you own “vintage,” or you own a modern car, forgetting those dreadful half-and-half productions that were the outcome of trying to sell the birdcage before the rubber-mountings and the dried-milk fittings without the built-in heater and radio. Or have we said the wrong thing?
At all events, whether you own old, half-and-half or new, doubtless, with us, you breathed again when Mr. Attlee announced on. October 24th that the “basic ration” will be unchanged up to next May. Note, however, that petrol went up in price the next day, whereas cigarettes and cinema seats did not, and, having remembered this fact, tell your M.P. that, as a motorist, you expect a square-deal up to, and after, the General Election. Otherwise, whether you own a vintage, an unmentionable or the most modern of cars, one day it may not be very much use to you, except as something to polish from time to time in its garage
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The Monte Carlo
In a world not entirely free from trouble and strife the great Monte Carlo Rally happily is scheduled to take place again this winter, and already, in the various countries involved, people are digging out odd garments, preparing complex time schedules and route books and going about looking for de-misters, de-icers, interior heaters, de-ditching gear, and more and more lamps for the cars they propose to drive in what is the greatest rally of all and a superb winter endurance test of both man and machine.
The 1950 event occupies from January 22nd to the 29th, and the starting points are Glasgow, Florence, Lisbon, Oslo, Prague, Stockholm, and Monte Carlo, all routes taking equal marks this time. The main route is Monte Carlo, Digne Grenoble, Geneva, Berne, Strasbourg, Luxembourg, Liege, Venlo, Amsterdam, The Hague, Brussels, Rheims, Paris, Nevers, Lyons, Digne, Grasse and back to Monte Carlo — a neat 1,900 miles, and the very names have magic in them and make you want to get cracking. Glasgow starters join the main route at Luxembourg. Entries at single fees have closed, but, if you have a suitable car, a crew, and 15,000 francs entry may be made up to December 6th, to the International francs, Club and A.C. de Monaco, via the R.A.C.; 1950 competition licences are required.
The 1950 event is confined to 230 entries and is for standard cars, sans superchargers, with saloon, cabriolet or “all-weather” bodies conforming to certain dimensions, and at least 30 of the type must have been sold by November 1st this year. Open bodies are barred but there are certain “mods” you can do to engines. The usual driving tests in the (usual) sunshine will happen at Monte Carlo after the road section, and the entry is divided into 750, 1,100, 1,500 and over 1,500-c.c. classes. There is also the regularity and speed test for those who have come through that far without losing marks. Hotchkiss won this year. Next year?
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Early next year S. C. H. Davis retires from his position as Sports Editor of the Autocar. After engineering training at “the Daimler” in Coventry, Davis joined the editorial staff of the Automobile Engineer and later transferred his activities to the Autocar. His value to the publishers, Iliffe & Sons, has been incalculable. He turned his pen with equal facility to descriptions of new cars, technical articles, road-tests, news-items, reports of competitive events, show reviews and the like. His straight-forward writing is discernible in all manner of places in old issues of the Autocar. As Sports Editor he ran a weekly feature that made the Sport and its participants live very vividly for at least one keen schoolboy. More than that, Davis replied individually to letters from those avidly eager to take some part, however humble, in the greatest Sport of all. In consequence, enthusiasts, young and not so young, followed every facet of his career and came to regard him as their personal friend and hero.
How many millions of words Davis has written, straight-off on to the paper in longhand, or dictated for the Autocar not even he can know, and how he has kept so fit through it all that, to-day, approaching sixty years of age, he is still game for long drives across Europe in the grip of winter and similar arduous exertions, is something of a mystery.
But perhaps Davis’ greatest asset to his paper was his actual, frequent participation in competition events. He drove in races at Brooklands, Ulster Phoenix Park, and above all at Le Mans, in Austin, Alvis, Lea-Francis, Sunbeam, Invicta, Riley, Bentley and other cars. He was to be seen in trials, record-attacks, the Monte Carlo Rally, the veteran car run to Brighton . . . He drove mainly sports cars, but showed the same skill when handling the old V12 Sunbeam and the “Speed Six” Bentley round Brooklands.
It is this practical experience of racing which makes “Sammy” unique amongst leading contemporary motoring writers. While in hospital following his crash in the Invicta in 1931 he dictated his book “Motor Racing,” which remains one of the best of its kind, whether as entertainment for the knowledgeable or for the wife or girl-friend to read as an introduction to the Sport.
We wish Davis a happy retirement. The mind boggles at the thought of who is fitted to succeed him, for to take on the mantle of Sports Editor of the Autocar after Davis’ great regime is indeed a responsibility, not lightly to be undertaken.
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We hope there is nothing ominous in the fact that we have not received a progress report on the B.R.M. project from the British Motor Racing Trust Production Committee since last April. Rumour has it that the 1½-litre flat-sixteen engine has completed many hours on the elaborate test-bench at Bourne and that a complete car exists, but the position remains veiled in secrecy. We all hope to see a B.R.M. team competing in the Grand Prix d’Europe at Silverstone on May 13th next year.