This article, by R. King-Clark, was the opening chapter in his as yet unpublished book about his extensive flying in his aero-planes, a Miles Gypsy Ill Hawk G-ACT D and a Miles IIA Whitney Straight G-AERS, and his military career but it is so interesting I decided MOTOR SPORT should publish it. Lt Col King-Clark’s young brother “Cuffy” was also an enthusiast, running an Ulster A7, a 1928 20/25 hp Rolls-Royce and driving his six-cylinder Riley Sprite in races at Montlhery when living in France, before he was killed in action with the RAF in a Blenheim I nightfighter when engaging the enemy from Wittering, Northants — Ed. —
‘Yesterday is the playground of all men’s hearts”— .’Bartimeus’ I WAS born, a Scot, in November, 1913, in our home on the west bank of the delightful Wey Navigation Canal, less than a mile from the rim of Brooklands’ Byfleet Banking. After the Great War, which my father did not survive, we continued to live very happily in our Byfleet home.
Between the ages of about 10 to 16 a friend of mine — Alan Wonham, the son of a retired Paymaster Rear-Admiral, who lived in Oyster Lane, not far from the Byfleet Bridge — and myself became keen “undercover” Brooklands addicts. Entry to the track, either via the main entrance and Members bridge or over the Byfleet bridge, was strictly controlled, even on normal non-Meeting days. One had to have either a “worker’s” pass, be a member of the BARC or pay a fee — for none of which we qualified. However we had our methods, the simplest of which was to climb to the lip of the Byffeet banking through the tangle of shrub and gorse on its steep reverse slope, after crawling through a convenient gap in the spiked fence bordering Oyster Lane. Then, choosing our moment, we would dash down the banking to the ditch between the track and the perimeter road. There we would lie till we were sure all was clear, and then saunter, hands in pockets, over to the Hawker sheds to see if there was any exciting Sopwith creation on the tarmac — a Hawker Tomtit or Hoopoe, or, later, even an embryo Hart.
This was followed by a brisk walk along the perimeter road flanking the aerodrome (on the non-sewage farm side) to the magic of the Paddock. Here, with one eye open for the uniform-capped Track staff, who were always on the lookout for unofficial visitors — especially small ones with school caps — we would peek into Thomson and Taylor’s, sniff around something exciting, and if we were really lucky, spot Parry Thomas in his flat-iron Thomas special, our favourite car, getting set for a few practice laps. Parry Thomas was our hero. He always had time to answer questions from small, shy, inquisitive boys, and was never off-hand with us.
Sometimes, when drivers were practising (or even during race meetings — until, eventually, we joined the BARC), our raids would get no further than the banking edge. There we would lie with our chins on the concrete lip, instinctively drawing back as Parry’s Leyland Eight or “Tim” Birkin (our other, and more dashing, hero) in his single-seater blower 4 1/2-litre Bentley. blue polka-dot scarf flying, roared past, literally within inches of our noses
By the age of 18, having proudly purchased, for five shillings, my driving licence in its little red folder from the small Byfleet post office, I set about, first, learning to drive, and second, buying a car. The first I achieved at the helm of an Austin Twelve, whose normal role was as a taxi belonging to Howard’s Garage outside West Byfleet railway station. The driver had known me since I was a child and we got on well. There being no driving test in those days, I was soon ready for the second phase.
However, I was faced with two difficulties. Firstly, I didn’t have the money and, secondly, at Sandhurst, though there was no limit to the number of horses a Gentleman Cadet could own or ride, he was strictly forbidden to own — or drive — a car during term time.
I got round the first difficulty by persuading my first cousin and guardian, Tim Stoop, to advance me a small sum from an inheritance expected in due course. The second hurdle I found not unsurmountable though, as will be seen, it had its moments. One’s first car is always, a major event. My first was a 1929 Austin 7 fabric-bodied, black and white, Gordon England two-door saloon (Reg No XV9177). I bought it from Rowland Smith Ltd on December 20th 1932. It cost £44 — which I had managed to persuade a somewhat sceptical Cousin Tim was a good buy. In it, in ten months, I covered 8,500 miles, average 45 mpg of petrol — and 500 mpg of oil. Its top indicated speed was 52 mph. I noted that “on August 16th 1933 averaged 34.7 mph between Peasemore in Berkshire and Byfleet— 52 miles in 1 hr 30 min”. During the night of December 31st 1932, when parked among a mass of other cars outside the “Ace of Spades” on the Kingston By-Pass, a drunken driver smashed into the line of cars, badly damaging the Austin. Being insured only for Third Party risks, I had to pay for the damage, which came to £13.10.0. (I decided not to involve Cousin Tim!) Owing to this accident and to the frequent carrying of heavy loads (two people?) in the rear of the car, the body broke and a large gap appeared between it and the scuttle –to the extent that from the driving seat I couldn’t see over the steering wheel.
It was nonetheless a splendid little car. I owned this A7 whilst at Sandhurst, and, with the constant risk of “28 days Restrictions” in my mind, made many a midnight dash back to Camberley at weekends, hiding the car in a corner of White’s Garage until I could sneak it away another night. In this way I overcame the “second difficulty.”
Inevitably, before long, with my enthusiasm for motor racing. I started looking round for a more exciting car. I found it, eventually, in the secondhand car advertisements at the end of The Motor — a 1929 two-seater Lombard — for sale for £91 at H. F. Edwards Ltd. Though I had never heard of the marque, it nevertheless sounded thrilling from the brief description and, on inspection, exceeded my wildest dreams! Anyway, back I went to Cousin Tim who came to have a look at the car and eventually — perhaps remembering his own youth (he was then about 45!) — gave in, stipulating that we must first have an AA inspection. I cannot now recall what the AA report said, but the inspector may have been surprised to find under the bonnet of this beautiful little car (chassis number AL3 No 4), a 1924 1,261 cc Wolseley Moth engine instead of the standard, Salmson-based power plant, a car so rare that I believe there were not half-a-dozen in Britain. Certainly, the well-known Captain A. G. Miller (later Sir Alastair Miller) only knew of three, referring, in a letter to me, to “a little grey one which was sold to a Mr Rigg who won one race at 73 1/2 mph and ran in one of the Ladies Races (driven by Miss Rigg) at Brooklands”. He appeared unaware that one of the Lombards had a Moth engine. This, I believe, was my car, which was grey with red wheels when I bought her, though I subsequently had her painted black, with white wheels.
Anyhow, I bought the Lombard (Reg No UL2127) for £91, less the £15 Mr Edwards allowed me for the poor, broken-backed Austin Seven. The Lombard was certainly an eye-catcher and I gained the greatest satisfaction from driving it up to the entrance steps of 4 Company, Royal Military College. Sandhurst. in December 1933, at the end of my last term, and showing it off to my fellow GCs.
In spite of all this the car was not a great success. It suffered badly from clutch slip, with its scoop lubrication it ran big ends regularly, and for some reason I never discovered, the short, vertical gear lever would “come clean away in your ‘and”. leaving you with the job of sliding it back into its hole and trying to find, by trial and error, the correct slot in the coggage below, before you could change gear. It was also a very cold and wet car and I had difficulty, that winter, in finding partners to take to dances or the cinema. Performance-wise — and these were timed figures taken at Brooklands since the car had no speedometer, only a rev-counter — the Lombard’s top speed was 82 mph and I did a standing mile at 59 mph. I noted. “These figures achieved with a strong following wind.” (Probably about Force 8!)
In February 1934 I was posted to the 2nd Manchesters at Strensall near York. The Lombard ran a big end at Stamford en route — and I gave up! I had covered about 7,000 temperamental miles in the six months I owned her. I think it was something to do with borrowing a big, old, blue Chrysler open two-seater with a dickey to go to the “Shop” Summer Ball at Woolwich with a fellow subaltern and his partner that switched me onto this type of car until 1939, when very different and much less interesting vehicles entered the scene.
Whatever it was, my next car was a twin of the Chrysler I had borrowed (1929 Model 75). I bought it from Layton & Scarr of York for £55, kept it for eight months, and covered 12,000 miles at an average (approximately) 15 mpg. It had a six-cylinder four-litre engine, a maximum indicated speed of 73 mph, and an acceleration figure of 0-60 mph in 29 sec! Its Reg No was PK 3308. The dickey was very popular with fellow subalterns and their girl friends, by far the most comfortable way to travel with a girl, so I was told — which occasional glances in the rear-mirror seemed to support! This car had a sad and unusual demise. On November 24th 1934 I was motoring back from Hythe in Kent, where I had been attending the mandatory post-Sandhurst Young Officers Course at the Small Arms School, when I stopped for petrol at the Beacon Garage at Kingsdown, near Sevenoaks. The proprietor, having topped up the large tank for about two bob a gallon turned to me for payment. Before feeling for my wallet, I threw down the cigarette I was smoking and, literally in a flash, the proprietor and I found ourselves surrounded by flames, which ran rapidly to the engine -end of the car, from which the petrol must have been dripping. With much shouting and general hassle, we pushed the heavy car down the slope away from the solitary. hand-operated pump, onto some rough ground. Then, having retired rapidly, we watched while the fire in the engine burned itself out fortunately without reaching the main petrol tank.
After inspecting the damage and discussing the position with the proprietor, we agreed amicably, that a fair solution would be for him to accept the car in payment for the petrol he had supplied me with. Having shaken hands on this. I removed my luggage (from the dickey) and, in due course, hitched a lift to London — with a last, sad look at the forlorn old Chrysler, scarred and charred in the bushes. Three days later I “became of age”, which released Cousin Tim, no doubt to his relief, from the responsibilities of vetting my car and other purchases. I was on my own, in fact!
With this freedom of choice before me, I decided to follow the poor Chrysler with one of the new 1935 Studebaker range. “The Dictator” — with a convertible coupe body (plus dickey) and a six-cylinder, 3,358 cc side-valve engine with three speed plus freewheel”, gearbox: colour: fawn with red wheels. I ordered the car, new from the City Garage, York, at a cost of £335. She was delivered — Reg No VY 6241 — on February 19th 1935 and turned out to be exactly what I wanted. Together we covered 43,000 miles in the two-and-a-half years I owned her. She never let me down — and both my friends and I had a great deal of fun from her. When I came to race — modestly — in 1936, she served as a very useful tender. Her performance for those days was excellent: top speed 85 mph: 0-60 mph in 18 sec. Her hydraulic brakes were outstanding, and in general, she handled very well, with good, if somewhat soft, suspension. (I seem to remember she had a type of independent front suspension, called “knee action”.)
I made some reasonably epic runs in the Studebaker. My best time from the 30 mph delimit sign in York down the A1 to the start of the Edgware Road in London (193 miles) was 3 hr 35 min. on May 11th 1935 (53.8 mph) average including a rapid refuel in Stamford. (I considered my standard time for this run 3 hr 40 min.) The 20 miles between Grantham and Stamford I expected to do in 17 min. Occasionally I would meet — or pass — another car on the long, straight, single-carriageway road between these two towns . . . My “longest day” was on June 13th 1936, when I motored down to Lewes from York, starting at 6.00 am, competed (in my J4 MG) in the Lewes Speed Trials, went to a cocktail party in Bramber, west of Brighton, and then drove back to York, just in time for a nap during the sermon at Church Parade in the Garrison Church. Total distance 597 miles.
At Lewes, incidentally — to jump the gun! — I was “not placed” in either the Racing Cars class up to 1,100 cc or 1,500 cc, although on May 9th I had come second in the latter class, to Guy Griffiths in his Anzani Nash, “The Spook” at 21.84 sec, .64 sec behind “The Spook”. R. G. J. Nash in his Frazer Nash Union Special was .08 sec behind me, while Spikins in his remarkable Singer Special, “The Bantam”, was .98 sec behind Nash. (The Houldsworth Special managed 47.1 sec.) It had been a great meeting!
It is perhaps worth mentioning that while awaiting delivery of the Studebaker, for transport, I bought in February 1936 for £15 from a fellow subaltern, a secondhand maroon-coloured Austin 7 “Chummy” (Reg WW 62041.
About this time — at the urgent recommendation of my friend, Jack Churchill, a mad-keen motorcyclist (later a famous, colourful, and much decorated Commando leader) – I also bought a bike — a New Imperial 346 cc OHV Grand Prix Speed Model No 60 (Reg No VY 6649). If anyone is interested. I have in my “Book” the most complete details of this machine, including, to me, such abstruse detail as its compression ratios using two, one, or no washers. However, I soon found that riding it frightened me so much that I sold it, in part exchange, for the first of my two racing cars. Not however, before Paddy Gray, my splendid Ulster soldier-servant (not called “batman” at that time) had from scratch, become a very proficient rider — unlike me, completely unafraid of this monster.
The idea of car-racing had been in my mind for some while — about 20 years! In May 1935 it came to a head when I bought from Green Bros of Leeds a secondhand Singer Le Mans for £160 (Reg No KV 5670). It was, in fact, a special model, with a light two-seater body built onto the standard Le Mans chassis, specifically for the 1934 Light Car Club’s Relay Race at Brooklands. It had a 972 cc OHC engine, with a top speed of about 80 mph — which it took about a quarter-of-an-hour to reach. But then its 13 1/2 gallon (Racing Ethyl) petrol tank may have had something to do with this. I only entered the car for one meeting — at Filey Beach in Yorkshire. It ran (like a sewing machine) in the 12 and 24 mile handicap events — or, perhaps I should say. “we also ran”.
Competing cars included two Bugattis, an MG Magnette, a Railton saloon and several Rileys.
Two months later. in July, I sold the car and bought, in its place, from Allen’s Motor Mart of Bradford a dark blue secondhand (1933) J4 MG — for £235 (Reg No BRF 107). It had the 747 cc Powerplus supercharged (16 lb at 6,000 rpm) two bearing crankshaft engine, with the standard two-seater body — complete with 18 gallon(!) slab tank. It was a car with a formidable and exciting performance for its size. Moreover it had one of the best gearboxes in the business — a straightforward, four speed gate change – very, very quick and as smooth as butter.
During the autumn of 1935, when I had the good fortune to be sent on a three months fencing course (swords, not barbed-wire) at the Army PT School at Aldershot, I placed the J4 with my friends Jim Elwes and Alan Maclachlan of Cresta Motors in Worthing. Jim already owned and raced a J4 (and drove Aston Martins at Le Mans with some success in the 1930s), and Alan was a brilliant motor engineer — supported by Jock Campbell, a first-rate and very kindly chief mechanic – so the car and I were in good hands.
After some discussion with Jim and Alan. I decided to have the J4 converted to a single-seater and to race her during the 1936 season at Brooklands (Mountain Circuit), in sprints and hill-climbs and, hopefully, at Donington – as it was road-racing that I longed, most to try my hand at. Cresta set about this getting Harrington ‘s in Brighton (who also built ‘bus bodies) to do the conversion during the winter.
Meanwhile, my fencing course completed, intact, aged 22 I took six weeks of my annual leave in the United States — from December 1935 to February 1936. Suffice it to say that this included the purchase on January 9th 1936, in New York of a black. white wheeled 1932 model Packard two-seater convertible (with dickey, of course!), with an 8-cylinder side-valve engine of 320 Cu in (approximately 5,250 cc) developing 110 hp at 3.200 rpm with a maximum achieved indicated speed of 88 mph. The car cost me $650 ( =£130 at that time) – from the Packard Motor Company of Broadway, NYC. I covered 2,255 miles in this car, in and around New York and, during the second half of January, down as far south as the Carolinas. It was a good. very powerful, if heavyish (40 cwt), car and a pleasure to drive — offset, unfortunately, to some extent by the appalling weather of that winter. Many roads even in mid town New York, were rutted with snow and ice — and long stretches of the Lincoln Highway (US Route 1) were pure skating rinks, with wrecked cars littering the soft shoulder and ditches.
I sold the Packard to Knickerbocker Motors in New York. for $375, the day before I sailed for home in RMS Majestic in February. I didn’t regret the financial loss: the experience of Packard ownership had been well worth it!
My whole motor-racing experience — except for the abortive effort with the Singer on Filey beach — lasted only from April 1936 (the Brooklands Easter Meeting) to October of the same year (the Brooklands Autumn Meeting). In the months between I took part in speed trials at Lewes (twice) and the Wetherby and Saltburn races, Shelsley Walsh hill climb and the Brooklands August Meeting all of course, in my little J4, which was an ideal car for an apprentice to The Sport. Together we managed a total of one -and-a-half firsts, two seconds, one third, one fifth, five sixths, one eighth and one non-finish — the last due to a broken con rod in a 20-mile race at Saltburn on June 27th, when I was leading the field, with half-a-lap to do, by about two miles —. dammit!
However, we won the standing mile (1,500 cc (S) 2,500 cc (UnS) class) at 74.68 mph.
The “1/2 First” was a dead-heat with Roy Eccles in his Rapier Special in the 1936 Brooklands August Bank Holiday Meeting, in one of the Mountain Races. We both got a lot more publicity from this — to which I was not wholly averse! — than if either of us had won the race. (Someone even wrote a “poem” about it!) One of my most treasured possessions is the 20 in x 14 in pastel drawing by Bryan de Cinneau of the dead-heat finish, which he drew for me following his sketch at the event in The Light Car & Cyclecar. The “First” also brought me membership of the British Racing Drivers Club the — BRDC — which I was, and still am, proud about. I suppose, however, the result that gave me most satisfaction was our eighth place out of 50 starters (two runs each) at Shelsley on June 6th — with only one practice run beforehand. We managed 45.8 sec and although I didn’t emulate Alan Maclachlan in his Chummy and beat Hans Stuck we were only .6 sec behind Stuck. But then, of course, the climb was totally unsuited to the Auto Union’s power-to-weight on a damp day — and, legend has it, use of only top gear!
My biggest disappointment was in having to cancel my entry for the 150 mile Nuffield Trophy Race at Donington Park on July 4th, due to the Saltburn disaster. As an alternative, I decided to enter for the 150 mile Limerick Grand Prix on August 3rd but couldn’t make it for military reasons! Military reasons? The reader may wonder, with cause, whether the Army — what with all this motoring and high living — was getting its money’s worth from young King-Clark. Well, I wondered too, but managed to get round the time-off needed for these extra-curricular activities in a fairly straightforward way. I asked for an interview with my Commanding Officer, Eric Costin (later Major General E. B. Costin DSO)— my friend and mentor till his death in 1971, aged 81 -and put it to him, somewhat nervously, that since I did not hunt (a highly approved and encouraged form of officer recreation – especially by Eric Costin, a keen horseman), I should be allowed to take part in a sport which required at least some of the qualities required in the hunting field. And anyway, wasn’t the Army actually beginning to use motor vehicles more widely — even tactically? (I believe we actually had in 1936, a green military model Austin 7 two-seater and a couple of 15 cwt and 30 cwt trucks on the Battalion strength, though our main transport was still horse-drawn.)
Anyway, Eric Costin turned up trumps — agreeing with my request “as long as your racing can be fitted in around your normal duties”. I was home and dry! — except for the snag that while the hunting season came during the “back end” and winter months the military “in hibernae” period), the motor-racing season coincided with the build-up of unit and higher formation training. In spite of this however. I had, In principle, got the green light. My “normal duties” with my soldiers, in fact, I thoroughly enjoyed — and continued to enjoy increasingly, in various parts of the world and through the Second World War, for a further 22 years
In July 1936 between “normal duties” and my modest motor-racing programme, I learned to fly at the newly-opened York Municipal Aerodrome, managed by Yorkshire Air Services, which included a delightful flying club. The Managing Director was Commander Charles Croxford — an ex-Naval pilot (who had won the DSC as a midshipman recharge of picket-boats at Gallipoli in 1915). Tony Pick, quiet friendly and patient, was the CFI. A regular attender at the Club — and honorary flying Instructor — was Bill Humble, a superb flier, later Hawker’s Chief Test Pilot.
Having achieved about 30 hours in Gipsy I Moths (G-AAZR, SZ, end FD) and a BA Swallow (G-AEKC), I realised I knew all there was to know about flying, and so took the next step — that of buying an aeroplane. This turned out lobe a truly foolish and tragic decision. The aircraft, a Miles Hawk Gipsy III (G-ACTD), was fast, a delight to fly but as I soon found out, did not forgive mistakes She had come second in the 1934 King’s Cup, flown by Tommy Rose — which should, perhaps, in retrospect, have made me think again. But she looked so beautiful that I could not resist her! Suffice to say that on Sunday, August 31st, I flew down in her — with Henry Frisby, a fellow subaltern and great friend to the new “airport” at Doncaster, on arrival stalled the aircraft at about 300 feet in the final turn into the wind, only partially recovered and crashed, completely destroying the aircraft. Henry, in the front cockpit, did not survive the crash, whereas I suffered only concussion and some facial injury. The crash was entirely my fault — “misadventure pilot error” was the Coroner’s verdict — and that’s really all I feel I can say about it, even today almost half -a-century on.
After some simple plastic surgery, I left hospital in mid September. I must still have been off my head as I insisted on taking part in the Wetherby Speed Trials on September 20th. I felt awful, drove extremely badly, and thoroughly frightened myself, leaving the course at the first bend on both runs and achieving only a 2nd in the 850 cc S/ 1.100 cc UnS class when on form, I should have beaten all the entries in that class. (In my diary I noted that it was a “rather dangerous course with not much room to stop at the end” — which The Light Car supported by reporting that Cummings, having achieved FTD in his Vauxhall Villiers Supercharge swerved onto the grass verge when 70 yards past the finishing line and after another 50 yards, collided with a tree rebounding three times into the roadway. Although Cummings was entirely uninjured his car was a total wreck.”)
Shortly before the crash in the Miles Hawk, I had ordered from Cresta Motors one of the new 2-litre MG cars. Instead of the standard saloon body, Jim Elwes arranged for Bertelli Ltd of Feltham (the Aston Martin body builders) to make a one-off open two-seater body (with dickey!) for the MG, in black and silver. The end result was a good-looking, comfortable fine -weather touring car with an adequate peformance, good roadholding, but heavy steering. The performance figures I recorded included: 0-60 in 16 sec: max indicated speed attained, downhill and downwind. on an Italian autostrada 96 mph. and mpg about 20. She cost, complete, £450. In this car, during the four months sick leave the Army allotted me after the crash in TD, Jack Churchill, whom I have mentioned earlier, and I made a two month ‘Grand Tour” of Scotland, France and Italy covering about 5,000 miles overall. A short break in the tour was set aside to take part in the Brooklands Autumn Meeting on October 17th — unsuccessfully, although I did my best-ever lap of the Mountain Circuit — at 69.74 mph, reaching about 110 mph on the run down to The Fork. That was my “swan song.’ in the cream J4 — and in molar racing altogether.
Shortly afterwards, having been warned by the Army, in early August. that I was to join the 1st Manchesters (our “foreign” battalion), in Egypt in the New Year, I sold the J4 to Ian Nickols, the motoring journalist. He later fitted an “R”-type engine to the car and did very well with her in road events — lucky chap!
During the Grand Tour with Jack in the Big MG over Christmas and the New Year of 1935,36, we made some respectable inter -city runs and also some circuits of both the road and track circuits at Montlhery, which were fun ( “Best lap of track 75 mph: not frightfully fast “) However the most solid motoring achievement of the tour — born of necessity since we were fast running out of time and money — was the 1,500 mile return journey from Naples (after three weeks in Capri) to Calais in four days. I sold the car to a friend in York in March 1937 just before leaving tor Egypt — having owned her for five months, achieving 12,600 miles on the clock. She was a good car but, in my memory without much real character. To get to Egypt. I decided to fly, so having obtained permission from a surprisingly amenable War Office, I bought, in February 1937 the second production Miles Whitney Straight (G-AERS) — a low-wing, two seat, side-by-side cabin monoplane with a Gypsy Motor 130 hp engine and a cruising speed of 120 mph.
During my blissful six months — from March to September 1937 — in Ismailia on the shores of Lake Moascar, with the 1st Manchesters and with the hospitable young people of the French-run Suez Canal Company, I had a grey-and-red 1936 model Ford V8 roadster (with dickey). I bought it in Cairo for £150 with 3,700 miles on the clock. It proved a very suitable “fun car” for the Egyptian summer, with excellent performance (0-60 16 sec) and handling from its 3 1/2-litre engine and 26 cwt body.
In September I was sent back to UK on a six-week course at the PT School at Aldershot (my second: the Army was still determined to get me fit!). I flew myself home via a forced landing near Benghasi in Libya and a glorious stop-off with friends in Brittany, and immediately on arrival in London acquired a fawn-and-red, straight-eight, 4 1/2-litre Lycoming engined, 1935 Auburn two-seater convertible (with dickey) — Reg No CCT344 — for £295 from RSM Automobiles of Bruton Street. In her I covered some 8.000 miles in my three months in UK, before flying out in January 1938 to Palestine, whence the 1st Manchesters had moved in my absence. The Auburn was a magnificent 35-cwt beast with a great performance. I recorded 0-60 in 11.8 sec and a maximum indicated speed of 95 mph (All my timings and speeds were taken with my stopwatch from the speedometers of the cars concerned I cannot vouch for the instruments accuracy but suspect that in most cases they were 5-7 mph fast, sometimes more.) She managed about 13 mpg. One unique aspect of this car was her gearbox: it had an overdrive on each of the three forward gears, activated by a lever on the boss of the steering-wheel through servo action to the differentia.l So one had, in fact six forward gears at one’s finger-tips — and about 100 bhp under your feet. With a little practice one could get wonderfully smooth, continuous acceleration right up to about 75 mph, which made it a difficult car to beat away from the lights! I sold her back to RSM Automobiles before leaving the UK but not before my brother, Cuffy, and I had watched from her, with awe, the mighty Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union teams sweep the field at the Donington Grand Prix on October 2nd 1937, on the first of their only two visits to Britain.
During my stop in Cairo, en route to Palestine, my friend Rod Morgan, a senior engineer with Airwork Ltd, who, from Almaza, ran the Egyptian Misr Airline, produced a small Alfa Romeo two-seater coupe (without dickey) which I could not resist. It was a 1933 model with the 1,750 cc supercharged engine -but not a Zagato body! It cost me £103. This car had a somewhat varied career with me, including a tumble over a small cliff in Galilee during the 1938 “Troubles”, when I had carelessly left it parked with only the unreliable handbrake applied. Little damage was incurred, fortunately. Overall. I found the Alfa, to my disappointment, a difficult car to drive, especially the gear change. The only performance figures I recorded were 0-60 in 20 sec and a maximum speed of 90 mph — which I doubt. (Perhaps a kilometre graded speedometer was too much for my arithmetic.) Her braking was highly erratic: it took 50 feet to stop from 30 mph. I had covered about 5,000 temperamental miles in Egypt and Palestine in the car when I sold her for an Egyptian song in October 1938, just before flying myself to Singapore. Anyway I had owned a real Alfa Romeo — every driver’s dream in those days. surely!
In Singapore, I found one of the best-looking cars I have ever owned — the rare, four-seater open version of the 2-litre MG. Like my earlier one-off two-seater she had only a moderate performance (0-60 mph in 20.6 sec: top speed 85 mph indicated) but she was very comfortable, ideal for the Malayan climate and the limited scope of motoring that Singapore Island offered. I never took her north up the peninsular — to Kuala Lumpur or Penang for instance. When I went up-country I flew my Miles Whitney Straight monoplane, in which I also flew down to Bali, about 2,500 miles return, over Christmas 1938.
I bought the MG from Malayan Motors Ltd for £315— slightly shop-soiled but unused — on October 25th 1938. I sold her back to the same firm — having covered about 5,000 miles — when I left Singapore for the UK. in ERS, in March 1939, having been accepted for a tour of secondment to the Royal Air Force — which, in the event, the outbreak of war aborted. (“They” thought I would be more effective on my feet — and “they” were probably right!)
My “swan song” car before the War — and probably the most prestigious — was a 1936, six-cylinder. triple-carburetter, 3,225 cc. two-seater (with dickey). drophead coupe Delahaye (Reg No DLR 777). I bought her from the Brooklands Motor Company of Bond Street for £385 on May 15th 1939, a few days after I had landed at Heston from Singapore. I had her repainted black with silver wheels. There wasn’t much time left in fact, for fun motoring! However, I recorded a few times in the Delahaye: 0-60 mph in 12 sec through the four gears: a top speed of 92 mph indicated — both very impressive. She was an eyecatching, luxurious car (with red leather upholstery!) and much interest was shown in her by car-lovers wherever she went. She would have been fine for another “Grand Tour” — with her 17 gallon tank and about 17 mpg. Shortly before we left for France with the BEF in the third week of September (by which time I had covered only some 2,000 miles in her), I laid up the car in the garage of my sister’s home in Winchester. However, about three months later, during the “Phoney War” period, she wrote to me. suggesting she sell the car — since everything seemed set for a long war and there was no petrol, anyway. There was, moreover, no-one to look after the car, she added, as her husband was also away at the wars. So I agreed — and she managed to squeeze £150 out of some local garage. However, that is not quite the end of the Delahaye saga. there is a sting in the tail!
One day in the spring of 1948, about six months after I had returned from India, a friend (who was later to become my wife!) and I were bowling happily along the quiet Leatherhead-Dorking road in my first post war car, a little 1946 MG TC. (I had bought it from a firm called Leave Cars Ltd in London the previous September. The MG (Reg No JK9143), black with silver wheels and tan upholstery, and in mint condition, had 2.000 miles “on the clock” when I got her. The price I paid was approximately double the list price new. I later had her fitted (by Jim Elwes, by then with University Motors and an ex-Colonel, REME) with an Arnott supercharger (5 1/2 lb pressure). Performance: 0-60 in 15 sec: max speed with TA axle — 96 mph. Sold January 1956. covered 11.000 miles. We did a fine tour of France in her in September 1948.)
Just past Mickleham, I spotted the stern of a low black car parked on the near roadside, with a man in a flying helmet standing beside it. As we came closer the car s number hit me in the eye with a wallop — DLR 777! I pulled up past the Delahaye — because that’s what it truly was — ran back, and introduced myself. The owner turned out to be the son of Dennis Motors of Guildford, who told me he had only acquired the car the previous day and was trying her out. In a pub in Dorking, a few beers later, I felt bold enough to ask him how much he had paid for the car. “I was asked £3.500,” he told me, “but I knocked him down a bit. Tell me.” he added, “how much did you sell her for in 1939?” I told him. He looked at me for a moment. “Have another beer — or would you prefer something stronger?”
It is probably of academic interest only, that the price paid for the 1936 Delahaye in 1948 was about £900 less than my total capital outlay on 14 cars, a motorcycle, two racing cars and two aeroplanes between 1932 and 1939 — and I think cigarettes were, in 1948. still only a shilling (whatever that may be) tor twenty!
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