Veteran – Edwardian – Vintage



A section devoted to old-car matters

By light car to Brighton

One of the most popular and eagerly supported motoring events of November is the annual R.A.C. Veteran Car Run to Brighton, which this year attracted a record entry of 265 pre-1905 cars. Watching this unique event is great fun, as the vast crowds of spectators who lined the route and the 250 American visitors who flew over in two Boeing Stratocruisers appreciate. Riding on a veteran is even better fun but to savour the full delights of the Brighton Run you have to drive a veteran from Hyde Park towards Madeira Drive.

Last year, through the courtesy of Lord Montagu, I was able to do this, arriving successfully, if slowly, on his 1904 6-h.p. Brushmobile, which although afflicted with a punctured carburetter float, scarcely faltered. I should have taken a tip and asked for the same veteran again but I happened to say to Lord Montagu that something a trifle faster would be more acceptable next time. Consequently, with the co-operation of the Montagu Motor Museum and the Rootes Group, I was this year provided with a 1903 5-h.p. Humberette. These little Humberettes are typical veteran light cars, of a type current in 1903/4. The engine is a de Dion type single cylinder with automatic inlet valve and the now-classical “square” dimensions of 92.2 by 92.2 mm. (613 c.c.). This lives conventionally under a low bonnet, is cooled by a normal radiator and a water pump driven by a bicycle chain, while ignition is by battery and trembler coil. The carburetter is of Longumare type, gravity fed, and the drive goes through a two-speed gearbox to a conventional back axle. Suspension is by 1/2-elliptic springs and when new a Humberette of this sort cost a mere £147.

On the Saturday prior to the Run I went to the Gore Hotel in Kensington. Lord Montagu’s headquarters, for a driving lesson. It was then that I came to realise what I had ahead of me.

To begin with, you crank a Humberette anti-clockwise, and I was warned that the detachable starting handle likes to fly off and hit you in the face. Bob Warne, Lord Montagu’s engineer, can do it; I decided to push …

I also discovered that although I had a genuine Coventry Humberette, with controls somewhat different from those of a Beeston-Humberette, driving is still literally a handful. The wooden-rimmed steering wheel with its single spoke controls the heaviest, least sensitive and quite the highest-geared (only there are no gears) steering I have ever encountered. Around the wheel are clustered two gear levers and three minor control levers. Luckily, on this particular Humberette reverse has long since ceased to function, so I merely had to concentrate on the left-hand vertical lever, which selects low or high speed to choice. The snag is that the lever is below the wheel, so either you dive for it past the spoke and chop off your hand when cornering, or you fumble for it below the wheel rim. Moreover, the movement is considerable and the lever, which moves stiffly has to be persuaded out of one slot, past the neutral slot, into the next slot, during which time, if you are changing up, engine revs will have died almost to zero and you have to reverse the process to re-acquire low speed.

Engine speed is controlled by two small levers moving together transversely on the Coventry, up and down on the Beeston-Humberettes. These control throttle and spark but the latter has more effect, neither gives a great deal of response, so you push them over their quadrants together. There is also a bigger lever ahead of the steering wheel which looks after the air control and I was told I must “play” this as on a motorcycle. There are but two pedals, a not-bad clutch, and a brake said to act on the transmission. Then there was a long outside brake lever operating the diminutive wheel brakes, retardation necessitating reaching back for this, disengaging it from its ratchet and pushing it forward. There was also a bulb horn I couldn’t blow and a rear-view mirror in which you saw precisely nothing! Oh, and a hand oil pump most inaccessibly located on the off-side corner of the dash. All told, I reckoned the 1960 Veteran Car Run would keep me busy!

Naturally I intended to do my best to coax the Humberette to Brighton, for one owes this to one’s entrant, but I was not particularly optimistic, for, having suggested driving it up from Beaulieu to my home by way of practice the week before, I had been told it would be better to preserve it for the ordeal ahead of it. However, I was up at 4 a.m. on Brighton Sunday and driving to the start in a heavily-laden Morris Mini-Traveller to the Gore Hotel, where I put on so many clothes that I resembled Mon. Bibendum, that figure of fun and good tyres whom I admire so much.

I was introduced to my passenger, who, as the photograph shows, was as cheerful as I was worried, and whose motoring tastes centre round a modern Rolls-Royce, a twin-cam Facellia and a Mini-Minor, and we made the start. Here John Ahern, who was driving his 1903 Beeston-Humberette looked “mine” over, seemed to approve, and told us to stay with him as he was equipped with plenty of spares. His young passenger said he would crank us up. I felt more confident.

In the end we got off to a push-start, held everyone up until the revs condescended to climb and I had eased in the clutch, then left Hyde Park going strongly. In the Mall I even got into high speed and we surged away strongly to the “tuff-tuff” of the de Dion single. I felt we should see the sea by 1.30 a.m. Seconds later the engine cut out …

After that we never covered more than yards under power. Lord Montagu had already thundered by in his Sixty Mercedes, carrying a B.B.C. man and the girl who had won the ride in a T.V. competition. Luckily Comdr. Bush, from the Museum, was following and he came to our aid. While he blew through the fuel system and looked at the plug he told us the Museum’s tender-car mit trailer, was close behind. My passenger said his personal tender car, cum trailer, was also coming along. We never saw either of them again that day!

So, surrounded by camera-happy Americans and early morning spectators, Comdr. Bush nobly set about investigating the trouble; for which we had no spares of any description, not even a tyre pump.

The sun sank, the Horse Guards finished their parading, another Humberette which had died a hundred yards behind us with a dud battery, was towed away. Our trembler coil, an ancient model-T relic, had decided to work to rule and not for long at that.

No more veterans had been going by for a long time, so we reluctantly roped the Humberette to Cmdr. Bush’s Renault Dauphine and towed it away. My 1960 “Brighton” had lasted perhaps two miles.

The journey down was completed aerostably, but it was then too late for Lord Montagu’s cocktail party or National Benzole’s hospitality and I was so hungry that I refused Cecil Clutton’s kind offer of a ride in the Parade in the famous F. S. Bennett 1903 Cadillac which he had brought through successfully. Death by slow starvation had, indeed, been averted only because we had some excellent Australian raisins which a charming Australian girl had handed to us at the start … Nineteen others, besides myself, out of 243 starters, failed this time to gain a Commemoration Plaque. Ironically, Lord Montagu told me there were nineteen spare coils in his tender vehicle!

I see, from the official handout, that I retired on Westminster Bridge with gasket trouble, but that has happened before in motor contests! And I still went to Brighton in a light car, even if it wasn’t a veteran. – W.B.

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There was more trouble than ever this year; it seems some cars, such as Lowden’s 1912 Quadrant (broken belt), Bailey’s 1904 Phoenix (no gears), Harrison’s 1900 Phoebus (seized shaft), Mawer’s 1904 Oldsmobile and Shaw’s1902 Beaufort failed very close to the finish and some were pushed in, according to R.A.C. reports. Even “Sammy” Davis’ Billeé broke its crankshaft, and Brabham’s 1904 Sunbeam was on the three cylinders for much of the run. The other Montagu Museum entries all finished, except Boddy’s Humberette. Lord Montagu’s Mercedes, like Hampton’s Mercedes, had momentary fuel feed trouble. Bob Warne, the Museum engineer, got through successfully on the 1900 Royal Enfield forecar, with brave lady passenger riding in front, a broken brake rod of the day before having been welded successfully. Parnell’s de Dion merely ran out of petrol.

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The Montagu Motor Museum’s 1903 Mercedes and 1903 Fiat took their compulsory vehicle tests before T. V. cameras on the Saturday. Both passed.

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At his cocktail party Lord Montagu announced that if plans now before the Council are approved, Brighton will have its own Motor Museum, in the Aquarium buildings, organisation being by the Aquarium’s Board of Directors in conjunction with the Montagu Motor Museum, which will work in close co-operation with the Brighton Motor Museum.


S.T.D. Register Sandhurst Rally

The Sunbeam S.T.D. Register held its usual successful rally, concours d’elegance and driving tests at The Royal Military Academy, Camberley, with the co-operation of the R.M.A. Motor Club, late in October. For the record, here are the results:–

Concours d’Elegance: (Judged by John Bland and C. Paget) :—

1st: A. Durnford (1925 14/40 Sunbeam tourer) – 63 pts.

2nd: A. Forshaw (1929 Twin-Cam 3-litre Sunbeam, 2-seater) – 62 pts.

3rd: E. South (1913 12/16 Sunbeam tourer) – 61 pts.

Driving Tests:

1st: P. Moores (1931 Talbot 105 tourer) – 135 pts.

2nd: A. Archer (1932 Talbot 105) – 143 pts.

3rd: A. Rawlings (1929 Talbot 14/45) – 143-1/2 pts.

4th: D. S. Jenkinson (1924 Grand Prix Sunbeam) – 148 pts.


America’s first car

According to the October-November issue of Antique-Automobile, America’s first gasolene automobile was built by John William Lambert in 1891. It was a four-stroke 3-1/2 in. x 4 in. single cylinder with make-and-break ignition, a vapourising carburetter, water-cooling, two forward speeds and final drive by two chains. It had a small front wheel and two large back wheels, weighed 560 lb. and was priced at 550 dollars. This precedes by a year the claim of the Duryea brothers.



Cmdr. C. L. A. Wollard is convinced that his Leon-Bolleé is of 1895 vintage, but the V.C.C. insist that it is 1896. It was entered for the Brighton Run but did not start.


More “finds” ! An A.B.C. chassis of about 1922 vintage has been dragged from a hedge in Worcestershire, yet another Rover Eight is in process of restoration in Sussex, a 1928 Morris-Cowley saloon was being given away in London and Getley has bought a Chater-Lea light car chassis with what appears to be, an engine tuned for racing.

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Vintage farm tractors have been in the news recently and now it seems that a dump at Shaftesbury harbours some and that there is an International Titan languishing in Dursley, Glos.

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Further to our “Search for Steam” (page 957 last month), a reader has sent us some bulletins of the North Staffordshire & Cheshire Traction Engine Club which confirm most definitely that the United Africa Company still have four Super Sentinel steam wagons in use and intend to keep them in working order as long as possible. One of these is a 1929 wagon (we were in error in describing the Super Sentinel as post-vintage, of course), which still does the Liverpool-Manchester run every week, via the Mersey Tunnel, with 13/14-ton load. Criddles also still operate two steam wagons in this area but the Super Sentinel owned by George Davis has been withdrawn from service and is for sale at scrap price.

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The Vintage Standard Car Register goes from strength to strength. Several new Standards have been unearthed, including a 1913 six-cylinder 23.6-h.p. tourer in Belfast, another 1913 “Rhyl” 9.5-h.p. two-seater which had been used on a Sussex farm but is now being restored, and a very rare 16-h.p. six-cylinder 1930 Avon Special found in Weybridge and of which only about 100 were built. Besides these a 1928 “Falmouth” fabric saloon has turned up in Macclesfield, a 1928 “Coleshill” two-seater is being rebuilt in Salisbury, and a 1921 S20 11.6-h.p. two-seater has been found, in company with several pre-war cars including two vintage Austin Twelve saloons and a penny-farthing bicycle, in a tumbledown wooden garage which opened in 1902 and closed down in 1939, the Standard having been taken in part-exchange, in 1936. Altogether, 64 Standards are now on the Register’s books and they are always glad to hear of others. The 1929 “Fulham” saloon which attended the Opening Rally this year is to be housed in the Herbert Museum in Coventry and the Register plans another rally next May, at a seaside resort – could it be Teignmouth?

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A Yorkshire farmer is using a 1928 model-A Ford with open pick-up body which gives no trouble and always starts third swing.

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Amongst cars discovered recently by readers, there is a Bean, without its body, which is used for hauling boats up a slipway in North Wales, an Austin Twelve two-seater with dickey of about 1927 vintage said to be in good order which has been found in a breaker’s yard in Birmingham, and the remains of a Cubitt on a farm in the West Country, which had been used before the war as a tractor until it threw a con.-rod. Only a few parts of this remain, which might be useful for spares. Letters can be forwarded.

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Anyone requiring information about vintage German cars is invited to contact Mr. G. Krasker, Jnr., 69, Beckenham Close, Ruislip, Middlesex, who has a book published in Birmingham in 1927, which gives a great deal of information about German cars, lorries, buses, special purpose vehicles, and Bosch magnetos, etc.


“Boxing Night informal”

The Editor expects to follow the route of an early London-Exeter Trial again on Boxing Night and will welcome any owners of vintage light cars. cyclecars or vintage motorcycles who care to join in. It is expected that much the same route will be followed as last year, Ieavieg Staines at 10.30 p.m., taking breakfast at a lorry-driver’s cafe near Exeter if this can be arranged, and returning to the London side of Salisbury before dark. The route embraces five mild hills famous in the ‘twenties and if practicable two tests which featured in the London-Exeter Trial of those days will be included. There is no entry fee, no prizes, no publicity (other than Motor Sport coverage) and no protests are allowed! Any changes of plan will be outlined in the route card, which can be obtained by ringing the Editor (W. Boddy) at MON 8944, or Fleet 831, or by dropping a p.c. (stating the vehicle you propose to drive) to Motor Sport, 15, City Road, E.C.1, by December 15th.