The Edwardian Renaissance

One hesitates to flog one’s own particular hobby horse too flagrantly in public; but the enthusiasm for Edwardian motor cars, which grew so steadily, if slowly, in the years just before the war, seems, miraculously, to have gained momentum since the war started. Several new converts have been made, and there are many other potential participants, if only they could find suitable mounts, so that it might, perhaps, be excusable to look back at the small beginnings of neo-Edwardian motoring, and to look forward to what we may hope for in the future.

I do not think that anyone would deny that the Vintage Sports Car Club actually put Edwardian motoring on the map, but invaluable help has come, too, from the Bugatti Owners’ Club, who have so constantly included an Edwardian class at their meetings. Dick Nash has done much in his own quiet way, and to Leslie Wilson and Harry Edwards we owe it, that the Edwardians have featured in events on the International Calendar, at Shelsley Walsh and the Crystal Palace.

My own in introduction to Edwardian motoring took place in 1927, when my father acquired his 1910 16 h.p.. Fafnir, and no car has given me so much pleasure, nor so completely won my affection as has this rather humble sort of vehicle. The first sight of an Edwardian racer came in 1934, when Marcus Chambers, who then owned the 1907 7-litre Renault, at Boddy’s suggestion took it up the Chalfont course at the B.O.C. meeting. Though one now sees the Renault as quite a middle-sized car, it then looked quite the “fire-eating giant,” and Marcus was seen through a rare haze of smoke and hero-worship !

Shortly afterwards the Vintage Sports Car Club had its inception, and for many months the Fafnir was the only Edwardian member. At the Club’s first speed trial, at Aston Clinton, in 1935, the Fafnir opened the course, and this was the Club’s first very modest effort to publicise the Edwardians. But in 1936, when we again ran a meeting at Aston Clinton, we were able to stage a complete Edwardian class. The entrants were Kent Karslake and his single cylinder Sizaire-Naudin, which proved the winner; Audrey Birks and the S.A.V.A.; Marcus Chambers and the Renault.; and J. S. Pole with the Itala. The Bugatti “Black Bess” and the Fafnir, which were expected, were unfortunately prevented from turning up. Never had I seen anything so completely thrilling as the Itala, and I did not rest till I had bought the car.

Other Edwardian events followed apace, though the small number of cars available made it anxious work collecting a respectable entry. In August, 1936, the Bugatti people had an Edwardian class at Lewes for the first time, but only “Black Bess” and the Itala turned up, and as the Bugatti became disordered it was a walk-over. Despite this rather unpromising beginning, the B.O.C. have continued to cater loyally for the Edwardians ever since.

Thus, 1936 saw the Edwardians clambering on to the map, but in 1937 they really got established. In April the Crystal Palace was opened, and the Lorraine and Itala gave a demonstration run. Even allowing for the Lorraine’s superior performance and Dick Nash’s immeasurably superior driving, the Itala was unfortunately in poor form, and a lot of faking had to he done to make it look like a race. However, the public seemed to like it, and the Press was polite.

Dick Nash and I also arranged to do a little publicity by entering for the unlimited class at the August Shelsley Walsh meeting, but, unfortunately, the Lorraine burst a piston at the Vintage speed trial at the Croydon driving school just before, so the Itala was left to compete against Forrest Lyeett’s 8-litre Bentley!. I must say I went in great trepidation lest the poor old Itala should look ridiculous, and decided that I should be lucky if I bettered 60 seconds. I was therefore overjoyed to clock 52 seconds, and though I subsequently got inside 51, I am convinced it is possible for the Itala to beat 50 seconds. However, she received very marked applause from the crowd and the Press, and all of us were very pleased.

In September the Brighton and Hove Club invited us to organise an Edwardian class at their speed trial, and this marked the appearance of Anthony Heal ‘s overwhelming Fiat upon the landscape. It was a scratch event, and he won at the resounding speed of 57.8 m.p.h. for the standing half-mile.

The year 1938 saw much activity, and there was now a separate Edwardian class for the May Shelsley Walsh meeting. This was patronised by Anthony’s Fiat, Mavrogordato’s 1914 G.P. Opel; Anthony Mills’s 1907 Renault and the Itala. The Renault could not make anything of the grade, being unsuitably geared, and took over 80 seconds, but Mavro. made a beautiful ascent in 51.17, the Itala just bettered it with 50.98, and Anthony made a truly virtuoso ascent in 47.96. This certainly went down big with the populace.

In April, 1938, Prescott came into being, and the Itala motored to the private B.O.C. opening rally under very fitful instalments of her own power. To be accurate, she broke down 23 times on the way from London; it was not a nice drive. Once there she awoke to a sense of her responsibilities and made third fastest time of day, which was annoying for several Type 57S Bugattis, “2.3” Alfas, and the like.

An important event in this year was the opening of the course at the Empire Trophy Meeting at Donington by Anthony Mills on the Renault. Although having the relatively small engine size of 7 litres, this car has a very “Gordon Bennett” look about her, and on an open road circuit she really can motor. Anthony Mills is also a very keen chap among the corners, and the Renault, under these conditions, really looked her best. Unfortunately her run took place before a large number of people had arrived.

At the Prescott August meeting the four Edwardian entrants had a fearful time. Lycett’s Hispano developed four backward ratios and only one forward, so that he was a non-starter. Then Anthony’s Fiat sheared a cotter and dropped a valve. A fantastic juggle fished the valve up again; a cotter was jury-rigged and just lasted out the meeting. When trying to back up a gradient the Itala stripped reverse gear, which also involved bottom. However, heavy work with a large hammer and cold chisel managed to chop away the burred ends of the teeth, so that low gear could be engaged and used rather gingerly just for getting away. It was, however, a nervous business, because the bits were all in the bottom of the box, and if they had picked up there would have been the devil to pay, and his bill would certainly have been beyond my means.

However, so necessary was it to keep up the Edwardian prestige by a good entry at Shelsley that the Itala also ran there in this deplorable condition—mercifully without ill results.

To revert to Prescott, Anthony Mills was so busy helping Anthony Heal and me that he forgot to blow up the tyres on the Renault and pulled one off on the top bend, with incidental complications: so that not one of the Edwardians was able to leave the meeting under its own steam!

The year 1939 saw more frequent appearances of Dick Nash and the Lorraine, and John Morris on that difficult but decorative car, the 21.5-litre Benz. In particular, we had two very successful races at the Crystal Palace, at the Stanley Cup and an open meeting, Peter Hampton’s wonderful little Type 13 Bugatti winning the latter, and the Itala the former. At the Crystal Palace the faster cars, such as the Lorraine, Fiat and Itala, showed themselves capable of lapping at 48-49 m.p.h., which, having regard to their negligible braking arrangements, compares very favourably with the fastest production present-day sports cars. The open meeting was particularly well patronised, as there were no fewer than nine entries.

Perhaps the most successful Edwardian event ever held was the Welsh Rally, to Presteigne, in March, 1939, and the list of entrants is worth recording, including, as it does, every type, size and date of Edwardian motor car.

J. Seth-Smith … 1908 Sizaire-Naudin.
Col. Clutton … 1910 Fafnir.
A.S Heal … 1907 Renault.
J. Bradshaw … 1906 Daimler.
A. Timmis … 1910 Mercedes.
Col. Giles … 1912 Bugatti (non-starter)
R. Caesar … 1912 Belsize.
W. Worthington … 1903 Martini.
F. Hutton-Stott. … Lanchester (non-starter)
J. Mills … 1901 Benz.
F. Lycett … 1914 Hipano-Suiza

The Fafnir covered the greatest distance with 227 trouble-free miles to its credit, but Bradshaw’s superb sleeve-valve Daimler came close, with 216. There was also a beauty contest and a timed hill climb, at which Anthony Heal was fastest on the borrowed Renault, closely followed by the Daimler. John Mills did a great job in bringing his quite unsuited Benz through the event, while the hero of the meeting was John Seth-Smith, who had every conceivable ill attack that much worn and temperamental machine, the Sizaire-Naudin. The Daimler won on aggregate marking with the Fafnir a very close second, and Forrest Lycett gave a richly deserved special award to John Seth-Smith for tribulations overcome. This was, in truth, a most enjoyable event and one which must certainly be repeated.

The last meeting before the war again included an Edwardian Rally and Hill Climb, the venue being the Vintage meeting at Prescott on 26th August, 1939, and it was fitting that the entrants should number the four cars which have most consistently supported the Edwardian movement. They were Col. Clutton on the Fafnir, Anthony Heal on the Fiat, the 1907 Renault, this time driven by its erstwhile owner, Marcus Chambers, and the Itala, driven by Bill Shortt in the rally and by Peter Robertson Rodger and me in the hill climb. The Fafnir won the rally and the Fiat the hill climb, both outright and on formula.

And so it came to an end.

Putting the Edwardians on the map was great fun, but it was also very hard work for the four of us—Anthony Heal, Anthony Mills, my father and I, who, I think it can truly be said, bore the brunt of the work. Lack of support among people who had eminently suitable mounts often made it necessary for us to swell the entry when it was very inconvenient to do so; and when other ties claimed Anthony Mills, he was most generous in lending his cars to other drivers.

Since the war important additions to the fold have been the 1914 G.P. Mercedes, which has been so beautifully restored by Peter Clark ; another 1914 G.P. Opel, which has been bought by Bill Shortt, but which still remains to be done up; the rare 1908 T.T.-winning Hutton, which belongs to a syndicate in which Marcus Chambers figures prominently; and Kenneth Neve’s fine 1914 T.T. Humber. One would also hope to see more of “Black Bess” and Mavrogordato’s Opel when racing starts again, and there are other likely aspirants in the background. One of the tragedies is the superlative 1905 16.7-litre ltala, now in the Isle of Wight, which its owner will neither use nor sell. But the indications are that a reasonable number of Edwardian events each year, after the war, can be assured of a good entry by a wide variety of worthy machines.

A lot of fun has been poked at the “Clutton formula” upon which the results have been based, and it has been freely, if jocularly, suggested that I used to decide beforehand as to who should win! However, I beg to take this opportunity of asseverating that strict impartiality was maintained throughout. At the first Aston Clinton Meeting we used the Veteran Car Club formula, but it showed that it was not suited to cars of widely varying performance. It was necessary to arrive at some formula which took account of the fact that performance does not rise directly as the power-weight ratio, and this I tried to achieve by a variety of mathematical devices. I also adopted a principle to take account of age, which has worked out very well in practice. This was to assume that in any year a car produced the same horse-power per litre as the year. That is to say, that a 1901 machine would be accredited with 4 b.h.p. per litre : a 1910 machine with 10 b.h.p. per litre, and a 1914 machine with 14 b.h.p. per litre.

The formula itself was gradually improved as more data became available, and in its final form it worked on a graph by means of which the handicap for each entry could be predetermined. In the first place, the accredited b.h.p. is divided by the weight in hundredweights. For example, the 1907 7-litre Renault, weighing 25 cwt., worked out: 7 x 7 / 25 = 1.8.

This is then looked in on the graph curve, which gives the handicap coefficient of 4, by which the time in seconds is multiplied to give the result, the lowest figure, of course, winning.

It was necessary to introduce a refinement in the case of cars whose engines had been radically modified. If an engine had received aluminium pistons its b.h.p. was accordingly considered to have been increased by 4 per cent. and a modern carburetter carried the same penalty.

It must, of course, be obvious that no such formula can produce perfect results, and in the end it may be necessary to resort to arbitrary handicapping. But, in the meantime, it has at least produced a wide variety of winners on different courses. The inherent objections to such a formula are twofold. First of all. a twisty course is pronouncedly favourable to slower cars, because whereas they can take the twists more or less fiat out, the faster cars are slowed to a much greater extent; conversely, a straight course favours the fast cars. Secondly, although the age/horse-power premise works remarkably accurately for the majority of cars, it is foxed by the higher efficiency machines which began to appear a year or two prior to 1914. Certainly this has not proved a serious snag so far, but if any of the 1914 G.P. machines get performing in 1914 style it will make things very difficult.

As a pointer to the working of the formula I am, to conclude, giving the times which it would be necessary for a number of well-known machines to record at Shelsley Walsh and Lewes, respectively, in order to produce the handicapper’s dream of a 100 per cent. dead heat. In one or two cases, unfortunately, the weight has never been accurately arrived at, and I have to rely on my own judgement, which is not, however, likely to be very far out. In the majority of cases the figures conform remarkably closely with recorded times where these exist, but in some others the cars are not capable of running up to their handicap. This either means that their design was not as advanced as that of their contemporaries, or else that they are not in good condition. The majority of the cases quoted concern more or less racing cars, but for the sake of example I have also included the Fafnir, as typical of Edwardian touring-car practice. Unfortunately. we possess no known example of that all-conquering machine, the 1902 70-h.p. Panhard, but I have thought it worth while to see what it would have to do to compete with the genuine Edwardians. In this connection, the formula does not make any age allowance prior to 1904; that is to say, no car, of whatever age, is accredited with less than 4 b.h.p. per litre. But in point of fact, engine design advanced so little during these early years that no injustice is done.

Here, then, are the formula figures and theoretical times; happy will be the time when they can again be put to the test, because it seems certain that enthusiasm for the Edwardians has continued to grow in no uncertain manner, despite the war; hot will be the contest when it is possible to resume play.


Since this article was written the Veteran Car Club has decided to take on the preservation of motor cars aged 30 and over, in addition to the genuine pre-1905 veteran class. A special subcommittee has been set up to study the problem, and with the prestige and organising powers of the V.C.C. it seems certain that the future of Edwardian motoring is more fully assured than ever. In particular, one looks forward to road events for touring vehicles, as well as speed contests for the real racers. At the moment 1913 is the youngest car admissible (under the 30-year-old plan), but by the time the war ends, 1914 will doubtless be in as well. Particularly important is the club’s recently announced pooling scheme for salving important cars from the breaker, and this will apply to the Edwardian, as well as the Veteran class.

Existing owners of eligible cars should certainly support the Veteran Car Club to the full in their new venture.