Remember Mortimer Batten?

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Who was H Mortimer Batten? I ask this in the hope that someone may be able to reveal more of this person, who was clearly an enthusiast for good motor cars and perhaps direct me to photographic or other evidence of just how many he drove. The gentleman in question was a Fellow of the Zoological Society (lam reminded that before as a schoolboy I discovered Brooklands, visits to the London Zoo and animal study was my chief interest) whose “Dramas of the Wild Folk” published in 1924 caused one reviewer to remark that it was a book which tempted him to lay aside his gun — a sentiment with which I hope you concur. . .

In that year Mortimer Batten commenced writing articles about motoring and nature for The Autocar and he continued to do this for many years, sometimes with a topical story for good measure. But how do 1 know that he appreciated fast cars? Because he was enthusiastic about the 1914 IT Straker Squire he was running then, which he estimated had run at least 100,000 miles since R S Witchell had driven it in that loM race, in which he managed to finish fourth behind K Lee Guinness’s victorious Sunbeam and the two sleeve-valve Minervas, averaging 52.75 mph for the 600 miles of the mountain course. He had put up a fine fight against the Belgian cars until a petrol pipe broke; he had no spare and was only able to continue after his riding mechanic had run to the pits, where Louis Coatalen sportingly gave the man a spare Sunbeam pipe and some securing wire.

Mortimer Batten said the car had cost £2,000 to build, largely by hand, in 1914, and quoted the speed of those Straker Squire team cars in the race as 90 mph, down off the mountain, 87 mph on the level. During the war this car which Batten later used as his family hack in the Scottish Highlands was stolen, and found abandoned in a wood. With a touring body the old car could, he said, attain 62 mph easily and reach and hold 72 mph when conditions permitted, on her 3.5 to 1 top gear. Moreover, the aged Straker Squire had proved “absolutely and unfailingly reliable”.

Indeed, in 1924 Batten took the 90 X 120 mm (3,260cc) engine down for an overhaul, expecting to have to spend some £80 on it, but the parts needed, piston rings, valves and a clutch lining, set him back a mere £27. He should not have been surprised, because Frank Clement, who had helped to produce the car, told him that “Such a car will never wear out, for its bearings are those of an Atlantic liner”, and in fact the transmission after ten years hard useage showed “no perceptible wear, and the brakes would do service for a traction engine”. Batten was getting 20 to 25 mpg from this satisfactory car. Yet that is the last I heard of it, so presumably it was scrapped when war broke out again. . .

I have reason to believe that before this Mortimer Batten had owned another exciting motor car, in the guise of a 1908 ex-TT Metallurgique, driven in that race by Warwick Wright. Batten rebuilt this car for road use after the 1914/18 war, having bought it from Brooklands racer with the 10-litre Fiat, Philip Rampon, spending £200 on having it thoroughly overhauled. It was converted to pressure from splash lubrication, using a dual-pump from a Sunbeam Arab aeroengine, probably from the Martin-Arab racing car (described in my latest book), and many other jobs carefully carried out.

Then in 1928 Mortimer Batten got married and sold the Metallurgique, hastily assembled, to another person who liked unusual cars, Eric Vereker. But Vereker became absorbed in sailing his father’s yacht to places like Holland and the Med. However, in 1930 he got to work on the old racing car, finding the chassis still mainly original but its unusual clutch and brakes in poor condition. A test run took place before lack of space caused Vereker to sell the car, and a 1914 NAG, to a young chap for £8. That was just before the VSCC was formed, and Vereker regretted his hasty action. During WW2 I made furious efforts to discover what had become of this historic racing car. The young man to whom it had been sold had joined the RAF and gone overseas (he also had a Bugatti that likewise vanished). I heard that around 1940 the Metallurgique had again been sold, to a London breaker; I tried hard to locate him but to no avail. . .

I wonder what car Batten had, after the Straker Squire. As he knew Witchell, who became Bentley’s works manager, and their racing driver Frank Clement, maybe he invested in a Bentley? Motor Sport has been good at solving motoring mysteries, so I hope someone can enlighten us. W B

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