Vintage Postbag, January 1959

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72

Sir,

After the first World War a flood of cheap cyclecars appeared on the market in response to a widespread demand for economical motoring. This was particularly so in France, where a great many small firms with negligible equipment set about the manufacture of light four-wheelers with proprietary engines. The  Elfe deserves to be remembered as one of the most extreme of these devices, and as one which at least made a worthy attempt at competition.

Designed by a M. Mauve, it was first shown at the 1919 Paris Salon. The car could be bought either as a monocar or as a tandem-seated bicar, and cost some 5,000 francs, about half as much as a contemporary light four-seater such as the 10-h.p. Citroën. In either form it was fitted with a phenomenally narrow body having a neat bullet-shaped bonnet with an air intake in its lower part, cut-away sides with no doors, and a short rounded tail. The front axle was tubular and pivoted upon a central king-post, while suspension was provided by a single central coil-spring. Steering was by wire and bobbin, and no front brakes were fitted. At the rear,  an open axle shaft was carried on long radius arms, and the complication of a differential was dispensed with by transmitting the power to the axle by a very long V-belt driven by a pulley emerging rather unexpectedly from the side of the car more or less amidships. Disc wheels were fitted carrying very narrow section tyres, shrouded by small, close-fitting mudguards attached to the axles. The car was propelled by an air-cooled V-twin engine of just under one litre capacity.

It is possible that the Elfe was not a notable success in this form, since when a competition version appeared it was seen to have been radically redesigned. Still propelled by an air-cooled V-twin engine, this was now an 1,100-c.c. Anzani mounted at the rear. Steering had been converted to the Ackermann principle, which was probably just as well in view of the effects of the inequalities of French roads of the period taken at racing speed, though wire and bobbin actuation was retained. The coachwork of this revised version was scanty in the extreme, consisting of a token bonnet in front and a pair of saddles arranged one behind the other on which the driver and mechanic sat astride, the latter unpleasantly close to the forward cylinder of the engine. Final drive was now by roller chain. In this decidedly sporting form the Elfe was entered for the 1920 Grand Prix des Cyclecars run at Le Mans by the Automobile Club de L’Ouest. The race was run over an 11-mile course using part of the present day circuit, and had to be covered 16 times.

It must be regretted that this major reorganisation of the Elfe was not rewarded; in fact, the lone entry did not finish. The car reappeared in the 1921 Grand Prix des Cyclecars, this time driven by M. Mauve himself. There were no mechanical alterations, but it is recorded that the mechanic carried a piece of plywood between himself and the engine, no doubt profiting from the previous year’s experience when the very close proximity of hot machinery must have been anything but comfortable. Alas, this led to no increase in either speed or reliability; the Elfe took over three times as long on its first circuit as the fastest Salmson, lapping at just over 19 m.p.h. Soon after this it retired.

In 1922 the Elfe again figured in the first of starters for the Grand Prix des Cyclecars, but once more was not numbered among the finishers. The following year, the splendid determination of M. Mauve was seen to best advantage when he provided the only opposition in the 1,100-c.c., class to the ever-victorious Salmsons. The car was apparently the same as in previous years, but was now christened the Mauve, possibly in an attempt to escape from the bad luck that attended the name of Elfe. Even this had no effect; the only finishers in the 1,100-c.c. class were two of the three works Salmsons. M. Mauve retired fairly early in the race, and at that moment the Elfe, alias Mauve, vanished from motoring history.

Judged purely by results, the competition career of the Elfe was singularly unsuccessful; there is no record of its ever completing a race. The production models likewise seem to have made little impression on the motoring world, and it is most unlikely that so small a concern can have built  more than a handful if cars. The Elfe, however, is a typical example of the breed of cyclecar, which enlivened French roads in the short period of their popularity before they were ousted by the small car of conventional layout such as the Citroën or Austin Seven, infinitely more comfortable and reliable than the cyclecar but much less exciting. The Elfe too, was almost the last simple cyclecar to attempt to challenge the miniature racing car of orthodox design, still racing in the face of the overwhelming superiority of the Salmsons.

The name of M. Mauve should be commemorated: as an exponent of the principle “press on regardless” he may be held up as an example to those brave souls who regularly race Trojans from a generous handicap at V.S.C.C. meetings, only to be overwhelmed by a roaring pack of Jowetts and Austin Seven’s!

I am,  Yours etc.,

A. Skinner

Swindon

***

Sir,

I wonder whether any of your readers could assist me to obtain a photograph of either of the following cars: 

My mother’s 1908 Siddeley Wolseley, No. H 4168, which was previously owned by Hopkins Garage of Sidmouth and was purchased by my mother in 1918 or 1919.

The second was a single-cylinder Jackson that I bought at an auction sale after the 1914-18 War. It had been used by a local lady during the war to take out convalescent soldiers, and I bought it at an auction sale in Paris Street, Exeter, about 1920. Its number I do not remember.

The third car was a three-cylinder National which I only had the pleasure of driving, and at the time it had been fitted with a lorry body.

The Jackson had a blue touring body like a Ford and had platform rear springing.

I am, Yours, etc.,

C. Oldfield.

West Malling

(Letters can be forwarded.—Ed.)

***

Sir,

The following information was brought to my notice and, although it is mentioned in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, I thought it might be of interest. It comes from “England of the English” by Charles Duff, and was patented by a Mr. R. Street in 1784. 

“Specification for an Explosion Engine.” 

The explosion was to be caused by vaporising spirits of turpentine on a heated metal surface, mixing the vapour with air in a cylinder, firing the mixture and driving a piston by the explosion produced.

This must surely be the earliest record of such an idea?

I am, Yours, etc.,

Peter Moakes

London, W.14

***

Sir,

Since you have made mention of my 1921 Morris-Cowley Sports in your excellent magazine, I thought you might be interested in knowing some more about her.

The car is the forerunner of the M.G. and is a standard Cowley chassis with a special body by Stewart and Arden. She is almost original, save for front-wheel brakes and balloon tyres.

When I bought her in July 1957 she had done 40,000 miles, and since then I have done a further 8,000 miles with perfect reliability. I have had no trouble at all since I have had her except for a u/s magneto a week after buying her, up till my immersion prior to Presteigne. Actually we did finally get her going and did complete the course without further trouble.

Now, I am about to undertake a complete rebuild, and if any of your readers should know anything at all about this model I would be extremely glad to share their information.

I enclose a photograph (see below — Ed).  

I am almost sure this car is unique. It is the only example in captivity anyway both in the V.S.C.C. and Bull-Nose Morris Club.

I am, Yours, etc.,

A.P. Wanchope

Brighton

***

Sir,

As an ex-joint owner of a 1928, flat radiator, I5-h.p., six-cylinder, side-valve Armstrong Siddeley tourer, I was delighted to see your article on this marque. I most sincerely hope that this feature will be in time to preserve this and any other surviving vintage Armstrong from an untimely end on the scrap heap.

Dear old DF 5318  (see picture above  —  Ed)  was purchased in June 1957 as a means of transport for four people for a fortnight’s holiday in the Lake District. I have never seen an identical car on the road, although there is a surviving 12-h.p. tourer in the Willesden area which is very similar (this is the model illustrated in Motor Sport  with the chromium strip round the radiator). DF 5318 had a radiator of German silver and a rear-mounted spare wheel, leaning outwards, which together with the high “stern” gave the car a distinctive Trojan-like rear elevation. I often wonder whether any other examples have survived. I later discovered that the car was salvaged from a garage in Kingston, where it had been abandoned with a “broken” little-end. Little could the owner have realised what fate still had in store for this vehicle!

To cut short a long story, DF 5318 completed a 1,300-mile round trip on our holiday with nothing worse than a puncture. The tour embraced most of the principal Lake District passes and this in spite of the fact that the water pump had long since disappeared together with the engine undertray-cum-air duct, which was intended to provide a means for the large outside flywheel with fan blade spokes to draw air through the radiator.  Messrs. Armstrong Siddeley assured us that without this duct the whole thing would overheat, but in fact the car didn’t even seem to notice the difference!  At least not until we attempted to climb the Kirkstone Pass, when, after about two miles of bottom gear, the rubber radiator cap (alas, the Sphinx also had disappeared, victim, we heard, of trophy-hunting students) blew off and a 10-ft. high geyser of boiling water gave the occupants a rather unexpected hot shower. It was indeed unfortunate that the majority of the contents of the radiator was deposited in the lap of a young French student who was being given a lift at the time. He was, to say the least, rather surprised!

After the holiday the Armstrong continued to give faithful and completely trouble-free service for many months. The battery was flat and utterly useless, but we were running on a very limited budget and with mag. ignition this did not worry us at all. Even on the coldest and dampest of days, after standing outside for weeks on end in the worst of the winter (the car, not me !), no more than three or four turns of the handle were required to start the engine  —  a constant source of amazement to the neighbours!

When I got hitched, the vast tourer body proved ideal for moving a household of furniture, and, I am ashamed to say, we even used it to move about two tons of rubble; with rear seats removed and a tarpaulin covering the interior it made an admirable truck.

Vices it had none, apart from thirstiness. Sluggish, maybe  —   50 m.p.h. was just about obtainable  —  but the smooth pulling in top gear down to fantastically low speeds was remarkable, due no doubt to that immense outside flywheel. To illustrate this I quote the example of a potential buyer of the car who selected top gear by mistake when starting from rest at traffic lights on a considerable up-gradient. To my amazement the car pulled gently but steadily away with not even a shudder, as if this was quite a normal procedure.

The gear ratios selected by a gate-change requiring five minutes wait between second and top, were:  bottom for sides of houses, second for climbing mountains with six passengers and starting, top for everything else. The bigger the load the better it went. As for roadholding, after a year I decided that it was just impossible to go into a corner too fast. All four wheels remained travelling fair and square in the direction in which they were pointing and a spirit level would be required to detect any roll.

Truly the 15-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley was a lovable vehicle.

I am, Yours. etc.,

B.M. Alexander

Eastcote

***

Sir,

I was most interested to read your history of the Armstrong Siddeley, also Mr. C. H. Haworth’s letter in your October issue, as I, too, wondered why it was that we hear so little about that make and thought that it was because they were of little interest.

I have a 1924 14.4-h.p. open tourer, with flat radiator, 1/4-elliptic springs front and back, rear wheel brakes only, also a petrol gauge on the scuttle fuel filler.

The car is in fairly good condition and usable, though by rights is time for complete restoration when time permits. Maximum speed is about 50 m.p.h. and petrol consumption about 22 m.p.g. Over the past five years many longish runs have been undertaken without trouble.

I am, Yours, etc.,

G.  Barrie Brough

Bramcote

***

Sir,

Thanks for your article on Armstrong Siddeley, the cinderella of vintage cars. I had the good fortune to own most of the models up to 1930,  including that little horror, the Stoneleigh, and I consider the bigger Armstrongs were equal to the Rolls-Royce and would definitely tick-over slower. I had a 1930 Long Twenty which would tick over so slowly that you could keep up with it with the starting handle. No doubt this was due to large flywheel-cum-fan.

I consider that the firm’s omission of a four-speed gearbox was probably one reason why they were not more popular as a touring car. The 12/6 was a poor car but no worse than its contemporaries, the Austin 12/6 and Morris 15/6.

I am, Yours, etc.,

C.W. Morgan, M.I.M.E.

Broseley

***

Sir,

I was enthralled by the article on the history of the Armstrong Siddeley, for I was brought up with this marque. My father was the first manager of the Armstrong Siddeley Service Depot in Newcastle, and the first car I remember was AS 273, which, I understood, was the second 30-h.p. model produced.

I learned to drive, at the age of nine, on the centre-drive Stoneleigh,  up and down the works at Scotswood Road, and I remember going with my father to see the red, white and blue 14-h.p. models on their demonstration run round  England

But I feel I can add a little to the very early history, for I have on my desk two pieces of silver. One, an inkstand inscribed  “1906 Scottish Automobile Club Trials. 12.16   WILSON PILCHER    F. G. FIFE. Gold Medal Non Stop.”  This car had an epicyclic gearbox on which Col. Wilson based the preselector gearbox for the Armstrong Siddeley. I have also a silver match-box inscribed, “Winner R.A.C. and S.A.C. 2,000-mile Trial, 1908. Grey Knight.”  This was on a 40/50-h.p. Armstrong Whitworth. My father took a whole series of photographs of these trials and I remember one showing the observers fast asleep in the back of the car!  In the early days of the Service Depot most of the cars brought in were Armstrong Whitworths. Our first private car was a 1914 15-h.p. Armstrong Whitworth.

I am, Yours, etc.,

J.G. Fife (Dr)

Great Warley

***

Sir,

I have read with very great interest the history of the Armstrong Siddeley car. Whilst I have no knowledge of the history of the Siddeley Deasy Co., as an ex-pupil of the Armstrong Whitworth Newcastle Works I have knowledge of the old Armstrong Whitworth car which had much longer roots.

Early this century Armstrong Whitworths, to be referred to in future as Armstrongs, were the largest engineering firm in the country and wished to enter the car-building field. A few experimental cars were built at Elswick but at the same time at Petty France in Westminster the Wilson Pilcher car was being built, the Wilson being the one of self-changing gear fame, and Armstrongs bought this firm up in 1904, or 1905, moving the plant up to Elswick. In at least 1905 the Wilson Pilcher car was fitted with the self-changing gearbox but the name Wilson Pilcher was soon dropped and the car called the Armstrong Whitworth. The self-change box was offered as an extra but was soon dropped, the county gentry of those days employing a paid chauffeur and holding the view that their driver should be able to change gear quietly; if he could not he went and one who could was employed in his stead. So the self-change box went into store until it was reintroduced as your article describes but the pioneer attempt should be recorded.

 The Armstrong Whitworth cars were made in a wide range including 12, 15.9, 20 and 25 h.p. four-cylinder models and 20 and 35 h.p. six-cylinder models. Accommodation at Elswick became too cramped for the output attained so a new works were built farther along the river at Scotswood. All these cars were beautifully built and had a very high reputation, most of the men employed having come from the gun shops and if they felt that a car was not up to standard it was not delivered to the coachlbuilder.  Armstrongs built no coachwork until the shops felt that the car was up to standard. These cars were just considered to be below the quality of Rolls, Napier or Lanchester though I personally feel that their big six was up to that standard. They were all distinguished by a very neat and flush-fitting radiator filler cap known as the snuff-box type.

When I went to Elswick in the early 1920s all the works’ lorries were 1913 15.9 tourer chassis modified by having stronger springs and dual wire wheels at the rear and immense loads they conveyed, often driving over the railway lines in the works and shipyards with no apparent damage resulting. The fire engines were also converted tourers: fortunately one of these was saved by the late Capt. Swan and is now in the Newcastle museum, whilst the Director’s car was a large, six saloon, with a radiator rather like a large old Lancia, and many a fast run I have had in it over the moors to the gun ranges at Riddsdale.  It is interesting to record that when the Elswick works went over to the Vickers-Armstrong combine in 1928 they chucked out all the Armstrong lorries and put in Morris Commercials which had a very short life. At the same time the Armstrong works not taken over in the Vickers-Armstrong merger continued to run the old Armstrong lorries, which carried on cheerfully until 1937, long after the Morris Commercials had given up the ghost. When it was known in Newcastle that the lorries and the Director’s saloon were to be sold there was the keenest competition to buy them; the locals obviously knew what was a good thing. Until 1932 and possibly until 1936 a very large fleet of Armstrong Whitworth cars, all pre-1914 models, were used as a taxi fleet in Sheffield.

During the 1914 war the Scotswood works were turned over to munition work and were greatly extended, car production ceasing. At the Armistice the Armstrong directors misguidedly decided that it would be best to convert Scotswood to a steam-locomotive plant but not wishing to give up car manufacture and the fine goodwill in their cars they looked round for some means of continuing car production. As I have always understood it, Mr. Deasy wished to retire, so Armstrongs bought up the Siddeley-Deasy business from Mr. Siddeley who became a director of Armstrongs, he having previously bought out Mr. Deasy’s interest. The company formed was the Armstrong Siddeley Development and not the Armstrong Whitworth Development Co. At the same time Armstrongs had been going in for aviation work, especially on rigid airships, and the development of the radial air-cooled engine was passed over, but not the airships, to the new development company, as also were Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft, of Whitley, near Coventry. The radial engine was then called the Armstrong Siddeley. In 1926, when evil days turned up and the Bank of England insisted on the profitable parts of the business being sold off, a most disastrous and misguided policy, the Armstrong Siddeley Development Co., to which had been added the Avro Aviation business, was sold back to Mr. Siddeley, as were other works such as the Crompton pioneer electrical works of Chelmsford, which were sold to Parkinsons, so forming the well known firm of Crompton Parkinson. I think the above brief particulars of Armstrong’s pioneer car work should be recorded and also that they and not Siddeley Deasy were the senior partners in 1919.

I am, Yours, etc.,

O.S.M. Raw

Epsom

 (Our notes on the early, business history of Armstrong Siddeley were taken from one of the Company’s own publications.  —  Ed.)

***

Sir,

The photograph en page756 of your November issue depicting Martley weighbridge has provided a solution, and at the same time produced another problem, in connection with the enclosed photograph (see page 24.—Ed.) (Web version, click to zoom page 26).

My father unearthed it shortly before your November issue appeared, and considerable speculation took place as to why the car bears a three-letter registration number. If, as Mr. Cox states, this is a trade-plate, what is the make of car ? I was ready to swear that it was a Rover of about 1905, but in that case the letters should have been ERR. And I cannot think of any make of car which will fit the letters WE, other than the White, which it obviously is not.

Can you or your readers provide a solution ? The only thing we can think of is that possibly it is a garage trade-plate, WE being the first and last letters of the garage’s name.  Is there anybody who can confirm or deny this theory ?

In case it helps, the public house is the King’s Head, Apethorpe, near Peterborough. The registration letter E was used by Staffordshire, which is not all that far away.

May I, in closing, express my appreciation of your excellent magazine.

I am, Yours,etc.,

D.W. Peacock

Addington

***

Sir,

I hereby enclose a photograph of my two cars. It might be of interest to readers.

The Peugeot Quadrillette, a 1923 model, has given me daily transport for three years. I have brought it back to original state and it has given me no serious trouble. Colour is red, with black wings.

The S.S.  is a 1933 S.S.1. I got it a month ago; there had been only one, careful owner and the car is purely original and in a very fine state; odometer reading 91,000 km. Colour is blue, with black wings. I should be glad to know if there is an S.S. Owners’ Club.

I am, Yours, etc.,

J. Clausen

Norresundby, Denmark

 

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