One of a kind Barson special

DUTCH classic car dealer Gallery Aaldering has a lot of rare cars in its Brummen showroom — and it wouldn’t be wrong to say the place is brimming with exotica.

There are some 350 cars to choose from, but one stands out from the rest in being a peerless one-off beaut, with quite a history.

It’s the exceptional 1936 Alvis Barson Special.

It started life in parts the UK, spent some years in South Africa, then back to England, parts of Europe and in the US, and is now in Holland.

What makes it exceptional is it has one of just two experimental 4.4-litre eight cylinder Alvis engines ever built.

It ended up as an internationally-known racing car, thanks to the expertise of its ace engineering owner, Ernest Chalenor Barson.

The other car with the experimental straight eight was used in a sedan for Alvis chief designer Clarke-Smith, but there’s no record of what happened to it.

A son of the first minister of the Penge Church, near Crystal Palace, when it was opened in 1909, young Ernest clearly had a knack for things mechanical.

His lust for improving things began with an AV Monocar, bought in bits for £2 10/- at the age of 16, and built up before he had a driving licence.

His first Special was an ash-chassis cyclecar with engine, gearbox and axles from an air-cooled vee-twin Humberette, built in the cellar of his parent’s house while he was an apprentice at Stone’s at Deptford, aged 17.

It was abandoned before completion, but it was the inspiration for his GN-based Specials powered by a 1928 Salmson GP engine. Several more specials followed, and although trained as an engineer, he was not averse to adapting a Castrol oil tin for the vacuum fuel-feed tank where required.

His next ventures were much more professional, the Barson Special No 6, followed by numbers 7, 8, 9 and 10 all showing a diverse range of innovation.

Then he had the chance to acquire an experimental straight-eight 4.4-litre Alvis engine.

Alvis had a tendency to develop experimental cars that were then driven by its directors privately, and the engine was one of those.

But WWII  had started and this prolific Special builder was posted to South Africa.

He was, however, able to take the Alvis engine, Special No 9 and a case of parts and tools  with him.

Once settled, he rebuilt No 9 into No 10, changing everything in front of the bulkhead and installing the new straight eight engine, including a change of its independent front suspension to that from a Lancia Lambda.

Then he had the misfortune of colliding with his commanding officer at an intersection and the rebuild resulted in No 11, the most famous of them all.

The car was next sold to an RAF officer in Pretoria, who sold it to an another RAF officer, who took it back to the UK, then took it to Germany and Monaco, and it ended up owned by prominent US car collector and racer David van Schaick.

Van Schaick was also the vice-president of the Aston Martin Owners Club and a member of the American Bugatti Club and the Vintage Sports Car Club of America.

Most of its owners either raced, or used the car in hill climbs, often with excellent results.

Driving through a four-speed electro-magnetic Armstrong Siddeley pre-selector gearbox, it had a top speed of about 200 km/h – seriously fast for its day.

Its travels from the US are not known, but at present it’s in Brummen, Holland.

Chalenor Barson remained in South Africa, but his early Specials stayed in the UK  and were used in the creation several other competition cars.

Back in South Africa Mr Barson built an ocean-going yacht, was a senior official of the RAC of SA for 20 years after the war, built a super house in Cape Town, was president of the Cape Motorcycle and Car Club – and then got on with the job of constructing more one-off motor cars.

He bought a Fiat 500 for his wife, then came Fiat Abarths, an air-cooled Fiat 500 was given VW barrels and a finned spacer to push its 479cc  twin-cylinder motor up to some 700cc, another Fiat was powered by a supercharged Lloyd motor and he fitted Renault R8 power to a Fiat 600, turning it into a very quick little car.

It was often used by one of Barson’s sons to tow his racing motorbikes to meetings.

He created several more, including a Honda coupe with a Ford Kent motor, and owned,   among others, a brace of 4-1/2-litre Lagondas, a M45 and an L6, a 2.0-litre Lagonda Speed Model, a tubular-chassis Austro-Daimler, a Rover Meteor drophead coupé,  a 1960 Alfa Romeo Giulietta, several Rileys and a Ford Escort Sport.

He died in 2000, when he was deep into his 80s.

Gallery Aaldering says it has a ‘deeply rooted’ love for classic cars, but describes the Alvis Barson’s engine as a ‘straight V8’ which conjures up all manner of engineering impossibilities.

It also identifies the car as the Alvis Barson No 8 and got its creator’s history very wrong.

Number 8 was indeed the basis of Barson Specials numbers 9, 10 and the one for sale, which is No 11. Chalenor Barson himself sent a picture of the car to a friend, Wayne Brooks, with an inscription on the back reading: ‘Barson Special No. 11. 1940. Cape Town.’

A picture of the engine was captioned: ‘E. Chalenor Barson in 1940 Preparing car No. 11 for Camps Bay Hill Climb – 2nd fastest time. Beaten by 3/5 sec. by supercharged racing car.’

No matter.

It’s the only one of its kind and the gallery is asking €330.000 for it, which translates to A$526,000.

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