Vintage Postbag, December 1958

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76

Sir,

I was most interested in your “Fragment” on the Arab car as I am restoring one, and know of two other survivors.

Your illustration shows the tourer but my car has a much lower cranked chassis (No. 5) and dropped radiator, and is one of the Super Sports models planned. None of these was built as far as I can discover, before the works closed in 1927, but it must have been ‘completed from parts in 1929 as it was registered in that year. There is no radiator badge as I believe Railton would not permit its use on the cars completed by someone else. Does any reader know who did finish them?

The beautifully made engine was reputed to develop 65. b.h.p. at 4,000 r.p.m. on the tourer and had tremendous torque low down. I read of an Arab tearing off both off-side tyres whilst climbing Shelsey somewhat enthusiastically!

As the engine in my car was changed in 1936 front No. EA12 to EA20 with a rating of 12.8 h.p. as against 12.1, I wonder if a smaller engine was ever made (1½ litres?).

It would be interesting to hear from a former owner as to performance as I hear that Railton could “see off” a 3-litre Bentley in one.

I am, Yours, etc.,

R. M. Booth

Eccles.

***

Sir,

I was most interested in your article ” Fragments on Forgotten Makes, No. 7-The Arab,” in your issue for October, as in 1932/33 I owned one of these cars. Unfortunately, all my records and photographs are locked away in store where I cannot refer to them.

The car was an extremely pleasant one to drive, with a maximum speed of about 85 m.p.h. As you say in your article, the road-holding was first class and the steering, which was Marles, was a joy. The only real trouble I found was a tendency to break half-shafts, which was cured by somewhat extensive modifications to the bearings in the rear axle. My car was fitted with a very good-looking two-seater body by Jarvis of Wimbledon, with a flat-topped tail. On opening a hatch on the top of the tail a third seat was disclosed. The car was painted a pale greyish green and with bicycle mudguards of darkish green andleather upholstery to match attracted a great deal of attention whenever parked.

I am a little puzzled at the numbers you quote of the cars which were produced. Mine was No. 11 and I have always understood that it was the last one made. Incidentally, I have always understood that it was assembled by Messrs. Thomson and Taylor. I have always thought that Parry Thomas had a great deal more to do with the design of the car, and certainly with the engine, than you infer.

It would be interesting to know if No. 11 is still in existence. I had a great affection for it.

I am, Yours, etc.,

L. A. Liddell

Odiham.

[With reference to the queries raised, we have, naturally, to rely on people’s memories in compiling articles in the “Fragments on Forgotten Makes” series and the number of Arab cars made is subject to some flexibility. Possibly a few cars were assembled from parts after Mr. Liddell’s allegedly “last Arab” was made and after the factory had officially closed down. As to how closely Parry Thomas was associated with the engine is rather like the conundrum “Which came first, the chicken or the egg? ” because, although the Arab engine bore a close resemblance to engines used by Parry Thomas, the Booker Company claimed, we believe, to have had a design for a lorry engine on which Thomas’ Marlborough-Thomas engines were based, and who designed this and whether it preceded Thomas’ engines or was itself a Parry Thomas design, is a problem at present lost in the mists of antiquity. Arab certainly had a factory at Letchworth. — Ed.]

***

Sir,

Please can you publish photographs and details of the Lecoy, manufactured by the “Lambert Engineering Co.” of Northolt.

We understand that about a dozen of these cars were made and sold, when the Austin Seven appeared. As the Austin was the cheaper, that was the end of the Lecoy.

I am, Yours, etc.,

P. L. Forshaw

S. Harrow.

[We have specification and prices of this odd little car but did any reader actually own one? — Ed.]

***

Sir,

On the subject of Salmson motor cars…

I bought a 1925/26 push rod model for £15 at a scrapyard in Wrexham, around the year 1936; this price included a spare engine, back axle complete, and a box of assorted odds and ends, mags., carbs., lamps, wheels, etc. I only wish I had her now, for she would not only be worth a great deal more than that price, but at the age I have now reached I would be far more appreciative of such a possession.

She had a fabric covered torpedo body, having a one and a half seat cockpit in the tail.

When I owned this car, I used to curse her, and think what a dreadful thing, though I had a lot of fun. My reasons for criticism were, she wouldn’t do more than 50 m.p.h., she would kick like a mule when hand starting (which was the only way I could start her), the offside front wheel had a habit of coming off and, as Mr. C. P. L. Lewis also found, the rocker return springs were apt to lose themselves, that is until I took to linking them together with a loop or copper wire.

But withal, a grand little motor.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Noel H. F. Tringham

Mold.

***

Sir,

I read with interest the letters re Salmsons, and feel that neither the models depicted, nor comments on same did justice to the car. I owned one or these, in the early ‘thirties, a twin cam four-speed, “Grand Prix Special,” circa I believe 1927/28. It was a pretty little car, and during the twelve months of my ownership reliable and quite fast, around 70-75 m.p.h.. Carburation was, if memory serves me right, by single barrel type Solex. and starting on the handle (fixed) was a matter of a couple of pull ups, hot or cold, no choke was fitted, Anti the handle often used as the battery was a bit tired. Apart from a tendency for the long tail to sag and nearly touch the deck, on one or two occasions, the car gave me twelve months fast and enjoyable motoring for many thousands of miles. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the “Old Sammy.”

I am, Yours, etc.,

Alan W. E. Hull

Eastcote.

***

Sir,

I was interested to see the letters from Mr. Brown Kelly and Mr. C. P. Lewis in Motor Sport of October in which they commended the old four-push-rod Salmson car, and writing with over 30 years’ experience of this famous marque would confirm that they were a very nice motor in their day; later, in 1928 an eight-push-rod engine was adopted.

It was however the twin o.h.c.-engined car that put the firm in the limelight and earned for them the slogan “the car that wins,” and perhaps not many readers of Motor Sport today realise how much Salmson did in racing and competition just after the first world war to put the high efficiency small four engine in the place it is now, and at a period when the 1,100 c.c. class racing vehicle was so largely a two-cylinder air-cooled cyclecar of rather crude design and construction.

First built in the summer of 1921, a single car was entered in the French Grand Prix of the Automobile Club de L’Ouest at Le Mans on September 17th that year and immediately showed its paces by winning the 193-mile race in 38 minutes less time than its nearest rival; in 1922 Salmsons were again first and second in this event, and in 1923 they were first and second in the G.P. de Boulogne, the Bol d’Or and the 1,100 c.c. G.P. of Italy, Spain (two races May and November) and Switzerland, was also winner of the J.C.C. 200-mile race, 1,100 c.c. from 1922 till 1925 being twice first and second and in 1925; beat all 1,500 c.c. ears excepting the two “Invincible Talbot Darracqs,” which feat it repeated in the G.P. de Boulogne and at Miramas beat all-comers in both 1,100 and 1,500 c.c. categories.

In 1925 alone Salmson won 85 firsts in International road and track races and speed events with 14 firsts and seconds and a total of 125 victories in all kinds of open competition and between the years 1921/30 collected nearly 1,200 firsts.

Salmson was also the first 1,100-c.c. car to attain 100 m.p.h.; Arpajon in June, 1924, was the first to exceed this speed with a two-seat racing car; 1925, first to exceed 110 m.p.h., Montlhéry in October, 1925, and first to exceed 120 m.p.h. when M’Goutte covered the flying mile at 121.96 m.p.h. in 1926, and the eight-cylinder model was unofficially timed at over 135 m.p.h. on Brooklands track in 1927, was also twice winner or the highly coveted Rudge Whitworth Cup in the 24-hour race at Le Mans and twice the 1,100 c.c. class at the Targa Florio. Some of these old events I was privileged to see and was convinced that the Salmson was indeed very far removed from “the worst thing on wheels” as so naively stated by Mr. Dobbs; rather was it the fleetest thing on wheels in its class that the period ever saw as witnessed by the long succession of victories that fell to its lot. [In fairness, Mr. Dobbs was referring to the four-push-rod cars. — Ed.]

I still have one of the last of the underslung 1929 G.P. models built, almost entirely in its original condition, and this car is a sheer joy to drive and can still show its tail to quite a few examples of modern tinware despite its 30 years, as was so well put by Captain Richard Twelvetrees in Motor Sport of December, 1926, with the delightful photograph of the G.P. Special he drove then.

I am, Yours. etc.,

W. L. Jennings

Chelmsford.

***

Sir,

I seem to have upset one or two people by my remarks re old Salmsons. But I can only speak as I find, and really, that awful car!

But, at the time I bought the Salmson, the car that I should really have liked to get hold of would have been an Amilcar. I tried one once, a delightful little three-seater, with a short pointed tail (cloverleaf, I believe, was the name for this type of body), very Parisian looking side lamps, and a speedo, calibrated in kilometres. It was one of the most delightful little cars I have ever driven, and I should be very interested to know if any Amilcars are still in existence.

The last one I saw was in Harlech round about three years ago, I think the owner had fitted a Riley Nine engine.

If anyone would let me try an Arnilcar, I should be most grateful.

I am, Yours, etc.,

W. H. Dobbs

Wolverhampton.

[Letters can be forwarded. — Ed.]

***

Sir,

It is truly remarkable how your periodical maintains the high standard that it set during the last war. What is more, it is able to hold the interest of those whose enthusiasm for the sport was established thirty or more years ago by its interesting articles on vintage topics.

My own practical experience started in 1920, when I was apprenticed to John Wallace, the designer and manufacturer of the Duzmo motor-cycle. It was then that I started my regular visits to Brooklands in connection with the development and racing of this machine. My idols, at that time, were Bert LeVack, with his Indians and Claud Temple on his Harley Davidson. Unfortunately, although I saw the many racing cars there, I took little interest in them, but I well remember Capt. Dennis Shipwright’s Armstrong Siddeley, mentioned in your current issue. Possibly this was because he lived locally and I often saw it outside shops in the town. Enfield was a town then, and not a sprawling mess of subtopia that it is today. The car was always stripped, as it was legal in those happy days to drive on the road without wings. In fact for the whole time that I owned my first car, a racing flat-twin Douglas, ex S. L. Bailey and Miss Addis Price, I never had mudguards, hood or full width windscreen on it. Maybe the weather too was better in those far-off days.

My first experience of the Wilson preselector gearbox was when I was loaned a 15 h.p. Armstrong Siddeley for my honeymoon in the West Country in 1935.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Harold Biggs

Enfield.

***

Sir,

Your correspondent. Mr. S. A. Gibbons, in New Zealand has written an interesting letter to you, in your November issue, about the Martin motor-cycle with which he was familiar when he lived in this country. Perhaps I may be permitted to add a little to what he has said.

Both before and just after the 1914/18 war the cult of the 60 deg. big-twin was at its peak, at least half-a-dozen English manufacturers producing them as purely sporting mounts. Notably there were the Zenith-Gradua, Matchless, N.U.T., Martin and B.A.T. Each of these usually had the letters J.A.P. suffixed to denote the make of engine, although the choice, if any, would have been very limited. Prior to 1914 the machines were largely single-geared, using a 1⅛-in. canvas and rubber vee-belt to transmit the power to the back wheel. The Zenith, of course, bad its own system of gearing which involved the opening and closing of the engine pulley with a corresponding inward and outward movement of the rear wheel to maintain constant tension. This fine machine was probably at the top of its class. Some manufacturers fitted the N.S.U. two-speed gear on the engine shaft and some a Phillipson pulley.

There was a useful choice of engine sizes however. The 5/6-h.p. twin was about 680 c.c. capacity, the 6/8, 776 c.c and the 8/10 998 c.c., the last being also available with side or overhead valves (of a rather primitive design by modern standards). If you owned and rode an 8/10 “90-bore” with either of these valve arrangements you could rate as a “he man” amongst your friends. Yet they were surprisingly docile in the traffic of the early ‘twenties, and could be ridden solo quite easily if you knew how to do it. But what a change from the 2¾-h.p. pip-squeaks with which we began. Those who have not experienced the pull of a big twin with direct drive, or its smoothness and acceleration, have missed a lot. As for starting with or without a passenger on what we called (euphemistically) the “flapper-bracket,” nothing could be simpler. Just sit on the saddle, raise the exhaust valve lifter and paddle off, drop the exhaust and the engine would fire on first compression with a small throttle opening. Mr. Gibbons’ photograph of the 90-bore o.h.v. Martin-J.A.P. shows the modus operandi.

Comfort? Reasonably good and stability likewise. Troubles? Of course there were some occasionally with the belt, but if there was a total loss of power for instance, it was easy to remove it and push or coast home. Those machines were a lot less heavy than some moderns.

I had my first, a Matchless J.A.P. in 1922. There followed a 6/8 N.U.T.-J.A.P. (memories of Hugh Mason), an 8/10 o.h.v. B.A.T.-J.A.P., which was a real roadburner, and two Zeniths. Could I ride one now at age 55? I would like to have the chance, in fact I very narrowly missed the chance of buying the Zenith advertised in your excellent journal a short time ago.

I am, Yours, etc.,

C. R. Wood

Ealing.

[Come to think of it, my first motor vehicle was a 680-c.c. Zenith-Gradua. —Ed.]

***

Sir,

Although a diligent reader of the “Veteran-Edwardian-Vintage” section of your excellent magazine, I do not remember any mention of the Rhode car. I therefore enclose a picture [reproduced below — Ed.] of my much modified 1926/27 “sports-racing” version, taken in Singapore in 1932 or 1933. I must first apologise for the Citroën wheels and Michelin “real low pressure” tyres, but it was impossible at that time in Singapore to get the correct beaded-edge tyres. The roadholding was not greatly impaired, but the shrieking noises produced by enterprising cornering were notorious throughout the island!

This car, with its all-aluminium body, weighed around 1,100 lb. (1 lb. per c.c.) so that its o.h.c. four-banger and c.r. four-speed box endowed it with quite a lively performance. The only trouble was that when properly tuned, the b.h.p. was a little in excess of the power handling capacity of the “flannel joints” at each end of the drive shaft, and spare flexible fabric couplers had to be carried on long journeys into the then jungly hinterland of Malaya.

Some may remember the Rhode sports engine, which was of advanced design for the 1920s, and made use of aluminium alloys to give a very reasonable power-to-weight ratio. The single overhead camshaft was driven by bevel gears from a vertical shaft at the front end. The same shaft also drove the magneto and dynamo via two more bevel wheels, these accessories being mounted high up in front, and at 45 deg. to the vertical. The aluminium pistons were domed, and the sump contained a vast quantity of oil. There was no fan or water pump, but efficient passaging and a large radiator seemed to cope with continuous high r.p.m. in the tropical climate. There was also at that time in Singapore a saloon or drophead coupé Rhode with a “cooking engine” of more ferrous metals, and quite surprisingly inferior performance; an excellent 1927 3-litre (Le Mans type four-seater) Sunbeam, and a most potent 2.3 Bugatti. All these cars changed hands for less than $500 (Straits) = about £40, and the normal method of spares provisioning was to get a chunk of metal, a lathe and some files, and jolly well make them!

I am, Yours, etc.,

C. Keith Street

London, S.W.1.

[And I also owned an o.h.c. Rhode car! — Ed.]

***

Sir,

In 1931 a friend and I purchased an early Clyno and used it in trials. The purchase price was £3 10s. 0d. and it was a runner. After one or two trials—including the Colmore in, I think, 1932—we decided to go to town on the job and build our own “special.” The body was removed and the chassis stripped and lowered by alterations to the layout of the rear quarter-elliptics. We unearthed and fitted a four-speed gearbox with ratios of 1 to 1: 1½ to 1; 2½ to 1; 3½ to 1 and reverse of 3½ to 1. With the aid of suitable timber, expanded metal, cotton wool and fabric we built an occasional four-seater, light and rigid and, in the eyes of the makers, attractive and comfortable, although probably never so described by the passengers. The 10.8 h.p. engine was scrapped and a 12/28 h.p. fitted, after a rebore and aluminium pistons. The carburation had been by way of a Cox-Atmos carburetter on one side of the block feeding through a central hole in the block to a manifold on the opposite side which then branched to two siamese ports. Tortuous and rather asthmatical. The introduction of two S.U.s, one to each Siamese port cured the asthma and was as good as a blood transfusion to the owners. The detachable flywheel ring was detached—permanently. Acceleration became our pride and joy, but with a 5 to 1 axle ratio the car was grossly undergeared for normal road work. A second axle was built up using the crownwheel and pinion from a Model “T” Ford giving a top gear of 3½ to 1.

A straight-through silencer was made to our design and copper exhaust pipe used for the whole length. There has never been such lovely music, before or since. With 24 m.p.h. at 1.000 r.p.m. and the ability to pull the gear there was virtually no limit to the maximum speed and it could be held as long as conditions permitted.

The front end had ideas of its own at high speed but these were restrained by fitting a suitable cross member between the front dumb irons, Gear changes were improved by fitting a clutch stop, Ferodo lined and spring loaded operating against a split wheel bolted to the carden shaft between the cone clutch and the gearbox. Lightning gear changes could be made in both directions.

Anyone with the records of the L.C.C. Buxton-Buxton trial in 1932 will see that out of 52 entries there were only five first class awards and the Clyno got one of them. Since then I have had the following: two Morris 10 h.p., one M.G. Magnette with Bertelli body, one 14/60 Triumph Vitesse. four Riley Nines, two Riley Twelves, one Riley 16/4, one Austin Seven, one Austin Sixteen, one Wolseley Twelve, one Wolseley Fourteen, one each of Standard Nine, Fourteen, and Eight, two Ford Populars, one Ford Prefect, old pattern. I now have a 1956 VW; it has the only steering to come up to that of the Clyno, which was exceptional in its day.

I am, Yours, etc.,

W. Mason

Birmingham.

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