Veteran - Edwardian - Vintage, May 1976

A section devoted to old car matters

The McKay Car

In answer to a query in the March issue about the McKay car of Nova Scotia, we have received an interesting letter from Mr. B. M. Patchett, of the Delage Section of the VSCC. It is a quote from “A Great Way to Go—The Automobile in Canada” by Robert Collins (Ryerson Press, Toronto, 1969), so this will act as a belated book-review, as well as giving information about a rare make of car. There is information, too, about another car made in Nova Scoria, and we are using the quotes verbatim, because we like such items as a “leather-cased clutch”, “quick, detachable tires”, “mahogany steering wheel”, etc.! We hope it doesn’t sound too smug to say, ask a question in Motor Sport and a reasonable answer is often forthcoming! The clippings read as follows:

Victorian: Two made, in vicinity of Hopewell, N.S., about 1896. Named after Queen Victoria. Two-cylinder two-passenger buggy with artillery wheels, iron tires, tiller steering, chain drive; cone-style clutch, one speed ahead, no reverse; no dashboard, top or lights. One now displayed in Niagara Falls antique car museum.

McKay: Nova Scotia Carriage Co., Kentville, N.S. and Nova Scotia Carriage and Motor Car Co., Amherst, N.S.; 1911-1914. This McKay brothers’ venture produced such cars as this typical Model 24 two-passenger torpedo roadster ($1,450): four-cylinder four-cycle 30 h.p. long-stroke motor, valved all on one side; pressed steel cone clutch, leather cased; sliding gear transmission, three forward and reverse; drop-forged beam section front axle, vanadium steel semi-floating rear axle; spoked wheels and 32 x 3 1/2 quick detachable tires; twenty-gallon gas tank; 17 mahogany steering wheel; spark and throttle lever on top of wheel; foot accelerator on floor board; channel section frame of pressed nickel steel, 4 x 1 1/2; emergency and foot brakes; three-ply mahogany dash; dual high tension system Brigg’s magneto, guaranteed for life; Model L Schebler carburetor ; hand-buffed leather upholstery; self-starter (by late 1913 or early 1914); two gas headlamps, two oil side lamps, tail lamps, horn.

In 1908, while the Comet was fizzling out, the brothers jack and Dan McKay, transplanted Prince Edward Islanders then living in Kentville, N.S.. took a whirl at the auto game. With no knowledge whatsoever, they rented a carriage company, surveyed the field and decided to create their own version of the Penn, a Pittsburgh model.

They bought enough U.S. parts for twenty-five cars, set their carriage makers to building wooden bodies and brought in brother Stan from the Island. Stan lent a certain technical authority to the enterprise: he was a blacksmith. In two years the McKays produced many sleighs and carriages and twenty-five McKay cars. Then Amherst, 220 miles away, lured the firm to ‘Nova Scotia’s new industrial capital’.

After a shaky start (their new four-storey building threatened to collapse even before it was finished) the brothers were back in business with dreams as bright as the McKay’s nickel trim. Surprisingly, it was a fine car, and soon earned local fame by winning a 425-mile road race, Halifax to Yarmouth and return. The four-cylinder 30-horsepower model had a mahogany dash, a steering wheel, leather upholstery, silk mohair top, windshield, speedometer, gas headlights, side oil lamps, shock absorbers, good brakes and an electric self-starter— all for $2,050.

It would have been a bargain in most places but even the $1,450 roadster was too high priced for the average Nova Scotian in 1913-1914. Short of operating capital, plagued by the public’s increasing insistence on ever-changing styles, the McKays finally went under when World War I pinched off theirsupplics. They shut down after producing 100 cars in two years. instead of the hoped-for 1,000 a year.

Theirs was only one of many car companies killed by the war, but they went out with characteristic flair. When Prince Edward Island’s ban on motoring eased off, during mobilization, the McK ays saw a magnificent sales chance in their homeland. One of them jumped in a car and sped toward the Island for the honour and publicity of being ‘first on the Island’ after the auto famine. A Buick got there first—the kind of rotten luck that dogged the brothers to the end.

Torque Converter

To prove the truth of the remark made above, may we quote one more correspondent, Mr. Derek Preston of the 12/50 Alvis Register, who has written in reply to our query as to whether anyone in this country had driven a car using the above-named automatic transmission, which was announced in 1924. Mr. Preston quotes from letters sent to the Alvis Register some 20 years ago by a Comdr. R. C. Richardson, RN (Rtd.), who had corresponded with the inventor and who had been given a run in “a four-seater gearless car” by the Foreman, when he had called at the Constantinesco laboratory, as the inventor was away. This resulted in an order being placed there and then for one of these cars. But it was never delivered, as Constantinesco ran out of finance.

But here is proof that there was a car running in England with his converter, although whether it was his 5 c.v, two-stroke with two horizontal water-cooled cylinders and the torque-converter between them, isn’t known. It seems that the Naval Gentleman was in correspondence with the inventor in later years and that Constantinesco, who then lived near Coniston, said that his car was not popular in the mid-’20s because its chief aim was petrol economy and that at that time what people wanted was “100 m.p.h., and noone cared about fuel economy”. Constantinesco’s aim was 100 m.p.g. at very moderate speeds and he continued: “When the price of petrol reaches about 4/- a gallon there will be a cry for converter cars—at least from the sensible part of the public. In the meantime they are satisfied to waste 75% of their petrol and kill about 5,000 of their fellow men on the roads every year”—which has an unfortunately topical note to it! Those interested will, I believe, find a power unit with this converter in the Science Museum in London.

Finally, Mr. Preston remarks that he remembers making the Meccano model more than once, and that, powered by a No. 1 electric motor, it would haul quite hefty loads —but I think he may mean the chassis with a normal gearbox, as I seem to recall that the Meccano reproduction of the Constantinesco converter was a demonstration model, too big to accommodate in the Meccano chassis.—W.B.

V-E-V Odds & Ends.—The Trojan OC continues to publish its duplicated Newsletter, the latest issue of which has much erudite information about Trojan’s van, to assist an author of a forthcoming encyclopaedia, an article about Trojans used for a Walt Disney film (with some unhappy references to vintage cars damaged on the film-set) and data about marine Trojan engines, Bulletin of the Riley Register also, by coincidence, carrying some items about Riley marine engines. The remains of an XL Trojan have been found in Natal. Two pre-war two-stroke DKWs exist in Durban, which reminds us that a rally for “Deck Day” in this country is scheduled for June 6th. An important fixture is the HCVC Brighton Run (from Battersea Park) on Sunday, May 2nd. Apologies to John Bolster for saying that there were no colour plates in his book “The Upper Crust”. In fact, as he points out, the book contains several such plates. He also says that the Hispano-Suiza he mentions does do a very easy 110 m.p.h., but only on a 2.7-to-1 axle ratio, Mike Parkes having contrived a special c.w.p. inside the standard casing. The compression ratio has also been raised to take advantage of modern fuel. Wilson McComb tells us that the picture on page 374 last month showed Cecil Kimber in the first MG demonstration car.