A Section Devoted to Old-Car Matters
“Boxing Night Informal”
The popularity of the ” Boxing Night Exeter ” has grown since the Editor conceived the idea of driving over the route of the 1922 M.C.C. London-Exeter Trial in 1953 in his 1922 Talbot-Darracq, starting traditionally on Boxing Night. Twenty-four others accompanied his 1924 12/20 Calthorpe in 1959 over the 1925/6 ” Exeter ” route, and last Boxing Night 36 joined this informal post-Christmas expedition. They deserve hearty congratulations, for to turn out like this with no prospect of prizes or publicity is enthusiasm indeed; moreover, some had come to the start from places as far afield as Leicester, Newark, Tewkesbury, Birchington and Maidstone, while the Amilcar’s doctor passenger drove 230 miles to meet his driver. There was also a social side, Sturgeon meeting the Franklin brothers, whom he had known at prep. school, again, after 13 years. The full list of “competitors ‘ was as follows :—
W. Boddy (1921 11.9-h.p. A.C. tourer).<.p>
D. Hale (1922 A.B.C. two-seater).
Y. Pearce (1923 11.9-h.p. A.C. two-sealer).
B. R. Smith (1923 Morris-Cowley two-seater).
G. B. Brough (1924 Armstrong Siddotey Fourteen tourer.
Dr. Brindle (1925 Amilcar sports two-seater).
B. Gray (1925 Austin Seven Chummy).*
C. J. Hazek (1925 Gwynne Eight tourer).
A. Raine (1925 Austin 12/4 saloon)
J. M. Davis (1926 9/20 Humber two-seater).
E. P. Guthrie-Jones (1926 Austin Seven Chummy).*
P. R. Keeley (1926 A.C. Six two-seater).
R. D. Sweetland (1926 Austin Seven Chummy).*
S. Bowie (1927 Austin Seven saloon).*
B. Abrahams (1928 Singer Junior tourer).
K. J. Bentield (1928 Austin Seven Chummy).
J. R. Davy (1928 Standard Nine Fulham saloon).
I. M. Dexter (1928 14/28 Morris-Oxford saloon).
G. R. Hewitt (1928 Austin 12/4 saloon).
A. H. Salt (1928 12/50 Alvis TG tourer).
R. Crossthneath (1929 Austin Seven tourer).
C. G. Franklin (1929 10/25 Rover sports coupé).
D. Franklin (1929 10/25 Rover sports tourer).
B. H. S. King (1929 Austin Seven saloon).
D. P. Martin (1929 1250 Lea-Francis tourer).
C. P. Warren (1929 Riley Nine fabric saloon).*
Major Money (1930 Morris Minor saloon).
M. H. Stribley (1930 9/28 Humber saloon).
A. J. G. Sturgeon (1930 Austin Seven Saloon).
B. K. Weller (1930 Singer Junior saloon).
* These were members. of the Cambridge University Austin Seven Club and they were tendered by R. T. Shipman’s I928 4½-litre open Vanden Plast Bentley.
In addition, six more stalwarts joined in en route—Hayward’s 1927 503B Fiat tourer, J. Wallis’ 1923 Morris-Oxford, J. Whittat’s Austin Seven, C. Shears’ 1929 Singer Junior tourer, N. S. Cox (Morris Minor), and E. Clayden. The last-named was the hardiest of us all, for, joining in at Yeovil, he rode a belt-drive Norton motorcycle on gas lighting, spending much of the night with his feet down on ice and with minimum illumination. A 1932 Austin Seven saloon of the C.U.A.7.C. also completed the route but as a modified non-vintage car it hardly counts. Twenty-one further ” entrants ” failed to materialise from the Christmas turkey and pudding, of which an 11.9 Lagonda was regretted; many ” heavies ” had been discouraged by the Editor to prevent this ” Informal ” from becoming ponderous.
So, at 10 p.m., under an illuminated Christmas tree, these keen enthusiasts dispatched themselves from Staines Market Square, and departed over the river bridge and down A 30 in the crisp, moonlight night. The Editor had borrowed the Montagu Motor Museum’s nicely-restored 1921 A.C. Anzani bulbous-back tourer —Lord Montagu, quite rightly, likes his exhibits to take occasional exercise—and was learning how to change gear with the stubby right-hand gear-lever controlling three wide-spaced ratios, with an infinitesimal movement across the gate. This A.C. proved exceedingly comfortable, once the three occupants had entered through the single near-side door and past the button-up side curtains and taken their places within. The ¼-elliptic springing proved excellent and in the splendid isolation of the back seat the Continental Correspondent slept soundly . . . The front seats, occupied by Bob Warne, the Museum engineer, and the Editor, were not comfortable, the steering was heavy, the gear-change trying, with the fierce clutch apt to squeak a protest as it came home, while because the dynamo wasn’t charging it was desirable to drive on the sidelamps whenever possible, and as these were on the scuttle they shed practically no light. But the broad polished mahogany dashboard contained a fine row of brass-bound dials (oil pressure 15 lb./sq. in.), the drive from back axle to flickering speedometer miraculously worked and the foot pedal operated surprisingly effective rear-wheel brakes, although the disc handbrake exerted merely a steadying influence. A splendid hood and full complement of side curtains rendered us extremely snug, although the noise when middle gear had to be used was incredible; the bulb horn was fun to blow, but what possessed the AC’s designer to put the advance and retard control out of reach and the petrol filler horizontally above the passenger’s lap I do not know…
So we progressed at the end of the cavalcade, through sleeping Basingstoke, Whitchurch, Andover and Salisbury to the Little Heath Filling Station at Barford St. Martin, where S. Daniels had kindly volunteered to stay open and where his wife and daughter cheerfully dispensed Bovril laced with sherry, although the hour was now nearing 2 a.m. We had passed a few stationary cars but they all seemed to come safely through, except for the bearded Abrahams, whose Singer Junior had broken a half-shaft in Egham: fortunately he has plenty of spares, so he ‘phoned to London for another, fitted it, and resumed his journey.
It was amusing to see an Austin Seven with its sliding roof open on this cold night (but perhaps it doesn’t shut) and we could swear the doors opened the wrong way, too, although this may have been a hallucination for which the late hour was responsible! Extremely sporting was Hale, in flying helmet and air-cooled flat-twin A.B.C., a true vintage light car, while two ladies accompanied Hazek in his decently original Gwynne Eight, scorning to put up the hood. J. Davy, of Standard-Triumph Sales Ltd., was driving a Standard Nine Fulham saloon taken out of Coventry Museum for the occasion.
The first excitement was the zig-zag climb up Middledown Hill, where the Bentley’s crew kept a watching brief and where the Gwynne, the Riley Nine saloon, Stribley’s 9/28 Humber saloon and Weller’s Singer junior saloon failed. The A.C. clawed its way up, howling, in bottom cog.
On through Shaftesbury and Yeovil went this miscellaneous collection of vintage cars, the moon now absent and ice coating the road, so that Chard Hill was a struggle against defeat through wheelspin. The unexpected slipperiness caused the A.C. to skid alarmingly, the Riley Nine saloon to slide into a ditch, from which it was towed by the Bentley, and an Austin Seven to fall on its side, suffering some damage, but everyone eventually got going again and no-one was hurt.
Yarcombe is a winding hill, but the A.C. just managed it in middle gear. Here we encountered Franklin’s 10/25 Rover Sports tourer hors de combat with a fractured half-shaft, and naturally the other Rover dropped out in order to help. A brief pause outside deserted Honiton enabled us to spread the good news that the Norton and Amilcar had joined in. Thee latter sports car had missed out Middledown Hill for fear of dropping behind; it eventually covered the entire route in spite of a slipping clutch. Weller had lost a nut from the universal joint of his Singer, a trouble that dogged him thereafter, but luckily he had brought plenty of spares; Shears’ Singer junior also had prop. shaft trouble. Over distinctly slippery roads the cars drove on through the night to Sidmouth to tackle the steep, long Peak Hill. The A.C. had to shed one passenger and it boiled away some cooling water, a habit to which these cars were prone in contemporary times, so that the wily A.C. Company fed steam from the radiator overflow into the exhaust pipe, to prevent Press reports of trials referring to overheating! Raine’s Austin Heavy Twelve saloon came up successfully and thoughtfully returned to see if we needed water, and we heard the Norton motorcycle making a strong ascent.
We had lost time already and wasted more changing to another battery by the light of a friendly telephone kiosk before rejoining the main A 30 road. Consequently, not many cars were caught up with at the Black Horse Café check (breakfast had been taken here in 1959 but this time the proprietor and his wife were taking a well-earned rest). We visualised the others proceeding through the still-dark morning up Marlpits and Salcombe to breakfast at Beaminster. Some of them had done so, but a sudden fall of sleet had turned to a freak layer of black ice as we turned out of Honiton to Marlpits Hill, on which chaos thus prevailed.
Cars were stuck at all angles, and high up the rear lights of a modern Ford Anglia shone out—a car brought along by a keen American reader who wished to lend a hand. It seemed as if no one would get up, until Major Money weaved his little o.h.c. Morris Minor saloon past the medley of stranded vehicles, while the Armstrong Siddeley Fourteen justified its non-light-car status by restarting with very little help. The A.C. was pushed up, past Dexter’s 14/28 Morris-Oxford saloon which, first to encounter the ice, had failed halfway up the straight part of the hill. The various crews then walked down to assist in sliding the cars round and down the hill, where some found their way to Salcombe by the main Lyme Regis road. Salt’s wife and daughter assisted willingly in these salvage operations. Amid all the confusion Sweetland’s yellow 1926 Austin Seven Chummy motored nonchalantly to the top!
Some of the drivers decided to have.another try, the 1922 A.B.C. coming up well, as did Raine’s Austin 12/4 saloon. Davis’ 9/20 Humber had run backwards into the ditch but he deflated the back tyres and tied rope round the driving wheels and eventually made it, at the expense of one ” 4.50 X 19 “; but there was a difficult moment when the big Morris-Oxford slid downwards at the last corner and had to lean on the again-stationary Humber. Luckily no damage was sustained by either Car.
It is significant, surely, that while modern cars were indulging in accidents on Britain’s icy roads, this not inconsiderable assortment of vintage vehicles, some with back brakes only and high-pressure, small-section tyres, not only had no calamities but mostly managed to get up the hill ? It is something to which Ernest Marples, who is so anxious to make the owners of old cars pay to have them proved road-worthy, might devote some thought! Although on 710 X 90 ” boots,” the A.C. proved surprisingly controllable on black ice.
The Editor had scrubbed the Special Test on Salcombe because he considered it impractical in the dark but the Bentley’s crew put in a simple restart test of their own accord, nine of the twelve cars which attempted it succeeding. The failures included Crossthneath’s lowered Austin Seven and the Amilcar. Straight climbs were made by the remainder, our A.C. haying to shed both passengers, while again it boiled furiously. At the summit, in bright sunshine under a deep blue sky, Keeley methodically dismantled the back-axle oil seals of his A.C. Six (using split pins which Warne had in his toolkit), a job he apparently does regularly every 500 miles. At Salcombe Shears’ Singer Junior retired. Over the undulating roads to Beaminster we lost the AC’s second gear, which gave the Editor excellent practise in doublede-clutching on a very wide-ratio gearbox but which necessitated crawling up the hills with the engine screaming round at 15 m.p.h., the change into top being so slow as to be impossible until level ground was attained once more. So, forus, breakfast at the ” White Hart ” was more like an early lunch. The chaps in the Bentley had again been a tower of strength, for they had conducted the timed stop and restart test near the summit of White Sheet Hill long before we arrived. Unfortunately, while they quite rightly wrote down Reg. Nos. the Editor had omitted to list these at the start, so there is no way of tying times to cars. The list appended will, however, be self-explanatory to those concerned. In fact, only two of the 28 cars timed exceeded the obligatory 15 sec., the Amilcar, which had to be helped over the line with slipping clutch, and Sturgeon’s Austin Seven saloon, which also suffered from this malady but otherwise covered the entire 370 miles out and home journey uneventfully, cruising at a steady 50 m.p.h. J. Davy’s Standard Nine climbed all the hills, needing some help only on icy Marlpits, and Major Money’s Morris Minor saloon (bought for £6), with Tom Nicholson as navigator, had no trouble of any sort, covering some 500 miles in 24 hours. The A.C., clutch protesting, took 10.6 sec. but had only just got up the hill and was boiling again! However, it was heavily loaded, carrying the equal of four persons.
That virtually concluded the 1960 ” Exeter Informal.” We are afraid it took a rather heavy toll of the cars mechanically, but we believe that those who came along enjoyed the experience, and we hope no expensive repairs were required. At the Haven Café beyond Lobscombe Corner the Gwynne and the A.C. Six turned up triumphantly just before we left and we had seen the A.B.C. and Davis’ Humber, and Hayward’s Fiat accompanied by another Bentley, stationary but apparently intact, before Dorchester. But a mile farther on Martin was working on his Lea-Francis and in flooded Stockbridge the 14/28 Morris-Oxford suffered a stuck-up exhaust valve. The Norton was last seen near Exeter without lights but was reported later to be proceeding, in daylight, towards Beaminster. Towards the end our A.C. had begun to smell like a stove, so that water had to be obtained for it from the river at the picturesque village of Coombe Bissett (where The Autocar photographer used to take pictures of competitors going over the bridge, and M.C.C. officials used to operate a secret check, during contemporary ” Exeters “) after the nuts on the back water jacket cover plate had been tightened, and the Editor having nursed it home in first and top cogs. After we had transferred our kit to the staff VW Warne changed smartly out of bottom into top gear and the drive between engine and back axle vanished abruptly; the car, which had carried us some 250 miles, had to be miserably abandoned and the Museum engineer returned to Beaulieu in the Editorial Mini-Minor . . .
This replica Exeter was no more, if no less, childish than conducting a full road-test of a farm tractor or flying to Le Touquet to drive an electrically-propelled buckboard, which two other motor papers did to provide ” copy ” for their Christmas Numbers. If we decide to do it again this year an announcement will appear in MOTOR SPORT ten months hence . .-W. B.
The White Sheet Test
MW 7502 .. R. Crossthneath (1929 Austin Seven) …………….6.4 sec
PP 4291 …. B. Gray (1925 Austin Seven) ………………………..7.1 ”
GE 190 .. A. Salt (1928 12/50 Alvis) …………………… ………….7.4 ”
LJ 218 . —————————- ………………………………………..7.5 ”
YV 325 .. K. Benfield (Austin Seven) ……………………………….7.7 ”
RT 7641 . A. Raine (1925 Austin 12/4) ……………….. ………….7.8 ” c
PD 3372 ————————— …………………………………………8.2 ” c
PX 4880 .. R. Sweetland (1926 Austin Seven)……………………8.6 ”
VP 3198 .. G. Hewitt (1928 Austin 12/4) ……………………………8.8 ”
YR 4315 .. P. Keeley (1926 A.C. Six) .. …………………………….8.8 ”
UF 5767 .. ——————————–…………………………………..9.0 ”
XP 9439 …——————————–…………………………………..9.0 ”
EC 7530 .. ———————————–……………………………….9.2 ”
KS 2833 .. G. Brough (1924 Armstrong Siddeley Fourteen) 9.2 ”
EW 3372 .. J. Wallace (1923 Morris-Oxford) .. …………………..9.7 ”
TO 8605 . –J. Dexter (1928 14/28 Morris-Oxford) .. .. …………9.8 ”
PV 20 . —–J. Whittal (Austin Seven).. .. .. ……………………….10.0 ”
————————— (belt-drive Norton) .. ………………………..10.5 ”
————–W.Boddy (1921 A.C.) .. .. ………………………………..10.6 ”
TA 6850 —B. Smith (1923 Morris-Cowley) .. …………………….10.7 ”
YE 8655 –S. Bowie (1927 Austin Seven) .. ………………………11.4 ”
———— –D. Hale (1922 A.B.C.)_ .. . • ……………………………11.4 ”
U K. 7054 -J. Davy (1928 Standard Nine) .. ……………………..11.6 ”
RT 1616 —J. Davis (1926 9/20 Humber) • . ……………………..11.8 ”
VX 9555 .. Major Money (1930 Morris Minor) .. …………………13.2 ”
All the above thus qualified as passing the 1926 test, in which 20 yards had to be covered in 15 sec. or less. Those who failed were the Amilcar and Sturgeon’s Austin Seven, which had clutch slip and clocked 55.1 and 24.7 sec.. respectively.
The O.M. parts available in Sussex to which we referred recently (they include a. crown-wheel and pinion) have turned out to be for a Ceirano. Also available from the same source is most of a Gordon England Cup Model Austin Seven body.
* * *
The Montagu Motor Museum has purchased the entire stock of spares of Vintage and Thoroughbred Spares and these will be available to those requiring them if they apply to Beaulieu.