Vintage Postbag, May 1981

“The McKenna Duties”


Further to your article on “The McKenna Duties”, I can confirm that vintage American cars’ “mudguards, radiators and lamps” were usually black a la Henry Ford, because as a boy I was allowed to accompany the van driver of a business operated by an uncle of mine to General Motors at the Hyde, Hendon to collect and deliver these items in order that they could be stove-enamelled, black, of course. These components came over from America in raw-metal, heavily coated with grease, in large wooden crates which were opened at Hendon and the parts loaded on to the company vehicle, an early Chevrolet, with wooden wheels, external-contracting rear wheel only brakes, and a special Spurling body. A refined delivery van indeed, by contemporary standards in 1929.

At the works, the grease was boiled-off in caustic soda, no degreasers then, and the enamel, one coat matt and two coats gloss, was poured over the parts, or alternatively, they were literally dipped in and hung up to drain. Rubbing down between coats was done with pumice-blocks, no wet or dry flatting paper either, and dust etc. was a major problem. You had to tip-toe through the paint shop! The stoving was carried out in large room like gas-fired ovens, with a prolonged baking period of about two hours, the finished work looking extremly glossy, and, as no doubt you recall, of long lasting quality.

In retrospect, it was all very exciting to a nine-year-old; I had a lovely collection of the beautifully enamelled badges for Chevrolet, Buick, etc., which were fitted at Hendon I wish I knew what happened to them.

In conclusion, surely the cyclecar pictured on page 299 (March issue) is a LEYAT (1913-1921) as shown on page 343 of Georgano’s Motor Cars. More about the good old days, please!

Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex

S.W. Wheal

*   *   *


After reading W.B.’s interesting McKenna duties article, may I, please, put in a word or two in praise, of vintage American cars?

In the 1920s I was in South Africa, where, at that time, the only decent roads were in the towns and as soon as you left the town you were on a dirt road, with a really rough surface, and, as well, there were no garages outside the towns, and the distances between the towns were often quite considerable. So, a strong, reliable car was needed. I regret to say European cars were found to fall apart rapidly under those conditions, and American cars did not, having more rigid chassis. So, only a few European cars were bought, as prestige objects, for use in places like Cape Town.

My own car was a Hudson Super Six — photo enclosed — which took me around Cape Province and to Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg, quite adventurous journeys in those days, without any trouble.

Chichester, Sussex

G. de Jongh

Quadrant Memories


I was most interested to read on p.179 of your February issue “in 1927 Archer was using an old belt drive 4 1/4 h.p. Quadrant”, as on leaving school in 1918 I purchased a 1912 model of this machine (AE321 ) for £25 from my form master (I think he rooked me!).

It had a fine polished aluminium crankcase housing a very heavy flywheel, a Sturmey-Archer three-speed hub, a cycle type stirrup front brake, a splendid Bosch magneto, lubrication by hand pump (when remembered!) and of course no clutch, changing being done on the exhaust lifter.

It gave me good service for many years, later being fitted with a coachbuilt sidecar at my brother’s suggestion (in order that he might drive his fiancee about!).

To my great regret I finally sold it to a scrap merchant for 6/- when I purchased a brand new 350 cc. Ariel.

I used to ride the solo Quadrant the 30 miles to Bristol when a good friend got me a position (unpaid) in the repair shop of the Douglas works at Kingswood to gain experience. Here I surprised (and perhaps pleased) the foreman by asking if he had not been the noted trials rider for Quadrant, a fact gleaned from Motor Cycling. Sad to say, I have forgotten his name.

I gathered a worker was somewhat suspect if he owned a Douglas, and I well remember one man passing the security man at the gates with a nice pair of self-made “straight-through” exhaust pipes stuffed down his overalls!

Brent Knoll, Somerset

Anthony Marriage

Humber Identification


The excellent photograph you reproduced on page 292 in your March issue showing a 1913 Humber ascending Dunmail Raise is not in fact a 15.9 h.p. but an 11 h.p. model. The 15.9 h.p. was not introduced until 1919 and was a much heavier vehicle than its pre-war ancestors the 11 h.p. and the 14 h.p. which were notably light and had higher back-axle ratios, the only similarity between the 15.9 h.p. and pre-war 11 and 14 h.p. was the engine — a conventional side-valve, “L”-head monobloc assembly with pressure fed crankshaft.

Petworth, Sussex

J. G. Morris

The Le Mans Museum


Concerning the photograph of the 1920’s propeller-cyclecar. I was surprised to see this because I saw one whilst on holiday last year. It was residing in the Musee de l’Automobile du Mans, in the grounds of the famous Sarthe circuit. Virtually all of the exhibits were in original condition and thus quite shabby and broken. It was the same for the cyclecar. The tyres were frayed and rotten and possibly many parts were missing. Unfortunately I did not note its name, but remember it had a small twin horizontally opposed engine.

Many fine cars live in this small museum which has predominantly French cars displayed. However the British honours are upheld by a very nice (restored I think), 1929 3-litre Bentley in BRG, and a beautiful brace of Jaguars, including a C-Type, D-Type, and an original 1962 E-Type which is Swiss registered and has left hand drive. Many other famous and interesting cars live there and I would recommend a visit to anyone passing or visiting the Sarthe area.

I thank you for many enjoyable years’ reading, and look forward for many more to come despite our savage taxation!

Moreton, Merseyside

Alan K. Smith

ERA and Air Struts


I was interested in the recent articles on the ERA book and picture of R4D with air suspension. This took me back to an evening during the 1950s when along with other members of the local motor club we were privileged to visit the BRM works at Bourne, going first to Folkingharn aerodrome to see where the V16s were road tested. I remember that Raymond Mays took us into one building and showed us what he described as his new sprint car. This was shaped similar to the E-type ERA with a blown 2-litre ERA engine. The suspension was the same type air struts shown in your picture. Unfortunately, I never saw it raced.

We were then shown all round the BRM works back at Bourne. I remember there was a V16 on the dynamometer, and Bira’s mechanic was working on his current car which at that time was an OSCA. The final highlight of the visit was when Ray allowed us in the house to view all his trophies. They were everywhere — silver inkstands, cups, salvers, etc. It was remarkable to see how many he had won during his career.

May I add I have been a reader of the “best motoring magazine” for 30 years.


F. Olley

Peugot Valve Gear


You are quite right to question the reference to the 1912 Peugeot valve gear being desmodromic, as it certainly isn’t. The original Cresswell drawing in the Pomeroy book is clear enough but a photograph of the engine in the Potherat article in the March 1969 “L’Automobiliste” is even clearer.

The engine had valves spring-closed on conventional lines, except that the springs were exposed. The “tappet” is a strap or stirrup around the cam and it certainly seems to be desmodromic, if this word can be so applied. At the end of the stirrup is an adjustment screw for valve clearance. l can well imagine the design being abandoned later, especially if the valve springs were to be enclosed in the normal manner. Incidentally the drawing at the heading of the article is easily the worst I have ever seen and must be making some of the marvellous artists of earlier times turn in their graves — parallel ‘threads’ on the plug, piston crown wafer thin, valve travel less than that demanded by the cams so the engine won’t turn, relative position of the two cams giving an impossible timing and so on!

London, W2

H.G. Conway

Memories of Brooklands


I have recently purchased a copy of the magnificent and monumental revised “History of Brooklands Motor Course”, by William Boddy. I am thoroughly enjoying the book and devour each story and account with great pleasure, save one, wherein I had, not unaturally, in my ageing vanity, hoped to find my name mentioned as the entrant and driver in the Bentley Drivers’ Club race of 1936, in my 1924 3-litre Park Ward Red Label tourer, Reg. No. HJ 3854. In those far-off days my vanity was the same, though more concealed, as it was with most young men in marked contradistinction to some today. I observed in Motor Sport of November 1936, in the account of the BDC race, to my enormous pleasure (and who on earth wouldn’t?) your words: “Sutton, the limit man, roared off the mark . . . and the race was on”. What pleasure to anyone, however miniscule his contribution, to see himself named with the great and gallant racing drivers of those days who made Brooklands the marvellous place it was.

I well recall the sudden tension, drying-up of salivary juices, invasion of adrenalin as “Ebby” plus flag, hat and watch, approached my elderly but willing car, with (joyous to recall) its Brooklands silencer, bonnet-strap, 12-inch perforated fish-tail, competition number and smell of Castrol-R — quite unnecessarily put in for the race, dead against the kindly advice of that charming and wise father-figure of those wonderful early Bentley days, L.C. (“Mac”) McKenzie, who also took part in the race. I remember on the railway straight in the second lap seeing and hearing Ortweiler’s “4 1/2” split its silencer like a banana skin, at the same time as I saw my brother, Peter, who rode with me as mechanic, suddenly dive under the scuttle to hold down the floor-boards which had decided to enliven things by coming adrift. Fortunately, he succeeded, or we might both have had a smart wallop in the face, with unforeseeable and unpleasant results! I recall that we gave no thought to such trivial apprehension, save the pleasure of recounting afterwards.

“Those were the days” indeed, when ever impecunious students like myself could, and did, do these things on a shoe-string for the love and excitement of the sport. Two guineas entrance fee, Brooklands Silencer, bonnet-strap and fish tail prepared for £S by those splendid people, Messrs. Bochaton & Balderstone, of McEvoy Special fame in Notting Hill Gate W11, and you were there, with that broad track stretching in front of you, just as it did for Birkin, Benjafield, Barnato, Campbell, S.C.H. (Sammy) Davies, etc. These men indeed were real sportsmen — of course they were mostly rich, as they had to be, but they paid, and dearly, for all their racing, an opposed to being paid, as today, and being covered with so many sponsors that it’s hard to tell where the driver begins and the car ends until one of them moves! They provided the marvellous spectacle of Brooklands for the pleasure of spectators, at their own expense, and, often fatal, risk. As a spectator, I saw Clive Dunfee go catastrophically over the top in his Speed-Six Bentley and poor Leeson burnt to death in his Monthlery MG Midget on another occasion. To revert to the BDC race, my speed was a sensational 69.70 m.p.h. for the race! It seemed a lot to me, with flat screen and goggles (always misting up). We may not have gone very fast, but we couldn’t stop very fast either, so our thrills came at a different end!

It is worth remembering the tremendous efforts made by all in those sheds at Brooklands, to get to the starting-line. There was chivalry and sportsmanship forever present. You would certainly never have seen Babe Barnato walk away after winning a race without even waiting to receive the prize, as happened in Japan not long ago, or Oliver Bertram walking out the day before the race, and announcing he had retired.

Rattlesden, Suffolk

Anthony B de S. Sutton (Major. Retd.)

Message to the Coal Board!


I came across an old newspaper containing the following, which I think will be of interest to you:

Car Runs on Coke 10 Miles a Penny. A motor fuel shortly to be placed on the market will, it is claimed, reduce travelling costs to 10 miles a penny and will bring employment to 100,000 out of work miners.

The fuel is small coke which generates gas in an apparatus mounted on the running board of a motor vehicle. The apparatus has been inspected by representatives of the War Office, Ministry of Agriculture and Mines, the Fuel Research Board, arid the London General Omnibus Company.

Mr. N. Clarke-Jones, the inventor of the apparatus, told a Sunday Express representative yesterday that tests with a 1 ton lorry had been highly satisfactory. “The lorry travelled 80 miles at 30 miles an hour before the fuel ran out,” he said. “The cost of the journey was 8p”.

The newspaper was The Sunday Express of June 14th, 1931.


John Higson

Supercharged Rolls-Royce


I am gathering the early history of the 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom I, chassis 31HC, supercharged by Amherst Villiers for Captain Kruse. Amherst Villiers himself has given extensive information but I would appreciate any further memories of this car, perhaps by former personnel of the Bentley-McKenzie Garage and Fleet Motor Company both of which worked on the car before the war. It has not been possible to ascertain the registration number, from any source, the car having gone to Australia where it is currently being restored, just before or after the war. The supercharger was removed by Villiers in the thirties. A James Young body replaced the Barker body at much the same time.

The car has been documented in Motor Sport for July 1939 page 200 and by Eoin Young in Autocar for May 26th 1979. Any recollections or photographs would be appreciated.

London SW10

T. C. Clarke

Saltburn 72 Years Ago


It was with great interest that I read of Mr. J. Hepworth’s visit to the car race at Saltburn Sands when he was ten years old.

In 1909 when I was a seven-year-old I had the thrill of seeing the late K. Lee-Guinness driving the huge V8 Darracq racer at over 100 m.p.h. on Saltburn Strand. Little did I think that many years later I would become the proud owner of a 1903 Darracq, which I have driven in the London-Brighton Run and in other competitions in England and Ireland.

Since 1909 I have never ceased to be interested in motoring sport, and have owned some of the 1930 period ex-TT cars, such as Lea-Francis, Autosport Singer, Fiat, and supercharged Austin Sevens.

During my youth I spent many happy summer holidays in Saltburn.

Newtonabbey, Ulster

W.M.D. Montgomery

Four, Not Six


I refer to your article in March Motor Sport where you illustrate the Studebaker on p.290 and the Humber on p.292, the originals of which I sent you recently.

I am quite certain that the Studebaker was a 4-cylinder, as my father bought his first light 6-cylinder in the early 1920s, when they were introduced.

The one illustrated was used during the Great War for transporting officers around London, and my father acquired it from my uncle, who owned it originally, towards the end of the Great War, and had it until he acquired the new Light 6. I would suggest that the one illustrated was of no later date, than say, 1915, or thereabouts, in view of its history, prior to our acquiring it.


D. Greenwood