Your copy of Motor Sport (February) has just come into my hands here in Malta, where I retired some 10 years ago.
The letter from M. D. Fume of Chesham regarding V8 Trials Specials following one from John Hasseldine on Specials — where are they now, interested me very much as he mentioned my name, amongst others, in connection with a V8 Special which I used both pre- and post-war with varying degrees of success.
I originally bought this car from a private owner in the Croydon area. I can’t remember his name, he had stripped all the original bodywork, a coupé I believe, and fitted it with a home-made single-seater body, a bit of a horror, all plain thin tin sheets, bolted together with hundreds of small hex nuts and bolts, the starter and flywheel ring dynamo and fan etc. removed, the radiator sloped back at about 60º, the original ignition had been replaced with a Scintilla Vertex Magneto and the exhaust manifolds replaced with individual flexible pipes leading into two Brooklands Silencers and ending in two regulation fishtails.
As far as I remember I paid some £35 for this vehicle, which originated as I believe a 1940 Model 40 V8 fixed-head coupe.
I was told that the previous owner had done this work on it with the idea of using it for the Mountain Races at Brooklands but had found it was completely useless as with that length of chassis with no weight on the back wheels it was uncontrollable on acceleration and I doubt whether the Brookland authorities would have passed it.
I towed it home and stripped all the tinware, stripped the engine, fitted new flywheel starter ring and starter, likewise dynamo and fan and refitted radiator in original position.
I then found an old style 40 Bugatti body and fitted this plus an old Sara Cars (air cooled I believe) radiator cowl and made up a new three-piece bonnet, plus simple mudguards and all was ready for the road.
This turned out to be the most enjoyable road-going sports car, that could see off most cars on the road on acceleration but had a maximum of about 100 m.p.h.
I would point out at this stage that my ideal car at that stage was the Allard and this was the nearest I could get to a poor man’s Allard, hence the type 40 Bugatti body, as a GP Bugaiti body was beyond my means even if one was obtainable.
I then entered my Special in various trials and I found that lack of rear weight always stranded me on the first slippery grass bank. I then tried adding ballast in the back, but it didn’t cure the trouble, so after many failures I finally took it home, removed the body, cut the chassis in half just behind the front seats, cut out two feet and welded the two halves together again shortening the drive shaft and torque tube etc. to suit; then cut the rear half of the body off and gave it a flat tail with slab tank, à la MG with suitable carrier beyond that to take two spare wheels (one with 7.50— one with 5.0 tyres and wheels).
This completely transformed the car, not so good on the road as it was such a short wheelbase but off the road it was a revelation and from then on I could compete with the Allards etc., especially Sydney Allard and Ken Hutchinson and sometimes put up a better time but always thought that Sydney was the best driver in that era and Ken Hutchinson sometimes did better than others. He was then using the Lincoln engine, which in some conditions gave him an advantage with the extra power or at other times it was a disadvantage on account of the extra weight on the front wheels.
I had a lot of fun with this car right up to the beginning of the war. I ran it at Brighton two years running and could hold my own the first half of the course by which time I had reached my maximum speed and from then on the faster cars just walked past me. I also ran it once at the Lewes Speed trials and put up a comparable time with the V8 Allards but was beaten by Ken Hutchinson in the V12 Allard.
This car only let me down once in some three years, in one of the MG Club trials, on a hill somewhere near Wolverhampton, the shortened propshaft sheared on a “pump” and that was the end for me of that trial. I was towed into Wolverhampton and the local Ford agent couldn’t help as it was non standard. However I was told of an ex-boiler tube man and he managed by hand and welding to re-roll the damaged tube, fit a new tube over the existing one, all without machine, and done on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning in time for me to get to the finish at Shrewsbury in time for the finish on Sunday afternoon, all for a few pounds, less the towing-in charge.
I was using this car the road early in 1940 in Kent while engaged on agricultural work and unfortunately met a learner driver in an army truck on a bend and he hit me on the offside front, so I parked the car in a barn at the back of the “local”. I was then moved up to the Midlands and with rationing had to leave it there where it stayed throughout the war and was used mostly by chickens and mice. I drained the water and removed the Scintilla to immobilise it.
After the war when petrol became easier I went and collected same and refitted the magneto and then proceeded to tow it home behind a fairly low powered car on a solid tow bar. It seemed to be making rather heavy weather up hills so I put the Ford in gear, switched on and the engine started without trouble and from then on I pushed the towing can up hills at higher speeds than on the flat.
After the war I tried entering the car again in various trials but by this time the original engine was very much the worse for age and wear, so foolishly I exchanged it for a Ford reconditioned unit but it never produced anything like the performance of the original unit again. At that time I could not obtain the 7.50 x 16 Goodyear tyres, which gave excellent grip off the road, only ordinary Standard Dunlops then available which did not compare in soft going.
Then came the end of the V8 era, so I was loath to par with the car which had given me so much pleasure. but the open two-seater body and scanty hood was not very useful for everyday motoring so I eventually found a 1934 four-door saloon body chassis with had been used for “road blocks” and rebuilt it complete with my mechanicals, re-upholstered it and then tried to re-register it as a new can — I hoped to do this to escape the £37 tax which had then come to an end on new cars but this failed as it was an old chassis that had been registered before and I had to find the chassis number and then trace through Ford Motor Company who they sold that chassis to in 1934 and then who the agent sold it card the original Reg. Number. Unfortunately for me, this was eventually traced which took a long time and lots of trouble and I still paid the £37 Tax.
I ran it for a number of years as an everyday vehicle and found it very trouble free as I’d found two other V8s I had starting with a 1933 Model 18 saloon and later with a 1935 Model 48 (I think) drophead coupé all of which were a very pleasant comfortable car, cheap to run and maintain with a very reasonable performance in their time, the only weak point being the brakes, which were never of the best.
Eventually I disposed of the Model 40 to someone for Stock Car racing at the Aldershot Speedway, so I imagine it finished up as a battered wreck in a scrap yard but it had had a good life and no doubt died in the heat of competition.
I enclose three photographs showing the “as bought”, the first stage and final, which may be of interest.
St. Paul’s Bay, Malta, Guy L. Burroughs
1906, or some two years after the Leyland-owned car was built, and second, Italian firms were adept at choosing initials to ‘fit the crime’. The classic instance is 1915’s Societa Italians Aeronautica, the first aircraft-oriented venture by Fiat. The name was logical enough, but the initials (SIA) spell lei it be’ in Italian, or a literal translation from the Latin of the parent company’s name! It would be interesting to hear some more expert views on this one.
Midhurst. MICHAEL SEDGWICK.