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Motor Mouth articles 2010

Hooray Henrys grab the spotlight again

A venerable old Vauxhall from before the First World War

EVER heard of a Prince Henry? It may sound like a kind of body piercing or perhaps a wrestling move but actually it’s a long-established nickname for a famous old car.

The Prince Henry was the moniker often applied to the Vauxhall C10, a pre-World War One classic generally acknowledged as Britain’s first sports car.

And the largest gathering of ancient Vauxhalls in living memory, including all but three of the surviving Prince Henry cars, took place recently at the historic Shelsey Walsh hillclimb track in Worcestershire.

The C10 was the brainchild of Vauxhall’s chief engineer, Laurence Pomeroy, and was given its nickname after three of them were entered in the gruelling, 1,250-mile 1910 Prince Henry Trial, held in Germany.

The cars’ amazing speed and durability created a legend, which the fledgling Vauxhall company was quick to exploit with a production model based on the racers.

That the centenary celebrations were held at Shelsey Walsh, arguably the world’s oldest hillclimb track, was appropriate because it was there that Vauxhall enjoyed so much success in its early years.

Eight Prince Henrys were present last week, including the oldest surviving model – a 3.0-litre owned by Vauxhall for the last 64 years – and a 1913 4.0-litre model, which has remained in the same family ever since it left the showroom.

Allan Winn, director of the BrooklandsMuseum in Surrey, made a presentation to Vauxhall owners and drivers prior to the event.

“The Prince Henry was Britain’s first proper sports car,” he said. “With its low, rakish lines and powerful engine it was the car of choice for amateur racers before World War One. It was also one of the fastest cars in its day. Even early models could hit 70mph, and in 1910 a C10 took the 21hp class honours over a measured half-mile at Brooklands.”

As well as the Prince Henrys, Shelsey hosted a selection of 12 Vauxhall 30-98s, one of the most celebrated cars of its time and a direct descendant of the Prince Henry. The 30-98 was another Pomeroy masterpiece and one that, in its final form, became Britain’s fastest production car with a top speed of 100mph.

With car use having begun to really take off in the early days of the 20th century, it is not surprising that hardly a month goes by nowadays without some carmaker or other celebrating its centenary.

So many famous old names have died, of course, either swallowed up and killed by bigger companies or simply failed to move with the times. Vauxhall nowadays is an American-owned mass production enterprise so it is all the more interesting to see again the sort of quality vehicles that once bore its name.

Fast forward another century and there’s more chance that the world will be ruled by Martians than that a gathering of Astras will be attracting people’s attention.

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