New life for FWD Alvis
One of the Coventry firm’s advanced front-wheel-drive racers is being reconstructed – with a few amendments
Areconstruction of the No2 front-wheel-drive Alvis which competed in the 1927 JCC 200-Mile Race at Brooklands is underway by Dr Tony Cox, Registrar of the Alvis FWD Register, and Alan Stote, proprietor of Red Triangle Ltd, which took over all the spares when the Alvis Company closed.
The engineless rolling chassis and body of a 1927 GP/200-Mile Race car had been purchased direct from Alvis by Bill Pitcher, a motorcycle dealer in Rugby, before the war. Tony Cox met Bill in 1975 when he was living in Chertsey. Bill told him that he had been a friend of one of the Roach Brothers, who ran a car breakers in Coventry. Roach had tipped him off about a batch of three special front-wheel-drive cars that had been consigned to the breakers by Alvis, with strict instructions that they were to be broken up there and not sold on.
At that time the chassis still had its original disc wheels and rear suspension, with plain tubular rear axle on trailing quarter elliptics, but no radiator or bonnet (which had presumably been removed to extract the engine). This car had been the No2 Alvis entry for the 1927 GP, but both cars were withdrawn as they were not ready for the race. It was, however, driven two weeks later by George Duller in the 1927 JCC 200-Mile Race at Brooklands, but retired with engine failure. The body has not been repainted and bears the racing number ‘2’ to this day.
Pitcher then set about finding an engine. This came through Leslie Brookes, another Coventry friend. Brookes had seen a brand new eight-cylinder engine lying around the Alvis works; this had reputedly been borrowed by Ron Dalton of the Humber experimental department for some six months, and then returned. Apparently, Brookes was able to persuade the works to part with the engine, and he passed it on to Pitcher, together with a complete transmission unit off another eight-cylinder car. This engine bears the number R85, which identifies it as being from a 1929 eight-cylinder TT or Le Mans car. The transmission is also from a team car, either 1929 or 1930.
Bill Pitcher’s venture came at a time when the rear-engine layout was emerging as the shape of the future in motor racing. Bill Pitcher thought, not without some logic but certainly without a care for posterity, that he could make a very nice rear-engined racing car out of his kit of parts. He got as far as throwing away the parts he didn’t need – rear suspension, disc wheels, steering, radiator, bonnet, etc. – before giving up the project.
When Pitcher had to sell up his business, he sold the parts to Nic Davies, a life-long Alvis FWD enthusiast, who has preserved them as an entity ever since. He travelled the world (Australia, Papua New Guinea, Florida, Wales) with the project following behind him in packing crates, sometimes lagging by a decade or two. However, to his eternal credit, he didn’t lose anything, and from about 1990 onwards he commenced assembly of the parts as one car.
Many of the original parts of the 1927 No2 racing Alvis have survived but not the engine, for which that from the very similar R85 has been adapted. It is excellent that so many of the car’s original components can be used, including the upright rear number plate, which I was given by a reader many years ago and on which ‘2’ is so well inscribed that I presume Alvis did it when they knew the race number to be allocated to the car. I have, of course, given this to Dr Cox.
On Saturday 19th April 2007, the engine was started for the first time in some 70 years, and the car was run under its own power, round a field in Llanrhystyd, with Davies driving and Tony Cox assisting.
So we can look forward to what Cox and Stote refer to as a replication, rather than a replica, of a very historic racing Alvis.
Officers and a gentleman
I remember some clashes I have had with the police. Not over speeding charges from the 20mph speed limit days – which some places have now re-adopted (how confusing); nor in these camera-ridden 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70 limits, but from the petrol rationing of wartime.
It began with calls on me by officers in a police car. I was out when these visits came, but they found me eventually to say they had seen me driving a car, obviously using forbidden fuel. Having agreed, I was told I would be charged and would soon be in prison. My comment that they themselves were wasting the precious petrol was not welcomed.
In fact, I had heard that the press and farmers were allowed a petrol allowance, so as I was editing Motor Sport as well as doing a war task I applied for, and received, so many coupons that I could not afford to use all of them. It was apparent that journalists and farmers were on a separate file and that the police had consulted the wrong one.
Soon after this I was stopped because my 12/50 Alvis had a noisy exhaust. This caused a summons for misuse of petrol. There were so many similar offenders at the county court that, to speed things up, I was asked to regard standing behind a chair as being in the dock!
Next, I was towing another car behind the Alvis to a photographic venue when two motorcycle police stopped me. I explained that I was using legitimate petrol, but they said towing used more fuel as one made more gearchanges, which I countered by saying that you also had to drive more slowly, which conserved petrol. To no avail. I received a summons to attend a county court, but was discharged after the magistrate had read my list of what I did to keep the armed forces entertained. The list ended with ‘etc’, which I now add to all official documents… The policeman, who had come a long way to provide evidence which was not required, looked very surly as we took different carriages on the train back.
Trials, troubles and triplanes
I have been reading a most interesting book. If the beginnings of the car are of considerable interest, at least the pioneers had horse-drawn vehicles to copy, whereas those seeking to achieve heavier-than-air flying machines had little to guide them, apart from studying bird flight and their own models following what they thought were the ways to proceed.
Philip Jarrett’s book not only covers AV Roe’s experiments in 165 very large and clear, glossy pictures and investigative text (128 A4 size pages) but disposes of the false assertions that Roe had made hops at Brooklands by 1908, which he never claimed; his first established off-the-ground flight took place in 1909.
The book is of very high quality for the modest price and has some historic pictures of Brooklands. Incidentally, AV Roe did make cars after WW1.
Published by Ad Hoc Publications, ISBN 978-0-94695865-8, £16.95
Unexpected reward of defending the Track
One memorable recollection in this Brooklands Centenary Year is a pleasant one. It was in 1934, as I drove into the Track, that the chap on the gate, who normally waved me on, stopped me to tell me that Percy Bradley, the Clerk-of-the-Course, wanted to see me. What ever had I done? I straightened my tie, combed my hair, and went up to his office on the first floor of the Paddock Clubhouse from where he had access to the balcony surrounding it and could see almost the whole of the Track. (When Mrs Morag Barton, the first Curator of the Brooklands Museum intended to get the layout correct she asked Jenks if I could tell her on which floor the C-of-C’s office had been. Alas, in the end she set it on the ground floor, as being more useful as her office!)
At the time Gordon Brettel had done well with his A7 Special until he nearly went over the top of the Members’ banking, fracturing one of his arms, but driving also the Dr Roth Talbot. He had an article in The Autocar titled “Brooklands – a Lament”, criticising the now aged motor course in several ways. I saw the opportunity to earn a guinea or two by responding with “Brooklands – a Defence”. Bradley had obtained my name from The Autocar and the lad at the gate had been told to inform me to go and see him.
“Just the shot in the arm we needed,” Mr Bradley told me. “What’s that pass you are wearing?” It was a non-track Press one, so Bradley’s secretary was summoned and told to give me a season’s Track pass. From then on I was in Bradley’s good books. “If Cann asks you for the 10/- to use the Track tell him you have my permission to use it at any suitable time free of charge. You may like to do so now,” the great man concluded. Fortunately I had parked the humble car I had arrived in out of sight, but from then on I could do no wrong.
Lea-Francis at Reunion
This year’s Brooklands Society Reunion was devoted to Lea-Francis and Napier cars, the former to honour their president, the late C T Tom Delaney, who had raced his Hyper Lea-Francis at the Track in the 1930s and was still doing so in vintage events at the age of 95. The Napiers were to commemorate the opening parade at the Track in 1907.
Twenty Lea-Francis cars were present. Tom’s was driven by Lucy Delaney, and it was nice to see other Hypers in the care of Lucy and Geoffrey Delaney, and Janet Croome, Tom’s niece, with a 1929 12/40. Other cars of this make with a Brooklands history were Andrew Dixey’s and Jeremy Brewster’s team cars, the latter driven by Gordon Hendy, and Wilfred Green with the car his father had raced at Brooklands in 1928.
Ten Napiers were present, and Graham Skillen had his Marendaz Special which had broken records at the Track, Tim Ely brought the ex-Hawthorn Riley Ulster Imp and Darrell Moores an ex-Brooklands Talbot 90.
The VSCC held its Loton Park hillclimb on July 23/24, at which FTD was made by Robert Cobden in his 1937 Riley Falcon, in 68.48sec, which gained him the TT Humber award. The quickest pre-war car was the Frazer Nash Super Sports driven by Jonathan Cobb (64.77sec). Best time for a vintage car was that of Justin Maeers in the 1926 GN Parker Special (66.21sec), and the Edwardian class was won by a 1913 Model-T Ford driven by James Collins (82.01sec).
Should you feel like going to a steam rally for a change, at least 18 such events are due to be held in September alone. A stamped addressed envelope to the National Traction Engine Trust, PO Box 102, Wrexham, LL13 0ZS will produce a nicely illustrated list of all the 2007 fixtures.
The VSCC held a Centenary sprint meeting at Brooklands on July 7, at which FTD was made by Robert Cobden’s 1937 Riley Falcon Special in 39.14sec. Best vintage time was 39.6sec by Jonathan Cobb’s 3.3-litre Frazer Nash Super Sports Special, and best Edwardian car was Nicholas Pellett’s 1914 TT Sunbeam, in 56.64sec.
The other day I read a motoring writer’s opinion that there must be 20 drivers who would give their right arm to drive a modern McLaren-Mercedes in F1 races. But wouldn’t they be hampered by driving with only one hand? In a daily paper I then saw a reviewer saying he had had no opportunity for reading the book, but that it was a good read!
Some time ago I asked whether anyone knew if Mr Toad, who got into serious trouble through furious driving of his huge car in Kenneth Grahame’s children’s book The Wind in the Willows, was inspired by the author owning a big fast Edwardian car. I have since been able to read Alison Prince’s biography of the famous author, a 384-page study, but nothing about cars or motoring appears therein, somewhat to my disappointment…
The award for the VSCC’s Eastern Rally was won by Allan Lupton in a 1928 Lea-Francis, navigated by David Kirkham. He also took the John Barrett Trophy.