The Vintage Sports Car Club’s luck with the weather broke for this year’s driving tests at Barton Stacey near Andover. Although snow had avoided the bleak, deserted army camp which is otherwise ideal for DTs, rain poured down continuously.
Vintage-car drivers do not stop for bad weather, whatever their cars might do. There were rather more non-starters than usual, and de Wills had the misfortune to break the differential of his little 1924 Jowett two-seater almost immediately, but something in the region of 70 drivers pitted their skill in the ten tests which were named after aeroplanes, in deference to Sir Thomas Sopwith’s hundredth birthday.
Driving in the security of the Sierra 4×4 from a slippery Wales, the first car we set eyes on was the 1902 Paris-Vienna Mors racer, but after retiring last year, it was not on the entry-list this time.
I do not mind rain but my notebook does, so only sketchy reporting was possible, concentrating on Test Seven, “Gloster Gyrations”, which involved a longish reverse round a lone sapling. The weather had made the going muddy, to the extent that some competitors could not get any real traction and drove away without completing the gyrations, including Charnock’s smart open 31/2-litre Bentley (screen flat), one of the bonnet-strapped vintage Bentleys, and some of the Rileys.
As last time, there was strong support from the Singer fraternity, with Le Mans two-seaters (one of which had to be pushed when wheel-grip was lost), the ex-Sammy Davis TT car and a Le Mans four-seater. Hornet’s A7 went well until he took a swerve by mistake at the end, Gardner even put down one of the aero screens of his J2 MG, and Rouse managed a useful tail-slide in spite of the size of his 1933 SA Speed-20 Alvis saloon (the one with the fine Silver Eagle mascot), though it refused to repeat this at the next gyration.
Tom Threlfall was good in the seclusion of his familiar Model A Ford, while Di Threlfall had been persuaded to drive the open air-cooled TB10 BSA light-car, with a golf umbrella. Barry Clarke ruefully remarked that here he was in his spartan Ruby-engined GN when he could have brought one of his hood-equipped A7s — but he finished the test very fast.
One of the quickest of all was Edward Riddle in his vee-twin GN, hood down for the period of the manoeuvres, while the pace of Lambert’s 1932 Sunbeam 18 saloon was sedate in contrast. Bartlett’s 1928 A7 Chummy bounced round effectively; some of the Frazer Nash brotherhood opened the nearside doors of their open cars to see better, Giles in the TT Replica taking a longer reversing line than some in the hope of better grip; and Roger Collings did a clean run in his 41/2-litre Bentley, the car well placed. The Barters in their Model A Ford tub-like two-seater were very neat, but Hornet’s 3/41/2-litre Bentley was more careful, and the 30/98 Vauxhall of Hamish Monro might have been quicker with more adhesive rear tyres.
A very good performance here was that of Hescroffs 1935 16/80 AC, which was well wound-up even in reverse. Brett’s smart Talbot 90 coupe, with those Georges Roesch inbuilt directon-indicators, dummy hood-irons (remember them?) and rear trunk took a sensible route but was badly hampered, like most, by lack of grip, whereas Bennett’s pleasing little 1923 8/18 Talbot coupe had the benefit of a solid back-axle, both artillery wheels spinning in unison.
LE Herring’s big 14/40 Humber tourer kept its hood bagged in spite of the rain, the drilled outside levers on Roberts’ TT Replica Frazer Nash cannot have helped in this frolic, and both Shoosmith’s sports Riley and Cleat’s Riley Lynx retired, in mid-test, sans sufficient motion. Bevington’s M-type MG was extremely good, on the other hand, emitting nice sounds from its fishtail, and Gosling’s 1929 A7 put up one of the best shows of all, with practically no wheelspin. WB
The roads of the 1920’s
Continuing to follow Owen John’s diaries, which give such a good idea of what motoring was like in vintage days, we find him off to Manchester at Easter in 1927, in his well-known Rover; its Dunlop tyres were by now becoming a little bald but there were no worries about how much tread was legally required to remain in those times!
OJ found that by 1927 Oxfordshire had improved its roads wonderfully, in direct contrast to Warwickshire on some of whose surfaces back-seat passengers were bounced about more than they would have liked — though this could be as much a criticism of the prevailing car suspension as of the roads. However, the new Coventry to Stonebridge highway was under construction and the short-cut via Coleshill to Lichfield was as enjoyable an ever; OJ even found Newcastle-under-Lyme to be quite navigable. The Cheshire roads received high praise and the Manchester by-passes were already open. But a two-mile hold-up between Warrington and Eccles had a vintage flavour, for the cause was a steam-wagon which had set fire to a load of cotton bales. The wagon was badly damaged, probably a write-off, and he advocated widening of the “narrow, ever-crowded twisty lane which runs between Prescott and that most depressing of towns, Eccles.”
OJ stopped to look at Liverpool Cathedral, remarking on the glory of its stonework but finding the figures in the stained-glass windows so small they reminded him of cartoons. Perhaps he was distracted by the many charwomen kneeling to clean the cathedral floor with the same powder he was always failing over at home (Vim ?) and the fact that someone was tuning the organ, making “a sound worse than the wireless”.
The next day was enlivened when Mr Edge of Crossley’s took OJ for a whirl over half-a-dozen of the steepest and longest passes on the Yorkshire and Derbyshire moors in the very latest six-cylinder Crossley saloon. Neither of the Crossleys OJ had owned (before going over to Rovers) was anything approaching as fine as this one, which he thought would become a very famous car indeed. It had good brakes too, which proved useful at the right-angle bridges still found at the bottom of most of the Peak District hills; OJ had encountered these gradients previously only from reports of hill-climb events, but he now found them deserving of great respect.
His route home was by way of Macclesfield, Leek and Ashbourne to Derby, and the Rover managed a high average speed except when OJ foolishly got lost attempting a short-cut between Derby and Nuneaton. He paused at Ashby-de-la-Zouch to show his wife the inscription on the war memorial: “220 miles to Ypres”. Is it still there?
OJ was also impressed by the already important traffic of lorries between factory and station, such that goods made in the afternoon in Leek could be delivered to London by rail that same night.
At about this time Clare Sheridan had been wandering about the Sahara desert in a Renault tourer (she wrote a book about it, a copy of which I once discovered in a secondhand bookshop a few minutes walk from Motor Sport’s offices but turned down as the price seemed too steep, in those days before such books became collectors’ items), and one of the Chitty-Bang-Bangs was being offered for sale at Glass’ Used Car Show at the Alexandra Palace. Meanwhile OJ was defending his preference for closed bodywork. . .
He wondered whether driving an open car brought on a greater thirst than spending all day in a closed one, and cited as evidence the number of open cars seen outside pubs — I think perhaps this is a matter which should be referred to members of the VSCC! OJ was also on about how to eat when on the road, suggesting that a packet of cheese biscuits, a home-made sandwich and a bottle of beer met his needs, providing he was in a saloon car and thus had dry elbows and freedom from dust.
That there is very little under the sun that is new is proved yet again by an entry in OJ’s outpourings, concerning crossroads.
Segrave, you may remember, suggested that the safest way to tackle them was to drive over them as rapidly as possible, thereby reducing the time at which one was at risk. Doubtless this was not a method of which the police and those in authority over road users approved! Certainly in the mid-vintage period such crossings were unguarded and dangerous when they were “blind”, and I have already recounted in these columns how, as a schoolboy, I used to station myself with a friend at a notorious crossroads in south London and wait to see whether any near misses or accidents happened.
Well, in early 1927 OJ had received a letter from a very old friend of his, none other than Mr Neville Grenville of Butleigh Court in Somerset (who began driving about on his steam-roller before the advent of practical “autocars”). What this very experienced road-user was suggesting was that every county or local surveyor responsible for the roads in his area should decide which of two roads at a crossing was the subsidiary one, and that 50 yards from the crossing there should be erected “magpie” posts, indicating to drivers that they should creep up to the intersection and give way to other traffic.
So now you know where the universal “Give-Way” and “Halt” signs which guard every crossing in the land stemmed from. Apparently Mr Grenville had tried them out in his own village and OJ thought there might be such signs in other places, but they were by no means universal in 1927. There had, of course, been red triangles at some dangerous spots (not necessarily at crossings) in earlier days— one at least persisted in a town near my home to quite recent times — but I assume OJ’s friend had something more easily visible in mind. The amusing thing is that OJ thought these would save the cost of white-lining, whereas now, we have both forms of warning at every little side-road and intersection.
Finally, OJ again crossed swords with SF Edge — no difficult thing to do. He had remarked that he preferred vee-windscreens to flat ones, and Edge wrote to say he did not agree, after experience of such screens which had once been fitted to all six-cylinder ACs. There is no need to quote the pros and cons of this argument because modern cars are flat-screened without exception, but I cannot resist mentioning one of the arguments in favour of a vee-front given by OJ, whose Rover had just such a windscreen. It is an argument one would be ashamed to utter in 1988 but was thought nothing of back in 1927. Said OJ, fewer draughts around the veescreen “keeps tobacco smoke gently moving instead of creating a fog exactly before one’s eyes”. Which sounds like some profound aspect of obscure aerodynamics to me . . . WB