Humber party

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At Oulton Park on May 5, Kenneth Neve celebrated with many of his friends the 75th birthday of his 1914 TT Humber which he bought 50 years ago for £30. It was the usual happy occasion, which Neve manages so well, and before lunch we were able to watch this rare and exciting car circulating in close company with Neil Corner’s 1914 TT Sunbeam for the BBC cameramen.

I got some fresh air from two laps with Freddie Giles in his 1929 41/2-litre Bentley, which he bought years before he had heard of the VSCC and become an avid “Chain-Ganger”. I was also taken round by George Daniels in Neve’s well-known P11 Rolls-Royce Continental Barker sedanca coupe which tows the Humber’s trailer, as George was anxious to compare its steering with that of his own PII.

But the Humber was the centre of attention, and what a remarkable car it is! It was perspicacious (you might say parsimonious as well!) of its designer, FT Burgess, to copy almost completely a 1913 twin-cam Peugeot engine, apart from turning the cylinder block round. But then, Louis Coatalen had done the same, cribbing the 1913 Peugeot engine brilliantly conceived by Ernest Henry for his 1914 Sunbeams.

The complexity of the problem of whether there were four of these TT Humbers or only three, and of which was driven by whom after the war, is one that might defeat a champion chess player, so we will not enlarge on it here. The cars were completely anonymous — no badge, no name anywhere — and there is evidence that components were not numbered in any way. However Neve’s car, the only survivor of its kind, has a faired front axle: could this be a legacy from when WG Tuck raced one of the team cars at Brooklands’ 1914 August Meeting, lapping at 92.4 mph?

It was good to see the immaculate Humber lapping the excellent Oulton circuit in the sunshine on its birthday. Back in 1968, in an actual race, it would have gone something like this: engage the delicate cone clutch at 1500 rpm; snatch second by the end of the pits and stay in it round Old Hall corner; into third, with the revs building up; to keep to the self-inflicted 3200 rpm rev-limit, into top for Cascades, then down into third again in a couple of hundred yards to slow for the corner; the same for Fisherman’s Bend and Esso; full chat in third for Esso on a clear track, with a bit of opposite lock, but into second if the track was crowded, to get better acceleration out; then third, and into top up the hill, giving the air-pressure pump a few strokes before tucking-in for the fast part of the bend.

Neve got 80, even 84, mph here before dropping down to Knicker Brook at 90, the “Humber whistle” through the radiator clearly audible in spite of engine clatter and crash-hat. He would be clinging to the hand-brake into Knicker Brook, but a change-down, fortunately never missed, and a dab on the foot transmission brake were reassuring! With a glorious bellow the Humber would rush at Clay Hill, reaching 3000 rpm at the top. Druids needed third, and the right line, and at Lodge those with better brakes came rushing by; leave it late and the rear wheels would lock. Then it was third, second, to slow the car, tight in, then accelerate hard down Deer’s Leap and into third again at the top of the hill.

That was racing this 85 bhp, 21-cwt 1914 racing-car, which is due to do a lap of the Isle of Man TT course, along with the Sunbeams, on Senior TT day. The Humber’s story, and that of his many other cars, is already well recorded in Neve’s book A Bit Behind The Times (Grenville, 1988). WB

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