Links with the past
Writing about what motoring was like when war broke out in 1939 reminds me that at this time HL Bean was a reader, his interests being an A7 Special (CA 6698) formed from a 1924 Chummy, and a Bugatti. He ran the A7 at Prescott, as Austin enthusiasts continue to do. The car was kept at Benn’s Motors in Mold, N.Wales, and just as war broke out another person of my acquaintance, a Mr W Lambert, joined this Welsh garage as Benn’s partner, driving up from London in a 1916 Morris Cowley Tourer he had fitted with twin SUs, giving it a top speed of some 60 mph.
I was a Motor Sport letter writer myself in 1933, which is how I met Lambert, who was with the Hampstead Cylinder Reboring Co. A skilled engineer, when he moved to Mold he took his lathe and tools with him. In the years before the war he used to service cars for a Mr JD Aylward, whose hobby, after giving up active participation in sailing with the Royal Corinthean Yacht Club, was going for long runs in a T40 Bugatti, and later in his International Aston Martin (OD 9546). When he had the Bugatti, Aylward took an active interest in the Bugatti OC and he kindly befriended me, as a motor-mad youngster.
We had some splendid runs in these two cars, which Lambert kept in pristine order, one of them to unearth the 5-litre chain driven Bugatti “Black Bess”, then derelict in Derby. (Later, I interviewed Ivy Cummings, who used to drive it, along with many other cars like her Akela GN, in 1920s speed trials, while, now married, she calmly bathed her baby… (After these long runs, Aylward and I would relive the highlights over dinner at the National Liberal Club. That was how I met Lambert, who apart from his souped-up Morris had built a fascinating Special. It had one of the extremely rare four cylinder, sixteen-valve Sunbeam single-ohc engines, installed in a chassis made up from MAB components.
Some historians ignore entirely these 1922 Type OV, Coatalen-inspired, power units and quite why they were produced is something of a mystery, which I discussed in Motor Sport some years ago. Sunbeam were already making quite effective 16 hp and 24 hp sporting cars with push-rod, two valves per cylinder engines, which these multi-valve ohc power units, of the same 80 x 150mm. dimensions, were supposed to replace, in four and six cylinder 3-litre and 41/2-litre cars. They had dual coil-ignition instead of a magneto, firing two plugs per cylinder. Y-type rockers actuated the valves.
Perhaps Coatalen wanted something even faster than his 24/70 Sunbeam with which to meet the forthcoming push-rod ohv OE 30/98 Vauxhall, or to combat increasing competition from the 3-litre Bentleys until he was able to dispatch the latter, at Le Mans in 1925, with his celebrated twin-cam 3-litre Sunbeam, One wonders how many Type OV-engined cars were made, apart from the experimental models; when I enquired about this engine in 1933, Wolverhampton knew nothing of it …
Lambert’s motoring went back to the “hot-tube” days. He had found this rare Sunbeam engine in 1925, along with the chassis that had apparently been used by the Vivi Carburettor Co for testing engines they intended to make. He united them and made a slim four-seater body with nearly 150 rivets in its bonnet (he liked rivets, using hundreds in the bonnet of the sv Aston Martin “N****r II” that he meticulously rebuilt), a special radiator, a Brooklands exhaust system, and drove a dynamo from the nose of the camshaft, for electric lighting. Licensed in 1926, the car would do 75-80 mph after oiling-up plugs, via the inlet-valve guides, had been cured. The minor controls on the steering wheel boss came from the 1924 200 Mile Race Alvis used by Dunlop’s for tyre testing.
Living in Wales, I decided that it would be fun to see if Benn’s Motors has survived. Arriving in Mold, I was lucky. The first person I asked had known Benn from golfing days, knew about his cars, and directed me to the garage. In fact, the original is now Benn’s Supermarket and the store used for bottled gas, to which business Bens had turned during the war, is now a launderette. The manager remembered Benn’s cars, the A1 being tested up the nearby trials’ tracks, but told me Benn, whose brother was a Leeds doctor, died many years ago. “Why”, he said, “about two years ago we threw out all the garage papers, Bugatti and Austin catalogues among them, which today would be worth a tidy sum…”
Well, I had laid that ghost, and I went on in the Ford Sierra XR 4×4 over the once dreaded Horseshoe Pass, the Welsh terrain changing on the far side to a flat pastoral landscape, bound for Colwyn Bay. Here, in the years immediately preceding the First World War, speed-trials were held. In 1913, on a narrow course squeezed between the railway and the promenade, Watson’s single-seater 20 hp Vauxhall was the star performer. In 1914 FTD went to Hands’ Talbot, over the ss kilo., and WO Bentley was there with his DFP. This was revived, over the promenade in 1922, Horn and Chart, putting up the best shows, in their Straker Squires before 1000 spectators. In 1924, JA Joyce’s single-seater AC did nearly 82 mph over the 1/2-kilo from a 200-yard flying start, and in 1927, Raymond Mays made FTD in the 2-litre Targa Florio Mercedes, beating Basil Davenport’s GN “Spider” by one fifth of a second by clocking 26.6 seconds (67.67 mph) for the standing start 1/2-mile. I felt I had to take a photograph . . . WB