CARS I HAVE OWNED
[The last article in this series was by someone who had enjoyable motoring from cars that cost less than Arm each. This article is by M. H. Ryan, who, although only zo years old, has used sports cars for daily transport, Continental touring and Club racing, each of which has cost in the region of £550 on the used-car market. —ED.]
IHAVE had some 15 cars, 12 of them sports cars, and I have used them for travelling to work, touring on the Continent, and Club racing. My annual mileage is between 30,000 and 40,000. In this article I tend to compare cars of different classes, size, or original cost new. This is because they are all in the same price-range, up to about k55o on the used-car market, and this is where I have had to choose my cars.
Being zo years old my motoring has only taken place over the last three years, but, like other youngsters whose parents have a house with a long drive and some fields, I was able to start driving when I was about nine. By the time I was 14 I had my own car, a 1932 Morris-Cowley. It held together for nearly a year of racing round fields and tracks. Unfortunately, while I knew that petrol was essential to make a car go, such things as oil and servicing were not yet known to me, and the Morris was sold with a split chassis, cracked block, and no workable transmission for scrap metal; it was good for little else!
A miserable year passed at boarding school and it felt an awful long time before I would be allowed to drive a car on the roads. This turned my attention to two-wheeled horrors. I swapped my shot-gun for my first motorcycle when I was 151. My parents had stipulated nothing powerful, so I put up with a 1937 150-c.c. New Imperial. It had a 4-stroke engine that gave it an excellent performance and I had little difficulty in beating motor-scooters of similar capacity. I seized the engine solid at least three times, the tyres were stuffed with newspapers, and I never replaced a single part.
After four months of motorcycling I was still alive and had not even had a good prang, so my parents were not all that annoyed when I told them I had bought a 1929 B.S.A. 500 for L4. This was a huge bike and I could barely balance it standing still. In its day it had been capable of 85 m.p.h. but since then it had been fitted with sidecar cogs, giving a top speed of 60 m.p.h. and acceleration that was capable of leaving all passengers on their backsides at the place of departure! The single-cylinder o.h.v. engine looked very fearsome, but it was worn out, and I soon got tired of spending all morning trying to start it up—and then breaking down a mile or two from anywhere. It always did exactly to m.p.g.—the only consistent thing about it.
My third and last motorcycle was a 1953 350-c.c. Royal Enfield “Bullet.” It had telescopic suspension all round and held the road very well. Once again it had no top speed; 70 m.p.h. was just possible. I got into the bad habit of cruising it flat out and eventually it dropped a valve through the piston. The repairs cost considerably more than a similar blow up I later had in a Jaguar.
Not all my r6th year was spent motorcycling; I even spent a little time on failing General Certificate Examinations. My main interest at this time was preparing for the great age of 17, when the Law would let me loose on the public roads in a car. I had an Austin Seven that I had been driving round the fields and I decided to build this into a “special.” I am no engineer and the result proved it. I fitted an aluminium full-width body, a Stage 3 engine, and spent a fortune on bits and pieces that were required to make it perform. It was a complete failure; a trial run of to miles made up my mind to sell it and get something safer and faster.
The ” special ” sold well and I went up a step and got a really well-made Ford Special, constructed round a space-frame copied from a Lotus. The engine had not been modified but the car was very light so the performance was good. I drove this car some 20,000 miles and it never gave any mechanical trouble.
The Ford Special was great fun but it did not have the speed or comfort that I required, so 1 sold it in the middle of 1959, before prices dropped for the winter.
For two or three weeks I had no car and was back to motorcycling —this ended when I rode over a 30-ft. cliff.
My financial position had improved and I now had £55o to buy a car with. I decided the best value for money was a twoowner 1954 Austin-Healey too-4 B.N.1 that I discovered in Oxford.
Before buying the car I rang up the previous owners and the garages that had looked after it; it had been very well cared for, a factory reconditioned gearbox had been fitted at 30,000 miles, the car had now done 40,000, and everything was in excellent order. The engine had been carefully balanced and polished by the works and the resulting increase in speed was astounding; a genuine 120 m.p.h. was obtainable on the flat, and with an aeroscreen one could get 5 m.p.h. more. I took this car on my first Continental motoring holiday; even with toy i5-stone brother and a lot of luggage I drove from Calais to the Spanish border in one day. The Austin-Healey was really at home on the long straight bumpy roads of France and we cruised for miles with the clock ” between too and 110 m.p.h:
A fault of all the big Healeys is their ridiculous ground clearance. I knocked the sump off when the springs bottomed on a French main road. In Spain the roads were terrible and all the exhaust system was knocked off.
Returning to Bordeaux on that fabulous too miles of virtually straight road took 70 minutes, and this was on Spanish petrol marked 60-octane! In the ts,000 miles I did in this car the only replacements were a water pump and new tyres. [And presumably the sump!—End
For want of something faster and more exciting, that could beraced in Club events, I changed from Healey to Jaguar. This was a modified 1951 XK120 roadster that had been owned and raced with success by Peter Sargent.
The XK’s engine modifications certainly improved the performance but some over-enthusiastic nit had carved away the valve scats too much, and this caused a blow up, with valves and cotters getting all over the pistons the very first time I took it over 4,500 r.p.m., only a week after I had bought it.
For the small sum of k14 los. I got new valves and stronger springs, a decoke and tune. Once again the car sounded and went very fast, but I knew the engine had been mucked up and I lost confidence in it; even so I did let it out on a few occasions and one rainy night in January 1960 I took it up to 6,000 r.p.m. in top—over 135 m.p.h. 1 he 9-to-I compression-ratio caused several broken starter motor pinions when it back-fired whilst starting up. An extra stiff front torsion bar and set of shockers made the car corner very well—as anyone knows who remembers Peter Sargent’s driving in it at Goodwood Members’ Meetings. It was very noisy, the brakes faded badly at high speeds, and the Lotus-type bucket seats were only designed for one of two great sports! Even so, there was something very nice about it.
I sold the Jaguar after only two months; it just was not reliable enough to start racing in. In one’s first year of racing, aged t8, it’s better to be a potential finisher than a possible winner, and with this in mind I purchased another B.N.i Austin-ffealey 100-4.
I never appreciated how much faster my first Healey was than a standard one until I bought the second one. Had I known this I would have kept the first one for racing. The latest car was completely standard, acceleration was sluggish, and top speed only around 112 m.p.h. Petrol consumption was 22 m.p.g., exactly the same as my first Healey. The first time I put it on a circuit the clutch broke, the spokes collapsed and everything became loose and rattled. I spent the
next month in giving the car a complete overhaul.
Probably the worst fault of the B.N.1 and B.N.2. Healeys Was the gearbox. In the 13.N.1 1st and 2nd gear nearly always break up under any strain; in normal road use they don’t often last more than 30,000 miles, if that.
Three sports-car races put paid to my gearbox—and it’s quite an expensive jOb to repair it. Many people maintain the 3-speed two-overdrive gearbox is not pleasant to use. I think this is a matter of opinion, and my own is that it is a slow box to change gear in but that this is counteracted by the very quick change of the two overdrive speeds without using the clutch, a useful thing when approaching a corner such as Paddock Bend at Brands Hatch. For fast long-distance touring the gearbox is ideal, there being one ratio of the five available to suit Any road or mountain pass.
In the middle of 1960 I sold the Healey to a friend, and it is still going strong, although he also suffered a broken gearbox after some topoo miles.
My next car was a complete change—but a very enjoyable one It was a t959 Morris Mini-Minor, and when I bought it it had already done 9„000 miles. From the very first time I drove a Mini I have always thought that it is easily the finest car of its type and size, and owning one convinced me.
The Mini was taken to the Continent, and, believe it or not, it propelled myself, a friend and full camping equipment from Calais to Nice at an average Speed of just over 60 m.p.h. In Switzerland I found the gear ratios were ideal, and the suspension very comfortable on loose gravel roads. This car always did 42 m.p.g. It never leaked or gave any of the troubles that some people suffer from. I sold it after 16,00o miles, all on the original tyres, and went back to sports-car motoring.
My return to fast cars was in the form of a 1954 “Special Equipment” jaguar XKI2o drophead coupe. It was in good order except for a trace of piston slap around 3,500 r.p.m. It had already done around 65,000 miles. The drophead coupe is a very comfortable car at any speed. With the quickly folding hood up, one can sit in draught-free comfort and listen to the radio at too m.p.h. With the hood down it is as pleasant as any other open car.
This jaguar had a new set of Michelin ” X ” tyres. I found they gripped well but if one drove too fast in the wet the car would break into a very abrupt skid which was controlled more by luck than judgment; I personally do not think these tyres are good on XKs unless you keep to touring speeds. At this time I was unemployed and I was claiming my sos. a week dole to run the jaguar! For those who think Jags are expensive to run, I averaged over zoo miles a week, and did tuning and servicing, all on the dole. I never had any trouble in the 5,000 miles I did in this car.
A new job meant that I would be doing some 600 miles a week on the usual inadequate wages of an apprentice; this also meant that my jaguar’s 22 m.p.g. would consume all my wages in petrol alone, so I swapped it for an M.G.-A, in the interests of economy only. I regretted this swap as soon as I found the M.G. would do only 3 or 4 m.p.g. more than the jaguar.
The M.G. -A was red and it looked like new; a factory reconditioned engine had just been fitted, and for the first week I thought it would be ideal for my purpose. Most M.G. owners seem to get fonder of their cars as each mile passes; I felt the exact opposite. The engine roared and to keep up a fair average speed one had to use all the gears, revs, and hard driving possible.
Acceleration was sluggish, top speed only 95+ m.p.h. The hood was a bore to put up and down, it leaked at high speed, and was very draughty. The pedals are too far away, the steering wheel too close, seating is hard and suspension seemed solid at the back but the front rolled! All these small things I disliked and found very annoying. I just cannot raise any enthusiasm for these cars and after several thousand miles I was glad to find something more suited to my taste. The M.G.-A had certainly not been an economical car to run; it had averaged 25 m.p.g., needed tuning every 2,000 miles, a pint of oil lasted about 200 miles—and the very heavy structure scrubbed the tread off the tyres like a Grand Prix car at speed. I could not sell the M.G. but I was so fed up with it I borrowed £450 to buy a 1954 A.C. Ace. This Car really did have some character; to look at, in its performance and in its handling. It had the A.C. o.h.c. 6-cylinder engine developing around 90 b.h.p. With the A.C. engine these are not fast cars, but they give a very good performance at gentle revolutions and with little fuss from the engine. The performance is comparable with the TR2, top speed being around ixo m.p.h.’ and with a very pleasant 3rd gear that would give a comfortable 8o m.p.h. For an expensive car I
thought the finish was very poor, and as the hood was in the early vintage tradition with rods and slots, it took around to minutes to put on if one had it waiting in the boot, but by this time the cockpit would be flooded, and my car didn’t even have a hole in the floor to let the water out!
I carried out some repairs to the suspension. I found spare parts very expensive, but a telephone call to the works ensured the right part by post the next day. There is one thing that really spoils these fine cars and that is the driving position. The pedals are very close and the steering wheel is far too low and sticks out into your tummy. It just was not the type of driving position I like for really fast motoring.
Strangely enough the 3-carburetter 2-litre engine stayed in tune and did nearly 28 m.p.g.; an improvement all round on the M.G., and it cost me £5o less.
In the middle of last summer I decided the Ace was no car for the approaching winter so I sold it at a profit before people began thinking of frosty mornings.
I had, once again, the problem of finding another car. I wanted a fast car, but it would have to be warm and comfortable for everyday driving and fast enough to enter for Club racing. Five hundred pounds was the price and I started kicking at Healeys, TRs, M.G.s, jaguars, and so on. There is no such thing as a perfect car, but I think I got the one most suitable for my own use and price. In fact, I still have it now, this being the first car I’ve kept for nine months. I don’t want to sell it, because I could not get anything better for the same price. It is a jaguar XKI4o ‘Special Equipment” drophead coup& Naturally it has its faults, the worst being the brakes, which need a great deal of pedal pressure to slow the 27 cwt. car up from any speed over So m.p.h. rhis, of course, is a disadvantage for racing, but the excellent acceleration and top speed of 135 m.p.h. more than make up for it. The road-holding is very good when you think how big and heavy this car is for a sports tar; the long wheelbase gives ample warning of skids, and the rack-and-pinion steering is very accurate and a delight to use.
For anyone under 6 ft. tall the XKI4o drophead has a made-tomeasure driving position—straight legs and arms; a cramped driving position has always been a fail ingon sports jaguars and it is a pity to see that the E-type is no improvement in this respect.
A good jaguar, new or used, is wonderful. value for money; they are not expensive to run if looked after well and one never has to drive flat out to beat the Average sports car, or get from A to B at mile-a-minute speeds.
Supplementing the XKL:to I have a 1950 jaguar X1(12o with An all-aluminium body. Stirling Moss won his first T.T. in 1950 driving this car. It was then owned by Tommy Wisdom and prepared by the works. Some time in its life it was fitted with Mk. VII brakes and these are as good as any drum brakes I have tried. Why all XK rzos were not fitted with these more powerful brakes off the heavier saloon is something I cannot understand.
For day-to-day motoring I use a Morris Mini-Minor pick-up truck. It is now well run-in and I compliment B.M.C. on this excellent little racer with a 5-cwt. truck body, free from purchase tax.
This summer I gm taking the Mini on a to,boo-mile journey to the Middle East—it will be interesting to see how well it compares with those Beetles” that abide in great numbers in these countries.
Although these cars I have owned have not been in my possession long, I think I have covered enough miles in each of them to form an opinion of their use to me.
For the future I look forward to owning a Bentley continental, a DB4 and an fl-type, that is, of ‘course, when they’ve dropped to my price!