An article in Skyways by Thomas F. Collison, entitled “Spotlight,” on Rickenbacker, recalls an incident in the life of this famous American aviator which many people will probably have forgotten. It concerns Rickenbacker’s visit to England in 1916 “to develop a racing team for the English Sunbeam Motor Works.” It will be remembered that Resta, the Sunbeam driver, won at Indianapolis in 1916 with a Peugeot, at 83.26 m.p.h., and one wonders if he introduced Rickenbacker to Coatalen. Certainly Sunbeam would like to have won at Indianapolis but were always beaten by the Peugeots they so closely resembled. It seems likely that Coatalen saw the advisability of having someone from a neutral country in charge of development work on the 5-litre cars which were built during the last war and destined for Indianapolis. The end of American neutrality caused Rickenbacker to return to his own country. I asked for Anthony Heal’s confirmation of the above episode and he replied as follows:–
“‘Eddie’ Rickenbacker was certainly connected with Sunbeams at the end of 1916. I cannot say exactly what his functions were. I have recently been corresponding with Frank Bill, who was Josef Christiaens’s mechanic and rode with him in a number of races (including Indianapolis) in U.S.A. during 1916. Two of Bill’s letters have referred to Rickenbacker. The first mentions ‘… “Eddie” Rickenbacker, who was for many months at the Sunbeam works.’ The second says: We came back late in 1916 and with us came “Eddie” Rickenbacker, the famous U.S.A. air ace, and he joined our team for 1917, but of course when U.S.A. joined the war he went home.’
“The Autocar, April 28th, 1917, says that he had arranged to drive a 6-cylinder Sunbeam in 1917 American races, but ‘Happening to be in Europe when the German ruthless submarine campaign was announced, and foreseeing that U.S. would come into the war, he forthwith abandoned his plans and joined the U.S.A. naval aviation forces.'”
This article in Skyways further states that “those well-versed in the technique of racing and with a good memory can tell you that Eddie’s role with such racing teams as those sponsored by Harvey Firestone, the Duesenbergs and the Maxwell Company, was invariably that of a bellwether; Eddie poured on the coal from the start, setting a pace to draw other contestants out. Eddie never won a major race.” His salary for this task is given as £12 10s. a week, and his earnings for his first year’s racing, with place money, is quoted as some £10,000. Pretty staggering. Certainly an interesting article and a contrast to an article in the Magazine Digest for February, by Harold Sherling, entitled “Are Sports Out for the Duration?” which mentions soccer, athletics, cycle-racing, rowing, tennis, baseball, basket-ball, golf, horse-racing, dog-racing, ping-pong and tiddley-winks – but ignores motor-racing and reliability trials. Perhaps the writer does not regard the ‘motor-cycle training scrambles which we used to have around the country to be “sport.” He has only to ask the riders!
“The Scribe” makes his weekly columns in The Autocar very readable, but we were surprised that he should express himself as follows, on May 7th last:
“Some correspondents on the subject of motor taxation tempt me to despair of human wisdom. During the last 3 1/2 years I have heard innumerable Britons of all classes denounce our prewar statesmen with eloquence and venom. Why, oh why, did they delay rearmament so long as to endanger civilisation? Lord Baldwin in an incautious moment answered their question in advance, when he confessed that if he had told the nation the truth about Germany he would have lost an election, his point being that the truth would have involved a costly rearmament policy, which in turn spelt an enormous increase in taxation. I am a heavy smoker. I like a nightcap at bedtime. I always keep a car and a motor-cycle. I should be thrilled to the back teeth if the tax on these and certain other commodities which I purchase could be halved. But I realise that as a citizen with an income of a certain grade I shall have to bear my share of the national revenue in one form or another. My tobacco, my Glenlivet and my car are luxuries. It seems better in the national interest that purchasers of luxury goods should pay their admittedly crushing taxes on such goods rather than that articles indispensable to the poor should be taxed at double the existing rate.”
No one wants to see indispensable articles taxed at double the existing rates, but why a small tax on every bicycle and on every one of the even less controllable horses taken on to the roads by pleasure-seeking horsemen and horsewomen should hinder rather than help the national revenue we cannot see. If a man can buy and keep shod a bicycle he presumably has a job. If he has, a sum of around 6d. a week in tax will not break him. That sum, however, represents about one-tenth of what the owner of a small car pays in annual h.p. tax, so that with cyclists assisting to pay for road upkeep as well as motorists, the latter might surely be allowed a small rebate on taxation, especially as he has been paying so heavily for so long. This is hardly likely to happen unless we fight very strongly for it, but as the “Scribe” has probably been able to buy his heavily-taxed car, and motor-cycle, and tobacco and Glenlivet because the motorist has read his Autocar and the motor industry has supported it, the least this worthy writer can do is to support our interests. Many of us have to dispense with a motor-cycle, tobacco and expensive nightcaps to run a car at all, so why advocate that the cyclist be allowed to escape a tax which might dock him of a half-pint of beer a week at most ? To the query, how collect such a tax, we would suggest an extra 2.5/- on the purchase cost of the bicycle and a statement, signable before taking delivery, that if the individual were riding a bicycle a year later he would obtain a stamped voucher, costing 25/-, from a P.O., in order to do so, such vouchers to be producible to the police on demand. Awful; isn’t it, this suggestion, Mr. Staneer? So, too, is the £19 10s. which it costs us to put our 12-h.p. car on the road for 2,500 miles annually in wartime, in which calculation petrol tax is not included. Even a small reduction in car tax would be welcome, for 25 saved in this way each year in peacetime can represent some 600 miles extra motoring during the annual holiday for the small car man who is just able to afford the pastime – and that can be pleasure for as many as four persons. Convincing?
Prince Chula of Thailand has written his life story in “Brought Up in England,” published by G. T. Foulis & Co., Ltd., at 21/-. We confess to finding the book quite interesting, if rather tedious reading, and although the three chapters about “Bira’s” motor racing tell us nothing new, they do give a review of that driver’s activities in 1939 up to the outbreak of the war, to follow up Prince Chula’s accounts of his cousin’s racing contained in his “Wheels at Speed,” ” Road Racing, 1936″ and “Road Star Hat Trick.” We are not sufficiently optimistic to suggest that Chula has rendered the Sport a service by thus introducing motor-racing to a new public, because it is exceedingly doubtful whether the sort of person who will take his latest book away from the libraries would make a point of going to watch a motor race solely on account of the descriptions contained therein. But it is possible that after the war some readers of this book may find themselves at a motor race, remember reading something of the whys and wherefores of the game that is so unintelligible to ordinary mortals, and turn again to Chula’s accounts to obtain a better understanding. If they decided to attend further races and became advocates for motor-racing, then in painstakingly compiling his own biography Prince Chula has yet served our cause. Incidentally, he recalls an early electric car and a small Singer in Thailand, and remarks that his first car, during his second year at Cambridge, was a 10-h.p. Voisin, and he also tells us that buying the ex-Seaman Delage and spares for it was a mistake which cost him £8,000. Prince Chula’s biography of Seaman, also published by Foulis, has run into a second edition and some new matter has been added – about which we hope to have something to say next month.
The new salvage scheme, involving some quarter of a million cars, is referred to editorially. Someone has suggested that, as the demolition of vintage cars will so sadly affect the enthusiast in this country, the Government might arrange to import early ears from Germany with which to jollify the peace, if that country is further behind us in her salvage plans when the war ends. This brings delightful visions of Clutton sampling Mercedes “Sixtys” and “Ninetys,” and of antique versions of D.K.W. and Adler replacing Lea-Francis and “12/50” Alvis cars, while Captain Wylie might replace his Rolls-Royce with a vintage Horch. If, however, our vanquished enemy asked to be allowed to forgo the obligation of finding our vintagents useful material by giving instead some of the 1 1/2 or 3-litre Mercedes-Benz racing cars, would the normally unassailable vintage passion prove impregnable, do you think?
There would seem to be a great deal to be said for cars which are not deserving of the term “sports car” and which yet go along more rapidly than the fug-boxes, are well-braked, are effortless at a cruising speed of 60 upwards and withal are pleasant to drive. Such cars offer ample room for a fairish party, they avoid the attentions of hostile policemen and you do not continually become obsessed with a desire to drive them flat-out to prove them just that much faster than sports cars of rival makes. Yet they get along nicely when asked, giving an undefinable satisfaction when more obviously fast cars are held or passed. Verily, the fast tourer is an attractive proposition and will doubtless be popular after the war. It is not very easy to define, although several typical modern examples, of fairly high horse-power, like the side-valve 3-litre Talbot and the open Daimlers, come to mind. Amongst older cars the type is more elusive. Body style alone does not determine it, for the coachwork of a Van den Plas Bentley, such as that beautiful example which Rowland has at Byfleet, is essentially “fast touring,” yet everyone except the anti-Bentley minority accepts the “Red Label” as definitely a sports car. The original “30/98” Vauxhall Velox was, perhaps, thought of as a fast tourer rather than a sports car, in spite of its undeniable performance, but since we have become used to softer things this idea has gone about-turn. Perhaps the standard “Lambda” Lancia, of 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 litres according to its series, is as fine an instance as any of the sort of car we have in mind, for it is at once controllable without needing to be “diced,” as unobtrusive to the general public as it is outstanding in the eyes of those who understand and, while not fast, is able to cruise happily at upwards of 70 m.p.h., in its later forms, when occasion or mood demand. The 2-litre Ballot is another example, if open ones are still to be found – for the open body is essentially a point to the credit of the sports car that the fast tourer cannot afford to ignore – and so are the less rakish examples of “14/40” Delage. Our own semi-sports 1 1/2 litres of various makes are not quite easy-going enough to present the combination of qualities that give the fast tourer its especial appeal, but certain Sunbeam models, some of the earlier Talbot range and the less potent 6-cylinder Alvis models, get near to what is in mind. Certainly this is a type of car to consider as a post-war possession.
Elsewhere in this issue L. S. Daniels gives some intriguing gen anent Talbots, so let us get some idea, of the different models of the period with which he deals. The original “14/45” had a 6-cylinder engine of 61 x 95 mm. (1,666 c.c.). The “75” is 69.5 x 100 mm. (2,276 c.c.), the “90” is of identical size and the “95” and “105” models have a bore and stroke of 75 x 112 mm. (2.970 c.c.). The “110” had the “105” chassis 10′ 0 3/8 wheelbase, but a 24-h.p. engine of 80 x 112 mm., giving a capacity of 3,377 c.c. All, of course, are 6-cylinder jobs.