Classic Motoring Photographs

What a lot we owe Bill Brunell. A professional photographer in the glass plate era of the 1920s and 1930s, he left a unique record of crisp, beautifully detailed pictures of a motoring age long gone. The Motoring Picture Library has added 5,000 images from the National Motor Museum’s Bill Brunell Photographic Collection to its website

The model with her head through the sunroof of the Singer 8 Junior is most likely Brunell’s daughter, Kitty, who features in many of the photographs, and drove in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1928 with her father in his Singer Junior. They started from John o’Groats but retired. She competed in 1929 driving a Talbot 14/45 for which she designed the body. It became known as the Sportsman’s Coupe and Talbot was so impressed that it built another car for her for 1930, known as ‘Kitty II’. She married veteran competitor Ken Hutchinson.

Bill Brunell was co-driver to the Hon Victor Bruce in 1926 when they became the first Englishmen to win the Monte Carlo Rally and worked for the Ministry of Information and secret intelligence in the First World War.
Motoring Picture Library Manager, Jon Day said: “Brunell’s photography is an evocative reminder of the golden age of British motoring, capturing perfectly the mood and spirit of the era. From street and social scenes to events, trials and rallies throughout Great Britain and Europe, Brunell’s images are an important historical record with artistic merit in their own right.It has taken NMM staff and volunteers over three years to digitise the glass plate negatives. The originals have subsequently been re-packaged and archived.The Beaulieu Motoring Picture Library with an archive of over a million images, is one of the most comprehensive sources of motoring photographs in the world. It supplies pictures to enthusiasts and commercially to publishing, broadcasting and advertising.

The works racing Austin Seven team (above) of Bert Hadley and Charles Goodacre at Brooklands with Kay Petre in car nearest Brunell’s camera.

Pelle Petterson and Volvo P1800

At last - recognition for Pelle Petterson. Designer of the Volvo P1800, immortalised by Simon Templar, played by Roger Moore in “The Saint”, Petterson was expunged from Volvo history by president Gunnar Engellau in the 1950s. Now Petterson is exposed as author of the sleek coupe at the Footman James Classic Motor Show at the NEC on November 11-13.
Volvo tried to make a sports car in the 1950s, an open 2-seater built from 1955 to 1957 but only 67 were made. "Not a bad car, but a bad Volvo" according to Engellau. However, he acknowledged the importance of a prestige model to boost sales of saloons and set about a replacement. He didn’t believe Swedish designers could match the flair and style of Italian Carrozzeria. It was trendy to hire Michelotti or Pininfarina or Vignale and Engellau was determined to be up to the minute.
Volvo consultant Helmer Petterson had meanwhile installed his son Pelle at Pietro Frua’s celebrated coachbuilding firm in Italy. Pelle had gained a degree in industrial design from the Pratt Institute in New York, so when four specially commissioned Frua proposals went to Volvo’s board in 1957, Petterson secretly added a fifth, by young Pelle.
Everybody agreed it a winner.
Engellau specially liked it. He had wanted an Italian design, but when he discovered it was really the creation of a 25 year old from Göteborg he was furious. He felt cheated and determined that Pelle would never be recognised as the designer. His name was erased and only readmitted by Volvo in 2009. Engallau died in 1988. Pelle Petterson should have received credit at the time for the distinctive rather high-waisted 2-door coupe sports coupe with the engine, transmission and suspension of the 122 saloon. It could have been the making of a career in car design but instead Petterson made his mark as a boat designer and won Olympic medals in yacht racing.

Three prototypes were built by Frua in Turin in 1957-1958, on the underpinnings of the Amazon saloon, and were used as templates for producing press tools, in a range of tests, at shows, for press work and advertising photo-shoots. All three survive.
Volvo did not have the capacity to make the P1800, even on a small scale. Helmer Petterson tried to get Karmann in Germany to make it but VW forbade it. Two British companies built the car: Pressed Steel made the bodies and Jensen Motors of West Bromwich painted and assembled them. Production got under way in 1960 but there were difficulties with personnel, working methods, quality, suppliers and logistics
In spring 1963 – after 6000 Jensen-built cars – Volvo transferred production to its Lundby factory but it was not until 1969 that body pressings were transferred from Pressed Steel in Scotland to Volvo’s press shop in Olofström. The move coincided with a change of name. First it was badged P1800E, later in 1963 it was known simply as the 1800S, for Sweden. The engine was fuel injected to give it a little more life and it was subsequently restyled to a configuration successfully copied by Lancia and Reliant, a sporting estate car known as the P1800ES. This did over 110mph (177kph) (a little noisily - body drumming was a problem) until withdrawn in 1974.
The production company making “The Saint” searched for an attractive sports car that would suit a gentleman of independent means and after being turned down by Jaguar approached Volvo for a P1800. Volvo obliged. And unlike now, when companies pay richly for product placements, the cars were all paid for by the TV side.
Footman Footnote: This will be the last of the Volvo P1800 50th anniversary activities and marks the end of the 2011 Volvo Cars Heritage event season. The collection of P1800s was at the TechnoClassica show in Essen in April, and in Birmingham a top attraction will be a P1800 from 1961 with an original 2.5 litre DOHC 4-cylinder Aston Martin prototype engine, fitted to the car experimentally by Aston Martin. Although the project never materialised the car survived and is owned and run by Beat Roos of Roos Engineering in Switzerland.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Transits do not, as a rule, fly but when Chitty Chitty Bang Bang took off in the film of Ian Fleming’s little masterpiece, there was a lot of Ford van in it. Now Pierre Picton, who has campaigned Chitty for 50 years, is to sell it. The creation of Rowland Emett and Ken Adams, it was built by the Alan Mann Ford racing team for the 1967 MGM United Artists film, starring Dick van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes and Lionel Jeffries. Picton’s GEN11 was the original used in the filming, a 2 tonner with a ladder chassis, leaf springs, a 3 litre Transit V6 and Borg Warner automatic transmission. It had to be tough and reliable for film work, it had to climb stairs but it also had to look the part. Its cedar boat deck was specially built by a real boat-builder in Windsor and the spoked wheels were cast alloy painted to look wooden. The dashboard with its realistic oilers came from a World War I fighter.

A second car was built for dangerous and studio scenes, a no-brass no-copper one for getting immersed in the sea (you can tell it from the aluminium exhaust pipes replacing polished copper), which had no engine. A third was effectively a fibreglass shell mounted on a speed boat, for the chases written into the adaptation of Fleming’s novel by Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes.

Ian Fleming was fascinated by the monstrous aero-engined Brooklands specials raced by the colourful Count Louis Vorow Zborowski. Like railway locomotives (see following blog) nicknames were coined for Brooklands racers; Old Mother Gun Bentley, the Aston Martin Bunny, the KN Vauxhall (Cayenne – hot stuff) so to imitate the slow-revving and occasionally backfiring power strokes of his first Higham Special Zborowski called it Chitty-Bang-Bang. At least that was the theory. A car’s name had to be approved for sensitive souls in the Brooklands paddock and the scrutineers had already turned down “Cascara Sagrada”, a herbal laxative. Zborowski turned instead to chitti chitti bang bang which, besides being onomatopoeic, had a racy association with a lewd World War I song. Officers on the Western Front obtained leave passes, “chits” in army parlance, for weekends in Paris, where they were entertained by ladies of the night. Chitty-Bang-Bang with the slightly altered spelling had a double entendre for male spectators at Brooklands, which would pass unnoticed by less worldly companions.

Zborowski, born 20 February 1895 made three Chittys before he was killed at Monza, when he crashed his Mercedes into a tree on 19 October 1924. Chitty 1 was completed in 1921 with a 23,093cc Maybach aircraft engine of the type used by German Gotha bombers. It had four valves per cylinder and developed more than 300bhp at a modest 1,500rpm. The chassis was principally Edwardian Mercedes and the body a rudimentary affair by Bligh Brothers of Canterbury. Handling was somewhat erratic owing to flexure of the chassis but it could do 120mph and was successful enough to encourage construction of Chitty 2

This was again a 6-cylinder, the 18,882cc Benz BZ IV with about 230bhp, could lap Brooklands at 113mph and with a touring car body was driven across France to Algeria and on to the edge of the Sahara by Zborowski and his boisterous chums. It still had chain drive to the back axle and was sold off to American collectors. Chitty 1 was bought by the Conan Doyle brothers, sons of the creator of Sherlock Holmes, after it suffered a big accident at Brooklands and it was broken up in the 1930s.

The third Chitty, again the work of Zborowski’s racing manager Clive Gallop, was a shaft-drive Mercedes-engined car which the Count drove only briefly before his death. In the meantime Gallop had designed a channel-section chassis frame, which was built by Rubery Owen, to hold the biggest engine yet, a 27,059cc V12 Liberty built in large numbers by the Americans to help win the First World War. This gave around 400bhp for what became the Higham Special, with final drive by side chains was a narrow strip of ⅜inch nickel-chrome steel to guard against breakage.

It was not enough. The Higham Special was bought for £125 by engineer John Godfrey Parry Thomas to tackle the world land speed record on Pendine Sands, Carmarthenshire. Renamed “Babs”, Thomas was driving it at around 175 mph on 3 March 1927 when the driving chain broke and 41 year old Welshman died in the ensuing accident. “Babs” was not forgiven and was buried on the dunes.

In 1969 it was controversially exhumed by engineering lecturer Owen Wyn Owen from what had become a military firing range. “Babs” was fully restored, a fitting tribute to the brave Parry Thomas. The original Liberty engine was replaced by a Lincoln Cars-built one, its twelve separate cylinders mounted on a Packard-Liberty crankcase.
Pictured at Broooklands in 2007, Babs is worked up for a demonstration run. The chassis is braced by strut and wire, much as contemporary Bentleys were, to improve stiffness. Plenty of batteries are needed to crank the enormous V12. Chain drives have substantial fairings.