Fruitless bid for a fine collection

In 1961, I heard that W J Brunell wanted to sell his remarkable collection of negatives of motoring history, a lifework of his top-class photography covering not only pictures of different cars of all ages but country scenes, racing, trials and rallies, which could have been an invaluable asset to Motor Sport. So I set off to bid for them, although the offer I was to make on behalf of Mr Tee, then owner of the magazine, I knew to be quite inadequate.

Brunell had made a box camera as a schoolboy, guided by a 3d instruction book, using glass plates at 3/- each. He graduated to a Thornton Piccard camera and sold prints profitably to magazines. His shots of Queen Victoria’s funeral earned the boy more than his father brought home in three months. After the 1918 Armistice, he got a job with Cycling News photographing trials, riding a Douglas motorcycle. A difference of opinion at Temple Press sent him to the Daily Mirror, where he used a No 12 Minimus Parmus and then an Attomiar Anschutz camera with original Ross lens but converted to roll film, which he was still using in 1961. He then began photographing and competing in car competitions. In 1925, he shared an AC Six with the Hon Victor Bruce in the Monte Carlo Rally, and took his daughter Kitty, then 16, with Reg Bicknell in a Singer Junior the following year. WJB then competed in 1928 in a Singer.

Kitty, an attractive young girl whom WJB had used as his model, persuaded her father to let her drive in the 1929 event in a 14/45 Talbot with a Sportsman’s coupe body to her own styling. The body was built by Darracq in Acton. (Its registration number was XV 9554; does it still exist?) Kitty drove a Talbot in the 1930 event and a Bianchi in 1931. She also drove in trials.

WJB now supplied pictures to The Auto (every Friday, 2d, founded in 1896, a year after The Autocar). In later years Kitty married wealthy Ken Hutchison, who owned V8 and V12 trials Allards and the ex-Ashby P3 Alfa Romeo for racing. Kitty knew almost all the drivers, was great fun, and wrote two amusing pieces for Motor Sport when war broke out.

So off I went to see WJB’s incredible results of a long life behind his cameras, to the sleepy village near Dorking where he lived with his second wife, the nurse who had cared for him after he was injured in the German attack on Brooklands, where he was working for Vickers. Brunell asked which make of car I would first like to see from his pictures. I thought the dear old chap a bit pompous at this point and said, “The Butterosi”. I knew nothing about this car, but had noticed the make in The Autocar small ads the evening before. “That will be in my B file,” said WJB, and he brought pictures of both sides of this car, its engine, the dashboard, etc!

I saw masses of other pictures; he had even taken four-season’ views of fine gardens and of stately homes. He showed me an interior photograph of a grand staircase, at the top of which was a framed painting the size of a fingernail. Handed a magnifying glass I saw that every detail of this was clear, as if it could have been the main picture — still photography of a high order!

The collection must even then have been worth thousands of pounds. Motor Sport not raising its offer, it was purchased by Lord Montagu for his then-Montagu Motor Museum, now the National Motor Museum, whose picture library presumably benefits. Brunell was then 83, occupied with his garden, photographing local hunts and servicing his 1935 Standard Ten saloon (Reg No BIT 220, should the Standard Register be interested).

Back home, a trawl of the smalls turned up an isolated Butterosi in April 1920 from Bainsbury’s of Peterborough, offering early delivery of a limited number of Butterosis, which does not mean any were sold.

I have discovered that it was a 12/16hp French light car made at Boulogne-sur-Seine and displayed at the first post-war Olympia/White City show of 1919 by agents Finch Noyes of Lennox House, WC, as an ugly disc-wheeled saloon straight from the Paris Salon. It had a 1327cc trough-lubricated side-valve engine, Hele-Shaw clutch, unit four-speed gearbox, a wheelbase of 9ft 4in, 765×105 tyres, and back brakes with contracting bands for the pedal, internal shoes for the lever on the same drums. The body was economical of doors, which had railway carriage-type handles. The price was £600.

A British writer said it would take a high place among this country’s small cars, which was unkind to our struggling post-war industry. A chassis was shown at the 1920 Scottish Show but not at Olympia and, by 1924, the Butterosi had melted away.