On The Road

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30/98s at Luton • A Ford Cortina GT Estate Car • Sunbeams at Sandhurst

The third Vauxhall Motors’ “At Home” to members of the 30/98 Register took place on September 21st and, having been invited. I decided that the right motor car to go in would be a 30/98. So I invited myself and my wife into the spartan tonneau of the well-known 1923 model belonging to Tony Jones, a car which serves him for vintage trials, rallies and races, and for ordinary transport when his Citroën Safari is not in use. The experience was entirely delightful and now all other vintage cars seem either horribly pedestrian or unnecessarily blatant!

We made off without delay, after Mrs. Jones had parked her children and her Mini, and from the commencement the splendid performance of this throaty 30/98 Vauxhall Velox, a car which no less an authority than Cecil Clutton claimed in 1954 to be the greatest fast touring car of the vintage period, was evident. Whether accelerating away from traffic lights with the traditional exhaust rumble, weaving in and out of congested traffic, or cruising effortlessly along the M1, this fine car was more than a match for the moderns we encountered. (We overtook a car labelled “Velox” on one occasion and it appeared to be going backwards.) Yet when pedestrians exerted their rights at crossings the 30/98 stopped so effectively as its brakes, modified to hydraulic actuation, were applied, that more than once I feared for the safety of our back panel. “Majestic” describes our fast progress along the Motorway, “exhilarating” the subsequent windswept progress along deserted country lanes in the vicinity of Ayot St. Lawrence, where we were just too late to gain entrance to the home of Bernard Shaw—but how nice that we were not asked to vacate the car park or otherwise made aware that it was past closing time. Incidentally, what would Mr. Shaw have said about the abolition of postcards and the introduction of the unasked-for, unpopular, 5d. post?

This was open-car motoring at its very best and no-one will now convince me that the 30/98 is not the best vintage car of them all. Seal was set to this opinion on the final run of the day, approaching midnight, through London’s ever-busy West End and over the river to quieter haunts. Suffice it to say that we arrived too early for all our appointments on this magic Saturday. . . .

There is no need to describe in detail the impressive collection of 30/98s and other vintage Vauxhalls which assembled on the sports ground at the Luton factory, their former birthplace. I described the first of these enjoyable gatherings in Motor Sport for October 1964 and this year’s event was much the same, except for some omissions and some fresh entries. New owners of 30/98s whom I do not recall seeing at Luton four years ago were P. G. Newens, Dr. Grey, T. B. Webb and H. P. Milling, although the cars they brought this time may then have been presented by other owners. This time, too, John Rowley brought his recently-completed 1924 OE, entrusting his well-known 1926 car to Philip Mann, and John Stanford came in his recently rebuilt 1927 30/98 with a very genuine-looking Velox body which is actually replica coachwork made by Wilkinson of Derby, the running-in operation having taken Stanford as far as Rome.

Register Secretary Samson broke down en route in his home-bodied 1919 E-type, oldest 30/98 extant, and was salvaged with Tony Brooke’s trailer on which the Vauxhall-Villiers had been brought to the show. Traditionally, a broken valve was soon removed and, with a spare one from Milner’s kit and a tappet from Vauxhall’s old-car workshops, the car was able to drive away in proper order.

Vauxhall Motors Ltd. generously provided lunch and tea for their guests in their sports-ground canteen on this pleasant occasion, with Michael Marr and Derek Goatman from the Public Relations Department attending, in spite of heavy commitments inflicted by the proximity of the Commercial and Paris Motor Shows.

The Vauxhall-Villiers racer posed a problem, as it was in white paint, as it had been in 1964, yet I remember it as being red when it raced in 1966 at Oulton Park; it tried to develop steering shimmy when I was towed in it behind Tony’s 30/98 to Vauxhall’s old-car workshops, where it was being temporarily housed (and where Vauxhall are currently meticulously restoring a First World War 25-h.p. staff car chassis). Naturally, Vauxhall’s own 1909 B-type, their Prince Henry, and their 23/60 and 30/98 (see Motor Sport for August 1965) were present, and other 23/60s, a 14/40 saloon, and two 20/60s, one a Hurlingham, off-set no less than 22 30/98s, a high proportion of these cars having survived, perhaps 140 if one counts those existing throughout the World. Of these, five were E-types, 15 were OEs, and three were hybrids. As usual, all manner of fascinating detail was apparent, from the “kidney-box” compensated and later 25/70-type “king-pin” hydraulic forms of Vauxhall front-wheel-braking, and modifications on the theme, to the pristine appearance of newly-restored cars and the acceptable “workaday” look of some of the 30/98s present. Two posers presented themselves: why did some 30/98S have “London”, others “Luton”, incorporated in their radiator badges, and why did some flags on the Wyvern mascots fly into wind and others with it? It was generally accepted that the answer to the former conundrum was that E-types have “London”, OEs “Luton”, on their badges; the solution to the second problem may be that the original mascots have the lance-flag unfurled forwards but because of safety requirements those of replica mascots point backwards. If this is so, the long beak of the Wyvern mascot on one of the 20/60s must be regarded as rather lethal. . . .

Why were we so late home? Because we went on to Cameron Millar’s traditional post-rally party, which rally he had attended in his own 1927 30/98 Wensum. At his house, or rather in his extensive garages, we saw many 30/98s, twin-cam 3-litre Sunbeams and other delectable cars salted away, with a distinct leavening of racing Maseratis! Alas, the most joyous things end eventually, but as we wiped the dew off the windows of the Ford in which we had kept the rendezvous with the 30/98 that morning, we reflected that Tony Jones’ splendid touring car had never missed a beat all day, although pressed very hard, had sneezed but once, when starting from cold, and that he had not paused even for petrol, the 4 ¼-litre engine returning some 17 m.p.g. of National Benzole. And how nice to go out in a vintage car possessing real performance. . . .
* * *

At the time of this memorable 30/98 party I was using a somewhat unusual car, in the form of a Ford Cortina estate-car with the 1600GT engine. I always enjoy driving a Cortina GT, I think because there is a sense of life and eagerness about its power unit, and it has a very acceptable gear-change. Cortina estate cars are useful vehicles, with extremely spacious and durable bodies, the lift-up loading-gate protecting one from the weather while loading is in progress. The interior is not luxury upholstered, so this is an estate car which can be used as such without reservations.

With the GT engine it gets along remarkably well, although it is surely the oddest shape yet to carry the GT appellation, or was until Reliant thought of the same idea and, incidentally, claimed that theirs was “the first Grand Tourer with estate-car spaciousness to go into production anywhere in the world”. Be that as it may, I suppose there were those who thought the Cortina I was driving was just a normal 1600 estate-car with GT badges stuck on—until they attempted to out-accelerate it. After the Rover the Cortina naturally seemed rather noisy and harsh, but I was soon enthusing again over the excellent Aeroflow ventilation, which effectively demists even this long estate-car body with its many windows, the responsive flow of power from the Weber-carburetted in-line engine, and the good if squeaky brakes. The heater works well and has sensibly simple controls, And ahead of the gear-lever was mounted a Kienzle clock as accurate as my Breitling wristwatch. The lamps had a candle-like cut-off beam and were not much better on full beam.

The Cortina has never boasted a particularly good ride but I think the extra weight of the estate-car body helps it a little, although there were still some very rough moments and occasions when the back axle seemed anxious to disassociate itself from the rest of the car. As to cornering, I have no complaints, this Ford clinging on very well for a car of this kind, aided by the Pirelli Cinturato tyres.

Like all Cortinas this one was outstandingly economical, giving over 30 m.p.g. of 4-star (Ford filled it with Murco) and consuming an almost imperceptible amount of oil in 900 trouble-free and useful miles. You can have one like it for £1,057 17s. 9d., which includes purchase tax. As a combination of carrying capacity, performance, economy and dependability, this is excellent value.
* * *

The day after the 30/98 gathering I went to a V.S.C.C. light car picnic, organised by Light Car Section Secretary Collins, who came in his 1921 Star two-seater—he is about to supercharge the larger, later McEvoy Star he is rebuilding, and is refurbishing a Stuart-Turner-powered Edwardian river punt. Vintage light cars were rather overshadowed by larger cars on this occasion, for a Nippy Austin 7, a very smart Austin 7 Chummy, Mrs. Arnold-Forster’s G.N. and a flat-rad. Morris were arrayed beside a Type 40 Bugatti, an 18/80 M.G., an O.M. and some moderns, including the aforesaid very practical and trilling Cortina. The venue, at Pigeon Lock on the Oxford Canal, was picturesque and I was glad to learn that on weekdays the narrow boats line up to get through the lock, these being mostly hired for around £40 a week by holiday parties. Even on this Sunday afternoon five went through in less than a couple of hours; I noticed that one was propelled by a twin-cylinder National diesel engine. Adjacent to the lock is a house for which electricity is generated by water-wheel, which runs at about 80 r.p.m. and drives a generator at 1,000 r.p.m. by means of a series of pulleys and modern multiple belting, Interesting!

After the picnic we found it expedient to avoid the Banbury-Oxford road, returning instead along the traffic-free route via Bletchingdon and Islip, to regain the fast ring-road round the City of Learning, after which it was simple to turn off through Lewknor, at the “Lambert Arms”, where once Mine Host was a 30/98 Vauxhall exponent at Brooklands, and come home over the Chilterns.
* * *

I also used the Cortina GT estate-car to go to the first B.M.C. Press party over which Sir Donald Stokes has presided since the Leyland take-over. This was held at Shenington Airfield, where A.P. do their testing over a partially-banked circuit. I drove round this, in various B.M.C. models of from 1.3 to 3-litres for the first time ever, these being improved versions of the existing cars, an interim arrangement until a new B.M.C. model is announced next Spring. It was rather astonishing to find the Riley 1300 Mk. II losing oil in long plumes of blue smoke when it was taken fast round left-hand bends. Sir Donald promised, in his post-luncheon speech, that this will be put right immediately. I am sure it will! But it is rather startling that such a long-established power unit should develop this kind of defect (and it wasn’t, I gather, just an inefficient breather), and that it should not be discovered until the journalists began testing it. What problems the Industry has to face! What rods it makes for its own back!

On this journey I was again made aware of how deficient is the road from Henley to Oxford and from Oxford to Banbury, for in spite of the fast ring roads round the University City, the rest of this route is narrow, lorry-infested, and incorporates some bends which encourage casual press-on types to drive dangerously.
* * *

The last function I attended in this fast Cortina estate-car was the annual Sandhurst rally of the S.T.D. Register. This is something a little out of the ordinary, because the driving tests and judging of the Concours d’Elegance take place in the imposing setting of the Royal Military Academy’s drill squares and marshalling is done with military precision and efficiency by Officer Cadets of the Academy’s Motor Sports Club, a service my wife and I were gratified to employ when we first took the S.T.D. Register to this delightful venue many years ago.

This year I took the opportunity of looking in at the Military Museum within the Sandhurst grounds, which was opened by H.M. the Queen in 1960. It has the benefit of a fine building (soon to be augmented by a new one in Chelsea) and many interesting exhibits, from impressive paintings to models of modern tanks and Army vehicles. I came away, determined to go again and, thinking of the Imperial War Museum in London and the Tank Museum at Bevington, reflecting sadly that the Motor Industry has been less well served. I wish that the Government had subsidised a National Automobile and Aeronautical Museum, which could have been suitably accommodated on the Members’ Hill and Aerodrome of old Brooklands; which is about the most pungent piece of wishful thinking you are likely to read about. . . .

Reverting to something which did happen, namely this Sandhurst fixture for Wolverhampton Sunbeams and London Talbots, this year there were two items in the eight tests sufficiently out of the ordinary to merit a few words. One of the tests involved running to the car and making its engine commence on the handle. It is significant that the organisers expected every one of the 32 entrants to have a handle. Whether or not this was the case I did not check, but certainly the first 15 competitors had, and of these only Grammer’s nicely-original 1928 Sunbeam Sixteen saloon refused to respond to it, although it seemed to start agreeably enough on the electric motor.

With some of the cars motoring about without front number plates, their dumb-iron aprons having been detached for this handle-starting test, their drivers came to another unusual affair, in which they had to think up some pose, or ploy, or just look nice, and then be photographed with a Polaroid camera, which printed their pictures on the spot. This involved ingenuity with infants, attractive girls, L-plates, chamber pots, umbrellas, shooting-sticks and so on, and caused a R.M.A. policeman to intervene as it was causing a traffic jam—of three cars, in private grounds! Typical of his kind, soon after complaining he went off to his tea, regardless. . . .

Had I been judging the finest car present and not the aforesaid photographs, I would have awarded the “pot” to Gates’ very beautiful 1924 24/70 Sunbeam fast-tourer. But Forshaw’s well-known twin­-cam 3-litre Sunbeam was quite immaculate; it was wearing spats under its cycle-type front mudguards, to deflect road dirt. Peter Moores’ lofty 1921 24-h.p. Sunbeam limousine won a prize for being as presentable as ever, Ashen’s 1932 Sunbeam 23.8 sports coupé was notably clean, Hughes had the hood of his yellow 1933 Sunbeam Speed-20 in the half-furled position in spite of the sudden and heavy downpours of rain, Collins went one better and drove his 1927 Twenty tourer with the screen flat, and Lt. Holloway’s 1932 Sixteen saloon had modern-looking headlamp glasses. Johnson’s 1930 23.8 Doctor’s coupé was original, with high-mounted headlamps and dummy hood-irons. There were some excellent supporting Talbots, Coltham bringing a rare 1925 10/23 saloon, Brett his 1927 14/45 tourer, and one Talbot even having the built-in direction indicator arrows at the base of its radiator, reminder that Georges Roesch, who was present, fitted these long before there was any legislation surrounding them.

A 1908 Hillman-Coatalen with a fierce clutch joined in, and Darracq was represented by Acock’s 1911 15-h.p. tourer.

The D’Arcy Clark Trophy for the cleanest engine was won, as last year, by Gp. Capt. Welch’s twin-cam 3-litre Sunbeam but he stood down in favour of the runner-up. First-class awards in the beauty-show were won by Turner, Ashen and Gates, and in the driving frolics by Brett, Coltham and Durnford. Johnson’s car, with his passenger sitting on a shooting-stick and holding an umbrella over him as he cranked it (it was that sort of an afternoon) won the photographic prize.—W. B.