Vintage Postbag, November 1979

A 1914 TT Sunbeam


To continue the story of the 1914 TT Sunbeam, mentioned by Mr. D. V. T. Fairrie, which he drove for “a good many thousands of miles” before selling it to a Mr. Lawson of Rolvenden, Kent. It appeared from the log-book that he ran it only for about a year and when I acquired it in 1940 it had been standing for some time, more or less derelict, outside a garage near Maidstone. I sold it in 1949 to the late C. R. Abbott who restored it to its original TT form. The doorless two-seater body, mentioned by Mr. Fairrie, had suffered from exposure to the elements and was scrapped. After C. R. Abbott’s death the Sunbeam passed into the hands of Stanley Sears who, with his son Jack, ran the car in several VSCC events.

It was subsequently acquired by Neil Corner who very kindly allowed me to drive it recently at Silverstone. It is still in good form and capable of a creditable performance despite its sixty-five years.

I enclose two photographs taken when I towed it away in derelict condition from the garage near Maidstone.

Knotty Green

Anthony S. Heal

Tilling-Stevens’ Buses


I was interested in your reference to the above in V-E-V Miscellany. However, the latter part of the story is incomplete oddly enough in regard to at least part of which Routes played an important part and thus more directly linked to the Chrysler-Talbot heritage.

Tilling-Stevens petrol-electric ‘buses tended to go out of favour in the late ’20s — apparently the weight of the transmission made them sluggish by comparison with the livelier vehicles with conventional gearboxes then appearing. So a very successful example of the latter was introduced in single-deck form, originally as the B9 and about 1928 as the lower-framed B10, also known as the Express, and large numbers were supplied to Tilling-associated bus companies until 1930 when Tilling withdrew its support.

The company then assumed the title TS Motors Ltd. and called its products TSM until about 1937, then reverting to Tilling-Stevens. Its market shrank considerably, but buses were built in fair numbers in the early thirties, including a few six-cylinder models in both double and single-deck form. The searchlight lorry of World War 2 was a revival of the old petrol-electric concept, with the generator under the projecting bonnet and engine in the cab. After the War a few hundred coach chassis were built, mainly with Gardner engines.

Then Routes took over in 1952 and the Tilling-Stevens works produced the TS3 diesel engine — a horizontally-opposed three-cylinder two-stroke — which was fitted to many Commer lorries from 1954. This wasn’t the first unusual engine Tilling-Stevens had built — there was a flat-eight diesel (with banks of four cylinders on each side of the crankcase) in 1937, but I gather they couldn’t get the crankshaft to stay in one piece.


Alan Townsin

Ninety Mercedes


I was interested in your June photos of the Ninety Mercedes you recall belonging to “a pilot called Blythe”.

I suspect this was the Captain B. A. Blythe who came to New Zealand in the thirties to pioneer Union Airways as chief pilot — now long since merged into our National airline.

Blythe, although he regarded the 20/25 Rolls as the fastest means of crossing London, had a considerable interest in very large fast cars, which he passed on to my father. Blythe owned a two-seater Renault 45 while out here and my father recalls it being successively tuned to reach something pretty close to 90 m.p.h. Father and Blythe visited various interesting cars around our South Island including a big-pre-Kaiser War Mercedes (pre-gate change), which was garaged with a Fafnir, a 4 1/2-litre Bentley and another Renault 45. After his return to UK, Blythe owned an open S-type Mercedes with Corsica body. He loved the big s/c Mercs but felt they needed to go back to the works every 10,000 miles.

After a brief flirtation with yet another Renault 45 my father bought an Alpine Silver Ghost, a Phantom II and more recently an S3 Bentley.

Blythe was a persuasive talker. On one outing he was driving the Ghost and explaining the art of slow top gear running. The late Air Chief Marshal Sir R. A. Cochrane — posted here to establish the RNZAF — initiated a silent evacuation of the back seat, leaving Blythe, still talking, to complete the top gear journey alone!

I’m enclosing a snap of the Phantom (101 RY; H. J. Mulliner: Black). According to RR records it was supplied in 1934 to the then Marquis de Portago. Was it his son who died in the Mille Miglia? We imported it in 1950/1 from George Newman’s with kind help of Mr. F. C. T. Evershed of Rolls-Royce.

I recall that while opening the first street race at Dunedin in 1953 an element of competition deposited the Mayor safely back at the grandstand while the civic Austin 125 — police up— was yet in the back streets just holding a nice Minerva tourer crewed by some of the Race Committee.

I should be most interested to hear more of Blythe or of the Portago family and their cars and movements between the wars.

South Canterbury, New Zealand

Scott Thompson

The Fastest Road Car


Interesting how that 1939 Brooklands competition is continually being recalled. The idea of establishing “the fastest road car” is a fascinating one, and it is a pity it has never been repeated, since that 1939 attempt was a non-event, won in fact by the fastest driver present Arthur Dobson — in the third fastest of the seven meagre entries.

As road cars went in 1939, the straight six 3 1/4-litre Delahaye was already quite aged, and nowhere near as fast as either the 2.9 blown Alfa of Hugh Hunter or the 4-litre Paris Talbot of Hugh Connell which it beat. In the Mille Miglia and at Le Mans in 1938 the 2.9 Alfas had blown off everything else on sheer speed, including even the 4 1/2-litre V12 Delahayes, while Hugh Connell’s Paris Talbot was the actual car which had won the 1937 Tourist Trophy race at Donington, where a 3 1/2-litre Delahaye could do no better than fifth — in what one might think was a better test of the “fastest road car”. But Arthur Dobson was by far the most experienced Brooklands driver in that 1939 competition, besides nudging Grand Prix calibre.

I often wonder how Mike Cooper would have fared in his London Talbot BGH 23, had he entered that event. They had both retired at the end of the previous season, but the Talbot had amply proved itself faster than the Dobson-driven Delahaye on the Outer Circuit during 1938, lapping for instance at 124 to the 120 of the Delahaye while beating it into second place in the Dunlop Jubilee Cup race.

I was able to remind Rob Walker and Stirling Moss of this at the Le Mans Cinquantenaire in 1973, where they were both a little put out at BGH 23 finishing second while their Delahaye could only manage fourth. This was the first time the two cars had met since that Dunlop Jubilee race thirty-five years earlier, confirming once again that, unlike the result of the Brooklands “fastest road car” fiasco, it was the car and not the driver which was fastest.

In all the “retrospective” road races run in Europe since the War, there has never been a Delahaye capable of getting anywhere near Talbot BGH 23.

Callington, Cornwall

Anthony Blight

The Vale Special


You kindly published a letter in which I appealed for help in restoring my Vale Special to original appearance, and the response was beyond belief. Now, however I have another problem with which I have striven for six months without success. I have the original engine, less the cylinder head, main folds, valve gear etc., but as there is no identification anywhere, I cannot begin to look for replacement parts. My car is chassis no. 335, reg. no. RN 2919 (November 1935) and was originally used in Birkenhead. Maybe someone remembers it? The engine has a cast iron block with pressed tin sump and rocker cover. It is a single o.h.c. layout, three main bearings, and as near as I can say is 63 mm. x 100 mm. stroke — 1,250 c.c. Mr. Gaspar — one of the partners in Vale Engineering thinks that it may be a marine engine, either a Brooke or a Dorman. Although at least two cars (Dr. Skinner’s and Pierre Sangan’s) had Meadows engines, I believe that these were pushrod o.h.v. of 1,100 c.c. Can anyone help?


G. B. Woolley

[Letters will be forwarded — Ed.]

Premier and Coatalen


I have been going to write to you for the last twenty years and kept putting it off as not being very important anyhow, but the Veteran-Edwardian-Vintage article this month goaded me on.

In your last paragraph about motor cycles you mention the Premier which confused you. As a lad of about fifteen in 1922 I stayed a lot with my cousin in the Yorkshire dales and he had one of this make. This model was as far as I remember a 1913 model, a fourstroke rated I think at 2 1/4h.p. no tappet cover of course, single speed, belt drive, a block brake acting in the belt rim on the back wheel, and a large stirrup-type front brake. The carb. was I think an AMAC, two lever, the magneto was extended at the front on a longish platform and I think chain driven, it had footboards rather long ones and the tank was a dirty green in colour. Oil was in a separate compartment in the petrol tank and was fed through a drip feed glass fronted with a plunger pump. Acetylene lamps complete the picture. If you could start it (no kick-start of course) it would do about 35 m.p.h. but starting was a chore even with the enthusiasm of youth it wore me out, I don’t think there was any spark, after a year or so he sold it and bought a new Raleigh.

You mention Butterfields, were they not the makers of the Levis? [Yes. — Ed.]

Now about twenty years ago I met an old gentleman whose name was Todd, a charming man whom I got to know very well indeed. He came from Wolverhampton where his father was a manager at Sunbeams. One day he came home from school (he was then about fifteen years old) to find his father already home having brought with him a Frenchman who spoke little or no English, so what knowledge of French Mr. Todd had came in very useful. He had brought him home because he had only arrived that day, had no digs, or hotel. It seemed the whole family liked the Frenchman very much, so much so that he stayed with them for some considerable time. Yes you have guessed it, Louis Coatalen. Not very important really but it might cross a t or dot an odd i for you.

Since the times I mention I have had some ten ‘bikes and getting on for fifty cars: now, getting on for 73 years old, I just have an Audi 80 and an MZ motorbike and still enjoy myself very much.

Best wishes to yourself and Motor Sport.


W.J. Lowe

[An interesting letter, but it was actually the ASL-Premier that puzzled me. — Ed.]

V-E-V Odds & Ends

The BSA Front Wheel Drive Club has a new secretary, Peter King, 81, Beverley Drive, Edgware, Middlesex, HA8 5NH. This Club was formed 20 years ago and produced a Jubilee edition of its magazine Front Wheels to commemorate this. A reader is anxious to trace a Morgan three-wheeler, Reg No. JO 7486, which left the factory on 9th July 1933. It had an unusual low chassis, foot accelerator, 17 x 4.50 tyres and aeroscreens but no hood or spare wheel fittings. The engine was a LTOWZ JAP and the colour Post Office red. The remains are being rebuilt in Sussex from a heap of parts and it is hoped to contact previous owners, including Philip Collison and John Stapler, who apparently owned this TT Special Morgan in the 1950s. There is evidence of a three-wheel braking system having been fitted before the car was crashed. Letters can be forwarded.

Many pre-war Singers attended this year’s Singer National Day, at Knebworth House, including a 1934 Nine coupe, a rare 1925 10/26 h.p. tourer, many more open and closed Nines, a 1928 Singer Junior tourer, an ex-works 1933 Nine team-car, a 1933 14 h.p. six-light saloon, etc. The Bullnose Morris Club had a turn-out of 35 cars for its Summer Rally, made up of 22 Bullnose Morrises, seven flat-radiator Morrises, one Morris Commercial, a Morris Minor, two Morris Eights, a Morris Ten and a 1924 Humber. The long-distance prize went to John Carter, who covered over 300 miles to the rally site in his 1924 Morris-Cowley two-seater. The best Bullnose was judged to be Robert Barker’s 1926 Morris-Oxford tourer, the best Flat-radiator car Colin Watson’s 1930 Morris-Cowlev saloon.—W.B.