Vintage Postbag, March 1982

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Calthorpe

Sir,

Your November article on the Calthorpe “Ghost Car” evoked some memories for my father who, as a boy, spent most of 1920 working in the Calthorpe factory. He was employed in the P.N. department, mainly on grinding-in pars, using a mixture of oil and emery, but he well remembers seeing the “Ghost Car” which at that time sported a dashboard studded with small silver coins, presumably silver threepenny-bits. Although the engine was said to be 10 h.p. the capacity was in fact 1,200 c.c.

Whilst proverbial pen is to paper, the enclosed Photograph may possibly be of interest since it is a case of when is a Sunbeam not a Sunbeam? In this instance it is when the car is a Rover, or rather built by the Rover Company. The car is a 1916 16 h.p. Sunbeam (father at the wheel) which was built under licence by the Rover factory following the adoption of this model for a government contract during the war. Apart from lack of a Sunbeam badge the only other means of distinguishing the Rover-built vehicles from their Sunbeam peers was, I understand, a casting in the crankcase which made clear the ancestry.

Shurlock Row, Berks. J. M. Toy

[Was it the “Ghost Car” or a sports Calthorpe that was adorned with these coins? The Rover-built Sunbeams were well-known and gave excellent service during WW1 — Ed.]

Mystery Pictures

Sir,

I was interested to see the photographs of the Sheffield-registered cars in the January issue of Motor Sport, which had been sent in by Mr. Fawcett. The car on the left, which looks as though it carries the number W6 looks remarkably like an Alldays & Onions, and presumably has a swing-seat tonneau body since it has no side doors, but does have a conventional hood. The car on the right could well be a 16/20 h.p. Decauville, a make quite well known in its day even in Britain, though of course the larger models were never common. A similar car to this survives in Mexico. These details may be checked against the old motor minion records for Sheffield, which although incomplete, should cover this early period, and are now housed with the South Yorkshire County Record Office.

I would be in to know if anyone has any information on a couple of Sheffield-built vehicles; namely the Cooke & Wade, more normally called the Norfolk, of which a 1905-registered example survives, and a de-Dion engined vehicle called the La Plata, a number of which seem to have been in use by members of the Sheffield Automobile Club in its early days.

Claygate, Surrey D. A. Hales

Sir,

The veteran car, which Mr. Fawcett wishes to identify, is a 1906 Alldays and Onions 10 h.p. with Roi-de-Belge body, built by the Alldays & Onions Pneumatic Engineering CO. Ltd. of Birmingham. If the car bears the registration no. AH 376, it was delivered in 1906 to Mr. Peck of East Dereham.

I take the opportunity to enclose a photograph of the 1905 model, only slightly different. My brother and I rescued this car, with difficulty, from a Sussex barn in 1941, having been tipped off by Bill Boddy.

Ten years later the rebuilding and renovation was completed, and the fun we had with that car would fill a book – well illustrated.

Delford, Worcs. E. J. Steel

The Brooklands Miller

Sir,

Before this slips all the way into history, there are a few comments I would like to make on your very interesting “The Brooklands Miller”, in last October’s Motor Sport.

“Crude” is one word which categorically cannot be applied to anything that Miller ever built. He always Bung money away on perfection for its own sake. His brakes, rather than being “crude”, were beautifully made. They were more than adequate for the oval track racing for which they were designed, and where the principal use for brakes was coming into the pits. They were absurdly inadequate for road racing, as a glance at their small-diameter drums reveals.

There were three board tracks in the Los Angeles area. The first automotive board track ever was called the Los Angeles Motordrome and was located at Playa del Rey. It was conceived and promoted by Frederick E. Moskovics and designed and built wider the supervision of jack Prince. The latter was a famous British bicycle-racer who, in retirement, built board velodromes in many American cities. The original Motordrome was destroyed by fire in 1913.

In 1920 the Los Angeles Speedway was built at Beverly Hills, then an agricultural suburb. Its instigator was Cliff Durant, son of General Motors’ founder, Billy Durant, and its designer was civil engineer Arthur C. Pillsbury. Moskovics was not involved. It was here that Zborowski intended to drive his Miller.

By 1924 Beverly Hills real-estate had become so precious that the 1.25-mile banked wooden oval and its opulent grandstands or tribunes constituted a financial anomaly. All was torn down and the land was subdivided and sold at a huge profit. These facilities were replaced by the Culver City Speedway, a few miles to the west. Again, Moskovics was not involved.

No doubt the incorrectness of “de Algua” has been brought to your attention. My friend’s full, correct name is Martin de Alzaga Unzue. He is still very bitter about Bugatti and an ardent admirer of Miller. His poor showing at Monza followed a crash on the Lesmo curve during practice. It was a hastily patched-up car and driver that gamely took the start.

La Tour d’Aigues, France, Griffith Borgeson

Mouldering Magnette

Sir,

I have recently rescued the rolling chassis of an MG Magnette (c.1935) from a Nottinghamshire farmyard. The registration number is MG 3612. Lacking engine and gearbox, I fear I cannot provide an engine number nor can I locate the chassis number.

The car has been rebodied, presumably shortly after the Second World War, with tubular steel frame, clad in aluminium, to make a “Special” of the “airfield racer” type.

I would be grateful if any reader can give me any historical details whatsoever on the history of this car and perhaps even where its engine/gearbox we one similar) might be found.

Mansfield, Notts. John R. Setchell

[Letters will be forwarded. — Ed.]

A Daimler Conundrum

Sir,

May I add a little further confusion to the “Daimler Conundrum” you propounded in the January issue in respect of the Daimler given to Winston Churchill in March 1932 by his friends on his return from America.

In “Winston S. Churchill, volume V, 1922-1939”, Martin Gilbert makes two references to the car, stating that, on Brendan Bracken’s initiative, a group of his friends decided to buy Churchill a Daimler to celebrate his recovery. He goes on to say that Churchill’s ship, the Majestic, docked at Southampton on March 17th, and that his friends were them to meet him with the Daimler. A footnote lists the eight donors as Lord Burnham, Sir Harry Goschen, Esmond Harmsworth, Lord Lloyd, Lord Londonderry, Sir Harry McGowan, Sir Archibald Sinclair and Bracken.

I am afraid that this sheds no light on the model of Daimler. However, if each of the donors gave £50, the car would have cost £400, not £5,000, and if they were at Southampton to greet Churchill, he would not have had to send them telegrams of thanks.

Ettington, Wades. A. J. D. Nicholl

[The mystery deepens! — Ed.]

Sir,

I join you in paying a well-merited tribute to the ITV drama-documentary “Winston Churchill — The Wilderness Years” but am not among those experts who may be able to explain for you the huge original price-tag of £5,000 placed on Churchill’s Daimler 35,120 in the book by Martin Gilbert. In the early 1930s I believe that even the big Rolls-Royce Phantom II with 7-seater limousine body was available to customers at little more than £3,000. In 1930 the 12-cylinder 40/50 h.p. Daimler (6,511 c.c.) was on offer at £2,625 inclusive of 7-seater coachwork. By 1932, prices would not have been much inflated beyond those figures.

What I am really interested in telling you is that the actual Churchill car, a 1932 35,120 Daimler Barker Limousine Landaulette, was advertised for sale by Vintage Autos Limited (Hyde Park) in the June 1975 issue of your own Motor Sport. The can was described as “original and unrestored” and was being offered with the original log book (sign. by Sir Winston) in a glass case. A photograph of the actual car is reproduced in the advertisement and those readers who file their Motor Sportt’s methodically will now be able to gaze upon that rare advertisement. What a piece of automotive history must now reside in some happy collector’s stable! I am sure that the car was snapped up by an eager purchaser in 1975 (before the dreaded recession was ever heard of). It will be interesting to see if you well be able to bring the present owner into the open, so to speak.

To conclude, I feel that all TV and film producers who make intelligent use of “period” motor vehicles in drama or documentary productions set in the earlier decades of our century, deserve our fullest congratulations and encouragement. The recent eleven-part ITV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece “Brideshead Revisited” is a case in point. The superb acting and settings of the production were enhanced, in my view, by a liberal offering of veteran, vintage and post-vintage machinery, which imparted even greater realism and enjoyment to the entire dramatic synthesis. As far as this enthusiastic viewer could detect, there were no glaring anachronisms in the choice of vehicles seen on the screen. So, well done ITV and thank you sincerely for a real treat! I am sure W.B. will agree.

Dublin F. F. N. Corry

[Yes — and I was interested to see the vintage sleeve-valve Mors in the opening stages of “Brideshead” — Ed.]

On the Road

Sir,

The article by D.S.J. on racing cars on the road prompted a search through some old photographs, bringing to light the two enclosed. They show, on a suburban street in Melbourne, the 18-litre Mercedes built for the 1908 Semmering hill-climb. When on leave in June 1945 I was given a ride on this magnificent machine and permitted to drive it, through the kindness of Lyndon Duckett who owned it at the time.

The car had neither silencer nor mudguards, nor indeed any coachwork except for a pair of modern aircraft seats, yet the enlightened city fathers were quite happy with its regular use on the road in that trim. The photo of the passenger’s view will explain why overalls were mandatory wear for the crew.

Leatherhead, Surrey, Claud Powell

Racing Sunbeams

Sir,

If any reader has any information, photographs memorabilia, etc., on the Racing Sunbeams (not Rooms) I would be very grateful for the opportunity to buy, copy, or just look at anything that will provide background information to a book I am preparing. In particular I am interested in anything relating to the Experimental Shop and its employees and to the racing mechanics.

Lilleshall, Salop, J. J. Ridley

[Letters can be forwarded — Ed.]