Cars I Have Owned

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24

This time with especial reference to “12/50” and “12/60” Alvi.

At the end of the Kaiser war the family was running a 24-h.p. Talbot enclosed-drive laundaulette, a 4-cylinder job of vast proportions. I do not remember much about it, apart from the fact that it was most comfortable and very reliable, and that it had a very loud and raucous Klaxon. This was followed by a 11.9 Harper Bean of 1922 vintage. It was the 3-speed model, with the battery slung between the rear dumb-irons, the tools being situated in an adjacent compartment. Although quite reliable for the period, it was gutless in the extreme and called for second gear when it saw a hill approaching; in fact, amidst the very hilly country in which we lived, the Yorkshire moors, one had to row it along on the gear lever. It was sold with few regrets, and was replaced by an 18-h.p. 4-cylinder Buick, with English 2-seater body finished in dark brown. The performance after the Bean was rather amazing, as it seemed to go almost anywhere in top gear. There were, however, two very bad snags, the lights, which were like glow worms in bottles, and the brakes, which were external contracting. When applied in wet weather they made a loud hissing noise, and the car seemed to go faster! But it was comfortable, very reliable and went well, so these two faults were overlooked.

At about this time, 1925, two of my brothers also decided that they wanted to motor, so a “Brescia” Bugatti and a “14/40” Vauxhall joined the Buick. The Bugatti was a very interesting car, being, I believe, a “Full Brescia,” with two magnetos, the contact-breakers of which protruded through the dashboard and were covered by a thin sheet of oiled silk. There was no body to speak of, and the driver and passenger sat on a pair of sugar scoops, similar to those which may be seen at any grocery store, and surrounded by a thin sheet of aluminium. Immediately behind the seats was a 25-gallon bolster tank, the petrol being fed to the two carburetters by pressure, supplied by a small hand-pump under the dash. Gear and brake levers were outside; the gear change was very satisfactory, but the brakes were not up to much. The performance (and the exhaust note via an enormous outside pipe) were startling, but seldom for long, because something unpleasing always seemed to be happening. After several skirmishes, a key sheared in the back axle and, as my brother was by this time getting rather fed up with being stranded midway between Bradford and Harrogate, the Bugatti changed hands.

The Vauxhall turned out to be a good example of the breed. It was a 1924 4-seater tourer, known in those days, I believe, as the “Princeton.” It suffered from only two annoying habits, wheel wobble and boiling. The former was cured fairly easily by fitting wedges under the front springs, but we tried almost endless cures for the boiling without success, and then suddenly one day it ceased boiling and never again misbehaved in this direction.

In 1925 the Buick was exchanged for one of the new “20/60” 6-cylinder roadsters of the same make, and the difference between this model and the old 4-cylinder was most marked. Apart from the greatly improved comfort and appearance, the performance was much better, but the same old trouble with the brakes and lights was present. The family at this time was apparently very Buick-minded, because after running the roadster for a year without any trouble at all, it was replaced by a 1926 “Country Club” Buick roadster, finished in pale blue with cream wheels, a colour scheme which was considered very smart. This model performed effortlessly for a year and then disappeared in favour of one of the new “14/60” semi-sports 4-seater Lagondas, which were then creating such a lot of favourable comment. At first I thought that at last we had got hold of a really fine car, and English at that, but fate decreed differently, because it turned out to be a complete “pup.” There were many things which I liked about that Lagonda. It was beautifully built throughout, the bracket which held the spare wheel, for instance, looked as if it would anchor a battleship, and it was very fully equipped. Apart from the usual instruments, it had a rev.-counter and water thermometer, and the greasing arrangements were simplified by having two groups of nipples behind small trapdoors on the valances. The finish was in French grey and pale blue, and blue leather-covered pneumatic cushions, while a folding Auster screen took care of the rear passengers. This was all very well in summer, but in winter rain and snow seemed to blow in everywhere.

The steering, the Alford and Allder brakes and the gear change were beyond reproach. I do not think I have ever handled such a grand box, it was very much better than that on a “Speed Model” which I subsequently drove. The performance for a heavy-bodied 2-litre was quite good, and as far as I can remember it would do about 65 in top and 45 and 30 in third and second, but this did not last very long. After about 5,000 miles we were belting along quite happily when there was a loud crash and everything ceased … A piston had burst and more or less wrecked the engine. Lagondas were very nice about it and supplied a new engine under guarantee, but it was not long before a similar thing occurred, so we thought it would be a good thing to cut our losses and get rid of it quickly while the going was good.. A 1928 14-h.p. Hillman Weymann saloon took its place. After the Lagonda, the performance of the Hillman was not very exciting, but it was a very comfortable and reliable vehicle, and it stayed with us for over three years, covering an immense mileage. People said that the fabric would crack and peel off, but my brother used a liquid polish called “Karspray,” and the body was still in fine trim when the car was sold. The only trouble we had was a broken half-shaft. After a time the doors dropped slightly on the hinges, butt this was soon put right by J. C. Brodie, Ltd., who fitted wedges and plates above and below the “Silent-travel” locks. At about the same time that we bought the Hillman a friend of the family bought his daughter a new 1927 “12/50” drophead coupé Alvis, and I managed to wangle several runs in it. The performance was even better than that of the Lagonda, and I at once decided that one day I would have a “12/50.”

The coupé was more or less the first Alvis in the immediate neighbourhood and it created a very good impression, and as a result several people bought “12/50s” of various types, and the more I saw of them the more I liked them. I will admit here and now that one of the chief attractions was the most peculiar and fascinating exhaust note, but more of that anon.

In 1929 two of my brothers went into the motor trade and, as a direct result of this, three very interesting cars followed in rapid succession. Two 3-litre Bentleys, a “Blue” and a “Red Label,” and a D.I.S.S. Delage. The “Blue Label” had a most unusual body — to look at it casually it appeared to be a normal 2-seater with a decked-in, boat-shaped tail, but when two small straps were undone just above the petrol tank and the rear of the body pulled out backwards, a full 4-seater was provided, the top decking hingeing down and forming the back squab. The performance was quite ordinary, as, of course, it was fitted with the single Smith’s carburetter and had the wide-ratio gearbox and low axle ratio; but, nevertheless, it was great fun to drive. This model was followed by a 1926 “Red Label” Van-den-Plas coach-built 4-seater, and this, naturally, had a much better performance than the older car, but for some curious reason I could never travel far in it without becoming very car-sick. I was all right if I was driving, but if I acted as passenger it was hopeless. The next car on the agenda was the D.I.S.S. Delage, and I am sorry to say that I did not see very much of it, and I only had two really good runs in it, but that was quite enough to show me what an excellent car it was. The chassis was the normal D.I.S.S., fitted with a very pretty 3-seater beetle-back body by Hill and Boll, of Yeovil. The performance in general was good and the steering, brakes and gear change were first rate, but somehow the car seemed to have a “hoodoo” on it. Bout after bout of sticking valves occurred, and after a particularly violent attack on a journey up to Yorkshire it was abandoned in a garage on the Great North Road near Wansford, nad was eventually towed home. Unfortunately, while being towed, some idiot in a large, unwieldy lorry ran out of road and proceeded to almost completely demolish the Delage — and that was that.

I started my own motoring proper in 1929, although I had handled all the cars mentioned, from the first Buick upwards. My fourteenth birthday present was a 250-c.c. Francis Barnett “Empire” model. I never really liked it from the first day, and it had some very unpleasant habits, one of the worst of which was its constant practice of seizing up. It had the separate oiling system which was fitted to certain Villiers’ engines at that time, and no one seemed to know just how many drops of oil should flow through the visual indicator per minute. In the end I got completely fed up with it and swapped it for a 1930 350-c.c. 4-valve Rudge, which had four speeds and coupled brakes. I have nothing but praise for this, as it stood up to an unmerciful bashing without any trouble at all. The gearbox had very well-chosen ratios and gave 72 in top, 52 in third and 42 in second. The M.L. “Maglita” was rather a weird and wonderful affair, but it never gave any bother and it kept the battery well charged.

From there I graduated to the inevitable Morris-Cowley, a 1930 model. Being the first car that I had owned personally I lavished great care on it and, in an attempt to make it look slightly different from all the other Cowleys on the road, fitted it with “Ace” aluminium discs and a dummy rear tank. It looked quite smart, and it withstood all my furious dashes all over the countryside. Top speed was about 50, with 30 in second, and petrol consumption was about 25 m.p.g. In 1932 I exchanged the Cowley for one of the then-new 4-speed Oxfords, with the sports coupé bodywork, and I really think that this was one of the best cars we have ever had. I ran it in very carefully and then proceeded to belt it all over the place, including several runs from Harrogate to Amersham in 4 3/4 hours (that was before the advent of the speed limit and beacons). In 1933 we moved from Harrogate to Birmingham and as my work necessitated the use of a car, and as the Oxford was rather big and not too good on petrol in heavy traffic, I decided to look around and try and find something smaller to keep it company. My brother found me a shop-soiled 1933 “J2” M.G. I liked this car very much at first, but it was beset by two rather annoying troubles, sticking valves and burst petrol tanks. The former was soon cured, but the latter was quite another kettle of fish. I kept on appearing week after week at Abingdon as one tank after another was fitted, and by the time the fifth one was fitted I think M.G.’s were just as fed up with the car as I was. However, for the next 14 months or so it did not give much trouble. but after this lots of things seemed to happen at once. Oil consumption rose alarmingly, so I decided to have the block rebored and one or two other jobs done at the same time. As it turned out, there were more than just one or two jobs to be done. It needed new camshaft bearings and drive, new big-ends and mains, new dynamo armature and new crown wheel and pinion, amongst other things, and after all this was completed it never seemed to regain its original performance, so I decided to look around for something else. I studied the various motoring papers and I noticed that the “12/60” Alvis was to be had at more or less the price I was prepared to pay, so I went up to Town and had a squint around. I finally found just what the doctor ordered, a 1932 “12/60” beetle-back 2-seater, finished in the usual shade of green. I took it out on the road, but this was not really necessary, as I had already made up my mind about it as soon as I saw it in the showroom. It went very well and it seemed to be in one piece; also it had that exhaust note beloved of all “12/50” enthusiasts.

Several people had tried to warn me off these cars, murmuring darkly about heavy steering and brakes and a difficult gearchange, but this only made me all the more determined. I had only had the car two days when I set off with a friend in his Hornet on the 1935 Welsh rally (the first one that was held), and from the word “Go” I longed to get back to the Alvis. However, when we duly arrived at Cardiff, having tacked from bank to bank all the way there, I espied a very old “12/40” Alvis in the official car park, so, of course, I had to go over and have a look at it. I had never actually seen a “12/40” before, so I had a long talk with the owner … we subsequently became very good friends. To return to the “12/60.” I ran it for about 20,000 miles, and the only trouble during that period was a broken rotor arm, which was replaced for a few coppers.

One day when I was visiting the owner of the ” 12/40 ” Alvis in Birmingham we decided to run through to Coventry and see if Alvis had any particular dope on my car. The service department was most courteous and raked out the files, and from these I found out that the car was fitted with a 4.33-to-1 axle ratio instead of the more usual 4.77 to 1, a slightly higher-lift camshaft, and also the gearbox had slightly higher ratios than standard. No doubt these modifications accounted for the letter “S” which I had noticed stamped on the timing cover, gearbox, and rear axle differential housing. By this time I had saved up a small amount of spare cash, so decided that I would start from scratch and do the car up.

The engine was removed and dismantled and the block rebored by Burtonwood’s, of Finchley, Aerolite pistons were fitted, the crankshaft reground and new mains and big-ends fitted. New timing gears were obtained from Avis and, when these were fitted, completely eliminated the rather unpleasant rattle that was becoming more prominent just before the overhaul. The brakes were relined with “Ferodo” and the vibration damper on the front of the crankshaft had its pins renewed. The S.U. Petrolift was replaced by a pressure pump of the same manufacture and a Zenith edge-type filter was fitted on the scuttle just below the pump; the latter fitment was particulaly useful, as it collected a sort of sandy deposit from the bottom of the tank – I had previously tried flushing the tank out, but I had never been able to get rid of this muck completely. A battery master switch was placed just beside the passenger’s seat and was so wired that all the electrical circuits could be left in use, except the ignition; this was very useful, as the car could be left with a fair margin of safety — on two occasions I found people trying to move it in car parks — and, although the starter would turn the engine over, nothing else would happen!

I made up a windscreen spray from an old Ki-gass injector and a small glass tank fitted to the scuttle. This worked quite well and was very useful when following other cars after a shower of rain.

After its rebuild, the engine was filled with Castrol XXL and Colloidal graphite, and the running-in period started — the throttle was treated with respect and the speed kept down for the first 2,000 miles, the pace being increased gradually as the miles began to pile up. I was very pleased to find that when the engine was fully warmed up the oil pressure was over 40 lb./sq. in. at 30 m.p.h. At 5,000 miles I let the car have its head, and on two occasions the rev.-counter moved up to approximately 4,200 and at the same time the speedometer hovered on 84. I have never bothered to have either of these instruments checked and no doubt they are inaccurate, but I feel that the car is capable of 75-77 m.p.h. under anything like reasonable conditions. I quite realise that this is nothing out of the ordinary for a 1 1/2-litre motor, but it suits me well enough, particularly as quite good average speeds can be put up with the minimum of effort, and, after all, surely that is the most important thing. The cruising speed is anything up to about 60 m.p.h., and this corresponds to about 2,800 on the rev.-counter; very satisfying. Petrol and oil consumption are about 25 and 2,000 m.p.g., respectively, and the engine seems to hold its tune indefinitely, as the tappets only require adjusting every 5,000 miles or so, and, in any case, this is a very easy job on the push-rod engine. I change the in gearbox and rear axle periodically and they never need topping up between the changes, and no stains of oil appear on either unit; 4,500 r.p.m. is the normal maximum speed of this unit and, with the ratios fitted and 600 by 20 tyres on the Dunlop knock-off wheels, gives 28 in bottom, 45 in second and 65 in third; 4,000 r.p.m. corresponds to just over 80 in top; the gear-change is first rate, particularly if the clutch stop is buttoned up fairly closely, when upward changes can be made almost as quick as the lever can be moved, but a certain amount of care is needed between second and third because of the long travel of the gear lever. One point of criticism here is that when third gear is engaged it is difficult to apply the hand brake owing to the proximity of the levers. The body, to my way of thinking, is a fine piece of work, and even to-day, after 12 years, it does not look out of date. The two front seats are very comfortable and quickly adjustable on their Leveroll fittings, while there is plenty of room in the single seat in the tail for a passenger or quite a large amount of luggage, and the hood is very neat, being quite waterproof when erected in conjunction with the side curtains (stored in a locker between sheets of baize behind the front seats). When the hood is folded it is hidden away under a hinged decking and so the lines are not spoiled by yards of flapping fabric. When the car was finally laid up at the outbreak of war it had covered over 60,000 miles in my hands and was just about halfway through its fourth set of tyres — I felt I was doing reasonably well to get about 15,000 miles per set, as the car was nearly always driven fairly hard. With the third set of tyres I tried out an experiment and used a Dunlop “Fort 90,” a Goodyear, a Michelin “Zigzag” and a Dunstable retread and, much to my amazement, the retread lasted the longest of the four, covering 15,400-odd miles! I know a lot of people do not like retreads, but I never had any trouble with this one or the subsequent ones I used.

In 1936, after covering nearly 50,000 miles, the faithful old Morris-Oxford was replaced by one of the new “12/48” Wolseley sports coupés. I had never been very keen on the Hornet as a family car as the steering always seemed so peculiar and unpredictable, but the new “12/48” looked, on paper anyway, just the thing for my mother’s use. It turned out to be an excellent little car, being very comfortable and reliable, and it could get along at quite surprising speeds. We did several 250-300-mile runs, and it did not seem to object to a cruising speed of 55 m.p.h.; on the other hand, the petrol consumption was never better than 24-25 m.p.g. In spite of careful attention to the S.U. and owing to the fairly high compression, Discol was the only fuel it really liked. At 10,000 miles a new set of king pins and bushes were required, and after the amazing wear I had had out of the “12/60” Alvis If was rather surprised, but no doubt it was mainly due to the rather heavy effect of the 600 by 16 tyres fitted. Once this job was completed no further trouble occurred in this direction and the car performed in a most satisfactory manner right up to the time it was sold.

In 1937 several of the local lads decided that it would be a good plan to start a car club in the area, and in a rash moment I promised that I would enter for all their trials in a sort of wild endeavour to promote entries! When I woke up the next morning I realised that I did not want to run the “12/60,” as its front mudguards were very low and the steering lock was not really suitable for trials corners, so I hunted round and luckily found a 1928 T.G. Alvis “12/50” 2-seater tourer. Basically, this car had the same engine and chassis layout as the “12/60,” a 69 bore and 110-stroke push-rod o.h.v. engine, but it had a lower compression ratio, and a single 30-mm. Solex carburetter hung on a long riser pipe. The tandem dynamo and magneto are driven via a steel-bronze-steel set of helical gears — in some cases a fabroil pinion was used on the dynamo (it was supposed to be quieter, but the teeth sometimes stripped, so on the whole the steel pinion was preferable). The clutch and gearbox layout was just the same, but the box had the wide ratios, which was not quite so good, and the axle was 4.77 to 1. The steel artillery wheels were shod with 500 by 20 tyres and were fitted to the hubs with five bolts instead of the centre lock nut on the “12/60,” and the petrol tank was situated in the dash and fed the Solex by gravity. The body was not in a very good state of repair, but the engine and chassis were quite healthy. Here, I felt, was a car that I did not mind bashing about, and if the worst came to the worst I could use it for spares for the “12/60.” Four retread tyres, a new battery and one new plug were fitted, and then off we set, wondering if the motor would burst. Anyway it did not, even after 25,000 miles of being hurtled through hedges, ditches and what appeared to be young river beds. The orly thing I did not like about it was the Timken taper-roller-bearing propellor shaft, which gave one a course of vibro massage up the spine at anything over 45 m.p.h., unless very carefully adjusted and well packed with grease. Even so, it was never very satisfactory, so it was changed for a shaft with Hardy-Spicer couplings. After one particularly hectic trip over an outcrop of rock, the horrible exhaust system, which had come off a “Silver Eagle” and consisted of a long length of pipe with a sort of flue brush inside it, was completely carried away, much to my delight. I had meant to deal with it for some considerable time, but the job never seemed to get done – here was the chance. I hied myself off to the local breaker’s yard and secured a complete exhaust system from a “20/70” Daimler and, with a little wangling, tucked it right up under the chassis. I quite expected the motor to be very quiet, but I soon learned differently, because when the engine was started up the most shattering noise I have ever heard from a normal touring motor was emitted. At about 2,000 r.p.m. the note altered from the usual 4-cylinder burble to an earsplitting crackle, which disappeared again at about 2,800 r.p.m. This was rather too much of a good thing, so a fishtail filled with “pan-scraper” was added to the tail pipe and the note became rather more subdued, although when pulling hard or accelerating that thin metallic note was just audible.

In 1939 practically the entire club committee did a month’s camp with the T.A., and the faithful old Alvis kept us company, often carrying as many as ten people on board, bound for the “local.” At week-ends it was loaded up and a beeline was made for home, the run being accomplished in a quite creditable time; the only slighly disturbing factor was that when I used to park it in the garage and switch off the mag. the engine would keep on running for what seemed ages due no doubt to the want of a decoke, which it never got, anyway. When war finally arrived it looked as if I might have to sleep in the car, and, although there was plenty of room for three people to sit on the front seat, it was not my idea of a comfortable bed, so another “12/50” Alvis was purchased, this time a 1931 “Atlantic” saloon. This one turned out to be almost as good as the other two, the body, a half-panelled job in rather a poor state of health owing to dry-rot having set in, was reasonably watertight, and that was the main thing. I knew that the offside front door pillar was in a very bad condition, but lack of time – and pressure of work prevented me from doing anything about it, and, of course, the inevitable happened — I was driving through Leicester and parked outside Woolworth’s I opened the door to get out and much to my amazement, and the delight of the passing crowds, the whole door fell off and completely blocked the pavement! I hurriedly picked it up and placed it in the back as best I could, and then drove off to some quiet place to cool off; but things were decidellly difficult, as the pillar had come away with the door and the windscreen and roof were flapping merrily in the breeze! However, I held the roof and screen on until I reached camp again and, with the help of the carpenter, fitted a new pillar and no further trouble occurred. The only other misfortune was a split con.-rod, due to a little-end bolt shearing. Fortunately, I found out just in the nick of time. I was draining the sump one evening and as the oil was pouring out there was an ominous “plop,” and when I grovelled through the sludge I found a castellated nut and split pin which should definitely have not been there. On dropping the sump I found the little-end bolt from number three con.-rod missing, and on removing the rod dis covered that it was cracked from the saw-cut at the gudgeon pin almost down to the big-end. I replaced the rod with a spare one that I had by me, and I never had any more bother. Petrol consumption on both “12/30s” was always at least 30 m.p.g. However, the oil consumption on the saloon was not too good, being under 1,000 m.p.g. In a vain effort to eke out the meagre petrol ration I fitted some wretched gadget which was supposed to do wonders to the consumption, but, apart from making starting difficult and causing an irritating noise like a vacuum wiper, it did not help very much. Another of its habits of which I did not approve was the strange way it affected the internals of the plugs, which took on a peculiar sand-coloured, woolly appearance, no doubt due to the very weak mixture altogether most unhealthy looking, so it was thrown on the. salvage dump without any regrets! I ran the “Atlantic” until the “basic” ceased for cars, and then regretfully had to lay it up. Its place was taken by a 1934 250-c.c. de luxe Triumph. I had never previously had anything. to do with Triumphs and I was agreeably surprised by its performance, which was very good in spite of its weight and size. No one would believe that it was Only a “250,” as it was every bit as hefty as the W.D. “350” Matchless machines that we were using at the time, and it performed nearly as well as they did. No speedometer was fitted, so I do not know what the speeds were on the gears, but the petrol consumption was about 80 m.p.g., which suited me well. But I must admit that I am not a really keen motor-cyclist and I long for the time when I can get back to the Alvi. Yes, I have still got the three of them stored away at home, and I hope one day in the fairly near future to be able to go back and bring them out from their retirement.