An Introduction by Dave Cox

1932 was not a good year to launch a new sports car – marketed squarely at the sons and daughters of the upper middle classes. Economic recovery was slow, and the fear of unemployment was still tangible in the wake of the 1929 market crash. Salaried employees were fearful of company failure or takeover, and even the fringes of the upper classes had been haunted by the spectre of genteel poverty. ’Champagne Charlie’ had turned to brown ale, and the market for big, lorry like sports cars of the late twenties had largely disappeared.

Motor sport throughout the United Kingdom had reflected these economic constraints, and reliability trials and rallies became increasingly popular due to their low cost. Some of the new breed of light cars, with the benefit of a small capacity high revving engine, and a low first gear, were able to excel at these events, and above all they were comparatively cheap to buy. Horsepower tax also increased the incentive to ‘buy small’.

Into this post market crash world stepped Pownoll Pellew, a man destined to become the ninth Viscount Exmouth. He had been to engineering school, but had followed this with a chequered period at Cambridge and agricultural college.

Despite parental disapproval, and periods of ‘genteel poverty’, he dreamed of building his own sports car. He started off by renting a workshop, situated behind the ‘Warrington’ public house in Maida Vale, employing a crony of his, and one mechanic. Being something of a dreamer, the venture might have foundered, but Pellew’s girlfriend had a steely ambition and determination, and spurred him on to achieve his dream.

Kay Walsh came from the other side of the class divide. She was a dancer, and budding actress,who introduced Pellew to her friends in the world of theater and film.

These contacts led Pellew to meet with two men who were willing to put money into a new company that would build the car he had designed. Allan Gaspar and Robert Wilcoxon were hungry and ambitious men, and turned the Vale Motor Company (as it became) from being a gentleman’s hobby into a company able to build a radically designed sports car that briefly created a vogue in the early 1930s. The company might have been successful, but despite bulging order books, too few cars were manufactured at the Warrington Garage for it to be a commercial success.

The directors had planned to go into line production (after an initial period of low volume ‘hand built’ production) with the Vale Special in a purpose built factory. Unfortunately, a series of catastrophes overcame the fledgling company, including the losses of key individuals. They could not recover from these setbacks - despite the concerted efforts of Allan Gaspar, Bill Francis- James, and finally Guy Griffiths.

This book covers the whole of the Vale Motor Company history 1932-1934, and the ensuing Vale Engineering Company history 1934 – 1937. The text puts particular emphasis on the motor sport actively engaged in by the company and amateur
owners of the cars. The closing section of the book examines some of the divided opinions expressed about these cars over the years. – i.e. should the car be remembered as the ‘Vile Special’ - a car for ‘Promenade Percy’, or was it a fine small sports car of its period that deserves to be remembered for its undoubted technical ingenuity, attractive styling and outstanding handling abilities.

The origins of this book date back to 1979, when motorcycle journalist Brian Woolley placed an appeal in the ‘Vintage Postbag’ section of Motorsport Magazine. He was seeking information to assist him with the restoration of his newly acquired Vale Special car, and received a surprising number of replies – testimony to the affection with which past owners remember this now largely forgotten marque.

Two of the replies to Woolley’s appeal were of particular significance to this book. The first of these was from Allan Gaspar, former Sales and Competition Manager of the Vale Motor Company. The second reply came from Gaspar’s long-time friend, Bill Francis-James, former Works Foreman and racing mechanic with the Vale Engineering Company, Aston Martin and Talbot. In pre-war years he was known as Bill Joshua.

During the following eighteen months, letters passed regularly between the three of them, and they decided to write a book on the history of the company. Bill Francis-James was an accomplished writer of short stories, and took it upon himself to write a 1500 word synopsis for a book on the Vale Motor Company, entitled “Ave Atque Vale” (Hail and Farewell). Sadly, the synopsis was all that they got down in writing.

In the early 1980s, Bill hawked the original synopsis around publishers for a while and, being one of life’s optimists, could not understand the lukewarm reception it received. He wrote back to the Editorial Director of B T Batsford Ltd:

“I am going to take you up on the question of lack of interest in a specialised venture such as the Vale Motor Company. There is no drama or humor in the manufacture of a Vauxhall – still less in that of a Fiat – but the Vale Special enterprise had strong moments of both, moments that must appeal very strongly to anyone interested in four wheel transport and we are thick on the ground.”

Just when Bill appeared to be making progress with Batsford (after wearing down their resistance with a series of amusing letters), his health started to fail. At the age of seventy, he had recently married Anne, his partner for many years, and Gaspar believed this had: “ ...put him off his stroke”.

Sadly, he had contracted an aggressive form of cancer that was to claim him within a few short months. Gaspar had also been suffering with declining health for a long period, and tragically died within a few months of his friend. Brian Woolley, saddened by the loss of these two, by now, good friends, penned an article on the Vale Special for Thoroughbred and Classic Car Magazine (January 1982) and all ideas of a book were quietly dropped.

Having acquired all of the correspondence, which came with the purchase of Brian’s car in 1991, it gradually dawned on the author that if the reins were not picked up quickly, then the story would never be told.

Fortunately for this project, the hundred or so letters detailing the workings of the company were saved, and with company documents kept by Gaspar and Pellew, form the single most important source of historical material for this book.

Copyright © 2006 David Cox

 About this Site