Cars I Have Owned

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52

J. E. Mellor of Portishead describes thirty years of motoring in which he went from tricycle to tricycle, a topical form of transport at the present time.

In 1925, after a series of motor-cycles which included W. D. Douglas, Indian and N.U.T., I acquired an 1,100 c.c. twin-cylinder side-valve Morgan Blackburn three-wheeler, but my first car, a 1913 Ballot open four-seater, happened earlier, when I was working in Paris and wished to bring my mother and a friend who had visited me back to England in more comfort than was provided by the 1923 Matchless-J.A.P. combination which was my normal transport in Paris.

This car, with a close-ratio four-speed gearbox and, for those days, good acceleration, was a queer mixture of ancient and modern. We came home without difficulty except for punctures which were overcome by carrying a supply of inner tubes in addition to the Stepney wheel. Differential failure during the subsequent holiday in England resulted in the sale of the car to a breaker, the amount received in pounds for non-ferrous scrap being greater than the price paid for the car in francs!

After this, as a Ford salesman, I had a succession of model-Ts, including a tourer with a Frontenac head, Ruckstell axle and two starter-batteries in parallel to overcome the band drag as well as the compression.

My mother’s sudden death led to marriage and a series of long and short chassis 3-litre Bentleys, mixed with a 509 Fiat two-seater, two Erskine-Studebakers, and an Isotta Fraschini open four-seater which was particularly suitable for carrying engines, fuel, etc., and towing my outboard hydroplanes to various race meetings. This series finished in 1930 with our first genuine 100.m.p.h. car, a 4½-litre Bentley Vanden Plas four-seater, acquired secondhand from “H.M.” himself, in Hanover Square, in exchange for the Isotta. To this day I can recall the thrill of listening to my wife counting the final m.p.h. up to the magic century, the speedometer being in front of the passenger and the rev.-counter in front of the driver. The engine on this car was fitted with “hour-glass” pistons and the resultant clatter at low speeds caused much comment from uninformed friends.

Time and business needs brought Wolseley Hornets and Hillman Wizards, so the next highlight was probably an old Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost tourer on which we built a caravan body, complete with cooker, washup, adequate cupboards, and a divan at one end which converted into a very comfortable double-bed.

In 1932, came what we called the “Minx-era,” including varieties on two Hillman Aero Minx chassis, one with a special very light two-seater body which we built ourselves. These were sometimes supercharged with a Zoller compressor, driven Bentley-fashion, off the front of the crankshaft or else by chain in place of the dynamo drive. On these cars rear axles and gearboxes were interchanged with early Minx models which had three-speed gearboxes and thus various indirect gear-ratios were obtained to suit mud-plugging trials, as well as R.A.C. rallies and special tests. Unsupercharged in the 1934 M.C.C. High Speed Trial on Brooklands 76.8 miles were covered in the allotted 60 minutes.

This success encouraged us to obtain a Balilla Fiat which, after “improvement” by the late M. A. McEvoy, was taken to the Derby and District M.C. meetings at Donington. Here we were completely outclassed, due to poor brakes and the fact that racing classes were for 750 c.c., 850 c.c. and 1,100 c.c. cars. The 998 c.c. Balilla being neither “fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red herring.” The following year a saloon rear-axle of lower ratio was fitted and the engine cylinders lined to give a capacity of 848 c.c., but although 6.000 r.p.m. were obtained we were merely taught how to spin out of the way of following traffic, after over-rapid approach to one or other of the many corners, due to the small brake drums. In fairness I must admit that this period was the time when I learnt to drive a car, as distinct from the so-called high-speed motoring on main roads that I had previously considered sufficient knowledge!

Finally, in 1935, we came to own Lagondas—first a Rapier, then a 3½-litre tourer. The latter car was the equivalent of the 4½-litre Bentley, with its beautiful roadholding and top-gear performance giving 25 to just over an indicated 100 m.p.h., four-up with the hood and side-curtains erected, coupled to an average petrol consumption of 17 m.p.g.

A venture into yacht building caused a change to two Fiat “mice,” one for each of us. These continued through the beginning of the unpleasantness with Hitler, mine being exchanged, after 50,000 miles without any overhaul, for the first of my second series of motor-cycles. My wife invested in a secondhand Austin Ten drophead coupe born in 1933, but completely ageless, although neglected due to various causes beyond her control.

In 1951 an operation caused the sale of my second “S “-series Sunbeam; these were really beautiful machines and to my mind everything a normal motor-cycle should be. Thereafter we jointly owned a model-C 1936 Ford Ten tourer, 92,000 miles old but which gave a further trouble-free 25,000 miles until it was changed for a 1948 Ford Pilot. The roadholding and positive steering of this car was, to me, surprisingly good.

My wife’s untimely death and a small daughter billeted with relatives compelled cheap and rapid transport, and a KR 175 Messerschmitt provided the answer. So far, 27,000 miles have been covered, 274 gallons of fuel used and a 34-m.p.h. door-to-door average is consistently obtained !

Spares usage to date totals one sBet Dynastarter brushes, two hub-races, one set of outer covers (no punctures), two sparking plugs, one set of brake linings and one rear chain. An indicated 60 m.p.h., two up, is still always attainable on suitable roads, while cornering and general handling can only be compared with a sports car. Thus in thirty years’ motoring I have gone from tricycle to tricycle.. . .

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