The Cars of Alfred Ellison

In Motor Sport last December I wrote about the long-distance flights and air rallies which racing motorist Alfred Ellison, whose successes with the 1912 GP Lorraine Dietrich Vieux Charles Trois at Brooklands have been well documented, accomplished in the 1930s. Having compiled the article “The Flying Ellisons” from Press cuttings sent to me by a VSCC member and knowing that Ellison had afterwards competed at Shelsley Walsh with an improbable Renault 45, I sensed that the Ellison family would have owned other unusual and exciting motorcars.

This was confirmed when his grandson, Mr Glenn Mist, FIMI, kindly came to see me recently, bringing with him scrapbooks and a great many photographs which he saved when the family estate was wound up, after Alfred Ellison had died in the Bahamas. The several suitcases full of this most fascinating material amounted to far more than I can set down here; indeed, how very fortunate that it has survived. It proves conclusively what a great motoring enthusiast Alfred Ellison was, for he made copious notes about the cars he owned, in these old books and on the reverse of photographs of them, as well as keeping Press cuttings from the motor journals and daily newspapers of the time.

I had always wondered why the famous Lorraine-Dietrich, now to be seen in the Brooklands Museum, was nicknamed “Old Charles the Third” — in French, as befitted the nationality of the old Grand Prix car. I now know that Ellison like to have pet names for his vehicles, so that there is, presumably, no particular significance in this one for the car Sir Malcolm Campbell brought to Brooklands for the first meeting there when the Motor Course reopened after the war, in 1920. In fact, I was to discover that Ellison had previously named his 1920 6hp vee-twin Zenith motorcycle “Old Charles I” and his 1921 8hp Zenith-lap “Old Charles II”. He was an avid motorcycle competitor in the trials of those times, including riding in the Paris-St Raphael event; but that is another story.

Turning the pages of these old notebooks and looking at the photographs, it became apparent that the Ellison family of Footherley Hall near Lichfield had a Hupmobile tourer in 1917, named “Fluffy I”, and a 1911 55/60hp Itala touring car, “Fluffy II”, later sold to Lord Wimboume — the forerunner of some exciting possessions. For instance, in 1921, when Alfred had returned from service in the RFC and RAF, which I touched upon in the other article, he went to Great Portland Street, London’s “Street of Cars’ and purchased an ex-1913 Grand Prix rotary-valve Itala. There are pictures of this great motorcar at the Itala depot in Weybridge and in Birmingham.

There is a photograph of a 1913 GP Itala in racing trim, being towed by two oxen along a stony track through a wood, as if it had run out of road during the race. However, although Moriando’s Itala, with Foresti as riding mechanic, overturned by the grandstands, it was righted and was able to continue. So unless this was something that occurred in practice, it may have happened to Ellison during a foreign tour, for he undertook many European tours, on motorcycles, cars and later in his light aeroplanes, Pictures of Moriando and Foresti suggest that theirs may be the car Ellison later owned. On the other hand, a “Moriadlo” Itala was raced at Brooklands by Robertson Shersby-Harvey in 1914 and fitted with a saloon body in 1918, and may have been still in Scotland, where that family resided for some years after 1921.

Alfred Ellison also followed other Royal Flying Corps Officers by obtaining a MAG-engined Aero Morgan. He described it as “a bad bargain” and “the worst car I ever had.”A Malvern Link rogue, perhaps? At Footherley Hall the inevitable black-radiator Model-T Ford sedan was used for hack work and Alfred’s father ran a very dignified sleeve-valve Daimler Thirty with a magnificent closed body — a really early example of the post-war range, with those scallops along the bottoms of the bonnet sides and a black dust-cover over the side-mounted spare wheel. It seems that there was also a 40/50 hp Rolls-Royce at one time, and then a later Rolls-Royce.

Preferring more sporting motorcars, Alfred Ellison then bought from R I Evans for £170 a 35 hp rotary-valve Itala with bulbous-tail open bodywork. From the photographs it appears that the Ellison family also had a rather smart vee-radiator mid1920’s Austro-Daimler with a drophead coupe body, and several other cars. The son it was, I assume, who bought from George Newman (the Euston Road racing driver/dealer, then racing his Salmsons) the ex-Lord Rocksavage 1913 Mercedes Ninety, with the customary outside drop exhaust Pipes, a very sporting open car. Then, in 1923, he bought, I think from Douglas Hawkes who had been running it in BARC races, the old Grand Prix Lorraine-Dietrich Vieux Charles Trois. I thought that this exciting chain-drive 15-litre car was kept at the Track, but I now see that it was almost completely stripped at Footherley Hall, for an overhaul, and then taken to the Track and run-in by lapping at some 80mph. Ellison soon got the hang of it, but not before on one occasion there was a fearful skid, the aged car coming back to the Paddock sans all its tyres…

Incidentally, I think Alfred and his younger brother George used always to drive the Lorraine from Lichfield to Brooklands: there is that splendid picture of Alfred in the driving seat wearing a trilby hat having, I assume just arrived in the Paddock from home (Plate 22 in my Brooklands History). Later C D Wallbank bought it, in 1928 or 1929, when the Track authorities were beginning to frown on the older racing cars. He had what he described as a trial run down some narrow country lanes and over a hump-back bridge where the Lorraine nearly took off. He then decided to drive his new acquisition non-stop from Birmingham to Brooklands, as he was fearful of not being able to restart the big engine if he stopped it. The tank was filled with 42 gallons of Petrol and off Wallbank went. He had a bad time negotiating Oxford, but chains rattling, with of smoke belching from the exhaust, with quick glances at the only instruments, the oil-gauge and the tachometer, he got to Weybridge in it.

During Ellison’s ownership of the Lorraine he drove it in 20 races at Brooklands, with the following results:

1923 Summer 100mph Long H’cap: 1st
1923 Autumn Lightning Long H’cap: 1st
1924 Easter 100,ph Short H’cap: 3rd
1924 Whitsun Gold Vase H’cap: 3rd
1924 Whitsun 100mph H’cap: 3rd
1924 Summer 100mph Long H’cap: 3rd
1924 Summer 90mph Long H’cap: 2nd
1925 Summer 100mph Short H’cap (Hawkes): 1st
1925 August 100mph Long H’cap (Hawkes): 2nd
Ellison’s fastest lap was at 105.29mph, Hawkes’s at 105.57mph.

After laying up Vieux Charles Trois Alfred had a Renault 45 saloon, which 9-litre monster he entered for the 1926 Shelsley Walsh Open Meeting. He managed a climb in 69.0 seconds beating, eight other cars, including a 3-litre Bentley and a 22/90hp Alfa Romeo. He then turned to a fine 38/250hp Mercedes-Benz coupe, which was the beginning of a run on this make, including ownership of a 540K cabriolet. There was also a duck’s-back 10/30 hp Alvis two-seater with hare mascot, and no doubt many other cars. A fascinating glimpse into the motoring of an obvious 100% enthusiast.

I showed what a very accomplished pilot Ellison was in my previous piece. From DH Puss Moth and Leopard Moth he later had a sophisticated Stinson SR10 five-seater monoplane (G-AFHB) with spatted wheels and close-cowled 245 hp Lycoming engine, which ended up in Kenya.