Vintage Postbag, October 1974
I was most interested in the correspondence on old car matters in your June issue to notice mention of a Scripps-Booth car, owned by a military gentleman. There must have been a military predilection for this rare make and I enclose a photograph of my father in one while in the Army in Lucknow in 1924. He remembers one other in the same area, owned by another officer.
I have had this photograph enlarged and some interesting details show up. The rear brakes only are of the external contracting type, there is a fine bulb horn and the driver’s door cannot be opened when the spare wheel is being carried. The radiator cap is hard to make out but is either a small bust of the late Queen Empress or an oily rag and a cork.
Regrettably, there is no use rushing to Lucknow with a trailer to look for this car. It was totally wrecked very late one night when my father ran into an unlit waterbuffalo during a monsoon.
Dr. Peter Edwards
Fuel Economy in Vintage Times
I would like to point out that good fuel consumption is not a new phenomenon as my 1921 Touring GN will do 66 m.p.g. if speed is kept down to 30-35 m.p.h., which is remarkably good in view of the engine being 1,087 c.c. and the compression ratio only 4:1.
I seem to remember vintage motorcycles doing 100 m.p.g., even 500 c.c. models. Apparently modern machines cannot ordinarily achieve anything like this degree of economy except in the smallest sizes.
Obviously good thermal efficiency is important, but high gearing, light weight and minimal rolling losses seem to be just as relevant, as well as being useful ingredients for a good car.
The 40/50 Napier
As one of the very few regular drivers of a vintage Napier car, I read your article “How Did the Leyland Eight Rate” with the greatest possible interest. Before commenting on some of the points you raise, there are two details which I believe to be inaccurate. You state twice that A. J. Rowledge joined Napiers from Rolls-Royce whereas it was the otherway round. You quote the Lanchester as 6,178 c.c. and the Napier as 6,227 c.c. while they both have identical 4 in. bore and 5 in. stroke—the Napier handbook states 6,177 c.c.
From the start, may I state that I am not out to prove that the Napier was better than the Leyland, or any of the others listed for that matter. It seems to me that it is impossible to say that any make is “best” when there are so many aspects to which different individuals attach varying importance. Two factors which are not even mentioned are appearance and durability.
Perhaps the survival rate of the six makes would be pertinent if they could be discovered. There were 187 Napiers made between 1919 and 1924 and, as far as I can ascertain, six survivors—about 3.3%. I seem to remember reading that nearly 4,000 Rolls-Royces were made in that period. If this is correct, then the same percentage would call for around 130 survivors.
You mention the ingenious suction operated cut-off for the ignition circuit on the Leyland and infer that it was superior to the hot wire system on the Napier. I wonder if it was . The suction system must be operative for the motor to run as there was no alternative ignition. The Napier system only worked in the emergency and, even if it failed to operate, the car was still normally operative on the magneto only. Incidentally, apart from perished insulation, the device on my car is as good as new and shows evidence of having operated more than once.
You state, in common with every other opinion I can recall having read, that the Napier chassis is Edwardian. Probably none of these writers has ever had more than drawings or photographs or previous opinions on which to base his statement. With the advantage of being probably the only Napier owner in the world who has, within the last 10 years, completely stripped his car to the last nut and bolt, I can only say that I think it is typically vintage. And at 9 in. deep the side members must be among the stoutest ever used. Certainly there are no unusual design features, apart from the very effective anti-roll set-up at the front end of the torque tube, but it is still as good as the day it was made. After all, and taking nothing away from the Leyland design which would probably have stood the test of time just as well, the owner of the day would have been more interested in durability than in the ingenious design features which so gladden the hearts of motoring journalists. But if brakes are to be considered as part of the chassis then there is some justification for the term Edwardian as applied to the 1920 Napier but here several incorrect statements have appeared in print. In the “Profile” of the 40/50 Napier, Barker states that the “. . .footbrake … was immensely powerful for a light pedal pressure while it lasted, but suffered rapid fade and slow recovery. Linings almost 1/2 in. thick could not carry the heat away”. He completely overlooks the fact that the general arrangement drawings clearly show the cast iron shoes bearing directly on the drums—there were no linings at all, originally.
In company with all other rare models, the Napier suffers in one respect. With a model with a prolific number of survivors, like the Silver Ghost, a comment such as this would be picked up quickly, instead of probably being accepted by all as a fact. To illustrate the point further there was a situation which arose when I was restoring my car. It is a 1923 model which has no transmission brake but two pairs of shoes, for hand and foot brakes, side by side in 17 in. drums. From memory they are 1 1/4 in. and 1 1/2 in. wide respectively.
By extreme good fortune I acquired the spare brake linings for the hand brake which came out with the car in 1924. Modern linings for the foot brake were necessary. After expert advice I bought linings which “would be much more effective than the originals”. The hand brake, in spite of narrower linings and poorer mechanical advantage, is appreciably more effective than the foot brake. Without the opportunity for comparison, I would have accepted that the foot brake was as good as it ever was. Had it been, say, a Silver Ghost, the cumulative experience of many restorers would have ensured that the best possible lining was installed first try and the reputation of Napier brakes would be lowered.
Since my car is not fitted with the same braking system or tyres (well-base rims for 700 x 21 tyres were fitted in 1924) as the car under review, I cannot contribute much on this. For what it is worth and with the linings fitted, the foot brake requires a very heavy pedal pressure to be effective. By using both brakes vigorously I think it would be possible to lock the rear wheels on dry concrete but I decline to experiment in deference to worn splines in the rear hubs. But I am sure the brakes would have been more than a match for the grip of b.e. tyres.
When the Alpine Trial Napier was timed at 72.38 m.p.h. it was still loaded with four passengers and their luggage for a fortnight’s trip. It weighed in at 46 1/2 cwt., some 10 cwt. heavier than when unloaded. The radiator on my car is still partially blocked and its capacity to pass water is lower than the capacity of the pump. I can get away with short bursts at high revs, but I am not prepared to risk maximum speed tests, but it feels as though about 70 would stop it. However, last weekend I carefully measured out a quarter mile with a tape and did four “drags”, two in each direction. The times were 27.8, 27.6, 26.9 and 26.5 sec., an average of 27.2. The 50 m.p.h. came up just before the end of each run – I would guess about 26 sec. Probably the car Clutton drove was heavier (mine is 36 1/2 cwt. with full tank) and had the 3.75 diff, but, even so, it must have been off tune.
I know that the records show that the Alpine Trial car was fitted with the 3.75 diff, but I wonder if this is true. I calculate that, with this ratio, this would mean about 2,450 r.p.m. Presuming that the Alastair Miller car had the same size wheels and the high 3.33 ratio, and surely it did, then I calculate his revs as almost exactly the same, at 78 m.p.h. Remembering the weights of each car I think it more likely that they both had the same ratio and Miller was able to find about 200 more revs.
That would have been about his limit because of the modest size of the inlet passage. Since virtually all veteran Napiers, and the Lion aero engine, had notably good breathing, I think this was deliberate design predating VW thinking by some 20 years. To support this I quote the illustration in Rankin Kennedy’s book of the Motor Car vol. IV of the 40/50 motor. This has one or two detail differences so is probably the prototype, and it shows where twin carburetters have been mounted. As it was produced, performance up to about 60 would have suffered little and any enthusiastic owner, or lead-footed chauffeur, could have driven it flat out all day without any possibility of it behaving other than impeccably.
About the famous low compression on number six cylinder. The original piston had a spherical depression 1/2 in. deep. By measurement with a pipette, I found that this exactly equalled a 1/4 in. over the full bore. So my car now has one gudgeon 1/4 in. higher than the other five. This reduces the compression from about 4 1/2 to 1 to about 3 1/2 to 1. On the road I would defy anyone to detect any evidence of this at any speed: the car is outstanding for the amount and smoothness of its low speed torque. Andrew Anderson, who owned the only surviving Colonial 40/50, tells me that Colonial models never had this unique arrangement. Whether or not this was the cause, his motor was noticeably rougher than mine when pulling hard.
The six known surviving Napiers are well spread out. There is a tourer in northern New Zealand which is complete but has not been seen for many years. There is the ex-Anderson car now awaiting re-restoration at the Southward Museum in New Zealand, which is a tourer with non-original body or rear axle. There is a completely dismantled car stored in drums of oil awaiting restoration in Ceylon. There is the car in the London Science Museum which is fitted with the four-wheel-brake set-up which was to be produced but never fitted to a car which was sold. None of these cars are run much if at all. Then there is the ex-Barker Coupe Cabriolet in Hemel Hemstead which I understand is run regularly. There is my car, an engine in South Africa and a front axle in my garage.
My car was purchased from the 1923 Show stand by a Sir John McWhae who took his family there with the intention of buying a Silver Ghost. The Napier was on a nearby stand. Partly because he took a dislike for the Rolls salesman and partly because he thought the greater leg room in the rear of the Napier suited his 6 ft. 4 in., he was drawn there. While his family were discussing the colour the Rolls was to be, he was writing a cheque for the Napier. He also arranged for a Napier employee to go into his service as a chauffeur.
After a sightseeing tour the car was returned to the works for a final checkover before shipment to Australia. This was early 1924. The works prevailed on Sir John to purchase a set of six well-base wheels to enable balloon tyres to be fitted. Also quite a number of spares were sent out with the car. Thus my brake linings.
The owner of an adjoining property to the McWhaes had a 1924 Rolls-Royce tourer and quite a deal of friendly rivalry existed. The chauffeur is quite adamant that the honours were always with the Napier for speed, hill-climbing and riding over the rough roads of the day. No doubt he was biased but I believe that his honest opinion is now, and was then, that this was so. Maybe he was right.
After many years use as a car and abuse as a farm implement, it was stripped of its body. It now has the original mudguards, lights, windscreen, bonnet, scuttle and front doors from the Cunard body. The rest of the body is a replica built from an original line drawing of plan and side elevation. Mechanically it is 100% original. It is used frequently. Last weekend it covered 400 miles.
V-E-V Odds & Ends
Still they turn up! The Bull Nose Morris Club reports that a 1924 Morris-Oxford saloon which was laid up in 1932 when its lady owner went to America and never returned, having driven it only 9,961 miles, was auctioned here recently. There is a Morris-Oxford tourer in Northamptonshire whose owner bought it as a used car in 1927 and has owned no other car since, covering 200,000 miles in it, with just new bearings and pistons and a set of new valves this year. For the record, the longest distance by a vintage car in this year’s “Lost Causes” Rally at Beaulieu was by a 1930 Jowett Grey Knight fabric saloon, from Truro. 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 prewar Sunbeam.
Yeovil’s Third Cavalcade of Motoring
Amid heavy showers, this took place at Sherborne Castle on August 18th, run by the Yeovil CC and sponsored by Mercedes-Benz (UK) Ltd. It was opened by ITN Newscaster, Reginald Bosanquet, who confessed to owning a rather elderly Mercedes-Benz, attracted some 470 vehicles and many Trade side-shows and embraced driving tests and a parade of Mercedes cars through the ages. The Concours d’Elegance classes extended to what were termed classic cars down to 1974. But let us concentrate on the vintage section, judged by Lord Cross (who used to race a Daimler SP250 and had sportingly arrived with Lady Cross in his AC Cobra with very minimal weather protection), Richard and Trisha Pilkington, and the writer.
It attracted the biggest number of pre-1931 cars and was a very close-run thing. The Judges found it hard to decide between some very presentable Lea-Francis, 12/50 Alvis and Austin 7 entries. In the end Osmond’s yellow 1926 Alvis doctors’ coupe triumphed, over a very smart and original 1929 Austin Mulliner fabric saloon put in by Albert Parsons. Third place went to Cook’s mud-free 1928 Lea-Francis two-seater, brightly polished under the bonnet, its dickey-seat neatly rebuilt and with the optional front bumper. Fourth place was awarded to Norris’ 1924 24/70 Sunbeam tourer, which got full marks for elegance and nearly so for originality but was in rather more workaday than Concours terms of cleanliness, by the very high standard at this event. One 1930 Austin 7 saloon was very highly commended.
There was a 1926 Renault-type NN tourer, wearing a French tri-colour but so shut up the Judges could not get at it, Norris produced as companion to his Sunbeam a very fine ex-Peter Hampton Boulogne Hispano-Suiza closed carriage, on which he is still working, replacing original items such as the Autocav, while Daniel White arrived, in spite of the rain, in the ex-Harbutt 1921 i.o.e. GN, which had as its companion his recently restored 1929 SS 38/250 open Mercedes-Benz, a striking pair. There were a number of open Bentleys, mostly falling down prize-wise in respect of SU pumps instead of Autovacs, small wheels and in one case fibre-glass mudguards, etc. The Rolls-Royce contingent, which included a fine Silver Ghost with replica long-tailed sporting body and a P1 with Springfield items, were not presentable enough to qualify, or else, like Perks’ fine Silver Ghost tourer, were too modest to have entered for the beauty show.