Rear-view Mirror

A regular look back at old motoring and motor sport items…


Vintage statistics

Back in 1973 in the EPVCC newsletter, Sun on the Grid author Ken Stewart wrote an article about some statistics he had found in the 1915 Transvaal Automobile Club Handbook. The handbook contained a record of owners’ names, numbers and makes of all TJ-registered cars at that time. Amazingly, there were 89 different makes listed, including such obscure names as Brasier, La Buire, Marlborough, Rothwell, Warne, Sitcairn, Gaggenau, Pathfinder, Mass, Protos, Mass, Launcely and Siddeley-Wolseley..! There were more familiar V&V names including Arrol-Johnson and Delauney-Bellville in the list, and the Union of South Africa Post Office had no fewer than nine vehicles on its fleet; three Goodchilds and six Alldays and Onions… The diversity of makes never ceases to amaze when you consider that SA was something of a motoring global outpost 106 years ago.

As for new car prices in those days, a 20-30 hp Cadillac cost £448, a 15-18 hp Buick £470, a 38 hp Pierce-Arrow £950 and a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost chassis £985. Although not realistic to make direct conversions, £1 in 1915 was the equivalent of around £100 today. Multiply that by R20 to the pound… 

(Vintage Statistics photos taken from GN Georgano’s Complete Encyclopedia of Motorcars.)


A shilling for an idea…

During WW2 when Britain’s famous Brooklands race circuit was closed, members of the British Motorcycle Racing Club who lived nearby held meetings at a hotel close to the Weybridge end of the track. One of the meetings was attended by MotorSport magazine legends Bill Boddy and Denis Jenkinson, who took with them Beatrice Shilling, who raced a Norton at the track in 1934 and was awarded a Gold Star for lapping in excess of 100 mph. Initially, no-one recognised her but once properly introduced she was made most welcome.

During the war, Beatrice was employed at the Royal Aircraft Establishment and in her research duties she managed to solve a problem with the Merlin engines used in Britain’s fighter aircraft. The engine had a carburation ‘flat spot’ when the plane was subjected to rapid downward negative-g turns, putting the pilot at a disadvantage in a dog fight. Beatrice’s solution to the problem was a restrictor plate with a hole just large enough for maximum flow that would prevent fuel surge under the conditions. The idea was a success, and a team of mechanics travelled the country fitting the plates to all combat aircraft, for which many a pilot would doubtless have been most grateful.

Dawn rises

Finally, a report back on the Dawn Special query that was featured last month. To recap, it was a picture that appeared in the 27 January 1933 issue of The Autocar magazine with the following caption: “The Dawn Special which has a Scott motor-cycle engine and gear box in an Amilcar chassis, and was built by Claude May for racing in South Africa”. Nothing further could be found, but our good friend Mark Woolley in the UK replied with:

Claude Austen Newton May, known as Austen May or Wheelspin May, was a fascinating figure and a prolific racer of smaller cars in particular at places like Shelsley and Prescott and other hillclimbs, as well as in Formula 3. He was also the author of several motoring books, one called Wheelspin, which earned him his nickname. See detailed info at Although there is very little info on his Dawn Special, I would imagine he refers to it in one of his books!

Thanks, Mark.

(NB: No copyright infringement is intended with any of the images used to illustrate these articles.)