CARS I HAVE OWNED
[This contribution is especially interesting, being written by a young New Zealand reader, D. B. McLean, while he was on a ship bound for this country to serve with the R.A.F. In thanking him, we would also extend to him a warm welcome, in which readers will join. Incidentally, the Perry was the forerunner of the Bean, and Capt. Douglas once drove one.—Ed.]
MY first motoring experiences began in 1930, when my father purchased one of those old favourites, a Morris Cowley. It had all the usual characteristics, mostly good, but a few bad, so that there is no need to dwell on its history here. It was, however, unique in having a New Zealand four-window saloon body, equipped with a front seat, the back of which could be lowered to form a bed, and I particularly remember, on one of our many camping trips, inelegantly poking my rear-end through the glass of the dome-light when turning the back squab round in the process of making the bed. Just recently this car was for sale in Wanganui, my home-town, having passed through the hands of two other owners, and, in order to revive old memories, I went for a drive in it and found it to be in very good condition ; albeit the domelight still lacked a glass. . . . In 1934 we moved from Central Hawke’s Bay, where we had been living, into the more difficult and hillier country of Wairoa, and my father, deciding on a more powerful car, acquired a second-hand 1929 Studebaker, which is remembered
• with great affection by all who had anything to do with it. It was a “six,” of about 27 h.p., I think, and was marketed in New Zealand under the model-name of ” Director,” although in the United States it was one of the first of the long line of “Dictators.” This car had the best steering of’ any American car I have ever driven, and could be ” placed ” to an inch. It had just the right amount of castor-action and did not require the traction-engine movements usually associated with a product of the U.S.A.—in fact, Studebakers have always been good in this respect. This was indeed a fine car, not ” squelchy ” in the springing, although slightly inclined to pitch when the rear carrier was heavily loaded, as with a camping outfit. She had a top speed of about 70 and would cruise at 50 all day, despite her weight of 34 cwt. Her m.p.g. round town was usually 16 or 17, but on a long trip she gave 19, and she was blessed with a beautiful gearbox, unfortunately only three-speed. The only trouble we ever experienced on the road was a broken rear-spring, which showed up on a lonely country road one Sunday. In 1938, after we had returned to Wanganui to live, this car was traded-in for a 1936 Studebaker — another ” Dictator,” which is still the family hack. Extremely quiet, flexible, and with quite pleasant (although a trifle low-geared) steering, it is a most suitable car for allround work. It has a distinctive, though not flashy, appearance, being produced before the transatlantic manufacturers really developed the “sheet-metal craze.” Its weight is 31 ewt. approximately, it does a sure 20 m.p.g., has a top speed over the 80 m.p.h. mark, and really good Lockheed hydraulic brakes—and the car does not ” dive ” when they are applied, an annoying habit of so many
American suspensions. The front suspension is similar in design to that of the Humber and Talbot and is most satisfactory, although when we first purchased the car we found that one of the arms had taken a smack at some. time and was rather out of alignment. We had this straightened and had no more uneven tyre-wear ; it had never been noticeable on the steering, however. This is definitely the best family car we have had and I have spent many happy hours at its wheel. I should like to endorse the statement in your road-test of the Lagonda V-12 (what a wonderful car that must be !) that there is very little wind-noise in a Studebaker. Turning now to my personal cars, I must admit that there have been only two cars and one motor-cycle, but plead extreme youth as the excuse. However, the cars may be of interest, as, although they were both British productions and definitely vintage, I have never seen either mentioned in your admirable journal. This may be because they were regarded as such poor specimens The first was a Perry, Engine No. 978, Chassis No. 1049, purchased, complete with a fine Bosch magneto, and minus differential, for £3—New Zealand prices are high, it must be remmbered ! That was in January 1937 and I put in eleven months’ work on this old motor much to everyone’s amazement and unconcealed hilarity. My friend Norman Carlton and I completely overhauled the engine, re-metalling big-ends, renewing gudgeon-pins and retiming the ignition and valves. Some previous owner had fitted a Chevrolet ” 4 ” gearbox, and the bearings in this had to be renewed, as well as the pilot-bearing in the large coneclutch. Great pains were also taken with the rear-axle assembly, but the noise of the straight-cut gears was never eliminated and was only inaudible when driving into a head-wind. This was, I believe, characteristic, although I have only seen two or three Perrys in my life and understand there are less than a dozen in New Zealand, which is second only to the U.S.A. and the Jersey Islands in its density-of-cars-to-population figure. There are, however, several Beans, though I have never seen a Hadfield Bean. The age of my Perry was a conundrum. Some said 1912, but my own guess was somewhere about 1916. I should be glad of any opinions from English enthusiasts on this point, and on the history of the Perry car generally. It was a four-cylinder model, and, by my rough calculations, probably 11.9 h.p. The steering-wheel was dropped a full 13 in., a handsome new aluminium dash mounted some 9 in. behind the old one, a ring-gear fitted on the open fly-wheel and a Rover Nine starter moter mounted on the chassis, and the rear of the frame considerably weighted down to improve the cornering, and the Perry ” Special ” was ready for the road. It had a rakish appearance,
with its barrel-shaped, long-snouted twoseater body, heightened by the absence of valances and running-boards (which I had removed), which exposed to view the brake-rods, propeller-shaft, and spinning flywheel and clutch-cone, its outside exhaust-pipe (swept out to provide room for the starter motor) and the fold-flat screen above the scuttle, which I had lengthened and swept upwards. After the usual teething troubles common to ” rebuilds, ” the Perry went surprisingly well. We fitted it with a larger variablejet carburetter, in place of the small Zenith, and this improved both speed and economy. Under favourable conditions the needle of the propeller-shaft-driven Watford speedometer was occasionally persuaded past the 55 m.p.h. mark, but 50 was the normal maximum. I have often regretted since that we never experimented with a four-speed gearbox.
The engine never used oil in any quantity, although the rings we found in her at purchase were put back “as-is.” Her consumption was about 26 m.p.g., falling to 29 on a run, and her handling on a twisty road was sheer delight, as she was blessed with a comparatively short wheel-base and almost direct steering. The Paihiatua Track, one of New Zealand’s rather notorious ” crook ” roads, was one of our happy huntinggrounds, being just a nice morning’s run from home at our cruising speed of 35/40 m.p.h., and I think it was this constant hammering on bad and indifferent roads (for we always had a wandering inclination and were seldom on the tar) which was responsible for the Perry’s rather unhappy finale, which occurred during the Labour Day week-end, October, 1939. She had been running Well for months, so I decided on a week-end trip. We loaded all our camp-gear and our three selves into the old car, and set off with a will up the notorious and mostly one-way metalled River Road from Wanganui to Raetihi, via Pipiriki. This road follows the left bank of the famous %Vanga,nui river, and is, from a scenic point of view, hard to beat. However, from the point of view of driving a heavily-laden veteran light car, circa 1916, that had already seen much hard service on many of the worst New Zealand roads (probably for tens of thousands of miles before I met it) I realise now, in the sober and revealing light of experience, that it was a trifle hard. But youth is one big adventure— and so was that trip. We left the smiling city of Wanganui (with a broken drivingmirror, which we tried hard to believe was not a bad omen) at half-past three on the Friday afternoon, in perfect sunshine, and at half-past four were improvising a shim for a back hub from a Craven ” A ” tin, some twelve miles away. Having cured this trouble and declared ourselves even with the driving-mirror, we climbed aboard with a great sense of achievement. Suddenly it seemed as if’ all the riveters in Hades had gone to work in our clutch.
The trouble proved to be in the flexible coupling between the heavy cone of the clutch and the gearbox, one of the four bolts tethering the packing having snapped. This entailed unloading part of the car, pulling up the assorted floorboards, dropping the propeller-shaft at the front universal, removing the gearbox, the starter motor and the headlight dipswitch, taking out the six bolts which attached the heavy (very !) outer cone of the clutch to the flywheel, and so removing the ” soup-plate” and its (strong) spring, also the broken bolt inside same. This, was replaced by a bolt and nut from the left-hand headlamp bracket, and the whole box was then replaced, the time now being about 11 p.m. on a Moonless and extremely wet night. These Herculean struggles had been carried on by the light of the dash-lamp in steady rain, in a gateway off the road, and eternal thanks are due to the roadtnan who appeared and presented us with a fine hot meal and a wash. He and his good wife deserve gold medals for their work that night. However, we decided not to stay the night, but rather to say good-bye to bad luck and journey on, comforting ourselves with the thought that the pioneers mu.st have gone through worse. “Anyway, we’ve still got lights,” we said. And then, exhausted by the long vigil of the dash-lamp, and never really virile Since the addition to the car of the electric starter, the battery gradually let the headlights die. In desperation we took the dangerous bends of the River Road in staggering halfguessed turns and darkness broken only by the sidelights, and occasionally, after a long pull in second gear, the bright glare of the headlights again. But soon even the sidelights grew dim and one member of the crew sat with a sock over his hand to keep the cold Out, a torch thrust into the murkiness ahead. And so we struggled on, sliding precipitously down unsuspected sloping turns and jolting occasionally over extra large deposits of metal, always with that torch “like a good deed in a naughty world.”
But even enthusiasm has its bounds, and at two o’clock in the morning, being total strangers to the road ahead, from Pipiriki to Raetihi, we pulled in and slept. Dawn next day found us driving on through Raetibi and on the good metalled main road, bound for National Park and, we hoped, the famous Lake Taupo. We were enjoying life, drinking in the morning sun and happily munching biscuits, when a sudden clatter proclaimed the final protestations of a front spring. However, having collie thus far we were not to be deterred by a broken spring, and the old out-back expedient of fencing-wire and a block of 3 in. by 2 in. were resorted to. And so all went well until, the worst of the journey done, we had the misfortune to run a big-end at National Park. On investigating the possibilities of running for borne ” on three,” we found water in the sump. . . . I telephoned home to Wanganui, while the others pitched camp. Norman was still in Wellington, but due back that night, and early the next morning we were awakened In our tent by the wind-tones of the family Studebaker with Norman at the
wheel and all the family aboard—a most welcome sight, and so Was the rope they brought. And then the ride home started, 81 miles of it, 60 of them over dusty roads that had never seen any vestige of tar, and 56 of them down the once-dreaded and still quite twisty Para. Para road. And dust !—imagine 81 miles in an open 2-seater at the end of a towrope attached to a wide American sedan with 6 in. by 10 in. tyres. Added to this there was the ever-present danger of fouling the rope, the Perry’s two-wheel brakes merely sliding locked wheels while the glaring Studebaker stoplight came menacingly back to us at one-way bridges and tricky turns. But only once did we foul the rope, about .50 miles from home. This led to the Perry doing a series of gigantic skids in typical ” doodlebug ” manner, on the brink of a 200-ft. drop. It also meant that I steered the rest of the way home with only half the usual left lock, due to a bent tie-rod, but it was fun while it lasted. Norman and I have often looked back on that tow as one of our best adventures, but at the time I was full of sorrow at the ‘Perry’s downfall. However, I loved her yet, and while I was considering the rebuilding of the veteran and was indeed working on the engine, Norman and 1 had to make a trip to Wellington relevant to our Air Force applications, and we duly went in his Essex. The trip to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, was a favourite one with us, not merely because of the 126 miles of beautiful straight and tarscaled road, but mainly because of the chance of meeting up with real live sports cars and their owners, of whom Wellington boasts quite a fair number, considering that New Zealand as a whole is over-run with American sedans and Morris Eights (each of which have deeidid advantages, certainly, but are far fro] n the real thing) and ears are looked on generally as just transportation. However, each of the big cities has its liVle community of enthusiasts. We usuhlly made this trip in the Essex, as we had converted her to a ” sleeper,” but the streets of Wellington were by no means unknown to either the Studebaker or the Perry. However, on this particular trip, I completely lost my heart to a ” 14/40 ” Vauxhall (about 1926/27) which was quite moderately priced. So the Essex and the Vauxhall came home in line-aheAd formation, and the Perry was scrapped, its parts bringing about t10 into the depleted coffers. This Vauxhall has been my pride and joy ever since, and although by no means hot in its performance, is a delightful car to handle, particularly in the way it answers the helm. We had some trouble at first with the aluminium cylinder-head, which we discovered was distorted and was blowing its gasket round the waterpassages, but we put in careful hours on It with a file and a sheet of glass. The only other trouble experienced, although the car was driven really hard, was a binding brake-shoe, due to the adjustments being rather overdone, re-lining being really required, and the equalising system— whichwas later found to work well with all the shoes in reasonable condition— being thus unable to rectify matters. The gearbox we found very tricky to master, but once the feel was acquired very pleasant and quite quick changes could be effected. It was a right-hand gate, of course, and the four speeds were fairly closely spaced, although we never ascertained the actual ratios—in fact, we did very little to the car at all, because both of us were daily awaiting notice from the Air Department to enable us to join in the war. [Top gear was 4.5 to 1.—Ed.] However, we ran this car enough to become thoroughly trustful of it (actually, I ran up 2,041 miles with the help of pooled resources, etc., from 1st December, 1940, to 15th lay, 1941, despite war-time restrictions) and I have great plans. for it after the war, always provided, of course, that I have not by then acquired something closer to the ” real thing.” The plans include a complete overhaul of all chassis parts, the repainting of the fine aluminium body, and perhaps the fitting of a larger engine. She has quite a nice appearance, especially with the hood removed and the tonneau-cover in place. The manufacture of the latter from canvas previously used in upholstering the Perry almost wrecked the family sewing-machine. The engine is, of course, the normal side-valve unit and has some timing-gear noise which I have no doubt will not be hard to cure. The engine number is LM3521 and the chassis number K3542. I always imagined she was a trifle overshod, being on 5.25 in. by 21 in. R.L.P. covers, and I intend, as opportunity offers, to replace these with 4.50 in. by 21 in. tyres. We experimented somewhat with jet sizes, mostly with an eye to economy (of paramount importance these (lays, of course) and I think, from memory. the combination we finally had in the rather overworked Zenith was : main 80, idler 65, and compensator 90. As this gave about 25 m.p.g. we were satisfied, although the speed dropped to 47, sometimes in favourable col id ii lolls topping 50. We found that for speed the compensator was the deciding factor, and with a 110 compensator and a 90 main (speaking from memory again) we attained ’bout 38 m.p.h. on third gear, and close on 60
in top, but only 18-20 m.p.g. I think an ideal compensator would be 120, but I imagine some interesting experiments could be matte with choke-tube rsiros. 1 believe that this model in good order has been known to go much faster than mine did and I shall see what can be done after the war. Any ideas from experienced readers about the care, tuning, specification and age of the ” 14/40 ” Vauxhall would be greatly appreciated. She is at present carefully chocked-up under a dustsheet in a shed at home. Before closing, I should like to mention one Or two cars which were not my own, but in which I passed many happy hours, and among these pride of place must be accorded my friend Norman’s Essex tourer. This is, like my Vauxhall, at present stored awaiting the return of happier days, its owner now being a flight-mechanic with the Royal New Zealand Air Force. This car, famous for its white-spoked wooden wheels and dark blue body lined in white (quite striking), is one of that first series of light “sixes ” made by the Hudson Co. after production Continued on page 410
of the famous Essex ” Four ” ceased about 1923, and is, of course, a two-wheel brake job. This model was looked upon all over New Zealand as a proper rattlebox, and in the United States as a “gutless wonder,” but we found that, given proper attention and a strict watch kept on the big-ends, it was really quite a good car, and we travelled some 20,000 miles with no holdups at all. The secret, as I say, was regular attention to details, and the least squeak was soon accounted for. The performance was quite fair, though it would have benefited from a four-speed box. The R.A.C. rating was just 16 h.p., this being the smaller Essex engine, later models being stepped up to 18 h.p. We always had dreams of having this engine rebored, as the aluminitun pistons suffered from rather excessive slap. Oil-consumption was extraordinarily light and, in Norman’s hands, the car almost always returned about 29 m.p.g. on a long run, never dropped below 25 to my memory, and on favourable occasions was known to exceed 30 m.p.g. Our cruising-speed was usually between 40 and 45 m.p.h. (although when the spirit of the chase was upon us, as on Motor-Cycle Club runs, we were often over the 50 mark) and the maximum was a genuine 60. Altogether a much more interesting car than at first sight it appeared. I shall not bore you with accounts of an elderly Austin ” Twelve ” in constant use on a bush track, a bedraggled but surprisingly fast Jowett, two most exhilarating Morgans, the rollicking times
spent with a happy-go-lucky cobber and his two lorries—a Chevrolet 3-tonner and an ancient Morris, or the divers Austin Sevens and Morris Eights that, at various times, came into our lives; but I must say a word or two about ” our ” M.G.
This was a car we took pity on when its owner was called away from home for some time, and as we have been M.G. enthusiasts for many years, we were extremely glad of the opportunity of looking after one, although it was in pretty terrible condition, the brakes and tyres being badly “shot.” However, it was an M.G. . . . It was an “F “-type Magna, suffering from all the defects described by Mr. Peter Clark in his “Cars I Have Owned” article some time back, and yet remaining, as he said, “a jolly fine car.” We found the gearchange a joy and loved the quick response from the motor. I might also endorse Mr. Clark’s remarks about the firm. Mr. Kimber sent us everything we could wish for, from valvetiming charts to booklets dealing with the S.U. Petrolift, and valve-end caps. Unfortunately, the car was not with us long enough for much to be done to it, but all praise be to the M.G. Car Co., who have always treated us royally, not only in connection with this car, but just as enthusiasts ever since 1933.
Another friend of mine drove one of those much-maligned cars, a ” Eustace Watkins” Wolseley Hornet Special. This particular car was in black, with cycle-type wings and red wheels. I do not know its maximum, but should guess about 80. We are also lucky enough to be friendly with the owner of the or ly 4i-litre
lowchassis Invieta in New Zealand. He is a fine sportsman and a real gentleman, highly respected in motoring and motorcycling circles in Wanganui and, in fact, all over New Zealand, and before acquiring the Invicta, was renowned for his “Red Label” Le Mans Bentley, which must have been easily the best-kept Bentley in New Zealand. The present owner of this car is carrying on the tradition and it is a picture that would please the most rabid enthusiast, being in “the green ” with the approved red trimmings and no ” ornaments ” in the way of badges, etc., which, to my mind, so often spoil a good car. It was the greatest day of my life when I was permitted to drive the “Red Label” a short distance. Returning to the Invicta.—this is in black and is being looked after with the same meticulous care that was lavished on the Bentley. I have enjoyed some long and really fast runs in this car, in the company of real enthusiasts. I could go on for hours describing the motoring of enthusiasts in New Zealand, but I am afraid that many of the cars we took such a great interest in, and went to such great pains to track down, would be tame to you lucky people in England. But, believe me, there are some” dinkum” enthusiasts in New Zealand and nowhere is MOTOR SPORT read with more relish. And so we say “thank you,” and “Carry on, MOTOR SPORT I” [Thank you !—Ed.]