Vintage Postbag, July 1982

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1914 GP Mercedes

Sir,
I read the recent article on the 1914 GP Mercedes with great interest and also Mr. Karslake’s reply. I doubt if the tail as shown on the De Palma car in “Power andd Glory” would make much difference to the handling, being a pretty exiguous thing, but, of course, De Palma did not have to find room for a spare wheel.

Some years ago I was given a plastic kit by an American friend, which he claimed was the very first plastic model car his made. Incredibly enough, it was a model of the De Palma Mercedes. but with considerable differences from the original, notably, artillery wheels and a slab tank at the rear. The interesting question is why was this car chosen as the subject for the model? Was the car still around (presumably the kit dates from about 1950)? These must have been plenty of cars with greater appeal to the public who would be expected to buy the kits.

It is interesting that the nearside of the bonnet is modelled with the same arrangement of louvres as shown in the photo in “Power and Glory”, two pairs of louvres with a little door in between. By contrast, the Zborowski car in the MOTOR SPORT photograph shows a bonnet with six short louvres with a round hole between louvres two and three. This latter photograph also shows matching louvres in the front oldie scuttle, whereas the De Palma car has only one. The only photograph of Lautenschlager’s car I have seen which was taken from the nearside, shows the arrangement of louvres as the Zborowski car. It is a pity that the photo of the team line-up in MOTOR SPORT is so indistinct, but a better reproduction in the Profile series shows Saber’s car to haves different arrangement again, with louvres rather larger than Lautenschlager’s. The other cars are obscured by the front wings but perhaps the original of the photograph (wherever that might be) may show the detail under glass.

The offside of the bonnet in my kit is modelled with nine louvres. This is the same as the Clark car now in Briggs Cunningham’s museum, but it does not correspond to the original arrangement for any of the team cars; Lautenschlager’s had ten louvres and all the others had a little door at the front and six louvres, except Salzer’s, which had only five.

I have never seen any photos of the cars exhibited at the National agents, but it strikes me that Mercedes may well have altered racing numbers (and quite possibly engine numbers), but they were unlikely to have made new bonnets, so if anyone has any photos of the cars exhibited at the agent’s premises, the louvres may provide valuable clues to their identity. Masetti’s car in the Targa Florio not only had number 40 on its radiator, as you say, but number 19 on its scuttle. It had six louvres in the offside of its bonnet. Perhaps the answer to the rumour that there were two spare cars into look upon Pilette’s as a spare car, only entered at the last minute when it was clear that none of the other four was going to have any trouble. The other one could have been assembled from the rest of the parts left at the factory, perhaps for exhibition? Is there any evidence that the sixth car went to Lyons?
Addington, Surrey DESMOND PEACOCK

The 16-valve Bugattis

I would like to take the opportunity of adding further comment to some of the more significant points raised by your entertaining article on the 16-valve Bugatti in the April issue.

Firstly, the cars displayed at Olympia in 1919 were not 16-valve models, but the pre-war 8-valve design, manufacture of which ended in September 1920, some six months or so after the announcement and introduction of the 16-valve model. So, foe a production car of a mere 1,327 c.c., and designed in 1910, a top speed of “only 62 m.p.h.” would appear very creditable. Jarrott & Letts, incidentally, had held the Bugatti agency from before the outbreak of WW1.

You say, as did the contemporary press reports, that the Segrave 16-valve car had won the 1920 GP des Voiturettes at Le Mans. Some dozen years ago Bob Shepherd showed, on the photographic evidence of patched-up radiator cores, that Segrave’s car (actually owned, I believe, by Jarrott & Letts) was in fact that driven by Baccoli to fifth place at Le Mans. However, an important point that everyone seems to have missed is that the body on the car as received by Segrave in, I think, late 1920 (English Reg. No. XE 6132, XE ran from September ’20 to January ’21) was not as raced at Le Mans in August of that year. The bonnet was shorter, the rest of the body, which now included the scuttle, was much more rounded. As it is evident that at least one of the 1920 works cars was embodied, presumably by the factory, shortly after the race, who can now say, with confidence, that the car had retained its original radiator? So maybe the reports at the time, and yourself, were right after all.

A study of available photographs of the three cars at Le Mans reveals that only one, the de Vizcaya machine, seems devoid of the bulge at the front lower offside corner of the bonnet, necessary to accommodate the special magneto required to fire the eight plugs (four on each side, quite unlike the following year’s Brescia and later versions) which were a feature of the Segrave car, so it does seem that the options arc reduced to two. The pointed-tail Hawker racing body, fitted to this car early in 1921, was, therefore, its third, all in less than 12 months. In this final form, painted red and driven by Leon Cushman, of Jarrett St Letts, it was a consistent performer at English sprint events, including the first ever Bugatti ascent of Shelsley, during the 1921 season.

Finally, the so-called Crossley-TT cars which ran, in yellow livery, in the 1500 event on the Isle of Man in 1922 were accepted, even at the time, as having been produced in Molsheim rather than Manchester. And the English driver making his Bugatti debut in this race was, of course, Bertram, not Bernard, Marshall.

Middleton-by-Youlgreave, Derbys DAVID SEWELL.

Cars of Celebrities

Sir,
I was interested to see a photograph of the Plough Inn at Holford in your April issue, having just re-read Quentin Bell’s biography of Virginia Woolf. It must have looked much the same when the Woolfs stayed there in 1912 on their honeymoon and again the next year during Virginia’s violent breakdown. Could the Bayard have been the station hack which conveyed them from Bridgwater?

The Woolfs bought their first car, a Singer (Senior?) saloon in 1927 and from then until the outbreak of war motored regularly and extensively abroad. It would be interesting to been what models succeeded the Singer; nothing very exciting I suspect, bearing in mind Leonard Woolf’s carefulness with money.

It is inconceivable that Bloomsbury as a whole was interested in things mechanical; one may speculate that Maynard Keynes always had the latest Rolls-Royce (or would it have been Delage?) and Duncan Grant a ramshackle bicycle, while Lytton Strachey certainly bought a Sunbeam in 1927, but I would welcome any concrete information readers may have on cars of the literary beau monde during this period.

Thank you for so much reading enjoyment over the years.
Benin City, Nigeria A. J. BULL
[We did refer to the Woolf’s cars some years ago. One later car was, I think, a 12/24 h.p. Citröen metal saloon. — Ed.]

The Norfolk

Sir,
Further to Mr. Hales’ query (Vintage Postbag, March) regarding the Norfolk motor car, these vehicles were actually produced by Abel Blackburn and Co. Ltd., Tofts Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, whose main business was the manufacture of textile machinery.

The Norfolk was a 2-cylinder, 3-speed, chain-driven machine, available in 10 h.p. or 12 h.p. forms, with a distinctive radiator resembling the shape made famous by Rolls-Royce (interestingly, Blackburn’s granddaughter remembers him recounting a meeting with Henry Royce when the possibilities of motor car manufacture were discussed), topped by a device not unlike part of a miner’s lantern, with a glass tube displaying a fountain of water if the coolant was circulating correctly.

”The “Cooke & Wade” connection comes from Sheffield’s first Register of Motor Cars which records number W 369 issued on January 1905 to a 10 h.p. Norfolk tonneau painted grey owned by John Cooke of Barnsley and Joseph Wade of Ranmoor, Sheffield, trading as Cooke and Wade, Cutlers’ Hall, Sheffield. The car is stated to be “own make”, but as they are listed in the 1902 Sheffield Directory as motor factors and agents it seems likely that they merely sold Norfolk cars and had no direct hand in their assembly. Their agency most have been reasonably successful as W 362 was issued to another 10 h.p. Norfolk tonneau, and the surviving example is W 456. As only a small number are thought to have been made, these three may represent a considerable proportion of the total output.

The survivor, discovered in an old foundry in 1931, was brought by its owner prior to the Second War from Barnsley to renew its acquaintance with the then-retired Abel Blackburn, who died aged 85 in 1947, making him in his heyday very much a contemporary of Royce. The car seems to have gone to earth in recent years, though dated 1904 by the VCC it has participated on several Brighton runs. I would be delighted to hear of its current whereabouts.

Blackburn’s were reputedly also responsible for the Northern car, which may be the subject of the enclosed chassis print. It looks tubes little larger than the earlier Norfolk car.

South Yorkshire County Record Office have drawn attention to the fact that the Duke of Norfolk was lord of the manor in Sheffield and a major landowner in the city, no perhaps there really was some connection with the Cleckheaton concern?
Liversedge, Yorks. STEVE DICKINSON

Bright Alvis

Sir,
In your VSCC Curborough report you asked how my husband keeps the aluminium body on his 200 Miles Race Alvis so shiny. The answer is by liberal use of good old fashioned elbow grease —mine!
Harrow, Middx. MARY BENFIELD

Diesel Lagondas

Sir,
I am afraid I have to disappoint Mr. Ronald Smith (letters — May issue, page 573) by telling that his Lagonda is not an ex-Lord de Clifford one, although it forms part of the interesting history of diesel Lagondas.

Throughout the ‘thirties the Gardner engine firm had several attempts at convincing the world at large that diesel engines were quite acceptable in cars. Their first attempt was in 1932 when they installed a prototype truck engine in a 1925 long-chassis Bentley fabric saloon and lent it to various magazines to test. They also lent it to Lord de Clifford and it was this car that he drove in the 1933 Monte Carlo Rally. He did rather well with it, coming fourth overall and was the best British competitor that year.

The ncxt Gardner diesel was mounted in a 1932 16/80 Lagonda tourer in 1935. This was a production 4LK engine and this car was tested and written up by The Autocar in the issue of 23.8.35, describing some long distance runs done at respectable average speeds and for the expenditure of very little money, for diesel fuel was only about half the cost of petrol at the time, and the car averaged nearly 46 mpg.

In 1936 and 37, Gardners converted three Lagonda LG45s to diesel power. The work was done for them in Scotland by James Bowen & Sons, and the three cars were meant for the two Gardner brothers and for James Bowen himself. The two Gardner family cars had Lagonda works pillarless saloon bodies and were registered EPE 231 (chassis No. 12124) and FPF 143 (12218). EPE was subsequently re-registered NTB 550 in 1951, perhaps for tax avoidance reasons.

The third car had a large saloon body fitted by James Young and we have no record of its registration number. It was written off in an accident and the engine put in FPF. The engines fitted differed; FPF had a 4LK, as did the Bowen car, but the third engine was a 6LK. The extra weight of the diesel engine made the brakes a bit marginal and Gardners fitted Alfin drums.

When Gardners had done with the cars, they were sold, without their engines, to Tom Ellison who fitted smaller diesel engines, and then later Elliot Elder fitted a Jaguar XK engine to NTB, converting it to a Jaguar.

But what of Mr. Smith’s car? The information above came from Bowens, via Elliot Elder, and JM 3066 is not mentioned. But it is quite likely that the Gardner works had other cars, apart from the bosses’ ones. As JM is a Westmorland registraton, I fancy they bought it secondhand in contrast to the brothers’ cars which, having been bought new from the Lagonda works, had Surrey registrations.
Potters Bar, Herts. ARNOLD DAVEY Hon. Registrar, Lagonda Club