More about the Marlborough-Thomas in New Zealand
In Motor Sport for September, 1942, we published an account of a Parry-Thomas car which is now in New Zealand and which, as stated in a “Stop Press” column in the November, 1942 issue, was subsequently found to be one of the Marlborough-Thomas cars. This article has inspired a letter reproduced below, from F./Sgt. Douglas E. Wood, R.N.Z.A.F., of Auckland, giving further details of this interesting car, which was at one time owned and driven by him. It will be seen that he adds further evidence to prove that the car is a Marlborough-Thomas and not one of Thomas’s 4-cylinder Thomas-Special single-seaters, as we at first supposed. These Marlborough-Thomas cars were 2-seaters and were raced in this country by Parry Thomas and George Duller, one also appearing as a sports car. with abbreviated flaired wings, at the 1924 Show. In the 1923 200 Mile Race at Brooklands Thomas’s car retired after 45 laps and Duller’s after 60 laps, and in the 1924 200 Mile Race these cars again retired, Thomas experiencing much tyre trouble and the bodywork also coming to bits. In these races 70 x 97 mm. (1,493 c.c.) engines were used, but at Kop early in 1924 Thomas ran with a 70 x 120 mm. (1,840 c.c.) engine in one of these cars, making a rapid and steady ascent. ln its New Zealand form the car is said to be of 1,100 c.c. A letter from G. Easterbrook-Smith. joint secretary with E. Sharrock of the New Zealand Sports and Racing Car Club, dated December 12th. 1942, informs us that he was mistaken in saying that the car had a camshaft-drive reminiscent of’ a 3-litre Bentley, as eccentrically-driven rods are actually employed, as used on the Leyland Eight and Leyland-Thomas cars, and, in somewhat different form, on the 6.5-litre and 8-litre Bentley engines and the twin o.h.c. Sports Maudsley. Douglas Wood’s letter reads as follows:–
I have just finished reading the September, 1942, copy of your most excellent publication and was pleased to read the article on the Thomas-Special, written by my friend Geoffrey Easterbrook-Smith, of Wellington. As I used to own and drive this veteran. I thought a few more notes and one or two corrections might not be amiss.
As “E.B.” says, the car came to New Zealand in 1928, being imported by one. Paul, of Wanganui. who used to take it to the then reasonably numerous race meetings throughout the country. Most of these were beach meetings and as the gearing was exceedingly high the car never showed up its best. After about four years Paul disposed of it, and from then on it has never stayed in the hands of anyone for very long, and to my knowledge has had seven owners. Very few or them have understood the car. and when I purchased it, it was very sick. For years I had watched the car on different tracks, where it always started off well and after two or three laps started missing till it finally faded out. The car was well known as a very poor stayer. When I look delivery, a case or spares and a box of carburetters came with it. I’ve never seen so many different sorts of gas-works! There were Zenith, Claudels, S.U.’s., R.A.G.s, Solex. Tillottson, Stromberg, Binks Mouse Traps, Smiths and Carters, with manifolds to suit. There were three sets of’ pistons of various compression ratios, spare crown wheels (two ratios), magnetos and the usual bits and pieces that go with a car of its type. The various carburetters had all been tried by different owners in attempts to effect a cure and ensure reliability without avail.
Not unnaturally, the first thing I did was to pull the engine to bits to endeavour to understand it. The workmanship was of the highest order, and internally the works were in good nick. No 1.5-litre crankshaft ever appeared, and from what I could ascertain, had ever reached the country. However, for 1,100 c.c, the car was fast enough. I decided to resort to cunning to cure the erratic running and obtained the valve timing of a fast. “Brooklands” Riley Nine, which was performing well out here, the design and performance of the two cars being similar. I fitted the medium compression pistons and used aviation spirit arid hoped for the best. Enquiry revealed that the original carburation was from a single Zenith, so acting on the presumption that Parry Thomas knew best, I fitted that and scrapped others.
The results were pleasant, though not, perfect, as at about 5,500-6,000 r.p.m, an occasional cough and rough running signified trouble yet to be found. I tried the spare magneto. It was worse. To cut a long story short, I found the magneto was at fault, and after the armature was rewound I had no more trouble, and the old car would run sweetly right up to 6,000 r.p.m. without a murmur. For racing I used the high-compression pistons and a benzole mixture. The car was definitely not suitable for anything but a concrete track, as the top gear ratios are either 2 to 1 or 3 to 1, according to which crown wheel was fitted. Only once was the 2 to 1 ratio used when I had it: top gear then felt like an overdrive!
You mention in parentheses in the September notes that the car may have had disc wheels and two brakes. Wrong both times. Wire wheels and very good four-corner braking. The wheel are of the old type not often seen, with which Singer Nines of 1930-32 were fitted – Dunlops with a very large hub. To lower the ratios for beach work I borrowed a complete set of similar wheels of only 20 in. diameter from a 10-h.p. Berliet, a big tourer in the French style, with the most diminutive motor.
On these wheels my best lap speed on Hennings track at Langere was 87 m.p.h. [This all confirms that the car is a Marlborough-Thomas, as it was the single-seater 4-cylinder Thomas-Special that had disc wheels and no front brakes. Ed.]
Despite everything I’d been told the car was easy to drive, and the torsion bar suspension was amazing. Each axle was fitted with hydraulic shockers as well as patent spring wire rope affair wound round a drum, and by varying the shock-absorbers the car would be made to ride like a town limousine. The ground clearance also could be altered by varying the position of the radius-arms on the splines of the torsion bars. No electrical equipment was fitted, so the car was not used for much road work, although it was tractable enough; in fact, in all its phases and speeds it was a docile car. I’ve met many stock model cars with far more vices.
I was very interested in the speeds you quoted [actually for the Thomas-Special and not the Marlborough-Thomas.-Ed.], and can well believe the car capable of the performance, especially if the engine was in tune, and left alone. A later owner fitted a makeshift electrical installation; provision had been made in the design for the fitting of a generator between the front engine foot and the magneto. A long brass shalt with Simms couplings took up the space which would otherwise have been occupied by an armature shaft. One of’ these couplings parted once, while I was running the engine at 5.500 r.p.m., and with a whizz and a clatter the shaft flew across the hangar and punched a hole in sheet iron. I will never know how it missed the dozens of Moths parked there by unsuspecting owners. Rather than risk a recurrence of the episode I mounted the magneto on the generator platform and turned up a much smaller coupling. I had remarkably few breakages, considering the experimentation I carried out on the chassis. One night coming back from the track I broke a camshaft bearing casting, due to valve bounce. Later, a so-called friend of mine broke my 3 to 1 crown wheel through getting the car stuck in the sand at a beach meeting.
Easterbrook Smith says he thinks the car originally had a long tail broken off at Henning’s Speedway. Wrong again. The Thomas has never had a smash. and body is still, I believe, the same shape as it was originally. [Actually, from the photographs, the tail looks different from that used at Brooklands. Ed.] The car which did climb a tree at Mangere was Dick Messengart’s “Special”,a Fronty Model T Ford, developing over 100 b.h.p., which by most ingenious use or two Ford epicyclic boxes and a special differential, had four speeds with a top gear of about 2.5 to 1. Alas, the chassis failed to make the grade and the motor dragged it up the bank.
Dick preserves with loving care one of the old 1914 Sunbeams, as you may know. Funny how these old cars gravitate to the Antipodes. Count Zborowski’s 1924 Miller raced successfully here for many years, finally wrapping itself around a pole in Victoria, N.S.W., when it went over to Australia. One of Mrs. Wisdom’s Rileys came out here a few years ago and I had a fair amount of experience with one of the last factory blown s.v single-seater Austins. In fact, throughout the country one comes across specimens of many fine marques which have a continental past.
Sports motoring in this country is now practically at a standstill, and though never numerous, the sight of a pair of Rudge nuts is something to remark upon. We have a petrol ration earth month for those folk not able to obtain a petrol licence (1 gallon per month for 7-8 h.p.. 2 for big stuff), so pleasure motoring is stagnant. I myself get in a fair monthly mileage, mostly on my willing Austin Seven (very definitely vintage), the remainder being made up on Velo. 2-strokes. V 8s. 2-ton trucks, vans and tractors, plus a few yards in Oxfords and Hudsons. One of these latter is making the night hideous outside now, running up its engines and using enough petrol in doing so to propel my Seven for a year.
This letter is beginning to ramble, so without wasting any more of your space, I’ll wish you the brightest future for your splendid publication.
I am, Yours etc.,
Douglas E. Wood, F/Sgt. R.N.Z.A.F.