A reader, Mr. M. G. Skelton of Epsom, has drawn my attention to a book I had not previously come across, “Hidden Wealth and Hiding People”, by Michael Terry (Putnam), which describes an expedition from Hedland to Melbourne with two six-wheeled two-tonner Morris Commercial trucks, undertaken in 1928. The purpose was that of prospecting and exploring rather than making a record crossing. A company, Admelsy Pty Ltd., was formed and the crew consisted of Terry, Birks, Officer and Campbell, at the start, Terry, Turner, Saxby, North, Campbell and Keyser completing the safari. The outcome was this book, a large one of 345 pages, plus maps, illustrated with 63 pictures surely taken with a VP Kodak?
The Morris Commercials used were impressive-looking vehicles, taller and bigger than the more familiar four-wheeled one-tonners. They were lent by Sir William Morris, who was in Australia at the time studying conditions. (One believes that his hopes of selling cars and trucks in this market were not fulfilled.) And they amused some natives, who said of them: “Two wheel longa lead, two feller longa middle, two more come up behind. My word, him all about cranky that one motor.” Be that as it seemed to them, the Morrises apparently did extremely well. They were shipped to Port Headland in the Koolinda and set off on May 8th, 1928. There is a picture of the farewell party—”Good health – Have one for us in the ‘Alice’ ” – which shows a tourer with wire wheels, perhaps a Model-T to have been present. The trucks had those high radiators with “Morris Commercial” cast in them and had been lightened by 2 cwt. by taking off all electrical equipment, the brake servo, running boards, mudguards and seemingly the cab, while a tow-hook was retained only on the leading vehicle. The bolt-on disc wheels were deprived of the standard twin tyres in favour of single 32 x 6 Australian Dunlops, with the herringbone tread, “which stood up very well, and at the end of the trip were perfectly fit for several 1,000 mile,”
The “trip” consisted of 5,417.6 miles, the speedometers under-reading by 306.6 miles. Of this, 3,449.4 miles were over tracks, the remainder off proper roads. On the road section fuel consumption was never lower than 16 m.p.g. after the initial 1,000 miles (when these new trucks were presumably regarded as run-in), ranging from 18.4 to 12.0 m.p.g. Off the road it never fell below 4.9 m.p.g., or above 10.5 m.p.g., averaging 8.0 m.p.g. Oil consumption was 10,400 m.p.p. when new and on good roads, but increased to 2,000 m.p.p. at the worst as the journey progressed, off the hard tracks. Daily mileages averaged 130 on roads, 35 off the roads, but once 237 miles were covered in a day on roads and the best off them was 53 miles, the lowest 21 miles. The maximum suitable load on hard going was found to be 45 cwt., although 52 1/2 cwt. was tried; off the roads a load of over 38 1/2 cwt. had to be reduced to 35 cwt., as with higher loads the bottom springs flattened and any greater load would have reversed them.
In this long and arduous journey one truck needed two new stub axle king-pins and a new rebound leaf in a front spring, the other required no replacements. They were oiled every 400 miles on roads, every 250 miles off them and engine oil was changed every 500 miles in good conditions, every 300 miles when the going was tough. The rear suspension trunnions of the dead axle were oiled daily, or every 40 miles when running off the roads. Tyre pressures were reduced from 80 to 50 lb./sq. in. and new front tyres fitted to both trucks after 2,539 miles to reduce the chance of punctures from mulga and scrub. No blow-outs were experienced and the back tyres lasted the entire distance, but the leading truck had 41 punctures, four stumps being removed at one time, the rear truck 16 punctures, although three tyres escaped altogether. Michael Terry expressed the view that the Morris six-wheeler “is eminently suitable for general transport throughout the interior of Australia, and is in my opinion the most remarkable addition to motor transport since the magneto”. He found it miles ahead of four-wheelers in anything except sand, and even then it was better; in rough country, particularly over spinifex, the riding qualities made it much faster and the double axles banished the bug-bear of overloading which led to differential trouble. The low ratio auxiliary gearbox (their lowest was 84 to 1) obviated the unavoidable habit of having to race the engine and jump in the clutch “which ends the life of many a truck otherwise perfectly sound in engine and chassis generally”. That was Terry’s thank-you to Sir William Morris, but perhaps in his reference to slightly stronger bottom road springs, a slightly larger cooling system and an efficient air filter being desirable lies a clue to why Morris was beaten in this market by American vehicles.
Incidentally, before the expedition started there was a recce from the air with Woods (the pilot who, in 1929, was the first to search for Kingsford Smith’s missing Southern Cross) in a Bristol Fighter of West Australian Airways, converted into an 80 m.p.h. cabin machine. Is took off from Wallal aerodrome, which it had reached in 2 1/2 hours against a strong wind from Headland. The South-bound mail went on in a four-seater DH 50. Up to this time WAA had flown more than 1,000,000 miles and in March, 1928, had carried 20,867 letters, 3,403 lb. of freight, 69 passengers and 228 persons on special trips or joy rides, flying between Broome and Wallal. They were adept at dropping parcels of motor or machinery parts at out-stations along the route, even if these were known to come through the roof.
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There are some interesting references to cars in “The Reality of Monarchy”, by Andrew Duncan (Heinemann, 1970, 36s.), although we do not approve of the book as a whole, which takes a snide look at British Royalty. From it, however, we learn that HM the Queen has four official maroon Rolls-Royces, all insured but untaxed and therefore without number plates, driven by one of 11 Royal chauffeurs, who drives up overnight if she is on a provincial visit, to ensure that the car is spotless. The oldest of these Rolls-Royces a Phantom IV, given as a wedding present to the Queen in 1950. A second Phantom IV was bought in 1954. The two Phantom Vs were bought in 1960 and 1961. There are also two semi-official Austin Princesses (NGN I and NGN 2) purchased in 1958 and a pool of about 18 other cars, including a Renault from the French Government, in the Royal mews. The Queen’s personal car is a 1961 Rover, Prince Philip uses his 1961 3-litre Alvis and Prince Charles has a blue MG-C GT. Princess Anne was given a Rover 2000 TC on her 18th birthday.
There are records of the cars used on official visits to foreign countries in this undeniably fascinating book – a 1935 Lincoln convertible, “the sort of transport used by American hoodlums”, when the Queen went to Brazil in 1969, a country she visited knowing “that Volkswagen were manufacturing with Teutonic randiness 300,000 every year, and selling them for £1,000 each” when “ten years previously a leading British car manufacturer had refused to set up a factory in Brazil because he thought the annual sale would never reach 30,000”. When Salvador de Bahia welcomed the Queen she rode in “a Lincoln convertible three years newer than that provided by Recife” and “Prince Philip had an older, albeit more glamorous 1926 Isotta-Fraschini, custom built as a replica of Rudolph Valentino’s by a rich playboy for his fiance”. It was owned by a 60-year-old vet, had been transported at Government expense from his home in Sao Paulo, and the owner was allowed to put on a chauffeur’s uniform and drive it, because nobody else could, but was told, delicately, not to talk to Prince Philip. When the Royal party got to Sao Paulo Prince Philip found himself in another vintage car, “a 1930 Buick”, which “refused to start and had to be pushed”, the pushing car burning out its clutch. Perhaps they should have re-imported the Isotta-Fraschini…
There is the rather pleasing story in “The Reality of Monarchy” of Lord Snowdon being stopped by the police for speeding when he was driving his Aston Martin to his Sussex cottage. They apologised and let him go but to prove that this was not entirely Royal privilege he then followed them for ten miles and stopped them, to tell them they had exceeded the speed limit several times. The book mentions that amongst the objects flown out to Vienna in a BEA Viscount for the Royal visit was a Johnny Speed giant racing car, whatever that is, and it is amusing that the author describes the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, subject of a Royal Film Performance, as “adequate for children under 12 with nothing else to do ” – W. B.