Vintage Postbag, May 1964
The First Four-W-D Car
May I first congratulate you on your excellent and very valuable motoring magazine Motor Sport.
I was very shocked on reading the letter from Mr. N. F. Newsome, Director of Harry Ferguson Research, Ltd., in which he tried to have us believe that Mr. Otto Zachow, of Wisconsin, built the first four-wheel-driven car in 1907. We might expect that the Director of Harry Ferguson Research Ltd. knows the entire history of 4-w-d cars. But in this he is very wrong.
I do not know which person first built a 4-w-d car, but in 1902 the Dutch brothers J. and H. J. Spyker built two 4-w-d racing cars in their factory at Amsterdam!
Not only were these 4-w-d but they were also the first 6-cylinder cars in the World! They also had 4-wheel brakes! There was one gearbox with four forward gears and one reverse, and there was also a separate gearbox with high and low gearing. Steering was exactly the same as on Mr. Zachow’s car.
Mr. J. Spyker competed with one of these cars in an English hill-climb and finished first, but I do not know where this event was held. After winning the hill-climb they climbed the steps of the London Crystal Palace with the car, for publicity!
This car is now in the Dutch Motor Museum in Driebergen, near Utrecht, and is now for sale. The owner is Ir. Springer, who was once Director of Spyker. Action is being taken in Holland to keep the car in the museum, but as there is a very high offer of £8,000 from an American, it is not sure that we will succeed in keeping the car here!
Hoping that Mr. Newsome is able to find out who built the first 4-w-d car and that he is perhaps able to see the Spyker himself (in Driebergen or America), and thanking you for kindly publishing this letter.
Groningen. TED M. C. A. Mooren.
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The current series “Fragments on Forgotten Makes” has prompted me to draw to your attention a pamphlet published by the Bergius Co. Ltd. in April 1948, in which the following history of the Kelvin Car was included:
“On May 30th, 1904, the Bergius Car and Engine Co. announced its intention to make motor cars and entered premises at 169, Finnieston Street, Glasgow. These consisted of a first floor and attic, rent £75.
“The ‘Company’ consisted of Walter Bergius (23), David Willocks (20), G. Rutherford, J. Muir, and W. Hunt. The total weekly wage bill was £4 17s. 6d. The ‘Shop’ worked fifty-four hours per week. The staff came in at nine o’clock and left in time to catch the last train home! Mr. Bergius, who drew no salary for four years, did the design and worked in the shop. Mr. Willocks was the commercial head, but was usually to be found working at the bench. George Rutherford made all the patterns and the bodywork with great skill, while W. Hunt was machinist, assisted by all hands. The total plant was insured for £500, the principal item being a centre lathe which cost, new, only £66. The plant was driven by a 9-h.p. gas engine of uncertain age.
“The first ‘Kelvin’ car was ready in seven months, notwithstanding that the engine and transmission, the axles, wheel hubs, radiator, and bodywork were all made on the premises.
“The first car had solid tyres, a body with rear entrance, a 3-speed gearbox with constant-mesh gears, dog-clutches„ and a ‘live’ axle driven by cardan shaft. The ignition was by a low tension system with make and break within the cylinder, devised by the late Doctor Murray, the designer of Arrol-Johnston and Albion cars. This system could stand water and for that reason was more reliable than the alternative then available—battery and trembler coil—but it restricted the speed of the engine to about 900 r.p.m., at which speed it developed only 14 h.p. The power was measured in the time-honoured way by a rope round the flywheel and a spring balance—satisfactory until the rope took fire!
“The pioneer car crashed its cylinders on its trial trip, but the cylinders were redesigned, patterns altered, cast, machined, and in service within three weeks. Those were the days before restrictions on overtime’.
“Subsequent cars had a side-entrance body and pneumatic tyres. A London gentleman bought one and set out for home with a light heart! Another got through the Scottish Reliability Trials, consisting of 1,000 miles over the worst hills in Scotland.
“When twelve cars had been sold, the Company’s resources were almost exhausted. Mr. William Bergius, a brother of our managing director—then suggested that the engine might be modified to suit motor-boats. He promptly acquired a 4-oared rowing gig, 23 ft. long, installed an engine and scooped the pool! This established the ‘Kelvin’ as a marine engine.”
The report goes on to relate how this engine was subsequently installed in many hundreds of fishing boats for a cost of only £70 each, thus laying the foundation for the modern Kelvin marine-engine company. It was my grandmother who thought of the name “Kelvin,” and even after the company had ceased to make cars my great-grandmother continued to run one model for advertisement purposes—my mother clearly remembers the rather corpulent chauffeur of the early ‘twenties squeezing himself into the little white car, with red and perspiring face!
This little car has now no doubt died the death, but I should be most interested to learn whether any of your readers has ever had any experience of this car, and if by any chance there is not somewhere one tired old Kelvin regarding with supercilious eye its younger brethren?
Hartford. David H. Roberts.
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The O.M. competition history which I compiled, and which you published in last month’s Motor Sport, unfortunately contained a few errors. Two of these errors I admit to, the others were the work of the photograph caption writer and the proof reader. I should be most grateful if you would publish the following corrections.
My errors lay in stating that Ramponi crashed in practice for the 1929 T.T. This should read “1930 T.T.”, and that the 8-cylinder O.M. engine was composed of two blocks of four cylinders. I had this information from a person who had seen the engine but whose memory had doubtless dimmed with the years. I stupidly had not checked with R. F. Oats or mechanic Dunkeley the exact cylinder block layout until last week when I was shown a photograph of the engine dismantled. The engine was of eight single-cylinders each with its own water jacket and valves in non-detachable head. Not like a Bugatti at all but like eight single-cylinder d.o.h.c. motorcycle engines all in a row on a common crank!
Three of the photographs were given erroneous captions (not by me). The photograph of the three cars lined up by the park railings is, according to Mr. Oats, of the Double Twelve team prize-winners of 1929.
The white O.M. No. 15 shown on page 274 is a supercharged o.h.v. 2-litre (I have Mr. Dunkeley’s tuning notes for this car). Mr. Oats tells me that to the best of his knowledge all the o.h.v. cars were 2-litres. It is just possible that one or two were bored out to 67 mm. but whether the valves to piston-crown relationship (a close one) would stand the increase in stroke to 105 mm. for a 2.2- or 110 mm. for a 2.3-litre is very doubtful. Also the caption states “as used in the 1930 Mille Miglia and T.T.” I should like to make clear that the Mille Miglia cars were all side-valve engined. I am quite certain that no o.h.v. cars went over to the Continent for racing purposes. Incidentally, whilst on the subject of the o.h.v. O.M.s, it should be noted that whilst these engines were a catalogue model in the Rawlence literature it was almost impossible to purchase one at least until the Rawlence Co. abandoned racing. The o.h.v. engines were the “prestige” power unit for Rawlence team racing only.
The caption to the photograph showing GJ 24 (now owned by Keith Hainsworth) has the lady’s name as Miss R. H. Gastin; this should read R. A. Gostin—the initials of the R.A.G. Carburettor Co.—who had a financial interest in Rawlence & Co. Ltd. An air of mystery surrounds this car. We believed it to be a 2.3 Mille Miglia car but R. F. Oats remembers it to have been the personal property of Mr. Morris (of R.A.G.s) which was entered by him for a Phoenix Park race as a substitute for one which was withdrawn. The three Mille Miglia cars which came over for the T.T.s were O.M. works entries. These cars eventually returned to Italy but Keith Hainsworth’s car has M.M. stamped on the gearbox, a Mille Miglia type gear-lever and a 110 mm. x 67 mm. stroke and bore, making it 2.3. A Roots-type blower is fitted. It could be that Morris obtained these Mille Miglia parts from the works team spares department and fitted them into his tourer. We may never know the full story.
The proof-reading error occurs in the Continental performances 1926 section. The Superba is reported as attacking the 1,500 km. record. This should, of course, read “15,000 km.”
Finally, some research using the photographs and data of the Rawlence O.M.s, which I have so fortunately been able to obtain recently, points to the car which Peter Binns races so competently as being the 1928 T.T. class winner (s.v. 2-litre) and the one which shed its rods in 1929 (o.h.v. then). This car also won a 3,000-c.c. sports-car class event at Shelsley Walsh, driven by R. F. Oats, in 1930.
Chipping Norton. I. Linsdell.
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Another Trumbull Owner
My late father bought a Trumbull around 1920. It was our first car, as I remember it being dull grey in colour, with spidery “fixed” wire wheels, so in the event of a puncture, father had to lever off the covers in situ. The car, as Mr. Bagshaw remarks, had oil lamps and regular failure of the final drive. (I believe we had two crown-wheel and pinion failures.)
This car was shortly replaced with another rare machine—the 9-h.p. Stoneleigh. This car had an aluminium body and again no differential, the driving seat being situated in the centre of the vehicle in line with the steering wheel. Valve gear lubrication was by oil can and the engine was air-cooled.
After a short time this was exchanged for the beautifully-made 11.9 A.C., which, apart from the ¼-elliptic spring failure, gave a good performance, especially the disc brake on the rear axle—compare this with the hand-brake of today!
Still enjoying Motor Sport from 1926!
Timperley. R. B. Selman.
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De Dion Bouton Memories
I was very interested to read the story about De Dion Bouton and Woodside Works in the current issue.
We had three or four De Dions in the mid-‘twenties, and finished with one of the last HHH coachwork cars described in the article on the Sportsman’s coupé. It was a wonderful car and we used it for 100,000 miles, and when we sold it did many, many more miles. For its time it was well ahead and a joy to drive.
We bought the spares and the works in 1927 and we still own the works, and the name of the owning company is Woodside Property and Investment Trust Ltd.
Mr. Botter continued with us for many years and during the 1939/45 war went to S. E. Offman Ltd., which started in Woodside Works in 1936.
I only wish I had kept the 12/28 Sportsman’s coupé. I tried to buy it back in 1940!
London, W.C.1 . C. A. Chapman.
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A Student’s Armstrong Siddeley
I own an Armstrong Siddeley. It is 1928 12-h.p. 6-cylinder, 1,235-c.c. s.v. tourer. Having just read the December 1958 Motor Sport on Armstrongs, it seems to be a fact that our car is rare. I would be extremely interested in knowing how rare.
This car will climb sides of houses in 1st, but also has to use the same gear for most gradients over the horizontal. Although it will build up to a fair speed it has difficulty in crossing traffic lights between changes. It is thirsty for fuel, oil and even water, but has extraordinary downhill performance.
All the same, the Armstrong takes five people thirty miles to college and back each day.
Ruislip. Clive Tickner.
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A Salmson Rebuild
“W. B.’s” comment, in his report on the V.S.C.C. Charter-house meeting, that Guy Weightman was “in something that was once a 1926 Salmson,” was unnecessarily harsh and showed that W. B. had failed to bother to find out the facts.
For your information, the car is still a 1926, and pretty original at that, although the body has been lowered considerably. It was built in its present form by the late Vic Dutton, who was a racing mechanic for Salmson in the ‘twenties. The work occupied many years and towards the end he was in very bad health. This car represents his idea of what a G.P. Salmson would have developed into if it had been made in the ‘thirties.
When Vic died this year, the car had stood in the open for years and the weather had got at it. Weightman took over the car this January and has done much work on it. If W. B. had looked more carefully, he would have seen the evidence of his attentions to the engine and chassis.
As Charterhouse is quite a private affair, no attempts are made to attract spectators. It seemed a good opportunity to try the car. Brutal and uninformed comment such as W. B.’s could take the heart right out of an amateur member of the V.S.C.C., who is working with limited time and resources to maintain a car of genuine interest.
Brent. John McLellan.
[I stand corrected and apologise, but it looked somewhat chopped-about to me.—Ed.]
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An Unusual Citroën
Since you were kind enough to print a photograph of our Citroën tourer at the recent Charterhouse Driving Tests, you may care to put on record the latest facts to come to light on the car’s age and identity.
Although, today, it bears the tall radiator, horizontal engine bonnet and curved front mudguards of the Type 132, known in this country as the 11.4-h.p., the maker’s plaque on the scuttle states plainly that it is a type A (104), No. 23296. Further confusion is added by the fact that while the Type A was only in production from 1910 to 1921 inclusive, such evidence as I have suggests that this car was first registered in France in 1925.
The Citroën Company of France, who have been most helpful and courteous in what must have been a quite unprofitable inquiry, have confirmed from their records that car No. 23296 was made during 1921. From photographs supplied by them it is evident that the strange patches on the valances of our car were put on to cover up the gaps left when the original “flared” Type A wings were replaced by the more curved Type B2 components. The bottom half of the engine is also pure Type A, as shown by the illustrated spares lists for both models, and I am satisfied that we have a 1921 Type A, albeit modified. Since the cylinder block is of the later bore of 68 mm., as opposed to the earlier dimension of 65 mm., I suppose one should continue to call the car an “11.4.”
All the writers on vintage cars trot out the standard half-paragraph about the Type A’s formidable longevity and virtual indestructibility. None of them to my knowledge, has mentioned that it is remarkably good fun to drive. On main roads, it is true, the modest power output and wide open spaces between the gear ratios make progress more a matter of beaming self-congratulation than breathless excitement. Nevertheless, its nimble, sure-footed progress through rough winding lanes, and over real trials-type going, provides many an afternoon’s enjoyment. Until our 15.9 Humber rebuild is completed, the Citroën is the only car we have on the road, and performs its duties right sturdily
Headley Down. F. D. Longhurst.
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Memories of a Rover Nine Sports’
Today I came across these three prints, taken in 1931 or of my father’s Nine, and I wonder if you are interested in this model. It may have been a “dud” and unremembered, but to me as a youngster it represented motoring with a very big M, particularly as it was the first car actually owned by us.
YM 6241 had a 4-cylinder o.h.v. engine, rear-wheel brakes only, and a single-seat dickey (usually occupied by several children). I remember magneto ignition, no fan and a 3-speed gearbox; and I think it had a mostly aluminium body although ours was painted. Petrol was fed by gravity from the scuttle tank with external filler cap. The car was a 1926 model, was bought as a five-year-old for £16 10s., and sold for a fiver three years later to a farmer.
Although I loved it I think it must be for other reasons than that five-year-old fingers were trapped by the valve spring when attempting to remove collets while father—the true mechanic!—was compressing the spring with two screwdrivers end on. One slipped! Then, again, bare legs were peppered with silencer bits when the magneto being wrongly replaced caused an explosion, when the cranking finally caused the engine to fire—of, yes, if it stalled one had to nip out and wind, but this didn’t happen very often because the clutch nearly always seemed to be slipping! This finally made my father change to one of three horrid Rover Ten fabric-bodied coupés that were made around 1929—but that’s another story.
I once saw another Nine, in Worcester about five years ago. It had a polished body without the “benefit” of paint and looked in good fettle; but I did no more than catch a brief glance, and I have wondered several times if that or any others are still in existence.
Harborne. D. Granville-Jolly.
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Mystery Cleared Up
With reference to your paragraph “Cars in Books” in the March issue. Marshal Joffre’s driver in the early days of World War I was not Paul Bablot but the famous Georges Boillot. Boillot later transferred to the French Air Force and was killed in combat with five enemy planes, one of which he shot down before himself being killed.
Sintra. T. A. S. O. Mathieson.