Veteran – Edwardian – Vintage

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A section devoted to old-car matters

Museums in London

Syon House at Brentford, not all that far from the Chiswick Flyover of the M4, is the residence of the Duke of Northumberland and well known for its park and gardens, which have been there for 400 years, covering in all some 55 acres, with six acres of rose trees, and more recently for its Garden Shop and Stately Home viewing days. It has now branched out to embrace the motor museum business. There are two such museums on the 200-acre site, one called “History on Wheels” which was opened on April 16th, the other run by London Transport, to house ‘buses and trams and transport relics ousted from the now defunct Clapham Transport Museum, the latter having opened at Syon Park on May 23rd.

At present the “History on Wheels” exhibits are in a single-storey wooden building with an annex but the intention is to move it into larger, permanent buildings next year, doubling the number of vehicles on show. At present these comprise some 17 cars, and a very interesting display of military and miscellaneous vehicles and appurtenances. For an entry fee of 20p, the display is quite reasonable.

It starts off with three veterans, an 1896 Leon Bollee tricar, an 1899 Beeston Quad, and an 1897 De Dion Bouton tricycle, These lead to the later vehicles, as one walks the carpeted length of the hall, a rope dividing cars from visitors. Incidentally, plenty of information of the “found with a tree growing through it” kind is given on information boards, though one of them refers to Ettore Bugatti as an Italian manufacturer. There are Edwardian Belsize and Darracq tourers, the inevitable Model-T Ford, a 1912 model with estate body on the 7-cwt. chassis, and a 1914 Stellite two-seater. A few more paces and you are among the vintage and later exhibits. I noted Cliff Percival’s 501 Fiat, Gosnall’s Sima-Violet cyclecar with gas-lamp on its dummy bonnet, a Brescia Bugatti with polished mahogany body, Percival’s 1927 Chummy Austin that took a couple of years to restore, and an exceedingly decrepit straight-8 Wolseley chassis, labelled to show the many defects which will have to be dealt with when it is being restored. It had no instruments and only the front mudguards but the dynamo protruded correctly at right-angles to the cylinder block, immediately below the single SU carburetter.

There are also an MG J2 complete with bonnet-strap, plated luggage grid, aeroscreens, etc., a far more modest, and rare, Speedy Austin 7, belonging to J. B. M. Stewart, an F4 Morgan 3-wheeler, a couple of these Y-model Ford 8 saloons with gold-lined saloon bodies, one 39,000 miles worn, which made all the other baby cars look boxy and out-dated in 1936, and, oh dear, a horrible replica of something to do with the “Dr. Who” TV show, which made me glad I haven’t television! Some of these are owned by Curator Michael Chapman. On the opposite side of the walkway ancient petrol and oil tins, many with original dust, early lamps, etc., are displayed, together with a 1926 pedal box-trike and an early motorcycle of unknown make with a long driving-belt, 2-speed hub and a non-original Villiers two-stroke engine.

The annex is devoted to prams, accessories, early tyres, toy cars, bicycles, fire-engines and horse-drawn and military vehicles, etc. The latter are the property of Tony Oliver. He has put on a most interesting display, in typically museum fashion, with life-size figures in uniform, guns, etc., backed up by models and literature. Very rare is the Gaz Army field car, a Czech product, this Jeep having a model-B Ford engine; even the badge, apart from the name, is of Ford origin. The other Army vehicles are of Stoewer, NSU, Zundapp, Phanoman, Mercedes-Benz (a 170V), Gnome et Rhone, Morris (an M10 van) and Austin manufacture, the last-named the Series AP Eight utility car, dated 1938, but probably 1939, said to be the sole survivor. Oliver also has a Type 82 amphibian VW and a good model of same, along with commercial German military models, including a half-track absolutely full of soldiers, this one made from an Elastolin kit. To my mind the best model is an Edwardian sporting Mercedes two-seater, about a foot long, with pointed radiator, a third seat in the tail, two flexible outside exhaust pipes and wire wheels with very authentic-looking ear-less hub caps. It was apparently made by someone in the German Army for presentation to his General and was bought recently in that country.

There are some very fascinating early VW items, such as the original Hitlerian sales literature, original instruction books, badges issued to factory workers who were subscribing towards their “people’s car”, etc. The children’s toy cars comprise one of Crabbe’s replica electric GP Bugattis, a racing Austin pedal car as made by Austin’s disabled employees, and a coupé intended to be a Vauxhall (painted flutes!) and used by a circus.

The Museum was opened by John Bolster who made an amusing speech, wherein he claimed that the motor car, instead of being quoted as a cause of pollution, should be thanked for having cured it, remembering the state of the roads and the child deaths from fly-borne diseases in the horse age! He also mentioned that since seat-belts have been made compulsory in Australia everyone feels so safe that the accident-rate has risen alarmingly. He compared this with the safety factor of Edwardian and other old cars, in which good vision and vulnerability contribute to safe driving, which is reflected in low insurance premiums for such vehicles. We were also addressed briefly by Mr. Hugh Lea, Manager of Syon Park, and I was interested to learn that before the war he raced an Akela GN at Lewes, Brighton and Poole Park, and had his cars tuned at Brooklands by Granville Grenfell.

Then it was out into the sunshine for a buffet lunch (the journalist’s reward for bringing thousands of people to new ventures of this sort) where girls in period costumes (but modern block-sole shoes!) were posing for the cameramen of the popular press, one girl with machine-gun doing a Bonnie on the wing of an otherwise inoffensive and rather nice 1933 Chrysler Six. A Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost with polished mahogany body had put in an appearance, surely the father of the illegitimate Bugatti within? Someone was wheeling a penny-farthing bicycle about. “History on Wheels” was well and truly rolling.—W.B.

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