ANOTHER BELATED BOOK REVIEW
The Modest Man’s Motor,” by C. G. Matson (Lawrence & Bullen Ltd., 1903) MAJOR MATS( N, of the Roy il Marine Artillery Reserve, was au enthusiast of the best kind, whose leanings were, however, towards the lowperformance vehicle of his day, the
mechanical analogue of the dog-cart rather than the carriage-and-pair. The first champion of the people’s car. Although his ideas and ideals read strangely now, there is something to be said for them even forty years later. It all depends what you want a car for. If it’s a potterhus you’re after, Matson’s your man. He is content with an average of 12 m.p.h. and “a motor that motes,” and can Le kept ” moting ” indefinitely
by any enlightened amateur. It is against this background that his ideas must be judged.
“Let no man of moderate means,” he says, ” be led away by any craze for compli (.:i Lions,” including mechanicallyoperated inlet valves, shaft drive and pneumatic tyres. Particularly pneumatic tyres. And with good reason. On some friend’s car “the off-side tyre burst, causing us to collide with a telegraph pole . . . I cannot enjoy these risks . . . I do not use pneumatic tyres—I would rather go tiger shooting.” His ideal specification reads quaintly but consistently :— “A single-cylinder motor of about 6f to 8 h.p. . . . with the inlet valve opening by ordinary atmospheric pressure . . . a slow-running horizontal engine, which is easily lubricated, has ample wearing surface, and a long, very long life. . . . The cylinder lies on its side with both its ends exposed to view. At one extremity is the crank—seen, felt, and easily adjusted ; at the other, the cylinder head, easily removed if required. . . . Two sets of accumulators, trembling coil, and ‘ wipe ‘ contact for the sparking arrangement. This can be adjusted on the road, if necessary, in a few moments. . . . Solid, thick rubber tyres. Pneumatic tyres cost three times as much as all the other motor expenses combined [Max Pemberton, writing a few years later, quotes expenditure of several hundred pounds for tyre renewals on fast cars]; they are quite unnecessary for speeds up to 20 m.p.h., but the car must be made for these solid tyres. . . . The frames should be of wood reinforced by steel plates. This is both light and strong, and easily repaired in case of an accident . . . Wheels should be of wood, of ‘artillery’ pattern . . . wire wheels, although strong enough, are tiresome to keep clean and free from rust. . . . Brakes should stop and hold the car on a slope of 1 in 10 at least. . . . Steering should be by wheel, to rack and pinion [shades of Rover Eight, Citroen, B.M.W. !] . . . Transmission. The fashion at present is to have a conical cavity in the flywheel. Into this fits a movable cone to which is attached a shaft. This leads to the gearbox, where the various gears intermesh agreeably to the slope on which the car is travelling [nicely put, sir!] and the power is then transmitted at right angles by bevel gear to the driving wheels. … From a
sewing machine to enormous lathes . . . power is transmitted from where it is generated to where it is wanted by a belt
and pulleys, and so it is on my ideal car. A flat belt about 2i-in. wide leads from a drum on the flywheel to an idle pulley . . . and when the driver wishes to proceed on his way, by depressing a pedal he switches the belt over to a driving pulley” on the same. shaft as the idler, leading to the gearbox. “The driver steers with his hands and drives with his feet, pressing the centre pedal to go on and the left one to slacken,” i.e., by slipping the belt off the driven pulley on to the idler. This left pedal, fully depressed, applies the hub brakes ; the right one, a ” Powerful” transmission brake. “One can crawl about in any traffic on the top gear by letting the engine run at its normal and regular beat, and then, by gently using the centre pedal, one may take just as much power as one wants from the revolving belt by striking a portion of it only over on to the driving [he means driven,’ presumably, or uses ‘driving’ as an antonym to’idling’ l pulley, and if even the edge of the belt touches the driving pulley the car will move slowly, so delicate and flexible is this mode of control ; one does not move one’s throttle or sparking lever at all, and if a good opening occurs, one can strike the belt right over and glide through at once, being on the top gear.” On paper, this primordial method of taking up the drive has obvious faults ; at the very least, rapid fraying of the belt edge seems likely. But actually “the belt does not stretch after a few weeks’ [initial] use, nor slip, nor wear out. My old car was still running with the original belt when I sold it. To take up a new belt occupies two or three minutes. I have no great love for bevel gear.”
The phrase “striking the belt over” is horrid, but surely no worse than later novelists’ “throwing the clutch in (or out).” Major Matson has very definite views on design, horses, dogs and the law. A few further quotations must suffice :—
” We observed the frame itself actually bending under the strain of the low gear . . . in the end the owner got tired of it, and asked if I could give him any advice. I could. My advice was to pour a can of petrol over it, set it on fire, and sell the remains for old metal . .” Other counsels prevailed, however, and the car was “shipped off to South Africa—a chaste green, picked out with yellow.”
“Somehow, at the back of a motordriver’s head a new sense is developed, constant, watchful, listening for the beat of the engine. . . . To him it speaks a human language.”
Only “three things terrify him—a new noise in the engine, a dog nearly under his front wheels, and a lady cyclist.” ……….•************************.•
“The horse is a noble animal and the friend of man, but he does not always stop” (referring to traffic, and a horsedrawn vehicle behind, in particular).
“The latest improvement is often . . . merely an extra source of trouble.”
A car owner should “take an intelligent interest in the operation and adjustment of his engine.” To “manage and drive his motor successfully at the lowest possible cost he must understand it. Unless an owner can grasp what is going on it is impossible for him to keep it going on, and he will, in the end, have to pay someone who can.”
Of plugs : “You may pay fifteen shillings for one which will last as many months or as many minutes, or . . . buy one which for all practical purposes is equally good for fifteen pence. . . . The old one can be thrown over the hedge or taken home and repaired by putting in a new porcelain at a cost of twopence.”
The exhaust valve ” fortunatell. has a voice of its own, and when it needs attention, asks for it by hiccoughing, spitting, and finally giving off a few pops like revolver shots. If, however, you take it out and grind it in, say, once a month, it will do its work peacefully and quietly.”
Oil : “1 pay half-a-crown a gallon for mine.. . . I prefer a rather thin oil. . . . For the gearbox,. . . thick, common black oil is best.”
Spares : The list is too long to quote, but includes “one pair crank brasses” and a packet of hairpins (primarily for the relief of air locks in the petrol tank).
The major has little patience with foolish restrictions on liberty, e.g., the 20 m.p.h. limit of those days. “Out of the thousands of persons now driving the mechanical carriage, not one of them does so without breaking the law every time he leaves his front door. No law that is not in itself the reflection of public opinion is in itself effective. The present law is disregarded by all concerned, and has by its own weight of foolishness become practically inoperative.”
“We all know what happens. . . when a battalion comes down the street,. how horses back their drivers into shop windows, upset perambulators, and so forth. No one endeavours to apprehend the commanding officer, let alone the drum major. . . . But the motorist, he is different, and he, according to the new law [Motor Car Act, 1003] has to stop behind, to wait and pick up the pieces. . . . Why motor cars only ? How about traction engines, elephants, the Salvation Army–these cause ‘accidents’ and proceed unmoved ? ” I wonder what direction the major’s motoring tastes ultimately took. Did he trundle a Trojan in the ‘twenties, or did he overcome his prejudice or mechanical inlet valves and pneumatic tyres sufficiently to graduate through the ” T ” Ford, Austin Seven, and suchlike modest men’s motors, to better things ? It is a pleasing fancy to picture him at the age of 70 or 80 harcing around on a blown ” 2.3 ” and—purely temporarily—dismissing i.f.s. as just another of those crazes for complication. —J. R. EDISBURY.