The Leyland Eight


Reading the March Motor Sport brought back nostalgic memories. I particularly enjoyed your article on that incredible creation of J. G. Parry Thomas, the Leyland Eight, which I had the good fortune to ride in. During my apprenticeship with the Austin Motor Company, I spent several busman’s holidays working at Thomas’ old workshop (Thomson & Taylor) on Brooklands Track, where a colleague kept his supercharger straight-eight Bugatti. In the shop at that time were two Leyland Eights, the property of the Hon. David Tennant, two chassis which Thomas had acquired when production of the car ceased, and the famous Leyland-Thomas No. 1, later fitted with an attractive maroon and black two-seater sports body by Vanden Plas. In another part of the workshop there were two beautiful little 1.1/2-litre “flat-iron” Thomas Special racing cars.

I recall many of the unique features of the Leyland Eight; the automatic chassis lubrication operated by the rear spring movement, twin steering boxes, the silent locomotivetype triple-eccentric camshaft-drive, and the superb action of. the clutch, brake and accelerator pedals, reminiscent of a steam engine motion. The touring cars had a single Zenith carburetter on the near-side of the engine but the short speed-chassis had five carburetters, one mounted low on the nearside and four on the off-side. In the centre of the steering wheel there was a neat cluster of small control levers, ignition, throttle and mixture, and on the five-carburetter engine a lever to select either the near-side carburetter or the four on the off-side which, when brought into operation, gave increased performance.

On one occasion Jack Sopp took me for a run around Brooklands Track on the Leyland-Thomas and the smooth steam-engine-like characteristics were most impressive. On another occasion we took out one of the chassis and whilst running at about 90 m.p.h. down the Railway Straight a tyre burst and shattered but the suspension was so near-perfect that we were able to continue back to the workshops and on the way we gave a tow to my colleague who had broken down with his Bugatti.

Your other article describing the arrival of the two Austin Seven racing cars at Tom Wheatcroft’s Donington Museum also brought back happy memories, as I was a time-keeper in the Austin team. I especially enjoyed seeing Bert Hadley in the photograph, looking just as he was when he drove the incredible Twin-Cam car before World War II. What a wonderful combination that was, Bert and the Twin-Cam! I was also glad that Raleigh Appleby was there but where was his old partner, Bill Scriven, who I met only last year? And where was the most important man in the team, Colonel Arthur Waite, son-inlaw of the late Lord Austin? He was the man responsible for the birth and operation of the cars.

I remember so well Bert’s fantastic battle at Donington in 1938 with Prince Bira in the ERA who took the risk of missing a refuelling stop in order to beat Bert to the finishing line. They were happy days.

West Lavington F. T. Henry