Story of a dedicated resurrection
One of the memorable vintage events of last year was seeing the 1½-litre supercharged Halford Special racing car, evolved around Aston-Martin chassis components in 1924 by the celebrated aeon-engine expert Major Frank Halford, using his own advanced twin-cam engine, in action again, especially when it ran on the Byfleet banking at Brooklands 57 years after its first appearance at that Track.
Hearing of the long and painstaking rebuild by the car’s owner, James Cheyne, I wanted to do a feature on the car for Motor Sport, but was frustrated by the absence of Mr. Cheyne abroad. He very generously told me of the intention to test the rebuilt racer at Snetterton in 1980 but the occasion was so fraught with possible problems and emotion that it would have been quite inappropriate for a journalist to have gate-crashed the party on that occasion. We still haven’t done a feature on this very interesting car and now there is no need, because owner-Cheyne himself has written a very full and fascinating account of it in a three-part article published in AM Quarterly, official organ of the Aston Martin OC. edited by Brian Joscelyne, which is one of the most professional and beautifully produced of motor-club magazines.
The story of how this side-valve Aston-Martin-enthusiast rebuilt the Halford Special to as near original specification as possible, after chasing its far-scattered pans for a long and eventful 15 years, is splendidly told in the three articles. You may Oct know, for instance, that after shortening a long wheelbase racing Aston-Martin chassis-frame and assembling the Halford. Cheyne then heard where the original chassis was, obtained it, and dismantled everything, so that it could be used, the cut-down frame having the surplus 9”-long side-member portions welded back in place for the Benson Aston-Martin which Morntane Engineering were constructing it being they who had so generously agreed to the exchange of chassis frames. You may not appreciate that it took Cheyne ten years to persuade the person in Possession of the second Halford Special engine, thought correct for the car, tepees with it, or that he took lessons in welding at Wandsworth Polytechnic to help him with rebuilding his car, or know how many letters Cheyne had to write before tracking-down the correct Type 48RB Zenith Gipsy Major carburetter for the cue. And the exchange of parts among his Aston-Martin friends to enable the proper bits to go into the Halford Special rebuild was complicated to a degree! He even got the proper Registration number (OR 1) from an unco-operative DVLC at Swansea…
The body was missing, so Nick Jarvis was asked to make a new one, which is claimed to be absolutely indistinguishable from the original, aPart from a slightly lower seat to enable the miler to drive the car. (He had even tried at one stage to obtain P.O. Halford’s bodily dimensions, from the Army Records Office, but without result.)
It seems that the Halford Special is about as original as car be expected of a car that virtually disappeared for some 34 years before reassembly was attempted. Pans of the two existing engines are thought to have been mixed between the two power units and one of these engines has been in a foreign car (a Bugatti, I believe, for some 30 years without being used. Cheyne discovered that about the only component common to she racing-car engines and she later AE6 lifeboat power-units (which had Riley-type push-rod valve-gear) which we referred to in Motor Sport many years ago, was the seven-bearing crankshaft. So nu hope of parts from that source. Lord Ridley used the second engine in a speed-boat and it is thought to have spent two years on the bottom of a lake. His Lordship then revived it by cutting it lengthwise, and making a new aluminium cylinder block, to which she original min-cam head was bolted.
So Cheyne’s engine now has a separate crankcase / cylinder block and the original supercharger never having come to light. I understand that a modern industrial blower has been used. The multi-plate clutch to rumoured to have been designed by George Eyston, although he denied this when asked — why not by Halford, or if modified after Eyston bought the Halford, perhaps Ernest Eldridge did the re-design? The missing clutch linkage has been replaced with a layout which it is assumed Frank Halford would have used.
That is an outline of the highly creditable rebuilding of she one-and-only Halford Special, one of the fastest 1½-litre cars of its day; for a fuller account, see those AM Quarterly magazines. We greatly look forward to seeing it racing again in appropriate events this season. — W.B.
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The Things They Say…
“Although I can enthuse over vintage cars, I think it would drive me mad to own one” – Eoin Young, in his weekly “From the Grid” column in Autocar.