A section devoted to old-car matters
Where are they now?
This month, what with all the 50 m.p.h. crawling and coasting and thrift and gloom, I am going to project you back to a time when there were so many unwanted vintage and even veteran cars about which no-one felt any affection for that you could have picked them up for very small sums of money indeed—some were even given away. In the latter respect I have been the recipient of much generosity, in the guise for instance, of a 1911 two-cylinder Renault, a 1927 long-chassis Jowett two-seater and that 1922 8.h.p. Talbot-Darracq with quite an interesting history which is now almost fully-restored.
In the happy days just before the Second World War and those grim years of the war itself there were old cars all over the place, for the asking. There was much less known about them then, of course, although both the VCC (formed in 1930) and the VSCC (born in 1934) were flourishing. Those fascinating issues of MOTOR SPORT which came out monthly in spite of Hitler’s fanatical, hysterical efforts, with keen readers helping me produce it, did a great deal to put motoring history into clear perspective and foster the since-ever-expanding interest in such mechanical examples of it as remained.
Nevertheless, interesting old vehicles were then, as the saying goes, two-a-penny and there were real pennies to spend in those days! Indeed, there were so many unwanted cars about that vve could afford to be casual about them. What I mean is, you could pick up something like a 3-litre Bentley, a 12/50 Alvis or an Austin Seven Chummy, discover that it didn’t meet your requirements or that it needed too much work done on it to keep it running, and you would pass it on without a qualm, because almost literally round the next corner, in the next barn, or in the forecourt of the next garage you passed, there would be another, to replace the scrapped one. Happy days indeed! I had a series of quite serviceable 12/50 and 12/60 and 14/75 Alvis cars on this basis, paying I think £12 10s. for a 12/50 coupe and a fiver for a 1924 duck’s-back 12/40-12/50 hybrid, and I believe I was given a 1926 beetle-back. I even discarded an original Gwynne Eight four-seater in the deserted forecourt of a Thornton Heath garage during the war, because it had disgraced itself among a concourse of virile Austin Sevens at a 750 MG hill-climbing frolic. It had some excuse, because in the war years it had been run by a previous owner on paraffin and its bores were a bit suspect—I was dunned for the garaging fee for some months afterwards but never saw this little car again. So where are they now, these unloved cars which we encountered almost daily then, but which are now, I am told, “collectors’ pieces” ? Let us look back and see what was about, thirty and more years ago. No doubt I should know the answers to where some of my discoveries are today, but if my memory has faltered, I am sure the present owners of any cars recognised will write to MOTOR SPORT and tell me.
This matter of “Where are they ?” has always fascinated me. As long ago as 1925 the late W. F. Bradley had a most absorbing piece in The Autocar (it came out regularly every week then, as it continued to do throughout the war) which posed the intriguing question: “Where Do Old Racing Cars Go?” Whether or not this prompted that great veteran-car writer, E. K. H. Karslake, to pose a similar question in MOTOR SPORT five years afterwards, his memorable article leading him to compile those never-to-be-forgotten “Veteran Types” series, I do not know. From such activity sprung the existing stupendous interest in the older vehicles of all kinds and, alas, the advent of commercialism and speculation.
Never mind! Let’s see what was about when I first became aware of the old-car way of life…. In 1937-38, when I was looking for an inexpensive and amusing form of motoring, I was told of a First-War Briton light-car available in the North of England for about 50/- and I refused a very nice Panhard-Levassor tourer which could have been bought in Bromley, Kent, for £10, as being too thirsty. In the same town a twin-cylinder Swift cyclecar was to be had for a fiver, but this I thought impractical for everyday use, although it was probably an Edwardian. A really beautiful 1925 Humber in mint condition, as the dealers would now say, was offered to me for a mere £3, also in Bromley, but I turned it down as it looked a big car, costly to tax and run.
What I did fall for was a red ABC fourseater with the later, sports twin-Zenith engine, found in a breaker’s yard at Walton on-Thames. It was offered for a fiver, after the wheels had been equipped with a set of inflated b.e. tyres. In my excitement I gave the man six one-pound notes and departed in triumph on someone’s borrowed Tradeplates—but not for very far, as the engine promptly stopped. That first-ever personallyowned car lasted rather less than a week before a con-rod ventilated the crankcase when a friend and I were on our way to a BOC Prescott hill-climb, and it had to be abandoned in the village of Stokenchurch. I believe the car is known today to the ABC Register but presumably not with its original flat-twin engine, because I sold what was left of this to a Cambridge Undergraduate, delivering it in my ageing Austin Seven Mulliner coupe. There was a fraught moment when the propped-up power-unit fell out through the passenger’s door of the Austin while I was rounding Hyde Park Corner. That was but one of several extraordinary adventures this ABC forced upon me, but the Police were very tolerant, in those days. . . .
I wonder whether this Mulliner Austin is on the Register of such cars, today? I cannot recall its Reg. No. but it had had a later four-speed engine-unit installed before I disposed of it. The ABC was replaced by a 1922 overhead-camshaft Rhode, alleged to have a 1924 engine and close-ratio gearbox from the car used by Moss-Blundell in contemporary trials. It was pretty decrepit when purchased, in Dudley, Worcs., for £6 10s, and I have no idea what became of it. The Reg. No. was NX 2836 and in spite of its frequent discarding of its valve rockers, I remember driving it to the MOTOR SPORT offices in the City from South London at a time when the starter was inoperative and the starting handle had been lost. In those peaceful days you could park in any side road without being molested by “Graham Hill’s girls” and any sporting passer-by would willingly give you the requested push-start—but I recall that the point-duty Policeman at the Bank got a bit concerned about the smoke-screen the ancient Rhode was laying. . . Incidentally, I see that I bought third-party insurance for the ABC, as a novice driver of a back-braked vintage car, for £6 9s, per annum, and that after I had gained a year’s experience, this fell to less than £4 for an almost-equally-aged Austin Seven, and that spares for the Rhode were still available, from H. B. Denley, who had also driven this make of car in trials. The breaker from whom I bought my ABC all those long years ago is still in existence, at very much more imposing premises, with a one-man helicopter as an attraction, not far from Sunbury. At the time of the ABC transaxtion he also had a partially-wrecked Seabrook and a small Fiat with a sports 2-seater body, which I assume did not survive the war.
In 1938 there was a breaker in Cornwall who would have sold you a 14/40 MG for £8 and a Morgan 3-wheeler, taxed, for £6 and a GN was being sought by Naval ratings in that area. There was a 12/40 Alvis going for £15 at this time and I just missed buying a Hampton coupe for a fiver. It was being used by the Secretary of a golf-club in Gloucestershire before I located it and may be the one which is in Weybridge now ? The garage where it had been languishing offered a slotted Blackburn Bluebird light aeroplane with full C of A for £150, as an alternative purchase, which I certainly couldn’t afford, or fly. In 1938 Rice Bros. of Horsham possessed a Rover dated as 1908. What happened to that I wonder ? Not far away a GWK and a small Sizaire-Berwick had gone into a scrap yard, but the drummer in a dance-band was getting good service from an oil-cooled flat-twin Belsize-Bradshaw, an eight-cylinder ignition distributor with six of its contacts blanked-off being used in lieu of a magneto. A yard near Truro contained two Salmsons, the price for the pair of them £19, and a Grand Sport Amilcar, less its dynamo, was available for £9. I hope all three are still extant. The 7/12 Peugeot coupe and a Bebe Peugeot I found in a Surrey breaker’s yard before the war may, possibly, be the one still seen recently in Weybridge, and the car restored by Ronald Barker, respectively—if not, I expect the owners will advise me.
I could list a great many more such “finds”, but it is perhaps pretty futile, because I suppose most of them became casualties of the war-time scrap-metal drive. On the East Coast, as the outbreak of hostilities drew close, we encountered a T-head Austin and a big Renault, both landaulettes, the former having been recently in use, maybe as a taxi, and a Type R4, Series 10 Delage of 11 h.p. I had bought an almost exactly-similar Delage in Sussex and so I invested in this second one as a source of Spares. War broke out before I could collect it. I wonder whether someone else snapped it up, in time to save it ? The other 1913 Delage I had to dispose of when moving about during the war and Peter Hampton relieved me of it, the petrol-saving arrangement being that I should leave it in the car-park of a London cinema for him to collect. I never saw it again, but it must now he restored and in good hands. The Renault I mentioned as having been given, at the beginning of this discourse, I also had to let go during the war. But happily I encountered it again last year, at the VSCC Madresfield Driving Tests. I recall that when shifting it from Essex to Hampshire at the beginning of the war-time black-out, using my 12/50 Alvis coupe as tow-car, there was a funny episode. A fellow enthusiast, I rather think Pole, who had raced the aero-engined Mercedes at Brooklands, saw from the top of a trolley-bus this remarkable and dubious cavalcade moving through Isleworth and, without having time to explain to his wife, he rushed down the steps and into the road to converse with us, leaving his spouse to be wafted quickly and quietly away. . .
During the war, as I have hinted, I had a succession of Alvis cars, costing usually around £15 or less; and I hope they have all survived. Before that I was told by the friend who helped to keep me mobile that I must forget comic cars and go in for Austin Sevens. In self-defense, I did just that. I wish I could recall all those I owned, from the first, very queer-looking silver-hued Special and the Mulliner, through others, including a two-seater of never-identified body-make, until I used daily after the war a 1934 saloon which had no interest for anyone, as being anything out of the ordinary, even in the 1950s.
Thinking of 12/50s, I wonder what happened to the tourer with which a certain Mr. H. Whiteside entrusted me briefly, after he had driven it down from Hull to London so that he could go to the French GP of 1939? At about this period there was also a very effective Rover Ten Special built by R. E. Richards, which I tried for MOTOR SPORT. I suppose it has been gone these long years? But it is good to know that Peter Hampton has the 5-litre chain-drive Bugatti “Black Bess” which I tracked down to a shed in Derby before the war and whose history I unravelled, so that Col. Giles of the BOC decided to buy it. These were the sort of bargains you could pick up in the vintage-car field then, when a sound Ford V8 30 was to be had for around the proverbial fiver.
No doubt the war accounted for most of them. although I have often wondered whether a biggish 1907 Singer estate-car we saw during the war outside a garage on the lower road to Guildford from Farnham, which we could have bought for £7, was ever scooped up and restored? Why didn’t we keen chaps have it? Because it had but one 880 x 120 tyre and was thought to be a damned sight too expensive, with three such tyres to find for it!
I confess to being slow when, led to a 4-litre de Dietrich with touring body which local children were gradually picking to pieces after it had been towed out of the Guinness estate in Surrey, I dismissed it as rather dull Edwardian, not realising that it was, in fact a sporting veteran. Fortunately, Francis Hutton-Stott knew better and moved in beating the metal-merchants tow-away truck. Wild horses will not drag from me the probable present whereabouts, in this country or abroad, of one or more Leyland Eights. But I imagine that the war-time scrap-drive accounted for the two chassis and a tourer sans engine, of this breed, which were at Thomson & Taylor’s Brooklands premises just before the war? At the beginning of the war Whale’s racing single-seater Calthorpe and its Meadows 4ED engine were definitely in a loft in Camden Town. They disappeared most mysteriously and have never been seen since, and a pre-1914 racing Hillman, said to be languishing in Boroughbridge, proved equally elusive. A breaker’s heavy hammer definitely wrote off No. 2 Leyland Thomas and the racing Lanchester Forty single-Seater, just before a postcard from Dudley Gahagen sent me hastening to Eastbourne as fast as an Austin Seven would motor, intent on saving them. Less upsetting, I just missed a Cluley light-car, in much the same way, hut was able to save the chassis of one many years later.
Will any more historic cars, racing cars for instance, continue to be found? It seems unlikely, until you reflect that not so long ago Philip Mann discovered the 1914 GP-winning Mercedes, disguised with a touring-car body, that Owen Wyn-Owen dug up “Balls”, and that Bill Lake realised a few years back that a touring Mors in America was, in reality, one of the 1902 Paris-Vienna racers. I have an idea that a vast rotary-valve Itala may be hidden in Scotland, as those enormous De Dietrich were in London up to a few years .ago, and that one day a vintage racing Austro-Daimler may turn up, apart from those missing aero-engined monsters I quoted in the December 1973 issue. You never know! Alas, if such exciting things do again see the light, the price put on them will almost certainly be prohibitive. Another car I was very generously given, after the war, was the ex-Forrest Lycett 1913 Alfonso Hispano-Suiza. This gave me much fun, until engine, gearbox and body began to fall apart. I was prevailed upon to cut my repair-costs by selling it to a wealthy private restorer for the perfectly fair price of £100. Some fifteen or twenty years later, following his death, his collection was auctioned. The Hispano-Suiza, as sad as when I had disposed of it, fetched well over £5,000. Times had changed, and now we are a very long way from the days I have been recalling, days, like the cars that were so frequently scrapped, which will never return. By the way, where is “my” Hispano, now ?
V-E-V Miscellany—If anyone needs sidecurtains made or restored (not hoods). we know of a Herefordshire garage who can undertake this work. Cylinder head and other gaskets for vintage and similar cars are still made very carefully at the “Lion” works of James Walker & Co. Ltd., of Woking, Surrey (ask for Mr. Gibbs). The Hispano-Suiza Club is active, having had its film-show and buffet-dinner at Selfridge’s last month, and continuing to publish its duplicated Newsletter. The VSCC hopes that its Driving Tests at Donington Park on February 9th will be possible. Its Frazer Nash Section has published a truly excellent account of last year’s Alpine Raid, in its own Chain Gang Gazette. Adam McGregor Dick has presented his 1905 three-cylinder Rolls-Royce, the only one of its kind in existence, to the Royal Scottish Automobile Club, on Condition that it does not leave Scotland and that it is licensed for at least part of a year and entered for suitable rallies—so much nicer than interment in a museum! The Talbot-Simmins referred to in these columns recently was first registered in 1925 and has an 8/18 engine and chassis with a 10/23 Talbot back axle and brakes and it originally had an airship-tailed body. The Rolls-Royce EC has its excellent, printed Bulletin out every month, last Noverriber’s issue containing the Alpine Rally results (Top car—F. Watson’s 1913 Alpine Eagles and extracts from the Royce Papers which show Sir Henry Royce to have designed a single-sleeve-valve engine before Burt McCullum. The Historic Commercial VC has perhaps the most complete, duplicated Newsletter of any club. A reader in Essex is restoring a circa 1920 Garford 36 cwt. truck which has a four-cylinder engine with castiron pistons. It was saved from a scrapyard where it had lain from about 1932 until last year and so requires a great deal of work. Literature and photographs are urgently required to assist in this restoration.