Cars I have owned

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24

H. F. Hart describes his personal mounts

There must be many enthusiasts like myself who have been unable to enjoy the competitive side of “The Sport ” because of business ties during the weekend. You would have to hunt for the “pots” on my sideboard, and the few there are were won in motor-cycle events when I was very young.

When I was 16, much to the disgust of my father and the nervous apprehension of my mother, I arrived home with the proverbial 1916 W.D. Douglas. It cost 10/-, probably because one cylinder was broken off at the flanges. I was able to have this welded, and went to work removing “unnecessary extras,” such as mudguards, lamps and silencer! How well I remember the loving care and “elbow grease” that was expended before the machine was pushed, with great expectations, to start it up. I also recall, when too exhausted to push any more, being towed behind an old “Clover Leaf” Citroen at about 25 m.p.h. The old “Dougy” merely emitted amazing noises and flames issued from the carburetter. I tried crossing the plug leads and pushed some more. It started at once, for I had timed it on the wrong cylinder. However, I progressed and rode in my first trial. I was getting along fine until my supply of spare belts ran out. It was not very long before the Douglas gave up the ghost. With one big-end held together with sawn-down carriage bolts, it was sold for £2. I was shocked when the would-be new owner insisted on a trial run before completing the deal, but all went well.

I was punished for selling such a wreck by buying one myself, in the shape of a 350-c.c. Catthorpe. It seized up completely on my first run and the engine was a total wreck. I was learning a little about engines by now and I traced the trouble to the oil feed, which should have passed through one of the cams, but which was completely blocked. I spent a lot of time repairing and re-tuning this engine, and with this job tried my hand on our private grass track, that consisted of one small field owned by a friend.

The Calthorpe was sold, and I purchased, in a wrecked condition, a 348-c.c. J.A.P.-engined Royal Enfield. I rebuilt this machine for the grass track, and made sure of its safety by bracing the frame and front forks. The Royal Enfield was part exchanged for a 348-c.c. o.h.v. ex-Tommy Span “Big Port” A.J.S., beautifully finished in chrome and red. Some interesting features of this machine were : 1/4″ full-tulip valves were used, shut by the use of terrifically powerful springs (I altered this after one valve had collapsed, by fitting 3/8 valves and guides), a Binks’s “Rat Trap” carburetter, which I replaced with a racing Amal, and a compression ratio somewhere in the region of 16 to 1. I had a lot of plug trouble, due to over-heating. It was raced in the early days of Layham’s Farm at West Wickham, and many times I have tried devilishly hard to follow H. L. Daniel round to get somewhere near the front. I remember quite well how this unobtrusive man, who has now won the Senior T.T. would take nearly all events in his stride and win without any apparent effort. Even when the track was a sea of mud he would generally win in his usual polished manner at a ridiculous speed for the state of the track.

During the next few years I possessed dozens of different motor-cycles and had graduated to the Dirt Track. Two friends and myself would hire a lorry and drive to different unlicensed tracks, where we would generally receive a few pounds for “appearance money,” irrespective of winnings. I had two motor-cycles, a Triumph for the road and a D.T. Douglas for the track. It was through this latter Douglas that I met E. Withers, who worked under Freddie Dixon in the Douglas experimental shops. To come to the last motor-cycle which I possessed, but by no means the least—it was a machine that Withers was preparing for an attempt at 100 miles in the hour. This job was a Douglas 498-c.c. twin-carburetter machine with three-speed close ratio gearbox (I believe bottom was 9 to 1). It had a very large saddle tank, balanced wheels and streamlined front forks. Modifications included pressure-fed lubrication to the tappet feet and to the overhead valve gear on both cylinders. The attempt for which it was built fell through and I bought it for use on the road. The speeds in gears, using 50-50, arrived at by stop-watch timing, were: 75 m.p.h. in bottom, 87 m.p.h. in second and 106 m.p.h. in top. It had no acceleration up to about 25 m.p.h., but on advancing the ignition at this speed and letting her have the “gun,” the acceleration was terrific. I have no notes to substantiate this, but I believe Withers got just over 36 b.h.p., and the engine would go up quite happily to 12.000 r.p.m.

It was about this time that my father decided I had kicked around doing nothing, or nearly nothing, for too long, and it was on my twenty-first birthday that I started to work seriously for my living. I had to work every Saturday as well as a few Sundays. so my visits to Brooklands, grass track meetings, dirt tracks, in fact all the things I had been living for, had to stop. I still went to work on a motor-cycle, but it wasn’t quite the thing, and on top of this the local police really had taken a dislike to me, so the inevitable happened. I was told to buy a car, and “get a sensible one”! I arrived home one Sunday morning in my “sensible car.” It was a “San Sebastian” twin-o.h.c. Salmson, painted Italian racing red, with a colossal outside copper exhaust pipe (Reg. No. ER 6796). When I pulled up at home my father was waiting: I had evidently been heralded by the bellowing exhaust note. I believe his exact words were: “You’re a perfect fool Why, there is only room for one person in it. Where’s the hood, and what about the doors?”

After using the Salmson as a motorcycle on four wheels for a month or two, the brakes decided to give up the ghost. I soon broke the propeller shaft changing down and using the engine for a brake. I decided to fit a new shaft and, while I was on the job, to “improve” the motor. The propeller was a fairly simple job, but the engine of my first car amazed me. I think the most difficult part was fitting the “cigarette paper thickness” little-end bushes, and then poking cotter pins through holes in the piston skirts to stop the lot floating. How I timed the valves and ignition will never be known. I must have been more clever in those days, because she started immediately on turning the handle. I always remember that the acceleration in second gear was pretty good. On the whole, the Salmson was a pleasant little car once one was used to the solid back axle; the cornering and stability were of the highest order. I used the car on the grass once and won a heat, but after using it in a trial decided to sell it—I accepted a credit note from a trader, and still have it.

I had to have another car, and I had to foot the bill myself. My bank balance decided that I should be really sensible, so I purchased a 1928 2-seater 9-h.p. Humber (Reg. No. YC 1281). It had been owned by a titled lady in Devonshire, and by the condition of the car it had been chauffeur-kept. It would plug along flat out at 42 m.p.h. and stand any amount of rough usage. I have had five up over fields in the course of a day’s shooting. Bristling with guns we would drive round the shoot—why walk when the Humber loved it? After a time she started to grumble down near the waist line, so was “level swopped” for a square-nosed Morris-Cowley saloon (Reg. No. PN 1151). The Morris dawdled very nicely, but the windows broke every time the doors were slammed, the back axle began to knock, and the silencer split (due to a pal who would insist on backfiring the engine with the ignition switch at all busmen). So away went the Cowley and in its place was purchased a very pretty looking Wolseley Hornet Daytona Special drop-head coupe (Reg. No. GX 6583). The snappy gear change and pleasant exhaust note were a real joy, but the Motor wouldn’t stand up to a long run and to attempt a high average was disastrous. It would do about 75 m.p.h. at the start of a run, but after 60 miles or so I was often passed by Ford Eights, so I would sit up and make out I was looking at the scenery; 50 m.p.h. was its limit. I had it bored, which helped for a few thousand miles, but I think the cylinder walls must have been made of a lead alloy, because in a very short time I used nearly as much oil as petrol. Things really happened with that car. The crown wheel and pinion went, the “shockers” would not hold oil and the back wheel bearings failed, so I traded it in. I believe the next owner had the rods poking through the crankcase in no time. . . .

I had always yearned for a Bugatti, and had often wasted hours of the late L. G. Bachelier’s time, as well as that of his two sons, mooning round his place at Wimbledon and listening to their super-polite sales talk. However, I concluded that my bank roll and Mr. Bachelier couldn’t get together, as they didn’t talk the same figures. I did what I thought was the next best thing and bought a fairly sound Type 40 (Reg. No. (UF 4800) from Dick Hungerford, of Putney, with whom I was very friendly. We managed to persuade Papworth to thoroughly overhaul it; in fact, almost to rebuild the job. All my spare time for the next week or so was spent watching my precious Bugatti take shape, and every minute I spent at Fulham had quite a kick for me. I must have been quite a worry to Mr. Papworth, but I got marvellous service, even though my Type 40 was definitely the most lowly job in his garage at that time. When the work was finally completed I had a car which had a performance good enough to make me a Bugatti fan for ever. That solid compact feeling when cornering, the surge of power when accelerating, the crescendo of crisp exhaust note, together with noises that only a Bugatti can produce, will never be forgotten. I had very few difficulties, although I experienced oiling trouble when I first took delivery. However, Mr. Papworth stripped the whole lot down again with no extra charge, to effect a cure. The very short gear lever, after much cog-changing, blistered the palm of my hand badly. This was eliminated by fitting a more lengthy affair. I put up some fine averages on this car during the six months I drove her; the only trouble, I found, was not mechanical, but almost psychological— undesirable people took too much notice of her. I was summoned for travelling in Hyde Park at 40 m.p.h., when in reality the speed was about 20 m.p.h., and on two other occasions I was apprehended for similar misdemeanours which never actually happened. I spent a day at Brooklands with the car and couldn’t even get the water really hot, but I did manage to get a genuine 80 m.p.h. I was sorry to part with this car, but was forced to buy a cheaper one for a time, so the Type 40 went to Bachelier in exchange for a Morris Eight 2-seater coupe and cash (Reg. No. PK 8042). This little car had been serviced the true “Bach” fashion, as it had been used personally by Leslie Bachelier and gave me trojan service until I bought a Talbot 14 h.p. (Reg. No. GO 8591). This was a good solid car with a good solid performance, but hardly exciting and difficult to “dice,” so I hunted for another car. During the hunting period I sold the Talbot and hired or borrowed several small saloons, including a Ford Eight, an Austin Ten and a Hillman “Minx”. This type of car has never given me any excitement, but has only saved my legs at the expense of my patience, although I was often amazed how cruel one could be to these little “buzz boxes” without them voicing complaint.

After several weeks I thought I had found a car worth having: an Avon Standard Special 1.5-litre (Reg. No. MG 2233). It was very pretty to look at, with flared wings and cream-and-red colour scheme. To my everlasting sorrow I bought the thing and it was one “long pay out” from that day until the day I sold it. The aluminium head wouldn’t stay in shape for long and gaskets were blown with sickening regularity. I had this head milled to try to obviate the trouble, but it still recurred. In its short periods of good behaviour it was just a car, but definitely not a sports car. The shock absorbers broke off the chassis at the back and cracked off the wing supports to which they were anchored, in the front. I had these welded or replaced several times. The gearbox “went west,” as did the crown and pinion. In despair I decided to evolve a car of my own, and it was with this idea in mind that I sold the Avon for cash.

During the latter part of my motoring experience I had the good fortune to have the use of a small garage and equipment, which belonged to a friend, Norman Farley, and it was with his help that we started on the “special” idea. I bought a 1930 4-seater saloon Morris Cowley (Reg. No. GK 1264), with new tyres and in very fine shape. Into this chassis we put a “14/40” M.G. engine, on which for several weeks we had worked to obtain the maximum performance. As well as the usual servicing, Hartford shockers were fitted all round, a spring steering wheel, a wider front axle, giving us a slight crab track, and two new rear springs. The brakes were overhauled and larger headlamps fitted. When the car was finished it looked the same as an ordinary 11.9-h.p. Cowley; it still had the original paint. The fun I had with this car was endless. It would climb all normal hills in top gear even with five up, and my wife and I have stormed many famous trials hills and have never once had any trouble. We used to pass over boulders that would have knocked the bottom out of a lot of the modern! Many a driver of the smaller sporting stuff has been shocked at its getaway from traffic lights and further shaken when the old Morris showed them the way home. I shall never forget the look on the face of a gentleman driving an S.S.1 (the original type) when the Morris bowled by with the needle off the clock. I never actually timed this car accurately, but a rough check was taken one day when a friend on a 500-c.c. Norton showed 73 m.p.h. on his “speedo” riding alongside, so I do feel that the car was good for 70 m.p.h. with the wind behind it. I drove this delightful contraption for six months without spending a halfpenny on it, and it never saw the inside of a garage. I only sold it after it had lain in a garage for so long that the garageman took it for rent at £2 10s. I lent it to anyone who would pay the insurance whilst they used it, and I gained great favour from the local police by lending it to them to cart half their cricket team about. I often think they couldn’t have known much about cars, because it had been taxed for the year at 11.9 h.p. and I only had the particulars in the log book changed, and paid more, just before it was sold. I believe the same car is pulling an A.R.P. ambulance trailer now. I know that it was used as a breakdown car right up to the outbreak of war. I commend anyone who wants some real fun, after we have finished Mr. Hitler, to try out this type of “special.”

And so, as a fitting ending, we come to my present car, which to me has been as perfect as a small car could be. It is a 1.5-litre three-carburetter “Le Mans” Singer (Reg. No. CXX 567), complete with Le Mans plaque. This car has proved a masterpiece to handle and has an abnormally good performance. In the eighteen months I ran it before I was called up I had no trouble whatsoever.

A considerable amount of time was put in when I first took delivery of the Singer on tuning and experimenting with best plug gap, ignition and carburetter settings. I had a lot of difficulty with plugs and burned a large number to bits until Farley suggested fitting K.L.G. Corondite and setting the gap at about 20 thou. With these plugs, and under good slightly downhill conditions, the speedometer has shown the extreme reading of 105 m.p.h., and on the same road, stop-watch timed, we reckoned 102.4 m.p.h., so, allowing for human error with the watches, I think it is fairly truthful to say that the car will top the century. My wife and I have toured thousands of miles, over all sorts of roads, with the Singer, and a cruising speed of 75 m.p.h. is quite normal. The car is now wrapped in cotton wool. I have met and spoken to several people with similar cars and have been unable to find one with a performance to compare with mine. I didn’t buy it new, so, who knows, it may have a history.

A very unusual experience that I remember very well with the Singer was a friendly “dice” with a Railton Terraplane police car. I was on good terms with a driver of one of these police Railtons, and he was very certain that on a run of 20 miles or so he would leave me quite easily. We arranged a run with a round of drinks as the stake. One weekday afternoon onlookers would have imagined that a “criminal” was getting away, because over a distance of 12 miles I left the Railton a long way behind. My friends, “the cops,” informed me that their speedometer glowed over 100 m.p.h. on one occasion, but the fastest speed shown on mine was only just over 90 m.p.h. on two occasions. It is not often one can be on such good terms with the police, but I have found that quite a number of them show a very healthy interest in sports cars and are all for “The Sport.”

I have been fortunate in having had some very interesting runs in various vintage or semi-famous motor-cars. In particular was a run from Croydon to Saffron Walden and back in an ex-Bertelli Driscoll short-chassis 1.5-litre Aston-Martin, a run to Winchester in an ex-Brian Lewis 3-litre Bentley, and a little “dicing” with a 2.3-litre Bugatti that had once been pushed hard by Chris Staniland. Another interesting car was the Rover Meteor in which the late Harold Pemberton, then Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Express, beat the “Blue Train” across France. This car, although not a sports car and not specially prepared for the run, had a wonderful performance and could leave nearly all similar models with ease. It gave me the impression, which I still have, that Rovers are one of the very best British motor-cars.

For nearly two years now I have been part owner in a very large stable—The British Army—and have driven countless types of vehicles. They all work marvellously, and I am sure Mr. Allard and other famous trials specialists must be very pleased to see how many of their ideas have been pinched.