Vintage postbag, September 1967

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Alvis Pros and Cons

Sir,

In your “Further Thoughts about The Vintage Alvis'” you mention that my book “Alvis Car 1920-1966” does not go into the merits and demerits of the various Alvis models.

There are two reasons for this, quite apart from lack of space, First, I was far more concerned to spotlight the fine technical and racing achievements of the Alvis Company for which, in the opinion of many people, they never received sufficient recognition, arid my first chapter is devoted to this. Second, opinions on pre-war cars arc quite often based on experience of vehicles which have had 30 or 40 years’ wear and tear or sheer abuse. We all know pre-war Alvis car: have no oil pressure or brakes according to many self-appointed experts!

Mr. Scott-Moncrieff has a unique experience of many makes and drove them when new – few can make such claims when criticising pre-war cars. In his book “The Thoroughbred Motor Car 1930-1940” the Alvis car and its makers receive many complimentary remarks, some of which I should like to mention because your quotations only give one side of his opinions.

(1) Speed 20 “brakes were excellent” and the car “was a brisk performer,” “wonderfully rugged” and “long-wearing,” with “lovely 4-speed box and excellent steering.”

(2) Of the Speed 25 and 4.3-litre he said “they were by far the best cars ever built by Alvis,” “road-holding was excellent,” “the gearbox as always, a joy” and (of the 4.3) “on points, provided it was not spoilt by cheap coachwork, it was not a long way behind the overdrive Bentley and some people regard it as the better car.” (The standard 4.3 Alvis saloon (maximum over 100 m.p.h.) was, I believe, faster than the Bentley.)

Scott-Moncrieff’s statement that Speed 20 brakes (like most cable brakes) initially take time to adjust and compensate is valid. But once adjusted wear is taken up by a control accessible to the driver for use even when the car is running. I am not clear as to why he condemned the “Firefly” (1932/4) as a “nasty little car.” True, it was only of 1½-litres capacity but those points which he liked about the Speed 20 apply to the Firefly as except for engine size and back-axle ratio, the chassis specification and quality are virtually identical. True it is on the heavy side but the saloon I once owned cruised for long distances quite happily at 60-65 m.p.h. (I only wish some modern cars would keep up this speed, then some road congestion would be avoided.) And when new the Firefly “must have been well thought of as almost one third of Alvis production in 1934 was devoted to them. The E.N.V. gearbox, which was an alternative fitting, did not improve the performance, but Mr. W. M. Doan (one of the patentees of the all-sycromesh box) has said in an article written for my book that one of the errors made in 1933 was to fit E.N.V. boxes to Certain “Firefly” and “Crested Eagle” models when the all-synchromesh box was already available and soon proved itself to be one of the finest ever made. Finally, Alvis never built bodies at any time in their history and deterioration 30 or 40 years later of saloon bodies is largely due to blockage of the water outlets for the sunshine roofs or, as in the ease of the “Firefly” and “Firebird,” partial use of fabric.

Now that Alvis (independent for 45 years) is part of the Leyland group and the future of the Alvis car uncertain, it is pleasant to know that Peter Hull’s and Norman Johnson’s book and my own record for all time the history of’ a company which, by its racing achievements and the quality of its products, has a high place in British automobile engineering and could well claim first place for technical achievements by being the first British company to put into production front-wheel drive (1928) and independent front suspension and the all-synchromesh box (1933).

Weybridge, K. R. Day,

General Secretary, Alvis Owners’ Club.

* * *

Driven to Meetings

Sir,

Much as I hate to find fault with the reporting Of your excellent Magazine, I would like to point out an error in “Oulton Park Pickings” in which you say “The Alvis was towed to Oulton Park on a trailer behind a very willing £32 Alvis TA14.”

All my cars were, as always, driven to the meeting, including the one I lent to John Venables Llewellyn while we have his E.R.A. in bits; in fact I have no other transport than my P.V.T. Alvises, hence the fixed wings and lights on the 4.3 Special. They are all used regularly on the road, sometimes doing really heavy work such as towing in breakdowns and carrying complete engines down from the Alvis Works.

Leigh, Mike Cairnes,

[My sincere apologies for mistaking Cairnes for Harold Barr. But out of evil comes good, for it is nice to learn that Cairnes drives his Alvises to meetings, while I still think that when a car is towed to meetings it is nice if a car of the same make does the towing. – Ed.]

* * *

“The American Invasion”

Sir,

Thank you for letting me examine “The American Invasion” which you described in your August number. It is small wonder that this amusing lampoon was anonymous as it must have caused no small degree of umbrage to be taken by those who were loudly shrieking “Buy British” whilst they sold Continental cars. British-built copies, or were themselves dependent on American management or ideas. Even the most august are not spared, and John de Looze might have discerned a reference to his notorious amatory prowess in the lines:

“Even from lofty Derby
Where Royces Roll their way,
And shirt-sleeved Secretaries
There queer concerts display…”

Before discussing the possible authorship may I add to your conjectures about some of the “disguised” makes and men featured?

There’ can be little doubt that “Biletsi” is William Letts, and I think the “Death” car which you cannot identify must be the Mors. The “Sneezer” is certainly the Sizaire-Naudin (for which Charles Jarrott & Letts held the agency), as this was quite a well-established nickname for this car, comparable with “Ding-bong” for de Dion. I have heard it said that “Sneezer” was used for Hispano-Suiza but I think the contemporary Anglicised form was “Banana-Squeezer,” and in any case Jarrott and Letts did not handle this marque. The “Double Cross” for the De Dietrich (or Lorraine Dietrich as it was called by 1911), and the “Charmer” for the Chalmers are easy enough, and if we accept the “Sneezer” for the Sizaire then I think the “British Pet” must be the Crossley-Bugatti. The “Volume” eludes me, though infuriatingly enough both this and the “Nailly Grocer 23” ring faint hells and I feel I ought to know them.

The author gets a good dig in at Argyll with his:

“Latest Yankee notions
‘Neath Scottish colours sail;
From ornate Alexandra (Argyll’s palatial new factory)
Where Bonny Mary reigns,
Designing British engines
Though culled from foreign brains.”

This probably reflects the litigation between Argyll and Daimler over patent priorities concerning the American-designed Daimler-Knight double-sleeve-valve engine, and the Canadian-designed Argyll-Bart-McCullum single-sleeve engine. The dig at S. F. Edge, or “Selfus Edgus,” is fair enough with its

“And one who disagreed with him
He frankly called a liar,”

though it is a little odd that the anonymous author did not refer to the de Dion Bouton hat which Edge wore in rotation with his Napier and other titfers.

Although quite prepared for someone to step forward and prove us wrong, I agree with you in thinking E. S. Bennett is a strong favourite as the author (or, at least, the instigator) of “The American Invasion.” Even though we now find pre-1914 humour pretty heavy going it is a witty production (particularly the mock advertisements), and Fred Bennett kept his pretty wit and sense of fun to the end of his long life. He was, as you know, the Cadillac concessionaire from 1903 onwards and a staunch advocate for the better makes of American car. The mock advertisement for the “Callidac ” seems to me to have the Bennett touch with its reference to the 2,000 Miles Reliability Trial during which: “The Callidac came at the first whistle, never stayed out later than 9.30 p.m., was absolutely safe with children and did not eat its bedding.” Another pointer to Bennett is the transmogrification of Daimler into Damliur,” for remember him telling a story-during one of his splendid after-dinner speeches about some entanglement between a “Ross-Royals ” and a ” Dam-Liar.”

There are many good stories about Fred Bennett, who was certainly one of the most colourful characters in the motor trade – and one of the most likeable – but this letter is already long enough, and someone may yet come forward and say “I done it.”

Odiham, Anthony Bird

Sir,

Your article on “The American Invasion” was most interesting – and surely the “Nailly Grocer” is not so difficult? It is the Studebaker (Or Studdy-baker), and it was successor to the Flanders (hence Flemish). The “Death” must be Mors. This can be translated as “bit” (of a bridle) but is pronounced, due to the silent final consonant, exactly the same as “mort” – death.

“Volume” and “British Pet” have defeated me, too, but surely if there was a Crossley-Bugatti agreement before 1914, the “British Pet” might be the Type 13? And could the “Volume” be Maxwell?

Finchley, N.3, K. G. Gilling

* * *

Sunbeam Dawn Hub Caps

Sir,

I thank you for your complimentary remarks regarding my “Dawn,” but why the appended question? (Your article re S.T.D. rally of July 2nd.)

In answer I can only say: “Because the manufacturer chose to make them available to the purchaser, presumably as optional to the ring-type nuts.” I might also add that they are more efficient and durable than the ring type.

Bolton-le-Sands, L. Lancaster

* * *

M-Type M.G. Midget Now a P.V.T.

Sir,

In the February issue of Motor Sport you mentioned V.S.C.C. Eligibilities, in particular that the M-type M.G. was no longer considered a P.V.T.

As the owner of three of these cars (and a C-type Montlhéry Midget), I was most delighted when my recent application for membership of the V.S.C.C. was accepted, and I received a copy of their “Eligibility of Cars,” dated 1.1.67, to find that the M-type is listed as a P.V.T. Perhaps you would be kind enough to publish a correction of this minor error in Motor Sport.

Indeed, with D. B. Tubbs telling us that the M-type’s pedigree reads “by Hispano-Suiza out of Wolseley,” these cars would seem more thoroughbred than ever – even if a garage mechanic did mutter something about “a tortoise on wheels” to me recently!

Many thanks for the valuable support which Motor Sport gives to old car interests.

Hatfield, J. A. McNab.

* * *

A Maharaja’s Lanchester 40

Sir,

I was interested to read that the carriage body on the Maharaja of Alwar’s 40-h.p. Lanchester was built for King George IV. I can just imagine “Prinny’s” ghost riding around in this car! The vehicle may be painted gold now, but when it left the Lanchester Works in 1924 it was painted Royal blue with gold lines. Apart from the colour, the only alterations to the car in fifty years are the addition of a small windscreen and the Rudge wire wheels have been replaced by steel disc ones. I enclose two photographs of the car as it left the works.

Speen, Francis W. Hutton-Scott

* * *

Good Run on a Rolls-Royce

Sir,

Like you, but in the enthusiasm of middle age, I failed to interest Rolls-Royce Ltd. in what may be a record run for one of their products in its middle age. On April 6th last I marked the 40th birthday of my Phantom I by driving it from Waterloo Place, London, to Waterloo Place, Edinburgh (vive Ecosse libre!) and back in just under 22 hours. After making a telephone call I drove on to Maidenhead – a total of some 825 miles in 23 hours overall.

As this was done in very wet and windy conditions (the “Force 10 storm in area Tyne” carried away my windscreen-wiper) I concluded that, given a fine day around the Summer Solstice, a distance of 1,000 miles in 24 hours by a lone driver in a 40-year-old car was by no means unattainable. I am not trying it just yet – perhaps I’ll wait till the Phantom’s 50th birthday, that is if I am still around.

Maidenhead, John Stevens.

* * *

Old Vehicles in Ibiza

Sir,

Whilst on holiday recently in the Balearic island of Ibiza, I was delighted to see the number of vintage and post-vintage vehicles still in daily use on the island’s dusty roads. In the old town of Ibiza two clover-leaf Citroens and an early Fiat saloon were spotted within minutes of each other. In another street stood a large Chevrolet tourer of 1927 vintage, whilst another street housed a 1932 Chevrolet limousine with seats for seven. Up a small side road rested a large post-vintage Chenard Walcker tourer with gutted interior, almost next to this was a Fiat sot in very dirty but sound condition.

Commercial vehicles were represented by a few Model-A Ford trucks still in use delivering vegetables or soft drinks, whilst an Austin to van was spotted delivering hosiery to a shop. A second Austin 10/4 saloon was seen later with a built on luggage trunk at the rear.

In a small scrapyard there stands a very early S.P.A. truck with an extremely ancient solid-tyred bicycle on its flat back. In a corner lie the remnants of a Model-T Ford truck sans wheels and engine. The same yard also houses a good collection of pre-war American cars. A garage near San Antonio Abad has a circa 1920 Model-T Ford. It has an unusual rear entrance and a solid roof and rack with a ladder leading up to the latter. The whole car is in extremely sound condition but gaudily painted. The rear compartment seats six on benches running fore and aft. The car was probably a tourer on to which a roof has been built and a rear entrance cut. A garden near to this garage houses a scruffy wooden-wheeled Chrysler saloon, whilst up the road stands an immaculate Fiat Balilla. Another vehicle of interest in San Antonio is a Model-A Ford bus. The front end is completely original and in perfect condition, although appearing to have been standing for some time. Nearby lie a pair of Model-A wings and a large vintage tourer’s scuttle. Whilst travelling about the island, a Citroen saloon of very narrow track and without front-wheel brakes was spotted sounding extremely unhealthy!

All of the cars noted here were in sound condition, with little or no rust and, more important, roost were highly original, including two Model-A Ford saloons standing apparently derelict on the Ibiza-San Antonio road.

One can only wonder what rare cars the island must house, probably hidden away in an old garage or barn, as the climate does not encourage rusting and the thrifty inhabitants seem loath to destroy old cars.

Leicester, D. Pearson.

[We can now foresee certain dealers who trade profitably in vintage cars taking the first available flight to Ibiza!—ED.]

* * *

A Derelict Willys-Knight

Sir,

Your readers of V.E.V. Miscellany may be interested to know that recently I came across an interesting car in a scrapyard on the Newport (Salop) to Tern Hill road. It was a 1927-29 Willys-Knight two-seater coupe with fabric-covered body and dickey scat. The engine is a straight-six (presumably Knight sleeve-valved) and, like the rest of the car, is complete but in very dilapidated condition, the whole having apparently been used as a chicken-coop. It appears that the car may have been one of those assembled in Trafford Park, Manchester, because it seems to have British electrical equipment. Incidentally, although the petrol has gone stale, there appears still to be oil in the crankcase.

It makes me both sad and angry to see the car in its present condition. I hope one of your more affluent readers will restore it.

Market Drayton, Andrew Coulthard

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