Great Cars of the 1920s and 1930s
For many years the Vintage sports Car Club's annual April meeting at Silverstone has been characterised by high winds, torrential rain and face-biting temperatures. Those who have been experienced the sheer hell of standing at Woodcote in particular on one of these April days will know only too well what an inhospitable place it is. Yet every year we all return for more, and the crowds that accumulate in the grandstands, and at other vantage points around the club circuit, seem to grow larger and larger.
And it's the same story at all the other meetings concerned with old cars. Come hell or high water, there is a huge and growing army of classic car enthusiasts, who just cannot miss the opportunity to drive or watch a variety of the best machines in action. What follows, therefore, is MOTOR SPORT's A-to-Z guide to interesting cars of the 1920s and 1930s, many of which will be familiar to even casual readers.
The period between the two World Wars was indeed an exciting time for motorists, an era of engineering innovation, intense rivalry between manufacturers, glamour and congestion-free roads, which were also without wretched 'speed cameras'. In most cases, the cars were of simple construction — part of their appeal today — beautifully made and went like stink. And it is testament to their engineering integrity and build quality that several original examples are still being used regularly for their intended purpose.
Naturally, there were dozens of manufacturers who fell by the wayside; names like Albatross, Avro, Derek, Hampton and Loyd-Lord — just a few of the lesser known ones — have completely disappeared. The world depression of the early 1930s, changing markets, competition and the onset of WW2 saw the downfall of a good many well-known makes too. Those who clearly recollect motoring days of the 1920s and '30s — a trip to Brooklands or a friendly 'dust-up' on the Great North Road — will fully appreciate why interest in this 'golden' period remains so strong.
Readers who are too young to remember doubtless appreciate these cars for a variety of different reasons — the unique exhaust notes, the evocative smell of Castrol R racing oil or the simple beauty of the body and engine builder's art. Whatever, there is no doubt that Bentleys, Bugattis, Amilcars, Vauxhalls, Frazer Nashes, HRGs, MGs et al, remain among the world's best cars.
Versatile, fast, reliable and rugged, these are machines which can be used for every type of motoring competition, and on the road as a 'shopping car. The Vauxhall 30/98 suffices as just one example, a car which will blast up the roughest tracks on a Welsh hill one day, and drift sideways around Copse Corner just as happily the next. And make no mistake, a 30/98 will give a few modern family saloons a run for their money on the open road too. As will so many other vintage and post-vintage thorougbreds.
Perhaps, above all, what these old cars have over cars of the post-war classic period — fast, sophisticated and desirable as many are — is a character and soul from the youthful days of the automobile. The magical simplicity of a sturdy, separate chassis frame, the clearly defined manufacturer's motif atop the magnificent, chromed radiator shell, the huge wire wheels shod with skinny crossply tyres and the aromatic cocktail of wood and leather from the cabin — all of this and more contribute to the heady atmosphere in the paddock and auction room alike. Long may it continue.
AC Six 2-litre 1919-1956
Legendary British design conceived during WW1 that was so advanced that the 2-litre straight-six continued to be fitted in the Ace up until 1963. A variety of saloons and tourers produced including the Ace, Acedes, Magna and Aero. Early competition success included the Hon Victor Bruce's win on the 1926 Monte Carlo Rally (a Brit's first win on this event). The 16/40 Montlhery version was capable of 80mph, speeds which 3-litre Bentleys were only just capable of matching. AC's contribution to motoring between the wars was significant, but these cars are largely forgotten today.
Adler Trumpf 1932-1939
The German 'Eagle' company started producing cars from 1900 but, when the German economy slumped in the early 1930s, Adler manufactured smaller, more economical cars, and to an advanced spec. There were 1500 and 1700 sidevalve four-cylinder engines to start, and the Trumpf Junior with a 995cc engine from 1935 but, more interestingly, there were modern features such as a platform chassis, all-round independent suspension and front-wheel drive, predating Citroen's Traction Avant by a few months. Now rare outside Germany, and there were no cars post-War because the Adler factory was heavily bombed.
Alfa Romeo 8C 1931-1939
Jano's masterpiece to succeed the 6C 1500 and 1750 series. With its straight-eight 155bhp engine — two four-cylinder blocks and two cylinder heads on a common crankcase — the 8C was one of the most successful sports designs of the 1930s. The 2300 was developed by Ferrari into the 802600 Monza model and, when the 8C2900 appeared there was a healthy 220bhp on tap. Despite the passage of more than 60 years these Alfas, which almost define style, remain among the world's most desirable and coveted cars.
Alfa Romeo RL 1923-1927
Of the 2,500 RLs built, there are relatively few survivors today. Originally intended for GP racing, but abandoned after the three-litre Formula was changed to two litres, the first road cars were announced in detuned 2994-cc form in 1921. Developing 83bhp at 3600rpm, these large, heavy cars were fast and came with a variety of attractive bodies. Racing versions were successful, with victories in the 1923 Targa Florio and 1924 Coppa Acerbo, the latter with one Enzo Ferrari at the wheel. When Vittorio Jano took over as chief engineer, the RLs were dropped and succeeded by the 6C and 80 cars.
Sydney Allard's first car — a Ford-powered special — appeared at the 1934 Tourist Trophy, but it wasn't until 1937 that he began building cars for 'general release'. There were twoand four-seater bodies, and Allards became very successful in the hands of Guy Warburton, Ken Hutchinson and, of course, Sydney Allard himself. Hutchinson even ordered one with a 4.4-litre V12 Lincoln Zephyr engine and promptly won the Wye Cup Trial. Precious few Allards were made prior to the outbreak of war, but a new company formed in 1946 carried on the good work. No-one who ever knew what was good for him ever underestimated an Allard.
Alta 1931 -1939
Earl Howe, S C H Davis and George Abecassis all raced Geoffrey Taylor's Altas with success. The first production car had a 1074cc alloy block DOHC engine in an ABC frame. With 68bhp and 80mph, it was a most effective machine. A 2-litre developing 85bhp, or 165bhp in supercharged form, came in 1934. Abecassis set the sports car record at the old Crystal Palace circuit at 2min 9sec in a 2-litre car just a week before the start of the Hitler War.
AlvIs 12/50 1923-1932
One of the really great cars of all time, and still capable of winning VSCC races and keeping up with modern traffic — just. The three-bearing four-cylinder 1496cc engine was fitted in a simple chassis frame and, although there were around eight basic body options, the most famous was the 'ducksback' style, usually with polished aluminium panels. The 12/60 arrived in 1931 and, apart from a more powerful engine and a closeratio gearbox, it was also slightly better equipped. A simple 'bread-and-butter' car that scored countless competition successes in its day, and one which is still much talked about in Red Triangle circles.
Alvis F-series 1925-1931
Alvis's chief enginer, W M Dunn, produced the company's first front-wheel-drive sprint car in 1925, the f w d layout being an attempt to save weight. In unsupercharged form the 1482cc engine developed 50bhp, or 75bhp with a Rootstype blower. Major competition success included sixth and ninth places at Le Mans in 1928 with the unsupercharged cars, and second in the 1925 TT. At £550 for the chassis alone these cars were expensive, and just 135 units, including a small number of eight-cylinder examples, were built before production ended in 1931. An interesting exercise nevertheless.
Alvis Speed Twenty 1932-1939
Developed from the Silver Eagle, the Speed Twenty's six-cylinder 2511cc engine developed 87bhp at 4200rpm, and it had a much lower chassis frame than the model it replaced. Saloon and sports tourer bodies were available. Independent front suspension and an allsynchromesh gearbox was fitted in 1934, and the engine capacity was increased to 2762cc tne following year. In 1930, Alvis's 3 1/2-litre engine was fitted to the Speed Twenty chassis and the resulting car was called the Speed Twenty Five. A further 4397cc 137bhp engine was introduced in 1936. Well built, good looking, strong and durable, the Speed models remain ever popular with PVT enthusiasts.
Amilcar C Series 1920-1929
Often described as the 'poor man's Bugatti', these attractively styled, French-built sporting machines were true representations of the 'light car' age. Several types were built, most with pointed tails and two-seater bodies so narrow that the seats had to be staggered. The first cars had 903cc four-cylinder side-valve engines, but later there were 985cc and 1004cc units. Most were capable of well over 70mph. Nearly 5000 CGS and CGSS cars were built all told, and a good number have survived.
Arab Sports 1925-1927
Only a handful of these Reid RaiIton-designed cars were built — around half a dozen — in the small factory at Letchworth, but are interesting because the 1960cc long-stroke four featured overhead valves operated by an overhead camshaft and closed by leaf springs like in the Leyland Eight. There were twoand four-seater bodies and the cars were good for 80mph, the Super Sports Tourer two-seater boasting a top speed of 90mph. Exclusive.
Aston Martin Ulster 1934-1936
Doyen of post-vintage British sports cars, the Ulster was an expensive and stylish car with excellent road manners and an impressive turn of speed. The 1493cc four-cylinder engine developed 80bhp at 5250rpm on twin SUs. Still highly regarded, and several outstanding examples regularly appear at AMOC and VSCC events. Better than contemporary MGs in almost every respect but there is a difference in price. Worthy of hero worship and wickedly pretty.
Auburn Straight-Eight 1925-1936
With its 4587cc eight-cylinder Lycoming engine and a large choice of bodies, these American E L Cord-inspired cars were among America's most desirable driving machines, particularly the expensive two-seater 851 Speedster. Ab Jenkins averaged 100mph at Utah in 1935 over 24 hours (split into two 12-hour stints), which was quite a feat even by today's standards. Amazing styling and outstanding performance, but not really understood outside the You-Ess of Ay.
Austin Seven 1923-1939
The little car that brought motoring to the masses for around £130, although the magic sum of £100 was achieved briefly in the early 1930s. With its original two-bearing 747cc four-pot engine, maximum power was a feeble 10.5bhp at 2400rpm, and top speed was in the region of 45mph. But the engine offered almost unlimited tuning possibilities. Several body variants were available, the most sought after being the two-seater Ulster. Sevens are still plentiful, cheap to buy and run, easy to restore and drive, and they're eligible for almost, but not quite, every type of VSCC event. You just can't lose with a Seven.
Austro-Daimler ADM 1923-1928
One of many Porsche-designed masterpieces, the original car was fitted with a neat 2440cc straight-six but had grown to three litres by 1926. There was an alloy cylinder block and twin overhead camshafts and, in sports form, these cars were good for over 100mph. Hans Stuck achieved hillclimb success in the ADM 111 (or 19-100 model), and there was the team prize in the 1928 TT. Austrian engineering at its best but these cars were expensive, and the economic depression of the 1930s saw the company swallowed by Steyr.
Ballot RH Series Eight 1927-1932
With their large bodies and powerful engines, Ballot's long wheelbase cars were impressive, imposing and true sporting Grand Tourers of the carefree motoring era. The splendid straight-eight, nine-bearing power unit had 'Heron' combustion chambers and overhead camshaft, and came in 2.6-, 2.8and 3-litre forms. In some ways, the Ballot Eights were the French equivalent of the 30/98 Vauxhall — rugged, fast and reliable, but like so many manufacturers of the vintage and postvintage era Ballot could not cope with the economic depression. The company was taken over by Hispano-Suiza and that was that for this fine manufacturer.
Bentley 'Derby' models 1933-1939
The 'Derby' Bentleys, as they were nicknamed after Rolls-Royce took over, were actually more user-friendly and better all-round machines than the pure WO cars. But being considerably more modern, so they should have been. The 3669cc engine breathed through twin SUs and produced around 110bhp. A number of bodies were available from various coachbuilders, as Rolls-Royce only supplied rolling chassis. Speeds of 90mph were on the cards but, as the years went by, weight crept up and the engine was enlarged to 4257cc to cope. Some 2500 Derby Bentleys were built before production ended, and are among the best quality pre-war machines. Good restored examples are at a premium today and rightly so, but complexities shouldn't be ignored by DIY enthusiasts.
Bentley 3-litre 1921-1928
The sterotypical vintage car and still regarded by some as the best machine to bear the Bentley radiator motif. The 2996cc engine boasted an overhead camshaft and four valves per cylinder which, with twin SUs, was good for a maximum 80bhp in original tune. There were two 3-litre Le Mans winners, 1924 and 1927, and success in many other top international events including the Indianapolis 500. The 3-litre was available in three wheelbases, the Speed model from 1924. Some 1619 examples were made all told and the high survival rate is hardly surprising. Desirability is reflected in high prices. Handlebar moustache and a Dunhill briar are compulsory, of course.
Bentley 6 1/2-litre 'Speed Six' 1928-1930
WO's original straight-six appeared in 1925 in 472-litre guise, but the larger Speed Six with its specially designed sporting chassis didn't emerge until 1928. The chassis was heavy and the engine complex — engineering quality impeccable — but, even with 1 BObhp at 3500rpm, maximum speed was a little below the 'ton'. However, Speed Sixes were driven to two Le Mans victories (1929 and 1930) by Woolf Barnato, and the passage of 65 years since has done nothing to diminish the respect motoring folk have for these magnificent cars. Depending on your needs, the Speed Six remains just about at the top of the motoring tree, The fastest lorry on wheels? Certainly. But some lorry, eh?
Bentley 'Blower' 4 1/2-Litre 1929-1930
Not a successful car; WO had warned against the pitfalls — lack of reliability, added complexity, more to go wrong — of supercharging. However, 'Tim' Birkin did manage second place in the 1930 French GP, which wasn't bad for a car that its designer had virtually disowned. Today, the 'Blowers' are the glamour Bentleys with a heady history and a romantic magnificence, which has rarely been equalled. Which is why they are expensive. Quite out of the ordinary.
BMW 328 1936-1940
A truly fabulous sports car whose road manners and all-round ability made the majority of its peers look and feel like something out of Noah's Ark. The two-litre straight-six developed 80bhp at 4500rpm, endowing this pretty, aerodynamically sound twoseater with stunning and safe, 'chuckable' performance. A 1930s' car that was light years ahead of its time, and one whose influence is still being felt today. 460 examples were built in all, plus some replicas — good ones too — from Sbarro in Switzerland. Much copied, rarely equalled, never surpassed — brilliant in every respect.
British Saimson 1936-1939
Most were saloons or tourers, but a sporting two-seater was made from 1936 with an Englishbuilt 20/90 DOHC 2.6-litre six-cylinder engine and independent front suspension. There was no French Salmson equivalent. At £695 it was considered to be an expensive car, and relatively few were made before the outbreak of war.
Bugatti Brescia Type 13 1910-1926
One of the finest cars of the 1920s, the Brescia — so called after the model's success in the 1921 Brescia race — the 1496cc four-cylinder engine (developed from the earlier 1327cc unit) had four overhead valves per cylinder and a single overhead camshaft — advanced stuff! With their lightweight bodies Brescias proved most effective in competition and on the road, This is the car in which Raymond Mays really made his name in this country, and the model is still doing great things today in VSCC events. Hamish Moffatt's performances in his on the VSCC Trials remain most memorable.
Bugattl Royale Type 41 1927-1933
This century's ultimate motoring elephant, built with sybaritic megalomaniacs in mind to the tune
of half a dozen, and included here for that reason. Beautifully styled despite its size and vast 36indiameter road wheels. The 13.7-litre straight-eight developed 300bhp at 2000rpm and propelled the car up to 100mph, but at the price of doing 6mpg. Rally driver Bill Bengry had one of these cars in the Leominster showroom of his VW dealership in the late 1950s, but had it removed as it took up the space of roughly five Beetles and, at that time, the latter were worth considerably more money. Sickening, isn't it.
Bugatti Type 35B 1923-1929
The ultimate in aluminium artistry and, in terms of competition wins, probably the most successful car ever Supercharged 2.3-litre straight-eight gave 140bhp at 4500rpm, but rock-hard suspension ensures a good old bone-rattling ride on all but the smoothest tarmac. Ettore was an automotive artist, which is why the engineering suffered a bit, but who cares? This is THE classic 1920s' sporting twoseater and it still possesses the legs to run rings around most modern hatches. Anyone who recalls the epic duels between Bernard Kain, Hamish Moffatt, Richard Bergel and Geoffrey St John 20 years ago will have the 358 indelibly printed on his mind. A great all-rounder and one that will never be forgotten. Expensive and rightly so.
Bugatti Type 43 1927-1932
The classic Bugatti for the family, with the T35B's 2.3-litre supercharged roller-bearing engine in the T38 chassis. The four-seater pointed-tail body is magnificent to behold, the horseshoe radiator and cast-alloy road wheels adding the finishing touches to an aesthetic masterpiece. With a top speed of around 105mph, good handling and brisk acceleration, the T43 is still one of Bugatti's most practical, desirable and best driving machines. As with most Bugs, though, restoration costs are generally stratospheric.
Bugatti Type 55 1932-1935
The Daytona Ferrari of the 1930s, the T55 was based on the 154 and fitted with the 151's twin-cam 2.3-litre engine developing 135bhp. In. standard form, 112mph was attainable, and up to 120mph in stripped racing guise. Just 38 T55s were made; most were roadsters, but there were a handful of drophead and fixed-head coupes. In two-tone yellow and black these cars are simply stunning — yet another example of Bugatti's artistic and didactic genius. Again, prices reflect desirability.
Bugatti Type 57 1934-1939
Designed by Jean Bugatti, the 57 was the last Molsheim production car, and around 710 examples with a variety of bodies — the attractive 57SC Atlantic being the most bizarre — were built before the firm was effectively finished. The straight-eight twin-cam 3.3-litre engine produced 175bhp at 5500rpm, but 200bhp was available from the supercharged 57C version. Depending on the state of tune, between 100 and 120mph was easily attainable. Although not in the Royale's Grand Routier class, the T57 was a Grand Tourer in the best pre-war tradition. Hydraulic brakes and telescopic shock absorbers went some way to bringing the cars up to date in 1938, but there was never any mistaking the Bug parentage. Sophistication and colour in an age of intellectual agonising with interesting results.
Cadillac V16 1930-1937
America's finest p v t and one that survived the Wall Street crash thanks to sheer quality and stunning magnificence. The iron 7413cc V16 power unit produced 165bhp at 3400rpm and was capable of propelling this heavyweight to around 90mph in virtual silence. Torque is 'elephantine', fuel consumption simply wicked, but the prestige Cadillac gained from this model prompted luxury car manufacturers in America, Britain and Europe to tread a hasty V12 route. The outbreak of war in 1939, however, signalled the end of the battle between the multi-cylinder monsters.
Chenard-Walcker 3-litre 1922-1927
Placed first and second in the first Le Mans 24-Hour race in 1923, these powerful French machines were quite advanced in that the 2978cc engines had a single overhead camshaft and dry-sump lubrication. With around 90bhp these cars were fast, but with front-wheel brakes only stopping was always a fairly interesting exercise. the Le Mans win was presumably the result of their inability to slow down for the corners. Not a marque that turns up at auction every day.
The brainchild of Count Zborowski, the three Chitties conjured up the eccentric and marvellous excesses of a unique age that will never return, and feature here solely for that reason. The first was built using a modified 75HP Mercedes chassis and 23-litre Maybach engine developing 305bhp; the second car used a 19-litre Benz aero engine developing 230bhp; and Chitty III, which was built in 1922, used a Mercedes 28/95 chassis and a 15-litre Mercedes engine. The original car was the fastest and most successful winning several races at Brooklands, but nearly killed the Count on the banking after a front tyre exploded. Zborowski died at Monza in 1924 driving a Mercedes, but his Chitties (only Chitty II survives) are the stuff of legend, the spirit of which has been rekindled in recent times by the likes of Peter Morley and Roger Collings with similarly marvellous aero-engines 'bombers'.
Citroen Traction Avant 1934-1955
Unitary construction and front wheel drive were innovative characteristics of Citroen's 11CV and 15CV models that set trends in mass production for the years to come. Both four and six cylinder engines were available in attractive, 'low-line' bodies, including a drop-head version (only built in the 30s), an example of which has been raced in VSCC circles in recent times. These cars can still be seen in daily use in both Britain and Continental Europe, and always add a touch of style to the carparks at classic meetings. Almost a People's car and one which is respected and loved by all today. Cheap to run and a lot of fun.
Clyno 10.8HP 192two-1929
Although now largely forgotten Clyno was, up until the mid-1920s, Britain's third largest motor manufacturer, but struggled throughout to compete on price with main rivals Austin and Morris. The 10.8hp model had a Coventry-Climax in-line four producing 20bhp — plain bearings replaced the original rollers in 1926. Built in Wolverhampton to exceptional standards, these rugged cars are now relatively rare, but retain an enthusiastic following among those who understand them.
Cord 810,812 1935-1937
Another strange but attractive creation from America, boasting unitary construction and a Lycoming 4.7 litre power unit driving through the front wheels. Primarily designed to keep the Auburn Duesenberg-Cord business on all even keel, the model got off to a shaky start. The later 812 was available in supercharged 195bhp form but fewer than 2400 of both types sold by the time production ceased in 1937. The Cord was an advanced design featuring retractable headlamps, but one which had a propensity for eating front tyres when driven hard - no surprises there. Memorable, classic and slightly on the sensible side of totally outrageous.
Crossley 19.6HP 1923-1926
A marque favoured by the Prince of Wales, the side valve four cylinfer 3.7 litre 19.6HP version with open tourer bodywork was, as one leading journal of the day pointed out:"One of the best cars ever produced in England." Capable of 75mph, there was a modern detachable cylinder head, but four-wheel brakes didn't arrive until 1924.
Crossley Sports two-litre 1929-1931
A handsome craft-built sports car with Crossley's two-litre straight six OHV engine with twin carbs and 77mph top speed. A thoroughbred in the best British sporting tradition, and available with two and four seater bodies, but often overlooked in the Bentley obsessed classic car world.
Delage D8 1930-1935
Before Delage was taken over by Delahaye, the D8 was without doubt among the world's finest and most desirable driving machines. A conventional chassis was powered by a four litre straight eight engine developing 120bhp at 4000rpm, and there was a variety of voluptuous body styles. The Grand Sport version was capable of nearly 100mph, and with the introduction of the S and SS models power was raised to 145bhp. One car averaged almost 110mph for 24hours at Montlhery. Exclusive, grand, expensive and collectable.
Delahaye 135 1935-1950
Take your pick, the chassis was common to all the elegant and fast road and sports cars, an example of which won the 1939 Brooklands 'Fastest Road Car' competition driven by Arthur Dobson. Early road cars used a straight six 3.2 litre engine developing 130bhp at 3850rpm, whereas the sports model had the 3.5litre 160bhp unit. Competition success included second,third,fourth and fifth places in the 1936 French GP, victory in the 1937 Monte Carlo Rally, and victory at Le Mans in 1938. The road cars were every bit as exciting, but are comparatively rare today, especially here.
Duesenber J/SJ 1928-1938
A no expense spared phenomenon, the J and SJ were the ultimate motoring expressions of luxury and power in vintage America. The 6.8 litre straight eight engine boasted four valves per cylinder, twin overhead camshafts and produced 265bhp at4250rpm, which was good enough for 110mph. In 1932 the SJ was introduced, with a supercharger which pushed power output up to 320bhp. One car was timed at 152mph in 1935. Luxurious and handsome, not to mention thirsty, these models still rank among the world's most breathtaking cars.
Excelsior Adex 1920-1929
In terms of engineering integrity and luxury motoring, Belgian's Excelsior was the equal of its contemporaries. The 5.3-litre straight-six had an overhead camshaft, and the chassis was fitted with an anti-roll bar and an ingenious axle-location mechanism. The Albert Premier model, named after the King of Belgium who owned one of these fine vehicles, got more power in 1926, but after being bought out by Imperia in 1928 the company 'fizzled' out before the end of the '20s. A Belgian 30/98 Vauxhall, and just as practical in everyday use.
Fiat 508 BaliIla 1932-1937
From economic necessity the BaliIla was a small lightweight car with a choice of tourer, sports or coupe bodies and a simple 995cc four-cylinder engine, developing around 35bhp in 508S overhead valve guise. Many were successful in a variety of competitions: the famous sporting twoseater bodies with the attractive dorsal tail fins were mostly built in Britain. Practical, charming and economical to run, these little cars were never especially fast, but were on a par with similar designs from MG.
Ford Model T 1908-1927
The first mass-produced Ford and, until the WV Beetle came along, the best selling car ever, with 15,007,033 units in 19 years. Mechanically the Model T was virtually unchanged throughout, the 2.9-litre four-cylinder three-bearing engine churning out a feeble but reliable 20bhp. There were a number of bodies, but mostly open tourers. Like the Beetle, it became a victim of its own success, and when demand suddenly tailed off towards the end of its production life, Ford was caught with its corporate trousers down. Historically significant, cheap to buy and spares are available.
Ford V8 1932-1941
Maligned, except by those who owned these value-for-money post-vintage nonthoroughbreds. Transverse leaf springs front and rear were crude, but the 3622cc 90-degree V8 side-valve engine had lusty torque and produced around 65bhp at 3400rpm. A reliable slogger, one of these old buses won the 1936 Monte Carlo Rally. A car that brought Ford almost into the modern age, and one well worth considering for its all-round competence. Brakes aren't up to much, though.
Frazer Nash 'Chain Gang' 1924-1939
A super-crude, super-effective supercar, which continues to endear itself to everyone in vintage circles and beyond. Simple chain drive, lightweight, performance aplenty and excellent handling and traction, but minimal weather protaction all added up to one mean sportscar. Several engines were used, including Plus Power, Anzani, Meadows and Blakburne. Some cars named after circuits where they competed, such as 'Boulogne', 'Shelsley' and IT Replicas, the latter of which was the most popular. A fair number survive today, their tail-wagging antics continuing to bring applause in the grandstands at Silverstone.
Powered by an air-cooled 1086cc JAP V-twin engine, the GN was one of the most effective cyclecars. Cheap to buy and run, it was basic, simple and easy to maintain. In its original form, there was just 12bhp at 2400rpm — nothing to get excited about, but adequate if you're not in a rush. Few cars were made before the Great War, but some 50 units a week were being built in the 1920s. However, it was the Austin Seven that eventually killed it off. Still a number in use in VSCC events providing a touch of colour, but little in the way of adrenalin.
HE 11.9HP 1919-1931
Produced by Herbert Engineering in Reading, the 1795cc four-cylinder HE was a typical vintage sporting car — simple in construction, light, strong and with good performance and handling, The brake drums had separate sets of linings for the foot and hand brakes. The gear change was on the right-hand side and there was a choice of open two-seater or saloon bodies. Bugatti-like radiator shell endeared it to many sporting motorists, but at £700 this was an expensive machine and production came to an end in 1931.
Hillman 10HP Super Sports 1920-1922
The car in which Raymond Mays started his racing career, produced by Hillman after an article appeared in The Autocar requesting a sporting car in every class above £200. Its 1496cc four-cylinder sidevalve engine produced 28bhp and had lightweight pistons and conrods, and larger valves than the standard 18bhp model. The open two-seater body was attractive and typical of the 1920s.
Hispano-Suiza H6B 1919-1938
Yet another work of engineering genius from Marc Birkigt's fertile brain, the H6B was among the world's most technically advanced cars, boasting mechanically servo-assisted brakes among its many attributes. The alloy 6597cc in-line six gave 135bhp at 3000rpm, from 1924, eight-litre H6C pushed the car's top speed close to 120mph. Every component was 'overengineered' and the build quality quite beyond the comprehension of normal engineers. But Marc Birkigt was no ordinary designer. Competition success included victories in the Coupe Boillot at Boulogne in 1921, 1922 and 1923. Coveted as much now as ever.
Hispano Sulza V12 1931-1938
Arguably the best Hispano, built regardless of cost despite the depression. Based on Birkigt's wartime aero engines, the 9.4-litre V12 produced either 190bhp or 220bhp according to customer specification. The later 11.3-litre unit produced an even more impressive 250bhp, and despite the weight of the chassis and heavy bodies these cars could reach well above 100mph with ease. Significantly, most lightweight sportscars at this time were running out of breath at 80mph. We wonder what a modern Hispano would be like — an interesting thought.
Hotchkiss six-cylinder 1929-1954
Handsome French glamour car, the original AM80 had a three-litre engine, but the wonderful 31/2-litre 125bhp unit announced in 1933 was capable of propelling these luxury carriages beyond the 'ton'. The short-wheelbase Grand Sport could do 110mph. Success in competition included four Monte Carlo Rally victories before the war and one in 1950, an impressive record for so large a vehicle. Hotchkiss failed to keep up with modern design trends after the war, and by 1954 it was all over.
One of the lowest volume sports cars ever made — less than 250 in 20 years — the HAG was handbuilt, light, durable and fast. There were 1100cc and 1500cc engines, the latter producing a healthy 61bhp at 4800rpm. A number were successful in rallying, and one example with an extended tail body section scored a class win at Le Mans in 1937. A good 1930's sports car, which was hopelessly outdated by the time production ceased in the mid-1950s, but a worthy two-seater that was easy to drive. Can still be enjoyed in modern traffic if needs must.
Lancia Lambda 1923-1931
Something of a trend-setter, the 2.1-litre, narrow-angle V4 was made of alloy, and the interesting chassis was basically of unitary construction; independent front suspension by coil springs completed the advanced part of the specification. With just 50bhp Lambdas weren't especially fast, but had superb roadholding, which made up for what was lost on the straights. Sports, tourer and saloon bodies were available, the four-seater tourer being an especially attractive option.
Noel Macklin's products were fitted with 2 1/2-, 3-, and 4 1/2-litre engines and, like all beautifully made cars of the period, Invictas were expensive. There were just 77 examples of the ever-popular 4 1/2-litre, one of which was driven to victory on the Monte Carlo Rally by none other than Donald Healey. With 115bhp from the Meadows straightsix, 100mph was possible, hence the car was known as the '100MPH' Invicta. With their lowslung chassis, these cars always looked exciting whether on the move or standing still, and can still be seen competing in VSCC events.
Isotta-Fraschini Tipo 8 1919-1935
One of Italy's grander attempts to compete with Rolls-Royce and Hispano-Suiza. Open tourer bodies are the most desirable — handsome lines and exquisitely well made. The first cars had 5.9-litre eight-cylinder engines, enlarged after 1924 to 7.4 litres in the Tipo 8A model. Production ceased in 1935 as the Tipo 8 was a typically vintage car and the competition had moved on considerably.
Itala 61 1924-1931
An interesting vintage machine from Italy with an alloy straight-six two-litre engine and four-wheel brakes, by no means common during this period. And by 1926 there was a mechanically driven brake servo — advanced. stuff! And better still, a twin-cam power unit before the firm's demise in 1931.
Jaguar SS100 1935-1939
Originally fitted with the 2663cc six-cylinder engine, the SS100 was the styling sensation of the 1930s — the first of Bill Lyons' masterly creations. When the 31/2-litre engine arrived in 1937, every 'petrolhead' wanted one. Capable of 100mph, its modest price tag of £450 set the scene for the Jaguar years ahead. Rust has taken its toll of these beautiful two-seaters, but lengthy restorations are always possible with sufficient dosh. Still desirable but, alas, not the cheap Jag it once was.
Lagonda 4 1/2-litre 1933-1939
Lagonda's finest sports machine, its 4453ec Meadows six propelled the car to over 90mph but with the M45 Rapide of 1934 came higher gearing and a more powerful engine, sufficient for a genuine 100mph. The superb M45R version won Le Mans in 1935. After considerable development, there were synchromesh gearboxes and independent front torsion bar suspension. Fast, well built and safe, these Lags embrace the true spirit of British sports cars during the post-vintage era. Still impressive today too.
Lagonda V12 1937-1939
Arguably W Bentley's finest engine design, the 41/2-litre 180bhp V12 with a single overhead camshaft per bank was placed in the LG6 chassis, with independent front suspension and the usual variety of body options. The road cars were luxurious, advanced and deceptively fast. Two special-bodied cars finished third and fourth at Le Mans in 1939. Production of the last truly great Lagondas ended in 1939; the machine tools necessary for production were broken up. A great pity.
Lancia Lambda 1923-1931
Something of a trend setter, the 2.1 litre narrow angle V4 was made of alloy, and the interesting chassis was basically of unitary construction: independent front suspension by coil springs completed the advanced part of the specification. With just 50bhp Lambdas weren't especially fast, but had superb roadholding, which made up for what was lost on the straights. Sports tourer and saloon bodies were available, the four seater tourer being and especially attractive option.
Lancia Aprilia 1936-1949
A magical little car and one of the most advanced of the 1930s. The diminutive 1352cc V4 produced just 47bhp at 4000rpm, but the aerodynamically sound body not only allowed a top speed in excess of 80mph (from 1.3 litres!), but fuel consumption at 32mpg was outstanding All-round independent suspension gave excellent road manners and handling was almost in a class of its own. Good examples of this pre-war design are still about and market values are most reasonable, especially considering that this four-seater saloon is capable of running rings around the majority of its peers. They don't rust especially badly either.
Lea-Francis Hyper 1928-1932
Purposeful with a distinctive sloping radiator shell, the Hypers sported Meadows 1.5-litre four-cylinder engines developing 61bhp, or 79bhp in competition guise. Cozette supercharger fitted to the S Type Hyper made for one very exciting car, and Kaye Don proved the model's worth by winning the 1928 7 in one. They also proved competitive at Le Mans, but, as with so many other manufacturers, the worldwide depression put the company on a downward slope; by 1932 it had stopped its racing activities altogether, starting up again with a new breed of cars in 1938. An archetypal vintage car.
Lorraine-Dietrich Silent Six 1919-1932
France's answer to the Bentley, the 3 1/2-litre Silent Six was one of the finest vintage touring cars, with exceptional roadholding and performance. Although never intended for competition, these cars were so well made that there were second and third places at Le Mans in 1924 and outright victories at The Sarthe in both 1925 and 1926. The overall specification was entirely conventional, and there was a choice of twoor four-seater sports, tourer or saloon bodies. Lorraine stopped building cars in 1934 in favour of commercials and aero engines.
Marendaz Special 1926-1936
A Bentley look-alike created by Captain Marendaz with Anzani side-valve engines in the beginning, progressing to a 1869cc straight-six by 1931. However, in 1935 the 15/90 model was launched with a two-litre Coventry-Climax engine and performed well despite the typically heavy chassis. Beautifully proportioned, these cars were fitted with sports bodywork, but a number also had enclosed coupe bodies. A rare beast today and easily mistaken for a three-litre Bentley at a distance.
Maybach Zeppelin V12 1930-1934
Any car weighing 3 1/2 tons has just got to be something special. The V12 6.9-litre engine developed around 150bhp and the complex sixspeed gearbox was a unique affair with three overdrive ratios operated by a lever on the steering wheel. Maybach's answer to the biggest and best from Daimler-Benz, the Zeppelin V12 was expensive and built only for the super-rich, Of historical significance and technically interesting, but not to be taken seriously as much more than a museum piece today. Unless you fancy trying to stop all that weight in today's traffic with drum brakes.
Mercedes-Benz 38/250 1927-1933
Fabled monsters from Stuttgart, the 38/250 was developed from the 36/220S and, with its sevenlitre straight-six pushing out as much as 200bhp with the supercharger engaged or 140bhp without the blower in operation, it was a force to be reckoned with. Beyond this there was the SSKL with 300bhp and a formidable top speed of close to 150mph. Some consider the 38/250 to be the ultimate vintage sports car — the McLaren F1 of its day — but it wasn't as successful as W O's Bentleys in international competition. Expensive, fast, complex and beautiful with an awe-inspiring presence, its difficult to comprehend all that the big Mercs represent.
Mercedes-Benz 540K 1936-1939
Attractive bodywork, especially the cabriolet, with distinctive chromium-plated side exhaust and all the other usual Mercedes hallmarks — massive radiator shell, huge headlamps, big everything else and unrivalled engineering quality. The 5.4-litre engine developed 115bhp, or 180bhp supercharged, and instilled drivers with a sense of purpose beyond 100mph. Avery different machine from contemporary RollsRoyces and Bentleys. Values are generally stratospheric, but in one way there's as much fun to be had in an Austin Seven for a fraction of the cost.
MG 18/80 1928/1933
Cecil Kimber's 'break-away' MG had an all-new chassis with 2 1/2-litre 60bhp straight-six, but utilised several Morris components, not that the new car was any the worse for this. Saloon, sports and tourer bodies were built by Garbodies of Coventry. Top speed was close to 80mph and there were several modifications before being replaced by other models. Good, steady vintage motoring with a badge that would eventually inspire thousands of sports car enthusiasts the world over.
MG M-Type Midget 1929-1932
Gorgeous little cars inspired by the Morris Minor. Diminutive 84 7cc OHC engine developed a maximum 27bhp at 4500rpm with a single SU. For £175 the Midget produced a screaming 60mph top speed and the opportunity for everyday middle-class folk to have serious fun at Brooklands, where competition prepared cars also enjoyed success. Has any car achieved so much or given so much pleasure with such a tiny engine?
MG Magnette 1931-1935
More magic from MG but, with the Wolseley 1087cc six-cylinder engine and the usual range of body styles. K3 version is arguably the most desirable because of competition history. Among many successes was Count Lurani and George Eyston's class win in the 1933 Mille Miglia. Up to 120bhp was available courtesy of supercharging, but beyond excellent performance, the two-seater were among the best looking cars of their generation. Aesthetically stunning from every angle.
Minerva AL 1929-1937
Big bold Belgian with silky-smooth 6.6-litre straighteight Knight sleeve-valve engine. Heavy luxury cars, and beautifully made for beautiful people but, like so many expensive touring machines, Minerva's AL was built at a time when potential customers had lost the fortune it cost to run such cars. Minerva packed up in 1938 with the inevitable result that these cars are now relatively rare.
Morgan Three-wheeler 1919-1930
One of the few three-wheelers to be taken seriously by sporting drivers. A variety of twoand four-seater bodies and air-cooled and watercooled V-twin engines. Overhead valves were first seen in 1923 and were standardised in 1925. The 1927 Aero version could easily reach 80mph and the 1929 Super Sports was even faster. A cheap lightweight, these cars gave the impecunious the same kind of performance as a three-litre Bentley and more. A Red Label with attitude.
Morgan 4/4 1936-1939
The first four-wheeler appeared in 1936. A number of engines were used before the war including Ford's side-valve, 1100cc Coventry-Climax and 1267cc Standard Ten engines converted to overhead valve. The famous sliding pillar suspension featured, of course, as it had on the earliest three-wheelers; body styling set the scene for the next 60 years and beyond — with luck. More famous Malvem product than Elgar and, some say, better to listen to. Keep building 'em, lads.
Morris Cowley and Oxford (Bullnose) 1913-1926
Not a sports car by any standard, but worthy of a place in our gallery because the 'Bullnose' provided 150,000 customers in Britain with inexpensive, reliable transport at a time when everyday folks made do with a bicycle. The two basic models were the 13.9hp Oxford and 11.9hp Cowley, both sharing the same chassis; neither had front brakes until close to the end of production. Still cheap and cheerful, but not as useable as a Seven.
OM six-cylinder 1925-1930
Before Off icine Meccaniche turned to commercial vehicles in 1930, this Italian company made some of the world's most successful sporting cars. The two-litre side-valve engine was easily tuneable and the bodies exceptionally good-looking. Competition distinction included high placings at Le Mans, victories at Tripoli and San Sebastian and, best of all, the first three placings in the first ever Mille Miglia in 1927. Enough said.
Peugeot Quadrillette 1921-1924
Charming French 'oddball' cyclecar with two seats in tandem and an economical 668cc four-cylinder two-bearing engine, later enlarged to 719cc and 950cc. Cheap to buy and run, this little car sold well, an admirable successor to the Bugatti-designed Bebe model. Quite rightly respected in France but rare outside the 'Motherland'.
Riley Sports 1927-1938
The 1927 1087cc 'Nine', 1932 1458cc six-cylinder and 1934 1496cc four-cylinder were all great engines, the 'six' forming the basis of the ERA power unit. Models include the Nine, Lynx, Imp, MPH and Sprite — and all very pretty and pretty quick. Forever associated with Freddie Dixon and his 'souped up' Brooklands cars, Rileys were impish, cheeky, glorious little things with wonderful pre-selector gearboxes, simple chassis and a 'fun factor' that is rarely found elsewhere. Lots of specials and variants — all fascinating.
Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost 1906-1925
The car that founded 'The Best Car in the World' reputation, the Silver Ghost (or 40/50) was conventional in every way, but build quality, craftsmanship and attention to detail was without compromise. Extensively modified over the years, some 8,000 were built before being replaced. Built in an age as far removed from the 1990s as possible, Silver Ghost are still highly regarded and this is reflected in consistently high market values.
Rolls-Royce Phantom III 1935-1939
An all-new design with independent front suspension and a fabulous light-alloy 7338cc V12 engine with hydraulic tappets. A large range of coachbuilt bodies, a hefty price tag (up to £3000), and 710 owners all told, who rarely experienced the delights of these magnificent machines from behind the wheel, as the majority were chauffeur-driven. A top speed of 95mph, but 12mpg is the price to pay for such sybaritic elegance and power.
There were Grand Sports, GSCs and GP cars, all with the beautiful twin-cam engines (the first production 'twink'), that made for excellent touring, sports, or racing machines in 1100cc voiturette classes. Best result was second and third at Le Mans in 1927 against formidable opposition. Although by no means common, several examples still exist, and usually manage to draw a small crowd of knowledgeable motoring folk in the paddock.
Singer Nine 1932-1937
A great MG alternative, the sohc 972cc Singer Nice was a superb little car that went as well as it looked. Without the charisma of the Octagon badge, Singer didn't enjoy the same sales success as MG, but Nines were worthy contenders in a variety of sporting events. The Le Mans and Le Mans Speed Special models were good for 70mph-plus, and still make for splendid fineweather tourers. Everyone seems to have had a Singer Nine: "Paid ten bob for mine in 1952, mate". Yeah, yeah, yeah.
One of the automotive tragedies of all time, Adrian Squire's dream of building an exclusive, high-powered, beautiful sports car — accomplished to the tune of just seven examples — fizzled out after just two years. The long, flowing lines of the body were voluptuous, the supercharged twin-cam 110bhp Anzani engine a real goer, but a price tag of more than £1200 put this lovely two-seater out of serious contention. There was a single-seater racer which competed at Brooklands and, after the demise of the company, two further sports cars were built from spare parts. A quality car in every respect.
Sunbeam Super Sport 1925-1930
Sunbeam were doing great things with the Tiger and Tigress racing cars in the 1920s, but their lesser models can also be considered great. Based on the 1923 GP car which won the French and Spanish GPs, the dohc 2916cc straight-six Super Sport was capable of close on 100mph — Segrave drove one to second place at Le Mans in 1925 — but the chassis was prone to flexing and these cars did not enjoy the same success as rivals like Bentley. A plethora of different models — and expensive ones at that — proved the prophets of doom correct in their predictions by 1935.
Talbot Roesch 1926-1937
After new designs by Swiss-born George Roesch, Talbot's flagging fortunes were revived. The first car, the 14/45, was typical of the period except that the 1665cc six-cylinder engine was a real gem. Several models followed and the engine grew in the 110 model to 3370cc. 105 and 110 models made for the basis of good competition cars — both for rallying and racing — but when Rootes took over the company in 1935, the wonderful Roesch era came to an end.
Tatra Type 77 1934-1937
The unconventional product of one of this century's true engineering geniuses, Hans Ledwinka, the Tatra 77 had an air-cooled V8 engine, allround independent suspension and a full-width body on a backbone platform chassis. Styling was streamlined and as advanced as the cabin was spacious and the handling dubious. Not really seen in the West until recent times, but interest in these fabulous cars is growing. Not everyone's cup of tea but just so different from everything else. There really is nothing quite like it.
An early French attempt at front-wheel drive by J A Gregoire, which strongly influenced Citroen's decision to adopt traction avant. Independent front suspension by coil springs and vertical pillars was novel. The original engine was just 1100cc (with the option of a supercharger), later enlarged to 1500cc and then 1600cc. Towards the end of production, Hotchkiss and Continental six-cylinder engines made an appearance, but Tracta disappeared from the market place in 1934.
Vauxhall 30/98 1919-1927
The side-valve E and overhead-valve OE types were arguably the best all-round vintage sports tourers. Heavy, reliable, amazingly strong, stylish and fast, the 30/98 was Vauxhall's answer to the Bentley and, in many respects, there was little to choose between the two. Vauxhalls were expensive too, although the price came down substantially in 1921. In their final form, these fine cars developed 120bhp, but the design was long in the tooth by the time the last car was built in 1927. Exceptionally good looking and powerful, several 30/98s can still be seen in VSCC events today, their booming exhausts resounding splendidly around the hills of Pilleth on the 'Welsh'.
Voisin 18CV 1919-1926
In the same mould as Vauxhalls and Bentleys, the Voisin was a big 'thumper' with a four-litre, four-cylinder Knight sleeve-valve engine. Two-wheel brakes quickly gave way to all-round stopping power and, in this form Voisins placed first, second and third in the 1922 French Grand Prix for Touring cars. Don't see them too often these days.
Wolseley Hornet Special 1932-1934
Not generally regarded as one of the great classic designs, but drive one and you'll be hooked. Supplied only as a rolling chassis, some bodies were pretty horrible, but there were some good looking ones too in both twoand fourseater guises. The 1271cc engine was a smooth but underpowered six-cylinder, later enlarged to 1.6 litres, enough for an honest 50bhp. Thanks to the flexible chassis the roadholding was a little 'iffy', but nothing especially out of the ordinary. As much fun as an MG but much more sensibly priced today.