Forgotten Makes: The Mass

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I will try to avoid making too much of the rather crude joke that the Mass must have been so-named to appeal to those of the Catholic faith, or that it was done to encourage customers who, in the earlier motoring days, thought there were dangers in this mode of travel that might be less serious if their motor car was strongly constructed. In fact, the name derived from that of the Concessionaire, Masser Homiman. That apart, the make held a unique position in the motor industry, in as much as it was first built in France, at Courbevoie on the Seine, solely for exportation to Britain.

The person behind this not perhaps altogether unwise scheme was J R Richardson, who saw this as a means of entering the motor business as early as 1903. He directed the French factory, which was, in fact, that of Monsieur L Pierron. The Frenchman presumably found the supplying of cars to England suited him, because the car bearing his name, which the Mass really was, did not emerge onto the French market until 1912. It was, indeed, in that Edwardian period of motoring, that the Mass earned quite a good reputation. it had started off, as so many of these ventures did, with a series of small cars, powered with various proprietary engines, for which M Pierron was no doubt in a good position to negotiate. Thus, there was a choice of a single-cylinder 4 1/2hp Aster-engined model priced in 1903 at £130, or of a 6hp Mass, with De Dion Bouton’s renowned power unit, again a single-lunger… To cater for those who were progressing with their driving, a year later a De Dion powered twin-cylinder Mass became available.

These were found to be acceptable as motoring became more popular and were augmented, as was again the usual practice, by four-cylinder Mass cars, although the single-cylinder models with the well. proven De Dion Bouton engines were still listed, as an insurance. But the 10/12hp and 14hp fours were superseding these.

Mass made use of tubular chassis frames and the Hele-Shaw multi-plate clutch, and it branched out with an 18/24hp model of 3.9-litres, based on Mercedes concepts, with the then traditional chain final-drive. T-head power units gave way to L-head configurations and this pre-WW1 trend followed much the accepted pattern. While small and medium-sized cars formed the bulk of Mass sales, using Gnome and Ballot engines, for the supply of which no doubt M Pierron was again responsible, here was a powerful car to attract wealthy customers who required a fast car for their sporting drives and activities, another pattern we have seen previously.

This was the 40/50hp top-of-the-range Mass with an 8-litre engine, which could be had with either chain or shaft final-drive. Perhaps it was simply a coincidence that this large model was announced in 1907, when the 40/40hp Rolls-Royce was very much in the news, as was the opening of the Brooklands Motor Course. But those other cars were the mainstay of the company, which operated as Lancaster Motor Garages at Lancaster Gate in London. They were well liked here and the designs were kept up to date, with gearboxes in unit with the engines, which had pressure-lubricated bearings by 1910, when the 10/12hp was a useful model.

The Mass has acquired a reputation for using engines of unusually long piston stroke, but although the notorious Horse Power Tax inflicted on British manufacturers and car owners in England from 1921 is blamed for this design trend (because tax was paid on cylinder bore dimensions and number of cylinders, and thus a long stroke, was encouraged to provide the required capacity without encompassing a high rate of taxation) it must be taken into account that on the continent long-stroke power units were not exactly unknown. Peugeot had used outrageously long-stroke single. twin and four-cylinder engines for racing, as had Hispano-Suiza for their four-cylinder racing voiturettes and the celebrated Alfonso had an 80x180mm engine; and the Mass was, to all intents and purposes, a French production. The same cylinder dimensions for bore and stroke as those of the Alfonso Hispano-Suiza were used for the exciting 1913 six-cylinder Mass. But it was the smaller cars which established sales, and the biggest model offered in 1911 had been the 4.9-litre Twenty, with conventional shaft drive.

As I have indicated, the Mass was not unknown here. In Torquay these cars were in use as taxis, and the proprietor of the company operating them, a Mr Humber, whose name had not tempted him to buy the Coventry (or Nottingham) product, said that his six 15hp Mass landaulette had averaged 410 miles per week between 1910 and 1912, and in those three years never had they ever refused to climb the worst hills on Dartmoor when carrying a driver and five passengers. They had averaged 18 to 20mpg of petrol and approximately 800mpg of oil on the Devonshire roads of those days, and the 815×105 tyres had done 4000 miles each. The Mass chassis was regarded as very suitable for landaulette bodywork and an average speed of 25mph was the norm on the aforesaid Devonshire roads. Reliability was very evident, as apart from annual overhauls, it had not been necessary to take an engine or gearbox out of a chassis, and the average cost of repairs had averaged only £10 per car over those three years.

The owner of another 15hp Mass, a 1910 five-seater, also resident in Devon, spoke of how well it climbed hills, even with seven People aboard, and that “it was not very greedy of its 810×90 tyres”. He had got 48mph out of it, a reasonable pace for a medium-sized motor car at that time. On Shopping jaunts, petrol thirst fell to 18mpg but was otherwise around 28mpg on give-and-take roads. Another 15hp Mass, a 1907 car, secondhand in 1909, in use in Leeds, would give its 18mpg and was also light on its 815×105 tyres. With four up, top gear sufficed for a run from Bridgewater back to Leeds and the only replacement part required had been one new gearbox pinion. The user of a 10/15hp Mass had seen between 40 and 45mph on a level road and found it good on hills and although “it was not as quiet as some cars, it was not objectionably noisy” and it had required practically no attention. He was only getting rid of it because the extra power of the then-new 1912 longer-stroke Mass had tempted him to do so. Incidentally, when asked why they offered two models with the same cylinder bore but a different stroke, Mass Cars said they had found that a great number of people wanted, here and abroad, a cheap (did they mean inexpensive!) small runabout and were content with a best speed of 40mph (those calm pre-war roads!), hence their 75x100mm chassis, costing £200. For those requiring a faster car, or one with heavy bodywork, they made their 75x140mm model at £250; both had practically the same chassis, but the respective bhp was 16 and 27.

The Mass was doing well and its concessionaire was apt to take a page advertisement in a Motor Show programme simply inscribed “MASS” and nothing else, apart from their Stand number and their address at 99 Ladbrooke Road, telegrams Masskah, London… Whether the Mass cars were imported as chassis and bodied in England I do not know, but one purchaser drove his 15hp Mass from the coachbuilders, where a twoseater and dickie body had been fitted, to Christchurch in Hampshire and had to come off top speed (2.7 to 1) only in Winchester and on a hill near Romsey. He took it to Brooklands for a spin on the Track, with three up and in road trim and it did more than 60mph. In more sober useage, such as on a visit to friends in Dorset, it gave 26mpg, with much stopping and starting and backing into and out of stable yards — the period touch! Normally he got 30mpg. It was found that the engine ran better if the induction pipe was heated, that the hand throttle control was better with the long-stroke engine than a foot accelerator and that the car would have been better on 820×120 tyres, “but they were more expensive”. . .

Well then, it seems clear that Mr Richardson was to be commended for a successful motor business without a factory in this country. In the mid-“Edwardian” era, the Mass selection numbered the 8hp 85x100mm twin-cylinder (£195, or £15 less sans body), the 15hp 85x105mm fourcylinder (chassis price £275), the 24hp 110x130mm four-cylinder (chassis price £500), and the 40/50hp 135x140mm Six (chassis price £650); prices as at 1908. By 1911 the 10/15hp, 15hp and 20hp cars were still in production, their make up rather amusingly described as Licluding “gearbox carried on engine crankcase”, “turbine flywheel” and more conventionally, “all-metal internal brakes adjusted without use of any tools”. The smallest car had monobloc cylinders, but the other two still had separate ones. The respective prices were by then £248 “with a fifth (spare) wheel”, £325 and £450, and torpedo and landaulette bodies were listed, including a Mass torpedo, which perhaps answers the question of whether they made their own bodies.

Not only was all this going on, but the Mass was also part of the sporting scene. In the opening year of the new Brooklands Track, the make was represented there, when AE King’s car came fourth at the very first race meeting in July 1907, in the Horsley Plate. The Mass was there again in 1908, when the same entrant and driver ran his 30hp at the July Meeting, at which C L Woodward raced a 22.4hp Mass and allowed Miss Ada Billing to drive it in the Ladies’ Bracelet Handicap.

Then in 1913 Ivor M Bellairs competed at Brooklands in another 13.9hp 2474cc Mass, lapping at fractionally over 60mph in the Mid-Summer 75mph Long Handicap race, but was slower in the next long handicap. Private owners also took part in the speed events of those days, such as when H Atley’s 10/12hp Mass had a runaway win from a Mercedes in the touring car class at the Saltbum speed trials in 1912. Driving a 15hp Mass in 1913 at the same Yorkshire venue, Masser Horniman himself was second to a Straker-Squire in the up-to-3450 cc racing car class, and in the closed classes T S Rowlandson’s 10/12hp Mass was a winner. That the 15hp Mass was no sluggard had been shown long before, in the 1908 Scottish Trial, with fastest climbs in its class in three of the five timed hills by one of these cars, and in the Saltbum event that year Masser Homiman and A Masser won their scratch races driving, respectively, 20hp and 15hp Mass cars.

This good showing continued, the 15hp model of H Donnington vanquishing three racing 20hp Vauxhalls at the 1913 Pateley Bridge speed hill-climb, and in 1906 the 24hp Mass had been quickest in its class up Rest and Be Thankful hill in the Scottish Trial, while an 18hp Mass had put up the best performance at Trinafour.

Many years ago a MOTOR SPORT reader kindly told me of his memories of a ride in a racing Mass. At the time he was an apprentice at the Mass works, by then, in 1913, at Notting Hill Gate, later at Shepherds Bush, where he says, they had a racing car with a cigar-shaped body painted black all along one side and white all along the other side, and named “The Nun”. It had, he remembered, a Ballot engine and chassis. Our correspondent was at Brooklands almost daily before the 1913 Midsummer Meeting to assist with the Big Benz which the famous L G “Cupid” Hornsted was driving. Unless l am mistaken, I think Masser Horniman of Mass Cars was also the British Concessionaaire for Benz, which would explain this connection and why Hornsted was also testing the Mass. The story goes that after this the apprentice rode with Homsted in the Mass back to the London works — there is the expected comment about “. . .he scared the life out of me; in fact l hardly dared open my eyes…” (In fact, on the few occasions when I have been driven by top racing drivers I have found them to go comparatively slowly and carefully on public roads, although, of course, I speak of times when there was much more traffic to contend with) Apart from that, the roads had been newly tarred, so our correspondent’s face was black on arrival, except for white circles where his goggles had been. There were no washing facilities at the works and on his ride home by ‘bus he was regarded as a curiosity by the other passengers. His mother cleaned him up using butter to cope with the tar, as he had a theatre date with his girl that evening. Alas, the fresh air had taken its toll and within five minutes of the curtain going up our chap was asleep, which was not popular with his partner… Incidentally, he used to be told by the Mass Sales Manager to put £5 for him on the Sunbeams, with the Brooklands “bookies’ which usually paid dividends.

The Mass situation looked sound in those now far-away halcyon Edwardian days, especially as from 1912 the cars had been sold in France under the Pierron name. But war is a destructive leveller, and after the Armistice although the 15hp car was revived, the Company never again achieved its former sound position. Possibly the German occupation of France had had its effect on the factory there. At all events, by that time the London company had taken on agencies for two Americar cars, the RCH and the more up-market Paige which four-cylinder versions they listed aa Mass-Paiges. The Mass itself had come to the end of its lifespan as a new car by 1923, and by then the Trade had difficulty of disposing of a 1914 tourer for £65. . Nevertheless, this is a make which should not, perhaps, be entirely forgotten? W B