Friday, 27 February 2009

The proud owner of a motor vehicle

Today's image was scanned some years ago from a photograph in my father's collection. Even then the subject was unidentified, but my inattention to the photograph's size and type, the scan trimmed to exclude all but the image itself, and a complete lack of any notes whatsoever, is a good lesson, I suppose, in how not to do such jobs. It may be a commercially produced postcard, but it could just as easily be a print using a privately owned camera. I should have scanned both front and reverse in full colour at the highest resolution that my scanner could handle, including the full extent of the photographic print and mount. It would also have made good sense to record its dimensions, a note on the type of photograph, and any inscriptions and notations written or stamped on the back.

However, given that I don't have any of this information, and inspired by intelliwench's recent vehicular theme (1, 2, 3), I wondered if I could ferret out a little more about the photograph, and make a stab at who the subject might be.

Image © and collection of C.B. Payne

The man wearing a coat and flat cap and sitting at the wheel of the car is not, as far as I can tell, an immediate member of my Payne family, that is to say, one of my ancestors. Nor is the building outside which the vehicle is parked a Payne locale that is familiar to me. However, he could well be a sibling or cousin (or husband of) one of my ancestors. To progress any further I need a date for the photograph.

The format is unknown, but to see if I could find out the size I opened up the original scanned image in Adobe Photoshop (v5.5) and with the marquee option outlined it. Then with the Options window open, I set the Preferences/Units & Rulers to show centimetres. This gave horizontal and vertical dimensions of 127.6 x 74.8 mm (or 5" x 3"). By the way, this technique only seems to work if the image has not been modified (resized) from the original scan. It is too small, I think, for it to have been a postcard photo (6" x 4"), even allowing for a margin, and it seems more likely that it was an ordinary print from a roll film used by an amateur.

Now to the photograph itself. A date would be most helpful but I'm not very good at dating mens' clothing from between the wars, which is my broad guess at the period, and I'm even more hopeless with vehicles.

Image © and courtesy of James Walker

A browse through the Help Pages of the Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society (SVVS) threw up some pointers, such as this 1922 Rover 8, two-seater. Although somewhat smaller, the style is very similar, which at least gives an approximate date of manufacture for our vehicle. I've sent off a detailed scan to the administrator of the SVVS site, in the hope that one of their members can identify the make, model and year, and will report here if and when I get a response.

In the mean time, I have been wondering if the building in the background is some sort of garage. It has an unusual glazed roof extending out from the building, and adjacent to one of the supporting poles is a tall, narrow, wooden box-like structure; it has occurred to me that the latter might be a housing for a petrol pump. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the building might be a country house, with substantial outbuildings and covered area for car, coach, etc., and that the boxed structure might be the housing for a hand-operated water pump. On further reflection, I think the latter to be far more likely.

I'd be grateful for any thoughts on this one. I still have very little idea of who it might be. I suspect that he would be somehow connected to my Payne family from Derby, but the photo could have been taken anywhere. Unfortunately the number plate is not visible, as that might have provided a location.

Post Script (5 March 2009)

Thanks to the keen eyes of a reader, I feel that we now have a probable make for this vehicle. Andre points out that the Singer models appear to be the only ones that characteristically had four lug bolts per wheel, rather than the three shown on the Rover above.

Image © and courtesy of

This fully restored 1926 Singer 10/26 model, shown above and below, is listed for sale on a Classic Cars web site. The rounded rear protruberance of the car, housing what was referred to as a dickey seat, made accessible by folding a flap back, is identical to that in my photograph.

Image © and courtesy of

According to Rick Jones' Old Classic Car web site and numerous others, the Singer 10/26 roadster was produced in both two- and four-seater versions from c. 1925 until 1927.

Image © and courtesy of Old Classic Car

They include an example, shown above, in which the make is "emblazoned on the two gallon petrol can, affixed to the offside running board, behind the spare wheel." In addition, a large initial "S" is clearly visible in relief on the centre cap on the spare wheel.

Image © and collection of C.B. Payne Image © and collection of C.B. Payne

Unfortunately, as shown in the enlarged images above, the centre cap appears to be missing from the car in my photograph - in fact, there appears to be only one nut left holding the spare wheel in place. The enlargement of the petrol can is not clear enough to show a logo, if there is one, and I suspect that it is a replacement.

Image © and collection of C.B. Payne

I also note that the Singer emblem or marque on the front of the bonnet (see image above) appears to have been snapped off. The vehicle in my photograph is clearly not new, so this pushes the probable date of the photograph forward to the late 1920s or early 1930s. The man looks to be in his late twenties or thirties so I estimate a birth date of some time in the 1890s or early 1900s. As yet, I don't have a likely candidate from my own family, or should I say there are too many potential candidates. It is possible that he was one of my grandfather's cousins. More investigation, comparison with other photographs, and contact with relatives will be required!

Many thanks to Andre Hallam and Rick Jones for contributions.


The picture is getting muddier ... Bozi Mohacek and other members of the Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society have reservantions about it being a Singer:
Lots of things against it. The contoured bonnet and profiled rad for a start, then the headlamps being considerably lower than top of mudguard. The Singer has louvered bonnet sides while photo has them plain (no louvres) etc. The rounded body shape at the back was quite common styling feature on many makes for a few years. Disc wheels were relatively common round the turn of the 20s, and four 4 stud wheels were common too. My 1921 Citroen has four stud disc wheels. (Its not a Citroen !) If you superimpose the two cars on each other on the basis of wheel centres, you will see fundamental differences.
Image © and courtesy of Bozi Mohacek

Watch this space.


  1. Clueless about all of it, but I do like old cars!

  2. I believe it may be a Singer, maybe a 1922 to 1926. Of all the cars I've found with these disc-type wheels, the Singer is the only one I've seen with four lug-bolts per wheel.

    Apparently Singer was one of the top 3 car manufacturers in Britain in the 1920's

    If you look at this example of a 1924 Singer from that era, you'll see that the wheels are virtually identical:

  3. Here's an even better example - might be the same model:

  4. If you can get a very high-res scan, you may be able to see the Singer logo on the battery.

  5. Excellent, thank you, Andre - I think you may have it. I will add a post script to the article shortly, after I've had a good look around for Singers.

  6. This was an excellent post to show how you sleuth out information about the unknowns in photos, Brett. Thanks for mentioning it in your comment on my blog post. I hope you can eventually find out car make and model as well as driver.


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