Veteran-Edwardian-Vintage, July 1981

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A Section Devoted To Old-Car Matters

A date with Tom Delaney

The other day I had a most interesting conversation with Mr. C.T. Delaney, who raced Lea-Francis cars at Brooklands and who owns two rebuilt vintage specimens of this popular British 1 1/2-litre sports car, one of them the actual car with which Kaye Don won the first Ulster TT in 1928. Tom Delaney’s father, the late Mr. L.T. Delaney, had spent much time in France when the budding Motor Industry was in its infancy and he came to know personally most of the great personalities of those times – Louis Renault, Emile Mathis, the Farmans, Ettore Bugatti etc., and he had the rare distinction for an amateur driver of being provided with a works 45 h.p. De Dietrich for the 1903 Paris-Madrid race, an event that was to end in tragedy. This car, No. 125, was teamed with six other 45 h.p. cars of this make, in the factory’s first racing foray. Charles Jarrott came in third behind the winning pair of 70 h.p. Mors when the disastrous race was stopped at Bordeaux, and at least Delaney escaped the fate of many of those killed, although he did overturn the car after running off the road; but he and his mechanic, Grant, were unhurt. There were delays of up to four hours at the start, unwelcome to drivers with miles to cover, apart from the disasters they were to face. The drivers were instructed to follow cyclists through the towns, to ensure they followed the correct route and check the pace. It turned out that professional racing cyclists were employed, and the drivers had a hair-raising job keeping up with them in the narrow streets.

At his sheet-metal company in Willesden, London, which made coolers of various kinds, L.T. Delaney also imported Continental chassis, selling them from showrooms in Bond Street. In 1905 he brought over a very rare 45/60 h.p. PS-type Hermes-Bugatti and ran it in the Blackpool Speed Trials, finishing 5th in his class, but this make did not attract sales. However, other better known Continerital cars were selling well in London, including the Mathis and the De Dietrich-made Burlington, and Delaney also sold the Imperial, a horseless-carriage kind of confection of which it was claimed very early on that 1,300 had been sold; the maker’s London telegraph-code was “Smooth”! However, the Delaunay-Belleville was the best Continental car of them all, regarded by many as the best in the
world, the 40/50 h,p. Rolls-Royce notwithstanding.

“The Car Magnificent” was supplied to the Czar of All Russia, who liked the great 70 h.p. six-cylinder from St. Denis on the Seine which would glide away in absolute silence from official functions on its compressed air mechanism, before the engine fired. The Belleville part of the double-barrel name came from the boiler-making activities of the Company, these quick-steaming boilers being used by the Navies of the World and in HM Queen Victoria’s yacht. In 1910 Mr. Delaney obtained the Delaunay-Belleville concession having factory premises specially built in Carlton Vale, Maida Vale for the purpose of supplying these illustrious cars to British clientele. Tom Delaney remembers that what is thought to have been the first ever car lift was installed there, a slow-working Waygoodotis with central hydraulic ram, which a little man from the Waygoodotis company periodically used to service. This enabled the machine shop and varnishing shop, etc., to be situated on the first floor and Tom still recalls the fire hazard that the interior hand operated petrol pumps they installed must have represented. He also recalls that all manner of different DC voltages would be encountered about the factory. They had their own test-bench and other facilities. A few years ago Tom Delaney tried to buy the old factory but was unsuccessful, as the Council had their eyes on the site and it was demolished before even the inbuilt D-B plaque could be saved, alas. However, some of the pre-WW1 records have survived, and some of the post-war ledgers. The former consist of cards, one for each Delaunay-Belleville, with relevant details; against the owner’s name for the last, Salmon-bodied, car sold before the outbreak of war is the note “German Spy!”

It was from here, in what was otherwise a residential area, that Delaunay-Belleville chassis were in great demand, so that within two years the premises had to be extended. Servicing these cars would entail decarbonising the engines by burning off the accumulated carbon with an oxy-acetylene flame inserted through the sparking plug holes! Delaunay-Belleville pioneered pressure engine lubrication and to demonstrate this they used a model at the Motor Show in which oil could be seen flowing through the bearings and would then be cut off whereupon a light would come on, to emphasise the fact that the engine was then running “metal-to-metal”. One amusing episode concerns Mr. Smith, who was just starting what became the great Smiths Crisps Company. He came to Mr. Delaney
wanting a cheap van. He lived in a small upstairs flat and was preparing his potato crisps in the kitchen. He was duly fixed up with a used Delaunay-Belleville and van body.

During the First World War Delaunay-Belleville chassis were turned into armoured cars and as the war developed Mr. Delaney used to go to Dunkirk to collect bare chassis and even complete armoured cars.

After the war car sales were gradually run down, to concentrate on general engineering work but not before many more new Delaunay-Bellevilles had been sold (and other ones serviced), up to the last of the better models, the four-cylinder overhead-camshaft P4B. A photograph exists of an almost unbelievable number of chassis standing outside the Carlton Vale works, taken around 1922, when most of these would probably have been six-cylinder 20 h.p. chassis, the previously round radiator now more oval, and slightly vee-fronted. When it became clear that the post-Armistice American cars would be a match for the ageing Delaunay-Bellevilles Mr. Delaney decided to investigate and purchased a Maxwell. It had a very difficult gear change but was otherwise quite good. Deciding against selling these, the car was used as a works hack for many years, after which Tom sold it, for 10/- (50p)! Even so, the buyer was back the next day complaining that the battery was dud – probably he had left the lights on or something, but he was provided with another, such was the integrity of service in those days! (Here I must digress to recall that some years after the Second World War, I espied a 1926 P4B Delaunay-Belleville, its soft fawn leather unmarked, the paintwork unblemished, in pristine condition, standing at the back of a Chiswick undertakers premises, among the 40/50 h.p. Rolls-Royce hearses, the white-coated employee who was up a ladder dusting these with a feather brush being surprised that I knew the make of the old French car. It was soon mine, for £35 if I remember correctly, the receipt being written out by the undertaker himself, with a quill-pen. I had a lot of fun with this low-mileage Maythorn landaulette, even going to Motor Sport’s City offices in it, from Hampshire. But it was terribly pedestrian in spite of the o.h.-camshaft engine with magneto and coil dual ignition and it had a ponderous central gear change. But I liked the light steering, ball-races figuring in the make-up of the swivel-pins, and its traditional D-B quick action radiator cap and bonnet-opening arrangements. Apart from A.T. Norton’s two-seater P4B and a larger six-cylinder model I encountered at a Sunbeam MCC Trial at Hindhead when, wanting a little more pace, I drove my wife’s 1927 Sunbeam Sixteen tourer, those were the only vintage Delaunay-Bellevilles I saw on the road in those early 1950s, although I believe a London greengrocer was still using one as a van around that time. My car, rather more brightly painted, is now in Guy Griffiths’ Motor Museum at Chipping Campden.)

The Delaney-Gallay radiator concern was flourishing alongside the post-war Delaunay-Belleville business as it had been from pre-WW1 times. A brochure from that period shows a Lancia radiator on the front cover and a 56 lb. Peugeot radiator (a gilled-tube equivalent weighed 94 lb.), on the back cover, a reminder that Gallay patent rhomboidal radiators (with one piece frames and tested under air and water pressure and on a vibrating test-bed) were supplied to most of the leading car-makers, apart from special installations, etc.

After the war this was continued, with Bentley, Lagonda, Lea-Francis, Austin, Bean, Swift, Talbot, Rover, Frazer Nash, Marendaz etc. among the customers, which gave Mr. L.T. Delaney and his sons many contacts in the Motor Industry. The Carlton Vale factory also made the AEC-diesel-engined saloon and the FWD “Speed-of-the-Wind” record-breakers for Capt. G.E.T. Eyston, and L.T. Delaney had become Managing Director of the British Motor Trading Company in 1922, which eventually became Lea-Francis Limited. His first Hyper Lea-Francis had a fabric body of golden hue. Another worthwhile pre-war venture was importing the Cozette. The Austin Company adopted this well-made French vane-type blower for the Ulster Austin and Lagonda, Frazer Nash, Sunbeam, Lea-Francis, Triumph, H.E., Salmson and other manufacturers followed suit. In this context Tom Delaney tells an amusing story, which does not, I think, feature in Anthony Blight’s Roesch Talbot “bible”. His father had one of the early Georges Roesch-designed 14/45 Talbots, a complicated affair with many special metric threads, just as Roesch insisted on stainless-steel pins etc., when introducing radiator shutters. The carburetter of the 14/45 was at one end of the long inlet manifold, perhaps to ensure a clean engine outline, and the distribution was hopeless. Supercharging was suggested, but Roesch objected. However, “Robby” Robertson, Talbot’s MD, told Delaney to send a Cozette blower to the Ladbroke Grove factory and it was duly fitted. After a solid copper gasket had stopped the head joint blowing, the engine ran so very well, smoothly and with extra power that it was intended to introduce this blown model at the next Motor Show and Tom tells me catalogues were printed. But in the end Roesch got so cross that the idea was abandoned . . . .

L.T. Delaney was associated with the Ruston-Hornsby car and when he was out of the way Tom taught himself to drive on the family tourer. Before that family holidays would be taken in a big open Delaunay-Belleville tourer, with exhaust whistle. On one occasion a rear wheel came off and bowled along ahead of the car but it, and more surprisingly the nuts, were recovered, and the journey continued. Tom discovered Brooklands in the Lea-Francis days (when his father had put him in charge of the Company’s general sales of Lagonda, Hillman Minx and Lea-Francis cars), going down to help with work on·the racing cars. After leaving school he had been given the TT-winning Hyper Lea-Francis (car No. 14053) then being developed to 1929 specification with a metal body, and he rode as mechanic to Sammy Davis in a Brooklands race in a similar Lea-Francis and afterwards, having purchased the TT winner from the Company, raced this and works cars successfully himself. There is no need for me to enlarge on this, because Barrie Price has done it so well, in his splendid Lea-Francis book (Batsford, 1978). A few years ago Tom Delaney felt a desire to re-enact the past and he acquired a four-seater vintage Lea-Francis and took it to A.B. Price & Co. for rebuilding. Then, shortly afterwards, the old TT winner was found, and duly refurbished by the same source.

Tom Delaney and his wife became great Brooklands habituees and in the evenings he learned to fly there, on a DH Gipsy Moth. He kept up his pilot’s licence after the war. When the new FWD Citroen was announced he was invited to a tough demonstration at Slough, as he knew Mon. Garbe very well. Georges Roesch asked to go along, but on the way home he had nothing but fault to find with this new Citroen Twelve! Delaney decided he wanted one and was told it would have to be either one of the first five, built in France, or he would have to wait some time. In the end he took No.1 and he and his wife won the Eastbourne Concours d’Elegance with it. After the war general engineering work was continued and in 1948 there was a plan to build the French Chausson-designed CHS, which had a 330 c.c. single-cylinder two-stroke engine driving the front wheels, and one was duly imported. Mr. Delaney is now semi-retired, is President of the Lea-Francis OC, and enjoys his two Vintage Lea-Francis cars. Otherwise, he drives a BMW and a Citroen GS Estate. – W.B.

Garage in a Country Town

Last August I was able to look back at what one garage had been like in a remote Welsh town in the nineteen-twenties, thanks to Mr. E.M. Lowndes, who had kept records of his father’s motor business at Carmarthen. Now it is possible to recapture something of the atmosphere of those long-ago days, not in far-away Wales, but in the well-known country town of Guildford, in Surrey, thanks to the co-operation of Tim Harding, who has unearthed some of the careful records kept by a garage there, and whose cousin has kindly lent us some photographs of it.

The garage in question was that of Crow Bros. (now E.J. Baker & Co., Vauxhall agents). Early in 1912 Messrs. Crow took over a shop at 190, High Street, Guildford, together with the back premises which were partly occupied by Lymposs’s old horse-shoeing forge. From these small beginnings a prosperous business was built up. In 1913 Crow Bros., operated by S. Holbrooke Crow, who looked after the workshops, and C. Acheson Crow, took on an agency for Singer cars. It is thought that theirs was the first firm in Guildford to buy and stock cars, instead of merely ordering them against customers’ orders.

Before the 1914/18 war had really taken hold, Crow’s had sold no fewer than 16 of the new Singer Tens, those rather “Edwardian” light-cars with their paired cylinder blocks and the gearbox in the back axle, which augured well for Singers. The demonstration Singer Ten arrived in 1914 (eng. no. 840). It seems that the cost to Crow’s of these Singers was £175 10s. , or £180 15s. if a dickey seat was fitted, the profit being usually £34 5s. on the latter, whereas it appears that sometimes only a few pounds profit was realised on the £175 10s. two-seaters, perhaps when sold to the Trade, with a hoped for £19 5s. profit on each car, in other cases. As the war went on, supplies of the little car from Coventry dried up, only one being sold in 1915/16, together with a couple of new 1916 11.9 Morris-Cowleys, and, in the previous year, a Humber of the same horsepower (to the Misses Elliot), and also a new Lucar light-car. Also in 1914/15 a Miss Jensen took delivery of a single-seater Beacon cyclecar, a local make hailing from Liphook. The dearth of British cars then caused Crow’s to sell the rather crude 13 h.p. Trumbull, from Bridgeport, Connecticut, of which they acquired ten 1916 models at the end of 1915, for £102 each, disposing of five of them, and four more the following year, seemingly at a loss of £22 on each one, notwithstanding that one Trumbull had “a special finish”. Sales ledgers were neatly kept in  longhand and a coding was used, whereby prices paid for stock remained confidential.

Thus one can visualise these Singer light-cars and the American Trumbulls running about on the deserted roads and lanes of the Surrey of those war years. Crow’s sales at that period were otherwise mostly of motorcycles, the Duke of Northumberland being a customer.

Many of these machines were single-geared, so that a clutch was worth special mention in the sales-ledgers! Auto-Mart and the Haslemere Motor Co. were customers, as later were the Haslemere Motor Co., Puttocks, Coombes of Guildford and the Wandsworth Motor Exchange, and as the war went on military ranks are encountered, with a 1915 2 1/2 h.p. New Imperial, for instance, going to the Seaforth Highlanders. One wonders whether Ian Riddock, who bought a new WO Matchless combination in 1917, was the I.P. Riddock who later raced with distinction at Brooklands, notes a Horstmann car sold to a Mr. F. Horstmann (it was not until later that the Horstmann family dropped the second “n” from their name), and that during the war Mr. Holbrooke Crow was riding a 1912 3 1/2 h.p. Zenith. Among the used cars disposed of between 1913 and 1919 were a 1912 Arrol-Johnston, a 9.5 h.p. Stellite cabriolet, a 1910 16/20 Sunbeam, what is described as an “8 h.p. Baby car” (valued at £30 and sold to a Sergo Hunter), and a 1914 5-h.p. Crompton monocar, as well as a Humberette, a Baby Peugeot, a Carden, and a couple of Morgan 3-wheelers, etc. In spite of the war, some new Road-Racing Indians were sold, alongside one h.p. clip-on Autowheels.

As the war petered-out two more new Trumbulls found buyers, most of the Singers had been re-traded, and the Armistice and its aftermath saw three more Singer Tens, three GNs, another Morris, a Bleriot-Whippet and a Horstman, all new cars, figuring in the sales. What is remarkable is the paucity of Model-T Fords; for only 1921 versions figure, as later used offerings. Here it may be recorded that the only Rolls-Royce Crow’s dealt-in, during the period from 1913 to 1931, was a 1912 40/50 h.p. limousine (car no. 1881), sold 17 days after it had been taken into stock in December 1930 to F. & J. Maitre. The only commercial which, apart from a Dennis van body on car chassis, Crow’s traded was a new Selden chassis in 1919-20, to Shackell Edward &·Co.

Reverting to 1920, it is interesting that for a time Crow Bros. made a habit of stamping their invoice number of the cars’ data-plates. In that year Crow Bros. acquired freehold property known as Whitehall and the adjacent land on the opposite side of Guildford High Street to their original premises. A fine new garage and showroom was built here, with the intertwined initials “CB” in the stonework (see heading photograph). Crow Bros. had, by the way, been in the habit of equipping their new car stock with “CB” registration numbers from Blackburn since before the war. The new premises were called Whitehall Garage and stocklists showed the available cars under type headings, i.e. two-seaters, “occasional four”-seaters, open four and five-seaters, two-seater coupes, etc. As RAC repairers they could re-bore engines and paint and repair bodywork, etc. By 1920/21 business began to improve, four ABCs, three GNs (one Standard-model, one Legere, both with dynamos, and a Popular), a Singer Ten “Phaeton”, one of which had also been sold in 1920, to a Doctor of course, a Tamplin cyclecar, an 11 h.p. AC coupe, a Swift, a Morris-Cowley and a Morris/Oxford constituting the new car sales. The last-named four-seater cost £613 8s., inclusive of a number of extras and £2 5s. for “delivery from the works”. All this apart from excellent motorcycle sales, even to some new Hawker two-strokes, with Millford and Montgomery sidecars in stock. Sports cars around at that time embraced a Hillman Sports and a 1923 Salmson for N.M.S. Maxwell.

What especially intrigues me is that, whereas previously a 1911 8 h.p. Chater-Lea and sidecar (Reg. No. BY 95), had sufficed as the works hack, a 1910 18/22 h.p. Berliet car (Reg. No. P 5407) was now brought into service. It had begun life as a private car, had been used as an ambulance  during the war, and was then made into a van, and later a breakdown truck with crane (see photograph). It was written down over the years from £80 to £8 by 1921, at which time the Chater-Lea was regarded as having no monetary  value. It was joined in 1922 by a 1919 4 1/4 h.p. BSA with box sidecar but this was pensioned off by 1924, valued then at £14. However, the stalwart Berliet went on serving until 1939, after which it was sold, during the scrap-metal drive, for £2.

Space prevents me from quoting all the interesting things these old ledgers reveal, but I am indebted to Mr. Harding for sorting out the new cars from the used-car sales, etc. One interesting entry refers to the new 1925 10/20 Triumph two-seater bought by Antony Gibbs, which is mentioned in his extremely entertaining book “A Passion For Cars”; his father, Sir Philip, was the wartime author whose novels I devoured as a boy but which now make me sick. Two 1926 14.9 h.p. Triumphs were also sold, a tourer and a saloon to Agnes Gibbs. Looking at the popularity of the new cars sold by this Surrey garage in vintage times, we find the makes running as follows: 1921/22: ABC, 8, Overland and Alvis 6 each, Singer 3; 1922/23: Five each of Cubitt, Alvis and Calcott; 1923/24: Calcott 8, Clyno 6, Alvis 4; 1924/25: Clyno 11 , Alvis 3, two each of Calcott and Austin; 1925/26: Vauxhall 9, Calcott 5, Clyno 4; 1926/27: Humber 10, Bean 6, Vauxhall 5; 1927/28: Vauxhall 20, Humber 11, Bean and Austin three each; 1928/29: Humber 14, Vauxhall 9, Austin 4 – and now the only Bean, a 14/45 saloon, took twelve months to shift; 1929/30: Vauxhall 15, Humber 12, Riley 5; 1930/31: Vauxhall 23; Humber 10; AJS 4, ahead of Austin and Riley. Curious that Austins were not more popular in this Surrey town. Incidentally, one of the 14/40 Vauxhalls sold by Crow Bros. turned up at last year’s Brooklands Reunion and some of the Humbers listed are still extant. I am sure Mr. Harding would be pleased to check original owners for anyone who thinks the pre-war car he owns may have been sold by Crow’s.

The Alvis Register may be interested to know that the first Alvis Crow’s sold was a 1922 10/30 sports model (No. 1062) which went to a E.J. Vardon and is seen, I think, in the showroom in the heading picture, accompanied by a GN and an ABC. In the same year they sold a 10/30 two-seater to J.B. Russell, an 11/40 four-seater to B. Gates, a similar model to Mrs. Gates, with a third going to H.P. Butler and a fourth 11/40 h.p. tourer to Mr. J. Davidson. Crow’s Bros. first 12 h.p. Alvises were sold in 1923, to the Hon. Mrs. E. Tatham and R. Meldrum, the latter disposing of his 10 h.p. Calthorpe to acquire one. These may have been 12/40s, like that for Oscar Lundberg, the first Alvis listed as a 12/50 being that bought by R. Snowdon-Smith in 1926 (No. 9337), followed by No. 9342 for F.J. Willins. In this context, a new 10 h.p. Buckingham cyclecar, which had links with Alvis, was sold to L. Alston in 1921/22. A solitary 12/40 Lea-Francis coupe was sold to F. Gordon-Walker in 1929.

I wish I had space in which to tell you more of the fascinating glimpses of the vintage era which these old ledgers reveal. Crow’s were by no means insular, selling Galloway and Arrol-Johnston cars from Scotland, some 8 h.p. and 12 h.p. Talbot-Darracqs, a number of Renaults, including a 1925 17.9 h.p. Renault seven-seater, three of those unhappy three-seater 9 h.p. Stoneleighs, while new American cars numbered Chevolet, Overland, Buick all-weather Essex and Chrysler, but with the Overlands predominating. The lesser-known used cars let out to roam the then-quiet Surrey roads, perhaps taking their occupants to Brooklands or to speed-events at S.Harting or Dean Hill, included a 1921 built Warren-Lambert, a 1923 Belsize-Bradshaw, an AV Monocar, an old Metallurgique landaulette, 1915 Studebaker, a 1913 Palladium, 1913 Cadillac landaulette, 1909 Alldays &: Onions, Adler van, 1911 Siddeley-Deasy, Bayliss-Thomas, etc. Even in 1930 a 1925 Calcott was sold. The three-wheeler era saw a new Hudson, a Coventry-Victor and two Morgans traded new, one Morgan an Anzani-engined Grand Prix model.

It all came to an end when, on doctors’ orders in 1938, the two brothers sold out to R. J. Baker, the Vauxhall dealers of Dorking. – W.B.

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