Veteran - Edwardian - Vintage, February 1976

A section devoted to old-car matters

Still More About Mercedes

A few controversial points have arisen from the article “More About Mercedes” in our issue of last December. It might have seemed that pure benzole fuel would not have been permitted at Le Mans in 1930 in the days when this race was for sports-cars much closer to those you could buy than is the case today. In fact, this was one of the permitted fuels, supplied by the organisers, and is what the blower-4 1/2 Bentleys ran on in the 1930 event. We described the Mercedes-Benz that retired in that race as a 36/220SS; in fact, it had the slightly larger 7.1-litre engine but four-seater bodywork, so it was strictly a 38/250-engined 36/220.

On the subject of mistaken identity, there is a rather unfortunate error in “Full Throttle”, the much-discussed book by Sir Henry Birkin, Bt., uncorrected in the re-published edition of 1972. Describing his duel with Caracciola at Phoenix Park in 1930, Birkin (or his ghost) wrote: “I put my foot down for all I was worth; but it was of no avail. We raced towards the grand stand; I saw the white bonnet with its silver star, and then Caracciola himself, staring ahead in his white peaked cap, so close in the Mercedes! left-hand drive that I could almost have touched him. For a Second or two we were level, and then he was past, heading for Mountjoy corner, his spray flying up around my eyes”. Unfortunate, because these works competition Mercedes-Benz did not wear the famous star mascot on their radiator filler-caps (one assumes Birkin meant that mascot, because neither did they have stars on their bonnets).

Why the classic mascot wasn’t carried on those auspicious occasions makes a nice subject for speculation. It could hardly have been left off to reduce wind drag, or to improve vision; or could it ? More liktly this was a safety precaution, in case such mascots came adrift, or even more probable, perhaps, that had water been needed during a pit-stop the big mascot might have impeded quick removal and replacement of the filler-cap.—W.B.

Cordon Rouge

We have become accustomed to those enjoyable Gordon Rouge Prescott speed hill-climbs and to seeing this excellent champagne presented to successful drivers at this and other meetings. Raymond Mays is quoted as having instituted this happy association between motor racing and the great champagne firm of De Munun, by asking them for permission to call his famous 1924 Brescia Bugatti “Cordon Rouge” and being given some cases of this champagne with their official approval. However, if a well-known writer is to be believed, this linking of Cordon Rouge with motor racing has a much earlier origin. The story goes that De Mumm, the champagne king, went to the first Rheims aviation meeting in his 1908 135 hp. Mercedes, and while waiting for the aeroplanes to fly, indulged, with other owners of powerful motor-cars, in impromptu races, out of Rheims to Epernay, or to Chalons. It seems that Harry Knox, a nephew of the sporting Peer, Lord Lonsdale, was there with his quick but temperamental 1907 GP Mercedes. This car beat the De Mumm Mercedes in one such hectic race arid as a reward Knox received a case of De Mumm Cordon Rouge. I take the story from G. R. N. Minchin’s entertaining book “Under My Bonnet” (Foulis, 1950).


“Babs” on TV

It was nice to see, just before Christmas, Parry Thomas’ “Babs”, as partially resuscitated by Welshman Owen Wyn-Owen, on Television, which we would have reported last month had Motor Sport’s printing schedule not been put forward due to the holiday. The programme was on ITV, produced by Geraint Rees. Wyn-Owen met interviewer Wynford Vaughan-Thomas in his 1930 Speed Six Bentley two-seater, toured a bit of Snowdonia, then drove to his garage. Here he showed the famous commentator his collection—a 1929 Austin 7, a 1925 Delage, the boat-decked body of which Owen restored using timber from HMS “Conway”, the bare bones of a three-wheeler Morgan, discovered minus its engine and wheels, and, of course, “Babs”. It also transpired that Wyn-Owen’s father had exchanged his motorcycle combination for a Tamplin cyclecar with a clergyman in Somerset in the 1920s. Traffic in Betws-y-Coed was slow moving then but the Tamplin is nevertheless remembered as “a dreadful thing”. The Delage, however, is preferred to the Bentley although one cannot be as certain as its owner that the single door on the passenger’s side was to assist ladies to enter when wearing long dresses, for surely at the time when this Delage was a new car even in France they were exposing their knees ?

“Babs” was the star-turn, naturally, although it made its TV performance rather prematurely, because it is still without a body, making it look, to the uninitiated viewer, like a rather ungainly tractor. Wyn-Owen quoted the horse-power of the Liberty engine as 550 to 600, corrected the common assumption that a broken chain killed Parry Thomas, thought that the car was probably named “Babs” after a young lady, and correctly gave its LSR as 171 m.p.h., in 1926. He then gave Vaughan-Thomas a run along a splendid piece of road in a Welsh Park, where the VSCC should surely try to hold a speed-trial. “Babs” was said to have got up to some 60 m.p.h., to the simulated alarm of its celebrated passenger. Between times, one or two very brief newsreel shots of “Babs” and Parry Thomas were shown, but twice Campbell’s Napier-Campbell was seen in action at Pendine, the viewers presumably being intended to mistake it for “Babs”.

Altogether, a pleasant surprise. But in the lead-in story in the 7’V Times Jonathan Hunt not only made several minor errors but dropped two absolute dangers, saying that Count Zborovski (whose name he cannot spell), the original builder of “Babs”, was killed in his first Chitty-Bang Bang in a road accident and that the second Chitty “survived to star in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. Anyone writing a leading article for a bigcirculation magazine should surely know by now that the Count died at Monza in 1924 while driving a works 2-litre Mercedes in the Italian GP and that the car used in the Ian Fleming children’s film was a fake, built for the purpose, which bore no resemblance of any sort to any of the original Chittys; it was powered by a modern Ford V6 engine. I sometimes wonder whether the media does this sort of thing from a wanton lack of knowledge or refusal to check up on facts, or to give a more lurid if dishonest twist to its outpourings ?—W.B.

Out of the Past

The historical section of Motor Sport gets much help from readers and we are very grateful to Mr. Peter Mills of Newcastle upon-Tyne for sending us the letter reproduced below. Jr was written by our correspondent’s great-uncle Maurice Peters when he was 13 and is a rather remarkable document from an age when children generally were said to have been repressed. It will be of interest to those who enthuse over steam-cars, for it concerns such a car owned by our correspondent’s great-uncle Will; it IS quoted as having been a White but from the photograph I think it was a Serpollet. Anyway, it was the 13th car licensed in the county and is pictured at about the time the letter Was written, i.e., in April 1902. The young passengers are all relatives, of which, we are told, the only one still alive is Aunt Helen, farthest on the right of the picture. It is to the great credit of Mr. Mills’ great-aunt Tora that she preserved both letter (reproduced verbatim) and photograph!

3, Glebe Place,

Stoke Newington,

London, N.

April 20. 02

My Dear Father,

As Uncle Will has deseided not to go for a walk this afternoon I thought I would write to you as I had nothing else to do.

We have had simply lovely weather ever since we came to London, especially yesterday which was a grand day, so of course you can imagine how pleased Uncle Will was as he had descided to go a Motor Ride.

Well, we gave her a fair trial yesterday, and a more perfect car could not be desired for; talk about riding in a donkey cart, I would sooner peddle away on my bicycle. When you and Mother get on it I am Sure you will enjoy it immensley.

We went with a gentlemen called Mr. Andrews, who lives about 19 miles out of London. We were going to his house for tea. Well, we did the 19 miles in one hour and a quarter, and considering It took Uncle 35 minutes to get clear of London it was not bad, an average was 20 miles an hour, and several times about 25 to 28.

Uncle is getting an awfully good driver, only he is not quite at home with his car yet; we had several near squeaks, and one dangerous one, which I will relate. We were coming down rather a Slope at the rate of about 25 miles an hour, when Uncle perceived a boy on the wrong side of the road, who had got off, and was going to mount again: riding the sante way as us. We were about 20 yards behind him when he mounted.) The boy saw Uncle right enough just before he mounted as Uncle hooted his horn loudley. Of course Uncle seeing him on his wrong side thought he would stay there as we were coming at such a lick. What is more, by the time he had mounted we were not far front being level with him. But of course the fool tryed to get to his right side, and if Uncle’s hand brake had not been so strong or if he had lost his head, it would have been all over with that boy I can asure you. I think myself, and so do we all, that he did it on purpose. It was also rather hard luck on Uncle as he had stored a good amount of steam for a hill which we were just going to mount: but anyhow, he had to let it all off and it was rather difficult to get it up. I. am afraid I have given you rather a bad account of it, only it is very difficult to relate it properly. Well, I suppose I must skip a good hit of our adventures, but we got safely to St. Albans where Mr. Andrews lives. By the by. this gentlemen is taller than Uncle Dick, and with Uncle Will, Alec, Austin and myself we had a pretty good load,

When we got there we had an awfully good tea. There Uncle gave two old women a ride, who were simply delighted with the car. Now for the ride back, I took the front scat with Uncle Will for half the way. Scrumpious is the only word to express it; just think of yourself wizzing through the air with no noise at about the rate of 30 miles an hour, why, it 16 as good as having wings. But now comes a little trouble, the pumps are not working quite right, and what is before us?—a large hill. How far do we get?— only half the way and there she stops. And what is behind us?—two more cars beating us, and what is more, we should have the dust front their cars in our eyes. .1 suppose you know when ears are going fast they raise a regular cloud of dust for about a 100 yards behind them.. But “Never say die” was our motto. Uncle just had enough steam to turn round the car and down we went. HURRAH! Our pumps began to work again; so Uncle went along the level for about 800 yards, now we turn again to have another try at the hill, now Uncle has put full steam on, he pumps for all he is worth:—what is he trying to do? Ha. He is In pursuit of the other ears, who scornfully laughed at us when we stuck on the hill; but this time it was nout but a hen run to us. What has happened? One of the other cars a petrol one, who has four people in it , is making such a stink and a dust in front of us that Uncle can hardly see his way. They know well that if we get in front of them they will get an our dust. They go full stink ahead. (I cannot say steam.) BUT IN VAIN. We are now at the top of the hill, and down upon them we come like the wind, without any noise. I was sitting at the end of the car, and I put on such an air when we passed him. He now gives the fight up, and slacks down, and we are VICTORIOSS. We have now easily overtaken both the cars and we have a good steady ride home; they both go different ways, so as to miss our dust. In short, as Mr. Mecawber would say, we all arrived home safely.

Supper time. In haste. Love to all.


V-E-V Miscellany.–A 1921 vee-radiator 12/24-h.p. Metallurgique saloon has recently been restored in Dorset. The article about the 3-litre Bentley in last year’s Golden Jubilee issue of Motor Sport has caused a reader in Australia to ask whether his father’s old Bentley, Reg. No. 00 5145, is still in existence. A 1925 10-h.p. De Dion Bouton saloon has been acquired by a reader living in London, who says that the car is running but that its bodywork, believed to have been a sedanca-de-ville, is in very poor condition. He Wonders whether anyone can help with coachwork drawings, etc. ? If any vintage-car owners find themselves in Washington next July they may care to know that, in conjunction with the bi-centenary of the July 4th American Independence Day and the Inauguration of George Washington as first President of the USA, a veteran, vintage and classic-car rally is to be held in the city, on July 3rd. Details from G. Nicholson (Engineers) Ltd., Blue House Lane, Washington, Tyne and Wear, NE37 2TD, in this country; telephone 0632-462041.

Assistance is sought in tracing a 1938 Rolls-Royce Phantom III Continental fitted with a Barker saloon body, Reg. No. CTJ 421. This car was the favourite pre-war possession of a reader’s father and he and his brother are anxious to find it in time to present it as a 50th-wedding-anniversary present to their parents, which is a very nice idea. The car had helmet-type mudguards; steps in place of running-boards, side-mounted spare wheels, integral luggage boot, and a slight vee-peak above the windscreen. It was sold some 20 years ago, after completing a very satisfactory mileage of over 100,000. Letters can be forwarded. At the other extreme, another reader bought a 1937 Singer Bantam saloon last: year for ,C25, with the body virtually gone but the engine and chassis 90% restored. He hopes to use it in MCC trials, having enjoyed the last Land’s End on a motorcycle., and for good measure enclosed a postcard (dated 1909) of a big Edwardian Minerva tourer from which the actress Zena Dare and her sister Phyliss are posing. In Gloucestershire a 1930s Horch with estate body is reported to be out in the open but apparently not for sale.

Last year a full-size wooden replica of the pre-war Schneider Trophy-race Supermarine S.5 seaplane, powered by a 210-h.p. R-R COrninental engine, made its first brief test flight at Calshott. It took 2.,1 years to build and is sponsored by John Hall of Leisure Sport. Arising from last year’s article “Cars for a General”, a reader refers to an Eagle mascot now on a Daimler Barker Special Sports, Reg. NO. CNI-1 169, a car formerly owned by Russ Conway, and wonders whether this may be the actual mascot used on the cars of Lord Ironside ? The last Newsletter of the Bullnose Morris Club had a 1928 Oxford on the front cover, reminder that this organisation caters for flat-radiator Mortises as well as Bullnoses. The Hon. Editor of the N. Shore Branch of the VCC of New Zealand’s News-letter is running a 1929 Model-A Ford phaeton and has a 1034 Riley Nine Monaco saloon waiting to be rebuilt, while using a Mini 1000 estate as a hack-transport, after trading in a very tired VW Variant, sufficient, he says, with an open-road speed-limit of 50 m.p.h. and petrol at one NZ-dollar a gallon.

On the subject of old signs that have survived, we are told of Overland and TalbotDarracq plaques in a Welsh village and that Opposite Tonbridge PO you can see “Napier Motors” and “The Invincible Talbot” printed on the brickwork, and that only recently a Redline petrol sign vanished from house in Dinas Powis; a hand-operated petrol pump is reported outside a Penarth cycleshop. Courier, house journal of the Nepco Sports Club, last October carried an article on the Winco, a small car once made by a Neepsend Group Company in Sheffield, following a Group Director unearthing a brochure in his office. A museum at Luray, Virginia, apart from the expected exhibits, like a selection of brass-radiator Model-T Fords and -a 1915 model-490 Chevrolet, includes among its exhibits a Type 40 Bugatti, a 1935 HispanoSuiza d.h., for which an optimistic speed is quoted, two 1925 Springfield 40/50 Rolls-Royces, one a town-car, the other a Pall Mall tourer, a 1927 36/220 SS Mercedes-Benz tourer, and a 1903 Riley tricar.

A First World War 150 h.p. Clerget-Blin rotary aero-engine, Of Delaunay-Belleville manufacture, is being assembled in Berkshire. Did you know that an SSK Mercedes-Benz, the ex-Lord O’Neill car, is now in use in England as someone’s commuting car? Another Gordon Bennett Commemoration Rally is scheduled for July 9th-11th, the third of the .series, which will again use roads that formed the actual circuit of the 1903 race, in counties Kildare, Carlow and Laois, some 40 miles from Dublin. The rally is for pre-1931 cars, limited to 70, preference being given to the oldest entered; there will he car-ferry concessions. Details from : E. P. Cassidy, Mountgorry, Swords, Co. Dublin,

Francois Lecot

Late last year the Citroenian, magazine of the Citroen CC, which contains so much of interest and value to Citroen owners. carried a long appreciation of the late M. Lecot, timed for the 40th anniversary of the start of his incredible journey in an 11cv, Citroen.

Lecot, the greatest long-distance road driver of all time, was commissioned by Andre Citroen to publicise the then-new traction, avant model, after Lecot had accomplished runs of 60,000 miles on three occasions in Rosengart cars and had in 1934 completed a Tour of France in a Citroen. Citroen favoured long-duration publicity, setting up records Of up to 133 days at Montlhery Track, which necessitated an official pause when part of that venue was wanted for a French Grand Prix.

Lecot’s task for Andre Citroen was even more ambitious-250,000 miles in a year in an almost standard 11cv front-drive car. He planned to cover 715 every day, under official ACF observation, although he was then 56 years of age. When Citroen’s new management changed its mind and refused support, Lecot bought his own 11cv, took on two mechanics, raised some 2,500;000 francs, and set off. The details of this enormous undertaking, successfully concluded in July 1936 at Monte Carlo, are well detailed in the aforesaid article, and nicely illustrated with drawings and a photograph. Think of it—Lecot had kept it up for 365 days, taking but four hours sleep every night, the mileage he covered being equal to going more than eight times round the earth—he even took in a complete Monte Carlo Rally on the way, with ACF, permission, starting from Portugal. After which, I promise not to mention my day’s journey from Wales to the office and back too frequently, in future….!

The Citroen was standard except for an additional l.h. accelerator, a screen giving. improved fog visibility, a two-tone horn, and special red and green lights by which it was soon recognised, and given a clear passage by sympathetic lorry drivers and others. It was decarbonised about ten times, when the valves were ground-in, and the engine was-also given three complete check-ups. Tyres were changed about every 15,000 miles. All this work was officially observed and Lecot emphasised that he braked as hard, used the clutch and cornered, like any normal driver. This was no speed record, either, for the ACE had set a top pace of 56 m.p.h. and an average of 40 m.p.h.—W.B.