[In which Mr. Geoffrey Frank, of Liverpool, details his experiences with a very large and varied number of marques.—ed.]
ALTHOUGH I started to drive the family Daimler in 1913, at the tender age of nine, it was not until my seven-teenth birthday that I became an actual car owner, and how intensely proud I was of my yellow and black G.N., with its one central headlamp and starting-handle beneath the offside running-board.
I had a lot of fun out of that car, although on my first trip I very successfully managed to turn it over on a sharp corner, as I had not realised how very direct the steering was! The G.N. was the first of a very long string to pass through my hands, but a lot of these were very ordinary Morris and Austin, and I propose to mention only those cars which, for various reasons, have a special niche in my memory.
There was a 1925 Standard 11.4 two-seater, which was very well known in Merseyside trials ten or twelve years ago; I bought this car fourth hand and ran it 36,000 hard miles, without a rebore, and with daylight showing through the front main bearing! The only mechanical troubles I had in this mileage were one big-end (due, no doubt, to the very haphazard system of lubrication, by “buckets” on the flywheel and dip for the big-ends) and several magneto failures. It really was a wonderful little car, and possessed one of the best sets of brakes (14-inch drums on the rear wheels only) I have ever come across, before or since.
Then I had a 16 h.p. Crossley, of about 1913 vintage, with a colossal drop-head body; this was an utterly hideous piece of coachbuilding, but was very comfortable to ride in, although a step-ladder was necessary in order to reach the dickey-seat! I remember this car chiefly for its ferocious—and highly dangerous—transmission foot-brake, and its four odd pistons! On the one occasion when I was rash enough to lift the massive four-cylinder monobloc, I found that none of the pistons matched, either in shape or weight! Nevertheless, the car ran extremely well, and would take most hills in top, if it were given a flying (very) start!
About the same time I had a 1914 La Ponette, good but very noisy and desperately slow in getting off the mark, and a 1921 Le Zebre, which was quite advanced in design, with a four-speed box and full cantilever rear-springs. Its performance was negligible, and it had a disgusting habit of throwing its valve-springs away without apparent reason, but it was highly economical and very well sprung.
Then there was a 1921 De Dion Bouton 12.1 h.p. two-seater, which was quite fast —about 65 flat out—but had a terrifying wheel wobble at any speed from 0 to its maximum. If I set out on a run of more than 50 miles I could count on having to dismantle the transmission by the road side and ultimately I could do the whole job in ninety minutes. The trouble was that the brake drum behind the gearbox had worn to a very slack fit on the splines of the main-shaft and I could not induce the nut to stay put; the result was that the drum developed a wobble, and as it also housed the ball universal joint, the torque tube soon showed signs of distress. The best feature of the car was the gearbox; it was quite impossible for the biggest idiot (and several tried!) to miss a gear, and its worst point the anchors, which were neither useful nor ornamental!
I am not referring to my cars in order of ownership, but just as they come to mind; I have had so many that I very much doubt whether I could remember the order in which they came into my hands.
There was a very solid Clement two-seater, of roughly 1911; it had a four-cylinder engine of—so far as I can remember—about 16 h.p. and a fiendishly difficult 4-speed gearbox, and a 1913 Belsize 10/12 h.p., which ran extremely well and was most comfortable.
One of the nicest cars I ever had was a 1922 A.C. 11.9 two-seater; the body was very wide and deep, and the all-weather equipment, although crude, was most effective, and kept everything out, including most of the air! I never had any trouble with the A.C. gearbox, but the foot brake, although it had a most accessible adjustment just above the running-board, was poor, and the disc-type hand-brake on the tail-end of the worm-shaft was merely a very bad joke!
I also had one of the earliest Sports Fiat 8 to come to this country. It had a sports body in aluminium with blue wings and was certainly very pretty to look at, but it was badly-named, so far as performance was concerned; for one thing, it only had three speeds, and top gear being somewhere in the region of 6 to 1, it was revving like fury at anything over 35, and was even more fussy if run up on the indirects. The springing was poor, and I never cared for the steering, which was altogether too uncertain, but the brakes were reasonably decent. I had a lot of trouble with the electrical equipment, as the dynamo was never much good, and, tucked away on the nose of the crankshaft, totally inaccessible. As a result the battery enjoyed poor health and the starting-handle was in great demand; unfortunately it was a wretched affair and did not properly fit the dog in the end of the dynamo, so that it was impossible to swing the engine. On one occasion the handle flew out and hit me in the face, and twice, when the handle disengaged violently of its own accord, I shattered the glass of the nearside headlamp.
I don’t suppose many of your readers will remember the 1912 Stoneleigh. This was identical in design with the 13.9 B.S.A. Silent Knight of the same date, but had a radiator very similar in shape to the 1927 14 h.p. Armstrong-Siddeley. My father gave me his Stoneleigh after it had served the family very faithfully for twelve years, but I did not run it for long, as it had a bad habit of stripping the splines in front of the gearbox, which was part of the overhead worm-drive axle. As it grew older it also chewed up the sleeves, which were mighty expensive to replace, so I finally scrapped the car.
For a short time I had a 1921 25-h.p. Vauxhall side-valve touring car, which was a beautiful vehicle, but the self-starter was always a doubtful element, and the big engine took a lot of swinging in cold weather; also the pressure petrol feed gave a certain amount of trouble, but apart from these points, and a rather heavy thirst for juice, it was an excellent car. It was not fast, about 60 being the maximum, but it ran very sweetly and was well sprung, due probably to its considerable weight and fairly fat tyres.
Another Vauxhall was a 1912 cabriolet, with a 25 h.p. engine not unlike the 1921model—this was finished in claret, with brass radiator and fittings, including acetylene headlamps.
A curious and highly diverting motorcar (when it ran) was a 1921 Rover 8 twin-cylinder, which was always very difficult to start, and kicked like a mule. Once started, great care had to be exercised in entering the car, as frame flexion had an odd effect on the throttle-setting and most times would close it completely, necessitating a repetition of the performance with the handle. Once under way, it pulled quite well and the brakes were fairly decent, but I never reconciled myself to the appalling noise produced by second gear. Ultimately, the frame broke in the middle, after the car had successfully taken four large bodies over a rough mountain road.
I had one of the earliest 11.9 Bean two-seaters and it was well sprung and had fairly good brakes, but the high-pressure tyres did not last long, and I could never induce the dynamo to produce more than 2 amps, which meant that the starter was more ornamental than useful.
A car which should have had a remarkable performance, in view of the power weight ratio, was a 13.2 Trumbull; the whole outfit only weighed about 14 cwt., but although it got along all right. I remember that the acceleration was pretty poor, and the brakes definitely distressing. The car had an unpleasant habit of throwing away the rear wheels, not entirely surprising when one came to examine the method of attachment.
I had also a 1914 Singer 10, which was a really fine little car, and although it was very aged when it came into my hands, I did quite a big mileage on it without any serious trouble. Later on I had a 1921 model, which, so far as I recollect, was mechanically the same as the earlier car, except for a different radiator and the fitting of a Rotax combined dynamo and starter. The 1921 Singer was dead reliable, quite fast, and most economical, and I have only pleasant recollections of it.
One of the most pleasant of the old brigade was a 1914 Rover 12 tourer, a deservedly famous car in its day. It was always an easy starter, ran very smoothly, and was most comfortable to ride in. It was desperately slow, of course, and the acceleration was negligible, but nevertheless it was one of my favourites.
For a time I had a 25-h.p. 1912 Daimler touring car, but it was altogether too extravagant to run for long, although I became very attached to it by reason of the sweet running and excellent springing. The Daimler had dual ignition, and if it happened to be in a good mood, would start, when warm, merely by switching on and flicking the ignition lever on top of the steering-wheel, which wheel incidentally had a thick rim, five spokes and a horn bulb attached to the centre.
One of the best and most beautifully made cars I have ever known was a 1915 Humber 10.4 tourer; this had a delightful four-speed gearbox, Lucas electric lighting, and solid leather upholstery, plus detachable steel wheels, and was excellently sprung. The engine was most reliable and the car ran very smoothly and quietly. It was a worthy forerunner of the post-war Humber 11.4, of which I had a two-door saloon and an open tourer, both excellent cars.
I wonder how many of your readers will remember the Stellite, which was really a small Wolseley of 10.5 h.p., with a two-speed gearbox on the rear axle? Mine was quite a good little car, but I always felt lost with only two forward positions for the gear lever. [There is, or was, a 1914 example at Shepperton.—Ed.]
I also recall a twin-cylinder Bayard, with piano pedals and a straight-through quadrant change; the latter arrangement was devilish, as the notches on the quadrant were badly worn and to engage the required gear was purely a matter of luck.
Then there was a Varley-Woods, with an 11.9 Dorman engine, which car should have been much better than it was, in view of its price. A very nice Angus-Sanderson endeared itself to me on account of its beautiful springing, but of one of the first of the Cubitts the less said the better!
I also had a 1915 B.S.A., with 13.9 Knight engine, which ran very smoothly and quietly, but was flat out at 22 in second, and 38 in top, and in common with others of its breed, developed a pronounced list, which could only be cured by setting up the transverse rear spring. The external contracting brakes just were not, especially in wet weather.
Another Knight-engined car was a Moline-Knight, which had left-hand steering and got me into serious difficulties every time I took it out; on wet roads it was positively dangerous.
One particularly beautiful car, which nearly ruined me in a month, was a 1913 30-h.p. Sheffield-Simplex tourer, and I well remember the immense pride I took in demonstrating the U.S.L. electric self-starter, although each start almost destroyed the battery and meant using the handle for days afterwards. Later I acquired a delightful 1915 Darracq touring car, in green, with yellow wooden wheels and brass fittings; the thing I chiefly remember about the Darracq was the beautiful solid leather upholstery and the mahogany fillets on top of the doors!
I must not forget a “sporting” car of about 1911 vintage ; this was a Roland-Pilain, with exposed chain-drive, and was notable for being almost impossible to start, and when finally under way, quite impossible to stop. This car was only lent to me, thank Heaven, for a couple of months, but in that short time it nearly drove me insane and I was very thankful when its owner asked for its return. A couple of Calcotts, a very early 10.5 and a 1921 two-seater 11.9, also passed through my hands, but I cannot recall anything very special about either, apart from the fact that the dynamotor on the 11.9 never charged as it should, and had a disconcerting habit of becoming white-hot after a few miles running. Of “vintage” cars, it only remains to mention a very smart Calthorpe two-seater saloon coupe and an early Star 15.9 tourer, which was dead reliable, but possessed the most hideous cape hood in the world.
Later on, improving finances enabled me to do rather better, and my string of “superior” motor-cars started with a 1927 Riley 12 “Chatsworth” saloon, which was very comfortable and reasonably fast, once it was wound up, but the brakes and dreadful acceleration nearly drove me demented. I tried everything I could think of to liven it up, but I was never able to make it “push me in the back,” even on second gear.
At the same time as the Riley I had a 9/20 Rover, with a polished aluminium body and a terrific exhaust note. Once I had realised that nothing would induce the tappet clearances to stay put, I gave up the fight and got a lot of fun out of the car. I have also very pleasant memories of a 16-h.p. Sunbeam side-valve tourer, which gave me a feeling of solid dignity every time I drove it, and had a delightful gearbox and steering.
But I had for years hankered after an Alvis, and when I was offered a 1924 side-valve “12/40” tourer for £6, taxed and insured, I snapped it up and ran it for several thousand miles, without any trouble whatever, although the oil consumption became desperate in the end. This car was followed by another side-valve “12/40,” a later model with front brakes, and this was faster and smoother than the 1924 car.
Ultimately, I found a 1926 four-seater “12/50” Alvis, in shocking condition externally but thoroughly sound mechanically and with a set of six brand-new oversize tyres. This car took part in dozens of trials and never let me down, although its flapping wings and ripped hood brought forth rude remarks from spectators, until they saw the contemptuous way it treated some of the Welsh terrors. I scrapped this car finally, after the engine had scuttled all the big ends; this occurred during the course of a flat-out bottom-gear blind up Alty Gwernant. I could have obtained another engine at a low price, but the brakes and steering were getting into a poor state, and the body was patched and, in parts, only wired on to the chassis.
Then came a 1921 “30/98” Vauxhall Velox E type, and how I loved that car, although it nearly always needed two strong men to start it and the brakes cost me a fortune. For some reason, which nobody could fathom, the lining on the foot (transmission) brake only lasted for about 300 miles, and had only two positions—right off and hard on! This car was a fair specimen of the E type; the acceleration was good, and it would do 75 with ease. I feel certain that it would have done over 80, but the engine became distinctly rough, and I had been advised by Crackington Motors not to run it up to its maximum of 3,000 r.p.m. It appeared in one race at Southport, but the valve springs were not equal to violent acceleration for rapid downward changes, and all the horses leaked out!
After that, I went back to my old love, and bought a 1928 Alvis “14/75” fabric saloon; although a very nice car in some ways, its maximum was well below that of the “12/50” with a similar body, and acceleration was putrid. I parted with it when the oil consumption reached the alarming figure of 80 m.p.g., and also because it had by then become necessary to take an umbrella in the car on wet days!
Just then, a wretch who called himself a friend tempted me with a 1925 11.9 Bugatti four-seater and seldom have I been so unhappy as I was with that car. I don’t think it ever ran more than 10 miles on four cylinders and it spent nearly all its life in third, on which gear it would cruise at 50—to engage top discouraged the engine completely. The steering was perfectly beautiful, but to refrain from hitting anything in the way it was necessary to put the brakes hard on —at anything over 30—at least 100 yards away from the obstacle! I got fed up with it in the end and sold it for scrap.
A very potent motor-car was a front-wheel drive 1929 Alvis, with the plain bearing supercharged engine. The acceleration, brakes and road holding were amazing, but it was a curious car in one respect—it would run freely up to 6,000 r.p.m. on the gears, this representing about 70 in third, but nothing would induce it to do more than 76 in top. It had its weaknesses in other directions, in view of the then relatively new and untried design, and one feature was mortality amongst the front brake drums. These were close up to the differential housing and ideally positioned for being smitten by stones, and more than once I finished a trial with the brake-shoes naked and unashamed. The steering was superb and the car could be lifted round corners at any speed. I got badly stuck on one occasion on a trials hill, when the engine cooked all four plugs simultaneously, and after getting it going again, the front wheels refused to grip and dug trenches for themselves, greatly to the detriment of my tyres. It was a brute to start, and, when cold, it was necessary to put in touring plugs and warm it up thoroughly, when it would immediately cook them and decline to play until the racing K.L.G. plugs were put in. Ultimately, the engine threw a rod at 6,000 r.p.m., resulting in holes here and there and an odd piston crown peeping through the cylinder-head.
One of the most pleasant cars I have ever owned was a perfectly standard 1937 Ford 8, which would cruise indefinitely at 50, and was incredibly economical. I parted with it only because the engine needed attention, and as it had already been bored out 40 thou. oversize, I don’t think it would have stood any more, and the war has stopped the replacement scheme, in addition to which, the brakes were distinctly weak and the steering becoming rather indefinite. Another nice little car was a 1930 Austin 7, with an open two-seater Gordon England body, which had the smoothest engine I have ever known in an Austin 7. Why it was so sweet-running I don’t know, but it had none of the harshness which seems to be inseparable from the old two-bearing unit, especially if the ignition is too far advanced. It also possessed remarkably good brakes, and being so light, had a very lively performance. About the same time as I had the Austin I bought a 1928 “12/50” Alvis tourer, in appalling condition, for £3, with a view to renovating it, but I never seemed to have time to get down to the job, and ultimately sold it for £5 to a friend who owned a “12/50” and thought he might want spares—needless to say, he never did! The engine has now come back to me, and I intend to amuse myself by fitting it into a 1932 Wolseley Hornet chassis, after stripping the engine right down and restoring it as far as is possible without spending a lot of money on it. One of my worst efforts was the purchase of a very early Wolseley Hornet, with the Minor body; some joker turned the steering over dead centre before I drove it away, with the result that the car went left, on turning the wheel right, and I nearly wrote myself off. Of the car as a car the less said the better. The dynamo spent its life swimming in oil, the camshaft bevels rattled unbelievably, and the seats were too dreadful for words; the one bright feature lay in the Lockheed brakes, which really were good, and quite wasted on such a car. I also had an early Morris Minor, with a fabric body and this was quite a good little car, apart from the frightful brakes and a dynamo which regularly became swamped in oil.
One of my best bargains was a 1927 Lea-Francis boat-shaped two-seater, with a 12 h.p. splash-fed Meadows engine; I bought this car for £4, and ran it 5,000 miles without doing anything to it, and it regularly did 33 m.p.g. and over 1,000 on oil. I sold it to a friend, who cut the body about and ran it a further 12,000 miles without trouble, before the engine flew to pieces during the course of a glorious blind with an M.G. Magnette on the Great North Road. This car was followed by a 1929 Lea-Francis tourer, with a similar engine, but it was in very poor condition, and in the first fortnight of being in my possession two big ends and the propeller shaft passed away, after which I scrapped it.
Becoming rather more ambitious, I picked up a 1926 Bentley 3-litre “Blue Label” with a beautiful Gurney Nutting saloon body, and ran it 11,000 miles. It was not fast, about 70 being the absolute maximum, and the petrol-consumption was wicked, but the brakes, gearbox and steering were beyond reproach, and the car was a joy to drive. The only serious troubles I had were a broken selector, which left third permanently engaged (in the thick of the noon traffic one Saturday, and with a very fierce cone clutch) and a tendency for the forked operating arm of the near-side front brake to jump out of its slot; this locked the brake hard on, and on wet roads produced the most awe-inspiring skids. When I parted with the Bentley, I bought a 1930 Alvis “Silver Eagle” single carburetter saloon, which gave me great joy for many thousands of miles. The steering and road-holding were fully up to standard and I loved the dual ignition system. The gearbox was noisy on the indirects and the brakes were feeble, but the chief reason I finally parted with the car lay in the fact of the universal joints having worn so badly as to create an unbearable vibration at anything over 40. It would have cost me £15 to fit a new prop shaft, so I let the car go.
I replaced the “Silver Eagle” with a 1932 Alvis “12/50” coachbuilt saloon; this was a glorious car, and during the 13,000 odd miles I drove it the consumption averaged 28 m.p.g. for petrol, and over 1,000 m.p.g. on oil. My sole troubles lay in the poor brakes, and a slight wheel-patter on rough roads at anything over 55, but it would cruise for ever at 60, and was dead reliable.
I parted with the “12/50” only because I got married last June, and it was necessary to have a car which my wife could handle (she found the Alvis gearbox beyond her!) so I acquired a 1939 Wolseley “12/48” Series III saloon, which is really a delightful car, but depresses me profoundly to drive, as it is so ladylike! However, I revived my flagging spirits a couple of months ago when I bought a very potent Le Mans Singer as a stable-mate for the Wolseley; now I really enjoy using my basic ration! The only trouble is, my wife has also fallen in love with the Singer, and there are occasions when I find my beautiful little cream-mid black motor-car missing, and have to content myself with the very sedate Wolseley. I am now looking round for a really good Alvis “Speed Twenty” to play with, in preparation for the happy day when we can once more keep the petrol gauge-needle permanently indicating “full.”