Vintage Postbag, May 1959

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Sir,

First, may I say how much I enjoy your magazine. The article on valve gear is one of the best that I have seen.

There is a general misconception on the extent of the period during which the Stutz “Bearcat’ ” enjoyed its legendary popularity. If by “Bearcat” one means the four-cylinder “T”-head model without doors, its production covers the period beginning roughly in 1917 and extending to 1922 or 1923. Production of this type chassis with two-wheel brakes, rear-axle-cum-transmission and 16-valve engine with detachable cylinder head was ended with model KLDH in 1925. The detachable head was, I believe, used only from about 1922 on.

This car, while subject to much nostalgic thinking, was a brute to handle, and rode like an empty truck. In 1926 and 1927 they were considered to be absolute “dogs” on the used-car lots, and could be picked up, particularly in San Francisco and Los Angeles, for from $150 to $300.

The Stutz shared its popularity, particularly on the West Coast, with the Mercer “Raceabout” (discontinued 1923), and in the Middle West and East it had definite competition from the Revere, Roamer, Templar, and H.C.S. (built by Harry Stutz).

Later Stutz Bearcats, of the eight-cylinder variety, never seemed to catch on like the original, although of a much superior design.

The original Chrysler “70,” brought out in 1924, was what really gave the coup de grace to the four-cylinder classics, whether one wishes to admit it or not.

There is much more to be said on this subject, but it passes beyond the confines of a single letter.

I am, Yours, etc.,

“Young Old-Timer”

Sierra Madre, U.S.A.

***

Sir,

Perhaps Capt. Marendaz based the design of his Marendaz Special universal joint cum spherical mounting of the gearbox/torque tube/rear axle unit upon the 45 h.p. Renault, which from his description is exactly similar. The gearbox lever wiggles about in the chassis mounted gate when motoring on rough roads, but so far has never been pushed right out of gear. Perhaps the extraordinarily small ground clearance on the Renault was provided with the express purpose of restricting motoring to the better roads, and therefore restricting movement of the fabulous mass of unsprung machinery, estimated to be over 10 cwt. I have often wondered whether the addition of so much unsprung weight in a torque tube and gearbox layout is really worth the battle for better wheel adhesion when starting from rest, for the effect on performance at speed, cornering on a roughish surface especially, with this mass of dead weight, is an experience which only the owner of a Renault 45 would care to repeat. Or is there more to it than this ?

I enclose a photograph of some of the Renault’s unsprung innards, showing the spherical pivot, forward of the gearbox.

I am, Yours. etc.,

G. Ravenscroft

Taiping

***

 Sir,

In view of the letters which have recently appeared dealing with Salmsons, I thought the enclosed photographs of cars owned by my father in the ‘twenties might be of interest to you.

1. An early example which came, I believe, from Spikins. The driver is myself, aged 12 or 13, which makes it a 1922 or 1923 model. It was a delightful little car, quite lively, but with practically non-existent brakes. I seem to remember the gear ratios on second and top being very high. Having an essentially feminine character it came to be known in our family as Delilah. (Only this photograph would reproduce.—Ed.)

2. A very uninteresting two-seater and double-dickey with practically nothing to recommend it at all. It was slow, unreliable and stodgy, and had a very noisy back axle. This one was known as Samson.

3. A “clover-leaf” three-seater which could be wound up to a rather precarious sixty on a long straight stretch.

4. This was the chassis of the “clover-leaf” with an over-head camshaft G.P. engine and a very pretty coachbuilt mottled aluminium two-seater and dickey, with dark blue wings and upholstery. The top speed was about 65, but it developed a very noisy rear axle and usually took about twenty minutes to start.

5. A 1925 (I think) “10-15” with a special two-seater and single dickey. Its rear end shape was not unlike the early Triumphs. It was a sound car, but was very heavy and had hardly any urge, and practically no character. We kept it for about six years, having spent enough on it during that time to have bought a Rolls-Royce.

Looking back on these Salmsons, with the exception of the first, which I was too young to appreciate fully, they were a pretty dull lot. In every case the steering was very heavy and completely dead, their back axles were noisy, they were brutes to start and they frequently let us down on the road. But for some osbcure reason my father had a “thing” about the make, so my mother and myself resigned ourselves to a lot of pushing while he fiddled with the choke and urged us on to greater efforts. Fortunately for us our various houses during the Salmson era all had slopes running down from them.

My first car—a 1923 10/23 Talbot bought in 1934 for £3 10s. — was a sheer joy to drive after the old “10-15” Salmson. It always started, you could feel what was happening to the front wheels and it was full of character.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Gerard Bryant

London, S.W.13

***

Sir,

Spares for the excellent Meadows 4ED engine are becoming more difficult and crankshafts tend to suffer from fatigue!  I wonder if any vintage enthusiast has discovered a suitable replacement crank ? If so I should be delighted to hear from him.

I have fitted my own engine with Austin 12/4 pistons which are easily and cheaply obtainable. The edge of the crown must be bevelled off and a 3 mm. plate fitted below the block. Mine have proved satisfactory over 15,000 miles. Assembly is simplified if the crankcase baffles are reduced in size  — then the block complete with pistons and rods can be dropped on to the crankcase and the big-ends assembled from below, thus removing all chance of ring breakage.

With these pistons a crank with 90-95mm. stroke could be used without the plate, as with the block over-bored to take +60 Austin pistons the resulting bore and stroke would be 70.88 by (say) 94 with a compression-ratio of about 7.5 and volume of 1,485 c.c.

I now have ten years’ Motor Sport  absolutely complete and find them most valuable for reference.

I am, Yours, etc.,

E.G. May

Maidenhead

***

Sir,

I read your review of  “Austin Seven Specials” by L. M. Williams with great interest because I was the proud owner of a “Brooklands” model Austin Seven in the early ‘thirties.

I believe that the year of make was 1925 and I obtained it in exchange for a Chummy of the same vintage only to discover that it had lain in a breaker’s yard for some years and the wooden frame of the polished aluminium body was breaking up. The original body had a long pointed tail, staggered seats, no electrics, no doors, practically no weather protection and a large outside exhaust pipe with a fishtail on the end (no silencer!). The manifold was a “home-made-looking” welded up affair and was fitted with a single ancient up-draught Zenith with a choke much smaller than the inlet flange and although the car was great fun to drive, with quite a good performance and excellent road-holding (but poor brakes); it never ran really well until I fitted a standard manifold assembly from a Chummy. After this it would average over 40 m.p.h. and 52 m.p.g. on a 300-mile run.

I can confirm the 4.4 to 1 back axle because the torque tube broke and bent the propeller shaft, causing me some trouble and great expense to obtain a replacement.. The engine had an oil feed to the front main instead of a fan belt pulley, a balanced crankshaft, high-lift cams, tulip headed valves and a high-compression cast iron head. It would easily rev. up to the limit of the rev.counter (5,740 but not in top gear) and never overheated except in traffic jams.

I soon fitted the car up with electric lighting, dynamo, battery and starter, but after a trip to London and back the body disintegrated and I had to set to work and build another. This took three months of spare time working and the result was a smart two-seater with a Morgan style rear end, fold-flat windsceen and reasonable weather protection. The only performance figures I can remember are maxima of 55 m.p.h. in second and 64 in top.

The registered number of the car was KM3984 and it was sold for £5 in 1935 after a prospective buyer brought it back from a demonstration run with a broken crankshaft.

I am, Yours, etc.,

P. Thompson

Brixham

***

Sir,

Thank you for your interesting history of the Calthorpe car appearing in the April issue of Motor Sport.   Knowing that you had one of the 12/20s yourself, I was hoping for some notes about the firm.

Your photograph of the 10.4 model on test shows the identical type of about 1921 to that which I owned in 1924. You will note the high steering column, which was a distinguishing feature, and that the works, at least, knew how the disc wheels should be fitted, i.e., with the tyre valves on the outside. As you say, the Calthorpe was beautifully built, and I am sure would make a suitable subject for restoration.

Incidentally, besides the drilled steel connecting-rods, Zephyr, drilled steel, slipper pistons were also fitted in my car  —  quite something. The Hele-Shaw multi-plate clutch, running in oil, needed careful use, but was otherwise excellent. This car was fitted with a Bosch magneto, Claudel Hobson carburetter and Brolt lighting and starting, as well as a genuine honeycomb radiator.

Obviously, and this illustrates your point exactly, such a car as the Calthorpe was, and built to such a high specification, could hardly maintain its place in an industry which was rapidly turning towards cheapness and mass-production — sic transit, etc. Can you recall any other light car which was so attractive in every way as the Calthorpe Minor was in 1914 ?

I am, Yours, etc.,

C.R. Wood

London, W.5.

***

Sir,

I was most interested to read Mr. Michael Rabiger’s letter on the S.C.A.T. car.

At least one survives, in the shape of a 16/20-h.p. of 1907 manufacture in the possession of this Museum. Restoration work has not yet started, but it is hoped to have it on display in the not too distant future.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Michael Sedgwick, Curator, The Montagu Motor Museum,

Beaulieu

***

Sir,

According to some rather sketchy information in my possession only nine Pilgrim cars were ever designed and made by my father, the late F. T. Martineau, prior to the first world war.

Has anybody any information of any sort which will enable me to replace in some measure all of my father’s records which were blitzed out of existence during the second world war ?

Any information will be gratefully acknowledged.

I am, Yours, etc.,

P.L. Martineau

Walmley