A Section Devoted to Old-Car Matters
A Darracq on the Brighton Road
Once again the Veteran Car Run to Brighton took place, in wet weather towards the end of the journey for many of the competitors, on the traditional date in November. The Run continues to bring pre-1905 cars from abroad, even one from Malta, and as usual the entry was limited to 250, of which 59 non-started. Reserves are permitted and called up when there are non-runners but it is a pity that some people who put in prompt entries have been reserves for two years in succession.
The topic this year was the fact that this classic event for veteran cars has joined motor racing in having sponsorship. Unipart, the British Leyland spare parts facility for their own and Ford, Chrysler and Vauxhall cars, having taken this RAC classic under its financial umbrella, to a greater extent, one suspects, than was formerly the ease with National Benzole. Unipart also ran their London Transport-type double-decker ‘bus between London and Brighton as free transport for interested journalists and photographers. Graham Hill was on an Oxfam Wolseley, so the trade names and charity labels are creeping in, although decals are, as yet, not displayed.
Having taken part in 22 “Brightons” either as a driver or passenger, apart from those at which I have been a spectator, I was pleased this year to maintain the record with an interesting ride in Roger Collings’ 1904 8-h.p. Darracq tonneau, the driving of which was shared by two friends, as Collings himself was driving his very splendid ex-Vaux 1903 Mercedes. Sixty tonneau—he made excellent time on splendidly-policed roads, only twice, however, getting into top gear in this formidably fast veteran. What of his Darracq ?
It, too, is a very attractive veteran, handsome and no mean performer for a single-cylinder car of this age carrying four occupants. Found in Wales a few years ago, it finished the Run in fine style in 1970, driven by Mrs. Judy Collings, with an all-girl crew. Last year it defaulted, with ignition and other maladies, so we left Hyde Park, with H. Winter-Taylor at the wheel, with mixed feelings. This is a typical example of the conventional single-cylinder veteran. Bearing an AC registration the comfortable rear-entrance body, amply spacious for four, especially in the tonneau, was made by La Carrosserie Industriale in Paris, and the Darracq was delivered to its first owner by Heath’s Garage (G. P. Heath & Co.) of John Bright Street, Birmingham, to whom it was delivered by A. Darracq & Co. Ltd. of 483 Oxford Street, London, W.1. this-very practical Voiture légère having been manufactured by Darracq Btee SGDG of Suresnes, to fill in for the historians.
It has a single-cylinder engine mounted on a sub-frame at the front of the car, with the mechanically-operated side-by-side valves at the front of the cylinder, exhaust on the n/s, inlet on the o/s. Originally engine speed was varied by altering the valve lift but for easier control on the Brighton Run, where road speed is varying most of the time, Collings has fitted an Edwardian Zenith carburetter with foot-operated throttle. Otherwise, the specification is commendably original. The finned-tube radiator is supplemented by a big water tank on the engine side of the dash, a pump driven off the front of the engine attending to the water circulation. Ignition is by trembler coil, in a Darracq wooden coil-box on the extreme right of the dashboard, the switch having two “ON” positions, being centralised for “OFF”. The commutator is set outside the chassis frame adjacent to the girder-section starting handle, and is protected by a polished circular brass cover. A polished tank on the dashboard contains the petrol and oil, the latter being supplied to the engine on the total loss system by means of a hand-actuated plunger pump with a big glass sight-feed.
The five-spoke steering wheel has a raked column, and the 3-speed and reverse gearbox is controlled by a r.h. column-lever. There are the usual smaller levers, of which the important one is the advance/retard control, and the pedals are of piano-pattern, the foot-brake being at an awkward angle. An impressively long push-on outside brake-lever completes the entirely satisfactory retardation arrangements. Suspension is by bound ½-elliptic springs for the tubular front axle and platform back springs. The wheels are shod with 710 x 90 Dunlop Cord tyres, the gas lamps are Salisbury Dietz, and equipment includes a wicker umbrella basket on the back of the body. A Pyrene fire-extinguisher neatly matches the polished fuel tank. The Champion plug lives in the cylinder head, accompanied by a compression tap. A bulb horn is fitted but for clearing-a passage down the busy Brighton Road a foot-operated Klaxon was very useful. Perhaps I should apologise for dealing in detail with this particular veteran, one of eight of this popular make entered, but I find the differing individualities of old cars ever fascinating. . . .
In this nice little Darracq, finished in dove grey neatly lined in yellow and black, we duly left Hyde Park at 8.40 a.m. All went splendidly as far as Kenning’s at Redhill, where free refreshments were provided, but the traffic jams were as notorious as ever. The Darracq got along more like a modest Edwardian than a one-lunger veteran, with a good hill-climbing performance which was apt to discomfort De Dion Boutons of like horse-power. Here I must say how efficiently the Metropolitan Police had contrived to get the veterans through London, even to a one-way system at Lambeth Town Hall, confined to omnibuses, and us! The disinterest of the Brighton Police was in marked contrast.
Although I had plenty of opportunity to observe the misfortunes of others from my comfortable perch beside Mrs. Winter-Taylor in the tonneau, there is little point in setting them down, because, apart from the great number of stationary competitors, it often happens on the “Brighton” that what appears to be a major calamity is, in fact, merely a pause to oil-up, top up with fuel, or refresh the human element. The Darracq took Brixton Hill happily on second speed and soon afterwards the Stephens was seen, being worked on.
Our trouble came soon after the Redhill pause, the engine just cutting out. After a long diagnosis it was decided that the little 6-volt Fiamm battery which resides beneath the driver’s seat was discharged. The Collings’ Land Rover went off and was able to buy locally a new full-size replacement for the modest cost of £3.00. This made the trembler coil buzz merrily and we were on our way after about 1½ hours’ delay, Ken Taviner now taking the wheel and treating us to some skilled traffic squeeze-through along the congested Gatwick by-pass. The trouble soon returned, but this time was a combination of lack of petrol and a fault in the ignition switch, soon rectified. In increasing rain we continued, the Darracq bringing its crew to the finish at 3.10 p.m., the journey-time including a pause for further human sustenance. Roger Collings was awaiting us, and we were taken to the “Metropole” in his Mercedes, perhaps the most impressive part of the day’s outing, well as the Darracq had performed—for you cannot blame the car for a “flat” battery when it does not possess a dynamo, and it had required no oil and practically no water on what, these days, is a tough journey, particularly for the smaller veterans—in 1896 the cars on the Run had only themselves to contend with, but look what has stemmed from that historic Emancipation Day ! — W. B.
There was drama at the start, when Mitchell, after working like a beaver on the chive shaft of his VCC-entered 1900 3½-h.p. De Dion Bouton, had to abandon it without leaving Hyde Park, while the closing stages were notable for the “Gatling gun” noise of Estler’s 1904 Siddeley, the silencer of which had become detached. The AA’s Renault was seen apparently abandoned at the roadside near Bolney.
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The Run has become as much a social occasion as a motoring happening, with the VCC cocktail party at the Cumberland, complete with jumble sale and the auctioning of an old sovereign-coin, and dinner at the Metropole, and Graham Hill taking actress Dora Bryan as his passenger, Lord Montagu, in his “new” 1903 22-h.p. Daimler, having Ernie Wise of the Morecambe and Wise show with him. One car carried an 11 months-old baby and there was plenty of talk of the films the veterans have been seen in, and Flather’s 1897 Daimler carried souvenir envelopes of the RAC’s 75th Anniversary. On a more serious note, 93-year-old Mr. W. Randolph, sole known survivor of the 1900 1,000-Mile Trial, was still spectating.
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As well as the steam cars there were two Baker Electrics in this time, which explained the presence of a tender vehicle towing a trailer carrying kits of batteries. One Baker was entered by the Swedish Motor Museum, and driven by Baron Essen. Aktiebolaget Tudor had supplied it with a modern Pg-tubed battery (of 35-40 watt hours per kg. and 100 watt hours per litre against about 15 and 30, respectively, of the original) to supply the ¾-h.p. (DIN) motor.
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Some of the veterans are very fast, like Collings’ and Hampton’s Mercedes and Pierpoint’s Mors but the first to arrive at Brighton was Pratt Boreman’s 1902 Panhard-Levassor “Henrietta”, with Pickvance’s 1900 Darracq close behind it. Neil Corner’s 1901 Mors was third car in.