Althoug fifty years of motor-car construction have seen the industry rise to occupy the position of the third largest industry in this country, petty restrictions have not diminished in anything like the proportion they should since the days of the red flag. So publicity of any sort on behalf of motoring is vitally essential, and the Jubilee of the British Motor Industry afforded a much needed opportunity. As is fitting and correct, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has made itself responsible for the publicity and the celebrations which mark 1946 as the 50th year of motor-vehicle manufacture in this country.
Their first function happened on July 18th. It took the form of the official opening by the Rt. Hon. J. Wilmot, M.P., Minister of Supply, of the Society’s new premises, the imposing headquarters at 148, Piccadilly, between Hyde Park Corner and Park Lane. As we received no invitation, we can hardly comment on this ceremony. However, an exhibition was declared open at the same time and remained open to the public, at a charge of 1s. per head, until August 10th. Consequently, the very next day we presented ourselves thereat. The headquarters is the fine mansion built in the 1860’s by Baron de Rothschild, and was nicely decked with bunting — but it was some time before we found it. Indeed, we first penetrated Piccadillywards as far as Rootes’ showrooms and found therein not only a very fine collection of scale models of the various vehicles they supplied to assist our victory in the war, but some beautifully-preserved veteran Sunbeam and Humber cars amongst the glistening moderns. All this was a free show, and lots of well-dressed, intelligent folk of both sexes were taking a great interest in it all.
So that, when we did locate the S.M.M.T. Exhibition we were a bit shocked to find that there was an admission charge of 1s. We managed to by-pass that, as representatives of the Press, but we never did get the season ticket which we immediately requested. So our tour of this exhibition was necessarily brief. Although it was the first day of the show from the public’s point of view and it was lunch time, the galleries were practically deserted, which was disappointing. One dear old lady and Motor Sport had the exhibits practically to themselves, if one overlooks a female who expressed the opinion that the posters were far more interesting than the models. These posters unfolded history from the 1890s to the present, off-setting model cars of the changing periods, not forgetting appropriate models of the last World War and of the last but one ditto. The late King, the Queen, W. G. Grace, the short-lived Labour Party Government of 1924, Gaiety girls, Kitchener, Jack Hobbs and Neville Chamberlain gazed at us, as we walked through history. The model cars varied in the amount of detail displayed, and were not to scale one against the other. Most of them were excellent “exhibition” models, all were fascinating. We particularly liked the little flat-twin Rover Eight, correct as to levers and pedals, so that it came as a shock to encounter the Austin Seven of 1922 sans any of these useful controls. The 1912 Rover Twelve chassis was grandly done, the “Prince Henry” Vauxhall was not so clever. Naturally, our eye was caught by models of “12/80” F.W.D. sports Alvis 2-seater (exhibited as the first British car with front drive and all wheels sprung independently) and 1933 T.T. Replica Frazer-Nash (car No. G V 2926, incidentally). There was also a 1935 Lagonda, “Rapide” open 4-seater and a very big model of the record-holding Gardner-M.G. of 1938-9. The model of the 1911 Morris-Oxford 2-seater emphasised the narrowness of this car and showed a huge acetylene rear lamp, a clever touch was the wear on the seat cushion of the 1918 Standard 2-seater .
The Sport was not neglected, posters showing Brooklands in colour (1907), women at Brooklands (1908), etc., being given prominence equally with the political and historical studies. We found this exhibition pleasing and stimulating, but some full-size attractions should have been included, we think, to emphasise adequately the importance of the Motor Industry and the gravity of its Jubilee. Nor did the programme, which we purchased at the door for a shilling, seem either appropriate to a great occasion or even value for money. Its ten pages gave old statistics about the industry (whereas we had expected a survey of the model cars on show and data on their prototypes) and recalled an excellent 40-page booklet of similar but much more detailed facts which was issued in 1944 by the British Road Federation, at the same price. So much for the Jubilee Exhibition.
The next event put on by the S.M.M.T., with the able assistance of the Veteran Car Club and the Vintage Sports Car Club, was the London Cavalcade. Somehow the S.M.M.T. persuaded authority that to close some of London’s principal thoroughfares on a Saturday afternoon for a procession of motor vehicles would be a good thing. When this feature of the Jubilee was made public even those happy optimists who freely predicted that one day we should see a Grand Prix motor race in Hyde Park, were suitably and considerably awed. So it came about that nearly 500 motor vehicles, dating from 1875 to 1946, not only drove round a circuit composed of the Marylebone Road, Edgware Road, Park Lane, Piccadilly, Shaftesbury Avenue, Oxford Street and Portland Place, but were reviewed beforehand in Regent’s Park by Their Majesties the King and Queen, which was all pretty breath-taking and immense for mortals normally hedged about by red tape of all kinds and frowned upon almost by all and sundry. We decided that as “competitors” had to be present and correct in the Park by 11 a.m. on July 27th, and as the procession would not move off until about 3.30 p.m., after the Royal review, we should have ample time both to examine the other cars and to drive one ourselves. Accordingly we entered the 1913 “Alphonso” Hispano-Suiza so generously presented to us by Forrest Lycett, thus permitting ourselves the unique pleasure of presenting that grand old car before Royalty and of parading him in front of London’s motor-minded populace. The run up was uneventful, except for depressing proof that conductors of modern fug-boxes no longer assist the driver of a veteran by giving him free passage. The thought persists that half these people either do not appreciate what they are doing, or else just cannot put their cars in any other place, anyway. Which is one reason, of course, for the present disastrous toll of the road.
Our first impression was that the parking of the cars was rather haphazard, and that inadequate protection was offered from the public; our second, what fun it all was. The public actually proved very well-behaved, and the police had more headaches keeping the road clear than in keeping light fingers from museum motor cars. Indeed, seldom has Royalty driven through less well-policed routes.
With some 500 vehicles present, this was certainly the reporter’s nightmare, so you must remain content with odd impressions. The wonderful Grenville steam car of 1875 eventually led the procession, driven by Capt. Allen; quite fast on its steel-tyred wooden wheels. Its stoker cannot read or write, but has stoked divers boilers of Mr. Sears’s agricultural machinery these fifty years; he had never before been out of his native Sussex. Certainly his day out! The 1909 sleeve-valve Daimler tourer was a very practical car, the 1908 Dieppe G.P. racing Austin, a previously unknown “Veteran Type,” with T-head engine, twin carburetters which were virtually down draughts above a long manifold, their bodies beautifully polished, and 1/2-elliptic suspension. Another racing car in retirement and good to see. Bunny Tubbs was there with his 1906 “40/60” opposed piston Gobron-Brillée. He was having its starting sounds broadcast to France, but although Peter Clark wore himself out on the handle, there was no commencement. However, it got going for the run and, as Tubbs told us afterwards, when he had “thickened the mixture” it ran home to Ripley in style, so that his D.K.W. quite used up its brakes trying to keep up. Wait’s 1906 Clyde had a 3-cylinder White and Poppe engine across the frame, with chain-driven water-pump and magneto. Lots more of the Edwardian town-carriages are with us now, whereas once they appeared extinct. Examples — Price’s 1905 Mors, Hutton-Stott’s “20” Lanchester, the engine-under-seat 1911 Austin, Hearn’s Sunbeam, various Rolls-Royce and the Delaunay-Bellevilles of Allday (1908) and Pidgeon (1912). We did not see Mathieson’s Peugeot roadster — is this the ex-Samuelson car? Lightfoot’s folding steering wheel on his 1902 Arrol-Johnston; the girl-driver of Fatheringham-Parker’s 1903 Renault which, with Pidgeon’s 1903 Hurtu, four-up and steaming, arrived late; the yellow 1907 35-h.p. Daimler tourer; the equally vivid yellow 1911 Daimler Sedan; and Sammy Davis and son being photographed in the 1897 Leon-Bollee, were other sights which helped to pass the morning. It was good to see Hampton’s Type 13 Bugatti — the valve that broke and put it out of an earlier rally very fortunately had a slight burr on its stem, so that although it was hitting the piston, it was prevented from falling right into the cylinder. Peter told us that while the engine was down he had a number of routine adjustments attended to.
Up on a lorry Pratley’s old 1919 V12 single-seater Sunbeam was most impressive and clean; its magnificence dominated the scene from its high perch all day. It bore a huge “No. 1” on its radiator cowl, as in Guinness’s day, and it has the authentic track tail, which is just an extraordinarily narrow fairing over the fuel tank. “What a car!” summed up public opinion of it. Guy Griffiths had an immaculate, o.h.c., “40/50” Napier saloon, Beasley-Robinson’s “30/98” Vauxhall was a “Wensum,” with stays to its V-screen, flaired wings and an imposing, sloping instrument panel, while Rumfitt’s very posh “8/18” Humber bore a Raymond Way transfer on a rear mudguard. Val Doone’s fine “30/98 Vauxhall had 820 by 120 tyres; J. S. Pole’s 1926 Bean had rear windscreen and spare wheel cover; John Hay, with the only Frazer-Nash present — a 4-speed Anzani — had folded his screen down; Smith’s early Bertelli Aston-Martin had prominent outside brake adjusters and pull-off springs; Stuart-Marshall’s 1931 8-litre Bentley was most imposing; an unusual silver-finished Sunbeam Twenty tourer of the same year was present; Col. G. M. Giles and Eric Giles went through in an “11/22” Wolseley 2-seater, with white-walled tyres — they left later for Prescott; and Sears’s 1926 Rolls Twenty had a vertical-stripe finish to its limousine body. Almost every veteran and Edwardian known was there, and many 1919 – 1930 cars of ordinary demeanour. However, we missed a good example of “12/50” Alvis (the “12/60” was present) and early Riley Nine, although the rarer s.v. Aston-Martin was represented by Fowler’s 2-seater.
The Ford Co. showed 1921 and 1926 Model-T, Hutton-Stott his straight-eight Lanchester, and plenty of old-school Bentleys performed. All three “Alphonso” Hispanos were present, and early Morris, single-cylinder Austin Seven, 2-cylinder Rolls-Royce, Commer wagonette, etc., were other early cars not usually seen. Of course, Peter Clark’s 1914 G.P. Mercédès was all the time a centre of attraction. A small girl moved her face from the open end of its exhaust just in time, as it was started and it cleared a gap in the crowd thereafter! By dropping back and then accelerating he kept it reasonably cool on the drive round London, and afterwards took the Chief of Police, who is an old naval friend of his, off in it, while Ariel Clark did a broadcast that evening for the B.B.C. about her ride in the car. And next morning, in company with Peter’s H.R.G., the old racer was driven to Prescott, averaging something like 50 m.p.h. That racing cars were allowed in the Cavalcade is cause for congratulation — they were never allowed at the Motor Show. Marcus Chambers drove the 1908 T.T. Hutton and the 200 m.p.h. Sunbeam, the Irving-Napier and the 369.7 m.p.h. Railton, with one of the o.h.c. Austin Sevens, the 1908 G.P. Austin, and Pratley’s Sunbeam went through on lorries. The 200 m.p.h. Sunbeam has a vast, open-ended tail, inside which the G.P.-type Sunbeam fuel tank looks dwarfed. It had 35 in. by 6.00 in. racing tyres on its near-side wheels and 23 in. by 7.00 in. Dunlop 90s on its off-side wheels. A L.E.P. tractor towed the Railton’s trailer. Of the moderns, there was a depressing number of all-the-same saloons and a bevy of T.C. M.G.s, two blue “4/4” Morgans, etc., most of them displaying export dockets. The new H.R.G., Healey and Allards were there, the red aerodynamic 1 1/2-litre H.R.G. driven by Robins being a truly pleasant motor car. Of the new Allards, Imhof drove the white 2-seater, Hutchison the red 4seater. The latter was very smart, with kid gloves and carnation in his buttonhole, his wife beside him, and he had arrived in a chauffeur-driven RollsRoyce, while Mrs. Imhof wore a sensational red headgear. So the Allards attracted Press cameramen as jam does wasps. And we hear that Imhof and Hutch had quite a dice in places during the run.
The S.M.M.T. had let a few inaccuracies creep into their exhibition posters, and something of the same sort must have let a red “Le Mans” Singer in as a 1939 car. We mention these small points so that similar flaws can be ironed out of the Provincial Cavalcades.
The King and Queen, having driven rapidly past the lined-up vehicles to the Royal dais, engines were commenced and off we went. The King did not inspect individual cars, as had been hoped. The route was none too effectively policed. Cars were meant to run side by side in pairs, but in places only in single file could we drive through the immense crowd of spectators lining the route — certainly enthusiasm was great. In Piccadilly ‘buses and taxis had been allowed to mingle with the procession, and in Regent’s Park a policeman was knocked over by a veteran car. For once the London police seemed to have slipped — possibly they did not expect mere motor cars to attract such vast crowds. It was inevitable that some people had trouble, but their number was fortunately surprisingly small. An early Wolseley was seen to be stationary, Bridcutt’s 1912 Hispano-Suiza, driven by a friend, stopped, but got going again, Goodey’s 1904 5-h.p. Peugeot fell back amongst the Edwardians, and Tippetts’s 1918 Rolls-Royce, having come 105 miles to the event, punctured near the end of the “course”! But no one had an accident save for one modern Humber, which returned distinctly battered. For ourselves, we found it best to slow up and get “Alphonse” going fairly fast in spurts, to keep him cool, and he lost hardly any water. His exhaust note with cut-out open, and his squeaky rear brakes seemed to please onlookers, and up Portland Place we had a short acceleration race against Peter Clark’s Mercédès — and lost, of course. Here the notice which the B.B.C. dangles before veteran car drivers at every veteran event met our eyes: “Please blow your horn — B.B.C. recording” — have they no imagination?
The drivers of the “heavies” handled their vehicles very well indeed. Towards the end congestion became chronic and there were troublesome delays in Regent’s Park. The old cars were parked haphazardly, nose-to-kerb, and the general impression was we were no longer wanted. Parking numbers had been removed and no longer were the cars roped off. This was a rather weak ending — organisers of Provincial Cavalcades, please note. We also heard complaints that entrants had not been extended the courtesy of a programme. However, generally it was a magnificent effort on the S.M.M.T.’s part and nothing like it had ever happened before. We wonder, if the Labour Government goes, whether anything ever will again. There was the faintest touch of Fascists’ love of display in the air, or so it seemed to us. . . .
It is hardly necessary to add that everyone who is anyone in our world was there. Charles Follett, in Alvis and top hat; Sir Malcolm Campbell, in a new Armstrong-Siddeley coupé; R. G. J. Nash, back again in the south and driving his trusty 1900 Peugeot; Heal, who had tossed Wyer for his 3-litre Sunbeam and lost, so was driving his Sunbeam Twenty; J. A. Masters, Hugh Hunter, Allday, Major Swiney, John Bolster, Sears, Pilmore-Bedford, Pierpont Crittall, Sir Clive Edwards, Porter, Allard, Kentish, Dunham, Mrs. Wood, Godfrey, and all the other exponents of the old and not so old mixed with the “must-sees” and “me-toos.” Manufacturers who helped particularly with old vehicles were Austin, Ford, Jowett, with a tiller-steered 1910 model, Rootes Securities, Morris, Riley, and Daimler. The 1923 Austin Seven, boiling at the finish of the run, looked much as any other early “Chummy”; the 1923 Austin Twenty, with the Cape Town-to-London map round its body, was, we believe, saved from a breaker’s yard.
Incidentally, the S.M.M.T. arranged a fairly generous allowance of petrol to certain entrants — we received four gallons to bring the Hispano up from Hampshire and back — but “basic” had to be used for the actual run. And there is a scheme to meet some of the expenses incurred by owners in taking old cars to the remaining Cavalcades. Passengers were officially barred, but this rule was wisely not enforced; very properly comic wearing apparel was not permitted.
This rather detailed and necessarily belated report of a great event in the history of motoring will give those in the provinces an idea of what to expect when an S.M.M.T. Cavalcade comes to their area. The dates are: Cardiff, August 31st; Belfast, September 7th; Coventry-Birmingham, September 21st; Edinburgh, October 5th; Manchester, October 21st. The Brighton run for veterans only is on November 17th. Posters, news-reels, model contests and banquets are also woven into the celebrating of this great Jubilee.