An Alpine Tour with a Difference



An Alpine Tour with a Difference

by J. M. B. DOVE

A record number of English motorists took their cars abroad this season. This article will remind them of those carefree summer days, besides opening the eyes of those who regard Edwardian cars as mere rally playthings—ED.

THOSE who were fortunate enough to be in France at the beginning of July and who thought they saw two ghost-cars travelling silently along the Routes Natioaales and ascending the Passes of the Savoy Alps, may rest assured -that they saw net phantoms of the great days of the past but two very earthy and active Falwardians. There were in fact a 1910 40/50-h.p. ” Silver Ghost II Rolls-Royce With its original Barker touring body and. a 1913 88-h.p. six-cylinder Lane:11.04er torpedo belonging, respectively, to my friends Jimmy Skinner and Francis Hutton-Stett. I travelled almost the whole tour in the Rolls so this story, which will I hope be of interest not. only to those ult.() sew the ears but as well to all who are proud of our British touring car tradition, must necessarily be largely about that car, The thing started with the Veteran Car Club week-end Rally to Le Touquet ; for why. we said, should we have to pay such fantastic cross-channel boat fees without. making, the most of the opportunity ? In addition, we were all ‘ intelligent enough to enjoy Edwardian motoring. The party consisted of Skinner and his wife, myself and brother in the Rolls, Hutton-Stott and his wife and Ronald (” Steady “) Barker (that keen exponent of Edwardiatiism) in the Lanchester. Of the Rally itself it is only necessary to say it was a great success, that the weather was kind and everything admirably organised. In the Concours d’ Elegance the Rolls and Lanchester won first and second prizes, respectively, in the Edwardian class and were the recipient of handsome cups presented by the Mayor of Le Touquet. On Tuesday, this pleasant meeting over, the two cars were loaded up outside the Royal Picardy Hotel, and what a load. We carried two extra passengers and ‘luggage between us as far as Paris, where it was proposed to stay the night to investigate some veteran vehicles Hutton-Stott had heard about. The run there was uneventffil except that we ran out Of petrol on the Rolls, the cause being somewhat interesting. We had filled up before leaving in the morning and the better quality petrol (sold in France at Super Carburante) had caught Skinner napping and richened the mixture to such an extent we estimated we were doing little better than 8 m.p.g. ! Weakening the main jet soon put this right and the consumption improved to an average of 11 m.p.g., which was maintained over the whole tour, using No. 1 spirit. The Lanchester seemed to prefer the Super variety, on which it. gave an average of 15 m.p.g. Little, if any, improvement to consumption or performance resulted on the Rolls from the use Of Super. This little episode was te prove the only involuntary stop of the whole tour. We had a foretaste during the day of the car’s immense hill-climbing potentialities. If the pat, did reduce speed to a crawl, once clear of it, with .a “womb ” from the carburetter, we were oft and accelerating on the 2.9 to 1 top gear back to our cruising speed a 40-45 m.p.h.

The car is capable of a comfortable ” sixty,” but, as Skinner Said he was not going to be tempted to drive at sustained high speed hour after hour in the grilling heat, he set himself a maximum of 50 and the soundness of his theory was to prove itself in the next ten days. The amount of ground one can cover in this car at a consistent speed of 45 m.p.h. is astounding, one of the reasons being that it takes absolutely no -notice of long gradients, in -fact these give you the only -opportunity of using full throttle.

We were fortunate in having a pilot to guide us through Paris, for the autotnobilists of that City do not exactly assist in the Conducting of large Edwardian machinery, and if the Rolls only missed one of them by the skin of its oil rear-lamp, the Lanchester which was following was fortunate in finding a water-flushed read on which to waggle its rear-end in avoiding action ! However, all was well and the ears attracted enormous interest. Skinner’s remark about driving through the heart of Paris was that he would try anything °nee. I find it difficult to put into print the average. Frenehnum’s pronunciation .of the word Rolls ; the nearest is possibly “Rhawll.s ” and as such the white car was constantly hailed. I should be remarked here that such is the ” Magic of a Name •’ that the car was universally recognised with its low square bonnet wherever we went, even in the remotest villages, and although it would be imposible to rceoril all the remarks that were ii uuh iii the three countries the car visite.l they were always in terms of the sialTOSt admiration or wonder the one that pleased Skinner most, I I hint., was to Belle Voiture and the one that annoyed him most Les Antericains1 This lattcr prompted the early purchase of a ‘pion Jack ! The unkindest cut was Lou is Q’wrrorzel The Lanchester and crew decided to stay in Paris two days, while the next day we headed south at 7 a.m., to be greeted almost immediately and for the rest of that morning oft and on by rain of the most diabolical kind. Let this be said at once, Edwardian minoring in rain is no joy ; you have possibly over two tons to leek after, narrow tyres, brakes which demand intelligent anticipa tion of road hazards awl, if you are a purist as Jimmy Skinner is, no wiper or sidecurtains uuul there is a gap between the hood and top of the screen, and the latter is generally open ! Consequently, our morning’s progress was dismal, but

in the afternoon we got -going to-,Zstielt effect that Bourg was reached that night. If the elements conspired that day to anger us, the charm of that superb oar defeated them. At the end of the day we could have done more; which is the highest compliment one can pay any car. We had covered 270 miles.

Next day we lunched at thiage-les1 tains and then in magnificent weather, which had earlier given us a foretaste of the heat to come, embarked on the climb to Le Grave by the lower reaches of the Co) du Lautaret. This is a glorious drive and for the first time since leaving lInsingStoke gradient brought the Rolls down to its second gear of 5 to 1, but only for short bursts. At La Grave we stayed two nights to enable us to admire the majestic La Meije and for the Lanchester to catch up with us. On July 8th the two cars pulled out of La .Grave to ascend the Lautaret in the intense heat of the middle of the day and with a following breeze for good measure. I ant not going to deny that both ears got hot, although we did not let them boil seriously and after a precautionary breather we arrived at the top without incident and the radiators were replenished for the attack on the Gabbier. This proved an easier climb than the Lautaret, as a change of direction gave us .a cooling breeze occasionally, and at the summit. (8,530 ft.) we ate our lunch and stayed to admire the unforgettable views which the Alps can give On a perfect day. The surface for the first 2 kilos of the descent was simply appalling ; the read is under reconstruction and resurfacing. It is a magnificent tribute to the springing Of both ears that they survived that, ordeal.

However, the rest of the descent is excellent for the next 15 kilos and thereafter the road to St. Michel is reasonably good and the scenery unrivalled. Our destination that night was Talloires on Lake Annecy, a mainroad run, and we got there at 7 o’clock. The Lanchester crew and my brother and myself stayed bete a few days to enjoy the bathing and idleness. Skinner, however, said that he could go to Westmorland any time and proceeded to make tracks on the morning of the 10th, accompanied by his wife, for an unknown destination, but definitely to the Mountains. I had a ‘phone call front him the following night front Val d’Isere which was his headquarters for an attack on both aides of the Col de l’Isemn, reputed to be higher than the Stelvio and the highest motor road in Europe (0,088 ft.). On this pass, he reports, the car behaved magnificently, climbing both sides easily in second gear non-stop, without the slightest tendency to overheat, nor at any time did first speed seem the least likely to be wanted. There was no carburation trouble, which one can get in these high altitudes. The Col do Mont

Colds was taken in its stride and on a trip into Italy the Col du Petit St.

Bernard was also climbed nee-stop On top gear without the sfighestdifficulty. On Thursday the 13th, the Rollspicked us up at Talloires and with the Lanchester we ran into Geneva. It was

the plan next day to drive from there to Dunkirk in one hop and at precisely 6 a.m. on the 14th both cars pulled out. For the first 100 miles over the Col de St. Cerque and Jura mountains nearly to Dijon we made splendid time and then a most frightful storm broke. I have seldom been asked to travel in Worse rain in any car. As it happened it broke without warning and we pressed on as one so often does hoping it would lift, but it got steadily worse and after threequarters of an hour we were literally soaked. It was then decided to put the hood up and effect a complete change of wearing apparel as the prospect of sitting in wet clothes for the next. ten hours did not appeal. This interlude seriously upset our timetable and as lIntlon-Stott had passed us already at our first petrol stop he was well ahead of us. We were dogged with bad weather and wet roads for over half the distance, but by maintaming a strict discipline as to stops we finally came across • the Lanehester at 6.15 p.m., with its crew peering anxiously into the engine to detect the fortunately minor trouble of a squeak in the fan. Our weather troubles were not yet over, however. The fates conspired that the sun should shine once that day and our tired drivers had to cope with it shining in their eyes for the last, 100 miles, as we were travelling due north-west. Eventually we ran into Dunkirk at dusk and drove to the docks with the oil lamps alight. I think it -should be mentioned that Skinner drove the whole of the 450 odd miles that day, and that HuttonStott and Barker shared the wheel in the Lanehester, which travelled the first 240 miles non-stop. These performances would be quite creditable on a modern car ; made on cars whose combined ages total 87 years, one begins to wonder. .how far, basically, we have progressed in the last 40 years. We got the cars on board around 11 o’clock, whereupon the drivers proceeded to service them in readiness for the morrow ! I am told that Skinner ” got to bed ” in his car round 3 a.m. and lie was certainly down to breakfast at 4.45 I We got clear of the Customs soon after 7 a.m, and proceeded

to Basingstoke, Which was the end of my journey. 13ut Skinner anti HuttonStott and their wives and Barker with his Napier pressed on from here to complete the 200 odd mile run to Bristol where they proceeded to take part in a 55-mile Reliability Trial in the afternoon. Truly some types are enthusiasts !

Before this trip all of us were confirmed admirers of the Edwardian touring car at. its best, but so far as I was concerned it. was an admiration unfortified by much actual motoring (thanks largely to petrol rationing). Now I am at a loss adequately to describe the charm of driving, especially in hilly country, behind that superb square bonnet which houses such an effortless flow of immense but silent power ; the high-geared steering and Splendid lock for a car with a wheelbase of 11 ft. 11 in. makes hairpin cornering a delight. In the front seat the engine is virtually inaudible.; in the rear seat it is completely so. The predominant sound is the swish of the tyres on the road and if these, being of narrow-section, are susceptible to surface variations, the I mly sign that reaches the passengers is the pounding of the well-damped springs, no rattles, no jolts, just complete insulation from shock. I have already mentioned the power available ; it is fantastic and anything less powerful for pass climbing will never, to me at any rate, be entirely satisfactory again. Of course there are penalties attaching to touring in an Edwardian Rolls-Royce and the chief is the petrol consumption of 11 m.p.g. As. Skinner points out, however, the ” Phantom ” gives probably less than 10 under the same conditions, altait with considerably higher performance. The tank range of the “Silver Ghost. ” is also poor, providing only 100 miles with, safety in a country where Pumps are often Widely spaced. It is not possible, either, to fit an auxiliary tank as the old pressurised system is still in use. Incidentally, we anticipated possible trouble in this system with its -multiplicity of unions and copper pipes, all of them as far as we know as old as the car, but our fears were quite groundless. Day to day ii mint enact cc’ hikes, of course,

much longer than on a Modern vehicle ; however, given the attention that the maker’s insisted it. must have, and which in the old days was provided by a trained chauffeur, the car will still give completely trouble-free motoring in the grand manner.

Let it be said that this holiday was in no sense whatever a stunt or a subsidised venture. It was possible for all of us to fit in about 10 days after the Le Touquet Rally and the cars were on the spot. They carried seven passengers :lila luggage, in the case of the Lanchester ror 1,5.00 miles and in that of the Rolls for 1,000 miles on Continental soil. Neither car gave any trouble at all. One would have expected, reasonably, change of plugs or oiling-up on the long descents, but nothing but routine maintenance was necessary and at the end both were running as sweetly as at the beginning. It must not be thought, however, that such a venture could have been undertaken with a reasonable chance, of success without metieulOus preparation of both ears. When in the winter the idea was first conceived the body of the Rolls was removed and everything checked with, patient thoroughness, and it was my privilege to see this work going on. No major overhauls of any kind were necessary at this stage to either car, beyond very special attention to decarbonising and valve grinding, ignition systems and tyre equipment. In passing, it should be mentioned, and it will give encouragement to others who take old ears on the Continent next year, that very old beaded-edge tyres Were used by both cars as well as oldtype heavy rubber tithes. The tyres were carefully inspeeted for sound walls and cords and no patched tubes were allowed. Actually it was not found necessary to put air into the Rolls tyres once and with every day that went by it became increasingly apparent that they were going to stand up to the job asked of them in spite of many gloomy prognostications by doubting Thomases before we left. :knottier point worth mentioning is that both ears welt’ completely standard as , far as possible in nearly every detail. Original pistons (cast-iron in the Rolls and steel in the Lanchester). trembler coil and old-type magneto ignitions and carburetters (in the ease of the Lanchester the old-wick t ypc which i required a supply of 680 spirit for starting) were used. The Rolls I knit Is ‘I I 1 I iought with a modified water system. but Skinner had discarded this and had eventially found in various places the necessary parts to bring it back to its original specification. This car has the old-type small cylinder blocks and sit igte-w:i it c i n let system and the smaller, low radiator, not to be confused with later models that had larger blocks and water passages and a larger radiator, and it is a tribute to the original design that on climbs of threequarter-hour duration no water was lost ; on reflection it was a remarkable achievement. Skinner even scorns ” Jubilee ” hose clips and uses flimsy bits of brass ! I must say I thought this was carrying things a bit far. The car has no electries of any snit bar the four-volt, coil, though I did persuinle Skinner to fit an eleetrie titan for the trip, but, of course, it had to be ” period.” Lighting is provided by oil and acetylene. The Lanchester carries its original eightvolt lighting Set and 32-volt starting, Needless to say the starting side of the machinery is not used, for obvious

reasons The lack of electric lighting on the Rolls was only felt in a few of the unlighted tunnels on the Alpine passes. Brakes on bah ears received very. special attention. The east-iron liners were discarded and, from a safety angle, Modern linings Were fitted. It was felt that cast-iron linings Might suffer while descending passes with a heavy load. Actually the brakes on both cars were adequate for all that was required of them, slow descents in second being the order of the day and with the enormous braking power of those huge engines we did not have the least anxiety. A word on the history of the two ears may not be out of place. The Rolls Was delivered in 1910 to its original owner in Cheshire. At the end of the 191448 war (during which it was laid up) it Was acquired by the Dunlop Rubber Company, which used it for tyre testing. In 1922 or thereabouts it came into the hands of an owner who used it very lit t le up to

1938, when it was laid up. Skintwr found it four years ago and bought. it from the owitcr’s trustees. After a routine check and change of oils it was driven the 200-odd miles to Basingstoke with nothing worse than two tyre bursts. The Lanehester was built for the Swedish Winter Trial of 1913, after which it was purchased , by a Liverpool owner who ran it until 1939. From his trustees it was purchased by Hutton-Stott. If it lacks the power and top,gear performance of the Rolls it is equally as comfortable to ride in The engine is very silent and the way it sits on the road creates the impression that it could not be turned over.—whieh impression was fortified by an impromptu and -convincing demonstration by flutten-Stott in an exuberant mood one. line day ! As the like of these ears will never be made again they must be preserved as much for posterity as for the benefit of’ those who knew them in their hey-day, and in fostering this preservation the Veteran Car Club and its members should have the grateful acknowledgement of all those interested in the past history of motoring. On a journey such as this one in

variably has interesting encounters, I will mention three. Near Folkestone on Iii, way out we met two young men in a 1923 Anzani A.C. two-seater which, although clearly in appreciative hands, now showed. signs of a hard life, yet it had carried them through Germany and Austria without trouble of any kind. At Avallon the Lanchester party saw and rode on (the word ” on ” is used hitentionally1) a Panhard of alleged 1895 vintage; it was a brake, powered by a 4-h.p. vertical-twin Daimler engine. The whole equipage was in a splendid state of preservation.

Finally, in Talleires, a young Englishman was seen conducting an ex-W.D. side-valve Triumph motor-cycle and appeared successfully to be winning a wager ; It friend bad wagered the whole expense of the trip if the Triumph (*mkt be persuaded to cover 5,000 miles in a month without protest. When we saw them rider and Mount. had Spain and the Riviera behind theta and a trouble-free mileage of 4,730. . . On that note of unfailingly good service from art old Vehicle I will end this account of a rather notable tour of the Alps.