Vintage Postbag, March 1968

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The Wolseley Viper

Sir,

I was most interested to read your history of the Wolseley Viper, particularly from 1922, because my part in the life or this vehicle commenced in the early part of 1920, when I was employed by A. G. Miller Ltd. of Scrubs Lane, Willesden, as chief mechanic and tester.

The 60-h.p. Napier chassis, minus engine and body, together with 220-h.p. Hispano-Suiza aero-engine, was handed over to me, and at that time I was told that the Napier had originally been fitted with a shooting-brake body and had belonged to King Edward VII.

My job was to fit the Hispano engine into the Napier chassis and carry out any necessary alterations to the chassis components, the first major item being the designing and fitting of a sub-frame to enable the engine to be mounted in the forward part of the chassis. After this a suitable flange had to be made to enable a clutch to be mounted on to the propeller end of the engine crankshaft. I well remember the difficulty experienced in obtaining a suitable steel billet from which to machine the clutch flange, but eventually I discovered a solid steel mill roller, nine inches in diameter, in a scrap metal yard at Willesden. With the assistance of my fitter’s mate, a Mr. Mind, it took us two days to cut off a suitable section with a band hacksaw, during which time I lost count the number of broken and worn-out hacksaw blades. Having obtained the steel I was able to machine the flange in the well-equipped machine shop of A. G. Miller, and also many other minor items necessary for this project. Regarding the clutch, you are quite correct. The first one fitted proved to be a failure; the next one fitted was a Hele-Shaw multiple-plate type, which as far as I know lasted the life of the car.

The only alteration to the chassis was the fitting of a new crownwheel and pinion to the rear axle to obtain a suitable gear ratio, and these parts, together with new gears for the gearbox, were made by the E.N.V. Engineering Company at Willesden.

The vehicle was completed about the middle of 1921 and was taken to Brooklands, where we had much fun and many headaches testing and tuning on the Track. The Viper was kept in workshop at Brooklands, leaving there for the first time when it competed in the speed trials at Southend-on-Sea, and was driven from Brooklands to Southend and back to Brooklands by my brother, H. J. Line, who also acted as mechanic during the early trials and races in which the Viper was entered. I would mention here that my brother was Works Manager of A. G. Miller Ltd. and was closely associated with the building of this vehicle and its early career.

Another important incident was the wrecking of the original Hispano engine which occurred before it took part in any races, trials or records. After my brother and I had been carrying out tests on Brooklands Track we drained the oil tank one Saturday, intending to refill with new oil before continuing our tests on the following Monday. On the Sunday, Miller, Kaye Don and friends (some female) decided to have a few joyrides around the Track and proceeded to do so without refilling with oil. I will not describe the resultant damage to the engine; suffice it to say that it was damaged beyond repair.

A replacement engine was obtained from the Wolseley Motor Company, this firm having manufactured these during the war, under licence, but these engines were only 180 b.h.p, and we were never able to obtain such good results from the replacement engine as from the original one.

My connection with the Wolseley Viper ceased at the end of 1922, when my brother and I started in business as Line Bros., specialising in the tuning and maintenance of sports and racing cars, and I think we were the first firm to specialise in this type of work. I regret that I am unable to shed any light on the ultimate end of the Viper, although I continued to follow its career until about 1926.

Bristol. Ernest L. Line.

* * *

Le Champion

Sir,

I have enjoyed very much indeed the article “Career of the Isotta-Maybach.” It brought back memories of Le Champion. As a youth at the time I was resident in Rugby, and often saw Le Champion driving through the streets of Rugby. It was a grand sight, this huge monster with its outside 6-in. exhaust, and if Le Champion was returning home about midnight, it was a marvellous roar. You could hear it from one end of the town to the other, much to the delight of the young at the time, but much consternation to the Police.

Le Champion was a very educated man, and I think a wonderful pianist. I would like to know what eventually happened to him and whether he is still alive? I remember about the time he purchased about half a dozen motorcycles to take with him to the Malay States or somewhere out East. Thank you for the article.

Birmingham. Fred T. Lawrence.

[Le Champion died some years ago. One of his last cars was, I believe, an S.S. 100.—Ed.]

Sir,

I have suffered my share of faults in new cars but have usually had them put right by the dealer. Now I find my favourite motoring magazine is slipping, through final inspection with faulty assembly and no dealer to fall back on! Fortunately, I sorted out the snags myself and enjoyed the Isotta-Maybach article in its correct order.

What prompted me to write were the references to Le Champion in this article. I used to live between Rugby and Crick (my mother still does), and my father often used to talk about him, and his driving and flying. One of the legends you mention was that he could drive the three to four miles from the Half-Way House on the A5 near the M1 junction to Rugby Station in under three minutes. This was probably not as impossible as it would be now but gave him a reputation that made my father refuse to ride with him, and on one occasion to fly with him.

I have seen references to his racing and to his flying from Lilbourne in a B.E.2e, D.H.6 and A.W.FK8 but no story of the man himself. Thank you for the only non-aviation Magazine I subscribe to.

Caerleon. M. P. Marsh.

* * *

Lamberjack—Coach Driver

Sir,

Reading the contribution to the “Vintage Postbag” from your “Anon.” contributor, it might amuse you to know that in the original draft of my article on Amy Johnson, the following passage appeared: “Mdlle. (or Doctor) Lamberjack was, incidentally, the daughter of the well-known old racing driver of that name. He once achieved unique fame in the early days by entering a vast autobus for the Monte Carlo Rally and driving it down from one of the Arctic starting controls (I think, Tallinn) with a full complement of passengers; quite an achievement on the primitive tracks with deeply rutted ice and snow.”

However, I deleted this passage as it had no bearing on the subject of Amy Johnson and I wished to keep the article reasonably short.

When one remembers those old open-topped charabancs of the 1920s and early ’30s, this must have indeed required fantastic endurance from the passengers, perhaps even more than from the very tough driver! Lord—how chilly! It was still spoken of as an epic when I heard of it in the mid-1930s.

After the war, Mdlle. Lamberjack was no longer among the French rally drivers; I was told that she had gone to live somewhere over in western France and was practising as a doctor. But that was back in the very early 1950s.

Faringdon. Betty Haig (Miss)

* * *

Whose Mascot?

Sir,

I wonder if anyone could tell me the origins of a radiator mascot I picked up in a scrap dealer’s yard recently for 10s. It consists of a finely-modelled bead of a stag, which is cut off flat at the back of the neck, with a moulded podium beneath it; and appears to be in an aluminium alloy, which maintains its shine well.

Chippenham. P. B. Cooke.

 

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