Vintage postbag, September 1966

Mercedes Identified


The car illustrated on page 710 of Motor Sport is a four-wheel drive Mercedes Colonial, built by Daimler in 1907 to a special order issued by the “Reichskolonialamt” (State Department of Colonies). In 1908 it was used by the Secretary of State, Dernburg, for an official visit to, and sightseeing trip through, German South-West Africa. Not only did this car have four-wheel drive, but it also featured four-wheel steering, being one of the first cars in the world thus equipped and probably the first practical and successful application of these two combined features. The car is reported to have behaved very well during this expedition.

The vehicle was powered by a 45-h.p. petrol engine and an extra large capacity radiator was fitted. Because of the expected high operating temperatures, an extra radiator was fitted just forward of the scuttle, as can be clearly seen in the photograph. The photograph you reprinted is one I had not seen before and I would not be at all surprised if Herr Dernburg were one of the occupants.

Dorking. B. H. VANDERVEEN, Executive Director, Olyslager Organisation N.V.

Getting It Right


Please forgive me for pointing out one or two errors in your report of V.S.C.C. Oulton.

Firstly, Tony Merrick, E.R.A,, with whom I share a mechanic who cooks excellent chow mien, even in the rain, was on Dunlop RS5 tyres, not R5s.

Secondly, on my P-type M.G. it is a Wade blower, albeit with a toothed belt.

Ab Kettleby. JOHN P. GOODACRE.
[And while we are correcting errors, the Riley which won the Concours d’Elegance was not an Imp, as the results had it, but a Sprite.—ED.] 

Lea-Francis Matters


I was interested in your comments on R. C. Soden’s Lea-Francis in the August issue, reporting the Fleet Rally.

First of all, Soden’s car in fact left the works on 10.7.26, being delivered to Gloucester Garages Ltd. The car left the works as a J-type 12/22 with the Meadows 4EC engine fitted, and I have so far been unable to trace who fitted the 12/40 4ED unit to the car. This was quite a popular modification at the time when the car was new, quite often carried out by the works. Indeed, the M-type cars were the same as the J but with the 12/40 engine as standard.

Secondly, I must have a say about aluminium paint. I think it is horrid stuff, but nevertheless I am quite satisfied that all the 12/40s which left the works had their aluminium crankcases and gearbox cases painted with the stuff after assembly and before erection in the chassis. I have stripped several of these units, some of which had suffered little disturbance, and always on meticulous cleaning I have found copious traces of aluminium paint on the castings and on the sump and gearbox bolts. This is confirmed by Mr. G. T. Andrews, who was Service Director at the firm for many years. I think the iron cylinder blocks, heads, and mag drive castings would probably be black, as would the all-iron 9.8 and 12/22 units, but can only confirm this from the rather difficult evidence of chassis photos taken at the time. I only wish I had the courage to paint the engine of the car I am restoring in like manner, as it would prevent the ugly rusting of bolts and nuts on the crankcase which I am having trouble with whilst the car is standing unfinished! In any case, I think the appearance of the bare metal is so much better, whatever may have been original!

Aside from all this, I have lately been doing some research with the aid of some old factory records, and as a result of this I would like to appeal for anyone who has any information about the earlier models of Leaf to get in touch with me. The records are rather confusing in the days before Mr. Van Bogen joined the company, and I would like some help in sorting out the exact specification of some of the early cars. There is indeed one mixed batch of 10- and 12-h.p. cars of the order of 200 cars which we cannot put a type letter to, and we have several of this batch on the Club records. I have no catalogues earlier than 1926 and would greatly appreciate a sight of anything earlier, together with information on types A to H inclusive, if it can be found. I would also like anything that can be found about the company before about 1922, when car production commenced, as within this Club there is almost no knowledge of the company’s motorcycle and bicycle era.

Sutton Coldfield. PETER PRINGLE, Chairman., L.F.O.C.

Did It Come to London?


Very many years ago I was a motorcyclist and British motorcycles were the best, and also I could not afford anything rise. However, I used to go window shopping in Great Portland Street and in a window there was a car which interested me very much, but I cannot remember much about it except it was a single-seater car with, possibly, a 12-cylinder engine, but the feature which made it totally unique was that the driver sat inside the steering wheel. I didn’t have the courage to go inside and ask, but I know this car existed and was definitely there. My very defective recollection of where this car was is that it was on the left-hand side going towards Euston Road.

If I had had any assets I would certainly have endeavoured to buy this car, whereupon I should have been the sucker of all times, but it would be very interesting to know whether any of your readers can identify it, or know what happened to it.

Hitchih. ROBINN GRANT, Managing Direcior, Barnet Instruments Ltd.
[The only car with driver sitting inside the steering wheel was the very slim single-seater, 4-cylinder, 1-litre built for record breaking in 1926 by Panhard-Levassor; they abandoned the idea following a fatal accident at MontIhery the following year when a tyre hurst while Breton was driving it. It is illustrated in my book “Montlhery” (Cassell, 1961) but I do not know whether it, or a larger version I believe they made, was ever exhibited in London. However, Panhard et Levassor did have showrooms in Gt. Portland Street at this dine. Can Panhard experts enlighten us?—ED.] 

The Sunbeam Dawn


Your report of the annual Sunbeam (S.T.D.) gathering makes pleasant reading, as always, and it is gratifying to learn of the skill and industry displayed by Mr. L. Lancaster in rebuilding a 1934 Dawn model to such an immaculate standard. As you know, the Dawn did not attract the same degree of approbation as its larger forebears, but in those difficult days of the mid-thirties when both the Nation and the Wolverhampton Sunbeam Company were in a parlous state in the financial sense, I do feel that Mr. H. G. Stevens, who was the designer of the Dawn, deserves better of us, in view of his very difficult task at that time. From which you may readily perceive that I own a Dawn (the only one on the I.o.M.) and it also has given years of faithful service; indeed, it has fairly recently been laid aside as the time has surely come for it to be re-furbished throughout.

One item in your report rather puzzles me; you mention that Mr. Lancaster had his Dawn rebored. Surely this is wrong, as the Dawn engine is a large aluminium casting embodying dry back steel liners for the cylinder bores. They are removable by pressing out, whence new ones can be pressed in by normal means.

I wonder if anyone nowadays recalls the quite remarkable 450-h.p. Sunbeam Matabele engine which was fitted to the “Despujots” gliding boat for the Monaco motor-boat races of 1920? Remarkable speeds were expected from this boat, but unfortunately the prowess of the other competitors was so much below, that the winning speed was but 42 m.p.h. and the Sunbeam engine ran at very much less than full throttle to produce this. In former runs on the Seine, the boat had comfortably attained a speed of 70 m.p.h. and the Sunbeam engine was still well within its power capabilities.

St. John’s. R. E. BLAKEY.
[It was a pair of Sunbeam Matabeles that gave Segrave the first 200 m.p.h. on land.—.ED.]

” Perpetual Interest ”


Motor Sport must be of perpetual interest to thousands, apart from John Pole (August) and myself of the “Lost Causes” era. As mustard stimulates the digestive juices, so does Motor Sport stimulate the flow of reminiscences dormant in many of us and I for one never open an issue without finding something of keen personal interest. For instance, the Lanchester 10 you recently mentioned at Birmingham Science Museum turns out to be George Lanchester’s hush-hush prototype that I knew well as a boy (even to hanging about outside his house in a vain attempt to get a close-up) and the Curator tells me that my description tallies with what was a remarkably advanced car in its day—or even this day. And again, I once had an illuminating chat in the twenties with that distinguished Birmingham surgeon mentioned in the Birmingham Post. A point not mentioned by them is that this elegant Rolls-Royce 40/50 was finished in eggshell grey and as a brash young garage-hand I asked him when he was going to have the finishing coat applied! His reply was a lesson in logic and courtesy that I never forgot. After long, and careful thought he decided that, based on the certainty of 20 years useful life, the Rolls would be the cheapest form of motoring and the colour and texture of finish were the result of his experience that the darker and glossier a car, the more one had to wash it. Moreover, when driving into the setting sun one avoided bonnet dazzle and, he concluded whimsically, as he saved the finishing coats in the first place, he could always have it done just before resale, much to his advantage in resale price. I wonder if he will.

I was interested to have Mr. Goodacre’s confirmation (August) that the first Austin 7 had an interior hand-starter, having often had arguments about it. The first 7 I saw new ex-Longbridge had one, being a neat cable over drum set-up on top of the gearbox, the horizontal wooden handle an exact replica of the wood jack handles of the period. I have never seen one since. Has one survived?

Brockenhurst, W. A. EMETT

Survival of Early Garages


I see that you are inquiring about garages in long ownership. Perhaps the following would be interesting to you.

Some four years ago, when my wife and I were on holiday in Seaton, Devon, with our Humber 12/25, we used to call at Oborn’s garage in Beer for petrol. They were very interested in our Humber, and were very helpful too, as we had gasket trouble.

Mr. Oborn, senior, who at that time was still alive (I believe he was 84 years old, and his sons were running the garage) is the driver of the Lanchester seen on their trade card, taken on a trip to the Lake District in 1905, of which he had many stories to tell.

Midhurst. J. S. WEST

Restoring Vintage Austin 7s


I was interested to read your report of the Austin 7 rally at Beaulieu. I can’t quite understand the continents concerning polished brass—especially radiator shells.

My car, 1929 Chummy, in daily use, bought for £10 three years ago, had a shell of peeling chrome. This I replaced with another shell that I had re-nickelled at a cost of about £3 10s. Surely, if an owner is an enthusiast it is worth £3 10s. to have a (so to speak) original, rather than lose a lot of sweat polishing, which is quite possible in our English climate.

I wish I could attend Beaulieu with my vehicle, but I jut can’t find a spare 20 driving hours during a weekend.

As a reader of Motor Sport for several years I wouldn’t dare take the car anywhere by trailer!

By the way, how essential is it to stick to C.A.V. coils?