No.50: The Salmson
With the excellent Salmson history by Chris Draper now published (it is reviewed elsewhere) it seems opportune to fill in with some fragments of the London side of this sporting make. This I have been able to do by interviewing Harold Garland, whose memory is prodigious, considering how far back we are going. Garland joined K.J. Motors of Bromley soon after the First World War, when they occupied converted farm buildings backing onto the cricket ground, in what was then a well-to-do neighbourhood, ripe for cultivating would-be car owners. The Proprietors were Fred King and Owen Wilson-Jones, men who probably got on well because of their contrasting temperaments. Wilson-Jones was a dedicated man, seemingly lacking a sense of humour, or any interests other than the business.
Jones used to ride from Surbiton to the works every day at that time on his solo Harley-Davidson. They dealt in all makes of cars but had one agency, that for the Willys-Overland, for which they were supplied with a black demonstration touring car. Things livened up when Bob Spikins arrived. His family had associations with Dent’s, the clock people, and young Spikins, later remembered for his Hudson Special and Singer Bantam, was able to own an Indian and a Harley-Davidson at the same time! He also rode a competition 350 Zenith-Blackburne and, attending car speed trials, persuaded K. J. Motors to take up the Salmson agency. (Garland rode frequently as Spikins’ passenger in MCC trials, later competing himself, but a series of misfortunes caused it to be 1966 before he gained his first “gold”, in a tuned Ford Popular tourer. He also rode motorcycles in such contests, but that is another story.)
Mr. Garland has already told, in letters to Motor Sport, of the incredible state of the Salmsons which were brought up the Thames on barges and dumped on the Chiswick sewage-farm, along with lots of Citroens and W & G taxicabs, the cabs, however, protected by packing cases (which made fine garages afterwards), whereas the Salmsons were just encased in sticky Vaselene. Naturally these chassis were nearly impossible to start and tows by one of Lepp’s Fiat lorries, which also used the sewage-farm site, were much appreciated.
Wilson-Jones did so well in 1923 with the “Spanish Murderer” Salmson lent to him by Salmsons that he was given a place in the “works” racing team. Garland thus found himself at the Track. He has all the early 200 Mile Race programmes and remembers Count Zborowski bringing his own mechanic, Martin, with him when driving a Salmson. The French mechanics did not appreciate this. In the race Zborowski’s car went slower and slower and so he retired and went home, leaving behind his overcoat. . . . Wilson-Jones devised his own 4-speed gearbox for his first racing Salmson, after he had been unable to cope with Ivy Cummings and the aged Bugatti “Black Bess” at the Bexhill Speed Trials, due to the wide ratios of the 3-speed box. It was an unfortunate day, because on the way down a boy ran into the road and was hit by the Salmson, luckily without much harm; fortunately the Police did not seem to realise it was a racing car and anyway, Garland had sounded the French horn he was carrying after the calamity, so all ended satisfactorily!
In the end the English Salmson Co., run by the Thompson family and managed by Dixon, failed and poor Bouvier, whose son was killed while flying in the Battle of Britain, died after the French Salmson Co. had closed down, completely down and out. . . .
At the Motor Show Garland was offered a job with the London branch of Salmson, although he thinks he was mistaken for another Garland, no relation! So he went to SMS at 17a, Motcombe St., SW1, off Belgrave Square. They had showrooms in Buckingham Palace Road, which was handy for drinking at the “Bag o’ Nails”. Those Salmson showrooms later became the well-known Scout Shop. A. Bouvier, who had a smart flat behind Barker’s, was in charge, a little perfumed Frenchman of quick temper, one gathers. He was also associated with the Manor Motor Co., in Manor Street, Chelsea, close to Wolseley’s new depot, with a branch in Motcombe St.
Other Directors were Sir P. Thomson, F. Huff, from Henley’s, and A. Dixon who lived at Hatch End. The staff included Fred Rolt, who had been Dixon’s war-time Sergeant, the Salesman, D’Arcy Nassau, while for a time the office was run by a Mr. Perkins, helped by a French typist, Mme Kirkhover, and a Miss Aberdower. Later came Sir Thomson’s nephews, Capt Edmonds, RN and his brother. Garland recalls driving a chassis to a Hersham bodybuilder to complete a car for Jack Dunfee and going as passenger in trials with Spikins and J.W. Johnstone. Later C. G. Marston was the British Director, with J. Heinrich, A. Parquier and A. Bouvier on the Board. The cars were still collected from the Chiswick sewage-farm, by Garland and a man called Barker. They would depart by ‘bus, Trade-plates under their arms, walk down Duke St., and get the required petrol in tins from Mr. Knight (old Knighto) on arrival. If the things started there was a fine race back into London, up the Cromwell Road, the run occupying about 20 minutes, although on one occasion Garland overturned a chassis after it had skidded on wet tarmac and hit the kerb. The engine never stopped, and he righted it and carried on. Driving Johnstone’s car Garland won the Novices Award in a Victory Cup Trial, but generally the job deteriorated into the chore of collecting Salmons from their unsalubrious parking place, and when around 1926, eight of the staff were made redundant, Garland quitted the Motor Trade as such, although with much driving ahead of him. He had one last Salmson association, when the owner of a 10/15 tourer who couldn’t get the hang of changing gear asked him for some tuition. This took him to Richmond, where he met his wife. Incidentally, Johnstone, who had wealthy parents living at Malvern, became fed up with lack of service for his competition Salmson and transferred his allegiance to Frazer Nash.
Mr. Garland recalls that the early 10 hp Salmsons had a very difficult valve adjustment which if not correctly set could cause push-rods to fly out of the engine at high revs. There are said to be two in a field off Purley Way which were never recovered! Wilson Jones evolved a simple form of adjustment on the push-rods themselves, which cured all the trouble. A firm called Bishenough Bros. in Ealing made up the conversions, which were collected by Garland in small batches, as the machine-shop turned them out. It was again Wilson Jones who after much cogitation discovered what caused some of the earlier Salmsons to emit a terrible rattle, like a big-end gone, when revving hard. He was foxed for a long time, as everyone at Motcombe Street had been, then found that one end of the cross-shaft that drove the water-pump and dynamo was housed in a plain bronze bush, which was flanged and held against the crankcase extension by several small bolts. This bush would wear and cause the rattle as it allowed the cross-shaft to vibrate laterally. Jones did some careful machining to set the bush a little deeper into its housing and that trouble was cured.
I am indebted to Mr. Garland for these fragments. He really should write a book and it is nice to know that at 77 he still drives daily, his personal car being a very smart VW Beetle, finished in blue, perhaps to remind him of his Salmson days. – W.B.