Veteran Edwardian Vintage, December 1981

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A section devoted to old-car matters

The Life and Times of Montie Grahame-White (Continued from the November issue)

After his adventurous journey in the 20 h.p. Wolseley wagonnette to Marseilles, as recounted last month, Grahame-White (hereinafter referred to as G-W) returned to Monaco in March 1904, as he was due to steer the racing motor-boat Parisienne II for the Societe Parisienne in the April races. This boat was powered by three 90 h.p. four-cylinder Mors racing engines and followed the trend at that time of searching for more speed by installing more and more powerful, engines. Little attention was being paid to structural strength or underwater form. The 52′ boat resembled the smaller French naval torpedo-vessels but G-W had heard unfavourable comments on it in Paris. However, it was expected tube so successful that objections were raised about an Englishman piloting it, and a Frenchman was substituted for the race over the 175 km. course, G-W being given the entry in the following day’s event for racing be over the 50 miles circuit.

When he saw the boat he had been allocated he made stern objections to the crude installation of its reserve fuel pipes and exhaust manifolds, and to the stability of the hull due to the height of the cylinder-heads above the coaming. In the first of its races Parisienne II was up against five others, including Napier. It almost immediately burst into flames. These were extinguished but its racing career was over. Other racing boats at this time (1904) proved unable to withstand the strain, these including Dubonnet, powered with a 300 Delahaye engine, Mercedes Charley and Panhard, although the better of them were able to average around 30 knots. This gives credence to the story that many racing-car engines ended their days in the harbour at Monaco.

G-W was not above name dropping and recounts how, while returning to Paris by train, he met Mr. James Gordon Bennett, the newspaper millionaire who kept two pedigree Alderney cows on his yacht Lysistrata, and M. Gaston Menier, the well-known chocolate manufacturer. By coincidence, the latter’s historic Chateau de Chenonceaux cropped up in “Cars In Books” last month and it is also the subject of a Pleasing story in the late C. R. N. Minchin’s book “Under My Bonnet”. M. Menier also owned the Island of Anticosti, famed for its silver fixes, and the steam yacht Ariane, and his son purchased the winning Coupe de L’Auto Peugeot in 1913, of which team-cars there has been recent controversy in these pages. Among more celebrities, both male and female, whom G-W met, when lunching at the Chatham Grille after his return to Paris and at the Automobile Club there, were his old friends William Lamplugh, the well-known motor-body builder of Levallois Perrot, and M. Louis Bleriot, the famous aeroplane constructor and pilot, busy in 1904 making automobile lamps, among which was the cumbersome Bleriot acetylene headlamp fitted with a dioptic lens some 18″ long and 15″ in diameter. This lamp created a terrific glare, which was troublesome to approaching traffic, and the heat from its burners causeti frequent fracture, so that the design was soon abandoned. G-W had had two of these headlamps on his 60 h.p. Paris-Bordeaux Mors but, being a gentleman, had put hoods over the lens to reduce the inconvenience to other road users.

From that time onwards G-W was increasingly occupied with the conversion and selling of boats at Summers & Payne’s yard. He was interested in increased speed and to this end was persuaded by Mr. S. F. Edge to purchase a 70 h.p. four-cylinder Napier racing-car engine. Could this have come from Edge’s 1902 Gordon-Bennett car? Of it, G-W says what he lost in speed he gained in experience, The unsatisfactory Napier motor was disposed of for stationary use and a proper boat engine, a four-cylinder 80 h.p. French-built Filtz, was used instead. The Napier reverse gear was retained and used in the installation in the 52′ Mi-Ladye, which G-W was running in the Paris-to-the-Sea race. During sea-trials off Lee-on-Solent the boat proved very unreliable and after an unpleasant period, becalmed in fog, during which G-W went overboard, the stern-shaft having broken. Mi-Ladye was towed back to Southampton by a steamer.

On the next sailing for Suresnes all went much better, the Fitt, engine running very smoothly at 500 to 600 r.p.m. but becoming rough when opened up to its maximum speed of 750 r.p.m. At 600 r.p.m. the single-screw boat ran at 11 knots and consumed petrol at the rate of 5 1/4 gallons an hour. Fog was again encountered on the Channel crossing and there was a had moment when G-W’s mechanic went to sleep and let the engine stop, having overlooked changing over the fuel supply. The Cross-Channel Race was won by Mercedes IV, and S. F. Edge won the 1,000 franc prize presented by the International Sporting Club of Monaco with his 55 h.p. Napier Minor, some compensation for Edge having had the Harmsworth Trophy Race at Ryde wrested from him after a protest by a French entrant, Napier Minor being used after the 90 h.p. Napier II had been damaged in a collision. The Paris-to-the-Sea race was won by Mercedes IV, at just under 27 m.p.h. for the 205 miles. Before 1904 was out Henri Fournier had come home first in Hotchkiss in the race for the Gaston Menier Cup. at 22 1/2 knots for the 3-mile course, and the British Motor Boat Club was founded in November by Noel Kenealy, membership reaching 70 before the year’s end.

That brings on to the end of G-W’s pioneering period which it was my intention to cover and thereafter, like another motoring pioneer, Arthur Bray, he became more and more involved with boats, dealing in some very big vessels, sales of which, I see, included that of the 115-ton steam yacht Zaneta to Louis Coatalen for £7,000 and the hull of the Saunders-built racing boat Maple Leaf IV to Mr. Shaw of Shaw & Kilburn, the Great Portland Street Vauxhall agents, to which he fitted two 450 h.p. Liberty aero-engines. Coatalen sold his yacht back to G-W in 1923. Between 1919 and 1929 the turnover in boat sales by G-W represented a total of £263,775. Another motoring personality in this list was Sir Percival Perry of Ford’s, who bought for £17,000 the 338-ton steamer Dorothy.

I had not intended to continue beyond the “veteran” years but a few interesting ‘motoring items among all this marine activity are worth quoting. G-W had been working in Paris designing stylish bodywork, submitting his drawings to coachbuilders such as Kellner, Belvalette and Lamplugh, who would then construct the bodies on large Mors, PanhardLevassor and Rochet-Schneider chassis. In December 1905 G-W entered into a contract with C. S. Rolls & Co. to design a series of bodies for them, at the suggestion of Claude Johnson. These bodies were for Rolls-Royce chassis, mainly for the 30 h.p. model one supposes, the idea being to keep them within specified weight limits and to register each one so that no other person or company could make a similar body. The builders were Barker’s, then of Charing Cross, and G-W received a royalty of £75 for each design. The types of bodies G-W designed were a Pullman, a limousine, I think for the new 40/50 h.p. Silver Ghost, a town coupe, a sports four-seater tourer and a two-seater Speed model, the limousine being shown at the next Motor Exhibition. In designing the sports-tourer G-W used a bonnet line that sloped slightly down to the height of the radiator, to obviate the then-current humped scuttle and this kept the whole body low-sided. This was thought of as sacrilege by Johnson and he insisted on a straight line to the bonnet top, completely spoiling the appearance, in G-W’s estimation. However, G-W had a body to his design put on his 1908 40/50 h.p. Rolls-Royce chassis, Johnson also refused G-W’s request that the wheelbase of the Rolls-Royce chassis be extended to 12’ 6″ to accommodate his Pullman body and when he showed Rolls and Johnson his plan of the Speed model two-seater, which incorporated staggered radiator and body lines, they were themselves staggered, asking G-W if he had collaborated with Mr. Heath Robinson.

When G-W saw the new 40/50 h.p. Rolls-Royce chassis at the 1906 Motor Show he was not impressed, disliking the complicated system of carburetter control with no less than eight separate levers and connecting-rods, each fitted with adjusting rods and the way in which the bonnet did not meet neatly the top face of the radiator, the latter an item persisting into the 1930s. He thought the difficulty of cleaning the engine due to the mass of unsightly fittings, compared with the clean outlines of French and Italian engines, was another detail requiring “a hair-cut and shave”. I imagine it was from these comments of G-W’s to a junior salesman on the Rolls-Royce stand that the criticism of the Silver Ghost engine resembling a Christmas tree arose. However, G-W admitted there was no question that for all-round performance and reliability no car could excel the qualities of a Rolls-Royce. He owned a number of them, including one which ran 60,000 miles without overhaul or decarbonising, at which mileage front-wheel wobble suddenly commenced. In spite of Rolls-Royce not wanting to make G-W’s proposed long-wheelbase chassis, he later increased that of a six-cylinder Mercedes chassis to 15′ 6″ to accommodate a six-seater body. In 1907 it was considered that those who used enclosed-drive (or closed) cars were acting like old women and in 1911 Sir John Barren rose in the House of Commons to condemn such cars as dangerous, urging their abolition, at the same time as the more enlightened Warwickshire CC passed a bye-law requiring all pedal-cyclists to carry a red rear lamp.

In spite of the prejudice against closed bodywork, by 1907 G-W and Charles Jarrott were using bodies of this kind, respectively on 35 h.p. Rochet-Schneider and a 30 h.p. Crossley chassis. Before this, in January 1906, G-W had taken delivery, from S. F. Edge Ltd., of a 35 h.p., 11′ 6″-wheelbase, Show-model Rochet-Schneider with a Roi-des-Belges body, finished in grey primer. He set about preparing this car for the 1906 Monte Carlo Concours d’Elegance, held in March. Barker’s were given the task of turning out a very smart car, which had glass panels to the bonnet and tops of the final-drive chaincases, and many stowages for tools and six spare tubes, etc. Allowing as much time as he could for the varnish to dry, G-W then set off from London for the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, three days before the event. He arrived with eight hours to spare, all of which were spent in cleaning the car. The result was that it won the Grand Prix in the touring class.

In 1906 G-W was involved with the Challenge Match for 5,000 miles round France between a British and a French car, which originated from the Editor of La France Automobile, Mon. Paul Meyan. Mr. (later Sir) John Siddeley accepted, with a four-cylinder 18 h.p. Siddeley, to run against the 24 h.p. De Dietrich nominated by Mon. Meyan. G-W received a wire from Milan, from Mr. Siddeley, offering him 50 got. a day and all expenses to drive the Siddeley, Dulacher, who was associated with Diatto cars in this country after the war, going as his mechanic. As the contest lasted 14 days, G-W netted £735; he was younger than the challenger and well-versed in roadside repairs and repairing tyres, so G-W was naturally upset when the clause stipulating that these should be done by the drivers was rescinded, at the request of Meyan. However, the latter lost time changing his sprockets to give a low gear for the climb over the Col du Lautauret, and was surprised when the Siddeley overtook him, although ingot very hot and Delaucher had to stuff snow into its radiator. G-W experienced a great deal of tyre trouble which left his hands raw (one studded Michelin required all his strength to get it on the rim and he was fearful of pinching the tube, an experience most veteran and vintage-car owners will have suffered, at some time or another). Neither car gave any trouble, apart from one plug change on the Siddeley, but the British car was slower. G-W decided not to protest about the rival’s sprocket change, however. He was met by John Siddeley at the Porte Maillot at the conclusion of the contest.

De Dietrich may have appreciated G-W’s sporting attitude, for they asked him to conduct a non-stop 25,000-mile demonstration of one of their cars, for the sum of £1,000, but he turned it down. G-W drove a Siddeley in the TT with Durlacher but a chain wrapped itself round a sprocket and twisted the shaft. lathe I.o.M. G-W first met Thomas Octavius Sopwith, who was competing with his fitter Sigrist in a two-cylinder Peugeot, belonging to Mr. (later Sir) Charles Friswell — a portent of great things to follow!

After this, G-W was engaged mainly with boats and the chartering of yachts to wealthy clients, but after the First World War he owned a fine Hispano Suiza, which he used much on the Continent, driving it from Paris to Marseilles for instance. It was the car which had been on the maker’s stand at the 1926 Olympia Show, a 37-110 h.p. dark green-and-cream Hooper d.h. coupe with the cream wings picked out in fine green and gold lines. Two powerful Zeiss lamps mounted on the running boards behind the driving-seat lit the way in fog, and a green sun-vizor, radiator shutters and many stowages with Yale locks which G-W had got Hooper’s to fit after he had acquired the car, were used to attract the Judges’ eyes. The fascia was in ivory picked out with figured walnut, polished-aluminium wheel discs were fitted, and the spare wheels were concealed within the front wings, as one spare wheel is on a modern Bristol. The name “Glissante” was picked out in gilt on the bonnet sides — just the kind of car, I feel, that some of the advertisers in the back pages of Motor Sport would like to offer for sale… With it G-W won the Grand Prix in the Monte Carlo Concours d’Elegance, but at the expense of having his jewel-case stolen by the beautiful but ficticious Countess begot to ride with him, at the last minute, to impress the Judges!

G-W was a great one for these automobile beauty-shows. In lowering the hood of his smaller Hispano Sulu at the 1928 Le Touquet contest G-W caught his fingers in it and amputated the ends of two fingers; he was given first aid and Created with real kindness by Hugh McConnell, the well-known Brooklands’ scrutineer, who had been the victim of a similar mishap. There was consolation in learning that his Hispano had 1 on the GP d’honneur and a prize for the most handsome can in the show. Due to the accident, G-W summoned his wife from London and, after he had nearly lost an arm, together they drove to Boulogne, as the can had been entered for the Southport Concours d’Elegance. Accompanied by a hospital nurse G-W arrived for the dinner at the Prince of Wales Hotel with Roland Dangeefleld of The Motor, and the next day G-W’s 37-110 h.p. Hispano Suiza won the class for cars of up to £1,500 and his new 45-140 h.p. Hispano Suiza sports model was placed second in the class for open cars of any horse-power. The first prize had been awarded to a 1915 Rolls-Royce. This so enraged G-W that he decided to refrain from taking part in any further English beauty cont sts until Judges competent, in his opinion, to act properly were appointed. He thought it a farce that a non-original old car with a freak sports-body by an unknown builder should have been judged better than his Hispano Suiza which had gained premier awards at Monte Carlo, Cannes and Paris, including a “premier” two years in succession! The Wolseley in 1904 a Renault in 1906,a Rochet-Schneider in 1908, and from 1914 Rolls-Royce and Hispano Suiaacaes, all with coachwork designed by G-W, had won all the top beauty-awards on the Riviera, he pointed out. (He had also designed or modified the spo ts, two-seater coupe, limousine and Pullman bodies by Duvivier, Thrupp & Maberly, Barker, and Gill which, respectively on Rolls-Royce, Goat nBrillie, Mercedes and Grand Prix Itala chassis (note the last-named!), had, with but one exception, carried off beauty-prizes at Marseilles, Aix en Provence, St. Raphael and Boulogne. So that was decidedly that!

But for the 1932 Eastbourne Concors d’Elegance he borrowed one of the latest 45-180 h.p. eight-cylinder Hispano Suizas from the London agent, Jack Smith of Albemarle Steers, driving down from London with Miss José Collins.

As the Schneider Trophy Race is in the news this year, I will conclude by noting that the versatile G-W watched the 1929 event from his yacht Ianara, using the 65-ton steam yacht Goshawk to get close to the Calshott turning-point — his guests included the Prime Minister and his daughter Miss Isobel Macdonald, and from the motoring world, Edgar Duffield, Ernest Instone, Charles Jarrott, and Miss Paddy Naismith, etc. Even more topical, in 1929 Lt. Comdr. Montague Grahame-White, RNVR, who had been one of the adjudicators in assessing the age of Brighton Run participants, suggested that the term “Old Crocks” should never eagain be applied to veteran cars… – W.B.

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