Veteran to classic

Book of the Month

Vauxhall 30-98, by Nic Portway, New Wensum Publishing, Stowmarket, £118.

Although books innumerable have been written about almost every make of car, the good, the bad and the indifferent, and many makes have had a number of volumes devoted to them, it is only now that the history of “The Finest Of Sporting Cars”, to quote the sub-title of Nic Portway’s book, has become available. But it has certainly been worth waiting for, because this coverage of the 30-98 Vauxhall not only fills a gap in motoring history but is a magnificently produced tribute to one of the most outstanding of all vintage motor-cars.

It is a heavy book. It is a big book, the pages of which measure 12 x 13in. But it is far from being a coffee-table tome, to browse through only while quaffing a cup of cappuccino. Nic Portway has used large pages to ensure that the maximum effect is achieved by the splendidly reproduced photographs which add so much to the esteem in which this book will be held. Do not fret that this marvellous tribute to the 30-98 Vauxhall and its forebears has been published privately, by Nic himself; it equals the top standards set by the best professional publishing houses. Portway has owned a standard E-type 30-98 for over thirty years and was exactly the right person to write this history.

This is spread over 12 chapters, to which are added five Appendices, a table of production data (7 pages), lists of Registration numbers against chassis numbers, with owners’ names where known, Luton production outputs of the 30-98 and the experimental models, ending with a pictorial scrapbook, all on the finest glossy art paper. The main text covers the origin of the 30-98 Vauxhall, incidentally debunking a legend that has grown up about Higginson’s car, and it then runs on to effectively capture the atmosphere of this finest of vintage cars, in touring here and far afield, in professional and amateur racing and hill-climbing, at Brooklands and elsewhere, the technical development of the 30-98, the influence the VSCC had on it and it on the VSCC, and accounts of the many owners of these cars and their exploits with them.

It is a truly worthwhile history, which will be as acceptable to those who own other makes of vintage cars as to the 30-98 fraternity itself. I was honoured to be asked to write a Foreword and referred therein to the fictional Lord Hovenden (Aldous Huxley, Barren Leaves, 1925) who was so timid that he could only find the courage to propose to his girl when driving his 30-98 Vauxhall Velox at nearly 70 mph. I was not aware that Nic knew of this and has it in the book but I can add what the celebrated “Cassandra” wrote (I Remember, I Remember, 1961): “…the old Vauxhall — not the glossy new jobs from Luton Town — I mean the ‘Thirty-Ninety-eight’ of course. There was a motor. You knew that underneath the bonnet an engine was alive. You were deeply aware of its presence; an iron lion lording it in a cave of power. It was not tucked away in the boot or squiffily sideways somewhere. When the Vauxhall 30-98 started up, the long sloping wings gave a shiver of excitement at each revolution. Fast fun and furious fun was to come. The engine was not one of those compressed square packages of mechanical fussiness that you get today. It had great long con-rods that rose majestically and sank again, lolloping with easy leisure and dipping into the sump oil. The old 30-98, when you started her up, used to say ‘Guddugety-GuddugetyGonk, GuddugetyGuddugety-Gonk’ and would speak to no other motorcar. . . This classic Vauxhall looked like a sleek cruiser. At slow speeds it loped along but when she saw the open road that old engine laughed in its metal guts and you were away, leaving all else far behind. The Thirty-Ninety-eight dreaded naught. . .” That in the Daily Mirror, of all papers. But it well describes what has made the 30-98 endure, and Nic’s book so welcome, especially to VSCC and VSCC of Australia members (one chapter is about “Exports — Mostly To Australia”). To emphasise the full scope of this remarkable book, the other chapters are titled: “In The Beginning”; “Production At Last”; “A Gentleman’s Fast Touring Car”; “Overhead Valves”; “King Of The Road — 1923-1926”; “Final Refinement”; “Coachwork”; “Speed, Special And Fun”, “The Late Thirties And Wartime”; “The VSCC Years — 1946-1970” and “A Return To Original Thinking”.

I have no criticisms, apart from the fact that the picture of Leslie Callingham’s “Elizabeth Tiger” was taken outside Parry Thomas’s home “The Hermitage” at Brooklands, not at Pendine. I am glad to see that at last the problem of who had the quickest 30-98 at Brooklands has been solved; Clive Windsor-Richards’s standard-engined car lapped at I I2.47mph but the 114.23mph by R J (Reg, not Rex, surely?) Munday’s car was achieved with a longstroke crankshaft.. .

This long-awaited book is a truly wonderful effort andl advise all who like 30-98s to make sure they secure a copy. WB

Below: This beautiful aluminium two-seater was built by Barker for the Maharajah of Jodhpur im 1925.