Vintage postbag, February 1962

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Another Buckingham

Sir,

The letter from Mr. McGildowny concerning the Buckingham cyclecar he once owned revived many nostalgic memories. I also owned one of these vehicles during the latter part of the 1914-18 war when I was in the R.F.C. and R.A.F., and stationed at Hadleigh in Suffolk, near Ipswich.

Unlike Mr. McGildowny, I bought mine all in one piece, and paid considerably more than £9 for it but have forgotten now just what it did cost. I bought it entirely on trust, on the strength of a rather attractive little illustration and advertisement in one of the motor journals; I think the rather imposing bonnet and big belt pulleys and sharply raked steering column did the trick. Incidentally, these big belt pulleys were a snare and a delusion; the previous owner had fitted them, with the result that the car was considerably over-geared.

Unlike the previous writer, I didn’t get very much pleasure from the Buckingham. I never really liked it, although it had its points, being used to conventional 3-and 4-speed gearboxes I never took kindly to its “pedals-to-push ” system, which I remember quite well. Didn’t it also have no hand brake but some sort of little locking lever on the brake pedal like the neutral arrangement on the gear pedal to hold the brake on when stationary ?

I don’t know the year of manufacture of my car. I suppose it had a Blackburn engine, I can’t remember; certainly it was a water-cooled twin-90° wasn’t it ? Mine was never a good starter; wasn’t this rather a common fault with 90° engines with magneto ignition ?

Another weak point on mine was the brakes, which were of very little use for anything approaching an emergency stop, as I found to my cost one day when returning to Hadleigh from Ipswich we met a traction engine on a blind corner on its wrong side of the road, or rather, I suppose, taking up the whole road. Our efforts to stop were of very little use so rather than try conclusions with the engine—I still remember it looked very big and hard—I chose the fence; this being a rather ancient post and wire affair was much softer and we went through it without much trouble apart from a few scratches to the bodywork, and finished up in the bushes, from which the engine driver and his mate helped us extract ourselves little the worse for wear.

I had forgotten about ” no reverse,” but I suppose that was so.

I eventually sold her to a cycle dealer in Ipswich for considerably less than I gave for her, and I seem to remember he wasn’t too satisfied with his purchase! Her place was taken by a well-used 40-h.p. Weigel and trouble of a different kind! But that is another story.

Wanganui, New Zealand. S. A. GIBBONS.

* * *

An Enemy of Sleeve Valves

Sir,

Your correspondent A. J. Airs, being well pleased with his 12/18 Minerva, asks why “so many authors of newly published books almost invariably condemn sleeve-valve engines. . .,” and suggests that few of them have had actual experience of sleeve-valvery. Having subjected the dreaded Knight’s Disease to a bit of mild chain pulling in my own book, and having owned a 1924 sleevevalve Panhard-Levassor which I drove about 19,000 miles, may I air my views ?

Advantages claimed for sleeve-valve engines were : (a) Silence. (b) Hemispherical combustion chambers, large port area and good breathing (this varied a lot according to factors of design, naturally), with consequent slight gain in specific output vis á vis contemporary poppet valve engines. (c) Ease of maintenance and absence of valve grinding. Examining these merits in order, I conclude :

(a) Yes. Sleeve-valve engines, if in good order, are extremely quiet when running slowly. At high speeds there’s not much in it and a sleeve-valve engine which is rather worn, but not bad enough to demand overhauling, can be surprisingly noisy. And by the time sleeve valves came into fashion Royce, Lanchester, Leon Bollee and many more had shown that it was not necessary for ordinary valve mechanism to be noisy. Compare an Edwardian Silver Ghost with a contemporary Silent Knight Daimler. . . .

(b) Yes. But the designers of the better engines of 1903 onwards knew all about the advantages of hemispherical combustion chambers, good breathing, etc., and were working towards these attributes via o.h.v. and o.h.c. layouts. The gain in specific output of sleeve engines applied only at fairly moderate r.p.m., and at higher speeds lubrication difficulties and risk of sleeve failures were all too apt to manifest themselves. No doubt these difficulties could have been overcome (indeed, at Voisin’s hands they very largely were) but was it worth it when the conventional path was surer and much less thorny ?

(c) Yes. No valves to grind, but when a sleeve-valve engine does need attention it is usually a fairly complex and costly business. If an engine is taken down for any reason and re-assembled without new junk-rings it nearly always gives trouble. A diabolical habit of many sleeve-valve engines was that the inlet ports of the inner sleeves (which never have a sharp blast through them and which are backed by the walls of the outer sleeve during seven-eighths of their motion) become occluded by carbon. This simple fault results in loss of power and misfiring—I thought it was an ignition fault when it first happened to me—and curing it involves far more work than decarbonising a normal engine.

Add to these things the sleeve-valve engine’s notorious gluttony for oil (I suspect Mr. Air’s Minerva is better than most), greater cost of manufacture and risk of expensive disaster if incautiously accelerated before the engine is thoroughly warmed through, and I think it will be agreed the sleeve-valve engine, on balance, was developed too late. Its virtues had already been acquired by conventional engines and its disadvantages outbalanced its merits.

The various forms of single-sleeve engine were probably slightly better than the Knight pattern but I have no experience of them, but is it not significant that the man who really did as much as anyone to make the Knight engine work properly never really approved of it ? This was F. W. Lanchester, consulting engineer to Daimler, who generally knew what he was talking about.

Twickenham. ANTHONY BIRD.

[Students should read, also, S. F. Edge’s cautious condemnation of sleeve-valves that appeared in The Motor during 1909.—ED.]

* * *

Commercial Vehicle History

Sir,

I have read, with interest, the letters in the January 1962 issue from Mr. Angus C. M. Maitland and Mr. J. G. S. Sherman regarding lorries in use in the 1914-1918 War. Both correspondents mention that very potent ” puller” the F.W.D. and I would ask permission to amplify some of its features. First produced in 1911 by the Four-Wheel Drive Auto Company of Clintonville, Wisconsin, U.S.A., this 3-ton truck—factory designation “Model B “—embodied from its inception the principle of continuous drive on all four wheels. To allow for speed variations as between front and rear wheels a central differential was incorporated at the rear of the gearbox, the drive being taken from this by separate propeller shafts to the front and rear axles. This centre differential could be locked by means of a sliding dogclutch, operated by a lever on the outside of the casing, thus providing ” solid” drive to both axles for emergency use. The effectiveness of this feature may be appreciated from the fact that with the lock in use I, with an unladen truck, hauled a loaded 5-ton Foden steam wagon out of a ditch in which it was well and truly bogged. The F.W.D. Company also produced, for the 1936 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, a “special” car embodying their four-wheel-drive-cum-centre-differential lay-out and, although not placed, the car finished well up in the race. The above details will show, perhaps, that the general concept of the Ferguson car is not entirely new. However, I am sure everyone is very pleased it is a success and I would wish Tony Rolt, who was a prisoner-of-war in the same camp as myself in the 1940s, and Claud Hill, under whom I had the pleasure of working in 1944/5 at Aston Martins, everything of the best.

May I crave a little more of your space in an endeavour to assist Mr. J. W. Barr whose letter appears on page 27 of the same issue. The lorry illustrated bears a very strong resemblance to the 2 1/4-ton W. & G., manufactured in the early 1920s by W. & G. DuCros of Acton Vale, London. This was a 4-speed job having a 4-cylinder side-valve engine, 95-mm. bore x 140-mm. stroke, rated at 22.4 h.p., a cone clutch and an overhead worm-driven rear axle. Production of this make ceased, I believe, about 1930.

I do not think it is a Liberty truck; these were heavier in appearance with a wide, somewhat squat, radiator and the radiator top tank did not have the hump in the centre which is visible in the photograph.

Harrow-on-the-Hill. B. W. HUSSEY.

_________________________

Sir,

I have been very interested to read the letters from Messrs. Hussey, Maitland and Sherman on transport in the 1914-18 War and in particular their references to the F.W.D.—in my opinion an undeservedly-little-known make, but one I grew to respect during the time I drove one during the closing months of my Army service in 1945. It was a 4-ton l.h.d. 4-wheeler, model HAR, in fact in the regiment they were always known as ” hars,” and I have never known a tougher vehicle, or one with wheels which had a cross-country performance to touch it—when the tanks were on the ranges at Fallingbostel in Germany I went everywhere they did with a full load short of actually bellying down and it never even looked like getting stuck. By contrast it was as easy as winking to bog down a 6-ton 6 x 6 Mack gun tractor with only 4 tons up even though I would guess that the engine was a good 50% more powerful. And after the first few days I found it wasn’t even necessary to use the centre differential lock. Factors contributing to this mud-plugging ability were in my opinion the normal control driving position, keeping the centre of gravity low in comparison with the top heavy forward control QL Bedfords and the like, and the twin rear wheels, which not only provided a greater surface area but also allowed one to use logs as rails to get out by if you ever did bog; also the 6-cylinder Waukesha side-valve engine which, although it had so little compression that you could turn it over by pulling on the fan blade, had the most tremendous pulling power I have ever encountered—I once successfully tried a start from rest on the level with 20 men on board in top, with no pinking.

I shudder when I think of the thousands if not millions that have been and will be spent by the service Ministries on developing(?) the high, top-heavy pattern of 4 x 4 3-tonner which they seem determined on, when in the F.W.D. they have an infinitely better design ready to hand. Other good features, though as I recall they were common to all U.S.-designed army lorries, were the completely flat floor with no wheel arches, the shallow but adequate tailboard which could easily be closed by one man, and the wooden, easily repairable canopy arches over which the canopy was loosely draped, by comparison with the British method of stretching it tautly over a steel tube structure, which was always tearing and breaking when driven under too low trees. Snags were the poor lock, the tendency to slide easily when braking on a wet road, when it was never safe to drive at more than 25— though I always thought the straight-bar pattern U.S. Army tyre tread had a lot to do with this, and that extraordinary chain drive in the transfer case which needed tightening every 1,000 miles or less. To do this you had to rotate the two output shaft bearing housings in the casing, and in which the bearings were eccentrically mounted, and as no C-spanner, for some reason, was provided in the tool kit the instruction book laid down this should be done with a punch against the arrow cast into the bearing housing, which resulted in a piece being chipped off this arrow at nearly every blow. I remember my last sight of an F.W.D. as a soldier was in Ostend in September 1945 coming home to be demobbed. I saw a Belgian-owned solid-tyred lorry which had evidently miraculously survived the war, and recognised it as an F.W.D. solely by the transfer case, which appeared entirely identical with the one on my wagon.

As far as I know the only other model F.W.D.s built in the Second War was the r.h.d. SU-COE at, I believe, their Canadian works at Kitchener, Ontario, and I would say obviously at the Ministry’s dictation as a copy of the A.E.C. Matador gun tractor —top heavy with forward control and single rear wheels.

I have a book, “The Four-Wheel-Drive Story,” by Howard William Troyer, published a few years ago by (I think) McGraw-Hill (unfortunately it is not here at present), which is profuse in illustrations of their various models including the car of about 1910, ” The Battleship,” but unfortunately it is far more concerned with persons and company history than technical details. However, two interesting facts therein are that in 1920 a woman was their chief and one of their most successful demonstrators, and that the ride of the early models was like that of a rough bucking broncho—a statement which I can certainly endorse from experience of driving over German country roads in 1945, if you weren’t lucky enough to have a full 4-ton load.

Cambridge. A. B. BUCHANAN.

_________________________

Sir,

Studying the photograph from Mr. L. W. Barr which appeared in the January issue, it is obvious that the Pratts lorry in this instance is not a Liberty but is a British vehicle, which I believe to be a Halley, of about 1925.

When I was a schoolboy, Pratts vehicles were my headache, as the concern had a wretched habit of screwing a metal plate bearing the name “Pratts” to the top of the radiator, thus obscuring the make of the vehicle.

They did operate quite a large fleet of Liberty trucks until the early ‘thirties, some having wood-spoked wheels, others steel-spoked, with solid tyres. The last time I saw a Liberty was in 1934, and I remember this particular one was on pneumatic tyres, and very impressive it looked with its typical American radiator and long bonnet.

The Liberty was available in this country as a rigid 6-wheeler on pneumatics during the years 1929-1930 or so, this I suspect as being a rebuilt job such as the Peerless and Pierce-Arrow were at about that era.

Another make that bore the name ” Pratts ” was, I think, the Samson, a little-known American lorry. These were on pneumatic tyres, and were in use a little later than the Libertys.

How interesting were commercial vehicles in these days! Can anyone remember the Bell lorry, which was used by the Co-operative Wholesale Society? This lorry was, I believe, built to the C.W.S. design, and was in use until about 1935. Any information would be welcome.

Bournemouth West. G. F. KING.

_________________________

Sir,

I was very interested in recent letters and photographs of Pratts’ lorries.

The Liberty I remember pretty well. My father was Circuit Manager for The Anglo American Oil Co. Ltd. (now Esso) at Birkenhead, West Float, Depot, for a number of years and during school holidays in the early and mid-1920s I used to wangle many a trip round the Wirral district on Pratts’ lorries (of which the Liberty was my favourite), acting as ” can lad ” (unofficial!).

I am afraid your correspondent Mr. L. W. Barr is wrong in assuming the lorry pictured in the January issue is a Liberty. I rather fancy this is a Halley but as to year or make and other details I cannot help. The Pratts’ Libertys never had a polished radiator; any I remember had it painted red to match the bonnet. Details I remember most were :

Folding starting handle, which clipped up under the front end of the chassis when not in use. Spoked wheels with solid tyres. No windscreen was fitted, the crew were protected by a metal ” windbreak ” which reached nearly to eye level (I couldn’t see over!): later a screen was fitted. The accelerator was not of the usual type, but was pushed sideways by the side of the boot. Very nice in wet weather on a metal floorboard. I cannot remember details of the engine, etc., except that there was a wealth of brass pipework. In their smart red and green livery they won many lirst prizes in the Liverpool May-day parades at that period. The radiators had either U.S.A. or Liberty on, but later this was changed by the Company to “Angloco.” There were three main types in use, all I think on the 3.-ton ” B ” chassis :

(i) Open ” Can lorry.”

(ii) Composite. As above but with a two-or three-compartment tank for either paraffin or petrol deliveries.

(iii) Bulk lorry, mounting a 600- or 800-gallon tank for the growing pump trade or hauling bulk fuel from the recently opened installations at Ellesmere Port to Birkenhead and Liverpool.

Among other American lorries used in the district by Anglo at that time were :

F.W.D.—Usually a bulk tanker for haulage from “‘the Port ” to Birkenhead, and this sometimes towed a smaller tank trailer. I say sometimes, as the F.W.D.s were not too reliable and the trailers were often left behind, especially in the summer, when the drivers were pretty well roasted alive sitting on top of the engine.

Traffic (well remembered for its ” Laughing Hyena” syren), Burford, Garner. Peerless and Pierce Arrow.

After that came English lorries, of course : A.E.C., Dennis, Thornycroft, Albion, Karrier, Leyland and Scammel, all familiar names nowadays, but the Liberty was still ” Queen of the Fleet” to me.

Onchan, I.O.M. S. W. LAYFIELD.

* * *

Clutton Defended

Sir,

I have noted with interest Mr. G. V. Mortimer’s ironical remarks concerning Mr. Cecil Clutton’s reference to a certain Mercedes as ” . . . a typical example of Teutonic brute force.” His sarcasm is amusing but I feel that it is scarcely justified. Mr. Clutton was writing about a car which belongs to a period in which the Germans did build large and powerful motor cars. The success of German Grand Prix cars before the war was based on their tremendous power output, or, if Mr. Mortimer prefers it, brute force. The majority of the sports and high-performance cars produced in Germany before the war owed what success that came their way to high power outputs rather than superior handling qualities. This being the case, I consider Mr. Clutton’s remark to be perfectly justified, since brute force was typical of Teutonic cars at the time to which Mr. Clutton is referring. Incidentally, I hope I do Mr. Mortimer no injustice in wondering whether he is aware that Dr. Porsche designed the particular Mercedes referred to in this correspondence as well as the 8-litre monsters which overtake him as he motors along the M1!

Godalming, H. T. COOKE.

*  *  *

The Standard Register now has over 100 Edwardian and vintage Standard cars listed, the latest addition being a 1930 Nine tourer, probably a Selby, still used by the Divisional Chief Electrical Engineer, Central Railway, Bombay. The Register’s growth is excellent, especially as it was only formed just over two years ago. It has a collection of spares available to members. The Registrar is J. Davy, Standard-Triumph Sales, Ltd., Coventry.

*  *  *

A Chain-Gang Frazer Nash figured in a comic story by Ken Purdy in Fiction recently, and it included a realistic drawing of an American-registered 1934 model. Alas, the hero, like the author, disposed of his Frazer Nash, the hero after one run only. Chaingangsters will be astonished to learn that this was because he couldn’t stand getting his right arm wet and cold swapping dogs with the outside lever. . . 

*  *  *

Available and wanted : A steering wheel, column and box, complete, from a 1904 Renault are on the market and someone requires an off-side mudguard for a 1927 10.8 Clyno Royal tourer. Someone who is rebuilding a 1916 Sopwith Pup to he flown for charity needs a suitable propeller. A collector of early writing machines offers several, commencing with a Lambert dial-writer, to anyone wishing to start their own collection. A 1931 Star Comet in Surrey is offered free to anyone who will collect and rebuild it. Some early pre-1914 manuals and handbooks are for sale and a reader who is rebuilding a Renault 45 needs a crownwheel and pinion.

*  *  *

Apologies to D. E. Bick whose 1927 14/28 Morris-Oxford M.G., which has .a genuine vintage twin-carburetter o.h.v. conversion, was described last month as an M.O. Six.

*  *  *

Good news. The Historic Commercial Vehicle Club is now publishing a full-scale club magazine, which replaces their former “Photonews” broadsheets. Amongst their 1962 fixtures is a London-Brighton Run in May, while they expect to co-operate in a National Traction Engine Club rally in July and perhaps stage a Coventry rally in September. On February 5th a talk, ” The Tilling Stevens Story,” by F. J. Hughes, in the Elizabeth Room, Victoria Coach Station, at 7.45pm is open to non-members.

*  *  *

The Editor wishes to thank T. Crowdy and D. F. Ward for two much-appreciated additions to his ” museum “—respectively, a pre-1914 F.N. 4-cylinder motorcycle engine and a cylinder and valve gear from a rotary aero-engine.

*  *  *

Party. Last month Ronald Barker threw a party at his home in Weybridge to celebrate acquisition of a 1908 11.6-litre 6-cylinder Napier competition car, which the late Major Sholto Wilson had owned from 1914 and had used up to about 1922. A great many motoring celebrities were present to inspect the dismantled parts of the Napier. Louis Giron is helping to restore it. Mrs. Dickinson, sister of the late owner, who herself drove a very fine 60-h.p. Napier 2-seater in Hampshire at the same time as her brother, was present from Rhodesia. In the garage were Barker’s beautiful Lancia Dilambda with Farina coupe de ville body and a 1939 Mille Miglia Lancia Astura with Minetti Aprilia-type hood. The Editor of MOTOR SPORT arrived at this happy gathering with his wife and the Continental Correspondent in his 1924 Calthorpe. Mrs. Dickinson thoughtfully presented him with some pre-1914 issues of The Motor.

*  *  *

We regret that the results given last month purporting to be of the V.S.C.C. Northern Trial Were those of that Clubs’ Eastern event. The results of the Northern Trial of November 25th, 1961, are appended; the V.S.C.C. Measham Rally was cancelled due to snow. First Class Awards: B. M. Clarke (Austin), G. R. Footitt (Jowett), C. Bradshaw (Lea-Francis). Second Class Awards: J. Grice (Austin), D.H. Coates (Lagonda). M. O. Attock (Alvis). Third Class Awards: H.F. Moffat (Bugatti), J. W. Rowley (Vauxhall), D. K. Brown (Alvis).

Recent discoveries include a 1911 A.C. Sociable van rescued from a Middlesex garage where it had been idle since 1920, rats nesting in it, a Morris-Cowley chassis frame and some spares for sale in Lancashire, and a p.v.t. Railton Straight-Eight saloon that has thrown a rod, at a garage near Stamford on A 1.

*  *  *

Nice gesture. The last wish of a widow in Tokai was that her vintage cars, comprising 7th and 8th series Lancia Lambda saloons, with all tools, books and their accessories, be used by her descendants ” as far as possible for veteran car club runs, shows and rallies.”

*  *  *

Stop Press. A reader seeks data on the hood construction of a 1925 7.5 Citroen he is rebuilding, another wants a body appropriate to a Rolls-Royce Twenty chassis (No. GOX 61), and the owner of a 1929 2-ton Dennis G-type truck wants another for spares.