Vintage Postbag

Sir,

I wonder if any of your readers can help me with information about the L'Elegante car. I had the good fortune to find one, which I have since restored. It was built in Paris in 1903 and has a single-cylinder 8-h.p. engine by de Dion Bouton. Other features are similar to those of light cars of the period, but little seems to be known about the design or manufacture.

I drove mine to Brighton in the R.A.C.'s Veteran Car Run last autumn. The car completed the trip, although it arrived half an hour late.

Perhaps one of your readers may be able to help. A photograph is perhaps too much to hope for.

I am, Yours, etc., Arthur Butterworth. Wolverley.

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Sir,

References have been made to Stutz, Duesenberg, Peerless, Pierce-Arrow and other luxury U.S. cars of the past, but one -- for silence and sumptuousness reputed to surpass any other car -- is forgotten. The Stearns Knight, straight-eight engine, nine-bearing crankshaft and double-sleeve engine; prices in England (about 1927) from £1,500.

Has anybody any knowledge at all of this superb car?

I am, Yours, etc., S. Pleeth. London, N.W.6.

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Sir,

I was most interested to read the article by your contributor Mr. J. B. Ashby in the May issue. I think that I can confirm (from the photograph) that the "Bullnose" in question is not a Morris sports but one of the very first 14/40 M.G. sports. I myself owned a similar motor car in 1935 which I purchased for £6 in good running order!

After a rebore (price £8 10s, in those days!), plus a replated battery and some remoulds, the car gave me excellent and troublefree service until she was sold the following year back to her original owner again. She had a top speed of 64-65 m.p.h., and plenty of acceleration. Her year of manufacture was 1925, but my car had front-wheel brakes, otherwise she appeared as Mr. Ashby's car does in the photograph. I wonder how many of these excellent old cars are still running nowadays?

I am, Yours, etc., J. B. Summerhill. Budleigh Salterton.

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Sir,

Returning from my work in the West End at 3 a.m. one night last week in my 1928 Austin Seven Chummy, I was struck amidships at over 30 m.p.h. by a 3.4 Jaguar, whose driver had quite certainly "had a few."

I was travelling after the manner of all open tourer enthusiasts, with the hood folded and without sidescreens. I left the driving seat very abruptly and landed in the road, with bones, spectacles and watch intact. The Austin ended up with its off-side door torn off, windscreen gone completely, frame and all, one wing a total wreck, the steering wheel at a very weird angle and its steering gear jammed against the nearest lamp-post. However, the lights were still on and, particulars having been taken by the constabulary, the engine was restarted and, after a careful inspection and a few good tugs to release the car, I was able to drive very gingerly the remaining ten miles to Beckenham.

The Jaguar, whose near-side lights were smashed, could not be steered owing to a very bent front piece (they can hardly be called wings) and had to be left in a side road.

Need I say more?

I am, Yours, etc., Brian H. Wales. Beckenham.

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Sir,

In reply to Mr. P. L. Martineau's letter regarding information on the Pilgrim cars. I searched through my books and managed to find some technical data on seven of the Pilgrim cars.

See table.

The Pilgrim 20/30-h.p. four-seater car was sold at a chassis price of £530 in 1907. It had a four-cylinder horizontal engine and a two-speed gearbox, with a top speed of about 50 m.p.h. Speed was regulated by varying the lift of the inlet valve. The drive to the back axle was by an odd combination of chain and live-axle, whilst apparently carburation was very efficient for the Pilgrim won the Gold Medal at the Royal Automobile Club's "vapour emission" competition in March, 1907; at which time the majority of motor cars proceeded on their noisy way to the accompaniment of a black cloud of petrol smoke.

I am, Yours, etc., S. C. Budge. Upton Cross.

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Sir,

In your May issue, Mr. Wolff of Wisconsin asks for Duesenberg data. Certain particulars he gives appear to be based on a photograph of the 1929 Duesenberg Stand at Olympia, in my possession. My own Duesenberg was on the Barker Stand at that Show, being the sedanca referred to by Mr. Wolff.

Some time back I was in touch with both Mr. Wolff (who knows the above) and with Mr. Morgan, to whom he refers. My object now in writing to you is firstly to ask, through your columns, if anyone with knowledge of Duesenbergs in Great Britain, past or present, would get in touch with me. Secondly, if any overseas Duesenberg owners should visit this country and wish to see my model J, I should be very pleased to show it to them.

I am, Yours, etc., C. S. Phillips. Windlesham.

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Sir,

I was most interested to read Mr. J. B. Ashby's account of cars he has owned, and I was particularly interested in the question of whether the "Bullnose" shown in the photograph was a sports Morris-Oxford or an early M.G.

The "M.G. Morris-Oxford Super Sports four-seater" was described and illustrated in the Morris catalogues published at the time of the 1924 Olympia Show, although no M.G. was shown at Olympia until 1927, and no M.G. was mentioned in The Autocar's Buyers' Guide until that date. This may explain why G. R. Doyle, in his book "The World's Automobiles," lists the M.G. as having been first produced in 1927.

"M.G. Morris Garages Super Sports" is something of a mouthful, and I think many people abbreviated this to "M.G. Super Sports" or "Morris-Oxford Super Sports." For example, the first mention of the term "M.G." I have found is in The Motor, in the report of the 1925 M.C.C. London-Land's End Trial, when Cecil Kimber's "special" (which we now refer to as No. 1 M.G.) is referred to as an M.G. Before this date all the Morris Garages sports cars were referred to as Morris-Oxfords. Perhaps there is some significance in this.

Referring to the particular M.G. owned by Mr. Ashby, I think it is an even earlier M.G. than possibly Mr. Ashby suspects. In fact I think it is the very first car of the production model M.G. ever built! This car is described and illustrated in The Motor of June 24th, 1924, and was the property of the well-known competition driver, Mr. W. Cooper. Its registration number, the Middlesex one of MF 8068, is the same one as Mr. Ashby's M.G.

Anyone interested in motoring history, it seems, has to accept eye-strain trying to read number plates or counting bonnet flutes as an occupational hazard! By the time Mr. Ashby acquired this car a few modifications seem to have been made, such as the fitting of balloon tyres and normal Morris artillery wheels to replace the original high-pressure B.E. tyres and disc wheels, which is the sort of modification one has come almost to expect to be made over the years. The early "Bullnose" M.G. had a different radiator badge front the later "Bullnosed" M.G.s. The early radiator badges consisted essentially of two shields, one being the coat of arms of Oxford City and the other of Oxford University, and on the orange-coloured background were simply the words "The Morris Garages, Oxford." The later badges consisted of a normal Morris-Oxford radiator badge around which was a pale blue (dare I call it Cambridge blue?) circle bearing the inscription "The M.G. Super Sports."

The thing which has always surprised me about the early M.G.s is that although the Morris-Oxford in 1925 could be fitted with four-wheel brakes as an optional extra, the M.G. did not fit their very effective four-wheel brakes until halfway through the 1925 season.

The year 1924 was not only notable for the production of the first M.G.s of all, but also for the production of the first six-cylinder M.G., which was based on the 17.9-h.p. Morris-Oxford "Six," the first Morris to have ½-elliptic rear springing.

Before I stop writing about my favourite subject, may I ask that if any readers of Motor Sport have any information about "Bull-nose" Morrises I should be delighted to hear from them. I am always pleased to hear about these cars.

I am, Yours, etc., Lytton P. Jarman, Secretary, Bullnose Morris Club. rugby.

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Sir,

Mr. Bennett's letter concerning his vintage Citroen tempts me to sing the praises of my 12.1-h.p. model, 1927, the only one registered with the V.S.C.C.

Bodily it is now very glamorous. The brasswork (now that paint and patches of nickel have been removed) glints on car reflectors, causing them to resemble braking lights in operation. It has enormous luggage carrying capacity, two trunks and a case on the grid alone making their way to and from Cambridge frequently. Carrying this 32 miles for only eight pints of the cheapest seems very reasonable.

It possesses some annoying habits: the top half of the windscreen is prone to fall out at speeds of over 50 m.p.h.; in cold weather, when the self-starter is inefficient, petrol explodes in the silencer after a little vain cranking or pushing; the carburetter insists on being tickled even after only a short stop; and the brakes like being fussed over, being cable-operated.

However, once it has sprung to life nothing will stop the engine; even the ignition switch failed to do so once ,and it was still obstinately ticking over after intentional misuse of every other knob and handle on the car.

After pushing near the exhaust pipe when the silencer explodes, being in front when the Klaxon sounds is the next noisiest position to adopt. Far from causing an instant removal of the pedestrian, it sometimes causes him to stand, like Thurber's Mr. B., "still; accepting the situation with calm and resignation."

It has excellent steering, if a little heavy, and is extraordinarily comfortable, though the fact that my friend reads The Times when we motor down Kings Parade is pure affectation, as the suspension is not that good.

Information, from previous owners in particular, would prove most interesting (YE 9884).

I am, Yours, etc., Edward Fiddy. Cambridge.

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Sir,

Whilst sojourning in England I read in recent issues of Motor Sport the correspondence and articles relating to the famous Salmson cars, and was not a little shocked and grieved to see the letters of some of your correspondents who condemn them out of hand, perhaps with only slight knowledge of the make, and in some cases when obtained worn out and in disrepair. I consider that a few words from one who knew this marque in its country of origin, and often a visitor to the works during the 1920s, would not come amiss.

The push-rod model was never intended to he a super high-speed car and no such claims were ever made on its behalf, but it was a good and reliable motor with excellent steering, suspension, roadholding and brakes. It would attain 60 m.p.h. with ease. The push-rods did not fall out nor wheels come off if properly maintained, and at the price charged was better than most French cars of 1,100 c.c. in the early 'twenties and very good value for money.

No one so far has ever mentioned the best product that ever left this splendid factory: the blown San Sebastian D.I. model. This most wonderful car would attain 95 m.p.h. on any good French road. Acceleration was staggering and road-holding and cornering exquisite. Springing and steering were perfection at high speed, and for this only was the car built. It was never intended as a town barouche.

At the period when this model was first produced, in 1926, there was not another 1,100-c.c. car that could even remotely approach the San Sebastian Salmson in its perfection of road performance in any and every way, the Amilcar included. Each car was guaranteed to attain and maintain 105 m.p.h., and they very definitely did this without vices of any kind, and were a sheer joy to drive over distances impossible in Britain.

My memories of the beautiful San Sebastian D.I. of those far-off days in the pleasant land of France are indeed happy ones, which nothing of today can equal, and I can only conclude that your readers who complained were unable or incapable of maintaining such fine machinery. However, I have heard Englishmen who would even presume to criticise le Patron and a Type 51 Bugatti: Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense!

I am, Yours, etc., Pierre de Vere. Leigh-on-Sea.

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Sir,

The interesting correspondence in your recent issues with reference to Salmson cars has brought back many happy memories of former days, and I feel that it is just possible that some of my experiences may be of interest to readers who, like, myself, are now numbered among the not-so-young. I can speak with some conviction as in the early 'twenties my employment brought me directly in contact with these cars, first with an agent and latterly with the London depot.

I often wonder just how many of these cars would have been sold if the general public had known the kind of start in life that they had. Mr. Battersby has spoken of the works at Chiswick where Salmson owners were entertained to free buffet lunches. This may possibly have been the case at a later date but in the days of which I am speaking these cars, together with hundreds of Citroens, were stored at Messrs. Lep's Depot in the middle of the Chiswick sewage farm, entirely in the open and without any protection from the weather. They were covered with an extremely glutinous coating of vaseline which made starting up quite a problem; indeed, in winter, it is no exaggeration to say that many were definitely unstartable. The batteries were all flat or uncharged and it was a rare thing to find a car on which the magneto points were not seized solid. These we were supposed to free, but not relishing such delicate work in the open, often with rain descending one's neck, I used to carry a master contact-breaker in my pocket and swap it over!

This was anything but popular with the "apple-fritters" at Motcomb Street but it gave quick results and enabled one to get going.

In winter, when the engines were nearly solid, we used to borrow a tow rope, push the car to the entrance and wait hopefully for the arrival of one of Messrs. Lep's lorries to tow us off. Many of these cars were in chassis form without any wings or other protection. We had no proper seats and used to squat on the spare wheel lashed across the frame with pieces of string and hang on to the steering wheel. I must say, though, that in this shape they were amazingly lively little jobs and a real thrill to drive.

Some of your correspondents certainly seemed to have had more than their fair share of trouble, and it is useless to deny that there were troubles of various kinds, but how many cars of that time did not suffer from some trouble or other, and they were not always teething ones either! The Salmson was always a car for the sporting enthusiast and in the proper hands many of them gave wonderful service. Complaints have been made about lack of urge on some models and I feel that this was in some measure due to over-optimism on the part of owners who, having read of the wonderful racing successes which were at that period putting this marque right in the front of the 1,100-c.c. class all over the Continent with special o.h,c. engines, expected the same results from the production push-rod type. How often is this the case even today!

In this respect I feel that the current sales brochure may have been in some measure to blame, as in those days it was quite customary to make rather flowery claims regarding speed and other factors. At one time complaints were received that wheels were coming off and depositing indignant owners and their families into the nearest ditch. Most of these turned out to be nothing more than the reluctance of these same owners to give the beautiful man-size ring spanner a few "four-penny ones" with a nice little mallet also provided in the maker's tool-kit (yes ! !) and they merely tapped it gently for fear of spoiling the plating on the wheel nut! We had several such cases !

Many of the touring models were fitted with rather heavy and cumbrous English-made bodies, most of them anything but a success, and these did little or nothing to aid performance. One particularly awful miniature four-seater comes to my mind, the manufacturer of which shall be nameless (indeed, I believe he has long since ceased to exist, and rightly so), the door of which flew open every time one went over a bump, even when the car was brand new. I remember one particularly trying journey up Crystal Palace Park Road, which in those days was infested with cross gullies. If I shut that infernal door once I did so a dozen times, and eventually secured it with string !

The small French bodies fitted to the sports models were very good indeed and smart to look at, while they never gave any trouble, even when they had had considerable use.

There is not the slightest doubt that the success of these little cars in this country was due in no small measure to hard and painstaking work on the part of one man, who at that time owned a small garage in Kent, Mr. O. Wilson-Jones. At the time the business was a small one and the Salmson his first and only agency, but in spite of all opposition and teething troubles, he battled away and eventually built up such a reputation that it is no exaggeration to say that in the end people came from far and wide for him to lay his hands on their cars. I should know as in those far-off days I had the privilege of working for him in quite a minor capacity; indeed, I was office boy, correspondence clerk, salesman, car delivery man -- in fact, everything. A gifted engineer, he never spared himself and often worked far into the night to keep faith with the customers. Many will remember him as the winner of the 1,100-c.c. class in the J.C.C. " 200 " at Brooklands at a later date, driving one of the official works cars.

Eventually he became the official Salmson competition man and, together with his great friend, that wonderful all-round sportsman, the late F. R. G. Spikins, competed in all the big trials of the day, especially the M.C.C. events, which at that time had a big trade following. I was often pressed into service as a last-minute passenger and many were the wonderful adventures that I had with this great pair; one particular one springs to my mind above all others. At that time the Hon. Victor Bruce had just discovered Simms Hill, near Ashburton (now a regular in the "Exeter"), and it was described as being unclimbable. To celebrate this The Light Car and Cycle Car organised a rally at the hill and all the leading manufacturers sent in entries. At the very last minute I accepted with alacrity the opportunity to go as passenger to "F.R.G.," who had taken delivery only the day before of one of the very first production Grand Prix models with o.h.c. engine. As usual, we were rather late in starting and decided to carry on through the night, Wilson-Jones being with us driving what was described as a de-luxe two-seater with full all-weather equipment and dickey! For many miles we burbled along in fine style, the roar from the camshaft engine, which was fitted with a hand-operated cut-out, sounding most powerful and reassuring, and seeming to bode well for the morrow. Eventually, however, night began to fall, and as we passed through the hamlet of Middle Wallop I felt a few spots of rain.

By the time we reached Salisbury it was certainly raining in earnest and we stopped to erect our sports hood, detachable, "Adeux place," in pegamoid bag! A search soon revealed that this was missing and that we must perforce bash on regardless, as we were! Ah me! the memory of the rest of that dreadful night will never fade.

Since that date I have competed in "Exeters" and "Land's Ends" and a variety of events in a variety of vehicles and even motorcycles, but never have I been so wet. The wind rose to gale force and the rain descended in torrents. Some will remember that the seating in those cars was of the staggered variety and, being in the passenger's chair and well back from the screen, I took the full force of the elements. I was wearing at the time a thick leather coat, ex-R.N.S. issue, and this rapidly became saturated, so that the slightest movement caused squirts of water all over me in the manner of a sponge. At some unearthly hour of the morning we paused to try and dry out in Mr. Moffat's friendly arch at Yeovil (without, I'm afraid, much success), what time the occupants of the de-luxe model expressed great commiseration with our plight. Eventually, however, we crossed Yarcombe Hill and started the descent to Honiton. It began to get light and everywhere as far as we could see were vast tracts of land under water. With the coming of dawn our spirits rose in anticipation of a good old "Exeter" breakfast. Alas for our appetites in those days, somewhere in the vicinity of Rockbere and Clyst Honiton, there used to be an old stone hump-backed bridge (it has long since vanished), carrying the main London road over a stream, and as we rounded a bend all we could see was water, water, everywhere for some thirty yards this side of the bridge, completely blocking the road. After a consultation we decided to have a go with the G.P. car but after a short distance an ominous gobbling sound from the exhaust denoted that all was over and we came to a stand-still. We were just preparing to paddle for it when a most unusual brainwave made me roll up my sleeve and reach over the side and grab the spokes. In a few minutes a united effort enabled us to pull ourselves back to dry land again. We returned to Rockbere, where we knocked up an aged couple in a small inn, and I well remember sitting round a fire in one of the bedrooms with "F.R.G.," he clad in nothing but an old shooting coat, kindly supplied by the landlord, while I had on the old lady's tweed skirt, whilst our soaking clothes dried below!

Eventually, however, the rain ceased and we sped on to Ilsington and the rally. This, I regret to say, proved somewhat of a washout in more senses than one, and in spite of chains at one time on all four wheels, we failed to make any impression. The hill was in an appalling state and, if my memory is correct, I believe that only about three cars ever actually reached the top.

My abiding recollection is of a cheerful soul who drove one of the little clover-leaf Citroens all the way from London and back again without any rest at all. With its very limited maximum this was a tremendous feat to accomplish single-handed as well as take part in the event. I met him again afterwards and he told me that in the vicinity of Basingstoke-Staines, on the return trip, he became so desperately tired that he was positive that man-holes lifted up and dragons appeared to leer at him! I have often thought of his words, although I must confess I have never quite reached this stage myself!

After a while Wilson-Jones was able to acquire a pukka works racer, none other than Lombard's actual car complete in original condition. This vehicle, a single-seater, was known as the "Spanish murderer," as a result of a fatal accident, I believe at Barcelona, where the crowd, becoming excited, ran into the road and some were fatally injured. It even had the actual blood marks on the body and attracted great interest when standing in our small showroom. With this car he had quite a lot of fun and entered in most of the leading sprint meetings which abounded in those days, but it suffered badly from a serious defect which was common to all these jobs, viz., unsuitable gear ratios. From memory these were 4½, 6½  and 16 to 1, and the absence of a useful second gear and big gap between first and second was a serious handicap for sprint work and speed trial, although quite satisfactory for track and road racing. However, after much thought and hard work, a complete four-speed gearbox was evolved out of the old one, at the cost of dispensing entirely with reverse, and with this revolutionary fitment the car went very well indeed, although whoever acted as mechanic had to be really alert, and the moment any situation developed which called for reverse the drill was to jump out and push it back!

This car was eventually equipped with a perfectly standard two-seater sports body and run in the standard sports classes at various events. It could really go for those days and I believe the maximum was in the region of 90-95 m.p.h.

It looked perfectly standard, the only difference being the outside manifold and long copper exhaust pipe which were definitely not at that time, although afterwards fitted to the production G.P. model. In its new guise I once acted as passenger at the well-known Dean hill-climb near Romsey. Our first run in the 1,100-e.c. class was not very impressive and while waiting in the paddock for the next effort I looked about me for ways of increasing our rate of knots. My eyes eventually landed on our large copper fish-tail, secured in place by a bolt, and my untechnical mind immediately visualised that awful term "back pressure"! While my driver was away for a moment I removed the bolt and dealt the fish-tail a few shrewd blows with a hammer. The result surpassed all expectations. As we rounded the right-hand corner halfway up the hill I heard a spanging noise and the roar from the engine increased enormously. We shot away up the hill and, as it eventually transpired, won our class, although we never returned to find this out but carried straight on over the top and back home to Kent, narrowly avoiding an altercation with a point-duty policeman in Romsey who apparently disliked the deep burble of our open exhaust! I think the car eventually passed to a private owner and I have often wondered what became of her in the end.

Time and other considerations make it almost impossible for me to attend many events in these days, but I shall always look back on the period I have mentioned as being the most interesting and eventful of my whole career. Would that those days could come again!

I am, Yours, etc., H. R. G. Garland. Cheltenham.

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Sir,

The articles and letters on veteran -and vintage cars appeal to me as I remember most, and have worked on and driven some.

I can recall two, however, that I have never seen mentioned, an A.V. monocar which a friend of mine owned round about 1923 -- this had an air-cooled V-twin engine at the rear which was started -- after great exertion -- by pulling a chain; but the one that I shall never forget was a four-seater tourer Porthos which my father bought secondhand about 1909. In this chariot we all set off for Margate one sunny morning -- it was always sunny in the summer in those days. Despite the sun we were well wrapped up, however, my sister and I even having brown paper put over our chests as an added protection. Of course, we soon found all this clothing unnecessary as our maximum speed was about 15 m.p.h., which dropped to nil at the slightest hill, a slipping clutch making us all turn out to push.

We did reach Margate eventually, at about 8 p.m.; a 12-hour journey for the 70-odd miles from a London suburb. We kids enjoyed it, but I remember we went home by train and our next car wasn't until 1926 -- a "bullnose" Morris.

I wonder if any of your readers have heard of a Porthos, or was it "one-off."

I am, Yours, etc., Rex Warne. Wimborne.

[I like the brown paper idea very much and will remember it next winter. -- Ed.]

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Sir,

Before your editorial axe falls once again it would be nice if you could fit in one more myth about that most desirable of cars.

"There was once an eccentric but very wealthy old man who refused to buy a car. However, after many years of persuasion his friends got him to the Motor Show. He went to the Rolls-Royce stand and told the head salesman that he understood the Rolls-Royce to be the best and most reliable car in the world, adding that if the salesman would show him the car and satisfy him as to its perfection he might consider buying one.

"After having been shown the car at great length and in great detail, the rich old man turned to the salesman and said: 'Young man, you have shown me a most beautiful piece of engineering and I am very nearly convinced of its perfection. One thing, however, puzzles me. You say it is utterly reliable and you have shown me the starter button on the dashboard. What then is the purpose of the starting handle you showed me in the tool kit if the car always starts with the starter-button?'

"The salesman thought for a moment, fearful of losing his fat commission, and his quick brain soon came to his aid.

" 'I wonder, sir,' he said, ' if you have ever noticed, whilst in your bath, that you have a spot on each side of your chest? Now those, sir, are there just in case you ever have a baby. I'm sure you will agree that is a most unlikely occurrence. A Rolls-Royce tool kit provides a starting handle for an equally improbable catastrophe!' "

I am, Yours, etc., H. A. Roland-Price. Newbury.