Vintage Postbag, March 1959

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74

Sir,

After nearly 30 years or more I recalled, in a conversation recently, the time when the late Sir Henry Segrave (then Major H.O. D. Segrave), visited Cliftonville on behalf of the Renault Company, with a Renault ‘bus of approximately 20/25 seats. We were all gathered eagerly around this vehicle, which was drawn up outside the old St. George’s Hotel (now part of Butlin’s Empire !) when we were told by some gentleman that if we wanted a seat and a ride on the ‘bus, we should have to scrum for our seats, when he gave the word. Having given “the off,” we duly scrummed for our seats, I being very successful in securing a seat right next to the Major, from where I watched every move of those very capable hands, and actually spoke to him.

We did a tour of Cliftonville and were duly returned to the St. George’s, where we were presented with Renault badges. I treasured mine for years, but regret to say it was lost during the last War. I also had a photograph of us all “scrumming” for our seats.

Can any other reader recall this incident, and in particular, the wonderful vehicle?

I am, Yours, etc.,

Ian B. Harrison

Ealing

***

Sir,

I was interested in the article concerning the Straker-Squire, and as a matter of interest I enclose a photo of one of these cars in 1910 which was bought second-hand from The Car Mart Ltd., by a friend of my father’s named Douglas Boyd. Together they went from London to Newcastle and return at a high average speed with no mechanical faults. My father’s job was to keep a good eye on the drip feed oil tubes. I believe there was one glass tube for each cylinder, mounted on the dash. This was a really fine motor car. Note the large non-electric searchlight.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Richard D. Early

Binfield

***

Sir,

I have been taking a very keen interest in the various letters regarding Salmsons, which have been appearing recently in your very excellent journal, but I am afraid I must go on the side of the chap who said they were “the worst thing on wheels.” One of the afflictions of mine was keeping it on its wheels.

I will mention some of the bothers that I can remember even to this day, as mine was a 1927 contraption that came into my possession in 1930. It would not exceed 40 m.p.h., except downhill in neutral. The noise was compared on one occasion to a stone breaker (quarry variety), the cylinder head gasket lasted only for an average of less than 500 miles, the fibre timing cog between the drive and magneto lasted even less than that  —  it split clean in half every 14 days  —  the cylinder head studs stretched like rubber and had to be renewed frequently, the push rods would fly away anywhere at any time, the brass k.o. hub caps which were fitted to steel axles had to be checked every 10 miles (knock-on was a proper name for these, as this was also the best way of getting them off).

I could never find a mechanic who could get the abortion to go on all four cylinders at the same time, consequently I became a Salmson specialist.  I had to have a special box fitted at the rear to carry the spares required.

I have owned in all 27 cars of various makes and models but I had more experiences with the Salmson than all the others put together. I will mention some of them if I am not taking up too much of your page. This car was a group gatherer  —  it had the “mostest”  as regards appearance, so much so that a certain young lady asked me to take her dad, who was to be a V.I.P. on an occasion. We arrived O.K.  —  on three wheels and one brake drum. That occasion is still relived often; that was when I discovered that hub caps could be obtained in 28 days from France. On three occasions each time when I had company with me the water, oil, and steam formed a partnership to make us walk (gasket failure).

On about five occasions the fibre cog split, always when it was not convenient for me; was my face red one night when trying to get the thing to go on one of its pots when someone pointed out that a push-rod might help ?

My home was three miles from the town square (Newtownards, of T.T. fame), yet my mother always boasted she would never fail to have supper ready for me, as she could hear me starting up the stone breaker. However, it did make a nice rest room in the workshop where it was flung in a fit of temper. There it lay until a sap came in one day to sell me oil  —  he went out the proud owner of a Salmson, the deal was £10, plus a Citroën 12 saloon. He was, however, only the owner for one day, he came back with the thing on tow, took away his Citroën, and left me with the £10, after offering to “punch my snitch.” The thing was then put back in its corner until one day a scrap man came to see it; it turned out later he was a smart guy, for after some haggling I sold it to him for £11. He was hardly out of sight when another client came in looking for it, he chased after the scrap man, gave him £21 and became the owner of the Salmson. This chap owned an air-cooled Rover, he changed the engines then sold the Rover with the Salmson engine to a farmer. This marriage was not a success as the Rover lay down before it reached the farm, the farmer sued, got a decree for his money, the seller was fined for changing the engine without notifying the proper authority but the SaImson-Rover ran for some years after that, though the noise was if anything worse.

I am, Yours, etc.,

 W. O. Crockard

Glasgow

***

Sir,

In 1923 my father bought me (for £230) a new “four push-rod” Salmson, having seen Salmson buckboards with G.N.-type front suspension running about at Le Touquet and rightly feeling that four wheels would ensure a longer expectation of life than two. Salmsons then had a showroom in Buckingham Palace Road and a works at Chiswick (next door to Gwynne’s of bathtub fame), where Salmson owners were entertained to a free buffet lunch on Boat Race days.

My car had a boat-shaped three-seater body, the third passenger being accommodated, with knees under chin, in a sort of cockpit aft of the bench-type front seat. The hood was kept in a canvas bag and was assembled over a retractable framework of steel tubes to provide partial protection from the weather and claustrophobia for the third man, who had no means of emergency exit, there being no rip-cord.

People may laugh at these cars, but in their day they were outstanding. The specification included hemispherical combustion chambers, unit construction gearbox, torque tube transmission and centre locknut wire wheels. It is true that the maximum speed (downhill) was 50 m.p.h., but in those days the motor papers were full of pleas for a light car that would do a “fussless forty”. This the Salmson would provide with complete reliability. It is also true that the rocker arm clearance over the inlet valves had to be adjusted after every run of any length, but this was a very easy matter. If it was neglected, the inlet valves would not close completely and the modest power output fell accordingly. I have never known a wheel to come off, as is claimed by some people, but 6,000 miles was a fair life for the narrow section beaded-edge tyres, partly due to the fact that no differential was fitted. The brake drums, rear axle only, were about the size of beer mats, the foot brake actuating one and the hand brake the other. By using both together it was possible to arrest the headlong progress in some degree. Anticipation was of the essence but the brakes never did less than what I expected of them. The worst part of the car was the electrical equipment (apart from the very reliable magneto). Ducellier headlamps and dynamo were primitive in construction and performance. This car gave me a great deal of pleasure, taught me to drive, and never let me down in the three years I had it.

My second Salmson was 10.4 h.p. of 1927 vintage and 1,200 c.c. This had a wonderful specification  —  twin o.h.c. engine, dynamotor starter, four speed gearbox, Perrot type four wheel brakes, balloon tyres on wire wheels with Rolls-Royce type centre locknuts, and a very well built four-seater boat-decked body, similar to the early Delages. Alas, the weight including two spare wheels, fitted rear trunk, and separate windscreen for the rear passengers was far beyond the modest output of the engine and it was soon exchanged for a secondhand 1,100 c.c  twin o.h.c. four speed Grand Prix Special.

This was a beautiful little car, a long tailed fabric-covered two-seater, très sport, and I had a lot of fun with it in J.C.C. High-Speed Trials at Brooklands, gaining gold medals in two successive years. In those days one raced down the Test Hill and the Salmson used to clout its tail resoundingly on the concrete at the bottom of the hill on each lap thus relieving the rear springs of undue stress. It was overgeared and therefore unburstable, the speed in third being the same as in top—about 75 m.p.h. I bought it from George Newman in the Euston Road.

Since those days I have progressed through O.M.s, Hansa, Fiats, Bugattis, Jowett Javelin, XK140, and now Renault Dauphine, so that the wheel may be said to have turned full circle, but I still have a very warm affection for the old Salmsons, which I could never bring myself to call “Sammys.”

I am, Yours, etc.,

Geoffrey Battersea

Enfield

***

Sir,

I would he very grateful if you could make any suggestions which would assist in my search for a replacement crown wheel and pinion, or complete axle, for my vintage Overland. I enclose a photograph which shows the immaculate state of this vehicle, apart from the vital part mentioned. I believe the model to be of about 1924 vintage, and during the past two-and-a-half years that I have been running it, after rebuilding, I have been unable to locate any suitable spares. This latest disaster is the first major breakdown after some 15,000 miles’ motoring which it is not practical to repair.

I am, Yours, etc.,

David Severn

Ruminant

***

Sir,

I enclose a photograph of my 1926 Austin “Chummy” at home in Anglesey.

I get a quite phenomenal performance out of this car; for example, on this last Christmas holiday she travelled to the south of England and back carrying my wife and me and copious luggage and covering a total of 625 miles on 10 gallons of petrol and one pint of oil. Motoring at 62 miles per gallon is not too expensive and we don’t crawl along at 30 either.

She has the original magneto engine and I fitted a block rebored .010 in. oversize recently: the only modification I allowed myself on this overhaul was to fit double valve springs.

I never let her free-wheel and she uses only the cheapest grades of petrol with one shot per gallon of upper cylinder lubricant added. When in top gear she is not happy at speeds below 35 or above 50 m.p.h., and with the finger of the speedometer flickering between 40 and 45 she purrs like a kitten. The speedometer works directly off the propeller shaft and has been checked for accuracy.

I have coupled the front brakes with the rear ones, using a simple drop arm from the brake shaft. This is fitted with a screw for adjustment. The front brakes have been further increased in efficiency by filling in the radius arms which previously used to twist a great deal when the brakes were applied. With good Ferodo linings and individual brake cable adjusters I can make her skid to a stop if necessary.

The radiator is brass and copper and therefore I do not risk electrolytic decomposition of the block by using anti-freeze, but prefer to drain and refill with clean water when necessary, which in this warm part of the world is not often. The car is practically all original.

 I am, Yours, etc.,

Derek Earl

Llanfair, P.G.