The International VCC

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The Federation Internationale des Vottures Anciennes Rally brought to Harrogate in Yorkshire a most impressive assembly of pre-war cars. It was the first of these International events to be held in this country since 1963 and, apart from the competitors, who numbered 313, the majority of those associated with the old-car movement seemed to be present, in one capacity or another.

The responsibility of organising this gigantic historical feast, which included running it as a four-day competitive contest, entertaining around 100 crews, and accommodating and feeding upwards of 700 people fell on the frail but capable shoulders of Angela Cherrett and her husband. They coped admirably and the suitability and scenic quality of the daily routes, the vintage ones plotted by Geoff Winder and the veteran ones by the VCC, were highly praised. Harrogate made an ideal headquarters, the cars being housed overnight in three enormous Exhibition Halls and I was amused to find that Rally h/q was the Crown Hotel, to which I was posted by the MAP during the war, so that much of the war-time issues of Motor Sport was written there! Michael Bowler was the RAC Steward for the Rally, riding his 1953 BMW R25 motorcycle, and among the officials was Cecil Bendall in his p.v.t. tubular-chassis Austro-Daimler drop-head. John Nutter was Chairman of the Organising Committee and used his big open vintage Bentley to good purpose.

It may be a very long time before another FIVA rally takes place here and it was not to be missed. So I set off in the BMW 520i, which had been given a set of new Goodyear G800 GP tyres for the occasion, and arrived to find the Exhibition Halls seething with activity, rather like a combination of preparations for an early 1,000-Mile Trial, a pre-war Brighton Run, or, as indeed it was, a notable VCC/VSCC event. Not only was I hoping to report something of the goings on, but I was to passenger Ron Barker on his splendid 60 h.p. Napier. Thus I viewed with distaste on the Wednesday heavy rain descending from a leaden sky.

Impossible, of course, to refer individually to every competing car. But there was much of interest to be inspected. The oldest entry, an 1895 Landry from Germany, was a nonstarter, and the 1898 Stephens dog-cart also failing to show up, Ted Woolley had Class 1 to himself, which he dominated in lofty isolation on his solid-tyred 1897 Daimler 4 h.p. phaeton. Looking round at random, I saw Lightfoot’s toad-like 1902 25/28 sports Mercedes, Sinfield’s expanse of 1910 sixcylinder 30 h.p. Panhard-Levassor tourer with Ducellier lighting, Tewes’ 1916 Ford landaulette with luggage carried on its roof, Stoyel’s so-covetable 1924 Lancia Lambda on 760 x 90 b.e. tyres, White’s bright-yellow 1925 Rolls-Royce 20 with tumble-home tourer body, and a 1928 Model-A Ford from Germany with tarted-up Tudor body. Wachs had brought from the USA a nice 31-1itre Bentley VDP drop-head, which a small passenger seemed intent on demolishing. I liked Olsson’s 1920 Stutz Bulldog tourer with ornate headlamp glasses and a badge proclaiming it to be “The car that made good in a day”.

Price’s Bugatti 57SC Atlantique coupe slightly damaged its streamlined wings on the second day, driver-vision perhaps not quite appropriate to tight cornering, a 1929 Brooklands Riley seemed to be embellished with brass strips, and the Conways brought two of their Bugattis, one big story being how a “Black Bess” front axle had been discovered on a trailer at Molsheim and brought over for Hugh to give to Arnold-Forster, who has for some time been rebuilding the second of these big chain-drive Bugattis to have survived. There were many other fast cars there, like the Straker-Squire, Corner’s recently-acquired black-and-yellow Type 55 Bugatti, once converted to pre-selector but now with the correct cogs reinstalled, the 1914 TT Sunbeam driven by Crossthwaite, with Mrs. Corner riding as mechanician, and Gerry Palmer’s 1924 Targa Florio Mercedes, towed driverless on a bar to the start but soon to retire with loss of power in one or more cylinder.

Napiers were out in force for, apart from Barker’s Sixty, Lord Montagu had the 65 h.p.. 24-hour replica, Grosmark the ex-Barker 1909 30 h.p. cabriolet, and Black had brought the enormous 1908 45 h.p. Victoria, a car once in the Harrah Collection. Then Rowley had the Th.Schneider, Mrs. Mitchell the Alfonso Hispano-Suiza (with wash-basin in its tail), the Coventry Museum o.h.c. Maudslay carried Motor’s reporter and there was a nice Hotchkiss tourer of that year, with a well-louvered barrel-shape bonnet. Milligen turned up in an impressive 61-litre Bentley with Barker 2-seater body, which he said was good for the oil refineries, a contrast to the three 499-c.c. single-cylinder Hanornags, all 1926 models, one a coupa with window curtains that later shed its undertray; these German breadline cars have square water jackets and hold more coolant than petrol. A brave entry was the SCAP-engincd BNC with Cozette carburetter and supercharger. A 1917 twin-rear-tyned Fiat 15/20 wagonette provided even more variety, some cars had pet names, Re “Canarino” on a 1910 Bianchi and “Tiddley-Pom” on Mrs. Kitson’s 1913 GWK, its twin-cylinder engine saved from a farmyard. Smith’s 1914 30 h.p. Cadillac landaulette was electrically replete, with 2-speed back axle controlled by a little switch on the driver’s door, voltage regulator, overload cut-out, ignition by h.t. coil and trembler coil, with automatic advance and retard and, of course, a self-starter. Habgood’s big 1914 Star torpedo tourer looked somewhat “fire-engine” and the best toad-car of all was Crabbe’s 1906 45/60 Mercedes 2-seater, finished in naval-grey, its driving chains discreetly encased. One could continue such notes indefinitely . . .

The Rally was on the lines of those big pre-war rallies for contemporary cars. The road sections were long-distance regularity tests, with penalties for late or early passage through check-points. There were special tests at Tockwith and a hill-climb at Harewood House, the latter thinly disguised as another regularity test. The contest ended with a Concours d’Elegance, just as those pre-war rallies ended, with driving tests and a beauty show. The routes were long and tough, and differed for preand post-1919 entries. Crews of later cars had to face a 7 a.m. start on the first day. There were various jollies in the evenings, such as a Yorkshire Bank reception at which the drink, reputed to have cost £900, ran out before all those invited had arrived, a Rolls-Royce wine-and-cheese party (two R-R PROs were co-driving the 1905 two-cylinder Royce), and a number of dances which I ignored as having no motoring significance.

Thursday turned out fine and, sealed against the elements in my Functional stormcoat and pre-war flying helmet (maybe “Mr. Functional” is as deserving of a Wilsonaccolade as “Mr. Gannex”!), I got up beside “Steady” Barker on the 1908 11.6-litre Napier. All day, over, most enjoyable, peacefully empty Yorkshire roads, we were to be impeded by veteran, Edwardian and vintage cars unable to go quickly or holding back in deference to the stipulated 22 and 25 m.p.h. set average speeds, higher, incidentally, than the averages set for the moderns in some 1930s rallies. Fortunately, Barker is anything but a pot-hunter, so we disregarded such a restriction on our enjoyment and the Napier was made to press-on, although driven with discreet restraint, so that no-one was inconvenienced and not one “moment” did we experience. It had been driven some 200 miles to the start, with Peter Hull in the “hot-seat”, but apart from having the brakes adjusted that evening, it required no attention. At first the radiator boiled over but this was temporarily cured by adjusting the fan-belt. “Steady” also insisted on removing a front wheel to grease a creaking hub on the Friday morning, but this was really an excuse to let other competitors pass the Napier, as it was fun overtaking them—especially the more staid and snooty Silver Ghosts.

Although you sit in a bucket seat with no dashboard or grab-handles to hold, this is a perfectly comfortable way of travelling through the countryside, for body support is entirely adequate, the ride is excellent, and I was driven all the time with the greatest competence. Indeed, to ride on the Napier is one of motoring’s great experiences. There is no wind-break above one’s ankles, but I remained quite warm. At the legal speed-limit the great six-cylinder engine cruises at less than 1,000 r.p.m., and it will, in fact, pull in top from as low as 300 r.p.m. Yet this Napier, so reminiscent of those that won fame at Brooklands and elsewhere (as this one itself did), is capable of over 80 m.p.h. in road-trim and the acceleration is quite remarkable for a 1908 car, even in top gear. Just before we ate an excellent buffet-lunch at “The Feathers” in Helmsley on the first day there had been dire rumours of a fearsome gradient to ascend. It certainly brought even some of the big cars down to a crawl. But the Napier climbed effortlessly and quickly, on third speed.

Thus did I enjoy this FIVA Rally, sitting high above the long, broad, green bonnet with its Edwardian lining, ahead of which rose the “water tower” on the Napier radiator that bears the proud inscription: “D. Napier & Son Ltd., ENGINEERS, Acton Vale, London, W.” One could not wish for a better ride, in a rally of this kind, than on this great British motor car. Moreover, it was dry on the Thursday and Friday, except during the short run back into Harrogate on Day Two from the communal lunch-break at York (horse) Race Course. That was another enthralling day’s motoring, over even more peaceful roads, past pastoral scenery, great mansions being glimpsed from time to time and a splendid view being obtained of Castle Howard, friendly onlookers encountered in the towns and villages. (Alas, Saturday broke with a cloudburst. So “Steady” decided not to take the Napier out—the advantage of not chasing awards. The weather was so bad that the veteran section of the Harewood “hill-climb” was abandoned.)

Not everyone had such trouble-free running as we did. It is impossible to recount all the incidents and adventures that befell other competitors in this ambitious rally. But Averil Scott-Moncrieff suspected piston trouble in her OM, James’ 1923 Cubitt, imported from Australia and out after a long restoration, was stranded in remote country when its magneto packed up, and Lord Strathcarron’s 1903 horse-brougham-bodied Georges-Richard went on fire while he was cranking it up, not realising that an automatic inlet valve had broken. The paintwork was blistered but no lasting damage done. One small Panhard-Levassor saloon had apparently boiled its radiator dry, two of the tiny Hanomags appeared to have disappeared, and Smith’s single-pot Rover was making the sort of noise associated in writers’ minds with the Gatling gun.

More serious was what befell a Frenchman, Richer’s, 1908 15 h.p. Delaunay-Belleville, on the Friday. It was confronted at a road-junction by a modern Triumph, which it did its best to slice in half, suffering a bent dumb-iron and fractured n/s front spring in the process. But Appleyards repaired the damage in 3 1/2 hours. Von Raffay’s 1914 15 h.p. car of the same illustrious make had a puncture the previous day, the very helpful Police assisting in finding it a jack. Sinfield’s 1910 Panhard was thought to have sheared a driveshaft, and Kirby’s 14/40 Delage, having lost bottom gear, was, like the tiny De Dion Boutons, ascending the more severe hills in reverse. The aforesaid 1-in-5 climb stopped Titterington’s Austin 7 and Malyan’s 22/90 Alfa Romeo, which was baulked, according to official handouts, and a Hanomag driver was seen to be walking up, beside his car. Tony Mitchell was going extremely well in his 1913 GN, which he was using for the first time as a (belt-driven)-road car, prior to selling it, accompanied by his knowledgeable young son, when it went onto one cylinder on the second day’s run. Unknown to him the push-rod and rocker-gear had blown out. But thanks to a farm worker who found a piece of this in a field beside the road and was about to post it to h/q, Tony, returning with his trailer, set about a roadside search that revealed the remaining pieces. Calder’s “Dr. Finlay” 1913 12/16 Sunbeam suffered from failure of a new Dunlop b.e. tyre on the o/s rear wheel, but the Vintage Tyre Suppliers’ Morris Commercial van was present to cope with such contingencies.

Doubtless, with some 269 cars involved, there were other tales of woe. But Felix Day was going well in his Frazer Nash, as was Ivan Hill, who had travelled from Australia to renew acquaintance with the 1930 Frazer Nash he once owned and which he had not driven for some 38 years There was even a Datsun, a 1935 6 h.p. tourer, competing and, as this entry of cars from 1895 to 1939 is unique, I append a make-by-make breakdown of it.

Notes on the Napier

I discovered this car in the village of Greywell in Hampshire during the war, where its then-owner, a Mr. Wilson, had laid it up around 1930. I took Barker to its former resting place (we went, in fact, in his 1909 Napier), and later, after Mr. Wilson had died, he was able to purchase and resuscitate it, in the 1960s. This 1908 Napier has the L-head 5 in. x 6 in. 11 1/2-litre engine like those installed, in more complicated chassis frames, in the 1908 French GP team cars, which were disqualified from that race on account of having detachable wheels.

The chassis of the Barker car, known as the R-type, has conventional side-members and 1/2-elliptic springing. After Napier’s gave up racing under S. F. Edge’s highly-successful control this particular car was sold to Mr. A. C. Bird of Sutton Coldfield, the “Custard King”. He drove it at Brooklands in 1910-11 and lapped at over 87 m.p.h. But he was beaten by a “works” Sunbeam in a five-lap Match Race, which may he why he afterwards raced Sunbeams. The Napier returned to the factory and was advertised for sale in 1914 as a sprint and hill-climb car. Mr. Wilson bought it and didn’t lay it up until many years later, his sister driving a smaller pre-war Napier.

The six cylinders are arranged in three pairs, with the valves along the near-side. A Zenith RA48 carburetter is fitted, which is actually too meagre for the demands of the engine. This feeds via a complex inlet system, and an exhaust pipe extends from each port, into the front silencer. Ignition is by trembler coil and magneto, the latter added in 1910 to provide Napier’s patented synchronised ignition. The trembler coil lives in the original mahogany box down by the passenger’s feet. After the engine has been cranked a few times it invariably starts “on the switch”, a thing about which Silver Ghost owners are apt to boast, when it works for them! The Napier’s lubrication system is fully-pressurised and to this unexpected modernity in an Edwardian power unit must be added its ability to rev-up like a far more recent engine. Moreover, the oil pressure is around 40 lb./sq. in. when hot; Barker always uses Castrol R40, which is consumed at the rate of about 500 to 600 m.p.g. Two-star fuel suffices, fed from a tank of approx. 18 gallons capacity by air-pressure from a dashboard pump that hinges out of the way, but mainly from a camshaft-driven air pump. The fuel filler admits an adult’s hand, so that the contents are easily finger-dipped in the dark (!). Fuel consumption varies from about 10 to 12 m.p.g.; on the rally drive we were getting the less-daunting figure. The engine was assembled without the 3/8 in. compression-plates beneath the cylinder blocks, so the c.r. is probably around 4.6 to 1.

Silicon aluminium pistons are now fitted; the tubular con-rods had originally to be milled to give clearance when Napier evolved this long-stroke engine in conjunction with the standard crankcase. The drive goes via a 64-plate Hele-Shaw clutch running in oil. This is very smooth but if it heats up in traffic the clutch pedal has to be depressed to the floor to act as a clutch-stop, which prevents the plates from spinning. The fourspeed gearbox has all indirect gears, with a 1-to-1 fourth speed; 1st gear embraces a 9 1/2 in. dia. pinion. The axle ratio is 2.0-to-1. The gears are delightfully close-ratio, and notably quiet, as Barker had to have new ones machined by Henry Meadows. The “signalbox” r.h. gear-lever works in a huge exposed gate, arranged as on a Bugatti, with top forward of third and outboard of the lower-gear positions. Reverse is selected by a separate small lever, which prevents a forward gear from being engaged while the car is going backwards, as the normal lever is then locked in neutral; nor can reverse be used if a forward gear is engaged. As the propshaft revolves the opposite way from normal the l.h. rear wheel lifts under torque, which is off-putting up Prescott. Outboard of the gearlever is the equally-long handbrake, which pulls on. The transmission brake has been discarded, both foot and handbrake working rear-wheel brakes, via separate cams. They stop the car without squeal, juddering or drama.

The engine is, as I have said, extraordinarily docile, yet it provides most impressive performance. Power output must be in the region of 110 b.h.p. or more. Maximum revs are 1,800, with 1,600 r.p.m. available in top gear. Vibration comes in at around 1,000 to 1,200 r.p.m., or at about 52 to 62 m.p.h.Edge’s famous “Napier Power Rattle”. Incidentally, the oil pressure only drops to 20 lb. at the idling speed of 300 r.p.m., from which this enormous engine will pull away in the high top gear.

The wire wheels have Rudge centre-lock hubs and are shod with Dunlop 880 x 120 tyres—we had three spare covers piled up behind for the FIVA Rally, or a total of 020-worth of tyres and tubes! When Barker got the car the Napier Road Equalisers were missing, so he replaced them with Houdaille shock-absorbers, as on the TT Hutton but of a later pattern. The car is virtually a stripped racer, and weighs about 33 cwt. Yet there is a useful locker behind the seats and a platform between this and the spare tyres for luggage, and there are other lockable stowages under the seats and floor.

Lighting is by the Lodge Patent Car Lighting System, with a Lodge switchbox flanked by six friction buttons, and containing a big master-switch. A brass plate listing 1914 lighting-up times embellishes this switch-box. The brake and clutch pedals, lettered “Napier”, are to the left of the accelerator. A bulb-horn is augmented by a foot-operated trumpet which functions under inlet-manifold suction. Down on the footboard the driver is able to cast the occasional eye over the little Napier oil and air-pressure gauges; higher up on the o/s there is an Elliott revcounter reading 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, in r.p.m. calibrations, and it is a delight to see the engine working so easily at speed. The five-spoke steering wheel on its long column is devoid of kick-back; there are the usual quadrant levers in its centre and a mag.-switch on the wheel hub. Very elegant and practical flared front mudguards are fitted and when the headlamps are left at home, as on the FIVA, there are Lodge side lamps for emergencies.

I know of no more covetable motor car from the great Edwardian days than this fine and formidable 1908 Napier Sixty. Its present owner has driven it to Le Mans, has used it on rallies, etc. and has raced and hill-climbed it. But apart from competitive fun-and-games, Barker finds it very enjoyable for ordinary motoring, because it is so dependable and pleasant to handle and has such a very satisfactory performance.—W.B.

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