A section devoted to old-car matters
“Babs runs again”
wE were present at a rather historic happening in Anglesey on June 24th—Owen Wyn-Owen, who disinterred the 27-litre Thomas Special “Babs” from its Pendine grave some time ago drove the car before an audience for the first time since Parry Thomas made his last, fatal, run in it, 46 years ago. Having remarkably and meticulously rebuilt the great car, removing all evidence of corrosion by sand and salt water, Wyn-Owen arranged to try out “Babs” at the new Llanberis By-Pass. The local Council was willing, but the police, probably wisely, refused permission.
So a Land Rover towed her, driving chains removed, to Mona Airfield, where she made a number of circuits by generous permission of the RAF, before a crowd of some 200 supporters. A tow start at first produced some alarming flames from the two forward-mounted carburetters but soon the V12 engine was running well, although only on one plug per cylinder, served by the distributor on the nose of the o/s o.h.-camshaft, the other distributor not being fitted (it was burned in the Pendine accident). Wyn-Owen only elected to use bottom and second gears but got up to some 60 or maybe 70 m.p.h. on the runway. He found starting difficult with the high first gear, and the tiny clutch with its 50 or so steel and Ferodo-lined plates, the engine having no flywheel.
“Babs” was in chassis form on this occasion but wooden formers have been made for the re-fitting of the body panels and Wyn-Owen has been meticulous in getting the dimensions, steering-rake, etc. correct. It is remarkable how much of the car is, in fact, original. The driving sprockets, for instance, the gearbox internals and the fuel and oil tanks. Incidentally, Wyn-Owen could find no trace of the indentation on one tooth of the o/s driven sprocket which Reid-Railton said had been caused by a piece of broken wheel-spoke getting under the chain . . . Dunlop tyres of the correct 33 x 5 size are fitted, the radiator has been beautifully repaired by Delaney Galley and bears both their new and their original name-plate, and the Budenbury Gauge Co. of Anglesey are currently making as new the oil and water temperature gauges which Thomas’ mechanics broke with a hammer before “Babs” was buried. So she ran with only an oil-gauge on her try-out, the pressure on the stop, as the pressure release valve has yet to be experimented with.
The steering box was unrestorable, so Wyn-Owen made a glass-fibre moulding and from it cast and machined a new one, rather as GKN rebuilt the gearbox casing, as previously described in Motor Sport. Triplex have made a new screen and a new steering wheel. The Liberty engine used by Count Zborowski was a Packard-built Model-A but the cylinders were beyond recall, so Wyn-Owen has put on cast-iron cylinders from a more recent Liberty tank engine. He has painted them blue, so that there is no suggestion of deception, against the day when he can fit the correct type of “pots” from a Liberty aero-engine he is expecting from America. He hopes then to compare its cam contours with those of Thomas’ alleged Laystall-made camshafts. The two-ring aluminium slipper-type pistons used by Thomas had no oil-control rings and so the engine was apt to trail a plume of smoke but the tank engine has such rings and ran very cleanly. It was indeed an impressive first baptism for the resuscitated “Babs”. Afterwards the engineer driver/rebuilder drove home in his 6-1/2-litre Bentley two-seater and his wife in her open vintage Delage, while Keith Knight, himself a Liberty fancier, had driven to the venue in the Wyn-Owens’ Chummy Austin. Praise, too, must be accorded to student Ronnie Roberts of Bangor, who has helped greatly with the rebuild and was in “Babs’ ” seat for the tow out to Anglesey and back to Capel Curig.—W.B.
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