Vintage Postbag

Sunbeam Sidelines


I found the article on the 3-litre Sunbeam in last month's issue most interesting and informative. The speculation as to why this advanced design was only taken to Le Mans once will, I suspect, continue for a long time.

Starting with 1924, could one of the factors influencing the decision to withdraw the Le Mans entry have been the Coatalen/Bentley duel in Autocar? The first prototype unveiled in Autocar on May 2nd, 1924 used a vertical shaft and skew gears to drive the camshafts, and a horizontal cross shaft to drive the water pump and the magneto. So if the Sunbeam had competed, WO could have returned to the correspondence columns to claim that Mr Coatalen had resorted to a camshaft drive more akin to the best touring car practice. namely his, than that of a GP car. I can see no other good reason why the change to a helical gear train was made, perhaps it was thought that a total of 13 gears, if you include all the gears driven off the front of the crankshaft would be better able to damp out the torsional oscillations. If the torsional oscillations were found to be a problem on the first car why was the drive not taken off the rear of the crankshaft, like the GP cars? The adoption of this form of drive was to provoke one of the major causes of cylinder block cracking which has been a source of worry to the owners of these cars up to the present day, for it resulted in the transfer of the water pump from the exhaust side of the engine (where it was close to the main water gallery that serves the exhaust valve seats), to the inlet side where it requires a transfer pipe to pass between numbers one and two cylinders.

If one of the reasons for withdrawing in 1924 was the absence of a production run, the same cannot be said of 1925. I think that the 3-litre was in production even earlier than the article suggests; Motor on April 14th, 1925 listed the car in "Sports cars for 1925" together with a photograph of Segrave's demonstation car, DA 9485, it also included two full page advertisements by leading Sunbeam distributors, one of whom, Warwick Wright, offered test runs under the supervision of Major HOD Segrave. The earliest known 3-litre catalogue, a third edition, is dated May 1925 and was beautifully produced with coloured illustrations of a four-seater touring car and a six light saloon, similar to cars supplied to Mr AH Pass of Pass & Joyce Ltd and Col Warwick Wright respectively in May/June 1925. Production was probably well under way when Coatalen went to Le Mans in June for it appears that at least 57 E sanction cylinder blocks were produced between February and September 1925.

Incidentally, in April 1925 the 3-litre Bentley was advertised as "The Super Car" with the Speed Model priced at £1,125, the Sunbeam catalogue which was entitled "The Supreme Three Litre Car" listed the touring car at the same price.

Why Coatalen did not revisit Le Mans in 1926 is indeed a puzzle, he could not have been worried about the mechanical durability of his new engine for SCH Davis, writing in Autocar in July 1925, said that during the last four hours the rev counter was hard up against its stop at 4,000 rpm, and down the hill to the straight past the grandstand, the Sunbeam was probably doing a good 98 mph. Could it have been concern over the cylinder block? This complex fixed head casting made the location of the cores difficult and as a result the thickness of the walls varied from block to block; as little as 3 mm had been recorded! Coatalen must have been aware of this problem by the middle of 1925 because F sanction blocks were being cast in September incorporating a flattened water pipe between the first two cylinders to reduce the tendency for the block to crack in this area. Did he consider it fortunate that a block had not cracked in strenuous opening stages of the 1925 race when the thermal stresses would have been at their most severe? As it happened no works entered car was to suffer this fate in a race, but the entry of water into a 3-litre combustion chamber during a race can be a spectacular affair as John Howell, who has experienced this problem in recent times, can confirm. The prospect of the 3-litre decelerating past the grandstand, perhaps on the second lap, pursued by a cloud of steam is a daunting one that is not easily attributed to a proprietary electrical component! As mentioned in the article 3-litre sales were satisfactory so why take the chance? A win or a good performance may have prevented sales from topping out in 1926 but by 1927 it was too late, the 41/2-litre Bentley had entered the fray, and Harry Weslake was to breathe on the 61/2-litre (WO calling in the best man for the job?) to discourage a car of 3-litres capacity from competing for the Grand Prix d'Endurance in the late 1920s.

Coatalen had demonstrated that he could successfully apply GP engine design to his production models but it may have been the inability to translate the fabricated steel cylinder block of the GP car into a consistent production casting that inhibited the road racing career of the 3-litre Sunbeam.

I would like to query the comment that all the supercharged cars were fitted with lowered, "roll top" bodies. So far as I am aware only the race car, UK 7145, was fitted with the lowered body. The car pictured in Motoring Entente and captioned as one of the two Phoenix Park practice cars had a standard body and is in all probability the car now owned by Tom Tyler, OG 4774. The car that Bill Perkins took to Brooklands just before the 1929 race for fuel consumption tests had a standard body and is probably the car sold to W Hammond, HW 7813, now owned by W Vaux. I would be interested to know about the other two open cars if the above assumptions are correct. Some mystery surrounds the registration number of the race car, it is often quoted, as it was in the January 1950 issue of Motor Sport, as UK 7145, yet the works photograph clearly shows it to be UK 7415.

With reference to my list of 3-litres, I would like to apologise to MXP 535 as she was constructed in Jersey c 1935 and not post-war as stated, BY 6557 should have been B6559 and VO 6414 is a 1926 car.

Clive Millar, Romford, Essex

Ader asides


May I correct Kent Karslake's comment on Ader's experiments with heavier-than-air machines (page 1234, September), where he says "Then I think the money ran out and he gave it up". I have a copy of "The Conquest of the Air" published in 1909, written by Alphonse Berget who was described among other things as Past President of la Societe Francaise de Navigation Airienne and who can be presumed to be a fairly reliable witness.

He says that M Clement Ader. . . . "in 1890 and 1896 built two aeroplanes which he christened Anion. On both occasions the apparatuses lifted themselves from the ground, and in 1896 at Satory the apparatus completed a flight of 300 metres after leaving the ground under its own effort, before officers delegated by the Minister of War. If, therefore, the honour of having conceived the first aeroplane rests with an Englishman, the merit of having constructed the first apparatus that effectively flew, is due to a Frenchman — a glorious example of the entente cordiale?, associated with the history of human progress".

The Englishman was of course Sir George Cayley. Unfortunately Berger is not specific about the means of propulsion, but it is apparent that he regarded steam as the normal source of power at that time. In the previous paragraph to the one quoted above he refers to Sir Hiram Maxim's achievement in constructing a steam engine weighing 15 kilogrammes per horse-power by 1890, and elsewhere in the book he refers to the first appearance in about 1890 of the "rude and clumsy explosion motor". But the first real use of the explosion motor appears to have been in Santos-Dumont's dirigible in October 1901.

This is a most interesting book, and contains a number of accurate predictions, among which is the one appearing on the flyleaf; "At this moment no one can foresee the influence of Aviation upon the habits of mankind." On second thoughts perhaps this one is a non-prediction.

Derek Preston,  North Harrow, Middlesex

Rule of the road

In his book "Motor Bodies and Chassis", published in 1912, HJ Butler stated "While these pages have been passing through the press, the French rule of the road has been altered so that it is now the same as on British roads".

Did the French really intend to change, and if so why didn't they? Or was Butler mistaken about their intentions?

It would be interesting if you, or one of your readers, could shed some light on this little mystery.

John Burnell,  Loughborough, Leics.

"The Eternal Triangle"

I refer to the delightful article, "The Eternal (American) Triangle", in your August issue. You mention the "Cin.. ron" as a Cadillac innovation as front-wheel-drive arrived. Unfortunately, you forget that the Cadillac Eldorado was the first Cadillac front-wheel-drive. As to the finest car in the world: You can have the cars mentioned in the above referenced writing. Even the Rolls-Royce! In this writer's opinion it is the wonderful Aston Martin.

Thank you for your magazine! I still wish it was a daily!

JW. Stephenson, Menominee, USA

[In fact, it was which is the best American car that the article was about. — Ed.]

The Itala's Tyres


As you never miss an opportunity of sniping at the 1908 GP Itala because of its oversize rear tyres, may I request that you publish the enclosed picture of it, taken in 1910 or 11, wearing very much larger rear tyres than it does today, as it invariably did for racing.

As part of your sniping you suggest that the Itala's win over the Panhard may have been due to its tyres. As you have been in both cars it should have been obvious to you that the difference was due solely to the Itala having a much lower bottom gear than the Panhard, whose very high bottom gear makes a quick start almost impossible.

Cecil Clutton,  Ramsey,

[l am sorry that my words in the Colerne report last month should have been construed as "sniping" — that was certainly not the intention. Not having driven either the Itala or the Panhard myself, and having noticed significant wheel-spin from the latter, I simply put forward the suggestion that the well-base rear tyres the Itala habitually wears may have given it an advantage over the beaded-edge shod Panhard. The photograph, shown above, depicts the car on large section beaded-edge tyres before the Kaiser war and its existence provides evidence that large section tyres do give an advantage . . . why else would they have been fitted? — PMJW.]

MG BHX 238


In reply to the letter from your C Holt on Page 1082 of the August issue of Motor Sport requesting information on his first MG, Reg No BHX 238. This car was a 1934 MG Type NA 1,271 cc Magnette and according to my records it was Chassis No NAJ0603 and Engine No 761 AN. It is interesting to note that the engine number is one before the 2nd bucolic NE's made for the 1934 TT — my Dodson 1934 TT winning NE is Engine No. 764AN. BHX 238 was purchased as a chassis by FA Thatcher and was upgraded by the works large!y to NE (ie TT) specification — this would account, amongst other things, for the scuttle mounted oil-tank for replenishing the sump ---- Thatcher had the car fitted with a 2-seater pointed tail racing shell --- similar in principle but different in detail --- to the works TT cars. It had very prominent twin cowls built into the scuttle, whereas the TT cars had characteristic inverted V scuttles.

The car was extensively raced at Brooklands by Thatcher in the mid to late 1930s, and I  particularly remember it running in BARC handicap events.

The car was shown as being owned by a JR Bellamy of Bookham, Surrey, in 1964 by the MG Triple M Register but by 1967 it was being raced in VSCC events by JA Haynes and the writer has a complete set of photos of the car taken at Silverstone at that time if Mr. Holt is interested. The one was then in excellent (and apparently original) condition having, I understand, been competely stripped and rebuilt by Mr. Haynes and his father who were in the engineering business. BHX 238 appears to have "gone to earth" again until I saw it advertised for sale at £5,950 by Peter Harper in an illustrated advertisement in September 1976 and by November 1978 appears to have been owned by one Mr Altenbach and shown in the Classic Car Races in Austria earlier that year.

I hope that this information about his first MG may be of interest to Mr. Holt.

Congratulations as always on the continued high standard of Motor Sport.

Patrick Green,  Amersham, Bucks

Newton Bennetts


I was very thrilled to read your account, in the November 1979 issue of Motor Sport, of the work of Mr. RO Harper and his association with the firm of Newton and Bennett. As a student of the history of the Newton and Bennett Company and its cars and, as an owner of a Newton (circa 1915), I found it all most interesting. I must say from the outset that you raised my eyebrows by captioning the photograph of The National Motor Museum's Newton Bennett (the bequest of the late Mr Noel Newton and his sister Mrs Kathleen B Jessop) as "the only surviving example". To put the records a little rnore in order I would like to inform you that there are at the moment, to my knowledge, four Newton Bennett cars (actually two Newton Bennetts and two Newtons) in Australia, two Newton Bennetts in New Zealand and another Newton Bennett in Sweden. As well as these vehicles there are in Australia the remains of another five cars and in New Zealand the remains of, I think, four cars. Please refer to the list of vehicles known below. The number of The National Motor Museum's Newton Bennett is 290 and other complete known cars are:

Newton Bennett, No 199, S Porter, Australia. No 231, B Thyselius, Sweden.  No 232, L Warnes, Australia.  No 266, S Turner, New Zealand.

Newton, No 325, G Swift, Austalia,  No 357, G Jarret, Australia.

I know that there is also another Newton Bennett in New Zealand but I don't yet know its number. Known too are remains of cars numbered 167, 200, 211, 273, 362. 379 and there are other parts for which I have yet to ascertain numbers.

I am most interested to learn of any more Newton Bennetts or Newtons, or remains thereof, that may still exist so I would be pleased to hear from anyone who could help or for that matter anyone with contemporary knowledge of Newton and Bennett.

I have spoken to Mrs Kathleen Jessop (John Newton's daughter) and Mrs Wridgeway (JA Bennett 's daughter) and they both have been most helpful but I would also like to hear from anyone with close family ties with the company. In particular I would like to contact Mr FE Greaves (the son of the Newton and Bennett test driver) and Mr. Maurice A Harrison, both of whom contributed to Motor Sport, regarding matters Newton and Bennett, as I've personally not been able to locate either of them.

Your mention of 1,000 Newton Bennetts being built has, I presume, been "plucked" from a well known motor car encyclopedia, but I have strong doubts about this number as I feel that something less than 500 is more probable. Current indications are that the engine numbers started at 150 and I've yet to discover a car with a higher number than 379. More research I'm sure will bear out my belief.

To conclude I must congratulate you on your excellent section in Motor Sport on old cars as I find it most informative and entertaining and that it satisfies more often than those other magazines specialising on the subject.

GW Jarrett, London,

Jean Bugatti at Shelsley Walsh

Referring to WB's report on the VSCC Day at Shelsley Walsh in the August issue, I am intrigued by the statement that the Silver Cup was presented by the MAC to Jean Bugatti for unofficially breaking the hill record, with the Type 53 4WD car.

I have never seen any official reference to Jean Bugatti even completing a climb at Shelsley with this car, and therefore find it difficult to accept that the cup was presented to him for having unofficially broken the record. The hill record at that time stood at 42.8 seconds (Hans Stuck, Austro Daimler, July 1930).

The inscription on the cup reads "Midland Automobile Club: Annual Open Hill-Climb, Shelsley Walsh 1932. Fastest time, Sports Cars, Class 5. Special Award Jean Bugatti, Bugatti." The programme quotes the substitute entry as climbing in 49.2 and 53.0 seconds. This, of course, was a Type 55.

Walter Gibbs. Worcester

[We took this up with Bugatti expert, Hugh Conway, who says that "according to the MAC, in fact, the cup was given to Jean Bugatti as a consolation for unofficially breaking the record in practice.. Ed]

Calcott Confirmed

Following Mr. Dean's letter (page 1234 last month), I write to confirm that the car in the photograph is a Calcott of about 1915. It would have been fitted with an engine of four cylinders, 65 x 110 mm, giving 1,456 cc. The RAC rating was 10.5 hp, giving a road tax in 1915 of £3 3/-,(£.3.15) for the 76.6 in. wheelbase car which had a track of 3 ft 9 in and weighed 111/2 cwt. It would originally have been painted grey and equipped with green leather upholstery. The cost, with dynamo lighting, self-starter and dickey-seat would have been £229 10/-.

Being a Calcott enthusiast and owning two cars (1919 and 1921) as well as a motorcycle of 1911, I am always pleased to exchange information on cars of this marque and would be delighted to receive copies of Calcott photographs and literature for my collection.

FES Warmington, Redruth, Cornwall

[Letters can be forwarded. Ed]

 V-E-V Odds & Ends.

A gentleman who tells us that his father had one of two special 60 hp Napiers, the other being owned by SF Edge, and who started his motoring on motor cycles such as a Rudge-Multi ("plus a large bag of resin"), Zenith "coffee-grinder", ABS, Alldays & Onions and Wooler, before going on to a watercooled Morgan three-wheeler and a Ruby-engined D'Yrsan three-wheeler, and then turning to cars, using the Morris/Wolsley range during his 25 years with the Duckham's oil people, has two 12-volt horns from a vintage Bentley for disposal and thinks they could be worth £45 each to someone restoring one of these cars. Enquiries will be forwarded.

The Summer number of the "Morris Register Journal". contained an illustrated account of that Register's annual London-Brighton Run, which attracted over 90 participants, 140 members sitting down to the steak-and-kidney pudding. And no serious breakdowns were reported. "Flutenews", newsletter of the Vauxhall OC, took a leaf out of our book for its August cover, using a picture with an aeronautical flavour, of a 1938 GY Vauxhall 25 at the London Flying Club's Dunstable grounds, the lady driver standing up through the open sun-roof waving to the gliders. This may interest those who are flying much more sophisticated gliders from Dunstable 43 years later; the picture was a publicity one, judging by the car's VAU 38 front number plate,

A Norfolk reader has kindly sent us a copy of The Scots Magazine for last July, as it contains a long article about Edinburgh-born Marjory Maclean who, wishing to follow her brother in serving her country during the First World War, took driving lessons at Alexander Cockburn's school in Northumberland Street Lane in 1916. She was taught maintenance as well as driving and her first job, shared with another girl, was driving an old Wolseley butcher's van that was stabled at the back of Queen Street. Then she went to the Army Service Corps, taking her test on a Garford chain-drive lorry with solid back tyres. She made a mess of this but nevertheless was duly enrolled and drove another Garford lorry, taking supplies out to Anti-Aircraft batteries based on the shores of the Firth of Forth. There is a fine picture of one of these lorries, wrongly captioned as a "Gaford". A member of the Women's Legion of Motor Drivers, Miss Maclean went as their representative to Buckingham Palace, taking part in a parade before HM Queen Mary. She later served in France (her brother had been killed in Egypt), driving staff-cars, one of which is illustrated and is probably a Mors or a Leon-Bollee landaulette, stationed in Ostend. She broke her wrist cranking-up what is described as a Ford Popular but was obviously a Model-T. In 1919 Miss Maclean drove tours of the battlefields for Claridge Holt & Co, the shipping agents, one of the char-a-bancs used being a pneumatic-tyred Fiat or a Lancia, bearing the name Otasell on the bodysides.

That the two-cylinder Jowett is not being neglected was shown at the Jowett CC Bristol Rally, at which two Grey Knights, a flock of Kestrels, a Focus, as the Flying Fox model apparently was known in 1932, and Flying Fox Jowetts themselves, along with earlier models and a number of post-war Bradfords were in evidence. The Membership Secretary of the Jowett CC is K Clements, 49 Abbots Rise, Kings Langley, Herts, and on October 3rd/4th the Club visits the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway.

Somewhat outside the intended pre-1941 scope of this column, it is nevertheless interesting that the August issue of the Bentley DC Review contained an article on John Weatheritt's sports 21/2-litre Lagonda, based on a derelict 1949 dh coupe, which he has endowed with an aluminium two-seater open body, the point being to make something which, had Lagonda entered for the 1949 Le Mans race, might have been like the resultant special, and which might even have beaten Chinetti's winning 2-litre Ferrari. The concept of this Lagonda Special is rather like that of Rivers-Fletcher's Alvis Speed-25 which is based on the car Sir Henry Birkin Bt might have raced in the 1934 TT, had he lived. — WB.