Rumblings, July 1944

Wonderful show

As we pen these words it is just under a week since the first news of the Second Front came in. but in this short space of time it has been possible to realise what a wonderful show has been put up. At a time like this our thoughts go out to all those motoring enthusiasts who are serving on land, on and under the sea, and in the air. At home, things go on much as usual. Sitting any lunch hour for a mere ten minutes or so in Hyde Park, the great 360-acre open space which divides Kensington on one side and Bayswater on the other, from the fashionable West End, is usually sufficient time in which to see a couple of Rolls-Royce cars glide by. At rush hours it is almost impassible to cross the roads in the immediate vicinity of Paddington Station because of the press of taxis. On a local common an immense road show has come for a week or so, unloaded from at least a score of big lorries, many of which keep their engines running for hours on end generating light and motive power, while, beneath the trees, stand the private cars of the numerous stallholders—smart Wolseleys and SS alongside older Austins and Morrises, some, we notice on trade plates, which we thought were the prerogative of the Motor Trade. On Saturday afternoons taxi after taxi passes by, bound for a distant dog-track, and every public holiday sees the racing of horses. In all sincerity, a country which can push back its enemy as we are doing without seriously disrupting the lives of its civilians is a wonderful country indeed.

Varied career

We heard the other day from Alec Francis who is now engaged on war-vehicle work. Francis has had an extremely interesting career and we hope he may one day be persuaded to write of his experiences. In 1911 he joined the Duo Cyclecar Co as designer, after finding speed on two wheels rather dangerous—he had been twice to Weybridge Hospital within six months. He ran a belt-drive Duo at Brooklands, and in the Amiens Cyclecar GP in 1912, afterwards winning the Six Hour Race at Brooklands in one of these cyclecars. Incidentally, this rather disproves our recent statement that the 1921 JCC 200-Mile Race was the first long-distance event held in England ; the 1912 event was organised by the BMCRC for motor-cycles and small cars. In 1914 Francis went to serve on speed boats with the RNVR, and in 1919 joined Wm Beardmore as chief designer. Here he designed the 2-litre ohc cars with which he and Cyril Paul did so well. In 1924 Francis took over 60 firsts in sprint events and Paul 14 firsts, the latter also breaking the Shelsley Walsh record with a climb in 50.5 secs. In 1922 Francis designed the 350-cc Beardmore TT motor-cycle engine, which had many ingenious features, including a crankcase split horizontally like that of a car, a head containing four valves which were semi-positively closed by a second cam operating against a small leaf spring, and a means of adjusting tappet clearance from the saddle. After this, this versatile technician took up outboard motorboat racing. Then, after ten years’ work, he left Scotland and joined Cyril Paul, tuning numerous racing cars. The big Benz was taken in hand and, from lapping at about 103 mph, was made to go round Brooklands at over 115 mph. The 6-litre Delage I and the old Wolseley “Moth” were successfully rebuilt, and Bill Humphreys’s Amilcar Six was entirely rejuvenated, winning two races at one meeting, in spite of the handicapper’s threat. Widengren’s Amilcar Six was also attended to and took the class Hour Record at Montlhery at 118.6 mph, and covered a flying mile at Avus at 126 mph. Clayton’s Amilcar Six, which took the class ss Mile Record, Jack Bartlett’s Salmson, which did so well on the Mountain Circuit and won a 100-mile race at Southport in 1932, Harvey-Noble’s Salmson, Baker’s Minerva, and 1,100 cc, 11/2-litre and 2.3-litre Maseratis were also amongst the cars which Francis prepared. In 1932 the Junior Racing Drivers’ Club engaged him, and later a tuning establishment was opened to the premises, to which members brought their sports cars. Hodge’s Singer, the later single-seater Singer of Hodge’s, Dobbs’s Riley, Morgan’s bronze Austin, the Graham-Paige, and Hutton-Potts’s MG went through Francis’s hands at the club. This tuning of clients’ cars brought the JRDC into disrepute in some respects, but it was rather a wonderful institution and, looking back, one wonders whether something of the sort revived after the war wouldn’t be a very sound happening. Evening Mountain Circuit practice was held at Brooklands, when races were held, for which the entry fee was only 5s. Invitations to other clubs’ speed trials, pit practice, talks, discussions, technical advice and organised visits to Continental races figured in the menu. Louis Klemantaski was secretary (he used to contribute Klem’s Kolumn to Amateur Motor Racing, the club magazine) and people like SCH Davis and TH Wisdom helped at club meetings.

Pre-war prices

Looking through some Vintage SCC Gazettes the other day we were interested to note how cheaply it was possible to buy vintage sports cars before the war. For instance, in mid-1939 you could wander down to the “Phoenix,” where Tim Carson would sell you a “30/98” Vauxhall for £35, a 41/2-litre open Bentley for £75, or a real sports outside-piped “12/50” Alvis for £25. In May of 1939 someone else offered a really sound OE “30/98” for £45 and, again at the “Phoenix” £30 would see you off in a 3-litre Bentley, or £65 buy a 2-litre GP Bugatti, while old sv Amilcars and much later Ford Eights were chalked up at £20 apiece, an “18/80” MG at 138, and a couple more “30/98s” at £20 each. Complete Lancia “Lambdas” fetched rather more, but you could get a 1936 6-cylinder Frazer-Nash for £130. Not so to-day. £50 buys hardly anything at all. A really elderly sv Anzani Frazer-Nash was recently listed at £125, and any reasonable “30/98” or Bentley starts at about £150. A clean sports “12/50” Alvis is deemed to be worth £75 or so. And we heard recently of a Type 40 Bugatti, which set its new owner back £200 in cash, and his MG as well. This state of affairs may be attributable to the growing rarity of vintage cars, to the increased cost of living, and to the heavy overheads borne by those dealers who are able to remain in business. We appreciate the difficulties with which these persons have to contend. But the fact remains that some vendors of ancient sports machinery are making a very good thing out of such buying and re-selling. The time seems to have come to utter a few words of advice in respect of such deals. Paying stupidly high prices for vintage sports cars tends to inflate the market generally, to the detriment of the impecunious. A sound car thoroughly re-conditioned can obviously command a big price, for spares and labour are at a premium these days. But sometimes a liberal coat of fresh paint and some fabrications on the vendor’s part are the sole assets, and in such cases it is as well to remind prospective purchasers that, as Cecil Clutton told us last month, the ordinary vintage sports car is nowadays justified only on sentimental grounds. To pay through the nose for indifferent specimens is foolish in the extreme, and we hope demobbed Service enthusiasts will not need to do so. If someone will start a business in such cars, selling them for a modest profit and relying on a quick turnover, he should do quite nicely for himself.

Sports Cars in Surrey

Passing through Chobham the other day we stopped at the Central Garage to see what sort. of a show Rodney Clarke and Leonard Potter had made of it. Their stock numbered some very interesting cars indeed. Pride of place should probably go to two Type 55 Bugattis, a 2-seater and a fixed-head coupe. Asked how rapidly the former would motor, Potter remarked sadly ”Only about 110 now,” so apparently some more lead in the petrol would be appreciated. Clarke’s 5-litre Bugatti saloon, its engine out of the chassis for overhaul, is most imposing. Keeping the Bugattis company were a rather rare 1927 single ohc Alfa-Romeo 4-seater, a “Brooklands” Riley Nine and a ”blown” “Ballila” Fiat. The last-named has, we understand, extremely potent acceleration from the lowest speeds and yet contrives to motor its puffer round if the belt is off. There were also swarms of Fiat 500s and an “Ulster” Austin Seven, and an overhaul of an Alfa-Romeo had recently been completed for no less fastidious an owner than Peter Monkhouse. Quite a spot!