Cars I Have Owned
by George Watson—
Most enthusiasts start with motor-cycles. Not to be outdone, I worked my way through a 1910 5-h.p. Indian, a 1917 American Excelsior, 1918 Douglas and 1922 four-cylinder FN before graduating to a four-wheeler. Regrettably no photograph exists of this curious device, known as an AV Bicar. An 8-h.p. J.A.P. engine was mounted at the rear, a chain driving the live axle through a 2-speed epicyclic gear. The steering was by a wire cable wrapped round a drum; it swivelled the entire front axle on a centre pivot. The best part of the car was the starter, which consisted of a cycle chain wrapped round a drum and terminating in a wooden handle like that of a lawnmower. By a deft movement one engaged the end of the chain with a sprocket on the end of the engine shaft, and after rocking the big twin against compression, a sharp pull invariably caused it to burst into life. A spring then coiled the chain up again whilst the machine crept slowly forwards. This was because the only way to hold neutral was to pull on the hand brake, and if this held the car it could not be set for neutral!
The A.V. could certainly move, but none of the nuts were pinned and nearly all my time was spent in trying to keep them from unscrewing. Eventually the whole thing disintegrated and I left most of it where it lay.
A friend and I then jointly owned a Tamplin, one of which was advertised in Motor Sport not long ago. This really did work, the 8-h.p. J.A.P. engine driving a Sturmey-Archer gearbox placed above the pedals so that the kick-starter could be used. Final drive was by belt to one wheel only, the other one idling. Rather frightening at times, but with proper Ackerman steering and even a dynamo, this remarkable little machine could show its tail to nearly everything on the road in 1922. It was also absolutely reliable.
Feeling the need for something more refined, I bought a twin-cylinder G.N. This had some peculiarities, notably that of shedding wheels (soon cured by using safety hub-caps), burning exhaust valves and blowing gaskets. However, I did many long runs in this and, of course, it had the famous “chain-gang” transmission. A delightful feature was the lubrication system; a tank on the offside running board contained oil, and when one felt inclined, or if the engine laboured, one reached a band over the side, drew up the pump handle, and squirted as much oil as was thought necessary into the rear main bearing (the only crank bearing).
My friends were, however, beginning to sport self-starters and so on, and I was persuaded to invest in an oil-cooled Belsize-Bradshaw. This excellent little car did over 80,000 miles without a rebore (iron pistons, of course) and apart from rather frequent replacement of propellor shaft bearings, gave practically no trouble. I amused myself at one stage by building a coupé top with a drop back, which can be seen in the photograph. Mr. Bradshaw’s theory that if you kept the piston-crown cool, the whole engine would be cool, certainly worked in practice and my oil thermometer showed that the temperature was always well below boiling point.
Next I purchased a 10.8-h.p. Windsor drophead coupé with Meadows engine and gearbox. This rarely-seen vehicle was an aristocrat amongst light cars; every component (for it was assembled from proprietary parts) was of the highest class obtainable and again I enjoyed over 80,000 miles of motoring at the cost of a front spring, one clutch thrust-race and—strange to say—the gear lever snapping off in the gate.
None of these cars had any turn of speed, although I could get a mile a minute out of the Windsor. I imagine everyone yearns for a little more urge so I bought a 14/75 Lea-Francis with Weymann body and twin o.h.c. engine made by Vulcan. All my knowledgeable friends shook their heads and prophesied lubrication failures but I must have been lucky, for it never happened to me. I could, on many occasions, drive the speedometer needle off the 80 m.p.h. scale, but the engine would not hold its tune and the brakes were not up to the performance. The car gave little trouble and thanks to the impulse starter was very easy to get going. It had a free wheel, too, and the fabric body was a delight, being silent and comfortable.
During the war I was compelled to run a utility vehicle which shall be nameless, but as soon as I could I bought a Sunbeam Dawn with preselector gearbox, alloy block and i.f.s. This was a good car in many ways and gave no serious trouble but it was far too heavy for its engine, although the acme of comfort with its horsehair squabs and aluminium body.
All this time I had my eye on another Sunbeam, and eventually it became available. The chassis is that of the Speed 20, with four-light pillarless aluminium body, but it is one of the rare models with the 2,762-c.c. engine, centre gear gate and 18 in. wheels. It was, in fact, the second from last car made by the old Sunbeam Company.
These days I often drive far and fast; the Sunbeam has cost me one starter spring and one set of brake linings. It still has the original steel-skirted pistons, and the coachwork is second only to that of a Rolls-Royce. It has never let me down or even faltered, and surely no car could start more easily. I am left marvelling that such mechanical perfection could ever have been allowed to disappear from the market; but equally it is easy to understand why the Sunbeam Register has so many members and why those to whom a car is like a personal friend should feel such affection for these beautifully-made links with the great days of the British Motor Industry.