Running in the Family

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We had lunch the other day with a great enthusiast, Martin Barber-Lomax, whose grandfather was well-known in speed events before the First World War.

J A Barber-Lomax ran a 1912 Prince Henry Vauxhall (Reg V 1500) at venues such as Shelsley Walsh, Waddington Fells and Aston Clinton. He was always happy to fill his car with friends, which enabled him to win weight-formula classes, and at Shelsley in 1913 he was third in this category.

It is well known that Higginson had a 30/98 Vauxhall (the prototype of that famous breed) built for him to drive that year; Barber-Lomax was in the cotton industry, and the fact that Higginson also made textile machinery (and invented the Autovac) may well have influenced him to swap his Prince Henry for a 30/98. He ran this Car (Reg BN 3694), and put his amateur photographic skill to good effect, in speed events and Continental tours. It won one formula at the revived 1920 Shelsley Walsh Hill-Climb (for which the entry fee was 20 guineas) for instance, and repeated this success in 1921.

Barber-Lomax also had a touring Sunbeam and a Calthorpe light-car. In 1922 the 30/98, which had disc wheels, a distinctive mascot and an early RAC badge, was part-exchanged for an open H6B Hispatto Suiza tourer (Reg XM 8415), a deal which also involved the loss of a big Austin and the sum of £2000.

Remembered for its excellent brakes, the Hispano had a body thought to have been made by Mulliner. By 1930, when a new radiator and tyres were required, it had become too expensive to maintain, and in the years leading up to World War Two, Barber-Lomax had a Chrysler, a Lincoln Zephyr and a small Opel.

Martin Barber-Lomax’s great grandfather had been a keen motorist, although he relied on chauffeurs and did not drive. Among his cars were a Crossley, an open Daimler which was probably a poppet-valve model from about 1907, a big Daimler limousine and several Fiats.

In later years Martin’s grandfather had one of the first Mk VI Bentleys, which was followed by an R-type and a Continental. When he died in 1964, after totting up 28 convictions for minor motoring offences, he owned a DS Citroen and a Fiat 600.

Martin’s father took over the R-type after having owned two Ford Pilot V8s — one black, one blue, which memory suggests were the only colours offered. A Mk IX Jaguar replaced the Bentley, but brake problems caused it to be changed in turn for a six-cylinder Daimler Majestic. Later family cars included two Mercedes-Benz, a Volvo 144 and Volvo 164 Automatic.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Martin Barber-Lomax has followed in the family wheeltracks. In fact, he has owned some 60 cars, more than half of them MGs, since his first at the age of 14. This enthusiasm was fostered when he was at Charterhouse School, whose sensibly-encouraged Motor Club had such vehicles as Austin 7, vee-twin Morgan, and Railton straight-eight.

Martin’s motoring baptism was through a 1938 Morris Eight Series II, which cost his father £5 — its radiator cowl has been preserved. A year later he saw a 1936 MG-TA advertised in the Bolton Evening News for £25, and his maternal grandmother kindly contributed £20 towards it. The run on MGs had begun!

On leaving Charterhouse in the summer of 1966 Martin was given a new MG1100, in which he passed his driving-test. So at the age of 17 he had two MGs. He acquired a restricted competition licence, and a year later an international driving licence so that he could drive to Spain. That same year he went to Montreal to study (cars and birds, he says!).

While in Canada he purchased an MG-TD and an engineless Ginetta G4R having joined the Montreal Motor Racing Club. The Ginetta (which had been intended for Le Mans but whose entry had not been accepted) was stolen from his Canadian agent in 1968, and has never been seen since. . .

After returning to England for his long vacation in 1968, there was an exciting trip to Moscow with friends, in a 1934 20/25hp Rolls-Royce — an adventure planned over a coffee in the McGill Union. The car was owned by Chris Hollow, who still has it in his Montreal collection. Having made it to Kiev and Lvov, they drove out of Prague only 24 hours before the Russians drove in . . .!

Incidentally, while in Canada Martin Barber-Lomax became very friendly with the president of the Pratt & Whitney Aero Engine Corporation, and missed by a week going with him and Jim Clark to the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race!

By now the stable consisted of an MG-J2 (Reg MG 2705, a late 1934 model converted to cycle-type wings) for which the TA had been part-exchanged, an MG-TC and a Triumph TR3A — all garaged with his parents while Martin was in Canada. Returning home at Christmas 1968, he bought an immaculate 1966 MGB (Reg ENA 4D) with 46,000 miles on the odometer; costing £620, it soon received a net of Avon Textiles, Koni dampers, Marchal headlamps, a “sensible” steering-wheel and an electric screen-washer.

By now Martin had got to know Syd Beer, and when he left the rag trade at 21 he decided to really learn about older cars. To this end he bought a straight-eight Daimler hearse, with pre-selector gearbox, P100 headlamps and a tow-bar. It was used to tow back to Bolton a 1932 flat-rad Morris Cowley, a 1934 LG45 Lagonda, a 1948 31/2-litre Jaguar drophead and a 1949 Mk VI Bentley.

These were followed by MG-YA, TD, MGA 1500, MGA 1500 coupé, MGA TC, MGC GT and an MGC, the last named (Reg HEW 444F) rebuilt and improved by Malcolm Beer. There were other MGs, too, including three- and five-bearing MGBs, the 1975 “Anniversary” MGB GT (Reg LNB 6P) bought new, and a 1974 MGB GT V8.

In 1983 a new Opel Manta GTE hatchback was purchased, whose soft suspension, and fading brakes prompted the fitting of Koni Sports shock-absorbers and Goodyear NCT tyres. After less than 40,000 miles the paint began to peel, so this Opel was replaced with a seven-month-old Vauxhall Astra SR.

Today Martin Barber-Lomax has a new interest — Morgans! While he is looking forward to getting his restored MG-YB saloon on the road and thinking in terms of a road-going Manta 400 or “works” MGB, his present cars are a 1982 Morgan 4/4 with the Ford Kent-series engine, another 1953 MG-YB saloon, a 1985 1.8 Opel Manta Hatchback, and a 1949 Land-Rover which his brother-in-law in the Highlands will take over when Martin goes back to Canada. On his return he hopes to fit the wide body to his Morgan and run it in some speed hill-climbs.

As you may imagine, it was an interesting lunch, and I was allowed to drive the Morgan (which reminded me of my 4/4 and Plus-4 days) on our way to a delightful Shropshire pub. WB

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