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  •   Secret Supercar Owner reacted to this post about 3 years ago
    JAY LENO The Collector / #2017 / #GM / #Cadillac-Escalade / #Cadillac / #SUV /

    Like me, Octane readers look at cars differently. To most people cars are like an appliance. They do a job. To me, cars are vehicles of excitement and fantasy. I mean, I would no more put lumber in the back of my #McLaren than put skis on a car.

    But to most people the automobile is an appliance like a refrigerator and they just want to combine the elements of one with the other. Americans are like that: ‘I’d like a two-seater sports car but it needs to carry five people.’ Well that’s not a two-seater sports car! So car companies came out with an SUV.

    GM and Ford created the SUV in the ’80s. Trucks did not have a luxury tax because they were trucks, they were utilitarian vehicles. So a number of people, including Ford, said: Why don’t we make a Lincoln version of the truck? Let’s take that 5% that people would have spent on extras for the car, fit a leather interior, aircon, and make a luxury truck. This is where the SUV came from. Personally, I would say that if you want a truck, get a truck. Combining car and truck does not work.

    SUVs are being made by almost all luxury and sports car companies now. #Bentley , #Jaguar , #Porsche ; #Lamborghini soon. It might be a bit strong to say making SUVs has saved these car companies but it certainly allowed the likes of #Porsche to breathe a little bit easier and spend a little more time and some of the profits from #Porsche-Cayenne on the latest version of the 911 – and the 918. I don’t think you’d have the 918 without the Cayenne.

    The car business is a compromise. How many musicians have to play commercials before they can make the album they want to do? I’m not sure how many car designers set their goal as creating an SUV. They all want to do an Aventador or a Miura or a #Ferrari-458 or a #McLaren-P1 . But if anybody can make one look good it’s Ian Callum. To design the F-Type and the new #Jaguar-F-Pace and make both work is a talent.

    I find when I buy magazines I skip through the #SUV road tests because I’m going to be reading about the cupholder and the seat that folds down so you can get this in and you can get that in. And none of that concerns me. I can’t think of any SUV that ever made me say ‘Oh man! I’d like to be able to try that.’ Except maybe the ridiculous #Lamborghini-LM002 . When the #Lamborghini LM002 came out it seemed enormous. I said, Oh my God, this is the biggest roadgoing vehicle I’ve ever seen. And now it’s probably smaller than an Escalade.

    The Escalade is one of Cadillac’s biggest-selling vehicles so it has helped keep the brand alive. It’s an enormous thing and it’s hugely popular. It’s replaced the Lincoln Town Car as the go-to vehicle for Hollywood award-winners. I get invited to these things and they used to send stretch limos that would bottom out on my driveway; now they come with this huge SUV, with tremendous ground clearance.


    The question of whether SUVs will kill off sports cars is not a worry. What is more likely to kill off sports cars is our roads, which are so terrible now, not only in LA but also the UK, I hear. I’ve had two wheels bent over the last five years or so, just driving home on the streets I take every day, because potholes open up and nobody fills them. Bang! You hit them hard in a car with maybe a 17- or 18-inch rim on it and it damages the wheel. Whereas a big SUV with a big rubber tyre and 22-inch rims is going to absorb that fairly easily.

    I can see that rationale for an SUV. Also, as roads get more crowded, people want a little more space in their vehicle, they want more room. You can’t really drive fast anyway so maybe an SUV is the way to go if you gotta carry a crib and this and that. I talk to a lot of moms who like a commanding view of the road and a lot of metal around them. I understand the need for it but I just don’t find them interesting as vehicles. To me, automobiles are about fantasy and style and I just look at SUVs and go hmmm. It doesn’t work for me.

    Having an SUV in the line-up might help brands whose traditional cars might limit potential buyers with their image. Like Rolls-Royce. Suddenly you’re not seen as just driving a #Rolls-Royce , it’s a #Rolls-Royce-SUV . It adds more of a lifestyle air to it, I suppose.

    Anything that keeps cutting-edge manufacturers going is fine with me. However, I don’t see #McLaren-SUV building an SUV any time in the near future and Ferrari will probably never build an SUV. Though it did build #Ferrari-SUV World – an amusement park – in Abu Dhabi. Now they’re talking about a Ferrari World in the United States. That’s like an SUV, isn’t it?

    ‘TO ME, AUTOMOBILES ARE ABOUT FANTASY AND STYLE AND I JUST LOOK AT AN SUV AND GO HMMMM ’
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  •   Guy Baker reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    ROYAL CARS
    An exclusive visit to the Queen’s own collection. Hidden away at Sandringham is a certain Windsor family’s own collection of cars. Octane was granted exclusive access into the royal grounds. Words Giles Chapman // Photography Matthew Howell.

    By any measure, it must have seemed a baffling request to the craftsmen at Hooper & Co, the Royal Family's favoured coachbuilders for decades. Queen Mary had paid extraordinarily close attention to the specification of her new #Daimler-DE27 . The driver's compartment, she decreed, was too wide, compromising the dignity of the vehicle, and a more seemly front profile was demanded.

    It was 1947, and this was to be her personal car, finished in her favourite dark green and taking four months to build. The narrowing process meant the steering column had to be kinked 2.5in towards the centre, and poked out of a truncated dashboard. Widened wings also needed to be handmade. How her chauffeur felt about his custom-cramped driving posture would, of course, never be disclosed.

    Her Majesty's other requests were more fathomable. Because the 80-year-old Queen Mary had trouble bending her neck, she requested 57in of headroom, which made this the tallest car Hooper bodied after the Second World War. The drop-down bootlid revealed a bespoke picnic case, and the rear compartment was a snug of green leather and walnut, with notebook, pencil, ashtray and matchbox built into the armrest. Spring-loaded silk blinds gave privacy, although Her Royal Highness couldn't countenance life on the road without gold monograms on doors and boot. Queen Mary proudly called it her 'shopping Daimler'.

    The VIP customer proclaimed herself delighted with her 'shopping Daimler' and Queen Elizabeth II's grandmother used it almost daily until her death in 1953 .

    Although this unique limousine now belongs to the National Trust, it's found its circuitous way to a resting place at the Sandringham Estate. And it's not alone. The Queen's rural retreat in north Norfolk, at the centre of its stunning 20,0-acre estate, has an extraordinary car collection.

    Despite Sandringham Museum being open to members of the visiting public, it's largely unknown. Sandringham House first welcomed visitors in #1977 , and you can ramble through the estate's tranquil woodland free of charge all year round. But the car collection? Even the estate's website mentions only a highly polished #1939 Merryweather fire engine in the outbuildings. Yet there's much more...

    You might never have guessed that Sandringham is home to some of Britain's most important and interesting royal cars. Until, that is, #Drive-My was granted unprecedented access to this most august of classic fleets. There are usually between 20 and 25 cars hidden away there.

    When the 21-year-old Prince of Wales - later King Edward VII - was gifted Sandringham in #1862 by his mother Queen Victoria, he received an 18th Century, stucco-fronted country pile that he quickly found too cramped. The builders were soon shipped in and, by #1870 , the new main house was completed. Or, nearly. Additions were constant, including a ballroom and a guest wing, and a stable block that included carpentry and sewing schools for the estate's youngsters.

    The Prince was a dedicated techie, with a penchant for cutting-edge machinery. Hence, in #1901 , he installed an electricity generator for the house in an extension to the stable (soon obsolete when mains power reached Sandringham). Likewise, the Prince was fascinated by the earliest cars. The contemporary Lord Montagu introduced him to the motoring exhilaration in 1899 on a New Forest outing aboard his 12hp Daimler; the Prince was smitten, and ordered a 6hp Model A example for himself the following year. It had all the latest features, such as an accelerator pedal instead of a hand throttle, raked steering column, and elaborate electric ignition. Hooper & Co were entrusted with the bodywork for this first British royal car, done in four-seater mail phaeton style with separate hoods for front and back seats. A spacious new garage was soon added to Sandringham's stables to meet its needs.

    That very car is treasured here today. It's somewhat changed from its original condition - although the alterations all took place in 1902! A Mr S Letzer, the first royal chauffeur and referred to as the Prince of Wales's 'mechanician', sometimes wound it up to 20mph-plus, but it frequently overheated. Moving the radiator from the back to the front cured that but required a bulky bonnet. At about the same time, new and more comfortable tonneau bodywork was built. A frilled Surrey top was added and the pneumatic rear tyres were changed for solid ones, as the lack of a differential made them prone to peeling off.

    The lofty veteran is resplendent in paintwork of royal claret over black, picked out in a bright red that's more respectfully termed vermillion. This livery was adopted from one of Queen Victoria's horse- drawn carriages, and remains the colour scheme for the monarch's official transport today. Not that you'd necessarily spot it. The claret often looks like black from a distance and in certain light.

    This is one of the most influential single cars in British motoring history. Edward VII's enthusiasm for it quelled hostility towards cars from landowners and the gentry. Before, mass upper-crust opinion was that they were noisy and dangerous affronts to a horse-drawn world. But the moment the King adopted the new motor car, the mindset rapidly switched.

    The pairing of Daimler chassis and Hooper bodywork became the royal staple, and there are two magnificent examples of such later limos at Sandringham. The 45hp Brougham dates from 1914 and its Double Six replacement is a 1929 car. These maroon monsters were fixtures of British public life, the King easily visible behind the towering side windows. The newer car has the unusual feature of headlights that can be swivelled to the left, but both cars have the royal quirk of a black- painted radiator grille surround. A bright shiny thing on the front of the car, a rolling advert for Daimler, might have distracted attention away from the occupants of the back seat.

    By the mid-1950s, Daimler's grip on the Royal Household's patronage went limp. For two years between #1953 and #1955 , it didn't even build limousines, and Rolls-Royce stepped in, capping the flow of some 80 Daimlers over five decades with a Phantom IV Hooper Landaulette for Elizabeth II in 1954.


    The second of the Queen's official Rollers was a special Phantom V in #1961 . It was retired to Sandringham in 2002 where, in this very low-key car museum, it's the most recognisable one to most visitors.

    The #Rolls-Royce developed this car in secret under the 'Canberra' codename, to give the impression it was for the Australian Government (the Australians had followed the Royal Family's switch in allegiance to Rolls-Royce in the late 1950s). The coachwork was entrusted to Park Ward, cutting Hooper out of the loop and hastening its decision to quit coachbuilding altogether, and two near-identical examples were built.

    Its most distinctive feature was the cover that could be slipped off the rear roof section, revealing a Perspex dome through which to admire the head of state on her travels. And this car really did go round the world - usually in its own garage on board Britannia. This three-ton behemoth would be craned delicately on and off the royal yacht and rolled carefully into its berth, into which it would just fit, thanks to specially designed demountable bumpers.

    Another Buckingham Palace workhorse with dramatic history has also come to rest at Sandringham. The #1969 Vanden Plas Princess limousine is mundane apart from one thing. In March #1974 , the car was ambushed on The Mall by a gun-toting madman intent on kidnapping its key occupant: Princess Anne. Although he shot a bodyguard, the chauffeur and two passers-by, the attempt was thwarted and she was unscathed and, indeed, unbowed. But it did reveal two worrying omissions in Royal cars: bulletproofing and radio contact with the security services - both remedied soon afterwards.

    Formality is one thing for the Windsor clan, but at certain times of the year Sandringham is all about the great outdoors. And proper shooting brakes have for decades been as regular a feature of estate life as beaters, gun dogs and hip flasks. Hooper's awe-inspiring shooting brake body on a 57hp Daimler chassis must represent a pinnacle in 1920s sporting life. It was delivered in August #1924 to George V, and an excellent day's shooting would be in prospect with 12 guns in its varnished rack. Roll-up side curtains guaranteed lungfuls of bracing Norfolk air for the ten occupants... and four-wheel brakes added welcome retardation on slippery tracks.

    Guides at Sandringham today are accustomed to the huge pull this one has on viewers. It's the paintwork. The rear section is timber- panelled but the thoroughly rural theme continues with the woody effect on scuttle, bonnet and wings. It's called a 'scumble' paintjob: the darker base layer was allowed to dry to the tacky stage and then a lighter paint colour was brushed on artfully with a toothed comb to give the woodgrain look, which was sealed in under three layers of lacquer. The stags and pheasants would never know you're lurking among the trees.

    Altogether more modest is George IV's #1951 #Ford V8 Pilot with a Garner woody body. The wheelbase was stretched by 12in and the windscreen height raised by 3in, so it was uncommonly roomy, with the gun rack on the roof. Yet another interesting modification was a floor-mounted gearlever, as the King hated column changes. Yet his untimely death in 1952 meant he barely drove it. The family kept it for sentimental reasons, and it was still burbling around the estate in the '60s.

    By then it had been joined by an upstart newcomer, a Ford Zephyr Mkll the like of which you'll see nowhere else. Hardly the most elegant of vehicles, with its hearse-like contours relieved with wood panel inserts, eight people could cram in with Prince Philip at the wheel, and it was custom-made for Sandringham shooting parties.

    Yet another category of automotive resident here is the Royal Family's personal cars from years gone by. You can see Prince Charles's 21st birthday present from his parents - a blue #MGC-GT . You can also get up close to several wonderful children's cars. We loved the Imperial 1 midget racing car, a gift for Prince Charles in #1955 from America and, with a two-stroke engine, capable of a hairy 40mph. How many scars can the heir to the throne attribute to spills in this one, we wonder? There's also an #Aston-Martin-Volante Junior that a grateful Victor Gauntlett presented to valued customer Charles in #1988 (to pass on to his sons, Princes William and Harry), and a working replica of the 007 #DB5 given to the Queen on an Aston factory visit in #1966 , as a gift for lucky toddler Prince Andrew.

    The Queen's own Rover 3.0-litre has a patina that includes small dents and a cracked windscreen. The Duke of Edinburgh's #Alvis-TD21 , meanwhile, is crammed with unusual features: Prince Philip ordered a taller windscreen, electric soft-top and a leather dashboard instead of polished walnut. #Alvis later fortified the car with five-speed gearbox, disc brake conversion and a power-boosting TE cylinder head to withstand the relentless use the Prince put it to: over 60,000 hard-driving miles to Germany and back, commuting to polo fixtures, and frequently picking up Princess Anne from school.

    These days, a Vauxhall Cresta PAis a car to admire rather than disdain, and the rare #1961 Friary wagon at Sandringham was an estate runabout. The Queen liked driving this relaxed old barge, and it carries a jocular MYT 1 personal plate. Indeed, Her Majesty pretty much started the craze for 'private plates' after receiving a #Daimler-DE27 as a gift in #1948 registered HRH 1. Who could be more appropriate for either?

    'Her Majesty started the craze for private plates with a Daimler, received as a gift and registered HRH 1’

    Space is at a premium in Sandringham's garage block. Spare capacity is taken up by interesting vehicles on loan from non-royal owners, including the ex-Earl Mountbatten #1924 #Rolls-Royce-Silver-Ghost (used by him in India during his spell as Viceroy and later Governor-General in #1947 - #1948 ). There's also a #1929 Armstrong Siddeley 30hp shooting brake originally built for George Vi's use at Balmoral.

    When the family is in residence at Christmas, though, the garage is needed for the current fleet of limousines and Range Rovers. Cars such as the #Princess , #Zephyr , #Alvis and #Rover are turfed out into heated storage nearby as the retinue of chauffeurs and security staff arrive.

    However, the old cars do not depart under their own steam. The Sandringham collection cannot be faulted for polished spotlessness, but many are non-runners and, indeed, some of the pre-war Daimlers would require much more than a mechanical overhaul to get their sleeve-valve engines purring again. Seizures are a near-certainty. The #1900 #Daimler has tackled the London-Brighton a few times but its last mechanical breakage on the #2005 event has kept it indoors ever since. Nonetheless, all these cars are preserved in a secluded atmosphere that, in itself, couldn't really be any more authentic.

    VISIT SANDRINGHAM MUSEUM www. sandringhamestate. co. uk/visiting-sandringham/
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  •   Matt Petrie reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    ROBERT COUCHER THE DRIVER

    ‘CLASSIC ENTHUSIASTS HAVE A BOND WITH THEIR CARS, SO THEY SEE BEYOND BRAND IMAGE - DRIVERS OF MODERN CARS DON’T’

    Let’s face it, we all like an underdog, especially here in Britain. I suppose you can apply the idea of an underdog to motor vehicles. Without wanting to anthropomorphise inanimate motor cars, human beings have had a long and illogical relationship with their motors. A car is a strong reflection of its owner’s personality and position in society and there is no brand stronger than a motor vehicle. #Audi , #Bentley , #BMW , #Ferrari , #Mercedes-Benz , #Jaguar , #Porsche , #Rolls-Royce and so on spend a fortune burnishing their brand credentials and it works. Aston Martin was recently the coolest brand in Britain, ahead of #Apple , #Nike and #Rolex .

    People very seldom just purchase a ‘car’. They buy a product that reflects themselves. As the doyen of advertising David Ogilvy said: ‘You have to decide what "image" you want for your brand. Image means personality.
    Products, like people, have personalities.’ Sure, people buy cars based on price, but the mid-market 3-Series has long outsold the perfectly good #Ford-Mondeo - because it has a BMW badge on the front. And why do so many urban dwellers want a 4x4?

    Because a soft-roader is a lot cooler than a sensible saloon.

    Of course, those of us who are ‘into’ classic or historic cars have a real attachment: we actually love our old cars, which is faintly ridiculous, though also great fun and rewarding. Apart from the engineering and performance, classic car types are acutely aware about what their cars say about them. Both an E-type Jaguar and Mini are cool icons of the 1960s but are totally different, only having the fact that they are motor vehicles with four wheels in common, unlike a Morgan three-wheeler. Classic cars offer a wide canvas for tweedy types and Teddy Boys alike.

    But because classic car enthusiasts actually have a bond with their cars, they can see beyond just the brand image in a way drivers of modern cars don’t. Of course, modern cars are built to hammer down endless motorways and sit in traffic, whereas classics are for enjoyment. That’s why many classic car owners will often have an underdog in their garage along with a more recognised classic. As well as his C-type Jaguar and #Rolls-Royce-Silver-Ghost , the late Alan Clark MP also enjoyed A #Citroen-2CV and a #VW-Beetle (the latter admittedly with a #Porsche-356 engine shoehorned into the rear).

    Americans call these ‘trinket’ cars. Fiat 500 Jollys used to be trinkets but, now that owners of superyachts want them as tenders, they are priced like expensive jewels. I’m sure, like me, you have a soft spot for the automotive underdog, a classic that is not about the smart badge on the bonnet. The first time I drove a classic Mini I was shocked at how good it was on a tight road. It made the Porsche 356 I was driving at the time seem a bit numb. And years ago my father had an immaculate #Lancia-Aurelia-B20GT . To be fair it was the last of the line, a heavy sixth-series example. But when I raced him in my boxy, four-door #Alfa-Romeo-Giulia saloon, I’d blow his (two) doors off every time.

    As a member of the #Drive-My team I’m fortunate to get to drive some pretty impressive pieces of kit. And it is interesting to see quite how good some cars are - often the underdogs - and quite how lousy some of the supposed great classics can be. My good friend Ray Jones of Sydney, Australia, invited me to take part in the #Mille-Miglia with him in #1999 . We were to drive his #Chrysler-75 .

    Some in the vintage world look down on these Americans. Halfway through, #Bentley specialist Stanley Mann wandered over. ‘What sort of supercharger do you have fitted to the Chrysler?’ he asked (we’d overtaken his vintage Bentley a number of times). Ray opened the bonnet. Its two huge SUs and banana-branch exhaust header would have given your average VSCC scrute heart failure but there was no blower. Stanley was amazed. And the #Chrysler had excellent, original hydraulic brakes.

    In 2007, deputy editor Mark Dixon and I competed in the #Mille-Migila in a bog-standard #Triumph-TR2 , mustering just about 90bhp. Not powerful, but it handled well. In the mountains this light car was ace because of its overdrive gearbox, which operated on second, third and top. The #Triumph really annoyed a number of drivers of heavy Mercedes-Benz Gullwings with their wide-ratio gearing. Up the steep mountain roads we indulged in some of the most impertinent overtaking ever.

    Yes, it was a proper underdog.

    ROBERT COUCHER

    Robert grew up with classic cars, and has owned a #Lancia-Aurelia-B20GT , Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Porsche 356C. He currently uses his properly sorted #1955 #Jaguar-XK140 as his daily driver, and is a founding editor of this magazine.
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  •   John Leighton reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    Ross Brawn’s #Wilson-Pilcher . The #Formula-1 legend and his unlikely mount. Day Off Ross Brawn’s Wilson-Pilcher.

    WILSON, PILCHER

    He’s the technical genius behind nine Formula 1 Drivers’ Championships. So why is #Ross-Brawn ’s passion now driving the unique London-to-Brighton #1904 Wilson-Pilcher ? Words Glen Waddington. Photography Andy Morgan.

    We meet early-morning on a chilly Thursday in winter, Ross Brawn alert yet laidback, friendly without being over-effusive. He comes across as a focussed yet straightforward man, the kind of persona you might expect of someone with his career and reputation, albeit disarmingly down-to-Earth. He hops into the passenger seat of my car and directs me to where he keeps his collection, a few minutes' drive from his house.

    It's an unassuming, anonymous industrial unit that photographer Andy and I are invited into, with the promise of coffee to warm our insides. Within are arrayed a number of cars, the stars of Brawn's personal collection. 'I tend to collect cars built by the manufacturers I've been associated with,' he smiles, before asking us to guess what's what under the covers. Without wanting to give away too much, we spy the outlines of #Ferraris-288GTO and F40 - 'great on a track, if you like that sort of thing, but too fast for the road' - plus #Jaguar-E-types and a #Mercedes-Benz-300SL Gullwing, all reminders of time spent dominating Formula 1 at Ferrari (six consecutive championships with Michael Schumacher from 1999 to 2004), his period at Jaguar (he was lead designer on the #Jaguar-XJR-14 , which won the #1991 World Sportscar Championship), and the #Mercedes-Benz buy-out of his own Brawn GP outfit after winning the manufacturers' title (and Jenson Button's Drivers' Championship victory) in #2009 .

    There are others too, including an #AC-Ace (the rare Ruddspeed-engined one, of which he seems particularly proud) and a 289 Cobra. Yet while most of the collection spans a not-unexpected era (from the 1950s to the 1980s, on the whole), there's one car in here that breaks with that convention. Massively. And it's the one that gets Brawn smiling more than any other, no matter what's lurking under those covers. It's the 1904 Wilson-Pilcher in which he completed the Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run last year - when it was 1.1 centuries old.

    'We're blase about transport these days,' says Brawn. 'When this car was new, people had to adjust from riding a horse one day to jumping on and driving this the next.'

    Even by 1904 standards the Wilson-Pilcher is unusual, and this one is believed to be the sole survivor. If you read the badge on its nose you'll discover it's actually an Armstrong-Whitworth, built at the company's Elswick works in north-east England to Wilson-Pilcher patents. Of which there were many. A flat-four engine, for a start, 'certainly the earliest I can think of', according to Nigel Parrott, who recommissioned the car for Brawn and has worked with London-Brighton entrants for some 30 years. There's also a four-speed semi-automatic transmission, achieved by two epicyclic gearpacks and a pair of crown wheels (one forward, one reverse) in the aluminium-cased live rear axle. It should come, therefore, as no surprise that the Wilson pre-selector gearbox popular in luxury cars of the 1930s was designed by the very same man. Furthermore, the engine is separated from the main chassis by a subframe, attached laterally by coil springs to the main structure.

    'It's extraordinarily smooth for such an old car,' says Brawn.
    'Walter Wilson [its designer] clearly got his head around the needs of the day,' Parrott tells me later, 'and discovered that motorists wanted less vibration and an easier drive.'

    We'll find out more about that shortly. First some history. Walter Gordon Wilson founded the company in Westminster where, according to his grandson, he built perhaps the first 50 to 60 examples of his car, beginning in #1900 , and established 25 engineering patents in doing so. While his great friend Percy Pilcher was not involved in the car company, Wilson honoured him posthumously: #Pilcher had died in a gliding accident in late #1899 at Stanford Hall in Leicestershire. #Wilson had designed an engine for the flying machine but a last-minute fault meant the aircraft had to fly without it. Had matters turned out less tragically, the pair could have beaten the Wright brothers as the pioneers of powered flight by three years.

    At the #1904-Crystal-Palace-Motor-Show , Wilson displayed a flat-six- engined car - 'which must have been a monster!' says Parrott - but, though he was clearly a design and engineering genius, his prowess as a businessman was less assured. Already short of capital, in late 1903 Wilson had been persuaded by Sir WG Armstrong-Whitworth (of the armaments and shipbuilding conglomerate) to sell his business. That's why this car was badged as such and built in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It is believed that 100 Wilson-Pilchers were manufactured there, re-designated as Armstrong-Whitworths, of which this one - registered BB 96 - is chassis number 52.

    Henry Wilson is The Grandson of Walter Gordon. 'My father gave it to me when I was 21,' he tells me. 'I drove it on the Veteran Car Club Centenary Run in the 1990s and we made it - just. It drove my daughter to her wedding too. We had lots of work done by Patrick Blakeney-Edwards but we could make little use of it and it cost a fortune to keep up.' The family, worried it would leave the UK, reluctantly decided to sell the car at the Bonhams auction ahead of the #2012 London-Brighton Run.

    If 150 or so Wilson-Pilchers were built, how come only this one survives? The answer is that it lived at the factory, close to the family. 'It was bodied as a fire tender and kept at the Elswick works. Apprentices there restored it during the 1950s and presented it to my father who, at the time, was the managing director of Self Changing Gears.' That's the company that grew out of the Wilson pre-selector business, and was based in Coventry.

    'The Wilson-Pilcher sat in the foyer of the office block; the building was by Sir Hugh Casson, so it was quite an impressive sight. And it remained there until my father resigned soon after the take-over by Leyland.'

    Yes, the Wilson transmission concern became a casualty of the Leyland empire. 'My father left to set up his own consultancy and the car went with him. It lived first at Stanford Hall, then at the Bovingdon Tank Museum.' Wilson had perfected the design of the first British Army tank; in MkV form it featured his transmission and could therefore be operated by one driver instead of four. For his wartime work, Wilson was appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in #1917 .

    'From there it went to the Coventry Transport Museum, where it remained until it was restored by the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust's volunteers from 2006 to 2011 at the Derby works.' Walter Wilson had been a personal friend of Charles Rolls.

    'I remember him as a great character; not an easy man but extremely talented,' says Henry. 'And the car was really quick when it got going.'

    That's a Story In Itself. Ross Brawn climbs on board to retard the ignition timing via a lever on the steering column. Meanwhile, his mechanic Darren Glass busies himself by ensuring that the pressurised lubrication system is operating and that fuel is able to make its way to the carburettor. Then it's a swing of the crankhandle and 2.7 litres of 1904 fiat-four erupt into life with a pall of smoke from the exhaust... and very little other drama. In fact, the engine is mechanically very quiet, all the vocals instead arriving as a high-frequency phutt-phutt-phutt from the rear end of the car.

    Brawn's delight is palpable as he invites me to clamber on board, and so I join him, to perch on a bench that's mounted directly above the fuel tank. 'My wife Jean sat there for the London-Brighton. I was surprised at how enthusiastic she was and she smiled all the way through, despite terrible rain and hail. She'd have had to pay a fortune at a beautician's for a facial to match what the weather managed that day! I thought she'd have hated it but she loved it. I didn't mention about the fuel tank though…

    It takes a moment to engage drive as there's still a bit of work to be done on the epicyclic transmission, which has a tendency to slip, but up with the clutch pedal and we're away, without any hesitation or snatching. None of that ear-rending transmission whine you so often suffer with cars of this era, either, and the lack of roughness from that isolated fiat-four is nothing short of astonishing. With refinement of this level, London to Brighton would surely be a breeze.

    Well, not quite - though it's hardly the car's fault. 'Driving it is a very different pleasure from what you experience even with an older sports car,' says Ross, slipping the lever (no clutch pedal required once you've set off, remember) effortlessly into the next ratio. 'What you really have to remember is how much you need to anticipate traffic; you have to be assertive...' (Right now, we're in the middle of the road, passing parked cars and facing down a white van that's coming towards us. We win.) 'Most of the time your hands are full, so it's fortunate there aren't many gauges to look at. You have to be aware that other road users don't know how much distance you need to stop or how much of the road you need to manage a corner. They don't mean to get in the way, but they do.'

    We're purring along now, Ross measuring his accelerative success through the village by whether he can turn out from his storage facility and gain sufficient pace to make the 30mph warning sign glow. We manage it. Shortly after, we also demonstrate what was said about space for corners; another driver slows to take a look (and who wouldn't) and his car takes up the very patch of road we need to make the turn: time for a rapid exfoliation by a holly bush.

    By the standards of its day, this is an easy car to handle, and - despite the intense cold of being exposed to winter weather with zero protection - it's comfortable, with a soft, bumbling, slightly lurchy ride. Yet the steering is always heavy, and the brakes don't offer stopping power so much as gentle attenuation. There's also what Ross describes as a pronounced castor shimmy through the steering wheel, which seems to be set off by the particular frequency of undulations on this road. It's the only real dynamic demerit the car suffers from.

    There were reports of a Wilson-Pilcher being driven 270 miles from London to Newcastle in June #1903 , averaging 42.5mph and returning 20mpg, all the while proving remarkable for its absence of vibration and smooth running. This is a car that has always impressed. Except, perhaps, when Brawn first bought it. He immediately presented it to Nigel Parrott.

    'Those #Rolls-Royce apprentices hadn't been able to get it to work properly,' he says. (Indeed, Henry Wilson had told me that they only got to the end of the Centenary Run by blowing into the tank to pressurise the fuel system!) 'We stripped the valves out and checked the timing, which was out by a full 45° - that meant there was only half an induction stroke; the timing marks turned out to be wrong and heaven knows who put them there. Things get changed over time.'

    With that done plus myriad other details, Nigel found power and could get the car running without resort to bump-starting. Then he simply had to make it driveable. 'We stripped the top off the gearbox: there were no details or drawings available on how to set it up. It's a work of art. We had to get our heads round how it worked but we got it functioning properly. Then it was just a case of tightening the wheels and relining the brakes, then showing Ross how to operate it - which he picked up very quickly. He made good time on the London- Brighton; the thing certainly gets a move on.'

    Which ought to suit Ross Brawn. Or so you'd think. Ironically, 'I'm not into competition driving,' says the Formula 1 legend. 'This has opened up an interest in older cars.' And just how does it pique that interest? 'I like to look at the solutions that were applied. That's what fascinates, seeing how Wilson achieved his objectives. A cam-driven inlet system is clearly better, but looking at the requirements of the engine and its atmospheric set-up, well, why not? Engineers of that era were empirical. They worked on intuition, experience. They didn't have great knowledge of materials and calculations but they had a feel for strength. Nothing here is over-engineered or crude. It's all been resolved within the limitations of the day.'

    His favourite aspect? 'It's the product of one man; themes run through the whole car, rather like a single philosophy runs through a Formula 1 car. There's a quality of engineering that flows through it in a consistent way. The more I look, the more appreciative I become of how advanced it was for its day.'
    The Wilson-Pilcher is more than 110 years old. And still counting.

    THANKS TO Ross Brawn, Henry Wilson, and Nigel Parrott of NP Veteran Engineering Ltd, tel: 1435 813811. The 2015 Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run is on Sunday 1 November 2015, the first car leaving at 6.54am from Serpentine Road, Hyde Park. Entries open on Monday 30 March, veterancarrun. co. uk. The EFG International Concours d’Elegance will be held the day before, from 10.30 am to kpm at the Regent Street Motor Show in London.

    Car 1904 #Wilson-Pilcher-12/16HP-Phaeton

    ENGINE 2715cc flat-four, atmospheric inlet valves, cam-driven exhaust valves, fixed-jet carburettor with adjustable air controls
    POWER 12/16hp RAC fiscal rating, max 900rpm
    TRANSMISSION Four-speed epicyclic, rear-wheel drive
    STEERING Worm and quadrant
    SUSPENSION
    Front: beam axle, elliptical leaf springs.
    Rear: live axle, centre-pivot tie rods, elliptical leaf springs.
    BRAKES Rear drums, rod-operated
    PERFORMANCE Top speed 55mph (est)

    Above and right Noweatherprotection and only an oil pressure gauge to see from the bench seat; new rear bodywork was fashioned from aluminium in the 1950s and restored 2006-11; original front wings are wooden.

    'The engine is mechanically quiet, the vocals arriving as a phutt-phutt-phutt from the rear’

    Left and above Ross Brawn shows writer Glen Waddington around the car before setting off for a drive. Note the vaned flywheel that acts as a cooling fan, and suspension tie rods pivoted from the gearbox.
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  •   Greg MacLeman reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    STEPHEN BAYLEY THE AESTHETE

    The word ‘carburettor’ is now almost extinct in everyday life. Thus it joins ‘amarulence’ (bitterness) and ‘sinapistic’ (containing mustard) in a treasury of neglect. It occurred to me that I scarcely knew what a carburettor is. Or I should say ‘was’. They belong to the past, just like real chauffeurs whose original job, from the French for ‘heat’, was to warm-up primitive engines.

    The #carburettor predates the automobile and, according to the Oxford English Dictionary was first used in #1866 , exactly 20 years before Benz’s #Motorwagen patent. A carburettor was an apparatus for passing hydrogen, coal gas or air over a liquid hydrocarbon so as to produce what the lexicologists delightfully described as ‘illuminating power’.
    There is a wonderful poetic vocabulary associated with illuminating power, now fading into memory. Downdraught, butterfly valves, float-chamber, choke, throttle jets, flooding and backfire. I specially remember flooding. Although I was completely ignorant of Bernoulli’s Principle - the one that says ‘in flowing air, speed and pressure work inversely’, and which governs carburettor design - I spent hours under the bonnet of my old #MG trying to balance its erratic twin SUs.

    This is why I am feeling nostalgic. Carburettors evoke an age when you could look at an engine and read its function. My MG’s A-series was like a child’s diagram of the laws of physics. You could see that air came in one side, got mixed with fuel on its way into the cylinder head where, by way of a controlled explosion, it produced that illuminating power whose residue escaped as smelly hot gas out of the other side. It was elemental, even primal, and very satisfying, aesthetically speaking.

    Carburettors spoke a visual language all of their own. The pleasant, rounded domes of the classic #SU seemed to suggest English correctness, even a slight primness since they disguised some of its functions. Altogether more feral was the Amal sidedraught carburettor used on JAP-engined Cooper Formula 3 cars and Triumph Bonneville bikes. It seemed erotically assertive: a mechanical proposition with sexual suggestion. Visually it said raw power. You could almost hear it hiss.

    Or look at a vast four-barrel Holley carburettor, as gross as a piece of military equipment, the sort you might find on a US muscle car with a Muncie four-on-the-floor and lake pipes painted matt white. How could such gigantic apparatus be anything other than American? A Holley says four-hundred-cubic-inch gurgling, molecule-bashing V8.

    But most evocative of all is a Ferrari V12 with its martial row of six pairs of glittering downdraught Webers. Their arrogant air trumpets strut themselves and suck-in the atmosphere like the most rampant gigolo. Such a display (and it is a display) of seductive, proud, ridiculous excess could only be from Emilia- Romagna, just as an SU could only be from Birmingham.

    In #1991 #Ferrari organised an exhibition in Florence’s Belvedere, with its greatest cars in vast Plexiglass boxes, floodlit against a renaissance backdrop. The exhibition catalogue had gravure illustrations of the greatest Ferrari engines. Whenever I am quizzed about my fascination with cars and asked how I reconcile it with a strict training in academic art history, I reach for a gravure illustration of the #1967 #Dino 206SP’s 65° V6 and its three pairs of #Weber 40DCN/4 carburettors to make my point. I really do not know anything more beautiful.

    No-one makes a car with a carburettor today. Ford supplied the last Crown Victoria Police Cruiser (a personal favourite) fitted with a carburettor to the NYPD in 1991. The very last car with a carburettor was, and no surprises here, a 2006 Lada. Meanwhile, Weber ended production in Italy in 1992 and Holley went bust in 2008.

    Today we have fuel injection. Its advantages have long been known: in the Second World War, #Rolls-Royce Merlin engines withcarburettors suffered fuelstarvation in extreme manoeuvres, while the injected #BMW and #Daimler engines of the Luftwaffe maintained fuel flow even pulling out of steep dives. Of course, fuel injection is technically superior; mandatory catalytic converters require its precision and on-board diagnostics demand systems with microchip-powered reporting ability. You don’t get that sort of thing from imprecise, messy and temperamental carburettors. That’s why they are so wonderful.

    AMAL’S SIDE-DRAUGHT CARBURETTOR SEEMED EROTICALLY ASSERTIVE: A MECHANICAL PROPOSITION WITH SEXUAL SUGGESTION

    STEPHEN BAYLEY

    Author, critic, consultant, broadcaster, debater and curator Stephen co-created the Boilerhouse Project at London's V&A, was chief executive of The Design Museum, and fell out with Peter Mandelson when he told him the Millennium Dome ‘could turn out to be crap'.
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