Veteran-Edwardian-Vintage, June 1976

A section devoted to old-car matters

Backlooks at BSA

The other day I had the opportunity of chatting to Mr. E. A. Brisbane at his country cottage with the big wheel of his water-mill revolving at 15 r.p.m. outside the window. In these peaceful conditions he talked of less-peaceful days in the Motor Industry and of how BSA three-wheelers were made.

It all dated back far beyond the pioneer motoring days, when farmers would pay their labourers about £50 a year plus the “run of your teeth”, i.e., food, and somewhere to sleep. As the men couldn’t get away from the farms this cheap labour was always on hand. Moreover, they were paid only at the end of the year, such as at the Knighton May Fair. On such days they would come into the town, spend money at the Fair, then with any they had left buy a pair of boots, corduroy trousers, a suit, and a bicycle on which to ride off to the next job. From this stemmed the small-town cycle shops, like Brisbane’s, which turned its attention to motors in 1922.

To prepare him for following his elder brother into the business, the Mr. Brisbane I talked to was apprenticed to BSA Motorcycles in Small Heath, Birmingham. It was intended that he should return in six months, but he remained for six years, and became Foreman of the three-wheeler assembly line, in Armourer Road. Mr. Woods, under whom he had worked as an apprentice in the motorcycle repair shop, was in charge of three-wheeler production. They had few mechanical problems once these BSAs were in production, but much experimenting was done on the trunnion-arm that carried the rear wheel. This undriven wheel could be “pretty wicked in tram-lines”. Experimental three-wheelers were taken up Porlock Hill, where the later four-cylinder model was tested for overheating. Production chassis, with a box seat tied on, were tested locally, on a route out through Henley-in-Arden. Between Castle Bromwich and Stonebridge there was a measured-mile, known to the Motor Industry, and here testers timed their cars—”70 m.p.h. seemed awfully fast on those narrow roads”. BSA also had a test track of sorts and a bit of a dirt track on the sports ground.

To qualify for the then £4-a-year tax these tricars had to scale less than 8 cwt. and with the water-cooled four-cylinder job introduced in 1933 it was “an awfully close thing”, even a slight change in the weight of castings making the cars overweight. BSA made their own engines, bodies, etc., the latter at first of leathercloth over a wood frame, later aluminium panelled. Production averaged Perhaps 70 a week, small compared to the Austin 7 which was being turned out in nearly seven times that number. The BSAs were put together largely by unskilled labour. Boys under 21 were paid 30/-(150p) a week and were not eligible for the bonus paid after output exceeded a specified minimum. Often this led to grumbling and poor work around Thursday, when the bonus money would begin to be earned, because the men would have discovered that some of the boys had passed their 21st birthdays and would qualify for the bonus, thus reducing the shareout. The ploy then was to sack the inefficient workers, the boys perhaps, or some of the old men. This was done on the spot, no week’s notice being required, in the knowledge that there was always a queue of unemployed outside the factory gates waiting for any jobs going. It was ruthless, but applied to the Industry in general in those days, for production had to be maintained. Sometimes Mr. Brisbane would find a way out by putting men onto changing a “faulty” engine or front-drive assembly, for they were on piece-work and this earned extra money. But if this was done too frequently the engine shop wanted to know what was going on, and Management likewise!

My informant talked of demonstrating these three-wheelers at Olympia, of being sent for when the four-wheeler van used to take milk from the Chairman’s farm to customers in Kenilworth gave trouble due to the frequent starting and stopping—he went to the impressive mansion in a BSA three-wheeler which overturned on the way there, in avoiding a car driven by some drunks returning from a party, but the Chairman, walking round it proudly to assess one of his Company’s products, never noticed the damage —and of racing his Big-Port AJS at grasstrack meetings near Knighton. He was also sent to service a BSA three-wheeler which an American, Rudy Coombes, and his wife were running in the Blackpool “Wall-of-Death”. By twisting the rear trunion-arm so that the back wheel helped to steer the car up the wall impressive shows could be put on, after the precaution had been taken of checking suspension movements with strategically-placed lumps of Plasticine. But twice the BSA fell off the wall and it was then Mr. Brisbane’s task to repair it down in the bowels of the arena, while the motorcycles roared round and round overhead.—W.B.

Replica Isn’t Real

We fully support the building of good replica bodies on vintage chassis from which the original bodywork has been destroyed, or is beyond restoration. We even approve of the construction of complete pre-war replicas, if the aim is to copy some worth-while competition car and vintage parts are used. Always providing, of course, that such vehicles are not passed off as originals.

There is a grave danger of this happening, however. Some years ago we were watching the finish of the VCC/RAC Brighton Run and the commentator, directing his field glasses onto an approaching car in the far distance, glanced down at his programme and announced that next-in would be a rare Riley Forccar. But what arrived was, in fact, one of those plastic imitation Edwardians, propelled by a post-war Ford Ten engine. It happened to be carrying a convincing “competition number” and to be mingling with the genuine veterans. We were aghast, and shouted for it to be turned away, or overturned. Not a bit of it! It was welcomed into the Paddock and its driver told it was “a good show”, or somesuch, to have managed this piece of foolery and deception.

That was some time ago. But more recently we noticed a Trade advertisement for a racing car of the early 1920s, worded to imply that the car was a restoration of an original “works” racer. Indeed, the name of its illustrious 1920’s creator was used to enhance this impression. In fact, the car was a most creditable replica of the original car, using appropriate vintage parts, a desirable possession, if viewed in this light, and if the rather elevated value placed upon it could be overlooked. But as advertised, the Trades Description Act was being flouted because a very false impression of what was for sale was being created.

That is the danger which any replica can bring with it. Never mind the commonsense arguments, that a sound replica will probably last longer than a worn-out original, that it will be easier to drive, that it is made of better materials, will give just as much fun, etc. The fact remains that, whether it be old motor vehicles, pictures, or antiques generally, to own an original is far more satisfying than owning a replica and therefore values should be adjusted accordingly. If a car, however realistic and desirable, is a copy of something else, let it be clearly known as such. The fact that a motor car is a piece of machinery, which, if used, is apt to wear out, or blow up, so that parts have to be replaced, or new ones fabricated, if it is to remain in service, presents problems, as to when “original” turns into “reconditioned”. A replica is something different again and we think you will see what we mean. . .


The Historic Vehicle Clubs Joint Committee, which so ably and diplomatically looks after the interests of those who own and run early motor vehicles, now has a support of 63 Clubs. At its last reported meeting the Committee, with Anthony Heal, Keith Jenkinson, Evelyn Mawer, Eric Thompson, Peter Graham, George Birrell, Peter Glover, Roy Chasmer, Lord Montagu and Mrs. Das as its officials, dealt with a number of important points. It was stressed that the best possible relationship is being maintained with Government Departments concerned with vehicle legislation and that the preservation of vehicle records is being carefully watched. It was made clear that the D of E has no intention of applying retrospectively legislation relating to seat-belts. It was further confirmed that if future large passenger-vehicle-testing is to be done at Heavy Goods Vehicle Stations, the prevailing sanctions governing the older vehicles will nevertheless continue to be observed. The same applies to brake testing on roller-brakes, and the HVCJC is looking into the question of how beaded-edge tyres will fare on such test rigs. We agree entirely with the HVCJC that to ask for too many exemptions for the older vehicles might result in their use being restricted. It has, by the way, assured its members that unladen pre-1940 vehicles will be exempt from the revised drivers’ ages and hours of work regulations, which might have affected HCVC rally driving.

Those who derive enjoyment from the running of pre-1940 vehicles of all kinds, steam vehicles included, owe a great debt of gratitude to this Committee, for so tactfully watching things on our behalf.—W.B.

BEN Veteran ft Vintage Rally, June 26th

BEN has done so much good for the old-folk of the Motor Industry and Allied Trades that we beseech everyone who can do so to support their rally at “Lynwood”, Sunninghill, near Ascot, Berkshire, on June 26th. This is the seventh time it has been held and it attracts not only some fine old vehicles but many famous motoring personalities. Indeed, there should be plenty to please the visitors, such as a miniature steam-railway, Autojumble, garden fete with a Donkey Derby, a fairground-organ, a junior motorcycle display team, etc. Normally we might be shy of an event where historic cars mingled with these sideshows. But not in BEN’s case, for this deserving charity, whose residents have helped us with history and who write such interesting memories of it that they should be able to produce an interesting small magazine if anyone would produce it free of charge, badly needs finance and aims in this way to collect some. The cars drive to “Lynwood” from Ascot at noon and the gates open at 1.30 p.m. There will be a Concours d’Elegance, with a special prize for the best-dressed “Edwardian” couple. Entries close on June 19th, to Paul Finn, BEN, “Lynwood”, Sunninghill, Ascot; there is no entry fee. So please try to support this deserving event. Mr. Finn’s phone no. is Ascot (0990) 20191.W.B.

Post Office Vehicles

Readers will be aware that the Post Office still uses mainly Morris vans for letter collection and delivery and they may have been held up more than once behind GPO telephone vans, which for some unfathomable reason seem to proceed unduly slowly. But how many of you have stopped to consider when the Post Office was first motorised or have thought of the enormous need this organisation has for motor vehicles of all kinds, with cables, overhead wires, telephone exchange mechanism and other unwieldy things of this nature to transport and service?

My attention has been drawn to this interesting aspect of the motor vehicle by Mr. B. Jenkins of Harrogate, who has not only sent us a copy of a booklet issued in 1972 to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the Post Office Vehicle Club, of which he is Secretary, but who tells me that the GPO has. excellent photographs of almost all the vehicles it has ever owned, from which I hope to write further, in due course, about the private cars it has used, which I believe range from unusual makes such as the Ruston Hornsby to a fleet of vintage-period Austin 20 radio vans.

The GPO first purchased a mechanically propelled road vehicle in 1905, in the form of a Wallis & Steevens steam traction-engine. Encouraged by its then-Transport Officer, Major Wheeler, it added others, such as a Maudslay 50 cwt. truck bought in 1907 (which was returned to its makers in 1925 for publicity purposes, after having covered 300,000 miles), and in 1910 a 30-cwt. Ryknield, a Halley truck and an Alldays commercial, all on solid tyres, of course. These vehicles were kept at the Studd Street depot in Islington, where a pneumatic-tyred 1929 Maudslay six tonner was operating up to 1938, if not later. The GPO had its first Scammell articulatedlorry in 1919, and bought another in 1930. The aforesaid booklet illustrates one of some 20 motorcycle combinations it bought in 1914, the example shown being a Rover, the ModelT Ford 250 cu. ft. van on the one-ton chassis used from 1922, the solid-tyred Trojan 70 Cu. ft. van tried in 1925 when the cry was “Buy British”, and even one of the small fleet of Victor electric vans used in London and elsewhere. The remainder of the pictures are mostly of various types of Morris PO vans, up to the Mini. But several other makes are depicted, including a First-War Albion truck which carried telephone poles with the aid of a cart-wheeled “dolly”, and the 1923 Model-T Ford one-tonner specially equipped for engineering maintenance work; between 1927 and 1937 some 1,300 Albions were so adapted, while mini-wheeled SD Freighters, dating from 1925, were found useful for carting manhole covers and handcarts to the scene of underground activity. During the last war there was even a Ford VS station-wagon used for general PO duties and run on a bag of coal gas.—W.B.

V-E-V Odds & Ends.—The Pembrokeshire VCC holds its first vintage rally at Haverfordwest, on August 22nd. Details from: M. D. Jones, 88, Haven Park Road, Haverfordwest, Dyfed. “The World of Motoring” museum of historic cars and models is open again at Syon Park, London, until October, seven days a week from 10 until 6, admission costing only 25p, or 15p for Senior Citizens and under-17s. The Whitby Gazette recently published a picture of one of two Lancia L-type char-a-bancs which Howard’s Garage of Whitby used in the 1920s, which is believed to have led a local farmer to report that parts of one of these vehicles still exist. An article about sand-racing appeared recently in the Southport Visitor, in which it was stated that at least 5,000 people watched the first round of the British Motor Cycle Sand Race Championship on Ainsdale sands this year and that much larger crowds attended in earlier years. We are distressed to learn that six pre-1914 chassis were damaged, if not destroyed, in a fire at a garage at Alveston recently, including two Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost chassis and a 1911 Ghost tourer. A reader who began motoring on a singlespeed Bradbury and wicker sidecar which his father bought in 1910 and who was in the Austin Drawing Office during 1917-18, before joining the RNAS, remarks that our target of 60 m.p.h./60 m.p.g. came near to fulfilment with his 1925 750-cc. Mathis, which also gave him many thrills on wet tarmac, with a footbrake operating on one back wheel, the handbrake on the other, a thrill matched by his later Morgan three-wheeler.

The Wolseley Register reports that a 1914 16/20 Wolseley found in Heidelberg in 1953 recently returned there from South Africa to he present at the opening of the Transport Museum. From the Humber Register Journal we learn that a rumour is circulating about an 8/18 Humber that has been stored in a garage for many years, that a 2 3/4-h.p. Humber motorcycle is under restoration in Australia, that a 1914 water-cooled Humberette exists in Italy, and that someone in New Zealand has three vintage Humber Snipes and the remains of three more. In the current issue of the Register’s magazine there is an interesting discourse on having owned three 20/55 Humbers, by a member who has restored a W125 Mercedes-Benz. Too late for inclusion last month, the amended results of the VSCC Welsh Light Car Weekend show Edward Riddle’s GN as gaining a 2nd-Class Award. Further to our announcement about the next Brooklands Re-Union, we are informed that this will be for paid-up Society members and their guests, admission being by ticket only and the public not being admitted. We hear that in the North Country breaker’s yard that was recently threatened with a Council closure there is, or was, a fine Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost chassis, many R-R spares including a part-wrecked Ghost engine, gearbox, etc. and a JAP vee-twin engine and radiator from a Morgan, etc. It has been reported that a musical called “Mr. Rolls and Mr. Royce” opened in Worthing some weeks ago and that “The Rolls-Royce Owners Cookbook”, containing 200 recipes, has been published in America—only by trying very hard, has the Editor been able to withhold comment! A beautifully-restored 1905 Milnes-Daimler bus said farewell to Brighton, where it once worked for 12 years, after the IICVC Brighton Run. It can be seen at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu until the end of the year, after which it goes to its new millionaire owner, James Leake, in the USA. Used as a Thamesside caravan, it took five years to restore the ‘bus to its present condition.

Contrary to information given in the May issue of Motor Sport, the 17th National Standard Register Rally will be held on Sunday, June 13th, not the 1 7th. The venue is Belvoir Castle and details may be obtained from David Hanson, 3 Cranford Park Drive, Yateley, Camberley, Surrey (Yateley 874481).