The American dirt track racer
by Joe Scalzo ISBN 7603 1017 3 Published by MBI, £29.99 A book that deserves…
R. W. Pollack knows of ten keen Frazer-Nash owners in the Birmingham area. His own Black burn-engined “Shelsley” Frazer-Nash is being fitted with a Clyde supercharger by Chris. Shorrock. Leslie Seyd has very thoroughly rebuilt the ex-Shakespeare 1913 “12/14” Mors and also has the 1912 14-h.p. Gregoire. L. W. Thomas is building a 2-seater “special”, using 3 in. by 16-g. tubular chassis members, Lancia-type i.f.s. with soft springing, an ex-Ashby bronze-head, four-carburetter Riley engine with Laystall crankshaft, Martlett pistons, etc. He is unable to find close ratio gears for the Riley “Gamecock” gearbox he is fitting and would even exchange an old “11.9” Bugatti, minus back axle, for these.
An apprentice in the Austin Experimental Dept. reports that two of the “twin-cam” racing Austin Sevens are intact, one being in Austin’s showrooms and one in the shop, while one of the blown off-set s.v. cars is also safely preserved. A “14/45” Rover was encountered in Dorking recently and a 1927 “16/65” is reported near Slough, where a 1926 “20/60” Sunbeam has also been found. Then one or two Stars have been seen — a 1931 chassis sold recently for a modest £7 — and someone is seeking one of the old V-8 Guy cars, rumoured to be at a Midlands farm. Veteran car restorers may care to know of a set of Lucas acetylene headlamps and oil sidelamps, circa 1912, dirty but sound, which should be obtainable for a small sum. Price has now stripped down the engine of his “12/22” Lea-Francis and has found it in excellent condition after 70,000 miles service. He tells us that the aforementioned Calthorpe and Albert cars discovered in the Birmingham area have changed hands, and that a 1927 “16/4” Wolseley, a 1927 Morris-Oxford tourer and a 1925 Bean Fourteen, have come to light recently in that part of the universe.
That reminds us that a very decent “14/40” Vauxhall drop-head coupé was sold nearer London not long ago and that Alan Southon, having disposed of his Alvis, has acquired a 2-litre Ballot saloon from Windsor Richards. During the floods last month, Monaco Ltd., of Watford, borrowed a boat from Elstree Reservoir, fitted an outboard motor to it, and conducted some effective rescue work. Humphrey Jones has acquired a Type 35C straight-eight 2-litre G.P. Bugatti, and John Smith and Sydney Higgins have a 1 1/2-litre Bugatti, while Vivian Buck has changed his Type 35 Bugatti for a straight-eight, supercharged single-cam 1 1/2-litre Type 35B, which he hopes to run at Shelsley and elsewhere this season. The last-named car is believed to have run last at the Crystal Palace in 1939 and has a “2.3” chassis, No. 4863, a 2-gallon sprint tank in the passenger’s seat and certain engine parts and front axle chromium plated. Buck is very anxious to hear from past owners or from anyone who knows the car — his address is 34, Lea Road, Heaton Mon, Stockport. Further flattery — the latest publication in which we have encountered a “Cars I Have Owned” article is the Lancashire and Cheshire Car Club’s Gazette. It is possible that our own series of such articles will be revived in the future, as space permits.
Apparently the “Britool” people, of Wolverhampton, are making metric-size socket spanners, which will be welcome news to owners of Continental machinery. Dick Nash is pushing ahead with his scheme for a motoring, museum and Shell-Mex Ltd. have presented him with a really early Pennington. F/Sgt. Evans has a 1931 A.J.S. saloon. Out in America Russell Sceli, President of the S.C.C. of A., is rebuilding a Type 57 Bugatti chassis and seeks a drawing of its rear suspension and brake gear. He is finding difficulty in locating an engine and may have to resort to one out of a 1946 Buick; a 2-seater body will be beaten out of aluminium on the lines of that of the 57 SC “Competition” model. Axel Berg has bought from Tim Carson his 500-c.c. sprint car and talks of installing therein a d.t. Douglas engine tuned by Mavrogordato.
Paul Frére, of Brussels, is willing to help people with Ballot servicing data, his father having owned 1924 2-LT and 1927 2-LT, 1928 RH straight-eight and one of the last of the RH3 straight-eight Ballot cars. He wonders, incidentally, who is the R.A.F. officer running a very fine Type 43 Bugatti in the Brussels area.
There is some confusion about the correct timing of the 1,657-c.c. Blackburn-Six engine in a Frazer-Nash and a reader supplies the following data: Inlet opens: 18-20 deg. b.t.d.c., Exhaust closes: 14 deg. a.t.d.c., one tooth on flywheel equals 4.34 deg.; tappet settings: inlet .004 inch, ex. .006 inch, old; full ignition advance 9 1/2 teeth on flywheel. Which may help some-one or other. A fine sight on the Great West Road recently was an immaculate 4 1/2-litre Bentley saloon — full of policemen. Monica Whincop now has a most intriguing little car, in the form of a 1935 sports Fiat Balilla with a 1938 1,100-c.c. Balilla engine. She contemplates things like twin S.U.s, raised compression, stronger clutch springs, etc., so as to go even quicker than at present.
Major Peter Jackson has added an Anzani Frazer-Nash to his stable. Grey, who drove a “2.3” Bugatti last year, has acquired the 4-cylinder Maserati once raced by Teddy Rayson. Axel Berg has saved the 1908 Gobron which was rotting at Peasmarsh. Peck motors in a vintage sports Darracq and finds it excellent for negotiating flooded roads, with its high ground clearance and rear-placed magneto. Interesting “gate crashers” at the B.D.C. Kensington Gardens Rally included a Type 37 Bugatti a 3-litre Invicta, an S.S.-bodied f.w.d. Alvis, a 328 B.M.W. and a “38/250” Mercédès-Benz – but the Bentleys stole the show.
J. F. Gard has a 1928 “Brooklands” model Austin Seven. K. W. Bear had a most informative article in the March issue of “The Ulster Motoring Review” about his last-year’s hill-climb experiences. He obviously likes Bouley Bay and Craigantlet, especially the latter. At Prescott he commenced the Type 51 Bugatti at 1,000 r.p.m. in the wet or about 3,000 r.p.m. in the dry, changing quickly into 2nd at about 3,500 r.p.m. or 4,500 r.p.m., respectively. The first bend was taken at 50-60 m.p.h. and the finishing line was crossed at about the same speed. At Shelsley Walsh about 80 m.p.h. was reached before the S-bend and 100 m.p.h. over the line. Due to ill health L. C. Christensen is disposing of his Darracq-engined Pansy-Special which should make a nice trials car for someone. Tom Cole is having his Jaguar tuned and modified for sprint events and future sports car races. Stuart McNab is modifying a 1929 Riley Nine tourer for mild competition work and would be glad to hear from anyone who knows these cars from this angle. A friend of his has a P-type M.G. into which he is putting an R-type engine for sprint work.
Cars seen during Easter included an old bull-nose Morris, an Alta and an early aluminium Frazer-Nash near Perranporth, and a 2-speed s.v. Morgan-J.A.P. in Taunton.
The Vintage Sports Car Club has had to abandon its speed trial at Lewes on May 17th, but we believe the V.C.C. will stage a hill-climb near the Hog’s Back on that day. Persons up to 17 years of age can now join the V.S.C.C. for 10/- a year, no entry fee. Car badges are now ready, at 14/- each. The Secretary’s new address is: T. Carson, ” Mellaha”, Pack Lane, Kempshott, Basingstoke, Hants.
This month we depict Luigi Villoresi in his 16-valve four-cylinder Maserati in the Buenos Aires race. These cars will compete against the E-type E.R.A. (shown on the front cover of the April Motor Sport) in this season’s important races. In this country Parnell, Ansell, Connell and “Bira” own Maseratis of this sort, the last-named having, it is believed, a car with the latest form of rear suspension.
Phil Hunter, the Club’s original Secretary, is now at the helm again, and an Austin Seven spares scheme is being reintroduced. Hon Sec., P. H. Hunter, 28, Belmont Avenue, Welling, Kent.
V.S.C.C. of A.
That excellent journal, “The Vintage Car,” continues to arrive from Australia with news of the Vintage Sports Car Club of that continent — although, for reasons best known to the G.P.O., issues for different months arrive almost together. New members continue to be enrolled — and vintage cars to be unearthed. Recent additions include Lorraine-Dietrich, “Grand Sport” Amilcar, G.P. Salmson, “Brooklands” Riley, Aston-Martin, 1913 Siddeley-Deasy, an E-type “30/98,” and an Austin Seven. The pictorial front covers of the last-received issues of the “Vintage Car” are really rather fine — one depicts Lex Davison’s 1 1/2-litre Alfa-Romeo (which came in 6th in the Under-1,500-c.c. Short Handicaps at Bathurst) with his wife Diana taking its photograph, while the other is of Bill Chadwick’s famous 1912 Vauxhall 2-seater, A210 (therefore known as “Fifty Bob “). It was presented to Boyd Edkins by Luton as an appreciation of his competition successes when he was New South Wales representative for Vauxhall. In about 1922 the chassis was shortened and the 4-seater body replaced by the present 2-seater; in recent times Sunbeam f.w.b. have been added. Recently the old car was matched against a Jeep on acceleration and won easily. Two more of Shepherd’s grand articles carry us on through the vintage desirables, his latest efforts covering Amilcar and Isotta-Fraschini. No matter how much one knows of cars, there is ever something fresh to discover. From the latter article we learn that the Isotta catalogue gave the oil consumption of these cars as 280 m.p.g. The Club has just acquired a series of books containing all registration numbers of cars in S. Australia up to 80,000, giving owner and make from 1920 to 1927; would that something of the kind had been issued over here! The Christmas Trial was won easily by Dean’s 5th series Lancia “Lambda,” from Lane’s “30/98” Vauxhall, Davison’s S.S.K. Mercédès Benz, Camm’s G.S.S. Salmson and Coxhead’s E-type “30/98” Vauxhall.
Hon. Sec.: H. Beal Pritchett , 1, St, Neutral Bay, N.S.W.
Sheffield & Hallamshire M.C.
At the 43rd Annual General Meeting of the Sheffield and Hallamshire Motor Club held on 21st February, approval was given to a new constitution which will undoubtedly form a more efficient basis for the Club. In accordance with this constitution a Management Committee was elected to deal with the general affairs of the Club and then two separate sections were formed, one for Cars and one for Motor-Cycles, each to have its own Chairman and Committee but each to be accountable to the Management Committee for their deeds. Mr. J S. Jenkins was smartly re-elected to the position of President of the Club, in spite of sharp but true and constructive criticism which he made when reviewing the previous year’s work.
The Car Section held its first meeting on Friday, 7th March, and a committee was elected with Mr. D. G. Flather as Chairman, Mr. R. W. Phillips as Captain and Mr. K. G. Settle as Trials Secretary. Details of the future programme were discussed and it is likely that some of the old Home Guard excuses will be coming to light again! Sec., J. D. Foster, 7, Evelyn Road, Sheffield 10.
The Right Idea
The following is taken from the Sunday Express dated March 23rd: —
“Sergeant Harold Holden, of the Cambridge Borough Police, covered the 74 miles from Staines to Cambridge in 90 minutes with a packet of the drug streptomycin needed to save a child desperately ill in hospital with pneumonia. He made a midnight drive in a sports car chosen for its road-holding qualities.”
Showing the Flag
Three Austin Sixteen saloons were driven by S. C. H Davis, Alan Hess and Denis Buckley 3,000 miles under appalling weather conditions from Stavanger to Geneva, on the occasion of the recent Geneva Motor Show. They checked in on time at Geneva in spite of having been hours behind sehedule en route. No mechanical trouble of any kind was experienced and the Managing Director of Austin’s was so pleased that he gave the cars away to the Movietone News, Fox Photos and Reuters representatives who accompanied the cars.
Bentley Drivers’ Club
The March issue of the Bentley Drivers’ Club Review is quite something, running to 40 well-illustrated pages, and Dr. Benjafield’s Le Mans reminiscences are continued therein. Future issues are to be all in small type and will preserve a 50/50 balance between topical and historical matter and this Review will then be quite the best thing in Club publications. On March 29th, the Kensington Gardens Rally was held, unfortunately under traditionally damp conditions. It seemed there was no stemming the great flow of Bentleys entering the metropolis and one felt that more old-school cars must have congregated than were ever made! It was a truly magnificent assembly, and practically every type was represented from immaculate Vanden Plus 3-litres to very grand 8-litres – we felt that for sheer dignity the closed-bodied examples of the latter model outdid even the two modern 4 1/2-litres, which were present. All told, 120 vintage Bentleys answered Stanley Sedgwick’s call. At the A.G.M. held subsequently at the “Rembrandt” Wing-Comdr. Woolf Barnato arrived in his Mk. VI Bentley to take the chair. He opened by saying that the Club now had 429 members, whereas last year it had but a hundred. The existing Committee was re-elected, together with three new members, and the Club’s business was got through exceedingly quickly — a reflection on how satisfied are members with the conduct of their Secretary and Committeemen. Wing-Comdr. Barnato announced that Elliot’s blower 4 1/2 had won the prize for the best-kept Rally car and Elliot was forthwith presented with a bottle of champagne — incidentally, McKenzie, as Judge, had to check such things as chipped teeth on starter rings, etc., before finally deciding that Elliot’s car had won. Wing Comdr. Pressland’s 8-litre was runner-up, Alexander’s 4 1/2-litre 3rd, and Whittingham’s car the best 3-litre. Wing-Comdr. Barnato said he was leaving for America in three days time on the “Queen Elizabeth” and would be staying with John Stack, American representative of the Club, at his Henry Hudson Hotel, before going on to California. He was taking over his Mk. VI, to show it to the Americans. On the following day another of those excellent contests took place at the Hendon Police School between The Club and the Police. Thirty-seven Bentleys and their crews arrived in pouring rain at the Metropolitan Police Driving School at Hendon for the second annual celebration of what some jester has titled “The Gestapo Grand Prix!”
The conducted tour of the instructional buildings and garage was but shorter, to a certain extent, to allow maximum dicing time — and competitors were able to put in some practice runs beforehand, a great improvement on last year.
The Clerk of the Weather decided to co-operate at this point and the sun appeared at intervals throughout the remainder of the proceedings.
Alexander (4 1/2litre) and Mareehal (“Speed Six”) created a mild sensation in practice, by negotiating, under police observation, a certain acute bend leading into the skid-pan at speeds greater than the existing Driving School record for this corner, namely 58 m.p.h. Alexander came through at 60 m.p.h. and Marechal at 62 m.p.h.
The competition was won by the Police, with 691 points against the club’s 641, and they gave an exemplary display of driving which was at once a delight and an education to watch. Each event was preceded by a demonstration in slow motion of what competitors were expected to carry out, by Gregory’s incredible 1904 Darracq, with a police officer as either driver or crew. Timekeeper was John Hyslop (Bugatti Owners’ Club),. and Anthony Heal (Vintage S.C.C.) came along to Judge.
At the end of the morning, a very beautiful trophy was presented to the club by Capt. Minchin, President of the Driving School, and Stanley Sedgwick reciprocated, for the club, with a huge picture, specially executed by George Lane for the occasion, of a “Blower 4 1/2-litre Bentley at Speed,” together with an appropriate plaque. The assembly then retired to the police club-house.
Outstanding performances of driving were given by Sgts. Tisdell, Perkins and Skeggs of the police, on the School’s Lagonda, and by Alexander (4 1/2-litre) and Marechal (“Speed Six”) of the club. The latter had the misfortune to smite a bank and slightly damage a rim, when the skid-pan ternporarily took charge in the final event, but still achieved a good time despite a jammed rear drum.
Great thanks are due to the police for their courtesy and hospitality. The value of these events both to the former and also to the motor-sporting contingent cannot be over-estimated.
Results were as follows: —
Event 1 (“Not swinging the lead”): Police 169, Club 149 points.
Event 2 (“Reversing”): Police 201, Club 200 points.
Event 3 (“Not pranging the bucket”): Police 117, Club 86 points.
Event 4 (“Sprint and skid”): Club 206, Police 204 points.
Teams. — Police: Sgts. Perkins, Harper, Scott, Shillabeer Gubbins, Steele, Skeggs, Teare, Tisdell, Candish, Messrs. Frakes, Pocock and Gray. Bentley Drivers’ Club: Messrs. Dudley, Stout, Taylor, Dunn, Green, Wilson-Spratt, im Thurn, Bashall, Alexander, Marechal, Norris, and S/Ldr. Crampton.
It was a brilliant idea on the part of the Vintage Motor Cycle Club to hold a gathering of old-timers. This went with a great swing and amongst the celebrities present were Graham Walker, Arthur Bourne, Jim Hall, Baragwanath, McNab, Prof. Low, J. A. Prestwich, Rex Judd, and Grenville Bradshaw. Bourne was anxious that really outstanding vintage motorcycles should be collected and Walker saw in the vintage cult an opportunity to escape into a past glorious in history and bright in memory. He also thought purchase of a vintage machine time best apprenticeship to motorcycling — in this connection, although prices of old mounts generally are higher than they should be, we are glad that the still remain well below the ridiculous level reached for cars of similarly limited if creditable appeal.
James Agate, in a review of “The FiIlibusters,” by John Lodvvick: –
“Who is not familiar with the novelist who paints a picture of a ribbon of road gleaming in the moonlight, and then goes on to say that ‘the driver opened the throttle and felt the car bound beneath him like a live thing’? But a horse is a live thing, and it looks as though our young people are going to set more store by a £40 pony with a mane and tail than by four thousand quids’ worth of ironmongery, which can never be anything but dead no matter how hard it may pretend.”
Some 180 persons, including members of the 750, Cemian C.C., Berkhamsted and Harrow Car Clubs, saw the Indianapolis sound and colour film lent us by the Firestone Tyre and Rubber Co., on Thursday, March 27th , at the Hartley Hall, Mill Hill, and listened to Laurence Pomeroy giving us his impressions of the race, and answering questions.
Regarding Mr. Pomeroy’s talk, perhaps the main point he made was that the American cars showed development of engines at the expense of chassis design, brakes and suspension, and also the general efficiency of the organisation was at a surprisingly low level. He also stressed that a number of design features that have been adopted on private cars were tried out long before at Indianapolis, such as f.w.d., constant velocity universal joints and 2-stage blowing. The cars were run in top gear the whole time, and notwithstanding the indifferent chassis features, they really did travel astonishingly fast.
The film dealt at some length with the earlier races at the track, and showed Wilbur Shaw, the winner of the first event in 1911, at the wheel of the actual car he drove. Interesting was the scene of the drive past of veteran cars preceding the start, including a White Steamer, a 1900 Oldsmobile driven by Ab Jenkins, a 1908 2-cylinder Buick, a Model T Ford, and coming up to the present day with a 1946 Chrysler Station Wagon. Finally, the 1946 race itself, with close-ups of some of the cars at pit stops and a complete view of two crashes. Naturally the theme running through the entire show was the Firestone tyre, and Wilbur Shaw’s 500 miles on synthetics at an average of over 100 m.p.h. in 1944 was emphasised; especially impressive was a close-up of one of the front tyres suffering distortion at its point of contact with the road on a fast curve.
The evening finished with Laurence Pomeroy answering questions and making a resumé of the film we had just seen.
Regarding N.L.E.C.C. future events, there will be a Rally and Concours d’Elegance at Aston Clinton on May 18th.
The Bentley Drivers’ Club hoped to run a sports-car race before the big race at Jersey, on May 8th, but, although sympathetic, R. L. Sangan, Hon. Sec. of the Jersey M.C. & L.C.C., has advised the B.D.C. that this is not possible and, further, that on the advice of the J.C.C. it is considered inadvisable to hold a sports-car race over the St. Helier circuit this year.
The winter of 1946-7 will long be remembered, and there is some satisfaction in having continued to motor in an aged Austin Seven exactly as intended, come snow, fog, ice and flood. On one of these journeys one side of Oxford Street, in the City of London, was barricaded off because authority considered that the ice hummocks formed thereon — largely as a result of setting men to pitch the frozen snow off the pavements into the road — impassable to vehicles. That caused a really first-class traffic muddle, through which we inched side by side with someone’s fine 2-litre vintage Lagonda, reflecting on how curious it was to find vehicles equipped with chains in the heart of the Metropolis. A.30 was little better and how our truly incredible little Austin — which should by rights have fallen asunder long since — survived the buffeting only Longbridge can know.
With the eventual advent of better weather came more concentrated motoring. A supercharged Ford Ten was subjected to normal to-ing and fro-ing for a while and showed its dislike of a driving blizzard by ceasing on a lonely road over the heathland near Bagshot. A considerate Army officer allowed us to creep dejectedly into his snug Vauxhall saloon and we went in search of petrol, persuading a confectioner to give us a large sweet jar as receptacle. A gallon of the precious fluid failing to appease the Ford we were towed by a venerable Lancia “Lambda” to the Whinlands Works and given-a first-rate reception by Pat and Mary Whittet, who exist down at Lightwater to exude sympathy and service on just such an occasion as this.
The trouble proved trivial and we were soon on our way. Possibly that episode was the cause; the fact is we went off on the morrow in the Ford to view the Pioneer motorcycle run to Brighton, possessed of what felt like an abnormal temperature, which even the perfect weather couldn’t dispel. However, a bit of prowling round in search of an old time trials hill alleged to run up on to the North Downs (we didn’t find it; only a permanently closed level-crossing and a tree across a lane!), and lunching unexpectedly and excellently at a café, the walls of which were hung with early maps of Surrey and Hampshire, improved the outlook not a little. So much so that that night we decided to take a long-overdue trip to Liverpool to inspect a certain “l2/50” Alvis.
In a gale which we afterwards learnt was a record one, we took the Ford down to the local garage (whose proprietor is a keen B.M.W. driver) to fill its tank, returning to don extra clothing, take on a few tools, top up with oil and sort out the maps. As an afterthought we threw in gumboots and a spade. After all, we were going north! The dashboard clock showed 12.20 a.m. as we left. Over familiar roads to Reading we got along rapidly enough, this blown Ford an excellent car for a run of this sort. It seemed we would make good time, although every so often we would have to swing round a fallen tree and twice we had to crawl through long stretches of fast-flowing flood water. Then, running downhill at nearly 60, a policeman waved at us to stop. The Girlings took the situation in hand, we were told of a tree completely across the road, and took the unwanted detour down six miles of narrow lanes. Oxford came up at last — “Cowley,” the passenger murmured sleepily, as we passed a big factory. The gale had now abated, but fallen trees, draped with telephone wires, were everywhere and sometimes only by motoring on the footpath could we get by. A car less rugged or willing than this Nordec Ford would have been an embarrassment on such a night. With Chipping Norton next on the route-card we swung left down a road guessed as the correct one because a stub of broken signpost arm pointed to it. Within a few hundred yards the wet surface gave place to white and snowdrifts could be seen across our path, beyond the limit of the headlamps’ beams. We tried charging the first one — and stuck fast. An hour’s work with the spade and we were able to reverse out. Prospecting on foot revealed the road well and truly blocked, and, even as we debated our new route, a lorry went by, grumbled on its gears and ceased to move forward.
Hailing another lorry at the T-junction ahead of us we were told it had come through from Birmingham, making a detour to avoid one fallen tree and taking to the footpath to negotiate another — the driver was expecting to find a way through to Bournemouth, but, he said philosophically, if he couldn’t he’d stay where he fetched up until the roads were cleared. So, following his advice, we pressed on. On the outskirts of Binningham we bought oil and, hearts sinking, asked the way. A little later we confirmed our direction from a policeman. In half a mile we were utterly and completely lost. Then began the game all travellers play in this maze-city. We asked ‘bus drivers, night workers, policemen. They would consider, haltingly direct us, and lose us, if possible, more completely than before. Feeling the strain, at the height of this game we appealed to a constable for an all-night café. He had best come with us, he said, otherwise we might get lost. We all but hauled him into the car. When he got out he said we could practically see the turning we needed, but must just go round the one-way system to it. We followed his detailed instructions to the letter — and found the place, on foot, half an hour later! We can only assume that ideal inhabitants of Birmingham carry pieces of chalk with which to mark their return routes and that many persons posted missing are motorists still looking for the way out. The café was a dirty building outside which we queued with unshaven Service men — inside most of the tables were supporting the drooping heads of more Service men and women, temporarily lost to the world — lost, too, we were sure, in his great city. To our surprise we ate one of the best ham sandwiches ever and, after another tussle with ring roads and one-way streets, came on to the Wolverhampton arterial as the dawn broke. Followed miles of ice-surfaced going, the Ford proving stable by reason of its special but giving us some anxious moments nevertheless. We ran into Liverpool with the fuel gauge at zero and our jerrycan empty, tanked up, paid 1s. 8d. for the privilege of an eerie dice through the Mersey Tunnel (last used on the way to Southport on a burning summer’s day in 1936) and continued along tram-infested thoroughfares until the sand-dunes of the river closed in on our left-hand and we knew it was time to search for a garage containing an Alvis.
Business attended to, “breakfast” taken in a suburban shop, we followed a Standard Eight to the Warrington Road and pressed the Ford hard all the way to Coventry — treatment it apparently enjoyed, save for a momentary stoppage in the fuel supply.
Nearing Coventry, the fun began again as it had at Birmingham. People who had worked at Rootes No. 2 factory directed us to places entirely devoid of factories. A foreign gentleman, who had also worked there, insisted on leaping into the laden back-part of our car, and, in stern broken English, told us how to proceed, insisting that we should rush madly along, regardless of traffic lights and the like. After a worrying quarter of an hour he succeeded in directing us to a children’s playground. Desperate — for it was 4 p.m., we were unfed, unshaven, very tired, and had 100 Miles still to do and a Sunbeam-Talbot to find — we asked a post man. “Easy,” he said, “turn left at the lavatories.” Of course, there were no lavatories. At last, a policeman got us to Rootes Factory No. Something-or-other, and, braving the immaculate chauffeuse in Hillman Minx and the smart commissionaires, we enquired again. This time we landed in a sort of farmyard, where a stout woman presided. “Where,” we screamed, “is the Rootes Works?” “Ain’t no woodworks ‘ere,” she considered. “No, no,” we said, “a motor factory.” “Ain’t no motor factories ‘ere,” she said. ” What, not in the whole of Coventry?” we exploded. A long pause. “There may be one — Standard they calls it,” she said . . .
Much later, by the back gate, we got there. Under the disdainful noses of disgruntled commissionaires we were ushered to the Publicity Manager’s office. Mr. Oakley is an understanding man. His colleague, he explained, had been away for two days and had wired that all roads were impassable. He could well understand the difficulties of a run down from — where had we said? —Liverpool. A glimpse of the orderly floodlit factory, systematically turning out lots of Hillmans and Sunbeam-Talbots despite present restrictions and setbacks, was taken from a glass-fronted alcove after curtains had been dramatically drawn aside – to us, it was as a glimpse of fairyland.
Soon we were in a new Sunbeam-Talbot Ten saloon — and could not have wished for a more willing or restful car. A worried gate-keeper demanded our destination. “Hampshire,” we yelled. and pressed on the accelerator.
A hasty meal and we were heading for home, close behind the Ford, finding ourselves possessed of rather more speed and low-end acceleration, less performance up hills, so that a mighty “dice” ensued, punctuated by long periods of crawling in second gear through flooded sections of road. We arrived at Fleet as we had commenced, a few yards separating the two cars. And so to bed — we recollect a garage where we paused for oil and the garage-man telling of a certain little British saloon which came in, running far from well, and they walked up the road and swept up two of its con.-rods and pistons with a broom. Or did we dream it?
Came Easter, and naturally we went off to the “Land’s End” and the Team Trial. A friend arrived some time before midnight on Good Friday and after a meal we were away, down A.30 to the West Country. “Quite like old times,” we said, as the Vauxhall Ten ran across Salisbury Plain in the moonlight, a competing car coming up astern to pass at speed. At Taunton, where the motorcyclists were already threading their way, between lines of onlookers, to the starting marshal, under the watchful eye of “Jackie” Masters and Ralph Venables, we sought Deller’s, and breakfast. Over this meal, taken at the odd hour of 4.30 a.m., a friend who used to come with us on countless pre-war trips was encountered, so that we lingered, reminiscing, ere we gathered up kit and followed his Riley saloon — the sort that makes a noise like an air-raid siren when it starts — the seventy or so odd miles to Darracott. Here the usual varied concourse of spectators had assembled, two dear old ladies and divers locals included. We returned to the car as heavy rain commenced to fall and drove sleepily along the main road to Hustyn, encountering on the way an elderly “12/24” Citroen saloon making its sedate passage through a little town. The rain bade us return quickly to the car after a long walk to see how Hustyn’s famous water splash had fared during the recent floods, and as we were moving off the Riley unexpectedly re-appeared and we joined forces as far as Bluehills, magic names like St. Columb Minor, Newquay, Perranporth and St. Agnes now gracing the signposts. Good country.
The weather at the summit of Bluehills was trying in the extreme and we were relieved to get back into Perranporth, where an astonishing thing happened. At the check, where Masters again kept watchful vigil, his leather coat gleaming with rain, we located a friend who had gone at the last minute as ballast in Wick’s Allard. We suggested to him that he should seek accommodation, as we were so wet as to make the run back to Taunton that night seem unwelcome. He vanished, shortly to return. “I have got something,” was all he said. And he had. In a town crowded with trials folk he had found ideal accommodation, at a guest house not normally open. We were taken in, given a hot bath, and set before the fire while an admirable meal was prepared. Relatives of the proprietress had come down, as they had done for years, to spectate on Bluehills. They, too, were wet. Everyone talked of the trial as clothes steamed before the fire. We retired to bed, were given a grand breakfast next morning and were on our way by 11 a.m. The charge was 10s. 6d. each. And people say tourists in this country experience inhospitality. Nonsense, we thought, as we drove out of Perranporth, where Morrish’s Frazer-Nash and other cars were being prepared for the long run home. Over a rain-soaked main road we went nearly to Exeter, the Vauxhall averaging better than 40 m.p.h. and still giving some 85 m.p.g. One of the highlights of this run was the sight of Peter Chirk’s 1914 Grand Prix Mercédès going great guns about five miles west of Oakhampton on its way down for the Trengwainton speed hill-climb on the morrow.
Turning off across country we were able to appreciate Devonshire scenery at its best — white-washed farm-houses and the more sombre buildings adjacent nestling at the foot of the hills in this green-and-red patchwork countryside. The Exe closed in on our right, a single railway line twisting and turning alongside it, and we came downhill to Stoodleigh Bridge. Here a wonderful repast of scones, watercress, sandwiches, and cakes in great profusion washed down by tea, was partaken of before a welcome log fire at Riverside Lodge. Again the charge was surprisingly moderate. Then we were on our way to catch up with the Team Trial. We left, after tea in Taunton, and were at our home in Hampshire by 1 a.m. on the Monday. Another motoring Easter had come and gone.
by Joe Scalzo ISBN 7603 1017 3 Published by MBI, £29.99 A book that deserves…
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