Here is the promised account of an adventurous journey under war-time conditions in an early ” 2/50″ Alvis, undertaken by F/Lt. Archer, R.A.F.
There appeared in the June issue of MOTOR SPORT a photograph of a “12/50” duck’s-back Alvis of 1923 vintage. As stated, this particular Alvis started life as a s.v. “12/40,” was given an o.h.v. “12/50” engine by Lacy, rebuilt by Jenkinson for Boddy with an engine from Needel’s special “12/50,” and afterwards sold to Axel-Berg.
Some time in January this year I purchased the car in very rough condition and looking very stark. When I first saw it the whole machine was covered to a depth of two inches by snow — a sorry sight! However, once the snow was brushed away the car was revealed as a model with distinct possibilities. The logbook described it as a “Super Sports,” and showed that it was first registered on January 1st, 1924, a combination which caused the insurance company to regard the car with a certain amount of suspicion.
At the time of purchase I was stationed in Hampshire, with very little spare time, but I bought the car and hoped to get it into reasonably reliable order to enable me to run it up to my wife’s home in Sutherland, Scotland, on my first leave, and there to rebuild it. The first efforts were not encouraging, the radiator simply would not hold water (never have I seen such leaks!), and the cylinder-head was found to be very badly warped, so much so that it blew the gasket within two minutes of starting. In the driving position it was impossible to engage all the gears, due to the relative location of the gear-lever and steering column, and only with a great struggle was it possible to get behind the steering wheel. Nothing daunted, however, the head was ground level, the leaks were cured (a job requiring a great deal of patience and much solder) and the necessary alteration made to the driving position. The odd instrument was also fitted and a great deal of time and paint spent on external reconditioning of the car.
Early in March the model was ready for the road, and my hard-earned(?) leave was now due. All preparations were made for our long journey north, but they proved to be in vain, as my leave was cancelled and we moved to the Continent immediately. The car was hastily stored and but scantily protected from the March winds and April showers.
After what seemed an eternity my leave eventually materialised and my wife and I, anxious to waste no time decided to set out on the first morning after my arrival in England. Most of this morning was spent making last-minute adjustments and a complete check-over of the car, but we finally made a start in a strong wind and persistent drizzle. The hood was down. With 14 clear days of leave ahead of us we did not intend to drive too hard, but wished to complete the journey as quickly as possible, having due regard to the weather and personal comfort.
Our Spartan enthusiasm was somewhat damped by the time we reached Bedford, and we were well satisfied with the completion of 90 miles trouble-free running under adverse weather conditions, especially as the lack of a windscreen-wiper and bad visibility, with the hood up, necessitated driving not only with the hood down but with the windscreen open. Not exactly comfortable! We both hoped that the morrow would bring better motoring weather. We were, however, to be disappointed, as the following morning proved to be even worse. In face of still stronger winds and still more persistent drizzle, we pressed on regardless and tore up the Great North Road at what seemed a tremendous speed (subsequently established at well over 30 m.p.h.) to Scotch Corner, where we left A.1 and headed for Penrith. The weather was progressively deteriorating and frequent hail-storms added to our discomfort and driving difficulties. Though not lacking in determination we were finally forced to a stop by an exceptionally blinding hailstorm, and quite unexpectedly found ourselves on the doorstep of an inviting inn. The prospect of the inner warmth and the fellowship of mine host proved too much, and there we stayed the night, still fervently hoping for an improvement in the weather.
Although the odd rattle was developing the journey up to this point had been trouble-free, but with a continuation of the grim weather and only a quarter of the journey completed, anything could happen, and it did! The morning brought, not continuous rain, but frequent heavy showers, and after running about two miles we seemed to lose all power and the car came to a standstill. Our immediate diagnosis was that the petrol feed was choked, but examination proved otherwise. After about an hour’s exhaustive examination we came to the conclusion that the magneto, which was fairly weak, had ceased to produce a spark under compression, and we took advantage of a lorry-driver’s offer to tow us to the nearest village. Here, after a lengthy discussion we came to the disappointing conclusion that there was no alternative but to send the car by rail and obtain a new magneto at the earliest opportunity. The entire railway staff at the village consisted of a youth of about 16 and a station-master-cum-signalman-cum-porter-cum-booking-clerk who was away to lunch. Strange as it may seem the youth had never heard of anyone sending a car by rail and said that, in any event, we should have to await the arrival of the remainder of the staff. Moreover, the next train was not due for another seven hours. We decided to make one last attempt to coax the engine into life and, assisted by the willing youth, we removed the magneto, dried it out near, but not too near, the station fire, and after trying various settings of the points, the car started.
By this time it was three o’clock and we made haste to get on the road again and make up for lost time. A slight improvement in the weather enabled us to make much better time, and we reached a hotel some 12 miles north of Moffat in time for dinner.
The next day was much more favourable, and we drove through Hamilton, Stirling and Perth, causing no small amusement amongst the Saturday-morning shoppers and to the accompaniment of loud comments from the local youths. Unperturbed, however, we covered the distance from Dunkeld to Inverness in a little over 2 hours 10 minutes, encountering only one other vehicle on the way. On arrival at Inverness we became rather involved in a military procession, and I have no doubt but that some of the spectators still think of the car as a new secret weapon.
From here onwards it was plain sailing and we covered the remaining 90 miles in very good time, arriving weather-beaten but triumphant at our destination after three and a half days of motoring in weather which would have deterred many a more ardent open-car enthusiast.
During the remainder of my leave many modifications and improvements were made, and when I left her she was running very well indeed. Since the body of the car is of light-gauge aluminium and the rear axle casing of some aluminium alloy, the power-weight ratio is high and her performance on hills leaves nothing to be desired, especially in view of her early vintage. Without the help of my wife the car would never have been prepared in time for the journey north, and her genuine enthusiasm contributed in no small measure to the success of the journey. She continues to use the car for shopping expeditions, still to the unfailing amusement of the local villagers, and I am pleasantly anticipating the use of 300 miles B.L.A. petrol on my next leave.
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