Vintage postbag, November 1977

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The 1914 GP Opels

Sir,

I was interested to read your article on Mavrogordato’s 1914 GP Opel. It would certainly appear that the only anachronisms are the ignition system, the Ni-gas, and the road wheels, as you point out, but I rather think that the steering wheel should have a celluloid-covered rim like ours, which seems to check-out with contemporary photographs. To my mind the car would be, however, improved by having a white-painted radiator, the air-pump transferred to its correct place inside the scuttle on the riding mechanic’s side and by fitting beaded-edge tyres, which would definitely improve the general handling and steering, as we have already found out on our own car. Nevertheless, a very original motor car and at-ere jewel indeed!

However, I think you are being less than fair in calling our car a “replica”, although undoubtedly it is not as original as Macro’s car. It is a well-known fact that Brian Morgan built this bodywork in the 1940s after he had acquired the car from Bill Short’ in 1939. When purchased it had the two-seater body which you refer to on page 65 of your Brooklands book, but all Brian Morgan could use. according to a recent telephene conversation, was the radiator and bonnet. The rest of the car is certainly 1914 GP Opel and even has the same instruments as the Mavrogordato car, the speedo, being calibrated in km./hour, the oil-gauge in kg./sq. cm., and the fuel-pressure in “meter/wasser”.

I have before me an interesting file of correspondence between D. C. Cull and Stanley Sears. whereby Coil verifies the Brooklands history of the two machines. He states that our car lapped Brooklands at 108 m.p.h., which seems very fast but certainly Jack Sears and myself have seen 100 m.p.h., which compares with the TT Sunbeam’s speed of about 90 m.p.h. over the same distance. However, I would be very interested to know how you earl be certain that the Mavrogordato car was driven by Joerns in the 1914 French GP. Certainly Cull could not confirm this in his correspondence and had been unable to find out even in 1920, only six years after the event. As you well know, the standard of reporting in those days concerning car chassis numbers was not very good and in many cases the chassis numbers themselves did not exist. We have had a similar problem in trying to ascertain exactly who drove our TT Sunbeam in the 1914 event. There is no doubt that rumours passed down over the, years are eventually accepted as facts. But I think that anything less than the written word should be viewed with suspicion. For instance, at least three people claim to have the GP Bugatti in which Louis Chiron won the 1931 Monaco GP!

People like D.S.J. have made it possible to be adamant about the history of some postwar racing cars. But pre-war racing cars, not in themselves unique, are a very different matter—more so cars of the pre-Kaiser War! However, if you have any evidence, I would he grateful to hear about it.

It would be most interesting to know the maximum speeds of the 1914 GP cars. I have wondered about this since I passed Philip Mann’s Mercedes down the straight at Silverstone in the 1914 Sunbeam and as the Sunbeam has a maximum of 95 m.p.h. and in the light of the Opel’s Brooklands lap-speed I would have thought its maximum to be about 112. Would you agree? I would have thought that the Mercedes would have been quicker than both the Sunbeam and the Opel, or perhaps iciest handled better. The Sunbeam would certainly be much faster than the Opel over a twisty course, as it is one of the best-handling cars I have ever driven.

Neasham E. N. CORNER

[The late Laurence Pomeroy did much to establish the flat-out speeds of various GP cars, in his great work “The Grand Prix Car”. He quotes the 1914 GP Mercedes’ top speed as 116 m.p.h. (later amended to 112 m.p.h.), that of the 1914 GP Peugeot as 116 m.p.h., that of the 1914 TT Sunbeam as 97 m.p.h. D.S.J., in his “Racing Car Pocketbook”, quotes the 1914 GP Mercedes’ speed as 112 m.p.h. As to which of these two once-identical Opels is the more original, as my description of Neil Corner’s car as “a replica” isn’t acceptable to him, I will leave the two proud owners to battle it out! The fastest official Brooklands lap-speed by a 1914 OP Opel is 100.41 m.p.h., achieved on May 24th, 1920, by Segrave in Mavrogordato’s car.—Ed.]

The Majesty of the Law

Sir,

As Clerk of the Course of the VSCC’s Race Meeting at Cadwell Park on August 28th, 1977, I request an opportunity to comment on the postscript to your report of this meeting. In this postscript you imply harsh treatment of Derrick Edwards. I would point out that Derrick was excluded for the specific reason that he was not in possession of his Medical Certificate, As you know, this is a matter in connection with which no discretionary powers are allowed to Clerk of Course or Stewards.

Kingsclere TONY BIRD

[It’s just matter of whether rules can very occasionally be very slightly bent, under certain circumstances, especially in more sporting and sociable old-car racing circles. I fully appreciate the importance of racing drivers being in possession of valid Medical Certificates although we recall the unfortunate case of a driver so-equipped dying of a heart-attack during a race. And I remember telling the Doctor when being medically checked-over at Goodwood a long time ago, prior to taking part in a Journalists’ fun-race over a few laps, in a very tame Mini-Minor, that if I didn’t pass the Medical I wouldn’t be able to drive home, because I had driven down much further and just as hard, in the same sort of car…

That apart, as I understood it, at Cadwell Park, Derrick Edwards asked simply to be allowed to practise, not race, while his papers, which I assume included his Medical Certificate, were retrieved from his hotel. This was refused, so, not having practised, he couldn’t race. Of course, if his Medical Certificate wasn’t amongst those papers and Tony knew this, my criticism isn’t valid. But Derrick had raced at Silverstone, complete with Medical Certificate, the previous day, when the Aston had been passed by the same RAC Scrutineer. —Ed.)

A Rare Crossley

Sir ,

The photograph of the Crossley published with a letter in July shows a landaulette body. on a Crossley chassis, undoubtedly the four-cylinder 19.6 h.p. I am certain of this because, many years ago, I was apprenticed to A. V. Roe & Co., Manchester. In addition to making aircraft, the firm used to make bodies for Crossleys; they also made a small fabric body for cars such as Swift and Standard.

The aeroplanes I was concerned with were the famous Avro 504K 110 Le Rhone engine and the later 504M with the undercarriage designed by our test pilot, Mr. Bert Hinkler. This did away with the “tooth pick” central Skid, which in addition to protecting the propeller in the event a bad Ianding, used also to trip up the unfortunate person swinging the prop.

In addition to these aeroplanes we also Made, later on in the twenties, the Avian Cygnet biplane, I cannot remember the dates, as I am getting on in my 73rd year.

To return to Crossley cars, the 19.6 succeeded the very nice RFC type 25/30. Usually the latter had twin rear wheels. The Crossley radiator Was one of the prettiest on the road, and was made of German silver. The 19.6 was a much more modern car, though not having f.w.b. at first. It had a monobloc four-cylinder engine with detachable head, Smith carburettor, side-valves, and was of some 4-litres capacity. My father had one of these and very, nice it was. It was the successor to a 1914 “O” type 15.9 Belsize, which I remember to have been a nice car.

Later on my father bought a 20/70 Crossley, which was a hotted-up 19.6 sporting four-seater body and the hinged rear tonneau was fitted with twin aeroscreens. The handbrake was outside the body and I remember it as a very fast car, with a very loud exhaust note.

When my father died in the early thirties he left the 20/70 to me but I couldn’t afford to run it having a Gordon England Austin Seven Cup model. I made several attempts to sell it without success and finally gave it away. I wish I hadn’t, now!

While I was at Roes we made the Harper runabout designed by R. O. Harper. This was a little three-wheeled car started by handlebar, with a Villiers two-Stroke attached at the side just in front of one of the rear wheels. In the twenties, A. V. Roe designed and made this first all-metal machine. This was the Avro Aldershot bomber. It was a large biplane with swept-back wings and was powered by two Rolls-Royce Condor engines one port and one starboard. I think they were destined for Russia, but in any case were not a success. Incidentally, knowing your interest in models. I have nearly 100 model cars and aeroplanes.

Brighton TWEMLOW BOOTH

An Electric Austro-Daimler

Sir,

With reference to Kent Karslake’s letter about the Mercedes-Lohner. I thought your readers might be interested to see the enclosed photograph of a similar vehicle but with rear wheel drive. These were apparently made in the Austro-Daimler factory but sold in England by the Mercedes Company. They were introduced at the end of 1906 and made during the 1907 season only, using the standard 45 h.p. engine. In the showroom behind the’ tourer could be seen a town car with forward control also using theses, hub electric motor system. At least one Mercedes electric was bought by the Kaiser.

Head Librarian, G. N. GEORGANO

The National Motor Museum

“Could It Be?” —A Mercedes Identification

Sir

I suggest that the “hot-rod” shown on Page 1107 (Sept. issue) could have the chassis of a 1923 2-litre, four-cylinder Indianapolis-type Mercedes, rather than a 1914 4 1/2-Iiire GP car. Fred Horsley’s paper-covered book “World’s Fastest Cars” of the early 1950s shows a deplorable rebuild of one of these rare Mercedes, perpetrated by Charles Zumbach for one McClure Halley of New York, described as a “connoisseur of fast machinery”.

Horsley says the Halley special was based on a Mercedes which Ralph de Palma raced at Indianapolis, but fitted with a blown four-cylinder 137 cu. in. Miller engine and an all-stainless steel body, which required “half a year of hammering” to complete the “dazzling speedster”. Another US authority states that the 2-litre Mercedes which Carl Sailer drove into 8th place in the 1923 Indianapolis 500 remained in America and was later fitted with a 183 cu. in. (3-litre) Miller engine and rebuilt for road use. Ralph de Palma did not, in fact, drive one of these smaller Mercedes at Indianapolis, but the front-wheel brakes, curved axle, rear-shackled front springs, multi-louvred bonnet and pseudo Brooklands silencer in the Motor Sport picture suggest that it and the Hall, special could be one and the same car.

Horsley adds that Halley said it after 12 years, and that the new owner was driving it in Maryland when it caught fire and was “burned out”. Might not the Gaslight Auto Parts hot-rod be an even more horrible rebuild of an unhappy amalgam of parts, with modern broad-rim wheels and tyres, hideous twin screens and those ridiculous Ruxton-like headlights?

Ewell CYRIL POSTHUMUS

[I have always said that if there is a motoring problem to be solved it is worth presenting it to our readers, who are such excellent sleuths, and often come up with an answer. Besides Cyril Posthumus, others, including Mr. Pert of Cap Martin, Mr. Bellis of Sefton Park and R. Baillie, in a telephone call, have drawn our attention to the references to this car in Horsley’s and Stein’s books; it was also, Mr. Pert tells us, featured on the front cover of the Saturday Evening Post

in 1937. The difficulty is, as Posthumus says, that de Palma didn’t drive one of these four-cylinder, 2-litre Mercedes at Indianapolis in 1923, but he did win that race in 1915, at 89.84 m.p.h., driving a 1914 GP Mercedes. However, just as all Bugattis were at one time “ex-Chiron” and most Maseratis are “ex-Moss”. I suppose in the USA any old Mercedes would have been “ex-Ralph de Palma”. So I think Cyril Posthumus is correct. Incidentally, the twin-cam Miller conversion was said to give over 200 b.h.p. at 6,500 r.p.m., the 2,250 lb car being timed at 145 m.p.h.(!)—Ed.)