A Section Devoted to Old-Car Matters
A Powerful and Practical Veteran.—The 1903 16-h.p. F.I.A.T. after its on-schedule arrival at Brighton in this year’s Veteran Car Run. It was soon back for another year’s sojourn in the Brighton Museum at the other end of the Madeira Drive.
Down To The Sea In A F.I.A.T.
The Editor Goes Through the Veteran Car Run to Brighton in Lord Montagu’s 1903 16-h.p. Tourer
In recent years I have been fortunate in driving one or other of the Montagu Motor Museum’s veterans in the R.A.C./V.C.C. London–Brighton Veteran Car Run, described in some quarters as the most sporting motoring event on the calendar. This year all the Museum cars were allocated to those who had not driven them previously but Lord Montagu generously provided a seat for me on the 1903 F.I.A.T. jointly entered by himself and Fiat (England) Ltd., which he was driving in this year’s Run, for which 282 entries of pre-1905 vehicles had been received, but of which not more than 250 are allowed by the Police to start from Hyde Park.
The F.I.A.T. in which I was to travel has a rather obscure history but it was apparently in continuous use up to 1912. As far as I can ascertain it was discovered in a barn on a Northamptonshire farm (where a steam traction-engine was used for threshing) in 1930, at the time when the V.C.C. had recently been formed and the Brighton Run was emerging from its earlier newspaper associations. When discovered it seems to have been pretty complete, with huge drum-shaped headlamp mounted in front of the radiator.
In 1903 F.I.A.T. were beginning to get to grips with the export markets of the World, selling cars to France, England and then to America, notably their 12-h.p. model, which had l.t. ignition and patented automatic lubrication worked by water pressure, for its 4-cylinder engine. The F.I.A.T. found on that farm in 1903 was a 16-h.p, car, the mechanical specification of which was, however, similar to that of the smaller model. It was taken under the protective wing of the Fiat concessionaires and made presentable in time to take its place with other early cars in a special 1896-1913 Historical Exhibit at the 1930 Olympia Show. It was then driven in the Veteran Car Run that year by Sir Maxwell Monson, who had driven the first F.I.A.T. to reach this country; it run well, averaging 21.27 m.p.h., but had been incorrectly dated, as 1900. After this I think it competed in a few more “Brightons,” driven by Westwood and Powys-Lybbe, although its wrong dating and the fact that the latter racing driver sometimes entered a different older F.I.A.T.., confuses the issue.
Then, for many years, it lay neglected at Fiat’s Water Road depot. I used to see it there and suggested that it should be restored. But although genuine veteran cars were by now extremely rare discoveries, nothing was done, until the first auction sales drew attention to the very high values placed on such cars. It was then that Fiat at Wembley, in conjunction with the Montagu Motor Museum, began the task of restoration. By 1960 this F.I.A.T., the second oldest in this country, was again taking part in the Veteran Car Run. (I am indebted to Michael Sedgwick, whom I met at the splendid post-Run party which Lord Montagu and Mr. F. C. Glover of the Brighton Motor Museum put on for their guests, for filling in some of the gaps for me. Incidentally, how nice to meet at this party some of those who no longer drive in the Run, but who have never lost their enthusiasm for it, like Sammy and Susan Davis, St. John Nixon, etc.)
It was in this powerful veteran that we were to journey to the seaside on the first Sunday in November. When I went to inspect the F.I.A.T. in the Cumberland Hotel garage on the foggy evening prior to the start it looked very smart in its white paintwork, and mechanically competent. Re-dated 1903 since its earlier appearances, it has, like the Cadillac I drove last year, a “square ” engine, although with four cylinders instead of one big cylinder, these measuring 101 x 101 mm., so that the swept volume of the T-head power unit, which develops maximum power at 1,000.r.p.m., is 4,181 c.c.
It is an uncomplicated engine, with the cylinders in pairs and the camshafts driven from the nose of the crankshaft by exposed straighttooth gear wheels. Ignition was originally by l.t. magneto, but this has been replaced by a comparatively modern h.t. magneto driven from the o/s timing gear, which ignites sparking plugs screwed into the former push-rod-actuated igniters in the cylinders. On the Eli’s a small exposed cog engages the timing pinion to drive a shall running back to a small water-pump, which assists water to leave the base of the water jacket and return via a small-bore pipe to the bottom ol the radiator. The water outlet pipes are of the classical two-branched form. The carburetter, nowadays a vintage-looking A.H.30 instrument, inscribed -1928, feeds into a two-branch brass manifold, with exhaust-heated muff, on the ols of the engine, and on the opposite side four short outlets take the exhaust gases from the ports directly into a big cylindrical manifold, which must act as a considerable silencer. (It is a pity that when the car was restored it could not have been given an authentic carburetter and l.t. ignition; the latter can be made to work satisfactorily, as the Clutton/Williamson 1908 G.P. Itala has proved.)
An 8-bladed cooling fan is driven by a flat belt and in lieu of a badge the imposing radiator bears the inscription : “Fabrica Italiana di Automobili Torino,” with, in smaller type : “Brer Daimler 28-3-1898-R6 Vol. 34 No. 476 14 Raffredbatore Multitubolare Licenza Esclusiva per L’Italia.” Which, if I read it correctly, means that Fiat had the exclusive Italian rights to the Mercedes honeycomb radiator, as patented by Daimler in Germany in March 1898.
The entire conception of this advanced in fact, follows closely the revolutionary Système Mercedes, with this radiator, a gate gear-change, control of engine speed by a carburetter throttle, etc., but the Turin manufacturer was careful to include detail differences, so as not to infringe German patents, such, for example, as using an armoured-wood instead of a channel-section steel chassis frame. The drive goes via a cone clutch to a 4-speed and reverse gearbox and to the “dead” back axle by side chains. There are side control levers, with a catch to safeguard reverse gear low down on the gear lever, the almost horizontal pedals are of piano type, the right-hand one applying a transmission brake, the rear brakes being operated by the lever, the accelerator is between the pedals, and suspension is by ½-elliptic springs. The driver steers with a wood-rimmed 5-spoke wheel and is confronted only by a cylindrical oil pump and a box of oiling plungers, labelled “Fiat of Torino.” The wooden-spoked wheels are shod with 875 x 105 tyres, by Dunlop, naturally…
This car, which can normally be seen in the Brighton Motor Museum, has a 4/5-seater body built by J. Rothschild et Fils, Ltd., of 48, Horseferry Road, access to the back compartment being obtained by swinging aside the front passenger’s seat; this was no doubt essential in the clays when it was embarrassing to display a female ankle, but is an over-elaboration in the era of the mini-skirt. We just climbed over the sides, and I suspect that girls in 1967 would do likewise. . . When new these 16-h.p. F.I.A.T.s cost £695 but this particular example, with this apparently special coachwork, was no doubt more expensive. Presumably the chassis was supplied by Fiat’s Long Acre showroom to the client in Northamptonshire, who had the body built to his requirements in London. It has small un-named oil lamps front and rear, a bulb horn, and a Fiat badge above its coachbuilder’s plaque which probably came from a vintage model.
Having spent the night at the pleasant flat overlooking Marble Arch of Boll Johnson (General Motors’ thoughtful P.R.O.), so as to avoid having to get up too early on the Sunday morning, I joined Lord Montagu, Dr. Lacerda, who has the only motor museum in Portugal, at Caramulo, and a freelance interviewer who was making tapes for the B.B.C., at the Cumberland Hotel for breakfast, this party forming the F.I.A.T.’s crew. The day was fine when we left at 8.25 a.m. in company with the Shuttleworth Trust’s racing-bodied De Dietrich, sans mudguards over its back wheels, and other familiar cars, Lord Montagu having thoughtfully provided a water-filled footwarmer for himself and the passenger beside him. In the back I had plenty of room and my Castrol race-marshal’s oil-skins were proof against the rain that we were to run into later on.
Down a bellagged Mall we went, where Forster’s 1903 De Dion, a Panhard-Levassor, and Michael Bowler on the Montagu Museum 1903 De Dion had already stopped, the last-named because he had been too liberal with the lubricant and had oiled the plug. Lord Strathcarron’s 1903 Georges-Richard landaulette, with fresh flowers in its flower vase, was going well, back-firing as it went and putting the pigeons to flight. Indeed, their Lordships ran side-by-side past the Houses of Parliament, before our F.I.A.T. forged ahead. It is a very high-geared car, so that Lord Montagu had not yet engaged 3rd gear— we were well out of London before he slipped into top speed, 3rd being a very useful “suburban” gear.
At the roundabout after Westminster Bridge we cornered in close company with Pointer’s Wolseley, having passed the Milwaukee steamer stationary on the bridge. At Lambeth work was being done on an 1899 Beeston tricycle and at Kennington Gate .Stanley Sedgwick opened the window of his Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow to inform us that the Georges-Richard from Belgium had split a tyre. Having passed Howes’ 1902 Wolseley which was carrying five people, we had to pause in a traffic tangle, behind the big Count Labia 1903 24-h.p. De Dietrich which had its hood up. On the other side of the crossing Hodson’s 1900 Gardner-Serpollet steamer had stopped, no doubt to build up pressure for the ascent of Brixton Hill. We overtook the Albion dog-cart and Gleave’s 1899 Star Vis-a-Vis before the gradient, which the F.I.A.T. made light of, still on 2nd speed. Here the early primitives were steaming merrily, Steffelaar was pedalling up on the Dutch-entered De Dion quadricycle, and we were impeded by the Orient Express’s tender-car.
At the top of Brixton Hill Lord Montagu nosed past the big De Dietrich, and on the run down into Streatham 3rd gear went in. Here No. 1 entry, Ford’s 1894 Benz, seemed to be en panne but Berry’s 1896 Lutzmann Victoria was pressing On and Hull’s 1902 Wolseley was just restarting. Along the road to Thornton Heath we followed a Police car and noticed that Babcock’s 1901 Royal Enfield quad had stopped. Going past the Police car on the n/s as it turned off at Thornton Heath pond, Holland’s 1896 Benz was seen stationary at the roadside with its tender car administering to it, and we just got ahead of Slater’s Panhard, before shooting through Croydon. Perhaps it was the bitter wind, the only thing which marred full enjoyment of this 1967 Run, that had caused Cmdr. Wilson to set off alone on his 1901 Progress voiturette?
Whether it was the cold, the very miserable weather of the day before, or firework parties that had kept people out of bed, I do not know, but the fact is that the roads have not been so uncongested since pre-war “Brightons.” With the willing Police help, we were having a very quick run. The F.I.A.T is one of those outstanding veterans which prove that, with an automobile of this quality, motoring was a practical and fast means of transport before the dawn of the Edwardian era. I suppose we were doing around 50 m.p.h. at times; certainly, consuiting my trustworthy Breitling Navitimer, I found that we had begun to get well ahead of the official schedule.
The route to Purley showed off the F.I.A.T.’s brakes to advantage, when a veritable stream of pedestrians followed a pram across a pedestrian-crossing, right in our path. Lord Montagu, whom I have long regarded as an excellent driver, coped without any anxiety, and later steered skilfully when getting past a white, artillery-wheeled Rolls-Royce Twenty coupe which was occupying a lot of the road. The traffic eame to rest for a while at Purley cross-roads, and a GP. Bugatti turned on to the route from the by-pass.
Thereafter the journey was uneventful. There was some ram, and we stopped for about five minutes to replenish with National Benzole. The continued to run splendidly, riding well except fur an occasional rear-end jolt, which would rattle the back mudguards, which have that classic double-curve to clear both back wheels and driving chains. The engine is so quiet-running that the song of these chains could be heard and it took the more severe hills into Brighton in its powerful stride, sometimes in 3rd speed, such as up Handcross. Here we came up with Watson’s 1903 tonneau Gladiator going nearly as fast as the F.I.A.T., until it suddenly emitted loud gtaunching noises and fell back. Close home, Sloan’s all-yellow 1902 16-h.p. Benz, with luggage sheet to match, was overtaken. We were now so far ahead that Lord Montagu throttled back to some 10 m.p.h. Peter Hampton’s Sixty Mercedes had thundered past while we had stopped to kill time, and Hutton-Stott’s Lanehester, which had boiled for the first time on this run, also; but the latter paused ittst before going the final control. We ran in within a minute or so of our appointed time, thus avoiding any chance of disqualification. The 1903 F.I.A.T. had given not a moment’s trouble and proved an excellent car on which tp make this winter jaunt from the Metropolis to the seaside. It had very effortlessly averaged the stipulated 20 m.p.h., inclusive of stops. But, given its head, it could, I am sure, have increased this to 28. m.p.h. or more. No veteran could have given driver or crew a better journey, and, in summer at all events, you wouldn’t get there much faster in a modern Fiat.
Later the other Montagu entries came in, even Spike Milligan, who had been photographed winding-up his Lordship outside the Cumberland Hotel with a portable starting-handle, and whose 1901 Durkopp arrived with 20 minutes to spare, having shed its cooling water en route, Lady Montagu, looking as attractive and unruffled as if she had merely been shopping in a modern car, had let Innes Ireland co-drive her 1903 7-h.p. twin-cylinder Panhard-Levassor. Bowler had arrived well on time in the De Dion Bouton, and Maurice Smith of Autocar looked very happy after driving Routes’ 1904 Sunbeam down. All that remained was to get warm (and no thanks to Mrs. Castle) and then make haste for home before more rain and darkness descended, the Ford Cortina-Lotus making light of this journey at r.p.m. and Pirelli-ensured road-holding that even the F.I.A.T. I-had been in a few hours earlier could never have aspired to. Out of 25, starters, those who failed to finish this time were :
Brighton Breezes.—Young Ralph Montagu was to have ridden part it the way on his mother’s Panhard-Levassor. But although Lord Montagu’s new Citroën Safari in which he was to travel for the first part of the Run arrived at the start, the children never made contact with it. But as Lady Montagu said, there is plenty of time ahead it him.
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The traffic really was very light this time, at all events for the early numbers, nor were there nearly so many spectators lining the route, although there were big crowds at the start and finish. If it goes on like this, we shall soon be back to pre-war conditions, when this November Sunday was mainly an enthusiasts-only affair.
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The 1904 Delaugère racer from Denmark arrived about 2.30 p.m. It ran completely stripped—nice that the authorities are prepared to turn a blind eye to lack of mudguards on this occasion. The much-publicised Celer was much more “restored” than I expected but didn’t look bogus externally—I did not see the engine; its contact-breaker emerged at the front of the chassis.
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Vintage cars on the route included a very fine open Bentley Speed Six and a sporting 3-litre, two Austin 12/4s in close company, several 2-litre and 4½-litre open Lagondas, a flush of Morgan 3-wheelers parked near Pyecombe, and an unusual artillery-wheeled Daimler tourer with lined coachwork, circa 1924. Also a Morris Cowley van, the Veteran & Vintage Magazine Morris van at Brighton, and a vintage Austin 7 saloon and a Chummy going home together—but why should the drivers of these Austins be wearing top-hats?
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The first arrival was Lightfooes ex-Rene de Knyff 1901 Panhard-Levassor driven by H. L. Wilson. It clocked in at 10.30.a.m. Lightfoot himself was close behind, on his 1902 25/28 Mercedes, thus maintaining his tradition for treating the Run as a race.
V.E.V. Odds and Ends.—We are sorry to learn that the Rolls-Royce Section of the V.S.C.C., which used to issue a journal Early Late in the format of the V.S.C.C.’s own Bulletin, has been disbanded. One of the First-World-War Austin armoured cars supplied to Russia in 1914 took part in the recent parade in Moscow to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. A vintage Briscoe tourer has been brought over to this country from Canada; it is in good condition and information is required which will assist restoration. It has an L-head engine, a cone clutch and full-elliptic springing. An Alderman in Scarborough owns a rare 4-cylinder Sizaire-Naudin. It is thought to be the sole complete 4-cylinder model still in existence, although parts of one have turned up in Australia. Another Lacre road-sweeper seems to exist, in Norfolk. Recent discoveries by readers, to whom letters can be forwarded, include an early Chain-drive Scammell tractor and two rather later Scammells in a Hertfordshire breakers, a windscreen and frame for a 1912-24 Darracq, a Bean radiator for sale in a Scottish scrapyard for £8, a Marshall steam roller, Fowler traction engine and some farm machinery in a field in Sussex, and, in a French scrapyard, Vermoral, Citroën, Renault and other vintage cars. One of the jumps on a Hampshire racecourse is marked by iron-tyred wooden wheels from Marshall and Fowler vehicles, which were probably trucks towed behind military traction engines.