Speed Guarantees

THESE DAYS, with very full performance figures published in road-test reports conducted by what is now termed “the Media”, there is no lack of information as to how cars live up to their maker’s claims, or fail to do so. But in older times it was difficult for the customers to check these claims and for that reason some manufacturers saw useful publicity in putting out guaranteed speeds for their products. How often these were implemented, and whether any legal battles arose as a result of them, I do not know. But I thought it would be amusing to see what guarantees were offered and to that end I have been looking through some of the old catalogues in my possession.

Taking first one applying to the 30/98 Vauxhall, “The Can of Grace that Sets the Pace”, I see that there is a separate paragraph headed “Speed Guarantee”, which says that any purchaser of a 30/98 could feel assured that its maximum speed as a touring car with full equipment of mudguards, windscreen, hood and lamp (I expect they meant lamps, in the plural) etc. and carrying four persons, would be not less than 80 to 85 m.p.h. The guarantee goes on to say that fitted with a racing body the OE 30/98 would lap Brooklands at 100 miles an hour, adding “These speeds are guaranteed”. So that was quite definite, but I cannot find any similar guarantee of performance in a 3-litre Bentley catalogue of about the same date (very fine publication that this is compared to the more leaflet-like Vauxhall offering) one do I remember any certified speed-claims for the twin-cam 3-litre Sunbeam. . .

A single-sheet leaflet about Crossley models, referring to the 20/70 h.p. Sports Model on its reverse side, contains the statement that this car was sold “with a guaranteed speed of 75 m.p.h. on Brooklands Track”. The 1923 12.8 h.p. overhead-camshaft sports Beardmore, costing £650, had a clause in its catalogue saying “With the Super-Sports Car as illustrated, carrying a passenger in addition to the Driver, a speed of 70 m.p.h. as a minimum is guaranteed, and a Brooklands Certificate confirming this will be given on request.” Of the little Eric-Longden, sold by Mann Sr Handover of Gt. Portland Street, there was an “on delivery” guarantee of 75 m.p.h. mentioned in respect of the 9 h.p. Super Sports model, with its 1,098 c.c. vee-twin engine using a racing Amac carburetter — no self-starter was fitted “on account of weight reduction”. No such guarantee applied, it appears, to the four-cylinder Coventry-Climax-engined “Standard Sports Touring” Eric Longden, which, at £265, was £30 cheaper, except for a dubious item in the brochure reading “Speedometer: Maximum 75 m.p.h.” The very lush catalogues, almost books in themselves, put out by S. F. Edge on behalf of AC Cars, mention all manner of competition successes and “Not less than 60 m.p.h. over the flying half-mile at Brooklands” for the AC Six chassis (five different top-gear ratios were offered, ranging from 4.0 to Ito 3.0 to 1), but the actual guarantees were confined to “not less than 50 m.p.h. over the measured half-mile at Brooklands” from the four-cylinder chassis and “a guaranteed chassis-speed of 60 m.p.h. for the No. 1 Sports Model and 75 m.p.h. for the No. 2 Sports Model, under the same conditions, from these pointed-tail 13 cwt. ACs. The wily Edge added that “. . . subject to the customer paying the cost of the certificate issued by the Brooklands Authorities, the speed would, if required, be demonstrated before delivery.” One wonders if they put the body on first, or literally timed the bare chassis? AC Cars were offering a real racing four-cylinder single-seater for £1,000 but although it was stated that the works racing car was the first 1½-litre car to exceed 100 m.p.h. (actually 105 m.p.h.) and to have done 101.39 m.p.h. within 60 minutes, it looks as if there wasn’t an individual guarantee.

In those days, or perhaps a trifle earlier, Lionel Martin preferred to guarantee from his 1½-litre side-valve Aston-Martins a lap of Brooklands Track at “a minimum average speed of 65 m.p.h.” in open two-seater or three-seater form, carrying full road equipment and one passenger. It was carefully emphasised that this entailed a maximum speed in excess of 70 m.p.h. but “we guarantee the lap-speed instead of maximum speed as being, in our opinion, more capable of being checked by those interested”. At much the same time a Marseal folder, issued from the Atlantic Works in Coventry, spoke of a guaranteed 60 m.p.h. from their £250 9-26 h.p. sports model and 75 m.p.h. from their £400 11-55 h.p. sports car. In spite of the high speeds attained at Brooklands by A. G. Miller and his Wolseleys, loan find no speed guarantees for the Wolseley Ten sports-model or Speed Model which stemmed from the racers.

In 1923 the £395 sports Crouch came with a guarantee of 60 m.p.h and the EEC, whose stripped all-red vee-twin racer was claimed by its vendors to be the attraction of the 1922 Motor Show(!), was guaranteed to do 60 m.p.h. in standard form, 80 m.p.h. in sports guise — if it is true that the more snobbish customers for the new 40/50 h.p. Napier luxury-car tended robe put off by that manufacturer’s association with taxicabs, perhaps even sportsmen were stopped in their tracks when they realised that the KRC light-car was sold by the National Motor Cab Company. . . !

Not to be outdone, I note that B. S. Marshall Ltd. was guaranteeing a road-speed of 60 to 65 m.p.h. or 40 m.p.g. of petrol, touring at an average speed of 20-25 m.p.h., for the open-bodied 1924 11.5 h.p. Bupttis (one also notes that the late Earl of Carnarvon was a satisfied user of a 1922 model, fi•om which he claimed to get a sustained 60 to 70 m.p.h. on the long deserted roads in France, three up). The odd side-valve six-cylinder sports Mathis tested by MOTOR SPORT in 1925 had a 70 m.p.h. guarantee.

Coming to more recent times, Riley, in a folder devoted to their sports-models, said of the Brooklands lap at 97 m.p.h. when the “Brooklands Speed Model” Nine won the 29th 90 m.p.h. Handicap, but added: “Naturally this actual car has all the characteristics of the racing vehicle and for this reason is not suitable for road-use under everyday conditions.” This was a preamble to describing the £395 catalogue “Brooklands Speed Model”, the engines for which were “converted to sports type by racing mechanics under the direction of the late Mr Parry Thomas in specially-equipped Workshops at Brooklands Track.” After which, a top speed of 80 m.p.h. is referred to, and 65 m.p.h. from the £315 Riley Nine sports-model, the former speed being guaranteed. One must not, however, overlook the 100 m.p.h. guaranteed “with full touring equipment” from the controversial 2-litre supercharged straight-eight Alfa Romeo-like Triumph Dolomite before the war. The folder refers to each car being delivered with a guarantee that it has covered a flying-mile in excess of 100 m.p.h., “with full touring equipment”, adding “This in itself is unique”.

I am not claiming, certainly not guaranteeing, that this is a complete record of guarantees of speed (those guarantees covering longevity are something else, which we might look at later) issued by car makers before the war. Does anyone remember any others, or, more interestingly, did anyone have occasion to invoke such claims before buying a sports car in the vintage years? — WE