A section devoted to old-car matters
A chat with E. L Bouts
Finding myself in Wolverhampton one-time home of “The Sunbeam” the other day I parked the Rover 3500 in a cul-de-sac (to the apparent disgust of a local resident!) and crossed the busy road to the very-smart, up-to-date premises of Bouts Motors; in Merridale Lane, to have a chat with the old Brooklands’ driver, Ernest Leslie Bouts. In post-war years Bouts had been well known as an Alfa Romeo dealer, his son looking after the service side of a flourishing business, which to date has sold some 3,000 Alfa Romeos, used to deal in Volvos, and until recently was also selling BMWs. They are proud of their prompt dispatch of spare parts, using the nearby Airport when this is expedient. Bouts still drives an Alta Romeo saloon in a manner that befits an ex-racing driver. But although we have a great respect for this make at Standard House, it was the former Brooklands’ days I intended to chat about.
That this would be easy was apparent from the scale model of a 2-litre GP Sunbeam, about sixinches long, on Mr. Bouts’ desk, and a big framed photograph on his office wall, showing him in action in one of these cars on the Brooklands’ banking. Aged 75, the subject of my pause in the busy city is smartly-dressed, looks very fit, and explains that he keeps the garden at his Wolverhampton house in trim, as a means of exercise. His connection with motor transport started in 1919 when, borrowing a fiver from his father, he began to trade in ex-WD vehicles, motorcycles at first, finding this more amusing than his apprenticeship to the Printing Trade, which he had started at the age of 13, earning 2d. (-1p) an hour. His own mount at the time was a TT Rudge.
This trading carried many risks but some plums as when the young Bouts bought an American Mack truck for £95 and sold it for £1,050 a few days later. During the war his brother, who was in the Army, drove one of these Macks, used for aerodrome-building at Bicester. When the bottom fell out of this kind of buying and selling Bouts and his brother started an ambitious Transport business, running regular services from their home town of Ilford, to the North. Bouts drove himself at first, carrying miscellaneous loads with a Y-type sleeve-valve Daimler. All manner of makes were used on these pioneer long-distance haulage services but eventually Bouts opted for ex-WD Leylands. He can still show you picture-postcards of these, including a line solid-tyred Leyland articulated van, inscribed “BOUTS BROS., LondonManchester Daily Services”, a big petrol tank over the cab assisting in these long runs. They ran 16 services a night, at their peak. Power petrol was used and Bouts recalls that the solid tyres gave as much trouble as the later pneumatics, as they would peel like a banana skin off the wheels. “there was also a period when Dunlop’s used a faulty rubber mix (I seem to remember this affecting private-car tyres as well does anyone recall this?) So that pneumatic tyres would burst with a loud report, sending up clouds of dust; in 20 miles or so! Bouts remembers that the best tyres at this time were the French Bergougnan, made in this country. Incidentally, he tells of how one of his lengthened box-vans, on a Leyland solid-tyred chassis, was the pride of the fleet, as it had a very nice dovetailed wood-slatted body that is, until its second day out, when a 5-ton Foden steamwaggon scraped all down one side of it. When Bouts remonstrated with the driver he said “Don’t worry, Guy., I took the side out of a London ‘bus yesterday” “You had to admire his sense of humour”, says Bouts philosophically.
It was tyre problems with his vans that brought Bouts into motor racing. Kaye Don, who was with Avon’s, supplied him with tyres and introduced Bouts to Brooklands. By 1928, when the transport fleet numbered 50 vehicles and he was buying new QH2s from Leyland’s, he decided to race himself. He paid Kaye Don £240 for his successful, if dangerous, 1919 5-litre Indianapolis Sunbeam. Today Bouts has no pictures of this car but I remember it very well, because it was one of the first racing cars I photographed, with my Box Brownie camera, when I accompanied my mother and her sister to Brooklands in a hired 14 h.p. cream Armstrong Siddeley landaulette for Saturday practice before the 1929 Easter Meeting. The ladies had wanted a little run out into the country from S. London, and I had immediately suggested Weybridge! What is more, we easily persuaded the young driver that he should take us for a flip round the Track. So, after paying ten-bob, off we went, keeping well to the left while racing cars, including Bouts’ red 5-litre Sunbeam, went roaring past but not for long, because even at 50 m.p.h. the tyres didn’t like it and our hire-car chauffeur was soon mending one or more punctures. I had that photograph enlarged and for a long time it was among my most prized possessions. I wish I had it now, to give to E.L.B….
The 5-litre Sunbeam was serviced by T & T’s at the Track, with some work done on it by Bouts and his friends. It was driven for Bouts by other drivers, including Jack Dunfee and Kaye Don. (there was another 5-litre Indianapolis Sunbeam at Brooklands, the ex-Segrave car bought by W. B. Scott from Phil Paddon, driven by Oliver Bertram in a sprint event, and sold by Scott to his friend Armstrong Payn, who put a Martin Walter fabric body on it. (Alaistatr Miller and Campbell also drove these 5-litres. But that is another story.)
Space precludes a breakdown of all the successes gained by Bouts’ car, but he deadheated in the Taylor Cup sprint race at the 1928 Autumn Brooklands Meeting, with Taylor’s own Delage II, won the 90 m.p.h. Short Handicap at the 1929 Easter Meeting at 96.37 m.p.h. from scratch, lapping at 104.41 m.p.h., and that year Bouts won the same race at Whitsun, at 103.10 m.p.h., again from the scratch mark, his lapspeed now up to 112.68 m.p.h. He then won the Lightning Long Handicap at the August Meeting, at 105.83 m.p.h., the Sunbeam getting round during this race at 113.19 m.p.h. In 1931 it won the Lincoln Long Handicap. The big car also gained a number of second places. Its best lap speed in Bouts’ hands was at 113.71 m.p.h.
By this time Bouts had entered the coaching business, with some fine Leyland Tiger coaches, one of which was hired to take Henry Ford and his colleagues to Dagenham to inspect their thennew tactory. These coaches ran from Ilford to many of the popular seaside resorts. Their proprietor could now aftord luxury cars for his journeys to Brooklands and he favoured Ballots and Delages, including the straight-eight models. Bouts had by now purchased one of the 1924 2litre GP Sunbeams, for £450. It was a tricky car to handle in a high wind and was by now overhandicapped, but its new owner lapped in it at over 117 m.p.h. at the I930 BARC Whitsun Meeting, when finishing second to Cobb’s V12 Delage. Bouts also ran the blue and white car in Mountain Handicaps at the Track. But it gradually gave more and more trouble and was eventually sold to Bill Humphreys of Amilcar memory. For a time both Sunbeams were run by Bouts at the same meetings, but the bigger one developed crankshatt trouble. It was sold tor scrap, around 1934.
Les Bouts’ last racing car was the No. I Parry Thomas Leyland, then fitted with a Vanden Plas body. He was disqualified tor going so high on the banking in it during a race in 1933 that he baulked John Cobb in the 24-litre Napier RaiIton (a car that is now in the Midlands Motor Museum). This was rather hard on Bouts, because the Napier-Railton was making its very first racing appearance and it came up so fast, setting a new s.s. lap-record, that other drivers had not expected to be overtaken by it so soon Dixon’s Riley also obstructed it. In trying to get more speed out of the old Leyland Bouts says he asked Ken Taylor of T & T’s to do some drastic tuning, with the result that, when Reg Munday was driving it in a later race and was anxious to try to get his 130 m.p.h. badge, the engine disintegrated in a very big way, and fell onto the concrete as the car was coming otl the Home banking, as I well remember. During the war, when It was in Munday’s yard he also ran a haulage business enemy bombs finished off. this historic car.
The slump of the 1930S caused Bouts to abandon his haulage and coach businesses and, as he says, never again are we likely to have the fun and freedom we enjoyed in those days. –W.B.
V-E-V Miscellany. – The Lancia Consortium, which is an off-shoot of the Lancia MC, has issued a Questionnaire, which it would be glad if non-members who know of any “missing” Lancias or spares for same would kindly complete and return the form can be obtained from John Reeve, 26 Murray Mews, London, NW1 or from John Turner, 112 Culford Road, London, NI; as the former explains, the Consortium caters for the spares requirements of the 2% of the 13,000 Lancia Lambdas that appear to have survived Worldwise and it needs to know of any “lost” Lancias in order to estimate what people are likely to require in the way of spares for these cars in the next five years. The Roesch Talbot Spares Section of the STD Register is now handled by Keith Richardson, 34 St. James Park, Bath (0225-316826), which can help those who require such parts or have any to dispose of. The ex-Fane, ex-Earl Howe 328 BMW is now being used for appropriate racing in America, vide the journal of the VSC of America, whose Treasurer, incidentally, is G. L. Steward, Jr., omitted by the Secretary from a recently revised list of that Club’s officials. The STD Register has recently enrolled the owner of an early Sunbeam 20/60 landaulette, in Barcelona, the son of the car’s original owner, who is starting to restore it. The Register’s Wolverhampton Week-End takes place on July I stand, so if you like looking at the older Sunbeams. . . . That weekend, also, the Riley Register has its Coventry get-together, based on the EuroCrest Hotel, Walsgrove, when Tony Bird will be Guest of Honour.
Invitation and Registration Forms for the RAC TT Golden Jubilee Celebrations on the Ards circuit, to take place on August 19, are now available from the Ulster VCC, contact either The Lord Dunleath, Ballywalter Park, Newtownards, Co. Down (Ballywater 203) or Michael C. White, 17 Massey Park, Belfast, BT4 UK. There are travel concessions, £50 starting money for cars arriving from outside N. Ireland, 5-gallon petrol vouchers for cars eligible for the main event, etc., and return of the £5 entry fee for certain competitors. The Amilcar Register continues to enrol new members, including someone who has imported two Amilcars in pieces from America, a US Navy person with a 1926 CGS purchased in Spain, and the owner of a 1924/26 CGS three-seater. The Spring number of Bugantics contained the expected fascinating Bugatti material, including an article by Hugh Conway, CBE, on the Bugatti Type numbers, and more about the Schlumpf Collection, and the works of art of Rembrandt and Ettore Bugatti. That other unchanged traditional club magazine, the Bentley Drivers Club Review carried in its May issue interesting articles on the Experimental No. 1 Bentley by Nobby Clarke and notes on the “works” modifications made to the long-distance Brooklands and Le Mans Bentleys by Walter Hassan, OBE, CEng., MIMech.E. That 1930 Renault Nervastella which Motor Sport wrote up in March 1971 has come on the market. In Australia a 1921 Type CO2 Delage with boat-decked open Labourdette body has been found in a marine engineer’s emporium, in good condition and complete with war-time gas-producer. In connection with its 75th anniversary celebrations at Luton (reported elsewhere), Vauxhall Motors Ltd. produced some excellent commemorative literature. This included a 56-page illustrated booklet depicting most of the more important cars made by Vauxhall from 1903 onwards, a coloured folder in the same idiom, which contains a big picture of Vauxhall Motors’ own 1911 Prince Henry model, and a tine catalogue of the cars at the Luton assembly, the last-named including many historic items, such as a reproduction of a painting by Bill Chambers, a former Vauxhall staff artist, of Summers’ 30/98 competing at Boulogne in 1924; although that race was not the French Grand Prix and another picture which puzzles Vauxhalls, which they suggest shows a Ti’ Vauxhall competing in a French race, actually shows Watson’s Coupe de L’Auto Vauxhall cornering during the 1913 race of that title, at Boulogne. W.B.