Vintage postbag, December 1975

Cars for a General


In this article reference is made to a Rolls-Royce used by Major-General Sir Edmund Ironside When he was CIGS in the first few months of the Second World War. It was said that Sir Geoffrey de Hayilland owned the Rolls, with its vee-shaped forward sloping windscreen, and had handed it over as a gift to the Army for the use of the CIGS. Lord Ironside added that the car remained with the Army until Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery bought it back from them, when he finally left active service with NATO, and “as far as I know, he still owns it”.

I can remember often seeing this distinctive-looking Rolls at Hatfield Aerodrome before the War, but unless I am very much mistaken it was designed for and owned by Alan S. Butler, Chairman of the de Havilland Aircraft Co. Ltd., who made it over to the Army. I last saw it in about 1953 or so when Lord Montgomery came to Filton in it on a visit to the Bristol Aeroplane Company. In the London Evening Standard of March 25th 1974 it was reported that Christie’s in conjunction with Lord Montagu of Beaulieu were selling more than 60 cars at Arlington, Texas, on May 26th, all from the James C. Leake collection. One car was described as a rare Humber Pullman seven-seater first owned by Sir Winston Churchill, and I quote: “Another car with a strong British history, and one of 10 Rolls-Royces in the sale, is a 1937 Phantom Ill first owned by British aircraft manufacturer Captain (later Sir) Geoffrey de Havilland. During the Second World War it was requisitioned and assigned to the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army’s Home Forces”.

Doubtless one of your readers will be able to give the full history of the Rolls in question, and it seems likely that the car is now in the USA.

Alan Butler’s long association with de Havilland is an absorbing story in itself. The de Havilland Aircraft Co. Ltd was incorporated on September 25th, 1920, ten days before they moved into a collection of sheds at Stag Lane aerodrome, Edgware. On November 18th, 1921, they contracted to buy the aerodrome for £20,000 and paid £2,000 deposit, raised on a Bank overdraft. Financially, things were critical, and how Butler happened to come to the rescue is recounted in Martin Sharp’s book “An Outline of de Havilland History” in the following words:

“Just after this payment had been made and the die had been cast a young man of means, Mr. Alan S. Butler, inquired about having an aeroplane designed to his own requirements. He had been put on to de Havilland by C. G. Grey, Editor of The Aeroplane. He wanted a two-seat dual-control touring bi-plane with Rolls-Royce Falcon; a touring aeroplane, of course, meant one with two comfortable cockpits. St. Barbe put the inquiry before de Havilland. They could hardly take it seriously since an aeroplane of one’s own design would cost a fortune, something like £3,000. ‘Tell him what it will cost —that will soon settle the matter’. Alan Butler was getting over an operation for appendicitis and St. Barbe had to visit him in his bedroom in London. The price didn’t seem to concern him much—he was more interested in being sure of getting a fairly considerable range with two (or three) up and luggage, and a decent luggage locker, and really manageable cowlings.

“While convalescing he came down to Stag Lane and talked over the design in the end office with de Havilland and Walker. Strange as it seemed, perhaps he really was going to order a special aeroplane.

“Turning to leave Butler said, ‘By the way, I don’t know how you people are off for money. I have been thinking for some time of making an investment in an aircraft company’. He afterwards told how he had felt rather uncomfortable about mentioning it. There was a pause, and Butler mentioned a sum of £50,000. De Havilland replied, “Well, yes, we do happen to be needing more capital’, and then he added, ‘but we don’t want so much as that’. This, he felt, might give Butler the idea ‘that we were not complete crooks’.

Both de Havilland and Walker knew all too well that money was needed in a matter of days, yet they could not press the matter indecently, and after a little casual conversation they had to let Butler go. “The situation was discussed. It was established that Mr. Butler was a man of substance and reputation. If he meant to invest substantially in the firm it would justify a place on the Board. After due consideration it was decided that the matter should be formalised on that basis. Meanwhile the days went by. Other ways of raising money immediately were not forthcoming. About a fortnight later sure enough Butler paid another visit, this time accompanied by his uncle, a man of considerable experience who looked after Butler’s father’s affairs. Butler said, ‘I have been making inquiries and I’m prepared to invest in your company if you are still of the same mind’. They said yes, they were definitely needing capital to facilitate business which they had negotiated and would welcome his financial interest. They still could not somehow convey to him that the hard fact was that they were seriously in need of thousands of pounds immediately. It would have sounded most peculiar. The conversation turned to the matter of his aeroplane, details of estimated weights and performance, and it looked as if another pleasant meeting would end as casually as the first. Fortunately, however, when the time came to go Butler said, ‘Well, about that investment, how much were you thinking of at this stage?’ We are needing £7,500 at present in connection with a purchase of premises’, said Nixon, ‘and the first £5,000 of that money would be very useful in a matter of a few days if that is not inconvenient’. Butler, who was standing by the door, took out his cheque-book and wrote a cheque for £5,000, then and there. It was paid in on December 12th 1921. Arrangements were made on December 15th to allot him 7,500 shares and to appoint him a Director, and on December 23rd he paid in the remaining £2,500”.

Butler’s DH37 with a 275 h.p. Rolls-Royce Falcon flew in June 1922, weighed about 3,640 lb. all-up, and had a top speed of 125 m.p.h. He did a lot of flying with it, and even bought a motor scooter which could be carried abroad—but it was heavy to lift in. Once he made Prague to Stag Lane in a day. Butler was appointed Chairman of de Havilland from February 13th, 1924, and retired in the year 1950.

Chipping, Sodbury P. E. GORDON-MARSHALL

A Lloyd and Plaister


You may possibly recall that early in November, 1973, you sent me the enclosed photograph for identification of make, on behalf of one of your readers. However, at the time I was unable to tell you the answer, and I could not agree with your suggestions that the car might be an Aster or a Darracq, but I did promise to advise you if and when I found the correct solution. That moment has now arrived, I am glad to be able to say, for not long ago while searching for something entirely different, I had occasion to refer to my volume of The Automotor Journal for the first half of 1908, and there, on page 667 of the issue dated May 23rd, 1908, was a clear photograph of this very car, the Reg. No. H 2729 being plainly visible! According to the caption, and to a further reference in the text on the following page, the car was an 18/22 h.p. Lloyd and Plaister then owned by a Mr. Alsford, who is seen driving it, the front passenger seat being occupied by the same chauffeur who is at the wheel in your photograph. The occasion was a hill-climb organised by the North Middlesex A.C, and in my opinion the car might well have been at least two years old at the time, as the Reg. No. is apparently an issue of about February, 1906. I have not been able to discover anything else significant about this little-known make, nor have I found any corresponding illustration of the car in any other publication of the same period.

Regretting the long delay in finding the answer, but better late than never.

Salcombe DENNIS C. FIELD Research Historian, Veteran Car Club

Ford Preservation


In “Vintage Postbag” Mr. H. Edwards again makes the claim that there are more Packards left, and by implication preserved, than any other make. The previous occasion was in another magazine, although this time the claim is qualified by the phrase “make worthy of preservation”.

I presume that one can use such a phrase to exclude more popular cars but I wonder what the tens of thousands of owners of Ford Model Ts, Model As and side-valve V8s think. To me, if ever there were cars of character to inspire affection and a desire to preserve then they have been Fords. Indeed for what was a cheap $600 family car (then £120) the Ford V8 had a staggeringly good competition record, including five of the first seven places in the last two pre-war Monte Carlo Rallies, with wins in both 1936 and 1938—and they could run rings around nearly all Packards.

On the question of spare parts availability it is excellent that there is a growing range of spares not just for the beautiful Packards but for many other American makes. I enclose an admirable, comprehensive catalogue of Ford parts (dated 1972) from Joblot Automotive, Inc., 98-11 211th Street, Queen Village, Long Island, New York 11429. I have no connection with them and obtained their name and address from the very useful “Whole Earth Catalog” available still in UK bookshops. As you can see from p.23 of the Joblot catalogue you could get e.g. (in 1972) a new camshaft for only $14.95, a new aluminium cylinder head for $18.75, or a complete engine overhaul gasket set, all for a Ford V8, for only $8.75 or a 1936 V8 radiator grille for £31.95. There must be thousands of parts in the catalogue now.

Good luck to all your preservationist readers and yourself!

Surbiton R. W. ROBERTS

FWD Alvis Research


Seeing the letter about FWD Alvis cars all the way from Japan reminds me of the truly amazing readership of your magazine. There really can’t be many people interested in motor cars who do not read it.

Further information has come to light about these five 4-cylinder 1928 TT cars and perhaps readers may, given this new information, be able to add something. It can be tabulated above.

Thus all the registration numbers of the five TT cars of the 1928 team are known and this will hopefully produce some new photographs or information about the history of the cars after the TT race. All were sold through the London Agents of Alvis, Henlys Ltd. Cushman’s car is well known, Chassis No. 6936 was despatched before the TT and is thus likely to be one of the two private entries of H. W. Purdy and W. Urquhart-Dykes. Since H. W. Purdy was driving it in the 1929 Double Twelve race it thus seems very likely to have been Purdy’s car in the TT.

Chassis No. 6937 is the car whose engine performance figures were tabulated in MOTOR SPORT, December 1974, page 1316. In 1929 it was purchased from Henlys by A. G. Gripper who raced it in the same year in the August Bank Holiday BARC meeting at Brooklands. Mr. Gripper thought it was Urquhart-Dykes’ car in the TT.

Chassis numbers 6939 and 6940 must thus have been Willday’s & Harvey’s cars but no further information about their subsequent history is available. WilIday’s car was not registered AZ 1916 as previously reported; this was a Riley 9 entered in the TT and confused in the Autocar Journal report of the race with Willday’s Alvis.

The Japanese FWD car which Mr. Kobayashi writes about in the October issue of MOTOR SPORT is most intriguing. Its registration number WK 6950 shows it cannot be one of the TT cars as this number was originally allocated to a Saloon FWD Car No. 11785. But Mr. Kobayashi in a recent letter shows that this Japanese car now has engine 7687 which was originally installed in Car No. 12102 despatched from Alvis on 9/4/1929. The complicated history of this car will,. it is hoped, be solved by the discovery of the chassis number on the plate fitted to Preston Hopkins’ Invicta in the USA.


The Price of Old Cars


Your October editorial was no doubt written to provoke a reaction and it certainly did with this Austineer. I am a little surprised though that W.B., who has consistently fought government controls and bureaucracy, and who presumably believes in a free market, becomes so irate when the market asserts itself.

As I see it, in the Vintage/Veteran movement there are basically three types who influence the prices paid for older cars and who thus make the market :

(a) the dilettantes—pop stars and the like, who just think it the smart thing to have, or be seen with an old car. They possibly have some effect on the market—especially on the upper end vintage Rolls-Royce, etc.—but they quickly lose interest, get out, and personally I feel they have little lasting effect on the market.

(b) the time-and/or-money-no-limit-purists—these people, whilst difficult to live with, should have our admiration, because it is through their efforts we see the beautiful Bugattis, Maseratis, Mercedes, Lancias and thousands of other significant old cars, restored to pristine condition, raced and displayed so that we can all enjoy their efforts. A large proportion of them come from the motor trade and presumably the money spent can be made tax deductible, but nevertheless these types require knowledge, patience and doggedness. Many of them have probably timid wives and underprivileged children as their beloved cars take precedence over all else. They can he a bore at times, for example, when they decry the practice of bringing cars to meetings on trailers and grumble about replica bodies.

(c) the lets-have-a-car-and-have-fun-with-the-family—non-purists. This group love cars but realise there are other necessities in life, like painting the house, watching the children’s sports, enjoying music and the theatre and other humbler but human activities. They can be relied upon to support village fetes by bringing along their car at no cost to the organisers (possibly on a trailer), they don’t shoot their wives if the latter choose a non-purist colour scheme for their car, and generally they are well balanced people.

Being well balanced and having some education and knowing a little about economics, the non-purists realise:

(i) space to garage a large car costs money and anyway in many cases the space required is not available.

(ii) big cars gobble up expensive petrol.

(iii) big cars are heavy and need hoists, precision engineering to make rare parts, and many hours of maintenance by very specialist engineers.

(iv) their own income has generally not kept pace with the escalation of cost in running and maintaining superior (?) breeds of car.

Therefore, the non-purists have set themselves a specification. They must have:

(i) a car on which they (plus family) can work.

(ii) a car which is not too thirsty.

(iii) a car for which spares are reasonably cheap and plentiful.

Demand thus creates its own market, and hence the rise in price of Austins, MGs, Morris Bullnoses and other non-exotic breeds.

Lastly, the non-purists might even subconsciously realise that it takes a real engineer to find a simple way of creating a machine, and that’s why I prefer Austin to Royce.


The Location of Ruffy-Baumann


My attention has been drawn to a letter published in your September issue on page 1051 concerning the caption appearing below the photograph of myself on page 927 in the August issue. The writer asserts that the Ruffy-Baumann School of Flying was not based at Acton but Hendon. Before writing to you, Mr. L. E. Shelley should have carried out a little research. By doing this he would have avoided finding a completely inaccurate statement of his part in print. Let me enlighten him. The Ruffy-Baumann Flying School (formed by an Italian [Ruffy] and two Swiss brothers named Baumann) was established at Hendon at first but in 1917 moved to Acton by order of the Air Board. This was done because Hendon had become too crowded. Besides Ruffy-Baumann there were the Grahame-White, Warren, Hall, and Beatty schools all engaged in providing initial flying training to officers of the RFC and the RNAS. There was much test flying at Hendon during World War 1 as well.


[I remember the last school DH Moths at Hendon in about 1926, just before Stag Lane closed due to the encroachment of suburbia, and air displays persisted at house-bound Hendon well into the post-war years.—Ed.]