A CYCLECAR IN THE “EXETER”
The Editor Goes as Navigator in N. Smith’s Belt-Drive Tam pun
THE Smith family with whom. I was assoeiated during the 27th M.C.C. Exeter Trial can accurately be
(lest:riles! eyelettar-eonscious. Collecting eyelears is a hobby Of A. W. F. Smith and he decided to enter three for the famous Motor Cyeling Club trial which so adequately denotes the end of any season of sporting mot oring :oat which, this year, reverted to its former traditional nightand-day status. I was consulted about this delightful proposition and suggested that. perhaps the opinion of ” Jackie ” Masters should he obtained. The M.C.C. Secretary had no objeei ions t.o old cars (suitpeting, for the ” Exeter ” is an
nilcorners event, and so it. came about that the Cyeleear Team was entered, under Nos. 240, 241 and 242. I was offered is seat in one of them and later, whew another navigator was needed, I suggested that an old friend of mine, with whom I had shared many pre-war motoring: adventures, should till I he post. No. 2-1.0 was a I 920 Tantplin tandemtwo-seater, which I had discovered in the basement Id ii SOUttiampton motorcycle dealer’s during the war and which Mr. Smith, senior, hail purelmsed with alacrity. It. had entritsted the driving to his son Neil and I was to be ballast.. It has been very nicely restored and is a truly delightful little vehicle. The :chassis “is a sort of fibre-board”
strengthened by a pair of magnificent straight wooden mudguards extending on cacti side front the upper edges of the aforeSaid ” eollin.” In the nose an earlys v air-cooled V-twin 9-11.p. J.A.P. engine is mounted in Hite. This drives by a substantial primary chain to a cork-lined motor-cycle clutch and three-Speed Sturmey-Archer gearbox and front thence by Bat belt to a slightly crab-tracked ” solid ” back axle. All this transmission lives, with the exception Of the gearbox, externally on the near side of the body ; note that there is only one belt. Over the engine is a cylindrical petrol tank with the inscription ” Tamplin No. 92″ on the front and over this the strapped-down bonnet cumscuttlecum screen. Rear suspension is by I-elliptic springs damped by auxiliary coil springs and at the front there is. a sort of Morgan-style coil suspension and direct steering.
The (Meer sits slightly to the off side to enable the passenger Sitting behind to extend his or her lea. The controls comprise a hand throttle, combined brake and clutch lever, hand gear-lever, and hand brake. The hand brakeapplies Wood block to a dummy pulley on the countershaft, the pedal belt-rim brakes on the back wheels ; the Wheels are wire shod with 26 in. by 3 in. tyres. The driver has a plunger oil pump that feeds oil to the J.A.P. front a scuttle tank which also dribble* on the primary chain. Lighting is by acetylene lamps, augmented by an electric spotlamp on the near-side mudguard; and there is a Klaxon horn. No. 241 was a. 1921 Carden, the 1 100 model, with rear-placed two. cylinder two-stroke. engine unit, to be driven by J. Rose. •
No. 242, to be driven by Roy -Smith with my friend as aavigator,. VMS a 1924 New Carden two-seater, bought in Sussex son te months ago. It. had been used by its original owner for a very short time I efore being stored away. A sitniktr I wieey Ii rider two-stroke engine unit, lived ci the I tam and received petrol from a tank under the dummy bonnet, tilled through the ” radiator tiller.” There was electric light ii cg, dise wItecls, and even a hoot I. but no dynamo.
The Smiths had prepared these cycleears very carefully. titling new tyres, duplicating Bowden cables, carrying every conceivable tool and spare, even Unwrapped spare tyres, and lirst-aid cases. Tluty had rigged up tic extra brake on the Tamplin and replaeed its rubber belt with industrial belting and its worn out B. & B. carburetter with an Antal and contrived a ” lireproof bulkhead.” indeed, although I lie vehicle was otherwise original ever?-• effort had been made to eomply with the law and Neil had a copy of the ” Uses and Construction Act •’ with him throughout, ! I felt that. I was going to enjoy my ” Exeter,” for I was steeped in eyelecar lore through some avid reading Of the first volume of the eyelecar. From this it was clear that in their day, roughly 1910–22, these cyclectust.”had Something,” not only being far Cheaper (the Tamplin
had cost. tl 65 in 1920) and less expensive to operate than even contemporary light ears, but possessing quite astonishing performance and good roadliolding blended into a fascination all their Own. Alas, in enlightened 1950 these facts had been forgotten or never comprehended, and many spectators who saw our preparations and subsequent vivid progress thought variously that the car was a specially odd conception of trials special, a rather poor home-Made joke or a courageously-entered invalid Carriage. Armed with “pukka gen,” none of us could care less ! I think my enthusiaarn for I he project is emplutsised by the fact that I could have gime di twit to Exeter in a heated DB II Aston-Martin but infinitely preferred to go ” per-Tamplin,” while that, of the Smiths and their supporter; reqeires no embellishing.
Alas. for all their keenness and methodical preparation all did not go according to plan. The older of the Carden ti unfortunately sheared a crankshaft key at 6 p.m. on the nigh it of the t rial and bad to. scratch. The other twit eyelettars duly arrived at ” The Wheats! tea,” traditional start for the ” Exeter.” and where I did my first job as 3 marshal (with all the flaming ardour of youth) on one of these trials twenty years ago. Immediately ta.y driver set about adjusting the clutch withdrawal mechanism, (dutch slip having troubled him on the journey front London. The acetylene rear lamp was also throwing a tit of flanwless temperament. Zero’ htatt-2.30 a.m.—approached, we
flooded the carburetter, Smith treadled the internal kick-starter and the J.A.P. rattled into life. Clad in deep layers of “Uncle Lewis’ “• clothing I slung myself Into my restricted seat. We made to move up to the official starter, under the glaring arc-lamps. Unfortunately the clutch, from refusing to grip, now refused to free, and in clouds of acrid smoke we crept forward threatening to emerge into the main road two minutes before the M.C.C. required us to do so. As the starter counted out the seconds we went through agonising anxieties and when we were permitted to leave the clutch WAS all but useless.
There was nothing for it but to pull into the side of the A80 road where it climbs upwards after the Virginia Water dip and test the clutch withdrawal adjustment and dismantle the plates. We also removed the extra brake (a length of belt) as it was suspected of binding. To add to this pathetic start, the New Carden had drawn in behind us with no petrol reaching its carburetter. And so, as the last score of ears roared away on their Exeter the two cyclecar entries remained stationary, attended by their tender Ford V8 utility and the MOTOR SPORT photographer in the DB II AstonMartin.
It became obvious that we should lose about an hour and have only a slender chance of reaching the cheek at Deptford in time and the Aston had to leave us on its picture-making commitments.
However, the Carden got going and eventually, having pushed to the top of the hill, we, too, were away. The clutch still slipped, limiting speed, but nevertheless the fascination of the thing was unbounded. The J.A.P. ran quietly, its exhaust note muffled by my flying helmet, but those odd whirrings associated with early motor-cycle engines came back to mingle with the rush of wind. This belt transmission was delightfully smooth and the silhouette before me, beyond Neil’s broad shoulders, of the narrow, tapering bonnet flanked by the pools of light from the acetylene lamps, very satisfactory. Moreover, the ride was comfortable, I was pleasantly surprised to suffer no cramp or cold, and the countershaft brake proved more effective than I had thought possible, sending out occasional protesting sparks, like a traction engine flywheel brake, when applied hard on down grades. But we were certainly having an ” Exeter ” all to ourselves, for as we belted through Camberley, leaving Sand, hurst on our right flank, a clock indicated . 8.50 a.m. and all the other competitors were well ahead. Bagshot Hill had proved difficult for us, the rise to the ” Jolly Farmer” likewise, and now the long climb up to Hartford Bridge Flats, where many lights twinkled in the administrative buildings of Blackbushe aerodrome, was to try us sorely.
The New Carden had come back to look for us, passing us unnoticed, but now purred by going great guns, its tail lamp receding rapidly. All went well to just beyond the Basingstoke Bye-Pass, when a steep hill, which several ” heavies ” also seemed to be finding difficult, brought us to a halt. The clutch was useless, so Smith proposed to reline it. A check of map and Regulations confirmed that we had by lateness lost all chance of an award, but the aim was to finish the course rather than to worry about hills and controls, so we were eager to continue. Problem. With what to reline the clutch ? Here luck was with us, because, unable to find a square of plywood to which to attach the route card, I had brought a piece of cardboard that had once served as a Lagonda score sheet. I am sure members of this enthusiastic club will be glad to know that it cut up into just the number of rings required and that they stood up magnificently all the way to Exeter 1
After this things went really well, for Smith had locked the clutch solid and we were able to clip along at 40-45 m.p.h., while the J.A.P., making beautiful noises but not appearing to suffer unduly, pulled away well after checks.
In this manner we came down A803 through Andover and Amesbury in great style, although it grew steadily colder as we went West. Although we were late for checking in at the night stop and had paused momentarily in a sleeping village to tighten the knob of the oil-pump plunger, we reckoned on finding a cup of tea at Deptford. Horror! All sign of the check had vanished ; there was nothing for it but to carry on. And immediately it became really cold, a wonderful snowclad countryside being revealed by the breaking dawn. Moreover, as we rounded the clock tower in deserted Mere I had espied the New Carden drawn in by the off-side curb, its crew peering beneath. My driver had not spotted this, nor heard my shout, but I thought he had decided we might as well keep going ; I broke the news to him later while we stamped about shivering. Thus we had no idea how serious our companions’ trouble might be (it subsequently transpired that it had been troubled all night with fuel feed bothers), while the Ford tender had obviously elected to stop with them, leaving us alone. We were still 66 miles from Exeter—a “Brighton Run’s distance” to go I However, to the surprise of us both, we had discovered that in spite of the very narrow section of its tyres the Tamplin was quite exceptionally stable over ice, even when it was ridged on the road and severely tested our springs, and the rising sun indicated a perfect day ahead. Even this didn’t last, for as we shot through Honiton sleet began to fall, and already very cold, I began to feel sick, for at a garage 89 miles from Exeter we had filled the Tamplin’s tank rather too full (it had been doing some 40 m.p.g.) and it was flinging back neat petrol. Those remaining miles seemed endless—I am still convinced that local authority has stretched them 1—and, of course, we met the usual hazards—a clot in a Wolseley saloon who drew straight out of a garage without looking, a horse-and-cart which emerged suddenly from a side turning, two ‘buses parked opposite one another and so on. But I had decided long ago that Smith didn’t take risks even when anxious to make up time, and at last we came up to the Bedford Garage in Exeter
in fine style, three-quarters of an hour before we were due to check-out. This represents an overall average speed of over 20 m.p.h., sufficient, I believe, to have been on time in a contemporary “Exeter.” There was no time for breakfast, as Smith went off in the garage’s Ford van to search for clutch corks, for a ” solid ” clutch would have made the stop-and-restart test impossible. He was unsuccessful, so re-assembled the cardboard rings I
We left after all the others, but confident of’ joining the queue at Fingle Bridge. Meanwhile, I reflected how tough were the eyclecar crews of thirty years ago, when they turned round and returned all the way to Staines ! Apparently lack of breakfast was lowering my morale ! After some difficulty with traffic lights in the town we set off towards Fingle, spirits rising. A bearded dodderer in a Standard baulked us for some miles, but still Smith refused to take risks. Then we found an opportunity to pass and drew ahead, to be rewarded by a ” pop ” from the J.A.P. and loss of power. Examination revealed that the aluminium exhaust valve cap was missing from the front cylinder. At any other time the missing cap would have been caught up in the chassis or lying in the road— but, search as we did, it had vanished. It seemed that our part in the 1950 ” Exeter ” was at an end.
Fortunately the DB II happened to come by, after a photographic expedition to Fingle, this hill proving so difficult that big delays were piling up. It seemed likely we could catch up with the other competitors if we could get another valve cap, so the ability of the DB II to hurry decided us in favour of your Editor returning in it to Exeter to see if he could find one. Possibly you can guess the rest I A girl misdirected us to the motor-cycle dealer who was “certain to have the very thing,” a motor-cyclist re-directed us but so narrow was the street that the Aston-Martin couldn’t go up it ! A half-wit said there was no short cut to the shop so we staggered the long way back on foot, very tired, very hungry and conscious that we looked decidedly dishevelled (N.B. There was a short cut). We were shown scores of valve caps, all the wrong size. We were told to try another shop. Here the deaf proprietor couldn’t be convinced we were in a hurry and, having found the right cap, said it would take a week’s soaking in Redex or a blow lamp to remove it. Torrential rain was now falling so we went back in low spirits and persuaded Smith to abandon the Tarnplin in Exeter ; thus it finished its run, but under its own power on one cylinder.
In point of fact, if our valve cap had not worked loose we should very probably have completed the course. The vehicles were sensibly prepared and skilfully driven and something tells me that they will be seen again, performing successfully. Certainly I am indebted to Mr. Smith for a very entertaining “Exeter,” although, as I drove home through snow and over icy roads that night from Bournemouth in the Aston-Martin, I reflected that the contrast with the Tarnplin could hardly have been more pronounced