Vintage Postbag, September 1959

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Sir,

In your summary of “The Vintage Motor Car Pocketbook” in the June issue of the Motor Sport,  I note that you say that the Chrysler 62 is more in the vintage tradition than the model 70. Does this not just go to show how far advanced the American motor car was when a Chrysler 70, which was manufactured in 1929, does not even look like a vintage car? This model, incidentally, had a four-speed gearbox and was called the New Model 70 to differentiate it from the model 70 that was manufactured in 1926.

The fluted bonnet, similar to the Vauxhall bonnet you referred to, was not fitted to the Model 62. This was only fitted to the luxurious Imperial 80s between 1925-1929.

The complete lack of interest in this country in American vintage cars is a source of wonder to my brothers and myself, who own or have owned between us a 1926 Buick and three Chrysler models; a 72 of 1927, a 65 and 75 of 1928. The Chryslers, in particular, still amaze us with their advanced and excellent features for cars over 30 years old, a few of which I list below.

The front axles are of tubular construction of chrome-molybdenum steel. The road springs are of silico manganese steel, and which have not settled yet. The steering arms are of chrome vanadium forgings, the steering knuckles of nickel-chromium forgings; all resulting in still unworn steering. Clutches are of single-plate construction of 10 in.-diameter and are light to use. Coil ignition with semi-automatic advance, and waterproof distributor and coil. Ten-inch-diameter headlamps with double filament bulbs that enable the full performance of the cars to be used at night. A 6-volt electrical system that will start the cars immediately after standing outside on the coldest of winter nights. Hydraulic shock-absorbers that still work after unknown thousands of miles.

Ribbon-type speedometers. Road springs mounted in rubber shock insulators that need no lubricating and never wear out. There are ten grease points on the cars.

Then there are the magnificent 14-in, diameter hydraulic brakes, these being external contracting until 1928. Contrary to opinion in this country about American braking qualities, these really do stop. In fact the brakes are more than able to hold their own on the roads of 1959.

The 65 is of 3¼-litres capacity and the 72 and 75 of 4-litres, with very similar engines: six-cylinder, seven-bearing crankshaft, side-valve design, with crankshaft dampers. Fitted are oil filters, air cleaners, and also air cleaners on the intake of the crankcase ventilators. Water thermostats. Manually controlled hot spots on the manifold. Incidentally, the engines have the original valves in them that have not and will not burn out, and they also run at the original oil pressures. Most of the above points have been featured since 1924.

Now for the very similar performance of these three cars. They will cruise effortlessly all day at 70 m.p.h., at which speed the engines are barely audible. This speed can be maintained up most main-road hills, and the gear lever can be forgotten except for starting from rest. The top-gear performance is from 3 m.p.h. to 80-85 m.p.h., and with 50 available in second gear these cars are no sluggards from standstill. General fuel consumption ranges from 18 m.p.g. for the 4-litre to 22 m.p.g. from the 3¼-litre. The roadholding of these cars is certainly the equal of any similar vintage cars.

I should like to remind readers that the Chrysler was designed as a trouble-free car for general motoring purposes and that about 2,000 were made every week. It was not expensive and was not a temperamental enthusiast’s car which only gave performance by super-tuned and highly-stressed engines, resulting in frequent engine overhauls. In fact, my father knew one particular car that did over 250,000 miles before being decarbonised. Their life without any major overhauls was literally hundreds of thousands of miles.

Before readers rush to uphold the over-rated English models, let them remember that in 1928 Chryslers finished third and fourth at Le Mans, and in 1929 sixth and seventh. Surely these Chrysler roadsters which finished so consistently in this classic road race when pitted against more powerful, more expensive machinery designed for competition, are indeed very fine vehicles.

By the way, the only non-standard part on my model 65 is a cracked cylinder head, and if anybody could provide a head off a model 62, 65 or 66, l would be extremely delighted.

I am, Yours, etc., Trevor Whittaker. Heywood.

*

Sir,

Although I have been reading Motor Sport for several years and have seen references to many makes of vehicle which evoke youthful memories, I do not recall seeing any information about the Renault car in England in the early ‘twenties and wonder if any 45s or 26s still exist.

As a schoolboy in West London I have vivid memories of the original Renault Depot at West Acton in 1925 and 1926. The Western Avenue had not been built and Renault occupied a massive set of hangars on the eastern side of the already derelict West Acton aerodrome. These buildings still stand and can be seen just behind the Ultra radio factory on Western Avenue, and on the southern side of the aerodrome another set of hangars were occupied by the Cambrian ‘bus company, who operated Straker-Squires as pirates on the No. 17 route from Ealing to London Bridge; of these more later. This building was destroyed by fire in about 1936 when occupied by the Palm Toffee Co.

The actual aerodrome was on the site now taken up by several factories, including the modern Renault works, and stretches from Ultra Radio to the present Park Royal station, and southwards to the Central London Railway Ealing branch.

I used to “infest,” is I think the word, the Renault works during school holidays.

Cars were imported as chassis from France and were fitted with tyres at Acton. The range, as I recall it, was:

45 h.p. (Torpedo) six-cylinder side-valve.

26 h.p. (Torpedo) six-cylinder side-valve.

17.9 h.p. six-cylinder side-valve.

11.9 h.p. four-cylinder side-valve.

8.3 h.p. four-cylinder side-valve.

5-ton truck.

Bodies for the smaller cars were made by Vickers, and the chassis used to be driven to Vickers and return with the bodies fitted.

Commissioning a 45 or a 26 was always an event and I only ever saw these cars at Acton in chassis form, although I did see complete cars in use in London. After removal of transit grease and fuelling-up the 45 chassis used to be tow-started along the aerodrome road, and almost invariably the carburetter used to catch fire when the engine started. A first start was quite a performance, a cavalcade consisting of tow-car and 45, and a pre-1914 two-cylinder Renault with a flat truck deck used to start off, the latter loaded with mechanics and other odd bodies armed with fire-extinguishers; when the 45 literally fired it was extinguished and then restarted, and never caught fire again. The cause of the fire was said to be due to stuck inlet valves, which freed once the engine had been run. The 45 and 26 engines at least were fitted with a priming cup and tap to each cylinder, and I can recall the ear-splitting row of an engine running with two compression taps, as they were called, open.

All of these cars had the radiator at the rear of the engine, with fan blades cast integral with the flywheel. The one-piece modern-style lifting bonnets, which were regarded with grave suspicion by the mechanics because they used to drop without warning, were of a handsome tapered wedge configuration.

The 8.3, 11.9 and 17.9 were fitted with tourer or saloon bodies, and some of the 8.3s had clover-leaf three-seaters, with capacious lockers each side of the rear seat, rather like those on the contemporary Citroens, who lived at Brook Green, Hammersmith, By the way, Citroen were not at all friendly to schoolboys and I did not therefore know much about them!

A most impressive machine was the Renault 5-ton truck, of a very advanced design for the period. It had a steel body, hydraulic tipping, and the rear hubs contained the final epicyclic reduction gear, but to us their most endearing feature was their pneumatic tyres, or rather the deflation warning device. Each tyre valve had a “breech” into which was inserted an 0.45-in. revolver cartridge blank; the valve stem extended about half way into the tube, with a mushroom end, and the idea was that the revolver cartridge was fired to warn the driver of partial deflation of the tyre, and it worked quite well.

I can only remember the name of one of the personnel at Renault: one of the senior testers whose name was Wirts or Werts. He lived in Churchfield Road, Acton, just by the level crossing, and I wonder if he is still around because I would guess his age at about 60 years now.

Cars and chassis used to be tested out in Ealing and Alperton, and Hanger Lane, which was more like a lane then, was always included in the route, because Hanger Hill was the “test hill.” I used to go out on test whenever possible, and on the 45s and 26s the tester sat on a wooden box lashed to the chassis and the passenger on the chassis side-member, clutching the bulkhead with feet dangling. It was always very exciting and particularly so when we got into a spin on Hanger Hill one icy morning, and I can clearly remember Wirts clutching my mop of hair with his left hand and juggling with the steering wheel with his right until, after a number of “phenomenal avoidances,” he regained control.

Apart from the two-cylinder “flattie,” Renault also had a two-cylinder van which used to run between their old depot in Seagrave Road, Fulham, and Acton.

The Cambrian ‘bus company was one of the larger pirates and my main memory is the slowness of their Straker Squires, which were no faster than the General S. & T. types, and were always avoided in favour of the then very fast Dennis and Leyland pirates. The Uxbridge Road pirates should be the subject of another letter but their effect on fares was such that at their best the pirate fare from “Askew Arms” to Marble Arch was 2d., against the General’s 4d.

Whenever one went along the No. 17 route there always appeared to be at least one Cambrian Straker Squire in a side turning with its entrails spread around it, and the Cambrian hangar was slowly being filled with an increasing number of partly dismantled ‘buses because in their declining months they appeared to keep them running by a process of self-consuming cannibalisation.

The Acton-Willesden area was quite active in the motoring field in the ‘twenties and among others I recall S.T.D. in the Vale, Chrysler-Hudson at North Acton (that factory is now occupied by Dubilier) and, a particular pet of ours, the Wooler motor-cycle factory in Old Oak Road — you no doubt remember the flying bananas with their yellow tanks extended beyond the steering head.

I am afraid that what started as a request for information on Renault survivors has spread a little, but I cannot resist another reminiscence of West Acton aerodrome. In 1922, when I was 11 years old, and the aerodrome was derelict and deserted — these were pre-Renault and Cambrian days — we affected an entry into the east hangar and found two Bristol Scouts(?) complete and intact less engines and clocks. This was kept as a closely-guarded secret by a select coterie; the aircraft were lifted into flying attitude with tails perched on old boxes; one was painted with black crosses and Ball-Richthofen contests fought out on wet days.

Finally, there was a local legend that West Acton is the aerodrome from which Leefe-Robinson, V.C., the Cuffley Zeppelin destroyer, took off. I wonder if this is true because I recall clearly being carried by my father up to the top of a fire-station tower one night and watching the blazing Zeppelin slowly descending in the north.

If you can find space for this long-winded dissertation I hope that at least it brings forth some information about 45s and 26s.

I am, Yours, etc., E. J. Dawes. London, N.6.

[Reminiscences such as these are always of interest, and often you learn something new therefrom — for example, we did not know about the West Acton aerodrome until we read Mr. Dawes’ interesting letter. A few vintage Renaults do still exist and there have been references to them in these pages from time to time, while back in 1935 Motor Sport road-tested the Renault 45 Torpedo. We hope others will search their memories and contribute similar nostalgic memoirs. — Ed.]

*

Sir,

I have been most interested in recent letters on the Salmson. In 1948 I found an eight-push-rod Salmson more or less up to the gear lever in chicken dung in a cart shed in Devon. For some reason I decided to make it go, although I knew nothing of motor engineering.

One fine summer day a friend from college and I removed a squawking hen from its nest under the steering wheel and started digging. We unearthed little more than a chassis as the rear end had been used for carting cow dung. However, after some three days’ hard work we made it go.

I well remember the thrill as the engine throbbed into life and I drove it up a narrow lane. Unfortunately a duchess-type in a new limousine wanted to come down the lane, and she shouted out, “Can I get by? I don’t want to scratch the paint.” I respectfully inquired, “Whose paint — yours or mine?” I vividly recall her snort of disgust as she drove off.

A kind uncle in a nearby farm offered to let me keep the car in a disused roundhouse. The only diplomatic way to his farm lay across a swamp, then up a steep footpath laced by overhead brambles forming a sort of tunnel. I safely reached the bottom of the footpath, put the car into second gear and my foot on the accelerator, as the sides of the path consisted of high banks I considered I had nothing to lose. I kept my head well down, and we roared up at great speed, arriving at the top heavily camouflaged, much to the astonishment of my cousin waiting there. I think it was this impossible performance which decided me that the car was worth restoring.

Although I did not then realise it, all that was wrong was that the magneto needed rewinding. The car would go very well, then stop as the magneto heated up. I was convinced that the fault was water seeping into the cylinder head, so I kept adding Wonderweld until the cooling system more or less worked on neat Wonderweld.

One day I persuaded an elderly farmer from Exmoor to take a ride with me. As the magneto started missing so the Wonderweld came to the boil. There was a bang as the wooden cork blew out of the radiator and boiling Wonderweld fountained up, to land on him in a steady stream. All he did was to pull his velour hat lower and turn up his collar. I much admired his hardy stoicism, although he politely declined future invitations to come for a ride.

On another fine sunny morning in 1949 I decided to set off for London, heavily laden with country produce. The car went like the proverbial bomb until South Melton, when it started to miss.

It finally came to a stop at the foot of the long hill in the remote country before Bampton. Eventually a steam roller manned by two old men approached. I persuaded them to give me a tow-start, which they did somewhat reluctantly. The car would start, then pack up after about a mile owing to the magneto heating up. After this period the steamroller crew would bale out, attach chains, and away we would go again. They became very proficient in this drill, but after some five miles either turned off or hid somewhere out of sight as I never saw them again. I was rather demoralised by now and offered to swap the whole thing for the bicycle of a passing cyclist. It was then that an A.A. patrolman came along, obviously wrestling with his better nature but he stopped. This marked the commencement of a hard day’s work for him, pushing, cranking, etc. At about 5 o’clock we had nearly reached the crest when, somewhat exasperatedly he delivered the ultimatum that he would help push it the remaining mile which would enable me to coast down the other side to the Exe Valley and off his beat.

At the bottom of the Exe Valley he passed me once more, then retraced his steps. I vividly remember sitting behind the driving seat pulling the choke or something while he cranked. The bonnet was up, and suddenly the carburetter burst into flame. In between heavy blows from his mouth, he kept bellowing “Fire! Fire!” but I sat there in dull apathy while he eventually blew it out. He left me for good after that, and considering I was not a member he did me very well.

I managed to get a brewery lorry to tow me up to the next crest before Bampton. I coasted down and sold the car to a scrap merchant for five pounds. I then went to the local and drowned my sorrow.

I could not forget my exhilarating ride up the footpath, so next year I called at the scrap yard again and bought it back for £6 10s. Unfortunately he had hopelessly mixed up my magneto with others, and when I asked for it back he tipped out a bucket full of components in the mud, and the armature was missing. While there he offered to sell me a veteran Humber he said was in running order, but buried under the scrap, for five pounds! It cost me only five pounds to have a Windsor firm of furniture removers collect the car from Devon.

My next move was to buy an old R.B. magneto from Clare for fifty shillings. He was very friendly but when I told him I did not intend fiddling with the car other than fitting the magneto as I was not an enthusiast and did not want to be one, he and his secretary became helpless with laughter. I now know why.

The magneto was never any good. In fact, I now realise it was the real trouble for the next five years. I spent pounds on it but there was some elusive fault. The car itself was well worth the trouble I took, and reading some of the performance figures for other makes it seems to be one of the most economical. It would go up to 55 m.p.h. but cruised happily at just over 40 m.p.h. It had quite a roomy touring body and with the back seats removed was almost like a little lorry. Initially my main worry was the constant replacing of the 720 by 120 B.E. tyres, but I was finally able to convert to Rudge well-based wheels. The engine was beautifully made and easy to remove or work on. The push-rods never jumped out, although I found it necessary to adjust tappets after flogging it for any distance. The clutch was either in or out, with no in-between, and the brakes needed a strong leg. There was no fan, petrol pump or water pump. A curious phenomenon which interested passengers for about a year was an anaemic-looking spider which occasionally crawled across the inside glass of the ammeter. As this was a sealed unit I conclude it lived on electric shocks.

I never liked the tinny radiator, otherwise I found it an extremely good car which held its own with other traffic until about 1953, when cruising speeds of the newer cars seemed to improve considerably.

I eventually sold it for the usual family reasons to an enthusiast and now have a respectable Rolls-Royce saloon. I hope it will be restored to the condition it held when it was the actual Show model of the 1928 Motor Exhibition.

I am, Yours, etc., J. W. Squire. Maidenhead.

*

Sir,

I hope you will take this criticism in the right way — as you intended the criticism of “The Vintage Motor Car Pocket Book,” but in correcting one error, I fear you have perpetrated another!

The twin o.h.c. LFS six 14/40 Lea-Francis cars were engineered by Vulcan — not Meadows. You probably knew this — a slip of the journalistic pen or memory I suspect!

These cars were largely responsible for the failure of Lea-Francis cars in the early thirties due to a rather peculiar lubrication system which oiled either the crankshaft bearings or the o.h, camshafts, but rarely both together, which resulted in all kinds of troubles. A later engine, the 2/LFS which had separate oil pumps for bearings and camshafts, cured the trouble, but was too late to save the car.

I am, Yours, etc., P. W. Pringle, Registrar, Lea-Francis O.C., Ludlow.

[Which, I suppose, shows that people in glass houses . . .!  Another reader takes us to task for referring to the vintage Bond as a French car when it was made in Yorkshire but is incorrect in saying the “Ace of Spades” Lea-Francis had twin,o.h.c.; it had a single-o.h.c. engine. — Ed.]

 

Vintage fixtures for September include the V.S.C.C. Madresfield Rally on the 13th and classes for old cars at the Malvern Concours d’ Elegance on the 12th. Details of the latter from: R. Gammons, Winter Gardens, Grange Road, Malvern.

*

The early days of the Skoda concern are dealt with in the English edition of the July issue of the Czechoslovakian Motor Review, the article being accompanied by pictures of Edwardian and vintage L & K. motor-cycles and Skoda cars, the latter including the A. and B. water-cooled V-twin voiturettes and 1906 S-type o.h.c. four-cylinder model. The vintage RK sleeve-valve Skoda is also illustrated, likewise one of the earliest tubular-backbone Skoda chassis.

*

According to a publication issued last year by the Motors Trade Association of Japan the first Japanese petrol car was the Takuri of 1907, of which seventeen were built and of which No. 3, a landaulette with under-floor engine, is still in existence, owned by Mr. Nakamigawa. Apparently a Progress three-wheeler was imported into Japan from the U.S.A. in 1899 and other electric and petrol vehicles of American origin were used there in 1900 and 1902, while a Japanese steam car was built in 1904.

*

A reader has acquired a -2-litre o.h.c. Beardmore engine and seeks information about it.

*

Some derelict vehicles, including a Rolls-Royce shooting brake, are reported to lie in a field in Yorkshire. Letters can be forwarded to our informer, who is rebuilding a 1913 Morgan three-wheeler.

*

The Editor is anxious to obtain a few copies of The Aeroplane of the C.G. Grey era, for nostalgic reasons, and some Commercial Motors covering the period 1920-25, should anyone be able to oblige. And a reader seeks old motor-racing catalogues of any period, which we can forward.

Tiger Club Air Circus

On August Bank Holiday the Tiger Club, which exists to foster inexpensive private flying, staged an air circus at the pleasant grass aerodrome at Fair Oaks, Chobham, which was in the best vintage flying tradition.

Six VW-powered Turbulent monoplanes, one of them the Duke of Edinburgh’s King’s Cup entry, indulged in the Turbulent Trophy Race, run in three heats, with pilots banking steeply in close company round the aerodrome boundaries. The final of the Tiger Club’s Baloon Bursting Championship should have been decided but had to be abandoned because they ran out of gas — for the balloons.

C. Nepean Bishop gave his usual display of aerobatics in his special Tiger Moth G-APOZ. Norman H. Jones sought to go one better by flying his Turbulent under a sort of goal post and then Bishop, Benjamin and Elton took off, flew and landed a trio of tied-together Tigers — very polished flying. The first part of the programme concluded with an exciting triple parachute drop, one parachutist nearly landing on a roof, the others coming down in alarmingly close proximity.

The main part of the show, for the benefit of I.T.V., opened with a Tiger Club formation flight of Tiger Moths, a couple of Hornet Moths and half-a-dozen Turbulents. John Ayres then gave an excellent aerobatics display in a Tiger Moth which included outside loops. Elton then demonstrated the only British-registered French Jodel side-by-side two-seater monoplane with 85 h.p. Continental engine. Rollason’s Dormobile was then subjected to flour-bag bombing by two Tigers, Snook piloting the oldest of these Moths still flying here, a 1933 model, and Phillips one specially converted for Sue Burgess’ parachute drops.

Hartas gave a demonstration in a Jackaroo its full complement of four did not prevent him from taking off over the spectators and climbing in a steep turn, later demonstrating the 80 m.p.h. top speed of this £1,100 machine which the Wiltshire School of Flying at Thruxton converted from normal Tiger specification in 1957. He finished with a neat flat turn. There was another parachute jump from 3,000 feet against the darkening sky and altogether the big crowd got its money’s worth. — W. B.

Timing

A battery-operated timing device is now on the market. It is manufactured by Paton Bros. Engineering Services of 15 St. James’ Row, Sheffield, 1, and can be bought or hired from them. The battery operates stop watches from photocells placed by the side of the starting and finishing lines,.

 

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