The Humber Register, which exists to foster all Humber products of the 1900 to 1930 period, held its 21st Anniversary Rally at Bicester on May 20-21st, and it was appropriate to attend this function in a Humber owned by A. C. B. Mathews, a Founder Member. This involved 360 miles motoring in two days in a 1927 car, during which I discovered things I didn’t know and remembered others I had forgotten, about vintage Humbers.
In the first place, Mr. Mathews’ car, a 1927 14/40, was interesting in itself. He has a great affection for the breed, having been given a new 9/20 two-seater for a wedding present, which he still has 300,000 miles later, augmented by the 14/40 and a 1932 side valve Morris Minor saloon, all in regular use, as Mathews has no modern car. His motoring over the years has ranged wide, from ownership of a 3-litre Vanden Plas Speed Model Bentley to a Raleigh three-wheeler, and his son had a 12/25 Humber tourer and now runs a 14/40 tourer which has distinguished itself in recent Humber Register events.
The Humber in which we went to Bicester was bought during the war for the proverbial fiver, after a near-miss from a bomb had destroyed its saloon body. Mathews set about rebuilding it as a wider, lower four door tourer, adapting some of the original body panels for his purpose. The engine is a combination of 1927 and 1928 types, a longer jackshaft with Hardy Spicer u/s at each end being needed to couple the later plate clutch to the earlier crankshaft, normally mated to a cone clutch. The correct tubed radiator was used, but the engine was given a down draught Solex pump-type carburetter and a non-original Scintilla magneto. The Humber mudguards were retained but a new dashboard had to be made. Mathews used elm, instead of the original walnut for this, with the varnish rubbed in with pummice-stone to give a smooth finish, a method developed by the LNER for their railway coaches. This dash carries a Le Nivex fuel gauge for the 11-gallon Autovac-feed rear tank, the original Jaeger 8-days clock, a Eureka oil-gauge, one of those expensive Jaeger speedometers, a compass and altimeter, a Stadium accumulator capacity indicator, a manual charge control and an ammeter, as well as various switches, including a small one for the driver’s electric screen-wiper–the passenger has to make do with a suction wiper. The original steering wheel and controls were retained, with that little button on the advance/retard lever for cutting the ignition, an idea of Lord Russell’s when he was on the Humber board. Humber quality it reflected in the ivory door-pulls and silver-plated fittings.
This 1927 Humber, with its protective hood, which was stowed for the outward journey, and wind-up glass side-windows, is a thoroughly practical means of transport, as well as being a joyfully individualistic one. It cruises in typical Humber solidity at 48. m.p.h., with the oil gauge indicating 23 lb. sq. in., but will gallop at 55 m.p.h. if called upon. Its 2-litre four-cylinder i.o.e. engine is all-torque, so that gear changing is very seldom required and even the instruction book says that 20 m.p.h. in top gear does no harm. Mathews has moved what was a r.h. gear-change inwards, for actuation by the left hand, the lever hiding coyly beneath the left leg, and he has put a modern pull-out hand-brake under the dash, to give proper access through the driver’s door. Putting nicely over 30 miles into every hour, the Humber returns about 26 m.p.g. of 92-octane fuel, with a range of over 200 miles, and during the week-end the sump, which can be drained without crawling beneath the car, did not require topping up. Mathews used to use Castrol XL but these days believes in any straight commercial grade oil. He does all his own construction and maintenance work and told me that he still has the original gasket under the head of his smaller Humber! Included in his ingenious rebuild of the 14/40 are very big Lucas headlamps, contemporary Smiths shock-absorbers on the hitherto undamped front axle and a Bowden cable-operated lever to give a pre-engagement action to the now somewhat worn starter bendix. The car is mud-colour, the paint being matched to the mud of Buckinghamshire where Mathews was living when he rebuilt the car, so that it looks clean even after a dirty day’s driving!
On unexpectedly traffic-free roads we traversed Leominster, Worcester, Evesham, Perthore (where we discovered home-made cakes during a tea break) and Chipping Norton, to our destination. The only time care was needed was on sharp left-hand bends, when the oil-pressure would drop to zero. This was a failing of the first 14/40s, in which the big-ends were splash-lubricated, their troughs replenished by a low-pressure pump, a high-pressure pump above it feeding the main bearings, etc. For their 1928 model Humber changed to a single oil pump and a fully-pressure-fed crank.
During his extensive rebuild Mathews replaced the Bedford cord with leather, put. on 18 in. wheels which are shod with a mixture of 6.50 in. Dunlop, Goodyear Eagle and John Bull tyres, made up a five-pane screen to suit the wider scuttle, and put a big battery on the o/s running board, its cover being the bottom of the original battery, cut down—an Exide has given excellent service for the past ten years.
This Anniversary Rally had drawn the excellent entry of 35 vintage Humbers, backed up by Morris’ 1913 14-h.p. tourer from Sussex and Fletcher’s 1922 Humber motorcycle, a 4 1/2-h.p. Sports fiat twin, which had been trailed behind a 12/50 Alvis from Suffolk and a Range Rover from Aylesbury.
A lady rode an 1898 Humber tricycle and a 1890 Humber safety bicycle also appeared. Excellent!
Looking around these Humbers, and two more which arrived unexpectedly, I was reminded that whereas 12/25s, 14/40s, and 15/40s have Perrot front brakes, many of the “Freins-Humber-Perrot” plaques still being attached to the alloy back-plates, the 8/18s were anchored by contracting-band back brakes and the 9/20s had Humber’s own form of front-brake operation. Also that Humber six-sided radiator caps are heat-insulated with a celluloid casing. I discovered that many Humber owners fit luggage-trunks, even Hall’s 14/40 two-seater having one sticking out beyond its dickey, while this form of container was seen on Jones’ immaculate Snipe saloon, and Jackson’s 14/40 saloon, although Morgan’s 9/20 tourer was content with a luggage-grid. The entry comprised three 11.4s, one each of 8/18, 15.9 and 15/40, five 12/25s, eight 9/20s, fourteen 14/40s, the 1930 Snipe, and a 16/50 extended-boot tourer of the same year.
One of the 11.4s had a 12/25 body. Reynolds’ 1922 15.9 James Young all-weather has been in the same family from new, took its present driver to his wedding in 1926, and is still on 815 x 105 Dunlop Cords, Higgins’ 12/25 had its spare wheel mounted to the rear of the driver’s door, Sinclair’s 14/40 tourer, in process of being restored, had sketchy back mudguards supporting its hood irons, Stileman’s shabby 14/40 is a one-owner car, Sinclair’s 14/40 saloon and Mrs. Diffey’s 9/20 saloon were distinguished by having oval back windows and Gregory’s 14/40 tourer had all-black lamps (nicer than so many incorrect brassed ones) and an Allstate Safety Treaded spare tyre.
After driving tests at Graven Hill Parade Ground there was a navigational run, in a thunderstorm, on the Saturday, supper and a film show in Banbury, and another run on the Sunday morning, with a Concours d’Elegance going on as convenient. Making our stately way homewards we were reminded that this was not the only event of its kind that week-end, for we were waved to by Rolls-Royces returning from a RREC Welsh rally, a Frazer Nash presumably on its way back from the FNCC assault on Screw Hill, N. Wales, and earlier had seen an Edwardian Renault no doubt on its way to the Rallye Renault at Ragley Hall. — W. B.