Veteran-Edwardian-vintage, February 1971

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A section devoted to old-car matters

A belated book review

There came into our hands the other day a most interesting, and amusing little book, “The Motor Car—Its Nature, Use and Management” by Sir Henry Thompson, published by Frederick Warne in 1902.

The author, who confessed to being past his 80th year before his first motor-car drive and expressed the hope that he would yet “live a year or two longer to enjoy the same pleasure and profit as I have already derived from the practice”, had become the possessor of a 6 1/2h.p. Daimler “with tonneau body, driven by petrol, ignited by electricity”. It is amusing to find this described as a modern car in 1902. It had, we are told, “two side levers for regulating speeds, and backwards and forwards motion, also three brakes… together with a sprag”.

Sir Henry obtained the services of an “efficient and practised” driver, and describes a period of nine or ten weeks spent driving from his headquarters in Boxmoor, in the adjoining counties of Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire. The Daimler, which is illustrated in the frontispiece picture, was apparently used every day, except on three when thundery showers prevented its use—those golden days of long ago! The car’s owner, while enjoying “beautiful scenery, in fine, pure air, at the rate of 15 or 16 m.p.h.”, is concerned about the effect cars have on horses. Much of his book is devoted to advocating gentle treatment of the animals, and leading them quietly past the new-fangled autocars. To this end he reproduces his own letters, other correspondence and a Leader, from The Times of 1901, on the subject.

This is remarkably interesting, and the references to and opinions about the law and the motorist are apt by 1971 standards. For instance, after Sir Edmund Monson, the British Ambassador to the Court of France, had written describing the reckless driving in Houlgate, a French seaside town, and outside Paris, at speeds of at least 40 k.p.h., The Times took the side of the motorist. In a Leader of 6/9/01 it observed that, like it or not, the motor car had come to stay (“when it is in its turn displaced and we all navigate by air, the laudator temporis acti will still be with us !”), and instead of imposing speed limits, it would be more sensible to control reckless driving.

The Times of 70 years ago very sensibly commented that it might have been as well, perhaps, if the law had been content to apply the broad principle of driving so as not to endanger life or limb, without attempting to fix any specific limit of speed. “What”, said this great newspaper, “would be furious driving in a narrow and crowded thoroughlare like Cheapside need not, and in default of specific statutory restriction obviously would not, be furious driving on a broad highway unencumbered by other traffic. Five miles an hour might be excessive in Cheapside, fifty miles an hour need not be excessive on Salisbury Plain”. Sage observations, remarkable in an age when the legal limit was 12 m.p.h.

Sir Henry Thompson, writing from Wimpole Street, enforced these views to the utmost, explaining that the top speed of a car could not be set at 12 m.p.h. because then it would have to be pushed up hills, but being careful to show how he regulated his Daimler’s pace in accordance with safety and what good brakes it possessed—although he advocates coasting, in silence, down hills. He added that the motor car is governed by an autocrat (one brain); a carriage and horses by a president and committee of often uncongenial individuals (several brains, the coachman’s and the horses’!’. He set 20 m.p.h. as safe on any good straight turnpike road, when one can see; ahead for 1/3 to 1/2-a-mile and he compared his own mile in 3 1/2 to 4 minutes with that of horses and fast ponies driven at 15 and 16 m.p.h. and American hickory-built large-wheeled trotting outfits doing a mile in 2 1/4 minutes, with no speed limit imposed on them. He quotes his Daimler motor as geared for 4, 8, 12 and 16; “The 16 gear, by using the accelerator, can be augmented to 20 m.p.h. or a little more”. But the author, after confessing an earlier lack of knowledge of technical terms in one of his Times letters (and throughout his book he refers to his car’s “engines”, in the plural), says he was content with 15 m.p.h., giving him, with that downhill coasting, and “using No. 4 for the steepest hills, an average of about 12 m.p.h.”. An example was a run from Hemel Hempstead to Bedford, and back, 70 miles, in about 5 1/2 hours. As to car occupants’ goggles frightening horses, Sir Henry only wore them when dust and small flies were prevalent and then “faintly neutral-tinted glasses with narrow, pale, coffee-coloured surroundings”, to which, presumably, the noble animals took no offence! He expressed the opinion that racing “can never be permitted to take place on the public roads of this country”, and spoke of 12 or 16 h.p, cars as “powerful”. He suggested that, if caught in a speed trap, a motorist should defend himself (“take no lawyer; the question is not one of Law, but of Fact”) on the grounds that the Police all use cheap watches and that proper speed timing, whether of man, horse, motor or cycle race, can only be done with expensive time-pieces!

It is interesting to discover that The Spectator of 1901 was as well disposed towards cars as The Times but it advocated certificates for competent drivers, as advocated by “M. Fournier, a high authority in France”.

There follows descriptions of petrol, electric and steam cars, from which we glean that in 1901 an accelerator was a ratcheted hand-lever which, moved upwards, increased engine speed from the usual 720 r.p.m. to 800 or 900 r.p.m. or more. Light, handy American steam motors are mentioned as being seen “occasionally passing through Hyde Park, and sometimes driven by ladies”. There is a fine paragraph which explains how a motor’s wide wheels leave road surfaces in an improved condition—”What excellent roads the country would possess” if all vehicles were automobiles. This aged author writes of the joys of motoring, of its health-promoting properties (but take a short walk every 70 or 80 miles), of the interesting things seen from a car (like thistles about to spoil valuable crops in otherwise well-cultivated land), but warns: “…the owner of a motor car however good, must be prepared to meet with the occasional occurrence of little defects and mishaps which require it to be sent for a day or two to the maker. A motor is a machine so very much more complicated than an ordinary carriage, that he must not he surprised at this. And, as highly skilled labour is required for the purpose, this is, of course, more costly than that employed for all ordinary repairs by any coachmaker.”

Happy, distant days, when the tax on a car of less than one ton was £2 2s. a year and it was felt that if motors had to carry registration plates this practice “must be applied to all carriages without distinction. —W.B.

The Riley CC of New Zealand

The duplicated journal of the above Club reminds us in some ways of earlier Bulletins of our VSCC. Although the Club caters for postwar Rileys down to the 1 1/2-litre and 2 1/2-litre models, at least one of its members appears to have a proper appreciation of where the vintage division should be drawn and the purpose of “p.v.t.”, we take the liberty of quoting some of his remarks on this controversial topic:—

“Personally, if anybody were to confront me with such a device as a Ford Popular, Triumph Mayflower, Vauxhall Wyvern (or its predecessor, with Knee-Action, yes!), 1 1/2-litre Jaguar, Opel, or Standard Vanguard, and expected me to enthuse over it, I should probably say something Very Rude about the state of vintage cars today. Also, it is very hard for me to convince myself that a particular variety is worth preserving, when virtually identical models are still being made; designs for the Masses by Sir Alec and Dr. Ferdinand spring to mind.

“The first of the Vintage, as opposed to the Veteran, clubs certainly was the VSCC in England, which was formed in 1935 to provide amusement for the owners of sports cars only five years old at that time. It must be remembered that at that time cars were apt to depreciate very quickly, and desirable cars could be bought for little more than it cost to insure them for one year, and there was not much spare cash to be found. That was the first intention, and then it was said that because cars generally changed around the time of the Depression, the year of 1930 should be retained in place of an automatic advancement of the age. This is quite true—many cars did change a great deal around that time, usually for the worse. A vintage Austin 7 has a certain charm about it, but its liter Ruby saloon counterpart has not, a Vauxhall J owes nothing to the 30/98, and the later Wolseley Hornet saloons are positively dangerous. Certain makes did not change greatly at the start of the ‘thirties (Rileys are important to us in this category) and such cars are worth a special commendation as worthy Post-Vintage Things.

“It is probable that at least one example of each of the uninspired dreary pieces of machinery should be preserved, if only as a horrible example, but they should not be forced on those who belong to a club for the preservation of Vintage (and therefore usually desirable) cars, or perhaps I should go and invest in a Mark I Consul, because it will be worth a lot of money one day?”

The Club’s magazine also reflects some of the jollity, “don’t let’s be too serious” of the original VSCC Bulletins and ably defends the true Riley image, as the following extracts show:—

Grateful Thanks Dept.

To General Motors, for naming their new automatic gearbox for the smaller Holden engines the “Trumatic”. It just begs to be called the “traumatic”, and is thus perfectly in character with most of Holden’s past offerings.
To The Chrysler Corporation, for inventing the “heni-head” for use on their Violent. With the aid of proper gas flow, this large six-cylinder engine produces a power figure a whole nine per cent over the Riley Pathfinder’s figure of fifteen years ago, and eleven per cent over the original 1937 application of the 16/4 Riley engine. Of course, the sceptic could point out that the SAE figure is always about ten per cent optimistic, so where does that leave us?
To The Ford Motor Company, rather belatedly, for inventing the cross-flow cylinder head for family-car applications. Percy Riley would be thrilled, as no doubt would M. Ernest Henry and his Collaborators in the &Sign of the l’eugeot twin-overhead-camshaft engine in 1912.

V-E-V Miscellany.—A 1912 TJ 12/60 Alvis saloon was unearthed recently from a Weybridge builder’s yard, where it had lain under a heap of rubbish, reports the 12/50 Alvis Register Circular, The Sunbeam STD Register is holding another Talbot Rally this year, but not in London, is revising its Wolverhampton reunion arrangements, with a possibility of looking over the old Sunbeam Moorfield Road factory, and has a special Sunbeam Jubilee Parade at a VSCC Silverstone Race Meeting. The Frazer Nash Section of the VSCC is going ahead with its Nurburgring Raid, as a sequel to its successful invasion of Bolzano last year. It takes place from September 6th-9th and over 30 chain-drive Frazer Nashes have already been entered, including three Nurburg models, one from America, while the helpers include Paul Frere, Huschke von Hanstein, H. J. Aldington and D.S.J.

Ron Barker has acquired a 3.3-litre Model-A Ford with which he hopes to become a Presteigne basher-on this year, in the VSCC’s Welsh Trial. A mid-1930s Hawker Hind biplane has been recovered from Kabul and presented to the Shuttleworth Trust for restoration. It was brought the 12,000 miles home on a Ford DT 1500 truck, accompanied by a Ford R226 coach, after many adventures, the recovery operation being mounted by Ford of Britain.

The owner of a s/c Ulster Austin 7, Reg. No. JR 3668, Chassis 128927, formerly raced by C. D. Parrish, wishes to trace its past history. The Martinsyde Anniversaries gathering at Brooklands last July raised £100 for the “Save The Children Fund” and “Help For The Aged.” Doug Bianchi is planning a replica 1918 Martinsyde F4 fighter and seeks data. Following news of an as-new 1933 Morris Ten which turned up recently in Scotland, news comes from Australia of a 1924 Wanderer which has run only 82.6 miles since new. A tourer with two doors, both on the o/s, and an exhaust cut-out, it was apparently imported with eleven others by Wagner Bros. but anti-German feeling in those days killed sales and these Wanderers were dismantled. A few years ago this one was bought and assembled but the new owner changed his job and sold it using it for five-miles. The next owner used it for 70 miles before selling it to the trade in Melbourne, where it was used for another 12.6 miles before coming on the market. The only part missing is the radiator cap, replaced by a pickle-bottle top. The book “Doble Steam Cars, Buses, Lorries and Railcars” by J. N. Walton is available in a second edition, not much altered it seems from the 1965 edition, for £3 post free, from Light Steam Power, Kirk Michael, loM. The ABC Register expects to hold another rally, probably late in August.

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