Veteran Edwardian Vintage, October 1981

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A section devoted to old-car matters

The Life and Times of Montie Grahame-White (Continued from the September issue)

Following his unsuccessful debut as a racing driver in the 1902 Paris-Vienna race due to troubles experienced with the Wolseley Beetle which he was allocated, Lt Comdr (as he later became) Grahame-White (afterwards referred to as G-W) was asked to conduct some stunts in Richmond Park with a Wolseley racing car, so that a film could be made for showing nightly at the Palace of Variety in Shaftesbury Avenue. The trick driving included balancing the car on a see-saw, driving it backwards and forwards over a zig-zag course picked out by dummy figures, and steering it with the knees while lighting a cigarette.

So much for the early days of moving pictures! While at the theatre, which Cecil Edge also frequented, G-W was introduced by one of the directors, Ernest Polden, to another director, Mr. Cremetti, who in turn introduced G-W to His Highness the Maharajah of Couch Behar. The Maharajah was staying at Queen Anne’s Mansions and he told G-W to call on him there to discuss the ordering of two motor cars. G-W took His Highness round Hyde Park and the West End on an air-cooled 10 hp Mors and duly received an order for an 8 hp Renault and a 15 hp four-cylinder Mors, a more profitable deal than the filming, for his part in which he had received a free pass to the theatre and £25.

What is more, the cars were required to be shipped out to India for the Delhi Durbar and G-W was to accompany the Maharajah’s party as a guest and advisory engineer. The cars were sent by the Roadcar Autocar Co from Paris to Marseilles, to be loaded on to the P & O steamer SS India, bound for Bombay and known as the Durbar boat. G-W accepted the invitation although it meant turning down a post as chauffeur to King Edward, following a recommendation from the Hon John Scott-Montagu, the present Lord Montagu of Beaulieu’s father. Before leaving for India G-W travelled from Paris to Birmingham in the autumn of 1902 at Herbert Austin’s request, for a road trial of the latest racing Wolseley. The car was driven to London so that the efficiency of the lubricating system, that had been the downfall of the Wolseleys in the Paris-Vienna race, could be observed. The car had only two bucket seats and presumably it was deemed imperative for the mechanic from the factory to occupy one of them to watch the lubricators while G-W drove, because Lt Mansfield Cumming RN, who was inordinately fond of speed, strapped himself on the back of the car for the journey. In spite of this uncomfortable ride he was impressed and immediately ordered a Wolseley for the 1903 Gordon Bennett eliminating trials, nominating G-W as his driver.

Departure to the Durbar was an extraordinary occurrence. After a ball at Prince’s, with many of the leading actresses present, which followed a banquet for over 100 guests, all Mayfair seemed to be on the platform at Victoria Station the next morning, either to see the Bombay Express leave or to board it, and in the Suez Canal the boat stopped to enable Lord Kitchener and his staff to go aboard. Arriving at Bombay G-W busied himself with the transport of the Maharajah’s two cars to Delhi. The Mors was put on a bullock-cart and taken to the railway station with the intention of putting it on an open truck for attachment to the Calcutta Express. In fact, so many guests were travelling that the truck was deemed too heavy for the Express and it was coupled to a lesser train leaving an hour later. G-W and another of the Maharajah’s guests, Nicholas Wood, sat on the Mors during the journey! They, and the car, arrived in a fearful state . .

However, the Mors was washed and filled with petrol and water and driven to the Royal Palace. It was the first motor car to enter Delhi, apparently, and the natives were thoroughly scared of it. However, after one had been taken for a ride in the tonneau they overcame this and G-W spent much time demonstrating the car to business friends of His Highness, Police officials and other prominent locals. One problem was loss of petrol, replaced in the car’s tank by water — remarkably, the Indian servants enjoyed drinking it! Or so G-W says . . .

The two cars bought by HH the Maharajah were by no means the only ones shipped out for the Durbar. In a quayside warehouse at Bombay G-W encountered two each of De Dion, Panhard, and Serpollet steamer and lone specimens of Peugeot, Daimler, Delahaye, and Georges-Richard, belonging to guests who wanted their own transport during the ceremonies that lay ahead. The problem was obtaining petrol for them, as apart from two drums full which the natives were said to have consumed, the railways refused to convey such inflammable fluid. G-W found therefore, to obviate impossibly slow transit by bullock-cars, he had to resort to subterfuge. The fuel came in five-gallon drums and these were concealed in empty barrels, which were packed in crates with sawdust and shavings, the cases being sewn up in canvas covers and labelled “Camp requisites, Urgent”, which is how the Durbar got its 200 gallons of petrol. Even so, supplies became scarce and high prices were charged for what remained.

Another amusing aspect of this motor-invasion was that special regulations had to be hastily drafted to obviate the danger of fire to the many tents in Delhi. G-W was naturally to the fore in this, offering his services to the Commissioner of Police through George Garth, British Resident to the Nawab of Dacca, and naturally his suggestions were adopted in toto. The presence of so many motors where no mechanically-propelled vehicles had been seen before may have been impressive but must have paled into insignificance beside the retinue of HH the Gaekwar of Baroda, who brought over 650 horses, 217 carriages, two huge elephant carts arid three cars, one of which was a 12-seater Lifu steam-wagonette . . .

After the stupendous celebrations of the Durbar were over G-W went to stay at the home of George Garth at Chowringhee, where he was informed that the Nawab of Dacca had decided to become a motorist. Three cars were ordered through G-W, a 15 hp water-cooled Mors, an 8 hp Renault for use at Dacca and a City & Suburban electric landaulette for driving out in Calcutta. In addition, a motor launch was required, for use on the Brahmapootra river, this being shipped to India, the first of its kind there, in the P & O liner SS Sardinia and delivered to the Hooghly river. This launch had been made by Taylor & Bates of Chertsey and was powered with a 20/30 hp Filtz engine, which gave this 40-foot ten-seater a speed equal to 10 mph. When the Mors arrived experiments were made with it to see if a motor mail service was possible between Gauhati and Shillong, a distance of 50 miles of ascending road. Water in the fuel caused the Mors to take nearly four hours but nevertheless two 24 hp box vans started a mail and passenger service in 1904. Before leaving India G-W was invited to stay at the Palace of HH the Aga Khan at Poona. G-W, never missing an opportunity, obtained permission from the owner of a Peugeot which had just arrived M Calcutta to borrow it with a view to giving the Aga Khan a trial run. Some good came of this, because in the hills of Poona the engine overheated, so a larger water tank was fitted before the Peugeot was returned to its owner.

On his return to England G-W left the boat at Marseilles and took the Paris Express, as he wanted to visit some of the leading motor manufacturers. Strolling down the Avenue de la Grande Armee, which the Motor Trade had already made its own, he saw in a showroom a magnificent 24 hp Mors with a Pullman body, which had won the Grand Prix at the Paris Salon. G-W felt that it was just the sort of car to appeal to an Indian Prince, with its beautifully panelled interior containing four swivelling armchairs upholstered in red Morocco leather, and the car fitted with every conceivable accessory. The price was 50,000 francs, the equal of £2,000. But G-W did a bit of bargaining and had the Mors got ready for the run to Boulogne. During the crossing the car remained on deck, with G-W guarding it in case its immaculate paintwork was scratched. He had met a Mon Bouverie on going aboard, who was connected with the Parisian jewellers, Edgar Morgan et Cie, and who expressed interest in the Mors as a possible car for a wealthy client, Lord Uxbridge, the Marquis of Anglesey.

Some days after arriving in England G-W was contacted and asked to give the Marquis a demonstration run in London. He was to report to a Jermyn Street hotel, where he found the Marquis strangely dressed in pink silk pyjamas over which he wore a mauve silk kimono, and with silk socks of blue and matching pumps. The Marquis reclined in one of the armchairs and regarded himself in a hand mirror he had with him. As G-W was accompanied by a native servant of the Maharajah of Cooch Behar attired in a gold-braided uniform and turban a great deal of attention was focussed on the car, as G-W drove round the outer ring road of Hyde Park. There His Lordship decided to get out the better to inspect the car, a small crowd collecting. The deal went through, G-W being given a cheque for £1,000 as a deposit, the balance to be paid when the Marquis’ crest had been put on the body panels and the Mors delivered to his family-seat at Plan Newydd in North Wales.

The Marquis also wished to have a motor tricycle for use in the grounds of the estate, so G-W sold him the De Dion Bouton he had bought from Charles Jarrott and took it by train to Llanfair, from whence he rode it to Plus Newydd. The arrangement was that G-W was to stay there for a few days, instructing the coachman in the art of oiling, repairing and even driving the Mors and teaching His Lordship to ride the motor-tricycle. The coachman took an instant dislike to the motor and the Marquis, going solo on the trike after twenty minutes instruction with G-W standing on the frame behind him, rode it into a tree, the machine overturning and splattering the Marquis’ white suit with oil, to the enjoyment of the Duke of Manchester and an actress who were watching.

That was the end of the tricycle lessons but G-W was rewarded not only with the rest of the payment on the Mors, which he delivered a week later, but £100 for the De Dion and he left with a gold-topped cane. Some weeks later a telegram instructed G-W to go to Plas Newydd, collect the Mors and take it to Paris, where Edgar Morgan et Cie replaced the painted crests with jewelled ones. Not long afterwards the one was left unattended on the Promenade des Anglais at Nice and all three crests, valued at £160, were stolen; but as the Marquis was accustomed to wearing pearl studs worth £5,000 maybe he was not greatly distressed.

The Marquis acquired several more cars to add to his huge collection of horse-drawn carriages. All were disposed of in July 1904, at a sale at Plas Newydd, as the Marquis was going to live in Monte Carlo, where he died soon afterwards. The Mors was never heard of again, according to G-W. — WB. (To be continued)

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