Vintage Postbag, October 1980

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“The Motor Racing of Charlie Martin”

Sir,

I do not read all the motor papers regularly these days but I did read your story of Charlie Martin in the August issue of MOTOR SPORT which delighted me.

What a man he is, what a driver he was, what a sportsman and what a good friend, both racing and as it were “off duty”!

There was one event not mentioned — it was not really important compared with Charlie’s many other excellent performances — but it did provide it good deal of excitement and a lot of fun.

This was the Shelsley Walsh International Hill Climb on September 11th 1937.

So far as I can remember, we all knew that Ray (Raymond Mays), the “King of Shelsley”, was certain to make fastest time and it appeared to transpire that it was a question of whether Charlie or I were going to be second or third. I believe that I was a fraction of a second faster than Charlie in my P3 Alfa Romeo on the first climb. Charlie was driving an ERA.

But on the second run, Charlie put his foot down like, as we all know, he really could and beat me by a fraction of a second, so he was second and I was third.

I think I have got the date right because I have a silver tray presented to me by the MAC for “fastest time in class 5 for supercharged cars”, presumably meaning for 3-litre racing cars. September 11th 1937 is inscribed on the tray. Anyway, your excellent archives could verify this.

However, an amusing incident occurred at this event. When we had finished our climbs, for some reason or another, Charlie had no transport back down the hill to the paddock. I cannot recollect whether it was because his ERA would not work any more or whether he was just up there watching proceedings. Anyway, he asked me for a lift so I brought him back down the hill on the back of my P3, apparently much to the pleasure and amusement of the spectators lining the hill.

I enclose herewith a photograph depicting the incident. I am sure Charlie will remember this.

We had a really good laugh and enjoyed ourselves immensely. You showed a photo of Charlie in his P3 at Brooklands. This was one with the conventional front suspension. He had this before I was lucky enough to acquire the ex-Nuvolari 2.904 c.c. P3 with the independent Dubonnet front suspension. My first race in this, I think, was at Donington Park — must have been 1936— and Charlie was there with his P3. I must say without any experience of such a magnificent car at that time, it gave me a lot of food for thought.

As Charlie was lapping me, we exchanged cheery waves. After the race, I asked him how he drove such a machine so damn fast. He laughed in customary fashion but gave me some jolly sound advice.

If I am not being presumptuous, I would say that, in my opinion. Charlie ranked with Dick Seaman as a driver.

London SW1    KENNETH D. EVANS

 

Sir,

The article in the current issue of MOTOR SPORT about Charlie Martin’s racing was most interesting, as during the late 1940s and early 1950s I was employed at MS CC Boys & Sons’ garage at Fishhourne near Chichester and Charlie Martin was a regular customer. When I first encountered him he was running a Lancia Aprilia which he drove in the manner that one would expect an ex-racing driver to do. He was greatly admired by the staff at the garage, as he was a very down-to-earth person, and he was never so fastidious about the extemal appearance of his cars as some of the lesser talented customers were. He liked his cars to go, and the mechanics who had the good fortune to be driven by him all remarked on how smooth, fast and efficient his driving was.

Numerous anecdotes could be related about his adventures with his Lancias (he had two Aprilias), his little Corgi motorcycle and his 2 1/2-litre Riley, which I believe replaced the Lancias, unless he retained them but I did not see them after the Riley came on the scene. The Riley’s registration was HRH 965 and I have looked for it at Vintage-Vehicle rallies, etc., but have never seen it. If some member of the Riley RM Register has this car, then no doubt he will be pleased to know that it was once owned by a very good racing driver. It is nice to know that Charlie Martin is still about and I have no doubt that the mechanics who were at Boys garage 30 years still remember

Whilst at Boys garage I was involved in a very interesting project, that of rebuilding a 1920 Wilton. This car which was owned by a Mr. Fry was rebuilt from the chassis up. It had a four-cylinder engine, a cone clutch, a short drive shaft to the gearbox which was mounted on cross members of the chassis, and torque tube drive to the differential. There was quarter elliptic springing at the rear and I believe semi elliptic at the front. A two-seater boat type wooden body with only a near-side door and the handbrake and gear lever were both outside. As the original radiator had been lost a 4 1/2-litre Bentley one was cut in half and used. There was an outside petrol tank at the rear and behind that the spare wheel. Rudge Whitworth wheels were used. There was no hood that I can remember and the car was painted in British Racing Green, the same shade as the vintage Bentleys. Mr. Fry who some said was connected with Joe Fry of Freikaiserwagen fame then went to Wilton in Wiltshire to live taking the Wilton to Wilton. Does anyone know what become of this car?

Mr. Fry also had a 1928 Lancia Lambda in which we installed a Standard Vanguard engine and gearbox, when the life of the Lancia engine expired, but he did not seem to think that it was a great improvement. Does anyone in the Lancia Club have a Lambda with a Vanguard engine? No doubt, if these cars still exist, some reader of MOTOR SPORT will know.

Emsworth          G. H. BELL

 

Sir Henry Royce

Sir,

Regarding your report in your July issue concerning the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Foundation, a quotation from the speech by Lord Hives caused considerable amusement to my neighbour and myself, who have spent their holidays for many years at the delightful village of Canadel.

I refer to the sentence “Royce would like to walk down to the harbour at Le Canadel . . . you could see the pebbles the water was an clear”. Our mirth stemmed from the fact that the shore at Canadel is almost pure sand and definitely has no vestige of a harbour, the only boat landing being restricted it a mini-jetty. However, only yesterday we both lunched with a mutual friend who attended, in his Rolls, the gathering a few years ago with the R-R.E.C. and we looked at their report of Lord Hives’ speech. Here we found that he apparently said “we visited with Royce the harbour at the nearest town”, this of course referrring to Cavalaire, where there is now a moderate marina based one presumes on the old harbour — but I still have my doubts about pebbles.

I fear that the Royce villa and its surroundings are now seriously threatened by the apparently uncontrolled and avaricious developers.

Breinton P. A. MORGAN

 

Another Special

The article in July’s issue about the HWM car reminded me of my own car which I have been restoring for a couple of years. I’m anxious to trace the history of the car and would be grateful if you could publish my letter and the photograph in the hope that some of your readers may recognise it.

The car is built on a 6″ deep open channel underslung chassis and shortened to 8′ wheelbase. It is fitted with a SS100 2 1/2-litre engine and back axle. The front axle is a mystery but looks like an Invicta type. Large friction shock-absorbers are fitted all round. The body is professionally built in alloy on a steel angle-tube frame in the style of the late pre-war years and early post-war, in a remarkable likeness to Alfa, Healey Silverstone or HWM cars.

The log book quotes the car as RBW-Type Jaguar chassis No. R53.

Bradford, W. Yorks      S. KUKURCZOVIC

[We wonder if the late Col. Rixon Bucknall had anything to do with the car. Letters will be forwarded . — Ed.]

 

Napier Railton Memories

Sir,

l was most interested to read your contribution to the ongoing saga of the Napier Railton, because I was a spectator at Brooklands at the Easter Meeting 1937 when John Cobb pushed it to the record-breaking race average of 136.03 m.p.h. My father who was a business friend of John Cobb happened to meet John at lunchtime in the Moorgate Arms on the Monday after the meeting. After congratulating him, he asked John to autograph the picture of the car (showing all four wheels off the ground) that had appeared in that morning’s Daily Mail under the caption “Cobb hits world’s fastest race speed”. This he duly did on the pub counter at the Moorgate and today it hangs in my pub, one of my few possessions that have survived the war. Jenks saw it last time he had a pint with me.

Sandton, South Africa              PETER THEOBALD

 

Alfa Romeo 8C 2900

You may have heard by now that I have recently found and purchased the 8C2900A Alfa Romeo that High Speed Motors had before the war, Reg. No. DLY 163. In collecting up its history I have obviously spoken at length to Anthony Crook, who sold the car to the USA at the end of 1946 (see ad in Dec. ’46 MOTOR SPORT). I have also spoken to Mr. Tunnard-Moore who was an associate of Robert Arbuthnot at High Speed Motors. He tells me that Arbuthnot bought the car (yellow with some brown trim) in the spring of 1939, from “a Chinaman”. The car was overhauled by Ramponi, painted light opalescent blue, and driven on the road by Tunnard-Moore (who had to abandon it on the way back from Brooklands one day with clutch trouble) and Arbuthnot (who took a humped back bridge too fast on his way to Donington and the chassis sagged on landing). The weld marks from this second incident are still evident! I am sure that you remember the car well – it was featured in MOTOR SPORT at least twice in the war. I am interested in tracing its history before the spring of 1939. DLY 163 seems to be a January 1937 registration number so it had been in the country some time. Questions that come to mind arc:

(a) Was such a car on the Show stand at the end of 1936?

(b) Could “a Chinaman” have in fact meant one of the Thai (Siamese) who followed “B. Bira” over to London?

(c) Could it have been bought here be an Indian maharajah, registered but taken straight off to India from where Arbuthnot rescued it?

I wonder if any of your readers can shed any light on this period in the car’s history as I would very much like to fill in this gap. I can trace the history completely back to Arbuthnot buying it from today. Is anyone who worked at High Speed Motors still alive?

London, SW6             SIMON MOORE [Letters will be forwarded. Ed.)

 

Canley Memories

I cannot let yet another milestone of motoring history pass by without recording that the Canley factory of BL in Coventry has commissioned its very last motor car, a Triumph Spitfire. It was in September 1916 that the new Standard Motor Company factory at Canley began to take shape, and the skeleton steelwork formed a new landmark in what *had hitherto been a quiet piece of Warwickshire countryside. BE-12, RE-8 and Sopwith aircraft, totalling 1,600 examples, were made there before the Armistice and from then on, apart from the Hitler War, it has been cars all the way.

The variety of Standard models is too numerous to catalogue, but many were evocative of Warwickshire towns and villages with names like Kenilwonh, Warwick. Leamington and, later, Stratford, Charlecote and Wellesbourne. Canley then turned its attention to the ubiquitous Standard Nine, first in worm-drive form (1927) and later as Big and Little Nine versions. The 1936 Flying Standard range, produced under the dynamic Captain John Black, who had succeeded Standard founder, R.W. Maudslay, in 1934, was successful enough to warrant extensions to the Canley Works which was producing 144 cars per day. Standard 8, 12 and 14 production was the cornerstone both before and after the Second World War, which was also to have, in its aftermath, the acquisition of Triumph. Canley produced its last Flying 8, the 83,135th example, on July 9th, 1948, and then it was into Vanguard production with a vengeance.

Maudslay, Black, Dick, Stokes and others more recent have all stepped onto the terrazzo tiled floor of the vestibule at Ivy Cottage, Canley, the old Standard office building. Set in the tiled floor is the Standard badge, now faded with the passage of countless feet, which incorporates the Union Jack and the words Standard – Coventry. How long will this last relic survive and how long too will the Standard slogan “Count them on the Road” be applied to the surviving products of Canley?

Bigbury-on-Sea   JOHN DAVY

 

V-E-V Odds & Ends – Among the many Clubs opposing the suggested all-vehicles-whether-in-use-or-not Tax is the Austin Ten DC, which is also relying on the good work done by the Historic Clubs Joint Consultative Conunittee to look after its interests, while the 750 MC is also of the opinion that the new proposals would “do more harm than good” to the vintage and classic car movement. The 750 MC Bulletin for August contained an interesting article by J. V. Bowles, about his pre-war Austin 7 competition activities, including reference to his association with DFPs at the time when the first 3-litre Bentley was being built in the mews premises occupied by the DFP Concessionaires, and an article by Chris Gould about building a poor man’s Austin 7 “Grasshopper” engine, among other material smacking nicely of the pre-war days. There was also a report of the 1980 National Austin Seven Rally at Beaulieu, with an awards-list too long to reproduce here. But we note that Tony Lucas won the Austin Cup, Barry Keely the Montagu Cup, and Peter Martin the Gordon England Trophy. At the Austin Ten DC’s Knebworth Rally Dave Ralph’s Austin Cambridge saloon took the award for best car of this kind. A South African reader has sent us a cutting relating to the Royal Hotel at Campbeltown in Scotland, which is in the throes of changing hands. The Campbeltown Courier and Argyll Advertiser (which is known locally as “The Two-Minutes Silence”) recently published a picture of the hotel’s taxi and hire-car fleet, in pre-1914 days. It appears to have comprised two Delaunay-Bellevilles, a Daimler, and a Wolseley-Siddeley tourer.

Yet another anniversary was that of the Brighton Speed Trials, the 75th of the series having been run off last month – over the once-traditional standing-start half-mile, instead of over the later-substituted one-kilometre. The Brighton & Hove MC has been digging into its archives and has come up with some interesting data about what happened after the first of the Brighton speed-trials along the Madeira Drive (then the Madeira Road) was held in 1905, at, they say, the instigation of the great Brightonian Harry Preston. The course was a special tarmac road laid by Brighton Town Council along the sea front, from Palace Pier to within a 1/4-mile of the Black Rock, where the elevated Madeira Terrace gave such an excellent view; and still does, the famous road being used these days for the finish of the VCC Veteran Car Run and the VMCC Historic Commercial Vehicle Run, and for other motoring events. The speed trials were first run as a four-day event, from the Black Rock end, but later the start was from the pier end. In 1905 Clifford Earp’s six-cylinder Napier covered the f.s. kilometre at 97.25 m.p.h. and Henri Cissac did 86 m.p.h. on his 14 h.p. twin-cylinder Peugeot motorcycle, according to the Club’s hand-out. The event was then moribund until 1923, and in 1924 the better-known 1/2 mile paired, standing-start, timed-runs were instituted. FTD was made by Spencer’s 494 c.c. Douglas motorcycle, in 26.0 sec. (69.2 m.p.h.) and the fastest car was the AC driven by J. A. Joyce, in 28.0 sec. (64.2 m.p.h.), a car owned now by Mrs. Robbie Hewin. It is thought that the ban on public-road speed events in 1925 put a stop to these Brighton Speed Trials until, in 1932, someone realised that the Madeira Drive is a private road, built indeed for motor racing, and coming under control of Brighton Corporation. Be that as it may, the speed trials happened again that year, a motorcycle, Storey’s 996 c.c. Brough-Superior, again making FTD, in 22.2 sec. (81.08 m.p.h.), according to Dr. Joseph Bayley’s records. The fastest car that year was Malcolm Campbell’s 4-litre VI2 Sunbeam, in 23.60 sec. (76.27 m.p.h.). The following year it was the same, Storey’s Brough clocking 23.19 sec. (77.59 m.p.h.) against the 24.20 sec. done by Whitney Straight’s 2.9-litre Maserati. Then in 1934 Noel Pope’s Brough kept it up, recording 22.39 sec. (80.36 m.p.h.) for the motorcyclists, against Shuttleworth’s 23.80 sec. (75.63 m.p.h.) in his 2.3-litre GP Bugatti. In 1935 the bikes ran right away, with Eric Fernihough’s great run on his Brough Superior in 20.28 sec. (88.70 m.p. h.) Of the cars Shuttleworth used his 2.9-litre Alfa Romeo to clock 22.68 sec. or 79.41 m.p.h. The year 1936 saw that stupendous record by Fernihough’s Brough Superior in 20 seconds exactly, equal to 90 m.p.h. over the s.s. 1/4 mile course, Cummings in the 3-litre Vauxhall Villiers made best time of the cars, in 22.89 sec. (78.60 m.p.h.). No-one bettered Fernihough’s record up to the war. In 1937 Waite’s 490 c.c. Norton did 25.13 sec. (73.20 m.p.h.) and in 1938 we saw Williams’ 496 c.c. Cotton manage 23.22 sec. (77.51 m.p.h.). In the car classes, the 1937 FTD went to Geoffrey Taylor’s 2-litre Alta in 22.84 sec. (78.80 m.p.h.) and in 1938 he got this down to 22.45 sec. (80.17 m.p.h.),  so at last the four-wheelers had justified their excursions to the seaside! Incidentally, I remember how insignificant the cups given for FTD on two wheels were, beside the magnificent car awards. The Club’s archives claim that this Brighton fixture saw the motor-racing debuts of Sir Malcolm Campbell, Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorn. This year’s RAC/VCC Veteran Car Run to Brighton takes place on November 2nd. – W.B

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