A Section Devoted to Old-Car Matters
Land’s End to John o’Groats by Austin Seven.
—At Easter 83 Austin 7s undertook to try to drive from end-to-end of this little island, just for the fun of it, remembering that this is the Jubilee Year of this great little British baby car. Apparently 65 accomplished this self-imposed task, from out of 72 starters, four of them covering the 881 miles in less than 24 hours. All were, of course, built before the war. This was by no means a race, but the 1931 saloon in the picture, with side-draught S.U. carburetter and Ruby head, did the journey in 21 hrs. 19 mm. How much nicer than keeping such cars out of sight, in cotton wool, while pondering what they will fetch at the next auction sale ! But for how much longer will fun and freedom of this kind, innocuous as it is, remain legal on the roads of Europe?
[Photo by Evening Gazette Teeside]
The beginning of the end?
The vintage and veteran pastime seems, on the face of it, never to have been in a stronger position. It has more followers than ever, more clubs catering for the older cars. A great many events, charity and otherwise, cater for pre-war vehicles of all kinds. The VSCC and VCC thrive. Tim Carson, M.B.E., until recently the extremely popular Secretary of the former, was recognised in the New Year’s Honours List and the general public loves old motor cars, drawn to them by the appearance of such things in full-length films and TV plays and commercials.
The outlook, you might think, is set-fair and the long-distance forecast a glorious never-ending vintage summer. The older cars, even undesirable just-pre-war pedestrian tin saloons and unrestored, or only partially complete vintage machinery, fetch ridiculously lofty prices, it is true, but this has to be accepted as the penalty of popularity for which the pioneer old-car clubs and Motor Sport are as much to blame as anyone. It is becoming more and more difficult to maintain pre-war cars, because items like taper-pins, castellated nuts, magnetos, whittle belting, single-pole bulbs, cotter-pins, timing chains, etc., are becoming ever scarcer, if they are obtainable at all, and where would we be for tyres of 17 in. and larger, if it were not for the co-operation of Fort Dunlop ?
The MoT tests do not make life any easier, although most vintage cars can be made to pass without too much difficulty and some much-appreciated concessions in respect of braking efficiency, lighting and other requirements are extended to them. Rumour has hinted at a Government-staffed range of testing stations to replace garages doing vehicle testing, financed by a well-known food combine, which, if it happened, could make life for the old-car owner more difficult, but confirmation of this has not been obtained.
Now, however, a cloud, tiny at present, has been seen on the vintage horizon, which could build up to the storm which will ultimately sink the good ship Vintage Hobby. I refer to a clause in the regulations governing our entry into the European Economic Community which bans cars of more than 15 years of age from being used freely on public roads. This, naturally, was spotted by a reader of Motor Sport, a lady who enjoys driving a 1935 Singer Le Mans as everyday transport and does not wish this kind of motoring to terminate if we go into the EEC.
The exact wording of the clause has not been established but there is seldom smoke without a fire and when this lady drew Lord Montagu’s attention to this possible, very serious, restriction to our enjoyment of the older cars his Lordship replied that the matter had been taken up with Mr. Michael Heseltine, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Environment, who said, in effect, that it is not envisaged that Britain would conform to this type of Continental motoring regulation, and that as far as he is aware the clause will not apply, an answer which at least seems to confirm the existence of this shattering and unpalatable clause.
As our lady reader remarks, this is all very fine but she would like to know definitely whether the ban will or whether it will not be a condition of our entry into the EEC. It is hard to imagine politicians bothering to defend the vintage and pre-war car movement when so many big and vital issues arise whenever Common Market matters are debated.
Lord Montagu, it is said, will no doubt pursue the point in the House of Lords, if necessary when the EEC regulations are debated, and we have drawn the attention of A. S. Heal, who up to 1971 so ably chaired the annual Veteran & Vintage Clubs Conference, to this vital matter. That the HVJC “is already watching very closely our interests with regard to possible changes due to the Common Market (early vehicles in certain European countries do not enjoy the same freedom they do here)”, according to a report on the AGM of the National Traction Engine Club in the March issue of Steaming, shows this is no time for taking a complacent, ostrich-head-in-sand attitude. Remembering, too, the fable of the stable door which was shut after the horse had bolted, we can understand our reader’s concern. Moreover, it should be remembered that the excellent concessions which the Historical Vehicle Clubs Joint Committee has obtained on behalf of the movement apply, in the main, and quite rightly, to pre-1931 cars, whereas the EEC issue seems to concern the possible banning from normal usage of any cars built more than 15 years ago. Like our lady reader’s Singer, which she has been using as regular transport for the past 13 years.
Quite what is the origin of the ban or how the disturbing clause is worded is obscure at the time of writing but the message on the wall may not seem so far-fetched when you reflect on the hampering conditions which already prevail in Germany so far as old vehicles are concerned, if the story we hear is true of someone rebuilding a vintage car who had to endow it with a dual braking system, covers over its eared hub-caps, and so on, before it was possible to use it. And complacency should go overboard when it is realised that a ban on all open cars is contemplated in America … Someone who is normally the exact opposite of a pessimist, when we were discussing this cloud on the vintage horizon with him, told us that he considers we have ten more years in which to enjoy vintage motoring as we know it here at present, if we have as long.
We have always been rather frightened of those people who advocate special licences for old cars, enabling them to be taxed for very short periods and/or for reduced fees, because this seems to us to pave an easy path to the banning from normal use of the older cars, perhaps restricting them to rallies only, from which it is but a short step to saying “rallies on private ground”, to which they could be trailered. This would be a very severe blow to many of us and particularly to owners of 1930s to 1950s vehicles, which constitute perfectly practical and enjoyable everyday transport—as do, of course, many vintage cars, although these are less frequently employed in this way. The alternative scheme, already announced by the tax authorities, whereby it will be possible to tax all cars for periods of a day or days, over-the-counter at Post Offices, instead of for a minimum of four months with no rebate of less than one month, which would suit the owners of old cars admirably, is said to be coming into operation when the Cardiff computers are ready—and in Wales the “drwydded” has for some time been printed with the expiry date expressed as the last day of the month in figures, ready for the scheme when it happens—but the GPO seems to be taking an unconscionable time to get its electronics going on our behalf, in this computer-age. Perhaps the idea has been abandoned ?
What the outcome will be is not clear at the moment. Most certainly the matter needs careful attention by every interested body (which includes the writer), with vehement action should the need arise. Quite how confirmation of such a calamitous ban would immediately affect the movement it is impossible to foresee. You could argue that if time is short vintage cars must be urgently acquired while they can still be enjoyed on normal roads and journeys, no matter how high the price. Or you could say what Charlies people are who pay the astronomical prices asked these days for almost every kind of pre-1960 vehicle, come rust, essential restoration, missing parts, absence even of bodywork and what have you, especially as the European ban could well put pre-1960 cars off public roads for good. The little cloud which has floated up has not yet obliterated the sun but those about to part with lots of hard-earned lolly on some not very distinguished neo-vintage car may well pause to see how the EEC clause affecting their hobby will go. We can expect to see a fall in the prices of the more ordinary post-vintage saloons, some of which have mostly only age to recommend them until the position is fully clarified. The sooner this is done, by the custodians of the vintage movement, the happier all of us will be who value our motoring freedom, especially that enjoyed in the older kinds of cars. Tim Carson’s M.B.E. was splendid ; let us hope it does not represent a golden handshake from a Government in respect of a way of motoring life it will not be prepared to sanction for very much longer. — W. B.
Lord Montagu’s National Motor Museum will be opened on July 4th, when the new Beaulieu by-pass and improved road systerm, opened by the Secretary of State for the Environment on March 24th, will facilitate the traffic flow. Meanwhile, lesser museums seem to he flourishing. A catalogue issued by the Myreton Motor Museum at Aberlady, East Lothian, Scotland, where none of the exhibits are “fenced off” from the public, lists 56 cars and 34 motorcycle exhibits, apart from bicycles and smaller items, the last-named including the engine from a 1927 Grainger light aeroplane.
Some of the cars are interesting and the number which were apparently in use in Scotland until quite recently is intriguing. For instance, there is one of the 1935 TT Singers, AVC 483, which must he the fourth car which escaped the fate of those referred to on pages 494/5 and was raced at Silverstone in the 1950s. The 1921 Lanchester 40 Gill limousine is presumably the ex-Hutton-Stott car, a 1920 Armstrong Siddeley 30 Burlington tourer is ex-Sword and surely one of the very few survivors of its type, and another rare one is the Gordon England-bodied 15/40 Darracq owned by Sir Francis Samuelson from 1927. It has run at the Doune hill-climb.
Mention of a 1923 20/30 Peugeot limousine suggests that the example once driven by Barry Clarke may have vanished not to America, but to Scotland, but perhaps not, as this one was in France until 1950. A 1925 Type SW Series 1 Morris Commercial six-wheeler with a later shooting brake body by Morgan of Leighton Buzzard had spent all its life on a Scottish estate until retired in 1969 and its companion is a Citroën Kegresse used in a more rugged estate further north, until retired in favour of a Snocat; it has never been licensed or used on a public road.
A 1923 Buick hearse was in use in Oban until 1952, a 1919 Ford charabanc was found in a collapsed bothy after its days carrying holiday visitors to a Cairnbaan hotel had long since ended, but a 1923 Renault 9/15 was used all his life by the Scottish architect, the late Sir Ian Lindsey. Another Model-T Ford, a 1924 van, was used by a North Berwick baker until it crashed in 1931; it was discovered in an ironmonger’s shop in Dunbar and the pieces removed by wheelbarrow. Many of the cars have appeared in films like “Dr. Finlay’s Casebook” and “The Prime of Miss Jean Brody”, but a 1929 Hillman Safety Fourteen was in use in North Aberdeenshire until recently and a 1931 Morris 8 was rescued from a scrapheap by a boy of ten, who saved £2.50 of his pocket money over six months. A 1925 Morris-Oxford had been in demand in Edinburgh in 1951, there is a one-lady-owner Armstrong Siddeley Twelve, found in her garage in Edinburgh after her death, a 1926 15.9 Humber used on the Countess of Seafield’s estate., a 1922 Jowett found in a New Calder blacksmith’s, an Aero Minx, a 1928 Willys-Knight endowed by a lady owner with a body from her older Rover, the ex-Major Cadbury Speed Six Bentley, a 3-litre Bentley, a P1 Park Ward Rolls-Royce used in 1953 as a chicken roost, a Clyno found in Wales, a 1929 Morgan, crashed in 1930 and discovered in 1965, a Lagonda driven, in poor condition, up from London for rebuilding (it needs a supercharger), a 16/80 Lagonda crashed in 1964 at Bedford but since rebuilt, a 1936 Humber originally owned by Earl Haig, then by Sir Victor Sassoon but which ended its active life as a hay-rake, and a 1932 Dennis fire-engine, ex-Belfast Fire Brigade. The oldest car seems to be a 1912 De Dion Bouton twin and racing cars are represented by a Cooper-Norton 500 and the ex-Sowrey Cooper 1100 sprint car.
Scottish cars comprise a 1923 Type-D Arrol-Johnston, a 1927 Galloway and a 1928 Arrol-Aster, the sole surviving 17/50, found with a holed sump and minus a sleeve. There are several MGs and a 1924 duck’s-back 12/50 Alvis which covered some 3,000 miles last year.—W. B.
VMCC Banbury run
This year’s Vintage MCC Banbury Run takes place on June 18th, starting from Banbury (Castle Gardens car park) at 10.30 a.m. Entries close on May 15th, but are open only to paid-up VMCC members. There are four classes, for machines of prior to 1909, 1910-1014, 1915-1924, and 1925-1930, with respective average speeds of 12, 18, 20 and 24 m.p.h. over routes 22, 40, 50 and 70 miles, respectively. The awards are particularly generous and the spectators get very good value —but please give the riders an uninterrupted passage and don’t congest the start and finish area. A new Hudson three-wheeler is expected to figure in the very large and comprehensive entry list. — W. B.
The Shuttleworth Trust
The next fixture will be a special Flying Day to commemorate the formation in 1912 of the RFC. Weather permitting, a 1909 Bleriot, 1910 Boxkite, 1915 Avro 504K, 1916 Sopwith Pup, 1917 Bristol Fighter, 1917 SE5a, 1916 Fokker and 1917 LVG C VI will he flown, as representative of the formative and fighting years of the RFC. The Army Aviation Centre’s Blue Eagles helicopter team are call to a modern note. Gates open 11 a.m., flying to begin, God willing, at 2.30 p.m. Admission is 50p per adult, 25p per child, car park until filled. The aerodrome is at Old Warden, near Biggleswade, Beds. If you miss this, on the Sunday after VSCC Oulton Park, there is to be a DH Moth and Light Plane Day at Old Warden on June 25th. — W. B.
V.E.V. Odds and Ends
—Apart from the London Transport 1930 AEC ‘bus now operating in London on a special service, as reported last month, an ex-Paris Renault ‘bus was used recently to promote the sale of French apples, being driven across France and round England. Traction-engine rallies are too numerous to list here but we recommend to those interested a comprehensive fixture list of approved events from May to October, which appeared in the March issue of Steaming, Journal of the NTEC, whose Membership Secretary is C. C. Ayes, Milking Pen Lane, Old Basing, Basingstoke, Hampshire. A horse-drawn International Harvester with a 4-ft. cut, which was adapted to an old Morris-Cowley chassis in the mid-1930s and last used in the 1950s, still exists in the West Country.
M. J. Banfield, chairman of the HCVC, has acquired the Daimler ‘bus chassis mentioned in this column last year, as being derelict in the Pennines. A building had to be removed before it could be extracted. A tenuous but interesting link with motor racing, to which a lady reader has drawn our attention, concerns a dogs’ drinking fountain, still to be seen in Cambridge, where it was erected in the late 1920’s in memory of his dog Tony, by HRH Prince Chula of Siam. The ABC Register’s annual rally takes place this year at Hoar Cross Hall, Staffs, on September 10th.