Cars in Books, November 1972

Can anyone, among those who like problems of car identification, tell me the make of sporting light car seen in the foreground of the picture facing page 224 in The Ordeal of Philip Yale Drew—A Real Life Murder Melodrama in 3 Acts by Richard Whittington-Egan (Harrap, 1972) ? The picture depicts the man who was acquitted of a murder charge addressing vast crowds of well-wishers from the balcony of the Great Western Hotel in Reading after the conclusion of the hearing. The date was October 1929, so all the vehicles in the photograph were vintage and at that time many early ones were still in use. Apart from the pleasure of reading this enthralling and disturbing story of a murder suspect and his handling by the Reading Coroner’s Court, very carefully researched, there is this tantalising picture of this ancient light car, its make obscured because the weather was cold and its radiator muff covers its features.

I am indebted to a reader of this feature for the following interesting quotes from Beyond the Bitumen by W. A. Winter-Irving (Rigby): —

“Later in his life my uncle, who had gone to England, mined the Inniskilling Dragoons with whom he fought in France and was promoted to a Major when in a cavalry charge a dud shell landed, broke in half, and one half hit him on the head, knocked him off his horse and finished his war effort. After a Iong spell in hospital he took an interest in a new form of motor tyre called the Clarke tyre, that had some wonderful new type of cord winding.

“Father bought two sets of four of these tyres, sent from England. Every two or three hundred miles one of Father’s tyres would blow out like a cannon. Father would pull it off the wheel, throw it on the roadside, and leave it to rot there, fit-another new tyre, curse my Uncle, and strive on, only to hear a bang as the next tyre blew out after a couple of hundred miles. So this was a failure and my uncle stopped making Clarke tyres and closed the factory in England.

“He then bought a 28/80 h.p. Austro-Daimler car with two overhead camshafts. Surely the big pre-war Austro-Daimlers were single o.h.c. ? — Ed.] that went like the devil, except that the engine often stopped in Piccadilly or Bond Street in London. To start it again my uncle would have to take off the valve cover and squirt ether down the inlet valves with a hypodermic syringe, holding up the traffic for miles. So he got sick of the nightmare car and sold it.

“He then bought a 12-h.p. Benz with an old-fashioned single seater open body, tore out the small Benz engine and replaced it with an overhead Valve six-cylinder Sage engine that developed enormous power. He would drive up the Great North Road in the pitiful looking small Benz until some great fast car passed him. Then my uncle would tread all over the Sage Benz and scream past the big car, leaving the driver’s eyes popping and his mouth open, my uncle laughing and waving as he passed. He had tremendous fun with the ersatz Benz until he made some money in a share deal, sold the Benz, and bought a 30/98 Vauxhall in which he used to surprise people as he drove to golf and once again haunted the Great North Road preying on suckers and showing them a clean pair of heels, or as he put it, a blast of exhaust pipe.

“He had picked up the very fast 30/98 from a man called Coe who drove it successfully both in hill-climbs and on Brooklands, after putting 3/16 inch washers under the valve springs and a special racing camshaft that gave the car a lot of extra horses, and it gave my uncle tremendous satisfaction. It looked like a perfectly normal stock model 30198, but it wasn’t.

“After many years my uncle decided to return to Australia where, after racing around for a while, he settled down somewhat and found a Bristol car for himself—mainly to swoop on American cars, which he despised, and to pass them on hills. His beat for a time was on the Melbourne/Sydney road. He dressed in a beautifully-cut English suit sitting quietly behind the wheel of the Bristol until, as he came to a hill, an American car would pass him. It was then that he flew into action with the Bristol and burned off the American car up the hill. One evening he rang me on the telephone and said he’d like to visit me for dinner that night, so I hunted up some liqueur brandy, opened a bottle of claret to let it breathe, mixed some dry martinis, filled all the cigarette boxes, one with Abdulla Turkish which he liked, and waited for the doorbell to ring. My uncle swath-buckled in. He was in splendid form for a man pushing seventy and we sipped a dry martini each, while I waited for him to talk, because I knew that he’d have another victory to relay on to me. ‘Damned Yankee cars not worth two bob,’ he said. ‘Cleaned up another one on that hill just the other side of Kilmore on the Sydney road this morning. Passed him on the top of the hill like a bullet. Police car too, he didn’t have a hope with the Bristol. Gave him every chance, sounded the horn and everything, he knew I was alter him but he didn’t have a hope.’

‘My God’, I said, ‘not the hill before the Heathcote turn-off. It’s got a double line on top and it’s a damned dangerous hill, and a police car. You certainly asked tor it there. When did you get out of gaol ?’ ‘Not a worry, not a worry, decent bloke that policeman, there were two of them in a big Chev. Caught up with me afterwards when I slowed down over the hill. Let ’em catch up down hill, no fun down hill. Pulled into the side of the road and they both got out and walked over to me. Damned cheek at that, I wasn’t doing more than seventy when I passed ’em, but he was a good cop. Told him what rotten cars the Americans made and how the English cars could clean ’em up every time. Why don’t the police buy English cars instead of American rubbish ?’ ‘You’re for it,’ I said. `They’ll have the skin off your back for this. Don’t kid yourself, these boys can get savage. Seventy over a double line on a blind hill. You better get a good lawyer or you’ll be in quod by the time they finish with you:.

” ‘Oh, don’t talk rot,’ said my uncle. ‘I told you they both agreed that the Bristol tore past them and it took ’em a couple of miles to catch me. Had a look at the Bristol’s engine. Gave ’em a drive in it. They tested the brakes and they stopped the car like a clock. Decent chaps I told you, asked ’em to meet me in Seymour for a drink but they turned back to Melbourne, so I said goodbye and shook hands with both of ’em. That’s the last I’ll ever hear about it, don’t you worry.’

“Six weeks later I had a call from the family lawyers. ‘Your uncle has to go to court for dangerous driving. Do you think you could help him ?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘There’s nothing I can do. He thought that the friendly policemen would forget the whole episode. What happened ?’ ‘They didn’t forget and he’s in big trouble.’ Well,’ I said. ‘I wasn’t there, what on earth can I do ?’ They imposed upon him a ruinous fine and cancelled his licence for years. (He never did get it back).”