[When I met Sidney Whitehead riding his racing tricycle last year I hardly suspected him of motoring sympathies. I only hope I concealed my feelings at the time, for I am very pleased now to publish this interesting account of various cars he has possessed. –Ed.]
Sports cars, no! Sports motoring, yes! Is the one possible without the other? In my opinion it most certainly is. Although the following cars are not of the sporting kind they may be of some interest by reason of their variety.
A start was made after the last war with the inevitable Ford “T” tourer (MD9855), which was adorned with a “bullnose” radiator and primrose bodywork. This was the only one of our cars which I did not drive, and as far as I can remember the only trouble we ever had was when the transmission caught fire whilst climbing Dunkery Beacon from the Luccombe side. Quite a feat, I believe, in those days.
In 1925 something larger was called for, and a 1924 Wolseley 24-h.p. tourer (OL5830) was obtained from the makers – in those days Vickers Ltd. It was quite a straightforward chassis of the period, with right-hand gate change, cantilever rear springs, and foot brake working on the transmission. The electrical system was by B.L.I.C. and proved to be a continuous source of trouble, and the magneto was eventually replaced by a Watford. The carburetter was also rather troublesome, being, I believe, an S.U. with leather bellows. She was always fed on a 50/50 mixture of Shell Aviation and pure benzole, which seems rather luxurious for an ordinary side valve in these days of “Pool.”
The Wolseley was followed in 1930 by a “40/50″ Napier tourer (PD9705) of 1923 vintage, with 7-seater Cunard bodywork and a one (strong) man hood. The 4″ x 5” six-cylinder 38-h.p. overhead camshaft engine was based on the famous “Lion” aero engine and was a real joy to the eye. Petrol was fed from a 20-gallon rear tank, by pressure supplied by a hand pump on the dash, to a single carburetter. Ignition was by magneto and coil, and after the engine had warmed up a sharp movement of the ignition lever would generally bring the engine to life, much to the consternation of any onlookers. Some time ago a reader of Motor Sport asked why more had not been heard of this model in competition; I think the chief reason was excessive weight and very tricky road-holding in the wet. After going down Holborn in the rain one would know more about skidding than in 10,000 miles with a modern “hot house”! I still have the comprehensive instruction manual of this car.
By 1932 something a little more economical than 10 m.p.g. was required for hack work, and a 1924 12-h.p. Lagonda tourer (XT3104) was bought from a breaker for £7. This was the model with transverse front springing and overhead inlet, side-exhaust engine, of Coventry-Climax birth, no doubt. The hand brake was of the racing type and on my first acquaintance I found it impossible to release the anchors until paternal advice had been sought! She performed nobly for many thousands of miles, often towing a trailer, until the gearbox fell to pieces.
The replacement purchase in 1933 was quite an upheaval – our first saloon and our first car with four-wheel brakes. The car in question was a 1928 17-h.p. Arrol-Aster (GU6462). The six-cylinder engine was of the single-sleeve-valve type, with Lanchester vibration damper, twin Solex carburetters fed by autovac and ignition by B.T.H. magneto. Great difficulty was experienced in starting in cold weather, but this was cured by fitting “Cooper Stewart” electrically heated sparking plugs. The gearbox was straight toothed (four speed) with right-hand gate change, and the brakes were smooth, although having great power, with the hand brake a real stopper, operating independent shoes on the rear axle: a desirable idea which mass production seems to have killed. The master adjusters for both systems were on the floor boards and came readily to hand. The engine had that sweetness which seems peculiar to sleeve valves, but the performance, unlike most sleeve-valve engines, was most satisfying and seemed to possess some of the verve of the modern Bristol power plants. The road-holding and general “feel” were excellent, and I should very much like to find an Arrol-Aster tourer, especially a straight eight; I once got on the scent of one at Honiton, but it had been broken up.
The Napier having been sold another tourer came our way in 1934. This time it was a 1926 14-h.p. Armstrong-Siddeley (YO9705) and east £10. She was bought to provide transport home from Somerset after the Arrol-Aster had smashed a sleeve on Marlborough Downs, but such was her fascination that I ran her for four years, and still retain the engine. It is the only four-cylinder engine Siddeley’s have made, at any rate since 1918, and is a 3″ x 4″ o.h.v. push-rod job with B.T.H. magneto and a single Claudel Hobson carburetter. She used to revel in hard work, and has been driven from London to Lands End and back over Exmoor straight off the reel, with the engine flat out all the way. The same praise cannot be given to the rest of the chassis, as the brakes were virtually non-existent and the steering generally its own master, but it was great sport and even greater experience.
The Arrol-Aster having become rather fond of breaking sleeves, another shopping car was wanted, so January, 1935, saw us in possession of a 12-h.p. Rover saloon (BLP290), our one and only “first hand” car. These cars need no introduction or praise from me, and it is enough to say that she ran 50,000 miles with virtually no maintenance but one “de-coke” and relining of the Girlings, although the free-wheel was in use most of the time. The only trouble experienced was with the clutch, but this the makers rectified free of charge, and I understand that the 1936 models had a redesigned unit which gives no trouble.
In the spring of 1936 we heard of a 1925 44-h.p. Rolls Royce (TD1234) with 7-seater Hooper touring body, and in due course she was ours. I think I am right in saying that it is a “Silver Ghost” chassis with o.h.v. 4 1/4″ x 5 1/2″ “Phantom I” engine and servo four-wheel brakes. The chassis number is 10 U.M.C. We had the body renovated by Hooper’s and painted copper crystalate, and the admiration Which it receives from all quarters is amazing, especially as it is now by no means modern-looking. The comfortable maximum is not much over 60 m.p.h., but as vintage car enthusiasts know the appeal of these cars is their ability to go anywhere with absolutely no fuss or bother. As Clutton has recently said, every little accessory works with true precision, and the detail work everywhere has to be seen to be believed.
Next year (1937) the stable was enlarged by the addition of a 1934 10-h.p. Trojan (BPG506) Wayfarer tourer. This is rather a rare model with central engine (roller bearing big-ends), centrifugal clutch, three-speed and reverse gearbox, shaft drive outside the punt (frame), and external contracting brakes on both rear wheels, but no transmission brake. The gear lever now comes up through the seat to the right of the driver, but was at first true pre-selector on the steering column. The “refinements” did not improve the breed and she is not to be compared with Scroggs’s car, which I greatly admired when I saw it at the Croydon works. The longest day’s run (driven mostly by my sister) was from London to Exmoor and back, just over 400 miles, and with four up. The highest speed ever attained was 48 m.p.h. (not by stop-watch!) at about 2 a.m.; at this velocity much noise was emerging from the hard-working “seven moving parts,” and when the throttle was eased back the horn was found to be blowing continuously, but this had not been heard with the engine in full blast! Being a great believer in two strokes, I have hopes one day of connecting up this engine to a fluid-flywheel self-change unit in a 10-h.p. B.S.A. tourer or coupé, If I can buy one cheaply.
By the end of 1937 the Armstrong’s brakes and steering were about finally played out, so, having tried front and central engined jobs, I decided to experiment with a “pusher.” The choice being strictly limited, I chose a 1936 16-h.p. Crossley Streamline (CLB844). The 65 x 100 mm. six-cylinder o.h.v. engine – what make? – was quite lively and would take the speedometer well over the 70 m.p.h. mark, but at this speed the steering was about as accurate as a rudderless boat. The engine drives forward to a four-speed self-change gearbox, then, through helical gears, it is dropped (in plane but geared up in ratio) so as to be in line to drive forward via a short shaft to the differential. From here the drive is taken by splined shafts and universal joints to the hubs, where the retarding action is supplied by Bendix. During 1939 my friends and I completely stripped the engine and transmission. Sheepbridge Stokes resleeved the engine, and Specialloid pistons were fitted together with Terry double valve springs.
A rebuilt B.T.H. magneto was used in place of the original Scintilla. The E.N.V. gearbox was overhauled by the makers; first and second gears always slipped badly and still do. I gather that the trouble is due to a 12-h.p. gearbox being the largest that could be worked into the unit, added to which no clutch is used. The suspension is full four-wheel independent, a transverse leaf spring being used at the front and semi-elliptics with torque tubes at the rear. Steering was improved by fitting a T.T.N. hydraulic stabiliser, an 8-gallon reserve petrol tank under the front bonnet, and coil “helper” springs at the rear to stiffen matters up a little. Other alterations were autovac main petrol feed, the S.U. pump taking charge of the reserve, a 2-gallon spare engine oil tank, and a pipe for getting oil to the differential without the aid of a garage hoist. Unfortunately, the war came before she was properly finished. I hope to preserve this car to prove to critics that at least one British designer was not afraid of the unorthodox. One of the original Burney cars was, at least until the start of “this affair,” at a breaker’s in Luton, with the notice on it that it was made in 1921 – what intelligence! [Probably the breaker was thinking – or not thinking – of the 1921 Rumpler rear-engined car. – Ed.]
During the Summer of 1938 the Rover was exchanged for a 1937 17-h.p. Armstrong-Siddeley laudaulette (CXT184). The comparatively small engine, gives quite a creditable performance even with seven passengers and luggage, and to anybody who wants a “compromise” body I can recommend a landaulette, even if one’s friends do ask where the “hackney plate” is.
The last car was bought in 1940 and is a 1933 Jowett saloon (APU779) with the 7-h.p. engine. She gives over 50 m.p.g. running alone and about 40 m.p.g. when towing a trailer. She has even hauled a four-wheel close-coupled trailer with machinery weighing over 2 ton aboard – but please don’t tell Bradford!