Veteran Edwardian Vintage, November 1981

A section devoted to old car matters

The Life and Times of Montie Grahame-White (Continued from the October issue)

Because of his late return front India Grahame-White (hereinafter called G-W) was unable to drive the de Dietrich he had been allotted in the Paris-Madrid race. When he heard of the terrible accidents that some of the competitors were involved in, he was not sorry. Incidentally, I have checked to sec whether his friend, Lt. Mansfield Cumming, RN, entered the Wolseley G-W had persuaded him to order, for the 1903 Gordon-Bennett Eliminating Trials, the idea being that OW should drive it. He did not do so, no Wolseley being entered that year and their drivers in 1904 being Muir, Girling and Jarrott, of whom the last-two were chooses to represent Britain; they were placed 9th and 12th, respectively, Jarrott being the last to finish.

Throughout the winter of 1903 G-W had been busy designing bodies for she many cars he had sold to Indian clients, the Durbar having been of distinct advantage to him. He worked at his drawing-board making scale plans of the special bodies his celebrated clients wanted, and which would be suitable to Indian conditions. Harking back to the Durbar, G-W had been invited loose of she Maharajah of Cooch Behar’s shooting parties, riding on an elephant in Lord Lonsdale’s howdah. G-W was “awarded his guns,” which consisted of a Holland’s Paradox ball-and-shot gun, a .465 Express rifle, a 12-bore cordite Parabox and a .375 high-velocity rifle. I am sorry to say that on that occasion they killed 27 leopard, 20 barasingh, 16 wild pigs, 15 bears, nine hog-deer, a buffalo and a 16′ 10″ python, the vultures soon removing the innards of the snake.

G-W’s lucrative winter toil ended at the 1903 Paris Salon, which was the sixth of its kind. It was opened by President Loubet and the AC de France took over the entire Grand Palais of the Champs Elysees for the event. Many racing drivers and famous lady automobilists were present, including Charles Jarrett and his wife, who was formerly Lady Rosslyn. The cars ranged from a 6 h.p. Wolseley to a vast 35 h.p. Panhard with a ten-seater body which the Prince Orlaff intended to have driven to race meetings so that he could use it as a grandstand. The Wolseley Company also showed a replica of the can they had sold to His Imperial Majesty, the Czar of all Russia.

Busy as he was selling cars to Indian clients, G-W had found time during the summer of 1903 to indulge his interest in motor-boat racing. Lord Montagu had been largely instrumental in having such a contest included in the celebrated Cowes Regatta that August. It was won by Miss Dorothy Levin with Napier, against a considerable handicap. Their Majesties King Edward and Queen Alexandra invited the winner and the organisers (who naturally included G-W) aboard the Royal Yacht. This is said to have induced many former users of steam launches to go over to petrel-engined boats, the machinery being supplied by such as Guy of Cowes, Simpson-Strickland of Dartmouth, and Mumford of Cokhester. The following month G-W entered his 45′ launch powered with a 60 h.p. Mors engine, but 25 of the 56 entries teem excluded as not complying with the little-understood regulations, which caused much had feeling and poor French Press reports. G-W’s boat was one of those excluded. The winner was Mon. Charley with the 37 h.p. launch Mercedes. He was the Paris agent for Mercedes cars, which were called after his daughter, it is said… That winter G-W read a paper on “The Motor Car Movement in India” before the Automobile Club and played his violin for them at concerts, together with the Club’s Chairman, Frank Butler, these concerts being organised by Louis d’Egville, a professional dancing instructor and violinist, who was celebrated for his one-man “duet” with piano and fiddle. Another pastime was skating at Prince’s Skating Club in Knightsbridge with his aunt, the beautiful Mrs. Modera, and where Lady Helen Vincent was a graceful and expert habituee.

In February 1904 G-W went to the Wolseley Company in Birmingham to collect the car he had entered for the Nice Concours d’Elegance Automobile, such beauty shows being very important to manufacturers in those days. The car was a 20 h.p. four-cylinder, with the cylinders horiztornally-opposed of course. The chants carried a heavy Lonsdale wagonette body, with a leather hood that folded down in two sections at the side of the body. The Wolseley belonged to HH The Nawab of Dacca, who had giv.en permission for it to appear in the famous Nice contest before being shipped out to him. G-W was not very enamoured, as after his experiences in the 1902 Paris-Vienna race he did not trust large engines of this kind. Moreover, G-W had agreed to take as his passengers a good looking lady he had met in Paris, her 11-year-old daughter, and the lady’s maid. The lady’s man-servant was to follow by train with the heavy luggage.

However, G-W’s companion insisted on having two enormous dressing-cases and a big hat-box put into the Wolseley before they set off for Folkestone. The car ran well on this part of the long journey but the crossing to Boulogne was tough and Madame, feeling unwell, decided to stay at the Hotel du Louvre for the night. G-W suggested leaving for Paris at 8 a.m., but there was no sign of his passengers until 11 a.m. The Wolseley than ran without trouble to Paris, in the winter of 1904 remember. Here rooms had been booked at the Elysee Palace Hotel. At dinner that evening Madame suggested staying a few days in Paris, which suited G-W very well. He decided he could safely take Madame to such night haunts as l’Abbaye Theleme and Marie’s in Montmartre. Leaving the former, G-W tried to persuade his lady companion to go on to the Pre-Catelan in the Bois, a small cafe where milk was served to all-night patrons, supplied from a few cows kept in stalls in the grounds. As it was approaching 5 a.m. the lady prudently refused – perhaps she thought the milk might be unhygienic, even in an age long before “past your eyes” precautions.

However, she agreed on another evening not to dress for dinner, so that G-W could take her to the less respectable haunts of Parisian night-life. They had dinner at Fouquet’s and then took a taxi (a Renault?) to the Concert Mayol, where the set-piece centred around forty or fifty top-less girls. After this frivolity, a start was made for Dijon and Lyons was reached late that night, the only setbacks having been a couple of punctures. G-W had the choice of two routes from Lyons to Grenoble and because that via the Rhone Valley was said to be badly flooded, especially in the vicinity of Avignon, he decided on the 90-km. run over the mountains, which was a road reported as fairly free of snow. Deep pot-holes and much driving rain and sleet caused the travellers to put up for the night at the inappropriately-named Grand Hotel.

Starting off again in sunshine the next morning, all went well until just beyond Le Frenay, when G-W heard the dreaded knocking sound from the engine. The oil drip-feeds were functioning properly but when he opened up the crankcase two of the big-ends were found to have over­heated, the white metal having partially melted in one of them. There was nothing for it but for G-W to trudge three kilometres in the mud and slush to obtain paraffin with which to wash out the crankcase, after which he refitted the bearing. All this took nearly three hours, to the displeasure of Madame, who was sitting under the hood. G-W commenced by driving slowly, but after a few miles he deemed the new bearing run-in and opened up to his former pace. No trouble was met with in crossing the Col du Lautatret and by late afternoon the Wolseley wagonette was at Briancon.

The plan had been to have a meal and press on to Dinge, 140 km. away. However, when much snow began to fall, at 7 p.m., G-W thought it wiser to pull into the Hotel Moderne at Embrun but the ladies, with the well-known perversity, refused this offer. So it was off on the 80 km. to  Dinge, in the snow, but the acetylene headlamps effectively lit up the white road. Alas, with G-W so cold he could scarcely control the car, the engine began to knock loudly and finally expired. The countryside looked entirely uninhabited but complimenting him on his driving and giving the Wolseley a good testimonial; he had chosen his companion well! Next day G-W set to work to replace the two “run” big-ends, having found two spare con.-rods in the toolbox. The task took considerably longer than expected because, while G-W was away having a cup of coffee, the car rolled mysteriously into a duck-pond, immersing the opened-up engine — a donkey had rubbed its nose against the hand-brake, releasing it! After a hard day and night (working by the light of those headlamps) they were at last off to Nice. The Wolseley climbed over the Col de Leques and the Col de Leurs, which was very slippery, but more trouble struck when descending to St. Vallier from Grasse. The leader of a team pulling a three-horse stone-laden dray had fallen, so G-W pulled up. As he did so, a four-horse char-a-banc also tried to stop and one of the leading horses fell and, in trying to struggle to its feet, cracked the Wolseley’s steering-box, on the front axle. An emergency repair had to be made, using a tyre-lever and some stout cord as a tourniquet. This held to Nice, where repairs were made.

It took three days to prepare for the Concours d’Eleganre, the front axle having to be re-varnished and polished. In the event it was a close run thing between the Wolseley and a Panhard but the British car, with its British body, was eventially awarded the Grand Prix in the touring-car class, the first time this had happened. G-W sent a telegram to Frederick Simms, Chairman of the Automobile Club in London, and received a congratulatory one in return. He then set off to drive to Marseilles, where the car was to be shipped to Bombay. The Lower Corniche road was only just being built in 1904 and the going was extremely winding, hilly and difficult. However, nothing further happened except for two simultaneous punctures in the near-side tyres, caused by nails, and the driving chain rolling off the sprockets when OW had to stop very quickly in a village near Frejus when a child ran into the road — he fitted a new link while the mother of the child administered a sound spanking — more parental discipline in those times! I think this is an interesting account of a long journey on one of the big Wolseleys with horizontal engine and roller driving-chain, a car for which 50 m.p.h. was claimed — G-W did the 41 km. between Beaulieu and Cannes in 80 minutes and later timed the car to do 441/2 m.p.h. over a stretch of 25 km. Not bad, for 77 years ago! — W.B. (To be continued)

Ulmann and the S-S 

Alec Ulmann of the VMCC of America has a knack of putting the cat among the pigeons with his attempted exposures of British engineers and designers, W. O. Bentley especially. To his credit, he is thick-skinned enough not to bear us malice for publishing his views. His latest is a little piece in Bulb Horn which maligns— his own word — the name of Sir Henry Royce and what Ulmann calls “his gem of gems, the 1910 Silver Ghost, the progenitor of chassis produced up to 1924”.

What this is all about is the 30 h.p. SheffieldSimplex. Apart from the mixed up dates of the Silver Ghost (1906-1925 in our book) which Alec thinks was inferior to the 5-5, he has got hold of a story that the S-S’s sponsor, Rt. Hon. the Earl Fitzgerald, DSO, went into production with the great motor car because “. . .Henry Royce would not submit to some of the specifications he (the Earl) desired for his Rolls”. Be that as it may, the Percy Richardson-designed Sheffield-Simplex evolved, by the ex-Daimler apprentice, as a 30 h.p. 4.7-litre six-cylinder chassis. In presenting this as a better car than a Rolls-Royce Ulmann says he hopes he will not be asked to resign from the American RROC, of which he has been a member since its inception. He may not be the first writer to put forward the S-S as a contender in the “best-car” stakes, and he is backed up by The Times of 1913, from which he quotes, calling the latest-type S-S that was on Stand No. 64 at the 1913 Motor Show “Undoubtedly one of the best-designed and most interesting vehicles in the entire Exhibition”, adding, “This car is one of the most remarkable to be seen at Olympia, representing the highest point to which motor design has yet attained”. And in 1914 the Sheffield-Simplex slogan was “The World’s Finest Automobile”, in defiance of the longer-lived Rolls-Royce “Best Car in the World” label.

However, Ulmann’s arguments in respect of the superiority of this S-S over the R-R are distinctly limited. He cites only “the elimination of all unnecessary piping, flanges and innumerable bolts and nuts for which Royce was famous”, resulting in the S-S’s simplicity and clean engine contours, reminding us that all S-S oil-passages were cast or drilled through the crankcase or block, water passages were manifolded, and rear-axle housing and torque-tube assemblies had half the bolts and nuts “that would have been dictated by Rolls whose affliction to over-complication was always noted” — I think this is intended as a crack, not at the Hon. Charles but at Henry Royce.

Ulmami otherwise confines his praise of the S-S to its very smooth and elegant layout, its known power and solid construction, and the fact that the British Army used it as a base for an artillery tractor and that the Russians modified it into an armoured-car. He weakens his argument by confessing to knowing little of this make, for the one in the States has been sold to a British dealer and he read in a 1920 publication that an entirely different S-S with o.h. valves was shown at the 1919 Olympia Show. Ulmann concludes his little anti-Royce ditty with the words “Unfortunately there is no detailed description of this post-war (S-S) effort, so little can be said except that shortly thereafter the firm gave up motor-car production.” Had he re-read Motor Sport Ulmann would have found more about the Sheffield-Simplex, for instance in a “Fragment on Forgotten Makes”. But there is the lie to his accusations, namely that while the S-S got nowhere Rolls-Royce made a total of 7,876 40/50 h.p. chassis inclusive of Springfield (USA) production. Balm indicate what is regarded as the best and here Rolls-Royce has no peer.

Ulmann is interesting about how the great S-S engine was started by its owners. He tells us that the Earl and “his super salesman Warwick Wright” adopted in 1913 the American-made USL starting and lighting system, made by the US Light & Heat Corporation of Niagara Falls, which was only a year in arrears of the better-known Kettering-designed electric starter on the Cadillac. Alec says the USL was superior, as it used a single 12-volt starter-generator to replace the car’s flywheel and was “the best-known noiseless direct-driving motor generator with the possible exception of the 12-volt Dodge Northeast system”. If I understand correctly, the USL was used on Mercer, Jeffrey and Brewster cars. But Henry Royce got by quite well with his own electric starter on the 40;50 Rolls-Royce, driving through the gearbox layshaft by chain, with epicyclic reduction paling between motor and engine, even if this wasn’t standardised until 1919. — W.B.