White Elephantitis

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A prime specimen of the Silent-Knight species

J. D. A. Thomas’ 35/120 Daimler Limousine

Sleeve-valve Daimlers in running order are almost defunct. When, many years back, I wanted to include one in this series I had to make do with a mangy specimen of 35/120, until I came upon that low-chassis, sporting Double-Six. So when a much nicer 35/120 won a prize in the recent Western Mail Road Safety Run I was affected by the trapper’s urge and was delighted when its owner, that versatile enthusiast Johnny Thomas, invited me to try it.

This Silent-Knight had the distinction of appearing at the 1925 Olympia Show, on the stand of H. A. Hamshaw of Leicester, who built its handsome and imposing limousine body. It was sold to someone in Liverpool and its second owner, Mr. H. W. Ardran, ran it in a VSCC rally in 1960. It then seems to have gone sick and been laid up, until Thomas acquired it a few years ago. He towed it to Wales and after it had been given a fresh coil and a new fan belt and had had its timing sorted out by his knowledgeable friend Tim, it ran as well as ever.

This enormous Daimler, standing loftily on 7.00 x 23 Dunlops, is rendolent of a lost age, of the days of the open road and 20 m.p.h. speed-limits, of Dowagers, Debs., and Daimler Hire. It is typical of the proud Coventry make, from its tall fluted radiator, surmounted by a Daimler Motometer on the sizeable filler-cap, to its wood-slatted Autovac-emptied rear petrol tank. It fits in somewhere between the ponderous 7 1/2- and 9 1/2-litre models and the later vee-twelves.

The engine is a 97 x 130 mm. (5,764 c.c.) six-cylinder, inclined to the angle of the four-speed, worm-drive transmission, with its “pots” in pairs. It appears to be an N30 engine, similar to the 1926 35/120s but with the magneto set transversely instead of down on the n/s and retaining trough lubrication of the big-ends. It has some significant mechanical refinements. For instance, there are three little cups which you fill with oil, opening them immediately the engine fires, to provide initial oiling of the double sleeves. Then, when a lever on the 5-spoke steering wheel is set to “Prime”, fuel is drawn from the float-chamber of the Daimler multiple-jet carburetter, to enrich the mixture. In the “Rich” setting this lever closes a tap to prevent the cooling water reaching the radiator, to facilitate rapid warming-up. Further, with the hand-throttle closed the lubrication troughs below the big-ends are moved, thereby controlling the amount of oil splashed from them. Now this raises a most interesting aspect of Daimlerism. From 1909 onwards writers have never failed to refer to the blue oil-haze which proclaims the passage of a sleeve-valve Daimler. But after it had consumed its dose of priming oil, Thomas’ engine was quite oil-smokeless. He attributes this to the later light steel (instead of c.i.) sleeves adopted from 1923 but also to the fact that whereas it is commonly thought that the troughs should apply more oil the faster the engine runs, in fact they are then wrongly set, the idea being to give more lubrication only when starting from cold, before the oil is circulating properly, and when idling. Thomas thinks that incorrect setting of the bell-crank of the automatic trough raising and lowering linkage has been largely responsible for the blue-haze legend. A controversial matter, for Daimler experts to expound on!

All this complicated machinery is seen to advantage with the sensible alligator bonnet raised and its side panels removed; it is made of double aluminium panels with asbestos between them. I was intrigued to find that the body really is mounted on rubber, on its separate sub-frame — it can be moved slightly by simply pressing on it, so well insulated is it from the chassis and bonnet. This entails the long steering column rising unsupported from the floor. It is a splendidly spacious body. After playing at chauffeur for a while, and finding the central, ball-gate “back-to-front” gear change to have long movement but no vices, the r.h. hand brake lever to push on, thus giving a clear exit, the steering to be low-geared and light, and the only instruments on the polished mahogany dash to be an 80 m.p.h. Jaeger speedometer and an ammeter on the Rotax switch-panel, we took lunch at a pub whose Proprietor collects Maseratis. Afterwards I climbed into the back parlour (the car’s) and found I had stepped into another world, long since departed. There was ample room to stretch one’s legs. A sense of luxury and well-being was imparted by the silk blinds for all the windows, including those of the division, by inlaid veneers, companions containing scent bottles, mirrors, a note-case, and by the presence of tasselled door-pulls, wide embroidered grab ropes and a flower vase. The roof had a little glass window and nets for discarded copies of the Tatler and Financial Times. I was isolated in an aura of moth-balls and rich patterned cloth upholstery, whereas the paid-driver and second-chauffeur sat on black leather. The only sounds were a slight rattle from the windows and occasionally, as a lower gear was engaged, a far-away almost reluctant motor noise. If more than three persons had to travel thus, two occasional seats were provided. These could be lifted out and set backs-to-the-engine, for friends. But if, perish the thought, mere acquaintances or even senior house-servants had to be accommodated, these seats could be just folded down, facing forward! In this splendid car you travelled in decent privacy, and it would have been impossible for those without, unless alerted by microphone, to hear a conversation, so that domestic or business intimacies could be safely discussed as the journey proceeded. Although these old Daimlers are usually thought of as probing with dignity city traffic, while driving from town-house to ceremonial occasion, as we swept at a steady 50 m.p.h. along the Welsh roads, Johnny now acting as (unpaid) chauffeur, I was reminded of King George V’s fast run from Balmoral to Buckingham Palace during the General Strike, in just such a car.

The lower gears are merely for moving away, although for overtaking you may sometimes go as high as 40 m.p.h. in third. The brakes are effective, the front ones having their actuating shafts supported by the axle, which obviates the need for a universal joint between shaft and chassis. The engine has a thirst for Notwen 40 oil but Johnny Thomas has improved the fuel consumption of his magnificent motor-carriage from 7 to 12 mpg.

Space permitting, I could drool on about this remarkable car – the real keys for its doors, the ingenious extensible handle of its side-jacking equipment, the cooling-fan sprung to tension its belt (there is also a water pump), the twin 3-branch exhaust manifolds and simple provision for feeding hot or cold air to the carburetter, the bell-shaped Rotax lamps, the town and country horns, etc. Suffice it to say that they no longer build ’em the same, nor do you ride so comfortably and majestically, even in a 1974 Double-Six, as you do in this ancient 35/120. – W.B.

V-E-V Miscellany

It is pleasing to learn that the very sporting-looking Rolls-Royce KK 1331, which we illustrated some months ago as it was when owned by Tubby Broomhall in Aldershot, is being restored by Mike Evans, of Rolls-Royce, Hucknall, who has been working on it for the past four years, along with the restoration of a Willys MB Jeep for his son. The history of this Silver Ghost is well documented, even to a cine-film of it. Its original Cunard body was later replaced by a Barker body and by 1941 a lorry body had been substituted and the car used as a hay-sweep in Kent. Presumably we shall learn more of this car from John Oldham’s forthcoming R-R book. Another Rolls-Royce book, the Harding/Bird Botsford tome, is about to go into a further revised edition.

An Essex reader who owns a 1927 Type 30 short-chassis sports Diatto is anxious to hear from others who have owned cars of this make and to ascertain whether his car, which is in process of restoration, was that raced at Brooklands by Cyril Durlacher, who won his class in the 1927 Essex MC Six Hours Race. Letters to this correspondent, and others whose queries we publish can be forwarded. Arising from a reference in our June issue to MG Midget MG 6963, Mr. A. Hodgins of Coulsdon, who uses the car regularly, confirms that it did indeed belong to Major Goldie Gardner. It is thought that it was given to Gardner by the MG Car Co. Mr Hodgins is trying to restore the car to its original condition and would appreciate photographs of it, etc. The badges which used to be carried on it, including a 120 m.p.h. BARC Badge, are now in NMM, as part of their Gardner exhibits; our correspondent wonders whether it is correct that this TC Midget once ran in a London-Edinburgh Trial? Further to our appeal for information on the competition history of Type 319 BMWs, Mr. A. B. Reynolds, who owns a 1935 car, CMT 947, with knock-on wire wheels, also wants to know more about these cars, and his in particular. Apparently the BMW Club has little data on this type – time, surely, for a BMW one-make history, both of the pre-war cars and to sort out the complicated range of admittedly-excellent post-war models!

A 1930 open Invicta is being rebuilt in S. Africa, even to having had a new correctly copied radiator made for it. Castrol, having put over their very effective Olympia Extravaganza, are now to sponsor the RAC/VCC Brighton Run in November. A 1924 Standard 11.4 h.p. Kenilworth tourer took in a visit to Kenilworth Castle, after which its body style was named, went to Eyre Brothers of Barnsley who supplied it originally and who are still British Leyland dealers, and took in the Canley site (now Rover-Triumph) where it was made, in the course of a tour of Yorkshire, from Wiltshire. It is nice to know that Hardy Spicer (GKN) Ltd. keep in their reception lounge in Birmingham a 10.5 h.p. Charron-Laycock light-car of the type with which they were associated in vintage times, and have published reprints of contemporary motor paper descriptions of it. The Chain Gang Gazette, edited by Roger Richmond, has again excelled itself, with a report of the 50th anniversary of the Frazer Nash celebrations, two GN articles by Edward Riddle and the late Tom Rolt to go with a description of Tony Mitchell’s sole remaining pre-1915 GN and the picture of Kim II on the front cover, and a long account of how Ivan Hill and the late Robert Fellowes took a Frazer Nash to Pescara in 1935 on Motor Sport business. Last month an old garage and all its stock was auctioned in N. Wales, the cars apparently including five Austin 7s, two Austin 10/4s, a model Y Ford, a pre-war Fiat, a 1920s Renault chassis, and a pre-war Sunbeam.

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