Veteran Edwardian Vintage, December 1964

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The R.A.C Veteran Car Run – the editor goes to Brighton in a 1903 twin-cylinder Panhard-Levassor

The Brighton Run, this year’s the 68th Anniversary of the original Emancipation Day Run, was an event not to be missed. For the past five years Lord Montagu of Beaulieu has generously enabled me to drive a veteran from his World-famous Montagu Motor Museum and as on four occasions I have taken a different pre-1905 motor-car, the experience has been varied as well as warmly appreciated.

Each year Lord Montagu’s veterans are in great demand and this time I was to have had a Durkopp, narrowly missed driving the unstable 2¾-h.p. Sunbeam-Mabley in which James Tilling once capsized and broke an arm, and ended up with a very handsome vehicle entirely typical of the best type of veteran car towards the turn of that era, in the form of the Museum’s well-known 1903 7-h.p. twin-cylinder Panhard-Levassor.

To drive a Panhard of any kind is an honour indeed, because this make is the grandfather of all other automobiles. At first the Daimler narrow-vee 2-cylinder engine propelled them, then in 1895 Panhard came out with their own Phénix engine, replaced towards the turn of the century by the Cemaure vertical-twin.

This last-named engine powered the car I drove in this year’s Brighton Run, an engine directly descended from the 6-h.p. racing Panhard-Levassor engine of 1896/7. This vertical twin has a bore and stroke of 90/130 mm., giving the formidable capacity of 1,645 c.c. The cylinders rise neatly from a half-sphere crankcase; the inlet valves are automatic and fed through a long exposed pipe from the Panhard-Levassor single-jet, piston-throttle carburetter. This engine is cooled by a gilled-tube radiator in front and a water-tank at the back of the chassis, circulation being maintained by .a water pump driven by friction from the sizable exposed flywheel, in which it has worn a deep groove. Originally the carburetter was governed but this control has been removed from the Museum’s car, an awkwardly placed r.h. accelerator pedal dispensing with a ratchet which at one time presumably held it in any required position.

Originally, too, trembler coil ignition was used, with the make-and-break on the front of the camshaft, but at least one Centaure engine now relies on an h.t. magneto and I was disappointed to find that Lord Montagu’s car has a modern (chain-driven) distributor taking h.t. current from a modern coil and electricity from a modern 6-volt battery beneath the seat. Consequently, the door in the front apron to give access to the commutator is nowadays sealed up. The inlet valves live above the side-by-side exhaust valves on the near-side of the engine, so that the inlet pipe curves over from the carburetter which is on the off-side, while the exhaust manifold is a fine swept-back 2-branch free-flow affair merging into the down-pipe.

This pleasing and beautifully-made 180° twin is said to develop. 7 b.h.p. at around 800-1,000 r.p.m.

The gearbox provides three forward speeds and reverse, Panhard being as undecided as Hispano-Suiza was at a rather later date as to whether the customer deserved three or four speeds. The cone clutch is of unusual construction, its shaft going right through the gearbox, with the clutch spring on the back of it, and final drive is by side chains. The hand-brake operates contracting band brakes on the back wheels, the foot pedal a transmission drum brake.

“My” Panhard had the same size (875 x 105) Dunlop herringbone-tread tyres on all its yellow wheels and a simple but pleasing green 2-seater body with the usual locker behind that one finds on many veteran ears and which is too shallow for the effective stowage of petrol, oil and water tins. A plate on the dashboard proclaimed it a “Type 1902, No. 570.” The simple, lift-up, heavily-brass-bound bonnet has the water filler cap protruding from it, and a single P. & H. headlamp is mounted centrally before the radiator on a bar Conveniently arranged to swing out of the way when the starting handle is being used, this handle being connected to the engine by chain and having a tiny pawl which has to be pushed-in to engage this drive. There are Lucas “King of the Road” oil side-lamps, twin oil rear-lamps, and a Klaxon horn which is probably a bit out of period.

Reverting to the engine, not only has it the racing pedigree aforesaid but the adoption of a radiator into the cooling system, dates from Giradot’s innovation for the 1897 Paris-Dieppe race, although this was mounted at the back and consequently apt to be dirt-clogged, so that it was moved to the front for the 12-h.p. model of 1899.

So I was to have my hands on an automobile of worthy racing ancestry, although the production 7-h.p. Panhard-Levassor was sturdy and reliable rather than sporting and, in spite of wheel steering, still followed the original Systeme Panhard of 1891 which set the fashion for the majority of automobiles for many decades.

This particular Montagu Museum 7-h.p. Panhard has an interesting history. It was -supplied originally to Mr. John Morant of New Park, Brockenhurst, in the New Forest of Hampshire, adjacent to the site of its present Museum home, in 1903, by the Imperial Motor Works of Lyndhurst. Its keen first owner took it in 1904, resplendent in its then-white paint with red trim, to Venice and set out to drive to Athens. Alas, this attempt was unsuccessful, the chauffeur giving up owing to an attack of dysentery (which made me hope ray stomach would not misbehave between London and Brighton!), Mr. Morant returning home to England.

Some years later, New Forest Services Ltd., a company which had taken over the Imperial Motor Works, re-purchased the Panhard, using it for petrol deliveries to farms which in those days were cut off in remote areas of the New Forest but whose farmers had bought motors and tractors. When not so engaged the car was displayed in their showrooms. In 1959 the body was overhauled and the Panhard took part in the recording of the long-playing record, “Sixty Years of Motoring.”

The Montagu Motor Museum purchased it in 1960 at the first Veteran & Vintage Auction Sale and for a time dated it as 1902. It has since been used as a photographic background, visitors to the Museum putting on period hats to have their pictures taken sitting in it—a matter of some comfort to me, as I felt that I might not cut any more ridiculous figure driving the car in my habitual Brighton Run “Bibendum” garb of Sidcot-suit and flying helmet, although the Continental Correspondent did his utmost to get me into a vast and hairy pioneer motoring coat and Russian fur-hat, which the rest of the family refused to tolerate…

Preparations for driving to Brighton in this Panhard-Levassor included borrowing an extremely useful Avon-shod Vauxhall Velox from Vauxhall Motors as a towing-vehicle and the Firestone-shod trailer from Dudley Gahagan on which he transports his well-known E.R.A.

Thus equipped, I drove down to Beaulieu on the Friday beforehand, for a driving lesson. Compared to some veterans, control of the Panhard is comparatively simple, and has been rendered more so because the original twist-grips on the spoke of the near-vertical steering wheel, for ignition advance-and-retard, are not coupled up on Lord Montagu’s car, a small lever on the left of the dashboard serving this purpose instead.

The steering is very direct, and heavy. The piano pedal controlling the clutch is at an awkward an*, so that my loot slipped Off it all too readily, and the tiny accelerator pedal is so looted that unless one’s right foot is at a most uncomfortable angle, the brake pedal comes down on top of it whenever the clutch pedal is depressed!

Otherwise, driving the 1903 1.6-litre Panhard twin is reasonably easy, the More so as although there is an impressive array, of different Size and type brass lubricators on the knee-high dash, for the big-ends, pistons, gearbox and differential/bevel final drive pinions. I was told to ignore all except a motorcycle-type plunger pump which feeds the engine via a drip-feed.

The r.h.. gear-lever is of quadrant type, back for reverse; then through neutral into 1st, and and top speeds, its pawl more or less inoperative and the long movements between middle and top speeds catching me out when I came to make the shorter one back into 1st speed, so that invariably I got neutral. Outside the long gear-lever the hand-brake pushes on to apply quite powerful brakes.

After the big petrol tank directly beneath the driver(!) had been filled and likewise the water tank, I tried my hand at emulating the feats of pioneers like Giradot and Chevalier Rene de Knyff on the still unspoiled road towards the Panhard’s original home at Lyndhurst.

The steering needed concentration, and both hands. The gear quadrant problem I have mentioned, and I also found, as Kent Karslake had done when he drove the 19o1 Panhard “Le Papillon Bleu,” that AA 14, as the Museum car is registered, would only take top speed on absolutely level roads, and then reluctantly.

However, returning to the garage, we lifted the coal-scuttle bonnet to find the engine smothered in dirty black oil, which had apparently been emitted from the breather pipe and flung around by the liming gears, which are exposed save for circular casings over them, thus “shorting” No.1 sparking plug. The mechanic drained oil from the sump while I pointed out a water leak to Louis Giron, the Museum’s Chief Engineer. I was told that all should be well, after the water-union nuts on the head had been tightened, and that spare plugs would be in the Museum tender-car that was to follow us to Brighton.

And so, not very optimistically, I set the trusty Vauxhall to tow the Panhard-Levassor to Hyde Park in the early a.m. of Brighton Sunday, there to meet my passenger, Arthur Sigal, President of the Antique Motorcycle club of America.

I had got to Brighton on three out of five attempts. What, I wondered, would the sixth attempt have in store for me?

* * *

There was slight panic at fog which delayed the tow to London, but the Vauxhall did its best to alleviate this by its excellent reversing lamps and wing-mirrors. Unloaded, the Panhard commenced first pull-up, Mr. Sigal got up beside me and we were off, the Shuttleworth Trust de Dietrich; sans back mudguards, thundering past in true racing fashion on our left.

For some miles I resumed my driving lesson, until I was moderately proficient at finding the cogs on the quadrant. After this all went splendidly, although wet mist sent shivers through us not attributable to the car’s vibrations, this persisting until beyond Purley, after which a November sun shone from a pale blue sky and the joy of the thing was restored in full measure. Brixton Hill bad presented no difficulties, but a traffic hold-up in Croydon reminded me of the anxiety of locating bottom speed on the quadrant and of the likelihood that once “in,” it would probably jump. “out.”

Beyond Purley I put in the 3rd speed and the Panhard rattled along quite fast, with a curious galloping motion which, if speed fell off, became a pronounced torque-reaction telling the driver to return quickly to middle gear. By doing a leisurely double-declutch, allowing the revs time to increase, this speed could be put in smoothly and inaudibly. Yet, now it was thoroughly warm, I found I could use the highest speed quite frequently; it could even be kept in up mild gradients.

Moreover, the Panhard took most of the notorious Brighton Road hills strongly in second, and proved able to restart on the worst of them in bottom gear without trouble. Consequently, the route held no terrors for us, and we stopped only when I missed getting into bottom when restarting on congested Handcross Hill, I think it was (the modern dual carriageways have taken most of the character out of the Brighton Road and consequently the hills are difficult, to identify). My passenger leapt out, followed by myself to show him the starting pawl, he swung her, and we were off, declining offers of a push.

On another hill I let the clutch with its awkward and slippery piano pedal go and we jumped a foot into the air—both times fault of slovenly driving by a novice! If I baulked anyone while I tried to humour the quadrant-change, I apologise. In fact, I cannot recall many of the veterans we overtook, except for Lord and Lady Strathcarron in the snugness of their 1903 Georges-Richard limousine, Sammy Davis and his wife on the 1897 Leon-Bollee tricar, and Kenneth Ball cheerfully riding his 1899 Deschamps tricycle. I was also glad to see others of the 13 Panhards which had started going well, including John Bolster’s 1902 sister-type. No. 162 never faltered. Indeed, the Panhard proved as tractable as a vintage car, so that instead of frantically trying to find a way through, we could pause with the modern traffic and get going again with very little effort. Leaving the starting area at 8.35 a.m., we came to the finish at 12 noon, an average speed of 16.7 m.p.h., and for the last 15 miles I had nursed the engine, which sometimes pulled sweetly, at other times emitted such horrible clankings that I thought both big-ends had “run”; I can only hope that such a cacophony is as natural to these cars as the vibration from their engines when running light, which disappears under running conditions. I have also read that the noise of a Panhard-Levassor twin and its indirect gears drown the noise of the final drive, but I swear that once we were in top speed I heard clearly the merry music of the chains. The ride on the springs which suspend the armoured wooden chassis that Panhard retained until 1905 is quite good, apart from that lolloping gait, at speed, and I did not notice the emission of any oil smoke or water vapour. There was still plenty of petrol in the tank at Brighton. Crude to a degree, the 1903 Panhard nevertheless personifies the best traits of the later veterans. In spite of the short wheelbase directional control was satisfactory except for lurches over the “temporary surface” of the Gatwick By-Pass, and although the steering seemed to get heavier towards the end, I couldn’t decide whether this was due to lack of grease or tiring wrists!

Mr. Sigal was a happy and enthusiastic, if cold, companion, who really enjoyed the Run, being surprised at the crowds lining the route and warm in his praise of the organisation. This time the roads were mostly almost deserted, except for actual traffic blocks in a town or on the hills, and the Police everywhere were exceedingly helpful. Arrived at Brighton, the Mayor, Lord Montagu and Mr. F. C. Glover of the Brighton Motor Museum, National Benzoic and the R.A.C. Press caravan competed in overwhelming us with hospitality.

Another “Brighton” is over—long live the Brighton Run!

* * *

This year there were 23 non-starters out of 257 entries, and 13 failed to complete the Run. First to arrive at Brighton was Basil Davenport of G.N. “Spider” fame, in his 1902 Century Tandem, bought for 50s. in the good old pre-war days of the hobby. He seems to have overlooked the rule of not averaging more than 20 m.p.h. and so, apparently had Count Labia in his giant 24-h.p. De Dietrich and several others. Yet they all qualified for finishing plaques. The 1894 Bremer, allegedly Britain’s oldest car, and for which a special Parliamentary concession had to be made before it could be taxed, left with 6 fiveminute concession in a glare of publicity and went out with a broken crankshaft. Bruce McLaren drove the Rootes Group 1904 Sunbeam in the absence of Jack Brabham, and Jim Clark shared with Lord Montagu the 1903 Sixty Mercedes, which expired on the finishing-line with a petrol blockage. Vauxhall Motors’ 1904 Vauxhall unfortunately broke its back axle.

The most popular make was De Dion Bouton, of which 40 left Hyde Park; there were 14 Panhard-Levassors, 13 Benz, 12 Humbers, 9 Peugeots, 9 Wolseleys and 8 Renaults amongst the more popular of these pre-1905 cars. This year those that failed were the 1894 Bremer, Flather’s 1897 Daimler, Williams’ 1899 Century Tandem, Slater’s English Mechanic, the Varley/Marshall 1900 Locomobile steamer, the Cheddar Motor Museum’s 1901 Locomobile steamer, Lord Strathcona’s 1903 Humberette, Baron Ruben-Levetzau’s 1903 Renault Landaulette, the Haywards’ 1904 Cadillac, Hartleys’ 1904 De Dion Bouton, Harrison’s 1904 Humberette, Sharpe’s 1904 Pope-Tribune and Vauxhall Motors’ 1904 Vauxhall.—W. B.

* * *

A 750 M.C. anniversary

On April 16th, 1939, the opening run took place of the then newly-formed 750 M.C., an invention of Bill Boddy’s mainly to promote trials more suitable for Austin Sevens and similar small cars than the prevailing mud-larks which were dominated by “knobby-shod” Ford V8s. Since then the 750 M.C. has gone from strength to strength, remaining primarily a racepromoting and sporting organisation under its 750 and 1172 “poor-bod’s” racing formulae. Rather late in the day, spurred on perhaps by the historic endeavours of the Austin 1214 Register, it decided to cater for original Austin Sevens.

On October 25th the Club held its 25th Anniversary Run, over a route in Surrey, devised then as in 1939, by John Moon, and following much the pattern of the original frolic. Founder members Bill Boddy, Bill Butler, John Moon and Tom Lush were persuaded to attend, and a truly representative cavalcade of pre-war Austin Sevens, of varying age, type and condition, lent support, to the delight of even the National Press.

The long line of cars, there must have been over sixty of them, left Virginia Water, led by Register Secretary John Thorne’s immaculate 1929 Swallow saloon and that excellent institution, the Register’s 1932 Austin Seven van driven by V. Orchard. It was intended that Bill Boddy, Editor of Motor Sport, driving a 1937 Ruby lent by Brewster Cobb, a 3-bearing Birmingham-registered saloon which has spent all its life in the Cobb family, should come next, as he had led the 1939 event. However, Boddy gave way to older Sevens and, having quickly mastered the minute clutch pedal movement, took his place about half-way down the long line of ancient Austin productions, which included a 1930 fabric saloon, Chummies, Hodge’s 1931 W.D. Scout car, Ninnies, Opel 2-seaters, saloons of many different years, Rubys galore; and a curious tourer which seemed bent on proving, by way of brass taps as sidelamps, that it was a comic mobile bath. In Guildford this impressive cavalcade got itself thoroughly mixed-up in spite of a Patrolling, very sporting 3-litre Bentley, and Buddy arrived first at Newlands Corner, where, in the gathering dusk, the Concours d’Elegance was judged by himself (for vintage Austins), Bill Butler (for 1931-35 cars) and John Moon (the post-I935 cars).

Before the start of the Run Gavin Fairfax presented his award, for the best Seven of them all, to B. Moore, who came in a quite immaculate 1933 saloon with contemporary disc wheels.

The vintage class was a close thing between R. E. Powell’s 1927 tourer from Lee, laid up since 1932 and only recently discovered, in correct dark blue paint with original leather hood, although maybe its plated, scuttle-mounted sidelamps should have been black(?), Thorne’s Swallow, and Oborn’s 1930 fabric saloon with very clean engine but non-original carburetter. The tourer was given the prize although, seeing it was on Trade Plates, one hopes it will not be immediately advertised for some absurdly weighty bag of gold.

The middle class went to W. Hodge’s 1931 WD model, and the late-model class was a tie between D. Day’s 1936 Nippy, also from Lee, and Tiedeman’s 1938 Ruby. There were some absolutely splendid cars present, including a really creditable 1934 grey saloon. The longest-distance award went to I. Downes’ 1930 tourer, from Nottingham. He did not come up to receive it, rumour having it that he was asleep in his car and no-one liked to wake him up!

Mike Eyre spent the afternoon with his enthusiasm divided between his enormous Pontiac Parisienne and a borrowed Austin 65 sports, and the Chessington Group had six identical 1933 saloons in the same shade of green, making their own eve-catching procession. Three cars dated from 1927.

It was an excellent anniversary even if someone had surely forgotten that the clocks had gone back that day, so that Buddy presented the prizes in nocturnal dimness before the long line of Sevens, lights twinkling rather than blazing, wended its way back to Virginia Water via some country-lane territory.

* * *

Bull-Nose statistics.—When 37 cars attended the Oxford Rally of the Morris Bull-Nose Club last September, painstaking Lytton Jarman and Bob Knox compiled some statistics about them, typical of this Club, which s. notably meticulous about correct restoration and Morris history. We lift these notes from the Club Newsletter :-
Ignition: Twenty-eight original Lucas magnetos, two Bosch, two Watford, one Simms, one M.L, one modern Lucas tractor magneto .and two coil conversions.
Carburetters: Twenty Smiths (seven single jet, three “twisty” five jet, 10 straight-through five jet), 16 S.U. (only tour were original fittings), one Solex,
Wheels: Five sets of headed-edge and 32 sets of wellbase.

Holyoak’s and Kane’s 1925 Oxford’s both had Smiths single jet carburetters fitted, whereas Morris literature hints that they should have Smiths “twisty” five jet instruments, the single jet Smiths being reserved for Cowleys. It is unwise to be dogmatic about the carburetter types used between 1922 and 1924, and possibly the vagueness of Morris literature on this point was intentional. It was pleasing to note that some of the early cars still retained their B.E. wheels.

* * *

The Guy Fawkes’ Night “Phoenix” Meeting at Hartley Wintney was very decorous, producing none of the high-jinks of pre-war November 5th V.S.C.C. gatherings, when giant pimping-crackers were lit and ‘flung into the hotel, with Tim Carson at the bar trying to keep order, and rockets were fired from bottles canted at such angles that they raced motorists along the comparatively deserted A 30, passing unsuspecting cars, legend suggests, one on each side…

The 1964 November 5th “Phoenix”-evening produced a couple of “real” Morgan 3-wheelers, the vast open 4-S.U. straight-eight Delage, which has been painted, a big Humber tourer which was probably draughty, a low-chassis 4½-litre Invicta, an Open 3-litre Bentley and a stately 2-door 12/50 Alvis saloon. Otherwise, vintage and p.v.t. vehicles were not prominent, well-known vintagents preferring Volvos and suchlike on this occasion.

Merely old cars were represented by several sports M.G.’s, a Type 45 B.M.W., and a vast Vauxhall saloon of indeterminate model which someone said “was probably the property of the President of the O.C.C.”

Motor Sport’s Continental Correspondent came in a 1929 Austin Seven metal saloon, which promptly attracted another similar model and a later Seven, and, even more astonishing, one of the Editor’s daughters arrived in her 1934 Austin 10/4 saloon, parked it out of sight, and returned to discover it flanked on one side by an identical 10/4 and on the other by a rare 10/4 2-seater and all three were displaying L-plates! It could only happen at “The Phoenix,” surely?

* * *

New Vintage and Historic racing car definitions

The V.S.C.C. has issued the following announcement:—

The rules regarding the above have been revised and in future cars will be grouped as follows—but in every case acceptance at the discretion of the Committee, and full details of the Car and its racing history must be submitted to the Committee for consideration before the car can be accepted for an event.
Cars in Groups 2, 3 and 4 wilt not be aceepted for any event until they have been examined by an R.A.C. scrutineer, and certain parts crack-tested. etc. Certificate forms will be available shortly from the Secretary (this applies to cars which have already competed in Club events as well as new ones).
A. Vintage racing cars of type raced before December 31st 1930.
B. Historic racing cars. Cars specially built for racing or (except in Group 3) specially and offensively modified for racing.

Historic racing cars are divided into the following groups:
1. Cars of a type raced before 31/12/43.
2. Single-seater cars with four or more cylinders built for rating between 1/11/44 and 31/12/33.
3. Front-engined Grand Prix cars that competed in races to the 1956-1960 Formula One.
4. Sprint or special cars of particular interest built between 1/1144 and 31/12/53.
5, Sports cars raced prior to 30/12/43 provided the Committee are satisfied they were prepared for an International race.

We have heard criticism that the inclusion of cars built as recently as 1960 is a move to increase spectator gates at race meetings and makes a nonsense of the term “historic.” It could also result in drivers of the calibre of Graham Hill being entered in a V16 B.R.M. and, say, Clark in a Vanwall—although we doubt if Daimler-Benz appreciate how popular the entry of one of their pre- or post-war F.1 cars at Oulton Park would be!—which would be hard on amateur entrants and somewhat foreign to the spirit in which pre-war E.R.A.s; Bugattis, etc:, have been prepared and driven in V.S.C.C. races in the past.

The new classifications also add complication to V.S.C.C. affairs, for there are now nine or more recognised categories. The expected division of V.S.C.C. races into those for pre-1940 and those for post-war historic racing ears is not contained in this announcement and it seems a pity that vintage racing cars need not necessarily have been raced prior to 1931, whereas the ruling for sports cars is more strict. One wonders, too, why a type of car raced on December 31st 1930, is not eligible! On the whole, however, this is Obviously a sincere attempt to ensure that old racing cars of the more desirable and exciting type are preserved and exercised, but the price of 250F Maseratis and suchlike must be soaring.

* * *

Discoveries.—An alloy body with wings, from a 1935 3½-litre Bentley, is offered free to anyone caring to remove it from the chassis, which is in the Leeds area. There is also a rough, circa 1924 Clyno for sale in Bedford, and a Marmon Roosevelt and a 1930 Buick are to be restored in Cyprus.