Vintage Postbag

Sir,

On page 724 of your December issue, you begin paragraph three, " Another recent discovery...", to which I would like to add a similar discovery near a remote English village a couple of years ago. In this instance it involved a just-post-vintage Austin Seven saloon, which was also found in a barn but, funnily enough, a two-storey barn and, funnier still, on the first floor. There were no stairs and therein lay the mystery, for the car was obviously not driven there and, like pigs, Austin Sevens have not yet been known to fly.

Investigation led to the solution and it appears the poor little thing was hauled up by block and tackle, making use of an iron girder protruding from the top of the barn—not, I fear, for the purpose of assisting Austin Sevens to the first floor. Having lifted the car it was easily manoeuvred into the barn by no fewer than sixteen vengeance-seeking National Servicemen, to remain there for a week, during which time the owner (who happened to be a sergeant!) reported his loss to the local constabulary.

Discovery of the car was made from a nearby road early one morning by an astonished passer-by, who duly fell from his bicycle, sustaining minor injuries.

As a matter of interest, ten of this band of merry men were later convicted by a civil court for theft, dangerous driving, driving without lights and some vague offence covering attempt to carry ten in a strictly four-seat car, and I understand they will shortly be available to continue their National Service. In this case the same car was involved and one wonders how dwarfs come to qualify for National Service...

I am, Yours, etc.,

M. A. Nihell

South Benfleet.

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Sir,

I was very interested in your article "Interview with Basil Davenport." At the end of this article you mention a 1915 belt-driven model G.N. now resident near Brighton, and I am wondering whether it is possibly the one my brother and I owned many years ago.

I enclose a photograph of it taken during World War I. As you will see, it had the engine (an 8-h.p. J.A.P.) across the frame. Originally the drive from the engine to the first countershaft was by belt, but this had been replaced by chain. There were only two gears (two chains to another countershaft) and final belt drive to each rear wheel.

Its history for us was as follows. It was garaged at the same place in Ealing where we kept our motor-bike, and was offered for sale in order to defray its garage expenses.

We did not know its previous owner, but paid the garage proprietor £5 for it, and after working on it for some time made it into a goer. We sold it just after the war to a Mr. Blair, who kept it for a little while and sold it again after painting it red. Prior to our selling it I remember we made an imitation R.-R.-shaped dummy radiator and bonnet for it (most unsuitable!).

I am Yours, etc.,

W. A. Dovaston

Harpenden.

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Sir,

I have been intending to write to you since the December issue came out proposing a G.N. rally. Every second enthusiast I now meet produces a copy of Motor Sport, thumps it, and demands: "Well... are you going?"

The answer, of course, is "Yes," and I'll bring along the G.N. shown in your August issue.

For your information, its registration is February 1921, but, at you'll have noticed, the bodywork from the screen backwards is all wrong. Luckily the remainder, and everything "mechanical," is all original and schemes are afoot for rebuilding once sufficient information has been collected.

We've had "Cyclops" almost a year, and I feel that it came into the stable in time to save it from a fate worse than death—conversion to a "special" (no offence to Basil Davenport), with body chopping, axle dropping and gearbox replacing scheduled—Ugh!

However, should your rally become reality, count us in!

I am, Yours, etc.,

Norman H. Cullen

Northchurch.

***

Sir,

I was very interested to read the article "Interview with Basil Davenport," containing early historical facts on the G.N. cyclecar, but I find these at variance with my recollections and experiences on some matters.

I cannot express opinions on the racing jobs, as, although I saw these ("Kim" and "Spider") perform many times, I only owned a very satisfactory 1922 model. This was like the one now owned by "B. H. D." and shown in the bottom right-hand corner on page 741 (December) as regards body shape; that is, it had a fairly roomy front bench seat and a single-seater upholstered dickey; the standard finish, which I had on ME 8789 (Is this still running—any news?) was light blue, with black wings and wheels. I am surprised to see that you state H. R. Godfrey "does not consider any G.N. built after 1921 worth rebuilding," as the 1922 model, with its better body and more reliable engine, was far more popular than the 1921, which had the "bath tub" rear, as shown in the top right-hand picture on page 741, with a vee-pointed radiator (the special 1½-litre illustrated has this body but a 1922 radiator).

The last six G.N.s made at the end of 1922 with the 1,087-c.c vee-twin engine had an important experimental improvement; these engines were fitted with roller-bearing big-ends instead of plain bearings, and this increased the performance considerably. Mine had a top speed on the flat of 65 (70 could be reached on slight down gradients) and a happy cruising speed of 45-50 m.p.h. Petrol consumption was 45-50 m.p.h., and never less than 40 m.p.h. in traffic. I did 55,000 miles on this in three years, including two Scottish tours, and several Lakeland and Scottish test hills were successfully climbed two-up. The original chains and all bearings. pistons, etc., were on it in good condition when I sold it. Mine had pump lubrication through a dash drip feed which could be supplemented by a hand pump for prolonged high-speed work. The pump was mounted in the separate scuttle oil tank, submerged and running in the oil, and was driven from the engine by two small pulleys and a round spring belt, similar to the extending curtain wires in popular use now—it worked well and never gave any trouble.

The standard hub caps had a spring-loaded locking plunger which gripped into channels cut across the hub cap threads. These were not satisfactory, and I soon invested in an improved type from G.N.s which had pinch-bolts, and these gave no trouble.

I drove ME 8789 hard but with consideration, and serviced it regularly myself, and had thousands of miles of enjoyable motoring on this.

Apart from excessive expenditure by G.N.s on preparing its competition cars during 1921-1922 (do you remember the all-night lights burning at East Hill, Wandsworth, when A.F.N. was preparing "Kim" for a weekend hill-climb?), the demise of the company was undoubtedly the introduction of the Anzani four-cylinder water-cooled-engine model early in 1923. This had a larger body, disc wheels and a conventional gearbox and shaft drive; I don't know how many were sold, but it never caught on; few were seen on the road and the model was known to have an unreliable transmission.

However. I hope to be present at the proposed G.N. rally in the early spring, to swap experiences. I suggest the Cromwell Hotel, Stevenage, Herts, would be a good venue.

I am, Yours. etc.,

L. G. Jennings

Brookmans Park.

[We may have done Mr. Godfrey an injustice, but understood him to mean that the lighter pre-1922 G.N. has more performance than the later versions. — Ed.]

***

Sir,

I was interested to read, in your article on Basil Davenport, of a G.N. believed to reside near Bournemouth. As it seems unlikely that such a desirable motor would have escaped the attention of either myself or my spies, I am wondering if someone having seen Rabelro has assumed it to be pure G.N. On the other hand, rumours of my impending rebuild of a G.N. may have been exaggerated. Last summer I purchased the dismantled remains of a G.N., less engine, clutch and body. While awaiting collection front the Midlands some vandal purloined various vital parts. Dick Caesar has assisted me with bits and pieces. but I am still short of engine, clutch and road springs, and should be glad to hear from anyone with any of these parts.

At the moment I am engaged in restoring an "Auto-Red-Bug" (not "Bed"), and should be glad of any information. The late owner had constructed an all-enveloping alloy body and all trace of the original body has disappeared. This little runabout was manufactured by Automotive Standards Inc., of North Bergen, New Jersey, in (at a guess) the 'twenties. It. does not appear to have been taxed and it is impossible to tell whether it was intended for use on the roads or as a toy. I have heard that the previous owner used it to run round her estate to chivvy the gardeners. The wheelbase is about 6 ft. by 3 ft. and the chassis consists of six strips of ash bolted at each end to front and rear axles. These strips also serve for floor and springs. The tyre sizes are 20 by 2 all round. The motor is electric and is driven (I believe) by two 12-volt batteries. It is about the size of a 4½ Bentley starter motor. It is clamped to an alloy housing and drives the off-side rear wheel. The controls consist of three pedals: a central "accelerator" and two brakes. One brake operates an expanding shoe in a drum on the near-side rear wheel and the other operates a transverse wooden rod with shoes at each end bearing on the rear tyres. The steering wheel is not original and the steering could conceivably have been by tiller. The workmanship and finish would seem to have been of a high standard.

I am, Yours, etc.,

W. Nicholson

Ferndown.

[The "Bristol G.N." was actually put out to grass by Mr. Harbutt, who in contemporary times used in trials. It was eventually given away and may have gone to Surrey. ― Ed.]

***

Sir,

I very much enjoyed your interview with Basil Davenport, in the December issue. Your list of roadworthy G.N.s still extant had however, at least one omission—mine! Bearing in mind that in 1948 you were kind enough to give me a linked con.-rod to replace one broken whilst tuning the car for Auclum, and that the car is still my excuse for being a member of the V.S.C.C., I feel somewhat slighted!

Actually, my G.N. is not at the moment roadworthy, since it is undergoing a complete overhaul and rebuild, after several years of enforced idleness in various garden sheds. I would add, at this point, that a good deal of the reason for the renewed interest in restoring the car is due to my son, who—since leaving school—is now co-owner and a full member of the Club. The photograph shows the present stage of development, and we hope that it will be on the road early in 1958, certainly in plenty of time for your suggested G.N. get-together.

As the picture shows, the only chassis modification, apart from fitting Hartfords all round, has been to the wheels. As it was impossible, in 1947-8, to get the right size of B.E. tyres, and as the wheels themselves were pretty far through, 1 had 4.50 by 17 rims and spokes built on to the existing hubs, which, incidentally, have eight dogs instead of the usual three. This should make a difference to the age test suggested in your article, since more than twice as many drive-faces should reduce the wear considerably.

The body makes no serious attempt to be contemporary; it is to minimum R.A.C. requirements, and of the simplest and most straightforward shape for swift and easy building, and accessibility to chains and rear axle.

The engine also is unusual, being the French-built twin-o.h.v. model with bronze heath and the so-called blacksmith valve gear with hairpin valve springs. The crankcase, timing case and magneto drive-gear are the same as for the i.o.e. engines, the pushrods being one behind the other at the buttons and side by side at the top. A motor-cycle-type oil-feed pump is driven off the front of the camshaft extension spindle, which also carries the first of the magneto drive pinions. The magneto is, presumably, the original Followes, and still gives the one strong and one weak spark associated with 90-deg. twin-cylinder engines. The carburetter is an S.U., admittedly cheating, but the original instrument was missing when I bought the car from Ian Clark, whose engineless Parry Thomas 1½-litre "flatiron" was one of the features of the recent Brooklands fifty-year memorial ceremony. Incidentally, this is the only time when I have literally bought a car in a sack, though it certainly wasn't in any sense a "pig in a poke." Clark had dismantled it before the war, and it had lain in a heap in the parental garage in St. John's Wood, which, as a matter of interest, backs onto the building in which the Segrave Sunbeam used to be housed and tuned before it captured the World's Record in 1927.

The photograph of Davenport's G.N. with the motor-cycle lashed alongside for transport is of interest, since I took the G.N. chassis-frame home to Maidenhead in exactly the same way, lashed on to the running-board and spare-wheel mounting of a 1934 Alvis Speed Twenty coupé. All the other bits were either in the enormous dickey or inside the car with my wife and me.

When buying a car in this way, the strictly legal requirements are somewhat difficult to observe. No log book, for example, was available, so the receipt was dutifully made out for "one G.N. car as scrap." Included in the collection, however, was one numberplate, KK 682, and recent correspondence with the taxation authorities. at Maidstone and Reading leads me to hope that it will be possible for the car to take the road under its old identity. Clark also had an instruction book, which was forgotten at the time of purchase. He has since told me that he lent it to a G.N. owner near Tring about a year ago, to be photo-copied; the gentleman in question has not so for had the good manners to return it.

Is there any possibility of identifying the quite delectable Gordon England Austin Seven to be seen in the photograph on page 734? My daughter has just acquired a similar car, first registered in January 1927, TP 4312. Perhaps the coincidence is too far fetched.

Have you, or any of your readers, any recollection of a particularly interesting member of the C.N. Frazer-Nash family, which most have been built about the time that " G." and " N." parted company? This was a G.N. chassis, having G.N. on the hub caps and pedals, but with a very potent water-cooled o.h.v. Ruby engine and the. Erazer-Nash diamond badge on the radiator.

It was registered as a 9-h.p. Frazer-Nash, and dated 1925, but was obviously earlier. The engine was, I think, the same as fitted in the contemporary Senechal, with open overhead valve gear, and unusual in that both inlet and exhaust manifolds were cast in the fixed-head cylinder block. The crankcase also was unlike most in that it was a square aluminium box with cast-in oil troughs for the big-end scoops, and only the timing cover was detachable. This meant that access to the big-ends involved removing the block, flywheel -and timing cover, taking out the camshaft and oil-pump, and then pushing the crankshaft, carried in two large ball-races, out through the front of the case, the con.-rods being carefully led through a slot in the top flange, normally closed by the block and timing cover. Ignition was by magneto, of course, and the carburetter was a large bronze Solex. Accessibility was not improved by a full-length undershield, with no apertures whatsoever. In fact, until I cut a hole in the tray, draining the oil involved lifting out the engine. All the same, performance was fantastic, 5,000 r.p.m. and upwards being quite commonplace.

I owned the car (TC 8441) in 1928 and 1929, and unfortunately took no serious interest in its history. I have an idea that I was told that it had been raced at Southport—TC is a Lancashire registration—but that is as much as I ever bothered to find out. The body was a doorless two-seater, in aluminium, very narrow and with staggered seats, one sat on a thin hair-stuffed cushion on the floor boards, and the general appearance, apart front the radiator, was very similar to the G.N. Legere. Brakes, of course, were the usual G.N. type, the pedal operating in the off-side and the lever the near-side brake drum.

I am, Yours, etc.,

John G. Hay

Maidenhead.

***

Sir,

I found your article, "Interview with Basil Davenport," most interesting because I, too, have a soft spot for the G.N.

During National Service. I met an instructor at Bovington Camp, Dorset, who owned a 1922 model fitted with a 2-litre A.C. engine, and a beautiful brass radiator, ex-Hampden, I think. Memory is rather vague now, but I do remember the interest it caused in the car park when we attended a V.S.C.C. meeting at Goodwood.

I am, Yours, etc.,

M. G. Laybourn

Ilford.

***

Sir,

I have noticed from time to time in your excellent journal the appearance of photographs relating to unusual vehicles of the past. As a consequence, I now enclose a photograph (above) of a car (American) which might puzzle a few "experts" as to its name, year and power.

The car is at the moment being restored to a working condition and should be capable of some surprising results, even by modern standards, for its age.

The car is a 1924 Model E Doble steam car, built by Doble Motor Inc., Oakland, California. It has been fitted with a Minerva body in place of the original custom-built open body. When the car was built the price exceeded that of a Rolls-Royce. The acceleration, as with all steam cars, is better than that of most cars. Full steam pressure can be raised within 1½ minutes from all cold, and speeds of up to 85 m.p.h. can be reached. In fact, the maker claimed a cruising speed of 75 m.p.h. The weight is about 38 cwt.

Incidentally, there is only one other (a Model E) car in the country. There were altogether about 40, perhaps a few mere, built to customers' requirements.

I am, Yours, etc.,

B. E. Vivian

Tilehurst.

***

Sir,

Sir, I think perhaps you may be interested in an extract from The Autocar, issue dated April 30th, 1898, which I noticed while thumbing through some early numbers:—

" Though autocar racing is but a branch of the automobile pursuit, there is no doubt that the efforts which are being made on all hands to produce the fastest possible car tend towards efficiency, and the steady tourist benefits in the long run, as only the most approved and perfect machinery can stand the fearfully severe test of a road race, so that not only is development hastened, but so is the process of the survival of the fittest, and, consequently the goal of all-round efficiency much more quickly attained than it would otherwise be."

With appropriate punctuation and grammatical changes the same thing must have been written practically every month in some in paper. How strange that the moguls of the modern motor industry have not caught the point in nearly sixty years!

I am, Yours, etc.,

Michael Henderson

Woking.

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Sir,

I was very interested in the paragraph about Mr. Harmsworth's 60-h.p. Mercedes. I remember the car at Phoenix Park. and I have a photograph of Campbell-Muir at the wheel, and also of him in the 40-h.p. 1902 Mercedes. I knew these "60" Mercedes cars very well as I had three of them with various types of coachwork, open touring and two-seater racing.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Edward L. Mayer

Hitchin.

***

Sir,

Could you please give me any details of the engine which bears my name?

The design was unusual for 1919 in that it had no tappets, rockers or push-rods, valve gear being operated by camshaft totally enclosed in the head. (Where-did the drive come from?) Alloy pistons were used, and taper H-section con.-rods of a similar material, with replaceable shells of white metal as big-ends.

I am, Yours, etc.,

M. F. Dawson

Lebberston.

[The Dawson car was announced in 1919 but is doubtful if many were made. Can anyone supply data or recall this engine? ― Ed.]