Vintage Postbag, January 1967

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Twin o.h.c.

Sir,

May I be allowed to correct Mr. Anthony Blight’s totally erroneous remark that ” in 1930 twin overhead camshafts were a barbaric necessity . . . and wholly unsuitable for commercial production.” Three cars come immediately to mind which used twin overhead camshafts in this period and which could certainly not be described as ” mechanical abortions “; the ” 1750 ” Alfa Romeo, the 3-litre Sunbeam and the “S4 ” Salmson. The Alfa was available with touring, or even saloon, bodywork and in unsupercharged form is a very quiet and sophisticated motor car. The Sunbeam was introduced in 1925 and produced 90 b.h.p. at 3,800 r.p.m.—a figure which compares well with the 123 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m. produced by the 3.3-litre Talbot over a decade later. The Salmson S4 had no sporting pretensions whatever and was invariably fitted with ponderous saloon bodywork; its 1-1/2-litre engine produced 55 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m. and did so in commendable silence.

No doubt other readers will be able to think of many other examples of practical and refined motor cars which used t.o.h.c. in 1930.

London, NW7 — DAVID SMITH

***

Sir,

I was surprised to read the bigoted attack on Vintage twin overhead camshaft engines by Mr. Blight in the December Vintage Postbag. He stated that in 1930 twin overhead camshafts were mechanical abortions to repair and maintain, that they were noisy, oily and expensive, and that they were unsuitable for commercial production.

My 1928 touring Salmson has a twin overhead camshaft engine that is efficient, reasonably quiet, oilfree, and easy to maintain and repair, and which was very cheap. The engine was designed in 1921, and the same basic unit was in production until 1954. After 1930, no other type of engine was made, and the majority of the cars were saloons or touring cars. Although Salmsons have now been absorbed by Renault, they appeared to weather the Great Depression more successfully than Talbots.

Alfa Romeo seem to have found the production of twin o.h.c. engines from 1928 till the present day, commercially viable. My own 1930 saloon is powered by an oil-free engine that has the easiest method of adjusting the tappets I have come across.

I have the greatest admiration for Mr. Roesch.s Talbots and the design does not have to be justified by throwing mud at other designs, especially those conceived by men like Petit and Jano.

London, NW.7 — M. J. D. WHITE.

***

That Rotary-valve Rotary Aero-engine

Sir,

A friend has just shown me your article on the rotary valve engine. Unfortunately I was unable to show it to my father, the eldest of the Buckman brothers mentioned, who died recently on October 23rd last, at the age of 83. I was turning out some of his papers recently and came across some old photographs, etc., which may interest you. The engine you nearly acquired was actually a three-cylinder rotary, not a five-cylinder. This was made in 1910-11 and I believe was the only one.

After resting many years at Thame it was given to a Mr. Hubert Curtis at Botley, Oxford, and had been seen up to a few months ago.

Buckman Engineering Co. went on to make Buck motorcycles and later Stag cyclecars. In 1912 the company was purchased by the Radford family, who eventually turned over to the manufacture of furniture, which they have done very effectively to this day. The younger brother emigrated to Canada in 1914, whilst my father, after a time as manager of Stag Company, continued in various small engineering firms in Nottingham which still made Stag engines and spares in 1921.

Dry Sandford — P. BUCKMAN

***

Daimler Double-Six

Sir,

I’ve just been reading Profile No. 40 on the Double-Six Daimlers with very great pleasure. I am so glad this highly important, interesting and nasty motor car has been adequately dealt with, but with all possible respect I do not think its nastiness has been made sufficiently apparent. As a kind of relief chauffeur for a Mr. Tullett I drove one quite a lot in 1938/9 and both to drive and to service it was enough to break any chauffeur’s heart. Incidentally, speaking of chauffeurs, I note both in the Profile and in a recent Sunday Times Supplement piece the chauffeur is given the generic name of “James”; chauffeurs, like coachmen, were surely always addressed and referred to by their surnames? The footman would be James or John or whatever, but chauffeur, parlourmaid, butler ranked as upper servants and were surnamed—and of course, their employer’s children, if properly brought up, gave them a Mister as well.

To come back to the Daimler, the controls are described as agreeably light. The clutch and brakes were certainly very pleasant, and the gearbox quite agreeable, but the steering was both low-geared and heavy, exhaustingly so in town traffic, and the contrast between the Daimler and a Rolls-Royce Phantom I or II are startling indeed. Because the engine was so large and heavy it sat well back in the frame and in order to give the customers the space they expected for their money the driving space was disagreeably cramped. This added to the difficulty of piloting the brute in traffic as it was difficult to turn in one’s seat sufficiently to see backwards for reversing. The Straight-Eight Daimlers of the mid-‘thirties were also pretty nasty in the same way, and had similarly unpleasant steering. The worst feature of the Double-Six was that, although apparently well insulated, one sat with one’s feet and legs in an oven. The heat was appalling and the scuttle ventilators did very little to help—nothing at all in town work—and the pedals themselves got so hot that I have had a crepe rubber sole getting tacky and tending to cling to the accelerator. The car was a beast to work on, and no thought at all had been given to the chauffeur or mechanic in the arrangement of the greasing points and other things requiring regular attention. The performance was undeniably quite impressive for so big a motor-car, but I think the petrol consumption figures were a bit optimistic. The one I drove was a 1928 Double-Six Fifty and my boss reckoned 8 m.p.g. on long runs and 5-6 m.p.g. in town was the best he could hope for. It was a bothersome car to clean as the oil vapour from the exhaust settled as a film over the back panels and window. One of the advantages claimed for the Knight engine was that it required no valve grinding. Nor did it, but the inlet ports of the inner sleeves (not being subjected to any blast) used to coke up. On an ordinary sleeve valve engine this does not present too bad a problem but the inlets of the Double-Six were completely inaccessible except after hours of preliminary dismantling. This sort of weakness—lack of thought for maintenance—was very characteristic of Daimler designs under Pomeroy.

Also, by 1928 anway, Daimlers had not cured their wheel wobble (and if one looks at the dimensions of the front axle one can see why) which really was quite horrible. On mine, hitting the right sort of slight bump at about 20 m.p.h. set it off and if it was not possible to accelerate out of it (which was pretty frightening as the whole front end shook fit to bust) there was nothing for it but to stop. On one occasion it started just as I had turned into Hyde Park from Kensington Gore and, being unable to accelerate, and unwilling to stop because of a car hard on my heels, I had the unpleasant experience of losing control and mounting the pavement.

Please don’t think these reminiscences are intended as a criticism of the Profile, which I really did enjoy very much. I’m glad the car has been written up; it was indeed an impressive piece of machinery. A folly, but a folly on the grand scale and, having driven one for some three thousand miles, one can see what a jolly good car the contemporary Rolls-Royce was!

Odiham — TONY BIRD.

[I hasten to add the chauffeur’s name was in fact Mr. James, his: Christian name being Ned. I agree about cramped chauffeur’s quarters on the Straight-Eight Daimlers and I did dwell on the complications of correctly tuning these V12 engines.—ED.

***

Those Klaxons!

Sir,

Some years before the war, I delivered a Miles Whitney Straight light aeroplane to the late Count Trossi in Turin. He was a natural if sometimes gay pilot, and after sitting beside him whilst he made a few landings he later returned the compliment by letting me take the wheel of the Fiat he was using and which I rather admired. My driving was far less confident than Trossi’s flying, but with his usual charm he concealed the unease he must have felt. He bore with it nobly for a while as we made our way into Turin, but finally was moved to offer the gentle but urgent admonition “In Italy, we klaxonate more often.” Upon reflection, I would think a capital K was more than implied by the suppressed emphasis with which he spoke.

Chipping Sodbury — P. E. GORDON-MARSHALL

***

Vintage Austin 7s

Sir,

What on earth was that 1933 Austin Nippy doing in the V.S.C.C. Northern Trial results? I thought it was a Vintage Sports Car Club.

Rhayader — SEYMOUR PRICE.

***

35 Years Laid-up

Sir, am trying to trace the age of a McKenzie Auto-cycle. This auto-cycle may have been built in 1910. It has a 50c.c. two-stroke engine, Vee belt pulley drive, 26 in. x 1-3/4 in. wheels, and the fuel tank has separate compartments for oil and petrol. The name Hobarts, Coventry, is on an engine cover-plate. This example has been in a shed for thirty-five years and has not been used since the engine was reconditioned twenty-six years ago. A former owner claims that models of this make completed an endurance run between Lands End and John o’ Groats. This model had one fault. The engine would cut out at low speed and it had to be pedalled through traffic.

Kings Lynn — MICHAEL HUDSON

***

Lea-Francis Affairs

Sir, I have enjoyed your very interesting article about the Richardson light car. I was most intrigued to see that you quoted Lea-Francis as having experimented with a form of friction drive, using tapered rollers.

This is an entirely new aspect of Lea-Francis history to me. I have heard of quite a number of their productions which never reached the market for one reason or another, but have never heard or read anything of a friction drive of any kind. Could you enlighten me about this, or alternatively quote your source of information so that I can look it up for myself?

Another small mystery I would like to clear up is that of the two-cylinder Bradshaw engined car (sometimes misquoted as a V-twin) said to have been produced in about 1922. Although I have an official factory leaflet giving the full specification of this car, and know that it was announced in various journals at the time of the 1922 show, I have never been able to unearth any evidence to show that any cars were actually made! The works leaflet calls the car the C type, but the original production ledgers show the C type to have been provided with a conventional 8.9 h.p. Coventry Simplex s.v. engine, and there is no trace in the ledgers of any Bradshaw engined cars.

I was talking to our President, Mr. G. T. Andrews, the other day, and he related the following anecdote of the vintage years of L.F. production which you might find interesting and amusing.

The standard test for the 12/40 gearbox, which we now consider to be notoriously noisy, was as follows. The test drivers used to take the cars out of the works into Lower Ford Street and get alongside a tram. If the box could be heard in the intermediates above the noise of the tram, then it was noisy! If, on the other hand, the tram drowned the noises of the gearbox it was a good gearbox. Noisy boxes were apparently often sent to Vulcans at Southport, as they used L.F. components on some of their models as well as on the cars they built under the L.F. badge.

Sutton Coldfield — PETER PRINGLE, Chairman, Lea-Francis O.C.

[The Lea-Francis friction transmission was described in The Light Car and Cyclecar soon after the Armistice but was probably never put into production. We do not have any data on the Bradshaw-engined Lea-Francis. Can a reader assist? It presumably had this same engine as used for the Belsize-Bradshaw (see Fragments on Forgotten Makes, No 14), which was a V-twin.—ED.

***

Georges Roesch Replies

Sir,

Mr. F. R. B. Field complains that I fail to explain in what way his facts are misleading. It was surely unnecessary if he is as conversant, as he indicated, with pre-war and post-war automobile practices and compares like with like. My 1929 technology was based on having obtained in 1922 the smooth, reliable and efficient use of high compression ratios in automobile engines. This was achieved by meticulous care to every detail of design and manufacture and resulted in a power increase beyond my previous at greatly reduced costs. In spite of immediate and unprecedented commercial success, this new technology, the most important car development in common use today, disappeared with Roesch Talbot cars and did not reappear before General Motors gave their wonderful lead with it in 1948.

In 1963 I wrote a brief contribution on my pioneering work, its inspiration and results for the Symposium on ” The Design of Small Engines.” It was published in this most important and very fine book in an unacceptable form without my knowledge by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in complete disregard of their own rule.

I hope that this way of recording an automobile contribution, to which by my training and life I am opposed, will now be cleared up amicably.

London, NW11 — GEORGES ROESCH.