Veteran Edwardian Vintage, December 1973
A section devoted to old-car matters
In reference to Harry Hawker’s Mercedes-Sunbeam aero engined special — you say that after Hawker’s death in 1921 the car disappeared. Well, not according to an article in the Riley Record of July 1934. I quote: “a representative of the Riley Record recently discovered what must be one of the biggest cars in everyday use, the car which is the property of Captain Hunt of Leominster was originally built by the late Captain H. Hawker the famous airman. It has for its power unit a 420 h.p. [sic! —Ed] Sunbeam Arab [sic again! —Ed] aero-engine, the remainder of the chassis is that of a Mercedes, with a wheel base of 12 ft. 4 in.
The Leominster model is now doing duty as a break-down car for a garage in which Captain Hunt is interested, and recently attained a speed of 90 in third gear!”
Hope this is of some interest, you never know it could still be there???
When discussing the aero-engined car owned briefly in 1924/25 by Lord Donegall, I suggested that this might have been either the Scarisbrick Benz or the 225 h.p. Sunbeam-engined Mercedes built by the aviator Harry Hawker, remarking that the latter car seemed to have disappeared after Hawker’s death in a flying accident in 1921. On this point I was incorrect, as the accompanying letter proves.
I remember the Riley Record as the house journal of the Riley Motor Co., although I no longer have copies, as I do of the Austin Advocate and the Morris Owner. The information this pre-war copy quoted by our correspondent contained made a visit to Leominster imperative, for I thought that the old monster might still be hidden thereabouts! Fortunately I now live within easy distance of this ancient town, where the new is beginning to obliterate the old, and where the bridge over the railway forms an acute S-bend at one end. In the days of steam the now derelict sidings must have been of much interest to local railway enthusiasts. But my memory of the place is coasting into it with a very dead Morris 1100, the fuel-pump of which had expired beneath mud and water flung up from the road, to the disgust of the Bedford agent in the town, who very obligingly fitted another pump to this alien make of car. Going there this time, I was greeted by notices “Bird Show at the Youth Club”, a facility not provided in my youth.
Anyway, that reader’s letter was of great interest and I lost little time in hastening to Leominster in the VW Passat I happened to be road-testing. I drove first to a garage at which I have bought petrol previously, as it looked to be one of the longest established. But its custodian said they were fruit merchants at the time of which I was speaking and recommended a call at Henlys. This is now a smart modern building with its showroom full of Marinas, but I was told it had formerly been Friar’s Motors and that their Mr. Edwards would probably be able to help. He certainly could!
Asked if he remembered Capt. Hunt, he said he remembered him very well, and proceeded to tell me about him. When I moved the conversation round to the Hawker hybrid he remembered that, too, although not as a breakdown truck, saving that Friar’s had used a Rolls-Royce for that purpose, which a mechanic confirmed. But there was no doubt that the Mercedes-Sunbeam had been at that garage in the mid-thirties. Mr. Edwards also recalled a supercharged FWD Alvis he had owned, but had sold to Bill Bengry, now Simca agent in the town, on the outbreak of war . . . What was more, he suggested that if I called at Cadbury’s depot on the outskirts of the town I would find a maintenance-fitter who actually worked on the aero-engined monster for Capt. Hunt. So in the dusk, that is what I did. The person I wanted had left, but a most obliging Security man promised to deliver a note to him. Again we got talking, and, surprise, surprise, this Security chap was himself surprised when I said I was seeking information about an aged aero-engined motor car. “Why”, he responded, “when I had the only accident I have ever had, that was the car which towed me in”. So it seemed the Mercedes-Sunbeam had done breakdown duty. I was getting warmer and warmer. “What car did you crash?” I enquired. “Well”, came the reply, “it was my Mother’s overhead-camshaft Morris Minor, actually quite an excellent little thing”. We were right back in the 1930s! Although, today, my informant uses a Range Rover to tow his caravan.
The following Saturday I drove again to Leominster on a delightful sunny October afternoon. After some difficulty I found the house of the person I was seeking, a very cheerful fellow who had worked at Friar’s Motors, who were Riley and Morris agents, and who remembered their circa-1912 Rolls-Royce breakdown-truck (for which R-R supplied a new half-shaft just before the Second World War and the engine of which was apparently thereafter sold to America) but who said the Hawker car was before his time, although he remembered it being seen about. He confirmed that Capt. Hunt, since deceased, was an enthusiast, recalling that when he had the garage, as Hunt’s Motors, he had owned Invictas and suchlike; a rare Bugatti was also recalled.
I was about to return home, which involved passing Baron’s Cross Garage beside the A44. It has always looked a fascinating place to me, with coaches as well as cars being worked on and a sort of breaker’s yard at the back. On this occasion the presence of a V-twin, fabric-bodied 1933 BSA three-wheeler for sale in the showroom prompted me to stop. I asked a boy who was holding a punctured inner-tube if he knew how long the garage had been there. “Since 1913, when we opened it”, he told me. This was promising, and a mechanic I was introduced to, although obviously too young to have known the Hawker car, provided a useful clue when he said the father of someone he knew was reputed to have had a big and unusual car… Tracked down eventually, this person said he was only a schoolboy at the time but remembered a big breakdown vehicle his father had, which he thought was sold eventually in the London area. This was all he remembered but he readily gave me the names of two older people who had worked for his father. So off yet again to Leominster! Alas, although the car was freely recollected, the people I talked to were not quite old enough to have encountered it personally. But it seems quite definite that the Hawker hybrid lived in this Herefordshire hide-out, up to 1934, perhaps up to the war. The unsolved problems are, why did it go from Sopwith’s to Leominster, and what became of it?
Other aero-engined cars have disappeared in similar fashion. I have never had definite proof that those as famous as the Wolseley Viper, Isotta-Maybach and Chitty III were broken up, although such must have been the case of these and other pre-war aero-engined monsters, one supposes, while this fate definitely overtook Chitty I.
Chitty II is in America, after a law suit, as is the Scarisbrick Benz-engined Mercedes. The Fiat “Mephistopheles” is in Fiat’s Centro Storico in Turin, Owen Wyn-Owen has “Babs”, FitzPatrick his Metallurgique-Maybach and the Hon. Patrick Lindsay has, or had, the Napier-Railton, the 350-h.p. Sunbeam is in the NMM, so, apart from Land Speed Record machines, quite a number of these fascinating monsters exist. Two which vanished under slightly mysterious circumstances were the Rolls-Royce Falcon-engined TT Sunbeam which Burnand had partially finished when war broke out, and the Napier-Sunbeam raced once at Brooklands by Cyril Bone. The former apparently found itself in a South Coast boat-yard after the war, sans radiator, tyres and body, owned, I believe, by Sisted, who had raced cars as diverse as MG Midget and a big Mercedes. I heard a rumour that it was seen later in a London lock-up and was wantonly destroyed when a block of flats was built on the site, but of this story I have no confirmation. Bone’s car crashed in practice under tragic circumstances and was probably too badly damaged to survive — but the remains vanished likewise, although something of the kind was rumoured to languish in a Chertsey boat-yard up to a few years ago.
The Hawker car is described in the Riley Record letter as having a Sunbeam Arab engine, which made me wonder for a moment whether it was, in fact, the TT Humber in which Philip Rampon put one of these 150 h.p. power units — another of these cars which vanished without trace. If the Leominster car really was the Hawker Mercedes-Sunbeam it would have been of around 225 h.p., the engine probably an early-series Cossack.
The Hall-Scott of Lord Donegall’s which started me off on this tirade, was, by the way, registered as such in Oxford in 1925 by Mr. F. A. Harris and given the Reg. No. EC 7791, if anyone knows anything of this one.
Even today, aero-engined cars are not unknown. Apart from John Liewellyn’s successful Bentley-Napier, Ron Barker is said to be contemplating a Napier “Lion”-engined road car, Knight a Liberty-powered one, there Is that Merlin-propelled Silver Cloud, and Harnish Moffatt was heard murmuring the other day about planting an aviation motor in an OM chassis. Old traditions die hard — but where are the vanished ones?
With our marshalling instructions for the VSCC Presteigne trial came some Final Instructions, which we later read in detail. They contain some remarkably cautious requirements, in which we can sense the hand of the RAC Competitions Department, when you reflect that they are applied to mild mud trials, not to racing. For instance, while we can see the logic of insisting that passengers must be at least 16 years of age, read on and you will find that this applies to open cars. If your trials machine is a saloon, you can fill it with passengers over the age of six years. Why seven-year-olds are thought less liable to massacre than six-year-olds, or why anyone should want to have such young children with them in a competition, we do not profess to follow. Smoking, we are glad to note, is not permitted while actually attempting a hill — presumably an observed hill — and we would be glad to see it banned at all times while driving any kind of car.
There are sensible rules about how passengers may lend their weight to a successful climb, and how they may “bounce” but it must be difficult for officials to check this all the way up a long section, while how many times do they check to see if tyres are deflated below the stipulated 15 p.s.i. minimum before observed sections are tackled? We are sure we have seen covers nearly off the rims. Also, we note that the rear seats may be occupied only by the number of persons for which they were designed. As vintage cars usually have narrow bodywork, this surely means a couple at most and we wonder about three in the tail-seat of a Wensum 30/98. Perhaps, fortunately, the VSCC does not take these SSRs too seriously.
We seem to be attracting motoring mysteries! A reader has sent us a picture postcard, issued by Valentine’s obviously by 1910 or earlier, which shows the cliff road at Penmaenbach, near Penmaenmawr in Wales. The picture bears the inscription: “Scene of the alleged Charlesworth Motor Mystery”. The road is unfenced, with a sheer drop to the rocks and sea below, but what the alleged mystery was, we can but guess. Can any of our erudite and well-informed historians tell us more?
V-E-V Miscellany.—The remains of what are thought to be an early Austin Six tourer lie near the Ulva Ferry in Scotland. The British Salmson OC has a membership of about 50. The new Hon. Sec., R. K. Taylor, “Newstead”, Mill Lane, Hemingborough, Near Selby, Yorkshire, will be pleased to welcome new members. The Trade Commissioner for Sri Lanka (Ceylon) asked the AA recently whether there would be any interest in this country in the sale of 19 pre-war cars. These apparently range from a 1926 Austin Seven to several 1935/36 Austin 7s and 10/4s and a couple of Morris cars, both Eights, of 1931 and 1935. We were puzzled at first that in the descriptions all were called “battery-operated” but this presumably means that they have coil ignition. We have the address to which to correspond, should anyone here be interested. The Scriven Special “No No Nanette” has been on display outside Swiss Cottage Public Library. P. Anthony Morgan, BSc, MIMich.E, of Heron Hill, Breinton, Hereford HR4 7PP, who runs the ex-Hill AJS two-seater is endeavouring to form a Register of all AJS cars and to form a spares source, especially of half-shafts, for these cars, so would interested owners please contact him.
A Beckenham Special with MG Tigress Mk. III engine has turned up in pieces in Hampshire, and a 1913 Sunbeam 12/16 which was buried in a Scottish orchard after its first owner was killed in the 1914/18 War and his father had an accident in it, has been dug up as a chassis and is being restored. There was still oil in the sump and neither engine nor back axle were seized up. The Brooklands Centre of the 750 MC is organising a London-Monte Carlo social run next Easter, confined to pre-1937 Austin Sevens. Several interesting vintage cars have come to light recently, including a 1926 Talbot-Simmins, which is to be restored in Somerset. The Manx Classic Car Club has come into being, with Cecil Clutton as Chairman and over 70 members. The Secretary is: D. Baird, “Mugello”, 31 Birch Hill Park, Onchon. The Racing Department Mechanics’ Notes of the AC Company, covering Brooklands racing and speed-trials from 1921 to 1925 were found recently in a tin bath half filled with water behind the factory at Thames Ditton and have fortunately been saved. J. L. Thomas, whose Amanco stationary engine was referred to in the October issue, says our facts about it were correct except that it has a long exhaust push-rod made of oblong bar, not angle-iron. The old car bodies which we mentioned as being available in the Channel Islands interested a reader who is restoring two Calthorpes. He has acquired the appropriate type, which was one of a batch of four made by Pythchleys in June 1920 and this two-seater body has been supplemented by a four-seater Calthorpe body bought at Beaulieu, so that both these Calthorpe chassis will be wearing correct coachwork. The Chevrolet body is believed to be still available.
Comdr. Woolley’s 1901 Panhard-Levassor has had a new tube for its hot-tube ignition system supplied by Philip Comes & Co., but made of nickel alloy, not platinum. After the Brighton Run this two-cylinder Panhard went to an American collection in Oklahoma, where it is claimed to be the only car in the USA running on hot-tube ignition.
A Liverpool Garage
The other say I was lent a cutting from the Liverpool Echo about the business of William Watson, and the booklet this Company issued when opening the second Annual Motor Show in their fine showrooms at Renshaw Street, Liverpool. The Company was founded by William Watson, who left a Solicitor’s office to become a racing cyclist on the then-new safety bicycles and later a cycle manufacturer. This was in Faulkner Street in 1898. The next step was to make motorised tricycles. A motor agency followed, Mr. Watson buying six Daimlers in 1900, according to the article by Ann Cummings, with which he started a hire service, said to be the first in Britain. Apparently he had the first Hackney Carriage licence in Chester and ran a service from there to Farndon. Another Watson venture was a goods service, transporting strawberries from Farndon to Chester and Liverpool.
William Watson began to import cars from France. In 1908 he won the TT on a Hutton and became a member of the Vauxhall racing team, continuing to race 30/98s after the First World War. His business moved to Newington in 1904 and, to impressive premises in Renshaw Street in 1906. A year later he obtained one of the first Rolls-Royce agencies. William Watson died in 1961, at the age of 88.
The booklet is rather interesting because it contains a speech made by Kaye Don, when he opened the aforesaid Liverpool Motor Show at the Renshaw Street premises, the date being November 1931. By this time the Company sold Rolls-Royce, Sunbeam, Talbot and Alvis cars but a fine double-spread photograph of the splendid showrooms shows it full of Morris saloons, of the sort with the electric horn either above or incorporated in the tie-bar before the radiator. There must have been nearly two dozen of them. The Service Depot was round the corner in Oldham Street and 2,000 sq. yards of floor area was devoted to Morris service. There was a smithy and a coachworks department, Rinsch Talbots and a Rolls-Royce figuring in a picture of the latter. Batteries were serviced and radiators and wings and lamps repaired in separate bays. A picture of cars in the Company’s Birkenhead garage, which covered an area of 6,000 sq. yards, shows more Morrises, an Austin Seven and what looks like a 30/98 Vauxhall, Reg. NO. MB 1828. Then there is the electrical depot at the bottom of Mount Pleasant with an early Austin 7 Chummy outside, while Morris Minors predominate in the Chester Der-Kit and Ford Eights and V8s in the Colwyn Bay Depot. And I was interested to learn that Watson’s owned the garage in Grosvenor Road, on the Embankment, which then, as now, was largely patronised by taxis.
When “centuries ago” I started the still continuing series “Cars in Books” I am sure I included the inn-keeping diary of John Fothergill. I have since been re-reading what I think is an earlier edition, because I remember a Salmson being referred to previously, which, is not in this edition. But the references to cars and motoring personalities are worth noting.
A book about an Inn is perhaps apt to refer to cars, because without them the guests would not arrive, and for the same reason we must excuse the names-dropping. But how the autocratic Fothergill avoided libel in his enjoyable descriptions of his lesswelcome visitors, I do not know! His. book “An Inn-Keeper’s Diary” (Chao -& Windus, 1932) is about how he tried to keep the “Spread Eagle” at Thome a place for decent people. I think that he had fortunately moved on when I was in Thame before the war in my Chummy Austin, its tatty hood repaired ineffectually with brown paper and safety-pins, on the day of a big mud-storming trial. The lunch break was in the Market Square. All the drivers and officials disappeared into the “Spread Eagle”. Actually they dived into the downstairs bar. I had not realised this and wishing to give the rather dubious chorus-girl who was my companion that day a meal, I walked into the dining room. In a moment we were surrounded by attentive waiters. The memory of trying to skip every other course at that luncheon, partly to save time for seeing the rest of the trial, but also to try and reduce the size of the bill I knew to be imminent, lingers still.
But to the book. After naming some of the visiting cars, such as the “splendid Hispano-Suiza covered with escutcheons” which the “silver-grey chauffeur” told Fothergill belonged to the Spanish Royal Family, comes the bombshell, or so I think. For there is reference to Romney Summers bringing a man to dinner whom he had raced there from Oxford in his Vauxhall. The year is 1926, so this was no doubt a 30/98. The other chap was a stranger until the cars drew alongside and a mutual dinner was suggested. His name? Clement. Now he is later named as being in a Bentley, which he found difficult to reverse out of the yard but then “seemed to lift up bodily and jumped into the darkness like a thunderbolt”. Surely he must have been Frank Clement, the Bentley works racing driver? And as the Vauxhall had once averaged 36 m.p.h. from Glasgow to Thame, it must surely have been a 30/98?
Other cars Fothergill remembers in this book include Rumball the theological student’s “vast red Cadillac” (this in Oxford in 1927), Lady Oslet’s overloaded Ford, certainly a Model-T by the date of the incident, a “fleet of six Daimlers” which brought Summers and thirty friends to dine, and who had to go home in someone’s Bentley because he hadn’t noticed the departure of the Daimlers, while Richard Hughes is mentioned as still liking “the romance of poverty and a Bentley automobile”, in 1927. Then comes the famous passage about Bentley and Mrs. Bentley arriving with Alan Bicknell for lunch, W.O. being described as “this timid little man”. In his autobiography W.O. tells how he got his own back on the inn-keeper by driving him very fast in the new 3.5-litre Bentley at its pre-release showing.
Now the fact that Fothergill was invited to that party and his frequent reference to Bentleys makes me wonder if he owned one? The only reference to personal vehicles in the book is to an open lorry and his yellow four-wheeled dog-cart. But does anyone know the kind of car he used? Because he understood cars—he notes three girls, who used the Inn lavatory without asking, as descending from a Lancia, he had an obvious dislike of Austin 7s, and remembers Geoffrey Hart as owning, in 1928, “only two Isotta-Fraschinis”. Apropos Austin Sevens, one visitor, asking what he would charge to garage hers, was told by Fothergill that if she cared to have it in the bedroom, nothing, and that it would be better fitted with handles. He also recalls Mr. Jones of a well-known Estate Agents in a chauffeur-driven Austin Seven in Oxford, also in 1928. It is rather interesting the times guests were delayed or didn’t arrive in Thame because of breakdowns or punctures in those vintage years.
Later in the book a Bentley, “the latest and best”, is referred to, but the make of a “terrific car” which some young people owned who annoyed Fothergill (not very difficult to do!) is not named, but they are described as “certainly good with car”. It was the age of chauffeurs (60 people and 11 chauffeurs one night), Rolls-Royces that filled the coach-house and “full-sized” Daimlers — I like the latter description! Sir Lionel Halsey is quoted as keeping Rolls-Royces and Minervas and eating at the Ritz in 1919-29, when Viscountess Cowdray was using “a bright yellow Rolls-Royce with chauffeur and footman in fawn with coronet”. Lucas Scudamore also had a Rolls-Royce and was surely the person who raced a Ballot in speed-trials, etc.? Capt. Jones and Oldmeadow of the Brooklands Flying School (another literary reference for the Booklands Society to note!) came to discuss a local landing ground — and wasn’t Oldmeadow a Bentley owner? I am now wondering whether Fothergill was a Bentley owner himself, a matter which the Bentley DC may care to ponder.
As his Inn was close to Oxford it may not be so astonishing that several visitors were either racing drivers or of the same family. Thus we find David Plunket Greene, Arnold-Forster, Lord Donegall and others referred to while Van Raalte, described as a cigar merchant, was surely the first Bentley owner, and I think Alfred Biet may have been the son of Sir Otto Biet, whose 40/50 Napier Cabriolet Sir Alastair Miller converted into an anonymous Brooklands racing car.
Morris Diamond Jubilee
The arrival of further issues of the magazines of the Morris Register and the Bullnose Morris Club reminds me that the Diamond Jubilee year of the Morris car was well and admirably celebrated. It is pleasing to know that British Leyland entertained the Cowley Rally arrivals to lunch and that some ex-employees of William Morris, the late Lord Nuffield, were present. They included Alfred Keene, who joined Morris in 1901 and rose to be a Morris Director (he also ran an indecently-fast single-seater bullnose in speed trials), Carl Kingerlee who was also a Morris Director and was for 17 years Lord Nuffield’s personal assistant, Cecil Cousins who requires no introduction to Motor Sport readers, Bill Bestley, Stan Westby, Bill French, Frank Thornton, Fred Sheratt and John Archer. So the old Morris cars, a fine assembly ranging from a 1913 bull-nose through almost all the models up to 1939, commercials included, numbering some 128 cars, returned to their birthplace to meet some of those men who had created them. This idea originated with the Sunbeam STD Register’s Wolverhampton Rally.
Ken Revis welcomed each guest in his speech and generally compered the event with his customary enthusiasm and although Lord Thomas of Remenham and Lady Thomas could not be present, as they were abroad, His Lordship, who, as Sir Miles Thomas, was Vice-Chairman of the Nuffield Organisation until 1947, sent a very interesting address to be read to the assembly. He remarked that in 1924 when the “Buy British” campaign was at its height they did not care to be reminded too forcibly of the American origins of the Morris-Hotchkiss engine! Lord Thomas referred to the Bull-Nose badge, saying that it was in shape compatible with the Oxford City insignia. It was also true that the artistic outline of the bull in the badge was formed with compasses, set-squares, etc. in the Cowley drawing office, into the exact curves and precisely the dimensional shapes required, with radii and centres of diagrammatical dimensions. The result was a very virile bull, but any attempt at modesty would have raised howls of protest from the local farmers and stock-breeders (who could be good Morris customers), to say nothing of the pained looks on the faces of the cows which encountered a bull-nose Morris car on the road! Or words to that effect. Lord Thomas confirmed that the bull-nose shape of radiator helped cooling of an engine which had no water pump. He concluded by saying what a good thing it is that the enthusiasts of the Bull-Nose Morris Club and the Morris Register are, in physical form, keeping alive the memory of a splendid motor car originated by a splendid man who brought work and prosperity as well as many benefactions to so many people. “You well deserve success”, he concluded.
At this memorable assembly Capt. G. E. T. Eyston was the Guest of Honour and replied on behalf of the guests. The prize winners at this Oxford Rally included a 1926 Oxford saloon which took the Bull-Nose-with-wellbase-wheels class, a 1929 Oxford saloon judged to be the best Flat-Nose, a 1935 Morris Eight which won the post-1930 category, a 1926 Cowley van that headed the commercials, and a 1926 Cowley tourer which took the award for the longest distance travelled to the event. The member coming the longest distance also got a prize and had travelled from Australia, but not by car. The Ken Revis Trophy went to Miss Thomas’ 1925 Oxford coupe and the Ladies’ Award to Mrs. Smith’s 123 Cowley tourer.
Among many other Jubilee celebrations the Morris Register had a 12-hour Endurance Run at Silverstone. Seven Morrises, from the 1926 CB-engined racing Bull-Nose “Red Flash” which Wellsteed and Cyril Paul drove at Brooklands to a modern Marina, took part. The racer retired with carburetter flooding after 270 miles and a 1959 Mini with overheating after 257 miles. The rest ran distances of from 4761 miles to 500 miles, these including a 1948 side-valve MM-type Minor saloon which, entered by British Leyland, had only done 188 miles in its whole life before the run ! The Ten-Six Cunard Special referred to in “Vintage Postbag” last month covered 492.35 miles, a 1934 Minor two-seater 476.26 miles, and a 1939 Series-E Eight saloon did 505.23 miles.