The Hudlass Special

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The building of Specials was quite a frequent enjoyment in what we now refer to as the vintage years, when breaker’s yards were prolific and separate chassis frames encouraged such work, either for the fun-factor, to have a car less expensive than a used one of similar character, let alone buying new, or because the builder had his own ideas of a near-perfect motorcar. One such Special which has turned up from those times is the Hudlass, now owned by VSCC member P Dixon, who is anxious to glean more of its history and hopefully get it a blue form for vintage racing.

As far as I remember, Maurice Hudlass was an RAC engineer, who acted as an assistant Scrutineer at Brooklands at least up to 1928. Felix Hudlass, who I assume was Maurice’s father, was at the Track before the 1914/18 war, again I think probably in an official capacity. I have an idea that one, or perhaps both, built Hudlass Specials, the first maybe before the First World War. Be that as it may, the car which Mr Dixon has found is thought to have had work started on it around 1929, with completion in the mid-1930s, so would presumably be a Maurice Hudlass job. It was discovered recently as a rolling chassis, and obtained from the owner, who had purchased it from the creator’s son in the 1950s because he wanted its Riley engine. This was one of the side-valve engines. The chassis was rumoured to be Riley Redwing but as there is a sub-frame some doubt is cast on this and Dixon wonders whether the main chassis frame is not that of a Model-T Ford of the modified Speedster variety. This is encouraged by the underslung back-axle which is from a modified Model-T, as are apparently some of the steering joints. The chassis side rails, the petrol tank, and its mounting also appear, I am told, to be like those of the Ford Speedster of around the 1926 period. The wire wheels with knock-off hubcaps also appear to line up with those that might have been on such a Ford, and Dixon thinks that as the petrol tank is damaged Hudlass may have used parts he collected from scrap yards. The radiator is Riley, nickel-silver plated, and there is a 100mph Bonnisen speedometer which fits in with the car’s dating.

The VSCC is not averse to Specials providing they are constructed largely of pre-1931 parts, so the only problem with this car’s eligibility is that it has independent front suspension. This consists of two parallel wishbones on each side and a transverse spring. There is a brass steering bevel-box with a drop-arm and drag-link on each side of the engine, to humour the i f s. The use of many bronze and brass items here suggest that Hudlass, as an engineer, designed and made this i f s in the vintage period. But confirmation of this is sought, and further history relating to the car. Independent front suspension need not imply that the Hudlass is post-vintage; an example of a VSCC-accepted i f s car that comes to mind is the Crouch-Helix, for example…

Special building was pleasantly possible in the vintage years, but many of them were short-lived, or have never been rediscovered. Such was the fine hybrid which the late Jack Lemon Burton, already a Bugatti fancier and who became one of the greatest supporters of the Ettore legend, built in the basement of his London house in 1932. After all the toil it had to be dismantled to remove it and be reassembled in the garden! It had an obscure wide-angle side-valve vee-eight engine with exhaust pipes on the rear of each integral head and inspection plates outboard of the sparking-plugs, each secured by four domed nuts. This 3378cc engine Jack installed in a massive Chrysler chassis he had suitably shortened.

Tortuous water pipes connected the engine to a Vulcan radiator. The chassis was given Studebaker axles, steering gear from a Bean and a brake lever which had once brought a Standard car to rest. The transmission was Vauxhall. This Burton Special was aimed at the Shelsley Walsh hill-climbs. I wonder what became of it? W B