Vintage Postbag, March 1960

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Sir,

I was most interested to read Mr. G. A. Shaw’s letter on G.W.K. cars.

I have heard it said by many people who have had intimate experience of this make that the real trouble started with the four-cylinder cars, where the presence of a long shaft – inevitable with a conventionally mounted engine – caused whip, with consequent heavy wear upon the friction discs. On the pre-1911 cars, which had Iteir engines at the rear, the fibre facings were good for 7,000 miles, while with careful driving they would last double this distance.

G.W.K. finally solved the problem of reverberation and closed coachwork by offering a four-door convertible saloon in 1926. Unfortunately that was the last year in which the firm made even a pretence of series production. Cars were merely assembled from existing parts as the orders came in, and in any case, at £335 the little car was no competition for the hardtop saloons offered by Morris and Clyno at little more than half the price.

It may interest Mr. Shaw to know that both Capt. J. T. Wood and Mr. C. M. Keiller are very much alive, and I have been fortunate enough to meet and talk with the former. Both retired from the Company at the end of 1921, and there is no doubt that thereafter most of the spirit went out of G.W.K. – for all the odd experiments that emanated frpm the Maidenhead factory up to 1931, when the concern came to an end.

I am, Yours, etc, Michael Sedgwick, Beaulieu.

* * *

Sir,

How pleasant to read the letters from two of your readers who have kind thoughts and happy remembrances of the G.W.K. cars!

Mr. Shaw is not quite correct in saying that no saloons were ever made. Several were, and one was exhibited at Olympia in 1926. I can remember one proud owner who used to bring his into the works for servicing occasionally. I think the firm just couldn’t compete with the mass-produced and low-priced Morris Cowleys and Clynos. The Clyno, incidentally, had the same Coventry-Climax side-valve engine as the G.W.K.

Mr. Shaw’s car evidently used an all-fibre driven disc and these were noisy. The standard fitting in later cars was a composite disc of fibre and cork and, in addition, a large part of the casing round the mechanism was made of some fabric material instead of sheet metal. With these modifications there was no unpleasant noise at all. Certainly there was no excessive transmission noise in the few saloons that were made or in the trade vans. It may surprise some readers to know that the G.P.O. ordered fifty vans at one time and that when two-seater taxicabs were being discussed for London, G.W.K. had a design ready to offer.

In the 1920s Mr. Grice used to call in occasionally but I do not know what happened to the other partners, Woods and Keiller, except that one left the firm early on and set up his own business in Woburn, Bucks, to produce a car which he called the Unit. This looked rather similar to a G.W.K. and also had friction drive. However, as the best features of the system were covered by G.W.K. patents, the Unit effort was not so satisfactory. The firm didn’t last very long and was soon sold up, G.W.K.s taking on a stock of spares and continuing to give some service to Unit owners.

There was one car produced with a transmission which appeared to be an exact copy of the G.W.K. At the same Olympia Show at which the G.W.K. saloon was shown (the car’s last appearance at a Motor Show and now sharing the stand with Imperia), there wasmuch talk of “£100 cars.” There were two I remember seeing. The Gilette, a fairly normal small two-seater with three-speed gearbox, and the £100 Waverley. The latter with such a good name behind it should have stood a good chance and it looked a pretty little car. However, the G.W.K. lads went around one by one and took a close look at its friction-drive design, and afterwards got their heads together. The Waverley was soon withdrawn.

Mr. Maitland rightly points out that all cars without exception rely on friction drive at the point of contact between tyre and road and that conditions at this point are often anything but ideal. The G.W.K. idea is not as impossible as some seem to think. It worked. Moreover, people entered for trials and climbed test hills with these cars.

I am, Yours, etc, L. C. Stead, Stoke-on-Trent.

* * *

Sir,

I possess a Stafford car with a Dorman engine, 4KNO, No. 9444, Reg. No. AK 8920. Messrs. W. H. Dorman & Co. Ltd., of Stafford, tell me that this engine was supplied to a Mr. Raspin of Bradford, in October, 1919.

When I first acquired the car I got in touch with Raspins, wool merchants, of Bradford, to learn that the original and only previous owner was deceased; however, Mr. Raspin junior tells me the car was known and registered as “Cameo,” and particularly remembered that it was capable of 80 m.p.h.

It seems that the chassis is certainly a Stafford and that Mr. Raspin built his own two-seater laminated plywood body himself. It is a very attractive and balanced pointed tail, two-door, with hood (and originally very efficient zipp-in side curtains). The only major item which is missing is the carburetter – information re this would be particularly apprecciated.

The speedometer shows 22,000 and the car has not run since 1929. General condition of chassis supports this mileage reading as doubtless being correct. It has an aluminium bonnet, rev.-counter, watertemp, gauge, fold-flat screen, etc., which all point towards it having been something of a racer in its day.

As yet I have not been able to commence restoration – which would not require an extensive amount of work – but certainly there is promise of a very noteworthy performance from this engine, which when designed and built must have been of a very adyanced type for a light car.

I should have said that all lamps are missing with the exception of a torpedo sidelight shell and a C.A.V. headlamp shell. You will perhaps note that the lamps were double dipping manually-operated by Bowden cable.

I am, Yours, etc., H. S. Moses, Halifax.

* * *

Sir,

As a taxi proprietor I come across many veteran motorists with delightful stories of those carefree days. A recent client backed his experiences by giving me a photograph taken in 1921 – and what an amomobile. Could it still be on the road?

He states of his Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, 1911 vintage, chassis 1700, that it was the only one released with underslung rear springs. Six were made, the other five not being released.

I am, Yours, etc., N. Behmber, Hindhead.

* * *

Sir,

You may be interested in the attached photographs of my father’s Iris.

The first, taken when the car was painted white, shows it as originally built (so family lore has it) for the Queen of Spain. For some reason the deal fell through and my father bought the car, and later had new front mudguards and other improvements made to it. In the second photograph, taken about 1912 I think, our chauffeur, Fraite, is at the wheel. He was F.M. Earl Haig’s driver for some time in France in the 1914-18 war.

I was born 1907, and can remember about 1913 the gear-lever snapping off at the gate when we were far from home (Abbey Wood, Kent). I was sat on the floor with both feet on the clutch so that my father could start the engine. He then climbed in over me and we returned home in whatever gear was engaged at the time.

Our Iris was amazingly reliable, and travelled many thousands of miles. I always enjoyed driving down to Barnehurst, where my father played golf, as we used to free-wheel down Shooters Hill at what seemed then an enormous speed and in comparative silence.

About 1914 my father bought a model-T Ford, and in 1915 sold the Iris to a firm of piano dealers in Lewisham, who built a van body on it, strengthened the rear springs, and used regularly to carry pianos up to baby grand size on her.

We always used Palmer Cord tyres – the Palmer family lived opposite to us in Abbey Wood – and at that time owned, I think, the Silvertown Rubber Works – where both Palmer Cords and Silver King golf balls were made, amongst other things.

I am, Yours, etc, G. T. Shoosmith, Newbury.

* * *

Sir,

I should like to thank Mr. S. A. Gibbons for his most illuminating article on the Iris. The Automotor Journal of June 1st, 1907, throws light on two points mentioned in this article, for a full-page advertisement for the Iris shows the name of the car as “It Really Is Silent,” with the initial letters of each word very heavily picked out to spell IRIS. Whether the slogan inspired the name of the car, or vice versa, is not clear. The same advertisement makes mention of the Madrid Show car as follows: “By way of giving the Show car – one of the new 1907 models – a good test, it was run by road overland to Madrid, and neither it nor the Palmer tyres with which it was shod, suffered any trouble from first to last, despite the very severe roads encountered on Spanish soil. The Iris car started at 9 p.m. on April 27th, and without any undue pushing for records, was driven by Mr. H. Clifford Earp throughout, reaching Madrid, 960 miles, at 3 p.m. on May 2nd.” The same copy of the Automotor Journal tells us that a 45-h.p. four-cylinder Mercedes touring car covered the run from London to Monte Carlo in 29 hours 20 minutes, so one is inclined to agree that Mr. Earp was not pushing for records! The Iris advert. closes by mentioning that all Iris cars bear a two-year guarantee.

In view of the recent comments in Motor Sport regarding Police activities I am tempted to quote from another journal for 1907. The following paragraph is headed “Police Motor Trapping by Sound.”

“On their way back from Bexhill, a party of members of the Southern Motor Club heard rumours of a police trap and consequently kept on the qui vive. Eventually the trap was discovered on the road known as the Dicker, although considerable difficulty was experienced in locating it, owing to the retiring disposition of the presiding officers. They sat quietly reading novels in a thicket, and when a car came along they judged by the sound when it had entered the trap, and timed it accordingly.” Nearly as accurate as radar!

I am, Yours, etc., David Grayson, Chichester.

* * *

Sir,

On page 20 of January’s issue you wondered if Messrs. Methuen had published other travel books in series with “Through East Anglia in a Motor Car.” In 1932 Methuen published “Cape to Cowley via Cairo in a Light Car.” This is a story, as the title suggests, of a trip from South Africa to Oxford by three ladies in a 1924 Morris-Oxford.

I am, Yours, etc., T.S. Doggett, Hinckley.

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Horses and veteran cars. One comes upon references to old cars in the most unlikely places these days. Who would have expected to discover mention of a 1902 Renault in Pat Smythe’s latest book “Horses and Places.” But it is there, for the simple reason that this was the car in which she was driven round the Brussels Exhibition.

* * *

An excellent picture of a vintage bull-nose Crossley two-seater appears in the current issue (No. 1 – 1960) of the Fina Review, obtainable from Petrofina (Great Britain) Ltd., 25, Victoria Street (South Block), London. S.W.1.

* * *

Vintage cars in need of homes include a 1924 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost hearse in Leeds, a 1923 Hands coupé in Huddersfield, a 1924 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost chassis in danger of being broken up in Wiltshire, and a 1929 semi-dismantled Singer Twelve sunshine saloon (with instruction book) in Westmorland. Letters can be forwarded.

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Pressed Steel Company Ltd.

On February 12th, H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh visited the Cowley and Swindon Plants of the Pressed Steel Company Ltd. His visit coincided with the fifth birthday of the Swindon factory, where over 4,000 people are employed and for which a 3/4-million sq. ft. extension plan has been announced. Most car manufacturers own their own body plants but Pressed Steel still make bodies for the Jaguar 2.4 and Mk. IX, Rover 90 and 105, Sunbeam Rapier, Standard Vanguard, Hillman Minx and Husky, Austin Healey Sprite, M.G. Magnette, Morris Oxford, Riley 4/68, Wolseley 15/60 and Rolls-Royce.

This is in addition to other press-work, such as refrigerator manufacture, rolling stock. etc. They have recently introduced the “Roadrailer,” a van with retractable wheels to enable it to run either on rails or roads, a probable solution to some of Britain’s traffic problems.