Veteran to classic
Arising from our analysis of Dorman and Riley valvegear (Motor Sport, November 1987), we have received a very interesting note from John Garden of Inverurie, whose first car had a Dorman engine with inclined overhead valves operated, as on later Rileys, by high-set push-rods from two camshafts on either sides of the base-chamber.
The car itself, an Airedale, was a rare make even in 1923, but was strongly recommended by a consulting engineer in Aberdeen who held an agency for Albion commercial vehicles. He was emphatic that the Airedale was one of the cheapest 12hp sports two seaters on the market, at £425 ( the Alvis being quoted at £550, the Argyll £495, Beardmore and Crossley £475, while £450 each was asked for an Austin 12, Calcott, HE, Enfield-Alldays, Talbot-Darracq or Star; a small Sunbeam was then priced at £685 and a Vauxhall 14 at £595).
Higher prices were based on the reasoning that it was poor policy to buy an inexpensive car, because "made-to-a-price" models soon began to look very down-at-heel, their shoddy fittings were unsuited to the Scottish climate, weak axles and running-gear did not make for cheap running, little engines were low-geared and "agony for the enthusiast to drive behind, as even at moderate speeds one always feels that the engine is being hashed", and a central gear-lever was awkward, even dangerous, if there was a "middle passenger".
But this consultant chap was certainly persuasive, and could have got a fine job with a publicity agent in modern times! He told Mr Garden that cheap cars had unsatisfactory small wheels and tyres, whereas an Airedale had 30 x 31/2 tyres good for at least 10,000 miles but were cheap to replace because they were a popular size. Petrol consumption was 35-38mpg, construction was sturdy, using good materials (even the ball-bearings were oversize), the four-speed gearbox was easy to change gear on, and the engine, helped by a balanced crankshaft, "could not really be detected running, just dead smooth at any speed".
As an insurance inspector, he said he had seen the frames of lightly-built cars sag, bodies twist, axles give way; but one Airedale owner was said to have done 70,000 miles, with his car still looking in first-class condition.
The customer had only had a short demonstration-run, and said he had been running a good sidecar-outfit and would be hard to please, but he decided on the Airedale, a good allowance having been made for his Royal-Enfield. The car was delivered, at a cost of £8, in April 1923, priced at £425, plus £11 16 3d for comprehensive insurance.
It was this gentleman's first car with a cross-flow engine, a Type 4KNO Dorman (its push-rods exposed on both sides of the cylinder block, pre-dating the Riley 9 valve-gear by some five years). Since then Mr Garden has never been without a car with a crossflow head. In 1927 the family had its first Riley 9, followed by a Riley Alpine-Six. After the 1931 MCC London-Edinburgh Trial, Mr Garden found himself sitting with two other gentlemen in the Hydro Hotel, discussing how Riley had pioneered the production crossflow-head engine, they were Percy Riley and SF Edge and our correspondent was able to mention his 1923 Dorman-powered Airedale.
Freddie Dixon used to help with special bits and pieces for the Rileys, and John Garden's present cars are a 1934 Riley MPH with silent-third gearbox with a Dixon remote-control lever instead of the pre-selector box, and a 2-litre Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Many years ago he owned an MG Montlhery Midget (GP 8269), and would be glad to know if it is still in existence. WB.