Modern specials: Dunsmore

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Enterprise zone

There was a time when I could not go along with replicas of sports-cars of the 1920s and 1930s, being of the opinion that anyone craving such a car would be well-advised to opt for a genuine pre-war job — thereby gaining not only much fun and fresh-air, but the inconveniences, idiosyncrasies, rarity and character which are part and parcel of genuine pre-war fast motorcars.

However, in recent times prices of such cars have risen to absurd heights and dishonesty has crept in, so that what looks like, and is sold as, the genuine article might have been built in very recent times, and far from the original factory.

This being the case, I have become a bit more tolerant of modern cars of pre-war appearance providing they are sports-cars in their own right, and not copy-cars pretending to be what they patently are not. After all, the Morgan is still in production, with an impressive customer waiting-list, and to all intents and purposes it represents an easy means of recapturing much of the motoring style enthusiasts enjoyed long ago. If you accept the Morgan, as built today, you have to accept some of the other cars built now along pre-war lines.

With this in mind, I went the other day to see what JT (Bill) Hines was up to with his Dunsmore Specials. He began a one-man business repairing crashed vehicles in 1959, in sheds behind his bungalow at Stretton-on-Dunsmore in Warwickshire. Having a part-time helper who is an expert welder and metal fabricator, Bill Hines decided the time had come to form Dunsmore Motor Traction — the kind of small enterprise Mrs Thatcher likes—and build Dunsmore Specials for any customers who wanted them.

He had already made himself a two-seater Special, using the fioor-pan and 2.3-litre engine of a Vauxhall VX-4/90, cantilever back springs and a fabricated body with wooden mudguard blades. The independent front suspension was retained but, this not quite being what Bill wanted, he built his Mk II Special. The latter has a bog-standard Vauxhall Ventura six-cylinder 3.3-litre engine, gearbox and back axle— the engine unit set well back in the special chassis.

This chassis is made of 3in x 11/2 rectangular box-section members, reinforced by the body frame of 1in x 3/4 x 1/2 box-section steel braces welded to the chassis. Half-elliptic gaitered Morris leaf-springs are used front and back, and both chassis and springs are underslung at the rear. Torque-arms locate both axles. There are concealed telescopic dampers at the back, Hartford friction shock-absorbers at the front. The rigid front axle is a JU25 or Sherpa unit but a tubular axle, with the stub-axles welded on, is being contemplated for future cars. The rear ends of the front springs are mounted on rather obvious welded brackets, but on the MkIII Dunsmore these brackets have been dispensed with.

A neat radiator shell conceals a tall tractor radiator element. An 18-gallon fuel tank is fitted (it took a long time to fabricate) and the pointed-tail of the two-seater body takes plenty of luggage, locking shut at the top. A Ford Transit steering-box is employed and 16in taxi wheels shod with cross-ply tyres are fitted. The dimensions of the Dunsmore are: overall length 15ft; track 541/2-56in depending on the axle used; height 45in. Cycle-type wings at the front turn with the wheels.

The result is a handsome two-seater very much in the pre-war sporting idiom, but without pretending to be a copy of any particular make. The narrow radiator and chassis means restricted foot-space for the driver, so strip-metal pedals are necessary, although the passenger is not conscious of any restrictions. The underslung chassis has also made ground-clearance too small.

Both these items will be changed on the Mk III Dunsmore Special, which was taking shape in the workshop. It is intended to take a twin-cam 4.2-litre Jaguar XJ6 power-unit, in conjunction with a back aide from an Austin Westminster. The shapely body is of welded steel sheeting, with a wooden boot-lid, covered in vinyl to the customer’s colour choice.

The beauty of the Mk II is that the Vauxhall engine, geared at about 25 mph per 1000 rpm, is virtually unburstable. A short run provided plenty of fresh November air round the aero-screens (normally a full-width screen and hood are thought unnecessary but a tonneau cover is provided), and I found the ride comfortable, in spite of the hard springs, and the exhaust-note sensibly quiet. The seat, too, was absolutely acceptable.

The idea is that a Dunsmore can be supplied with any suitable engine to choice, but clearly a biggish in-line six-cylinder is the best arrangement. The Mk III is slightly bigger than the Mk II, in order to take Jaguar-power, and will have springs made specially for its chassis.

As for cost, a complete Dunsmore Special, trimmed and MOTed, would come out at about £7500, which takes into account the four year’s work laying down the Mk III. A chassis and body-frame, less engine, would be in the region of £2470, or about £3562 with the body sheeted. There would be a saving if home-builders supplied their own axles, steering-box, wheels, and so on.

The address of Dunsmore Motor Traction is Deep Meadow Works, London Road, Stretton-on-Dunsmore, Warwickshire ( telephone 0203-5422 ). WB

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