Matters of moment, December 1956

About face 1

St John Nixon, motoring historian, expresses some startling views in the final chapter of his latest motor history hook, reviewed elsewhere in this issue. Views startling, that is, to those who enjoy driving veteran cars in rallies and suitably-constituted competitions— for Mr. Nixon is suffering from a bad bout of museum complex. He makes a plea that all veteran cars, after restoration, should be relegated to a museum, because, he says, “to subject them to all the wear and tear inseparable from extensive usage, to put amusement and laughter far before that of preservation for the benefit of future generations.” He continues : “The days when the public needed educating about the capabilities of veteran cars are past: the object has been achieved and a National Motor Museum in now the rightful home of all these wonderful old relics of an age which only a handful of us are left to recall.” While this is a view museum-curators might be expected to adopt, the surprising thing is that Mr Nixon should express it. In 1950 this gentleman borrowed an 1899 Wolseley from the Nuffield Collection and drove it from John o’ Groats to Land’s End and then to Oxford, a distance of 1,131, for publicity purposes. In last month’s RAC Diamond Jubilee London to Brighton Run Mr Nixon drove Lord Montagu’s 1903 de Dion Bouton, taking as a passenger 78-year-old J Russell Sharp, claimed to be the sole survivor from the original run—more publicity !

We have no objection to museums of old cars—indeed, in our issue of last June we reported enthusiastically on the opening of the Montagu Motor Museum at Beaulieu, but we feel much more enthusiasm for the restoration of historic motor cars so that they can be driven in VCC and other clubs’ rallies and competitions, The Veteran Car Club of Great Britain. with Its annual list of main fixtures (and minor fixtures run by six sub-sections) obviously agrees with this view—as does the VSCC with many events, including three race meetings, for old cars every year—and it looks like selfishness on Mr Nixon’s part that, having himself enjoyed the unique fun and excitement that driving veteran cars provides, he wishes, in his old age, to see such cars brought to a standstill for the possible benefit of a few historians who may be content to take their pleasures sadly, in the cloistered seclusion of museum halls.

We decry the changes that have overtaken the veteran-car movement due to the multiplying interest taken in it since it came into being in the nineteen-thirties–the growing attraction of veteran-car ownership as a means of increasing social stature, the desire to join as frequently as possible with the old cars such persons as mayors, film stars, BBC producers, Fleet Street journalists, red-flag carriers and minor royalty, and the growing employment of old cars for publicity stunts, whereas before the war the annual pilgrimage to Brighton in the November fog or sunshine was made very largely by enthusiasts genuinely fond of antique vehicles . .

We appreciate that certain rare discoveries, such as Knight’s early motor vehicle, which is preserved in the Council offices at Farnham, near its birthplace, should not be used on the road, and we see good in housing veteran cars, between their active engagements, in museums and showrooms, for the geater enjoyment of them by the public, providing they do not stand idle so long that their very immobility accelerates deterioration. We agree that over severe events for veteran cars should be avoided, there is no need, perhaps, to emulate Mr Nixon’s drive from John o’Groats to Land’s End in a vehicle built before 1900, although we are not aware that RD Gregory’s 1904 Darracq has come to much harm in the course of some lengthy and hurried journeys, or that FS Bennett’s famous 1903 Cadillac, which has in its lifetime completed three 1,000 mile Trials, two of them anniversary replicas, is now worn out and worthless even for exibition in a museum !

What must be remembered is that very few people could be found that would devote the time and great wealth necessary to properly restoring veteran cars to good working order, were the only reward for their expense and labour the immediate retirement of their beloved cars to a private or public (or commercial—as in the USA) museum. In action, such cars not only provide a special category of motoring entertainment for those who drive them, but lay public and historian alike, watching them in action, can far better assess their appearance and performance, the vibration and noise (or absence thereof), than ever they could do in the roped-off “atmosphere”-lacking hall of 8 museum.

Yet this is the fate that St John Nixon, old-timer and museum director, seeks for all veteran cars. It was he, we seem to recall, who wrote a scathing letter to The Autocar after one of the earlier of the commemoration runs to Brighton, criticising the gear-changes made by the late Richard Shuttlewerth on a Panhard-Levassor coming up Brixton Hill, for which Shuttleworth was able subsequently to provide an adequate explanation; this young man lived, until killed while serving in the RAF, to save and restore many historic cars, and aeroplanes, which is more restoration than Mr Nixon seems to have done. We believe Stanley Sears spent something like £500 in having a new cylinder block cast for his 1914 GP Opel, which he wouldn’t have done if the car was destined for cold storage, although, should the engine blow-up again, it is conceivable the car would still be perfectly useful for a museum, which is just as true of the large number of veteran cars (261 in the Brighton Run alone) in this country. That, surely, is the crux of the matter—when the internals of an old car cease to function it is still of value to a museum, but while it is going strong let its owner and the rest of us enjoy seeing it in action—moreover, to think too seriously of “posterity” has surely gone out of fashion with the perfection of atomic weapons ! 

When Mr Nixon criticises those who go about veteran-car restoration in the easiest way possible, substituting modern ignition systems and carburetters for lost or damaged originals, we are in agreement with him. But his argument that restoring parts of old cars as they wear out by fabricating new parts is as much an outrage as repairing an old tapestry by modern methods falls down when you consider how few veterans there would be if such restoration were banned by the VCC—because the pioneers cared nothing for the early vehicles until people like Kirton, Shuttleworth, Burney and Nash dug about and discovered them on scrapheaps and in hedgerows, and got them going again by much unavoidable modern fabrication ! On the other hand, the manufacture of new veterans, humorously suggested recently by Basil Taylor, Librarian to the Royal College of Arts, is to be deplored.

If serving the public is Mr Nixon’s only aim, where is be going to find a museum which, on one day, will enable 2,500,000 people to inspect historic cars, as they were able to do along the route of this year’s RAC Brighton Run ?

About face-2

Last May we drew attention in an Editorial to the heavy criticism of rear-engined cars made by Dr F Llewellyn Smith, then President and now Vice-President of the SMMT, and managing director of the Motor Car Division of Rolls-Royce Ltd. Consequently, it comes as a considerable surprise to find Dr Smith stating in a recent speech at the RAC that on future small cars he considers the balance is slightly in favour of rear engines with direct air cooling !

The rise in the price of petrol

The sighs of motorists must have sent an icy draught round the country when they discovered that another 1d a gallon had been put on all petrol except 100-octane, Shell-Mex and BP Ltd instituting this increase and the other big petrol companies falling into line. When an earlier price increase was announced the financial writers were quick to deplore it, saying that with the vast post-war profits of the oil companies it was quite unjustified. This time the petrol companies seem to have got away with it rather better although Punch, commenting that little attempt has been made to explain the reason for the increase, said : “This suggests that motorists, like other consumers, have at last been beaten into unquestioning submission; the only explanation they need is that the usual period has elapsed since the price went up last time,” while The Autocar suggested that “it seems a pity one of the leading companies does not try the effect on its sales of not following any general upward price trend.”

Disgruntled motorists, who can foresee the price going up to 5s a gallon and more for ordinary petrol, will no doubt endeavour to economise by using the cheapest grade in cars of low compression ratio and mixtures of cheap with 80 octane in engines scarcely as lenient. In this respect Esso and Fina should reap the reward of enterprise, because they offer an intermediate brand between cheap and 80 octane, with their “Mixture,” and although this costs 1d a gallon more than a self-made mixture this is offset by the time saved in buying all one’s petrol from the “Mixture” pump. Incidentally, the petrol companies admit that the rise in price had little or nothing to do with the Suez situation.


A variant of the now widely-used glass-fibre and resin technique for repair work, Bondaglass filler is available in 6s 6d and 25s packs from motor accessory shops or direct from Bondaglass Ltd, 40a Parsons Mead, West Croydon, Surrey.

Navigators’ Club

For some time past there has been a demand for a club which would cater for rally navigators. This want has now been fulfilled, and information and assistance is now available to experts and novices alike on the subject of navigating. Membership is 10s 6d and the Hon Sec is D McKittrick, 228 Brecknock Road. London, N19.

Film show

An exciting new film from the J Arthur Rank studios is “Check point.” The story centres round the multi-millionaire owner of a stable of racing cars and his plans for possession of blueprints of his rival’s fuel-injection system. Filmed in Eastman colour, the locations alternate between England and Florence. and there are scenes from the Mille Miglia.-IG.

Fight for freedom

In connection with “tied” service stations, we are pleased to announce that it has come to our notice that the proprietors of Esso petrol stations are permitted to stock any make of lubricating oil they choose and are not restricted to ESSO oil.

The Forces’ MC.

On October 26th the Forces’ MC held its second annual dance as St. Pancras Town Hall. The function was well attended and victorious sportsmen were presented with their cups and awards during the evening. Membership is now over 2,500 and prospective members should contact WE Thornton Bryar, of 2 Charterhouse Mews, London, EC1, for details.

Mr FJ Horn, previously Director and General Manager of Smiths Motor Accessories Ltd, is now appointed Managing Director.