Vintage Postbag, May 1979

Lanchester versus Rolls-Royce


Your articles on “They Believed in Ghosts” and the R. R. Chauffeur’s School were most interesting. The stupendous list of R.R maintenance items in the latter reminded me of a story told to me long ago by a member of the family of the last managing director of the old Lanchester company.

A potential customer inquired of Rolls-Royce about the guarantee. He was told that this was dependent on a day’s sojourn by the car annually at the service depot, so he went to Lanchesters, and they said that provided their maintenance instructions were observed by the owner nothing further would be required. He bought a 21 h.p. Lanchester and ran it for 20,000 miles in five years, exchanging it then for a Straight-Eight. (I saw that 21 at various times in various parts of the country; very curiously it was the only 21 fitted with sedanca coachwork, though sedanca-bodied examples were to be seen throughout the production runs of the Forty and the Straight-Eight. The succeeding Straight-Eight was also a sedanca, and a very handsome one.)

Godmanston W. STUART BEST

The Thomas Transmission


I was very interested to read the letter from Ian Thompson concerning the Parry Thomas car.

In February 1976, the Colchester Vintage Motor Club printed a photograph of the Parry Thomas Road Train which was fitted with his own transmission, petrol-electric. Both the trailers were fitted with electric motors to the rear wheels which were boosted from the driver’s seat for uphill work.

This information and photograph were supplied by a member of the CVMC who has promised to let us have the photographic plates of the Parry Thomas Pipe and Delahaye cars for publication later this year, together with an article describing their construction and subsequent history.

Incidentally, he purchased the Pipe car from the late Hedley Thompson together with part of his library in 1949. The Pipe was fitted with a Tickford convertible body and had twelve forward speeds and reverse, an electric starter, electric lights fitted in the rear of the hood, electric foot-warmer for the rear passengers and only one entrance door fitted to the nearside rear of the body.

Manningtree PAUL GALLIFANT Sec., Colchester Vintage MC

(We recollect hearing of the Pipe, and these photographic plates, some years ago, and will be glad to hear more of them. Ed.)

Information Supplied and Wanted


The solution to Mr. Rundell’s “mystery” car (Vintage Postbag, March issue) is not too difficult, for the car IS plainly a 1909 12 h.p. (RAC 20.08 h.p.) Humber, with the standard bodywork as catalogued.

May I now appeal to your knowledgeable readers to try to help solve another mystery? This relates to the 2-litre Birkin-Comery, a sports/racing car the engine of which was designed by H. R. S. (later Sir Henry) Birkin and W. Comery and was fitted in an apparently standard short-chassis Bamford & Martin Aston-Martin. The car appeared at several sprint events in 1924, in which year it certainly put in an appearance at the Herne Bay Speed Trials (where it did the 1-kilometre course in 26.4 seconds) and at the Skegness Sand Races in June. I believe that it also appeared at Southport in that year. I would be most grateful for any further information about the engine itself, the identity of Mr. W. Comery, and in particular, the precise identity of the Aston-Martin chassis into which the engine was placed. If anyone could come up with a photograph, my cup of joy would be complete! And I wonder what happened to this car/engine, which seems to have been lost without trace.

Tenbury Wells A. B. DEMAUS

Another Fiat Tipo 510


Further to the letter from Mr. Kiernan White (January issue), concerning the 1923 Fiat 510S. I am enclosing a photograph taken in the 1920s in Italy, showing my father at the wheel of a rather sporting Fiat 510.

Utley G. E. HOWARD

What Is It?


We seem to have this engine. No one has so far identified it, so would appreciate assistance. Four cylinder, non-detachable cylinder head.

Worcester ROSS McCALL

An Unusual Sunbeam


I recently acquired a small number of photographs of locally-registered (Dewsbury) old vehicles, amongst them this striking sports Sunbeam. I do not know when the original glass negatives were produced some of the prints are obviously “period” but the Sunbeam may have been photographed relatively recently.

Can anyone identify the car, and was this body a factory offering or a specially commissioned “one-off’? Our friends at Swansea have declined to give any details, even of the date of registration or model of car, as historical interest is not regarded as “reasonable cause” for enquiry.

So, sir, I rely upon your widely informed readership, or, indeed, your good self, to furnish any details of this beautiful machine, which, together with its local connections, has aroused my curiosity.

The beginning of each month is keenly awaited, and I particularly enjoyed your article on the preand post-Armistice Rolls-Royce 40/50s, though I must admit to starting at the back of the magazine, if only to keep track of the amazing prices now being asked for almost anything on wheels!


(This looks familiar and I think this is a 16 h.p. Sunbeam, circa 1920. It is clearly specially-bodied. Over to our readers! Ed.)

Lancia Lambda FN 6911


I was delighted to see the picture of Countess Zborowska’s unique two-seater Lambda on page 1784 of Motor Sport for December, 1978. I owned this car from 1953 to 1956 when, as related by Mr. Gerald Batt in his letter on page 1675 of Motor Sport for November, 1978, I sold it to Mr. Oliffe Richmond in Chelsea.

For me, it was the last of the five Lambdas that I had owned during the previous ten years. I had bought it from Bob West, then the doyen of Lancia repairers, who was selling it on behalf of another of his customers from his workshop in Queen’s Gate Place Mews, just off the Cromwell Road. He told me that it had been the 1925 Milan Show car a year later than the year mentioned by Mr. Batt. At all events, I think it was a 5th Series car with, by the time I bought it, an 8th Series engine which gave it a pretty fair turn of speed by Lambda standards. Unfortunately, some comedian in its earlier life had removed its front and rear wings which, in a Lambda, have an additional function to perform in stiffening the monococque body-cum-chassis structure and replaced them with cycle-type wings. I enclose two pictures of the car to show the result.

The effect of this emasculation was that, as the car approached its maximum speed of 70-75 m.p.h., it would develop quite alarming “shakes” and one had then to slow down to 60 m.p.h. to reduce the torsional stresses to an acceptable level. In retrospect, I suppose it might have been a simple matter of wheel balance, but as I had not run into any similar trouble with any of my four previous Lambdas and, at the time, I certainly attributed it to the absence of the original wings.

Accordingly, I was very pleased to see that the car has now been fitted – or rather refitted – with wings of the original type.

Amongst the other mods that had been made to the car when I had it was the fitting of a “Brooklands” spring-spoked steering-wheel and a chrome radiator stoneguard. It appears from Mr. Ban’s photograph that both of these have been shed and the headlamps changed from what they were in my day.

Mr. Richmond bought the car from me unseen over the telephone for £100 and I well remember driving it up one glorious summer morning from Ottershaw to Chelsea to deliver it to him and collect the lolly! Please tell Mr. Batt that I would be very willing to repurchase the car from him any time for the same figure despite its now greater age!

The price was a fair one in 1956 and I do so share and echo the feelings of Mr. Alexander as expressed in the last paragraph of his letter at page 1600 of Motor Sport for November 1978 when he wrote: “Those were really the days and I am extremely thankful that I was able to enjoy so much of what is now vintage motoring without having to worry about whether some slight mishap was going to knock £10,000 off the value of the car”. Happy days but, alas, now gone for ever!


Straight Eights (Chronic or Otherwise)


One automobile manufacturer whose enthusiasm for the in-line-eight engine emphatically did not lead him into bankruptcy, and who produced a product universally acknowledged for its excellence and style, was Packard. Indeed, if one talks to any enthusiast who has any recollections of the between-war scene, “straight eight” means PACKARD.

Packard’s renowned eight-in-line was first introduced in 1923 and ran without major alteration until the mid-fifties, an unparalleled record of longevity! It was introduced to replace the twin-six (V12), which was then considered to be dated and too complicated. The Autocar Road Test of July 27th 1934, described a standard eight model as “a car well able to hold its own with fine cars the world over” and went on to describe its silky smoothness, inaudible engine, etc. My own similar example, some 45 years later still exhibits the same fine qualities. The company did go into liquidation in 1956 after following the almost universal change to V8 configuration, but for reasons other than those propounded by Lord Montagu. By 1929, 20 of the leading US manufacturers used a straight eight and the number offering V-type engines dropped from 30 to four. In Europe, the original home of the V-type motor, straight eights had completely displaced the V-type engine.

Of all the world’s motor makers in the Vintage Period (other than the big 3) Packard consistently earned more money than any other manufacturer. In 1929 alone Packard returned a profit of no less than $26 million, of which shareholders received a whopping $17 million in dividends. Not a bad return on 50,000 cars, and all of them straight eights! Bankruptcy? Ask the man who owns one!



The car shown in the photograph at the top of page 463 (March issue) is not a Hampton, but a Clyno. It had a 22 h.p. side-valve engine, three-speed gearbox and conventional rear axle. The car came into the hands of R. H. Collier & Co. Ltd., of Birmingham when they took over the assets of the Clyno company, and was used for some time by C. P. Hamilton-Adams, who was then an apprentice there (and who eventually became Managing Director, I think). Apparently a large Zenith carburettor was used, with a very long induction pipe, without any form of hot spot, so that for the first few miles, the car ran on neat petrol. The brakes and springing were said to be very good, but the steering developed wheel wobble very easily. It would be interesting to know where the engine came from though Clyno were making some of their own towards the end. The car must have been built about 1928/9, as Clyno went into liquidation in the latter year. The Hampton involvement with Rohr (not Rhor) was in 1931, when 100 engines and 50 chassis were ordered, the car being offered with either Rohr (i.f.s.) or Hampton (cart spring) chassis. Later a s.v. 6-cylinder engine was available, the car costing £525 (Rohr chassis) or £375 (Hampton chassis). The car was quite handsome, with a tail radiator and high waistline for the close-coupled saloon body. Wheel discs were fitted. Despite its German chassis, the model was known as the “Empire Sportsman”.

All this makes no difference to Lord Montagu’s theory, but Clyno reached bankruptcy before Hampton!