Vintage Postbag, September 1961

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Duesenberg Fever

Sir,

I am in wholehearted agreement with your correspondent, Peter T. Rees’ letter, regarding Mr. Clutton’s criticisms of the Duesenberg.

In “The Vintage Motor Car Pocket Book,” which appears to be the combined efforts of Cecil Clutton, Paul Bird and Anthony Harding, under Duesenberg we are informed :

“While one has learnt to be somewhat sceptical about the capabilities of American horses, both now as then, the model-J must nevertheless have produced a fair proportion of its claimed 265, since one was allegedly timed at 129 m.p.h., and was said to accelerate from 0 to 100 m.p.h. in twenty seconds. When fitted with a centrifugal supercharger, and known as the S.J. no less than 320 b.h.p. was claimed…. Yet the car failed to catch on. Perhaps the American market was not yet discerning enough to pay the high price of such high quality, while European purchasers would be put off by the uncompromisingly brash appearance of the machine. It seems doubtful, anyway, if it was quite as good as it set out to be.”

Readers will have noticed that the Duesenberg was “claimed” to develop 265 b.h.p.; and it was “allegedly” timed at 129 m.p.h., and was “said” to accelerate from 0 to 100 m.p.h. in twenty seconds, or when supercharged, 320 b.h.p. was “claimed.” However, we only have to turn to page 245 in the same book, to the four pages allotted to the Vauxhall, compared to the two for the Duesenberg, to read the following glowing praise:

“The validity of the “98” has been often questioned, but one of these side-valve engines has recently been brought back to original specification and mint condition, when on the brake, it exceeded 100 b.h.p. at about 2,800 r.p.m…. In standard touring trim and a 4-seater body the Velox would reach 80-85 m.p.h., but with special coachwork and axle ratio, 100 m.p.h. was guaranteed … the engine could attain 3,500 r.p.m. and 120 b.h.p…. In special trim as much as 165 b.h.p. was recorded…. In 1953 a 30/98 covered 107 miles in an hour at Montlhéry.”

The direct and striking contrast of this eulogy to the Duesenberg indictment will be immediately apparent.

The Vauxhall 30/98, you will no doubt have observed, “on the brake” “exceeded” 100 b.h.p., at about 2,800 r.p.m … and, “would reach 80-85 m.p.h.” … with special coachwork and axle ratio, “100 m.p.h. was guaranteed,” … also, it “could attain” 3,500 r.p.m. and 120 b.h.p.,” … or, “165 b.h.p. was recorded,” and further … a 30/98 “covered 107 miles in an hour at Montlhéry.”

Here will not be found the compromising admissions found earlier in the Dusenberg article.

Here is found the definite statements that the Vauxhall did do this or that, or so and so was accomplished, etc., ad nauseam.

I wonder what Mr. Clutton imagines Duesenberg used to determine developed horsepower of the model-J engine? Perhaps he would allow that other makers had heard of putting engines on the brake, too.

Mr. Clutton’s next statement, “Yet the car failed to catch on,” causes me some amusement. Possibly it “failed to catch on” in England where it would have little competition, anyhow, from English cars, but it seemed to have “caught on” quite well, thank you, in America at that time, and examples were even exported to Europe, and India, I am told.

So much for “European purchases being put off by the uncompromisingly brash appearance of the machine” or the high price.

Mr. Clutton’s last statement, “It seems doubtful, anyway, if it was quite as good as it set out to be,” is a real gem of fanciful supposition.

I find great difficulty in bringing to mind any English or European vintage car which could seriously approach the standards of the model-J Duesenberg for power, performance and speed. It certainly wouldn’t be Mr. Clutton’s beloved 30/98 Vauxhall, which I admire very much as an immortal sports car, but can never be compared with the Duesenberg. The Bugatti Royale would be a serious threat, but it has a far larger engine than the Duesenberg.

In future let us have no more of this sort of biased favouritism of certain makes of cars in books of this type, and have instead an impartial appraisal of each and every make in correct perspective, giving credit and praise where is due to all, because I know I am not alone in saying that I am heartily tired of reading stuff of this type in which excellent cars are grossly and unfairly maligned in comparison to quite often inferior machines which are praised to the hilt. Motor Sport, I am happy to say, does not offend in this manner.

Auckland, N.Z. Noel McMillan. 

Next Please?—Vintage Trams!

Sir,

Not only is the tramcar passing, but the tracks and overhead wires pass also, and thus the very few tramcars preserved in museums will never run again, in direct contrast to other road vehicles, which often venture out and give people an opportunity of seing them “in the flesh,” so to speak. Lord Montagu has my admiration in this respect, as he often races the veteran racing cars which are kept in his museum.

In 1955 the Tramway Museum Society was formed, with the aim of preserving examples of tramcars running today and to operate them on private tracks. Previous to 1955 several trams were in the possession of a Preservation Committee, stored in farmyards, barns, fields and ‘bus depots scattered round the country. Moving tramcars is quite an undertaking, a 10-17-ton crane and a low loader being essential “tools.” Not for us the possibility of towing a 1925 Sunbeam behind father’s A40! Not only that, but tramcars are quite bulky objects and you just can’t park them in the garden!

It was not until 1959 that a site was located, a disused quarry at Crich, near Matlock, and moving our collection commenced. Two depots have been erected, some track laid, and 23 tramcars are now assembled there, ranging from a little Sheffield horse tram of 1874 to a Leeds City Transport railcar of 1954. Eighty years of tramway history are shown there, divided roughly into the following classes: Veteran, 7; Edwardian, 4; Vintage, 6; P.V.T., 6.

Should any readers find themselves with an hour to spare when in the area and would like to see the vehicles, they are most welcome to look around. It will be some years yet before we actually run the tramcars but they are under cover and some in process of restoration. Most are in quite good condition, others require a lot of work, one or two will never run again, but it is hoped to keep them as static relics.

Penn. John C. Brown.

Old Cars in Spain

Sir,

My wife and I spent our holiday this year near Valencia in Spain, and as there semed to be plenty of old cars in daily use, we went out into the city one day to hunt them with our ciné camera.

These are a few of those we saw, all pre-1930. A very tattered square Essex saloon with artillery wheels and its pale blue paint peeling, a black Lancia Lambda saloon in fine order, and not far from it another, olive drab all over, shabby but still strong.

A black four-door Hispano Suiza saloon with the “Suiza” upside down on the honeycomb of the radiator, but healthy otherwise, a long black Mercedes limousine which might have slunk straight out of a showroom, a light green Plymouth coupé with dickey, quite unmarked but wretchedly dull and unpolished. A large black brute of a Dodge Six saloon, lovingly kept by its taxi owner who was rubbing down its yellow artillery spoked wheels.

Dozens of Citroëns, and amongst them a 7.5 blue shooting brake and a pathetic, dusty green 7.5 van, wheels awry, with three fat men and a load of sticks aboard, chugging and swaying wearily through the potholes behind our ‘bus. One black 11.4 saloon looked so neglected and scruffy that we took a look inside – it was filled with filthy sacks which buried all its upholstery.

We saw three black Opel and two Fiat Ballila saloons as well as a lone grey Austin Seven – these smaller cars were in better condition than the larger cars. Later in the day a coal-scuttle Renault Coca Cola van tore past, a travesty in red, white and blue. Shortly after that a smart red Citroën cloverleaf 2-seater darted out of a dark alley into the bright sun and bustle of the Plaza Caudillo. The young bloods in it were full of Spanish excitement, so I seized my camera, sighted my game, followed it round, engine whirring, pedestrians staring, wife impatiently embarrassed. “Got it – a good shot,” I said smugly, then lowered it to find that I’d left the cap over the lens, a common fault of mine.

With infinite patience in her voice my wife said “Now dear, you know I’ve told you never to play with your camera before I’ve checked it first!”

After she had pulled me away from a tantalisingly intriguing blue Peugeot saloon (I own a 203). we climbed aboard our usual taxi, a “post coal-scuttle” Renault saloon, solid, black and bumblingly sturdy, and returned to our hotel. It had home-made seats, and a terrible axle growl, but got along well enough.

Due to the hot, arid climate, I never saw a speck of rust despite the dilapidation of some of these cars. Just bare metal covered here and there with parched, faded but generally original paintwork, and springs so dry and dusty that they appeared never to have been oiled.

I was so impressed by all these ever running old martyrs, particularly the Citroëns, that I have recently bought and restored an 11.4 tourer of that make.

Sutton, Coldfield. R. T. Gausden.

A “Private, Home-made, Red”

Sir,

The enclosed photograph of my 1915 Buckingham cyclecar (taken in 1925) may perhaps be of interest.

I bought the “pieces” from the present Lord Rochdale for – as I remember – £9 and re-assembled the little car at the Eton “school of mechanics.”

It had a water-cooled V-twin, o.h.v. Blackburn engine, and belt drive. The pedal gear-change was rather like a model-T Ford. One pressed hard down for bottom and allowed the pedal to come right back for top. Neutral was in the intermediate position, obtained by applying one’s heel to a little lever attached to the pedal. I remember that one could make really “lightning” gear-changes.

It must have had quite a good power-weight ratio, for I remember that it could climb Northern Irish hills faster than the contemporary 25-h.p. Maxwell, and much faster than the model-T Ford.

The Antrim County Council gave it the rather intriguing description of “Private, Home-made, Red.”

Anyhow, the little Buckingham gave me enormous pleasure, and I hope that some of your older readers may share some of it when they read this letter.

London, S.W.1. R. McGildowny

Ancient Typewriter Section!

Sir

With reference to old typewriters still in regular use, I am typing this on my vintage Oliver No. 9 (quote) ” Standard Visible Writer.”

This machine I bought for £1 twelve years ago. It was made in 1913 and had been in use in an insurance office where my mother used it for typing the accounts. When she retired it was no longer wanted due to its non-standard keyboard (two shift keys – fig. and cap. – instead of the normal one), and I was allowed to buy it for the said £1.

All it needed was a thorough clean and oil and I have used it ever since. All I have bought for it is a nylon toothbrush (for cleaning its type) and, of course, ribbons.

As you will see it still types a very straight line and will easily give five carbon copies if required, and I may say that they often are.

The conclusion is that vintage machinery is completely practical and reliable and far more economical to “run” than presentday tinware. (The only snag is that it weighs about 30 lb.) I hope this may be of interest and add spice to your excellent and always enjoyable magazine,

Ipswich. F. B. Humphrey.

Sir,

I was interested to read in your August 1961 issue of Motor Sport about a Remington Standard No. 7 still in regular use.

I have in regular use a Corona Folding Portable which I purchased for 60s. (this included handbook, oil-can and type brush, together with carrying case).

The last patent applied for, listed on the machine, is July 10th, 1917, and the handbook dated July 1919, it may therefore be a 1918 model. It appears to have travelled widely, being manufactured in Groton, New York, and exported to China; the machine still bears the label of “Dodge & Seymour (China) Ltd.”

To date the only replacements have been ribbons and the machine is still mechanically perfect. I consider my expenditure on the 692 parts which make up this machine a very good investment. (“Born 1918 – Still going strong.”) (An apology to Johnnie Walker.)

Dumfries. James B. Nadwell.

Sir,

On devouring the August Motor Sport I came across your article regarding “vintage” typewriters. I have a prized possession – a 1892 Blickensderfer No. 7, and still in running order.

The mechanics of this machine are a joy to behold – and all for 2s. 6d. at a jumble sale. It has not been used much so would you advise raising the compression-ratio and fitting Webers; this should improve performance, because having a repertoire of 84 symbols it takes rather a time to isolate the one desired!

The name-plate is of interest, reading “Blickensderfer, 9-10 Cheapside, London – made in U.S.A.”! If you are wondering why this is not written (typed?) on the machine – time (say three days) is too short

Highgate. R. Michael Dawe

Sir,

With reference to a paragraph referring to veteran typewriters, I have in my possession an Empire portable typewriter which was patented in this country on March 29th, 1892. It has given me reliable service for a year, since purchased at an auction, together with a carpet sweeper, for the princely sum of 10s. It has as yet required no replacements and is still working satisfactorily, as this letter proves.

Ferndown. Peter Marx (aged 13).

Sir,

Having read the short paragraph about old typewriters in your August issue, I thought that you might be interested to hear about this old ‘un bought for my brother and I by our father a few weeks ago for the small sum of 10s. at an auction sale. It is an old Remington Standard with a standard keyboard. Just beyond the keyboard in gold lettering is written: “Manufactured by Remington Standard Typewriter M’f’g, Collion, N.Y., U.S.A. For Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict, New York.”

The key-bed is in the form of a well and the rods connecting the keys to the letters are made of wood for part of the way, followed by metal wires about as thick as bicycle-wheel spokes, the letters themselves are rather temperamental. It seems to have been used by someone with the initials J. B. L., as these are scratched under one of the levers. The ribbon is 1 1/4 in. wide. On the shift bar (of wood) are written the various dates on which patents were taken out, the first being “Aug. 10, 1875,” and the last being “Mch. 18, 1890.” The machine still has its original metal cover-cum-box.

Bath. H. N. Holden.

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