Veteran Edwardian Vintage, February 1975

A section devoted to old-car maters

Having amassed a fine collection of vintage motor-cars since he gave up rallying, Bill Meredith Owens needed somewhere to house them, so he decided to start a Motor Museum, which was declared open last year by Raymond Baxter of the BBC. It is situated in Shakespeare Street, Stratford-on-Avon, and is thus very well-placed to attract the world’s tourists. The building in which the exhibits are housed is an old Methodist Church, which had become a tyre store. Meredith Owens had to find the tyre business new premises before he could buy the Church and convert it, at considerable expense, into a setting appropriate to the elegant cars he wished to display. It is lit by natural light from windows in the beamed roof, but has underfloor electric heating and chain partitioning to divide off the exhibits.

The Museum is not a large one but it specialises in the bigger, more exotic vintage cars, which fit in well with the Stratford background, just as Tom Wheatcroft’s racing cars are appropriate to Donington and Lord Montagu’s wider-ranging exhibits, portraying all facets of motoring history, typify Beaulieu. The building at Stratford is well-suited to the purpose for which it is now used, as there is a wide door for moving cars in and out and it is approached without going through the centre of the town, There is no car-park, but the Museum is within short walking-distance of public car-parking facilities. It is open every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., including Sundays, and is entered through a gift-shop. Admission is 50p per adult, 25p for a child, and it is close to the Shakespeare Centre, so easily located.

To obtain cars for the collection Meredith Owens travelled frequently to India. The story of the difficulties he encountered over three years, before his first Rolls-Royce could be bought, makes very good hearing, especially when told in his own amusing style! Thus one of the premier attractions is a 1934 Rolls-Royce P11 Thrupp & Maberly torpedo cabriolet supplied originally to His Royal Highness Thakore Saheb Bahadur, Maharajah of Rajket, to replace his 1908 Ghost. It is finished in saffron paintwork, with polished aluminium mudguards and bonnet, and displays the Maharajah’s crests. The engine has the rare high-lift camshaft and as well as windscreen-level searchlights there are twin spot-lamps which swivel with the front wheels. The upholstery is in brown hide, of which only that on the back seat required replacing.

Almost as impressive is the 1926 Rolls Royce P1 tourer which was found standing abandoned at the Palace of His Excellency Nawab Wali-ud Dovvla Bahadur, Prime Minister of Hyderabad. It is an open Barker tourer, this time all in polished aluminium, including the mudguards. It was used on State occasions by HM King Edward VIII, the Viceroy of India, and other distinguished persons, until the Partition of India in 1948. To complete the R-R exhibits there is that famous 1927 P1 Barker sports-tourer, EX 10, the experimental prototype from which three production CJ sports models were developed, one of which is also now in India, it is said. EX10 disappeared in 1931 after an illustrious career but was discovered in 1948, not in India but in Meriden, on a used-car lot! It has been completely refurbished. Finally, there is a Barker tourer on a 1922 Twenty chassis, the 20th built, a car originally ordered by the Maharajah of Udaipur but now owned by John Fasal, who found it in the Temple of Nathdwara in 1967 and has restored it magnificently.

Rivalling the most exotic of the Museum’s Rolls-Royces is the 1929 short-chassis 37.2h.p. Hispano-Suiza which was a wedding present to the son of the Maharajah of Alwar. It has a Kellner cabriolet-roadster (or coupe) body, the low-rake steering column, and enormous extensible spot-lights used during panther-hunting expeditions. These lamps necessitate a separate 24-volt dynamo, driven by belt from the prop-shaft. Although it had run only 11,000 miles since new the car was in a very poor state when discovered, and took six years to dismantle and restore, including fitting a new cylinder block. With warning boll, lined mudguards, triple bumpers and disc wheels, this is an impressively flamboyant car, its dashboard, as usual on this make, well stocked with instruments, including a Nivex fuel-gauge and a gradient-meter. Meredith Owens believes in taking his cars on rallies and long journeys and I was allowed to drive the Hispano Suiza, finding its steering light, the clutch a little fierce, the servo brakes reassuring, and the engine extremely docile in top gear, while the gear change was crunch-proof but apt to baulk if hurried unduly from 1st into 2nd. The steering wheel has an unusually thick rim, apparently specified by the Maharajah.

Another very fine exhibit is the 1929 38/250 Mercedes-Benz SS with Mercedes’ own touring body, the sedate lines of which contrast with the car’s performance potential. This was Lord Cholmondeley’s property until sold in 1939 to an Indian Maharajah. His Lordship’s wife still recalls how he disliked her driving him in it at 100 m.p.h. Meredith Owens found this Mercedes in a shed in Bombay, where it was languishing after a mileage of only 20,000.

On loan when I was shown round the Museum by Meredith Owens and the Museum’s Consultant, A. F. Rivers-Fletcher, were Anthony Bamford’s 1½-litre GP Delage, Gordon Chapman’s E-type ERA and his ex Philip Scragg Lister-Jaguar, the latter restored to single-seater form as it was when Jack Fairman drove it in the Monza banked circuit race, A. B. Price’s Type 57SC Bugatti Atlantic coupe, and Brian Morgan’s splendid rebuild of a Speed Six Bentley Vanden Plas fabric tourer, the last-named rather surprisingly with the cambox and cover in matt black finish. Then there was a 2½-litre SS100 two-seater in immaculate order, Rivers-Fletcher’s replica of the Birkin Speed-20 Alvis, on a Speed-25 chassis, (its owner uses a Ford Capri in the winter), the 1965 Rover BRM gas-turbine Le Mans car, L. Goff’s as new 1935 N-type MG Magnette, Ian Preston’s Type 35B GP Bugatti, the same owner’s Type 50 Bugatti d.h. coupé, and Mike Rashauge’s “bitsa” Brescia Bugatti. Other exhibits, temporarily absent, will include a “baby” Railton d.h. coupe and the ex C. A. N. May JAP-engined Cooper-500, now raced by Peter Rivers-Fletcher, who has discovered something that troubled everyone who drove these cars, namely, how to obviate the possibility of missing the change into third gear when driving in anger—and a very simple cure it is, too!

These were the main attractions of this compact but pleasing Stratford display. They were backed up by the Jonathan Hartley 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, found in Australia and now with a Wilkinson replica body, a Singer Le Mans four-seater, a 1906 single-cylinder Rover belonging to British Leyland, a Ruby Austin 7, and a number of motorcycles which include early Sunbeams, an ABC, a Ner-a-Car, a vee-twin Brough Superior, a Harley-Davidson and an Indian. Some of these are shown in a period garage complete with enormous lifting-jack, tools, and ancient lamps and advertising plaques, many of which Meredith Owens acquired from an old garage in Wrexham, where they even made their own brand of batteries. Other items that caught my eye included a big model of a 1948 Lea-Francis saloon, and one of those pedal-cars made by Austin Motors’ disabled employees after the war and intended to represent the twin-cam racer. A side attraction is the replica Halford’s shop of the vintage days, borrowed from the Castrol Extravaganza (the delectable accessories in the windows are cardboard dummies, though), while outside the Museum are an early farm tractor and a V12 Liberty aero engine.

The exhibits will be changed from time to time and when you have done the current Shakespeare play and seen Anne Hathaway’s cottage (or perhaps before!) you should bear in mind the delights of the Stratford-on-Avon Motor Museum.—W.B.

V-E-V Miscellany.—The threat of a 50 m.p.h. speed limit seems to have encouraged restorers of the more staid old cars. A reader in Oxfordshire, who is rebuilding a 1932 Austin 16/6, has unearthed three miles from his house a 1927 Morris-Oxford that went to ground in 1946 and which has lost its rear end to a truck. But it is still reasonably complete and information is sought about these 13.9-h.p. saloon-landaulettes to help in its reclamation, and from Huntingdonshire comes news of a second-owner 1931 Morris-Cowley bought five years ago, in good order except for its upholstery. Will the reader who was enquiring about the present whereabouts of his Humber TX 4702 please get in touch with us, as his address has been mislaid and we have news that it is in Sweden. The Sunbeam referred to recently as being in a Gloucestershire breaker’s yard turns out to be a Dawn, which should yield some useful spares to owners of these cars. A reader in Leicestershire has some Wolseley Hornet spares which are for disposal if not already snapped up by the Wolseley Hornet OC. Letters can be forwarded.

Arising from the article we published in December about the TT FWD Alvis cars, Lt. Roper has sent a letter to the author recalling the FWD Alvis he raced and saying, in passing, that he frequently indulged in the pursuit of spinning the car round and round about the axis between the back wheels, as mentioned :n the article. Unfortunately an incorrect photograph was used with Ton-ens’ article, so that the one showing both engine number and Scrutineers’ stamp did not appear. Also, the casting-mark on the block reads 0-3.28, not 6.3.28 as printed. John Oldham, spurred on by she “White Elephant” article concerning Johnny Thomas’ 35-h.p. sleeve-valve Daimler, recalls that the Minerva had about the best-looking and cleanest-design of Knight engine and that the worst sleeve valve engines for smoking were the Burt MacCullom single-sleeve power units in the 25/70 Vauxhalls, those used as taxis in Bournemouth in the early 1930s emitting not blue but white exhaust smoke. But he recalls that the 17/50 Arrol-Asters were even worse, which not only emitted white smoke but dripped black oil out of the pipe when standing. He says the 35/120 Daimlers were used by the Sydney Flying Squad in Australia from 1927-1932 for chasing the current American cars used by criminals and that he remembers how well a Royal Blue coach With one of these Daimler engines was going, on the Exeter-Bournemouth route when his mother’s Series-E straight-eight Hupmobile with Victor Broom coachwork had difficulty in passing this fully-laden coach which was cruising at 50 to 60 m.p.h., until it dropped to about 30 m.p.h. on the hill between Dorchester and Poole. Moreover, it made very little smoke, save for a burst every now and again after climbing hard and then easing off, which Oldham has noticed with most big engines, including PI and P 1 1 Rolls-Royce. Incidentally, his family had five Hupmobiles, on the recommendation of Alan Chorlton, the Beardmore Chief Designer, who was a friend of his mother’s. She disliked the boxy bodies and velvet upholstery of the American models and so specified Victor Broom coachwork.

Whose De Dion Bouton was it that figured in the BBC film about Lady Randolph Churchill? In the photograph of a group of early motor vehicles gathered near Swansea, which we published last month and which was sent to us by Mr. Paul H. W. Flooke of Penarth, this was a meeting of the Swansea MC at Pont-nedd-fachen cricket ground, in 1904/5, the two people on the extreme right being Mr. Flooke’s Grandmother, Jack Thomas of Skewen and his Grandmother’s brother, Ernest Courtnay Trott, their machine a Chater-Lea tricar with Italian engine, of which the rear reflectors survive. Mr. Flooke’s Grandparents owned CY 5 for a time.