CARS I HAVE OWNED
I A most interesting contribution by none other than Lt. Marcus Chambers, R.N.V.R. We hope the Censor enjoyed reading it as much as we did.—Edd
ISHOULD like to try to furnish some of the missing links in the chain of interesting ears that have slipped through the pages of MOTOR SPORT since the war started, but it is with some trepidation that I begin. I am rather handicapped by the fact that I am separated from all my records and photographs and must, therefore, try to remember dates and other useful data. I trust I shell be excused for such inaccuracies as may come to the notice of the reader. Some of the most interesting ears have naturally not been my own property, but I feel they are worth including, as I probably knew more about them than their owners did. My father was responsible for making me realise the importance of the I.C.E. at the tender age of four. We lived in Australia, and he was the proud owner of a Talbot ” 12/14.” My only recollection or it is painful, in so much as I once put my finger through a greaser-hole in the running board valance and took it out mighty quickly with a large spider biting the end ; I was removed yelling. Shortly after this we returned to England and my father bought a beautiful new 1914 Sunbeam 16-h.p. tourer. It was never really used, as the war broke out soon after it was delivered and, after remaining in store for a couple of years, it was sold to the Government. Then followed a vague era of Model-T Fords, Studebakers and Hupmobiles. After the war we acquired a two-cylinder Swift. It cost a lot of money and must have been about ten years old. It was the highest car, compared with its length. I have ever seen, and the track seemed to he about
the same as the wla•elbase. It was It.mperamental and sometimes required a lot of priming and swinging. One (lay, when my father was out, a gentleman came to see it with a view to purchase. I did the sales talk. ” Does it go ? ” said the man. ” Yes,” said I, ” you should see Daddy trying to start it in the morning.” However, he bought it. After the SVI ift came a Perry, a Mors, a ” 16/20 ” Wolseley, a Standard and, finally, a Wolseley ” 11/9,” which we kept for three years. I learnt to drive on the little Wolseley and it survived the strain very well. My father then went to live in London and decided to give up motoring. I bought a round-tank B.S.A. motor-cycle and fell off it several times. This was in 1928. One day, when passing a show room, I SPW a 250-c.c. A.J.S , which seemed to me the last word in light-weights. I signed on the dotted line and in a few days I wes the proud owner of my first new machine. I got a lot of Am out of it and flogged it unmercifully. It did 56 m.p.h. flat out, with the wind abaft the beam. I took it to Switzerland and back and only fell off onee. In 1929 I fell for a 350-c.c. Velocette and signed on the dotted line again. I bought the Veloeette (U V 1819) because this make had won the T.T. three times and I thought the touring model was good value at
£62 I 0,4. It was the best motor-cycle I have ridden and absolutely reliable. I took it to the Pyrenees the following year and again only fell off once. I think I should have still had it to-day if I hadn’t met a girl-friend who thought a secondhand Morris Cowley more comfortable. There is nothing more difficult than choosing between a Veloeette and a girlfriend. The Morris was undistinguished and so was the girl, so both went, and I had enough change to buy an ancient Raleigh, which eventually did nearly 90. By this time I had decided that the only way to own a decent vehicle was to join the motor trade. The opportunity came along and I bought the worst Morgan of unknown age that ever hap pened : it bad a water-cooled Blackburne engine which didn’t like its flywheel, so that it shed it about once a week. The brakes were not, and when the flywheel stayed on, both connecting-rods came off. I sold it, with an air-cooled J.A.P. engine bought from a breaker, to a trader who had a 1926 Alfa-Romeo with a broken piston. Three pounds and the Morgan secured the Alfa. I was so thrilled I spent hours reading about people like Werner, Ascari, Campari and Nuvolari. Front that moment I became an enthusiast de pur sang. The Alfa-Romeo was interesting in many ways and I had unknowingly got a bargain. There was even an instruction book. It was one of twelve imported into this country in between 1926 and 1927. The external appearance was much the same as the six-cylinder “22/90 ” model, but mine was a fourcylinder of 16 h.p., with a single carburetter, push-rod engine. The dry sump tank held 4 gallons of oil, but the oil pressure _wanted watching. The 2-seater touring body was ratt er heavy and was, I think, built by Youngs, of Bromley. The weight of the body and rather low back-axle ratio was the factor which made it such a successful trials car. The colour scheme was unfortunate, being a rather sickly yellow with pale green wings. I changed this to dark green and black. It made its &but (and mine) in the competition world in a small trial in 1933
and secured a silver cup I competed in one or two more ambitious trials and had quite a lot of luck. I ran in about 26 events during 1933-.34, and the only mechanical failure whilst competing was a broken brake cable in the “Gloucester.” In the meanwhile I had my share of minor troubles and one major one, in the form of a broken crankshaft. I was unable to obtain a second-band one from Elephant Motors, who had broken up a similar model to mine, and as a result was forced to have one made by Laystalls. The car was in remarkably good form by Easter of 1934 and had a maximum of 80 m.p.h. and very good acceleration, coupled with nice road-holding. Whilst
passing through Richmond on my way to Dorset for the holiday I was rammed very violently by a lady who was not completely in charge of the Morris Oxford she was conducting, which had the effect of putting the Alfa-Romeo into a brick wall at about 30 m.p.h. It cost the lady 137 10s., which speaks well for the strength of the Alfa-Romeo’s chassis. I spent the whole amount in straightening and improvements and did all the work myself.
The transition period took about three months, was very thorough, and taught me a lot. The engine was completely stripped for the second time. I could by then remove it in three hours. It was rebored and sleeved and given a new set of valves. I polished everything to the best of my ability and bought a new Solex Startix carburetter, which worked wonders. I should have liked two, but the head casting was the same as that of the older 11-litre Meadows and did not permit this. The multi-plate clutch, which had withstood so many stop-and-restart tests, was given some new plates. The brakes also came in for some attention, which improved them, but still did not obviate the use of the violent transmission brake in an emergency. As the body was to my then untutored eyes rather demode, it was scrapped for a pretty and graceful unpanelled frame which had been built for a Wolseley Hornet by Cooper’s, of Putney. I got a friend to panel it for me after I had built a sub-frame and mounted it on the Alfa-Romeo. The result was very nice and the weight-saving enormous. I applied five coats of synthetic enamel and spent many hours rubbing it down. The original screen was altered to half its height and the steering column dropped to suit the new driving position. As the body was now the same width as the chassis, the brake lever and gear lever had to come outside. When she was run-in I entered her for the Brighton and Hove M.C. 12-hour trial, but, alas ! there was now insufficient weight to keep the back down and I failed on nearly every hill with violent wheel spin.
I ran in a few more trials, but decided that I could ill afford the wear and tear, so I spent the rest of the summer trying my hand at motor-cycle grass-track racing, on a peculiar machine of my own construction, which was half Raleigh and half dirt-track Budge. It went fast during practice, but never seemed equal to the effort of finishing a race.
During the last quarter of 1934 I was in need of a cheap hack and bought the most trouble-free motor-car I have ever owned, in the shape of a bull-nosed Morris Cowley, taxed to the end of the year, for the exorbitant sun) of £3 10s. It took me to many Rugger matches and always saw me home in safety. I never put a spanner on it or had a puncture and sold it to a satisfied owner in January, 1935, for 16. Soon after this a rather shabby gentleman called to see me ; this was not unusual in view of the locality, which was off the Wandsworth Road. I might add that I had by then gained a reputation locally for being a little “touched,” in view of my liking for odd cars. The aforementioned shabby gentleman wanted to know if I would like “An old crock, guvnor.” I enquired after its age and make, and was told that it was a 42-h.p. Renault of uncertain vintage, subsequently found to be 1907. Little did I know how this car was to be a turning point in my motoring career. The Renault was produced and changed hands without much argument for the sum of VT 10s., with the original registration book thrown in. The first owner was the Earl of Kimberley, then Lord Wodehouse. I wrote to him at once and received a very courteous and interesting letter giving the history of the car in return. After the Renault (CL 1493) had been cleaned, we filled her with petrol and oil and were thrilled to hear her burst into life for the first time for about 14 years. There was very little to do apart from obtaining some tyres, which proved to be easier than expected, as there were one or two local breakers who had recently broken up Continental lorries with the same size wheels. The Renault was an unqualified
success from the moment she returned to public life. She has already been de seri bed in these pages, so I will skip the mechanical details. The first public appearance was on a grass track, where she held the car record for two years, put up during a demonstration run. Soon after this she appeared at the Bugatti Owners’ Club’s hill climb at Chalfont, and also made a dash to Shelsley Walsh and back, from London, with none other than Boddy as passenger. Amongst other interesting things which came to light when the sheet-tin superstructure was removed was the New York City licence plaque, soldered on the side of the radiator. I kept the Renault for about two years and then sold her to Anthony Mills, who made her very beautiful and christened her “Agatha.” that Scarlet Woman. I have driven her since and still think she is one of the best of the pre-war thoroughbreds. There is a slight knack in swopping the cogs, but it soon becomes easy and there is nothing finer than gliding along in complete silence, with only the rustle of the tappets and with an unequalled view of the English countryside such as no modern
motorist can ever have. I have driven her over 100 miles in a morning and arrived fresher than if I had stepped out of a modern saloon. At the beginning of .1935 I sold the Alfa-Romeo: in view of subsequent experience this proved to be a mistake, but I had not then joined the Vintage S.C.C. and imagined that it would be outclassed in competitions by more modern cars. (Cries of “Shame ! Throw him out 1″) If I had kept the Alfa-Romeo Pm sure that she would have acquitted herself with honour and given the Alvis fraternity a run for their money. In June I bought a 3-litre Bentley and achieved an ambition of many years’ standing. It was a shortchassis 1923 T.T. Replica. I was not entirely in the dark about 3-litres, as a friend of mine had often lent me his 1921 model. The 1923 T.T. Replica cost me £50 and was in quite good condition. It had high-pressure tyres, but I soon found a set of low-pressure 5.25″ x21″ in a breaker’s yard. This Bentley went very well at a moderate speed for a few thousand miles, but I missed the AlfaRomeo’s acceleration. One day I was proceeding along the Barnet Bypass, with the accelerator in the usual position, when something went clang and the power dropped off rather rapidly. I then realised that even Bentleys could not be driven fiat out indefinitely : a piston top had parted company with the skirt. I was now working for Messrs. Windrum and Garstin. They were constructing the famous W. & G. ” Special ” (Y V 695), and I had the opportunity of making suggestions in the design and doing some of the work—but more of that anon. [Lieut. Bainbridge, R.N., now drives this car and claims that, to-day, it is the fastest 4i-litre Bentley in existence.—Ed.]
The 3-litre was soon on the road again, and I was offered a good price for her, so sold before I got really attached to her. I had by now decided that the ideal Bentley must be fast enough to make overdriving on the public highway an impossibility. The chance of my owning such a machine seemed remote, but an uncle died unexpectedly and left me rather more than I deserved. W. & G.
had just the car : a 1928 44-1itre Vanden-Pins (XT 159), which had been virtually rebt.ilt by Bachelier, of Wimbledon. It was in 95 per cent. perfect condition and had a nice turn of speed. I paid £180 for it, which was the most I have ever paid for a car, and it was well worth it. I have never driven a 44-litre with better steering or brakes. I took 3 mm. off the block, fitted half a set of flat-topped valves, had the pistons lightened by McKenzie and had a set of stronger connecting rods fitted. The result was virtually unburstable and she went up to 4,000 r.p.m. many times, as Anthony Heal will remember. The maximum speed seemed to go up at each speed trial and was eventually over 100 m.p.h., with all touring equipment except the windscreen. She put in an official lap at Brooklands at 97 m.p.h. The W. & G. ” Special ” Bentley put in its first appearance at the Stanley Cup Meeting at Donington in 1936. and, due to my exuberance, disgraec41 itself by throwing most of the engiuc an indecent distance. It was not really ready for the
meeting and ran against Terence Windrum’s better judgment ; for myself. I can only say it NS as the first race in which I had, ever driven, and one undoubtedly learns by experience 1 For thy sins I was made to fit another engine, which turned out eventually to be the making of the car, so all was well in the end. During 1936 I ran the W. & G. “Special ” and WY own 4.1-litre in as many f`VelltS OS I could and had a lot of luck with both. My own car ran in all the Vintage events, and the Renault in one—the Aston Clinton Meeting. I made many friends that year and, of trials, I think the ” London-Edinburgh ” was quite one of the best. It terminated in the best blind ever with the W. & G. ” Special,” Anthony Hears ” 30/98 ” Vauxhall, Peter Clark’s Jensen and somebody else’s blown MG.— we all arrived at the finishing check so early that we had plenty of time to stop at the ” local ” and exchange views on the trial and things in general. This was the first time I had met Peter Clark and his wife, and little did I think at that moment that I should see a lot more of them and their cars in the future. The season went on and the 44-litre was a perfect little lady. She did 81.5 miles in the M.C.C. One Hour High Speed Trial at Brooklands, with Anthony Heal as my passenger. We only scheduled ourselves to do 76, but found we had two laps in hand at the end of the hour. I was Chided by Elgood, Plowman of ” 30/98 ” fame, and others, for not going faster, but as I got two places in the Short races I was quite pleased with the day’s work. Shortly after this we went to France and had 91 m.p.h. on the road, with the needle still creeping up. As the Bentley Drivers’ Handicap at 13rooklands was near at hand, as well as one or two other interesting events, we thought it prudent to go slower and get back to England in one bit. She ran in the Bentley 1)rivers’ Race. at Brooklands and came in third, in spite of the fact that I was foolishly running on the autovae, which quite naturally dried-up after two laps, just as I was
passing the Vickers’s Sheds. I took my foot off and managed to suck through enough petrel to get going again and just managed to keep ahead of Forrest Lycett, who was coming up at a great pace. We also ran at Shelsley Walsh and clocked about 51. sees. on a rather damp course. Yes, 1936 was an expensive but glorious year. About November I was offered a really handsome price for the Bentley, but if it hadn’t been for the fact that I had seen another 41-litre Bentley with a history, I would have refused it. So I sold the faithful 44-litre and bought UL 4491, which was a one time a genuine T.T. Replica prepared by the works for Birkin and Holder to drive in the 1929 “Double Twelve.” It ran some of the way and then had transmission trouble. I believe this was the car that set fire to the mechanic while refuelling during the race. When I had her ten years later she still had the same habit of producing a loud
explosion in the silencer $0 sees. after the engine had been switched off, if the car was stationary. This was probably due to something incandescent in the silencer which ignited the unburnt gas as it drifted down from the exhaust manifold. I ran her until the end Of the year and then spent three months stripping and rebuilding her. In spite of past neglect most of the parts were in very good order. I had now started my own workshop and did all the work myself. The main alteration concerned fitting a ” Speed-Six ” crownwheel and pinion and a light flywheel with cone. clutch instead of the plate clutch, after which 60 m.p.h. was reached from a standing start in 14.5 sees. She was a beautiful car to handle, but not as good as my previous 4i-litre. In the summer of 1937 I took her to Le Maps, where I was acting as a spare mechanic to Scott’s H.R.G. equip& I took the Bentley round the course several times and had no difficulty in lapping at 75 m.p.h.; she seemed to have been built for this course and to know her way round. After the race she towed the H.R.G.„ which had qualified for the Rudge Cup, back to the town, and although Scott and lialford were teo tired to care what towed them, the French crowds appreciated the old Bentley in no tmeertain manner. I took her to Paris the next day and the ” ()Id Girl,” as Jack Fry called her, was universally admired. Not very long after this she became the property of John Lander, to whom she still -belongs.
In the autumn of 19:37 Jack Fry joined forces with ire and I had the opportunity of working on his 44-litre ; at the same time Peter Clark :got bitten with the Le Mans bug and decided to enter his II.R.G. Jack Fry persuaded him to let us prepare the car, and I think the results justified Peter’s decision. I was now too busy to have a competition car, so I bought a Fiat ” 500 ” (DXT $66), which, apart from minor troubles, has gone very well. The H.R.G. has already been mentioned in these pages, so I will not waste space over it. I will only say that it did all it should have done and its position of tenth in the general classification exceeded our expectations.
The following year we added a tail and an undershield, improved the engine, and ran with a straight-through pipe. The lap speeds were better and we won the 11-litre class. Although satisfied with the results, we realised that we should have to go a lot quicker in 1940 if we were going to be in the money. With this in view we laid down the keel of a new car, which was to have had the new Singer engine which H.R.G.s were beginning to fit, and a body by Jensen and very aerodynamic. The speed we were hoping to get was about 110 m.p.h., but, alas ! no sooner was the deposit paid than Hitler invaded Poland. During this period I had moved my workshop from London to Chichester and had been concentrating on Bentleys and other cars which belonged to enthusiasts. We had carried out alterations to several interesting Bentley a and I had become the joint owner of the Hutton with Anthony Heal and Arid l Clark. The Hutton, which was christened “Little
norrit ” by her previous owner, was the car on which Watson N% on the T.T. in 1908. While I was waiting to be called-up at the beginning of the war, Anthony Heal offered me the job of rebuilding the engine of his 5-litre Ballot from the remains of two engines, the idea being that it would be better to have the car in one piece during war time. The reconstruction work was very interesting. The Ilig-end construction is particularly so, as the shells arc fully floating in the connecting rods. The car now does well
over 100 m.p.h. on the road and could be made to go a lot faster, but it is not worth the risk of damaging such an historic engine in the event of a blow-up; as the engine is at present it is remarkably smooth. In closing, I should like to mention the Vintage state of mind. This causes lots of ink and paper to fly, and no doubt will continue to do so for years. There are people who are eonvinced that there has been no progress in motor-car design during the last ten years. This is not true, as we undoubtedly got better value
for our money in 1939 than we did in 1919 or 1929. The Vintage motorist has his parallel at sea in the form of the sailing enthusiast ; people sail because they prefer a sailing vessel to poweroperated craft. No amount of persuasion will make them change. The motor-boat enthusiasts can’t understand them and they can’t understand the motor-boat enthusiast Much the same goes for the Vinta.gent. Vintage cars are my hobby, and in peace time they were my profession ; they were exciting, but not the last word in motoring. That we will achieve after the war is won. . . .