How to Motor Trade!
New cars being virtually unavailable for some time after the end of the 1914/18 war, those vending used vehicles were in a comparatively happy position. The demand for ‘wheels’ being considerable and the prices of the more desirable pre-war cars extremely high, with keen bidding for good early 40/50hp Rolls-Royces and the like, traders could dispose of almost anything that ran, however bad, however obscure the make or ancient the model, which is perhaps why some of them put more than a modicum of humour into their advertisements.
It was not to last, and quite soon the bubble burst, and it must have been difficult and depressing trying to dispose of the motley collection of odd motors that had been stocked, in the hope of passing them on quickly to those avid for the legendary open road. It is amusing now to look at how some of the more prolific stockists used to advertise their wares. For instance, there was Douglas S Cox, a demobilised officer, who claimed to have a vast display of available cars and commercial vehicles on his premises at Landsdowne Hill, West Norwood, facing Norwood Cemetery in SE London. In 1919 he billed himself as “The Absolutely Straight Motor Man” and his yard must have been enormous, to hold the 70 advertised bargains, although when I went to live in the district some ten years later I saw nothing of it. Not just used cars either, for the ambitious Cox said he would soon have some new cars to sell, “at list prices, with no premiums charged.” Meanwhile, there was his stock of used cars of all kinds. Among them a “ducky little Baby Peugeot van, suitable for hanging on a watch-chain” (£85), a 6hp Rover two-seater, “quite a nice little car” (£65), and a 10-cwt Minerva van, “a bit pre-war but useful.” at the same two-figure price.
Douglas Cox predicted a boom in the spring of 1920, so urged his customers to “buy NOW”. Many of his bargains were “better than new”. He guaranteed his dating and that all cars were in good running order, of well-tried makes. Yet such oddities as a sporting 1915 Argo and “a just sweet little 6.8hp Charonette baby two-seater, painted Parma violet,” at £285, a Colibri, and a “1913-1/4 Sizaire-Naudin were to be found in what must have been acres of motor emporium. Cox had apparently been trading since 1902 and had lorries as well as cars to sell, of which a Beaver, a Sulton and a Thames may or may not have seemed well-tried makes to those who paid a visit to the yard, “17 min by train from Victoria, or take the tube to Stockwell and then a tram to Norwood Terminus and walk 200 yards, open 8.30 to 6.30 everyday except Sundays.” It all sounded very business-like. But one notes that at the end of 1919 he was willing to dispose of his own “ex-Olympia Show model 15/45hp Hispano Suiza egg-shaped Mulliner baby-saloon, 5ft 6in high, and capable of 65 mph and 22 mpg,” for £1625, (say £50,000 today).
Why West Norwood seemed to attract the dealers I know not but there too at this time was Stanley J Cook’s Paxton Car Depot where, for post-Armistice Christmas transport, you were offered anything from a Warne cyclecar to a 16/20hp Humber lorry on Rubberine solid tyres, the latter a strange beast, surely? To digress, my own favourite Norwood memory is of going with a friend to Rowland Smith’s in Hampstead to buy our first motorcycle, with 25/- (125p) to spend. We came away with a vee-twin Zenith Gradua, and spent three evenings, after work, pushing it home. Unable to afford a rubber-belt for its variable-pulley drive and discovering that whittle-belting broke, we abandoned it in the shed we had rented for it, never claiming it. Many years later I read of how PA Clare — proprietor of that great all-makes spares depot at Tulse Hill, who had become an avid collector of old motorcycles, had had the good fortune to unearth a derelict 1920 Zenith Gradua, in a shed in — W Norwood!
In 1920, Cox was still going strong, with some poems in his ads which are too silly to publish, followed by the long lists of bargains. Where did he amass them all from — Baby Gregoire, Trumbull, Arden, Horbick torpedo, Vinot, RMC, etc? Not overlooking a battery-driven Electromobile landaulette and a 100hp Clerget 9-cylinder rotary aero-engine — “make a deuce of a stir in your Morgan or useful for Ford camouflage (use 3 cylinders and dummy the rest), cost £400, £40 or no reasonable offer refused.” The Hispano was unsold when Cox went on holiday that summer. A sign of bad times ahead? One might have hoped that Cox’s policy of spqr (work it out for yourselves) would have made him a fortune. Alas, by 1922 he was proclaiming that he could not afford to advertise a full list of 60 cars (18 at under £100), but if you would send him a postcard.. . .
It seems that Douglas Cox may have had a rival, also in W Norwood, or it could have been a family ploy. At all events, an Oscar V Cox traded there, as “The man who shows Douglas S how to buy,” a “Mivvy,”, and as the “two-seater ferret who scents out 2-seater bargains all over the British Isles, the Scilly Isles, church isles, Ireland, etc and factors them to my clients for the weeniest profit.” What was so special about a two-seater he did not disclose, and as his “loads of them” were also near the tram-terminus, one wonders whether Doug and Oscar were one and the same person.
As their adverts faded, another trader with a sense of humour arrived on the scene in the late 1920s. I refer to a Mr Chick, whose premises were closer to the centre of London, at Larkhill Rise, Clapham, SW. The trend of his small ads was crude but ingenious. Trying to dispose of a tiny Mathis with “the dinkiest little landaulette body” he continued “it comes of leaving a Rolls and a big Daimler in the garage one night, and I always thought a Rolls was a gentleman.” A pair of 25hp Talbots (£80 each) would “hop along with the fattest family on board” and there was a Silver Hawk described as “Just right if you fancy the girl, you have to squeeze up so close to both sit in, very fast, and looks 100 mph; now come along, kid yourself you’re Segrave, for £57.” Of a Bignan (£77) it was “Very hot, just right for plus-fours and skimpy skirts.”
He had several Voisins, explained as “Where do we find them! Well, I don’t mind telling you it rains Voisins in our street sometimes.” When Chick had landaulettes to sell he became “The Hire-Car Man” but advertised in the same fashion. Thus a plum-coloured Opel drew the comment “The fruit season has now started” and a Minerva was described as “a nice juicy plum.” Of a 14/40hp Delage for sale in 1928 at £95, Chick remarked that at the price he would be giving them away by 1932. Trying to find a buyer for a 1921 Daimler Light-30 Cole all-weather a more dignified approach is noted: ” . . . the thing for one who wants to glide in silence and wants a car to look £500, not the £119 we ask, with two new rear Rapsons; cost over £2500.”
Nothing has been quite such fun since David Scott-Moncrief in his Motor Sport advertisement in 1930, had us print a photograph of Chitty-Bang-Bang II upside down, captioned “As seen from the Brooklands’ bar.” — WB