A Section Devoted to Old Car Matters
To Brighton on a Brushmobile
Since before the war I have been riding as a passenger in the London-Brighton Veteran Car Run and this year I was entered by the Montagu Motor Museum to drive their 1904 Brushmobile in this unique and exciting event.
It had been my intention to visit the Museum some days before “Brighton Sunday” in order to sort out the intricacies of driving, in heavy traffic, what is in effect a gas-engine on four wheels. In this I was frustrated, because I was informed that the Brushmobile required a new piston and that this was still being awaited a few days before the Run was due to start. I have dwelt long enough with ancient motor cars to see that it was highly unlikely that the old car would be ready. But I had not counted with R. C. Warne, the Museum’s engineer, who reassembled the engine in time, even though he had to turn up new end-pads for the wrist-pin, because the piston was delivered without them.
So, on the Saturday before the event I drove in a Ford New Anglia up to Rootes depot at Ladbroke Grove, where Georges Roesch once presided over all things appertaining to London Talbots, for here the Museum’s entries were assembled, Rootes having generously looked after their transport up from Beaulieu. I still didn’t know whether I had a car or not, but as soon as I entered the garage there was the little blue Brushmobile awaiting me. What is more, I was told it had been running the previous evening.
Beside it stood the immaculate 1904 Sunbeam which Jack Brabham and Peter Harper were to share, the great 1903 Sixty Mercedes on which I rode last year and which Maurice Smith of The Autocar was to conduct this time in view of Lord Montagu’s absence in South Africa, and a little 1903 Humberette for Barry Campbell of Rootes to drive. At first the Brushmobile didn’t wish to start, but some petrol poured into it via the automatic inlet valve worked wonders, after which there was merely a water leak to cure, which Rootes’ mechanics did very willingly with a new top hose clip. Maurice Smith was less fortunate, for the Harmsworth Mercedes was very evidently unwell and was amongst the 22 non-starters, its magneto which energises the l.t. ignition system refusing duty.
It only remained for me to learn to drive the Brushmobile round the Rootes’ factory, where traces remain of the banked track over which Roesch Talbots were tuned years ago, and then, accompanied by my enthusiastic youngest daughter, to brave the rigours of London Saturday lunch-time traffic driving over to the Gore Hotel in South Kensington, where the Museum entries, joined by Warne’s Enfield Quad, a newcomer to the Run, were to spend the night.
Driving the Brushmobile proved to be unexpectedly easy, once I had familiarised myself with the disappearance of the hand throttle and spark controls when the tiny wooden steering wheel was turned, these two little levers being mounted above the wheel, which, I was intrigued to discover, juddered about on its long, unsupported column in sympathy with the beats of the big single-cylinder engine in the very best veteran tradition — there is no foot accelerator.
The engine is virtually a single-speed unit and you have to allow time for it to gain and lose revs. It is set horizontally under a small square bonnet, its capacity being 19-c.c. under that of the Ford New Anglia in which I had arrived at the appointed rendezvous! That is to say, the single cylinder measures 101.6 X 120.7 mm., giving a capacity of 978 c.c. I do not propose to be very intelligent about the car’s technicalities because most of its mechanism is well hidden, but ignition is by coil, there is a three-speed and reverse gearbox controlled by a right-hand lever working a delightful quadrant change, and final drive is by a distinctly substantial, central roller chain. Suspension is by small coil springs all round, which can result in an amusing rocking motion developing in unison with the engine beats. A big conventional-vintage right-hand lever operates a brake on one back wheel, the foot pedal another, and I can say truthfully that never once did these brakes cause any anxiety, either in the traffic of London or along the congested road to Brighton.
The car has a small two-seater body with the most uncomfortable seat ever devised, which would have become a water trough had we encountered rain! Some protection, however, is provided by an adjustable wooden scuttle board.
The history of this 1904 6-h.p. Brushmobile is interesting. The Brush Electrical Company of Loughborough, where the engineering students come from, built motor cars from 1901-05 but these were mainly four-cylinder models. It seems that the single-cylinder Brushmobile was made only in 1904 and the Museum’s specimen, presumably the only survivor, was bought in Bristol in a sadly decayed state and rebuilt in their workshops. Apparently the engine, which has such advanced features as a positively-closed exhaust valve and phosphor-bronze big-end, was also used in the single-cylinder Vauxhalls and, indeed, this particular car had been registered in 1913 as a 6-h.p. Vauxhall coupe! Vauxhall Motors made the first batch, after which the last half-dozen were built by Brush under licence, these Loughborough vehicles being identifiable by their wheel, instead of tiller, steering. In 1958 the car successfully completed the Brighton Run, a performance I was hopeful of emulating this year.
So it was up at 4.45 a.m. and away to London in the Volkswagen with the two more-enthusiastic of my three daughters, to take the breakfast which Lord Montagu so thoughtfully provides for his drivers before they embark for Brighton. Here we were received by Major T. McMillan, the Museum’s Administrator, and broke our fast in the company of Jack and Betty Brabham, Peter Harper, Alan Brinton, etc. I was introduced to Fred Hayward of the Horseless Carriage Club of America, who had flown over to England to ride with me at Lord Montagu’s invitation and who proved to be an ideal and very enthusiastic passenger — he kept a note of our average speed without any prompting, complained but little when his right leg went to sleep at half-distance due to the aforesaid lousy seat, and shook me warmly by the hand as we chugged across the finishing line on Madeira Drive after a five hours’ drive.
This year the R.A.C. had to handle a record entry of 248 veterans but a vastly improved method of starting was in use and with no trouble at all we were on our way by 8.40 a.m., and in possession of a thermos of hot soup (handed to us by Hilary Tindall and Marina Martin, starlets in Edwardian Costume from the “Aunt Edwina” comedy at the Fortune Theatre), a present from the H. J. Heinz Company in conjunction with the British Vacuum Flask Co.
The Brushmobile was running well, and soon I was able to ease the gear lever fully forward into the top speed notch and we were surging along at some 15 m.p.h. propelled by the punches from our outsize one-lunger engine. On Brixton Hill I foolishly forgot whether low speed was forward or back from middle cog, which put out the fire about half-way up this horrifying acclivity. Luckily the engine responded to a single pull up on the enormous and distinctly crude starting handle, which is simply a three-foot tube with a tommy-bar as hand-grip, which you insert through two wooden blocks in the near-side running board. Bottom gear served to re-start us on the gradient and away we chugged, only to be halted for an appreciable time by an unsympathetic constable on point-duty at Streatham Place. Downhill to Streatham Common held no terrors but the long haul up from Croydon, where aeroplanes used to be encountered, was a slow, stern business conducted on the extreme off-side of the road.
This prompts me to remark on how splendidly the police all along the route assisted the veterans on their way and how much better this year drivers of modern cars responded in letting us have the road. At one time, beyond Bolney, the twin-track road was blocked by stationary vehicles for a mile ahead and it seemed that the “Brighton” was to become a fiasco. But somehow those efficient policemen — “specials” aiding the regulars — got the old cars through and if they do as well in the future there is no reason why the presence of two million spectators should debar the veterans from gaining their destination.
The remainder of the story of how No 178 behaved is soon told. It just went on and on, albeit extremely slowly up the hills, of which I never before realised there were so many between the Metropolis and the Prince of Seaside Resorts! I think we could have ascended faster had I not made such frequent use of bottom gear, but the long-spaced explosions caused so much knocking and rocking when “middle ” was put in that it seemed prudent to be slow but sure. It was great fun shutting the tiny throttle lever, allowing the revs. to gradually fall away, then engaging the required gear and flicking up the lever to complete a snatched change! Sometimes this lever would jump out of middle gear and it would be some moments before an alteration in the mingled confusion of sound told me what had happened.
We never understood the drip lubrication system and the spark control appeared to do nothing at all, and as the miles slowly grew fewer the engine seemed to misfire occasionally and to grow rough. We needed small-boy asistance up only one hill, however, halted for merely a few minutes to check the petrol and water levels, and got to Brighton in about five hours, not having done any work on this 55-year-old small car, which had not asked for petrol, oil or water since starting out and whose Dunlop motorcycle tyres had given no anxiety.
All that remained was to park on Madeira Drive and go in search of more Montagu hospitality, the Martini Party in the Royal Pavilion presided over by Mrs. Broad. I recall little of other competitors’ joys and misfortunes, being too occupied in coaxing all I could from the Brushmobile, but I do remember how B. K. Goodman and his lady passenger beat us on some of the hills in the 1900 3½-h.p. Benz Vis-a-Vis (which was, I believe, on its first Brighton), of having fun when the driver of Rootes’ splendid yellow solid-tyred Commer ‘bus, full of Press representatives, crashed its gears, and of seeing Fotheringham-Parker’s 1896 Lutzmann arrive at the finish with Courtenay Edwards as one of the passengers — he had a small child on his knee who must have grown quite a lot during the time they took to cover the 56 miles! I was able to point out the various vintage cars which are a feature of the road on Brighton Sunday to Fred Hayward and later my party greatly appreciated the hospitality which National Benzole so enthusiastically dispense to what must be over 1,000 hungry crews. Sammy Davis, my boyhood hero, got there in his fearsome Bollee, the American entered 1899 Locomobile steamer was going well and Peter Painter’s 1902 Wolseley, a special T.V. entry, was being loaded onto an enormous transporter in the paddock. A very interesting car was the French-entered 1903 racing de Dion Bouton of R. P. Ville, said to be an actual Paris-Madrid car, recently unearthed — it did the journey sans mudguards and other legal accoutrements and possessed a long bonnet and bolster fuel tank.
The weather was kind this time, with but a few spots of rain. Of 226 starters only 13 failed to arrive on time — the finishing control closed at 4 p.m.
All the Beaulieu entries were successful, except for the 5-h.p. Humberette which had exhaust valve trouble and the Harmsworth Mercedes, which non-started. I am indebted to the Montagu Motor Museum for allowing me to drive their Brushmobile, an experience I hope to repeat next year — I cannot imagine what my friends meant when they expressed profound surprise at seeing me at the wheel of a car with an engine at one end and the drive at the opposite end! By midnight, having ridden back to London in a useful Thames ‘bus, I had retrieved the faithful VW and returned home — another highly enjoyable Brighton Run was over. — W.B.
The “Boxing Night Informal”
The Editor of Motor Sport again proposes to cover the route of one of the old M.C.C. London-Exeter trials, starting from Staines (Market Place) before midnight on the evening of Boxing Day, Saturday, December 26th, the traditional starting time for the early “Exeters.” He invites anyone who wishes to do so to join him, at the wheel of a pre-1931 car complying with the V.S.C.C. definition of a vintage light car.
Last year a number of enthusiasts followed the 1924 Editorial Calthorpe over much of the 1924 “Exeter” route. This year it is proposed to cover much the same ground, but using an additional special requirement from the 1925 “Exeter” regulations and including, besides Peak Hill, another hill to be ascended during the hours of darkness, which figured in the 1928 London-Exeter Trial.
The run is entirely informal — there will be no entry fees, no prizes, no protests, no recriminations, and T.V. and daily paper coverage will be strongly discouraged! The only publicity accruing will be a lighthearted account of what occurs, in the February, 1960, Motor Sport.
Provisionally, the scheme is to leave Staines at a time which will allow the cavalcade to take an early breakfast near Exeter on the morning of Sunday, December 27th, after two “sections” have been climbed in the dark. The run will then return through Honiton to the Sidmouth and Lyme Regis area, where more hills will be attempted, finishing, it is hoped in daylight, at a transport cafe between Salisbury and Lobscombe Corner. Those purists who wish to complete the entire 1925 route, which finished at Staines, are obviously free to do so. This involves an out-and-home mileage of about 330 miles. Because the run is non-competitive normal insurance coverage should be adequate. If you feel you would like to join in, notify the Editor (W. Boddy) by ‘phone, either at the office (Mon 8944) or at home (Fleet 831), if possible by December 15th, when you will probably receive a route card. Whether the Editor will venture out again in his Calthorpe, in his 10-year-old daughter’s Singer Junior saloon (genuine vintage model with magneto ignition and ¼-elliptic back springs), or in some other ancient small car so far undiscovered, no one can yet tell!