Veteran Edwardian Vintage, February 1981

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A Section Devoted To Old-Car Matters

ERAs

One of the better motoring happenings at the end of last year was the party put on in London by White Mouse Editions and New Cavendish Books to celebrate the publication of their “History of English Racing Automobiles Limited”, a book reviewed elsewhere in this issue. Not only were Narisa Chakrabongse and her ERA “Romulus” present but many ERA drivers turned up to pay tribute to ERA history. Bill Morris, Martin Morris, the Hon. Patrick Lindsay, just off to a Christie’s sale, Ian Connell, Nigel Arnold-Forster, Nick Mason, John Bolster, Dudley Gahagan, Brian Shawe-Taylor, Patrick Marsh, Donald Day, Peter Walker, Hamish Moffatt and Peter Hull were there, and no doubt others I missed.

Later the BBC had an interview in “Nationwide” with Narisa and Bill, with the immaculate blue-and-yellow “Romulus” present in the studio. We saw some pre-war racing shots from the archives and a short film of Patrick Marsh driving the ex-Seaman ERA R1B at the old Goodwood circuit. Although the lady interviewer said these racing cars were called the “Spitfires of the Track”, which is new to me, and inevitably enquired what they are now worth (Narisa thought perhaps a six-figure sum for “Romulus” but both she and Patrick said it really doesn’t arise as they will never part with their respective cars), this brief episode was a nice public tribute to the ERA. Bill Morris explained that racing his ERA does not use up any of the nation’s hard-won petrol as it consumes alcohol, costing slightly more per gallon than pump-petrol, at about two m.p.g. He finds the car physically tiring to drive and was guilty of saying the ERA was the first successful British racing car, but I don’t suppose he was born when Sunbeam won at Tours. . . .

Reverting to the ERA book and the party prompted by it, it was good to see Shura Rahm and his wife present. He use to look after Prince Chula’s “White Mouse” team and in a long talk with him it is obvious that his memory of those days is unimpaired. The purpose of a one-make book is to record as much history as possible. There has always been one ERA item which was a bit of a mystery to me. I refer to the substitution of air-struts for the normal 1/2-elliptic rear springs on Raymond Mays’ car. I have a photograph of this, taken when the ERA was in an aeroplane ready to be flown to a race. I offered this photograph to David Weguelin when he came to see me about this book but he did not use it, so I reproduce it here. It shows clearly, or the original does, the absence of leaf springs and the small air-struts that replaced these.

Now, from the ERA book, I learn that the car was R4D, being flown in a Douglas Dakota to the 1948 Jersey race. It tells us that these Lockheed air-struts were experimental ones intended for BRM, but were apparently not successful on the ERA as they were not used for the Jersey race. Bob Gerard’s ERA won and Mays retired when the oil-pipe to the Zoller supercharger broke. Incidentally, I also flew to Jersey in a Dakota, that took 2 hr. 15 min, each way, from Bovingdon.

Gerard won this Jersey road race again in an ERA in 1949. On that occasion the Motor Sport photographer and I set off from Croydon in a hired Airspeed Consul to cover the race but the radio was found to be u/s and when the weather closed in the pilot returned to Croydon. However, I did manage to write a report, by listening to the BBC radio commentary in the office car-park, which suggests a fairly complete and informative coverage by them, even in those days!

The other ERA photograph is reproduced here although it also appears in my “History of Brooklands Motor Course”, because it is one of my favourites. It shows the ERA team before the 1935 BRDC British Empire Trophy Race and I see from the ERA book that Fairfield in R4A (No. 18) finished 6th, Mays in R3A (No. 24) retired with engine trouble. Prince zu Leiningen and Oliver Bertram (No. 25) were 12th, and Cook in R2A (No. 26) was running at the end.

Using the tables in this ERA book and at considerable risk of migraine and a permanent headache, I have worked out that between 1934 and 1939 ERAs started on 577 race occasions (including heats), during which they were unplaced 172 times, retired 145 times but gained 96 firsts, 86 seconds and 172 third places. Pretty fantastic, with only a handful of cars. — W.B.

*   *   *

Nothing new . . .

Giving his experiences with a 33/180 h.p. Mercedes-Benz in The Autocar in 1927 its owner, E. T. Somerset, stated that this car appeared to be most carefully thought out from the owner-driver’s point of view, there being, for instance, “a tell-tale to warn one that the water-pump grease reservoir requires replenishment”. Was this the start of the many warning lights found on some modern cars, or was it a more remote under-bonnet gadget perhaps? — W.B.

*   *   *

LSR on TV

BBC-2 gave many of us a treat, late on Boxing Night. with a documentary on the Land Speed Record, sub-titled “Those 40 Glorious Years”, presented by Raymond Baxter and produced by Jeff Goddard. Composed largely from excellent news-reel shots, it was a good film because Baxter can be relied on not to over-dramatise a report of this kind, or spoil it with imaginary embellishments.

The pre-1914 years were sketched to with “stills” of cars like Hornsted’s Bittern Benz at Brooklands, Henry Ford’s 999, and so on, into which a shot of a single-cylinder Peugeot was included, although it was never anywhere near the LSR category, although it did establish class-records.

The story started properly with the 350 h.p. Sunbeam, which dear old Sammy Davis, who was introduced throughout the programme in technicolour to recall various personalities, said was built for Bill Guinness and Baxter told us took the LSR at an average of 133 m.p.h., having gone one way at Brooklands at 137 m.p.h. and at 130 m.p.h. for its return run (Baxter had rounded-out the figures which were in fact, 137.15, 130.35 and 130.35 m.p.h.). The Sunbeam was seen at its present resting-place, the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, as later were the 200 m.p.h. Sunbeam, the Golden Arrow, and Donald Campbell’s Bluebird, this enabling Baxter to present these exciting old cars in colour.

It was not all LSR. Campbell was seen in one of his Darracqs at pre-1914 Brooklands and we saw quite a lot of the 1921 JCC 200 Mile Race there, to introduce Segrave, driving one of the Invincible Talbot-Darracqs. The V12 Deluge, which gained the record for Rene Thomas, did not appear; a pity, as the car exists and could, one imagines, have been filmed in action. But there were excellent pictures of Campbell (often), Segrave, Cobb, and Kaye Don being interviewed before the news-reel cameras and of Campbell’s Bluebird and Cobb’s Railton-Mobil being prepared by mechanics outside T&T’s Brooklands’ premises. Baxter reminded us that the 200 m.p.h. Sunbeam was the first of the all-enveloping-bodied LSR cars.

There was an incredible sequence of Frank Lockhart being flung from the little 3-litre 16 cylinder Stutz Black Hawk after it had flipped over and over at Daytona Beach, ending up close to spectators cars, and the fearful last-moments of Donald Campbell and his ill-fated boat were included, but we were spared films of the deaths of Segrave and Cobb on their water-speed bids.

Kaye Don was interviewed about his unsuccessful LSR attempts with the Silver Bullet: he said the supercharger was largely to blame and that it wasn’t fitted until the car was in America. Segrave was seen at a Schoolboy’s Exhibition (such happenings used then to make Christmas a highly exciting and enthralling time for me and many other motor-mad boys) sitting in the cockpit of the Golden Arrow wearing a trilby-hat and explaining that although the car proudly held the LSR for Britain at over 231 m.p.h., it had probably only been run for ten minutes all told.

Campbell’s attack on the record at Verneuk Pan in 1929 was described as “totally unsuccessful” but, in fact, Bluebird did break the British one-mile and the World’s five-kilo. and five-mile records on that occasion. Of this same car a fine shot was included, not seen before I think, of its Rolls-Royce engine being run-up in the shed, in 1933. Parts of the TV play about Sir Malcolm Campbell, using the mock-up “Bluebird”, were interwoven with news-reel shots of the 300 m.p.h. runs at Bonneville. Going back to earlier shots of the various LSR cars in action, it was amusing to note that when they were at full speed they very easily overtook the aeroplanes from which they were presumably being filmed, and that for some years the cameras used also had difficulty in panning rapidly enough to follow them.

Another thing I noticed was that whereas before his record runs Cobb had to use elaborate methods of “walking the plank” to gain access to the cockpit of the Railton Special without damage to the bodywork, after he had broken the record, doing over 400 m.p.h. in one direction, he vaulted out of the car unaided! Eyston was seen in his incredible Thunderbolt, and Bert Denly recalled the time when the brakes had to be used so hard that the driver got out of the car looking absolutely black (as we saw) due to the dust from the brake linings entering the cockpit — “he wasn’t very pleased” said Bert.

This BBC production was a model of how such documentaries should be presented. If any slight innaccuracies crept in, I only noticed two that speculation leads me to wonder about. First, Donald Campbell was said to have been afraid of dying of cancer had he not been killed so dramatically at Lake Coniston and his sister, Mrs. Jean Wales, confirmed this, although he did not have this disease. Isn’t it more likely that some interviewer had asked Campbell if he was afraid of dying in the water-speed bid and he replied “If I don’t get killed that way I could die of cancer or something“? Secondly, Baxter used the old chestnut that Parry Thomas put in his will that if he was killed in Babs the car was to be buried at Pendine. Isn’t it more probable that what he actually said was that, whether or not he broke the LSR, there would be no point in taking the old car, which he had cobbled together for the purpose of breaking this record and earning much-needed finance in so doing, and of which he was not particularly proud, back to Brooklands? It should be remembered that Thomas had no transporter of his own and had to hire a truck to take the big car from Brooklands to Pendine, a two-day journey, and that this hired transporter would have been released after “Babs” had arrived there. When Thomas’ unexpected fatal accident happened the crew would have had no means of taking the wrecked monster away and, remembering what Thomas had said, wouldn’t they have agreed to leave it behind, buring it as a mark of respect for the dead driver who had been their Boss? Those are debatable and insignificant items, however, which in no way marred a fine programme, in which “Babs” was splendidly portrayed, both in 1927 and with Wyn-Owen driving her last year on another Welsh beach, as we reported in Motor Sport at the time — but what a pity “Babs” now looks so raggedly-clad. The story was brought right up to date with action pictures of recent rocket-driven LSR vehicles, which are immensely impressive, not only in speed but because of the trails of smoke they leave in their wake, and we were reminded of Richard Noble’s forthcoming British bid to possibly better 700 m.p.h. Even the LSR “improbables” were not overlooked, two “stills” being put in, of the Stapp with its triple Bristol Jupiter aero-engines, that merely burnt itself out in 1932, and of the Wisconsin Special for which 180 m.p.h. was claimed that year, at Daytona, which even the American Automobile Association didn’t believe. Congratulations, then, to Raymond Baxter and Jeff Goddard, on a difficult job very well done — W.B.

V.E.V. Miscellany.

After going on last year’s Brighton Run on the British Leyland Heritage Albion I think perhaps those cars shown on page 1911 of the December issue were of this make and not Rovers as I had at first suspected, especially as they were photographed outside a house in Scotland. Unexpected old cars are seen occasionally in non-motoring TV films, like, for instance, the pneumatic-tyred Trojan tourer that flitted across the background scene in a shot of the Rhondda Valley at the time of the General Strike of 1926 in one of last year’s BBC documentaries about coal-mining. In the more recent TV programmes concerning home-movies of the 1920s and 1930s you may have noticed a big just pre-war Wolseley saloon, a Sunbeam Fourteen tourer lurking in the background of one shot, and what I think was a Singer wrongly described as a Morgan getting in the way of what was supposed to be a family motoring outing. In this context, and in the same series, what was said to be a “run in the country” was clearly another club trial in progress, perhaps a JCC or similar event, with a Riley Nine leading the pack and an Avon Standard (or was it a small Jensen?) among them. The TV archives must be full of great films from the motoring and aviation past, apart from these amateur efforts with the cine-cameras of before the war.

The Daimler & Lanchester OC’s magazine The Driving Member, has been running a very interesting series of reminiscences by Mr. John Speed, who was at school with Laurence Pomeroy Junr., and later at “The Daimler” on the publicity side. His article is accompanied by photographs of Pomeroy’s 16-valve Bugatti which I believe Denis Jenkinson owned for a time in later years but never ran it, and the two Pomeroys, father and son, with the all-aluminium Pierce-Arrow that Pomeroy Senr. went to America to produce. A circa-1909/10 Type CB1 Clement-Bayard chassis has turned up in the Trade in Nottingham and information is sought, together with the whereabouts of any available spares. Letters can be forwarded. It is with deep regret that we learn of the death of Mr. Bob Train who was so well-known to Triumph car enthusiasts, as the President of the Triumph DC.

The Asia Magazine reported last year on the cars of Rama VI, King Vajiravudh, which were brought frorn Europe to Thailand from 1913 onwards, when this enlightened monarch introduced electricity to Bangkok and also the aeroplane. The article mentioned a 1907 14 h.p. Renault still owned and beautifully maintained for the present King, and said that examples of Hispano Suiza, Pierce-Arrow, Voisin, Delahaye, Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac are at the Chitralada Palace, mainly early 1930s cars but ranging up to 1939 models. The collection apparently runs from a 1921 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Hooper cabriolet to a Phantom III Mulliner limousine. The Voisin tourer is a V12 and the Hispano Suiza a 37.2 h.p. model, probably, says Charles Browne the investigator, an H6 of about 1927 vintage. We have never heard of the alleged “Delco Remy supercharger” said to grace a V16 Cadillac, but the Pierce-Arrow is also apparently supercharged and there is mention of an early 1920s Hotchkiss all-weather.

We devoted one of the “Fragments on Forgotten Makes” articles last year to the two-stroke Barrington car and a reader has kindly supplied a picture, reproduced overleaf, of the experimental engine in an Austin Seven. The Halford Special, which created quite a stir when it first appeared at Brooklands in 1926 with Frank Halford’s own supercharged six-cylinder 1 1/2-litre engine, has been resuscitated and should enliven this year’s VSCC races. Is was tested late last year at Snetterton and is reported to have covered a considerable number of laps quite troublefree. — W.B.

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