An Unsolved Mystery
A monthly contemporary which devotes all its space to old-car matters, whereas I am allocated only part of Motor Sport for this purpose, surprised me by devoting no less than seven full pages of its August issue to re-opening the mystery of 1914 TT Humbers, which, although we have aired it in these pages from time to time, is still unsolved. This racing-car conundrum is in two parts: (1) were there just the three team-cars as entered for the race, or was a fourth car constructed, and (2) which car was which, of those that were raced again after the war?
I do not propose to devote much space to this intriguing problem, because that would be poaching on another’s preserves, but one or two points of interest arise that cannot be ignored. Incidentally, my personal view is that only three of these Peugeot-crib TT Humbers were built, because had there been a fourth car, surely it would have been taken to the IoM as a reserve or practice car; and because no more than three have ever been advertised for sale together as one lot.
Be that as it may, although none of these Humbers did any good in the 1914 two-day TT, what is thought to have been the fastest of them, entrusted to WG Tuck, won the 100 mph Long Handicap at that fateful 1914 August Bank Holiday Brooklands Meeting, after finishing third in the 100 mph Short Handicap, this less than two months after it had retired from the TT. After the war two of these Humbers ran at Brooklands when it was reopened in 1920, driven by Philip Rampon and WG Barlow. (I have reason to believe that Barlow had the ex-Tuck car, which long afterwards was raced by CD Wallbank who bought it from a garage near Folkestone in 1925 thinking it to be one of the successful 1913 Coupe de L’Auto Peugeots, its log-book and number-plates presumably having vanished.)
Some very interesting points having been raised by Brian Demaus’s article, I would like to look at them briefly, these 1914 TT Humbers being of more than passing interest because Kenneth Neve keeps one in splendid order to this day, frequently racing it at VSCC meetings. Firstly, Demaus, in truly Sherlock Holmesian fashion, expounds the fascinating theory that when WO Bentley was building his first experimental 3-litre Bentley, he may have used, if not an actual 1914 TT Humber chassis-frame, then a spare one he obtained with the assistance of FT Burgess (who was working with him on the Bentley project) from Humber’s in Coventry. This may not be so far-fetched as some might imagine, because (and whether or not Demaus was aware of this when he wrote his article, I do not know), Wallbank told me that he discovered, when he was rebuilding his Humber, a considerable number of spares for those racing cars still in the Service Department at Humber’s and that was as late as 1928/29. So WO could have drawn on such a source, to save money in the lean years.
To endorse his assumption Demaus refers to the fact (revealed in my “History of Brooklands Motor Course”) that CG Brocklebank· obtained a 3-litre Bentley chassis frame with which to replace that of his aged Peugeot that he was about to race at the Track in 1922. Indeed, Demaus assumes this to have been the chassis of Exp No 1 Bentley, which had been slung up in the rafters of Bentley’s Cricklewood factory in 1920, although this is going further than the notes by Brocklebank actually went. The relevant point is that the wheelbase of this Bentley was 9 ft 4 in, that of the 1914 TT Humbers 9 ft 8 in, and Demaus shows convincingly how the latter might well have been used for this experimental Bentley. However, he supposes that Brocklebank’s Peugeot was one of the 1913 3-litre Coupe de’ L’Auto cars, also with a 9 ft 4 in wheelbase, whereas in fact it was one of the 1913 5.6-litre GP Peugeots, the wheelbase of which Brocklebank put down as 8 ft 9 in, so it is not surprising that he had to “adapt the Peugeot cross-members to it … “
Another matter raised by Demaus is that the picture of Rampon’s car is wrongly captioned in my book, where Plate 16 purports to be of the Humber after it had been powered with a Sunbeam Arab aero-engine and renamed the Martin-Arab in recognition of Len Martin, Rampon’s mechanic, having carried out the conversion in the home garage. This I readily concede, the photograph having been sent to me by Mr Rampon, inscribed “The Martin-Arab”, before I had seen a subsequent picture showing that to install the Arab engine in the Humber its radiator had to be moved forward and the bonnet sides extended, as dimensions of Humber sub-frame and Arab engine, kindly given to me recently by Kenneth Neve and Anthony Heal, make apparent.
The. mystery now is, what engine was Philip Rampon using in the car as depicted? Although in a letter to me when I was writing the Brooklands book he said he used only the TT Humber engine and then the. Sunbeam Arab aero-engines bought from Government surplus-stores, his memory must, I think, have been at fault, because the car in the picture has all the appearance of being a 1914 TT Humber, except that its exhaust pipe runs along the near-side. Burgess put the exhaust pipe on the off-side of his Humbers, it has been suggested, to avoid copyright infringement because his design was such a blatant copy of the 1913 3-litre Peugeot racing cars (as was that of Coatalan’s Sunbeam). The Humbers bore no badges or other recognition marks and no-one knows why the Humber Directors sanctioned them. More likely, perhaps, this o/s exhaust was to facilitate a quick “exit” for the occupants at the pits, which were on the left of the road in the IoM. . . .
Anyway, Rampon not having any success with his TT Humber at Brooklands in 1920, and maybe even having blown it up, he decided to turn it into an aero-engined car for 1921. I suspect that, the Arab conversion not being ready, he had to find another engine for the 1921 Easter Meeting. The race-card gives this as of 102 x 160 mm (5,230 cc). These dimensions do not fit any known racing engine, but I find myself wondering whether the entry form was misread and that what had been put on it was 100 x 160 mm, the size of the Arab engine Rampon was intending to use. I hold the view that entrants did not always regard with respect the forms the BARC intended them to fill in; there is evidence that when Rampon was running his Humber in 1920 the race-card showed it to have an engine of 82 x 150 mm, whereas these TT Humbers were of 82 x 156 mm. If his, or someone else’s, writing was mis-read in 1920 the same could have happened in 1921 and if the number of cylinders of the Arab was omitted the BARC office, anxious to print the programme,’could be forgiven for calculating the capacity as for a four-cylinder. Humber, hence the 5,230 cc (the car was still entered as a Humber at this stage).
Admittedly, after the car had been in the news for blowing-up in sensational fashion at the 1921 Easter Meeting, skidding round as the engine seized, The Autocar in a caption to a drawing of the incident, implied that the Humber now had a GP Vauxhall engine (but the dimensions of that 1914 engine were 101 x 140 mm) and The Motor, saying that a con-rod was found afterwards on the track but the cylinder was still missing (suggesting separate cylinders, which even the Arab did not have), was quick to remark that it was not of Humber manufacture. The Coventry Company would certainly have been anxious to deny that Rampon was still using a Humber engine, after this very public disaster!
So what was this mysterious engine? Probably we shall never know. But I find myself wondering if Rampon could have used a 1913 3-litre Peugeot engine? It would certainly have been easy to install! If that isn’t acceptable (its dimensions were 78 x 156 mm), what about an 82 x 160 mm 1914 TT Sunbeam engine? Finally, to round things off, in my view it is highly probable that the owner-sequence of the 1914 TT Humber in which I saw Wallbank win his race at Brooklands in 1929 (having gone with my mother in an A7 Fabric saloon) was: Tuck, Barlow, Wallbank, Ashton, Erskine Garage at Brookwood, Lawrence (Kent Karslake writing up the car for Motor Sport’s “Veteran Types” series at this time), Ashford-Fleet, Berk Harris in London for Miss Victoria Worsley, and Batchelor, the outbreak of war then causing this particular TT Humber to be broken-up in Durham. Now I fear the research will start up all over again! WB
Those who like statistics may care to have the results of a survey we were able to make relating to the popularity of different makes of new cars registered in the small and then remote county of Radnorshire from 1923 to 1928. Of the 72 new cars in use in 1923 (there were 84 motorcycles) 19 were Fords, nine were Morrises, and Overland, Chevrolet and Morgan accounted for five each. The following year 86 new cars were taxed compared to 98 motorcycles, 18 of which were Overlands, 16 Morrises and 14 Standards, the highly-taxed Ford being down to nine. By 1925 there were 105 cars, 119 motorcycles, and of the latter, 24 were new Morrises, 18 were Austins and 15 Overlands, Fords now at 10. In 1926 we find 22 Morrises, 21 Austins and 14 Fords (yet the smaller-engined Model A was not yet availble), of the total of 90 new vehicles, motorcycles adding 98.
Coming to 1927, cars were again at 90 (but new ones), with 30 of these Morrises, 22 Austins and 13 Clynos, Fords back to 10 (there were now only 70 new motorcycles). The year 1928 saw a slight rise in motorcycles, to 76, and 91 new cars, led by 30 Austins, 23 Morrises and lagging far behind (but a surprise) seven Talbots, six Singers, five Clynos and four each of Citroen and Ford. By 1929 97 new cars (and 84 new motorcycles) were registered in Radnorshire, led by 33 Morrises, 24 Austins, nine Chevrolets, seven Fords and four each of Singer and Overland. The 1930 figures were 95 cars and 55 motorcycles, the slump beginning to show, the former led by 29 Morrises, 25 Austins, 14 Fords, and three each of Chevrolet, Rover, Singer and Wolseley, while Triumph and BSA had ousted Ariel in the new motorcycle registrations, a pattern probably reflected countrywide. -WB.
V-E-V Odds & Ends
A reader, correcting our OJ comments on the Fosse Way, recalls that he first travelled along it in 1924 in his Father’s 600 cc New Hudson sidecar outfit, “a lusty job that could show a clean pair of heels to the rather average cars of the day”. Although OJ remarked on how straight this road was, there were then bad accident spots along it, as at the Nottingham-Grantham crossing, while the Nottingham-Derby road was tortuous through Sandiacre and Stapleford until a new road was made in the 1950s. There were accidents to undisciplined riders in the days when the youth of the district reckoned that a motorcycle wasn’t up to much if it couldn’t make the 80 miles from Skegness to Mansfield Market Place in two hours ….
News of the RAC Veteran Run is already coming in, HRH Prince Michael of Kent being down to drive a 1901 Mors, while the first car scheduled to start on November 3rd is an 1892 Benz, followed by a Panhard of the same age, and 25 entries have come in from the USA. A reader has sent us a photograph of a plaque erected before the Tampa Daily Times building in Florida to commemorate the start from there in November 1909 of the four-day Tampa-Jacksonville Endurance Run, which had an entry of 16, plus the pathfinding car and a Press car. SATS of S Africa have published a book about transport in that country from 1910 to 1985, which includes a picture of a solid-tyred Dennis ‘bus used in 1912 by South African Railways. From an article in Industrial World that appeared in 1935 it is claimed that the oldest motor firm in Gt Portland Street, London, was Reys Motors Ltd, founded in 1899 by AP Rey. In 1935 the MD was SB Green, who had been apprenticed to Mr Rey in 1907 when the firm was in Hampstead. In 1935, besides the showrooms at 175, Gt Portland St, showing mainly Morris, MG and Austin cars, but with agencies for Standard, Hillman, Humber, Ford and Singer, there were premises at Golders Green and a works at Gloucester Gate, NW1. Have you seen the IoM postage stamps depicting ERA and Alfa Romeo racing cars? A New Zealand reader recalls a yellow Beardmore racer which made FTD at the Dunedin hill-climb for many years from 1925 onwards, until beaten by a Ford V8 ten years later. One wonders if this could have been the car with which Cyril Paul broke the Shelsley Walsh record in 1924?
An American reader wants to establish the history of a 12 hp Riley Special he recently bought in Dorset, after it had been stored for some 22 years. It was first registered in 1937, Reg No OXA 650, and the radiator has been moved fonvard at some time and the chassis shortened. Letters can be forwarded, as they can to the reader in Worcestershire who is seeking parts for the 1933 Singer Nine sports four-seater, Reg No OY 7369, which were sold off by mistake before he acquired the car at auction. He wants particularly hood frame, seats, windscreen supports and a badge, and help over the original number, of which Swansea has no record. WB.
Cars In Books
There are some interesting snippets of information about Queen Mary and the pre-war Royal Daimlers in “Queen Mary And Others”‘ by Osbert Sitwell (Michael Joseph, 1974), such as the driving prowess or lack of it of Queen Mary’s chauffeur, Humphries. Sitwell’s own scamp of a chauffeur was called Walter Cooper but the car he drove isn’t named, and of how he once drove the large, old-fashioned Daimler rocking and swaying across the Badminton grass when the Royal party was returning for lunch after a morning spent, under Queen Mary’s initiative, of thicket-clearing. There is also reference to Humphries losing the Royal entourage for 11/2-hours in Ashdown Forest on one occasion and of how the Daimler under his care was always breaking down. When this happened on a journey from Windsor Castle to Oxford, Lady Desborough, the Lady of the Bedchamber, was told to stop a car and ask for a lift for Queen Mary, which she did, the car, make unfortunately not quoted, belonging to a Mr Titmuss, and the back of this small car full of onions. Nevertheless, Queen Mary was happy to accept a lift, sitting beside the car’s owner with Lady Desborough and Mrs Titmuss in the back. There are interesting references, too, to the houses HM Queen Mary inspected as possible retreats during the expected war -he finally settled for Badminton, taking 70 separate pieces of luggage – and motoring is described as “her chief recreation in ordinary times”.
Another book which not only mentions early motoring but has a whole chapter devoted to it is “A Mixed Bag”, being the recollections and reflections of a surgeon, by W Bernard Secretan, MB, FRCS, which seems to have been published privately in Reading in 1943 and a copy of which was lent to me by David Filsell. After covering the joys and hazards of early motoring, the author divulges that his first car was a 7 hp two-cylinder Swift, with trembler-coil ignition, bought “a few years previous to 1905”, by which time cars had become much more reliable. The author was proud of it climbing Porlock hill successfully in 1906, when the 10 hp Panhard owned by the enthusiast friend who had introduced him to motoring had failed on this then loose gradient with its 1-in-4 hairpin bends.
From “Lloyd on Lloyd” by Chris and John Lloyd with Carol Thatcher (Willow Books, 1985), about the famous tennis pair, which must surely become a best-seller, we learn of John Lloyd not being interested in cars, but learning to drive at Chris’s suggestion, and of how she gave him a metallic grey BMW in 1984, as a present on his 30th birthday. -WB.
VSCC at Madresfield
By permission of Lady Beauchamp the VSCC held its annual driving frolics over the straight one-time speed-trial course at Madresfield Court on September 1st. Five tests in four classes for 82 entrants was the programme, with 12 more in the beauty contest. It became apparent that all vintagents do not have fast ladies or drive rapidly all the time, because we saw them trying to go as slowly as possible before accelerating! In this test, quite the slowest was Mike Bullett in his delightful 686 cc AV Monocar. In spite of mistaking a line and opening up about a third of the distance too soon, his crawl had occupied 108.7s, winning him the tests hands down, or should I say, throttle shut?
Some cars disliked crawling, Leigh’s Colmore Frazer Nash making the girl observer whose task it was to see that its clutch was not used, run beside it, and Tebbett’s Riley Gamecock showed its disapproval by developing a series of jerks, as did Colquhoun’s 2-litre Lagonda, nor did Tarring’s Super Sports Frazer Nash really like it. Rather quick ones included Kennard’s sporting 3-litre Bentley, Lloyd’s 10/23 Talbot saloon, and the Singer Le Mans. The top-hat A7 saloon stopped at the end of the slow part, Mrs Lemon amused the onlookers with a nicely-controlled display of aerobics in her A7 Chummy, another A7 stalled, and a 12/50 Alvis looked about to come to the boil. The GN Dragonfly shed its 1st-gear chain but Walker quickly got a dog into another kennel without spoiling his run.
The Talbot 105 and 90, respectively of King and Beebee, performed quietly and smoothly as befitted Georges Roesch cars, Walker’s 1913 Rolls-Royce even more so, in proper Sir Henry tradition. Mitchell’s R-R 20 shooting brake was very slow when intended, but gave an undignified jump on accelerating, mostly left to some of the A7s, and Hancock’s big Daimler limousine was really sedate. But perhaps the slowest after the AV was the Threlfalls’ BSA. In the fast part of the test the Shoosmiths’ 3/41/2 Bentley seemed likely to have set FTD. Of seven Edwardians, March’s Bebe Peugeot set up a record smokescreen and Mitchell’s 1913 61/2-litre Mitchell 40 tourer did not seem affected by a gearbox near-seizure that had afflicted it on the drive down from Leicestershire.
All that had taken about an hour and the other tests were less fairly reportable. Anyway, by then I wanted my tea . . .-WB.