Vintage Postbag, February 1969

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From Sir Ralph Millais, Bt.

A Tricky Repair

Sir,

When I brought my Tipo B Alfa Romeo engine block to Messrs. Angell & Williams for repair, I was initially told that it was an impossible job. But it was also a challenge. They have a saying, “the difficult jobs we repair at once, the impossible takes a little longer”. So they accepted the challenge and backed by a team of men with a lifetime of experience on engine repair, finally won through. But not without many heartaches which at times made them feel like giving up. The job was as follows:

The cast-iron block was cracked in the dome of No. 1 cylinder at the top of the closed-in bore, and into the two valve seats which are set at an angle. It was pre-heated in a muffle, and fusion welded through the full thickness of the metal where cracked, and the valve seats built up with new metal. This was a difficult welding operation, but was finally accomplished. Surplus metal had now to be rough machined away in order to test the welds. A Form Tool was made, fitting into bushes which were made to fit the bore. The assembly was put into the bore, on a radial drilling machine, and working carefully to depth measurements, as machining was blind, the dome of the bore was machined. To machine the valve seats, they first made a right-handed cutter with a left-handed internal thread. A pilot bar to suit was passed through the valve guide hole. The cutter was then fed up through the bore on a holder, to meet the pilot bar and was screwed on it, and the holder removed. A spring-loaded attachment was made and fitted to the exterior of the pilot bar, which enabled the seats to be slowly cut by hand. Eventually it was tested and now found to be leaking behind liner in bore. The liner had been pinned at some earlier time and could not be withdrawn, so it was bored out. The bore here was found to be cracked through an old botched repair. More fusion welding and machining was done. There were now leaks in the valve pockets on the side, again from an old repair. These were cut out and again more fusion welding, and further testing. Finally two spark plug holes previously botch welded were found defective. These were cut out completely, and both areas filled in with new metal. Then machined and screwed. After final machining of seats, etc., bore ground, new liner fitted, the block withstood a 30 lb. p.s.i. water pressure test and was finished.

This is only a brief outline of the job. There were many hold-ups and difficulties. Tools frequently broke due to diamond hard spots left by previous botch welding. I am informed that eight men carried out the work, with a total of some 250 years on these sort of repairs. The firm that did this work was Angell & Williams (Peckham) Ltd., Sumner Road, London, S.E.15, and I cannot speak too highly of their work, interest and enthusiasm—which will save this historic car from becoming just a museum piece.

Hawkhurst. Ralph Millias.

A Contemporary Gordon England Brooklands Model Austin 7

Sir,

I have read with interest the recent correspondence regarding Austin 7s and enclose herewith a photograph of an Austin 7 known, as I understand it, as a Brooklands model.

This particular car was purchased from Pass & Joyce and raced by Mrs. George Dullow; it was, in fact, the first car I ever owned. The photograph was taken in Nottingham during the autumn of 1927.

London. H. F. Fergusson-Wood.

The Lake at Llandrindod Wells

Sir,

I was most interested to see the picture showing the N.S.U. 1200TT parked by the side of the lake at Llandrindod Wells, Radnor.

My recollection of this 5 m.p.h. sign certainly goes back to my own fifth birthday, which I celebrated quite a time ago. My uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. George Thomas, leased the lake and chalet, as it was then called, from 1908. Another uncle, an architect named Jack Preece, was responsible for the plan of the boathouse and chalet. My Uncle George came to a tragic end in 1918 when in preparation for a regatta on my aunt’s birthday, the flagstaff on which he was arranging bunting collapsed, throwing him to the ground with deadly force. Another six feet would have thrown him into the lake and safety, with no more than a ducking. My aunt retained the business until 1934 and still resides in Llandrindod. In age, a tribute to the healthy surroundings in which she has lived.

The enclosed copy of a favourite picture taken in 1917 shows Uncle George at the wheel of his Wolseley, Isadore, a Great War Belgium refugee from the Germans, at his side, and Aunt Alice in the rear. The car was pre-Great War, but I would leave it to the experts to give an exact date. Curiously enough, the late Mr. Edward Leigh, garage proprietor of Sheffield (who maintained my 1936 1½-litre Riley Kestrel and 1938 4¼-litre Bentley for many years), knew the Wolseley model well, as he had been employed in the Wolseley works for some years prior to 1914. The Wolseley in 1917 was parked about 50 yards from where you parked the N.S.U. in 1968.

I have noticed with growing excitement the editorial references and pictures of mid-Wales at different times. We have had several references to Llandrindod, South of Builth Wells and north to Presteigne and west to the collection of road signs on the road junction Llandrindod to Rhayader, where it is joined by the Builth Road. You have also spoken of Tom Norton, but never told us that Tom Norton installed the first road-side petrol pump in Wales.

Sheffield. David Dewar.

Body From a Lonsdale Napier?

Sir,

I was extremely interested in the reference to the cars of the “Yellow Earl” in “Cars in Books”, December, 1968.

In 1960 I was one of the organisers of an exhibition of interesting motor cars held in Carlisle in aid of the World Refugee Fund, and one of the exhibits was the complete body from a Napier which, in all probability, is the one shown on the photograph which you described from the book. The body which started life on a 1908 Hotchkiss and was later transferred to the Napier is the property of Mr. Keiser, of Penrith, who converted the chassis to a breakdown truck which has, no doubt, been long since scrapped.

Cumwhitton. David K. Bowman.

Napier L48 Engine?

Sir,

I was interested to read the letter from Mr. A. H. Chamberlain, of Melbourne, Australia, concerning the six-cylinder Napier engine which he has. He gives the bore and stroke as 6¼ in. x 5 in., which are commonly said to be the dimensions of the original engine fitted to the 1904 Napier racing car L48, which was later known as “Samson” when driven at Brooklands by the late Frank Newton in 1907 and 1908.

Three different sizes of engine were used in L48 during its racing career. The original 1904 unit (6¼ in. x 5 in.) had the exhaust ports on the offside, while that used early in 1908 (6 1/8 in. x 6 in.) had them on the nearside. The long-stroke version (6 1/8 in. x 7 in.) of the latter, used in the match race against Felice Nazzarro’s F.I.A.T. “Mephistopheles”, also had nearside exhaust.

In a letter to me in 1943, Frank Newton wrote that the engine from “Samson” was ultimately fitted into a hydroplane. Whether this was the engine that used to be preserved at the Napier works at Acton or the original (1904) smaller one is not clear. A side view of L48 with bonnet removed, was published in the Autocar Journal, June 18th, 1904. It shows the nearside of the engine quite clearly. I have quoted the bore as 6¼ in. as this seems to be the figure used by most authorities. Gerald Rose, in his Record of Motor Racing (published 1909) gives it as 158.75 mm, but Frank Newton always quoted 6 1/8 in., and I suspect that he really knew best. I enclose a photograph of the car taken before the Gordon Bennett Eliminating Trials in the Isle of Man in May, 1905.

Beaconsfield. Anthony S. Heal.

Memories From California

Sir,

I have your issue of October, 1968, and noticed your description of the Dolphin car. I worked at the Dolphin factory at Shoreham in 1909. At that time they were making some small rail cars. I acted as rivet boy when the frames were constructed. I was a five-shilling-a-week apprentice and lived at the “pub” next door. After a few weeks I developed the habit of going to work, as required, at 7 a.m. and then returning to the pub for breakfast. This resulted in my losing my job; I was fired by Michael Sassoon himself. I shall never forget the utter boredom of that job.

Later, in 1912, I met J. V. Carden and we began the manufacture of the Carden monocar (with 500 c.c. J.A.P. engine), first at Farnham and later at Teddington. Of course we spent more time racing than manufacturing. But we sold about 200 to 300 of them. In 1914, when the war broke out, we made a lorry out of our Taunus Fiat. We bought this car from A. M. Low for £25. We pulled down some benches for material and had it done in a few hours, after which Carden drove it to Aldershot where they hired him and the car for £25 a day. Shortly thereafter he entered 52 Company as a lieutenant. 52 Company later became A.S.C.M.T. and concentrated on Caterpillar tractors. I joined after Carden, as a private (the Army found my name objectionable).

I have here a newspaper cutting depicting the lorry with Carden at the wheel. His arrival in Aldershot brought him renown as a really fast lorry driver. It was good for about 90 m.p.h. and I’m sure he reached that speed whenever he could. It was usually loaded with meat.

Two Carden monocars were used in France in World War I; one by W. E. Humphries, head of our test department, and one by André de Meulemeester, Belgian ace (23 German planes). The latter’s monocar was returned to us, to show us the effect of two years’ service in France. It was transferred intact, but reverently, to the scrap heap.

After World War I, Garden, then Sir John, was made technical director of Vickers, but died in a ‘plane crash a few years later.

Los Angeles, U.S.A. George L. Holzapfel.

* * *

Pity the Poor Historian: 1922

Sir,

I enjoy Your “Cars in Books” feature but never quite understand how, in your May, 1964, reference to the book “The Big Fellow” (Taylor) you suggested that Michael Collins was killed on August 22nd, 1921. This 1921 dating led you to speculate that the Leyland 8 in which Collins was travelling was a very early specimen. Michael Collins was killed in an ambush on August 22nd, 1922, so that the latter speculation is not pertinent. The car is specified as a Leyland Thomas “straight eight-cylinder touring” in the body of the text, whilst a narrative of one of its drivers refers to an “eight-cylinder racing type”.

All this is very diverting were it not for the fact that Hugh Tours in Profile number 26 repeats your “August, 1921,” dating for the death of Collins. Not content with making a single error concerning the matter, Tours proceeds to fabricate a “further” version of the death of Collins with his assertion that the car “received through the windscreen the bullet that killed its owner”. This simple version has no basis on currently accepted evidence.

It is of interest that Tours identifies the Leyland car as “sold to Collins”. The primary role of Collins as a Minister of State suggests that even the fledgeling Irish Free State should have been able to muster a vehicle for his use. The fact that at least one Leyland lorry with the Irish Distributors’ boards on display was used for artillery haulage during the Irish Civil War (1922/3) suggests that the Government secured items in a hurry whilst countering the desperate situation confronting them in August, 1922. I surmise that the Leyland car was part of the deal. It could well have been commandeered. Happily the Irish Leyland distributors have survived to the Sixties and could possibly remove from speculation the ownership and fate of the car with Collins associations.

Edmonton, Canada. C. McCloughan.

[Can a British Leyland spokesman please enlarge on this?—Ed.]

* * *

The Jarrot Austin 7s

Sir,

I was very interested to read the letter about the Jarrot Austin 7, as they were made very close to where we lived; in fact, my cousin used to work for Jarrot Motor Bodies in the 1920s.

I believe the firm (situated in High Ballen, Wendsbury, not Wolverhampton) was started in 1919 by a Mr. Andrews and mainly specialised in bodywork repairs, but occasionally built bodies for Model T Fords. However, my cousin said the firm was never very sound financially, and in 1926 Mr. Andrews took a partner. After this they started producing bodies for Austin 7s, and at last the firm got on its feet.

I remember seeing the cars being driven about in Wendsbury, usually on test. They were, as your reader states, just like a type 35 Bugatti and most attractive little cars from what I remember.

My cousin said (I think) about 35 Austins had been completed when the firm collapsed in 1931. Some were built on new chassis and some re-bodied on old chassis supplied by customers, as Radfords and other firms still do today.

Wellington. Leonard Francis.

Gordon or Gordon England?

Sir,

Mr. Paul Nicholas’ photograph in December’s Motor Sport of his 1927 Austin Seven Gordon England Silent Saloon intrigued me as I think he may be incorrect about the coachbuilder.

Although I don’t remember seeing a picture of one in original Austin catalogues, it is possible that this is a “Gordon” fabric saloon, made by Gordon & Co., Taunton Road, Sparkbrook, Birmingham, as the appearance is more in keeping with “Gordon” than “Gordon England” bodies.

I enclose a photograph of my “Gordon” landaulet 1927 Austin Twelve, which in detail seems similarly built to Mr. Nicholas’ car.

Uxbridge. Colin W. Hughes.

* * *

Early Sports Austin 7s

Sir,

I was most interested to read your article on the Gordon England Brooklands model Austin 7 as I am the owner of a car which started life as a 1925 model and ended up as one of the fastest sprint Austin 7s of all time; in the hands of A. N. L. Maclachlan. There is a very full description of the car in Motor Sport of November, 1945. For some time now I have been trying to find an original Brooklands model, without success. However, I have managed to collect a number of parts, including chassis, rear axle 4,44: 1 ratio, crankcase, camshaft, manifold and carbs., radiator and cowl, etc., and can obviously obtain the registration book for NC 5058, which was the number of Maclachlan’s car in its original Brooklands form. From these parts, and, with luck I may find some more, I intend to build a replica of one of these splendid little cars. The building of replicas has caused a good deal of controversy in recent months, but in a case such as this I feel justified in continuing to put together such parts as I have and making those I have not. If any of your readers has any parts or detailed information, I should be most pleased to hear from them.

Referring back to your article, you say that there are no remaining examples of the Austin Sports model of 1924. This is not correct as I know of two of this model. Mike Eyre discovered one in poor condition last year and intends to add it to his splendid collection of Sports Austins in due course. The other belongs to Roy Norton and has a most interesting history as it has done less than 100 miles since new. I understand that the car was being demonstrated to a customer by the proprietor of a small Austin dealership somewhere in the Midlands. Everything was quite satisfactory until they came upon the local milk float; at this point the little Austin backfired, which so frightened the horse that it jumped on the back of the Austin, damaging its beautiful pointed tail.

The prospective customer was apparently most put out and refused to ride any further. The Austin was recovered by the garage and stripped down with the intention of repairing the damage. For some reason or other the work was never carried out and the car was acquired still dismantled and still unregistered some 40 years later.

The development of the sports Austins is a most interesting study and there are many gaps which still have to be filled before the whole story can be told. I am constantly coming up with parts and information which do not seem to fit in with the accepted pattern of evolution. I have a supercharged engine with “spit and hope” lubrication and a very good friend of mine had a Brooklands model in 1917 with similar oiling arrangements, when they were all supposedly fitted with pressure lubrication.

One solution may be that Austins used to sell their racing and experimental cars in some cases to selected private entrants who eventually sold them on the open market. Perhaps you will be able to publish further articles on this subject, especially as there is an increasing interest in the preservation of these cars.

Harrenden. John Sutton.

* * *

Memories of a Cup Model Austin 7

Sir,

The photograph of a Gordon England Cup model Austin conjured up pleasant memories of owning a similar car in 1935. Progressing from motorcycles, I bought this my first car for £24; its year, I think, 1928.

The clutch was either in or out, and my first take-off had me flying with the greatest of ease, and the almost direct steering needed some care on bumpy roads. I remember lowering the hood to make it more sporty-looking, and at one stage the body cracked by the doors causing the arches to rub the tyres on corners. The local blacksmith soon cured this by bolting about three feet of iron along each side, and as a safety measure the doors were bolted on the inside.

The starter was on top of the gearbox, and an armoured cable ran through a steel floorboard to the battery. Not noticing the cable had chafed, I was a little surprised when, having parked it in a cinema, I was called out by the commissionnaire to say it had been on fire. My black and red car was now white with foam. Putting the evening paper on the seats, I pulled the starter and away we went. The foam washed off, and the offending cable was replaced.

Frequently the main jet of the Zenith carb. used to block up, and quite often this occurred in a traffic jam. Always with spanner handy, a quick hop out, blowing through the jet always cleared it, a jump in and away.

In winter it was really draughty, and I used to have a rug round my knees, but after this wrapped itself round the prop shaft, which only had a flimsy cover over it, I braved it out. In summer, ventilation was by means of two miniature cowls on the scuttle, very effective but embarrassing to female passengers (good job they didn’t wear minis in those days).

On the whole it was a delightful little car to drive; its turn of speed surprised many larger cars, and it was so light it could be easily manhandled out of parking difficulties. Aptly named the “buzzing bee”, I was very sorry to part with it. It would be fun to drive it now (if I could get into it).

Maidenhead. W. R. Compton.

[I remember those Zenith blocked jets—even in my Austin 7 days Zenith jet keys were hard to come by.—Ed.]

An American View of Importing Old Cars

Sir,

For about a year my husband and I have been trying to purchase a “Post-Vintage Thoroughbred” from England. Our reasons for wanting to import a car should be obvious. While your prices have been mounting steadily, prices in the States have become absolutely outrageous! But always the answer to our letters or cables, has been the same. “Sorry. Car sold in U K.”

Feeling rather discouraged, I sat down to write a letter to Motor Sport in an attempt to defend the American enthusiast. I found I honestly could not. I know there are others like ourselves who have been hopelessly smitten with the love of roaring down a road with wind and dust biting their cheeks and glorying in the surge of a machine built at a time when all cars were made with souls. But there are all too many here who have discovered that, by bringing over several cars at a time (bought, I think, from dealers rather than individuals), an easy sale at considerable profit can be made. We ourselves have been able to trace certain cars through the advertisements in various American publications and have seen them being bandied about like unwanted puppies. With each change of owner, the cars deteriorate a little more while the prices continue to rise.

Another aspect of the potential American purchaser is the “Collector”. He is the man who, with unlimited funds, is able to restore a vehicle to perfection and then doom it to the life of a lap-dog who is carried about everywhere and never gets to have a good, healthy run. This, I think, is almost as bad as the money-seeking opportunist. After all, a car only comes to life when it performs the function for which it was created.

The love of old cars is by no means limited to Great Britain, but I must admit that the strong feeling to keep the cars “at home” may be well founded. Having finally decided to buy a 1932 Lagonda 16/80 here, at a higher price than we can really afford (we know that the original English price was about $1,500 less than the price we paid!), I wish that I could plead a better cast for some future American enthusiast. But in spite of our own personal financial strain (what am I saying?—there’s just nothing left!) I think we’ll just consider this thoroughbred rescued from the dog pound and let it go at that.

Thanks, Motor Sport, for giving my husband and me such great enjoyment!

New York, U.S.A. Laura David (Mrs.).

* * *

Slices of History—Chitty and Talbot

Sir,

During a recent enforced period of idleness I was reading your January issue and two separate and unrelated points caught my eye and have prompted the following remarks.

Firstly, in your review of the United Artists’ Corporation film, “Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang”, you wonder why Ian Fleming chose that particular title—”stole” is, I think, the word you use! I was at the same prep. school as Ian Fleming. At the time, 1920-1921, he must have been about 12 years old and the writer about 8½. Even though this school was located in one of the remoter corners of Dorset, the name and details of this legendary car were common knowledge to us all. Don’t ask me why. The point is that it must have made a deep impression on Ian Fleming at that age since it was just the sort of thing that would appeal to him. Consequently I think it was natural that when he wrote this particular story for children and needed a car “character” that was larger than life he had only to dip into his childhood memories for exactly what he needed—or, perhaps, the legend of the car and its name were always there at the back of his mind waiting to be used, and that it was this which eventually prompted the story, whichever way round it may have been—of one thing I am certain, the germ of the idea was born in a very unusual preparatory school in the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset.

In your remarks on “Brooklands Records” last month you comment that “the 1½-litre single-seater Talbot has not been seen for many decades since Field ran it at Southport, nor have any of the 2-seater 16-valve Talbots survived”. I cannot add anything to your information on the single-seater, but I can give something of the history of one of the 1924 2-seater cars. These cars are seldom mentioned so perhaps the following may tempt some other reader to add to the slender stock of information about these very interesting and very successful cars and also throw some light on their ultimate fate.

During the winter of 1935-1936 one of these cars, less engine and gearbox, was advertised for sale in London by Guy Griffiths and I bought it. At the time there was no information as to the whereabouts of the remains of the engine or gearbox. I do, however, remember that Griffiths had for sale one of the 4-cylinder twin-cam 1½-litre Sunbeam boat engines which were said to be similar to the Talbot car engines. I inspected it, but my sole recollection now apart from the obvious difficulty of fitting a clutch were that the cylinder block was in fact steel plates welded round the cylinder barrels to form the water jacket and, what seemed to me then, the very large diameter of the valve springs. I mention this latter point because of your reference to 16 valves as I wonder whether eight valves of this dimension could have been fitted to each cam box of a 1924 vintage engine. Perhaps there was a difference between the Sunbeam and Talbot engines. One of the former, possibly the one I saw, is, I am told, in the possession of Cameron Millar. Could he perhaps be persuaded to clear up these points for us?

Unfortunately I do not remember the works number of the chassis I had acquired, but there was no doubt that it had belonged, as claimed, to Jack Field as most of the lower chassis parts were liberally coated with sand. It was a beautifully-made car. The body was the usual narrow 2-seater fashionable in the first half of the 1920s—obviously Fiat inspired. The mechanic reclined with his body likeways behind the driver’s seat. The chassis members followed the contours of the body. The springs were half-elliptic and heavily bound with cord. The front axle was in three separate parts, machined all over, bolted together and then polished. The rear springs were shackled to outriggers. There was no differential, but the rear track was an inch or so less than the front. Brakes were cable-operated and fitted with neat compensators and levers to effect adjustment when the car was in motion. Wheels were spoked Rudge Whitworth with the usual splined hubs and nuts. I do not recall the size.

The body panels and scuttle were alloy reinforced where necessary with ribbed formers. The bonnet was liberally louvred and at the rear, within the body, was a very large fuel tank held down by two metal retaining straps. It must have held 14 or more gallons. The filler had two permanently fitted tommy bars for opening. A lesson no doubt learnt from the 1923 Tours Grand Prix! The alloy dry sump tank for the engine oil formed the bottom of the cockpit and its heavily finned base was part of the undershield. The steering box was mounted on the right-hand chassis member in front of the bulkhead and the column had a four-spoked unsprung steering wheel of rather heavy construction bolted on the top. The rim was corded. I found the driver’s position to be very comfortable. There was no adjustment available so as I am five feet nine inches it was disappointing to realise that it was perhaps not Segrave’s car. The mechanic’s seat had to be experienced to be believed, and one’s respect for those intrepid men is immense. One curious feature I recall was the overflow pipe from the radiator header which was taken along the o/s of the body and terminated by the driver’s right elbow. Presumably when this ceased to scald him it was time to stop and attend to the cooling system.

After buying the car the provision of an engine and gearbox were obviously the first problems. As I had a blown Meadows engine and gearbox from a Hyper Lea-Francis available this was installed and it fitted quite easily—the only structural alteration was a slight shortening of the propeller shaft. I ran the car several times at V.S.C.C. events in 1936, but without success. The power from the Meadows engine was probably only a half of what the chassis had been used to previously. Nevertheless, it was all great fun. When I bought the car it was painted maroon, but we repainted it B.R.G. During this process we found plenty of evidence of other colours underneath reflecting the chameleon character of these very successful S.T.D. cars. I think that one can sum up the design of these cars and their mechanical details by saying that with certain exceptions (such as brake gear details and the rear axle) they were scaled down versions of the 1924 2-litre Grand Prix cars.

The autumn of 1936 brought a posting to the Far East so the car had to be sold. To do this it was necessary to move it to my parents’ home at Marlborough. One of my brothers offered to do the towing, but between Basingstoke and Newbury the towing arrangements finally expired, so there was nothing for it but to start up the Talbot. This I did with relish. As it was probably the only time I was likely to drive an open wheel, open exhaust racing car on the public road I intended to savour it to the full—and did—every yard. As the radio commentator says, “Of the days that were—those were the days”!

The car was sold to a gentleman in Yorkshire and I never heard of it again. I enclose a photo taken during the summer of 1936. I would be very interested to hear from any reader who can supplement this tiny excerpt from the history of these very fine old cars. For a start, what happened to the others?

Bath. J. R. Davenport.

Wing Commander (Retd.).