CARS I HAVE OWNED
THE seeds of motoring enthusiasm were first planted in my mind when I spectated at two speed trials which were held in Bristol somewhere around 1920—one on the Portway before it was opened, the other at St. Andrew’s Road, Avonmouth.
My memories of these are vague, only three outstanding ones remaining. Sgonina’s G.N. was very impressive when crossing the line with a loose front wheel, topping the 70 mark 1 His brother was standing by me, and was most perturbed about the whole affair.
Second impression was when a friend of mine lay back to front along an ordinary plank in lieu of a sidecar with a powerful Indian motor-cycle providing the pulling power ! He vanished up the course with his tie trailing out behind.
Then I plucked up courage to speak to George Dance, plus Sunbeam, but as I walked up to him, there was a great hustle going on, and much swearing, which I gathered had something to do with changing plugs, so that my tongue was stilled in my head, and my hero never knew what he had missed!
There was a great day when my uncle took me as passenger in his Horstman 2-seater to watch a freak hill-climb at Nailsworth Ladder. The car ran beautifully, though it was too highly geared. We touched 52 m.p.h. on one long stretch, which I imagined must constitute the world’s speed record at that time. I was fascinated each time he operated the internal kick-starter.
The hill-climb itself proved fairly exciting. There were two deep ruts which some competitors followed up the hill, either by design or accident. These converged sharply a little higher up, and were responsible for several cars wrecking their steering. One car vanished down over the bank on the right-hand side, without incurring much damage.
The high spot of the afternoon was a scrap between a 10-11.p. Hampton 2-seater (manufactured nearby) and a Dodge 4seater. These cars took it in turn to carry two more passengers than the other up the hill at each successive attempt. The Hampton’s last climb was made with 14 up ; hanging on all over the car, being reminiscent of the last tram’s journey home, with the engine roaring like a swarm of Spitfires. The Dodge, not to be outdone, now arrived on the scene with a complement of 18, and the poor little Hampton retired from the fray through lack of further space, but not power.
In 1919 my stepfather owned a Model T Ford, but I was not allowed to drive. He was the most obstinate driver I have ever known, and gave my family many a thrill through hanging on to the crown of the road until an approaching motorist should give way first. I have heard the front mudguards give a distinct click as the tWo cars pulled over at the very last second ! Later the same year I was able at long last to persuade my mother to buy me a motor-cycle. It nearly took the form of an ancient single-geared Royal Enfield at 142 10s., but luckily the proprietor of the garage where it was rotting away advised my parent against it. I was so disappointed that I was given a brand new Royal Enfield 2-stroke, the price A. W. Morrish looks back on nearly 25 years of the Sport and recalls participation in some early M.C.C. trials, including the Land’s End-John-o’-Groats
trial of I924—Ed.
then being £73 10s. without accessories. Having been shown how to manage it, the run was immediately made from Weston to Bridgwater, which distance was covered with the throttle wide open all the way ! Maximum speed was 42 m.p.h. Needless to .say, the motor was completely ruined by this initial burst.
The Tan-sad was usually occupied by one of the feminine species, and the carrier folded up regularly every month or so, incurring a steady drain of £2 1s. 6d. each time. This was pretty serious, as my pocket money was 10s. per week. There was one drastic climax when my garage proprietor refused to be put off any longer, and I was forced to confess to my parents that I owed £10 for repairs.
Another incident that sticks in my memory was the sudden collapse of the rear wheel, complete with feminine adornment, late at night on a country road. I examined the damage by the light of the acetylene container removed from the bracket and lit direct from the nozzle. This covered my face With black smuts, and I was a worthy rival to any commando for looks ! Having carried the bike into a barn, we just caught the last bus, and I wondered why all the people kept staring, until my lady friend enlightened me.
In 1923, the Enfield was crossed in part exchange for a Rover Eight. This car gave an enormous amount of pleasure during the three years it was in our possession. It had an unfortunate habit of cracking the cylinder heads when the engine grew really hot, as it had the original cross bar with only two holdingdown studs. The following year these were increased to five. Flat out speed was 48 m.p.h., though 52 m.p.h. was touched occasionally under good conditions.
The M.C.C. held the first Land’s EndJohn-o’-Groats run in 1924, and this was my first trial, covering 875 miles in two days and two nights.
The press photographer took a picture at Land’s End, carefully explaining that he would take it while he had the chance, as he didn’t expect to see me again ! As it happened, he took another near Carlisle, and I duly collected my first cup.
About 15 miles from John-o’-Groats, after finishing the trial, the chassis broke in half. The car eventually arrived at the Rover works on a lorry, and the manufacturers generously presented me with a £22 overhaul and a repaint free of charge. Incidentally, when the chassis collapsed, the mudguard dropped hard on to the front wheel, and the steering went solid, but not before it had time to divert me straight into the back of a milk float ! The horse gave one startled jump, and galloped away down a mile-long road for dear life, until it vanished from sight, leaving all the milk in the road. The milkman came running from a nearby house, flourished his arms in the air, then started running after it
Yet another unexpected happening was during a return from Weymouth one bank-holiday night. The road was narrow, and filled with a stream of charabanes. At first I passed them carefully, but eventually became reduced to just tooting and passing. I asked for it, and got it ! Running on to the grass verge to do another spot of passing, to my horror I found that it was the bank of a ditch filled with water. We bounced twice and stopped, nearly emptying the ditch in the resultant splash, and then clouds of steam arose from the white-hot cylinders. However, the charabanc was filled with men, and they lifted the Rover out bodily almost at once, and surprisingly there was no damage done. As it was impossible to power slide except on ice or snow, I had to satisfy my craving for skidding by applying the hand-brake suddenly, when partly through a corner. (Tyres were plentiful then!)
I failed to get a gold in my first Land’s End, owing to inexperience. The filler cap air-vent became choked with dust, which was like a thick fog in those days, after leaving Porlock. I realised that it was petrol shortage, and kept clearing out the carburetter and fuel pipes. The distance between stops became less and less. Eventually, the reporter for The Light Car and Cyclecar drew up alongside, and enquired the trouble. On telling him, he just recommended that I should stick a pin through the hole in the filler cap, and drove on. Feeling that he hadn’t been very helpful, I hopelessly did as he suggested, for want of anything else to try. I just couldn’t believe it when she didn’t stop again after a few hundred yards, but I had lost too much time to qualify for anything better than a bronze medal.
The next swap was for a 9.8-11.p. Bayliss-Thomas 4-seater in 1926. This car also gave us excellent service, with little trouble. Maximum was 55-60 m.p.h. We paid an extra £7 for overhead valves and another £7 for leather upholstery in place of rexine. Considering the great weight of this car, the small Meadows engine put up a remarkable performance for those days, and easily held its own against other vehicles of the same class. The Marks steering was excellent, and I believe this was one of the first light cars to be so fitted, a possible exception being the A.C. Once again I attempted the Land’s End, but bad luck was my companion. On arriving at Slough the leather lining came completely adrift from the cone clutch. With just six hours before my starting time, the clutch was dismantled, and the lining re-affixed in a different position. Just as the immensely strong mil clutch spring was almost closed by a Heath-Robinson affair of jacks and blocks, the whole outfit gave way, the spring flew across the garage, and the clutch housing fell to the floor with a mighty thump. This bent the foot-brake
so badly that I was unable to use it during the trial, and drove the whole of the way to Land’s End with only the hand-brake for retarding purposes. 1927 marked the advent of a run of luck. Once more I had a motor-bike, an A.J.S. 850 side valve. This time the running-in stage was accomplished most carefully, and I am certain that I was
repaid time and again. All my spare time was spent in learning to ride the model on all surfaces and up any hill, but I was forbidden to participate in trials. Eventually I could wait no longer. My mother was in a nursing home, and there was no restraining hand, so I entered for the Bristol to Lynmouth trial. There were 35 competitors, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The following Monday, the trial now a thing of the past, I was settling down to my studies at college, when a group of students came over and congratulated me on my success, which they had read in the local paper. Ap
parently I had put up the best performance, but it was some time before I was convinced that they were not pulling my leg. This great news was too good to be withheld from my fond parent, so I let go my secret. My mother then withdrew her objections, and I was free to pursue the path of my dreams. Then followed a
glut of scrambles and trials, which satisfied me, until the first time that I saw a grass-track race meeting.
Once again my parent objected to the danger, but this time the opposition was much weaker, and was soon overcome. Thus the second grass-track meeting in the West saw my name entered for the
two smallest races, and until the day dawned I was haunted by the fear that I should be last. Came the first race, after aeons of waiting and suspense. Five Douglas machines, mostly ridden by the works riders, and my A.J.S., comprised the starters. The flag dropped and we were away. At least, the five other riders were, for I had missed my change-up. In my excitement, I pushed the lever straight
through second into top ! The dreaded thing had happened—I was last.
Determined to do my utmost to make up for this bad start, I turned on everything and held the taps wide open. To my amazement I passed four ” Duggies ” on the first bend, and the other as it was just coining into the second turn, a hairpin bend. Then, instead of shutting down, endeavoured to get round the wide hairpin at the same speed. One bump, bike at angle of 80°, two somersaults—finis ! It was a glorious blind while it lasted, and fortunately the bike wasn’t badly damaged.
Between that meeting and the next I had plenty a time to think things over, and I realised that the best plan was to ride carefully until the last lap, and then wind on everything.
The one lap which I had almost completed served to show me that I could hold my own against the others, so I risked entering for six races at the next meeting, held at Pensford.
This time I was not so reckless, and came away with five 18ts and a 2nd, and, in addition, was made captain of the Bristol team, which won the team race.
For two glorious years I had fun and games, then the inevitable happened—I became married. This involved a promise to give up racing and trials, so one can imagine how the article ” Enthusiastus Extinctus,” in the February issue, struck home. From then until 1938 I had to be content with a Standard Nine, and an Austin Ten. Between the demise of the BaylissThomas and the appearance of the Standard, we ran a 1927 ” 12/50 ” Alvis open 4-seater (YR339). If I hadn’t been so full of the A.J.S. at that time I am sure that the Alvis would have carried me through a number of trials. She was a grand car on hills, and once made a clean climb of Hardknott, in the Lake District. She was capable of 72 m.p.h. at any time, sometimes 75 m.p.h. Consumption was 34 m.p.g. Snatching second was very exhilarating, and the envy of all my friends. The exhaust note was a joy to the sporting brigade, and I was always
being told that it was the finest note in Bristol. Another Alvis enthusiast once offered to exchange his exhaust system for mine, and to throw in 15 as well !
Once, when scrapping with a Norton, the Alvis was in 3rd gear and my opponent was slowly creeping past with his nose pressed to the handlebars. It occurred to me that if it were possible to crashchange from 1st to 2nd, why not from 3rd to top ? No sooner said than done. As far as I remember the bill came to about £12 ! I learnt the meaning of paying for experience.
Once I came across a smashed Singer 2-seater, and became fired with enthusiasm to make an attempt at rebuilding it. This was my one and only effort at this kind of work. The wreckage was taken over for £8 10s. and I felt that this would be bound to yield a goodly profit when the job was finished.
The damage turned out to be extensive, and the car had to be stripped to the chassis, which was badly twisted. By the time everything had been straightened or replaced as necessary, the cost had risen to 121 10s., and I was lucky to clear 12 when the car was finally sold, after many weeks of hard work.
In March, 1938, came the great day when I made a special journey to London to buy a sports car once more. My mind was set on an Alta which I had seen advertised, but after a 10-mile run (one of the most disappointing I have ever had) I reluctantly relinquished the idea. The whole trip was made on three cylinders, and my eyes came exactly on a line with the windscreen frame. Then ensued a frantic search for a substitute, and I eventually returned home the proud owner of an M.G. Magnette.
The next day I made up for lost time, and many happy hours were spent storming the local trials hills. It was great to renew their acquaintanceship again. The next important step was to rejoin the M.C.C. and hope that my entry for the Land’s End would be in time. It was, and the car ran beautifully except for one little faux pas, when the motor simply faded away on the hump of Beggar’s Roost. One touch of the starter and she was off again, but the gold had slipped through my fingers. Probably the plugs became too hot, as afterwards I changed to a better set, which cured the trouble.
The following year I wiped off every gear except top, reverse as well, when nearing Bude, and drove home to Bristol on top gear only. The road between Bude and Okehampton was difficult, but the old car just made it, after some exciting rushes at the commencement of the worst hills.
The war intervened, and I was prevented from retrieving my honour, so I am still awaiting the next Land’s End. To my mind this is the grandest trial of the year, coinciding as it does with the first holiday, and magnificent scenery.
The M.G. Magnette was useless in trials of the mud and slime type. There just wasn’t any grip at all, but given a good surface, she was fast on the getaway.
Her best performance was at a Southampton hill climb, when she was only beaten for fastest time of the day by Sumner’s stripped Ford V8, the difference in time being one-fifth of a second.
The greatest drawback was the cash factor. There was a perpetual overdraft at my garage, due to my everlasting endeavours to find those elusive fractions of a second ! Just as I was catching up a little, I was tempted to enter for the second meeting at Prescott. In practice I returned 60 seconds with smooth rear tyres, and poor plugs. On the actual day I was using competition tyres, as I could not afford a new road set.
With six new plugs I was travelling very much faster than I had done in practice. On entering the Esses, the rear wheels commenced to slide, and nothing on earth would stop those competition tyres from travelling sideways ! The car hit the bank, bounced back and turned turtle. My shoulder took the side of the bodywork completely away as I shot out, but I was unhurt.
The driving wheels were still spinning round, and the crowd was shouting “Switch her off ! ” The switch had ceased functioning the same morning, and just as I was wondering what chances there were of stopping the spinning wheels by catching hold of them, the motor died.
Before the meeting I advised my mother to stand at the Esses, as that was the most likely place to see any fun! She was upset for weeks afterwards.
This incident set me back a further 122, as well as the 25 5s. entry, and seriously curtailed my activities for the remainder of the year. Just before the basic ration came to an end I sold the Magnette and bought an M.G. P.A. Model, Marshall blown. This car will be in the same class as the Magnette, but with very much less weight and superior acceleration. There was little opportunity for testing the car before rations ran out, as a mysterious trouble presented itself. The speedometer needle went to 85 m.p.h. without effort, then would come a pop from the carburetter. Nothing seemed to cure this trouble, but eventually the cylinder head was removed, to reveal a cracked valve seating. •
The head was despatched to Barimars for welding, and they promptly became the recipient of enemy activity. After some weeks they advised me to the effect that the head could not be found, so I purchased a new one from the M.G. Company. Incidentally, the War Damage Commission allowed the full value of the new head and valves.
Plug trouble now set in, and I was unable to obtain a suitable set before the sands of time ran out, and most sports cars hibernated for the duration.
A pleasant day was once spent at Donington, whence we had journeyed to watch the Germans perform. Not having heard the announcement over the radio stating that the meeting was postponed, we carried blithely on our way. After the initial disappointment, we discovered that many others were similarly placed, and that by payment of one shilling we could have the run of the track. This we did, and for some hours diced round the circuit, running private races and handicaps. Eventually, the Magnette ran out of fuel, and I then found that the oil had completely disappeared as well ! The lack of petrol was a blessing in disguise. In any case it was high time to be on our return journey, so we left, promising ourselves another trip in a
fortnight’s time to watch the Grand Prix. Alas on that day I was lying in bed racked with rheumatism, and had to be content with the description broadcast over the radio.
Some of your readers may be interested in the fact that I am now running an Austin Ten fitted with a Centric supercharger. This has vastly improved the performance, and removed the natural sluggishness. Acceleration and hillcli m bing are much better, and the pick-up is smoother from low speeds. Maximum is increased from 65 to 75 m.p.h.
The only drawback is consumption. The car is used for local delivery, and never has any long runs. Before the blower was fitted, 261 m.p.g. was obtainable. This afterwards dropped to 18 m.p.g. By cutting down the jet on the S.U. carburetter to the minimum, I now get 24 m.p.g., but performance has perforce suffered, though I still consider the blower well worth while. The boost is low, being about 8f lb.
A friend of mine was once tempted to enter for a trial, and we managed to arrange it so that we had consecutive numbers.
He followed me successfully until we arrived at a good-sized water-splash. I slowed up before turning the following corner, and made sure he had driven through all right. That was the last time I saw him in the trial, and I was at a loss to understand what could have happened.
However, at tea time, the observer who was at the water-splash turned up and solved the problem. Apparently my friend had so enjoyed the sensation of taking the splash that he turned round and recrossed again, at speed, with dire results I gathered that the other drivers rather looked down their noses at such a childish display.
Two stories concerning brakes come to mind. The first occurred during a descent of Ubley in a trial. The track was very slippery, and I was traversing the lower section steadily, as there is a steep drop over the side, and only a foot or so to spare.
Becoming aware that another competitor was coming down on my tail at speed, I looked round to see who it was, and recognised Clegg with his Austin Seven. He was half standing in his seat and frantically waving me on. I realised in a flash that his car was tobogganing down the mud on its saw-tooth competition tyres, which evidently were only practical uphill, and just accelerated in time to clear his path. We both had an exciting few yards till we passed the drop.
The other time was when a rear-brake cable parted on the morning of a trial. I just managed to get a replacement before the start, but the new cable was too much for its opposite member, which also gave out. It was too late to repair this one, so I carried on without it.
All went well until the time came for the brake test, which was carried out on a fairly steep down grade, with a loose gravel surface.
After applying my brakes, I had the greatest difficulty in avoiding the ears parked about 50 yards down the road, and shall never forget the roar of laughter which greeted my attempt. In the subsequent report on the brake test there was a piece worded ” Inciden
tally, some competitors seem to have brakes which accelerate ! “
There are many other episodes which I should like to relate, but will finish here, as I feel that your readers have been sufficiently tried already, especially as there is nothing technical in my account.
No amount of stories or descriptive work can compare with the thrill of the real thing, the hopes and fears, and the final feeling of exultation when sometimes successful, and it is with tremendous impatience that I am waiting the chance, along with thousands of others, to take up the reins where they were laid down, and continue with the most interesting hobby which I have ever had.
In conclusion, may I wish MOTOR SPORT a most successful and prosperous future, and give thanks to all who have united to brighten the last few years with their motoring reminiscences. I, for one, have thoroughly enjoyed reading each number from beginning to end, and look forward most eagerly to each publishing date. •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••