Those clubs who are fortunate in being invited to hold rallies and driving tests at Esso House, near Abingdon, are fortunate indeed. The Esso organisation not only places its estate roads, which wind amongst charming thatched cottages and neat laboratories, at the disposal of competitors, and marks out the tests with white lines and clean Esso oil drums, but provides every competitor and official with a free chicken lunch and the run of its licensed bar under the largest thatched roof in England. On April 26th the 12/50 Alvis Register, under hard-working R. H. Johnson, and the Humber Register, under that calm secretary Lt. A. B. Demaus, combined to enjoy Esso hospitality and the sunshine of that lenient month.
Some interesting cars assembled, so let us concentrate on these and let the results speak for what happened in tests which involved the usual cruel reversing over lines and into bays (Leal's 12/50 Alvis broke a half-shaft), and one of which was all balls and athletic girl passengers. Very well :-
Newbery brought a nice back-braked Humber 8/18 with big boots but original paint. Hood had a car-load of children in a vast back-braked 15.9 Humber tourer, quite unspoilt by modernisation. Woodhead's 11.4 Humber three-door saloon, with the narrowest of beaded-edge tyres and huge oval rear window, its bulb-horn outrigged beside the driver's window, was a delightful carriage. J. Denne came in his sprightly "imitation-racer" 1909 Humber, beautifully turned out, like his father's 1913 12/16 Sunbeam, which, however, only "foreign" car to compete, wouldn't tick-over, stalling repeatedly and requiring to be swung. Walters sported a 9/20 Humber tourer with Exide battery on its running-board. Woodcock had his familiar, rugged, yellow-wheeled 14/40 tourer, Cox a 16/50 tourer, Mathews his rebodied 14/40. Fry's pipe was as much admired as his vast 15.9 saloon !
Having done this for the Humbers, here goes for the Alvis, Alvi, Alvises: D. Preston had a 12/50 tourer with sports wings. Edgar came in his beautiful 12/60 "beetleback" and did so well in the garaging test that his passenger led the clapping. Gamble's "duck'sback" two-seater had wondrous outside plumbing and non-standard mudguards, also a back tank. Mrs. Williams sportingly drove her 1928 two-seater, a car once used by an Indian Army officer and saved from rotting away in the open. Alas, part of its starter-ring had already rotted. Leal drove a rare G.P.-tailed 12/50 like an example once owned by G. M. Wilkes; it went fast and very neatly in the garaging test, emitting a typical Alvis crackle, but broke a half-shaft later. Duckworth handled a sedate 12/60 saloon, Duce a Silver Eagle, Rich his "beetleback" 12/50, Bowthorpe's car gave out the Alvis exhaust-note and sundry pop and whines, while Courtney-Withers had a smart 12/50 coupé bought pre-1941 for which has served him well ever since. E Preston's very nice 12/50 "beetleback" looked original save for a spring steering wheel, Meacock and Keelan 12/50s, the latter a nice tourer, and Bourne was in a 12/50 d.h. coupé. Hall, like others, got into second gear in the garage test, in his 12/50 two-seater. Reeves had a big six-cylinder two-seater, Duncan a 12/50 lorry, Davies a 12/50 sports tourer in original condition with that comic bulbous back (his charming lady passenger slept all though his garaging efforts !), Moynihan competed in a 12/50 coupé, Cuthell in his 12/50 tourer, original but for a cut-away driver's door.
During the afternoon a Tiger Moth appropriately flew overhead (giving rise to the thought that the Vintage Aeroplane Club should stage a through-the-pylons test, using barrage balloons!), and the atmosphere was one of "garden party," with the sentiment that life would be a lot less pleasant without the presence of vintage cars.
The first of this season's V.S.C.C. Silverstone Race Meetings provided a splendid day's sport. Proceedings opened with the traditional One-Hour High-Speed Trial, in which A. Sim's brief 1930 Riley Nine, J. M. Hinchliffe's 1925 Austin Seven, Mrs. Gibbs' misfiring 1930 Riley Nine in the up-to-1,100-c.c. class, L. J. Wickham's 1929 12/50 "beetleback" Alvis and J. A. R. Grice's 1921/4 Anzani-G.N. Special in the 1,101-2,000-c.c. class, .J. G. Vessey's 1927 Lancia Lambda alone in the 2,001-3,000-c.c. class, and A. J. Hollington's 1929 4 1/2-litre Bentley, J. A. Walker's 1929 4 1/2-litre Bentley, G. G. McDonald's organ-exhaust 1927/8 4 1/2-litre Bentley, Peter Binns' famous 1924 30/98 Vauxhall and Morin-Scott's white 1928 Hispano-Suiza all set their qualifying speeds. R. North's 1925 2 1/4-litre Fiat two-seater, sans radiator casing, but with big f.w.b., wasn't quick enough.
After all this sustained lappery came the racing. First race was a 5-lap handicap in which W. F. Moss built up a fine lead in his beautiful 1929 blown 1 1/2-litre Alfa-Romeo. He won at 60.17 m.p.h. from W. A. McMillan in the ex-Tyrer 1939 Mille Miglia B.M.W., which passed Campbell's 1932 low-chassis "100-m.p.h." Invicta up the final straight. Bill Mason kept his 4 1/2 Bentley in front of Col. Ridley's noisy Q-type M.G. monoposto. Barrett over-wound the mainspring of his Frazer-Nash.
The next 5-lap handicap was confined to vintage cars and Isherwood used his 1929 Mathis Six to good effect, building up an enormous lead. King-Smith was coming up strongly in his covetable 1924 Full-Brescia Bugatti with Jarvis two-seater body when its throttle stuck open, causing him to spin at Woodcote and let Bailey's scratch 4 1/2-litre Bentley and Goodman's 22/90 Alfa-Romeo go through. The Mathis averaged 48.9 m.p.h. on a polished drive. Lt.-Cdr. Peter Attwood drove the famous 1923 16-valve Aston-Martin "Razor Blade," now with front brakes, and this very crab-tracked 39-year old Aston left a blown blue Austin-Cambridge Special far behind.
This year the 10-lap G.P. Itala Trophy Race for vintage racing cars was poorly supported, especially as the Amilcar Sixes of Hern and Green, and Ellis' G.P. Aston-Martin were absentees. J. C. Byrom had no difficulty in winning at 68.42 m.p.h. in his 1930 2.3 Bugatti, which went and sounded as if absolutely fit. Behind, McDonald and Williamson fought a stirring duel in their respective 4 1/2-litre Bentleys, Williamson's perhaps a bit over-geared. Fourth place went deservedly to E. Sears in the 1914 T.T. Sunbeam, with which be soundly trounced racing driver Rivers Fletcher in the 12-year-younger 2-litre G.P. Bugatti - and the Sunbeam has only two-wheel brakes ! Eventually the Bugatti retired from the too-hot contest. On handicap Blomfield's Type 37 Bugatti won from the T.T. Sunbeam and Len Gibbs' Riley.
The next 5-lap vintage car scratch race saw a Bentley duel resumed, Bailey's leading for a lap, then giving best to McDonald's potent car. Melville came great guns into third place in Miller's 30/98 Vauxhall, snaking under the anchors, and, way back, Kellow's Bugatti spun at Beckett's but dropped only two places, to Gahagan's Bugatti and Goodman's Alfa-Romeo, before resuming. The winning Bentley averaged 66.78 m.p.h., and the class victors were Gibbs' Riley, Vessey's Lancia and McDonald's Bentley. Morin-Scott's Hispano-Suiza also gyrated, pushing Clissold's B.N.C-Riley into the ditch at Woodcote, with dire results to the B. C. chassis but no human injury.
Moss then gained his second win with the red Alfa-Romeo in an all-comers' handicap at 59.73 m.p.h. He was followed home by Adcock's 4 1/2-1itre Bentley and Col. Ridley's real racing M.G.
The Edwardians had their own 3-lap contest and it seemed that the 1908 T.T. Hutton, now owned by Francis Hutton-Stott, might have won, driven by Ron Barker, only its magneto got tired of going round. Bolster thus scored a good win in his ever-willing, silent, 1911 Rolls-Royce, at 49.39 m.p.h., from a fine 1913 5-litre touring Wolseley and Dr. Ewen in the Itala. Interesting newcomer was Jeddere-Fisher's 1913 5-litre Lancia coupé, tactful birthday present to his wife, which we were told had a front axle held together with rivets.
The long programme was expeditiously run off, 8 further vintage 5-lap handicap going to Pratt's G.P. Bugatti, at 62.19 m.p.h., from Adcock's Bentley, its second 2nd, and Bailey's Bentley, which had 7 sec. start from McDonald's Bentley and stayed ahead of it.
Isherwood's astonishing Mathis nearly collared another win in the following vintage 5-lap handicap, but on the last lap both Williamson's Bentley, which won at 65.42 m.p.h. in spite of front-wheel tramp, and King-Smith's Full-Brescia Bugatti, came by.
The vintage light cars performed very creditably for three laps, the results rather unexpected on account of handicaps tricky to assess. Lockhart started first and finished first, winning in his tiny 1923 668-c.c. Peugeot at 37.69 m.p.h. Arnold-Forster, from the same mark, was second in his Trojan shutting its door before the corners on each lap, and Winder's 1923 8/18 Humber, perhaps by reason of its 9-h.p. engine, made up on Nancy Audsley's 11.9 Lagonda to take third place. The A.C.s and Gwynne Eight were too heavily handicapped to get in the picture, Binns' scratch Riley Monaco saloon with trailing exhaust pipe likewise, Ferguson's Clyno a trifle sedate, as was Denne's Fiat 503 and Mrs. Southon in a curious bath-tub of a Wolseley Ten, while Myatt's bright yellow 1922 8/18 Talbot was noticeably quicker than John Wrigley's 8/18, which is a year younger.
The racing concluded with the 5-lap MOTOR SPORT winners' handicap, the finish of which was extremely exciting. Campbell just got his low chassis 4 1/2-litre Invicta in ahead of Gahagan's trusty G.P. Bugatti, Mason's well-known 4 1/2-litre Bentley and Moss' deservedly successful Alfa-Romeo, but a cot blanket would have covered them through Woodcote on lap five. The Invicta averaged 61.53 m.p.h. and the first six finishers are eligible for the same race free of charge at the Eight Clubs Silverstone Meeting on June 6th.
This V.S.C.C. meeting attracted a fine crowd of enthusiasts, the car parks were chock-full of interesting cars, and it is all fine practice for beginners, while even the commentators enjoyed the commentary. There is another vintage day at the same venue on July 11th - note it down now. - W. B.