The editor takes in the Humber Register Thame Rally, the Veteran Car Club Replica of the 1908 Manchester MC Trial and the Ford Model-T Rally from London to Daventry
There is absolutely no lack of enthusiasm for the older cars, consequently the fixture list is overcrowded. For instance, on a pouring wet Sunday morning in May, as I set off to drive the few miles to Christopher Mathews’ house, being due to go with him to the Humber Register Rally at far-distant Thame, the Alvis fraternity were preparing for Alvis Day at the Crystal Palace, the Brooklands Society were about to deport themselves at Silverstone, those whose fancies lie with old commercial vehicles were already launching themselves along the Brighton Road from Battersea and there was to be a Bugatti OC hill-climb at Prescott, and various other vintage and veteran fixtures were on the agenda.
I had chosen to go on the Humber event because it is more fun to take part than to watch. Last year Mathews had taken me to the Humber Register’s Anniversary Rally at Banbury in his 14/40 Humber. This year it was back to Thame, and we were to go in his other Humber, a 1927 two-seater 9/20. It is a car he has owned all its life, and which is in daily use when the bigger Humber is laid up. Indeed, the only other car Mathews has, as a shopping stand-by, is a 1932 Morris Minor saloon, which has also been in the family since new.
The story behind this Humber is rather interesting. When Mathews was about to get married he and his wife tried an Austin 7, when offered a car as a wedding present, but he found it was too small for his feet, so they became resigned to having a second-hand car. Indeed they had been very favourably impressed with a used Humber 8/18. However, on their wedding day the present turned out to be the brand-new 9/20, supplied by Caffyns of Eastbourne. The date was February 18th, 1928.
Since then the game little Humber has run some 335,000 miles. “Equal to going to the moon and part-way back,” the owner points out, which makes space travel seem less impressive, until one remembers that it might not be possible to do this in a lifetime, in the vintage Humber. The engine has been rebored once, at 16,000 miles, the pistons being expanded by Cord’s and fitted with their rings and the original gasket replaced. It is still in use. “The rebore was a mistake,” says Mathews, “but over the years almost every part has been stripped for inspection and attention when necessary”. After he had had the Humber for nearly a quarter of a century and it had notched up 248,000 miles he commenced a sorting out which took until 1964.
It must be appreciated that the car is regarded as practical everyday transport, and was not bought recently for use in vintage car frolics. The modifications were all done to render it more convenient in this everyday role. Mechanical improvements included three-point engine mounting to prevent broken mounting bolts when the chassis twisted, the oilways were enlarged to relieve pressure when the oil is cold, a Hardy-Spicer prop.-shaft was fitted and the transmission brake eliminated. The contracting back brakes were also got rid of by substituting a 1929 back axle outer casing, after which all four expanding brakes were coupled to the pedal. As the gearbox was by now worn out a four-speed synchromesh box from a 1932 Austin 10/4 was installed behind the old box, which was locked in top gear, the prop.-shaft being shortened to accommodate it. This made for a much easier hill-climbing performance and as the lever, long, with a “barley sugar” twist in it, was central, the handbrake lever (which resembles the Humber gear-lever) was moved to the middle of the floor and a door put in on the o/s. As the spare wheel is mounted well forward on the n/s both occupants have easy access from their own sides, and to obviate draughts the screen now opens at the bottom as well as at the top (no need for squirts!).
Apart from more leverage to render the clutch lighter and the making of a mild clutch-stop, the other mods. concern the bodywork and accessories. The body looks perfectly standard to me but, in fact, Mathews has made it wider, restyling the hood to match, has improved and ventilated the dickey, installed a winding window in his door, mounted the mudguards on the frame instead of the running boards, eliminated water traps from the latter, softened the rear springing by removing some leaves and interlining the rest with zinc, arranged proper stowages for jack, petrol and oil tins, tow-rope, etc., and generally made the car more comfortable and convenient. There are winking turn-indicators, reversing lamp, external mirrors, a compass, properly fused electrics with master-switch, a charging plug, etc., and the famous Humber rigid side curtains have been improved. A spot-lamp incorporating an inspection lead is mounted at screen level.
Under the bonnet the Cox-Atmos carburetter (which gave only 28 m.p.g.) has been replaced by a d/d Solex but ignition is still by the original but remagnetised Lucas magneto and on the running board an Exide battery replated nine years ago still gives excellent service. As with his bigger Humber, the finish in brushed-on Dulux, is mud-colour, to obviate frequent washing.
It was in this snug Humber, hood erect, that we set off soon after 8 a.m. for Thame. There is an air of quality about the well-formed mudguards, the shut of the doors and the walnut dashboard and door-cappings. The instrumentation gives the dash a well-filled appearance. The Autovac vacuum-type petrol gauge, clock, Lucas switch panel, speedometer, ammeter, dash-lamp, choke, pneumatic lamps’-dipper and horn are all original but the oil gauge was replaced by a Duco after the Humber one had burst, flooding the passenger in warm lubricant. Mathews has installed extras such as a dim dashlamp wired to act as a rear-lamps’ telltale, cigarette lighter, a charge adjuster, and, hidden under the dash, the starter and master switches and trafficators’ control. Also, a plate proclaiming that this Humber answers to the name of “Dingo”.
On this wet Sunday morning our progress was impressively steady. The car proved well able to put 33 miles into the hour, running at 40-45, with occasional forays up to 50 m.p.h. The engine is quite noisy, there is some vibration and shuddering of the headlamps and the back axle hums a little under drive. Such noises are rivalled in decibels by the Lucas screen-wiper, rebuilt using points from an Autopulse. But the performance is there, helped by the four-speed gearbox, from which most of the synchro assistance has long since disappeared. For instance, after we had used the expensive-looking new loos in Tewkesbury, the Humber pulled us over the Cotswolds to Stow-on-the-Wold in third gear, the Motorneter on the radiator cap showing no sign of overheating, for a Kenlowe electric fan had been switched on as we began the climb, a precaution Mathews takes because the i.o.e. engine, like that of a 12/50 Alvis, is devoid of both fan and water pump. It took other considerable gradients on top, although weighed down not only by its human burden but by two weights from a long-case clock which the owner had omitted to remove from the dickey. In fact, we got along so well that the journey took not much more than four hours. We were well-shod, on Dunlop 450/5.00 x 19 tyres, three of them 15-years-old, with a new Dunlop 4.50 x 19 spare and on the rear a Motorways Remould of this size, its tread pattern positively vintage.
In Thame square a truly fine selection of Humbers had assembled. As I dealt with most of them last year I will refrain from reiteration. But there seemed to be every model there – 8/18, 9/20, 9/28, 12/25, 14/40, 15/9, 9/15, 16/60 and Snipe, together with the striking contrast of Ford’s spidery air-cooled vee-twin Humberette and Danaher’s beautiful 20/55 Tourer. When I saw a Frazer Nash and a sports Austin 7 parked nearby I assumed their owners were en route to the Brooklands Society fun-and-games. But no, they were Humber Register members, helping as marshals.
The afternoon was occupied with a typical rally excercise, during which places like Aston Clinton and Halton of motoring and aviation memory loomed up, until we arrived at a café near Ivinghoe for a strawberry-jam tea. It transpired that the 20/55, whose picture was in Motor Sport last month, had won the Beauty Show, Longhurst’s 15/40 the road event, with Arman’s 14/40 taking the Dames Longworth Trophy and the Rose Bowl for prowess in both categories. The distance award again went to Kershaw, his 9/20 having come from Oldham.
I then drove the Humber back to Wales, finding it a most pleasant car to handle. Whereas a bull-nose Morris might have looked impertinent, my Calthorpe self-conscious, as it nosed into the evening traffic, the Humber looked dignified and entirely sure of itself, as having as much right to the road as any other car. The steering is light and accurate, the cornering excellent, the brakes heavy but adequate, the cone clutch needing care—it even caught the owner out, at times. I was sometimes too eager with the gear lever, bringing clashing sounds from the synchro-cones, and wanted to change-down too early on hills for Mathews’ liking, but otherwise made no mistakes. All told the Humber did 323 miles that day, without a glimmer of anxiety, giving 33 m.p.g. of cheap petrol. Now, of course, it is back in daily service. . . .
The following Sunday I was off again, this time in the comfort of a Consul 3000 GT (a different kind of comfort from that provided by the Humber, the hood of which kept out the draughts, so that I was warm in my Functional top-coat, but allowed the rain to drip in occasionally, whereas the Ford’s excellent sliding roof remained completely leakproof in the torrential rain that was soon to fall.) The object this time was to see and help marshal the VCC’s replica of the 1908 Manchester MC’s Three-day Trial, which was being run over the original route and to virtually the original rules, and which had sponsorship from the Forward Trust.
Again, it was evident that lots was happening on this miserable May Sunday. I encountered motorcycles on their trailers on the way to a scramble the local club was having in my grounds, stock-cars on the way to their form of racing, and cars returning from Welsh Rally stages (how did the VCC get its RAC permit, under such circumstances?), while in Llangollen, cycle racing was very much in evidence.
Here some of the competitors were to be seen, so I joined them, heading for lunch at Bala. The A494 was thick with traffic, caravans, boats and a showman’s vehicle impeding us, so, after passing Bradshaw’s stately Siddeley-Deasy, it was a long crawl, in heavy rain, although Richardson’s 1906 Talbot two-seater made light work of getting through. After lunch I had a fast drive to keep up with A. W. Smith’s Datsun 240Z, as we went off to marshal the regularity test up a long main road hill. Some sections of road towards Dolgellau were of such poor “temporary surface” that I was reminded of the description of some of the Welsh roads in the 1908 trial–”of a vile character, owing to repairs and new
VCC Forward Trust Replica 1908 Trial
Overall Winner: O. J. Gray (1914 Lancia 35).
1st R.M. Pickard (1904 8-h..p. De Dion
2nd: D. Tuckfield/G. Thompson (the AA’s 1904 20/30 Renault).
3rd: A.W. Hutt (1914 8-h.p. Humberette).
1st: J.F.M. Cooper (1914 12/14 Scout).
2nd: Miss V.A. Smith (1911 Rover 12).
3rd: C.A. Hankin (1910 12-h.p. Adler).
metal being laid down in the rough without covering or rolling”—and an aged Triumph Herald, presumably with MoT certificate, had had its n/s front suspension collapse on one of them! On all but one occasion the Ford’s Michelin tyres held well to the soaking roads and both cars duly arrived at the bleak hill, soon to be joined by the Rover 3500 V8 of Clerk-of-the-Course F. Smith.
We all got soaked before much time had elapsed, but the veterans mostly made light work of the long gradient, Mitchell’s Alfonso Hispano-Suiza choosing an average as high as 35 m.p.h. Pickard thought 3 m.p.h. was more appropriate to his 1905 single-cylinder De Dion Bouton and Valerie Smith in the 1911 Rover 12 opted for 5 m.p.h. Both might have been too optimistic, had not the De Dion stopped and required a push and the Rover run out of petrol. The Belgian driver Pottier, in another of the Smiths’ veterans, a fine 1914 Darnley 16, got lost and Roger Collings came through after the Control had closed, having been late starting from Manchester that morning because his Zust’s trembler coil was out of action and the 25/35 h.p. engine jibbed at commencing on only magneto induced sparks.
Trousers rolled above the knees to massage my frozen legs, but generally snug thanks to the aforesaid Functional coat, “Rolls-Royce of bad weather apparel”, which proved not only very warm in spite of its light weight, but splendidly waterproof. I drove quickly to Aberystwith, passing on the way a Reliant 3-wheeler which had just been on fire, the VCC President in his 1912 Iris and Hatt’s Humberette—a water cooled one this time—which had had a puncture. Also M. Pottier, going the wrong way . . .
The next day, scarcely dried out, I went to photograph the trial, with Mathews and my wife, but scarcely had our Ford got beyond Knighton than they were coming towards us thick and (some) fast. So we hurried back to Llandrindod Wells in case we were needed for checking-in chores. Here we discovered that Miss Bendall’s 1914 Hupmobile had sensibly been put on a trailer behind a Range Rover because one of its road wheels was breaking up, Londass’ 1903 Panhard-Levassor was riding on another trailer behind a Hillman Minx due to undiagnosed troubles, and the Talbot had suffered a tyre blow-out, had missed a turning at Knighton, and had a blocked jet. Collings had a leaking water pump on the Zust and his search for packing revealed the excellent arrangement on Mitchell’s Hispano-Suiza. Lift its decked tail and beneath are ribbed compartments full of fitted tools and boxes containing every conceivable spare, all topped by a sink for washing the hands after work is completed. It turned out that for ten years the Zust’s pump had been wrongly packed, so it was soon able to proceed, its exhaust note rivalled only by the Hispano’s. Another notably fast entrant was Lord Montagu’s Prince Henry Vauxhall, ably driven by Michael Ware in his period motorcoat. And such rare Edwardians as Mann’s 1908 Vinot et Deguingand, Chamber’s 1908 Delauney-Belleville, Hartley’s 1912 Fiat, Love’s 24/30 Wakeley, the Adler and a 12/14 Scott attracted public appraisal.
After lunch they were set to drive to Hereford, the Humberette needing attention to its plug points and the De Dion proving reluctant to fire, but soon departing to the squeaking protests of its clutch bands. On the third day we rose at 6.30 a.m. in order to get to the hill at Speech House in the Forest of Dean, where another regularity climb, with competitors estimating their speeds, was held. This half-mile 1 in 6 defeated no-one, the Humberette, after scattering near-by sheep, dropping its passenger for the ascent, however, while Bourne’s Cadillac went up after the Control had closed. It was now that Graham Hill, pretending to be a veteran car enthusiast, joined in, at the wheel of Valerie Smith’s Clegg Rover, a car which has been a work-horse all its life. Hill had made good time after a late start, but I wonder why you trouble, Graham?
In Cheltenham, where the veterans were permitted to park in Montpellier Gardens while their crews had lunch, Charles South told us his Rover van had gone on the HCVC Brighton Run on the previous Sunday and won its class. And as if that wasn’t enough he and his wife, in their trusty 1913 12/16 Sunbeam, the enthusiastic Smith family and other VCC members (but not G. Hill) were continuing into Devon and Cornwall after this replica of a famous 1908 trial had concluded at Stratford-on-Avon that afternoon. It took in fuel consumption as well as regularity up hill and over the 400-miles route and results are appended.
The following Sunday was occupied with the Ford Model-T Rally from London to Daventry, with Ford of Britain laying on lavish hospitality. It is right and proper that they should recognise the Model-T, for their prosperity was founded by it. Whereas General Motors was built up by the absorption of many individual makes a Ford is a Ford, and always has been. Anglias, Populars and Prefects reflect Model-T ancestry in their suspension arrangements and Model A and B about their engines—not that I am recommending the control characteristics of an early Prefect, for I drove a 1952 version a few miles recently, and those few miles were quite enough . . !
But it is correct for Ford to honour a great heritage, leading up to the present-day sales leadership of the popular Cortina and thus, on May 20th, over 40 Fords of the Model-T Register journeyed from the RAC in Pall Mall (or rather, from St. James’ Square) where a young “TV-Topper” girl waved an outsize Union Jack at each of them, to Ford’s impressive new spares distribution centre and service training college at Daventry.
I was allowed to ride in, and even drive, the 1926 Tourer owned by A. G. Coster, Chairman of the Register. Far removed from the popular conception of a Model-T as a rough, rattly, vibrating sort of vehicle, this one ran smoothly and quietly at 40 m.p.h. the low-compression 2.9-litre long-stroke engine doing scarcely more than 1,600 r.p.m. It is a practical motor-car, augmented by Mr. Coster’s R-Type Bentley. These days the controls of a Model-T appear rather alarming but, in fact, they are ingeniously fool-proof and I soon found myself wondering, with the late Henry Ford, why the Model-T had to be abandoned in 1927, and whether the Chevrolet 490 was really a better automobile . . .
Ford Model-T London-Daventry Run
Brass Radiator Class: W. F. Lorch (1915 tourer). Painted Nickel Radiator Class: A. G. Coster (1926 tourer). Commercial Class: W. Drinkwater Ltd. (1922 Ton truck). Typical Model-T Prize: P. Bourne (1923 Ton truck).
You have three pedals, clearly lettered “C”, “R” and “B”, a r.h. brake lever, and throttle and spark levers (there is no foot accelerator) below the reverse-dished 4-spoke steering wheel. When the brake lever is pulled back the clutch is also disengaged. Bottom gear is achieved by depressing the clutch pedal, top gear by letting it rise. The other pedal reverses the Ford and acts as a last-resort brake. The brake pedal is used seldom, as it is hard on the bands, but the lever brake retards the car most effectively, while the back wheels retain a grip. That’s all the controls there are, apart from a 3-position mixture knob on the right of the facia.
A late Model-T with improved bodywork, plated radiator and its trembler-coil box above the engine, Coster’s car is started by pressing a floor pedal with one’s heel. Thereafter it runs smoothly away, is easy to steer, has but a subdued version of the early Ford exhaust bleat, and if it cannot accelerate quite as quickly as a modem London taxi, it is equally as manoeuvrable and happy in traffic.
The only instruments on the painted metal dash are a brass-bound Stewart speedometer made in Chicago, with trip and total mileometres, the latter quaintly labelled “Season”, and an “ampheres”—meter on the Ford switch panel. There is an electric horn-push on the side of the steering column, the two-pane screen has a hand-wiper, and from an upright leatherette-covered seat you look down on a typical Model-T vista, short bonnet, eared filler cap, and slightly-domed mudguards. This smart and efficient Model-T runs on 4.50/4.75 x 21 Dunlops, on four-stud detachable rims.
In it we, Coster, his attractive wife, Burgess Wise of Ford Times and this scribe, travelled out of London and up the M1, to a coffee-stop at the Executive Hotel at Markyate in welcome sunshine so that the 7-foot-high black hood had soon been lowered, furled and strapped down. The four doors shut effectively but have very simple interior handles. I was reminded, when riding in the back of how much room these Ford, Chevrolets and Overlands possessed, compared to small European tourers of those days, the 10.4 Citroën for example. This was another reason, apart from the simple and so logical controls in the case of the Ford, why many people must have regretted the British horse power tax which killed off big, woolly engines. I also discovered that this 1926 Model-T rides very well, in spite of having no dampers for its transverse springs. And at the refuelling pause I was reminded that what looks like a scuttle ventilator concedes the tank filler.
Beyond Markyate there were very prolonged delays due to road-works, scandalous on the main A5, so that I began to suspect that GM, whose AC-Delco works we passed along with the one-time ERA factory, in Dunstable, had managed to stem this plague of Model-T’s. However, although later Model-T’s do not possess water pumps, their fans, driven by flat-belt, seemed to effectively obviate overheating in these prolonged holdups. In Dunstable free fuel was dispersed by Ford and before lunch-time we had completed a comfortable and enjoyable 75-mile run to Daventry. Once again, my excellent Functional coat coped with the draughts . . . with of course, a flying helmet.
The car park was already full of Ts, which I was later to judge (results appended) in company with Keith Reed of the Coventry Evening Telegraph, John Atkinson, Principal of the Ford Training Centre and Tony Medlen, Manager of the Daventry Parts Distribution Centre. Impossible to describe them all, I noted the special radiators on Ross’ 1923 Gordon landaulette with its coil front snubbers, and on Pearce’s 1923 landaulette, the latter having a brassy cooler with a Hampton-like snout. Bourne’s 1923 Ton truck “Obadiah” carried spares for front and back wheels, there was a number of typical black l.h.d. tourer Ts, Trodgeon had his yellow 7 cwt. butcher’s van from St. Austell (it departed on a trailer), Tidesley Ltd. their Ford Main Dealer’s 7 cwt. pick-up with wheel spokes in varnished wood. Jossaume had a 1923 taxi with roof rack and plated radiator, two of those coupés with a door centrally on each side were present one of which, with strap-type window-lifts, was taken off the road in 1930 and has done only 3,000 miles.
The 1923 fire-engine, ex the Earl of Derby arrived boiling and Baico-conversion lorry, on low axle ratio, even its driving chains painted, was very slow. Ball’s 1912 tourer had a body by A. W. Chapman of Inverness. I amused myself before lunch noting how pre-war Model-Ts picked their way at night. Bamford’s 1912 Runabout, with exposed rumble-seat, has Ford Radmill gas headlamps, as has Prior’s similar car. Saunders’ 1914 tourer relies (or relied) on H. & B. Projector gas lamps, Smart’s 1911 Pick-up has headlamps by the Ford Theedmunds & Jones Mfg. Co., of Detroit, Whiteway’s 1912 tourer prefers Model-15 lamps by the Jas. W. Brown Mfg. Co., of Columbus, whereas Lorch’s well-known brass-radiator tourer has brass-edged electric lamps.
This set the tone, and after lunch there was the difficult chore of judging the assembled Model-Ts. Then after tea, the drive home in the Consul 3000 GT, to read a few chapters of Philip Van Doran Stern’s “Tin Lizzie” before retiring.—W.B.