1911 Prince Henry Vauxhall
by Ross Finlay (14 January 2000)
Vauxhall's Heritage Centre houses more than 50 historic cars from various decades, but the pride of the collection is this majestic Edwardian tourer with its cherry red and silver bodywork, and black wheels.
The model was already in production, simply as the C-Type, when a team went across to compete in the long-distance trial organised in 1911 by Prince Henry of Prussia. After that, the production cars were given the name of the event, just as in later years there were to be so many Le Mans this-and-thats.
However, the C-Type also did well in much tougher competitions, winning the Swedish Winter Trial and finishing penalty-free in the Russian Reliability Trial.
Vauxhall's own car is one of nine thought to have survived. It carries a County Sligo registration number, but there's something of a mystery about what it was doing before it got to Ireland.
A kick plate on the passenger's side is inscribed with the name "W. Watson and Co., Liverpool". Watson was one of Vauxhall's trial drivers, and Bernard Ridgley, who recently retired from looking after the collection, thinks he bought the team car which retired from the 1911 Prince Henry event after breaking its back axle, before selling it on to its first Irish owner.
There's a compelling piece of evidence in support of that theory. The car needs the two spare wheels it carries, because the splines on the front and rear wheels have different threads. This suggests that it may originally have had a competition back axle, replaced after the Prince Henry incident with the standard one in place at the moment, but that the previous hubs were retained.
And how does this nearly 90 year-old three-litre tourer perform, in the various outings Vauxhall permits it to have during the season? Well, it was designed by Laurence Pomeroy, who also built another three-litre Vauxhall which was the first car of that capacity to be timed at Brooklands at over 100mph.
In its heyday, the road-going Prince Henry with 60bhp on tap could do 70mph, although nowadays EI 6411 is kept down to about 50mph, a speed it maintains with ease. There's a right-hand gearlever and a leather-faced clutch, both of which demand a certain amount of care, but in general this car shows that the top designers of its era were building really purposeful high performers. From the front passenger seat at least, there's a feeling of sturdy construction and power in reserve.
Somebody, perhaps in the factory team, was obsessed with revs and gears. On the dashboard there's a metal plate with more information about these things than most people would want.
For instance, 600rpm in third was worth 12mph, and 2600rpm in the same ratio produced 54mph. But if you slipped into fourth, you could hit 70mph at 2200rpm. With that kind of gearing, no wonder the Prince Henry was an effortless high-speed tourer.