Midgets come in different sizes
Since you mention my interest in American track cars, I should perhaps point out that these came in two handy sizes. From the 1920s the Americans had been racing specials constructed mainly from the vital parts of current family cars, on ½-mile or shorter ovals, mostly on the fairgrounds adjacent to large towns. These tracks were also used for horse racing, and the car racing was another branch of show-business. By 1930 the specification of these cars — which became known as “big cars” — had settled to a wheelbase of 90″ ± 2″, a track of 6′, and an engine of 200-215 cu. in. (3½-litres) from Ford or Chevrolet.
The Midgets came along later, in the early 1930s, mostly on ¼-mile ovals within the cities, so the punters didn’t have to go so far to watch their heroes shunting. The Midgets came with smaller engines (the 22 h.p. V8 was popular, because it was cheap — being no use for much. else. So was the Elmo 2-stroke outboard engine). With a 6′ wheelbase the cars were a bit of a squash for whoever was driving them.
Both the “big cars” and the Midgets used a hand-controlled dog-clutch (not a cone), and so were unable to start from rest without a push. I have bent history a little by putting a gearbox and clutch appropriate to its engine (Model A Ford) in my car, just so as not to be a bother to the marshals at the starts of our races, of course.
Most VSCC competitors seem to have accepted the car in the not-over-serious spirit in which it is offered — as a cheap and pretty cheerful alternative to paying through the nose for a vintage racer of possibly now doubtful composition. The original operators of such machines took themselves rather more seriously. Mr. Ray Kunz wrote in 1931, under the heading “Who should attempt to enter the racing game?”: “The requisites for a good racing car driver are clean habits, plenty of cool nerve, much mechanical skill and ability, and finally the ability to work for 24 hours or more on end without stopping”. Sometimes I think I’m lucky not to have a good racing car to drive.
T. J. Threlfall
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I have the rear seat cushions from a Mk. VI Bentley taking up space in my garage and would be pleased to give them to any of your readers who are interested.
29 Wentworth Way,
Bletchley, Milton Keynes
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I was intrigued by two pictures (p. 276, March issue) sent by Mr. C. S. Ingram, of curious attachments on an early car. I think this device is most probably a splashguard in bad weather. In pre-war Japan, up to the outbreak of WW2, cars were required by law to fix similar devices to all four wheels in bad weather to protect pedestrians from splash of mud and water, as there were lots of unmade roads even in central Tokyo in those days. These splashguards were usually made of rubber or bristle but expensive ones of leather. In an enclosed picture which was taken in Tokyo’ pre-war, an Aprilia (a rare bird indeed then) is seen with a set of unsightly splashguard fitted and a Model A Ford behind has cheaper ones made of bristle.
Editor, Car Graphic
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The Torin Maserati
The article in the January issue provides added evidence to at last identify the Torin Maserati with some degree of certainty. About 1932 the Maserati factory was dabbling with front-wheel-drive and also trying out the new 2,992 c.c. engine destined for the 8C Monoposto. Sig. Cozza, of the Maserati concern, gives the chassis number of the f.w.d. car as 3004 and it is almost certain that, due to its lack of potential, the car was dismantled. About the same time a Tipo 8C 3,000, chassis 3001, was being raced by the works, while a sister-car, 8C 3002, was sold to Sir Henry Birkin. Carnpari apparently preferred the wider cockpit of the old two-seater 8C 3001 and used it to great effect in winning the 1933 French Grand Prix, although he could have used the new monoposto, which was by then available. Borzacchini was killed in the car later in the year in the Italian Grand Prix and it is thought to have been rebuilt, incorporating a new grille, and other later modifications, to be used as the spare team-car. This is borne out by the pictures on page 213 of the Italian edition of Orsini and Zagari’s Maserati history. It is believed that the rebuilt car now had the engine and back axle from 3004, the ill-fated f.w.d. car.
The Scuderia Siena raced 8C 3001 in 1934 at Monaco, whereupon it gradually dropped from the limelight. In 1938 an advertisement appeared in The Autocar of May 13th, inserted by Ace Motors of 23 Oldbury Place, High Street, Marylebone W1, offering a 2-seater 3-litre Maserati while a similar ad. (date unknown) offers what is obviously the same car, “overhauled and super tuned by G. Bouriano” (the well-known Belgian track driver). From the head on view in the second ad., this is undoubtedly the car then bought by Lt. Torin. The side-view in the first ad. shows the stepped chassis with inclined side-louvres; the head-on view shows the slotted cowl, so evident in the photo in the January issue (that on 8C 3002 was not slotted). The Turin period is well covered in this issue. It is of interest that, at the time of writing, I had no firm knowledge of chassis numbers but made a blind guess at possibilities, so that, what Dutt called “330 ex Campari” must have been 8C 2516, now fully restored by Anthony Hartley, and the latter car must be the ex Torin 8C 3001/3004 combination.
Port Elizabeth, S. Africa
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I hope that you can stand one more letter from me concerning Maserati FGC412 but Mr. Finglass’ letter in your March issue seems to call for my comments.
Whilst I was away on RAF duty in Japan, my father, with my agreement, sold the business premises in Richmond (not Mortlake) to Messrs. Fox. My father died soon after but I believe that he asked Messrs. Fox to collect the Maserati from the lock-up at Kew and sell it for him. I do not believe that he received anything like £400 for it (which I agree was probably a fair price). I heard subsequently that it had been seen at Arbuthnot’s premises, but I did not know that Mr. Finglass had been involved.
Both “TASO” Mathieson and Peter Shaw have told me that, according to the Maserati history compiled by Zagari and Orsini, there is no trace of Chassis No. 3004 existing. Mr. Mathieson states that the Maserati records are by no means complete and that he has asked Zagari and Orsini to investigate further, possibly from the old factory mechanics that are still alive.
Apart from the mystery of the chassis number, which I am sure was 3004 and which remains to be cleared up, I hope that we can now leave FGC 412 and its former owner to rest in peace.
[This corresponence is now closed — Ed.]
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Sorting out the R-types
As an MG “nut” I was very interested to read the article about the Ex Doreen Evans R type Midget. The photos were particularly interesting! The top 3 show a standard single o.h.c. car which is RA 0255 but the crashed car is in fact a twin o.h.c. car. Distinguishing feature is that on the s.o.h.c. cars the exhaust is on the n./s. whilst on the o./s. on the d.o.h.c. cars.
Three d.o.h.c. cars were produced by conversion of standard cars — the conversion was carried out by McEvoy and Pomeroy by producing an entirely new head with the “blower” tucked under the n./s. inlet manifold. Apparently the manifolding was so much more efficient that the boost pressure dropped from 28 psi. to 22 psi. with the same blower!
Of these three cars, two are now owned by Syd Beer, whilst the subject of your photo is in New Zealand. I expect the confusion is as a result of the car being raced by K. D. Evans and not D. Evans. Both cars having the Bellevue Garage colour scheme of blue with a silver stripe. RA 0253 had another incident when it hit the straw bales in the 1935 Empire Trophy Race — again driven by K. D. Evans.
One other Bellevue car in still active — this is the R type-engined Montlhéry Midget owned and used by M. Edmondson and T. Hirst — seen in action at Shelsley last year.
Keep up the good work.
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The Ninety Mercedes
There are some points in your March issue on which I would like to comment. Firstly, I do not think that the B.14 Citroën was ever called “Rosalie” officially by the Company. But it was both pre-war and post-war, a standard nick-name for them that everybody knew and used.
Your Editor mentions in his well researched article on “90” Mercedes a car known as the “White Ninety”, one of the more conspicious cars in London in the late 1920s and ’30s. Gordon Watney had a works at Weybridge where he bought big Mercedes with closed coachwork and put very attractive sporting open bodies on them. His foreman was called Cecil Harold Crowe. After the end of World War I, Gordon Watney went into theatrical production where he lost all his money. C. H. Crowe started up on his own with a small works in Battersea. I bought a Mercedes from him when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge in 1925. He had just finished building the “White Ninety”, I though it quite one of the most exciting-looking cars I had ever seen, but, of course, the price of £450 was quite beyond me. When it came into my possession fifteen years later, after Buddy Blythe had sold it, I must confess to being rather disappointed with its performance. Alas this spectacular-looking car is lost to us forever, because round about 1950 it was stolen and broken up. For the record, the Corsica-bodied “90” which stood in their works for so long and was reputed to have belonged originally to Lord Gort, was sold at the late Mr. Smith’s sale and is the one you illustrate. I bid for it, but was outbid.
Another small point. The rich brewer from Trieste who raced extensively pre-1914 was not called Dorfer, but Dreher.
[C. H. Crowe was responsible for the Chitty-like 240 h.p. Benz aero-engined Mercedes built in 1920/21 for a Mr. Scarisbrick but I thought his premises were in Upper Kennington Lane, Vauxhall, SE11. — Ed.]