Salmson Recollections


Mr. Dave Hunt's letter recalling happy memories of Sunday mornings at Bunny Hill and, in particular. his mention of Sir Henry Birkin's Salmson, has taken me back over many years to when I was employed by this once-famous firm at their depot in Motcomb Street, Belgrave Square. I well remember this actual car before Sir Henry took delivery of it.

In those days our agents for the Nottingham area were two brothers by the name of Gibson, who had a garage in the City. Their salesman was a cheerful type by the name of George Simkins, with whom I was on very friendly terms, after an acquaintance covering several Olympia shows. One day he confided to me with great satisfaction that he had Secured a firm order for one of the new "Grand Prix" models, of which hardly any had come over at that time, and asked me to keep a special eye open for its arrival, as it was to be delivered in chassis form and the owner was to be a well-known nobleman and sportsman who had built up a reputation by racing motorcycles. The body was to be built to special order by a local firm.

Now in those days all but a very few of our cars were delivered by barge to Messrs. Leps Wharf at Chiswick, in the middle of the Sewage Farm, and stood out in the open until collected. One morning, to my surprise, George arrived apparently unscheduled at Motcomb Street, clad in his usual immaculate light grey overcoat but sporting a natty line in Nottingham caps in place of his bowler. After the usual greeting I enquired what had brought him to London, only to be told that he had come to take delivery of the GP and hoped it was ready! A general flap then ensued and I was despatched immediately by LGOBC to collect it from Chiswick. When I arrived there the chassis had only just been landed but I slapped in the regulation two gallons of petrol, strapped on my tradcplates, and tied the spare wheel down with cord for a seat. As usual the car was unstartable by hand after its long stay in the open coming over on the boat. But I secured a tow from a passing lorry driver, and away we went. Never shall I forget that journey! The French arc a wonderful people in many ways but their penchant for never delivering anything quite the same as last time was absolutely outstanding in those days and frequently gave us a lot of trouble. In this case I had only gone a few yards when I discovered that I had no silencer of any kind and that all that was fitted was a short length of exhaust pipe connected to the manifold and which terminated beneath where I was sitting. However, time was short and my old friend was waiting, so I really got down to it and pressed on with gusto. I can only describe my subsequent journey as meteoric. My progress as I sped up the Chiswick High Road through Hammersmith and past the Albert Hall must have astonished a great many respectable beholders.

Apart from the thundirous roar from the exhaust, every time I lifted my foot from the accelerator, tremendous reports filled the air and sheets of flame shot beneath me. Eventually, I turned into Lowndes Square and shot round the corner into Motcomb Street and straight on to our service lift, which to my amazement ascended at once. I think they had heard me coming and somebody had his hand on the switch! With one final effort I roared off the lift and across the floor to the fitters'-bay, where I stopped. George rushed over and almost embraced me, beaming with joy as he murmured "Wonderful old boy, wonderful!" I started to say something about having dinner and spending the evening together but to my great surprise he turned away saying firmly, "Notttingham tonight!" As it was then well after lunch on a dull, wintry day and the car was not fitted with lights, you can imagine my feelings at this remark but I knew George and once he had made up his mind, that was that! And so, after a quick check round by the fitters, to Nottingham he went and, marvellous to relate, arrived intact. I saw him shortly afterwards and I seem to remember that he said he covered the last 30 or so miles in total darkness by hanging behind large vehicles. But these were happy carefree days and provided that you did not actually kill or maim anyone, the police did not bother you, especially if you were well-known locally— in other words, keep out of trouble and we don't want to know! [Quite right tool—ED.]

Dear old days indeed! If George Simkins or Fred Clarke, the great tuning impresario from Motcomb Street, or any of the old gang with whom I have lost touch these many years are still in circulation, I would be glad to hear from them.

By the way, Sir Henry very nearly did not get his Salmson after all. George once confided to me that a week or an after the order had been placed, a beautiful limousine arrived outside Messrs. Gibsons Nottingham showrooms and a venerable figure stepped out, none other, I believe, than Sir Henry's father. Entering the showrooms he tackled George at once and said "I believe sir my misguided son has ordered a racing car or some such thing from you. I won't have it, do you hear, I won't have it". However, if George had not been a motor salesman he might have been in the diplomatic corps. He knew his onions and stuck to his guns and as we all know, the deal did go through!

Cheltenham. Harold K. G. Garland

[I didn't know Birkin had a Salzman— presumably between DFP and Bentleys. Has anyone a picture of it?—ED.]

V-E-V Odds & Ends. - A reader, Mr. A. B. Snow, of Newcastle, Staffs., recently delivered a talk to Stoke-on-Trent Round Table on vintage cars, in the course of which he quoted statistics of used cars advertised in a weekly motor paper in 1924 and 1929. With the proviso that these were cars largely from London and Home Counties addresses and that cars such as the Model-T Ford probably sold so readily that they would seldom be advertised, it is interesting to find that in 1924 the most popular makes advertised were Humber (51), Wolseley (46) and Buick (38), out of a total of 435, and that of 916 cars advertised, 191 were pre-1920, and that 656 had open bodies, 201 bodies that could be opened and 59 had closed bodywork. The most popular single models were 27.3 h.p. Buick (29), 11.4 Humber and Austin 20 (26 each) and Model-T Ford and 2.9 h.p. Maxwell (20 each). By 1929 Morris led with 247 from Austin with 201 and Chrysler with 82 and out of 1,985 samples 920 were open, 265 openable and 800 had closed bodies. The most frequently advertised single model types were Morris-Cowley (130), Morris-Oxford (116) and Austin 12 (99). In 1929 Buick scored 78, Armstrong Siddeley 71, Standard 65 and Bentley 62, in this painstaking analysis by this chartered accountant.