Veteran to classic

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Kimber’s Singers

Cecil Kimber, as we all know, was the creator of the MG. But from where did he get the inspiration for his world-famous sports-cars?

His first car (after a motorcycle accident damaged him considerably but gave him, through compensation money, the where-withal to take to four wheels) was a Singer Ten, that four-cylinder light-car with its gearbox in its back axle. That was followed by a larger Singer, the T-head 15.9hp car named “Jabberwock” which had been raced at Brooklands by the aviator Vivian Hewitt. Kimber was very proud of this machine, which he used to take his first wife, Irene, on a honeymoon Welsh tour in September 1915 — petrol rationing presumably not being very strict at this stage of the war. He told his family that it used to lap the Track at 80 mph in its heyday; it might have done so in practice, as another Singer of this size did, but the best race lap I can find for it was at only 43.88 mph, in 1909.

Hewitt non-started in his other two BARC races that season, and does not appear to have run again. Aeroplanes probably took up too much of his time thereafter, for he had acquired a 50hp Gnome-engined Bleriot, which he flew from a field in Rhyl. In 1912 he set off to fly to Dublin; very rough weather forced him to land at Plas, and the next day at Holyhead, but after waiting four days he got across, putting down in Phoenix Park after a flight lasting 75 minutes and thus becoming only the second pilot to fly the Irish Sea without ending in the water.

Kimber’s Singer Ten had been an early one. delivered in February 1913, which after the factory had rectified some initial valve trouble ran quite well for some 20,000 tniles. So it can be assumed that the bigger Singer, which was now road-equipped with a body from an Hispano Suiza (probably an Alfonso model), was purchased around the beginning of 1915, when it was at least six years old.

In his book The MG Sports Cars, Wilson McComb remarks that it was a stark car for a honeymoon, with no doors, no headlamps, and scarcely any weather-protection. This does not seem to have bothered the Kimbers, who not only toured Wales in the ex-racing car but returned in it to the village near Sheffield where they were to live while he was working at the Sheffield-Simplex factory.

The Singer was registered N191. NI is a County Wicklow lettering, and one Hewitt might have obtained while in Ireland with his Bleriot; McComb has suggested this was indeed an Irish number acquired to fool the police (a ploy not unknown among fast drivers) and handed on from the Singer Ten. On the other hand, it is impossible to differentiate between letters and figures on the 15.9hp car’s plates: N was a Manchester symbol, and before going to Sheffield Kimber had worked for Crossley’s in Manchester, where his fiancée had also lived. So the registration could have been legitimate although, in view of the low number, perhaps handed on from some other car.

There is a spin-off from all this. In The Kimber Centenary Book (Book Reviews, Motor Sport, October 1988), Mrs Kimber-Cook tells of her step-sister finding in an old box a faded photograph thought to have been taken by her father outside his parents’ cottage in Wales and dated 1912. She suggests that the car pictured might have been the one which gave Cecil Kimber inspiration for his subsequent MG sports-cars. The National Motor Museum, she says, was asked to try to identify this car, and suggested it might have been a special-bodied GN. Wrong, because GNs do not have dumb-irons! To me, it looks much more like the 15.9hp Singer in Brooklands trim, with radiator cowl and no discs on its wire wheels (these it had acquired by 1915, by which time a typically Singer radiator was exposed). Since Hewitt flew from Rhyl, he might have driven over to visit the Kimbers — and perhaps the mysterious blonde who signed one of the photographs “Olive Seeds” was one of Hewitt’s lady friends? WB