Vintage Postbag, December 1978

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Carden Cyclecars

Sir,

My first car in 1920, was a Carden for which I paid £3. At that time there was a cycle builder at the top of Summer Row in Birmingham and whilst waiting for him to unearth a pair of rims I looked out of his back door to see a quite presentable Carden Monocar (twin two-stroke, rear-engine model) in the yard. Apparently it was not a runner but the dealer had taken it in lieu of a debt and wanted it out of the way, hence the price, but when I got it home I found two teeth missing from the final drive pinion. New ones were unobtainable and as a hard-up schoolboy I could not afford to have one made and was resigned to having to try and sell the Carden as scrap when I heard of a small engineering shop at Greet where the owner reputedly performed miracles of improvisation, provided one could challenge his various skills. There were many such in Birmingham then, many highly-skilled but mostly rather unbusinesslike, in that they never charged enough. ln my case he softened the crown wheel (about 6″ diameter and 1-1/2″ wide) and then drilled a number of holes along the length of the root or each missing tooth. This done, he turned up a number of small threaded studs which were screwed into the pinion so that, when they were cut to length, one appeared to have two teeth composed or pegs shoulder to shoulder as with a denture. He then built up the composite teeth with welding and brilliantly filed the errant teeth so that the pinion meshed perfectly with its fellow.

Re-hardened, it made me mobile and the envy of my class-mates, especially as its twin two-stroke torque and exhaust note made it seem more car-like than AV’s etc., with rattling JAPs.

Memory slips up a bit over other details but I seem to remember the solid rear axle shaft ran in rather exposed bronze bearings and that the coil sprung rear was very limited in action because the engine  (transverse, rear) pivoted so as to allow such movement as was available. It was rather like a Flying Flea in construction and I have never forgotten the thrill of becoming a motorist by building (well almost!) my own car. And I have never seen a Carden since.

W.G. Emett,

Farnborough

***

What Is it?

Sir,

I have recently purchased what appears to be a travellers sample for exhibiting to customers.  The sample itself is in the shape of an Edwardian spoked-wheel and hears the name “Rolls Amel”, which is stated to be a registered trade mark. The article itself is approximately 2′ 6″ in diameter and is mounted in a leather case. The tyre itself appears to be made out of plaster and is grey in colour, and each of the spokes of the wheel are in a different coloured paint. I have endeavoured to trace the trade mark “Rolls Amel” without success, and I am writing to you to ascertain if you have any knowledge of the same and in particular whether there is any connection between this trade mark and the Rolls-Royce motor company.

Any information or light you could throw on this would be much appreciated.

R. Meere,

Woodhouses

(Can anyone recall this item? — Ed.)

***

Leyland Love

Sir,

You weren’t taken to lunch in the Anderson Arms, you ate in the Anderton Arms, a little too late to meet my great grandfather who was formerly landlord there. The place was named after Squire Anderton who might have been run over crossing the road from his estate by Mr. Iddon doing a heroic 100 m.p.h. down the future A6. 

A6 was the road to London until the M6 arrived next to it and my father used to tell me that Parry Thomas would drive Leyland men to Preston railway station, some six miles north, see them onto the train, jump into his 8 and then be waiting to drive them to their London destination when they arrived at Euston.

Next time you go to Leyland why not ask after the Bentley-Leyland. This was an enormous grey Bentley, probably an 8-litre saloon, which was given to a favoured employee of the Spurrier Works and fitted at his request with a Leyland ‘bus engine. I often used to see this beast when I was going to the junior school which was just past the old Leyland depot you picture on page 1433 of the October issue. I used to think it a fabulous machine and, although very well silenced, it made a very strange noise for a Bentley. Frankly, I used to think its owner was daft to want a ‘bus engine in front of him, but such, apparently was his love of things Leyland.

Again at Leyland I often used to see the Rover BRM gas turbine coupe flashing by. That too made a very odd noise, sounding, and going, like a muted fighter.

Where are they now?

C. J. Beeston,

Halstead

***

More Straker-Squire

Sir,

The article “More Straker-Squire” in the August issue brings me to the typewriter again both to compliment you on the interesting article and to point out an error, which I am sure you will wish to correct in the interest of historical accuracy. You say in the article that  H. Hagens designed “the later c.i. inlet manifold for the 24/90 model which replaced the original fine alloy-manifolding.” You have mixed up the manifolds. It was the exhaust manifold which was changed to cast-iron, the earlier models having one made up by welding from sheet steel.  The inlet manifold remained aluminium-alloy. It is certainly so on my 1925 car and is shown that way in the 1926 catalogue, and the same goes for the cast-iron exhaust manifold. Regarding the origins of the engine in the light car, I have the engine and gearbox assembly from one of these, but don’t know enough about Dorman engines to say whether it is one or not.  When describing the new 1,500 c.c. Straker-Squire in their issue for 6/10/1922, The Autocar said that the new car was “constructed, for the most part, of well-known and well-tried components”, which would lead one to expect a proprietary engine.  In my previous letter, which appeared in the June issue, I said that the 1921 catalogue showed a racing Six with the radiator carrying shutters and the front number-plate obscured by a racing number-card. On looking more closely, I find that the beginning of an “M” is just visible on one side of the card and a “1” on the other side, so it looks as though it must have been MD7901 and that either the radiator was being tried on the racing car or that numbers were being swapped around — more likely the former.

Another item of interest to me was the mention of the hydraulic brakes quoted as the standard fitting in the 1926 catalogue and the “bits of bicycle chain”. My 1925 car has the bits of bicycle chain for its four-wheel brake operation, but no hydraulics.

G.H. Brooks

Tranmere, S. Australia

(It is all a long time ago and Mr. Brown’s memory may have been slightly astray.–   Ed.)

***

Ballot in the 1921 GP

Sir,

In your excellent article on Humphrey Milling’s Ballot in the June issue of Motor Sport  you referred, with some doubt, to the fact that “W F Bradley once told a seemingly impossible tale of the great de Palma, before the Grand Prix, having the gear lever of his Ballot moved to the centre, so that his mechanic could do the gear changing.” This made me reach down my copy of “Wall Smacker — The Saga Of The Speedway” by Peter de Paolo, published in 1935 by Thompson Products Inc., Cleveland, Ohio.

Peter de Paolo was de Palma’s nephew and his mechanic in the Ballot at Indianapolis and the French Grand Prix in 1921.  At Le Mans, according to de Paolo, de Palma was consistently the fastest Ballot driver in practice. I quote from the book:

“Ballot was not at all pleased. With much excitement he asked ‘How does de Palma do it?’ I wish I knew,’ confessed Chassagne’.

“However the answer was simple. Uncle (de Palma) could outdrive them, but the real trick was the way we shifted gears on turns. During the time we rebuilt the Ballot in New York we had moved the gear shift lever to the centre, whereas before it was on the right hand side. Because it was a right hand drive, with it in this position it was possible for me to shift gear whenever Uncle signalled me. As a result he never had to take his hands from the wheel when we approached a turn.

He would yell ‘Second’ or ‘First. whichever gear he wanted in accordance with the speed we were making. This saved a few seconds on every turn and accounted for the faster time we were making around the course.”

According to de Paolo, Ballot discovered the secret when he (de Paolo) became over eager and started to put the gear lever into reverse instead of second on a corner. Justifiably outraged, Ballot insisted that the gear lever should revert to its correct right-hand position. “Uncle” was highly upset by all this and loafed through the first part of the race, even to the extent of shutting off in front of the pits where Ballot was standing. Later in the race reason or instinct prevailed and he pressed on to finish second behind Murphy in the Duesenberg.

G. L. Easterbrook Smith,

Wellington, NZ

(I knew of this when I cast doubts on W. F. Bradley’s story, but I am in the habit of using large pinches of salt!  For instance, it seems odd that only changes from 2nd to 1st gear are referred to, as if the car had a three-speed gearbox, although I concede that if the lever had been moved to the centre and the safety-catch over the reverse-slot had been carelessly omitted, de Paolo could have graunched reverse in trying to engage 2nd gear. But why no mention of changes from top to 3rd, more frequently used in the race, surely? I can see that, as an American, de Palma was used to a central lever, but I am very dubious as to whether there was anything to be gained in making his mechanic use one. Although there have been advantages claimed for a driver being able to keep both hands on the steering wheel by fitting a pre-selector box, does this apply to having another person try and control quick double-declutch gear shifts? And just how did de Palma and de Paolo communicate? I know D.S.J. and Moss did so in the 1955 Mille Miglia; but there was presumably fractionally more time to spare for signalling the route ahead than there would be in indicating when a mechanic should change gear. If de Palma, because he was used to them, asked for, and got, a central lever, Ernest Ballot would have known of this. If not, where was the work carried out? I think perhaps someone who had read W. F. Bradley “ghosted” this book and perpetuating his story, and that by the time it was published de Paolo had forgotten the 1921 Grand Prix, or he never read the proofs. — Ed.)

***

The First Single-Plate Clutch

Sir,

With reference to your question about Parry Thomas introducing the single-plate clutch on the Leyland Eight car, I would draw your attention to the Fergus car of 1915. In this car, which was unfortunately never made in the quantity it deserved due to the poor timing of its introduction, its designer J. B. Ferguson of Belfast, included a large diameter single-plate clutch, intended to last the life of the car without the need for adjustment.

This clutch is defined in his patent, Number 14540 of 1915, dated 14 October 1915. It consisted of a large diameter, unsupported, Ferodo disc driving member rivetted to the centre plate with 32 rivets, sufficient number to reduce the shearing stress on each. The object of the design was to reduce the intertial loads of the clutch and therefore ease gear changing.

Among the other advanced features of the Fergus car were a rigid girder-frame chassis, soft cantilever springs and fully automatic lubrication of the chassis, springs, rear-axle, and gearbox-shaft bearings from the engine driven oil pump. This car also is acknowledged as being the first to have the engine isolated from the chassis by means of rubber mountings.

J. B. Ferguson tried to have the car manufactured in America in 1916 but the entry of the United States into WWI led to the same problems of supply of materials and components which had been encountered in Belfast. The car was nominally available in America until 1922. Meanwhile, in Belfast, after the war the remainder of the design-team tried to continue with a developed version as the O.D. car. This, however, was killed by a combination of the H.P. tax and the first post-war depression.

John S. Moore,

Holywood, County Down

***

Sir,

With ref. to your “Historical Conundrum” (p. 1436 Oct. issue), single-plate clutches were in use well before the Leyland Eight. I would not like to say who was first to use them but my 1906 6 h.p. Rover has one. The 6 h.p. clutch is the same as that on the 8 h.p. car. This was introduced in 1904. This clutch is a metal to metal (bronze liners on the centre plate) and runs in oil.

Derek Taylor,

Alfold

***

Re-registering Old Cars

Sir,

Recent correspondence in your magazine prompts me to relate my futile attempt to register an imported 23/60 Vauxhall which I recently acquired in a reasonably complete but derelict state.

Only with a valid MoT, for there is no registration without licensing, I was offered an “S” registration. If I could prove otherwise a three letter/three digit number circa  mid-50s might be offered to me, but nothing earlier. A copy of correspondence between Lord Montagu and the Secretary of’ State for Transport, as published in the June 1977  Veteran & Vintage, referring to the availability of appropriate numbers for early vehicles made no impression on my Mr. Long who deals with these matters. I was told that unless a directive from Swansea was issued, the position regarding registration was as stated above. I was also told that as a member of the public I could not inspect Swansea directives since they were covered by the Official Secrets Act,

I now believe that unless more pressure is applied to Swansea and its directorate (if any exists) all re-registered cars will have no legal case for special treatment in the future. I believe I have discovered in Bristol a new breed of official who resorts only to definitive Acts of Parliament, chapter and verse.

It is evident to me that pre-war cars in general will increasingly be harassed by petty officialdom. There is cause to be concerned about the introduction of roller brake testing. Many early cars cannot meet the existing brake test, they were never designed to do so, most examiners in these cases turn a blind eye, but there is nothing written in the examiner’s guide giving exemption. If central MoT Stations as for heavy goods vehicles ever comes about the existing brake and lighting regulations will prohibit many pre-war vehicles from using our roads. This has already happened in Germany and Switzerland.

The days of simply taxing a vehicle and driving it have gone; it’s all forms and officials from now on, even more forms, even more bumbling bureaucrats to deal with. Definitive legislation with respect to the pre-war car is most urgently needed. The amateur approach of the HVCJC, Lord Montagu and others together with odd notes of exemption tacked on to Parliamentary legislation is not enough. Swansea is surely proof of this.

Dr. D.G. Shapland,

Bristol

***

Concours Standards

Sir,

At the recent AGM of the Armstrong-Siddeley Owners Club the question of the rules for judging Concours D’Elegance was raised. The ASOC felt that the present trend for scraping paint off radiator header tanks, polishing the underlying brass and chroming everything in sight is not restoring but customising.

The Club wishes to draw up its own ground rules, for these contests. Readers’ and particularly judges’ comments would be appreciated on this, also definitions of words in common use such as “original”, “restored”, “restored to original condition”, “classic car” etc.

As a purely personal preference I would give higher marks to a car driven to an event than one which arrived on a trailer. Surely the prime purpose in restoring these and other fine cars is, the pleasure of owning and driving them.

D. J. Frost,

London W6 

(Letters will be forwarded. Ed.)

***

All Independent Suspension MG’s

Sir,

Having been away, I missed Peter Neal’s interesting letter in Motor Sport  of September 1978 when it first appeared. May I now comment on this, and also on John Perrett’s letter of August (which I had thought it better to ignore)?

Messrs. Perrett and Neal both imply that my version of MG developments in 1935 is probably unreliable because I was not working at Abingdon at that time. Nor was I, indeed; I don’t think they’d have wanted an 8-year-old about the place, and I had to wait another 24 years before they took me on (for 10 years, gentlemen, which is a lot longer than either of you worked for MG, I think). But I then started to study the subject rather thoroughly — almost as thoroughly, perhaps, as some of the chaps who have done quite useful work on the history of Roman Britain, although they must have been mere babes-in-arms 2,000 years ago. Or the specialists who have quite recently discovered all sorts of interesting things about life on this planet some 30 million years ago, when (I personally suspect) they may have been missing from the scene entirely.

Peter Neal also considers it “ungenerous” of me to correct John Perrett’s faulty memories, but why is it ungenerous (defined by my dictionary as “mean, prejudiced”) to strive for historical accuracy? I made no comment on Mr. Perrett’s August letter because it, like his article, contained so many inaccuracies, but with two of them now gunning for me, I can’t resist pointing out that: (1) The Queen Mary was launched in 1934, not 1936, so it was the most natural thing in the world to apply this as a nickname to a “large and unwieldy sports car” built experimentally in 1935; (2) The “considerable gap” between the PB and the TA Midgets was only two months (from May to July 1936), so it is absurd to talk of “bringing back the Midget”; (3) To the best of my knowledge, H. N. Charles was known as Hubert, not Noel, to those who were on first-name terms with him. Some anti-roll experiments were indeed carried out on an R-type chassis, as Mr. Perrett says — in fact the chassis still exists today, and the modifications can be seen — but all the evidence indicates that this was done at Cowley (where H. N. Charles had been transferred following the Morris Motors takeover), not at Abingdon.

Most of the information contained in Peter Neal’s letter will be found in an article almost 20 years ago (in June 1959, to be exact) in Safety Fast; not the present MG Car Club publication of that title, but a magazine edited by myself and intended for MG owners and enthusiasts. The article, “Those Abingdon EX Numbers”, was written at my request by my former chief, John Thornley, and nothing in it conflicts in any way with the statements I have recently made.

On the contrary, John Thornley rightly warned against trying to date or identify cars precisely by EX numbers because, as he said, the EX system broke down in its earliest days. EX 1, 2, 3 and 4 were all 18/80 prototypes of the 1928/9 period, but the very first MG record-breaker (which first appeared at Montlhéry in December 1930, and took the Class H  100 m.p.h. in February 1931)  was always known as EX 120. According to two entirely different references in my files, EX 101 is either the 1930 Double Twelve version of the M-type Midget, or it is a hybrid 18/80 built for Donald Monro some time in 1931. Moreover, John Thornley also stated in his article that an EX number does not necessarily denote a car at all — whether experimental prototype, production, record car or anything else. In many cases it signifies a certain aspect of development work, possibly carried out over a period of many years. Owners of TC Midgets (built 1945 to 1949) who are sufficiently interested to go nosing about with an inspection-lamp will find EX 120 stamped on various chassis components. Why? Because that EX number, although popularly thought to denote a particular MG record-breaker, actually relates to the development of a chassis frame!

Yes, the TA (EX135) was announced in mid-June 1936 and the SA (EX158) in October 1936, but the difference in time is so small that Peter Neal cannot really suggest this as convincing evidence of a reallocated EX number. It wasn’t the first time that MGs had got out of alphabetical sequence (the PA, for instance, had come two months before the NA in 1934), and far wider discrepancies are to be found elsewhere. In quoting from the Experimental Register to support his case, he omitted to mention that while EX181 is the rear-engined record car (first driven by Moss in August 1957), and EX187 is the MG-A Twin Cam (announced July 1958), it is no less true to state that the number EX182 belongs to the Le Mans MG-A of 1955.

In my letter published in June 1978, I said of the “large and unwieldy” 3-1/2-litre all-independent sports car (nicknamed the Queen Mary ) that “It was never taken seriously, and I don’t think it even lasted long enough to acquire an experimental project number.” But if it did acquire a number, my bet is that it was EX150, which otherwise remains a mystery. This would in no way conflict with the information I obtained for my MG history from such notable personalities as John Thornley, H. N. Charles, Cecil Cousins, Sydney Enever, Reg Jackson and others who spent several decades with the MG Car Company. It does, I admit, contradict the statements by John Perrett, who seems (he is vague about this, as he is about some other things) to have spent less than two years at Abingdon. As a motoring historian I have found many times that memories of past happenings (my own included) can become very clouded as the years go by. For this reason I have long made it a rule to be wary of reminiscences, and I do NOT make statements unsupported by adequate evidence. This long argument boils down to one thing, and one only. John Perrett stated in his article that the original S-type MG was to be an all-independent sports car, which simply is not true. It was, in fact, intended to be an all-independent single-seater Magnette of 1,100 or possibly 1500 c.c. capacity designed to follow up the R-type Midget and compete successfully with the ERA. The car is actually referred to as the S-type monoposto Magnette in letters written by the MG Racing Department  to possible buyers; letters which, Messrs. Perrett and Neal, I have seen for myself because I took the trouble to look for them, instead of leaping into print with a muddled mixture of guesswork and half-remembered notions. I claim no particular credit for the fact (as fact it is) that my research into MG history spans more than 12 years, and it does not signify that I am an MG fanatic; merely that, as a professional motoring writer, if I tackle a job at all I like to do it properly, and therefore take a slightly dim view of it when my competence to do so is brought into question by those whose knowledge of the same subject is, by comparison ambiguous.

F. Wilson McComb,

Chichester

***

GP10 & YP 9763

Sir,

Your article “Cavalcade” brought back some very happy memories, as I was the proud owner of the 38/250 Merc. GP10 from 1946. The car as I remember it had a non-standard and very narrow 4-seater body, I believe fabric-covered, and was of course finished in an attractive shade of blue as were all Campbell’s cars. Whilst I owned the car I did several trips to the South of France on it and found that with a long, straight, French road under its wheels it could hold its own with anything. I don’t recall ever being passed by anything. The only snag being that as benzole was hard to find in France at the time I was always obliged to carry a large stock of 2-gallon tins in the back “seats”. Incidentally the back was never designed for passengers so you can imagine that you had a rough ride. I was not aware that the car went to Canada, it must be some years later when it passed out of my possession. I wish I owned it now!

Another interesting item in the same issue was the photo of Barnato & Rubin after winning the 1928 Le Mans. I owned YP 9763 which I always understood to be the Bentley that Birkin drove in this race, and which I believe had the engine from Rubin’s car fitted at a later date. Whilst I owned GP10 I also owned the SSK38/250 which had belonged to Mr. Palethorpe (the Sausage King).

I hope GP10 has a happy retirement in the “Home”. Long may she survive.

Brian Finglass

Ferring-by-Sea

***

Frazer Nash History

Sir,

I enjoyed the analysis expounded by Peter Hull on how it was that I came to write that Clive Gallop broke all records in the 1925 Boulogne Grand Prix. He is obviously not familiar with the type of historian who goes and interviews the heroes of the past but only with the historian that takes newspaper clippings and joins them together with some interlinking prose, a scissors and paste man.

I interviewed Harold Scott in 1956 as he was Gallop’s mechanic or co-driver in the winning Frazer Nash and he told me more of the party that Pickett, the uncrowned King of Boulogne, gave that night for the Frazer Nash team that had won the Pickett Cup. According to my notes all the mechanics, Thistlewaite, Charles Faroux were all there to taste the sweet taste of a flat-out race where the car had kept together and the magnificent duel between the ‘Nash and the Bugatti in the two halves of the race. It must have been some party as every Englishman who was connected with racing in the town was there.

Cushman, who had been Archie’s mechanic as far back as the GN team that had won the Pickett Cup in 1921 — Cushman had only been at the meeting in advisory role to the Salmson firm that had entered their GN team; Cushman said that the party was the greatest of them all due to the sheer speed of the Gallop car. Four hours and twenty-two minutes at 102.5 k.p.h. was some performance in 1925.

I also interviewed Archie Frazer Nash on many occasions and Peter Hull will well understand that the immortal memory of that race was a high point and many times referred to in conversation.

I can see how I did not come to check the statement about breaking all records and for this I am at fault. However, Mr. Editor, I have sown the seeds and research work is being carried out and I feel sure that the History of the Vintage Sports Car Club will be a fruitful source for further ‘howler?’ to be reported — was it not Sam Clutton who said “there is no known motoring fact that is not demonstrably untrue”.

David Thirlby,

Hartford 

(I thought Archie Frazer-Nash’s name had a hyphen but hesitate to insert one in a letter from so learned a Frazer Nash historian as David Thirlby! — Ed.)