A rare 20/30 Austro-Daimler

I had an interesting experience the other day; I drove out of Wales and into the fascinatingly sinuous and narrow Shropshire lanes, even through fords, to visit Tony Mitchell and see two of his unique motor cars. Especially, in fact, to have a drive in his rare 20/30 hp Austro-Daimler. It is a car with a fascinating history. A 1914 model, it was owned by one family living in Oxford from new, and was laid up when war broke out in 1939. It was then purchased by a bee and poultry farmer, a Mr Painter of Appleton, near Abingdon in Berkshire, who removed its body (no great loss, as this was of Teutonic ugliness) and used it to tow hen houses round his fields.

That might have been the end, eventually, of a very fine motor car, although one rugged and flexible enough to be ideal for hen-house shifting. Fortunately the farmer's GP was Barry Clarke's uncle, who told Barry about the Austro-Daimler, with the result that he was able to save it. In May 1954 he advertised it for sale in the VCC circular for the modest sum of £5. This brought Bill Frazer in N Ireland on the scene, because he had another 20/30 of this illustrious make. As the one advertised, in spite of its hard life on the farm, was in a better condition, he decided it was more deserving of his restoration efforts. This work occupied some 25 years, during which the engine was rebuilt, although the cylinders did not need re-boring and the original cast-iron pistons were retained, and he did other jobs, to good effect. However, feeling that time was running out, he passed the car on in pieces to Lyndon Kerney, who put in another ten years' work on it, then decided to throw it all together in the hope of a quick sale. Which is when Tony Mitchell acquired it.

As for the present body, here is another astonishing story. A Director of Maples, the furniture people in the Euston Road, London, had the curious hobby of buying good new cars and then having the radiators from other makes grafted on to them. When I saw some of these hybrids in the Company's basement many years ago, the body from this Austro-Daimler graced the chassis of the ex-Brooklands Straker Squire Six, which had also been given a circa 1910/12 Vauxhall radiator. Eventually the correct radiator and racing body were re-united with the Straker Squire chassis and the car has since had a notable VSCC career in the hands of Philip Mann, Adrian Liddell and now N J Howells. The touring body was then put on an Edwardian 15.9hp Straker Squire, which was also in the Maples basement, together with the Vauxhall radiator in order to sell it. Cyril Peacock bought the body for his 15.9hp Straker Squire, but sold it in 1955 to Mr Frazer. Tony Mitchell acquired it in 1990.

Tony has spent the last two years working on the A-D; although he did not strip it down and start again, at least it is now 100% better than it was. The reason why Tony was glad to take on this Austro-Daimler is also interesting. As is well known, he has for many years owned the only remaining belt-drive GN, the oldest (pre-1916) cyclecar of this make in captivity, with wire-and-bobbin steering, and he is an admirer of the late H R Godfrey, who as everyone knows, or should, was the "G" of GN. Now Godfrey had one of the famous overhead-camshaft Ferdinand Porsche-designed 27/80hp Austro-Daimlers, of the kind made famous by their splendid showing in the highly competitive 1910-1912 Prince Henry Tours. So what more logical than to acquire an A-D, albeit of a different type, to keep the GN company?

This GN has a unique history of its own. It was ordered by a Russian Prince who paid 95% of the price. But before it could be shipped out to him, in single-seater form, the 1917 revolution had intervened and the Prince disappeared. The GN remained in the Hendon works for some time and was then sold to Tom Faulkner of Kempsford, who had several exciting cars, including the white Mercedes he raced at Brooklands and an Austro-Daimler like Godfrey's, so that Godfrey used to visit him to compare the two cars. Faulkner showed interest in this GN and it was sold to him, Capt Archie Frazer Nash (the "N" of GN, but you know that) brushing aside Godfrey's objection that it had been all but paid for already..!

It was later found in Brighton, was given a two-seater body, and changed hands a time or two before Tony Mitchell obtained it. It has the i o e engine, but for the 1914 racing GN "Kim", Godfrey is said to have adapted the A-D valvegear.

Back to the Austro-Daimler. These Austrian Daimlers, made at Wiener-Neustadt, with designers like Paul Daimler and Dr Ferdinand Porsche, were high-quality cars, the Austrian Mercedes if you like. The 20/30 PS model which Tony Mitchell has was said to have been designed especially for the English market. Announced by 1913, it was listed here up to 1922. (It seems that before the war these fine cars were known as Austrian-Daimlers, afterwards as Austro-Daimlers. The horsepower definitions also seem to have varied, so if you do not agree with the aforesaid 27/80 designation, please refrain from writing to me).

It has a side-valve four-cylinder 95 x 140mm (3065cc) engine, with a three-bearing crankshaft. On the near-side one finds a four-branch exhaust manifold of sporting aspect, and the piston-type Friedman lubricator, which delivers oil via three pipes to the main bearings; a supply of lubricant is also directed to the pistons. At the front of the engine the Bosch ZU4 magneto and the water pump are mounted transversely, the latter on the near-side, with a spring-actuated greaser. Also on this side is the exhaust-gas feed for the petrol tank. I was surprised to find that Tony had retained this system, as all the known 20/30 A-Ds have been converted to air-pressure; but he says that properly adjusted, exhaust pressure works admirably, and this was confirmed by the steady reading on the dashboard gauge.

On the off-side of the engine the Zenith carburettor, with a barrel-throttle and three air-inlets, is water-heated. The rear fuel tank holds a useful 18 gallons. There is no cooling fan, because the flywheel has vanes to suck air through the radiator. For the British market a pointed radiator was fitted, although the Austrian-orientated cars had flat radiators. That on the car we are describing had a new Serck honeycomb put in it in Ireland but it required a higher pressure before the pump was effective.

The drive goes via a Hele-Shaw multi-plate clutch which has proved entirely reliable, and is dressed from time to time with a paraffin/oil mixture; the same kind of clutch on my Calthorpe light-car has been equally dependable over many years. The four-speed gearbox is controlled by the expected truly massive right-hand "signal-box" lever, matched by an equally impressive brake lever, applying the rear-wheel brakes. The footbrake actuates the large transmission brake, seldom resorted to, to spare the transmission. The accelerator is central, between clutch and brake pedals. The engine responds immediately to a pull-up on the substantial starting handle, and the adjacent half-compression control can then be as rapidly put out of commission, the engine idling smoothly without spitting back.

This 20/30 A-D has a fairly massive style, typical of Teutonic practice, and it seems as if the-car has not covered a large mileage, for the pedals are unworn, and the gears scarcely marked, and the quality is born out by the hardness of the steel used for the chassis members. Apparently the English motorist was catered for by a decent top-gear hill-climbing ability, and as we drove along the Shropshire lanes in the autumnal sunshine second gear was needed only for the steeper gradients, while in bottom gear the A-D would "climb the side of a house".

The body seats three abreast and has silverplated fittings. These blackened with exposure and were thought to have been nickel-plated, so they were re-plated in Ireland; but the hood-sticks and some other fittings still display the original silver-plating, suggesting that this was probably a special-order or a Show car. Incidentally, had it rained, as it was doing further north, the hood could have been pulled over us with one hand, without stopping the car. During this enjoyable drive I noted that although the engine made some determined sounds, the chassis was quite devoid of gear howl, back-axle whine or other noises representing worn machinery. It also rode smoothly, on its Dunlop 820 x 120-shod wire wheels. You steer with a massive five-brass-spoked wheel with wooden rim, above which are the knobbed ignition and hand-throttle levers, their dimensions in keeping with the general demeanour of this rugged motor car. Cruising speed is an easy 40 to 45mph, with a top pace of perhaps 60, making for effortless touring. As I have noted, the original cylinder bores and c i pistons are still in the engine of the A-D, which says much for its longevity. Apart from new rings, that was all that was required in that department, and only a very long downhill spell on over-run caused the plugs to oil-up; even this was cured by fitting Champion-50 plugs with their high nickel content.

The body construction is as substantial as the rest of the A-D but the wooden dash is not cluttered with instruments. The central electrical box is flanked by the fuel-pressure gauge and the small speedometer and on the extreme left a temperature gauge has been added. The speedometer is driven from the prop-shaft by a flexible drive typical of Dr Porsche's thoroughness — it consists of some 200 metal links, hand-pinned with tiny pins. That sets the seal on the car in its entirety.

I have referred to this Austro-Daimler as a rare possession. This is justified when I say that, apart from Cecil Bendall's well-known o h c Prince Henry A-D, the only others known to survive here are three 20/30s, one in Ireland, and of these only Tony Mitchell's is running as I compile these observations. Incidentally, Tony knows very little about his car and does not even have a hand-book for it, so if anyone can help, he would be glad to hear from them.