Vintage postbag, November 1985

Charabanc on Stilts


I refer to your photograph on page 1012 of the Charabanc on Stilts. The photograph was taken at Burgh Island, close to Bigbury on Sea in South Devon, and a vehicle of this design was in use until 1969. Burgh Island is joined to the mainland by a spit of sand which is submerged at high tide. The sand tractor, as it was called, was designed to ferry passengers between the island and mainland at hightide.

The first tractor entered service in the 1920s to service a luxury hotel on the island. I believe it was replaced by a vehicle of identical design in the late 1940s and this in tum was taken out of service in 1969.

Whilst the machine was usually quite reliable it did have a habit of shedding drive chains in mid-channel, the only solution being to mount a boat rescue or wait for the tide to go out!

There is still a Burgh Island tractor, the new machine is much more modern, being powered by a diesel engine which runs a hydraulic pump which in turn powers rotors in each of the four wheels.

I believe the old machine was removed to a museum in Tomes or Salcombe. Perhaps some other readers have run across it there.

Redbourne, Herts, J. S. Gilder

Large Vintage


It occurred to me that some of your older readers might be interested in the enclosed photograph of one of my father’s cars taken in the early 1930s. I was a small boy at the time, and I well remember my late father talking about this car, which used to take a very long time to fill up with petrol. In fact he used to have a pint of beer at the local pub while the garage attended to it!

He had many cars during his motoring life and this one was either his Gardner or Isotta Fraschini. My father was also a great Jensen enthusiast and I also enclose a photograph of his 1938 Jensen with Ford V8 engine. He also had one with an American straight eight Nash engine which had an aluminium body, and I was then old enough to drive this one after the war.

Reigate, Digby Hulme

[I think the car illustrated is an Isotta Fraschini, although the mascot may have come from an Hispano-Suiza. Of enormous length, it seems well adapted to carrying the nine occupants and their dog! — Ed.]



I was most interested in the letter recalling the 1936 Vanderbilt Cup Race in the USA. This was especially topical after your re-report of the well documented 1935 German Grand Prix and it does illustrate that a really outstanding driver would be outstanding in any era.

The argument that drivers of the thirties would not cope with the present day cars is nonsense. Give the old “Maestro” a McLaren or other competitive car or nearly competitive car and he would be where he always was. Way out in the lead. Truly Nuvolari was the “Greatest”.

During the war, we employed a cheerful lad driving for us on one of the big RAF maintainance units in the Middle East. He was ex POW, ex Trento Division, ex farmworker for the Nuvolari family.

Conversation with my informant indicated that the well-known dislike Nuvolari had for the “Tedeschi” may have been more Historical than personal and indeed I was told that Bernd Rosemeyer had stayed with the Nuvolari family shortly before his tragic crash. The private life of Nuvolari was very sad. Not only did he lose both his sons in the nineteen thirties but also his father was killed riding a motorcycle.

Naughty Mr Hill’s letter may have been but very interesting.

Crawley, Sussex, Damien C. Millar

Trip in a Rolls-Royce


Your reprint about a trip from London to John O’Groats in a 4¼-litre Bentley brought back happy memories of many hours spent as a schoolboy passenger in 3½ and 4¼ Bentleys in the late 1930’s.

It also reminded me of a journey undertaken by my mother in 1937 or 1938 from Swanley Village in Kent to Banchory in Scotland in a somewhat pedestrian 1923 20 hp Rolls-Royce; a three-speed central gear-change model which had been fitted with 19 in wheels which replaced the original 21 in rims. It also sported a fabric body which had originally been fitted to a Bentley, probably a 4½-litre.

The journey which was something of an emergency took from 8 am until 10.30 pm and covered 560 miles, including crossing London (no Dartford Tunnel then!) travelling up the old Al to Scotch Corner, thence Carlisle, Beattock, Stirling, Perth, Stonehaven to Banchory. An average of 38.6 mph and travelling solo. Any stops must have been of short duration; however the performance compares well with your own trip in a car capable of over 90 mph as against the Rolls which would do 65 mph downhill with a favourable wind.

Cape Province, South Africa, B. T. D. Cochrane

Remote County!


I was interested in Bill Boddy’s reference to 1923-30 Radnorshire motorcycle registrations.

I have lived on the Welsh border for over 30 years, and knew the area from 1940 onwards, when I was once obliged to continue across the Clan forest in a blizzard at night, with my MG L-Magna running on only four of its six cylinders — the other two having run the big ends! The alternative (as it seemed to a 17-year-old at the time) being to die of exposure, engulfed by snow, which fate stopping would have made inevitable. The less said about this unhappy episode the better, as it signalled the demise of my very first car.

To return to the motorcycle registrations, I was most surprised to see that there were more Raleighs than Triumphs which surely must have been contrary to the general trend. [Raleigh apparently did lots of local advertising. — W.B. ]

Also, surprisingly, no Nortons, Rudges, Sunbeams or Scotts. Maybe this lack of upper echelon machines underlines the truth of the old ditty:

Radnorshire, Radnorshire,
A very poor County is Radnorshire,
Never a Squire, never Peer,
Never a man with a thousand a year,
Unless it be Phelps of Abbey Cwmhir!

Readers from “Off down” may be interested to know that within the last 30 years Radnorshire County Council was still issuing FO and four numeral registrations, which only goes to show how few vehicles were registered in the county over the years.

Peterchurch, Stephen Phillip