CARS I HAVE OWNED
iCapt. Leslie Seyd, who was co-driver to the late Humphrey Symons on his record run to Timbuctoo, recalls a wide variety of cars and an active competition career.—Ed.1
MY motoring days started at the age of 18 when I was living in France. My first car, purchased in Reims in 1926, at francs 240 to the X, was an 11-h.p. Panhard-Levassor open 4-seater, which had done about. 1,500 miles and was, therefore, almost new. This was a most peculiar car, and I do not think many were sold. It had a fourcylinder engine of 1,480 c.c., with sleeve valves, a cone clutch and a four-speed gearbox. Brakes were fitted on all four wheels and were rod-operated ; rear
springing was by reversed quarter elliptics a la Bugatti. The whole ‘construction was massive in the extreme, the chassis weighing just
over a ton, which was rather too much for the tiny little engine, which took up about a quarter of the available space under the bonnet. The oil consumption was prodigious, and the makers must have made a fortune selling ” Hulk Speciale Panhard pour ruoteurs sans soupapes.” They even went so far as to supply a special gadget con sisting of a pin and cork float, which one was recommended to insert in the oil delivery pipe to restrict the flow when driving in Paris, where a regulation was then in force forbidding cars with smoky exhausts. In spite of several short comings, the Panhard went quite well and I did some very good runs with it. During the 1026 Boulogne Race Week I took it
round the circuit and averaged 39.8 m.p.h. by stop-watch, of which, at the time, I was extremely proud. I also brought it over to England and ran it in the 1926 ” London-Exeter,” my first trial, but with no success, the sleeve valves taking a
dislike to any oil except ” Huile Speciale Panhard,” causing a failure on two of the hills with a partial seizure.
Incidentally, I built a one-valve radio and carried it in this car, which worked quite well off a short aerial. On returning to France I started looking around for something with more speed and acceleration, a Bugatti being my great ambition; but the prices of good Bugattis in 1926 were too high for my purse and I had to give up the idea. Eventually, in January, 1927, I met a gentleman who owned .a Salnison “Special,” With which, as the French say, he had become em barrassed, owing to an increase in his family. For better or for worse I arranged a level swop with him for the Panhard and we each departed with our new steeds. The Salinson was one of a few built and had a four-cylinder engine of a little over 1,200 c.c. with twin overhead camshafts and the three-bearing crankshaft. Special stabilisers, consisting of small reversed quarter-elliptic springs, and known as the ” S.G.D.G. patent,” were fitted. The front axle was fitted with 12″ Perrot brakes. The body of this particular car was a fabric 4-seater, with only one door, made by a Paris firm. Painted fawn with maroon Hared guards and Rudge wheels it looked very smart. On its maiden journeyto Bordeaux the cast-aluminium steering box disintegrated, fortunately when I was going slowly over some rough
pave, but a ‘phone call to the works at Billancourt produced, in a matter of two hours, a fitter in a G.P., with new steering box, which he fitted by the roadside. The charge—nothing ! The Salmson was a joy to handle after the Panhard. The steering was direct and accurate, the brakes excellent and the
acceleration very good indeed. She would cruise all day at 55-60 m.p.h. and on two occasions I went from Bordeaux to Paris in the day, four up. When in Paris I paid a visit to Montlhery and did several laps of both the outside and the road circuit with the resident nurse as passenger. She was a nice girl, but I did not like the way she
would point to one spot after another and say, “Yes, here poor So-and-so was killed.” I also visited the Sahnson works and had the car overhauled. While there I
was allowed to see the Straight Eight 1,100-c.c. racing job which was then being built—it looked most promising and I often wondered what happened to it. I brought the Salinson to England and entered it for the London-barnstaple
Trial in August, 1927. Unfortunately a plug cooked up on Beggar’s Roost, due to excessive speed in first gear, and deprived me of a Premier Award. On returning to France I went South and spent a week in the Pyrenees, climb ing most of the well-known passes, then on into Spain and Portugal. While in Portugal, which at that time boasted some of the worst roads in Europe, the back axle sheared, but in three days the Portuguese Rolling Stock Company of Oporto made a complete spiral bevel and pinion for a charge which was a good deal less than if 1 had sent to Paris for spares. From Portugal I went South again into Spain and visited Gibraltar, and then returned to France via Madrid. Eventu ally I sold the Salmson to a friend in Bordeaux, not without regret. Apart from
the two failures mentioned it never let me clown in thousands of Miles over some of the worst roads in Europe ; a very wonderful car for 1927. Back in England, I was faced with the problems of hard work and little cash, and I eventually purchased an Austin Seven ” Cup ” model from Gordon England. In its original state it was a most disappointing car, with no turn of speed and a bad vibration period, inherent in most ” Sevens ” of that era, at about 46 m.p.h. About this time I met Boyd Carpenter, whose exploits with the racing Austin Seven” Mrs. Jo Jo “will be known to your readers. Over a period of some weeks we gradually got the ” Cup” model into shape. The springs were flattened and bound and the steering lowered. The ports were opened up and polished, special K.E. valves and double springs titled and also a new induction pipe and horizontal Solex carburetter. I was also lucky in obtaining a cylinder head from ” Brookhuids ” model Austin. The acceleration and speed were greatly improved by these alterations, rather at the
expense of smoothness and slow running but that was of minor importance.
I ran the Austin in this form in the London-Land’s End and London-Edinburgh Trials of 1928 and gained Premier Awards in both events. By contrast, my effort at Shelsley Walsh of 85.4 sees. was pathetic, largely due to unsuitable gear ratios and lack of real power. The Supercharged Austin Sevens appeared at this meeting for the first time and clocked 62.4 and 02.8 secs., respectively. The rather hectic life began to tell on the car, so I sold it privately and rather rashly bought a 2-seater A.B.C. from Phillips, Boyd-Carpenter’s head mechanic,. who had completely rebuilt it. This car had some excellent features and also many very undesirable ones. The engine was a horizontally opposed, air-cooled twocylinder of 1,250 c.c., with push-rod overhead valves. The drive was taken through a plate clutch, with clutch stop, to a separate four-speed gearbox. Steering was by worm and nut, and exposed as far as the mechanism was concerned. There Was no starter and only rear wheel brakes. The car had a most attractive dummy radiator, complete with filler cap, this causing sonic confusion at garages on filling up, as it was actually the tiller cap of the petrol tank I The gear change was highly amusing, being on, so to speak, two levels. For first gear one pushed the lever down and forward, pulling it back into second,. then into neutral. A spring moved the lever up, whereupon you pushed forward again for third and pulled back for top. Starting was always problem, as to get over the compression of one of the cylinders required a superhuman effort. This particular car had two Brooklands-type silencers and on acceleration through the gears gave a good imitation of a machine-gun, which caused some. trouble with the police. I believe that these cars would have been quite fast had the valve gear been redesigned, the limiting factor being terrific valve bounce, which often resulted in the
push-rods flying out altogether. This happened at exactly 50 m.p.h. in top. I had some good fun with this car, but one day, after a series of upsets, one cylinder blew off complete, so after effecting repairs I sold it. Next on the list was a ” 12/40 ” LeaFrancis open 4-seater, which had done 6,000 miles. This car was made up largely of proprietary parts and proved fairly satisfactory, although it had several shortcomings. The engine Was the usual four-cylinder Meadows, with push-rod overhead valves. The gearbox was Moss and in its original form had rather wide ratios. Second and third I therefore changed for close ratios, as fitted to the “12150” ” Brooklands ” model, and this effected a great improvement, giving a comfortable 50 m.p.h. in third gear. The rear springs were quarter elliptic and were responsible for very erratic braking on uneven road surfaces. ‘the brake pedal would go in and out according to the deflections of the rear axle. Apart from two broken axle shafts I had no trouble
with this car, but I never really liked it. I secured a ” Gold ” with it in the 1929 Land’s End Trial and also ran it at
Shelsky, clocking 77 secs., -which was very bad. I sold it to a friend, who ran it for two years and spoke highly of its qualities. Money being short again, the next acquisition was a 1927 ” Chummy ” Austin Seven, which was obtained as a means of transport. However, with the aid of Boyd-Carpenter, numerous altera tions were carried out more or less on the lines of those already mentioned for the ” Cup ” model. We also tried some experiments, and eventually found that by enlarging the ports to an absurd size and fitting a pump-type Schebler car buretter off a 30-h.p. Chrysler quite amazing acceleration could be obtained. We also fitted bicycle-type front mud
guards, ‘which gave the car a rather ecmical aspect. The 1930 Land’s End Trial saw me again a competitor, but the clutch seized on Porlock and put paid to that.
The 1030 “Double Twelve” saw the advent of the “Double Twelve” M.G. Midget, and finance being on the up grade I placed an order for one of these cars, which was to be specially prepared for competition work. The great day came when I sallied forth to Abingdon to collect the M.G. Midget, which looked very smart in all-black finish and outside exhaust bound with white asbestos string. The car was supposed to be run in, but it was apparent that, in fact, it was extremely tight and the slightest hill brought it down to second gear. I think I must have been the only ” sucker ” that bought one of these cars, as it really had nothing to recommend it at all. Even when run in it was no faster than a good M-Type M.G. and there was no accelera tion; further, I had endless trouble with oil leaking from the rear main bearing into the clutch housing and turning the under tray into a veritable oil bath. Never have I so much regretted spending £260
on anything. The 1931 Land’s End Trial brought an ignominious “No Award,” after which I determined to palm the car off on to someone else. One day in May, /931, when motoring from the North, I stopped in Bigglesvt ade and parked next to a Supercharged Austin Seven, which at that time was quite new. While inspecting the Austin the owner came along and offered me a run, which I readily accepted. I was very impressed with this car, which handled just like a miniature racing machine with performance to mateh-60 m.p.h. in second gear and 75 m.p.h. in top when ever you liked and really sparkling acceleration. This car belonged to Crowther, and I made up my mind from that moment to sell the M.G. and have a blown Austin. This I accomplished by arranging a level swop with Norman
Black for a practically brand new example which had done 1,132 miles. I was overjoyed with my new acquisition, which ‘was in perfect condition and had a good deal better performance than Crowther’s. At that time I made the acquaintance of Vernon Balls, who had an ex-works blown Austin, and we arranged to enter his, Crowther’s and mine in the 1931 Belay Race. The cars were all duly
stripped and tuned by Vernon, and many amusing evenings were passed in that small workshop he had at Fulham. Apart from carefully dismantling and reassembling everything, we fitted a Solex carburetter in place of the Casette and Luvax hydraulic shock-absorbers instead of the normal friction type. The great day came when we took the cars to the Track for a try-out. It was my first experience of Brooklands. The results were extremely satisfactory, Balls’s car being the fastest, with a lap speed of 89 m.p.h., mine second with 85 m.p.h. and Crowther’s third at 82 m.p.h. In fact, on handicap it looked as though we had a good chance. On the day of the race it rained “cats and dogs ” and the whole track was flooded. Vernon opened the ball and completed his 30 laps at an average of over 80 m.p.h. Crowther went next, but after a few laps it was apparent that all was not well, and he was forced to retire after six laps with a broken gasket, leaving me 54 laps to go. I shall never forget that drive in the pouring rain and, although it was short-lived, actually nine laps before I had to retire with the same trouble as Crowther, the Austin averaged over 80 m.p.h and did its best lap at 83.7 m.p.h.
In the same year I made fastest time for sports cars in the Bugatti Owners’ Club hill climb at Chalfont and was second in the racing class up to 1,100 c.c. at Lewes. In the M.C.C. High Speed Trial in September 1 averaged 68.5 m.p.h. for the hour and won the Alban Brown Trophy (and, incidentally, £5) for a twolap handicap at an average of 70.64 m.p.h. Although I sold the car before 1932 I borrowed it for the Bugatti Owners’ Club hill climb that year and knocked 1 sees. off the 1931 time. I have nothing but praise for the Austin and think it represented the finest sporting value that has ever been offered at the price. It was not an easy car to maintain for normal running, but if you knew its tricks it was possible and I used mine every day for running around. Owing to the system of lubricating the blower by a gravity tank and valve connected to the throttle, oil used to accumulate in the blower casing and produced a veritable smoke screen for about 30 secs. after starting up. One also had to remember to use Castro] ” ” in the engine, Castrol ” XXL ” in the blower tank and Castro’ ” XL ” mixed with the petrol—quite a problem !
I was sorry to part with the Austin, but glad to sell it privately to one, T. B. Italian, who gave it a good home for two years.
In 1931 I formed a team with Vernon Balls to drive Vernon Crossley cars in Brooklands races, but in spite of much work and talk the cars were never a success and nothing came of it.
The Bugatti Owners’ Club was now in full swing and, having been elected to the Council, it seemed only right to have a Bugatti. Eventually I bought a supercharged 2-litre Type 38A, of which only three were imported into this country ; I think Dennis Evans had one of them. Briefly, it was the 2-litre Type 38 fitted with a Type 37A blower and a body similar to the 2.3-litre Type 43 3-seater. It was
supposed to be the worst car that Bugatti ever made, Which may be true, but I had a lot of fun out of mine and not a moment’s trouble. It was very fast and w ould do 90 m.p.h. any time, the limiting speed being 4,500 r.p.m., at which engine speed the big-ends gave up. The previous owner, who had had this happen twice in Mountain races, kindly passed on the information, so that I profited by his experience. I had the whole car overhauled by the late L. G. Bachelier and I can truthfully say that running on Champion 11.3 plugs I never once oiled up.
The year 1932 saw me at the start of the Land’s End Trial again, together with Faulkner and Bear on ” 2-3 ” Bugattis and Giles on a 3.3-litre Bugatti. All four ran as a team and gained Premier Awards, and there was quite a stir in the motoring Press, as hitherto it was generally considered that Bugattis were too unreliable for trials. Incidentally, Faulkner ran his ” 2.3 ” in a Mountain race the following Monday and tied for first place with Whitney Straight’s 2-litre G.P.
With summer, 1932, came a longing to get abroad again, so I sold the Bugatti and bought a Morris ” Minor ” side-valve 2-seater, which was then obtainable at £100 new. In this car a friend and I motored through France, Switzerland and Austria, climbed the Arlberg and the Stelvio, then into Italy to Genoa and along the Corniche to Nice and back home again in 10 days. It was one of the best holidays I have ever had. The outstanding feature was the Stelvio, and on our return I made up my mind that 1933 should see me at the start of the Alpine Trial. ‘1 he remainder of the year I ran the Morris and also had the loan of a friend’s 5-litre Bugatti saloon, which was a very attractive car indeed.
January, 1933, saw plans in progress for the 1933 Alpine Trial with a 2-litre O.M. belonging to W. W. 131aekstone. It was agreed we should share all expenses of preparation, and this was carried out by the O.M. Concessionaires, R. C. Raw lenee.
The car was one of a few specially built and had a six-cylinder engine with pushrod overhead valves and three R.A.G. carburetters. The o.h.v. head was, I think, designed by W. H. Oates and made in England. The chassis was lower and smaller than the normal 2-litre and the radiator narrower. This ‘articular car had a small fabric 4-seater body by Corsica. It was a joy to drive and just the car for the event, as it revelled in hills, never boiled, and had a useful turn of speed, just over 80 m.p.h. The start was at Merano and, after sundry excitements, we were soon in the thick of a good old road race, which the Alpine always turns into. Disaster overtook us on the first day on the Falzarego Pass above Cortina. I was driving at the time and hit a boundary stone to some purpose, breaking a dumb iron and an engine bearer and knocking a hole in the sump. It was only by amazing ingenuity by a small garage at Cortina that we were able to return under our own steam, but the trial was over as far as we were concerned. While in Italy we visited the O.M. Works and Blackstone bought a supercharged 2-litre. This had a sixcylinder side-valve engine and a Roots
blower driven off the front of the crankshaft. It was a disappointing car and never went very quickly.
On our return I sold the Morris and started to make plans for the 1934 “Alpine,” the idea being to enter, if possible, an English car with a real chance of success. In the meantime I bought a Seventh Series Lancia ” Lambda ” 2seater, which I liked enormously in spite of the noise and peculiar steering, which kicked at certain speeds on uneven roads.
My first thoughts were towards another blown Austin Seven for the “Alpine,” as a supercharged car seemed to have a great advantage on the passes, and having seen an advertisement for one, “partially dismantled,” I duly paid a visit to a small North London garage and towed away a chassis and various bits of engine, etc. These were removed to Bachelier’s garage at Wimbledon, where I proceeded in my leisure hours in the evening to rebuild the Austin from stem to stern. A special built-up crankshaft was made by Laystalls at a cost of i:18, and every part was machined and fitted with scrupulous care. All steering rods and arms were chromium plated, and when completed the car looked very smart. Funnily enough, however, the performance was nowhere near as good as that of the other Austin and, after extensive trials in hilly country, I decided that it was not a suitable mount. I duly exchanged it privately for a ” J.2 ” M.G., winch was again exchanged with some cash for a very nice supercharged ” Montlhery ” M.G. Midget belonging to Norman black. ‘I his was really a delightful little car in spite of its small capacity of 746 c.c., and was, I thought, just the machine to put up a good show in the ” Alpine ” provided it was possible to obtain 100 per cent. reliability. ‘the car was taken to Thompson & aylor and the situation duly explained to Mr. Taylor, for whom, both as a craftsman and an individual, I have great admiration. The car was stripped and rebuilt regardless of cost, certain small alterations being effected in order to obtain rehability. After two months Taylor rang up and I went down to Brooklands and collected the car. I shall always remember Taylor’s parting words : “She should be all right if the back axle stands up to it.” They certainly made a wonderful job of the car and a great deal of thought must have gone into the preparation. The engine ran like a sewing machine and gave off plenty of horses so that it would do 90 m.p.h. in top, 70 m.p.h. in third, 50 m.p.h. in second and 40 m.p.h. in first gear. She would start first press of the starter button, brakes and steering were first-class and running on Champion R.3 plugs, no plug trouble was experienced. t don’t suppose any car was better equipped than these little machines, which had dual petrol pumps, dual coils, brakes and shock absorbers adjustable from the driving scat, every conceivable instrument and separate switches for each lamp. Apart from one or two runs to test her out with Blackstone, who was to be co-driver, we kept the M.G. in cotton wool until August. ‘t he 1934 ” Alpine ” was organised by the Germans and the start was at Nice. On the way down we decided to have a shot at Galibier, which was the plum of
the timed passes and reputed to be impossible to climb in the times allotted. Being supercharged we had to do all timed tests in 10 per cent, better time than normal cars.
The old Galibier Pass is nothing more than a narrow track and pretty steep at that, but the Midget roared up in terrific style, leaving a small margin on our set time. It was here that I first met the late H. E. Symons, who was driving one of the first “N ” Type M.G. Magnettes, and with whom I subsequently became very friendly. The start was terrific as usual and soon we were dashing over the passes in great
form. Unfortunately, owing to an avalanche, the Galibier was cut out, for which I was very sorry.
The Midget behaved marvelously and would pass the “be Mans” Singers—of which there was a team, amongst whom were Kay Petre, Norman black and Reggie longue—with great ease. The front-drive Adlers also presented no difficulties going up hill, but, owing to their superior springing and braking, required some holding going down. On the Stelvio we ek,eked. 25 minutes, which was the fastest climb by any car up to 1,100 c.c. The M.G. attained 60 m.p.h. in third on the lower reaches. After covering 1,600 miles with no loss of marks disaster overtook us on the sixth day on the Turracher Rohe in Austria when, with a noise like an explosion, the back axle deposited itself in the under tray. For sonic moments I just sat and thought of Mr. Ta,ylor. . . . Nye left the car at a farm and continued to Munich in a German official car, a large left-drive Fiat, which I drove as the officials were dead beat. Even the Germans tire sometimes! Eventually I had the M.G. sent to Salzburg by train and Capt. Atkins, of Autocheques, brought it home on his Carter Paterson lorry. Apart from the disappointment, it cost £50 to get the car back. In the meantime, Blackstone and I returned to London with Tommy Wisdom and Mike Couper in the ” 110 ” Talbots, paying a visit to the Nurburg Ring en route.
With only very short time to obtain and fit a new axle, I entered the Midget for the M.C.C. High Speed Trial in September and averaged 79.36 m.p.h. with no further preparation.
The M.G. seemed to have exhausted its possibilities now and with the 1935 season in view I decided to have a stab at racing proper. Accordingly, I exchanged the Midget and much cash for Norman Black’s K.3 M.G. Magnette, with which he had won the Mannin Beg Race. I again visited Thompson & Taylor and left the machine in their charge for a complete refit for the next season. Unfortunately, the handicappers knew only too well what capabilities the car had, and although it went very well it never went sufficiently fast to win, and further alterations necessary to gain the odd few m.p.h. were impossible as finance had already been stretched to the limit. In the first Brooklands meeting of the year I entered for a Long handicap, but in spite of one lap at 113 m.p.h. I was not in the picture. In April I accompanied Symons on the record run to Thubuctoo from London in
seven days in a Series II Morris Ten. This was a most interesting trip and has been so fully written up that I will say no more than to praise Symons’s organisation and his arnaAing energy. The record still stands, I believe, unless it has recently been beaten by the Germans on their way to Dakar!
On my return I entered for the British Empire Trophy Race with Mike Couper as co-driver—” Bira ” and E. R. Hall also entered M.G. Magnettes for this event. At half distance we were leading the 1,100-c.c. class in front of the late Pat Fairfield’s E.R.A. and Hall’s M.G. Magnette, but a broken air-pressure connection to the petrol tank played havoc with the average. As it was, I drove the whole distance, averaging 65.77 m.p.h. and finishing only 50 secs. outside the time limit. I ran in all the I3.A.R.C. meetings for the rest of the season and obtained a third in one Mountain race ; the only one I have ever driven in.
So ended the 1935 season ; unsatisfactory from the point of view of awards, but rich in good fun. I sold the Lancia and bought a Ford V8 saloon, which must have been one of the very first models. In appearance it looked like the “14.9,” with a high body and very short wheelbase. handled loosely it was a very dangerous car, but it had a better performance than more modern V8s.
Early in 1936 I disposed of the M.G. privately, after running it on the road for a month, which was a most exhilarating experience. Taking it all round it was a good car and the engine was very smooth up to 6,000 r.p.m. The steering was doubtful on corners, but I think this was due to a certain nose heaviness caused by the blower being in front. ‘the self-change gearbox never gave any trouble.
The outlook for 1936 was doubtful. However, I drove a Morris” 25 “coupe in the Scottish Rally and later in the year got married, which temporarily put paid to fast motoring, so I bought a new Austin Ten saloon from Mike Couper, after selling the V8, now almost a wreck, for 115.
In 1937 I accompanied Couper in his ” 110 ” Talbot on the R.A.C. Rally and, next to the K.3 M.G., I think this was one of the most exhilarating cars I have driven on the road. We started from Harrogate and finished sixth in the final placings.
In August the lure for foreign travel again persisted and my wife and I took a Morris ” 14″ to Iceland, where we covered over a thousand miles on the most appalling roads, but had a very enjoyable time. The Morris was rebuilt on our return, as most of the underneath had been written off on boulders and crags. I then ran it for nearly a year, including a three weeks’ trip to the South of France in 1938. It had excellent steering and would cruise all day at 60 m.p.h. In 1938 I sold the Morris and bought a Fiat “500,” which I ran in the Fiat race at Brooklands with no success ; it was too small for a family car and it was duly disposed of. My last car before the war was a Citroen “Big 15,” which I sold about six months ago. It was a most Cottinued on page 52
attractive car and in comparison, I think, offered more performance and room for the money than anything else. When in France in 1939 1 tried one of the later 20-h.p. six-cylinder models, which were an improvement on the four-cylinders in every way and had a sparkling performance. So we come to the end, and I am now reduced to a “Clubman Special” Match
less 350-c.c. motor-cycle. Long live Moroa SPOUT and the happy memories that go with it.