Acceptable replicas

A Wolseley Moth replica is welcome because the originals have disappeared

It may be apparent that I am not in favour of replicas of cars which are in single or considerable numbers. But when all trace of an interesting, even a famous, car has ceased to exist, to make an accurate copy of it seems permissible.

Which is why I was glad to learn that John End had his reproduction of a Wolseley Moth racing car at the recent Brooklands Centenary Celebrations. His copy of these remarkable little cars was commendably correct even to the faired covers over the external anchorages of the quarter-elliptic springs which could hardly have added more than a fraction of an mph but perhaps earned half a second’s extra handicap from Mr Ebblewhite at the Brooklands races.

The Wolseley Moths were built for that remarkable character Sir Alastair Miller, BT, with co-operation from the Wolseley works in Birmingham, where MJ McCormack was MD and was presumably persuaded to form the Wolseley Competition Department, with ‘running sheds’ at the Track.

The first Moth appeared in 1921 and in 1922 another was supplied to Captain Woolf Barnato, who drove it very effectively after starting his racing with a big Locomobile, until he moved on to other racing cars up to the glory of the Bentley days.

Miller based the Moths on the production Wolseley Ten of 62×95 (1260cc). It was fortunate that the four-cylinder engine had an overhead camshaft but how Miller eventually got his attractive little racer to lap at over 86mph when the production car was reported as being exceptionably pedestrian, top speed of a mere 38mph being quoted by The Light Car and Cyclecar in 1920, with a cruising pace of about 26mph, the record at Brooklands of these wonderful Moths is rather astonishing. From 1921 to 1930 they had been entered for 72 races, with 10 non-starts, and 11 retirements, achieving four firsts, two seconds and six thirds with Miller also winning a Surbiton MC race. Moth II was acquired by RC Dobson, who used it frequently.

In 1930 Miller had a sentimental desire to win, for old-time’s sake, the President’s Gold Cup race at Brooklands which he did with Dobson’s car.

The older cars were eventually banned from BARC races; in the years just prior to this the Moths had been driven by Bamber, actor Percy Cory, Chamberlain, and Cyril Paul. Then they vanished. I know one Moth was converted into a crude two-seater but that, too, soon disappeared.

Which is why I am so glad John End built his replica. In the early days of the Moths some writers thought they ran in the JCC 200-mile races. However these were confined to two-seaters (although as they were for proper racing cars one might query why passengers were insisted upon?) Wolseley produced an appropriate car on Moth lines for the 1922 200mph race, and a friend of End’s made an excellent copy of it. Miller also had larger racing Wolseleys made, which could utilise a 2-litre or a 2.7-litre power-unit when used for class record-breaking. When Roger Collings first took me out on his wonderful 1903 Mercedes Sixty he stopped at a Welsh garage whose proprietor knew about the racing Wolseleys at Brooklands and showed me a suitable chassis in which he intended to put a suitable vintage engine and assemble a correct replica body, but I never heard any more of this.

To end on an amusing note, when Miller’s first Moth was attacking the Double-12-hour record, the valve-gear gave trouble and the story goes that the necessary parts for its repair were taken by the mechanics from a spectator’s Wolseley Ten without his knowledge until he found that he could not drive home! But isn’t it more likely that Miller knew the car’s owner and so appeased him that he stayed to see the record secure and the champagne opened!