[Capt. L. Roy Taylor, a friend of that great enthusiast Donald Monro, carries on this series, which, quite frankly, has already run for longer than we thought possible. – Ed.]
I feel quite strongly that this subject of “Cars I Have Owned” should be left to those whose names are household words in motoring circles. However, my very good friend Donald Monro, to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude for introducing me, in a humble way, to the competitive side of the Sport, suggested that my recollections might be of interest, so I will try to set them down as concisely as possible.
I must first of all explain that I have always been a somewhat “hesitant” enthusiast, in that I have always admired, but never dared to buy, a dyed-in-the wool, out-and-out sports car (with one exception), and that my adventures have been guided more by the principle of buying within my price limit of £100 to £200 a car, within four years old, of as high as possible an original cost. My argument being that, however quickly second-hand values drop in the first two or three years, the subsequent annual depreciation is low, provided the car is maintained in good condition, although I must admit that this has not always been the case.
My first car was bought at an auction sale for £17 and was a 1924 “Aero” Morgan three-wheeler. Some enterprising previous owner (there were many) had, with more enthusiasm than intelligence, cut away the centre torque tube, which, as Morgan owners know, provides most of the chassis strength. He had then, with possible aid of the local blacksmith, introduced an old Salmson gearbox. The result of this was quite good, provided the surface was free from pot holes, but on a rough road the chassis flexed so much that the universal coupling, thoughtfully provided at the rear of the box, came to pieces with sickening regularity. I therefore completely stripped the whole thing and restored it to its original condition (my first venture into motor mechanics), producing quite a good Morgan out of it.
Some rather alarming activity amongst the tramlines of Birmingham definitely decided me that four wheels were necessary, so, with the aid of another £20, I became the proud possessor of a 2-seater 8-h.p. Singer of about 1926 vintage. It had a nice overhead-camshaft engine, but looked as if it had been painted with a yard brush(!), and as it was painfully slow (about 45 m.p.h. maximum), I part-exchanged it for one of the boat-shaped Rover Tens of 1927 or 1928, a beautifully made little car with quite a tanking performance.
This was in 1931, and I kept this car until 1933. I improved its smoothness of running by fitting a ball race in the centre of the torque tube, and spoiled its appearance by fitting cycle-type wings, which made the body appear much too high off the ground. She was still going well when I sold her, and saw several years’ service in, I am sorry to say, a much-neglected condition in other hands.
Then came what I always consider to be my most trouble-free car – a 1931 Wolseley Hornet E.W. 4-seater purchased at 9,000 miles in 1933. Fast and completely reliable, I kept it for 18 months and only sold it because another car took my fancy; it is possibly still running, for I saw it just before the war, although I did not get the opportunity of a close inspection. I think these little cars have been rather maligned as regards speed and reliability, for it never gave me a moment’s concern, and on one memorable day, in the summer of 1934, after seeing a friend on to the “Royal Scot” in Glasgow, I was on Carlisle Station in time to meet the train coming in. I never worked out the average speed, it might not be as high as I fondly imagine, but I remember I had to hurry!
I fitted this car with complicated headlamp brackets (in the hope that others would mistake it for the more expensive Wolseley hornet “Special”) and also with some of the first Michelin R.L.P. tyres which were a compete success and improved the riding considerably. Then I fell for a 16-h.p. Standard Avon “Swan,” one of the prettiest cars ever designed. After that I had one of the original S.S. (just a shade too exaggerated, although a satisfactory car), but I sold this just in time, for within a few weeks of selling it its flywheel fell to pieces at considerable velocity! Strangely enough, although this same car had passed through several hands in the interim, it came into my hands again many years later and did subsequent long service as a hack.
After the S.S. came a fine Standard Avon (1934 model), and this, although by no stretch of imagination could it be called a genuine sports car, had a most satisfactory performance, smooth and effortless, although of only 16 h.p. Unfortunately, after having been rebored, it developed chronic overheating and I sold it, though for several years afterwards it performance excellent service as a town car and tender to a “36/220” Mercedes-Benz belonging to a friend in Stafford and was subsequently part-exchanged by him for a Rolls-Bentley.
Some chance remarks on the merits of A.C.’s gave me the desire to try one of these excellent cars and, finding the second-hand prices to be reasonably low, I bought a 1933 drophead coupe, a very attractive car, both to look at and to drive. It was soon obvious that this had done a very considerable mileage, and this was borne out by a chance visit to the Park Lane showroom, where it was recognised as the original 1932 Show Model and was known by A.C.’s to have run a very long way indeed. The only real trouble was a nasty sort of knocking movement in the clutch, which was put down as rear main slackness, so I took the engine out and fitted new mains and at the same time new pistons and liners, which did much to cure the trouble. Incidentally and in passing, surely the A.C. is possibly the only car on which such a major operation can be successfully carried out by the owner-driver?
A comparatively hot summer gave me a renewed urge for another open car, so the A.C. was changed for a 1934 open 4-seater of the same make, once the property of the well-known disabled driver, L. P. Jacques, one-time Advertising Manager to Motor Sport. This was undoubtedly one of the most pleasurable cars I have ever owned, having plenty of power, good road-holding, good brakes if kept adjusted and a very excellent gear change. But it had the fault of a bad wobble on the scuttle and dash at anything much over 70 m.p.h., which no amount of bracing would cure. After 12 months of this I began to hanker for a Railton, and a good home was found for the A.C. It is still running well in the same ownership, but does not get much use, as it spends most of its time in the garage being polished, down to its most remote details, and is so much beloved by its owner that, when I thought of buying it back from him a few months ago, he would not accept a generous offer.
The Railton, a light 4-seater, was, of course, a wizard car and gave much pleasure, but I am always sorry that the process of Anglicising these fine cars was not extended to the brakes, springing and steering, as, in spite of twin Telecontrols and the original dampers, it always gave the impression of driving in a sponge. The bodywork, too, on this particular car was not too good and did not quite give me that pride of ownership, which is so essential in maintaining one’s enthusiasm for a car, so I cast around for something really British to take its place.
To my everlasting joy my fancy then lighted on a 1934 Vanden Plas Alvis “Speed Twenty” drophead coupe – this in 1938. What a really fine car this is! I have no doubt that my admiration for this car will not be shared by everyone, which is perhaps fortunate, as the second-hand price, in spite of its first cost of nearly £1,000, was really reasonably, or shall I say unreasonably, low (even although it was sold to me by a well known Midland firm as having done 10,000 miles less than a previous owner knew it had done when he sold it!)
Many sheets of paper have been wasted by enthusiasts in the quite justified praise of Vauxhall, Bentley and the like, but I am surprised that so little has been written about the Alvis “Speed Twenty.” One of these cars, of fairly recent vintage, can be bought within reasonable striking distance of the price of, say, an old Bentley in really first-class condition, and, to my mind (apart from the reflected glory of Bentley traditions), there can be no comparison between the two, in favour, of course, of the Alvis.
Smooth power there is in plenty from the fairly stiffly rubber-mounted engine. Speed is ample (my own car, weighing 32 cwt., will clock a genuine 87 m.p.h. without very much difficulty on decent petrol, Discol for choice) and acceleration is definitely good. Road-holding is second to none, and the I.f.s., though admittedly