C. W. P. Hampton, well known member of the Bugatti Owners’ Club and Vintage S.C.C., and now a lieutenant in the Guards, tells of his 22 cars over 12 years’ ownership, explains how he graduated to an appreciation of real motor-cars, and expresses a decided preference for Continental productions. The Editor and proprietor of this paper do not necessarily endorse his views.—Ed.
Like a good many young enthusiasts, my one thought in life as I approached the age of 14 was the acquisition of a motor-bike as being the best possible outlet for enthusiasm for things mechanical and an obvious stepping-stone along the road to the ownership of a car. Thus it happened that at the Motor Cycle Show in 1927 my father bought me a 250-c.c. A.J.S., a model which had just been announced, much to my delight, as I always wanted an A.J.S.; but hitherto their smallest model was the well-known “350,” and I was limited to 250 c.c. I had a lot of fun on this machine, which had three speeds and a maximum of 60 m.p.h., and I covered about 4,500 holiday miles on it before selling it in 1930. On one occasion I went bustle-over-hatpins with the bike on top of me, after which I had little use for two wheels, though I persevered for another year until I was old enough to have a car licence.
I then started searching for something cheap and exciting in the way of a car, and eventually purchased a 1928 “Surbaisse” Amilcar from J. H. Bartlett for £85 (PF 7497). This was fitted with a 3-seater fabric body and was in pretty good order. I took it along to Boon and Porter, of Hammersmith, one-time Amilcar specialists, and had it repainted and teed-up mechanically. When it went, it went very well, but was temperamental and a bad starter. The radiator had an incurable leak, which always dripped on to the magneto, causing the works to stall invariably at the most unwanted moments; this became very annoying. But I did some relatively fast journeys in this little car, once clocking 75 m.p.h. on the speedometer downhill (probably a genuine 65). I was never very far behind my brother’s “14/60” Lancia “Lambda” on cross-country journeys, which gives a fair idea of the Amilcar’s capabilities, due largely to excellent road-holding and cornering; the latter, due to a solid rear axle, was done to the accompaniment of shrill tyre screams and yards of burning rubber left behind in the dust. Happy days! The rev, counter used to show astronomical r.p.m., especially in second (three speeds), and almost as high a speed could be attained in reverse. I kept this car about eight months, and in October, 1930, Boon and Porter gave me £100 for it in exchange for a new Riley Nine “Monaco” saloon, which my father was giving me. This car (PL 4514) duly arrived in January, 1931, and we soon became great friends. The 1931 Nines, “Plus” Series, were fitted with larger, heavier and better-looking bodies than the previous models, and, whilst not particularly fast, were grand little motors, very reliable, comfortable and beautifully finished. The car handled well and had a good quality feel about it. The maximum speed was somewhere just over 60 m.p.h., with 25 and 45 on second and third. The two chief snags were poor brakes and appalling road-holding in wet weather. It would skid and slide about on any sort of wet road in the most alarming manner for absolutely no reason at all. I entered for a J.C.C. half-day trial in the Berkhamsted area, my first motor competition. But although it managed all the relatively easy hills and tests with no difficulty, I only gained a 2nd class award, due to inevitable failure in the brake test. Later on I had two Solex carburetters fitted, which was a very worthwhile alteration, as it made the car quite a bit more lively and put the maximum speed up to 68 m.p.h.
When the newness and thrill of it all had worn off a bit I hankered after something a bit more sporting, and, in particular, a Bugatti, a wish I had held dear, for no particular reason, since the tender age of 11, when the Brescia first appeared. But a new Type 40 was beyond my financial reach, though I used to gaze longingly into the Bugatti showrooms in Albemarle Street. So I visited Sprosens, Ltd., and tried a second-hand Type 40. To my great sorrow I had to admit to myself that I didn’t like it; it seemed so harsh and noisy after my Riley Nine, and I very reluctantly decided that perhaps, after all, the Bugatti wasn’t quite the car for me. Maybe I had better wait till I could afford a second-hand 3-litre which, with its eight cylinders, was then reputed to be quiet and smooth running. So I thought again in terms of more docile English cars, and, at the 1931 Motor Show, I tried a Riley “Alpine” Six, and was greatly impressed by its extreme silence and silkiness. In December, therefore, having covered about 18,000 miles in my Nine, Boon and Porter exchanged it for an unused, shop-soiled “Alpine” (PJ 1115). This car was a sheer delight for the first 4,000 miles. It ran just like a Rolls, and, I think, gave me more pleasure and satisfaction than any car I have owned. It had an amazingly expensive and high-grade sort of sound and feel about it. But, alas, thereafter it was a complete flop and quite the most unsuccessful car I have owned. At 4,000 miles I had it decoked and stronger valve springs fitted (to prevent bounce, which occurred all too easily); the engine became ever so slightly rougher. I entered for the Riley Motor Club’s Torquay Trial, and on the way to the start an oil pipe burst at 76 m.p.h., spraying hot oil all over the driving compartment. I managed a 2nd class award again, failing, I think, on Ibberton Hill, due to wheel spin; but on the way home the gearbox seized in second gear while ascending Trow Hill, Sidmouth. This fault occurred two or three times later on, on different occasions, though no cause could be found nor satisfaction obtained from the works or elsewhere. After several further troubles (starting, ignition, coils, etc.), the climax was reached when, at just over 10,000 miles, a valve dropped through a piston while tooling along Wimbledon Common at 25 m.p.h. in top. I drove it slowly to Boon & Porter’s, who, having dismantled the engine, discovered that all the big-end bearings showed distinct signs of overheating and had to be renewed. From new, I ran it in very carefully (as I do with every new car, for the first 2,000 miles) and never treated it harshly, though, admittedly, cruising at 60 m.p.h. on most occasions, which, I suppose, was too fast. But for a car with a sports and racing pedigree and a maximum of nearly 80 m.p.h. I contend it should have stood up to it with no trouble at all.
This, I thought, is not good enough. I must find a car that will stand up to fast driving, and like it. So once again I investigated the possibility of owning a Bugatti, and visited L. G. Bachelier & Sons, of Wimbledon, and tried a Type 43 supercharged 2.3. But once again the noise and apparent harshness was rather too much for my liking. Or, More correctly, I was not yet sufficiently educated to appreciate real motoring. So I sought something a bit softer and fell for a very lovely Talbot “90” fixed head coupe, which Warwick Wright had for sale. They gave me a poor price for my Riley (usual story, “unpopular model “—and I didn’t really blame them for that), and I drove away in the Talbot (PL 3312), two days later taking it down to Cornwall, covering nearly 1,000 trouble-free miles. Here, I thought, was a real car at last. And so it turned out. It was a 1930 model, with noisy crash-type gearbox, and was reputed to have been a chassis built along with the team of racing “90s” before they substantially reduced the chassis price and, I think, rather ruined a fine car. It had done 34,000 miles when I bought it, and was thoroughly overhauled, rebored, etc., at 30,000 miles. It was fitted with a most striking fabric-covered body, painted pale green, by Grose, and was their show car at Olympia in 1930. The one previous owner had fitted it out with every conceivable extra (including a 7.5-gallon reserve petrol tank in addition to the large capacity, bulbous-shaped Talbot tank); and with one or two pet additions that I made, it now had nine different horns and ten lamps in front! A veritable Christmas-tree, and about as entertaining, since one day (or rather, night), 90 miles from home, the wiring gave up the unequal struggle and the ominous smell of burning rubber sallied forth. Having hurriedly pulled away several offending wires, I found the siren horn button worked the starter, the direction indicator switch produced a rattle from the electric bell, the starter button worked the Cicca 4-note horn, and so on! I got home by means of the two separately wired, windscreen-mounted searchlights, much to the annoyance of other road users. However, it was impossible to sort it all out and I had to have the whole outfit rewired and a new dashboard made for the 13 dials and other switches. It was a lengthy and costly job, incorporating a new fuse box with a dozen or more accessory fuses and countless yards of armoured cable.
Apart from an initial decoke and cheek, over by Talbots, at Barlby Road, London, this car was always serviced and maintained for me by Fox & Nichol, Kingston By-pass. Troubles were few and comprised mostly a perpetual tendency for the rockers to jump off the tops of the push rods—an easily remedied fault, but none the less annoying. The Dynamotor was very often not equal to the task of starting the engine, as with all Talbots of around this vintage; also the front brake mechanism, where it was fitted to the chassis, was apt to come adrift and cause erratic braking. Another bother was shock absorbers. Due to the weight (around 33 cwt.) and rather high chassis and bonnet line, if fast cornering was indulged in the soft suspension needed pretty severe damping. I had Hartford telecontrols fitted, but twice broke the shock absorber arms. Eventually I had outsize lorry telecontrols fitted at the buck, and, having overcome perpetual loss of pressure in the pipes if screwed down hard, they stood up well until I did some rather foolish highspeed swerving on the sands in N. Cornwall. But if well damped, the roadholding was good and suspension very comfortable. The car was very pleasant and easy to drive with a delightful, but tricky gearchange, quiet and fairly smooth engine, and very reliable. Being high geared, the engine did its stuff with a complete lack of fuss or apparent effort. For really fast work Champion R1 plugs were necessary, though not too happy in traffic, when R3 were more suitable. The performance was good, giving 40, 65 and 87 m.p.h. on second, third and top respectively, and 0-50 in 13 secs. It would cruise around Brooklands for lap after lap at 75-80 m.p.h. without any sign of stress or overheating and never even looked like blowing up. As a team, of course, the “90’s”, and, later, the “105s” were remarkably consistent and reliable. I kept it for 18 months, and it had covered nearly 65,000 miles when I sold it in May, 1934. I entered for a few events, being one of seven, out of an entry of 83, to gain a 1st class award at the 1933 J.C.C. Opening Rally at Brooklands. At their High-Speed Trial, in the same year, I gained a standard award, averaging 53 m.p.h. for the 20 laps. The course then included the very slow hairpin bend past Vickers’s works.
During the early part of 1934 I thought a change might be a good thing, as I had grown accustomed to the speed and performance of the “90”, and had ideas about something a bit faster. It was quite plain there was no British car, except perhaps a “blower” Bentley, that would satisfy my requirements, or suit my purse, and I didn’t really want a “battleship” type of car. So, determined as ever, I again visited the late Bachelier and had another ride out with him in a Bugatti. This was a Type 43 supercharged 2,300 c.c. straight-eight with the traditional 3/4-seater “Grand Sport” body, immaculate in blue, with chromium-plated front axle, steering arms, etc. Originally, I believe, it was the car that Campbell drove in the Ulster T.T., catching fire during the race. It was subsequently rebuilt, and, amongst a variety of owners, W. K. Faulkner had it and raced it at Brooklands quite a bit, tying with Whitney Straight on one occasion for first place in a Mountain Handicap. Bachelier had partially overhauled it and turned it out in the best Bachelier manner. It was certainly a sight to fill any enthusiast with joy, looking typically Molsheim and very stark. I had a fairly long trial run and the performance took my breath away. It was my first, real motoring thrill and I shall never forget it; the stink of Castrol “R,” the scream of everything as we accelerated at a fantastic pace; the straight-through gear changes, the heat from engine and exhaust on the floorboards, and the amazing rapidity with which we were doing 90-100 m.p.h. on short by-roads and seemingly suicidal speeds round corners with no roll or slide whatever—this was altogether too much for me. I said “Yes, I’ll take that one” – and so, with my fifth car I at last became a Bugatti owner (PJ 679). I sold the Talbot (but not without a pang of regret) two or three months later after considerable difficulty, and at a sacrificial price via the Second-hand Motor Exhibition.
A week after I had the Bugatti I attained 108 m.p.h. (my first time past the magic century) across Pevensey Marshes, in teeming rain. Towards the end of this then meteoric run the dynamo fell off and the electrical wiring (my hoodoo) caught fire. So, once again, I had to have a car completely rewired. Bugatti’s fitted no fuses at all on this model—just wait till it burns out, I suppose. Similarly with the oil level; no dipstick or level indicator of any sort— just wait till the pressure gauge needle flickers and reads low! And no petrol gauge, feed being by pressure. However, I had a special pressure-proof Hobson telegauge fitted and an Autopulse petrol pump with the pressure system as a reserve. Soon after purchase I took the Bugatti to a firm of body repairers and coachbuilders, so-called, to have it reupholstered, new fold-flat screen, new hood and all-over tonneau in blue mohair, body sides cut away, and sweeping mudguards instead of the cycle wings. They took a hell of a time over the job, charged me double their estimate, and really hadn’t a clue as to what decent workmanship should be. However, unless you looked into the detail closely the final job, I think, was an immense improvement in looks, comfort and practical usefulness on the original car.
In the 1934 J.C.C. High Speed Trial I gained a special award, averaging 61.8 m.p.h. for the twenty laps of the same course as in the previous year, and was the first car to finish in my class. In the afternoon events, starting from scratch, I never got within sight of even a place, though I did beat-up a Type 500 Mercedes, also on the scratch mark, and won my class in the Driving Skill wiggle-woggle test, due to the excellent steering lock which is a feature of all Bugattis. I competed several times at Lewes, but somehow it never seemed very quick on that course, partly due, I expect, to my fear of stripping the transmission if I got off the mark too violently. As it was, an axle half-shaft sheared the day after one event there. I never succeeded in bettering a second or third place, my best time being around 27 secs. In the Bugatti Owners’ Club Day Trial in Wiltshire, the dynamo again fell off and I had a head-on smash before the lunch check, luckily doing only slight damage to the front end, but bending the steering connections. My most successful event with this car, and the most enjoyable, was the J.C.C. Donington meeting in August, 1934, the first club meeting to be held on the then new short 2.5-mile circuit, and terminating at Starkey Corner, as the Melbourne extension had not then been added. I won one 3-lap handicap from scratch at 63.01 m.p.h., and just snatched third place from Charles Follett in a 5-lap handicap, again starting from scratch. Follett, in a Speed Twenty Alvis and complete with a service truck and bevy of Mechanics, was my chief rival, and we had some grand scraps. After giving him 12 secs. in the 3-lapper, and being rehandicapped in subsequent races, the Bugatti usually managed to catch and pass the Alvis, also making fastest time of the day with a lap at 70.08 m.p.h. As the afternoon wore on, the brakes, which were never any good the whole time I had the car, became steadily less effective (in spite of roughing up the linings and using bits of a tobacco tin as shims between each event) until, in the last race, they were practically non-existent and life became unusually exciting at Starkey Corner, and necessitated a “phenomenal avoidance” on the last lap of the last event, when Follett gyrated on to the grass just in front of me. This was followed two months later by my most unsuccessful and most expensive event—the J.C.C. Lynton Trial. I had fitted two competition covers on the rear wheels and had high hopes of success. After a fast run to the start at Salisbury, averaging just under 30 m.p.h. from my home at Weybridge, we set off for the Porlock area. At the very first hill, Doverhay, the engine never got its revs, in bottom gear from the word “go,” due to the higher-than-standard axle ratio (14 x 54) and complete lack of wheelspin due to the competition covers. As a result, all forward movement ceased at the first hairpin corner and it was a struggle to reach the summit even with the aid of willing helpers. Not downhearted, however, and in spite of the teeming rain, we carried on and attempted the next hill, Yealscombe. Due to the rain, the River Exe at the foot of the hill had become a raging torrent, and we stuck halfway across, well and truly scuttled with water everywhere drawn in by the carburetter, which is situated below the blower. The car was towed out and left for the night on the Yealscombe side. Things looked pretty black, and in the dimmest possible spirits we got a lift into Lynton with Silcock, who had, at the same spot, changed the broken bevel pinion on his old bull-nosed Morris-Oxford—a pretty good effort in the rain and mud. Returning in the morning, a local stallion pulled the Bugatti backwards through the river, and we set to getting the water out of the sump, cylinders, carburetter, footweils, and other unwanted places. Eventually, all was relatively well and we set off for Weybridge. The water had swollen the fabric in the shockers, so that the suspension was pretty well board tight—quite the most uncomfortable journey I have ever experienced. On reaching Bachelier’s the rear axle seized up (roller from a broken thrust race got between the crown and pinion) and the gearbox made ominous noises. Result, a new crown and pinion (of normal ratio-12 x 54—and spiral bevel, being a very great improvement from the noise point of view), new set of gears (I reckon the original ones were made of chocolate), new battery, new starter motor, and a new improved Bosch dynamo (the original Marchall dynamo, apart from its habit of falling off, used to burn out at 5,000 r.p.m.). All this had a most disturbing effect on my bank balance, and I decided to take things more steadily for a while.
In May, 1935, Bachelier fitted an improved Zenith carburetter, with a barrel type throttle. This was a great improvement and cut out all flat spots when accelerating suddenly. He also fitted higher compression pistons, which made only a slight improvement and were not really worth the expense. In this new form I competed at the Bugatti Owners’ Club’s Hill Climb at Northwood Hills, without any great success, but managed a 1st class award in the J.C.C. Evening Trial, in Surrey, making one of the fastest times in the restart test. In the J.C.C. High Speed Trial that year I was running on Cleveland Discol for the first time and the main jet was too small for this fuel. As a result, the engine suffered incessant misfiring and, partly due to the very warm day, overheating. In hot weather it was not unusual for the water to exceed 100 degrees in any sort of heavy traffic. Regarding plugs, I always used Champion Aero A, and had very little trouble provided they were kept clean and correctly adjusted, though for really fast work and high revving, R3 or possibly R1 were more suitable. Later that year, when going down to Eastbourne for the day, again in pouring rain, the clutch bolts sheared at Leatherhead, and I had to complete the remaining 120 miles with no clutch at all. Easy enough on the move, but not so easy when trying to get away from a standstill at the many road repair and other halts. I had, by the way, previously had the clutch converted from wet to dry, and had, since that, had trouble with it before. By this time I had had enough of this sort of motoring; and, in any ease, it was becoming too expensive. So, after about 10,500 miles the necessity and wisdom of changing the Bugatti for some more rational vehicle was all too obvious. In fairness to the marque, however, I think I was unlucky, and the root cause of the failure of my Type 43 was due to the fact that the car, when I bought it, was already six years old, and it had not been rebuilt or thoroughly overhauled since passing through the hands of several owners. Added to this is the fact that it had been extensively raced by Campbell and Faulkner and been on fire in the T.T., which may well have caused unseen harm. I had a lot of fun with the car, but could never be sure that I would reach my destination other than on he wrong end of a rope. The Type 43, in really good order, has given other owners thousands of miles of trouble-free service.
My problem now was what car to buy. After all, it’s no easy task going back to something with an inferior performance; so I started looking among other high-performance cars. I tried a short-chassis 2-seater “88/250” S.S.K. Mercedes-Benz. That car had the most staggering performance of any car I have ever tried-45 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m.—and when the large blower was brought in, it accelerated like a shot from a 6-pounder. But it was very large and heavy and had left-hand drive, and I had a hunch that when the thrill and novelty of it had worn off a bit, its unsuitability for my purpose would be a burden. I then thought in terms of Alvis or Lagonda; but the former were then not really fast enough and the latter, with their Meadows engines, didn’t really fill me with any pride of ownership. However, I tried a 4.5-litre Lagonda, one of the special red ex-T.T. 4-seaters that Fox & Nichols were selling. The suspension was extremely hard and uncomfortable, the straight-tooth rear axle whined to high heaven, and the narrow body was not particularly suitable for serious long-distance motoring. But the motor was good and possessed a very real performance. Maximum speed was over the 100 mark, cornering good, brakes excellent, and the gearbox a sheer delight after the Bugatti. But somehow the car, as a whole, lacked something— character, pedigree, finish—I don’t really know. So I came to the conclusion then, as I did two years later when I was again looking for a car of this sort, that there is no British car to compare with the high-class, high-speed Continentals. Since the demise of the old Bentleys, in my view there has been no British car made worth two penn’orth of cold gin-, except Rolls-Bentley and Alvis. The former, however, is more suitable for shopping expeditions and occasional high-speed journeys, provided one doesn’t drive too fast and too often, or expect to get round corners too quickly. They are, of course, really first-rate motor cars, and would be good value if sold complete at around £1,200. At the present (pre-1940, say) absurd figure, representing practically two Type 57 Bugattis, 90 per cent. of their sales must surely be on the Rolls-Royce reputation alone, and not on their performance or because their controls are reputed to work more accurately than any other car. The Alvis “Speed 25” and 4.3-litre are, I reckon, fine cars, and I would willingly buy one of the latter— but not while there are still Bugattis, Darracqs and Delahayes available. On one occasion I had a trial run in a 12-cylinder Lagonda. The suspension was excellent, but the cornering suffered accordingly. The coachwork was luxurious, but in my view is in no way as elegant as the 4.5-litre Bentley. The accelerative powers fell far short of what I expected from a 40-h.p. 12-cylinder engine; likewise, the maximum speed of a genuine 105 m.p.h. (115 on the speedometer). The engine was quiet and smooth, as expected; but I decided against the car in view of its excessive cost, coupled with a performance in every way inferior to the then current product of Molsheim, which could show it (and, in fact did, very conclusively at Le Mans in 1939 with a single Type 57C entry) and the 4.5-litre Bentley, a clean pair of heels on all scores except, possibly, silence and comfort of suspension on straight, bumpy roads. But this is digressing, and I only mention it to show the difficulties experienced when seeking a high-performance car for performance and handling sake, and not merely for a name or reputation. I reckon very little to the Type 540K Mercedes-Benz, and not much more to the modern Alfa-Romeos, but however patriotic one would like to be, if you really want to motor, I consider the three French cars I’ve mentioned, in that order, have no equal.
I should have mentioned before this that at the 1934 Motor Show my mother and I went halves in a new Lancia “Augusta” pillarless saloon de luxe (BLC 557), cellulosed black with grey leather upholstery. I had daily use for a small saloon, and my mother agreed that an “Augusta” would be more handy for her use than the 16-h.p. “Lambda”, which we still had since new in 1928. I liked the “Augusta” a lot, and we covered over 31,000 miles in it before it was sold in 1937. The only real trouble experienced was the water pump, which was continually being repacked. We bought this car from C. R. Abbott & Co., who did most of the servicing. It was only decoked once, at 12,900 miles. Maximum speeds were 45, 54 and 73 m.p.h. on second, third and top respectively, and quite high averages could be put up due to its excellent roadholding and cornering and extreme ease of handling. At about 18,000 miles, West and Chittenden fitted a large Solex carburetter and tulip valves. Difference in performance, nil. Oil consumption was around 4,000 m.p.g. and petrol 25 to 30. I entered this car for the R.A.C. 1,000 Miles Rally, starting from Leamington and finishing at Eastbourne, and had a grand trouble-free run, cruising all day and all night between 55 and 65 m.p.h. On the Welsh run from Llandudno to Tenby we made rings round V8 Fords and similar cars, averaging 36 m.p.h. for the first stretch over the mountains, and 42 for the latter part of the route. It did its stuff very well in the final tests (using the free-wheel and clutch pedal, and thus being able to change up with throttle held wide open) and I secured a 1st class award. I also entered for the J.C.C. Opening Rally at Brooklands in 1935 and gained a 1st class award, Brian Lewis on an open “Augusta” making best performance of the day and fastest time in the Wiggle-Woggle, where all the “Augustas” did extremely well, due to their excellent steering lock and lively performance. In June I entered for the J.C.C. High-Speed Trial, and by dint of hugging the grass verge on every lap all round the Byfleet banking and throwing it through the chicanes (much to the consternation of the officials, who thought the outside front tyre would be forced off the rim at any minute—I had telecontrols fitted at the back and screwed down hard), qualified for a standard award with an average of over 56 m.p.h for the 20 laps, clocking 70 m.p.h. or just over on each lap along the railway straight. The car was not a jot the worse for wear after this high-speed tousing. The only other weak spot was the clutch; it was very smooth and light to operate, but was not strong enough to take up the drive on a steep hill. In 1936, for example, I and two or three others failed to make the Test Hill restart at the J.C.C. Rally.
Thinking that maybe I would sell my Type 43 Bugatti and buy something more docile, I thought it would be a pity not to have a car that really talked to you when the taps were opened. This, therefore, was the reason why in November, 1935, I rushed along to Bartlett’s, once again, to inspect and buy a 1.5-litre supercharged Mercedes-Benz he was advertising for sale at £95. It was in pretty mediocre condition, but was the real genuine low-chassis “Targa Florio” model I had been hoping to find some day. A very short run round the houses showed that it had great possibilities and might make an ideal second string. Also, that it was unique and would be an attractive baby “38/250.” Its maximum speed then was around 65-70 m.p.h., at which it felt and sounded unsafe. This car has already been extensively written-up both in this journal and elsewhere, including a motoring weekly published in Germany. But very briefly it comprises a 1922 twin-overhead camshaft 4-cylinder engine with Mercedes Roots-type supercharger operated at will by fully depressing the accelerator pedal, as on the larger and more recent Mercedes cars. The suspension is semi-elliptic in front with very long dumb-irons in typical Mercedes fashion, and cantilevers at the rear. Wheelbase is 9 ft. 2 in. and track within 1/2 in. of a Riley Nine, as I had a Riley front axle fitted. Bore and stroke, 65 x 113 mm., giving a capacity of 1,499.9 c.c. and R.A.C. rating of 10.6 h.p. Maximum revs. 5,000, which is abnormally high for such a relatively long stroke engine. It was one of four (?) that were specially built prior to the 1922 “‘Targa Florio” race. This event was Mercedes’s first re-entry into motor competition after the last war, and the factory entered two of these special 1.5-litres in the 1,500 c.c. class, and four larger racers of around 4.5-litres, supercharged. The race was won by an amateur, Count Masetti, on a pre-1914 war Mercedes of the type that won the renowned French Grand Prix of that year, the one and only 1.5-litre Mercedes to finish being driven by Scheef and placed 22nd. They proved extremely fast, but experienced severe tyre trouble.
After purchasing the car, which was fitted with an E.N.V. preselector gearbox and an open 2/3-seater body by Corsica with flared wings and an M.G. Midget petrol tank, I took it along to West and Chittenden for complete overhaul and renovation. It remained there until well into the following year, afterwards having an entirely new lightweight 2-seater body built, to my own design, by Newns, of Thames Ditton, and cellulosed opalescent blue. I had the wheels rebuilt to take smaller India tyres, and, along with the radiator, manifolds, etc., they were chromium-plated. As also was the special outside exhaust system I had made on the lines of the “38/250”. I then took it to Bachelier, who rewired it and attended to all matters electrical, mostly Bosch, except for the Marchal Strilux headlamps. Finally, around July, 1936, it reappeared virtually a modern and absolutely unique car, re-registered (EPC 2) and complete with Lockheed hydraulic brakes, Hartford telecontrols, etc. But the carburation was still all haywire, and continued starvation and popping back was experienced when using the blower, a trouble, incidentally, which all the previous owners had been unable to cure. After running it in very carefully that summer, and competing unsuccessfully in the Vintage S.C:C. Chiltern Trial and one or two others, I took it to Wolfe & Wilcockson (both late of Fox & Nichol and now together on their own at Kingston-on-Thames) for further treatment. After water-jacketing the manifold, fitting twin S.U. electric petrol pumps working in conjunction with the existing semi-autovac (Hobson aero carburetter, by the way) and making other experiments with pressure pipes, etc, they overcame all snags and the car appeared in 1937 absolutely “au point”, and would rev. gaily from zero to 5,000, blower pressed hard “in” all the time. The result was far above my expectations. The car’s two faults were inability of the large Young battery and Bosch starter to turn the engine over fast enough to fire; and the gearbox. The former was largely overcome by fitting a Ki-Gas, and also a new Scintilla magneto and Scintilla coils and combining the two, having two H.T. leads to each plug. The gearbox was too small for the power transmitted and, although I had it rebuilt, the bottom gear band lasted no time. It was absolutely impossible to do any sort of fierce getaway until changing up to second; then it really did get going. But for this reason it was no use at all in any “stopgo” or short acceleration test, though I competed at Lewes once or twice, not without success; and under these circumstances the times of around 26-27 secs. were, I think, pretty good, and showed the car’s accelerative powers when on the move. I reckon this 11 h.p. Mercedes had a performance not very far behind the “38/250”, and the blower made just about the same exhilarating noise. During the latter part of 1936 I saw advertised an exactly similar model— the only other genuine 1.5-litre “Targa Florio” Mercedes in the country. Scott Monerieff was the vendor and the car was being overhauled. I bought it as it stood (Reg. No. GP 6876) and collected from Weldangrind the rebored block, reground crankshaft and new Aerolite pistons (my No. 1 Mercedes was fitted with Martlett pistons of about 7 to 1 compression ratio). This second car I still possess, dismantled and just as I purchased it. It is at present stored away awaiting rebuilding after the war, but probably not on such a lavish scale.
To go back a bit, to the early part of 1936, I still had the Type 43 Bugatti, and had been unable to find a suitable car to replace it. So I again looked to Molsheim to help me out. At the previous Motor Show, Bugatti had introduced the 3.3-litre “Competition” model (later known as the Type 57S), and it appeared with a striking electron coupe body and still retained the flat-faced radiator. But the chassis price was £1,300 and quite beyond my reach. So I contemplated getting a normal Type 57, though at £975, as the chassis price then was, I couldn’t really afford it. Bachelier, however, persuaded me that the 2.3 was still the car for me, and suggested taking my Type 43 Bugatti in exchange for a very attractive Type 55 2.3-litre twin-overhead camshaft 2-seater he had for sale. This car was virtually brand new. It had been imported into this country the previous summer, and was then on view in a London showroom (painted light blue and silver), as the original purchaser had been unable to take delivery. Charles Martin bought it and ran it for a while, eventually removing the cylinder block for his Grand Prix car and selling the rest to Bachelier, who fitted a new block, pistons, gear wheels, brake linings, etc., and recellulosed it black and yellow. It was still unregistered. A short trial run was sufficient to convince me of the vast difference between this car and the single camshaft Type 43. Terms were agreed, and in April, 1936, I drove it away from Wimbledon (BPK 1). It was a grand motor and one of the best cars I have ever had; and it completely restored my rather shaken confidence in the products of M. Le Patron. The urge was terrific and there was a wonderful all-in-one-piece sort of feel and sound about the whole car. The driving position was perfect, steering and roadholding also, and, with its upright seat cushions and very low cut-away sides, one felt complete master of the car in any situation. In every respect, not least the clutch and gearbox, the Type 55 is a tremendous improvement over the Type 43. The blower gave a lovely growl and the pickup was smooth and clean right from a standstill to maximum r.p.m. of, I believe, 5,500. I did some very fast runs in this car, both here and abroad, on one occasion doing the 48 miles from Newmarket to Norwich in 40 minutes, an average of 72 m.p.h., cruising at 95-100 most of the way and touching 112 beyond Barton Mills. In June that year I gained a special award in the J.C.C. High Speed Trial, averaging 73 m.p.h. for the 20 laps, the third fastest time of the day. I also managed a third place in a 1-lap handicap, starting from the 10 sec. mark. I then took it to the South of France, driving straight through from Dieppe to Cannes, 705 miles, in about 18 hours running time. I also drove alone from Biarritz to Lausanne, 623 miles, in about the same time, including all meal stops, an hour’s sleep by the road and an hour-and-a-half wait in a village for a petrol station to open. I had the greatest possible fun in Switzerland, dicing up and down the mountain passes in the very best Bugatti style. On my way home I called at the Molsheim works, had a ride out with Jean Bugatti in a Type 57, and spent a night at the Hostellerie du Pur Sang—but that is another story. I averaged 45 m.p.h. for the 345 miles journey from Molsheim to Dieppe—and then missed the boat by 10 minutes and, as a result, a meeting at Lewes the following day. I did, however, compete there once or twice with this car with fair success, my fastest time being. I think, 25 secs. or just under. At another speed trial, the United Hospital’s affair at Aston Clinton, I managed to win my class in spite of the very rough course, pouring rain and competing with the hood up. I competed in two Bugatti Owners’ Club events that year, the Monte-Honiton Rally and the Welsh Trial. In the former, I couldn’t spare the time to go further than about 600 miles, but, by reason of making fastest time in my class in the hill climb at the finish, recording 40.28 secs., I managed third place in the event as a whole. In the Welsh Trial, in October, preceded the night before by the usual cheery party at the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel, the Type 55 showed its superiority, especially at low revs., over the Type 43 on a trials course as distinct from sheer speed performance. It surmounted all the hills, slippery and otherwise, with ease, having bags of power in reserve, making fastest time in the stop and restart test, and best performance of the day, winning the Giles Challenge Trophy. This was followed by the B.O.C. Night Trial, when some very fast running was done on the Stockbridge-Camberley road, in the early morning, when trying to check in on time.
In November, 1936, Miss Enid Fawcett ordered a new Type 57 Bugatti to replace her 1934 3,300-litre single camshaft Type 49 model. This latter car, fitted with a luxurious fixed head 4/5-seater coupe body by James Young, of Bromley, cellulosed blue and black, and, of course, in typically immaculate and well-kept condition, was just what I wanted to replace the Lancia “Augusta”. Not that the “Augusta” was worn out—far from it. It was still in grand form and giving excellent service, but I wanted a change, and thought that two Bugattis would be just that much more enjoyable than one. So in January, 1937, I bought this Type 49 (AMU 9), it having then covered approximately 29,000 miles. My mother exchanged the “Augusta”, through C. R. Abbott, for a Fiat “500” one of the first in this country. Thus, the family stable had grown to five cars, the fifth being my mother’s 20-h.p. Rolls-Royce (which she still has in store), purchased new in 1928 as an open tourer and fitted in 1934 with a drophead four-some coupe by James Young. This little Fiat, by the way, impressed me a lot. Its suspension, cornering and handy size were super, and I once had 67 m.p.h. on the speedometer going down from the Hogs Back. I drove it myself for about 20,000 miles, up till June. 1940, and it is still going strong to-day. My brother owns it, and uses it as much as his petrol ration will allow. He had it thoroughly overhauled after about 25,000 miles as a big end “went”, I regret to say, when I was “revving” the tiny engine a bit fast on second gear up a long hill. It now has a higher compression, an S.U. carburetter and oversize tyres.
To be continued.