The Roads of the 1920s

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Owen John’s diary gave some good advice in 1927 about hotels. This is too dated to have any value today, of course, although names such as the “Beetle and Wedge” at Moulsford, the “Beauregard” at Shillingford, the “George and the Lamb” at Wallingford and the “Barley Mow” at Clifton Hampden set the period and, if they were as good as OJ says they were, one hopes they have survived.

The waterways were beginning to attract motorists, as the roads became ever more crowded, and OJ confessed to be looking for a motor-punt. Caravans, too, were out and about and at least one Trojan Utility was used to tow a Hutchings trailer-van, which had double walls covered in leather fabric.

OJ had done a tour of Kent and Sussex, recommending the “Old White Hart” at Lewes and “The Fountains” at Canterbury. On the way back he drank waters at “The Pantiles” in Tunbridge Wells and stopped for tea at the “White Lion” in Cobham, which still exists to this day.

As for the roads of 1927, the English Bridge connecting England to Wales at Shrewsbury was being widened to over 50ft (it seems to me it is now due for another widening) and the great new Grampians Road was just about open by the summer of 1927, The Autocar described this as a magnificent Scottish highway, although not everyone agreed, the driver of a Bean 14 complaining that form Cragie to Carrbridge it was still appalling.

On a happier note, OJ had been trying a 13.9 hp MG Super Sports two-seater. He thought its sporty outward appearance somewhat hypocritical because of the absence of “swank”; the quiet hum of the exhaust and all-round comfort were notable. It was regarded then as a small car, but its gingered-up 14/28hp Morris engine helped it easily to 50mph: in fact, a photographer to whom it was lent said he got more than 70 out of it. It is a sobering thought that even on our broad motorways, this would not be legal!

OJ saw many advantages in a car being small – improved braking, easy steering and enhanced general handiness. He liked very much the MG’s Marles steering-gear, especially with the René Thomas steering wheel, and the Dewandre vacuum-servo braking pulled the car up easily and with no skidding. OJ drove to Sandwich in it for The Autocar Gold Cup golf contest.

The MG’s speed was complimented by using the new by-pass between Hemel Hempstead and Hendon, and out of Dartford into the new Rochester short-cut. Crossing London was easier than negotiating the Portsmouth Road on a Sunday, which is a measure of 1927 traffic, but on his return OJ did not get clear of congestion until beyond Maidstone, after which the new London by-pass was “as free as air.” This was a road OJ enjoyed in a fast car, with an opportunity to soar and swoop along it in the smart flat-radiator MG; he felt the Kent police would be ill-advised to set traps there.

The one thing OJ disliked about the MG was its name, believing that “Sports” was inappropriate to a car which pottered along as happily as it sped, and that there was no more abused word than “Super”. He suggested the name Carfax, a play on the name of the place where Cecil Kimber built these cars; what the MG Car Club would say to that I shudder to think.

However, OJ was full of praise for what he called the “ordinariness” of the car which was so different from the complication which not long before had characterised every very fast car and required an expert to keep it in order. He sought to embellish his praise by saying that in a run of some 400 miles he never had the lid off the toolbox.

OJ was among those invited to the celebration dinner which followed the dramatic Le Mans win by the 3-litre Bentley of SCH Davis and Dr Benjafield, despite its horrific White House crash. From this occasion, two snippets emerged which might not be generally known to the Bentley fraternity.

In his speech, Woolf Barnato said that in 1928 the drivers would be provided with parachute and gyroscope – a reference to how expeditiously George Duller (used to jumping from steeplechase horses which fell at a fence) had leapt fro his Bentley when it was involved in the aforementioned accident. OJ also revealed that the first four cars to finish did so without a change of their Dunlop tyres, except for a Bentley wheel replaced with the consent of the officials, after the crash (how nice that there was no protest from the entrant of the Aries, which might otherwise have won). WB

V to C Miscellany

1988 will be the biggest racing season yet for the ever-enthusiastic Morgan Three-Wheeler Club, which has announced four championships – for racing Morgans, for two-speeders (including Darmonts), for standard-engined cars, and for newcomers. The latter will give extra points to those who drive 50 miles or more to a meeting, and to those whose cars are still in running order afterwards. There are to be some 18 races, plus several hill-climbs under VMCC and VSCC auspices.

A later date has been fixed for the MCC’s Silverstone Meeting this year – October 21. Prior to that comes its trial on September 11 and the Edinburgh Trial on October 1. Reflecting on the editorship of Tom Threlfall, the club’s magazine Triple has several BSA items in its April issue, together with Barry Clarke’s account of his A7 Chummy “Grotty”, Secretary Tucker-Peacke’s memories of MCC events in which he competed (he fell off at Brooklands in 1935 and broke his collar-bone), and riders’ and drivers’ reports on the Exeter Trial and other events. MCC secretary is G Margetts, Haven Bank, 21 Madresfield Road, Malvern, Worcestershire.

In its Golden Anniversary year, Champion Sparking Plugs has sponsored Liverpool’s Lark Lane Motor Museum, which had closed after four years due to lack of finance, to move under the Mersey to new premises at the Williamson Art Gallery, where one of the attractions is a 1930s garage.

The Model T Ford Register looks forward to its Spring Rally at Norwich on June 3-5, and its Autumn Rally at Nantwich on September 2-4, the latter incorporating the AGM. The register’s magazine T Topics contains an illustrated feature on Model T one-tonner vans and trucks from Manchester, which cost £137 and £132 respectively in 1925.

In its current issue of Veteran Car, the VCC records that members are currently restoring a 1902 Puritan steamer, a 1911 12hp Rover and a 1914 Model T Ford. The magazine also contains articles on an alpine Eagle Rolls-Royce and on the history of the Norfolk CC, which was founded in 1903.

An article in Saga Magazine abut the adventurous life of 82-year-old Rosalynde Cossey included a picture of her on an unusual cyclecar (registration UW 6756) whose driver and passenger sat in tandem with their legs outboard as on a motorcycle. The machine was made in 1929 using wire wheels with cycle-type mudguards, and final drive was by belt from a front-mounted 5hp JAP ohv single-cylinder air-cooled engine. Gracie Fields was also photographed riding it. WB

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