A Section Devoted to Old-Car Matters
A VARIETY OF ANCIENT THINGS
LATE APRIL and early May gave me an interesting variety of veteran and vintage happenings to attend to. It began one Thursday when I set off in the Reliant Scimitar GTE to intercept St. John Cousins Nixon on his 1,060-mile drive round Britain, sponsored by British Leyland, in the actual 1899 single-cylinder Wolseley which ran, as No. 40, winning a gold medal, in the 1,000-Mile Trial seventy years ago. In spite of the comment made last month, I have great admiration for Mr. Nixon, who at the age of 85 was prepared to set off nonchantly on this epic, and exacting, expedition and spend 20 days over it, protected from the weather only by an apron and rug on the Wolseley and a Gannex driving coat, following as meticulously as possible the route of the original AC of GB & I trial.
From the A4 road out of London the Wolseley was to deviate on to A321, to take in Twyford. On the approach to Twyford I parked the Reliant, set the Rollieflex and waited. As noon drew near, knowing Nixon was due in Reading by that time, I assumed he had missed out this loop and gone straight along the Bath Road, which was disappointing, because I had discovered a rusty hydrant by which I proposed to photograph the car—while waiting, camera cocked, a lady reporter from The Maidenhead Advertiser ran out of her house to ask what I was expecting. She informed me that this hydrant was used for watering the horses of the Bath Road coaches—it had appealed to me as undoubtedly having served several generations of traction engines and steam waggons (there is another, in a better state of preservation, further down the A4).
Just as I had given up hope a Police motorcycle, followed by a modern Wolseley topped by balloons, its headlamps blazing, came into sight and I heard the unmistakable turf-turf of a one-lunger veteran. The long-lived Wolseley and the gallant Mr. Nixon were on their way, the primitive car carrying the same competition number as it had in 1900.
Over lunch at the Caversham Bridge Hotel in Reading, to which the Police escort had efficiently conducted the Wolseley cavalcade of 1300, 16/60, 18/80 and veteran, I learned that Fred Brown, who looks after all BMC’s old cars, was passengering Mr. Nixon, who rode as S. F. Edge’s mechanic on a Napier in the 1900 trial and has since driven the Wolseley, the Company’s first four-wheeler, from John o’ Groats to Land’s End and home to Oxford in 1950 and in 1960 celebrated its Diamond Jubilee by driving it over the 1,000-Mile Trial route he was now again re-enacting. The Wolseley voiturette was looking after itself with Filtrate engine oil, a special low-octane fuel brewed for it by Shell, and was on 30 in. x 3 in. tyres specially made for it by Dunlop, with their herringbone tread.
It is not an easy car to drive, being steered by tiller, the speed of its 4 ½ in. x 5 in, 1,390-c.c. horizontal single-cylinder engine being controlled by continual attention to it throttle lever on the side of the body, which quickly wears through a glove, and having no clutch, the engine being moved by a long outside lever to tension the fiat-belt and thus disconnect or achieve positive drive. Not surprisingly, therefore, Mr. Nixon was anxious not to dally over luncheon, especially as he had only oil lamps against the darkness, but was some 1 ½ hours late leaving Morris Garages, en route for Newbury, partly due to hospitality, but delayed further when the engine resisted hand-cranking for some time. It has trembler-coil ignition, an automatic inlet valve, and drives via a 3-speed gearbox and side chains. When in good mood it can gallop along at as much as 22 m.p.h. at 650 r.p.m. and was expected to average 12 m.p.h. overall.
As the Wolseleys, ancient and moderns, climbed the hill out of Reading, Mr. Nixon accompanied by a 1902 twin-cylinder Wolseley with tonneau body and Peters Union solid tyres, made in Frankfurt, on its back wheels, I waited while Steve Gillman from BL’s Longbridge Press Office telephoned ahead news of Nixon’s progress, confident of catching it before Newbury in the speedy Reliant. This we easily accomplished, passing the other veteran Wolseley which was soon en panne.
Another Police escort took the 1899 car through Newbury and out again onto the Bath Road, and we fell to wondering what sort of accidents the young chaps driving the pilot Wolseleys would have when they were again able to drive at normal speeds, and what sort of fuel consumption they would record on this run. Nixon had complained of stiff steering and was looking forward to a day’s respite in Bristol, when it could be rectified. But now he was pressing on gamely, in a heavy rain shower, although seldom able to engage the 2.75-to-1 top gear against gradient and headwind. The ancient car was running splendidly, an approaching modern Wolseley occasionally flashing its lamps in acknowledgement, so, after a pause for food in Marlborough (where they do a splendid cream-tea at a shop on the left-hand side of the A4) we bid the indomitable Mr. Nixon God-speed and left him to it. It was April 23rd and he wasn’t due back at the RAC until May 12th….
The day after I was at the Law Courts giving evidence (for what it was worth—which it wasn’t) in the Chitty-Bang-Bang case. The day after that I was privileged to ride with Mr. Philip Mann on his first test-run in his 1914 GP-winning Mercedes since its meticulous rebuild. This was a memorable experience, which is described and illustrated elsewhere in this issue, but it was rather poignant that we went along the very road into Dorking over which I had travelled as passenger 15 years previously in Chitty II, driven by Peter Harris-Mayes, since that old racing car is now consigned to America. . . .
A few days later I encountered Michael Ware, Curator of the Montagu Motor Museum, driving to London in the 1914 C-type Prince Henry Vauxhall, which was to keep a Ford GT40 company at a Pyrene business conference. He stopped and bade me drive this delectable Edwardian touring car to “The Phoenix” at Hartley Wiritney. I found this an easy and pleasant task, once I had mastered the suddenness of the throttle opening and sorted out the central roller-accelerator from the other pedals. The Prince Henry had a taut feel about it, the no-nonsense r.h. gear-change presenting little difficulty, retardation achieved .by the outside hand-brake in preference to the foot transmission brake, and .a brass-bound oil gauge indicating a reassuring 20 lb./sq. in or so.
As the car lacks a speedometer it was only when I tailed it later in an Opel Rekord that I discovered its comfortable cruising gait to be 50, with 45 m.p.h. in 3rd gear and 60 in top easily achieved without much effort. The handsome body is a Vauxhall production and from the button-leather driving seat the view is of a square-nosed bonnet, the line narrow-vee radiator being invisible to the driver. The facia has a row of six switches for the CAV electrics, the various dials have the Vauxhall name embossed on their faces, the big C. A. Vandervell Ltd. headlamps look impressive and fuel is pressurised by a handpump on the footramp. There is a foot starter button, the gear-lever lives within the body, and above the 4-spoke steering wheel are the ignition and throttle controls and a minute lever for “Extra Air”. The tyres are 820 x 120 Dunlops. A nice motor car!
I had met this Vauxhall when on the way to the “Green Man” at Brackley in the company of an American journalist who had travelled 4,000 miles, by TWA, to drive the Brooklands lap-record-breaking 24-litre 2-cylinder Napier-Railton, owned by the Hon. Patrick Lindsay. We found the car, that evening, in the stables of a stately home, from whence it was towed to Silverstone the following day.
What an awe-inspiring racing car this old warrior is! Its 12-cylinder aero-engine has stood up to everything asked of it since Thomson & Taylor Ltd. built the car in 1933—and that includes winning two BRDC long-distance races, and twice breaking the World’s 24-hour record, etc. It started promptly on the present occasion, in spite of not having been run for a couple of years or so. Napier certainly knew how to build aero-engines!
Before the stub exhausts break into a waffle, stabs of flame flashing from them as the throttles are closed, the fuel tank is charged with low-octane stuff, the 15-gallon chassis-level oil tank filled with Castrol GP50 lubricant and both radiator and rear tank of the cooling system topped up, respectively through big quick-action and small screw filler caps. Ignition is achieved by two transversely-mounted Watford IB12 magnetos, which are advanced progressively as the carburetter throttles open. The tyres are 7.00 x 19 Dunlop Racing, podgy ones in the back.
After the car’s owner had flown into Silverstone and demonstrated how to drive the big car at up to 120 M.p.h. on the Club circuit the tyros were allowed to play on Hangar straight on the GP circuit. You step on the upper of the very stiff twin cantilever springs on the o/s and slide into the wide cockpit, to be confronted by three small pedals, accelerator in the centre, a tiny gear-lever and hand-brake on your left. The gear-lever has quite a long movement between 2nd and top, bottom, which we were instructed to ignore, being to the left of the top-gear position—there is no reverse. The hand-brake, a mere foot long, is locked by gripping the ratchet-release, instead of letting it go. Otherwise, no problems! Fuel pressure has been built up from a handpump on the extreme right of the cockpit. Before you there is a big Jaeger tachometer, calibrated to 3,000 r.p.m. in steps of five r.p.m., except that it first reads “2″, then “5”. There are four small Jaeger gauges for oil pressure and temperature, furl pressure and water temperature. There is a double ignition switch, up for off, and set low over on the left a 160-m.p.h. speedometer. There is a control, probably now inoperative, for adjusting the back shock-absorbers.
Second gear is engaged, helpers push, the clutch is fed in, the engine rumbles into throaty life, the transmission clonks as the surprised pilot hesitates before opening up, then it is foot down and you are away. The build up of sheer power is extremely impressive and if you know the car as well as Pat Lindsay does you can really accelerate, o/s back wheel spinning in a ring of rubber smoke. I contented myself with motoring up and down in the available space (which quickly got used up), changing out of 2nd at 1,500 r.p.m., although 2,200 is apparently permissible in a race. The disc rear brakes grab quite powerfully at first but we had been warned that they fade all too quickly, and speed is far higher than a driver dwarfed in this enormous car appreciates. So some caution is sensible. Yet the great beast is quite docile, poodling along slowly in middle gear, which is easy to engage if the change is taken slowly, double-declutching as you go. But it can punish the hand if punched in ….At low speed a cloud of rich black smoke comes back from the four exhaust stubs on the left-of the cockpit but this clears as soon as the six-cam engine is opened up; then you step off impressively, in a manner which got Cobb the s.s. mile record at 102.5 m.p.h. (At the other extreme, it covered 100 miles at Utah at 168.59 m.p.h.)
Steering lock is decidedly limited and you talk not of turns lock-to-lock, or even turn, for the big flexible-spoke steering wheel controls extremely high-geared steering. These impressions were gleaned after a very brief acquaintance with this famous motor car, but I drove home in the Alfa Romeo with a happy feeling of elation—I had driven the car that went round Brooklands faster than any other, at 143.44 m.p.h. for a f. s. lap. . .
The next day I left home early, in the Alfa Romeo, to report on the Start of the VGC 1,000-Mile Trial, called the V & G Trial because the Vehicle & General Insurance Group was sponsoring it, with fuel and oil donated by Mobil. This strenuous event was obviously going to be, also, a great social occasion, with the many luncheon and overnight stops, and it was supported largely by those who enjoy such things.
I picked up the route at Reading but got beyond Hungerford before encountering any activity. Retracing the route, however, I met. Blackford going splendidly in his 1908 T-head 18/24 Austin with Longbridge-made landaulette body, far ahead of the others. He parked at the Mobil refuelling point in Hungerford and disappeared into an hotel before Blake’s chain-drive Thomas Flyer, also a 1908 car, appeared, the Massachusetts entry on Firestone tyres, hood up, and with Solar Lens Mirror searchlights as proof against the hours of darkness. Alldays’ little 1911 12/14 Alldays pulled in with the Thomas, then Mann rumbled by in his immaculate 1914 GP Mercedes, followed by Rowley’s Talbot 25. The Mercedes, on its first real run, had been holding 70 in.p.h, at 1,800 r.p.m. very happily but jumped about over the bumps due to slack rear shock-absorbers.
At Marlborough the Police were being helpful, the entire centre of the main street was devoted to parking the veterans, there seemed to be nearly as Many V & G Fords and Vauxhalls afoot as competitors and officials in funny hats, programme girls in funny hats and miniskirts, and elderly gentlemen wearing the deerstalkers some of them consider appropriate to veteran-car occasions. The public were taking an intelligent interest. The Lewis/Fenton 1903 four-cylinder Panhard arrived in good time. White’s 1913 Rover tourer looked very, odd on 4.50 x 9 tyres, Richardson’s 1906 Talbot had a splendid exhaust box, and after a long gap the stream began again with the arrival of a-girl driving a 1911 Rover with “proper” tyres and a Viking’s head mascot. Tavener was in a red Model-T Ford Tudor Sedan, Major Pitt’s 1912 Rolls-Royce was covered in multitudes of little badges, Windsor’s nice 1914 Austin Ten tourer was reminiscent of the later 12/4, Holland’s 1904 Talbot sported the registration letter “0” and was followed in by Thompson’s 1911 Rolls-Royce with the letter on its number-plates. Trayford’s 1915 Studebaker tourer had a two-tone bonnet and detachable rims, Wilkins’ 1912 12/22 Motobloc was wearing a single gas headlamp, Morris’ 1913 Humber 14 had wire wheels and leather valances. Love was driving a big 1913 six-cylinder 24/30 Wolseley torpedo-tourer with platform rear springing and a flap-valve on its exhaust tail-pipe, Bray’s single-cylinder 1907 De Dion Bouton carried three persons, the all-blue 1914 Hupmobile was driven by Miss Bendall, Welch’s 1901 Decauville was at Marlborough before 12.30 p.m., and there was no mistaking the single-lunger exhaust note of Estler’s 1904 6-h.p. Siddeley. Jackman effected a silent change-down on his 1967 Rover 20 as he drew up, but Harding smacked in the gears of his 1913 12/16 Sunbeam. Interesting makes there were for the onlookers to examine, such as an Iris, Slater’s 1915 Waverley with pointed-tail three-seater body, a 1906 40/50 Bianchi from Ireland and Gray’s 1914 Lancia Theta, while the drivers took lunch at the Ailesbury Arms Hotel. Lord Montagu’s 1899 Daimler, the only entry from the original 1,000 Mile Trial, was said to have been late leaving the RAC hut was eagerly awaited—the other competitors had started from Hayes.
I left before they restarted, intent on looking at a pre-WW2 car advertised for sale near Taunton. It proved to be a sorry, rusty wreck but, although this was, in fact, May Day, I refused to become “an April Fool” by paying the price asked. But it was a long drive home— thank goodness I was in a car that makes light of long distances!
Next, it was to Silverstone for the AMOC St. John Horsfall Meeting, at which ten races were most efficiently run off, everyone starting on time. My main reason for going was to see the Morgan 3-wheelers. They are a madly enthusiastic and friendly clan. Where else would you find a radiator kept in place by some bunjee rubber connecting filler cap to scuttle, or hear the remark “Don’t you think you are slightly retarded ?”
They produced Morgans from 1930 to 1949 with JAP, Matchless, Anzani, Vincent and Ford engines. In the scratch race Shotton’s Super Aero with 990-c.c. Matchless engine led all the way, winning from Caroline’s Mpg, a Super Aero-JAP, with Edmonds’ similar model third—all vintage machines. Shotton averaged 63.87 m.p.h. and lapped at 65.34 m.p.h., for 10 laps of the Club circuit. They later had a 10-lap handicap, won by Caroline at 64.62 (best lap, 66.08), second place going to Week’s well-driven 1930 Super Aero-JAP which contrived to motor into the Woodcote ditch and out of it without stopping, a fine demonstration of how safe a Morgan is, although the lady passenger may have thought it rather elaborate! Third place went to Shotton. The programme contained an Onyx advertisement surely written with the Morgan 3-Wheeler Club in mind—its opening lines read “The pits reeked of oil, burned rubber and fear. My hand was steady but my stomach Shook”. . . .
The big race was the Colin Crabbe Challenge Trophy for historic racing cars. It was somewhat straggly, due to non-starters and retirements, from which such races now suffer. Waller didn’t run the Corner monoposto Alfa Romeo because he had wanted to alter the axle ratio but wasn’t sure how the differential should be reassembled, and Merrick in Crabbe’s 8CM Maserati, the ERA-Delage and Crabbe’s own Maserati 250F soon fizzled out. Corner’s DBR4 Aston Martin, never putting a wheel wrong, ran right away with it, appropriately, at an AMOC meeting. Fraser’s Lotus 16 passed Wilks’ Lotus 16 into second place after 11 of the 15 laps and no-one else was really in it. Martin Morris was going well for the pre-war prize, until his 2-litre ERA broke an oil pipe. The Hon. Patrick Lindsay in the ERA “Remus” had some exceedingly alarming moments when furious back-axle tramp set in under braking but he avoided the Woodcote ditch and bravely went on racing. Of the other old-car races, McLennon’s MG-N beat Giusti’s blown MG-TB in the Jack Emrnott Trophy, neither looking like pre-war ears, but their driving being exciting. Three Jaguar D-types were in the Holland Trophy, won by Corner’s, at 83.9 m.p.h., from Fellowes’ Maserati 450S. Freeman was rewarded for replacing the head of his Spa Special Aston Martin (using a magneto robbed from Bishop’s Speed Model and adapted to coil ignition) by winning the St. John Horsfall Trophy Race.
On the Sunday, by way of contrast, I rode to Brighton on a sack of coal, eyes watering from flying ash, in the back of a 1916 5-ton Foden steam waggon. We left Battersea at 6.25 a.m. and had an uneventful journey, thanks to the combined skills of Mr. Hardwicke and his stoker-cum-mate. This Foden is on Dunlop solids, 160 x 64 for 670 on the front wheels, bigger twins at the back, and is driven from the n/s, the driver perched on a wooden seat directly behind the exposed flywheel with its contracting band brake (which perhaps ensures restraint over engine revs.!), the little metal 5-spoke steering wheel with hand-grip controlling a centre-pivot front axle by means of a worn gear and steering chains. The driver steers with his left hand, using his right hand to work the long horizontal steel lever which controls steam admission, and puts the engine onto compound for increased power, and to juggle with the water-feed control. He has whistle and bulb-horn for audible warning of approach and oil sidelamps augmenting a single gas headlamp for after-dark steaming. The flywheel brake is supplemented by contracting bands on the back axle but the wheels bear evidence, in the form of undrilled lugs, that Foden Ltd. was contemplating rim brakes when they introduced Akerrmann steering. In the cab the very long driving chain can be heard threshing as the engine idles, flywheel band applied, but on opening up the blow-back of cinders which assailed us died away and the engine pulled strongly to the inimitable Foden chimney beat. The driver’s mate maintains the fire, pulverises coal, inspects the big glass-tube water gauge beside the firebox, oils, signals right turns and generally assists, working in a sort of pit which serves as the cab floor. Great stuff, enjoyed with streaming eyes amid the paraphernalia peculiar to steamers, such as shovels, rakes, rag, brushes, coal bags and supplies of cylinder and lubricating oil—this was yet another version of sporting motoring! Never once did steam pressure fall below 150 to 200 lb./sq. in. and so skilful was the stoking that she sometimes blew off up hills. Mr. Hardwicke handled “The Dorset Rambler” so sympathetically that we occasioned no-one any alarm or inconvenience and, thanks to 240 gallons of water carried in two cylindrical tanks in the truck body, we arrived at Brighton on this National Benzole-sponsored RCVC run in just over six hours, including three stops, one to tighten a leaking gland, the others for oiling-up—and it isn’t every entrant who provides a cooked breakfast for his passengers, en route! Before we were clear of the London suburbs the beautifully turned-out Foden passed the 1917 Fowler R3 road loco that had left London much earlier towing a van and a Land Rover, and was the first steamer to arrive at the finish. It had used perhaps 4 cwt. of Welsh steam coal, carried six persons, and had never been off high-speed.—W. B.
V-E-V Miscellany.—In London two vintage Sunbeam 25s, one a saloon with a rod out of its engine, the other a very rough two-seater with dismantled engine, have come to light in a garden, together with a 1933 20/25 Rolls-Royce Hooper sports saloon in running order and the decaying remains of a Standard saloon, probably a Little Nine. These were for sale but the f.w.d. BSA Scout and Austin 7 Ruby with them were to be restored. In Dorset a Morris Commercial lorry, believed to be just post-vintage, has been found in a barn, and a Model-A van and a sad but intact circa 1929 Dennis coach chassis less radiator are reported from Surrey. A reasonable 5.00 x 21 tyre is available free to anyone who would collect it from a Harrow address. A silver ink-stand of Jenatzy driving a 60 Mercedes in the 1903 Gordon Bennett race in Ireland was auctioned recently at Sothebys and went to VCC member Mr. R. R. Loder for £210. It may become a Club trophy. The Railton OC holds its 11th Annual National Meeting at Finmere aerodrome, near Buckingham, on June 14th, commencing at noon. A carless petrol sign which was doing service as a street house-number sign in Johannesburg has been restored by someone who wonders when the products of Carless, Capel & Leonard, who invented the name “petrol”, were first imported into S. Africa. The owner of a 1924 3-litre Type 16M3S Cottin-Desgouttes wonders how many others exist, and would like to know the history of his car, Reg. No. YK 3377 re-registered in 1952 as HNR 595. There have been rumours of such cars in Scotland and Australia, there is apparently one in the Shuttleworth Trust collection, and the ex-Hornsted racing car was in Yorkshire during the war. Shell used one of their pre-war Dennis tankers in conjunction with a recent site-promotion. A 14.9 Ford engine has been in use in Lancashire driving a small boring rig.
STEAM IN ENGLAND
AS a change from going to veteran and vintage car rallies, readers may care to note that this month traction engine rallies, at which old cars are usually in evidence in any case, are scheduled to take place at Hungerford common on the 13th/14th, at Whitecross, near Wadebridge, Cornwall, on the 20th/21st, and at Banbury and at Ardingly Sussex, on the 27th/28th. The National Traction Engine Club lists many other such fixtures in the months that follow. Apart from these rallies, the Marshall steam-roller “Lady Jayne” has been working on road improvements in Sussex and Hereford CC is using its Aveling & Porter steam-roller No. 9166, which is No. 3 on its Main Roads fleet, in connection with road widening between Ledbury and Hereford. So serving steam still survives in Olde England. . . .
Incidentally, with the rebuilding in 18 months of a 1917 Yorkshire steam waggon which was discovered in pieces two years ago, another make has been saved. A Clayton was reported in the Midlands some time ago, a Robey was being rebuilt nearer London, there is a Tasker in the reformed Tasker’s Museum in Hampshire, and we believe a Mann exists, so the rarer makes of steam waggon have survived to join the popular Fodens and Sentinels, It would be nice to see them all assembled at one rally—and if this happened, what makes would be missing ?—W. B.