In this entertaining contribution to a much-appreciated series, Sir Anthony Stamer, A.T.A., tells how he graduated from Austin Seven to Alfa-Romeo. – Ed.
An article of this type must take one of two definite forms – either it can be packed with technical data and full details of modifications, etc., carried out on one’s cars (thus laying oneself open to correction and much sarcastic humour from better-informed readers), or it can skip technicalities and concentrate on the varied experiences that one has had through the medium of cars in those seemingly carefree days before the war gave us that heartless being, the D.P.O.
I intend to take the latter course, since my memory is astonishingly bad and I am miles from all my references and data. Accuracy of detail will therefore be almost purely coincidental, and technicalities will be avoided. You have been warned.
My enthusiasm for cars was heavily damped from the word “go” by intense parental disapproval, and, human nature being what it is, consequently increased steadily as the years went by. Right up till his death, I think my father regarded cars as an invention of the Devil, and after years of wrangling, I came to the conclusion that it was humanly impossible to de-coke his ideas, and I became resigned to the fact that I would receive no assistance, financial or moral, from that direction.
The family car during my early days was a fearsome 16-20-h.p. Sunbeam of about 1912 vintage which my father ran until 1925, by which time its looks made it more suitable for a veteran’s race than for daily use. The amount of brass on that car had to be seen to be believed, while one sat behind a windscreen of vast acreage.
From 1925 onwards, my father ran two Wolsleys, followed by two Dependable Austins, of the mobile greenhouse variety, in which one could have comfortably stood up when wearing a top hat, should one have felt so disposed. This type of car holds no attractions for me and I could almost understand my father’s feelings towards motors in general when I travelled in them! They performed with monotonous reliability, however, and the low speeds at which they were driven enabled them to stay on the road – much to my disappointment! Maybe the Devil does look after his own.
I learnt to drive at the age of 10 in a friend’s bull-nosed Morris-Cowley 2-seater since our grounds contained a carriage drive of quite impressive length, but, for financial reasons, coupled with the fact that I could use the family Austin if really in need of transport (this was frowned upon, however, following a slight “incident” when, full of joie de vivre after the party at my sister’s wedding, a sharp corner came towards me far too quickly for Austin anchorage), it was not until 1935 that I bought my first car – strangely enough another Austin! – for £6 10s. It was an open Austin Seven Chummy of 1924 vintage (XU4399) and I believe was one of the first of its type to possess a self-starter-not that that counted for anything as the battery hadn’t enough guts to turn the engine over anyway.
I had noticed this car reposing in a local breaker’s yard and having removed two resident hens from the front seat (though their fleas remained behind to give my passengers hell for many days to come), I filled up with petrol and water, and proceeded home with nothing more than a blocked jet on the way. Pulling up with much rattling of loose wings outside our front door, and depositing a quantity of oil on the new Colas drive in the process,
I was met by my father who at first failed to recognise me, and then remarked “Whose beastly thing is it?” “Mine,” I said, swelling with pride at my investment. “God!” he said, and retired indoors, nor would he speak to me for the next three days. Such was life, and I felt rather an oppressed minority.
Most of that car came to bits and was carefully reconditioned and reassembled, while I learnt much in the process. Trying to replace cotters on the valves of an s.v. engine in situ when in a hurry was something new to me in those days. The whole process was assisted by parental remarks (made in all seriousness) such as, “How can you expect the rotten thing to go when you keep pulling it to bits?” – there is something in that remark and I must sit down and think it out one day.
However, the Austin not only went, but showed great reliability. Road holding when flat out (approximately 35 m.p.h.) was fantastic, the rear wheels always making a spirited attempt to pass the front ones when cornering, while the whole car showed a strong tendency to slow roll. Matters were improved slightly by keeping a 2-cwt. weight off a farm weighing machine on the back seat, but this was inclined to wander about the car with horrifying results. Many miles were covered in that car, and many were the excitements. The bonnet fasteners showed a tendency to spring undone, and at intervals the whole bonnet cover would suddenly blow off, missing one’s head and the windscreen by the fraction of an inch. This undermined morale, and several friends flatly refused to ride with me once they had seen it happen. The brakes, for no apparent reason, were. prone to “off days,” and I well remember proceeding down the hill at Exeter, on the wrong side of the road and against all the traffic lights, at the sedate speed of 20 m.p.h. while I pulled the hand brake on with both bands in a panic-stricken attempt to stop. Somehow I avoided oncoming traffic and the local police, but the remarks of the drivers of halted cars that I had to overtake gave much food for thought.
There followed an early Morris Minor (DF8314) with the o.h.c. engine which had far more possibilities and which I persuaded to go quite rapidly, all for £10. The fabric saloon body was pulled off just in time to prevent it falling off on the road, and I built a 2-seater body from fabric and 3-ply, with cut-away doors, etc., which at least made it look like a sports car, if in a vague sort of way. Its first outing in this guise was to a local meet of the hounds, and the disapproving looks given it (and me) by the horse-loving and horselike local gentry filled my warped soul with a glow of satisfaction.
In 1936 I pawned most of my worldly belongings and purchased a 1932 “F” type M.G. Magna with the bath-like open 4-seater body (MG1538) and for four days I was the proud possessor of a car that really could claim a degree of performance, though the brakes left much to be desired. The E.N.V. gearbox with the short lever that you pull towards you to change down from top to third was probably the most pleasant I have ever handled and definitely encouraged gear-changing. But whatever made M.G.’s fit one of those repulsive oil gauges (the maker shall remain nameless) that either shows red indicating “No pressure,” or white, meaning “Anything up to 80 lb. per sq. in.”?
On the 5th day of ownership the worst happened. I was pursuing a P.A. M.G. Midget down the Gloucester-Bristol road at about 65 m.p.h. just after a heavy storm of rain, when one of the ball races in the off-side front hub proceeded to disintegrate and lock the wheel solid. The resulting slides made the happenings on the oil patch at the hairpin during the 1938 Donington Grand Prix seem quite tame. I held one slide in each direction and missed a lorry in so doing, but then the bank came at me and I remembered nothing more until I found myself clambering out of the remains of the M.G. Onlookers stated that the car did a flick roll, landed on its wheels, charged the opposite bank, and then came back and finished up in the original hedge. Very spectacular. The lack of wheel marks for quite a distance proved the car to have been airborne in no uncertain manner, though its final condition was far from airworthy.
For some time afterwards I had to wear some form of headgear in the house, American fashion, in sheer self-defence, since the doctor shaved most of my hair off before doing several inches of neat stitching, and the general effect seemed to produce unending cracks about “Safety Fast” from all and sundry.
For the next fortnight I worked 14 hours a day on the remnants of that car. Axles were straightened in defiance of the M.G. Car Co.’s remarks about heat-treatment, etc., mudguards were rolled out to their original shape; likewise the panels of the body, and local breakers’ yards were searched for suitable road-wheels, sheets of Triplex, and other oddments. The only thing I couldn’t do was straighten the chassis, which was one inch out at the rear, and since I needed the car badly, I decided stupidly to leave this and hope for the best. The car carried me many miles in this condition and was far more reliable than a friend’s early T-type M.G. which gave endless trouble with valve springs and push rods, new sets of which were supplied at regular intervals under the guarantee by the M.G. Car Co., Ltd., without a murmur. However, the Magna needed much care in handling on wet roads, and the tyres of course wore out rapidly, so I decided to dispose of it. A well-known London dealer bought it, after a trial run, and how I laughed when I saw it advertised in the next week’s motoring papers as in “Excellent condition, carefully used,” and at a nice fat sum. I often wonder what sucker fell for that!
I now had a good working knowledge of M.G.’s, so a chain of that make followed during the next two years, their age and condition gradually improving. There was another “F” type Magna (VT7487), which rebored and thoroughly overhauled, provided a wonderful summer holiday in North Cornwall, carrying fantastic loads of surf-boards, beer and human flesh. On the way home again, bad “missing” developed in one cylinder, and the reason could not be found. In actual fact, the cylinder head nuts were in dire need of being tightened, and cooling water had begun to leak through into one cylinder – but we didn’t know, and blissfully carried on on 5 pots. At Highbridge things happened thus: – (a) a rear tyre burst, (b) the gasket blew between two cylinders, (c) we stopped rapidly. Getting out to investigate the rear tyre, leaving the engine running, my passenger and I were both struck dumb by the awesome sight of cooling water spurting out of the tail pipe in gushes as if from a pump. As one man, we both blindly rushed for the door of a neighbouring alehouse, from which they removed us at closing time with great difficulty since we were once more speechless for quite a different reason. Next day the M.G. was towed the 90-odd miles home behind the family Austin. Was I mortified?
There followed a 1934 “J2” Midget (AMB692) on which I spent far too much money (thank God for an amenable bank manager!), having the engine completely overhauled. In return, it let me down in every way it could think of. Proceeding at around maximum engine speed down the straight between Faringdon and Stanford-in-the-Vale, the main pipe from sump to oil pump sheared off. I was looking at the oil pressure gauge at that moment, and I saw the needle make a dash for “zero.” Frantic avoiding action was not quick enough to stop all four big-end bearings calling it a day. On another occasion, when heading for Brooklands to see an International Trophy race, a half shaft packed up when I was seven miles west of Newbury. A lorry driver gave me a tow to Newbury, where I left the car in disgust, and there ensued a frantic rush by bus, steam and electric train to make Brooklands a quarter of an hour after the race began. Had an M.G. won that race, I think I should have become soured for life! Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun with that “J2,” though the exhaust note was too much of a good thing, and the fitting of a new Burgess silencer plus one of motor-cycle pattern on the end of the tail pipe failed to stop me finishing long journeys with singing ears.
I part-exchanged this car for a 1935 “NA” M.G. Magnette with open 4-seater body (MJ8327), and my luck was out. Although it performed creditably on the trial run, it developed nasty symptoms just as soon as I’d handed the cheque over, and removal of the head soon showed why. One piston had only got half a head! The firm who supplied the car provided a replacement piston gratis, and after a thorough engine overhaul this car was a model of reliability, the 6-cylinder unit seeming beautifully smooth after the rough but lively engine of the J2. I ran in a trial or two, usually in the Chilterns area, but the standard Magnette is really too low for this sort of game, and though it was funny at first, the act of climbing out into the mud and retrieving a mangled Burgess silencer and bent tail pipe (usually in spots where cows had behaved frequently as only cows can) began to pall somewhat. I can’t remember how many exhaust systems I rigged up for that car – it was only my intense dislike for the fitting of “every conceivable sports extra, including grabrail and St. Christopher badge” that prevented me from fitting some sort of an outside exhaust.
All my M.G.’s suffered from the usual complaint of oil running down the o.h.c. drive on to the vertical dynamo, and though the M.G. Co. swore that it could be cured by correct assembly, supporting their argument by diagrams, I was completely unable to overcome the trouble. I had to resort to leaving the car parked with its nose pointing uphill whenever possible.
Around this time I had a most enjoyable holiday in the Strong Country (New Forest area to the non-beer thinking types) in an Alvis “Speed 20″ of early vintage. This was my first experience of a car of relatively high h.p., and although the smoothness and comfort were revelations to me, I was not impressed by the car as a whole. I do not claim to be an Alvis expert, but I believe this model is not a good example of the breed. One incident connected with this car stands out. It was Sunday evening, around opening time, and we pulled up for some traffic lights on the edge of Bournemouth. On the pavement was a Salvation Army band, its members taking a deep breath prior to letting fly on “Lead, kindly light.” As the lights changed to green, we all leant out of the Alvis and shouted “Swing it, boys!” One member of the brass section let out a somewhat questionable note, but the rest never made the grade at all.
I part-exchanged the Magnette in early 1939 for a similar car of 1936 vintage with 2-Seater body, ex-Wiltshire police (AAM370). (Yes, I know this is getting monotonous, but this is positively my last M.G.) I had got this car into very presentable condition and it was performing like a train (express variety) when I joined the R.A.F. as a pilot in May, 1939. It is amazing how Formation Flying improves one’s driving; one’s judgment, control and ability to think rapidly and clearly when in a tight spot are improved to an astonishing degree.
After petrol rationing began, my training as a bomber pilot gave me a number of pleasantly long drives around the country from one R.A.F. station to another, and when I reached an operational squadron I found that we were billeted away from the station and were allowed petrol to drive backwards and forwards, so life still had its moments. Flying will always leave me cold when compared with motoring rapidly, incidentally.
My rear gunner, by the way, had earned his living before the war by performing on the “Wall of Death” at country fairs, accompanied by a large and very doped lion which sat in his sidecar! Since he was more or less pickled in alcohol in most of his off-duty moments, it seemed rather tough luck on the lion – a point on which he did not agree, his retaliation being that motor cycling with a dopey lion was a far more healthy occupation than going on ops. with me. His inexhaustible supply of stories and incredible remarks cheered up many a cold and lengthy night trip, and I missed him badly when he was transferred to another crew and eventually met his end over Berlin. Incidentally, in an idle moment we reduced our pay to an hourly rate and found that we received something in the region of 8s. for the return trip to Berlin, a fact that drew reminiscences from my gunner about the Days of Plenty when he was on the dole!
Things always happened to the M.G. when I was making a last minute dash to the R.A.F. station to attend briefing. On one occasion the short gear lever snapped off at the base just as I got into top gear, leaving me looking rather ineffective. Since there was a steep and completely un-top gear hill to be surmounted, I had to abandon ship and borrow a bicycle, and there ensued a rush rather like one of those dreams where you try to hurry but don’t seem to move. On another occasion I was dashing back from Lincoln, up Ermine Street, when there were shattering noises and a con-rod emerged via the side of the block. After a hasty glance at the mess, I had to leave the car by the roadside and beg a lift. I got my own back that night on cars as a whole, however, as our target was the north-western suburbs of Berlin, which included a branch of the B.M.W. concern. I hadn’t time to deal with the Magnette myself, so had to hand it over to the local country garage who said they could “do” it – and “do” it they did, the way they repaired that engine being just nobody’s business.
At this time I came out of the R.A.F. with a complete nervous breakdown, and during my period of recuperation I looked around for a Frazer-Nash as I had decided that this was just what the doctor ordered. In April, 1941, I found one, a 1933 “T.T. Replica,” with 14-h.p. 6-cylinder Blackburn engine (TJ2556). It had received much loving care when young, but had been allowed to go sadly to pieces of late. After an overhaul it visited the coachbuilder and emerged light blue with chromium wheels – rather pansy for a ‘Nash. It took a few hundred miles to get used to ’Nashing, but the hard suspension and high-geared steering did my tummy muscles no end of good. You can’t have a temperamental liver and a ‘Nash at one and the same time! The performance and roadholding of that car I shall never forget, and I have never had another car to date that gave me so much pleasure. Away from traffic lights there were few cars that could touch it, and I was never held by one of similar h.p. My one regret was that I was never able to drive this car on real petrol – it would have been a real experience. Incidentally, why aren’t all cars fitted with a handbrake that operates on the rear wheels only, enabling one to deal with front wheel slides? Time and again during the snowy winter I proved the value of this point.
Somehow, during my early ownership of this car, I managed to select one of the forward ratios and reverse at the same moment. Forward won! The key fixing the reverse sprocket to the countershaft sheared, and to replace it it was necessary to remove the petrol tank, rear axle and all the bevel housing assembly. I hadn’t the time or the inclination, and A.F.N. Ltd. couldn’t undertake any work, so I began one directional motoring. It’s really quite easy when you get used to it, and you get very crafty, always parking where you can turn round in one sweep (thank God for the ‘Nash lock!) or facing up a slope so that you can run backwards. Many are the times that astonished London onlookers have seen me leap out of that car in a traffic block and push it back a foot or so (burning my hands on the radiator in the process) when I have been too close behind a heavy vehicle that was likely to run backwards on take-off! I had some grand times with that car, but I believe Blackburn engines have a habit of suffering from excessive corrosion of the water jacket near the pump, and mine was no exception. I was working with A.T.A. by this time, and on coming out from work one evening I found the radiator empty and the sump more than over full! It seemed hopeless to try to get another block (though I believe the 1 1/2-litre Invicta carried a similar one) and there was only one other hope – Wonderweld. And, to my astonishment, it worked. Gradually my confidence rose until I was driving at normal speeds again. Then Fate stepped in. Proceeding rapidly from the Chelsea district back to Maidenhead in time for work early one morning things began to smell hot and r.p.m. dropped. I stopped to investigate, and found that the starter could not turn the engine. As the engine got cooler, so it got “tighter,” until one could stand on the starting handle without it budging one inch. To cut a long story short, a small amount of cooling water plus Wonderweld had been leaking into the sump all the time and the Wonderweld had got on to the cylinder walls – and, true to its name, it had gradually done a bit of welding between the pistons and the bores. It took me a long time to live that one down! However, I towed the ‘Nash home, emptied a non-standard looking liquid out of the sump, took the plugs out, emptied large quantities of Redex into each cylinder, and 10 minutes later the engine was quite free again!
Nothing daunted, I poured another pot of Wonderweld into the cooling system, and once more it did its stuff. Having filled up with fresh oil, I decided to dispose of that car quickly before anything further happened. A cad’s trick, I know, but what else could I do?
The very next day I was offered a 3-litre 1924 “Red Label” Bentley by a resident of Maidenhead, its owner having been killed in action. The price was unbelievable and I bought it on the spot. It had the typical Vanden Plas 4-seater body, “Speed Six” four-wheel brakes, and a 1926-7 engine (NX5589).
I have never been a devotee of the battleship type of motor, but my ownership of this car was valuable from the point of view of experience. Petrol consumption was horrid, about 14 m.p.g. while oil pressure staggered me by dropping to 1 lb. per sq. in. when hot! A mechanic at Rolls Royce didn’t seem at all worried, telling me that the “Red Labels” when raced used to run at 2-lb. pressure regularly when hot! However, when I at last loosened a nut that was absolutely solid and was able to remove the oil filter, I found that it contained all the ingredients of a dustbin except broken glass and cigarette ends. When everything was clean I got a steady 12-lbs per sq. in., which made me happier. However, I couldn’t compete with the petrol consumption nor was it my ideal car, and I eventually sold it to Sqdn.-Leader David Phillips, who has completely reconditioned it. The actual sale was the most pleasant I have ever done. A trial run, a large dinner and much ale at the “Olde Bell,” Hurley, lasting until a late hour, and then I took the Bentley home until he could have it collected. What did it matter that the external battery had short-circuited against the metal running board and there were no lights at all! I knew the road back to front, and thundered home at speed by the light of a small torch! The memory of it shook me considerably in the light of next morning.
But I still had the “T.T. Replica” Frazer-Nash, and I decided that a car of similar make was the only thing that would keep me happy. As luck would have it, I found that Gordon Woods had a “T.T. Replica” with o.h.c. Gough engine (AHX495) for sale, and was also on the lookout for a Blackburn-engined ‘Nash. So a meeting was arranged at the “Wheatsheaf,” Virginia Water, one summer evening. Over a couple of pints and two trial runs a level swop was arranged, and we both felt quite happy as neither of us fully appreciated the shortcomings of the other’s car as we motored away in them, Gordon to Epsom and myself to Maidenhead. “What a sucker!” I said to myself with a smile. “What a sap!” thought Gordon (although I should like to have seen his face when he first tried to reverse and remembered he hadn’t got one!) How differently we might have felt had we known each other better in those days, and Gordon known how I had a habit of Wonderwelding my pistons to the bores (he knew about the internal water leak – I’m not as low as all that!) and I knew of his habit of turning his ‘Nashes over in ditches with poor defenceless girls in the passenger seat late at night (a rather low form of tactics I always tell him, but the element of surprise is no doubt excellent, I wouldn’t know!)
The o.h.c. ‘Nash turned out to be very reliable mechanically, though somewhat lacking in punch as a series of owners had gradually de-tuned it in vain efforts to stop it blowing up (so A.F.N. Ltd. blissfully told me when I visited them!). I must say they had certainly succeeded. Never, moreover, have I heard a more noisy o.h.c. engine, the sounds given off by it closely resembling a metal wheelbarrow full of gravel being violently shaken about.
Roadholding was well up to ‘Nash standards, and I enjoyed ownership of that car even if it was a bit rough and even if the designer of the engine, when I called on him at Atalanta’s, did give it one look and say “Get rid of it – it can’t help letting you down before long!” I believe I am correct in saying that this was their No. 3 o.h.c. engine and was put into this chassis “straight off the drawing board” without ever having been tested! The electrical system was tricky, having been completely re-wired on the rather unorthodox “Woods system.” I was just putting the car away in the garage one evening when there was a nasty sizzling noise, followed by clouds of white smoke from under the dash, while the ammeter did fantastic things and then burnt out. Almost before I had time to move, the smoke turned to two large sheets of flame which curved up over the dash. There were two other cars and a certain amount of petrol in that garage, and I began to panic in a big way. I rushed round making noises vaguely reminiscent of Stan Laurel, and, thank God, I found an old sack. Armed with this, I fell upon the burning wires under the dash and ripped them off in a mass. Gradually things returned to normal, and I was able to stagger away and partake of a very large glass of strengthening Guinness. Such happenings bear out the sense of a master switch somewhere near the battery.
Meanwhile, Gordon Woods, wise man, had poured a further double dose of Wonderweld into my old ‘Nash before my original treatment gave up the ghost, and from then onwards it gave no more trouble in that line for quite a long time, and he was quite pleased with the car. Not only that, but he was moved to Hawker Aircraft Ltd., and came to live at the same billet as myself. In the same district lived another Blackburn ‘Nash owner called Martin, and the three of us formed a Scuderia in a small way, though war-time petrol restrictions made our activities very limited. Gordon, however, was frequently o/s owing to his somewhat distressing habit of getting off his Norton when it was going at full speed through sharp corners and biting the road in the way in which the Fuehrer is said to treat his carpets. “And so another Redskin bit the dust,” I remember thinking as I carted him off, streaming with blood, to the doctor to get patched up once more.
The Blackburn ‘Nash suffered too at this period, since a bus decided to back without any warning and Gordon still had no reverse! He didn’t have time even to abandon ship, let alone push the ‘Nash out of the way, and so the front end suffered as a result.
At this time I felt the need of something more potent than my ‘Nash, and the answer presented itself in the form of a 1,250 c.c. blown Alfa-Romeo with 2-seater “Zagato” body (DXV369). It wasn’t a particularly wonderful example of the breed, having had a hard life in the hands of many owners who had treated it pretty heartlessly, but it was able to convert me from an ardent member of the “Chain Gang” to an out-and-out Alfa enthusiast. It performed very creditably on Pool provided one kept the engine speed down to 1,000 r.p.m. below normal maximum, and it was impossible to make it pink. Its method of road-holding was very different from that of a ‘Nash, and at first I missed that “glued to the road” feeling that the latter has. But once I learnt to look at the road well ahead and to hold the steering-wheel really lightly, I found that the car seemed to more or less steer itself without any effort on my part, and went exactly where one wanted in a most impressive manner. As someone once remarked, “You just put your hands in your trouser pockets and look at the road ahead, and the car goes there by willpower.” It does, almost. My only criticisms of this car are the driving position, which gave me chronic cramp in the right leg with unfailing regularity after about three hours of driving, and a tendency to oil up plugs during the first few moments after starting up if the engine speed was allowed to drop below 2,000 r.p.m. The latter trouble was caused, I imagine, by the oil which is mixed with the petrol to provide lubrication for the blower collecting in the bottom of the blower casing, and giving a particularly oily mixture on starting up.
A detail that always amused me was the label on the side of the block, telling one to fill the sump with “Oleoblitz Sporto.” I used to look furtively around to see that there were no onlookers before I filled up with mere Castrol!
The lines of the “Zagato” 2-seater body are particularly pleasing, but why does a coat of Alfa red paint always make children come up to one wherever one stops to ask if it’s a “ricer”? I got heartily sick of this, though it gave much scope for the imagination, and I eventually evolved quite a good story of how the car won the 1934 Grand Prix of Latvia (that insanitary country) which vastly impressed them, and on one wonderful occasion led to a free fight between rival groups – those who said it was a racer, and those who quite rightly said it wasn’t.
However, all good things come to an end, and towards the end of 1942, I was moved to an airfield where it was possible to get to work by public conveyance, and my supply of petrol coupons consequently ended abruptly. I therefore decided to take the Alfa home and store it until better times, but a week before this trip actually happened I came face to face with the exact car it has always been my ambition to own – in short, a blown 2.3 litre Alfa-Romeo, and a particularly fine example at that. A part-exchange was arranged on the spot, and next week I drove the 1,750 c.c. Alfa up to town and handed it over, while it was decided that the new car should be completely stripped down and overhauled, that all plating should be renewed, and a new coat of paint added before I took it over.
The new car has a red “Zagato” 2-seater body on the short (9 ft.) chassis, and is slightly lower and more graceful than the 1,750 c.c. edition.
This car awaits better days. I have no idea what the performance will be, but judging by the road tests published by the motoring Press, I don’t think I should be exactly disappointed. Meanwhile, much of my spare time is being spent in getting the car “just right” for those days when it will travel rapidly to all those spots that one has longed, but been unable to visit during the last long 3 1/2 years.
So, for the past six months, interesting motoring has been almost non-existent. At the end of May I was posted from the Border area down South, and since three years of wandering by car had given me far too many bits and pieces for a train journey, I looked around for something cheap and yet readily resellable. The answer presented itself in a 1932 Riley Nine saloon (GX8668), owned by Bertie Gilmore, now one of A.T.A.’s Flight Engineers. After my Alfa the performance naturally seemed a bit flat, but the way that old car would cruise at around 48-50 m.p.h. (indicated) on quite a small throttle opening, with all my belongings on board and a trailer of tools and spare parts tied on behind, was really surprising. The plugs were oil cooled (or heated), owing to my slackness about purchasing new cork gaskets for the camshaft covers, but beyond that the car had no vices and it was most pleasing to find so many sports-car characteristics in an outwardly sober saloon.
The journey south, naturally, had its Big Moment. While descending a short and steep hill there was a loud crash from behind, and it was obvious that something had happened to the trailer, so I stood on everything. There followed a rumbling and crashing noise, and I was horrified to see my trailer speed past me on the offside, tear down the hill (which was free of traffic, thank God), go into the ditch, and then fly up in a vast somersault over the far hedge, throwing tools and treasured Alfa-Romeo spares in every direction. The next half-hour was spent in feverish activity retrieving bits and pieces from slime and ploughed field, while the missing retaining bolt which caused all the trouble was miraculously replaced by a local farmer from the tool box of his tractor. Infuriating as they are, such happenings do much to cheer up a life which is becoming rapidly more restricted and colourless. May the days of Discol and Donington soon be back!