Lionel Martin looks back
Soon the war will be over and we must look forward. Meanwhile it is pleasant to look back, and in this interesting contribution Lionel Martin describes some of his experiences in the very early days, and throws yet more light on the origin and development of the Bamford and Martin Aston-Martin.–Ed.
The Editor has paid me the very high compliment of asking me to write something for Motor Sport, but having read with the greatest possible pleasure the many amusing and instructive articles which have done so much to keep the sacred flame of our Sport burning during these lean years, I shudder at the thought of his reception of this disordered screed. What it is going to be, I cannot imagine—a catalogue of cars I have owned. 79 to date, or a chronicle of an ill-spent life? Well, anyway, here goes.
How well I remember my first sight of a motor car in motion ! I was cycling from my crammer’s to London along the Oxford road when I saw the monster approaching, and I threw myself and “iron” into the nearest ditch, counting myself lucky to escape with my life— very like the sensation enjoyed many years later when “observing” on the Railway Straight at Brooklands, with Cobbs and Campbells and Parry Thomases thundering by at speed (there was a handy ditch there, too, in case evasive action should be needed).
Sensation number two was being driven from the finish of a bicycle race, in which I had competed, into Hitchin, in a friend’s 10-hp Napier, during which we clocked miles at over 40 mph ; this seemed a colossal speed, and I couldn’t make out why my friend wanted to send his car back to the works to have more and stronger ponies added to it. At this time one of my jobs was to blow the horn and apply the brakes on the family four-in-hand, and whether it was the dullness of this stately progress —a five-minute mile was considered terrific –or a growing distaste for pushing myself round on two wheels, I know not, but late in 1902 I took the plunge and became the proud owner of a 21/2-hp chain-driven Humber motor-cycle. This machine rejoiced in the possession of a “spray” carburetter, as the contraption was then called ; it was the great-great-grandfather of the Modern “gasworks,” and only functioned by fits and starts. In those days one dressed for the sport of motor-cycling entirely in leather, and the state of mind and body engendered by pedalling the thing when it wouldn’t go is better forgotten. How I ever managed to sell the thing is one of life’s mysteries, but it was an odd coincidence that when attending, many years later, my first meeting as a member of the Motor Cycling Club Committee, I found myself sitting between the man from whom I bought it and the unlucky fellow who became its next owner.
Then followed a 31/2-hp Rex, of which the highlight was when the trailer containing a girl friend became detached during the ascent of Reigate Hill ; my joy at the resultant surge of acceleration was soon damped, and the ensuing damages had to be paid out of the sale of the machine.
Next came a 21/2-hp Excelsior, quite a reliable machine, but still fitted with pedals which now and then earned their keep. The speed limit was then 12 mph, and the police were becoming wise to the easy money and promotion to be earned by the persecution of this new locomotion ; a favourite riposte was to pretend to slow up and edge to one side of the road, and having lured Robert thereto, to give her the gun and disappear into space : there were no number plates then, of course.
There lived near me a friend who used to take me out in his cars from time to time, and I got so bitten with the four-wheel idea that I decided to mortgage all my worldly goods and buy a car. There followed tours of inspection to all the garages in London, and I very nearly succumbed to the charms of a 7-hp Panhard with Phoenix engine and Krebs carburetter, when the then editor of the Autocar guided my erring footsteps to a place where a “12/14” Clement Bayard was to he seen, and of this I became the proud owner.
Four-cylinder engine of about three litres, with tonneau—back entrance-body, and no hood or screen. However, the thing went, and I had quite a good year’s motoring out of it, being fairly sure of getting at least somewhere.
I remember it by two things : the first phenomenal avoidance—running along a footpath on the Fairmile to dodge what was surely the largest farm horse ever, which was crossing the road from the Stoke d’Abernon turning ; my first real skid, resulting in my front passenger coming to rest astride the bonnet ; and the girl friend—yes, the same one ! being hurled over our heads into the ditch. Which reminds me of an impromptu remark by John Douglas, who used to drive some of my Aston-Martins, on seeing a stately lady with the then popular flowing robes sail past “Skirts by Hoover !” To protect the underside of the chassis this car had been fitted with a canvas undershield, and the dust thus raised at any speed became such a local scandal that the thing had to be scrapped. Health next winter caused the Riviera to be prescribed for me, and meeting en route in Paris my local motoring friend, a visit to the Salon seemed indicated. A great fellow this, who earned the Legion d’Honneur–he had by that time become resident in France and was a motor agent —for driving French speed boats at Monte Carlo, and was also a member of the Gobron-Brille Gordon Bennett elimination trials team ; he was the living counterpart of the traditional Michelin hero, Bibendum —he was 6 ft 2 in, and weighed 17 stone. He subsequently drove for Mercedes, but in the aforesaid eliminating trial his steering came adrift just after passing through the timed kilometre at 110 mph, and his car hit a tree ; he was unhurt, and his mechanic merely sprained his ankle—and then they say speed is dangerous !
However, to return to the Salon. Among the wonderful display of cars were Rolls-Royce, including the funny squat “Degalimit”—single-geared, if I remember rightly—and one of the Brasier Gordon-Bennett racers, which I nearly bought—I was to meet it again many years later at Tintagel ; but I was finally persuaded by my friend to invest in a “24/32” Mors with Rai de Beige body (but still no hood or screen, though sidedoors were fitted for the back seats), and this car was eventually delivered to me at Nice.
Of course I had to pass a driving test for my French licence—carte rose—which I still have, and the incident of meeting a down-coming timber wagon on a steep gradient, necessitating a re-start—in those days the hand-brake withdrew the clutch –was such that the officer of the Department of Roads and Bridges decided not to incur a repetition of the peril, and passed me. Owners of “the fastest sports cars” loved to line up on the road across the Plain d’Antibes, which bordered the railway line, and wait for the Paris expresses, which they could easily beat up, even in those days, “60” and “90” Mercedes being the principal runners. My friend had one of each, and many a good scrap I had in them.
In those days, too, one almost had to keep a chauffeur ; the greasing of chains, etc, did not go well with Riviera clothes. I had a jolly little Frenchman, who used to bubble over with excitement during a scrap, but never forgot to attend to a row of some dozen drip-feed lubricators. He was eventually offered a job on an “18/28” Mercedes, which was the equivalent to a free ticket for Heaven, so I had to let him go. For my return journey as far as Paris he found me a substitute who wanted to go there and who made the journey in mid-March, sitting in the traditional mechanic’s place on the floor boards, with his feet hanging over the side—and this clad apparently in little more than a boiler suit and a thin overcoat.
This car lasted me longer than any I have owned subsequently, with the exception of these war years, but it had, besides its chain drive, certain unlovable mechanical eccentricities, such as a water tank carried where we now wear our petrol tank—a design which resulted in frequent air locks and loss of all coolant, Now in this engine the base chamber and water jackets were one casting, the separate cylinders, with cylinder barrel and head integral, making the water joint by means of a rubber ring, so that when, on occasions of real drought, the cylinders became red hot, or nearly so, the rubber rings took a poor view of the situation—a trait which ultimately decided me to pass it on to someone in need of practical experience. Well, well—the firm of Mors is defunct now, anyway ! This car saw the close of chapter one of my racing career—it was in this wise. In those days the lucky lads made it almost a point of honour to lunch on Sundays at the “Metropole” Brighton, and the displays of youth and beauty at this happy resort were only equalled by the appalling clouds of dust on the way down—so dense that at times the only way of getting the road was a potato deftly thrown at the car in front. Needless to say, the police were very active, and despite the energy of the then youthful Automobile Association (I am member No 163), made many captures. One luckless day I was timed but not stopped on the way down, and a corpulent and evil-disposed Robert was waiting at the bottom of Handcross on the way back. Spying his upheld hand some way ahead I stopped and reversed, with the intention of turning round and returning home by a different route. Circumstances made the reversing a slow job, and Robert very nearly came up with me, and the last view of his furious and profusely perspiring face almost compensated me for the sentence of twelve months’ suspension which this wicked act earned me.
What I did during this time is nobody’s business, but the poor “24/32” Mors was sold, and was eventually succeeded by a lot of small fry until a 1907 “20/80” Renault came on the scene ; she was a honey, one of the best cars (I am now driving my 70th) that I ever owned. I was a fool to sell her and buy a “35/45” of the same make.
About this time I fell in again with an old cyclist friend, well known to SF Edge, and he had in his pocket the sole concession for Surrey and Sussex for De Dions and Napiers, so I went in with him and enjoyed for some time a very profitable partnership, owning and demonstrating a “65” Napier and all sorts and sizes of De Dions.
Of the latter, by far the nicest was a little 2-seater with an engine about the size of that of a Rudge motor-cycle ; I drove it all over the British Isles, and it was as sweet as butter until one day, in the Highlands, I ran a big-end (incidentally, my sole experience of this trouble). Re-metalling the rod was straightforward enough, but re-assembling it between the twin flywheels attached to the crankshaft on keyless tapers was not too funny without a jig, and I’m bound to confess she was never the same again.
About this time the public seemed to become allergic to De Dions and Napiers, and coming across another cycling friend, the late Robert Bamford, we decided to take over the London depot of Messrs Hess & Savory Ltd, to whom he was apprenticed. This was situated in a mews in South Kensington, and we got a lucky start by securing a sub-agency for Singers from poor (“Pearly”) Percy Lambert, the first man to do 100 miles in the hour, who was so tragically killed at Brooklands soon after. As my partner and I were both ex-racing cyclists, naturally our thoughts turned towards speed on cars, and we used to “do things” to Singers, Calthorpes, GWKs, etc, which brought us in much custom, and quite a few prizes in races, hill climbs and trials. One or other of us made constant visits to the above factories to collect new cars, and ultimately we got fed up with the delays, train journeys and troubles on our return journeys (my steering once became disconnected on a new car and I took a lovely toss), so we decided to build a car ourselves, the outcome being, of course, the B & M Aston-Martin.
Our objects were to build a completely individual car, but one which was comprised of only well-tested designs—my own very varied experience of 40 or so privately-owned cars forming the criterion, and I’m afraid I really ought to have paid homage to Vauxhall, Rolls and, later, Bugatti, by whose well-tried products I had benefited. Well, on the principle that if I didn’t know a thing myself, I should enlist someone who did, I obtained the help of such firms as EG Wrigley, of Birmingham, Coventry Simplex, of Coventry, etc, and they worked out, and made practical, ideas provided by Bamford & Martin Ltd. I cannot go further without acknowledging the genius of my, then, “head lad” John Addis. He has since gone over to New Zealand, and from there, alas to a place from which no man returns. One of the back-room boys, he deserves credit, which he has never yet received, for genius and inspiration without which I doubt whether the Aston-Martin would ever have materialised. The time I am speaking of is just before the Great War-1913-1914—and it was in the latter year that Messrs Coventry Simplex Ltd, delivered the first engine built to our suggestions. It was a side-valve of 66.5 by 100 mm, to conform to the current light-car limit of 1,400 cc, and, the chassis, transmission, etc, not being ready, I bought one of the delightful little Bugatti-designed Isotta Fraschinis and installed the engine therein. Regrettably, this made the car too heavy in front, but it was quite stable up to 70 mph or so, and when weight on the back was needed for trials, we just added it—as at a JCC test on the Cinder Track at Brighton—which was climbed with some half dozen lads clinging on somewhere.
Alms Hill, Nailsworth Ladder, and practically all the test hills of the period were climbed in this way, my wife making the first lady-driver’s ascent of the two last-named. An unpleasant incident was the breakage of both front springs at the same moment, at speed, on Salisbury Plain, but it takes a lot to check an enthusiast. The engine tested, and at any rate the faults known, war intervened. Bamford at once volunteered, and at the end of hostilities he decided to give the motor trade a miss, so he was not responsible, for better or for worse, for anything that happened subsequently. By the way, if you were marketing a car, how would you choose a name for it ? All the best and most attractive names seemed to have been taken, and many a discussion we had and much advice were we given. At last, a period of intensive thought was induced by a walk of some miles behind a car which was being towed behind a farm cart as the result of another steering derangement on a trial ; no, it wasn’t the AM, but a car for which we were agents. After reviewing all the flowers, beasts, birds and fishes that we knew, we got on to place names, and as my Singer had recently scored a point or two at the Herts County AC’s Aston-Clinton hill climb, the first part of that name was adopted with acclamation, and my humble cognomen appended to it.
So much for the name. At the end of the war two chassis were supplied by our contractors, and one was built for test, leaving the other as spare parts. The engine was a conventional side valve, of the dimensions given above, and it had only one unusual feature (if one excludes the then current practice of casting the head with the block) of having the necessary valve caps not screwed into the head, but ground in and held down by a bus-bar. The gearbox provided for the disconnecting of the “constant mesh” wheels on top, but was otherwise conventional, and the drive was taken by an enclosed propeller shaft to a fully-floating back axle ; the wheels were of Sankey type.
Springing, I regret to say, was the conventional semi-elliptic front and 1/4-elliptic back of the period. The complete chassis, on which was a body, called by the irreverent the “coal scuttle” from its resemblance to that useful but static commodity, was duly tested by Addis and myself over all the current trials courses, including an intensive rush round the west coast of Scotland, and while the performance and reliability were good, five years had elapsed since the design had been laid out, and though these had been war years, I felt that the car was not as much in advance of current practice as I wished. It was, however, one of the starters in the first JCC 200-Mile Race, and certainly lived for many years after that.
As a result of experience gained, the whole job was re-designed to bring it up to current requirements. The unusual valve caps were scrapped in favour of the screw-in type, the cone clutch gave way to a Hele Shaw, the gearbox succumbed to something rather of the Bugatti type, and the back axle was very materially lightened. The first components of the new design were delivered during 1920, and a further period of testing commenced. After considerable running in England, the car was taken to France and the Alps and every effort was made to break it up ; this succeeded as far as the front springs were concerned, but otherwise the car was passed by its critical “parent”and orders were given for a limited number of replica parts.
The engine was given a stroke of 100 mm to bring it near to the new 1,500-cc limit, and before production commenced the Perrott system of front brakes was adopted, these being operated by foot only, while those on the back wheels were applied by hand lever. Intelligently used, this system produced phenomenal stopping results.
I expect builders of “specials” will understand the thrills of first discovering that the new design “really worked”— it seemed to me almost too much to hope for ! Prior to production of the revised edition further tests had to be made ; these took the form of races at Brooklands, MCC and other trials and hill climbs, and at each honours were won. We won our first race at an Essex MC meeting in 1921. Also, we used to sally forth on the road rather in the mood of the traditional Irishman seeking someone to “tread on the tail of his coat,” and many were the hectic scraps which resulted— often our adversary, driving a much heavier and possibly less controllable car, found life too precious to persevere with the contest after a few intensive miles. Presently, too, we learned the values of the various opposing vehicles, and developed a technique for dealing with each.
Secretly, this “second edition” of the AM was intended to put Great Britain right in the very front as regards light cars, and at that time the only challenger was the Bugatti. This challenge became a reality after a little “cross-talk” in the Press, and the duel was to be staged at Brooklands, but, alas, it never came off, as the Bugatti, in practice, used its propeller-shaft as a pogo stick, with detrimental results. About this time there joined Bamford & Martin Ltd, a long, thin youth with a laugh that no one could resist ; seeing him now, you would not realise, until he laughed, that it was H Kensington Moir —”Albert” pronounced Frenchilly to us, we (my wife and I) “Pa” and “Ma” to him. He performed prodigies of tuning and resultant speed on the car, and while with us sowed the seeds of pit organisation which he later brought to full growth.
Seeking propaganda, it occurred to me that no ” light car,” eg, one under 1,500 cc, had ever broken a world’s record. The list of these included, in those days, many more times and distances than the tables do now, and it seemed as though some of the longer records made by SF Edge on the Napier in 1907 might be successfully attacked. Practice in quick servicing and replenishment brought good results, the Track was engaged, and at a most unseemly hour the team of Kensington Moir, Sammy Davis and Clive Gallop commenced operations ; by an odd coincidence an AC, superintended by SF Edge, was at the same time attempting “class” records, and these were taken by the AC and AM more or less alternately, as pit stops influenced the average speed. Presently, the AC, having run the first half of a “Double Twelve,” went in, but to their amazement we continued, getting amongst records at 1,100 miles and continuing ahead of time until darkness and Col Lindsay Lloyd stopped us. That was “Bunny,” that was, and after her records she was wrapped up again and put to bed until the Tourist Trophy.
For this we had built two special “real racing” cars with engines of current Peugeot design-in fact, entered by Henri at the instance of Clive Gallop, who had served his apprenticeship with Peugeot—and which were to have been driven by Gallop and the late Count Zborowski, who had by then joined the firm.
Well do I remember the pride with which my wife and I saw the two cars start, one early morning, for Liverpool and “The Island.” Alas, “Were to have been driven” has to be written. It was the usual tale, late completion of the job, and insufficient time to correct teething troubles. and the cars had to be withdrawn.
I didn’t like not to be represented, so Moir and poor little “Bunny ” were dragged out—the former in wonderful form, but the latter literally just as she had finished her world’s record run ; the result, a good lap or two, then a valve spring broke and the valve cap could not be shifted to fit a new one, so that was that. [“Bunny” may still be in existence, because the car thought to be this one, and recently broken up, is now believed to have been “Nigger.”—Ed]
There followed many successes for these and the standard cars at Brooklands, Shelsley Walsh and elsewhere. Capt George Eyston, who had bought one of the three experimental cars, being especially successful. Moir and Eddie Hall must have collected almost a record number of “Seconds,” behind Humphrey Cook on the 3-litre Vauxhall and Raymond Mays on the Bugatti. At Brooklands, of course, Moir was a wizard, and was certainly the only man to win a race by sucking, through a tube, petrol into an autovac from the petrol tank ! As a result of all this racing, etc, the name of Aston-Martin seemed to get sufficiently well known to justify production, so this commenced, and orders were placed on the books of the company well ahead of deliveries. Alas ! the difficulty of getting delivery of parts on such small orders as seemed only justified, together with insufficient capital, soon produced the inevitable result, and soon after an appearance at Olympia, the firm had to go into liquidation.
Of course, it had been obvious for some time that the firm of Bamford & Martin was “for it,” but somehow we had hoped against hope that the Motor Show might save us. Our stand was not in too bad a position, and we had lots of enquiries, but the orders did not come in as we had hoped. Incidentally, we showed a chassis, not with the usual plating, and polish, but with all-metal parts, except the steering arms, which we left bright, and the inside of the channel of the frame, which we painted British green, black-leaded, and I think it looked very workmanlike. The work done on it, and the idea, were my wife’s, and it was she who designed the quite distinctive radiator.
My banker didn’t like me at all about this time, but I had lots of fun out of it all, and I do not regret it a bit.
For trials and races we used to go about in a gang : MCC trials, Shelsley and Spread Eagle hill climbs, the Caerphilly and Porthcawl Week-ends—what fun they all were !
I remember in the bar parlour at Cardiff hearing a budding MP, who sometimes appeared at Brooklands in a very slow car, telling an amused audience how he had completely fooled “Ebby,” and there was the old man sitting quietly in a corner, drinking it all–and other things–in. Spread Eagle was the next week-end, and the same driver arrived with a very pansy, white-painted car. He had made himself none too popular the week before by saying, when asked to respond to the toast of the competitors, that he was only accustomed to speak to his constituents. His car was garaged at Shaftesbury in an old stable, and it was just too bad that there should be a fall of soot from the chimney that night ; he took it very well, though. After the climb there was always a big dinner which the competitors attended, and everyone present, had to make a speech. Two dear old ladies who happened to be staving in the hotel, who might not have enjoyed the boisterousness, each made a most charming little speech, and were cheered to the echo. People were found in all sorts of places next morning. On the verandah, under a sofa, etc. Before we left for home the landlord used to call half a dozen or so of us into his private room, and in front of each guest was a bottle of the best : quite like a in d’honneur at Le Mans in the old days.
One summer, an eastern potentate sent out commands to the Trade to exhibit their wares before him at Brooklands. One of our friendly customers, who had a quite quick 2-seater Aston-Martin, couldn’t bear the idea of Bugatti so he did several laps at speed, unfortunately ultimately exhibiting to the great man a good view of the AM’s stern, on which was emblazoned the name “Nigger” –just too bad !
Had it not been for the Aston-Martin I might never have had the luck of Zborowski’s friendship—he was a prince of sportsmen and his parties at Higham stood in a class by themselves. Practical jokes were rampant. and one never knew what might happen next. One day a very famous driver, of whom Lou was not particularly fond, arrived at such a time that an invitation to dine and sleep almost had to be given–and by an odd chance the guest had arrived with suitable equipment for the night. Preparations for the entertainment were quickly made, the store of practical joke equipment was drawn on, and during dinner one couldn’t help noticing that the almost self-invited guest seemed ill at ease. Presently, he asked to be excused, and as after supper time he did not reappear, a search party was organised. He was ultimately found in the lavatory sitting in a basin of hot water, in the lirm belief’ that a certain portion of his anatomy had frozen ; I don’t think he stayed the night. Having received much kindness and hospitality from Lou, we, my wife and I, decided to ask him, the Countess, Gallop and Cooper. for a weekend at an hotel at Sidmouth.
All sorts of things happened. Lou had the 5-litre Ballot, which he subsequently bought and raced, out for a trial run. The Countess was his passenger for the journey to Salisbury for lunch ; Gallop drove “Bunny,” solo, and Cooper, in Lou’s Hispano, was also by himself. We all started at different times and from different places, but all met at Salisbury without incident. After lunch, Lou took my wife on board, and the Countess came with me. I was to show the way out of the town, and scarcely were we clear of the houses when I heard a roar and got a large blob of mud in the eye ; that was the Ballot. However, a few miles further on we found it in trouble. On a sharp corner Lou had met a traction engine, and in avoiding it, had hit a small tree this bent a front wheel. but, fitting the spare and calming the frightened driver of the steam engine, we got on with the job and soon arrived at Sidmouth. Presently, Cooper and Gallop arrived on the Hispano, “Bunny” having had to be left, en panne, at Coombe Bissett. We had a good time that night, but I haven’t been back to that hotel since !
Next day, Lou and Gallop set out on the Ballot to collect “Bunny,” while the rest of us went over to Torquay for lunch in the Hispano. On returning to Sidmouth, we found Lou and Gallop covered with mud, and in a great state of excitement. It seems that being so near to it the drivers decided to return to Sidmouth by way of Spread Eagle Hill Gallop, on the B1114, had started first, but he misjudged a bend and ran wide. Lou, hard on his heels, nipped through, and they went at it for all they were worth. Neither knew the road very well, but “Bunny” was never passed, and arrived with an average for the journey of 55 miles per hour. The Countess innocently asked : “Is that fast ?” Next morning serious complications arose. We were due to interview at lunch the princpals of an aeroplane firm at Bristol, who, we hoped, would build the Aston-Martin for production. When we arrived at the garage in the town to get the cars out we found the police in charge ; a day or two before a murder had been committed at Bournemouth, of which the driver of a grey car was suspected. Now “Bunny” had just been washed over with grey prior to a repaint ! (uItimately, we were able to prove an alibi, but that was not the end of it). The Ballot and “Bunny” were completely un-silenced, and the police, having heard our entry into their select town, decided to nab us on leaving. However, the friendly garage not only warned us of this, but told us of another way round, so we escaped—the Roberts having the mortification of hearing us, indeed, but with a field between us and them.
Of course, the Ballot would stall at a cross-roads, and nobody turned up for half an hour capable of giving a push start, so that we were all late for lunch. Added to this, our hosts regaled my wife with lemonade which, by a mischance, was upset over one of the great, men’s trousers. Altogether, the visit to Bristol was not a success, the final episode being the Ballot catching fire in one of the narrowest and most important streets, blocking all the traffic of the city for nearly an hour. However, good old “Bunny” brought Lou and Gallop back to London safely, but for weeks we had to answer questions as to the identity of the drivers with a view to prosecutions for “driving to the danger.” The situation was ultimately saved by my wife asking the “tee” whether the offending car was driven by a man or a woman, and whether it was left or right-hand drive ; this, and a mixed whisky and brandy caused his discomfiture, and on getting up he lifted his armchair up with him he was the Yards fattest man.
Later that year came the Strasbourg Grand Prix, for which, though only 1,500 cc up against a two-litre limit, we had entered. For the pesage, nothing could be added to the cars, and we weighed too light. A kind-hearted official told us to come back again after lunch, and in the meantime, to make sure that nothing important had been omitted from the cars. After lunch we were heavy enough ! At one time during the race the car driven by Zborowski was running fifth, and we had seen the Sunbeams, which had the pit next to us, out of it. A real sporting gesture was when Capt Irving offered us all their pit equipment. Of course, failure was in store, one car went out with broken valve springs, the other with a faulty magneto drive.
When the abandonment of our second car was announced on the loudspeakers, a sympathetic sigh went through the grand stand opposite, and I will end my random remarks about Aston-Martins on that note.
The next problem after the Bamford & Martin liquidation was to find a car of another make for me to drive. The price must not be high, and quite understandably my choice fell on the new Riley.
I had two of them, a saloon and an open 4-seater. They were delightful to drive, and everybody to do with the firm was most helpful and charming. I drove the 4-seater in an Essex MC Six Hours Race, but without success, and the saloon in several MCC trials, often using it for official route finding prior to the trial.
Next on my list are two 6-cylinder MGs, one of which I took over to Ireland to see the first Tourist Trophy on the Ards circuit. Soon after this I was honoured by being given a seat on the RAC Competitions Committee, being a scrutineer under the late HT McConnell, to whom I was indebted for very many acts of kindness. I had to decide that nothing short of absolute compliance with the regulations was workable. I couldn’t, after passing one car which was “almost” right, reject another which was ever so slightly less so ; I hope disgruntled competitors have forgiven me by now ! Talking of regulations, I remember one event at which I had to get a signed statement from each competitor that he had read them, mostly they signed cheerfully enough, but one man replied to my question : “No, but I’ll sit down and read them now.” He did, and I’ve always honoured him for it ; he was George Newman. Another competitor who stands out in my memory was the driver of a Bugatti. Taking delivery of his car at Molsheim, he had almost reached the French coast when he had serious trouble ; by dint of missing meals and sleep, he managed to get back to Molsheim, have the job put right, and present himself punctually at the scrutineering. What a contrast to those who often came late from just round the corner, and without an excuse.
One year I had the honour of driving the official car during the Tourist Trophy race. I was asked what car I would like to drive, and I replied an Invicta, because of its acceleration. I hope I was not a nuisance to any competitor on the course during the race, but I met two late competitors going to the start, during my lap to open the course.
About this time I used to do odd bits of timekeeping, though never an official timekeeper, for the RAC, on the Brighton run, for the MCC and the JCC, besides during “special tests” on the Experts’ Trials, etc. It was quite interesting work, particularly timing, in practice, the cars going through the course obstacles of the British Empire Trophy race, the times being used to calculate the inter-class handicaps.
On my first Monte Carlo Rally I had the good fortune to be one of the crew of Bertie Browning’s Sunbeam, starting from John o’ Groats, the late Humfrey Symons being the other member. I learned a lot which I put to good use in the following year, when driving a Humber. The year after that I had a Talbot “105,” but. after much hard work by my splendid crew, I’m afraid I let them down in the final test by braking too soon. The Alpine Trial was good fun, too ; first on a Hillman ; perhaps it was its performance which enabled its makers to further perfect it. The next. year I was a passenger with my wife, who had entered an EW Wolseley “Hornet Speeial,” which she drove with great skill, gaining a Coupe des Alpes and the Coupe des Dames in her class.
Later, on the Talbot, I was privileged to drive the late Col Lindsay Lloyd, who was the British Commissar Sportif, and always looked after the British competitors like a father. Another year, when the trial was run by the Swiss and confined to their country, the Colonel got me the job of British “Commissar Adjoint”—on a Railton this time. On one of the days we were due to arrive at St. Moritz, and nearing the end of the etape, the route passed through a road called the via Mala—well named, as it ran through a narrow gorge, between a cliff on one side and a precipice on the other. Just before we entered the defile there was a noise of “blowing” and of loud klaxons astern, so, thinking it might be some delayed competitor trying to make up time, I pulled over, but no, it was the Hun Sportsfeurer, General Hunlein, driven by a professional driver in his “500K” Mercedes-Benz.
Having passed us, he didn’t seem so terribly fast, after all, on the winding road, and we closed up with him, doing more than some horn blowing in our turn. Quite a scrap ensued for some miles, the Railton’s acceleration after corners being quite equal to the Mercedes, and at last the Huns became so flurried that they missed the turning to St. Moritz, and we arrived there first, to the great delight of the Colonel.
We scored a success, too, at one of the meetings of the Sport Kommissars. The German representatives were trying to exclude a French driver of a Bugatti, who had been late at one of the controls, but we dug up a rule which gave him a leg out.
Colonel Lindsay Lloyd was a great man, and when one got to know him, not nearly so autocratic as those whose ideas differed from his at Brooklands might think. He certainly did look after the British competitors’ interests.
Since 1930 I had been a member of the BARC Committee, and usually acted as a steward. This was most interesting work, but I don’t think there is much that I can write about it.
Again, the Colonel was invaluable when he acted with us, and I remember one occasion, when there was a collision between two cars, his version of the incident was proved to be more correct than that of two other stewards who were in the tower with him. He was also, of course, chairman of the RAC Competitions Committee, and he carried out his duties with conspicuous ability and fairness.
Afraid I’ve strayed quite a long way away from the cars, though.
About this time I had several Wolseley “Hornet Specials ” ; one of them, a longtailed 2-seater, lapped Brooklands at 78 mph, another, a sportsman’s coupe, averaged, on the return journey from an MCC route-finding expedition, just over 50 mph from the Station Hotel, Carlisle, to Oxford Street, meticulously timed by stop-watch.
Talking of averages, an old friend of mine, Bertie Browning, of Monte Carlo Rally and African trips (with the late Humfrey Symons) fame, who had gone to live near Bridport, offered a cup to whichever of his friends should do the best average from Staines Bridge to Bridport, all 30 mile limits to be strictly observed, and attempts between 9 pm and 9 am barred. Some astounding times were recorded, but perhaps I had better not give details—anyway, some people took little more than two hours for the 118 miles, and some. even did the journey in less.
I am now coming to the end of my list of cars, which, by the way, number 70, of 31 different, makes and five different countries, but the last three were worthy examples : Lancia “Aprilia,” which lapped at 79.5—I could never get that odd half-mile ; 328 BMW, with a drophead coupe body, always good for 100 mph, and “10/12” Fiat. Rather an anti-climax, the latter, one might say, but after “having things done to it,” it would do 75 an hour and over 40 mpg at moderate cruising speeds—quite useful in these times. Only recently I had quite an exciting and not unsuccessful scrap with a Jeep, driven solo, with great verve, up the North Road. Oh, yes, one year I bought a Chevrolet in New York and drove it across to Los Angeles, selling it at a profit there—but that’s not motoring, just transport.
Just one more line and I’m through.
The best of my cars : “20/30” Renault, 1907 ; “30/98 ” E-type Vauxhall, 1918 ; Lancia “Aprilia,” 1939, and 328 BMW, 1939—that’s my verdict, anyway.