The Hazards of Vintage Motoring
Your account of your “Boxing Night Informal” ride in a 1921 A.C. awoke memories, and as I find time on my hands (having ‘flu), herewith a few of those memories.
Father was very proud of our A.C. He bought it in 1921 secondhand from Archie Symons in Great Portland Street, and it had nickel plating instead of the brass of our previous car (a Stellite), was painted dark blue, and had “disc” wheels, which were thought much better than the old artillery wheels.
When I consider what a mechanical simpleton Father was, I am awestruck by the dauntless courage of Mother and him in taking myself (about six), my sister who was a baby in arms, and maid for almost regular weekend jaunts of up to 150 miles.
The Stellite was Father’s first car. A fawn two-seater with brass electric lamps and radiator and a single-pane windscreen hinged at the base. It was a handsome car and never, in my memory, gave trouble except that the fan belt was apt to break, and thus the lights were seldom working. Nightfall usually meant a worried dash for our destination before it got too dark, and indeed the shadow of unreliable lights cut short some of our trips.
But our motoring and the approach to it was carefree. Father bought the Stellite from a garage near his office and as he didn’t know how to drive, he approached a taxi-driver on a nearby rank and gave him 10s. for his first and only driving lesson. Then, with an uncle as passenger, he set out to bring the car home to North London and, according to my uncle, this was done largely in a series of 6-ft. leaps!
The taxi-driver had not apparently included starting on hills in his instructions; so after many roaring leaps upward on Crouch Hill, they gave up driving and pushed the car to the top with the help of a police constable. The transmission must have been strong, for I do not recollect any trouble.
With a growing family, Father changed to a four-seater and bought the A.C. That car was a bitch. I remember the day it arrived home. “Look—it has a self-starter!” Father pushed a large black button on the dashboard, there was a crash like a pile of falling dinner-plates, and out rolled the self-starter on the road. The sidescreens were canvas and celluloid, with a fiendish zip that ran the full length of the side. All that was necessary to make the car “weatherproof”—in the mind of the body designer, at all events—was to do up the zip. Pause for laughter. That zip never held two sides together for a greater length than 9 inches or so, unless Mother wanted to get out in a hurry when she would heave at the zip and the whole thing would go solid and refuse to budge. We didn’t use the sidesereens much and I can well remember soggy and miserable journeys in the back of that car, hurrying home in the wet and windy dusk—because the lights were no more reliable than those of the Stellite.
The petrol filler of the Stellite was in front of the windscreen, which was a sensible place, and Mother, who was always the passenger, never thought too highly of the A.C. designer for putting the filler above her lap on the dashboard—especially as it meant the garage attendant had to push in a very complicated funnel which often overflowed. Father had a series of magic rites for dealing with trouble situations, and one of these was to clear air locks in the petrol feed by blowing hard down the petrol filler. It must be said that the A.C. filler was ideally placed for this purpose.
That car had the noisiest gears I can remember, and your mention that in your trip you “lost” second gear reminded me that we nearly met disaster in the A.C. due to the method of fixing the gears and brakes together (or so I was told). We were going home late one night after a visit, and were running down a hill. Suddenly Father said, “The brakes won’t work.” Then, after some fiddling, he said, “The gears won’t work either.” Thus we sped on, Father pumping away at the bulb horn. Luckily no-one crossed our path and in due distance the hill down became a hill upwards, with us in the A.C. slithering backwards towards the bottom of the dip, and all pretty scared.
Soon afterwards that car was sold and we acquired one of those rather narrow-bodied Hillmans with a roof and sides which were jolly nearly weatherproof. It was a quiet, comfortable (for those days) and reliable car and really deserving of praise.
If these childhood memories bore you, please accept my apologies. My own son, now 14, accepts my tales with a pinch of salt, but like me he is interested in early cars, and so we are both keen readers of Motor Sport and, incidentally, great admirers of that energetic individual “W. B.”, who seems to find time to knock off odd articles at the drop of a hat.
Our chief interest is in old Rolls-Royces (we have one) because we like to have “something worth polishing” and we think it highly curious that your magazine should be the principal one to advertise the older R.-R.s when the editorial matter is so little concerned with them. Wishing you all success I am, Yours, etc., Leatherhead. Stuart Fortune.