Motoring as it was

A Look Back To The Roads Of The 1920s

The year is 1924 and we left Owen John, whose motoring notes we are following as a means of reliving what motoring was like in those vintage times, very satisfied with the latest Morris-Oxford he had been trying, on a run into Kent for a golf tournament. The return journey was made back into Surrey, where in Reigate a motorcyclist who disregarded the signal of the AA Scout at the cross-roads nearly came to grief under1the wheels of the Morris, causing O.J. to wonder whether the same reliance should be placed in these AA pointsmen as in the Police; now, of course, we leave it to automatic traffic-lights.

O.J. got lost "in the curious region" round Woking station and village, but got eventually into Bagshot and on, in rain like that of the present summer, to Bracknell and Reading, to find his garden flooded for a tenth of its area. Over the Whitsun Bank Holiday of 1924 O.J. stayed at home, listening to what emerged from his Western Electric loudspeaker, and in his garden, rather than face the traffic, and the many learner-drivers, without. He was, however, in a reflective mood, recalling how slow the British Army was to see the need for motorised transport. (O.J. recalled seeing at Metz in 1908 a number of exactly similar Mercedes military lorries, all exactly alike whereas in 1911, after he had left the Army Motor Reserve in disgust, his offer of a convoy of Daimler lorries, to be lent by Mr Ernest Instone, had been refused and the Yeoman Brigade was forced to live in the country, out of the action, as their two-horse farm-wagons could not keep up.)..

As Motor-100 is not long over, it is amusing to find O.J., over sixty years ago, saying that when he and his colleagues were long dead their descendants would probably, but quite erroneously, envy them for having assisted in the dawn of automobilism. As the the present, he meant 1924, while secrecy was necessary to business, O.J. would have liked to have seen a sort of automobile clearing-house, so that manufacturers could pool ideas, and he mentioned that at one time Bristol University had endowed a Chair for that very purpose (he was reminded that the IAE also worked to that end).

O.J. was off next to the Bean works in Dudley, to try a Bean Fourteen with the largest oversize tyres he had ever seen and to give his impressions of four-wheel-brakes. The roads were, that July day, running with rain water and the route to Stourbridge was the most pot-holey that O.J. knew. He also remarked that Black Country tramlines were particularly awful. So O.J. had ideal conditions for his test of new-type brakes and tyres, especially of the former down Brierley Hill. He thought that O.J. got lost "in the curious region" four-wheel-brakes that had been more or less only experimental would be found on any car that had any pretentions to be a leader of its class by the time of the next Olympia Show, and not offered as an extra. (In this O.J. was not quite right but by 1927 all but the very insignificant makes were so equipped, with the exception of the less-ambitious American cars, the Jowett, and the new Singer Junior, which was soon to adopt them.} As for those on the Bean, O.J. found them admirable for stopping the car, like "running into a poached egg", but remarked on how important it was for such brakes to be equally adjusted.

As for those oversize, or balloon tyres with which this Bean was fitted, O.J. was in two minds about them, admitting that they ruled out violent shocks but saying they seemed to promote sway on corners and that they threw 4p mud and water, while he had heard · experts disagree about their propensity to skidding – presumably he had in mind what these days we call aquaplaning. And, reverting to four-wheel-brakes, O.J. thought the RAC should promote a trial of them (rather, one supposes, like the one-time dust-trials), because no detail was of more importance at that time, while, said O.J., comparisons between the performances of small cars reference to the recently-concluded RAC Six Days Small Car Trial in Wales, in which

Chinnery’s Gwynne Eight made the best performance.

Other than that O.J.'s visit to the Bean factory had inspired him to enthuse over many aspects-of the Black Country, the Pays Noir of England, where they made most of those things most people took for granted and where, at Dudley, most of the Bean workers were out at the then-new county ground watching the Worcs-Glos cricket match... He also noticed that a new through road was being built, in 1924, from Birmingham to Wolverhampton; I wonder if O.J. would have believed that only by 1985 was the bottle-neck in Bridgnorth by-passed?

We may think today's traffic pretty dreadful but in the summer of 1924 O.J. was on about the congestion, particularly on the Brighton Road, as it was then, one summer Sunday, when he had occasion to be driven against it in a "glorious big Daimler" with a Weymann saloon body. Then, by way of contrast, he was off to the quietude of the Derbyshire hills, in a 14 hp Crossley, a make of which O.J. had had a 19 hp and a 25 hp of his own. As usual, not much was said about the car, except that it was so nearly as good as its bigger brothers that it was difficult to know why three kinds of Crossley were made, except that the Fourteen did not have the majestic sweep and swoop of the large cars". But it did almost everything that anyone could require and on several miles to the gallon less motor spirit. The test or trial started from Manchester and O.J. drove through several towns that were not exciting or even picturesque, such as Dunkenfield, Stalybridge, Hyde and Stockport, and the roads through them were in those days involved miles of tramways, with sometimes the most hideous of cable standards blocking the road centre. Then, although out in open country, Marple provided a veritable death-trap with the steep, cobblestoned, greasy, crooked, sheer descent to the right-angle bend and the n arrow railway bridge at the bottom – all, no doubt, cleared away today. O.J. had intended to go to Chapel-en-le-Frith by the road parallel with the railway but got lost and thus discovered a motor-free route with fine high-peak panoramas and distant moors to New Mills and thence on a truly rural up-and-down run to Macclesfield. Just the country for testing the Ferodo brake linings made at Chapel... O.J. suggested that nowhere was there better terrain for car testing than here, with the fast run from

Buxton to Ashbourne thrown in, and a "slant out of llam" where, in his first car, that 1903 Brush, he had to walk beside it to get it up. He took tea in Manchester and found the traffic problems almost more hopeless than in London, because of the many and gigantic trams. But a new road out of Wilmslow was being built...

The excursion over, O.J. was off to Wales, in a new 16 hp AC Six, in the summer of 1924. He found the car he was sampling on the aforesaid oversize tyres and was not altogether happy with them. O.J.'s own cars were on Rapsons, at 50 lb/sq in, which he felt was a fair compromise between the chauffeur-loved, old-fashioned 70 lb/sq in and the 20 lb in these new-idea big tyres. But the AC did not steer well on the corners and O.J. thought this might have been due more to a not-quite-perfect setting of the front wheels than to the large tyres, which could not have pleased S. F. Edge, who was presumably responsible for the car. Anyway, O.J. wanted such tyres, if he wanted them at all, in conjunction with front-wheel-brakes, because he was tired of sliding on locked wheels, which had happened all too often in the last 400 miles done with the AC. He was surprised that when this happened the tyre valves did not pull out, but they did not.

The route to Wales was along the Oxford road as far as Huntercombe, where the car was critically examined with a friend, then on over a vastly improved surface to Abingdon and Farington to Cirencester, "as beautiful a town as England has to show, and along the "speed track" to Birdlip, and into Gloucester, where the ancient city was more cursed by trams than any other of its size, running too far into the country, although in 1924 concrete roads were being put down. Well, now there are ring-roads round the place and it pays to use them unless you have business in this narrow-streeted town. It now stopped raining, which was an excuse to mention how easily the AC's hood could be opened and shut, and it was on into the Forest of Dean, to Monmouth. The punctured tyre was repaired in Raglan, where he had tea and looked at the Castle, as tourists still do. Thence by way of Abergavenny (since by-passed) and Crickhowell to Brecon – how well I know the road, but the AC must have found itself then on very rural roads. O.J. stayed at the highly-recommended "Castle of Brecon" Hotel.

Apart from a very narrow escape from a collision with a Model-T Ford lorry full of men, that came on after the AC had been stopped with its bonnet over the water at a narrow bridge at the appropriately-named Senny Bridge (some still drive like that in Wales to this day), the return run was uneventful, but some parts of Wales are mentioned that I must explore forthwith... There is, too, mention of Porthcawl, where at about the very time O.J. was there with the AC I used to go, as a shy schoolboy with relations in an Overland tourer, to bathing-parties on the sands, where O.J. sat and smoked his pipe when he should have been officiating the day before at the South Wales AC's speed-trials and that day should then have been at Caerphilly for the hill-climb – but I note he did not miss the dinner that followed that event! The only complaint on the run back was having to pay two bridge-tolls, which reminds me that the fee for crossing the modern Severn Bridge has just been increased. The route from Northleach and Burford to the Thames was called one of the fastest and safest in the country and the AC Six covered in all 450 miles, with no trouble of any kind, O.J. never having occasion to lift its bonnet "all the long and happy way".

His only criticism was that the hand­brake was inaccessible and the seats not well enough stuffed for his weight, and he would have liked more room in the back for luggage; there were other trivialities to complain of but these, 0.J discovered, had been remedied in the other available AC models. One can visualise S. F. Edge having that made quite clear to our motor-noter! (To be continued as space permits.) – W.B