Vintage Postbag, January 1981

Targa Florio


While recently enjoying David Owen’s book “Targa Florio” (Foulis/Haynes Publishing Group, 1979). I was surprised to learn that a British driver, one Cyril Snipe, had actually won outright the 1912 Targa Florio, driving a 4-cylinder, L-head SCAT.

Although a dabbler in motoring history, I am no expert on the pre-World War 1 period, yet it does seem astonishing that this achievement seems to have been more or less totally ignored in most histories of the period. Although Snipe was not driving a British car, unlike the oft-lauded S. F. Edge in the 1902 Gordon Bennett race, there are too few early British successes in motor racing for us to afford overlooking Snipe’s signal success.

I know no more than Mr. Owen tells us. That is that Snipe was the nephew of a backer (John Bennett of Newton & Bennett?), of one of Giovanni Ceirano Jnr’s many motor manufacturing ventures, Societa Ceirano Automobili Torino (SCAT), and that he was employed at the time as a test driver at the Turin factory.

Mr. Owen graphically describes the magnitude of Snipe’s achievement. That year the Targa Florio was run over 651 miles, round Sicily, over the awful roads pertaining at the time. There was a field of 26 cars — lacking the biggest star names that year, but with strong opposition from Lancia, Fiat, Isotta-Fraschini, Alfa and Florio, and from Snipe’s team-mate Ernesto Ceirano. Moreover, 15 were still running at the finish (in marked contrast to Edge’s 1902 victory as the sole survivor in the Gordon Bennett Trophy competition). Despite extreme fatigue (he had to be shaken awake at one point by his Italian riding mechanic), Snipe finished half an hour ahead of his nearest challenger, completing the course in 24 hours, 37 minutes, 19.8 sec, at an average speed of just 26.44 m.p.h., such were the horrors of the course.

Snipe competed again in the 1913 race, again driving a SCAT, and in 1919 when he drove a British Eric-Campbell, one of a pair which were the first ever British entries for the race. Sadly, he retired on both these occasions.

A rapid check with the index to W.B.’s History of Brooklands Motor Course reveals no reference to the said Mr. Snipe, of whom I had hitherto heard nothing. Can some knowledgeable Motor Sport reader tell us more about this man whose skill and endurance must have been formidable?


Chris Mason

“Motor Racing with Charlie Martin”


Your story of C.E.C. Martin’s racing in the thirties brought out an interesting reminiscence of Kenneth Evans at Shelsley Walsh, September 1937, and also (in November “Motor Sport”) H. Stockley of Alcester makes the point that Charlie Martin achieved 39.67 sec. in the ERA.

The actual times (for the sake of the record, so to speak) are:

No. 17. C.E.C. Martin, ERA; 40.80 sec., 39.67sec.

No. 33. K. D. Evans, Alfa; 40.39 sec., 41.28sec.

No. 15 A.F.P. Pane, Frazer Nash; 38.77 sec., 39.33 sec.

The enclosed photograph shows the ERA in the Paddock at Shelsley Walsh in September 1937.


Walter Gibbs

That Aston Martin-AC Special


Your dictum “that when requiring answers to obscure motoring matters, ask Motor Sport readers” has certainly proved a winner in my case.

As you know Mr. Rivers Fletcher has answered my query regarding the type of body and I have also found the present owner of the car which has been in his possession since 1964. (The intervening period remains unaccounted for!)

This information has given me much pleasure as I quite expected it to have been wrapped by now, particularly as it achieved no great fame in its youth unlike some other specials of its era. Instead it is still very much alive and kicking after some 35 years.

The present owner is Mr. Painter of Shrewsbury and he tells me that when he bought it it was fitted with a 1936 2 1/2-litre Jaguar engine. During a recent rebuild an Arnott supercharger was fitted and it has since competed at Oulton Park. He complains that the present engine is very heavy and that he has now located an AC engine which he hopes to install in the near future. This engine has, of course, an aluminium block and this was one of my main reasons for using one in the first place.

My original letter also produced an unexpected bonus in the form of a letter from a friend who occasionally gave me assistance when building the car and of whom I had not heard for over thirty years. He happened to see my letter when glancing through a copy of Motor Sport when on holiday in Malta!

Many thanks to all concerned.

Lyme Regis

E. S. Taylor

Buick By-Gones


The article, “Buick-By-Gones” by the late Mr. Russell Johns was immensely interesting and a marvel of fascinating detail. It is not generally realised that David Dunbar Buick was born in Scotland. He was a tinkerer, an inventor. He designed many bathroom fixtures used today, and patented a process for annealing porcelain to cast iron, a method still employed. There is a connection, so to speak, between Buicks and bathtubs.

Apparently David Buick was careless in management and lost a successful plumbing business because of this. When he turned to cars, the same fault cost him the Buick Motor Car Company, to be purchased by a controlling group who hired W. C. Durant to manage it. Durant created General Motors and Buick cars held that corporation together for its first two decades.

Mr. Johns’s article mentioned a Buick prepared for the 1939 tour of Canada of Their Majesties, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Three special-bodied cars were made for the Royal Tour. They were Phaetons in the Royal colours, and of three separate makes: a Buick series 90 bodied by Buick, a Chrysler C-24 Imperial, bodied by Chrysler, a Lincoln model-K V-12, bodied by Derham of Rosemont, Pennsylvania. The Buick still exists and is in private hands. The fate of the Chrysler is obscure. The Lincoln now resides in the Henry Ford Museum and was used as a Royal car again, during one visit to Canada of Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip.

Toronto, Canada

Garry Coxall

Armstrong Siddeley Memories


The idea of writing this item about bygone days arose through a conversation with David Askew, secretary of the Westmorland MC, and Miss Judith Robinson, concerning the historically and mechanically interesting 1936 2-litre Aston Martin “Red Dragon” at one time owned and driven competitively by her uncle, and in the early days one of the faster, if not the fastest, entry at Barbon. However that could be the basis of another memory lane story, whilst this one is how an Aston gave way to an Armstrong.

My father decided to visit the Motor Show of 1933 to find a substitute for a 1922 15 h.p. Crossley Tourer, which was originally bought as “being made in the North, you could go round to see the chaps at the works, and spares were easily available”. Before entering the Portals of Olympia the chosen car was a 1 1/2-litre Aston Martin, then riding high on account of their Le Mans success, and, incidentally, Helsington Garage just south of Kendal was the agent for the cars in the area, and somewhere in our files is a letter offering to arrange a demonstration run.

After an impressive run father reluctantly decided “your mother wouldn’t be able to stand the noise”. The children thought the Speed 20 Alvis a really super car, but any idea of buying this make was suppressed by “the 5/- shares are now 3/6d, and the Company is going bust”, a pessimistic forecast given the splendid wartime output and present-day impressive range of multi-wheel, multi-drive vehicles — albeit by not quite the same august Company.

On the Armstrong Siddeley stand was quite the most beautifully and tastefully duo-coloured car that I have ever seen, or ever will see. With black flowing wings, pigeon grey to the waist line, divided from the pigeon blue top by raised black heading bearing double white hair-lines, the whole was completely captivating when coupled to the Sports Saloon body on the 20 h.p. short chassis.

This was “the car”, but father showed no interest whatsoever. However, someone must have sensed a suppressed desire, because a month or so later the telephone rang in the Manchester office giving the information that the car was at Quay Street. That lunch hour was the most protracted that I ever knew my father take, but it was arranged that he should drive the car up to Ambleside accompanied by the chief mechanic. Saturday morning’s run clinched the matter. All were impressed with the easy and quiet ascent of Bannerigg out of Kendal. The 20/25 h.p. Rolls-Royce was no competitor as regards absence of mechanical and coachwork noise. The chief mechanic returned to Manchester by “through” train (LMS), a journey which took two hours with arrival exactly on time. Armstrong Siddeley, in general, did not approve of fitting a fluid flywheel between engine and pre-selector box. Reliance was placed on “band slip” to take up the drive, a feature which for reversing could be tricky. From 1933 to the outbreak of war, when the car was taken off the road, all servicing was carried out at Newton Heath. I well recollect taking it there — to the Avro works — where the large doors opened and XJ 9046 was welcomed by her winged-cousins, as aircraft were in production there until, I believe, bombed-out at Christmas 1940.

Certainly no service charge was made for the first few de-cokes; indeed in the log book I trace no charge in any year. After coming home in 1946 I overhauled the engine (rather sludge-filled in the oil-ways) and the car remained in use until 1955, driven by my sister, by which date it had covered 62,000 miles. This at a cost of only replacement oil-filter elements, batteries, and tyres; no mechanical replacement whatsoever. After leaving us the car was seen once or twice at Stantons Garage, but by then it had been resprayed two tones of navy blue. The average fuel consumption was 14/16 m.p.g. at (in 1933) 1/6d per gallon (= 7 1/2p), whilst 5-gallon drums of Filtrate oil cost £1 9s. 7d. (= 147p). In 1935 four Dunlop Fort covers (19” x 5.50″) set the exchequer back £18. The car was heavy on tyres, and represented the greatest running expense. A calculation carried out at 25,000 miles gave a total running cost of 4.31p per mile, which in view of the nil mechanical cost shows a fairly heavy expenditure for that day and age.

This Show Model Armstrong Siddeley was the “best car in the World” for us and unhappy was the day the Factory and all spares, along with working blueprints, vanished in flames during the blitz on Coventry, thus explaining the rare glimpse of a pre-war Armstrong on the road now.


G.W. Nicholson

Vice-President, Westmorland MC

[I do not think the flourishing Armstrong Siddeley MC will agree with the last paragraph of this interesting letter. — Ed]

A Tale of two Franklins


In doing some research on the air-cooled Franklin automobile (made in Syracuse, New York, from 1902 to 1934), I have found some English connections which I hope some of your readers might help me investigate.

In the Fall of 1902 there was some correspondence between Herbert H. Franklin, founder of the firm, and Oliver Wethered of 30 St. Swithin’s Lane, London, E.C., concerning the possibility of building the Franklin car under licence in England. The plan was seriously considered but an agreement was not achieved. I am wondering if Oliver Wethered is a name in England automotive history .

In 1963 I purchased a 1930 Franklin saloon from J. Holland, of Southport and had it shipped to my home. In 1976 I purchased a second 1930 Franklin, a 7-passenger tourer, from Tony Mitchell, of Cirencester, Gloucestershire, and again had it shipped to my home. On comparing the registration books I was surprised to discover that both cars had belonged for nearly 20 years to Herbert Cue, who maintained homes in both Chelsea and Weybridge until 1949 when he moved to County Cavan, Ireland, taking both Franklins with him. Other than that he died soon after his return to England in 1956, I know nothing about Herbert Cue except that he was married, his wife’s name being Phillis A. Cue. I do not know if he had children. I hope to learn more about the cars and a little about Herbert Cue himself and therefore would like to correspond with any relatives or former friends of his.

The Franklin agency in London was Regent Motors, Ltd., 12 New Burlington Street, London W.1, and I understand this is in the West End of London just off Regent Street. A. J. T. Taylor was Chairman of the firm; M. C. Tetley was Managing Director; A. H. Clarke was Director of Sales; E. Swan was bookkeeper; Phillip Ball was demonstration salesman; W. J. Eyre was salesman; J. J. Cannon was service manager; Lucy Hemmant was stenographer; H. R. Leonard was the manager for London counties; E. Forbes Newlands was secretary; and Tom Lucas was porter.


Thomas H. Hubbard

The 30/98 Vauxhall


In comparison with the number of vehicles manufactured, the quantity of hot air generated by the Vauxhall 30/98 is exceeded only by that in the wake of Concorde — but that doesn’t prevent me from attempting to add to it, mainly on account of your excellent piece about Bill Hancock in the November issue.

The formula in use before 1911 for working out the “horsepower” of a car engine seems to have been based on that used for high-pressure steam engines. It incorporated the cube root of the stroke (in feet) and the square of the bore (in inches) amongst other ingredients — not all of which are readily available on the tip of the tongue. On this basis the horsepower of a 98 mm. x 150 mm. 4-cylinder engine, such as that in the 30/98, comes out at 30.18.

It was the 1911 RAC system of rating which took no account of the stroke, and which was used as a tax gatherer. That rating used the square of the bore, in inches, times the number of cylinders, divided by 2.5, and was as near as dammit half the total piston area in square inches. Thus after 1911 there was no fiscal penalty for increasing an engine’s stroke, and Vauxhall was by no means the only manufacturer to do just that.

It must be this impressive mixture of Gabriel Mouton’s metric dimensions with our good old Imperial ones in a totally unworkable formula, together with the incomprehensible method of construction of its rear axle which makes the 30/98 such a popular (or is interminable a better word?) topic for conversation.

Perhaps we should in future refer to the Ford A as the 27/98 in order to add a touch of mystery and dignity to another rather pedestrian (but commercially more successful) machine?


T. J. Threlfall

The 20/60 Vauxhall


I read with great interest the article regarding Mr. Bill Hancock and the history of Vauxhall at the time of the General Motors purchase; my late father purchased a 1929 20/60 h.p. Bedford saloon, in November 1928, which survived with us for some 73,000 miles. The purchase price was £510 complete, and it was sold in 1935 for £37 10s. After 100,000 miles it changed hands and became a taxi in Golders Green; if MT 8641 is still seen in that area it must be worth a fortune, as one was recently advertised at £5,250! This vehicle always suffered from wheel wobble, and a small block of solid wood was inserted in the suspension, after which it never misbehaved, apart from always sliding with alarming regularity on the wooden-block roads common at the time; it was a heavy vehicle, with superb leather seating. After reading the article, I now wonder if this particular car had a Vauxhall engine, or was it the later 20/60 h.p. which had the Chevrolet engine?

Perhaps the late Mr. Woodbridge (Vauxhall Service Engineer at Luton for many years) is the only one who could answer this question, but alas he died many years ago.

The mascot on the radiator was a wonderful place to hang one’s coat when “swinging” the car on a cold morning, but do doubt lasting injury was given to pedestrians if involved in an accident. Note also the one windscreen wiper supplied with the car and the battery on the running board. The spare wheel was on the right-hand running board.


Claude C. Adkins

V-E-V Odds and Ends

The Morgan Three-Wheeler Club had 94 members at its last AGM, at Malvern, of whom 41 arrived in Morgans, three-wheeled that is, including Bill Tuer’s racer, all the way from Liverpool, and the Club has recently enrolled at least 17 new members, their Moggies ranging from a 1926 Aero to 1938 and 1947 Ford-powered F2s. The Vintage MCC has over 6,000 members and looks like retaining its printed magazine, as donations of over £2,500 have been received to ease the Club’s financial burdens. The Membership Secretaries of these two well-established Clubs are, respectively, S. Kay, 1 Que-Sera, Box Hill, Corsham, Wiltshire (Morgan) and K. Fazakerley, Bodawel, Saint Harmon, near Rhayader, Powys (VMCC). There is a possibility, Kenneth Neve tells us, that an idea mooted five or more years ago, namely that the VSCC should include a straight speed-trial or sprint in its annual competition repertoire, thus catering for vintage cars that lack powerful braking etc., called for in racing and some speed hill-climbs, may happen this year, at Colerne Airfield, near Bath. While one would have liked a more 1920s venue, this would at least be a start. Neve’s well-known 1914 TT Humber was filmed last year at Oulton Park, in connection with a forthcoming BBC TV programme, Gren Dobson, the intrepid cameraman, riding with his camera on a platform behind the car’s bolster petrol tank. — W.B.