A Collection of Aero Engines



A reader having given me the tip-off, I spent an August Sunday driving completely across London from Hampshire and out into Essex, bound for Billericay, to see Mr. R. C. Shelley’s collection of historic aeroplane engines. I had forgotten the Marples 50s, which prevailed nearly all the way, even along the dual carriageways of the Southend Arterial, which reduced the journey-time without contributing anything to my personal safety. Fortunately the Lancia Flavia I was using is a delightful car to drive, even slowly, so I arrived in good heart.

The rather tedious run was certainly worth-while. Mr. Shelley has been an aviation fanatic all his life. He won a free flight in a Handley-Page 0/400 as early as 1919 and spent his youthful free afternoons, as I did, snooping around aerodromes. He then went to work at the Weatherall motorcycle firm in Billericay, and in that capacity discovered the fascination of Brooklands, riding as passenger in the Sidecar 200-Mile Races, and also in the first I.O.M. Sidecar T.T.

Mr. Shelley then went into the garage and repair business on his own, and as a hobby began to collect old aero engines and aviation literature. At one time he actually owned three old aeroplanes. These were a B.A.T. monoplane with A.B.C. Gnat flat-twin engine, bought at Northolt in 1924, a prototype Sopwith Pup with 50-h.p. Gnome engine, and an engineless Sopwith Camel, all acquired in the nineteen-twenties.

A move to smaller premises in Billericay made it necessary to dispose of these machines, but Mr. Shelley kept the propellers and added other engines and propellers to his now unique collection. It was at his 300-year-old house, once an inn, that I called to inspect them.

Today, old aeroplane engines are extremely hard to come by, so it was most impressive to discover that Mr. Shelley has a dozen in a shed behind his garage, and rather more than 30 old propellers. His house, too, is full of aviation books, cuttings-albums, pictures, photographs and models, including a splendid large-scale model of an Avro 504, the second aeroplane in which he flew as a passenger. His son, owner of a 2½-litre S.S.100, shares his father’s enthusiasm.

The first engine I noticed was a 150-h.p. V8 Hispano-Suiza, from an S.E.5, now fitted with the correct propeller and hub, by a series of fortunate and complicated coincidences. This one came from Farnborough.

Another fine exhibit is a 140-h.p. Clerget rotary engine from a Camel, found in Sydenham in 1936, and now being rebuilt. Particularly interesting is a 75-h.p. Rolls-Royce Hawk, unearthed somewhere in Surrey, that had powered the S.S. Zero airship. Two more early engines are a 60-h.p. Gnome and a 40-h.p. in-line Clerget thought to have been in a seaplane. Naturally there is a Napier Lion, in process of overhaul, which came out of a Blackburne Velos which made its last flight from Brooklands to Old Warden flown by the late R. O. Shuttleworth, himself an avid collector.

Amongst more modern engines is a 230-h.p. D.H. Gipsy Six R, thought to have come from the King’s Cup-winning Percival Mew Gull, and possibly before that to have been in the record-breaking D.H. Comet, and a 130-h.p. D.H. Gipsy Major, fully inhibited after a rebuild by Shorts of Rochester, and flown in a Tiger Moth. There is also a 350-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah X from an Airspeed Oxford, mounted, like all the overhauled engines in the collection, on a tubular metal-wheeled trolley braced by interplane wires, and a dismantled Bristol Jupiter IV, found at Hornchurch aerodrome.

Very rare are a couple of horizontally-opposed twin-cylinder French Mengin engines, one a 25-h.p., the other a 30-h.p. Finally, there is a pre-war 40-h.p. Salmson radial engine with a fine arrangement of “knitting needle” push-rods, hairpin valve springs, and ingenious one-piece cylinders with steel barrels but aluminium heads. This one turned up in the cellar of a house in Yorkshire. The smaller Mengin was discovered lying in the body of a lorry derelict in a field, the bigger one came from Pinner.

The propellers are best listed complete :

D.H.5 (Clerget), D.H.6 (90 Curtiss), F.E.2B (Daimler), Sopwith Camel F.1 (Clerget), B.A.7 Monoplane (A.B.C,), Grahame White 21 (Le Rhone), Bleriot Monoplane (Gnome), Sopwith Camel (Clerget), Maurice Farman (80 Renault), Morane Parasol (80 Gnome), S.E.5A (200 Hispano), S.E.5A (200 Viper), S.E.5 (150 Hispano), Sage Seaplane (75 Rolls Hawk). A.W. F.K.8 (120 Beardmore), Voisin (Salmson), Avro 504 (80 Gnome), Sopwith Dolphin 200 Hispano), F.B.A. Flying Boat (200 Gnome), Vickers Scout (Clerget), S.S. Zero Airship (110-h.p. Rolls Hawk, four blades), D.H. Dominic (Gipsy Six), Piper Cub (Coventry Neptune), pre.-war Bomber (Rolls Kestrel), Airspeed Oxford (Cheetah), D.H. Moth (Gipsy Major), Percival Prentice (Gipsy Queen), Avro Anson (Cheetah), North American Harvard (Pratt & Whitney), A.W. Atlas (Jaguar) (Leitner Watts V.P.), Piper Cub (Continental A65), Fairchild Argus (145 Warner).

In addition there is a cropped prop. from a Vickers Virginia and a couple of blades from a 1916 twin-engined FE4, only two such aeroplanes being built, one with Rolls-Royce, the other with R.A.F. engines. The prop. from the FBA was on the boat as it was flown, a single-float seaplane, at Lake Windermere, the 1914/18 Bleriot prop. was supplied by the late A. R. Weyl, and another rare one is the prop. from a Daimler-engined FE2b, before they amalgamated with Beardmore. The collection is enhanced by smaller props. used for driving dynamos and fuel pumps, and by an intriguing collection of miscellaneous parts far too numerous to list, but including the master con.-rod from a Bristol Pegasus fished out of Lyme Bay in 1958—probably the relic of a war-time ditching.

Mr. Shelley has owned various interesting motorcycles and cars, including a Scripps-Booth he modified into a vehicle of sporting pretensions, and which was used to collect his Viper aero-engine.

When needed, he has been able to supply engines and parts to deserving persons, a 200-h.p. Viper going to the R.A.E. as a spare for their restored S.E.5, for example, and others to R. G. J. Nash and Old Warden. He, like your Editor, will be delighted to hear of any further engines, aeroplanes or parts in need of a home.—W. B.

Club magazines.—The recent cessation of Britain’s postal services, and delays which even now are evident, served to emphasise the pleasure to be derived from Club magazines and how much they are missed when they fail to get through. Another issue of the duplicated Chain Gang Gazette is exceedingly interesting, containing as it does an article by Michael Collins which exactly captures the spirit of pre-war racing, as he describes sharing a Gough-engined Frazer Nash with the Hon. Peter Mitchell-Thompson at Le Mans in 1935, Arthur Gibson’s account of his experiences with the single-seater ‘Nash during the 1963 season, as well as much highly-technical information. Then there was another edition of Sunbeam, with hints on how to strip and rebuild recalcitrant Sunbeam back-axles, and another Early & Late, bulletin of the Rolls-Royce Section of the V.S.C.C. [of which, although some MOTOR SPORT readers may not credit it, I have read every issue from cover to cover— Ed.], with articles on restoring a 1939 Wraith in America and a 1926 Barker-bodied Twenty in England. These, and other Club journals, are much missed when the G.P.O. sits on them instead of delivering ’em.

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We wonder whether the Bull-Nose Morris Club spotted yet another reason for owning an early Morris instead of a modern car, contained in a letter in the August issue of Riding?. In this letter, N. de Rouen Forth of Bridport recounts how he was in collision with a high-stepping hackney while driving “an old Morris 2-seater” down a narrow country lane. The horse stopped with its n/s. foreleg wedged between the car’s headlamp and mudguard, but, when released, was found to have suffered no injury. The writer concludes : “Had it been a modern car with built-in mudguards, there would undoubtedly have been a very different story to tell.” Another reason why you should buy a vintage car!  Incidentally, the old Morris seems to have had very good brakes, because the owner says: “I came to a violent stop, nearly going through the windscreen!”

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Vintage miscellany.—The Montagu Motor Museum’s 7.6-litre 40/60 Gobron-Brillié fire-engine is to feature in an A.T.V. “Firecrackers” comedy series which started on August 29th. Location scenes were shot at Beaulieu. Lord Montagu is working on his history of the Hon. C. S. Rolls and asks anyone with relevant data or photographs to please contact him. Skindivers have brought up from beneath the waters of Stockholm Harbour a 1910 40-h.p. Graf und Stift, which is thought to have lain there since about 1924 but is believed to be still restorable. A Standard Nine which has spent many years in a shed in Essex was discovered recently.

Well, well! Robert Glenton’s road-test report in the Sunday Express for August Bank Holiday was about a 1925 3-litre Bentley —and he was very complimentary and enthusiastic about it.

Clubs’ Day at Clapham.—John Scholes, Curator of Historical Relics at the Museum of British Transport at Triangle Place, Clapham, London, S.W.4, informs us that this Museum, which has been open to the public since May 1963, more than 100,000 people having visited it, will be open to transport enthusiasts and Clubs on Sunday, November 1st, from 2-5.30 p.m., with no restrictions on photography and staff on duty to help in every way possible. The admission charge on that day will be 5s., children 2s. 6d. The Museum is largely concerned with railway history, but the road exhibits are as follows:

‘Buses.—Horse omnibus (replica), George Shillibeer, introduced in London in 1829; “Knifeboard” horse omnibus, Thomas Tilling, built in 1851; “Garden Seat ” horse omnibus, London General Omnibus Co., built in 1895; Station omnibus, Kent and East Sussex, built 1900; “B”–type omnibus, London General Omnibus Co., introduced in 1910; “K”-type omnibus, London General Omnibus Co., built in 1919; “S”-type omnibus, London General Omnibus Co., built in 1920; “NS ” omnibus, London General Omnibus Co., built in 1923; “ST” type omnibus, London General Omnibus Co. built in 1929; “LT” type omnibus, London General Omnibus Co., built in 1929; Green Line coach, London General Omnibus co., built in 1931.

Trams.– Horse tramcar, Isle of Man Tramways Ltd., built in 1883; Tramcar No. 1, Blackpool Corporation, built in 1885; Electric tramcar No. 1, Douglas Southern Electric Tramways Ltd., built in 1896; Horse tram, Chesterfield Corporation, built in 1897; Tramcar No. 342, Sheffield Corporation, built in 1907; Tramcar No. 290, West Ham Corporation, built in 1910; Tramcar Class E/1, London County Council, built in 1908; Tramcar No. 6, Llandudno and Colwyn Bay Electric Railway, built in 1914; Tramcar, London County Council, built in 1932; Tramcar No. 1392, Glasgow Corporation, built in 1952.

Trolleybuses.—Trolleybus No. 1, London United Tramways, introduced in 1931; Trolleybus No. 44, Ipswich Corporation Transport Undertaking, built in 1930.