Vintage Postbag, June 1969

Converting Lamps on the Older Cars


I was interested in the letters in your March and April editions regarding the fitting of double-dipping headlamps to older cars, as some years ago I converted a “one down—one out” system to double-dipping. Your April correspondent made a plea for originality and suggested fitting a solenoid-operated reflector to the non-dripping lamp. This is what I did myself, and I added the refinement of a main-beam indicator lamp on the instrument panel. Various “experts” warned against this conversion, as they believed the operation of two solenoids would put a larger load on the battery. This I have found is not the case, as the current required to hold the reflectors in the dipped position is less than 2 amps. I can confirm that 1969 lighting standards can be achieved using 1939 equipment. Apart from wishing to maintain the original appearance, the other reason for retaining the original lamps is that the bulb holder is adjustable in the reflector: this it is possible to have a long-range narrow beam, or a wide, shorter beam. (For myself I normally have one lamp set for range and one for width.)

The car on which I carried out the conversion is a 1937 Riley 12/4 Kestrel saloon, which has been off the road for far too long, due to insufficient time to complete a major structural rebuild. I did make notes of wiring changes necessary for the double-dipping, and I believe these notes would apply equally to P.V.T. cars other than Rileys. I enclose a photo-copy of these notes, and could send a copy to any reader who cares to send me a stamped addressed envelope.

As a reader for the past 10 years, I must thank you for producing an honest and readable magazine at a sensible price, in these times of diminishing standards and values.

Welford. D. Palmer.

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London-Edinburgh Rolls-Royces


I read with great interest of the rebuilding of a L-E Silver Ghost by Kenneth Neve, but is this really the Brooklands 101 m.p.h. car?

Certainly of this era, the chassis fittings of the 1700-1800 series and is unique in having genuine underslung rear cantilever springs. This at the time when all normal production Ghosts wore ¾ elliptic. Chassis 1701, the original London-to-Edinburgh car, had these under-axle cantilevers together with associated tubular cross members, whereas the later L-E replicas had over-axle springs which were to become a standard fitting in 1912 from chassis No. 2100.

This history of these underslung cars is probably the greatest mystery in the much-over-written history of the Silver Ghost–how many were made? Rumour says five. One original car 1701; one with a hideous coupé body; one which appeared at an exhibition (Paris?), of which I enclose a rare photograph; and one which went to India. Possibly these last two are one and the same?

Identification is difficult—Neve’s car carried no chassis number on the frame—most unusual, for all the chassis I’ve ever rescued carry a stamping at one of three points on the frame. No mechanical items, engine, gearbox, accessories were with the chassis when it was discovered, as a farm trailer in Andover in 1961-2, only the frame, axles, springs and wheels. The rear axle was of the 52-teeth crown wheel type (whereas the 1700-1800 series had 65 teeth c.w. as standard) and bore the number 1817. Rolls-Royce Ltd. have said that chassis 1817 was a ¾-elliptic fitted with a landaulette body. Perhaps Neve’s car was an additional 1817, i.e., 1817E; Rolls-Royce had a habit of numbering additional chassis with the suffix E.

The “Ugly Duckling” coupé is ruled out, for its rear spring hangers were of a different design, being a shaped forging, whereas the Brooklands, the L-E, the Exhibition car, and Neve’s chassis all have the flat plate type of hanger.

So come on all you self-styled “experts” on Silver Ghosts, with your many bodged replica chassis, let’s have some serious, genuine information on these cars. Too often recently have chassis that originally carried beautiful coachwork been rebodied with insults to the coach-builder’s art—surely the classic was the Maharajah of Mysore’s 1911 car sold at the first Sotheby’s auction for £9,000+ with hideous “Victoria” body and cape cart hood. This chassis, 1683, was rebodied in the 1920s in India, fitted with 33 x 5 wheels, late cylinder blocks, Barker front wings and the locally-built ceremonial body. I have a photo of this car with its most beautiful double-enclosed limousine body as originally fitted—so let’s try to curb this trait of “messing about with Ghosts” and set straight the history of this, the, probably, only remaining genuine underslung, i.e., L-E, chassis which Kenneth Neve is beautifully rebuilding.

I have traced the history of the chassis back to the war years when it was converted to the farm trailer and am hoping shortly to talk with the widow of the farmer who owned the chassis at the time. A sudden thought—back in the 50s Motor Sport carried a reader’s letter referring to a sports-bodied S.G. and the accompanying photo showed this to have underlying springs–so now what!!

Romsey. R. B. Ford.

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The Restoration of the “Babs”


I was most interested in the recovery of “Babs” from Pendine Sands and the plans for its restoration. I feel sure that the rebuilding of the car will arouse much interest among old-car lovers. Perhaps it would be possible then for Motor Sport to give a little space to a month-by-month report on the restoration, describing the problems and difficulties arising and how they are overcome. Also, as many obsolete parts will obviously have to be replaced, it would be a good chance to ask readers if they knew of the whereabouts of any of the bits and pieces needed, thus perhaps saving the bother and expense of having them specially made.

I very much hope that you can arrange something like this; it would make a very interesting addition to your excellent magazine.

Walton-on-Thames. G. P. Hutton.

[We shall be glad to publish any reports, or summaries thereof, which Mr. O. Wyn Owen submits.—Ed.]

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The TB Three-Wheeler


With regard to your interesting article on the TB three-wheeler, I met a man in Dolgelley, North Wales, during the latter part of the war when I stayed at the “Golden Lion” and he told me that the was the designer of the TB and I remember that he said that all the frame joints were soft-soldered.

In your article you stated that it had a three-speed and reverse gear fitted, but I have a copy of “Motor Cycles and How to Manage Them” for about 1920-1922, in which a photo of the TB is shown and it states that only a two-speed gear was fitted. Perhaps some one-time owner of some ex-works person could clear the matter up? For its date I think the TB was quite good looking.

Oldham. Edward Kershaw.

[My sources of reference show that our contributor, John Coombes, was correct in saying the TB had a three-speed gearbox, although the very early versions did have two speeds.—Ed].

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Re-Union with a Minerva


Your feature of April, “Re-Union with a Minerva”, evoked many happy memories of the marque. When I was a trainee at Weymann’s Motor Bodies Ltd., in 1928, the firm built several bodies for owners of these chassis, usually on the 32/34 model.

Most of these were luxurious limousines, though I seem to remember that coachwork of a slightly more sporting type was fitted to one or two. For their size and weight, even whey carrying a light Weymann body, their performance was most creditable; nothing startling in the way of acceleration but they would cruise at (then) high speeds indefinitely in true sleeve-valve silence. One had to be a little careful starting up from cold and the oil consumption tended to be higher than with orthodox valve gear, but for smoothness and silence few cars of the day could beat the big Minerva.

I got to know the 32/34 model fairly well as my father, a director of Weymann’s for some time, had a 7-seater limousine built on one of these chassis and, chauffeur driven, we covered many thousands of most enjoyable miles. I drove it occasionally and, though it was a very big car, it handled extremely well. Of course there was no parking problem in those days, even in the West End. One just pulled up outside the shop, theatre of house of one’s choice.

The Brooklands Baker Minerva will always remain in my memory. Apart from seeing it circulate round the track occasionally, Mr. Baker probably saved the lives of a friend and myself during one of the J.C.C’s (I think) One Hour High Speed trials there. I was the passenger in a J2 M.G. in this event and towards the very end of the hour we took one of the artificial sand-banked turns too fast and the M.G. finished up with it four wheels in the air. We were trapped underneath, unhurt but scared stiff of fire. Mr. Baker stopped his Minerva, ran across a rather crowded track with a fire extinguisher—fortunately not required—and pulled the M.G. the right way up. A most sporting and, possibly, life-saving effort.

Best wishes for the continuance of the oldest and best of the sporting magazines which I have read since its inception.

Moseley. O. Heim.



I was most interested to read Mr. Boddy’s article on Graham Rankin’s Minerva and particularly in his references to the G.L. Baker car, as I had a lot to do with it immediately after the War and encountered it again while it was being extensively rebuilt, in 1953, prior to its departure overseas in, I fancy, early 1954. It was a very nice car indeed and I loved every one of the many miles that I drove it.

I first re-encountered it in late 1945 a Continental Cars Limited, when they owned Maybury Hill Garage, Woking. It had been placed with them on a “Sale or Return” basis by “Mister Baker’s son”, so I presume there must have been more than one in view of Mr. Alec Baker’s reported comments. I obtained the car from them for a friend of mine, Dennis Perrin, son of Commander Perrin, who was Secretary of The Royal Aero Club for so many years, and drive it frequently. It was a fascinating vehicle, which seemed quite small once one had scaled its side, despite its immense size, and went far faster than one expected. In fact it invariably streaked away from another friend’s much vaunted Speed Six. Even on long, fast bends, the steering was very good indeed, despite its cantilever springs, its gear-change was fast and, from the closeness of the gears, I suspect the contents of the gearbox were non-standard. Its brakes were certainly superior to Speed Six and 38/250 Mercedes systems and it would maintain 90 to 95 m.p.h. indefinitely on Pool petrol and with a lot more to come, if required.

The modifications to the car were, it would appear, considerably greater than was indicated. We received a quantity of spares with it, all “tweaked” and lightened extensively. These spares included modified and unmodified sleeves and the special ones were a very different shape and probably not more than half the weight. Apparently, due to the greatly increased revs used, the standard sleeves would literally “wring their own necks”. All in all, the car covered many miles with complete reliability of every part except the fuel system, which habitually delivered no petrol at all, or showered it about in the wrong placed, with the result that we developed a completely new system with twin electric pumps.

All good things come to an end eventually. Business took Dennis to the Lake District, where the Minerva was emphatically unsuitable, and he sold it to Messrs Speedsters Limited, of Horley, who sold it to a Mr. Coxon, the son of the Managing Director of Southern Aircraft at Gatwick. He was highly enthusiastic, but it was said to think that one would not continue to cruise luxuriously along, with yards of bonnet in front, yards of boat-deck behind, and the remote crackle from the vast fishtail of its Brooklands exhaust system ringing in one’s ears. In 1953, I met Bill Burton, who was then running Vintage Auto’s Kensington workshop, and learn that he was one of the mechanics who had worked on the car in its Brooklands days. As a result of this meeting, they bought the car from Mr. Coxon, who had treated it with the greatest care, and Bill spent many happy hours in rebuilding it from end to end and returning it from a recently applied and unsuitable red to the correct Baker blue. I was able to drive it a short distance in London before it was bought by a millionaire in Venezuelan oil and departed forever.

Oddly enough, I also had a brief encounter, followed by periodic news, with the Baker Graham Paige. I was running at Elstree Speed Trials in 1946 and Ian Metcalfe had entered the car, which was behaving most peculiarly. Apart from the fact that it missed abominably at anything above half revs, the front wheels disappeared in a literal blur every time he braked after a brisk run up and down the paddock. I fancy that it ran without front brakes on the Outer Circuit, although I may well be wrong, but these were fitted at Elstree and perhaps it didn’t like them. The late Pierre Marechal, who used to share the “Works” J-B-M at meetings with me, when I was building them, told me that the car had been bought by somebody in Cheltenham, who wished to make a fast road car out of it. Apparently, the front wheels still did extraordinary things, while the engine disintegration rate greatly exceeded Graham Paige spares availability, so the vehicle more or less died where it stood. I’m afraid I feel no real pangs about this, but the Baker Minerva was, and I trust still is, a Homeric motor car in the best Vintage Tradition. Although it must be fifteen years since we last saw it, my wife, when asked what car she most wants in the world, invariably replies: “The Baker Minerva!”

Hassocks. James Boothby.