Vintage postbag, May 1980



A chain-driven Mercedes 


Perhaps the enclosed photograph and details would make an item in your Veteran section of a future issue. My late father, who owned a garage in Eastbourne from 1905-1914, owned this chain-driven Mercedes-Benz, since identified as the famous ex-Gordon Watney car, year 1906? He also owned the garage business, see enclosed photograph. Hoping this would be of interest to your many readers, including myself from 1925 on. I retired from my own garage in 1978 but will continue to motor I hope for many years to follow.  

J. R. Harding 

“How Slow Is A Light Car?” 


I entirely agree with your opening remarks in “How Slow is a Light Car?” (Motor Sport, March). The roads in the early twenties were narrow and winding, while the country lanes still had a loose macadam surface. So, light cars cruised at 35 m.p.h. because travelling much faster usually resulted in a series of phenomenal avoidances, with locked rear wheels.

However, I cannot accept the figures you quote for the Amilcar GGSS. The timed maximum, from a contemporary report, was 59 m.p.h., and other figures which put this in perspective were 65 m.p.h. for the Type 40 Bugatti and 67 m.p.h. for the Anzani-engined Frazer Nash. These cars were timed at higher speeds in Brooklands events, but that was with screens, wings, and lamps removed, which made an enormous difference. You have only to look at the tiny valves, like small nails, of the Amilcar to realise that it was incapable of high speeds. 

On the same page, Mr. C. G. Knight claims 60 m.p.h. and 60 m.p.g. for the 7.5 h.p. Mathis. One assumes that some early speedometers have become highly optimistic with the years, so let us quote stopwatch figures only, over a measured distance.

John V. Bolster 

[I quoted figures from the Journal of the Light Car Section of the VSCC, taken, I thought, by stopwatch. I think speedometers and odometers have been, and still are, a source of much optimism. I think I know what Mr. Bolster means about “Valves like small nails”, but has he ever seen those from a 7/12 h.p. Peugeot of the period? — Ed.] 


W.B. asks “How Slow is a Light Car?”.

In August, 1925, I sat alongside my father in our family 1924 11/4 Humber Tourer (OK 4882) on the long, straight road between Rhyl and Prestatyn. I was 10 years old. It was a good day and father was in a good mood. Egged on by we three children he decided to see what the Humber would really do. To our mounting excitement, the speedometer crept very, very slowly up to 50, 52, 53, 54 . . . 55! At this pinnacle of achievement father lifted his foot and set about the business of slowing “the old ‘bus” down before the end of the straight. I can vouch for that 55 m.p.h. but not, of course, for any speedometer error.

There had been a previous 11/4 Humber (OH 5060) with a single pane windscreen and, subsequently, an enormous 1927 7 str. Humber ’20’ saloon (OX 1322), itself to be replaced by a 1932 Sunbeam ’20’ (DV 3234) on which I cut my first (legal) gear teeth. Later there was a rare 1937 17 h.p. Armstrong Siddeley “Atalanta” saloon (COB 868). 

By this time my brother and I had our own cars; I remember particularly a special-bodied 2 str. Morris Minor masquerading as a “Colmore Special” (OF 7602), MG P-type 4 str. (WP 7113), Austin Nippy (AOL 530), MG ‘N’ type 2 str. (COF 915) and a 1½-litre Riley “Lynx” (CON 414). There was also — owned for 10 days only, as my father would not let me keep it — a 1924 Bamford & Martin sv Aston Martin (XT 4102). I did not really appreciate it at the time or I might have fought harder to keep it, but I wish I had it now! 

I often wonder about the later fate of these cars —does anyone know? I would be most interested to hear.

Peter Arthur 

Swansea’s licensing records 


Thank you very much for your recent letter concerning the records on historical vehicles held at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre. Since the closure of the Local Authorities’ Motor Taxation Offices on March 17th 1978, the registration and licensing of all vehicles has been undertaken by the Department of Transport’s Local Vehicle Licensing Offices (LVLOs). Records relating to vehicles which have almost certainly been scrapped, but not notified as such have been disposed of. No record is maintained on the central record of any vehicle on which no licensing transaction has taken place since the end of 1976.

The older, conventional, motor vehicle registration and taxation records maintained by Local Taxation Offices were disposed of as follows:—

(a) Records up to the end of 1920, consisting of registers of motor vehicle marks and numbers, were not public records, since before that date motor licensing was entirely the responsibility of local authorities, were deemed to be the property of the respective local authority or its successor under reorganisation, and were offered to local authority record offices. 

(b) Post 1920 vehicle registers plus files relating to applications for registration and renewal are covered by the Public Records Acts. Those covering the period 1921 to 1939 were considered to have some interest from the point of view of local history and of historians of the motor industry, and were also offered to local authorities. 

(c) A small representative sample of the remaining records was transferred to the Public Records Office, Kew. Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU. 

(d) Some miscellaneous records relating to the County Boroughs of Merthyr Tydfil, Oldham and Salford are held at this Centre.

The remainder were not judged to be worthy of permanent preservation among the public records and have been destroyed.

It would appear that the majority of the enquiries you would wish to make would relate to the former Local Taxation Office records and you are, therefore, advised to contact the records office of the respective local authority. The transfer of records to local authorities was by way of an outright gift and this Department therefore has no control over these records. Under normal circumstances access to them is understood to be restricted to the following categories of enquirer:— 

(a) Someone who has a genuine interest in a particular vehicle i.e. they have the vehicle in their possession and have proof to that effect. 

(b) Accredited members of a particular vehicle club/society.

(c) Genuine students interested in vehicles of that era. 

Enquiries may be made of the central record at this Centre, providing the enquirer shows reasonable cause. The enquirer is given details of the registered keeper and the latest licensing details. A search fee of £2 is charged for each registration mark enquired about. I hope that this answers your queries satisfactorily, but if you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact me.

Elizabeth D’Subin
Information Branch,
Department of Transport

[Now we know! — Ed.] 

Memories of “Archie” Frazer-Nash 


I was most interested in A Tribute to Archie Frazer-Nash. 

During the General Strike some of the Brooklands drivers formed what I believe they called “The Brooklands Flying Squad”. 

My father was a Police Officer in the Special Branch, CID, Scotland Yard, and Archie F-N was his driver. I remember him telling me that they had been doing 70 m.p.h. along the Embankment. My father arranged for the Police to test a Frazer Nash for police work, but unfortunately these cars were hardly suitable for two officers plus radio, etc. I believe Lea-Francis were chosen. 

Archie F-N visited us once or twice in Clapham, driving a Deemster, which I recall looked rather like an AC. 

The family car at this time was a 1924 4-seater Morris-Cowley (with a VW Derrington exhaust), and we were invited by Archie to visit the works at Kingston. While there the Cowley was fitted with a 40 mm. Soles Carburetter which improved the performance but only gave 19 m.p.g. During this visit we met H. J. Aldington. The workshop seemed to be full of single seater hill-climb cars, and one long car which Archie said was his Brooklands car. 

Archie Frazer-Nash was a most charming man and brilliant engineer. My interest in motor racing started I feel when I visited the works (this would be in 1927). I was 14 years old then started going to Brooklands in 1929, and hardly missed a meeting till the war ended motor sport. 

I still have never been in a Frazer Nash . . . perhaps one day? Many thanks for a great magazine.

E. A. Norwood 

Sprung wheels 


In the March issue you illustrate two cars fitted with “intriguing” wheels. I have never seen any like these but I do recall another unusual design which I have never noticed being mentioned in Motor Sport.

This type of wheel was known as the “Lynton” wheel, made by the Lynton Wheel Co. of Warrington I believe. When I was about 5 years of age, i.e. about 1912 my grandfather had a White Steam car in which I had my first motoring experiences that I can remember. This car was fitted with Lynton wheels which comprised an inner and and outer pressing with spokes, rather like those of an artillery wheel, with a clinch for the bead of the “tyre” which consisted of a number of rubber blocks about the size of a half-brick, with a bead moulded at the base of each block on the inner and outer sides. The inner and outer parts of the wheel were mounted on a splined hub, with leaf springs of a Iazy “S” form fitted between some of the spokes, the whole lot being secured by a large brass hub cap about 6″ or 7″ diameter and a cap nut about 3″ across flats. As the nut was tightened the outer part of the wheel was forced nearer to the inner part against the pressure of the leaf springs. As the pressure was released one outer part moved away from the inner owing to spring pressure. This enabled a series of rubber blocks to be inserted between the inner and outer portions of the wheel, being spaced about ½” apart. When completely assembled the “tyre” looked rather like the plain grooved tread of a normal pneumatic tyre. The spacing of the blocks also added to the resilience. The object of all this was to obtain freedom from punctures which grandfather dreaded. However there was an alternative hazard which was nearly as bad as a puncture. In dry weather there were always loose flints from the waterbound macadam roads of the district and a flint of the right size could become jammed between the rubber blocks, sometimes forcing one out of the wheel. I recall one occasion when this occurred with a crack like a gunshot as the displaced block his the front mudguard and flew over the hedge into a cornfield. Fortunately the driver marked the spot more or less and to save himself a walk of a hundred yards or so he stuffed little me through a convenient hole in the hedge-bottom. So there I was, crawling about among the corn stalks in obedience to shouts over the hedge of “right a bit, forward a bit” etc., etc. Eventually I found the block and returned through the hole in the hedge to watch the process of reassembly. The trick was to slacken off the hub nut enough to allow the block to be banged into position but not so much that all the other blocks would slide round and need re-spacing or even fall out. The driver’s commentary was fascinating and I learned a number of new words. 

I have never seen another car with this type of wheel and it would be interesting to know if any other readers of Motor Sport have done so.

Roy J. Burton
Clifford’s Mesne

“Why do they do it”? 


Sam Clutton is, absolutely right when he says “that people race funny old cars because they enjoy it”. 

Of course it would be marvellous if all the cars had survived in a very original state but I believe that some modifications must surely be allowed for the sake of safety and the absence of authentic replacement parts. 

The important thing is that these cars, especially the early Edwardian cars, are used. As Filson Young said in 1904 “The true home of the motor car is not in garage or workshop, showroom or factory, but on the open road”. If he was alive today I’m sure he would have added the words “museum or bank vault”.

I know exactly what Sam means when be drives his Itala that “it is an experience of pure joy”. Every time I take my Mercedes out I just cannot believe the power that these early machines have and the resurgence in the competitive use of these cars sets an example to the vintage owners not to treat them as investments but as motor cars. I often wonder just where some people come in the car-owner relationship. Does the owner own the car and use it to its full capacity or more often does the car own the owner using him to polish and revere it above all else? 

These cars give no pleasure to anyone stuck on blocks in their centrally-heated garages. Oh for the Holyhead road, the smell of paraffin lamps, the sound of heavy chains, an empty passenger seat and a full moon. . . .

R. A. Collings