Vintage Postbag, October 1979

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H. P. Blake’s 1921 ABC

Sir,

There always has been a number of comparatively impecunious motoring enthusiasts of varying abilities. “Pom” Blake was one of them, and I feel the least I can do is to try to record something about this remarkable character and some of his achievements.

Most of us are horrified to see a “Vintage Classic” modified, “butchered”, or what have you; but as one who has made his own Scott motorcycle, eliminating so many weak points, that his effort has been described in the press as “better than anything that ever came from those Yorkshire moors”, I feel qualified to applaud Mr. Blake’s masterpiece, for as it finally ended up, it was hardly an ABC.

“Pom” looked after some of the “kites” in the 1914-18 war, and had been a mechanic and friend of the late Tim Birkin, but I first knew him when he had his own motor repair garage in Fakenham, in the early 1930s, when the ABC, kept in this garage, was in daily use, until 1939, after which, apart from a few months after the war, it was just thoroughly re-designed, and re-worked, ad infinitum.

I am sure this car was originally purchased for a re-work. “Pom” liked the horizontally opposed engine, etc., and was well aware that the original air-cooled sparsely finned cylinders would heat to a dull red, expand and throw push rods in normal use, in fact he even had a cylinder fracture which threw the head as well!!

“Pom” did not do anything in a half-hearted manner. The first re-work took about four years of spare time work, and according to his wife, almost a nervous breakdown, as “spare time” meant after 8 p.m. when the garage closed, and if he was lucky, a “busman’s holiday” on a Sunday.

The project got off to a good start, as it was started while “Pom” was working for Tim Birkin, who was very interested, and that was when the water-cooled cylinder heads were cast and machined, together with the cut-down DFP radiator project. At this stage, a new body was styled on the lines of a circa 1914 Mercedes, and cycle-type wings fitted so close that the tyres had to be deflated, in order to remove the wheels. Before the advent of the straight though silencer, “Pom’s” system was an open pipe for the open country, fitted with a butterfly, so the noise could be shut off and deflected through a conventional silencer, for built-up areas. Very little of the original car remained, it was much better, and moreover it did not matter from whatever angle the device was viewed, and that includes underneath, it really looked good, not bad for an initial attempt!

To cut a long story short, the next phase starts around 1946, when owing to the original thin cylinder walls, a re-bore was impossible, and the engine declared “finished”.

About this time “Pom” lost his son, who had shown extraordinary promise in a Loughborough engineering scholarship, and feeling he had nothing else to live for, and long past middle age, he went much further, making many more patterns and machining everything except the crankshaft, for a new 1,300 c.c. all-water-cooled engine. The lathe was not big enough to swing the crankshaft. Lavstalls rep. came round to the garage, on a periodic visit, and when approached about a one-off crankshaft, declared they were far too busy; but when he saw the car, he was so favourably impressed, that he declared that somehow or other they would have to make the crankshaft — they did!

The new engine needed a bigger radiator, which was made from scratch; it had to be, because it was going to be in the form of a sloping back vee with horizontal honeycombs. I think it took about nine months’ spare time to make, and typical of its constructor, was finished over the whole of a Christmas holiday, as so little spare time was available.

As an example of the meticulous detail work, all of which came in the category of a “toolmaker’s exhibition piece”, the flywheel, in front of the engine, consisted of a back plate to which a number of flat rings were bolted, with identical fitted bolts, in holes so accurately placed that balance was not impaired. This example of “the wise man having his afterthoughts first” enabled various flywheel weights to be experimented with, without the usual pandemonium.

With such an engine, other items got a re-work — centre-lock wheels, with hydraulic brakes were fitted, with an ingenious mechanical system in reserve, together with a Jaguar overdrive, Koni shockers, and innumerable one-off special parts. All this made the car, after the better part of a lifetime’s work, a “Blake” rather than an ABC, and it was no discredit to its maker.

In conclusion, I feel that I am almost insulting the man, and his project, by glossing over it so briefly, probably if he had had any money to speak of he would have ranked with Voisin, Bugatti etc., rather than end his life unheard of, in the middle of Norfolk. Not that Norfolk is a bad place to live in, but that is another subject.

London, NW9

G. E. Clifford

Early Motoring in Wales

Sir,

Further to your item on early cars in Radnorshire (August p1122). I am able to tell you that the Parker which puzzled you may have been one of the steamers built by Wearwell Motor Co., between 1901 and 1902 in Wolverhampton.

The car was designed by Thomas H. Parker, and was a 10 h.p. car with a compound 2-cylinder engine. It had a flash boiler under the bonnet, and was shaft-driven. I am informed that it was a ruminant of an early Daimler.

T.H. Parker also designed a few electric cars in the 1890s, notably the Bushbury Electric Cart of 1897 which was a three-wheeler and had rein steering.

Tintenhull

Stephen Whitlock

* * *

Sir,

I refer to your article in August issue of Motor Sport, on early cars in Wales and enclose a copy of a photograph of an early Minerva, owned by Mr. Richard White and thought to be the first car in Milford Haven. The date on the tattered original photograph is 1915, but the car was probably purchased in 1910. Mr. John White, my father in law, is the young man sitting in the car.

Mr. White recently mentioned to me that there was thought to be one other Minerva in Wales at the time, in Pembroke, and your tally of makes would seem to confirm this.

S. C. M. Perkins

[Actually the tally was of cars in Radnorshire. — Ed.)

* * *

Sir,

Once again we have a most interesting and excellent Motor Sport; it really is the best of all the books, keep up the good work.

The article on Welsh roads was interesting. I wonder if I may I remark on some of the motorcycles that you say confuse you a little? Bordesley, could this be a Connaught?, they were made by Bordesley Engineering.

Butterfields, was this a Levis?, for Butterfields were the makers of that well-known make. [Yes. I thought so. — Ed.). Camplings. Well, the firm Gilbert Campling made or perhaps only sold the ABC Scootamota. (Campion was, of course, a well-known Nottingham make.)

In the case of these it is possible the manufacturer’s name was filled in for make.

ASL. This one came from Stafford, made by Associated Springs Ltd. (I have also heard them called Air Springs Ltd.) and indeed the ASL machines had pneumatic suspension.

Premier. A very famous marque. Up to WW1 they were one of the largest makers and were the pioneer cycle firm Hillman. Herbert and Cooper, after WW1 they built some three-wheel cycle cars.

Actually, I was puzzled by Neal Dalm. This would be, I would think, a machine made by a Mr. Neal, fitted with a Dalm engine made by Dalman’s, Birmingham. It was quite a well-known proprietary engine. The flippant ones, Marston a Sunbeam of course. [Yes. — Ed.).

And I know of a Dispatch Rider motorcycle in the Birmingham area, made c 1921.

Wombourne

John Boulton, Hon. Secretary, North Birmingham Section VMCC

* * *

Sir,

It was with much interest that I read your account of early Radnorshire registrations in the current issue. You may be interested in the enclosed two photographs portraying an early Ford Model-T with a van body built for it by Messrs Butcher & Casson of Ross-on-Wye. As you will see the van was built for the Presteign Hand Laundry and carries what is presumably an early form of Trade Plate FO-TN-4. The van was photographed outside Butcher & Casson’s Ross premises.

Tenbury Wells

A. B. Demaus

Chevrolets

Sir,

I was interested in your report about Ford V8 crankshafts and your remarks regarding Chevrolets, suggesting that the Chevy must have been an inferior car owing to back axle troubles and a tendency to run bearings. I concede that the Chevrolet was by no means a perfect car, but it was not all that bad and the Ford wasn’t that good either.

My father, my grandfather and three of my uncles owned both Chevrolets and Fords during the 1930s and 1940s and judging by their remarks to me as a youngster I distinctly recall their unanimous opinion that the Ford was a more exciting car to drive, but when the going was tough, the Chevy was the car that was sure to get you there.

I agree with you that the Chevy had a troublesome rear axle. After about 30,000 miles they tended to develop a raucous growl and occasionally the half-shafts would snap in or near the splines. This trouble was sorted out, I think, in 1937, when hypoid axles were first fitted. Fords were, however, also prone to axle failure, especially when the acceleration from rest was utilised to the fullest extent.

As far as its engine was concerned, the Chevy’s “Stove Bolt Six” was a marvel of endurance, but inclined to lose interest at highish (more than 3,000) revs per minute. Even when the Ford had a four-cylinder engine, it was faster than the Chevy, which was certainly not designed for high speeds or electrifying acceleration. Although the Chevrolet had cast-iron pistons, a lubrication system that was a peculiar combination of pressure and splash, and no oil filter, it lasted.

It pulled strongly at low revs and had a remarkable ability to slog up long mountain passes on top gear. I cannot recall a Chevy boiling when it was driven up some of the steepest passes in South Africa on a hot summer’s day. Ford V8s tended to overheat quickly, though. The Ford’s tendency to overheat stemmed from the water pump having been cast into the block, so as to suck hot water out of the block into the top of the radiator, rather than pushing cool water into the block from the radiator. The V8 also tended to be an oil burner at a relatively early stage compared to a Chevy, or a Plymouth which was an even more durable car. The Ford V8 was a more exciting car to drive than the Chevy and that may have been the reason for it having been more susceptible to mechanical failures.

Neither the Ford nor the Chevy took kindly to running long distances at maximum speeds. The only American cars I recall having been able to run fast all day were Hudsons and Terraplanes and these cars had, strangely enough, splash lubrication systems.

I enclose herewith a photograph which may be of interest to you and your readers. The car is a 1931 Chevrolet roadster and it belongs to its original owner, Dr. S. J. Hofmeyr of Bloemfontein. He purchased this car new during 1931 whilst studying at the Cornell University and he toured the North American continent extensively with this car. After returning to South Africa it was his only means of transport for some years and he used it on some of the worst roads in this country. His Chevy was eventually relegated to second car status, but even so, it has done some 170,000 trouble-free miles; its engine having been overhauled but once. The car is still in good condition, but nowadays it runs on non-original wheels owing to the correct size of tyres being very difficult to come by.

Apart from Count De Dion’s steam diligence, which was still used by him and driven by his Ethiopian chauffeur Zelele during the early 1940s, I do not know of any other car that has served its original owner for such a long period of time. Maybe some of your readers know of a one-owner car that had been used by its original owner for a period longer that 48 years.

Bloemfontein

Fred Schnetler

Lancia Memories

Sir,

Your paragraph “Vee or In-Line” in the V-E-V Section (July) certainly evoked some memories, more particularly of the Lambda. In 1930, as a schoolboy enthusiast, I managed to persuade my father to buy a second-hand Lambda from the Northumberland Lancia Agent in Rothbury. It was a Series V with a hard-top conversion and even today I can recall most features of the car, especially the “Dome of St. Paul” cover (and sound box) for the “overheard” camshaft. Yes, the spiral-bevel gears were magnificent but the noise from the valve gear was fearsome. The cooling fan on this car resembled an aeroplane propeller but — at least in our case — was not wooden, but alloy. It cleared the honeycomb, by a fraction of an inch and we did not use it except in very hot weather as cooling was adequate without it.

Other features I remember were the visible float oil-level indicator (no dipstick) and the very effective dimming system on the big Zeiss headlamps — tinted “cups” could be moved by a manual control on the dash to enshroud the light bulbs and thereby turn the beams yellow.

The hard-top conversion was pretty, but the exhaust system had been left unmodified and terminated in a nine inch fishtail just below the rear compartment floor with the result that a great deal of gas found its way inside the car and several passengers were badly affected!

When the Dilambda was announced I can recall spending a lot of pocket money on a copy of The Automobile Engineer which featured a splendidly-detailed description of that great car, which certainly wasn’t a Straight Eight.

It was not until 1957 that I was able to realise an ambition to become a Lancia owner myself, acquiring a splendid Aurelia B21 pillarless saloon followed three years later by a B20 GT which alas came to a sticky end following a tyre blow-out. And now, almost fifty years since the days of Lambda, I am enjoying a Beta 1600 which even though it is “a Fiat only Fancia” is still an attractive car with much character.

Whitburn

J. D. Frail

* * *

V-E-V Odds & Ends

The author of “The Automobile Treasury of Ireland”, reviewed by us recently, has acquired a 1927 Erskine 50 saloon, Reg. No. CH 7162, and would like to discover its history prior to 1966. The present owner remembers that a Mr. Alan Erskine owned the car and four others of the same make and wonders whether he could help? The Historic Commercial Vehicle Club hopes to have some old vehicles at the RHA Commercial Vehicle Show at Brighton on October 27th/28th. Among the many anniversaries now remembered is that of the Diamond Jubilee of the Metropolitan Police’s London Traffic Department. New Scotland Yard’s Press Department has issued some interesting material relating to this, including a photograph of a flat-radiator Morris-Cowley tourer used on Motor-Patrol work in 1931 and details of semaphore traffic-signals dating back to 1868. But did they really use a hot-air balloon for traffic observation at the Derby in 1924? They had gas-powered exploding(?) traffic signals, however, in 1868. In 1930 the Traffic Patrol had 355 Sergeants and PCs; today it numbers 1,053 very specialised people. Traffic wardens arrived in 1960, then 39 in all; now the Metropolitan Police area has some 1,200 of them. — W.B.

* * *

Double Identity

I have for a long time been intrigued by the fact that in the early days of Rolls-Royce and Daimler there was an Arthur Wormald working in a responsible position for both companies. At first I assumed that this gentleman had commenced his Motor Industry associations with “The Daimler” in Coventry, later transferring to Rolls-Royce Ltd. in Derby. Then doubts began to intrude, because when references to Mr. Wormald occurred the dates seemed to clash. For instance, Sammy Davis, in his book “Motor Racing”, mentions Wormald as the Shop Foreman when he was an apprentice at Daimler’s in the early 1900s — “. . . old Wormald, who, despite a formidable appearance and a wonderful vocabulary, seemed to have a soft spot in his heart for small and unskilful boys.” Under Wormald Sammy helped to build the racing Daimlers for the Kaiser Cup and the Herkomer Trophy contests and he tells of how this Foreman, a man “built distinctly for comfort rather than speed, on the big bore, short stroke principle”, was still using an ancient two-cylinder Daimler, on solid tyres but converted from tiller to wheel steering, in 1906, in spite of the company offering to replace this with a brand-new 28 h.p. Daimler.

In John Vases great new book on the Rolls-Royce Twenty motor car there are further references to an Arthur Wormald, who joined R-R in 1904 and rose to become the very influential Works Manager, known as “Wor.” I asked John whether Wormald had worked first at Daimler’s and he kindly did much research into this. coming up with the following:—

“Arthur Worrnald, OBE was born in Yorkshire in 1873. He started at the age of 11 as a ‘half-timer’ in the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway at Leeds at half-a-crown a week on a lorry which collected goods for the railway. At 13 years of age he joined John and H. McLaren of Leeds, traction-engine builders, and there served his time. Mr. John McLaren took a personal interest in Arthur, especially as his father had been employed there. At 19 Arthur Wormald was chargehand of the cylinder bench. At 22 years of age he went to Greenwood and Batley of Leeds and worked there on die-sinking for the Martini-Henry rifles being built for the Japanese Government. Four years later he passed to the repair of the Merryweather steam engines used on the Dewbury tramcars and in 1901 he was in Manchester with the Linotype Company at tool-room work.The following year he was with the Westinghouse Company at Manchester doing tool-room work.

“In 1904 he joined Royce Ltd. as a tool-maker at the time when they first touched motor-car work . Here he came under the personal notice of Henry Royce who eventually prevailed on him to accept the foremanship of certain departments. Three years later he became Chief Shop Foreman at the new Rolls-Royce Works at Derby, and shortly became the Works Manager.”

So it seems that there were two Wormalds in high places in the Motor Industry of pre-I914 times — father and son, perhaps? W.B.

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