About the 1920 Vauxhall 30/98 Type-E Tourer

Logic has little to do with creating legends. Consider this Vauxhall, in most respects an ordinarycar, albeit a pleasantly fast one. What set the 30/98 apart from its brethren was a certain je ne sais quoi immortalized in 1925 by Aldous Huxley in Those Barren Leaves. The novel’s protagonist, Lord Hovenden, was serendipitously transformed from milquetoast to swashbuckler whenever he got behind the wheel of his 30/98. Art imitated life.

A young draftsman, given his head when Vauxhall’s chief engineer was vacationing in Egypt, was responsible for the 30/98. Told to tweak some more horses out of the venerable Vauxhall engine so the factory could enter the 1908 RAC 2000 mile trial, Laurence Pomeroy put his theories on high-speed engine design into practice and designed a side-valve L-head that, from 300 fewer cc, increased horsepower to 38 from the 23 developed by the previous T-head unit. The factory won the RAC trial over a Silver Ghost Rolls, and Vauxhall had a new chief engineer.

Pomeroy got horsepower up to 60 in the subsequent Prince Henry model, which was fast enough for Vauxhall but not for sportsman Joseph Higginson, who wanted a fast car of modest literage that would beat the restrictive capacity formulae that were cramping his style at speed hillclimbs like Shelsley Walsh. The result was the 30/98 with 90 bhp. In 1913 Higginson bettered his old Shelsley mark by a whopping 13.6 seconds for a record that would stand for eight years. Naturally there arose a demand for the car that managed the feat.

The 30/98 was regarded merely as a fast tourer by Vauxhall. But owners recognized a competition car when they drove one and made a habit of winning at Brooklands and elsewhere for nearly a generation. This 30/98’s moments of glory did not include Shelsley Walsh 1921, however. In the first ess curve, J.S. Kearns, the original owner of the display car, “failed to turn the steering wheel at the critical moment” (in the charitable phrase of The Motor) and charged toward a banking packed with spectators. The most serious injury, luckily, was to Kearn’s pride.

Shades of Lord Hovenden.