Another "White Elephant"


Reading the “White Elephamitis” article regarding the more monolithic and venerable Daimlers which appeared in the February issue of Motor Sport brought back vivid memories of one of these noble craft which was bought by a syndicate of nine students, and christened “Lady Chatterley’ several years before the recent controversy. She is still in the land of the living, for nobody could muster the will to sell her, unless to a kind home.

Penurious, but in need of transport at University Air Squadron camp, we bought “Lady Chatterley” from a newly-wed architect who had obtained her from a firm of undertakers. Overwhelmed by the sight of the wheelhouse with its magnificent array of levers controlling the engine, and foxed by the reversed brake and accelerator pedals, he decided to learn to drive on something less exotic. The car cost us £35, and the remaining two £5 shares went on tax and insurance for two months.

We cannot give many precise engineering details of this car. Daimlers informed us that they had lost most of their records during the war, but they kindly presented us with their remaining Owner’s Handbook for a similar class of car. [Presumably a 35/120.—Ed.] Unfortunately this went, with most of the tools, when we knocked the toolbox off one night in Como.

Certain facts will, however, never be forgotten. The car was a 1927 model, of astounding length, height and angularity. It had a block of six separate pots canted slightly rearward. The carburetter, heated to assist vapourisation, was the size of a small football, and contained seven vast jets like tee-pegs. The original Autovac was still retained, and half-a-mile of full-throttle running would bring on the consumptive coughs of fuel-starvation.

Inside the cabin one was faced by the five-spoked wheel controlling heavy but very firm steering. The mixture-lever did something vaguely with the engine, but the advance-retard was disconnected. We always ran pretty well retarded, as there was a thump in the engine which we did not wish to risk exaggerating by any pinking at low revs. This noise we took for big-end trouble, but it was later identified as “sleeve-slap.”

The only means of immobilising the machine, as the ignition was operated by a switch, was to remove the gear-handle, and on many occasions this was to be seen accompanying the Squadron to dance or quaff. A cunning security precaution was, however, that the coil-magneto switch was actually wired as the headlamp dip-switch, the ignition being operated from elsewhere.

Vacuum-assisted brakes were a feature of this model. Working on the inlet-manifold depression, they functioned only if the engine was running. On one occasion when our driver had, for the sake of economy, switched off the engine going downhill, he found himself faced with an impending collision at the bottom. As the starter-dog was missing, the only way to resurrect the vacuum was by cranking the engine. The driver’s puny footpower could only slightly slow the 21/2-ton mass of steel, and pulverisation was missed by a gasp and a whistle.

Various quaint features round the car showed signs of a by-gone age. Although fitted throughout with the revolutionary electric lighting, there were still points provided for mounting the more reliable and accepted paraffin or acetylene lamps, and these were halfway up the forward window pillars, where one would expect to find them on a coach.

Inside the saloon were mounted into the window-ledge little cut-glass bottles, presumably for milady’s cologne and smelling salts. The woodwork was beautifully inlaid and finished, and the soundness of the aluminium bodywork as a whole reflected well on Mulliners.

We would contest the automatic diagnosis of white-elephantitis. It is true that “Lady Chatterley’s” petrol consumption varied from 12 mpg under normal circumstances to 6 mpg when tackling the St. Gotthard Pass with six up and a quarter-of-a-ton of luggage on the roof. We admit her potential for devouring oil, as between Brenner, Venice and Chiasso, when we fed her out of cans we took with us, she scoffed four gallons.

Nevertheless, before condemning outright this lordly and magnificent beast, we suggest that the economics of the machine be considered under optimum operating conditions.

A Chatterley is no plain man’s “three’s comfy and four’s a squeeze” runabout. When we took her to UAS camp in the wastes of the fens, she regularly carried thirteen on trips to civilisation. At 1d. per head per mile we could amply clear running-expenses, and start an assault on overheads. Normally, however, contributions worked out at 2s 6d per head for the 60-mile return trip into Cambridge.

The method of stowage was ingenious. Two bodies sat in the wheelhouse alongside the driver. Three occupied the rear seats. Two squatted on the forward-facing dickey-seats, and one on the jerrycan stuffed between them and topped with a cushion. Three sat on the knees of those in the rear seats, and one lay across the legs of the ones on the dickey-seats and jerrycan. For trips of over thirty miles each way this tended to be a little cramped, and for such loading was generally restricted to eleven.

The machine’s handling characteristics varied little with load, providing it was not sufficient to make the rear wheels bind against the mudguards. On the level a variation of 5% could be expected between the consumptions at laden and unladen extremes. With given load, however, up to 30% difference was common between level and hilly sections.

Three experiences are typical of a multitude over several years’ love and suffering of “Lady Chatterley.”

The first is a fenland road, in the middle of the night. We accelerate to forty and, then, as the engine coughs with fuel-starvation, throttle hard back to allow the meagre suction to fill the Autovac for another spurt to forty, and so on. We hit a bump, and the lights fail. Whilst rewiring, we decide to suck the petrol leads through once more.

Approaching Brescia “Lady Chatterley” is taunted and hooted by a crowd of Italian Teds in a new Lancia. She reaches the downhill stretch leading to the town-centre. Accelerating ponderously to 65, six up and five hundredweight aloft, she overtakes the Lancia and screeches through the town square. A jerrycan falls from the after roof-rack and pursues a policeman from his position on point-duty.

At the summit of the St. Gotthard people wave at us and say they have met us two weeks previously at Tubingen. This sort of thing happens again and again. Most morale-boosting, until you realise it is the car they recognised !

To conclude, a “Chatterley,” or a car of similar characteristics can be made an economic proposition, though that came towards the end of the maker’s priorities. It is a ceaseless taskmaster, but rewarding in its mighty presence, which adds feet to one’s moral stature. It is a god to be ministered unto, a philosophy, a way of life.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Keith C Jones. Manchester.