Bitser Special

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Bitser Special

pRE-WAR, in the years we did not then call the vintage period, many cars were built by amateur enthusiasts, from a mix of various components for road use or as a competition venture. Happily the ploy has not expired, although it is a little less well-defined these days, with increased competition in the sporting field and more regulations governing road-car construction.

The other day 1 chanced upon the description of just such a Special made from more parts from different makes of cars than was usual even then, a real “Bitser”. It was apparently made in 1933 for Miss Victoria Worsley. She was typical of the amateur lady racing drivers of the time. Victoria started with motorcycles when they were all she could afford and graduated to cars via a short-lived AV Monocar (she found the starting chain to its JAP engine rather too much for her), a too-high-geared Salmson, and her better known sports Jowett. This flat-twin 907 cc Jowett she ran in quite tough trials, and in High Speed Trials and short races at Brooklands, with very reasonable success.

She afterwards graduated to an MG Midget, had an Abingdon prepared Midget for the 1930 JCC “Double Twelve” race, and went on to Ulster A7s, beating the works team of blown Ulsters with the last named in the 1931 “Double Twelve”. She married Roland King-Farlow, later a Vice President of the Brooklands Society. Victoria Worsley wrote a charming account of all this for the Brook/ands Society Gazette in 1973 but 1 do not propose to poach from it. So over to the Special.

It was built by Berk L Harris at premises in Lancaster Mews, Bayswater in London, where he had, it was said, “a very snug little business in making motor cars go much faster than their owners might imagine possible.” At one time the Conan Doyles’ Chitty Bang Bang resided there, by that time named on its long bonnet as “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang No 1 Maybach Zeppelin Mercedes Special” which could have only been the work of Dennis and Adrian! together with the Sir Henry Birkin/Earl Howe Le Mans Alfa Romeo.

The Worsley-Harris Special had a 10/23 Talbot engine, reputed to run up to over 6,500 rpm, which sounds as unwise as it is improbable . . . The chassis was very low, and distinctly crab-tracked. The radiator was from a Calthorpe, the wide front axle from a Renault, on Y4-elliptic springs using Gianoli shock absorbers as radius arms, Frazer Nash style. A touch of glamour was added because these very shock absorbers were said to have come from the 1924 Aurea once raced in France by Laly. One can see Harris digging about in his piles of bits to make the little car. . . Fiat parts were liberally employed, such con-rods even being adapted as bearers for the transverse steering drag-link. The rear drive was described as “GN out of 1914 TT Humber”. This is interesting, because it is known that the TT Humber team-car which C D Wallbank had bought in 1925 and with which he won a Brooklands race in 1929, had been driven from

Harris’ London Mews in about 1931/32 by a Mr Ashford-Fleet, bound for the Lewes speed-trials near Eastbourne, in which apparently it had been entered by Victoria Worsley, together with one of the 1914 GP Opels. On the way, the Humber threw a con-rod. It seems that Berk Harris cannibalised the Humber for some parts for the Special, the frame of which was virtually GN, retaining the chain transmission (unless he used some of the spares which may have come with the ri car). Quite which parts were used remains a mystery, because the Humber brake drums were considerably larger than those on the Special, and Kenneth Neve, who knows his own 1914 IT Humber intimately, tells me that its springs, being 2Y inches wide, would not fit between the plates of GN radius arms, so it is unlikely they were cut down to make rear springs for the WorsleyHarris Special. More likely Harris used the Humber splined hubs on which to base his “knock-off” wire wheels. (Later the old Humber went up to County Durham, where Mr Batchelor of the pea-canning concern hoped to run it, but it was broken up in about 1938/39; perhaps a hole in the crankcase and some missing parts seemed rather too much, at such a time!). Mrs King-Farlow does not refer to the Special in her aforesaid articles, so maybe it was not a success. It had a neat twoseater body with cowled scuttle, racing tail, cycle-type mudguards, exhaust fantail and the spare wheel mounted rather prominently on the near side. Would that such hybrids were built more frequently today. And does anyone know what happened to Berk Harris? WB

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