E. Gordon Oxenham tells of a sequence of economy cars – sports and not so sporting – owned over a period of many years. Indicentally, further contributions to this series are now welcome. – Ed.
At the tender age of nine I drove my first car — a 1914 G.W.K., with a rear vertical-twin engine and friction drive — and at the same age rode my first motor-cycle, a 1919 250-c.c. Villiers-engined Royal-Ruby, with single-gear belt drive.
This same motor-cycle later became my property (the machine, like myself, then being somewhat older) and was the first of my mechanically-propelled conveyances. It was a suitable machine on which to serve an apprenticeship.
In 1923 the Royal-Ruby was displaced in my affections by a 350-c.c. Douglas, and this at the time seemed to me a very fine mount, with its 2 speeds, clutch and kick-starter, although this, too, depended on a belt for the final drive. Certainly it was a lovely machine on grease due, probably, to its even torque. With the folly of extreme youth I entered this machine in a half-day trial and, although during the course of the afternoon it seemed that propulsion was at least due as much to my efforts as those of the engine, I am, to this day, rather proud of the fact that I “finished,” albeit without any award.
The year 1924 saw me mounted on a 350-c.c. side-valve A.J.S., which proved to be an excellent machine. Once more I entered for a trial, and this time the folly lay not so much in the decision as in the choice — the South Midland Centre A.C.U. Championship Trial. My first discomfort came very early, actually en route to the start at Camberley, when I was severely “trounced” by a tubby little man riding a 250-c.c. Velocette 2-stroke. My discomfort was mitigated somewhat upon arrival at the start to find that the Velocette was now displaying numbers, which, on reference, indicated that the tubby little man was none other than Gus Kuhn, the “works” rider. The remaining discomfort vanished when, later in the day, it was announced that Gus had put up the best performance. Not unsurprisingly I was a non-finisher, after “biting the dust” on three occasions. Later I had a “chair” fitted to this machine, and upon taking delivery the agent made the remark: “I suppose you’ve had experience of driving with a sidecar? “I had not, but scoffed at any idea of difficulty.” He who laughs last” is probably the most fitting comment with which to conclude this episode.
Then came the “itch” for a steering wheel, and I became the owner of a Coventry Premier, which, for a 3-wheeler of those days, had the advanced nicety of a 3-speed and reverse gearbox. However, this did not prove to be a satisfactory means of transport, and was replaced early in 1925 by a “Grand Prix” Morgan, fitted with large watercooled V-twin side-valve J.A.P. engine. I ran this machine (without success) in one hill climb. It is now rather amusing to remember that a certain fellow competitor riding (also without success) a very slow motor-cycle was the only entrant who deemed it necessary to sport a “crash hat,” for he has since become a very well-known writer on motoring sport and is probably the most scornful derider of white-helmet wearers.
Late in 1925 I made a brief return to motor-cycles in the shape of a Zenith combination, fitted with a 680-e.e. V-twin side-valve J.A.P. engine. The Zenith is chiefly remembered as enabling me to get my first competition award. After running in one trial without success, I gained a bronze on the wettest afternoon in my memory. Jubilation was, however, preceded by despair, as when finishing, although I had quite an early number, the “park” seemed crammed with competitors awaiting my arrival. For the moment I was at a loss to know how I had “tripped up,” but my fears were soon put at rest when I was told that by finishing I was entitled to the award. Two competitors had already clocked-in, and of the remainder I was the only one who had not signified his retirement.
That award, I think, gave me more pleasure than any which have followed in later trials. In 1926 I transferred my affections to four wheels, my choice being a new Austin Seven sports 2-seater. It was said that the makers reserved their best engines for the sports model. I am willing to excuse whoever was responsible for the selection of an engine for my car, on the grounds that even Homer was said to sometimes nod. The engine was never a particularly healthy one, nor was the car itself more than passing satisfactory. However, two trials awards gained with this car included one “Best of the Day.”
Then followed a “Chummy” Austin Seven of the same year, which I bought second-hand, and in which, I like to feel, was fitted the engine that was my rightful due in the sports model. This was the most satisfactory Austin Seven which I have owned, and driving it I was able to pick up several trials awards. It was during the ownership of this car that I founded the London Section of the Austin Seven Car Club — the parent body being a similar club in Birmingham.
Then followed a later model “Chummy” and an immaculate primrose and black saloon, known as the “Mustard Pot,” both of these cars also being bought “used.”
In 1928 I bought (new) a 2-seater Singer “Junior,” which soon developed an expensive taste for lots and lots of oil and wore out tyres at an alarming rate. The o.h.c. engine, however, would stand plenty of caning, and it was not altogether an unsatisfactory car.
I exchanged the Singer in 1929 for a genuine Gordon England “Brooklands Model” Austin Seven, originally built in 1924. This was an extremely potent motor car and was, in fact, the actual car on which, at Brooklands, Dingle had won the 150 Miles Limited-Fuel Race, However, it had its drawbacks, one of which concerned the fact that there was not always a convenient hill on which to park before stopping the engine, and it was only kept for a very short time.
The rebound from this episode led me to a 1927 7-h.p. Peugeot coupé, with an even smaller engine than that fitted to Austin Sevens.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, or vice versa, as you will. It was very slow and very comfortable. [Are there any about to-day? — Ed.]
Then came a 1927 Renault 9-h.p. 2-seater, which was a little swifter and equally as comfortable. (What is it that Continental manufacturers know about suspension which, apparently, is unknown to their English competitors?) Expensive things happened to both the dynamotor and the clutch of this car before it was “traded in” for a 1930 Jowett short-chassis saloon. I had always had a soft spot for a Jowett; their owners (and their makers) were such an enthusiastic lot of folk, but I’m afraid my chosen model was not a good representative of the make, and was, in any case, somewhat overgeared. I must not be too hard on this car, which, from one trials entry, earned for me one award.
Another rebound, for my next car was a 1929 9.5-h.p. Salmson, a “Grand Prix” chassis fitted with a rather nice, close-coupled sportsman’s coupé. What a fine job its 1,100-c.c. twin-overhead camshaft engine was — years ahead of its contemporaries in design. (For proof of this turn up the history of Brooklands 1,100-c.c. lap record and see how long it was before a much later-designed car was able to capture the Salmson’s record.) And what a beautiful engine on which to work. The car held the road like the proverbial leech — and who will say that this was unconnected with its makers’ extensive racing experience? Altogether a car about which one could enthuse. The ” Sammy” had been pretty thoroughly overhauled prior to my purchase and it gave me a lot of extremely satisfying motoring before it started to do expensive things. The rebound (always a rebound) found me the owner of a 1930 MorrisCowley coupé. This was the cheapest car I have bought, but not the least satisfactory.
During ownership of the Cowley I was allowed to drive what was probably the very first privately-owned Ford Eight to take the road, and I immediately recognised that here was something quite outstanding in small, cheap cars. How smooth seemed the 3-bearing engine and, what a lively performance it produced. In 1934 I was able to get hold of a 1933 model with a small mileage to its credit, and this was the start of my most troublefree era of motoring.
In the following year I exchanged it for a 1934 model, which I later fitted with a high-compression, aluminium cylinder head. This car, so fitted, would make a very respectable climb of Countisbury in second gear. I did a fair mileage on this car when, merely for the sake of a change, I bought a 1982 Hillman “Minx.” I shall want a more concrete reason in future before I change cars.
In 1937 I bought a new Ford Eight saloon and, after carefully running it in, proceeded to cover some 30,000 miles, after which the tyres were good for many more thousands of miles and the engine was still using no oil.
At the end of 1938 I exchanged the Ford Eight for a 1989 Ford Ten “Prefect.” I collected this car at Dagenham and ran it in very carefully for considerably more than 1,000 miles. At the end of 30,000 miles the engine was using no oil at all and only one gallon of fuel every 40 miles. Performance was then at its peak, having quite definitely improved between 25,000 and 30,000 miles, and at no time had I experienced the slightest trouble.
Quite recently, attracted by the present high prices offered for late-model cars, I disposed of the “Prefect.”
There can be no question which make of car has given me the best service, and to anyone contemplating buying a Ford I would give this advice. Take delivery at Dagenham, carefully run-in for at least 1,000 miles, and then on no account be persuaded to touch the engine. Decarbonisation is definitely not needed (nor is it desirable) for a very large mileage, if the preceding advice is followed.
I am now running a 1931 M.G. “Midget” 2-seater, bought from a friend who had made a very good job of rebuilding it. It is fitted with an R.A.G. carburetter and gives more than 42 m.p.g. with a useful performance. Steering is outstandingly good, but, this apart, I have not had the car long enough to make further comment. When new car prices are (if ever) reasonable once again, the “rebound” from the M.G. may be to another Ford..
The list of vehicles I have owned is notable for the fact that I have not yet had a conveyance fitted with a 4-speed gearbox — a happening of accident, I can assure you, rather than design on my part — and an omission that may be rectified if the Ford Motor Company should depart from their present ideas.