Bill Boddy

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The Aeroplane man with a love for cars

C G Grey was editor of The Aeroplane for nearly three decades. His approach to the job impressed a young Bill Boddy

Years ago, when I lived in West Norwood, I was so very anxious to enjoy The Aeroplane magazine that I used to go by bus up to Piccadilly every Thursday to buy it a day early. It was so entertainingly edited by C G Grey, just as today’s Aeroplane, edited by Michael Oakey, is the monthly magazine for all serious aviation readers.

Grey edited his magazine from 1911 to 1939. He believed that students would only read of political matters if they were enticed by a more enthralling subject, such as his liberal views. People thought he must fly in innumerable aeroplanes but he told them he only went up once a year to remind himself how dangerous it was. During World War I his friends found him a ‘safe house’ in case the RFC took action over his remarks about its unsafe aeroplanes (he had said that they killed more British pilots than the enemy – no parachutes).

When he was captioning a picture of many celebrities and unwanted heads appeared he would caption these “must be seen” or “me too”. When a famous pilot broke an important record a lady pilot accompanied him. The newspapers thought it was marvellous that a woman had flown part of the flight, but Grey said “she only went to shake the money box”.

I remember CGG as being a hard taskmaster. I used to write the occasional page for him, and one evening at his office when handing in one of these, several happy typists came down in the lift on their way home. He threw them several ebonite dictation cylinders saying, “I do not care who types these up but I will be back at 10pm to read it.” On another occasion he asked if I had seen an air race. I replied, “No, but lots of motor races.” Grey said, “That’s good enough. I want you to report on the Bristol control of the King’s Cup Race.”

I borrowed an Austin 7 and drove down through the night. When I gave them Grey’s letter they asked if I would like them to park my car, whether I had had breakfast and gave me a top press pass, so well respected was he. In reporting the race I made rude remarks about famous pilots who had to go round twice, to the refuelling and timing point, or made bad landings. My report was published in full over my initials – perhaps it was ‘stop press’, or maybe they didn’t read it.

While I was in the office an artist appeared in the doorway holding an enormous drawing with all the technical parts annotated, which must have taken a month to complete. Grey merely said, “Take it away. It’s not a Sunderland.”

I read every issue, the last being the one in 1939 in which unfortunately Grey announced “there will be no war with Germany” (for which he was later dismissed). I told this to my friends with whom I was setting off on holiday through the night to North Wales, but in the morning a policeman stopped us to tell us that war had begun. As my father had been killed in the first war and my mother was also dead, I had no need to return but my friends insisted on doing so. When we got to London police were handing out paper headlight masks and the flashes from the overhead tramlines made us think bombs were dropping.

In the 1890s Grey first had a motor tricycle and trailer which had to be helped along with hard pedalling up hills, and a Singer with all the machinery in the back wheel. From 1899-1903 he had an Ariel tricycle and trailer and then a 2½hp Ariel with which he toured all over Ireland. It worked well while reporting the Gordon Bennett race of 1903.

He borrowed a 2½hp FN which was a bundle of Bowden wires. It was kept working in Belfast by Harry Ferguson, who by the 1950s had a company worth £3 million. In 1905-6 the Irish roads were in good order but one day Grey skidded and fell off, spraining a shoulder, his only bad motor accident. After that he came back to England and became associated with aviation. At this time he went out on an Argyle, which had a few quaint tricks. If you changed gears too quickly second and third gear could be engaged together. They had to be disengaged by getting out and rocking the car until they came unstuck.

Then he borrowed a tiny Clement-Bayard which went like a wrist watch. At this time Upavon aerodrome was being built and this car charged up the hills to it in an amazing way.

In 1914 he bought his first car, a little two-seater Calthorpe, from an RFC officer. This was a narrow car and he found he was harassed by big army lorries, so he mounted the paraffin sidelights on brackets a foot wider than the car. After this, at night at least, the military gave him more room. This car lasted out the war.

Just after the war he bought for fun a 1904 chain-drive Mercedes, which would easily do 65mph and was a joy to drive. The clutch worked extremely well and it had perfect gears. “Those Mercedes designers did know their job!” was Grey’s comment; and he recalled the crushing 1-2-3 victory of the Mercedes in the 1914 French Grand Prix on the eve of World War I. Around 1920 he had a 1912 six-cylinder Talbot tourer. This ‘editorial Talbot’ rattled itself to pieces and shed a stub axle.

In 1930 he bought a large second-hand Flint saloon, an American make; it was, he said, like driving a large four-poster bed, but it kept a steady 50-60mph. He and his wife took it to Scotland and at all-out speed it ran a big end, but they carried on at 45mph – purgatory! But it was still in the family in the 1950s.

After the Flint he had a 15hp Armstrong-Siddeley saloon which he called “the sweetest car”. When collecting it from the factory he asked the foreman how far he should drive it before it was run in and was told “just to the factory gates”. In 1931 this little 15 took him all around Ireland in three-and-a-half days.

The next year he had a 20hp six-cylinder Armstrong-Siddeley in which he had to go to RAF Leuchars with photographer Charles Simms for an RAF versus Navy contest. Leaving at 7.30am from Edgware Road and stopping twice for petrol, they arrived at the North Bridge in Edinburgh at 3.05pm, a distance of 400 miles, the same time as the Flying Scotsman took.

After this he had an annual Armstrong-Siddeley by arrangement. In 1934 when Temple Press acquired The Aeroplane he had a 25hp Wolseley, which eventually ran all six big ends. His last car known to me was a 1936 12hp close-coupled Morris coupé.

*****

Rumblings

The Brooklands Museum has on display a 1912 Mercedes Ninety with a body by Holbrook of Manhattan. Loaned by Mercedes-Benz, it is displayed specially beside the Pratt’s petrol pagoda. It is claimed to have been for many years the most powerful car in the world, which historians may like to discuss…

It is good news that Mr Chris Jaques is restoring the ex-Whitney Straight/B Bira 8C Maserati raced by the White Mouse team. Later on it went to America, where it raced frequently. It had a cracked crankshaft but has been put back to its original form, and repainted Bira blue.

Mr Jaques is also custodian of the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost which John Bolster of the exciting racing Bolster Specials once raced. The Rolls-Royce was acquired from John’s widow. It was first registered in 1911 when it had a two-seater body, made into a four-seater in 1914 by Holmes of Derby. I was paired with it at the first post-war speed trials at Elstree and led for a few lengths until my Alfonso Hispano-Suiza’s carburettor objected.

Then there was the occasion of the evening procession to mark the running of the last tram in London. John Bolster got all the chorus girls into the Rolls (they must have got cold!) so that I was left with their elderly manageress in my Delaunay-Belleville. At least she was in the cosy back seat of this unusual car.

Some errors were introduced into my Tommy Hann article last month. The first enclosed cockpit car was not made by Hann but by Hind in 1911. In the photo on p133 the car following Hann is not a Dingle, but an A7 driven by J P Dingle.

*****

Gordon England the Austin Seven man

In 1921 E C Gordon England was racing an air-cooled 1198cc flat-twin-engined ABC with which he entered the first JCC 200-mile race in which he came 14th out of 20. The following year he came sixth. In 1922 Austin produced an engine of 55x77mm, slightly smaller than Peugeot’s 686cc but later enlarged it to 55x85mm, maybe with the idea of racing it, and the required racing department already existed.

England, who had injured himself in a gliding accident, asked Sir Herbert to let him have an A7 chassis to make into a racing A7, and on this he built a bulbous body, perhaps using panels from the glider. After his first race in 1922, England built more conventional-looking racing A7s, for which he had forsaken his air-cooled ABC.

In 1923 both England and Austin’s son-in-law Arthur Waite drove A7s in short races; both achieved third places. England also set a number of class records that year. He helped to establish the A7 when a Chummy sold for £165, which in a strong speech Austin claimed would reduce sales of cyclecars, although this did not appear to have an effect on Morgans or GNs.

In 1924 when the new Montlhéry track near Paris opened he was there winning against three other Austins of Waite, Hall and Dingle. Also in the year he had one first, one second and two third places at Brooklands, with a best lap of 82.73mph. That year the JCC introduced a 750cc class in the ‘200’ which attracted nine A7s; six retired leaving England to a successful victory and taking further class records, including the one-hour record at nearly 76mph.

In 1925 England won his class again at 61.16mph despite an accident in practice. His other car, driven by Hall, had to retire. His final two racing A7s were attractive to look at and after he gave up racing they were advertised for sale as a pair. England’s last entry in the ‘200’ in 1926 included another notable success, winning the class at an average of 57.2mph.

By 1925 England’s business included a coachworks from which emerged his simple fabric-bodied two-seater Cup model, and later the proper Brooklands racing A7, which was guaranteed to do 80mph at the Track, though not necessarily over a whole lap. Production of this model later passed to the Austin company. For these Type 433a A7s there was a race with only five runners, for which his company gave a £30 cup. The winner was Captain F H B Samuelson. England’s body shop also produced a few special bodies on other makes of chassis.

In later times I interviewed England in an old people’s home in Ascot. I was met by his wife who surprised me by saying her husband would not be long as he was in the gym… Unfortunately England was unable to remember very much, such as how many A7 models he had made, or similar memories.

It is nice to know that Gordon England’s daughter and son-in-law still attend Beaulieu Austin 7 rallies.

*****

Historical record of sporting Jowetts

Extending to 250 pages, this is about the faster cars from this well-remembered make, from the rare special flat-twin-engined light cars used in competition in normal and special forms, to the later Javelins and Jupiters. It comprises a massive number of reprints of newspaper cuttings and magazine articles, assembled by that inveterate enthusiast for the Bradford marque, Noel Stokoe. He has found an astonishing source of such material.

Very worthwhile are the recollections of drivers such as Victoria Worsley, the Hon Mrs Victor Bruce, Maurice Gatsonides etc in every kind of competition, following memories of flat-twin-engined achievements at Brooklands by J J Hall etc, to the exploits of Jowetts ‘Wait’ and ‘See’ etc, covering everything from endurance runs to Le Mans with 60 appropriate pictures. With reprints of articles by top writers this is a unique coverage of all aspects of motor sport in which Jowetts took part, and a fascinating record of achievements. Highly recommended.

Published by The History Press, Stroud, Glos, ISBN 978 0 7524 4775 9, £17.99.

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