The Editor takes the National Motor Museum Trust’s 1903 4 1/2-litre Daimler on the RAC Commemoration Run to Brighton
At a time when the future of British Leyland looked likely to be at stake, it seemed appropriate in a way to take on this year’s Renault UK-sponsored Veteran Car Run from London to Brighton in the 1903 Daimler from the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, because it has definite links with the beginning of the now-ailing British Motor Industry. The Daimler Motor Company of Coventry, registered on January 14th, 1896, was the first concern in Great Britain founded solely fire the manufacture of motor vehicles, some ten months before it became legal to use them on public highways in this country. From the early primitives, based on German Daimler patents purchased by the British Motor Syndicate Limited in 1895, the English Daimlers soon emerged as practical and efficient autocars. Development was rapid, as is seen from the fact that the car I drove to Brighton last month, although officially dated 1903 by the VCC of GB, has a four-cylinder engine of 4 1/2-litres (105 x 130 mm.), its radiator at the front, although not yet of the famous fluted form, a normal 4-speed transmission and chain final-drive is used and battery-and-coil ignition had by then replaced the hot-tube cum coil ignition that had been used by Daimler’s up to that year. The inlet valves were still atmosphericallv-opened, even at this comparatively late date, however.
It was indeed an honour to tv lent this Daimler, because it had been one of the official RAC Team in the 1979 International Automobile Federation Rally (apparently it was involved in a collision with anon on the Champs d’Elysres, the modern vehicle suffering far more than the Daimler) and last year Lord Montagu himself drove it on the Brighton Run. It is also the car which figured in thc Tommy Steele film “Half A Sixpence”.
This year five earlier Daimlers wem entered for the Brighton Run. The oldest were Michael Flather’s 1897 4-h.p. model, claimed to be the oldest British autocar in regular use (it was a reserve entry this year however), and Vaux’s car of the same age and horsepower. Then there was the 1898 Wagonette of the Royal Court flute! and Coventry’s Museum of British Road Transport, also with the two-cylinder 4 h.p. engine, converted in 1900 from hot-tube to electric ignition and from tiller to wheel steering, to be driven by R. Riley, while this time Lord Montagu, with Stirling Moss and an FIVA delegate and his wife as his passengers, drove the very famous 1899 four-cylinder 12 h.p. Daimler owned jointly by London’s Science Museum and the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, the car which John, the second Lord Montagu, drove its the Paris-to-Ostend race this year. It was also driven by the present Lord Montagu of Beaulieu’s father in the 1,000-Mile Trial the following year and he took King Edward VII. when the Prince of Wales, for a run on it, after which the Daimler soon became the Royal Car and was to remain so for so many years, until Rolls-Royce finally ousted it. This 1899 Daimler was also the first autocar to enter the yard of the Houses of Parliament, a performance re-enacted by Lord Montagu in recent times.
An 8 h.p. two-cylinder model was represented by P. H. Thompson’s 1900 Wagonette. The car I was entrusted with, taking as passengers in, and Mrs. C. Hope of the Dunk, Company guests of Vintage Tyre Supplies, and Mr. R. F. West the last-named a Friend of the National Motor Museum Trust, was at one time in the collection of Mn. W. F. Smith, when it was painted yellow, from whom the NMM acquired it in 1968. from apparently supplied to its original owner by The British Motor Traction Limited according to a plaque on the car which quotes it m car No. 5176, made under the “Daintier System”. At some liter in its life it was re-registered in Hampshire, with the early Reg. No., AA II, although before 1972 it was LA 7086.
In spite of the several books which have been written about these English Daimlers, not a great deal is known about them. But from a table in the first history of the Daimler Company by St. John Nixon, it seems that this car is a 22 h.p. model of 4,503 c.c., As RAC rating being 27.54 h., It has Ike side-chains final drive which Daimler’s did not abandon until 1908, and already the Daimler curved-dash is in evidence. It is a model which was made, it appears, only in 1903. Daimler going it a considerably smaller bore but a longer stroke for thc engine of its 1904 11422 h.p. model which, by Nixon’s list, was again made only for one year. The 1903 car seems to have been a close descendant of the 22 h.p. car that had made its debut in November 1901, on the London-Southsea Run, of which the general running and refinement was described then as being ahead of anything else so far built by Daimler’s. Oliver Stanton. of American descent. did much to popularise the new 1901/2 Daimler, with “Lc Chat Noir” as his demonstrator. and was responsible for much of King Edward’s interest in automobilisrn, the King ordering a new 24 h.p. Daimler late in 1901.
That, then, was the Daimler that I drove down from Mid-Wales to Beaulieu to try, on the Friday before this year’s Brighton Run. It seemed amusing to do this in a Mazda RX-7. which with its pistonless Wankel rotary engine teas futuristic as the Daimler is antiquated. This sport ing Mazda served as my tender-car over the Brighton Run weekend, continuing the satisfaction and reliability that it had given Motor Sport for many months.
The Daimler looked magnificent in its coat of lined blue livery and since I saw it last it had been given new varnished wooden wheels, able to take impressively large 895 135 Dunlop tyres, replacing the former 880 20 tyres. The engine has two pairs of cylinder blocks, above which the brass inlet manifolding, in the form of a Yee, crosses over to the aforesaid automatic inlet valves on the near-side, from a Trier Maplin carburetter set fairly high up on the offside, the petrol tank is exhaust-gas pressurised, after air has been pumped into it, using a brass pump set conveniently for the driver’s right hand, beside which is a large pressure gauge reading to 5 lb. / sq. in. The exhaust valves are on the near-side, and a pair of ore-shaped asbestos-lagged exhaust manifolds runs from them into the common exhaust pipe.
The ignition distributor or commutator rotates close to the driver’s left foot, driven by a chain on the engine side of the Daimler’s typical curved scuttle, which, on this car, incorporates a number of neat, little lockable wooden storage drawers. The two oil drip-feeds and the lubricator-box occupy the centre of the dash, oil feed being energised by a pump, with a spring-belt drive, the bonnet top having a cut-away to clear the top pulley. There are two brass plunger-pumps to supplement this oil-feed but I was told I could ignore them. This lubricator is a Panhard-Levassor “Braisseur A Jet Brivet La I.ubruble No. 11395”, either as used by Daimler’s or a later replacement. The flat top of the bonnet is held down by tiny ram-fasteners but also by four big “lavatory-chain”-cum springs, in lieu of bonnet straps. Ahead of this is the imposing gilled-tube radiator, comprising a six-deep set of tubes, nine rows high. The engine number is 2020 and the car cost £1,050 new.
This fine tonneau-bodied Daimler is net off by its fine brass acetylene headlamps, inscribed “Daimler Motors (1904) Limited,” and a pair of type 721 “King of the Road” oil side lamps. The driving position is surprisingly cramped, but comfortable, in the armchair type seat. Ignition is switched on from a minute three-position switch on the right, under the scuttle, and two controls in the centre, working in brass quadrants, look after ignition advance-and-retard and handthrottle settings, both normally being moved to the right and left alone.
The engine is started on the handle, naturally, kind folk seeing to this muscular chore for me. It is very noisy when idling but from the driving seat, once in motion, the car is quiet and refined, and I even heard a trace of driving-chain rattle at times. The cone clutch is eminently docile and the man-sized r.h. gear-lever centralises in neutral. as on a 40/50 h.p. Rolls-Royce. The changes are very easy to make, preferably with double-declutching, each gear engaging easily and the action from 2nd into 3rd gear being particularly satisfactory, except that the lever movements are considerable. So powerful is the engine that top and third gears sufficed for most of the day. Perhaps it is for this reason that they are located on the driver’s side of the open gate, the lower gears to the right, the lever’s movements being otherwise normal, except that reverse is engaged by moving a long, slender separate lever, to the left of the gear-lever proper, back to the seat cushion — it has to be held in engagement and you feel the reverse pinion engaging.
Two large pedals for clutch and brake have the accelerator between them; I was told never, but never, souse the footbrake, which operates on the transmission — a pity, because with disaster looming close it was very tempting. Especially as the r.h. brake lever, partly built into the side of the driver’s seat, does not allow as much leverage, as you shove it forward, as would a normally-placed brake. It has a side ratchet, from which to apply it fully, the lever had to be held to the left, allowing it to be locked in any position and to release it the hand-grip is pushed down. On November Intl had much experience of using this brake and it becomes quite easy after a time; the rear-wheel brakes it operates are amply powerful.
Driving this big Daimler, it is easy to see the acclaim these cars earned in their hey-day, as the engine copes easily with ordinary road undulations on top-speed, cruising pace an effortless 25, perhaps 35, m.p.h. There is, of course, no weather protection other than that provided by the curved dash, which enhances the impression of speed, from the high-set seats, so that Mr. Toad should be very happy, particularly as both bulb-hum and very penetrating exhaust whistle, operated by the front-seat occupant, offer audible warning of approach . . . Fuel thirst is estimated at around 15 / 16 m.p.g. Steering with the 5-spoke wheel, with its thick wooden rim, is very light and precise with a very small turning circle, and on its balloon-like tyres this aged Daimler holds the road well round corners, in spite of its short wheelbase. Indeed, at times, in spite of the lively action of its 1/2-elliptic springing; indeed, I found it almost “chuckable” round the bends of the Beaulieu-Lyndhurst road.
So after breakfasting as one of Lord Montagu’s guests at the Royal Lancaster Hotel, we set off for the seaside on the Sunday in company with the hundreds of veterans of all makes, types and sizes. To flavour the unique Brighton Run to the full I suppose you should go on a pre-1900 primitive but I confess to preferring something faster, and this the 22 h.p. Daimler proved to be. Given its head, when the traffic, which was impossible in places, gave way to clear stretches of road, the London and Surrey Police being magnificent in helping the victims through, the Sussex Police mostly indifferent to our difficulties, the Daimer showed itself to be one of the faster of the pre-1905 brigade. Moreover, none of the hills on the Brighton Road brought it off third, even top, gear (it is a great sleggee in top) except for the sometimes interminable traffic hold-ups, when it proved entirely tractable in the lower speeds.
We had been flagged away from Hyde Park in a group at 8.25 a.m. but unfortunately, had only got as facts Brixton Town Hall when the o/s. rear tyre went down. It took 35 minutes for the very efficient back-up cover from the NMM, to fit a new tube but this deflated again in Norbury. Thirty minutes later it had been reinflated but went down again, so another tube was put in at the Ancaster Garage — Datsun agents — on the opposite side of the Thornton Heath road. By now it was more than two hours since starting out, so we decided to ignore the halfway stop at Gatwick. Alas, the second tube proved little better than the first replacement. I have forgotten how many times we stopped to put air in it, from air-bottle, garage air-line or the support Land Rover’s engine-energised inflator — Dunlop Tyres were in no way suspect, only the tubes, punctured by a rough place in the rim. But I was, in consequence, the subject of some amicable ribbing at the hospitable post-Run lunch which Dunlop’s put on at the Old Ship Hotel where the VCC was founded over 50 years ago. The Daimler was so stable that I couldn’t detect the deflations, only the warning from spectators or the rear-seat occupants saving the cover being ruined. At these stops opportunity was taken to replenish the radiator water and top up with oil the two glass cylinders adjacent to the drip-feeds, but no petrol was needed. I felt like a Jackie Stewart or a Roger Clarke as all the work was done for me and I would like to thank Norman Le., Howard Wilson and Bryan Halladay for this invaluable, and in my case essential, help.
So, in a sea-mist after nearly six hours on the road, we arrived on the Madeira Drive. The Daimler had proved magnificent and gave no other trouble. It did much to restore my faith in British cars and as I jokingly told Anthony Marsh, the finish-line commentator, I do not think there is one iota of anything Japanese about it — W.B.
Other aspects of the Run:
Alex Park on the BL Heritage 1904 Thorneycroft in which I rode in the 1979 Run retired but Brig. C. S. Maple got there successfully on the 1902 Albion dog-cart from the same stable.
The 1894 Benz that was first veteran to be flagged off got to the finish in 5 hr. 20 min. but Palumbo’s 1894 Benz suffered two breakdowns en route and took 61/2 hours. First to arrive at Brighton was John Bentley on an 1898 De Dion Bouton tricycle, followed by John Welch in a 1901 Decauville which he has personally driven 16,000 miles, third in being bowler-hatted Stuart Ebbs’ 1899 De Dion tricycle. Apart from Stirling Moss going as Lord Montagu’s passenger, Jackie Ickx was experiencing his first “Brighton” in the BL Heritage’s 1899 Wolseley, finding it a lot harder than he had expected, and other motor-racing personalities included John Bolster on his famous 1903 Panhard, jack Sears in the 1902 Mercedes, and David Scars driving a 1903 Clement-Talbot which has been in his family’s possession since 1936.
As is now the norm, non-motoring celebrities got seats on the Run. Lady Montagu was the first lady-driver to arrive, with Jilly Cooper as her companion on the De Dion, and Radio-2’s Sheila Tracy was having her baptism as a passenger, on John Hampton’s 1903 Panhard-Levassor, having got on the car at Gatwick. For Hampton it was his 29th Brighton Run. HRH Prince Michael of Kent was on his third Run, and had no trouble with Lord Montage’s 1903 De Dion Bouton. John Dennis had as passengers some members of the Association of Boys’ Clubs, on his 1902 Dennis which was built by his Grandfather’s Company and restored by his Father. As Charles Windsor finished the course a mudguard fell off his 1899 31/2 h.p. Bassett, and A. G. Tanner’s 1902 Delahaye had shed its bonnet to aid its cooling system. M. Snapper’s 1904 Rover had a buckled front wheel due to having been driven into a ditch. The 1902 Columbia electric-car, owned when new by Thomas Eddison, arrived safely, Moor’s 1900 Benz was out on the road for the first time since 1957, having been museum incarcerated, and the daughter of the builder of N. Kingsbury’s 1904 Jackson was a passenger on that car. Last to arrive officially was D. Goldsmith’s 1894 Benz, on its 15th Run, after almost eight hours on the road, stops being made every three-quarters-of-an-hour for oiling and greasing. — W.B.