CARS I HAVE OWNED
This time by E. G. M. Wilkes, the wellknown motoring artist and G. N .
IN common with many of the contributors to this series, my motoring started with the two-wheeled species, which probably accounts for the fact that to this day I have the very greatest respect for motor-cycling. In my opinion, provided one is in the right mood to enjoy such things as fresh air and rain, a good motor-cycle will knock spots off a car. [But, alas, spots off the rider if he is unlucky.—En.] My father is himself an enthusiastic motorist, having started way back in 1906, when motor-cycles must have been like untamed Dartmoor ponies. Consequently, he had the wisdom to provide my brother and myself with our first motor-cycle as soon as N% (‘ were oTd enough to obtain a driving licence. This machine, a six-year-old T.S. belt-driven Douglas, was the apple of our eye for some two years, and I can still vividly recall the ring of the outside flywheel, the rattle of its tappets and the click-click of the belt-fastener. I might as well admit that ever since those early days I have kept a very comprehensive log-book of all my vehicles and motoring adventures, and can strongly recommend the idea as being very entertaining in later years. Thus, in poring over Ihese ancient and priceless documents, I. find that on a day in August A.D. 1929, having screwed up the Philipson adjustable pulley to its maximum extent, I achieved a speed of no less than 42 m.p.h. (down hill, of course), whereupon the belt broke and became caught between the rear wheel and the mudguard. As the belt fastener screw was nowhere to be found I had to borrow a knife from a nearby cottage with which to trim up the belt, and then search along the fence for a bent nail—a perfectly normal procedure in those days. In fact, I doubt whether ninny present-day motor-cyclists understand what is meant by roadside repairs. Forty trouble-free miles was noted down as exceptional, and life was just one long series of punctures and belt breakages, to say nothing of obscure mechanical troubles. One reason for this was that we were still at school and had to run our machines (during the holidays) on savedup pocket money. Thus a new belt or tyre was an unheard-of luxury. Incidentally, at about this time the sport of motor-cycling had increased in popularity in our district, and when I left school there were some 16 young enthusiasts with their own machines—a very different state of affairs from to-day. A typical achievement was our first visit to the renowned Kop Hill after two previous attempts to reach it. The total mileage was a mere 30, and of the five of us who took part in this run, not one escaped trouble-free. The list included two belt breakages, a puncture, a broken petrol pipe, a split petrol tank, a broken valve cotter and a seized engine. Yet all these difficulties were overcome, although the return journey was in a blinding snow storm necessitating much pushing up the hills owing to belt slip. Never have I been so cold as on that day. Trials of the mud-plugging variety were our main enjoyment, and I can remember actually
regarding heavy rainstorms with delight, as we could then dash out and try our skill on the local sections.”
My next motor-cycle was another Douglas, one of the famous E.W. models.
My brother also had one, and another unshakeable Douglas enthusiast was J. P. Shenton—now Lt. Shenton, R.N., whose name will be familiar to many readers of MOTOR SPORT as a Frazer-Nash and Lagonda exponent. The annual Schoolboys’ Trial was the great event of the year for us, and no one took a trial more seriously than we did. One year we won the team award, and Shenton was runnerup for the best individual performance, and on the last year that I was eligible I succeeded in winning the coveted “MotorCycling “Trophy for the best performance, losing no marks on the sections and only two seconds on time—all these on some of the oldest and, to anyone who has tried riding a Douglas on mud, most unsuitable machines competing. My first car was, needless to say, a G.N. Actually it was just a pile of wreckage, but after much hard labour, working in the open under very trying conditions, it became the first of a series of “specials.” As it would take far too long to write the history of all these ” specials ” in this article, I shall ignore them and refer only to my road vehicles. The first of these was again a G.N. This particular one was in perfect condition and complete with a brand new unpainted ” Vitesse” body—all for £3. However, I scrapped the body and built my own. (Stafford East, who has just recently built a perfect replica of a 1919 G.N., has never forgiven me for this act of sabotage !) The maiden voyage of this car was to be a run to Shelsley but, unfortunately, the engine blew-up the evening before. So I hastily rebuilt a new engine, using the ” hotted-up ” parts from my “special,”, both engines
being of the same type. This was accomplished in 2f hours and illustrates one of the main advantages Of a simple and accessible V-twin. Thus the journey to shelsley and back, a total of 200 miles, was duly performed and under very trying weather conditions. To drive a G.N. in heavy rain with four bald, narrow-section tyres and a few square inches of aero screen as sole weather protection may seem a trifle hectic, but what would I give to be able to do that journey again to-day ! With the hottedup engine we crackled along at a steady 50 and seemed to cover most of the distance in a series of long slides. The most important point of all G.N. motoring was to take advantage of all stops to inspect the hub caps, to see that they were still there ! Shortly after this I fitted a Gwynne Eight engine into the same G.N., and the result was quite an amusing little car, capable of about 65 m.p.h. The Gwynne Eight unit was very much like a small edition of the ” 12/50 ” Alvis engine and a delightful job in every way and easily fitted to a G.N. chassis. The complete car had cost me £18, and I eventually sold it to my brother for £9 (brotherly love!) He ran it for a while and then sold it to a London dealer for £25, who promptly advertised it as a “super special with staggering acceleration,” for no less than £32 10s. I nearly went into the car manufacturing business on the spot and cursed myself for being such a bad salesman. My next purchase was a very early ” 12/50 ‘ Alvis. This car had been very ill-treated by its previous owner and was partly burnt out It was rather a unique car, with S.D. engine of 1,496 c.c. mounted on a sub-frame, and an unusual body with a tapered tail, and like all Alvis bodies, very solidly made. The outside exhaust system was an amazing piece of work, the pipe diameter gradually increasing to an enormous size at the rear end, with no trace of a silencer. A previous owner had stuck a fishtail on, but it was quite incapable of dealing with the engine roar. The complete car was rebuilt and front and rear axles, brakes, propeller-shaft and -steering box* were replaced by parts from a later type ” 12/50.” The engine was rebored, fitted with Aerolite pistons, and the bearings
re-metalled. Most of the bodywork was rebuilt, and altogether I spent some £50 on the job. It was an extremely pleasant car to drive and very fast for an Alvisin fact, its liveliness led to its undoing. Whilst motoring to She’sley once again, and. with the engine turning over fast but quite smoothly, there was a sudden and very expensive noise. Investigation showed that the top of a con.-rod had broken and the piston was held firmly in the head by the rings, whilst the remains of the rod were running up and down the bore. Fortunately we knew that my brother was behind us on his ancient ” bull-nose ” Morris, and so we parked the Alvis and awaited his arrival. Sure enough, round the corner came the old Morris in a cloud of spray, and we continued the journey to Shelsley five up in what the catalogue was pleased to call an ” Occasional Four.” Incidentally, the achievement of this remarkable car, which cost its proud owner no less than 25s., would fill a book on their own. On the return journey we decided to take the Alvis in tow, and all went well until we reached Fish Hill, out of Broldway. Here the gallant old warrior got about half-way up with *20 cwt. of Alvis behind and then burst its radiator through what must have been excess pressure. Needless to say, the Alvis stopped the night at Broadway. hut after buying up all the chewing gum and radiator cement in the village, the Morris, as usual, got us home.. Next day, my father and I went and fetched the Alvis, and by removing the broken rod’ and wrapping a piece of t iii round the journal to keep in the oil, we covered the 00 miles home on three cylinders at a maximum speed of 20 m.p.h. Fortunately this disaster caused very little damage and a new rod put things right, and shortly afterwards I partexchanged the car for a 1931 ” 12/50 ” 4-seater. I often wonder what happened to the old car. (Its registration number was ER1575, if anyone should come across it.) The 1921 Alvis was a truly remarkable car, and so trouble-free and reliable that I never touched the engine except for tappet adjustments in the 11,000 flak-. t hat it covered in my hands. On one occasion it covered 130 miles with a crew of three, a Sunbeam radiator, an immense petrol tank and a large box of spare parts in the car, and towing a large trailer on which was a 0-cylinder o.h.c. Sunbeam engine, an extremely heavy veteran twin-cylinder engine, two Midge wheels and competition tyres, three veter:Lii wooden wheels and another big box of Sunbeam spares. Yet it took all this in its stride and with a complete absence of fuss. By then I was a real Alvis fan, so that it was hardly to be wondered at that my next car was again an Alvis—a 1932 ” 12/60″ sports 2-seater this time. This model was, in my view, the best of the 12-h.p. Alvises, and al though its performance was not good by modern standards, it was a real motor car, simple and well made, an extremely good looker and, once again, dead reliable. In fact, I can strongly ree?)nimend a good ” 12/60,” especially the I931 :Ind 1932
low-chassis models, to anyone who wants a vintage car for real hart! work at it minimum cost of upkeep. It had always been one of My ambitions to own a ” 30/98 ” Vauxhall, hut it was only the chance of buying none other than .101111 Mister’s ” 30/98 that in duced me to part with the ” 12/60 ” Alvis. I purchased the Vauxhall some six months before the war, and although it %vas sadly in need of an overhaul, I c?aild not resist the temptation to run it as it was, during the summer. I only covered 4,000 miles during those six months, but it was enotedi to make me all the more desirous of putting the car into Ii rst-class condition. Thus, having had a couple of ” incidents ” due to bad brakes, I decided that the I hoe had come to rebuild. By this time I he war had started and so the car was housed at Stafford East’s works at Chesham, to he worl:cd upon in my spare time. Unfor tunately my t licsliam have been
very few and far between, but to date the car has been completely dismantled, the chassis frame ” re-made “and painted, and the front axle, rear axle, brakes, steering, springs and gearbox all overhauled and assembled. Work has now started on the engine, which is being fitted with a new cylinder block, head, camshaft and balanced crankshaft.
Since the war, what little motoring I have done has been on a 3150.e.c. o.h.v. A.J.S. and a 1933 Riley Nine “Monaco.” I still have the latter and it has proved so useful that I shall probably keep it at least until the Vauxhall is ready. Apart from the ‘specials ” which I have purposely omitted, there remains one other vehicle that has a very important place in my workshop. This is a 1907 Motosacoche motor-cycle which I purchased some years ago for 158.1 The Motosaeoche has been completely overhauled and is in almost original condition and ready for the road as soon as a hell can be found. A very delightful I iere of sales talk appears in an old advertisement by the English agents for this machine :—
” . . . the ONLY satisfactory MotorCycle for Ladies, Medical Men, Clergymen, Professional Men, is the MOTOSACOCIIE. Resulting itself into the fact that the MoTosAcocttE is THE machine for GENTLEFOLK. It offends no one, either by its appearance or sound, and is so clean it does not squirt oil over its riders as other motor-cycles are so prone to do . . And then, as if to stress the point still further, they conclude with their slogan :
” The Gent Italian’s Motor-Cycle and no one can deny it.”
After all that I am sure no one would dare do such a thing ! Had I been able to compose advertisements with such eloquence when selling some of my vehicles I might have been running a blown Alfa and a couple of E.R.A.s by now.