A section devoted to old-car matters
The VSCC Welsh Week-End
The Vintage SCC’s Welsh Week-End, dating back to 1939 and based on Presteigne, was as popular as ever this year, but with a bias towards the sporting trial and away from the driving-tests and Concours d’Elegance, in the ratio of 71 entries to 17, a healthy sign. This year both events involved a preliminary 200-mile road section, whereas previously the trials’ contestants had been required to cover 200 miles on the road to the clocking-in point at the “Radnorshire Arms”, this new arrangement allowing time for hills to be included on Saturday as well as on Sunday.
Nothing much seems to have befallen competitors en route but Sloan’s 4CS Ansaldo saloon was a non-starter, with a seized camshaft and Tony Jones was lucky to get his 30/98 Vauxhall there, as it had a suspected tight piston. Of the six sections on the Saturday, New House I was approached through a shallow water splash and went up a muddy field-track, over a tree stump which was to savage the battery-box of Collings’ 4 1/2-litre Bentley driven by Pack, to a left turn into the field itself, which was difficult for the bigger cars. The farmer kindly produced a very modern tractor, which was kept busy pulling the failures up, after which they had sticky going to reach New Farm II. Next came Davis I, a short steep gradient, followed by Davis II, a long bracken-covered slope. Perthycolly, where Freddie Giles was in charge, began steeply, had a sharp l.h. turn where the severe ruts had been shaved off to help the intrepid vintagents, and then further deep, stony ruts, on which the flywheel of Roger Collings’ splendid, stripped-for-racing 1903 Sixty Mercedes ground, stalling the engine, after flinging mud through the floor. Finally came the long, stony ascent of Lletypeod.
Watching at New House I we saw John Rowley, in his E-type 30/98 Vauxhall, with Mrs. Rowley as passenger, succeed where Julian Ghosh failed in his “new” 30/98 Vauxhall (OE87, his standard tow-car, which has spent much of its time in Australia) after he had inadvertently turned off the sparks. Parker spent much time in a pond curing fuel-feed problems, after which his fabric-saloon Austin 7 romped up, Tom Threlfall took his wife for a fast climb in their immaculate Model-A Ford saloon, which is now radio-equipped, but Wace’s 14/40 Vauxhall two-seater didn’t get very far. Coatigan’s Vernon Derby climbed extremely well, aided by a Riley 9 engine and four-speed gearbox, but although Raahauge’s very attractive SCAP-powered Sports BNC made magnificent noises it completely lacked wheel grip. Newton, at the helm of Ghosh’s Vauxhall-Royce, went up as if on tour, except that its three rear-compartment passengers were bouncing in unison, Diffey had a good try in the Caesar Special Humber 9/28, keening the revs down, only to fail at the turn, Bain elected to remove the fuel tank from his Humber Nine Special, Odell’s 11.9 “Cape Town” Lagonda all-weather was in trouble early, but Harris made it look easy, in his Boulogne Frazer Nash, sidescreens erect. Ms. Pollitzer had no luck in her ex-Hamilton-Gould alloy-bodied Super Sports Frazer Nash, which was displaying its competition number in Roman numerals. The star turn to my mind was Collings’ Mercedes, with original l.t. magneto and exhaust pressure fuel-feed, which, suitably ballasted with sand begged from a local farm, supplemented by Peter Harris, and depleted of its lamps in case they dropped off, stormed up hills which most of the vintage cars wouldn’t look at. After long delays Jeddere-Fisher’s E-type 30/98 Vauxhall made a successful last ascent of this section.
On the Sunday the more traditional sections were used. Pack had Bernard and Mrs. Kain as passengers in the Bentley, Rosemary Burke in her Morris Minor saloon was having fuel-feed problems and other problems with navigator Sandy Skinner, who was using the open sun-roof as an observation platform, and Weeks retired his ABC-engined GN with sprocket maladies. A brave entry was Wood’s 1923 Riley coupe, as was Hamilton-Gould’s 1920 Citroen, the Lagonda now had its hood up although the weather was beautiful, Collings elected not to tackle the muddy loop on Llangoch, and Holbrook’s beetleback 12/50 Alvis gave one look at the hill and refused to start. Hirst’s Morris Minor two-seater made up for an unpainted rear-end with a Klaxon horn, the Austin 20 of Meeks needed hand-cranking, and all the while a nicely-original blower-4 1/2 Bentley tourer looked on nonchalantly. Box had his sports Jowett 7/17 Jowett going well, as was Hamish Moffatt’s Type 13 Bugatti with Sir John Venables-Llewellyn in the wicker hot-seat.
In the afternoon two sections at Pilleth Court concluded the day’s sport. Collings had broken a driving-chain on the Mercedes but had made a new link at a local garage and gave me a ride up these muddy farm-track hills; we got well up Pilleth I but only as far as the hump on Pilleth II before the beaded-edge tyres lost grip. Whereupon the irrepressible Mercedes driver set off on this veteran racer for Somerset … W.B.
Harry Bowler Memorial Trophy: B. Clarke (1928 Austin 7 Chummy).
Presteigne Trophy: T. J Threlfall (1928 Ford Model-A saloon).
The Snatcher Trophy: M. P Bryan (1927 Lea-Francis Sports).
Leslie Winder Trophy: G.W. Samson (1919 30/98 Vauxhall – for tenacity in repairing his clutch, etc., en route).
We hear that Guy Warburton, one-time 30/98 Vauxhall exponent and Allard driver, now 75, was seen at Manchester Airport recently, having travelled from New Zealand to spend a couple of weeks watching the motorcycle TT races, as he started his sporting career on two wheels. He was returning via Switzerland, Hong Kong and Singapore and his two sons are busy, according to our informant, putting V8 engines into Land Rovers. In connection with some research which is being done into the life of William Robinson, who developed Gravetye Manor, two photographs have turned up, which show HM Queen Mary being driven in a Citroen-Kegresse tracked-vehicle. It is thought that William Robinson used one adapted to carry his wheelchair in later years but more information is sought. Our correspondent adds that the Imperial War Museum lists these Citroens as “Car Battery C-D Type P7”, “C-D” apparently standing for Citroen-Desimer. Another reader draws our attention to two very old ‘bus bodies in a field near Kidderminster, apparently in danger of being destroyed, and to a derelict Standard Vanguard van, an early Bedford truck, and what is possibly a Ford V8 saloon, in Salopian scrapyards. He offers exact locations, to anyone interested. Another correspondent wonders what has happened to Bob and Henry Porter of Boon & Porter’s of Castelneau, from whom he bought two Riley 9s before the war. A V12 Cadillac with boat-shaped two-seater body, possibly by Fariana, and only 12,000 miles on its odometer, is reported as having been shipped from Dubai to America, where a tyre company is said to be displaying it. – W.B.
Easy Victory, or Near-Failure?
Some time ago my friend Eoin Young had a most interesting article published by one of the weekly motoring magazines I read regularly. It was about the Bentley Boys at Le Mans, with particular emphasis on the diamond multi-millionaire Woolf Barnato and his wealthy friend Bernard Rubin. In recounting their deeds at Le Mans Young deals with the 1928 24-hour race which they won with a 4 1/2-litre Bentley, but only just because like others of its kind in this race, it had a broken chassis frame so that towards the end the doors wouldn’t stay shut and it jammed the throttles open so that the engine would not run below 1,500 r.p.m. and pulled out the top water hose, so that all the cooling water was lost. That story is not new, because W.O. Bentley tells it in his autobiography and it has been repeated elsewhere, notably in Elizabeth Nagle’s book, although in his history of the racing Bentleys Darell Berthon merely says that one of the radiator trunnion-bolts had worked loose, allowing the radiator to fidget on the front cross-member, so that a small leak developed. (One wonder’s whether he confused this with the trouble afflicting one of the 2-litre Lagondas, which suffered this trouble after it had run into Samuelson’s ditched sister-car at Mulsanne?). Because there is no doubt that all three of those 1928 4 1/2-litre Bentleys had weak chassis frames, lacking as they did king-posts-and-rods-bracing, and that at the close of the race the Barnato/Rubin car was in dire trouble and quite without water, which was leaking copiously. Fortunately Barnato kept going, to beat the Stutz and Chrysler opposition.
Bentley appearances at Le Mans tended to be fraught, until the great Speed Sixes had it all tied-up. Duff and Clement suffered a punctured fuel tank in 1923 and came home fourth, tying with an Excelsior and a Bignan. This aroused W.O:’s interest and Duff’s 3-litre had works support in 1924 and it won after troubles with a jammed gear-change, broken shock-absorbers, difficulty changing wheels, and a collapsed windscreen. Bentley Motors entered two 3-litres in 1925 but they both retired. For the 1926 race three works 3-litres were entered, but all retired.
In 1927 came the now-historic White House accident, from which the damaged 3-litre driven by Davis and Benjafield emerged a dramatic victor, but in which the other Bentleys were too badly damaged to continue. We then have the aforesaid 1928 near-failure, with the winning 4 1/2-litre Bentley scraping home first, Birkin’s finishing fifth, after tyre trouble had delayed it. Incidentally, the age of the winning car had nothing to do with the metal fatigue, because Clement’s 4 1/2-litre had lost water and retired also due to a broken chassis, like that which had so nearly cost Barnato and Rubin the race, and on the way back to England that of Birkin’s 4 1/2-litre broke in the same manner.
In 1929 Bentleys finished 1, 2, 3, 4 at Le Mans, Barnato and Rubin in the winning Speed Six ahead of three 4 1/2-litres, but Howe’s 4 1/2-litre retiring with a seized cross-shaft in its engine. In 1930 three works Speed Six Bentleys were entered and they finished first and second, Barnato sharing the winning car with Glen Kidston, but the third car crashing. That is a potted record of Bentleys at Le Mans before the Company gave up racing. To have won five out of eight of these gruelling 24-hour sports-car races, some of them very convincingly, was a fine achievement, and as glamorous as the Renault victory this year.
Reverting to the near-disastrous 1928 race, however, what is interesting about Eoin Young’s account is that he emphasises that the broken frame of the winning Bentley was carefully hushed-Up. Sammy Davis, who had driven for Bentley’s (but was in a FWD Alvis in 1928) but was also sports editor of The Autocar, must have been in a very difficult position. He told Eoin that the Press didn’t know about the chassis frame breakages “Would you have told anyone that your chassis had broken, if you were selling cars to the public? We did our best to keep it out of the papers …” This aroused my curiosity and consulted the 1928 Autocar report. Sure enough, although reference is made to a broken o.h.-camshaft oil-pipe on Clement’s car early in the race, its subsequent retirement due to the broken chassis is covered up and blamed on a cracked water-pipe, and nothing whatsoever is said about the winning Bentley nearly being eliminated, although the Stutz’s gearbox trouble is referred to. I then turned up Motor Sport’s account and, again, nothing is reported of the winning Bentley’s broken frame – this was before I began to write for it, I hasten to add! The Light Car & Cyclecar contented itself with reporting on the small cars and I do not have The Motor’s story to hand. It would be interesting to know whether it was any more honest … I suspect not, because in his book on the race David Hodges, who presumably consulted that magazine’s race-reports, actually has it that “a slight leak developed in the radiator of the leading Bentley after it had been refilled for the last permitted time”! In fact, it was touch and go whether the engine would seize up, the radiator having lost every drop of water.
As I have often observed before, you have to pity the poor historian, especially if he has only contemporary race-reports to guide him! Incidentally, W.O. has said that so bad was the trouble with the 1928 Le Mans-winning Bentley that the bonnet had slid back onto the scuttle – but that had been rectified by the time the photograph that we published, of Barnato and Rubin sitting triumphantly on the car after the finish, of what had admittedly been a race run at record speed, was taken. – W.B.
Out of the Past
Through the generosity of a reader I have been able to read, belatedly, “Cape To Cowley Via Cairo” by M.L. Belcher (Methuen, 1932), which is about the journey undertaken by three ladies in a 1924 Morris-Oxford four-seater with 25,000 miles already to its credit, 10,000 miles of them over “some of the worst roads imaginable”. The journey took place in 1930 and the car was completely standard, except that the exhaust pipe and battery had been raised to give more ground clearance. It is startling to realise that it was on 710×90 Dunlop tyres. Shell petrol and oil were used and the owner proudly told her readers that “Everything on the expedition was British”.
I should really refer to the Morris as “he”, because it was named “Bohankus”, or Tramp. One of the ladies who did the journey had driven as a Wren and in the VAD during the war, so she was useful in being able to work on the car. Whether or not this journey was inspired by the adventures of “Imshi”, the white two-seater Morris-Oxford in which John Prioleau, Motoring Correspondent of the Daily Mail, had completed a 7,000-mile tour of Europe and North Africa in 1922, when his car had already run 25,000 miles, I do not know. Both these vintage Morrises seem to have survived their ordeals far better than the new Morris-Oxford which Lord Kilbracken drove 17,700 miles from England to Australia in 1947. And as Tim Nicholson has pointed out, this was the first Cape to Cairo run by an inexperienced crew. Two of the ladies who went all the way (the third was getting off at Nairobi) were Guiders, returning to England on leave. They took wood blocks and clips as a palliative should road springs break, as they did, and bound these springs with leather reins, dispensing with gaiters. The local Morris agent’s, The Johnson Motor Co., checked the car over, and off they went. The usual bogging-down, having to ford swollen rivers and so on, were successfully coped with and they arrived safely in Kimberley, where the local Morris agent greased and overhauled the car. On the Great North Road to Christiana both front springs and a leaf in a back spring broke, as they usually did in those days on British cars thus stressed. A blacksmith welded the broken spring leaves. After crossing the Limpopo river (shades of Kipling) the travellers were in British territory. Then deep in the bush, a half-shaft broke. It was repaired by a lorry driver. In Salisbury the local Morris agent decarbonised the engine…
Later they got hopelessly bogged down again, but a Chevrolet and a Buick arrived on the scene and, these cars having just got through, they towed the Morris out. There was more trouble at the Gwaai river and it took seven hours to cover 25 miles. After this the girls joined forces for a time with the Australians, in the Chevrolet and Buick; striking camp, they got perfect reception on a portable wireless, 800 miles from the transmitter. Later the Morris was the first car to cross the new bridge over the Zambesi from south to north, while two Morrises belonging to the bridge engineers from Livingstone were the first to make the north to south crossing. A blacksmith in Livingstone made two new springs, for the Morris, whose doors now had to be tied shut. Then it suffered a petrol leak, which affected the carburation; and, it limped, heavily overladen, into Nairobi with a broken ball-race. Fortunately, Mr. J.E. Stunner, the Morris Rep. who had seen the start in Cape Town, was now in Nairobi arid had this attended to. So it was on again, the best roads in Africa being in Uganda, although in passing into Kenya the car fell off a rotten punt into a river, as did one of the girls. On entering the Sudan the petrol-filter tore out and the carburetter caught fire, burning the h.t. leads, 100 miles from civilisation. But they coped, and at Juba found Imperial Airways’ new aerodrome. At Khartoum a Scotsman who had been with Morris Motors was delighted to see the old car and it was looked after by the Morris agents, Gellatly & Hankey.
Space precludes further details of this courageous journey but the desert crossing is well described. Eventually the Morris got to Calais, where it was met by a Morris Rep., and at Cowley it had an escort of Morrises to meet it. The 10,000 miles had taken exactly six months. – W.B.
V-E-V Odds & Ends
A Trojan back axle, complete with double chain sprocket and two wheels with the remains of the solid tyres adhering to them, has been unearthed from a barn in Berkshire. In spite of recent books on the subject, what appears to be some fresh Hispano Suiza information has appeared in an article by Stan Grayson on Marc Birkigt and the V12-cylinder Hispano Suiza cars, published in Automobile Quarterly. The Morris Register continues to fill its Journal with sound historical material, the Autumn issue carrying an article by Harry Edwards, the Club’s Historian, on the Empire Morris-Oxford models of 1927-1929, accompanied by photographs and tables, while the Riley Register Magazine had a good picture of the late Frank Ashby sitting in his well-known side-valve racing Riley, on the front cover of its last issue. Apologies to Tony Jones whose Frazer Nash “Patience” was demoted in a caption last month to Anzani-engined – it is in fact Meadows-powered.
Also, Mr. G. Taylor points out that the car he bought from the Riley Racing department, and referred to in his letter, was the car Cyril Paul drove in the TT, not the 1931 German GP Riley 9, and Mr. Stanley Irving corrects the h.p. of the 20/60 Vauxhall as 20, not 29 h.p. as printed, the T80 Vauxhalls being rated at 23 h.p. A 1923 Morris-Cowley Chummy is being restored by a Scarborough garage, and a 1935 BSA Scout in Yorkshire is about to be renovated. The Hamlyn Group is staging an exhibition of over 100 Gordon Crosby paintings at the National Book League, 7 Albermarle Street, London W1, from November 13th to 22nd inclusive. Admission is free. The stocks of Clark’s Motor Works Ltd., known as Clare’s Spares, of Knights Hill, London SE, has been taken over by T.J. Washington Ltd., of 260 Knights Hill, West Norwood, London SE27 0QR. This arises because of Mr. Clare’s retirement but those who have had good service from this now-unique stock of mechanical and electrical spares for vintage and other cars, from a source that dates back to 1921, will be glad to know that business is to be continued as before – telephone 01-670 0132 or write, with s.a.e., mentioning Motor Sport. – W.B.