Rumblings, May 1942

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Unsolved problems

One of the problems to which enthusiasts are wont to devote quite a deal of attention is what becomes of classic racing cars when their racing days are finished. Anthony Heal has made that puzzle rather easier for us than it used to be. But there are still many gaps, and the “Chittys” are worrying the knowledgeable quite a bit just now. I believe that someone bought a spare Maybach engine from Count Zborowski and dropped it into an early chain-driven Mercédès chassis, so creating a replica which really was not a “Chitty” at all. But up to the time of writing I have not been able to discover whether it is this car which was hastily fitted with a Bentley radiator by Hanks when Shea-Simmons had her and shipped her to the U.S.A., where she was rebuilt, or whether it is the car still owned by Mr. Hollis, of Dover. Just now, however, I am more concerned about the identity of certain curious cars which competed in post-the-last-war B.A.R.C. Brooklands meetings than where they are now – for doubtless these particular cars have long since been broken up. I cannot “place” them, and in this I am not alone, for I set Laurence Pomeroy the puzzle and I believe he is still unravelling it. Perhaps you can throw some light on the matter? First, then, is a Napier of 11 1/2 litres, which J.S. Spencer brought out for a 100-m.p.h. handicap at Whitsun, 1925. It was described as a G.P. car, and, even then, was noted as “very ancient.” It started slowly and laboriously and retired after one lap, but at the Autumn Meeting it finished third in a 75-m.p.h. Long Handicap, averaging some 90 m.p.h. After that it seems to have disappeared. I imagine it was quite definitely pre-1914, and it was not the 1903 G.B. Napier which the Blake brothers revived many years later. A G.P. Napier would be a most interesting possession, but the question is, which car was this, let alone where is it now? Then there was the old Nazzaro which Chamberlayne used to drive about the same time and which was once in the news because someone broke into its shed and tampered with it on the eve of a race. I have never been sure of the date of this car and whether or not it was a road-racing job.

In 1926 a car appeared on the Track which was described as having a Sunbeam airship motor in an M-type Napier chassis. It crashed in practice and the girl passenger was killed, which finished its career, although it started in one race before that. Who built it and was it the Napier I have just referred to? The “huge-engined” Bugatti in which Preston deported himself on the concrete I was able to investigate fairly thoroughly and it turned out to be the 1913 chain-driven 5-litre “Black Bess,” now beautifully restored by Col. Giles. But what of that 3-litre Singer which de Jongh ran once or twice in 1925? I have a hunch it would be a pre-1914 car, because some quite famous Singers competed at Brooklands in those days, whereas this make was not represented after the Armistice; yet if this car was over 12 years old at this time the fact seems generally to have escaped attention. You may say that Brooklands cars, like flies in the autumn, just fade away one by one, but at least road-racing cars which have gone to Brooklands for a final spell of racing are usually remembered, and traceable, for many years afterwards. Yet I have never found out which G.P. Rolland-Pilain it was which appeared at the Autumn Meeting of 1926 or who brought it to England, while that beautifully proportioned 3-litre Austro-Daimler, looking every inch a Brooklands car, but actually a Targa-Florio job, which poor Clive Dunfee drove into so many second places, has vanished entirely, after lying first at Palmer Reville’s in Merton, then in a Wimbledon showroom and later at Arthur Baron’s. Here, again, for which Targa was it constructed and how did it fare under the Sicilian sun before it saw the Weybridge concrete? Which reminds me that a friend who still piles up huge weekly mileages on business of national importance was recently whiling away some spare moments in a Midland breaker’s yard when he came upon a pre-1914 Peugeot chassis with two bucket seats and a bolster tank. The engine was missing, but now, I fancied, we had solved the fate of the 1913 G.P. Peugeot reported to be in this country. However, I am told the chassis in question has wooden wheels…. Any solutions?

That Register

Publication of the Register of the Unique seems to have been well worth while, judging by the number of enquiries which came in. It is, perhaps, rather curious that many of them about cars in the South came from the Midlands or beyond, so that one wonders how on earth the enquirers expected to be able to collect the things these difficult times. But clearly there is plenty of interest in the old or more unique vehicles. Several people just posted postcards with the reference numbers on, instead of enclosing stamped cards for reply, but the Editor bore the brunt and all enquiries have been dealt with. Just recently I was informed of six or more pre-1914 veterans behind a wood yard only a few miles from my present home. A three-cylinder Swift, a V-twin Hillman “Dobbin” and a really early Wolseley were rumoured to be amongst them; but, alas! they have vanished without trace. We located the showman who was reputed to have been the owner just as he was tending his traction engine at a local fair. We felt hopeful, for the friend who had seen the old cars five years earlier had had a chit from this very showman, entitling him to purchase any number of them for cash. A vivid blonde in charge of a coconut shy directed us to the engine and signed to the unshaven occupant that he was wanted. Yes, he remembered the cars, but they all went to Blackpool, 20 of them sold for £14 the lot. We were visibly shaken, but responded to the suggestion that we should inspect a few remaining ones in a shed yonder. Here all we found were some disused “Dodgem” cars, and it slowly dawned on us that it was of these our informant had been speaking. We still do not know whether it was for these lifeless vehicles that that chit was issued to our friend nearly half-a-dozen years earlier…. More promising is news of a two-cylinder Colibri with external brake and gear levers, said to have been running very recently, now for sale for £10 in a York breaker’s, and a £5 1914 Rover running until very recently at Liverpool. On the whole the list seems to have been worth while. It is most interesting to learn that the Veteran Car Club has its own Register of old cars. This embraces 180 cars owned by members and certified as pre-1905, 193 owned either by non-members or not yet certified as pre-1905 (of which 81 are known to be pre-1905) and 79 believed to be of 1905-11 vintage. That makes one gasp, but it seems possible that we have found a few not known to the Veteran Car Club, and we intend to send them a list of all the pre-1914 cars submitted for entry in our Register of the Unique, although, strictly, those of 1905-14 vintage should be the concern of the veteran section of the Vintage S.C.C. Good luck, too, to Capt. J.J. Hall’s proposed veteran motor-cycle club. We shall always be glad to hear of more veterans that might be saved from the scrap-heap.

Salvage finds

All good British citizens are now turning out as scrap as much paper and rubber as they can lay hands on. Search for the former sometimes results in the discovery of individual documents too precious to throw away. One fortunate mortal reports finding the first two bound volumes of The Cycle-car, at a Tooting bookseller’s of all places, and craves a Carden two-stroke in consequence. Then readers have sent us odd finds, numbering a 1913 Show Report from The Tatler, motoring pages from a very early Society paper, and an advertising reprint from the official catalogue of the Motor-Car Exhibition at the Agricultural Hall, of the Automotette. Unfortunately, no date appears on the last-named, but we learn from it that this three-wheeler, which had tiller steering and a single rear wheel, cost 130 gns. in London and was made by the Compagnie Francaise des Cycles et Automobiles of Paris. It had a horizontal, single-cylinder “petroleum spirit” motor, capable of a little over 3 h.p. at its normal speed of 450 r.p.m. Water-tank cooling was provided and there were two speeds, of 12 and 24 k.p.h. respectively, by means of two expanding clutches on the motor shaft. Final drive was by belt, and when the handle brake was applied the belt was automatically slackened to put the car “out of gear.” Pneumatic tyres were fitted. Does anyone know the age of this “catalogue”?

Odd spots

The Lea-Francis Owners’ Club has made quite a good job of its first Members Bulletin, and the subscription has been fixed at 10/6 per annum, or 5/ “for the duration” for Service members.

Tommy Wisdom has written a book about the R.A.F. in Libya – and that should be very good indeed.