Veteran Edwardian Vintage, July 1977

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A section devoted to old-car matters

Happenings at Higham

The other day I met Sydney Maslin, mechanic very closely associated with motor racing. He lived in lodgings in Bridge, as a boy, so naturally in the early 1920s he went to work for Count Zborowski, who lived at the house called Higham. After the Count’s fatal racing accident he got a job with Bentley Motors, was posted for a time to the Birkin establishment at Welwyn, then worked for Earl Howe under his head racing mechanic Thomas. But on this occasion it was about Zborowski that we mainly talked.

Maslin recalls the splendid workshop at Zborowski’s estate near Canterbury, equipped with every sort of machine-tool, and an overhead travelling crane, and the estate power-house, motive power provided by a 160-h.p. Mercedes engine and the polished black control board and instrument panel. Zborowski would sometimes work at the lathes himself, whistling happily, but was too impulsive to finish what he started. Clive Gallop was his engineer and there was Arthur Easton, who was an excellent machinist. He made the spring shackles and other parts for the chassis of the Liberty-engined Higham Special out of solid steel billets, and planned the oil-pipe runs and revised sumps, etc. for the aero-engines in the Chittys and the Higham. Then there were the brothers Len and Billy Martin, Len Martin being the riding mechanic who was in the Mercedes when Zborowski crashed fatally at Monza. Len married a kitchen maid from the house and Billy was already married. Easton was riding with Cooper when he was killed in the V8 aero-engined Cooper-Clerget while praotising at Brooklands, Cooper being killed and Easton injured when he was thrown onto the spoked railings.

I was very interested to come upon a photograph of the fabled Zborowski Mercedes lorry, taken by Maslin’s Kodak camera. This was an ungainly, flat-radiator, war-time model, on solid tyres, very old-fashioned, later replaced by pneumatics. Gallop contrived a high gear ratio in its gearbox, to improve its speeds. It took the Miller all the way to Lyons for the 1924 French GP, in which Sammy Davis rode as mechanic to the Count, and it was used to bring Zborowski’s coffin from Dover to Higham. Arriving in the drive on that sad occasion, its steering seized-up, because the Germans were short of bronze during the war and had fitted steel-to-steel bushes on the steering column. It also had plain front wheel bearings. S. C. H. Davis, in his book “Motor Racing” (Iliffe, 1932), says of taking the 2-litre Miller to Lyons: “We had a tremendous time, the car journeying in a special, beautifully fitted Mercedes lorry, capable of 52 m.p.h., accompanied by Douglas Hawkes, Clive Gallop, a curious machine called ‘Peter the Packard’, the V-engine of which had one cylinder permanently out of action, and tyre rims that could be detached only with a hacksaw, and, last but not least, two excellent mechanics always known as ‘William’ and ‘Len’.” It was this lorry that towed the Higham Special the three miles from Bligh Brothers who had made its body, to Higham, Len steering it. Sometimes the engine of the Big Benz would be started on the test bed by jacking-up one wheel of the lorry and taking a belt from this to the Benz flywheel.

Bligh Bros. put the long track tails on Zborowski’s Ballot, 200-h.p. Benz and Aston Martin cars; one of the last-named was wrecked by Zborowski as he flogged it across France. The Count had an interest in this old coachbuilding firm; indeed, his lorry had Bligh Bros., Canterbury, Kent on the sides of its enclosed cab. The occasion is quoted when the Miller refused to run properly on test. Miller’s head mechanic, Riley Brett, had come over with it – he is remembered as staying at the Savoy Hotel in London and travelling down to Canterbury or Brooklands daily – but it was Len Martin who discovered that a 6-cylinder cam had been put into the ignition distributor of the 8 cylinder engine… Apparently at one time Westinghouse air-brakes were planned for the Miller, as were used on the White Mercedes, but the idea was abandoned. The cause of Zborowski’s fatal accident at Monza, when he skidded at a corner, got back on the road, but hit a tree, was widely debated at the time, the reasons suggested ranging from a seized back axle, as the differential was said to run red-hot, to oil on the track, shed by a Peugeot, to snatching brakes. Had the Count not been killed, a new Chitty would have been built, the Benz aero-engine having been tested on the bench and a live Sunbeam back axle being at Higham awaiting the chassis frame. Mr. Maslin lists the cars owned by Zborowski between 1920 and 1924 as: Chitty I, Chitty II, the White Mercedes, the Big Benz, an odd electric Austro-Daimler, probably of Porsche origins, which they never got running, a sleeve-valve Mercedes saloon, the racing 4 1/2-litre Ballot, the 1 1/2-litre Aston Martins, the Count having a financial stake in this make, the Type 30 Indianapolis Bugattis, the Monza sports Hispano-Suiza, a touring Hispano-Suiza, a Packard, the Higham Special, a Mercedes chassis fitted with a Model-T Ford engine and transmission, used as a station runabout, the aforesaid Mercedes open-sided lorry, the racing straight-eight Miller, a 1914 Isotta-Fraschini, a Mathis, a 23/60 Vauxhall, a 40/50 Rolls-Royce, a Renault, the 1914 GP-winning 41-litre Mercedes, and a Lorraine-Dietrich. Some stable! – W.B

V-E-V Miscellany.The Railton OC Bulletin reports that a 1934 Railton Vanden Plas tourer with only 437 miles on its odometer and the British Registration APR 1 has turned up in the Mojave Desert. J. A. McNab has almost completed his rebuild of a Frazer Nash Falcon on which he has been at work for eight years. It is the car that was illustrated in Motor Sport in 1931 and which was raced at Brooklands and elsewhere by Ken Hutchison. A 1929 straight-eight Packard 640 tourer is on loan to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. It was flown to this country for restoration by Flt.-Lt. Hancox, who received permission to do this from the grandson of the original owner, HM Qaboos bin Said. Sultan of Muscat. The car was discovered in very poor condition in a Muscat scrapyard in 1971, after it had lain derelict for over 30 years, but the steel body had stood up remarkably well. After new 6.50 x 20 tyres had been flown in and fitted and the brakes freed a Police truck towed the car to Seeb Airport, where it was flown here, in a CL44. The rebuild revealed that the car had done less than 1,000 miles from new, because during a decoke, around 1930, a mechanic had marked the exhaust valves stems with nicks to indicate to which cylinder they belonged and No.8 valve – with eight nicks – soon broke and damaged a piston. The work involved two visits to America and took four years. Unfortunately the original fish-scale metallic silver-grey paint could not be matched and a modern metallic paint had to be substituted. This 6.3-litre Packard will leave Beaulieu for display in the new Oman National Museum when this is opened.

The unidentified car said to have run at Brooklands and pictured, road-equipped, in the Birmingham Evening Mail’s Transport Supplement, as mentioned last month, turns out to be the 1924 Grand Prix Sunbeam which was equipped with a 20-h.p. Rolls-Royce engine after the correct supercharged 2-litre six-cylinder power unit had blown up. It is now owned by Motor Sport’s Continental Correspondent and an amusing episode in its career is told on page 290 of “The History of Brooklands Motor Course”. The chassis used for the Hall Eight (p. 519, May) was, of course, not an Arrol Aster but an Arrol Johnson.

Factory Methods of the Vintage Era—No. 21 Renault

I have dealt previously with the great Renault concern in this series, describing how they operated at Billancourt in 1930. Now we return there in the near-vintage period, in fact in 1935, when this 300-acre island-sited factory near Paris was turning out rather Americanised cars. They were then being turned out at the rate of 250 private cars a day, in addition to which taxis, commercial vehicles, diesel-engined railcars and air-cooled and water-cooled aero-engines were being made on this island in the Seine. (In 1930 the output was quoted as 1,200 vehicles a week.)

The long island opposite the original Renault factory, in the Seine, after trees had been felled, was used for the construction of a vast vehicle assembly hall some 400 ft. in length, and a large four-floor factory. In the former a mixed central assembly-line was fed with components from the intermediate floors and galleries under the 100-ft.-high roof. In the factory items like coachwork. seats, trim, etc. were prepared, also on conveyor lines, electric machine tools being much in evidence. A bridge connected the island plant with the older factory and new ones on the opposite side of the river. Roads wide enough for cars to drive from one department to another were part of the complex and even electrical components were made there. Renault was by now making good use of extensive electrical welding, for uniting body and frame of their smallest model, the 1 1/4-litre 12.1 h.p., and for joining back-axle pressings, although the larger models, up to the 5-litre straight-eight, had separate chassis frames, to which the bodies were bolted. However, the boxed side members of these chassis again made use of welding, to unite the light pressings.

The press-shop had a metal floor, said to have been evolved and patented by Mon. Renault himself, so that as the earth base shifted under the impact of heavy machinery, the paving could be lifted and relaid, after earth levelling. Billancourt had large foundries capable of producing castings in iron, steel, bronze, aluminium and elektron. Moulds were transported on moving tracks. An underground test track beneath the floor of the island factory was used for testing completed vehicles. Engines, gearboxes and back axles were run individually on the bench, electrical power readings being taken. In those days Renault had showrooms in Pall Mall, and a Service Depot in Seagrave Road for the convenience of British owners. -W.B.

Chauffeurs’ Corner

About the year 1911 my father was a coachman in private service, and when his employers bought a new 12/16 Sunbeam he was taught to drive. I wanted to go into a garage to learn more about cars but was not allowed to do so because I had to learn joinery and cabinet making. Before this happened, my father took another situation as chauffeur, with two cars: a 15 h.p. Austin and an 18/25 h.p. Austin. I was at last taught to drive and went to an Austin garage to learn mechanics. Then the war started and in 1915 I was keen to join the Mechanical Transport but before doing so I drove a doctor for a few months; he had a small car called an Enfield, which had a badge of a field gun on the front of the radiator. After this I joined the Mechanical Transport but, unfortunately, I ruptured myself starting a lorry and was medically discharged as unfit for further service. After an operation I joined the Grenadier Guards and served in France, being demobilised in 1919. During my time in the Guards quite a number of officers had cars, and I was often asked to drive for some of them – most of my colleagues were policemen, miners, etc.

After leaving the Army I was employed as chauffeur to the General Officer Commanding the London District, Lt. Col. Sir Francis Lloyd, GCVO, KCB, DSO. His car was a Delaunay-Belleville, a very good car. The springing was excellent and it had Warland wheel rims which made tyre changing easy. We frequently travelled from London to Oswestry in Shropshire to my employer’s estate, Aston Hall. When we made this journey in the summer we often had to stop because the tyres became very hot and to save time I used to throw buckets of water over them. I remember on one occasion we were descending a very steep hill with an S-bend at the bottom so I slowed down and changed into a lower gear. Sir Francis said “what’s wrong with the car?” and I replied “It’s a dangerous hill with an S-bend at the bottom”, but he said “Let her go”. I was never afraid of hills but at the top of this one was a sign with skull and crossbones on it saying “death trap”.

After leaving the employ of Sir Francis I met an ex Guards Officer who offered me a temporary situation for a few months. I was to collect his Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce and drive him and his bride on their honeymoon trip through France, to Algiers and back. When we returned to England the car was to be sold because he was going to reside abroad. The roads in France were very bad after World War I. We saw quite a lot of cars with broken springs but we had no trouble with our springs; but quite a lot of tyre trouble. Following this I did a few months driving ‘buses and then went to a situation in the North of England as chauffeur to a Mr. Wright and family. They had bought a new Austin 20 tourer. We toured Scotland that summer. The car went quite well, except for wheel trouble they had wooden spokes and one wheel collapsed. We also toured Yorkshire and Derbyshire, etc. Mrs. Wright was very interested in roads which were off the beaten track. One day we went over the Cat and Fiddle between Macclesfield and Buxton and then I turned down a bye-lane to descend a very steep hill, which had a loose surface of stones. On reaching the bottom we came to a brook but the road ran out, I managed to turn the car round but could not get the wheels to grip to go back up the hill. A farmer came to our aid with a horse. He told us that we were not the first to come down here. I heard afterwards that the hill was called Jenkin’s Chapel and was used for motorcycle Trials. We had another experience in Yorkshire when we were driving from Harrogate across Blubber House Moor in winter, with heavy snow and a strong gale. We met a car coming in the opposite direction with its hood blown off. A few miles further along we ran into a snow drift which stopped us. I got out and saw a man high above us; he was stirring the snow with a prop and told me that he was letting in air to sheep under the snow. Our car would not start because snow had seeped into the engine and i had to take the magneto off and dry it before we could turn round and go back.

My next position was chauffeur to Mr. C. Tongue. He had a 20/70 Crossley and a Talbot. He had a son aged between 9 and 11 years, with a new cycle which he used to ride around the house and garage. One day he asked me for a hammer and some tools to make it into a racing Cycle. (This was Reggie Tongue, of racing fame -Ed.) I must say that I was very happy and interested in this situation but I had to leave for family reasons. After I returned to London, my next situation was with a ship owner a Mr. Mildrum – to drive a 45-h.p. Daimler. During my time with him we had to go to Cardiff, taking the luggage on the roof of the car. Whilst unloading the luggage I slipped and was unable to work for some weeks. The doctor advised me to get a light job. This I did and worked as butler and valet to Bishop Whitehead, his wife, and the Rev. J. M. Duncan. They had an AC, which I drove on a few occasions. After this job I went to work for Mr. Rommily, who had a Sunbeam and an Austin. Then I met a Captain Coles, who had a 3-litre Sunbeam. I went round Brooklands Track with him and learned quite a lot. Then I went driving for The Car Mart, delivering cars and driving people through London. After this I had a temporary situation with Lord Gessel, CMB, CMG, driving a Buick. At this time I became very interested in Bentley cars, so I went to learn more about them by taking a job as chauffeur to a Colonel Clare, who had bought a 6 1/2-litre. He also had a 4 1/2-litre 12-cylinder Daimler, a Fiat, a Hillman and a Dennis horse box. Colonel Clare was Chairman of the Triplex Glass Company, so I came into contact with many notable people in the racing and motor industry. On several occasions when I was waiting for Col. Clare, Sir Malcolm Campbell would call on the Colonel, leaving his son Donald outside in his car. I often talked to Donald and when Sir Malcolm came out he would have a few words with me about our Bentley, etc. The Colonel was a great sportsman and used to shoot, hunt, race and fish. During the shooting season we would go down to the Duke of Norfolk’s estate at Arundel Castle, and on our way down we would pick up Sir Raymond Dennis. One Saturday, as we were driving down rather fast, a car overtook us, which surprised me. When we arrived at the shoot a gentleman came up, saying “Was it you I passed on the road?” When I confirmed this he asked me how I liked the Bentley and said his car was specially tuned. He was Sir Henry Segrave and the car was a Hispano-Suiza … One day, during the time I was with Col. Clare, I drove between Chertsey and London five times and did quite a lot of driving whilst we were in London. The same day, leaving London about 7 o’clock in the evening I drove to Inverness in Scotland arriving there about 11.30 am, a journey of 600

My next Situation was with a Mr. Amery Parks, whose firm were Solicitors to the AA. We had several cars and as well I was in charge of the lighting plant and water pumping engine which supplied the house, Hedsor Court, at Taplow, Bucks. I then went to the Daimler Hire Company in Knightsbridge, London, and did quite a lot of touring, mostly with Americans. During my time with this Company they asked if I would be willing to drive for a client who had his own car -he was an Italian Count who had an lsotta-Fraschini which he was very particular about. We went for a trial run round London and he was satisfied that I could drive it. He was lending the car to an American lady for a tour and I was to drive her. The Isotta was an open touring car and the lady had the luggage put in the back because she said she preferred to drive in front, with me. When we were a few miles out of London and going at a fair speed, she asked me if I was nervous and said she was used to speed in the States. I told her we did not drive so fast with ladies, but pushed up my speed to please her. After a few miles she said “I think your previous speed will be all right'” I then went back to Colonel Clare for six months on a temporary basis.

My next job was as chauffeur-mechanic to a Mrs. Tilston Crump. We had a new Daimler Double-Six with fluid flywheel and preselector gearbox, also a Ford. The Daimler had a Barker coachbuilt body, which was very large and heavy. During my time with Mrs. Tilston Crump we went to Spain for several months, based at Malaga. We had to leave Spain earlier than anticipated because of the Spanish Revolution. I stayed with this lady until the war started. I then went to the Cement Marketing Company, to work with Headquarters Staff. I drove a Tilling ‘bus as well as driving Directors’ cars. One Director had a Derby-Bentley, which I drove for him. Our office was at the Golf Course at Kingston Hill and Coombe Hill. At the time I was living in Wimbledon but was bombed out. I went next to a coach and hire-car firm in Farnham, Surrey. After the war I was a ‘bus driver with the Aldershot and District Traction Company. – Arthur Blackwell

Fragments on Forgotten Makes: No 35. The R.T.C.

The RTC, a cyclecar produced in England in the early 1920s, incorporated some interesting features, such as completely clutchless and automatic transmission, and an ingenious and simple reversing mechanism. The car was the brainchild of the late Monsieur Rene Tondeur who designed the automatic transmission system whilst he was a student at Mons in Belgium in 1912. He built the first car in 1914, but was ordered to join the Army on 26th July whilst he was actually painting it. When he left the army in 1919 he had to re-assemble the car because the brass and other valuable metals had been removed, but he eventually drove it to England under its own power, when he patented it and formed the “Rene Tondeur Company” in 1922.

The premises where the cars were built were at 4A Chapel Street, Marylebone, London, N.W.1 and the London Distributing Agents were Vici Engineering Co. Ltd., 4 Chapel Street, Marylebone. The Vici Engineering Co. were also involved in making carburettors, of which Monsieur Tondeur was the designer, his works being at 3 St. Peter’s Road, S. Croydon. The car used a 1,000-c.c. Blackburne vee-twin engine with Vici carburettor, mounted lengthwise in the frame, a silent chain taking the drive to a countershaft running across the car somewhere under the driver’s feet, with a variable-diameter vee-belt pulley mounted at each end and directly in front of each rear wheel. Two chrome-balato belts carried the drive from these pulleys to large diameter vee-belt pulleys fastened to the spokes of each rear wheel. These belts were run absolutely slack, the friction on the sides of the vee pulleys giving enough grip to move the car without slipping, so that their efficiency did not vary with the tension of the belt. Mechanical governors were fitted to each small pulley on the countershaft and as engine speed increased they pushed the inner sheaves of the pulleys outward, causing the belts to move to the outside of the pulleys, creating a pulley of greater effective diameter and so giving a higher ratio. In neutral the governors relaxed and springs pushed the sheaves apart, allowing the sheaves to rotate freely while the belts rested on free running bearings between them. As engine and countershaft speed increased the governors pushed the inner sheaves outwards, which gradually took up the drive when the friction between the belt and the pulley sheaves had overcome the rolling resistance of the car. A low ratio was achieved because of the low effective diameter of the driving pulleys and the unchanging diameter of the driven pulleys. A heavy idler pulley hung in the belt to take up the slack and was also used for reversing. The governors forced the inner sheaves outwards which squeezed the belts up to the outer rims of the pulleys, giving a larger effective diameter and therefore a higher ratio. Neutral was first obtained by idling the engine and allowing the belt to rest on the free-running bearing between the pulley sheaves. A pedal was then pressed, which brought the idler into contact with the inner flanges of the variable pulley, causing it to rotate in reverse. This then drove the belt in reverse. It is hoped that some means of preventing the sheaves coming together on the belt was provided, in case the engine was revved up in reverse!

The air-cooled 8.5-h.p. Blackburne engine could push the 6-cwt. car along at about 45 m.p.h. A minimum speed of 2 m.p.h. was also quoted, which was presumably the speed at which the pulleys closed onto the belts. Fuel consumption was a claimed 55 m.p.g. The car was fitted with electric lights and horn, but was started by reaching out of the right-hand side and pulling on a lever, which turned the engine over. It was claimed that an eight-year-old girl could start the car, using this method. The suspension was also claimed to be an improvement on other models of the time and consisted of elliptic springs bolted to the chassis, with a helical spring fitted about midway along each spring. The idea was that the helical spring absorbed minor shocks and the cantilever spring the major shocks. It was said that the car could be rocked like a dinghy in a rough sea by pressing with one finger on a mudguard of the RTC.

The idea behind the car was to get away from a scaled down big car, which was expensive to produce and to run. The price was £160 and it cost £9 per annum to tax. The dimensions were: Wheelbase 7 ft. 6 in. Track 4 ft. t in. Overall measurement to ft. 3 in. x 5 ft. i in. Height with hood up 5 ft.

Six RTCs were built and two were exhibited at the White City in 1922. The Company went into liquidation soon afterward, but Monsieur Tondeur carried on work on the development of the outer-sheathing of Bowden cables, the development of the Vici Carburettor, which was used on the Isle of Man T.T. motorcycles in the 1930s, and the preparation and designing of racing cars for Sir Ronald Gullther in 1925-1926. (?Ed.) – David T. Large.

V-E-V Odds & Ends. – We had intended to review in this issue the play “Rolls-Hyphen-Royce” starring Wilfred Hyde White and Alfred Marks, which was put on at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, to tell the story of Rolls and Royce from 1896 to 1933. Alas, it ran for only 17 performances before coming off. A pity, as we thought the Douglas Home story excellent, and the play with its big cast and simulated (electric) Decauville and Silver Ghost quite well done. It got three curtain calls on the occasion of our visit. It may re-open, we are told, on Broadway and if it does American enthusiasts should enjoy it. It has been reported to us that a rather sad veteran Darracq, on partially flat tyres, in a leaking display case is on display near London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, collecting funds for the Parkinson Disease Society. The Society is a deserving one but could someone spare a few thoughts for the car…. Homes & Gardens had an article on Sicily recently, in connection with a special holiday offer, illustrating a big vintage Renault tourer which was captioned, and described in the text, as an OM. Six Meadows-engined cars, two low-chassis 4 1/2-litre Invictas, an A-type Invicta, and three Lagondas appeared together not long ago at a VSCC of Australia rally, in Victoria. The American magazine Car Classics asks us to say that it financed the return of Wyn Owen’s Thomas Special “Babs” to Pendine last March. Pre-war cars and commercial vehicles will be welcome at the Clun Carnival on August 6th. Details from Roger Maughling, Knucklas, Knighton, Powys. We are informed by the Rotary Club of Bognor Regis that its Jubilee Vintage car Rally will take place on July 23rd. Details from D. Chiverton, Westland Holt, Birdham, Chichester. Several readers including Mr. Karger of Philadelphia have written to confirm that the ex-Baden-Powell Rolls-Royce 20 Page & Hunt saloon still exists and, in fact, it was in the Windsor Cavalcade. An R-R record made in 1929 stated “If the car is not completed in time for the Jamboree, R.R. are to loan a car for one day on this occasion”. Country Life, of June 2nd, carried an article by Kenneth Neve about his three open Rolls-Royces of 1911, 1933 and 1963. W.B.

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