In minature

As this will be the last issue of Motor Sport to appear before the festive season breaks out, it seems appropriate to devote some space to car models, which few adults, never mind children, can resist, whether or not they openly admit it. Sifting through my records, the following are some of the car models, both children’s transport or real miniatures, which were made up to the end of the vintage years, some of which may not have made the many books on the subject that have appeared in recent times.

Appropriately, the scene is set on a high level, when in 1912 HM Queen Alexandra purchased a realistic model Cadillac two-seater which was given as a Christmas present to Prince Olaf, heir to the throne of Norway. Fred Bennett, who was responsible for Cadillac interests in this country, gave the young Prince his first driving lessons, presumably in this working model, at Sandringham, before the Queen Mother, the King and Queen of Norway, and Princess Victoria. Unfortunately, this miniature Cadillac proved to be too small for the Royal Prince, so early in 1913 Queen Alexandra ordered that a larger one be built for him. The task was tackled at the Cadillac depot in London, to the designs of the Works Manager, A. H. Bailey, supervised by F. S. Bennett. Cadillac had pioneered electric lighting and starting for their full-size cars, so were able to use one of these units to power the tiny car, which was again a two-seater, with six-spoke artillery wheels at the front, seven-spoke ones at the back, shod with pneumatic tyres. A six-volt motor was used, which on the first trial drove the tiny car for 35 minutes on one battery charge, carrying a 12-stone passenger, for small as it was, the Cadillac would accommodate one adult, being about as high as a tyre for a real Cadillac. It had a hood, screen and lamps, rh control levers and a reverse gear, and full-scale Cadillac practice was followed in the floating back axle, fully compensated brakes, and double-bearings in the front hubs. The body was beaten out of a single metal sheet by Lockwood & Son of Islington.

The war and its aftermath no doubt curbed model-building activities but in 1920 Capt (later Sir) Malcolm Campbell had a model in aluminium made for him by Rogers Bros of Slough, which he proposed to use as a desk ornament. It was of his pre-war long-tailed racing Darracq “Blue Bird” and had a wheelbase of 6 in, a 3 in track, was 3¼ in high and 9 in long, with disc wheels, outside gear and brake levers, and other details. Later Campbell made quite a point of having models of his successful racing cars made to give to friends and sponsors. Some 36 years ago I saw a fine miniature of Campbell’s V12 350 hp Sunbeam in the late L. G. Callingham’s garage and later came upon another of these Sunbeam models. They were in the trim of the car as it was when Campbell broke the LSR with it at Pendine in 1925, at 150. 76 mph, long-tailed, with disc wheels and in a grey finish, with, if I recall correctly, non-working steering; but very realistic and desirable for all that. I have not seen any of these models since. There is, however, a very fine large model in the NMM of a 1912 GP Peugeot, with streamlined tail of the kind fitted either when one of these cars came to Brooklands before WWI or when Campbell was racing one at the Track after that war. Reverting to 1920, that was when a very detailed model, to a scale of ¾ in: 1 ft, was made for the then owner of a 1914 Grand Prix Piccard-Pictet (Reg No LU 7305) as a reminder of what this car was like before he had a new touring body fitted to the chassis, in which form, incidentally, the real car then appeared at a speed trial. The model was made by G. Weguelin of Chertsey, whom I have been unable to trace.

It was around this time, as Christmas approached, that the big London stores such as Gamages, Harrods, Barkers, Whiteleys, etc vied with one another in putting on displays to attract children and their present-buying parents, these sometimes included racing and LSR cars, and personal appearances by Parry Thomas, Campbell, Eyston, etc. That was when the first Meccano chassis was announced, with wet accumulators where the petrol tank on a real luxury car would have been, the new six-volt electric motor providing the motive power, driving through a working clutch, gearbox (with rh lever), and differential, to a back axle sprung on cantilever springs. This turned me into an instant “Meccano Boy” and Meccano Ltd updated this · model chassis (not to be confused with the Meccano sports-car toy) from time to time, until it had a unit gearbox, cruciform-braced chassis, ifs, and /2-elliptic rear springs. In 1921 form it did seem to have an unduly long wheelbase, for if you investigate it becomes evident that even the biggest cars seldom have a wheelbase greater than four times their tyre diameter, usually considerably less (today’s model-makers please note!). Rubber rings on 2½ in diameter wheels represented the skinny high-pressure beaded edge tyres of the time on this original Meccano chassis but it is to the everlasting credit of Meccano/Dunlop that, in later years, proper rubber 3¾ in diameter tyres were available, at first with the famous Dunlop herringbone tread…

Ignoring miniature cars built in the USA at around this time, one of which had a vee-twin Harley-Davidson engine and gearbox in a 5 ft 2 in wheelbase chassis and could still accommodate an adult, there was that Marmon advertising ploy at the 1921 New York Show of displaying six fully detailed models, of 1/6 scale, and in various body styles, alongside the real Marmons. In Eng­land a proud Master Peter Crosby, young son of the celebrated motoring artist, was able to drive his 1½ hp single-cylinder two stroke model, which like the American counterpart used discarded aeroplane wheels and tyres. This little car turned up again many years later. To a far smaller scale it was a splendid model of an ohc Wolseley Ten, seen in a showroom window, which my mother endeavoured to buy for me, only to be told that it was valued at more than a full-size Wolseley…

At the 1922 Model Engineer Exhibition, where you could purchase 2 in to 5 in centre lathes from £1 15s (£1. 75) to £50, a Chatham tailor showed an incredibly complete model chassis some 20 in long, intended for steam propulsion. A boy had put in a realistic model of a Ford, made without a lathe from scrap material, but both were overshadowed by a miniature 1910 Vauxhall six-cylinder chassis, 1/8 full size, started before the war by a member of Vauxhall Motors’ Experi-mental Department and not quite completed. Even the interior of the engine, gear-box and back axle were properly detailed and making the compression-taps, plugs and valve-caps, etc, had involved a watch-maker’s skill.

This must have aroused interest in miniature cars, for two-year-old Master Bertie Kempton was out in, his Rolls-Royce-like pedal car made by J. S. Cauldrey of Barnes, which had a screen, hood, a full set of lamps, and Palmer cord tyres, the blue leather upholstery matching its smoke blue and black finish. It was photographed beside a pre-war chauffeur-driven Itala dh coupe presumably owned by the builder. This led to news of a model chassis made with great skill in a prisoner-of-war camp, using biscuit tins and other odds and ends, a grooved aluminium cigarette-case forming floor-boards and running boards of this representation of four-cylinder bi-block sleeve-valve engined car, its wire wheels built up on wooden hubs and rims. The drive was by elastic, to a bevel-driven back axle, energised by winding-up a shaft running through the dummy engine. A German was sufficiently impressed to photograph it for its owner but it didn’t survive the war. The idea of a sleeve-valve engine is clever, as obviating having to model difficult valve- gear, and I wonder why more models of early Brooklands racing cars have not been attempted, the disc wheels, cowled in dumb-irons and radiator, etc, of which would simplify matters, yet result in an impressive model.

Even more professional models of famous racing cars than those made for Campbell were the miniature of the Fiat-inspired 2-litre Sunbeam which won the 1923 French GP, seen cradled in Segrave’s arms some time after his victory in that race, and the fine replica of “Babs” exhibited on the Wakefield/Castrol stand at the 1926 Olym-pia Show, to commemorate Parry Thomas’s 171.02 mph LSR, a model I greatly coveted but which vanished after the war, in spite of the efforts of Castrol’s then-PRO to find it. Those magnificent models of Sunbeam, Lanchester, Rolls-Royce, etc, made for the garage of HM The Queen’s doll’s-house in 1922, which I have referred to previously in these pages, are fortunately intact at Windsor Castle. Something larger, but more simple, was undertaken by a Mr Albert Shepperd in 1923 for his small son, a pedal-car replica of a Rover 8 two-seater, which was 4 ft 3 in long, 22½ in high, and was .finished in three coats of maroon Paripan enamel. Also at the 1926 Olympia Show was an excellent child’s-size model of a Clyno two-seater, used to demonstrate that even a youngster could operate its Stevenson jacking system.

It was in 1924 that D. M. Dent, who became an extrovert Frazer Nash exponent, began a long career of model-car construction. His first model, constructed largely of Meccano, was of the single-seater GN “Kim” q, the body of sheet metal and the wire wheels made specially by a model-aeroplane shop, which gave realism in this simple model. Dent’s next venture was an FWD racing car with a wheelbase of 22 in, driven by an electric motor and having a working three-speed-and-reverse gearbox and brakes. Meccano parts were again used but the wheels were realistic wire ones with knock-off hubs and rubber tyres. Dent sent a photograph of this model to Motor Sport in 1926. Of no particular make, it was no doubt inspired by the straight-eight FWD Alvis racing cars of the period. He made next a large electrically-powered model of the racing Frazer Nash “The Slug” in which brakes, steering and the four-speed transmission worked; but don’t ask me how he contrived the dogs or made the Meccano chains stay on the sprockets! This large model was admired by Capt “Archie” Frazer-Nash. Dent then made a pedal-driven replica, half-full-size, of R. G. J. Nash’s sprint Frazer Nash Special “The Terror”, for his small daughter, the frame of wood but the final-drive, of course, by chain! The little car looked just like the original, its body of light-gauge aluminium, the Rudge-type hubs specially cast and wired to carrier-cycle rims, using the pneumatic tyres that came with them. The steering incorporated a reversed bevel-drive from a hand-drill, the shock-absorbers were window-stops, and bisected squash-balls constituted the steering joints. Dent used to tow this model on a bar behind his real Frazer Nash…

Then there was that four-ft model of Barnato’s 3-litre Jarvis-bodied Bentley, with Dunlop pneumatic tyres on wire wheels, Ackermann steering, and radiator and racing body properly copied, with the aluminium riveted, as on the real car. The chassis was of wood and a two-stroke engine drove directly by chain to a solid back-axle. This miniature Bentley had the honour of appearing on a Speed-Six Bentley chassis in a Lord Mayor’s Procession and was taken to Brooklands in Bentley Motor’s service-van to be photographed beside the “Double Twelve” Bentleys.

Having shown a trailer caravan at the 1926 Model Engineer Exhibition a Mr C. A. Cave decided to make a companion for it, in the guise of a 1921 Wolseley Ten tourer, to the same scale of 2 in = 1 ft, or 1/6th-full size. This incredibly intricate model took 4,000 hrs to build, being finished in 1939. Torch batteries within the “petrol” tank drove the engine, which had fan, dynamo, water-pump and magneto, all of which turned, and the back axle had worm-drive and a six-pinion differential, the brakes had four shoes each, and there were gears in the gearbox running on 1/16th in diameter ball bearings! The seats had button upholstery and were sprung, hood and side-curtains · were fitted, and the headlamps had “bulbs”, while the tool-kit included a working adjustable spanner, pliers, etc. There was a Shell petrol can on the n/s running-board and even a Road Fund licence. The wheels proved a problem, as they had to be of 5 in diameter, so they were turned out of oak. No castings were used. The clutch worked and the fan ran on ball-bearings! I write in the past tense but hope this fine model Wolseley has survived.

These were only a few of the car miniatures made in vintage times, many using Meccano parts beneath sheet-metal bodywork, although Meccano does not lend itself to easy construction of sliding-pinion gearboxes. The models made, during WW2 I believe, by Lt-Col John Stubbs particularly appealed to me because, although they were of quite small scale, he intended to use working ic engines in them. The first was of a 1903 Gordon Bennett Mercedes, complete even to dashboard drip-feeds, powered by a 10 cc petrol engine. The other was of a 1913 chain-drive Mercedes (of the kind with which the German company experimented before returning to dominate the 1914 French Grand Prix), into which a tiny multi-cylinder petrol engine was to be fitted. Not content with the exhaust down-pipes seen in the accompanying photograph, Stubbs was about to make new ones, to get all three to match, finding them “quite exciting to build on account of the mass of rivets all over the place”.

From the foregoing it will be seen that model-car making was quite a vogue, even before the war. – W.B.