Vintage Postbag, July 1957

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76

Sir,

Two letters in the May issue of Motor Sport interested me very much. You, perhaps others, may be interested to know why?

Mr. Peaty on page 241 wonders if anyone now has ever heard of a Valveless, Sizaire, and Straker-Squire and Mr. Biggs recalls Mr. R. F. Oats of O.M. fame.

Well, they are all well-loved and unforgettable names to me; I owned a Sizaire and an O.M. and drove Valveless and Straker-Squire cars regularly.

About 1900 my father, on returning to China, arranged a Pupilship for me at Johnson & Phillips’, in Charlton. “Digs” were found for me in Blackheath, in which a co-lodger was a young car enthusiast, Ralph Lucas, who spent all his days and most nights at his small works nearby making his Valveless cars,with a truly valveless engine, a two-stroke.

That this engine appeared a close relation of the American pump-engine his father had installed in his house in Forest Row was unimportant, for it was before Lloyd George introduced legislation which prevented a valid British Patent being granted to an applicant, not the original Patentee, in England for a Foreign Patent unapplied for here. As a budding engineer I was glad of the God-sent opportunity to help work on a real car, for Lucas and I soon became close friends and I, too, soon spent most of my free time in the little Valveless works. In fact I became a sort of unofficial draughtsman at a moderate remuneration — a most welcome addition to my regular 23s. per week pay at his father’s works where I had meanwhile been offered a job, which I kept for over 30 years.

Of the several designs experimented with was one with a double-ended cylinder in which horizontally-opposed pistons through rockers and helically-toothed synchronised sprockets revolved the cranks in opposite directions and in due course reached the transmission. I read recently a description of a “new” engine designed by one of the big organisations — it seemed to me very much like Lucas’.

In an early design declutching was effected by pushing the hinged steering column and wheel forward, away from the driver in a sort of protective gesture in anticipation of a head-on collision.

We usually tested by driving various most primitive soap-box seated embryo cars down to Forest Row, and on the way of course all sorts of things happened. The early Valveless were masterpieces of fun, particularly the ignition, which by careful manipulation could produce violent back-fires, most useful on dark nights, and which usually ensured a free passage ahead.

Another feature, or more correctly the lack of it, in the earlier models was the complete lack of an orthodox gearbox and reverse gear. Here, again, the ignition came into its own so that by even more skilful manipulation of it, the direction of the engine could be reversed at will, i.e. if you were a bit of an expert. Unfortunately, not all those to whom cars were sold were experts, and they must have found it very trying never to be quite sure of which way their cars would take them with consequent frequent encounters with other traffic or those fashionable “In” and “Out” gates.

On one of my first visits to Mr. Lucas’ house at Forest Row, I was introduced to his mustard-coloured dog-cart seated, belt-driven Benz, and which he had decided to dispose of. The secondhand car market had not yet entered upon its remunerative career, so he chose to lose it in one of these country hollows usually full of old prams and rusty kettles.

One Saturday then, the whole Lucas family and their young week-end guests set out in an imposing convoy of cars, headed by the Benz, followed by Mrs. Lucas’ single-cylinder, tiller-steered Oldsmobile (which I had the loan of many times), a steam car in which one sat over the boiler, in which were some 2,000 lb./sq in. pressure, and of course a Valveless.

A suitable hollow being found, the Benz was promptly pushed into it, and, it was hoped, lost. At Sunday lunch, however, our demolition of a magnificent joint of roast beef was interrupted by the parlourmaid engaging our hostess in a whispered conversation. Seeing his wife’s worried look Mr. Lucas asked the reason. He was told “Farmer X has just called to say he saw the Benz in the hollow, and fearing we’d had an accident, he put his horses to drag it out, and has brought it home here!”

I think it was about 1910 that Ralph Lucas sold his Valveless interest to, I believe, the Dodge Company, but one of his original cars, to which a gearbox and reverse had been fitted, was still about, and going strong, some time after the 1914-18 war.

My first, personally owned, car was a Sizaire-Naudin sports two-seater in 1911. It was lots of fun but had a very annoying habit of dying on me at irregular intervals for no apparent reason. As in those days a frequent cause of failure was the magneto rocker-arm sticking, I would begin by looking for trouble there, but seeing nothing wrong would replace the cover-cap, and to my delight restart for another run of indefinite length before the next failure, when the process of removing, and replacing, the cover-cap was repeated with successful result. An annoying but simple remedy. After having been let down several times by small stones being kicked up by leading traffic, and finding their way into the mesh of the unprotected timing gear, I sold it, and for a while drove a Straker-Squire lent me by a friend. Very sporty and for the time a fast car.

In 1912 I bought an American R.M.C. (Regal Manufacturing Co., Detroit). That was a beautiful car and to my mind the loveliest of all the cars I have owned. It was reliable, comfortable, fast, and it had “IT.” I had to sell it because the small house I began married life in could not house it, and I changed to a G.W.K., a nasty little bone and brain-shaking affair with a variable friction-disc-cum-clutch arrangement that always slipped. I soon got rid of that, in 1914, and having moved to a bigger house had two consecutive, then modern, Darracqs with Clegg engines which served me well until in 1926 I bought a six-cylinder O.M.

Although Mr. R. F. Oats mentioned by your correspondent Mr. Biggs was not a personal friend in the proper sense, he was a real friend in need. The O.M. was a lovely car except for its highly complicated Bosch equipment and wiring which gave me a lot of trouble — including a broken wrist. Where Mr. Oats came in was when some small trouble arose mechanically. Being an Italian car, spares were not always available at the depot in Lower Marsh, so if anything was wanted quickly Oats usually said “Take it off my car, I’m not racing for a while.” That may have accounted for his own car being always in new condition.

The O.M. gave way, in 1936, to a Riley Kestrel, a Riley Adelphi in 1946, and this in 1954 to a Wolseley 4/44.

One old friend I must refer to is the film-star Genevieve’s half-sister, lent me by its owner. This Darracq had tricks all as good as any seen in the film, and not intended to be funny — though they were.

On a run to Sevenoaks the radiator fell off completely in the High Street but with the aid of plenty of string and bits of garden hose it was soon restored in place. It had a most primitive steering-crank mechanism, which on turning a corner a little more sharply than 90 deg. would toggle itself so that instead of straightening up, it went further round and landed one on the path. Most embarrassing.

I hope I have not bored you by these reminiscences, but they are of events quite beyond the ken of the modern motorist, who starts his car to get somewhere, does so (nearly) always, but misses (maybe deliberately) all the fun and friendship-making on the road by the help given to, or received from, fellow travellers to whom mishaps on long runs almost invariably happened, and always had to be reckoned with in the timing of any outing or journey.

While on the subject of wayside help, where now has this roadside courtesy gone?

This Easter my son, an old-car enthusiast, suggested a run in his newly acquired, I think 1924, Austin. The day was beautiful and the roads crowded with cars, mostly these ghastly American pantechnicons with dollar-grin radiators and stablising fins, and taking up more than their fair share of most British roads. We ran out of petrol — the old gauge had let us down — so my son walked on ahead to borrow some petrol from a friend known to live some way further. Meanwhile my daughter-in-law and I decided to push the old car on a bit, which we did, assisted by my two grandsons, aged 8 and 10, with reasonable success until we met a slight rise in the road.

As we struggled on, dozens of these American monstrosities, overfilled with humanity of all ages and sexes, passed us while the occupants stared and grinned with delight at this wonderfully funny sight of a woman, two very small children, and an obviously ageing man (I cannot hide all the signs of my 76 years) pushing an old car up a gradient.

Did any one of them so much as slow up or give the slightest sign of a proposed offer of help? Not they!

And now I appeal to anyone who has read this — please help me find a 1911 R.M.C. or, as I believe, now referred to as a Regal — and I will be eternally grateful. Look at my photo of it and you will know why I was proud to own one.

I am, Yours, etc., C. Berner. Hasketon.

 

Sir,

In the vintage postbag of the June issue, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the photograph of the vintage Rover accompanying Mr. Sweet-Escott’s letter for I have been seeking the details and whereabouts of a very similar car. This being my father’s 1924 Rover Ten pictured on the accompanying photograph. This car was bought in 1929 for £75 and unfortunately sacrificed some years later for £12 10s. and an Austin Seven which was in turn sold the same day for £13 10s. At times, eight people were transported in this vehicle, with the aid of a shoe-horn and it used to travel regularly between Colchester and St. Albans, a distance of about 60 miles, in 1¾ hours which, for a 10 h.p. engine and over those roads which are far from straight, wasn’t too bad. We have never done the journey in much under that in “soft suspensioned modern tin,” still traffic conditions have altered slightly. There were many advantageous fitments on the car, one being the large spotlight which, being on an extendable lead, could be removed and used for illuminating such things as the mending of punctures.

Does anyone know any more details or better still where there is one in any condition, especially if it is for sale?

I am, Yours, etc., Robert W. Welton. St. Albans.

 

Sir,

In the January issue of your excellent magazine you reported that an A.B.C. light car had been found in the Shetland Isles. Here in another island, the Island of Harris, I have obtained a 1922 A.B.C. which I hope to restore this summer. Unfortunately however I am at a loss for literature concerning this car. If any reader could supply me with any I would be very grateful.

I am, Yours, etc., W. D. Cameron. Isle of Harris

 

Sir,

After reading the article, “The Star,” I felt I must send you a photograph of my 1923 11.9 Star tourer together with a bit about the car and her history as far as I know it.

The car had one owner until the end of the war (1949); the old gentleman then being 93 a court suspended his driving licence, and although he had a chauffeur he said that if he couldn’t drive her his chauffeur wasn’t to and he would do without a car. His solicitor was given the car and used her occasionally to take his family to the seaside; it was then lent to their farm bailiff who used her roughly and spoilt the upholstery. I found her in a cart shed piled high with faggots. The engine was seized solid; you could jump up and down on the starting handle, but we took the head off and with plenty of penetrating oil and a little brute force moved the pistons. The bores were undamaged, we did a bit to the valves, etc., got a new gasket (£3 7s.), put it all together and she went. Mechanically she is very fair and woodwork and bodywork good. Tyres (30 by 3½ Dunlop cords) are good. The engine is a four-cylinder side-valve, the block a labyrinth of breathing passages from the carb. bolted straight on to the block on near side to the valve ports on the off side; ignition is by a Watford mag. driven by a train of gears from the crankshaft, also the dynamo on near side. All the sump, bell house casing and gearbox are massive aluminium castings. Thermo water system five gallons and gravity-fed petrol tank under scuttle.

Three-speed gearbox very widely spaced apart, foot throttle between the brake and clutch pedals.

Rear wheel brakes, hand brake contracting band, foot expanding shoes on the same 10 in, drum, not bad for all their limitations. 12-volt Brolt electrics. Half-elliptic springs with snubbers, and she is a most comfortable car to ride in.

I think my main impression of the car is extreme simplicity coupled with really first-rate material and workmanship.

By the way, the cockerel on the radiator has been in our family since 1929 when we bought the show model 20.9 Crossley saloon and that was a magnificent car.

I am, Yours, etc., R. J. Barker. Crawley.