A Section Devoted to Old-Car Matters
The H.C.V.C. Brighton Run (May 3rd)
One of the more picturesque events of the year is the Historic Commercial Vehicle Rally from London to Brighton. Now in its third year, the 1964 rally had an excellent entry of 97 vehicles, all built prior to the war with the exception of one Chevrolet 4 x 4 dating from 1944. It started, as seems appropriate, at all events for the coach and char-a-banc entries, from Clapham; in fact, from the premises of the very fine Museum of British Transport in Clapham High Street.
Having ridden as passenger on the two previous rallies I was glad to be able to go again this year, in Lord Montagu’s 1922 Maxwell char-a-banc. The contingent of a dozen included the young lady Television Toppers of the Black and White Minstrel Show, and with that I was fully in sympathy!
So it was up to the usual early start from home in teeming rain, to take my place in the Maxwell, one of the few bench-seat char-a-bancs still in existence. Lord Montagu, in appropriate hat, got up behind the almost vertical steering column, the throaty side-valve engine burst into life, and we left on our sedate and, for the flimsily-clad girls, chilly ride to Brighton.
This Maxwell is a 25-cwt. model, with 14-seater body possessing a fine canvas top, secured at the front by straps, but no side-curtains. The transverse seats have upright backs but are surprisingly comfortable, and this old pleasure-giver gets along very well. It is exceptionally low-geared, so that bottom is used for feet only, before the slow change-up is made into middle speed on the central ball-gate change.
Lord Montagu showed consumate skill in getting back into bottom and not stalling the engine on the fierce clutch when extra-steep gradients made this necessary. When asked, however, what qualities are required to handle the Maxwell, his Lordship thought for a moment before replying “Mainly patience.”
There is no foot throttle, only a hand-lever for controlling the speed of the engine, which has coil ignition and an Eagle carburetter.
Apart from adding a little water to the radiator, which wasn’t really needed, stopping for some publicity photographs of the TV Toppers in their 1920-style frocks, taking on some National Benzole in the big scuttle fuel tank which protrudes into the driving compartment, and tightening up the nuts securing the detachable rim to the off-side rear wooden wheel (the tyres are 34 x 4½), Lord Montagu pressed on regardless, at a level-road speed that perhaps approached 30 m.p.h., the overall time for the run being 3 hr. 10 min.
After which we were most nobly entertained by National Benzole, who enthusiastically sponsor this excellent event, before catching a train back to London.
It was a clever idea to take those gentlemen (and gentlewomen) of the Press who wished to see the rally to Brighton in Valliant Direct Coaches’ 1931 Gifford, driven by one of the regular drivers of this coach in the early days of its service. My wife availed herself of this service and reported plenty of warmth from the engine but less comfortable seats than modern coach-passengers enjoy.
Practically all the old favourites were out in force, including the always-popular 1920 A.E.C. K-type London omnibus entered by the Museum of British Transport, which also entered two 1931 A.E.C. coaches and a 1912 Dennis fire-engine. The Trojans, model-T Fords, Morris Commercials, and Albion, Dennis and Leyland fire-engines were there to add a breath of nostalgia to an uncommonly uncrowded Brighton Road with their passage.
Very pleasing was Best Brothers’ 1913 Type CR Wolseley truck, while Boughton & Sons’ 1928 Foden 4½-tonner steam wagon was, as usual, quietly confident. The 1907 White light steam truck made a welcome appearance from Leeds, although Morris wheels and crude seats rather spoil its appearance.
Walking along the Madeira Drive afterwards I noted the 1931 Ford model-AA van representing Old Motor, the girder-type escape ladder above H. M. Williams’ 1936 Dennis fire engine, the “Beer is Best” slogan on Andrew Steven’s 1935 Albion platform lorry that was in use up to 1960, and the potato merchant’s insignia on Clifford Gott’s very smart 1919 model-TT Ford. R. C. Saunders brought a 1930 Type GL Dennis which is still in regular use as a Super Fish & Chip van, while T. W. Clements proudly drove a 1924 Morris Commercial 1-tonner owned by Morris Motors Ltd. themselves—the body bore the wording “Morris Commercial Cars Ltd.”—which is on view in the Measham Motor Museum.
Naturally, the experts had plenty to discuss, such as whether it is bad taste to run a hearse in the rally, whether indeed a private-car chassis so bodied ranks as a commercial vehicle, and whether the finish on C. W. Banfield’s very elegant 1929 Chevrolet Type LQ 14-seater Bush & Twiddy coach was hand- or spray-painted.
I looked under the bonnet of R. V. Dibley’s very beautifully restored 1929 model-AA Ford to see if it had brass contact strips from distributor to plugs—it had! J. W. Cole brought a huge 1929 Leyland Badger from Leeds, complete with detachable box body, and Brownhills Motor Sales were represented by a 1932 Leyland Badger platform truck. One of the most covetable commercials present was A. E. Adams’ 1918 2-ton Traffic truck, but Hallam’s 1926 Austin Seven van displayed an unnatural brassiness about its radiator and lamps. Less ostentatious but probably more original was the Worthing H.C.V. Group’s 1937 Austin Seven van. Very eye-catching was John Marsh & Son’s white “Blackpool Van Transport Co.” 1921 model-T Ford van which won its class in last year’s Henry Ford Centenary Rally, from Battersea to Brighton. Extremely creditable, too, were the model-T Ford vans of A. Norman and A. W. Dunn. Standing together were five London-type Austin taxis, ranging from 1933 to 1938, reminder that the H.C.V.C. has amalgamated with the London Vintage Taxi Club and the Vintage Passenger Vehicle Society—membership now exceeding 400, embracing over 300 vehicles.
The last echoes of this thoroughly worthwhile event which heard were the rattle of the Enfield & District V.V.S.’s 1912 Belsize fire-engine and the rustle of the driving pulley’s of a Crossley trackless vehicle as it manoeuvred into its parking place.
If you missed this year’s Historic Commercial Vehicle Brighton Rally, try to see it next year.—W. B.