Marendaz myths and memories

DURING 1968 the Manchester Evening News carried a short article about Capt. Marendaz’ cars, starting with the Marseel light car and his racing Marendaz “Blancmange”. In this article two items were mentioned that are especially interesting, namely that Marendaz decided to build a car when he found himself in possession of 260 gearboxes intended for a car that went out of production The Emscote.—ED. J and that he designed an in-line four-cylinder oil cooled engine that was tested for 6,000 miles in 1922 but never put into production. This article drew a reply from Capt. D. M. K. Marendaz of Marendaz Town, S. Africa, which the Manchester Evening News has kindly allowed us to see. In it Capt. Marendaz makes the point that Mr. C. Seelhoff was not so experienced as the newspaper article suggested, having been “Night Works Manager during the first World War Of Siddeley Deasy, who were then producing aero engines”, and that he was quite unable to produce gearboxes for Marendaz and left his Company before the first car was produced. This could explain why Marendaz changed the name of the car from Marseel to Marseal. Marendaz also makes the point that the two(ball)-bearing 1,200 c.c. Coventry-Climax engine was used in only a few of his cars, his competition successes with Marseal and Marendaz Special cars being achieved with his own three-bearing 11/2-litre engine.

D. M. K. Marendaz goes on in his letter to refer to having “designed and built a single-seat racing car incorporating a very potent version of the four-cylinder three-bearing water-cooled engine for the 200-mile JCC race of 1922”. He says that on the day before the race this car lapped at “the incredible speed of 88 m.p.h.”, which “was far more than C. M. Harvey, Alvis’ racing driver, could handle”. He goes on to tell how Harvey in this Marseal went out again in the late evening before the race and having passed Cushman’s Bugatti “as if it were standing still, looked round to laugh at him, lost control, and crashed”. Had this not happened, says Marendaz, Harvey would have won the race, as the Talbot-Darracqs and Bugattis of 1922 were unable to touch the Marseal’s speed.

This needs some qualification. Marendaz’ memory is obviously at fault when he declares his car to have been a single-seater, because the 200-Mile Race was open only to two-seater cars. (It was for this reason that Capt. A. G. Miller built the two-seater Wolseley Ten racer, his single-seater Wolseley “Moths” being non-eligible for the “200”.) This notwithstanding, Marendaz makes the point later in his letter that this was the only occasion on which he ever used a single-seater for any race, speed trial or record, thereafter using two- or fourseater cars “same as was sold to the public”.

On the question of this 1922 Marseal being able to beat the best of the Continental opposition, we have only the quoted lap speed of 88 m.p.h. to go on. But in the 1921 “200” fastest lap was shared by the victorious Talbot-Darracqs, at 93.09 m.p.h., Segrave’s winning at 88.82 m.p.h. In the 1922 race, which is the one for which the Marseal was entered, Guinness’ Talbot-Darracq lapped at 94.5 m.p.h. and won at 88.06 m.p.h. So much for the Marseal’s chances of winning or of “leaving the opposition standing”. And Harvey proved capable of driving an Alvis to victory in 1923, at 93.29 m.p.h. . . .

The fact remains that Harvey was reported in contemporary accounts as crashing a Marseal on the eve of the race, this car being described as having a side-valve 1,247 c.c. engine. Quite why Harvey was able to drive for Capt. Marendaz when he was already employed by Alvis and driving for them in competitions remains conjecture, but as Alvis had not entered for the “200” that year presumably they did not mind Harvey driving another make. It is interesting that in his reminiscences in The Autocar some years later Harvey referred to spinning round twice and overturning at the pits before a race, but he does not give the make of car he was driving. In the aforesaid letter Capt. Marendaz says Harvey had overtaken Cushman on the Members’ banking before turning round to laugh at him. If he had intended to say the Byfleet banking it would have been possible for Harvey to have looked round for the Bugatti before pulling in, and thus to have lost control of the Marseal.

About this accident Marendaz is very interesting. He says that his head mechanic telephoned the sad news at 7.30 p.m. and was told to get the Marseal into the Weybridge Motor Co.’s garage. By 9.30 p.m. a convoy of four two-seater Marseals had left Coventry carrying the mechanics and parts required to effect repairs to the racing car, of which “hardly a piece was not bent or warped, but nothing was broken, cracked or fractured”. By 11.45 a.m. on the morning of the race the crashed car was at Brooklands but it was not allowed to prove its raceworthiness and was a non-starter. “So the race went to our foreign competitors,” concludes Marendaz.

In 1923 Marendaz entered a Marseal for the “200” to be driven by himself, but it failed to pass the silencer requirements appertaining to this particular race and again non-started. The letter concludes with a reference to Marendaz Specials having held three 24-hour International class records at the same time, to them beating much larger Mercedes and Alfa Romeo cars this at the 1934 Lewes speed trials!) and to having declared them to have been “the World’s best-engineered cars”. Capt. Marendaz says he brought the marque of Alvis into existence, which we believe has been refuted, and quotes The Autocar of 2-11-’45 as saying he was the first British manufacturer to adopt hydraulic braking, an honour we would have attributed to Triumph. Another interesting item to emerge from this article and correspondence is that none of the original vee-radiator Marseals are thought to survive, although the article in question gives their output between 1922 and 1925 as over 1,000.-W.B.