Veteran to classic

Happy birthday

I must say I am rather glad that Motor Sport is not yet 100 years old. Just as it was the first sporting motor journal, so The Autocar was the first British motoring weekly. The first issue of what is now Autocar was published in November 1895 and the magazine’s 100th birthday has now been marked with a stupendous 365-page (400 if you include the normal contents) issue.

As Motor Sport is only 70 years young we have been spared such celebrations, and have got away with just a number of Jubilee and Birthday numbers along the years. But congratulations to Autocar on its centenary and its celebration issue — I hope that the extra postage on it will not seriously deplete subscription funds, in view of its weight. Only joking, Haymarket…

I had a great affection for what was The Autocar, which I read without a break from the early 1920s. This pioneer weekly, like its rival The Motor, as with Motor Sport, survived WW2 and other difficult years with scarcely a break in publications. My enthusiasm was enhanced one wet summer’s day in 1924 when I was on holiday in South Wales and was given a copy, retrieved from the garage where the chauffeur was supposed to have digested it, and read S C H (Sammy) Davis’s account of riding with Zborowski in the unsuitable track-racing Miller in the 1924 French GP: “. ..neither of us cared who was winning provided the Miller would only go on and on for hour after hour over that wonderful course in the sunlight, with the purring roar of the exhaust behind and that ribbon of road, flanked by palisades, in front.” Everyone’s dream, surely?

So in those times The Autocar (every Friday, 4d) had a racing driver Editor — a Bentley winner at Le Mans, by Gad! It was wonderful to get replies to one’s letters .signed by such a man, and if one rang, his secretary was very knowledgeable. Sammy Davis also wrote follow-up pieces about the races, trials and rallies he took part in, whether in that Miller, taking over a difficult 6 1/2-litre Bentley on the eve of a BRDC 500 Mile Race, or in his aged ABC, a FWD Alvis, Brooklands-model Riley 9, Ruston-Hornsby, or whatever, in MCC trials, etc — fascinating! Sammy might sometimes tend to tell a joke in his column about how the smell of “Solomon”, the Brooklands goat, affected carburation or describe some comic happening to a racing celebrity but then forget to tell us who had won the Targa Florio or other important race; but it was all great stuff, nevertheless.

At that time H S Linfield wrote the road test reports, having obtained performance driver, figures, at Brooklands of course. A pipe-smoking, conscientious careful driver, one could never quite picture him rushing across Salisbury Plain at 90mph in the latest Lagonda, Talbot or suchlike. True to character. he retired to run a secondhand bookshop in Guildford. He also wrote wonderful accounts of special journeys in some of the cars he drove and of his competition experiences, as when he got a silver medal with a Gordon England Austin 7 in the 1929 MCC Land’s End Trial. He also developed the idea of summaries of the cars he had tried the previous year, which I was happy to copy. The Autocar Centenary issue claims that Autocar’s first road test report appeared in 1928, of an A7 but, before that, the paper had published simple mph, mpg and braking statistics, with valuable tabulated data.

The three annual Motor Show issues, almost as big as the 1995 birthday issue, were another treat for any schoolboy able to invest 6d a go in them. That was in the days when Geoffrey Smith was the boss, his latest Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars with his own design of bodywork used for long Continental tours. When I became Editor of Motor Sport I copied some of the tricks the weeklies had taught me and also endeavoured to evoke the outspokeness with which C G Grey ran The Aeroplane. So l pay tribute to the effort that must have gone into producing Autocar’s 100-year issue. Those involved were succeeding such great writers as Walter Staner, Henry Sturmey, Harold Lafone, H Massac Buist, Ernest Appleby, Montague Tombs, Douglas Clease, S C H Davis, Peter Gamier, Innes Ireland, John Miles, and many more.

However, times change, and magazines change with them. That birthday number was a great undertaking into which some errors crept. I spotted, in the 1900-1939 pictorial pages, that the 1907 Brooklands dates are muddled, that Campbell’s first Blue Bird was a Darracq not his “Big Lorraine”, that Babs is not a Leyland-Thomas, that “Chitty II” has become “Chitty I” in the picture, that on p215 Seaman is in a 3.8 Alfa Romeo not a Maserati, that the classic Singer 9 triple accident was during the 1935 Ulster, not an IoM TT, that the “1904” Itala shown is actually a 1908 GP car, that the 1926 152mph Sunbeam LSR at Southport is mistaken for the 200mph Sunbeam at Daytona, and the £100 Morris Minor had a painted, not a plated, radiator shell. But what are a few blemishes in a multi-page magazine?WB


Congratulations to Colin McRae for being the first British driver to win the World Rally Drivers’ Championship. It was also pleasing that Subaru took full-page advertisements in the newspapers to proclaim this, proof that competition successes are still seen as helpful in selling cars. WB

Forgotten Makes

ln last month’s article on the Vinot et Deguingand a few lines were omitted. Referring to the 1912 Coupe de L’Auto race, what I wrote was that the Vinot drivers were the Molon brothers and Vonlatum who had previously driven for Clément, and that it was notable, with all the speculation and swopping about of today’s racing drivers, that Vinot was staunch and retained the same drivers for all their European races. The best they achieved in that 1912 race was seventh overall, by Vonlatum, in the small-car division. WB