A Flying Officer’s Cars
F/O. B. C. Wood recalls the cars he owned before the war, and describes how he has motored since.
LIKE so many others, I graduated to cars from motor-cycles, of which altogether I owned about twenty. The first was an .Alldays-Allon, the last an ” International ” Norton. But after eight years’ hard continuous riding, summer and winter, all of which was pleasure-riding, and having partly satisfied my urge for speed in grass track and sprint events, with an Irish 200-mile
road race thrown in, I began to crave something different. After all, I decided (or possibly the girl friend did) 2-wheelers are unsociable vehicles, whereas cars open up new possibilities.
One day, at an auction in the cattle market of a sleepy Suffolk country town, a 2-seater car was put up for sale ; it was knocked down to me at the princely SUM of £17 10s. My only asset at the time was a fairly honest-looking face (this, of course, is going back some years), but the auctioneer was a good fellow and gave me a day to settle up. I drove the car back home without incident—my first attempt at car-driving—but I remember that my attempts to change gear were far from clever.
The car was an Albert, made by the Gwynne Engineering Co., of Chiswick, and boasted a radiator not unlike a RollsRoyce in appearance. The rest of the design was remarkably unlike a Rolls— but the Albert gave me several months of fun, though my family never expected to see my safe return whenever I sallied forth. After a major overhaul necessitated by big-end failures, it. was decided to part ; it caught fire one night when trying to sell it to a hard-boiled sceptical Scots farmer—the car was saved, but the deal was off.
Eventually the Albert was bought by a local coal-merchant who was a layreader at week-ends–never again did he arrive punctually for his church services.
I will draw a veil over my experiences with the next, velocipede, an o.h.v. Blackburne-engined Morgan 3-wheeler. I seldom had more than one ratio, being dogged by dog-clutch trouble. It was part-exchanged in Cambridge for an Austin Seven ” Swallow ” coupe. This was exchanged for a ga-ga Morris Oxford 14-h.p. coupe, but this was damaged by a head-on collision with another car, in thick fog.
I then saw, in Ipswich., and fell in love with, a very rakish H.E. Side-Valve Six, fitted with a low 2-seater fabric body and flared wings, by Martin Walter. This really was a splendid-looking turn-out, low sweeping lines, and colossal brake drums. It was the very last, H.E. ever to leave the factory. The engine was fine piece of work, and the aluminium Whatmough head. copper and brass Pipes and fittings, glistened like a. ‘,ewer station. Fine workmanship and firstclass engineering characterised this if. E. Possibly the ‘unlucky firm put too much into the car, and the output was very limited. The performance was not very terrific, owing chiefly to the rather high weight of the car. Also the vacuum servo brakes were disappointing, but it was a smooth, flexible and quiet car for those days. Next came a couple of less interesting cars, an Austin Seven ” Cup ” 2-seater, which on °tie occasion roared up Beggars’
Roost, complete with passenger and full camping equipment—and a Wolseley Hornet 2-door saloon, with metal-panelled Morris Minor body. Then I discovered an old ” Targa Floria ” Ballot 1 i-litre twin camshaft
job rusting away in a corner of a garage in Colchester. [This Would appear to be one of the sports 2-litre ears based on the 1922 Grand Prix racing Ballot. —En.] I towed it home, threw away the body, which was high and boat-shaped, and, with the aid of a handyman-carpenter, built a 2-seater sporting body with frameWork of ash, covered 3-ply and fabric, in British racing green.
The large Zeiss headlamps and all plated parts were ehromiumed, and the result was quite startling ; so was the exhaust note from my primitive built-up manifold and exhaust system. An outside hand-brake and two small aero screens put the finishing touches.
The performance of this grand old car had undoubtedly been pretty good in the days of its pristine glory—but my efforts at body-building had left me with little cash to spare for the engine ; I had not reckoned with sundry items Such as a new crown wheel pinion and differential parts made for me at a cost of .ffl..30 by the E.N.V. Engineering Co.
Still, it was fairly fast, though very noisy, and my wife (in those days the “girl friend “) showed some fortitude as my passenger, since there was little or no protection from the weather and most of my Ballot motoring was done during the very worst Of weather. Flames would belch through the floorboards, but we never actually had to abandon the car en route, though we were always ready to do so.
Jack Bartlett, of Notting Hill Gate, described the Ballot as” a most depressing motor-car,” but he took it in partexchange for a 2-litre Lagonda tourer, a really excellent car. But I hankered after the low-chassis model, and soon changed the first Lagonda for the more modern type, which was a genuine ” Double-Twelve ” job, and had finished intact in one of these events. The engine was detuned, but the 24-gallon fuel tank still remained. Its maximum was an honest 80, but when, after many months of most enjoyable motoring, I eventually passed the car on to a local Sporting parson, the new owner removed one (if not two) of the cylinderhead gaskets, and to his great glee, managed to touch 90 m.p.h.
I next had an old Riley ” Redwing ” 4-seater sports with a polished aluminium body. This car, I was told, had originally belonged to the late Sir I fenry Birkin.
entered it for some trials in the Chilterns, organised, I believe. by the Vintage Sports Car Club, but did not do very well, failing on the worst hills. Then I bought an o.h. camshaft Sahnson, which I named “The Snag.” Several modifications were carried out, including a new body and instrument panel and an outside exhaust system. This car had a 4-speed gearbox, unusual for this model, I believe. Back-axle
trouble persuaded me to part. I then aeqUired, a really fine-specithen of ” 30/98 ” Vauxhall, which, though it had done. over 209,000 miles of motoring, mostly on the Continent, was still in line fettle. Laystalls fitted liners and new pistons, and 90 was its top speed. I have tender memories of this amazing car with its very high back-axle ratio and its ability to pack in really phenomenal averages, in spite of its poor braking system.
But I found it expensive to run, so sold it to the Hon. Ruth Cockayne, who had a decided penchant for these fine old cars. I believe she installed the engine from my car into another ” 30/98 ” chassis and used it on a tour of Russia.
Next came a car of extremes—with an engine a third of the Vauxhall’s rated h.p. —a P-type M.G. Midget, queer to handle after the Vauxhall and felt like a toy, but it was matomical, fast, and reliable. But I find I quickly tire of small buzzboxes, and found my real motor-car again at Bartletts, a 1 Hitre blown AlfaRomeo. Smooth and fast, it handled beautifully, top speed 94 m.p.h. I had some line runs on this grand machine before economies intervened, when I again went over to small stuff—this time an older .12 M.G. Midget. I soon disposed of the .J2, as finances improved a little, and became the proud owner of S. C. H. Davis’s ” Ulster ” Aston-Martin. Once again I joyed in super road-holding. cornering and braking; but matrimony intervened, and the car was sold to a young enthusiast, who luckily moved from the district soon afterwards, as I could not bear to sec him driving and tinkering with 1-12,, _After the furniture was all paid for, my fancy lightly turned to thoughts of speed. I went to town one fine day aid returned with a supercharged M.G. Midget 2-seater. My wife thought me crazy, but condeseeilde(1 to come with me to Dimington (19:37), our first trip, and only marred by an unlucky incident
with mobile police in a S.S. in some built-up area. After my wife burnt her arm on the outside exhaust pipe, I promised to buy her somethi»g should could drive. We went to Earl’s Court and chose a D.K.W. Cabriolet. Much has been written about this fine little German car, so I will Only add that I heartily wish I had it now, a real austerity job– no frills, but very economical, dead reliable, exceptionally
accessible, and fully up to its work. Would that some British manufacturer, after this war, would build something similar, that the non-technical ownerdriver can maintain himself in his limited spare time. Then we had an .old Darracq saloon
for a short time, next acquiring a 1037 Aston-Martin long-chassis 4-seater, a grand machine, albeit this one had a noisy axle.
And now the war was well under way, so in order to economise the Aston was sold (for £125 !), and in its place a Fiat ” 500 “graced (or disgraced!) the garage. Continued at foot of previous page
When my civilian days were numbered, the Fiat went the way of all cars. This was subseinently regretted, as it would have been a useful car in which to scuttle home on leave and the odd “48s.”
As a means of transport purely, I purchased an elderly. Hillman Minx, followed later on by a trusty Austin Ten ; more recently my limited motoring has been done magnificently by a 1939 Morris Eight tourer. Just now I am running an Alvis ” Firefly” with pre-seleetor box. The
engine, and whole car in fact, seems very reliable, and the general handling, though heavy, is very satisfactory. I also have been working on a Speed 20 Alvis, and this is now in chassis form, the saloon body having been removed. I have rebuilt the engine in my spare time, but owing to lack Of storage space, I must reluctantly part with this interesting chassis, a body for which I hoped to build myself. Finally, a few Months ago I came across an early supercharged 1i-litre Mercedes-Benz, of 1924 vintage, in absolutely marvellous condition throughout. I bought this car with ideas of
rebuilding, etc., but again lack of storage space and facilities decided me to dispose of it–a Flight Sgt. Pilot, who is the very essence of enthusiasm for vintage ears, now has it in safe keeping and works on it every time he gets any leave. Like. hundreds of fellow-enthusiasts, I live for the day when we can fill up with Discol and zoom, off to the sca:ide, or to Dottington, or Shelsley once again behind the wheel of a real live sports car delivering plenty of “urge.” Till those happy times, MoTon. SPoar bridges the gap between those haleyon days and the shape of ears to come,