CARS I HAVE OWNED
THE exact birth Of a craze to drive swift cars in eompetition is lost to memory, but from the age of about seven I filled the house with every copy Of every available motoring periodical, compiled km. exact serap-book of the best material from 11w combined race reports from each, and filled in my spare time in making models of my eordemporary favourite. As I got older the models became more and more accurate. I wish I hail kept the odd specimen, but as the pre v io 1 is one II I NV ?’ tys had to be destroyed to provide the materials for the next, they never survived. During the holidays, I would interminably make attempt upon attempt to shatter my bicycle record round a path track in the garden and, at my prep. school, I laid out intricate road courses and persuaded my often disinterested friends to race their factoryproduced model cars with mine. My family and their friends murmured that I would “grow out Of the craze,” and so all went comparatively peacefully.
I got my first motor vehicle when I was 12. It was an incredibly ancient 350-e.c. V-twin, 2-speed Royal Enfield. The engine layout Was most eccentric. Operated by separate camshafts, the side valves lay in front of the forward cylinder and behind the rear one, with a framemember within half an inch, Of each set. of tappets, prestimably to facilitate adjustmelit ! I have often wondered just what made the designer favour this particular design. I finally got it :started and sailed happily through the village, passing the local ” copper,” who was a firm friend, and Only administered a reprimand. For two years I amused myself getting things into some semblance of working order and ended up by fitting a side-valve J.A.P., with the assistance of the gardener. This was never completed, as during the summer holidays, when I was 14, I obtained my first car.
Had I had any idea of what I had obtained I would never have parted with it. Lacking a body from the scuttle back, it was an absolutely perfect specimen of “Prince Henry” Vauxhall. With the exception of the metallurgique-like pointed radiator, still bearing the famous flutes and the artillery wheels, it can best be described as a slightly diminished ” E ” Type ” 30/98,” It was mechanically faultless, so I built it a rather neat 2/4seater body similar to those then being used on the Fox and Nichol! ” 90 ” Talbot team. It was thereafter driven determinedly up and down a long and winding drive. Memory dims the record, but my main recollections are that the steering was enormously heavy and that it had the normal Vauxhall characteristic of non-existent brakes. The gear-change was vomparatively simple, and I really believe that we travelled quite rapidly. I amused myself vastly with it until the next. summer, when I sold it to a farmer, who promptly shortened it. into a tractor. My heart bleeds with shame.. When I was 15, being terribly Shelsleyminded, I acquired a sports type, Vradiatored i.o.e. CN, to amuse myself during the summcr holidays. With enormous determination the tartly was stripped off, the steering centralised, and everything polished in the hest ” Specialbuilder’s ” tradition. A few atteilipts at starting the engine revealed the fact that It would be invidious to say which article in this most popular and prolonged series has been the most interesting, but certainly this contribution by Sqdn. Ldr. J. R. M. Boothby, D.F.C.,
takes a very high place.—Ed.
sortie enthusiast had been trying to run it on a 60magneto, and the search for a suitable 90 • replacement was no mean job. Thereafter it motored quite efficiently, albeit nowhere near SO fast as the `• Prilice I lenry ; however, to my untutored ideas, it felt very much like the real thing. On the last day of the holidays, the starboard cylinder blew off and missed my head by the narrowest Ilia rgin. For the very first time I felt
that hot and sensation on the palms of my hands, which was later to become quite familiar. The chassis lay about for sonic time and then changed hands rather rapidly, finally falling to the O’Reilly brothers and, I believe, becoming the basis of the. original ” Red Biddy.” 1)uritig my two re main i ng, terms at school I rebuilt an aged Morgan in the ‘Hadley workshops. I left before it was finished and sold it to a contemporary, who was serving out his full term (!) of education.
When I was 16 I immediately set about getting on to the road.. A paternal veto forbade me a Morgan, so I had to be content with a motor-bike. Wishing to make my first mistakes cheaply, 1bought an ancient 500-c.c. o.h.v. Raleigh. Its frame was at least six inches out of line and it steered like an inebriated mule. It was not particularly fast and it was almost_ incredibly unreliable I kept it long enough to acquire a modicum of yowl sense, and sold it without regret. My next purchase was a Modern 350-c.c. Triumph of the pansy ” enclosed ” type. Words fail to describe the horror of that machine. It was slow. It was awkward. It was unimaginative. It was not even unreliable, So there was nothing to relieve its ghastly tediousness. Three weeks of ownership was more than enough. I found a silly little man who wanted a means of transport to get him down to see his nephews and nieces, and sold it to him gladly.
My next acquisition was in every way satisfactory. A new model that year (1033), it took no place in the annals of history, which I regard as a pity. It was a Matchless ” Sports 500,” the first really cheap fast bike,, and sold with an 80-mile an hour guarantee. It really was fast. It had excellent acceleration and, although later experience showed that its steering could be improved upon, it went where you asked it quite satisfactorily. A stop-watch trial showed 84.6 miles per hour. I sold it only because the success of my riding had sufficiently pleased my father for him to remove the three-wheeler veto.
My first Morgan venture was entered in much the same spirit as I had bought the Raleigh. From a shady Brighton dealer I obtained a 1927 Anzani-engined ” Aero ” model, and set about doing it up. It was never very fast and possessed the most terrifying wheel-wobble I have ever met. Nothing on earth would cure it. A reduction gear, and even a Hartford used as a steering damper, made no impression. After about two months I drove Nigel Orlebar up to see the famous Shelsley meeting, when Mays beat the Stink record with the white Riley, and again with the old Vauxhall Villiers,•only to be beaten by Straight in the Maserati. On the way back the bevels stripped, and my mother came up and towed us home behind a ” 77 ” Chrysler. She remains the best hand at the towing end I have ever met, and so we returned without, trouble, although I irritated my maternal parent more than somewhat when I found that I could produce. the most satisfying broadsides by slamming on the handbrake on bends. On investigation, it was found that the sides of the bevel box were distorted beyond economical repair and, as it had cost next to nothing, anyway, it was decided to scrap it. The remains only left our place, for salvage, a year or two ago. My next purchase was much more pleasant, one of the Maskell-owned Morgans which Allard used to race. It was fitted with an air-cooled 980-c.c. J.A.P. engine and was in complete Mountain Circuit form. An interesting modification was a very neatly-made rear shock-absorber bracket, which made no end of a difference to the steering as compared to the standard product. Although I was, even at 16, a reasonably large type, I found the Morgan driving position horribly uncomfortable. One sat on the floor with the steering wheel under one’s chin. So a bucket seat was fitted on the driver’s side and a neat Bugatti-type scuttle cowl was made, with the aeroscreen above it. The result, was Most satisfactory.. In this car I had my only bad crash when I was at the helm, and it has made me cautious on this one point ever since. I was coming back_ from watching a Lewes meeting and had had two smooth track tyres fitted to the front wheels, as I intended to get the car timed up the hill ; I did, and it recorded 23.2 sees. I stepped at our garage on the way home and asked them to lit my normal road tyres. As I headed home I came into a fast left-andright bend, and the left-hand front tyre came off as I came out of it. It subse
(mealy transpired that in it the locknut on the valve nor the security bolt had been secured. Both the Nlorgan and I were not a little lent as it sat on my chest after the third mil, and retired for repair. Five weeks later my mailer drove with, me in the car, holding the steering wheel while I changed gear, my left shoulder being still in plaster. A reconnaissance about my finances, after the repair bills came in, showed that the car must be sold. It went to a rabid enthusiast who kept it until he got married. I saw it just before the war ; it was nice, shiny and covered in Club badges. The tappet clearances must have been in the seventy thou. ! Transport now became a pressing problem., I had taken, employment, as a
marine machinist—with a view to gaining lathe experience to build bigger and better “specials “—and I had to move from my “digs,” a moored yacht hulk, to my place of work and get home now and then. So I. bought a shaft-driven overhead-camshaft 250-c.c. O.K. Supreme. It was a lovely little bike, but an impossible nightmare to maintain, and I sold it in favour of a 350-e.e. radialvalve Rudge. It was fast and fairly stable to steer, but it had been hopelessly flogged and expired on the slightest provocation. It, in its turn, disappeared in favour of a brand new 1934 250-c.c. unit-con s truetion New Imperial. Slow and very uninspiring, it covered many miles with complete reliability, and it was exasperation alone that made me sell it in favour Of a comparatively old 500-c.e. P. & M. ” Panther.” This really moved, but was as manceuvrable as a bison. All the weight was on the front wheel, which lay down in fast turns, while the back wheel would spin away from under you, if you gave it any chance. An amiable publican, who did not like riding fast, fell in love with its beautiful chromium plate and bought it for the same price as I had paid for it.
Throughout this period, as I was nearing my 17th birthday, I had been working, with my elder brother (who will never make a true motorist, as he usually buys the wrong sort Of ears) on an .aged Salmson. It was One of the strange !bur pushrod, 4-cylinder eleven hundreds and, when we .got it, was fitted with a very ugly boat body. We toiled away to get it into shape and I designed a body rather similar to that of the aged T.T. Humber, which used to creep about Brooklands at that time, which we built for it. When we had finished, it looked very pretty, with cycletype guards and two aero screens. Nothing, however, would persuade its weird and wonderful engine to function for more than ten minutes. A cousin of ours took it over and fitted it with a twin-earn motor he had from a wrecked car. Thereafter he used it regularly as a swift London runabout, using his big car only for long runs. At this time I came to a sudden decision. I had noticed how valuable
motor-cycle racing was for experience and, while I could barely afford to touch carracing, I could easily manage a big bike programme. To this end I purchased two bikes. One, a new 250-c.c. Grand Prix New Imperial, was taken in hand for preparation. The other was used to get the maximum 250 experience on the road, while getting to and from my job. It was one of the 1928 lightweight T.T. J.A.P.-engined O.K. Supremes, one of which, in the hands of Frank Longman, had won the race. It was quite astonishingly fast and, I state here and now, the best steering bike I have ever handled. Although it is eight years since I have ridden seriously, I have kept my hand in and have ridden every form of road-race machine in existence, yet I have yet to meet one so completely free from vice. I sold it only as the season started to help to defray expenses.
I rate the 1934 season as one of the happiest periods of my life. All the South-Eastern Centre grass-tracks, Biggin Hill, Brands Hatch, Sompting, Leatherhead, Ashford and Rochester, were visited for each meeting. The New Imperial, although it was running on 50/50, got me several places. Lack of transport enforced the riding of the bike to each meeting, and yet the same K.L.G. LKS5 plug lasted the whole season. The only trouble encountered was the binding of the phosphor-bronze bushes on the rockers, due to their movement, and this was overcome by the use of spring washers. I never could see why the designer saw fit to thread the rockers into them and rely on their improbable adhesion to the rocker-box to prevent a seizure. It was the only design fault. Although it was considerably heavier than the O.K., the way the New Imperial would hang on to the fastest, highly-specialised, dope-fed bikes was amazing. Many of the field could not get within smelling distance and were duly horrified. During this period I used a 3-litre Sunbeam, which was the property of a friend, during the week. It was a truly lovely car. It was admittedly in magnificent conditien when we got it, but its reliability was most impressive. It was good for better than 90 whenever it was
asked, accelerated well, and steered like a dream. I never saw a 3-litre Bentley that could hold a candle to it in any way, and I adored playing pretty tunes on its superlative gearbox. I have glorious memories of catching up With a cream and chromium sporting buzzbox just as it came into a turn and watching the crouch adopted by the conductor as he decided to show me where I got off. The expression on the face of its Semitic proprietor as he slid backwards behind a telegraph pole, watching the Sunbeam go by as if on rails, will remain with me for ever. It nearly broke my heart when it was sold.
With the end of the 1934 season, I sold the New Imperial and, as I was thinking of trying my hand at sidecar racing, invested, for practice, in a new 1935 Model 55, 350-c.c. Norton, to which I fitted a T.T. Noxal chair. It pulled the weight exceedingly well, and my voluntary passenger, Philip Towle, the lawyer, who still owns a, very fine 3-litre Sunbeam, put in many hours with me, hopping round bends. Philip’s engagement and my first sight of a very good twin-cam “Grand Sport” Salmson nearly coincided, and the Norton went the way of all flesh. The Salmson, when I acquired it, proved to be a most entrancing machine. It had a green bar clown the side of the bonnet and had belonged to E. P. Huxham.. who used it for trials and the M.C.C. and J.C.C. shows at Brooklands. Since he had sold it, it had certainly had a hard life and a lot of work was required to get it into shape. We found that it had a phosphor-bronze head when we stripped it down, and all the internals showed the signs of loving care. Once on the road it proved delightful. The maximum was around the 70 mark, but the roadholding and acceleration were excellent. With our checked speedometer showing 70, we frequently overtook shrieking toy sports cars which were supposedly bettering the 80 mark. With this car once more I found that Bugatti is the only man who produces a comfortable driving position, and again had to do mighty things to the cockpit. The end was sad. I used too many revs, getting away after a badgebesmeared roller-skate, and there was a horrible noise. You could see daylight
through the engine from any direction you liked, and there was unlicensed metal everywhere. On stripping her down, we came upon an unsuspected kink, together with a fracture, in the chassis, and decided to let her die. The axles now serve a trailer and a garden cart. My next venture was .forced upon nie and was horrible in the extreme. A kindly relative, hearing that my beloved car had blown up, decided to buy the ” Dear Boy ” a • car. Slw thcrelnre rushed along to her normal service station and told them that she desired to purchase a fast car for a youth who would want something very special. To my vast astonishment, I became the owner of an Abbey-bodied 1932 Wolselcy Hornet. Although it was pre-Hornct Special, it had had a lot of work put into it. It sported a 4-speed gearbox, with a very dubious. remote control, a rather special camshaft, a Scintilla ” Vertex,” and two S.U.s. Although it had the standard small-diameter brakes, it was fitted with Rudge hubs and, of course, stoneguards, a pansy steering wheel and the inevitable Union Jacks. Really necessary items, such as that most useful instrument, the oil-temperature gauge, and a rev.-counter were, needless to say, omitted. That it went quite fast there could be no doubt. It would give a very good account of itself against a very special 12/50 ” Alvis, with lowered and lightened frame and a special body, belonging to a friend. That, however, was all you could say in its favour. Never has a motor-car
steered so crratieally ! It weaved wildly all over the road at. anything over 50, and nothing would cure it at all. It was utterly unreliable. One replaeed the hallshafts as often as one filled the tank, t he clutch thrust race seized On the slightest. provocation and chewed the bOttoms off the clutch fingers. Any prolonged burst of speed resulted in a shower of reciprocal ing parts. It cost a fortune to maintain and, even at its best, was not. worth running from the driving standpoint. The advent of the 1935 racing season gave me an admirable excuse to get rid of the brute without hurting anybody’s feelings: Transport no longer worried me, as I had the permanent use of the family ” 77 ” Chrysler, which was now used as the kennel car to take my mother’s Samoyeds to shows. Little need be said of that vehicle, considering that it had no claim to sporting characteristics. Suffice it that it was utterly reliable and as serviceable as a battleship. It was cruised everywhere at a steady 60, often with two racing motor-bicycles on the back, and spares, fuel, tool kits and five passengers inside. It never steered, so the load made no difference. The only way one could get oil into it was to drain the sump and its angle of progression in regard to the horizontal impressed it not in the least. I am fay convinced, that it would have towed a London ‘bus up the Nelson Column, still at 60, and still in top gear. My new possession, for racing, was a 193:3 SW5 Douglas, which was, I believe, the last ever built. It had been raced in the Senior T.T. of that year by “Ginger” Woods, and had afterwards put in some very fast-timed miles at Southport in the hands of Clary Wood, the fastest being in the neighbourhood of 112, 1 believe. I was greatly amazed at the time at the low price asked lbr it, although it was in 100 per cent. condition and fully prepared for a season’s racing.. It took rue only’ a very short. time to discover the reason. It was quite astonishingly fast and would. leave 11014e-fe(1 Nortons and 1).T. 3…1.1′.engined Grass Excelsiors on the getaway, but nothing on earth would haul the ungainly monstrosity round a corner. Despite the fart that the gearbox was motuated over the rear cylinder, the wheelbase went from ” thar to thar.” It was sufficiently fast on acceleration to lead the field away from the line, .sufficiently unwieldy to drop right back on the first corner, and sufficiently reliable to regain the lead on the f.rit straight. That was as far as it went. Only. once did it finish a race, at Sompting, and that it won with Considerable. ease. The most incredible things could happen to that bike. Once the rear hub collapsed at speed and I had to withdraw myself from the tangle of sundry cloth making up the skirts, petticoats and so forth of an old lady spectator in whom I became almost inextricably entangled in the resultant pile-11 I ). Once the gearbox retaining studs sheared, and I was caught a shrewd hlow under the knee by the final drive” sprocket. And, finally, just. as I was • entering the dip at Sompting, at some 70
m.p.h., and coining into a slight righthand bend, it blew its front pot off coinpletely and flattened the rim of the front wheel. The human body, as a projectile for shattering a mud bank, leaves much to be desired and, after I had picked myself up, I decided that it must go. Once it was reassembled I sold it for the price I had paid for it, but never saw anything back for all the priceless parts I had put into it.
While all this was going on, I put in many cheerful miles in a Vernon-Derby, which my brother had bought, but seldom used. Instead of the standard, vastly inferior Ruby engine, it had an 1,100 Chapuis-Domier and was, according to Rupert Bellamy, for whom it had originally been imported, one of the only four of that type in the country. It was quite incredibly fast and would easily better the 80 mark, with complete reliability. The front axle was very Molsheim in appearance, as was the whole car, and the general handling was more like a good Bugatti than anything else. Two points only deserved criticism. First, the bolton wire wheels completely blanketed the brake drums (which did not help cooling), and they had to be tightened once or twice during every long trip, otherwise sparks would fly in every direction. Secondly, reverse could only be selected by pushing the lever straight through the bottom gear position. This was so unpositive that one ‘could never be quite sure when one would make a swift backward getaway, in traffic, from a crowded. traffic light. A simple reverse stop, however, cured this fault. Otherwise the car was perfect. The engine was simplicity itself to work on, but required only routine maintenance. It was possible to put up astonishing stop-watch averages over quite long runs, while the handling was so perfect that the wildest driving could be indulged in in utter safety. As an additional advantage, it could be driven in any clothing, without fear of getting covered in oil, which is more than one can say for many far more modern cars. I was terribly sorry when he sold it to a friend, as I would like to have bought it myself. With the departure of the Douglas, in mid-season, I had to do some fast thinking to procure a mount on which to carry on.. After a swift search I bought a rather odd Excelsior, with a two-port 350-c.c. ex-Fernihough J.A.P. engine, installed in a 250-c.c. frame. It had been built for a rider named ” Ginger ” Hill, from Eastbourne, and was complete with all necessary modifications to be put into competition straight away. I had a very satisfactory season with it and it did more than reasonably well, although it was always at its best on the shorter and more windy circuits, where its light weight and general handiness gave it a considerable advantage over its heavier classmates. On long circuits, such as Brands Hatch, where a speed nearing the three figures is possible on the straights, it was not so happy. If it hit a bump—and they are abundant—coming out of a fast open bend, nothing would stop it taking off and flying gracefully into the local scenery. It had rather a capacity for plugs, which was not surprising with a compressionratio of around 12 to 1, but it was otherwise in every way satisfactory.. It only
let me down in the last race of the last meeting of the s-aason, at Rochester, when the gearbox gave out when I was leading the whole field up the steep 1-in-4 hill. I now fully appreciate the saying, “My past life flashed before me.” Mine certainly did, as I lay on my face and waited to be hit, while the whole crowd scrambled by.
With the end of the season I sold the Excelsior and, owing to the collapse of a motor-cycle agency in which I had been interested, I was now at a loose end, so I decided to satisfy a lifelong desire and take a short-service commission in the R.A.F. As I wanted to brush up on my ever dubious mathematics, I decided to enrol at a local crammer’s and, so that I might get into an uninterruptedly studious frame of mind, to dispense with any sort of motor vehicle. Vain thought ! After a month I was so irritable and brownedoff that I decided to amuse myself in my spare moments by producing a really fast unblown 750, which then had some vogue, following Wharton’s successes at Donington. To this end I purchased a really good Austin chassis, already fitted with an ” Ulster ” axle, aluminium-alloy head and other desirable features. With loving care it was stripped down to the last nut and bolt. The steering was centralised and every single faulty part replaced. Infinite trouble was expended on the suspension and steering, while a 4-speed box was obtained and fitted. Weight was pared in every direction. The whole chassis frame was buffed and . polished, lest the weight of a coat of paint should have a bad effect on the performance. At last all was ready. A neat single-seater body was designed, consisting only of two sheets of beaten aluminium and put in the hands of a body builder. And so, with the completed bare chassis fully prepared, I set out to make my first test run on the familiar drive. Down through the village I drove, keeping the revs, low until the oil was thoroughly warm. At the starting point I sat ready for the getaway. The exhaust note, through the lovely copper manifold and pipe I had constructed, was crisp. I counted five slowly and released the clutch. The getaway was smooth in the extreme, and a minute or two later we were doing a brisk 35. The 70-milean-hour ” S ” in the middle of the drive was negotiated safely and smoothly, which was not surprising, as I think I could have pushed it round quicker. One run only did I make. As I was coming back through the village, flat-out, I was overtaken by the grocer’s Morris Ten delivery van. I like to think that he had a difficult dice to do it, but I doubt it. I rolled it back into the garage and turned my back on it. I will never see the point of seven-fifty racing and will never be a keen member of the 750 Club. Roller-skating is far more exciting. Yet the keen seven-fifty man who bought it never ceases to congratulate me on the wonderful car I produced. I saw it only just before the war ; it was still practically motionless.
My application was accepted by the Air Ministry and, as my training was not due to start till June, 1986, I decided to put in half-a-season’s racing. My first acquisition was a very special, very high-compression, sprint 500-c.c. Rudge.
It was a terrifically potent machine, but to persuade the clutch to transmit the power to the back wheel was a work of art. Finally, Bill Hum and I succeeded in curing its troubles and, with high hopes, I took it to the straight quarter-mile speed trials at Gatwick. The practice runs were promising in the extreme and I had high hopes of winning the ” Newcomers ” 500 class. On the first run, before I had reached full r.p.m. in second, there was a horrible noise. Later investigation showed that not one but all four valves had fallen in. The mess had to be seen to be believed, and the remnants were sold for a fiver. As there were still a few meetings I could go in for, I hastily constructed a crossbreed IiTT/KTS Velocette. It was a most successful bike, a lot faster than the Excelsior, and utterly reliable. At a Brands Hatch meeting at the end of May I collected two thirds. It was the last bike meeting I ever ran in and I enjoyed it to the full. I was sorry to sell the Velocette, but the time had come to pack in motor-cycle racing. I retain a conviction that there is nothing so good for a car driver than a period on motor-cycles. It teaches one to think quickly. It is an excellent way of learning the secrets of obtaining power at the minimum cost. And it teaches you road sense of the highest order. In flying, too, I believe it helps, as it gives you that most invaluable thing, a sensitive seat to your trousers. With my training almost due to start, I began to think about a sound and reliable car to use during the summer and winter of frequent and sudden moves. I was busily deciding between a 3-litre Sunbeam and a rather special ” 12/50 ” Alvis, when the same relative suddenly presented me with another car, and my second, and last, excursion into the realms of chromium plate began. The vehicle turned out to be a standard 1934 Singer Nine 4-seater. Our adventures proved to be somewhat remarkable from the start. During a short run, when Nigel Orlebar was driving, he performed a perfectly normal change into top and handed me the gear-lever. . . I was to be trained in Scotland and had a very satisfactory trip to my civil school. We bowled merrily up the Great North Road at a rousing and noisy 50. Except for the replacement of three plugs, one • whole carburetter and the float from the other one, very little trouble was experienced. During two months up north I was too busy to use the car much, and so encountered no further bothers. It was on the way down to Uxbridge that it really proved its worth. Just near Gretna we were rushing down a slope at all of 55 m.p.h., when my passenger suggested mildly that we had better stop. I saw the point immediately, as flames were pouring up through the floorboards. I slowed her down to about 15 m.p.h., when we baled out. I deeply regret that we ever extinguished the flames. I never drove the little beast again, and sold it as soon as it was repaired. For the rest of my training period I used an ancient Essex Super Six coupe, which gave very little trouble—or performance. Some very amusing times were had, however, as Air-Commodore Bowen-Buscarlet was then on the staff at my F.T.S., and took us on long jaunts round the test hills in the district. The
Essex’s best effort was a remarkable climb of Bwleh-y-Groes, performed without assistance, but very slowly. When I was posted south to a fighter squadron, in the spring of 1937, I bought an excellent 5th Series Lancia ” Lambda ” from Granville Grenfell.
That Lancia was a truly magnificent motor car. Already of the short-chassis variety, it had been shortened by a further 18 in. As a result the rear-seat passengers had absolutely nowhere to put their feet. After it had had a thorough clean-up and overhaul, it took to quite the hardest life I have ever seen a car take, with complete equilibrium. It toured and city-earriaged, towed and cross-countried, with equal facility. It became the squadron knockabout, and almost knew the local pubs by heart. In it, I took part in the only trial in which I ever became involved. We netted a Premier and collected the aeutest case of -boredom I have ever had. To see all the silly little men making a monumental fuss about driving through a spot of mud and listen to the stupid cheering when someone crawled through something he should have been shot for failing was, to me, the highlight in futility. The old Lancia lasted for An age and remained long after better ears had come to take her place. Safe as a house and as reliable as Big Ben, she was a perfect car on which to teach a beginner to drive. I only sold her, just before the war, because the purchaser was so pathetically keen to get. her. For several years before this I had mechanicked Nigel Orlebar when he set out to race that astonishingly inconsistent. brute, the ex-K. M. G. Anderson blown ” Akela, ” G.N., and also Tom O’Reilly with ” Red Biddy,” the highlights being the continuous rapid manufacture of bulkheads, which Nigel would always forget, and travelling on tow in “Red Biddy ” through Eton. A top-hatted youth asked me whether I “really called that thing a car,” and Peter O’Reilly thoughtfully pulled its top-hat down on to the bridge of its fleshy hook nose. As a process in the steady travel I was making to real racing, I decided that I could now find the time and facilities to go really hard for the speed trial end Of the business. For some time. Nigel had had a short-chassis, Full Brescia Bugatti, with a very promising look about it, lying around, but had not had the time to do anything about it. This I separated from him and towed back to my aerodrome to get it into comparative shape for final tuning. The C.O.’s
L.A.C. Stone, a rabid enthusiast, V 011 triteered to help. We set upon the Bugatti with horrible determination and stripped it to its barest parts. To our delight and amazement, we found a fully counter-balanced roller-bearing crankshaft, with “Amherst Villiers ” stamped on one of the webs. The big-ends were remetalled and the block carefully checked over. After the valve ” bananas ” had been renewed and the valve-seats reground, we assembled the engine with all the care in the world. A ” San Sebastian ” Salmson front axle,
with 11-in, brake drums, was substituted’ for tin previous rather lamentable affair; which would shear the drums clean away from the face plate if any reasonable pressure was applied. A rather HeathRobinson linkage system was made up and, lo and behold, the brakes really worked, which is rare in a Brescia.. The car was entered for the second Lewes meeting and, as our squadron leave commenced about a week in advance, we took her down to Granville Grenfell’s place at Brooklands. Stone had to go home, so I was left to complete the good work. I built it a body by the lightest method I could devise. The standard bonnet and scuttle were left in r lace, together with a Grand Prix cowl and aero-screen, which was already on the car. A single rectangular cross-member was built behind the seat and then fabric was stretched down from the scuttle, over the vacant passenger’s seat, and down to the rear chassis member. The whole appearance was slightly reminiscent of a T.T. Lea-Francis and, as the fabric was laced on with copper wire, I doubt if it weighed more than 10 lbs. The morning before the meeting we took the car on the track and she lapped at a little better than 90, but when we brought her in we found the valve clearances all over the place. With Gren fell and Mrs. Grenfell I set to work cutting shims. At 11 p.m. they sent me home to bed and arranged to meet me at LeWeti with the car. I discovered afterwards that. they ha f I worked till five in the morning. With its horribly high bottom gear the car didn’t like getting away.
My first time, after nearly losing the engine on the line, was 26.2 sees; on the secoad, still getting away badly, I made 25.4. Stone, who was .driving in the 2-litre class, made 26.7 and 25.5. The handicap class was still to be run. The getaways had been lousy throughout. Grenfell, looking as solemn as ever, told me to let the revs, go off the clock, to me a rather doubtful procedure with an .aged and frail engine. When I expressed my doubts, he took full responsibility for any damage, which is more than most tuners will do. We pushed her to the line and, at the three-second light, I pushed my feet hard down and the revs. howled up, cleared the 6.500 r.p.m. mark and moved a 1 in. beyond. The wheels span as I let in the clutch, which was probably only due to the wet state of the tar, and she really got .moving. We never went frightfully fast, but it felt most impressive. The time was 23.2 secs., good enough to win the class fairly easily and give us a nice little pot to take home from the first meeting. Lewes was the only point with just such a gradient to start on, and we never had any further difficulties getting the brute away.
The next meeting, a week later, was the Vintage Car Club’s show at the Autodrome at Croydon. A change of plugs was all that was required to get things ship-shape, so i enjoyed the next few days of my leave in, or nearly in, the Swimming pool at home. I was entered in the l 2-litre, and Unlimited Classes and was looking forward to six cheerful runs. On the day before I had the old girl out for a test run, and the bottom stud on the clutch withdrawal arm sheared completely. This necessitated a rapid run to the track in the Lancia, where I discovered than Grenfell could produce no replacement. An arrangement was therefore made that Louis Giron, who was to run a ” 2.3,” would meet me with the required bit. When I returned late in the evening I found utter chaos ruling at home. ” Red Biddy,” which was to have been run by Nigel Orlebar in the same classes as the Bugatti, and by a girl friend of Tom O’Reilly’s in the ladies’ class, had been down for a run on the same old drive. All had gone well while Nigel was at the helm, but when the girl had taken it out for her first run, she had tried to take. a 50-mile-an-hour bend at better than 70, with the inevitable disastrous results. ” Biddy ” was smashed beyond immediate repair, but the injuries to the girl, who had put her foot in the uncovered clutch, had been far less amusing. After pitshing the wreck back to lily garage I set out in the morning, leaving a far from cheerful atmosphere. Young Rupert Orlebar steered. the Buga I t i, on tow, and seemed to be having a very beautiful time, judging by the happy grin that could be seen in the mirror. On arrival,. it was di,scovered that the clutch .withdrawal arm, like practically everything else on the motor car, had threads of a totally non-standard size. I then sat back and watched a most unusual repair, for Louis, I consider, with John Passini, to. be the mbst precise and efficient motor engineer I have ever met. The standard stud was forced in, with a 3-ft. leverage spanner, as far as it would go. Tony Darbishire then produced a jack and a large brick, which he placed under the loop in the withdrawal arm. Under Louis’s directions another friend then took a 16-lb. •sledge and smote the top of the loop an incredible blow. . When I opened my eyes everyone was -smiling. The repair worked and, as far as I know, is still in the car untouched. Croydon was a circus drive, but great fun. As far as I can remember we were the third fastest unblown
For the whole of the next week, being on leave, I totally rebuilt” Red Biddy, so that Nigel could drive her at Shelsley. In five days and nights I produced a serviceable vehicle, with new chassis frame, prop.-shaft, bevel-box, front and rear axles and radiator. When she finally left for the meeting, I found that I had had seven hours’ sleep in the entire period. I regret to say that she failed to qualify owing to clutch trouble. I was not there to witness her misfortunes, I was fast asleep in bed. To that tune my leave ended and we towed the Bugatti back to my aerodrome. On my return I decided that the Lancia would be somewhat miserable for winter travel, the views not being my own, but those of a girl friend whom I was pursuing with remarkable intensity. To ease the situation I bought, for £5, an incredibly
filthy 14-h.p. Delage coupe, and proceeded to clean it up. When we had scraped the dirt off, I found that I had a really remarkable possession. The body was by Labordie, of Paris, and was upholstered in unbleached pigskin. The trimmings were of satin wood, and all the door and window handles were of sterling silver. A minimum of work was required to get it back into really perfect condition, and for quite a period I enjoyed real luxury motoring. It was not very fast, but would cruise silently and effortlessly. at 50 m.p.h. all day. Despite a complete lack of shock-absorbers, its springing was perfect. I am convinced that if RollsRoyce were to have produced a car of similar size, it would have been its close.4 rival. Unfortunately. I got Over-excited on the Guildford Bypass and broke a piston. The resultant damage put her heymul economical repair. I got 222 for the fittings and the aluminium.
In October I ran the Bugatti in a 10-lap racing-car handicap on the Inner Circuit at Donington. We dropped on to three cylinders after five laps, through the most inexcusable fault in racitig—faulty preparation. An improperly secured plug lead had come adrift. As I had no idea what had happened. I finished at reduced engine speed. Before the failure, we put in four laps at better than 63. ‘Winter was now in and, with the death of t he Delage, I bad only the old Lancia, which lacked a lot of refinements, such as a hood. After a short search, I bought a special 2-scater 3-litre Bentley ” Blue Label,” rim stilled to Red Label ” specification. There may be sotnething wrong with me, but I loathed that car. After the 3-litre Sunbeam it was incredibly loggy and slow. Its acceleration was poor and its steering as heavy as a 3-ton Bedford lorry. Its one saving grace was its reliability, but my main impression was that it gave one all the discomfort of a real fast car, allied with the sort of performance one would expect from any 10 h.p. saloon. After two months I sold it happily, and invested in a 4-door 1933
Ford V8 saloon. Its steering was frightful and it rattled like sin. On the other hand, it went like a scalded cat, used a lot less petrol than the Bentley, and never went wrong. I used it in standard form for the rest of the winter and most of the summer.
For the 1938 season I had made a sort of arrangement with Nigel Orlebar to -share the driving of the ” -special ” he was producing, with an A.C. ” Ace ” engine in ” Ak.ela’s ” old chassis. Preparation delays held things upfor most of the season, but, finally, just as my next batch of leave was due, it was ready. Nigel was to take it to Poole and I would have a crack in the Vintage meeting at Prescott. $ome hitch . in the towing arrangements occurred, with the result that Nigel towed it straight through a Morris-Cowley, with detrimental results to both. Thus I was left, at the start of my leave, with an entry for Prescott and no motor to drive. The action was obvious. A quick telephone call changed my entry to the Unlimited Racing and the Allcomers’ Class.
One morning, ten days before the meeting, the Ford V8 found itself, all unsuspecting, standing outside Tanfield Motors, whose workshops Arnold Lancaster had put at my disposal, while several grim men discussed a course of action. Then we pushed her inside. An axe seemed the best thing to get the body off, arid then work started in earnest. At four o’clock on the Friday afternoon, a week later, the product Of my efforts stood, once more, outside. One-sixteenth of an inch had been milled off each head, and Brico had produced a set of pistons. Ke 965 sodium-filled valves and Terry triple springs had be11 fitted, while the porting and the manifolds had utterly changed shape. Hoyt 81 main • and bigend bearings had been fitted, together with a Lucas ” Racing ” coil. That completed the engine side of the proceedings. As far as the chassiswas concerned, a van mainleaf had been put in both the front and rear springs and the shocks were “absorbed ” by No. 9 triple Ilartfords in front, and by No. 5 doubles at the rear. A longer drop-arm had been forged and the steering column : raked down. A metal body, not unlike that of the .Bugatti, with one seat, had been built. The wheels had Leen balanced and shod with a lovely set of ” pneth-grippad ” Dunlops. It made most un-Fordlike noises through a straight 4.4-in. pipe, and the getaway was a strange sight, as time had not permitted ire to move the engine back :in the frame, and all the weight was on the front wheels.’ At five o’clock, complete with a week’s growth of beard, I went to bed. On Saturdajr afternoon Philip and Pauline Towle woke me up. Whilst I enjoyed a shave, they hitched the Um-bar on to the hack ()I’ the Morris Twelve-Six which had replaced the Chrysler as kennel car, and off we went. I have never enjoyed a meeting as much as that. I did not know the hill and the Ford was certainly tricky. The wheel-spin was amazing getting away, and though I gradually got the. rest of the course clued up, I could not stop the brute floating all over the road on the ‘first steady bend away from the start. Each climb showed an enormous improvement, and my time in the Allcomers’
(‘lass was good enough to have got me a third in our own. I left, highly contented, with the conviction that we could really make the ” 2.3s think the next time. 1938 was the year of the September crisis, and due to the necessity for Fighter Command to stand by. I missed Shelsley. I also missed (lie final Prescott and Lewes meetings, and then, just as I was finishing my entries for the final Donington meeting, we were sent off to Northern Ireland. The beginning of Noveml:er found me possessed of a car to race and nothing to race it in. Sometimes I would tow the Ford down to the ” Plucnix ” and we would all drive it along that most illegal Phenix hill. Once I got within 0.2 see. of the record made by the Lig _Deluge. I Was incredibly browned-off. I had only the old Lancia as a road car. The inevitable happened. A set of light guards, a bracket for the spare wheel, some lamps, a windscreen, and the Ford became once more a road car. A very phenomenal car it made. With all equipment on, it weighed under la cwt. The addition of the spare wheel helped to keep the back dawn and, although it was always a handful on wet roads, it really handled very re y and could he flung about in a most impressive way. The maximum Was a hit better than 100, and the aeccleraf ion, of course, was astronomical. The most remarkable thing was the petrol consumpt ion, wind’ worked out at a shatic under 20 m.p.g. I ran it until early spring, when Sandy Campbell, the younger brother of Dennis, who used to do mighty things in Irish road races
with an Aston-Martin, took a liking to it and bought it from me. He put in an enormous amount of work, and specialised it even More, but, ii n fnrttmately, he raised the compression still further. It was too much for the indignant bottom end and, after he had lapped the outer circuit, stripped, at better than 110 m.p.h., it sadly blew itself to bits. Stuck with the weary old Lancia once more. I looked around and then bought -t-seater 41-litre Bentley from John Passini. I fancy that it had once carried a saloon body. Marcus Chambers had got hold of it and fitted a cut-down “Speed Six” Van-den-Plus open body. The whole thing looked very nice, bar the fact that it was impossible to open the driver’s door owing to the outside brake lever. Anthony Heal had bought it and used it to tow the Fiat about, and thereafter Louis Giron had got hold of it. The only modification I made was to replace the floppy aluminium mudguards, which used to tear like paper, with steel Le Manstype semi-cycle guards. Once I broke a halfShaft, which John came all the way to . Landon to replace ; otherwise, except for routine maintenance, not a spanner had to be laid on it. No car ever worked harder. It played the normal part cr an Air Force hack. It towed friends’ cars to meetings. It did short trips and long fast runs. Once, at dead of night, with my future Wife in the front and Nigel Orlebar sticking his head up anxiously through the tonneau cover, it covered the 21 miles between Gnildford and I forsham in 19 nun. :19.7 see., aided
by its magnificent, ex-Alfa-Romeo Italian Bosch headlights. When I thought Of running it round the Outer Circuit on August Bank Holiday, I stripped it completely except for one aero-screen and, before any work had been done on the engine, it lapped at something better than 97. Quite a lot of attention had to be paid to the !sakes, but when they were adjusted right, they really stopped her. In every way she steered, accelerated and proceeded exactly as a fast car should. When we took off for France in September she was acting as a grandstand for my wife and some Service friends. I hope the old girl liked our show formation as we left ; she was a lady and liked nice things. My very irreverent brother had christened her ” Nausea Bagwash,” a name that stuck. The fellow who was to have looked after her was killed, and I have not been able to trace her since. I did nothing during the 1039 season, for my heart was set on acquiring a ” 2.3 ” Bugatti. Once I ran the old Brescia in the” Brescia Cup ” at Prescott, and had clutch trouble, which disimproved the gearbox. That was all. Just as the “2.8,” long dreamed of, became a reality, and I was all set for a magnificent season in 1940, the war started. I got married on August :0th and had a li-day honeymoon, in which I had to clear up all my affairs. On September 9th I was away. My French motoring was limited to Service transport, although one of my friends bought a really magnificent I,ago ” Talbot coupe. In April, 1940, I bought a genuine British-built G.N. from a. Lille serapheap, but things really got hot before 1 could get her going: I had the good’ fortune to command as magnificent a flight as anyone could wish for. In late May I left it, with my facial appearance somewhat altered, to undergo a seemingly interminable period that consistedof doctors, hospitals, more (factors and still more hospitals. When
I emerged I felt utterly satisfied with the Ford Twenty-two VS saloon, which had been .run by my father, who died while I was in France. A little sense returned and, on meeting Jock West, I bought the once famous • Hartley Arid, which was basically an old 1926 500-c.c. side-valve which had pulled a milk float. By the time they had finished with it, it would lap the Outer Circuit at alma 98 m.p.h. It had a T.T. Sturmey-Archer 3-speed box and a racing A.J.S. con. rod, with an eccentric big-end bearing to overcome the greater length. I had immense fun with it, as it looked like the sporting farmboy’s ideal. It would easily murder replicas of every make, and did, on every occasion.
I sold both it and the Ford, which I had now come to dislike, when I was posted out to Canada at the close of 1940. My first action in Canada was to find a car. As a stop-gap, until I found something better, I bought a 1937 Ford V8. It was very like any other of its breed and did me very nicely. A month later I found what I wanted and exchanged it for a 1938 V8 “: La Salle.” For those who do not know, a ” La Salle” consists of the big General Motors chassis, common to Oldsmobile Eight, ” Special ” and ” Century ” Buick and La Salle, with the very potent V8 Cadillac engine. The body, which is common to all, has better fittings than the others. By way of tidying things up I had ligth milled off the heads, a 2.9 to 1 crown wheel and pinion cut, and obtained a set of special valves and springs.. To. help the steering I doubled up on the shock-absorbers all round. When I had finished I had a car with a timed maximum, four ways, over a half-mile, of 1.07:8:Iniles per hour. A standing start to 60 occupied 10.2 secs. Over the magnificent roads of Ontario I
was able to cruise at 85 to 90 all day long. With two specialist navigators on board, with synchronised chronometers, I clocked 2 hrs. 27 min. and some odd sees. for the 167 miles from the Royal York Hotel, Toronto, to the gates of Port Albert, the last 12 miles being over dirt roads. The steering was infinitely superior to that of many very expensive British luxury cars,
and it carried heater and defroster gear. It would have cost, in America, with modifications, about £285. new, which makes you think. I covered 27,000 odd miles, much of it over the worst dirt roads, gave my new-born twins their first taste of three-figure motoring at live weeks old, and toured in the Northern Ontario backwoods. My total repair bill
amounted to 12 dollars 50 cents, and I only sold it when it ran out of tyres, Which were then unobtainable. In the place of the La Salle I bought a magnificent set of Dunlop 90 Forts and found that they were supporting a 1938
Buick ” Special.” Its record and mileage were impeccable, but it was a horrible car. I can think of nothing that didn’t go wrong with the brute and, with every mile, my loathing grew. For no known reason Buicks fit coil springs to the back of the standard chassis and nothing will stop the swine from lurching around. The clutch was a nightmare of trouble, as was the valve gear. I kept it until I
came home, through necessity, and, as the tyres .still looked lovely, sold it for what I had paid for it.
There is no need to tell anyone that motoring is temporarily dead in England.
I have driven a friend’s “Silver Eagle ” Alvis a few miles on duty runs. I have driven many miles in the wonderful Jeep, but one keeps on waiting for the time to come back. I’m happy in anticipation, really. A while ago I bought a really magnificent “38/250 “Mercedes-Benz and it is slowly getting into shape. It has a genuine Mercedes-built regulation body and is fitted with triple-cross,. well-base Dunlop wheels and Hartford shockabsorbers, so all the worst problems are already looked after. I will be able to really. devote mytime to motoring after the war, and I have a very handy unblown “special ” well on stocks, for the express purpose of lowering the unblown Shelsley record. It is very unconventional, but terribly simple. I will not divulge its layout because I think I have got something really worth while. The choice of an engine will not surprise anybody. There are other things brewing, too. I have, very determined ideas on ultrareliable long-distance ears. Somehow, I do not think that highly stressed, existing *litre cars will have much luck when racing returns. They have lain dormant for too long. For a while, big reliable road-race cars will be the acme of pg?st-war racing, which, I fear, will have to be on a handicap basis, for some time to come.
I can hear the sodden tears of the unblown 750 kings, but who on earth will want to watch the little lice creeping about, except as a. comic turn during a meeting for real ears ?
One thing. is certain, thanks to the few enthusiasts like those who publish MOTOR SPORT, there is a steadily growing interest in racing. One can notice it wherever one goes. Once it is in one’s blood it becomes a way of life, rather than an enthusiasm.
—and other points arising out of the last “Cars I Have Owned” article
The 1937 Riley Big Foti i. mentioned and illustrated in Capt..K. Richmond’s article (.July issue) had a quaint induction system with the branches from the hotspot leading through the head to the inlet valves on the opposite side. This was altered the following year to the current superior arrangement. with the carburetter on the inlet side and an exhaust heated hotspot fed through the head.
After abandoning the free-wheel overdrive (3.97 to 1) the gear ratios adopted were quoted by the makers as : 4, 5.67, 8.6, 14.6 to 1, quite pleasant. though with the colossal urge obviously available despite the car’s weight, third and second seem a shade low. Without altering the tooth-pitch, 5.2 and 7.9 would have been possible and, I think, preferable. Now for the problem. Current suspension theory favours lateral (anti-roll) stability concentrated in front. Hence the success of a really good i.f.s. Hence, apparently, the abominable rolling and untoward excitement on corners referred to by Capt. Richmond as characteristic
of a certain ” 10,” which, like most cars only rather more so, is virtually singlepoint suspended in front though well enough endowed aft, raising the obvious question whether this particular suspension would not have been better the other way round. But the interesting point is that fundamentally the Riley is nearly the same—front semi-ellipties unusually close-set to secure a good lock, and a torsional stabiliser at the rear only ; yet .outs tandi ugly excellent cornering.
Perhaps Mr. Bastow, or one of our other suspension experts, will oblige with an explanation of t his anomaly. .J. R. E.