V-E-V Odds & Ends, December 1982

There was an interesting aside in Leicester Shopwindow not long ago about Castles of Leicester who began selling cars in 1919, and whose showrooms on the corner of King Street and Wellington Street (now the Leicester CC Social Club with what appears to be a mock-Tudor black and white timbered extension) are depicted as they appeared in the 1930s, with three Hudson-Essex saloons in the window, when the Super Six sedan sold for £275. Today Castles, at various premises, are Mercedes-Benz, VAG, and Talbot-Peugeot dealers. It is rumoured that before the war Mr. Castle had a Hudson Terraplane which had been given a rotary-valve cylinder head. We hear that Ray Edge raised over £2,200 for Christie’s Manchester Cancer Research Appeal from his End-to-End Run in an Austin Seven. And on Austin 7 matters, the A7 Club of Australia celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of the Birmingham Baby with a big rally and dinner last month.

John Higdon, Hon. Editor of the 44 Club News, journal of the SMBP 44 Association (an organisation which is open to those who worked for the Shell-Mex and BP Group from 1932 to 1975 before the two petrol giants went their separate ways in the UK), has kindly given permission for us to refer to items of interest that have appeared in these excellent magazines. On the transport side there are references to the bull-nose Morris-Cowley tourers supplied in Shell-Mex reps with badges on the front and rear number plates, so that unauthorised persons would not be given lifts, even a rep’s wife having to watch her husband drive past. It seems that the Anglo-Persian Oil Co. used light blue Morris Cowleys while Shell-Mex had red Morris cars, supplied by Kennings who thus secured valuable orders for William Morris, later Viscount Nuffield. Anglo American (who were Pratts and later Esso) cars had no emblem but Redline had their pump globe on the side door and National Benzole, their well-known Mercury figure. As for distribution of the petrol itself, there is mention of a 3 1/2-ton, solid-tyred Leyland lorry No. 3410 used to take petrol to the Howden airship depot before the R101 tragedy of 1931, and to the rare instance of a lady driver of a Model-T petrol lorry. Loads might be 362 two-gallon cans in the London area and their “boys” were each expected to carry six cans at a time, two in each hand and one under each arm! The boys might earn 23/- (£1.15) a week, or in 1919, 12/6 (62 1/2p) a week. There is a picture of a circa 1929 Karrier KW 6 rigid-six-wheeler BP tanker with recollections of its crews, and of the special 1937 narrow-track Albion 600-gallon Shell tanker used for access to London Mews and back streets, which is thought to have supplied motor spirit to Buckingham Palace and has been expertly restored by Thompson Tankers Ltd. after it had been found in a farmer’s field at Maidenhead, following a spell carrying Rentokill fluid. The successor to these narrow-track petrol-tankers was a Dennis Pig, in turn replaced by the Dennis Stork. Morris-Commercials are also mentioned, on ordinary duties. Incidentally, Pool petrol cost 1/6d (7 1/2p) a gallon in 1942 — Inflation? An amusing aside is that because of the fire risk, tankers arriving at Shell Wharf, Fulham, had to have their engines switched off and oil-lamps extinguished and be towed within by a big black horse wearing anti-spark rubber boots, called “N****r”, who used to hide when he heard a lorry arrive. In those days Shell was in red cans. Crown petrol in grey cans and Aviation spirit in gold cans embossed with wings. . . .

Fascinating motor-racing items from 44 Club News include a reference to Freddie Thatcher, brother of the actress Heather Thatcher, a Fulham petrol rep. and later mine-host at the “Brown Bear” at Esher, asking for free oil for the Triumph team he campaigned in MCC trials (he later raced MGs at Brooklands — Ed.), and Alfred Moss, Stirling’s father, himself driving a 1,000-gallon Power tanker to his SE London garage premises. Moss & Lawson Ltd., during the 1926 General Strike, but failing to return it until the strike was over!

On a technical note, it is interesting that Shell supplied petrol and oil to the Bentley Motors’ racing-team and SRO 33 was the code for Special Bentley Oil 33 (later Aero Shell Motor Oil), which was terribly confidential at the time, but simply contained 5% Rape Seed. It cost 5/4d (27p) to the Trade in 40 gallon barrels. Racing Shell at that time had to be added to straight Shell in proportions of 10% to 50%, the higher addition being recommended for the supercharged FWD Alvis, blown Bugatti and blower-4 1/2 Bentleys. It contained no dope or other matter, high-octane benefits deriving from more refined hydrocarbons, Ordinary Shell was deemed adequate for “touring” Bentleys, but non-supercharged sports Bentleys benefitted from using 20% Racing Shell. Shell was used by the racing Bentley team from early times and for all the Le Mans Victories.

In the 1920s, when petrol was only available in cans, there was much competition to deliver these to Chauffeurs in London on Saturday mornings, before they took their masters to the country, the petrol company salesmen-drivers using back routes better than a taxi driver, as Shell and BP sought to arrive before National Benzole, Anglo, Redline, etc! L. G. Callingham. of Shell’s Racing Department, used to cure the recalcitrant carburation of one Director’s Morris-Cowley, and Mr. Higdon used to drive his own Morris-Cowley to the Depot and make his rounds. as a Rep., in a Company Standard Nine. Incidentally, the SMBP 44 Association has over 5.000 members, who between them retain many memories of the Petrol Industry, as SMBP absorbed National Bernzole, Power and Dominion, and rival companies are naturally also remembered. Should any eligible ex-employees not have heard of the Association, its address is: PO Box 148, Shell-Mex House, Strand, London WC2R ODX (01-438 3772).

The very important Rolls-Royce Anniversary ’82 Rally was very well covered in that Club’s September/ October Bulletin. The pre-war cars that gained awards at the Stanford Hall Rally were: Silver Ghost (or 40/50 h.p.) J. R. Thomas’ (1910 Cookshoot tourer), Phantom I — J. Carver (1928 tourer), Phantom II — W. C. D. Plaver (1933 Thrupp & Maberly sports saloon), Phantom III — M. Croomber (1936 Vanden Plas limousine de ville), 20 h.p., P. Vacher (1928 Barker replica doctors coupe), 20/25 h.p. — D Robinson (1931 Vincent limousine) and 25/30 h.p. Wraith — G. W. Wrapson (1938 Park Ward Wraith special saloon). — W.B