The cars of Gerald Crozier
Described to the Editor in a recent interview
Very frequently enthusiasm for motoring and motor-cars stems from being brought up in an atmosphere of cars and family enthusiasm for things mechanical. In the case of Gerald (Gerry to his friends) Crozier, well-known member of the Bentley Drivers' Club and motoring connoisseur, this wasn't the case.
His father was a successful tea-planter, far more interested in horses and polo than horseless-carriages, although he kept a Bedford-Buick in India as a means of transport. Crozier remembers that when the family returned to England on leave his father purchased a lot of trouble in the guise of a friction-driven G.W.K., thankfully left behind on his return to India. On his retirement the Crozier family came to live in Surrey, near Leith Hill, but nothing altered so far as cars were concerned, their 1922 Armstrong Siddeley Thirty landaulette being driven by a chauffeur.
This massive battleship of a car appealed to Mr. Crozier, sen., and apparently proved satisfactory, because another Armstrong SicIdeley was acquired in 1927. By this time motoring was more practical and was becoming popular, so Crozier's mother bought a flat-radiator Morris Cowley saloon for her own use, and the boys learned to drive on it, although Gerald was too young to have a licence.
After Mr. Crozier's death the family moved to Dorking and Mrs. Crozier changed to a 1931 Morris Major, so everyone used that car, and one of the first Wolseley Hornet saloons that came later.
Gerald Crozier had thus had his first taste of the freedom and enjoyment to be had from ownership of a motor vehicle. His parents had been firmly against motorcycles but, having joined the College of Automobile Engineering at Chelsea, Gerald Crozier felt that some kind of personal transport was necessary. So, without telling his mother, he paid a visit to T. G. Meeten and spent £10 on a 572-c.c. James. This harmless machine was followed by numerous other motorcycles, on which young Crozier indulged in the hectic impromptu races through London thoroughfares that figured inevitably in the unofficial curriculum of the College!
At the age of 19 he took his first job, with a garage at Egham, since demolished to enable the roundabout at the end of the Staines-Egham by-pass to be built. He celebrated his debut as a wage-earner by buying a 1924 Swift Ten, which was then nine years old. "It had a cone clutch," Crozier recalls, "and I did my first bit of tuning by fitting a clutch-stop, which promptly broke a half-shaft! "
Another car was therefore urgently needed and, in the King's Road, Crozier spied a pointed spout sticking out of a doorway, above which was a notice: "Good Runner—Do." It turned out to be a circa 1922 A.V. Monocar, with a vee-twin J.A.P. engine perched over the tail on a level with the driver's head, driving through a 2-speed epicyclic gearbox. The petrol tank lived in the streamlined nose and the designer had apparently overlooked the fact that this resulted in fuel starvation every time the cyclecar was driven downhill, so that it was necessary to pause at the foot for the engine to pick up. Crozier used this queer vehicle for his journeys between Egham and Dorking but the plain big-ends lasted a mere 500 miles, and on the third occasion when they melted he advertised the car for sale. Only one customer was attracted and he asked for the A.V. to be driven in a tight circle, which he measured. Why? He was from Bertram Mills' Circus; the turning circle of an A.V. was too great for a circus-ring, and no sale was made. So Crozier took the engine out and burnt the rest behind the garage. "It seems terrible today," he reflects, "but funny old cars had no value in 1933; the chassis being wood, it burnt beautifully."
His mother persuaded him to get a 1933 Morris Eight 2-seater, which was followed by a 1927 Morris Cowley tourer.
A change of occupation took Crozier to London and he became fascinated by the interesting and amusing motor-cars in the stock of Guy Griffiths in a Maida Vale Mews. He became their best customer, taking at first a 1932 Humber Snipe coupe with dickeyseat and a compartment for golf clubs, after a 1929 Lea-Francis Hyper Sports saloon had proved "no good at all," being hardly able to drag itself along, for the supercharger had been removed before purchase. The Humber was "very good" except for needing a quart of oil about every tenth mile, and was changed in 1935 for the Kebble Special. This was a 8/18 Talbot, the chassis of which had been inverted. It had a body from a Wolseley Hornet Daytona Special and a Frazer Nash radiator—the latter embarrassing because owners of genuine "Chain-Gang" 'Nashes waved to Crozier in their ignorance of his Talbot engine and shaft drivel
Something had to be done, so it was back to Griffiths and off in a 1926 Austin Seven "Brooklands" model. By now Crozier realised he might as well have a share in the business, so as to be in a position to acquire the car of his choice without financial outlay. However, every car he had was registered in his name and cherished as a personal possession, not a vehicle looking for a customer. Griffiths had left by then but Crozier became a partner in Malloway Motors, as the firm was now called, having left Hamilton Motors.
He drove a great many cars in the course of business but selected only rather special ones for himself. Thus in 1935 he had a shortened Lancia Lambda of early series, that suffered terrible scuttle shake "and wasn't a very good car," followed by a 1929 Lea-Francis Hyper coupé with Cozette supercharger and trunk on the back. He liked this sufficiently to get a 1929 T.T. Replica Lea-Francis (VC1244) with No. 9 Cozette compressor and rollerbearing engine, "an awfully good car." Crozier ran it in the V.S.C.C. Littlestone Speed Trials and had no trouble with it, apart from the expected hub-spline calamities, although the saloon had suffered this even more severely.
There came next a very fine 3-litre Twin-Cam Sunbeam, reputed to be the car in which S. C. H. Davis finished second at Le Mans, but now having a dark green 2-seater body. It had many racing features, such as an unusual quick-action filler cap, quick-lift jacking points and so on, and gave no trouble of any kind except difficult starting. "A very good car," observes Crozier. Sold, the next owner put a rod through the side within a week....
A 1929 2-litre high-chassis Lagonda tourer replaced the Sunbeam, but was "dull," apart from a difficult gearbox. Crozier now took on his first Bentley, a 1924 3-litre Vanden Plas Speed Model. He found it "a very fine car" and it tided him over to the end of 1936, after which his brother, who had always had first call on the family cars, returned from India and took it away. "But," reflects Crozier, "I made a profit from him—my first!" The next move was a series of Lancia Augustas. The first, in 1937, was a 1935 saloon bought from Truscott, in as-new condition—"a very lovely little car." It was a mistake to sell it and another was soon acquired. This was reputedly the 1934 ex-Lord Waleran Monte Carlo Rally saloon, supercharged. It had, alas, had a hard life and the short spokes in its wire wheels broke, several at once, with depressing frequency. A 1935 saloon replaced it, this having the later, modified wheels, but although good it was not a match for the other 1935 model, so had to go. Seeking more performance, Crozier took on a circa 1928 19-100 Austro-Daimler 2-seater. Difficulty in retaining a gasket between the alloy block and head was a problem, so the car was quickly disposed of, but the next owner cured the trouble—by sticking the head on with pitch!
Crozier greeted 1938 with acquisition of a 1931 100 m.p.h. low-chassis Invicta tourer which he describes as "a very nice car" although its tendency to go straight-on on wet wood blocks resulted in his first accident, a crumpled wing on a London omnibus. Next? Something quite exciting, in the form of a 1929/30 38/250 Mercedes-Benz SS d.h. coupé bought, still in 1938, from David Scott-Moncrieff's emporium where horseless carriages were purveyed to the nobility and gentry. The only reason for disposing of it was that it looked so ugly open that Crozier invariably kept the top up, even in summer, and it was then too uncomfortably warm inside. Reaction to this was a 1934 Ford V8 d.h. coupé. After use as a hack, Crozier decided this would convert into an effective competition car. Leslie Ballamy, who had supplied it, put on his divided front axle, Laystall had a go at balancing the engine internals, the chassis was narrowed and lightened, and two Marshall blowers were installed, one above each cylinder bank. The body might have presented a poser, had not the brilliant idea been conceived of making a tubular metal framework and covering this with hood material held down by press-studs. "It was ideal," says Crozier. "It couldn't be scratched by brambles in trial lanes, it kept the weather out admirably, was absurdly light and cheap, and when it got dirty I took it off and scrubbed it with a brush."
This special L.M.B.-Ford was extremely ugly but entirely satisfactory. It ran in trials, Donington races and Brooklands sprints, lapping the Track, timed by the M.C.C., at 96.7 m.p.h. Its top speed approached 110 or so and thereby hangs an amusing incident. One day Crozier, with a friend and his wife beside him on the bench seat, in the days when the coupé body was still in place, was driving along the Watford By-Pass when he was overtaken by a 30/98 Vauxhall doing about 85 m.p.h. Speeding up to his customary 100 m.p.h. the vintage car fell far astern. Later, after the Ford had slowed, it overtook again, whereupon the earlier result was re-enacted. At this, the Vauxhall driver turned off and headed back towards Watford. Shortly afterwards Crozier went in the Ford to spectate at a V.S.C.C. Donington Meeting. As he drove into the car park someone shouted "there he is" and, running over, introduced himself as Anthony Heal, owner of the 30/98. He explained that Monaco Motors of Watford had been tuning his Vauxhall expressly to make it faster than a Ford V8, of which there were many on the road in 1939, and when it couldn't hold Crozier's car he had driven straight back to the works, leaving the car outside with a terse note on the screen. "They have made it slower, not faster," he explained. "I hope you were not too hard on Monaco" replied Crozier, lifting the Ford's bonnet to reveal twin blowers and large carburetters!
The rod-operated brakes were the weakest feature of this fast Ford. It would also quickly come to the boil if full throttle was used for more than three minutes and the teeth used to strip from the 2nd-gear pinion. But these things hardly mattered, with so much part-throttle performance available and spare gearboxes readily obtainable.
In spite of the fun and success experienced by Crozier with the Ford, this did not prevent him from enjoying a Type 37A G.P. Bugatti bought from J. Lemon Burton. While in possession of these two rapid cars he felt a hack standby desirable and found it in the form of a 1928 Daimler Twenty doctor's coupé, known to his friends as the Harley Street Special. "It was terribly slow. That didn't matter. What did, was that so much oil-smoke was emitted from the sleeve-valve engine while it was warming up, that the occupants of the mews in which Crozier was living forced him to sell it!
The year is still 1938, with war imminent. There was time for Crozier to have another Bugatti, however. This was the ex Bachelier Type 43 with pre-selector gearbox and slab tail, which was used in B.O.C. hill-climbs, etc. To go with it there were a series of three Fiat 500s, Crozier having come to the conclusion that useful life of these tiny cars terminated at 10,000 miles.
In the last year before the war Crozier purchased another Mercedes-Benz, this time a 36/220 S-series fixed-head coupé. It was a 1929/30 car and when it was built the vogue was for shallow windscreens and low windows. In consequence, and remembering the long bonnet, it was virtually impossible to see out, so that while the whole ensemble looked most elegant to passers-by the occupants were not impressed. On the grounds that in this case there was no point in suffering hell to give pleasure to others, Crozier passed it on. But the magic of Mercedes-Benz was not to be denied and the next acquisition was nothing less than a 1929 SSK 38/250 Mercedes Benz, bought from Jack Bartlett, "a good car." Clearly, Gerry Crozier dislikes dull cars. He also seeks motoring experience, and so this great car went to Robert Arbuthnot, and is now owned by W. Wyndham-Milligen.
Crozier's next enterprise was a 1937 Frazer Nash Falcon, a rare model powered by A.F.N. with a Type 55 B.M.W. engine. Bought in 1939, it was placed in that year's Stanley Cup contest. Crozier had noticed that V.S.A. Biggs had used an Arnott supercharger on a Type 55 Frazer Nash B.M.W. he drove in trials with every success, so, when the opportunity arose to buy this blower, it was used on the 'Nash's engine. Unfortunately the extra power this achieved loosened the flywheel and broke the single driving chains of the 'Nash.
Undeterred, for in 1939 there were many good cars to be had, Crozier took on the well-known black and white 1½-litre Type 51A ex-Ian Craig G.P. Bugatti, which he found to be a perfectly practical road car, running it on Discol fuel. He also drove it at Prescott and Poole, where it won its class, and altogether it was regarded as the best car he had owned. Alas, during the war it was put away in its mews' garage with a full tank of fuel, hot shrapnel came through the roof, and it was burnt out, in company with a 1928 3-litre Twin-Cam Sunbeam tourer and a 1939 Matchless-engined Morgan Super Sports 3-wheeler that Crozier had at the same time. The date, incidentally, was Friday the 13th of September!
The Bugatti was ultimately rebuilt by Derrington and sold to R. R. A. Richardson but the others were a total loss. The Sunbeam was mourned along with the Bugatti because, used daily, it had been absolutely trouble-free, but the Morgan was regarded as only a financial calamity.
For a while Crozier had used a TA M.G.—he comments, "a horrid car, deadly"—and, determined not to be defeated by the aforesaid fire, he walked away from it, bought a 1937 2½-litre Jaguar saloon, and drove in it back to his unit. Only its heavy petrol thirst for war-time caused this to be replaced by a 1938 Morris 8 and then by a 1936 Talbot Ten d.h. coupé before Crozier went overseas with R.E.M.E.
That ended his pre-war and early war-time motoring.
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Returning on leave from Austria in 1945, Crozier found a very well-preserved 1929 Sunbeam 20 Weymann saloon which had been laid up for some years by a taxi proprietor. He bought it and stored it until he was demobbed in January 1946. The Sunbeam was undeniably luxurious but its slow gait and slow gearchange were not for a man who had tasted the joys of driving Mercedes-Benz, Bugatti and similar cars.
So a 1928/29 ex-Stiles' 1½-litre twin o.h.c. Alfa Romeo coupe replaced it. This was a satisfactory car except for harsh suspension and Lord Ridley now has it. But Crozier wanted to resume competition motoring, although not much was happening, and he bought a 1938 328 B.M.W., which he drove at the memorable Gransden Lodge Meeting. The snag was that it badly needed better oil-pressure and although A.F.N. promised a new oilpump, that was to have come from Bristols, it never materialised. Becoming tired of non-starting time and again after having entered for such competition events as there were during 1946, Crozier looked for further motoring experiences.
A 1938 Paris-Nice Hotchkiss he disposes of with a wry expression, remarking "What can one say? Rather a lorry." But the ex-J. E. P. Howey 1929 SSK38/250 Mercedes-Benz Corsica coupé he owned from 1947 to 1950 was an entirely different matter. It was apt to blow its gasket if too liberal use was made of the supercharger on Pool petrol—on one occasion this happened when en route to a V.S.C.C. Speed Trial, the head being removed beside A 5 and refitted in time to compete!—and Crozier was aware that some unblown cars had better performance, but he loved this huge Mercedes because it was "such tremendous fun." The ride was uncomfortable, a shortcoming accentuated because you sat over the back axle, and what a handful it must have been at Prescott, up which Crozier cheerfully drove it! But it was one of his memorable possessions, until sold to Ian Metcalfe. It went subsequently to America and is believed to have been destroyed in a fire.
A "very satisfactory" 1934 Austin 10 served as an intermediary until a 1937 Lancia Aprilia was found. "This tried hard to be a good car," says Crozier, "but had one breakdown after another, dynamo, drive-shafts, and so on." In contrast, a 1936 Ford V8 fixed-head coupé was used as a hack for four years and was "entirely reliable." In 1950 the 8-litre Barnato Hassan Special was acquired and after being restyled from the whale-like proportions it had assumed while in Metcalfe's emporium, was raced with skill, courage and conspicuous success. It was disposed of in 1952 and has since been returned to single-seater form by the intrepid Keith Schellenberg.
While in bed with 'flu Crozier heard of the sale of the Ellis Collection in Leeds and got up to drive through the night and purchase therefrom a 1928/29 straight-eight Lanchester Weymann saloon, because he was anxious to see how this compared with a Rolls. He dismisses it merely as "pleasant and quite reliable," whereas the 1928 Rolls-Royce P.I Weymann saloon also owned in 1951 he discards as a car which "did less for more money than any other I had owned," although McKenzie checked it over and O.K.-ed it. The rough ride was not helped by the light body.
Naturally, the Rolls went, to be replaced by a 1929 Humber 16 tourer with wind-up celluloid side windows, a vehicle of "no very great merit " and very thirsty.
In 1953-54 Crozier owned a 1938 V12 Lagonda d.h. coupé which he regards as "a first-rate car, very comfortable, with excellent suspension and a high-revving engine, which gave absolutely no trouble and about 12 m.p.g." The 1937 4¼-litre Bentley Thrupp and Maherly razor-edge saloon that comes next on the list was not up to quite the standard Crozier usually insists upon and the high price of spares would have rendered full restoration an expensive undertaking. For example, a pair of king-pins and bushes cost £17 10s., whereas those for a Ford V8 could be bought for 30s. Moreover, the ride was harsh....
It was in curious circumstances that Crozier took on his 50th car. He was standing in the street when a well-preserved 1928/29 Trojan tourer bleated past. He had an immediate desire to own it and when its driver returned to inquire the way, a deal was done on the spot. For 18 months it was in regular use. I remember it well, because it came on two of my "Boxing Night Exeters" and on one of these, when my 1922 Talbot-Darracq had ignition trouble, Crozier brought us home in its snug interior. It was fatiguing on a long run but Crozier obviously approved of it, for he says that, given more garage accommodation, he would have kept it indefinitely. It could go faster uphill than a Scroggs-tuned Trojan owned by the Rev. Atkinson, then-Secretary of the Trojan O.C., to whom it was sold.
A nearly new M.G.-A followed, in 1957. Of this Crozier says "There was nothing wrong with it but I wanted something more exciting." This he got, in the form of one of the early drumbraked ex-Ecurie Ecosse C-type Jaguars. This, like most of Crozier's well-maintained cars, was trouble-free, although water spoilt the brakes in the rain. He raced it quite a lot but found it "very dicey, especially on a bumpy course." It constituted a very good fast road car but lacked weather protection, so was sold to David Lewis.
Jack Bartlett, of whose honest dealings the subject of this article fully approves, supplied a 1955 Porsche 1500 which, apart from "twitchy" road-holding, is remembered as "a very good little car."
"I hated the next car I had," observes Crozier, "but it wouldn't be fair to call it a had one." This was a 1964 Lancia Aurelia GT, with the pre-de Dion back axle. It was harsh and noisy and, with the 2½-litre engine developing perhaps 115 b.h.p. in a car weighing over a ton, had no very great urge. Its worst aspect, however, were controls that probably suited pygmy Italians but proved impossible for the tall, long-legged Gerry Crozier. He also had servicing troubles unless Ramponi himself was available to attend the car. "No doubt later Lancia Aurelia GTs were a different proposition, however."
A 1958 400-c.c. Goggomobil coupé with electric gearbox must have been something of an anti-climax but it was fiercely driven without its 2-stroke engine protesting. However, you wouldn't expect Crozier to be content with this for long, after reading the foregoing, now, would you? He didn't.
Indeed, he obtained real entertainment in the form of one of the original Le Mans Jaguar D-types, the car raced by Bob Berry and rebuilt after that driver's sensational crash in it at Goodwood, after which Broadhead and cyclist Reg Harris had raced it. "It was really fabulous," Crozier told me, "light and powerful and handling with such precision that an E-type feels large and lorrylike in comparison." Crozier intended to use this D-type for hill-climbs but an h.p. irregularity on the part of a previous owner (and h.p. in this case didn't mean horse-power) resulted in him saying a sad goodbye to it at Scotland Yard! It is now in Canada, one of three famous D-types, of which John Goddard has another.
Wanting to find out about the much-discussed Lotus Elite, Crozier bought a 1959 example. He brushes it aside as "a car for the young enthusiast but not so attractive to the aged." Its fine handling made it very safe but it was "sadly lacking in refinement."
Exit the Elite, bring on a 1960 3.8 Jaguar Mk. II saloon. But only for a while—"it was good but dull."
Crozier isn't quite sure even now how he tolerated a 1953 Ford Prefect saloon for two years. "It was a hack; of course, but a noble performer."
That brings us to his present stable, comprising a 1961 Volvo 122S B18 saloon and a Mercedes-Benz 300SL. "The Volvo was bought new and is Rudd-modified, with P1800 camshaft, 10.2-1 c.r., etc., and "goes terribly well." Pirelli Cintura tyres and Koni dampers have effected a great improvement in the handling and this discerning motorist enjoys a car in which "everything is screwed together properly, by engineers." He sums up the Volvo as "a very, very good car."
The Mercedes-Benz 300SL he delights in because it is full of individuality and character, like the 36/220 and 38/250 Mercedes he has owned in the past. It is a lightweight version, ex-Rob Walker and John Broad, and has been raced but twice, by Parnell and by Brooks, winning on each occasion. It is still too new to comment on.
That concludes a remarkable run of 61 personal cars, carefully selected and conscientiously maintained, owned to date by Gerry Crozier, apart from about twenty more kept for a few weeks at a time and then hastily disposed of! "The only one ever to blow up on the road—so far—was one of these; a 1936 Austin Ten that threw a rod in the middle of Baldock!" Crozier recalls.
He has had some fine and exciting cars and gained a great deal of experience. In the course of this interview, which took place in a country cottage in a remote corner of Hampshire on Christmas Eve, I made the point that he had done a lot of competition work and that we should list his successes. But Gerald Crozier pretended not to recall his victories, being modest to a degree and quite obviously far more concerned with enjoyment of good motor-cars than hunting silver-ware. As space was limited, I let it go at that....
Of his brave drives with the Bentley D.C. at Monza and Montlhéry, which included averaging 121.15 m.p.h. for 50 miles at the latter track in Stanley Sedgwick's Speed Six Bentley, Crozier will say nothing, as these were not his cars. A 300SL seems absolutely the right car for this motoring connoisseur of long experience. But Gerald Crozier is on the right side of 50 and will, I feel sure, own many more fine, diverse and exciting cars in the years ahead. I am equally certain that he will not fail to pass on very promptly any that do not conform to his exacting standards.—W.B.
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"BAGS OF NEIGE, OLD BOY"
Due to the snows of January the Welsh Rally, M.C.C. Exeter Trial and V.S.C.C. Measham Rally were cancelled. Curious, for when we were young, a spot of snow was just what rally and trial drivers craved.
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BUYING A ROLLS-ROYCE
There are so many pre-war Rolls-Royce cars in the market that the Editor conceived the idea of asking each of the better-known specialists in this make to submit a representative car from their stock, so that he could assess what is available for a given sum of money. His Secretary was asked to write to the obvious firms but, apart from one casual 'phone call, nothing happened. A case of journalists need not apply?