Among small-output British sportscars the Marendaz Specials have a definite place, made more memorable by their colourful, selfpublicising creator. They were raced and rallied and sold as individual, fast road cars, and were the product of Capt Donald M K Marendaz, whose family came from Switzerland in the 1700s and settled in Wales. He flew ArmstrongWhitworth FK8s of No35 squadron RFC during WWI, having been fascinated by watching CS Rolls flying balloons and aircraft near his school at Monmouth. However, he was invalided out of the service in 1918 and though he retained a life-long interest in flying, he never flew again.
Before the war, Marendaz had been apprenticed to Siddeley-Deasy in Coventry and after demobilisation he entered the motor industry, joining T G John, later the celebrated Alvis designer, at Holley Bros, carburettor makers, in Coventry.
DMKM then elected to make 500 gearboxes for the Emscote cyclecar, a project of Marlowe and Seelhaft, the former ex-works manager at Standard’s, the latter an apprentice with Marendaz at Siddeley-Deasey. Alas, the Emscote never materalised, although 260 gearboxes lay awaiting it Marenda7 then joined Seelhaft in production of the Marseel at the Atlantic works at Stoke. Seelhaft pulled out in 1922 and the car’s name was altered to Marseal. Marendaz has been described as colourful; I would think awkward and ingenious more appropriate. He took me to task for calling the car he had raced at Brooklands in 1923 a Marseel, instead of a Marendaz. I could only reply that he had entered it as a Marseel on the official race card… (The company folded in 1925 and the cars were then called Marendaz Specials.)
Then Stone told me that when he was racing an AC at the Track in 1926, Marendaz parked very close to him at the start, and as the AC was apt to slide sideways on getaway, he suggested that the Captain might like to move his car over a bit, to avoid a possible clash of wheels.
Marendaz said nothing. At the start, there was mild contact, which did no harm but Marendaz drove straight back to the Paddock, registered a protest, and demanded financial compensation for a lost race.
His new venture was based in Camberwell in south-west London, on the first floor of the depot of the London General Cab Co, where Bugatti also had its depot Whatever else he was, Marendaz was a great publicist. His new cars had radiators which aped those of Bentley, albeit in smaller form. These were made for him by LT Delaney, father of Tom, in Maida Vale. Apparently Bentley Motors decided that Marendaz was so financially insecure that they would gain nothing by sueing. In fact, DMKM used to send an employee to collect a single radiator or set of lamps at a time, telling him to go when the managers were at lunch, as he was more likely to be successful with a mere storeman. However, the cars looked the part, very smart and sporting. The engine was the well-tried 1496cc Anzani four, though with identifying marks removed. The 11/55 Marenda7 Special looked like a baby Bentley, and a supercharged 11/20 was listed, as well as an 1100cc 9/20. Catalogue and publicity prose was such that these cars sounded irresistible… Mr Graham Skillen, to whom I am indebted for much help —no-one can know more of the make, as his truly extensive files confirm — has owned two Marendaz cars for many years, a 1926 11/55 and a 1931 13/70. The former, well-known to the VSCC and the Brooldands Society, had a Wolseley Hornet body when found but now has a very good replica of the racing body it used when taking 1s-litre-class records at Brooldands in 1927, DMKM averaging 70.56mph for three hours, 71.13mph for 500Iun. With a linered-down 59x100mm Anzani engine, Marsee_ls had lapped Brooldands at 78 and then at over 80mph.
While still at the 1-3 Brixton Road premises, Marendaz had done some racing at the track, with a win in 1925 and two seconds in 1929. He also did some effective record-breaking with Graham-Paige cars, perhaps explained by this make having a depot at the same address and the Captain offering his services as their racing driver. By 1932 Marendaz, having made some 30 cars, had moved to the Cordwallis works at Maidenhead, leasing what he described as a new factory but which was in fact an enormous shed. He introduced a new range of six-cylinder cars, as handsome as the earlier ones, the ‘Bentley’ radiators and three external exhaust pipes aiding their appealing appearance. The engines were initially American Continentals, with the identity plates removed and dummy covers over the sparking-plugs, giving the apparence of an ohv power unit, on which was stamped ‘MS’ or `Marendaz Special’ Later Marendaz made its own copies of this engine. Bodies were made in-house, apparently assembled by moonlighting Aston-Martin workers from nearby Feltham.
Certainly it was all well publicised, and his Marendaz Special-headed note paper claimed “The only cars on earth that have ever obtained three world’s [sic] international 24-hour records”, although one of these was actually done in a Graham-Paige.
By this time Marendaz was being well-financed by Alfred Moss, (father of Sir Stirling), hence the special white trials two-seater Marendaz Special for Mrs Aileen Moss. But when the collapse of the company — now called Marendaz Special Cars, Ltd — seemed imminent, Alfred Moss went one Sunday, with a legitimate door-key, and took away the only cars that were moveable: the straight-eight Miller and the Marendaz which Earl Howe had driven in the French GP. The Miller poses a problem which Mr Skillen has researched very thoroughly and has generously permitted me to quote. In 1930, Motor Sport photographed a Miller at the Brixton works which was almost certainly the 1.1/2-litre one which Eldridge had crashed at Montlhery in 1927. A year after this accident, the engine was used at Brooklands in a Vulcanbuilt Lea-Francis 14/40 with which Purdy took the class hour record at 110.63mph. The engine then went back into the crashed Miller, which did nothing but went to Marendaz, perhaps for storage.
It now had an 11/55 Marendaz Special front axle — to replace the one which broke in Eldridge’s crash? As stated, Alfred Moss took the Miller 122 away in 1936. He sold it to Guy Griffiths, who had plans to put it into a special but when he returned from Army service it had vanished. It was later in Paul Emery’s care, then sold to Bobby Baird, also living in Ireland. When Baird was killed in a Ferrari while practising at Snetterton in the 1950s, it was apparently owned by Miller expert Griff Borgeson who, in the late 1950s, had bought what is thought to be this engine from Weldangrind Ltd in England, in conjunction with Mark Dees, who took sole ownership when Borgeson left the USA in 1961. The engine is now supposed to be in the Indianapolis Speedway Museum.
Marendaz was friendly with Kaye Don but had given up racing himself by 1931, whereas he had previously been active not only at Brooklands but at Montlhery. At the Paris track in 1928, an 1100cc Marendaz driven by Douglas Hawkes, Kaye Don and Mrs Gwenda Stewart ran for 24 hours at 58.1mph, in spite of bad weather, a broken timing chain (1.1/2-hours wasted), a gearbox defect leaving them only top gear, and having to make a new half-shaft after a mechanic had driven into a petrol pump and damaged the axle — another legal letter, I imagine. That same year, an MS took the 24-hour record at just over 59mph, Hawkes and Forrest driving, in fog. In much the same awful weather, a Graham-Paige got that third 24-hour honour. In more bad weather in 1930, Marendaz set the class 200-mile record in the Brooklands Graham-Paige, at 101.86mph. McCalla, the Irish driver, tried a Marendaz in the 1935 Ulster TT; it was too slow and was flagged off though, as it was still running, Marendaz claimed a class win because there was no one else in the class! Hope of glory abroad then fizzled out; somehow Earl Howe, mildly criticised for racing foreign cars, was persuaded to compete in the 1936 French GP in a 2-litre Marendaz Special, this being a 621-mile sportscar contest, at Montlhery.
He disliked the steering, hit a bank, and walked away, leaving co-driver Tommy Wisdom to limp home last, 26 laps in arrears, to make sure of the starting money.
After the Captain had stopped racing, his secretary/companion Miss Dorothy Summers raced for him, winning in a white 15/90 four-seater, which won a 1936 Easter short handicap from the Leyland Thomas, with a lap at 95.78mph. This, Marendaz insisted, was the first time a woman had won against the men. Complete nonsense! But in an miter race the aforesaid loose gearbox caused a monumental blow-up, although steel had replaced aluminium for the universal joint casings. In 1934 Miss Summers had netted a third place.
From 1933 to 1936, Stan Duddington worked at Maidenhead and often got the unwelcome task of collecting those one-at-a-time components. The clutch gave out on Mrs Lace’s drophead coupe Marendaz at the end of a rally in Torquay, and when an immaculate white-overalled mechanic lined-up to help at the main garage, DMKM waved him away. Instead Stan, in his oily boiler-suit, was told to do the job, the clutch being easy to change on these cars. The 12/40 Marseal tourer had a claimed top speed of 75mph and the new cars from 1931 should have sold well. The 65x100mm (1991cc) three-carburettor 15/90 would do 54 and 73mph in second and third, with a top pace ‘ of over 84mph, and sold for £425. It weighed 22cwt 7lbs unladen and could do 0-60mph in just 15.8sec. There was a 1:2 reduction gear for clutch and brake pedal, to reduce effort, and from 30mph to rest the Lockheed hydraulic brakes took 25 feet DMKM claimed this to be a record, but some boffins thought it an impossibility. The 11/55 cost only £375, and the 17/80 with 2.1/2-litre Coventry-Climax cost £475.
Before the war, Marendaz had listed a 14/55 1495cc straight-eight with cross-flow exhaust-over-inlet valve gear, for £500 as a chassis, £650 if supercharged, when it was known as the 14/125. When the cash ran out, Marenda7 went up to Bedford to run a flying school and make aeroplanes. The first was lost in a mysterious fire at the Cordwallis works, and an ambitious four-seater biplane with retractable undercarriage was never completed, but the Marendaz Trainer monoplane with 90hp Cirrus Minor engine flew in 1939 and was given to Halton ATC, by Marendaz Aircraft Ltd of Barton-in-the-Clay.
However, the Captain’s politics were about to bring trouble. He was a follower of Oswald Mosley and, in the 1930s, made many trips by aeroplane to Germany. In 1940, he was consequently arrested for security reasons and imprisoned at Brixton Gaol, but intervention by the Sunday Express secured his release after only a few days, because of his record in the WWI. In 1949, Marenda7 emigrated to South Africa where he manufactured diesel engines, returning to England in ’72. He bought two houses in Asterby, Lincolnshire which he joined and called, with typical modesty, Asterby Hall’. Hoping for an interview, Graham Sldllen wrote to him, only to receive the reply: “Invitations to visit the doyen of Automotive and Aeronautidal Engineers originate from Asterby Hall, and none are programmed for you.” In a local newspaper interview in 1975, DMKM claimed to be developing a new tractor, but nothing came of it. He also boasted of an art collection which included works by Titian, Rubens and Corregio, and of his extensive knowledge of art. He had in his possession, he said, letteis of thanks from royalty and art historians worldwide for putting them right He died in 1988, aged 91.