Motoring with Bill Little

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Motoring with Bill Little

THE social side of motoring was well in evidence at Bristol, as a substitute for going to every possible pre-war Brooklands and Crystal Palace race meeting, and as many speed trials and hillclimbs as possible. When a petrol ration was available, Bill had exchanged the “Spook” for a 1930 International Aston Martin (GK 9843). Not a good car, it did all sorts of nasty things during a brief ownership and confidence in it was completely shaken when the o/s wing tried to revolve with the wheel, due to the backaxle sleeve having shattered. A local welder did a fine, if expensive job reuniting all the bits of aluminium, after which the Aston was sold for £50. Its successor was a 30/98 Vauxhall, that lived beside a short-chassis 19/100 hp Austro-Daimler at Limpley Stoke. Only the 30/98 was for sale, a stark tatty car with bonnet, scuttle, two bucket seats and a vast rear tank full of oil — presumably as ballast. Bill commenced to make a body for it (tail-less this time!) but when Dick Caesar offered him the price he had paid he let the 30/98 go, as he was not very impressed with it and did not think it his sort of car. “I shall propably now be expelled from the VSCC!” he adds.

The replacement was the Granville Grenfell Special, which had a four-litre six-cylinder ohc Straker-Squire engine, cantilever rear suspension and a Lancia ifs front-end. We had both seen it at the Crystal Palace just prior to the war and Tim Monckton had bought it sans its pistons. New ones were impossible to °Hain during the war but Tim Carson negotiated for George Brooks in Australia to buy the engine for his Straker-Squire. Bill had bought the car on the understanding that if anyone wanted it, something of interest would replace it.

After the chassis of the Grenfell had been given a Siddeley Special engine and pre-selector gearbox (alas to end up eventually in a breaker’s yard), the “something of interest” turned out to be a Hyper Lea-Francis with a cracked block. The block was repaired for the cost of a packet of cigarettes and Bill Little started on yet another body-building session. A year’s toil saw the car completed with a lowered rear end, two spare wheels to mask Bill’s difficulty in making a decent tail, and a narrow instrument panel. As the lastnamed left no room for the switches, these were mounted under the scuttle on the n/s. This was fine until a passenger put out all the lamps with his knee on a fast corner on the first run at night. In the absence of numbers or log-book, the Leaf was reregistered (JHU 252). At the first post-war Naish hillclimb, the throttle-return spring unfortunately came off and as someone had disconnected the mag switch, the revs went to 5,500, at which point Bill shut his eyes. Result — a broken con-rod, with the Piston jammed in the head. But they drove home! Going to London to see Ian Metcalfe, Bill was surprised when he offered £285 for the Leaf against a 3-litre twin-cam

Continuation of the story from December

Sunbeam (BA 6104). It had been resprayed and seemed in good order, but at Ascot all the precious rationed petrol began to leak away and only hasty purchase of ten one-gallon tins from an ironmonger saved some of it. At over 60 mph there was a sort of Morris Dance, and when the water pump began to leak it had to go. One humorous incident is remembered — the radiator had been filled from a can that had contained petrol, and when a young American was asked to top it up in the dark, he struck a match. He was astonished to see the water burst into flames but had the presence of mind to quickly replace the cap. . . Some cash and the Sunbeam, which was not a good example of the breed, went in exchange for the 5.4-litre Graham Paige which G L Baker had raced at Brooklands. The sight of fuel gushing from the jets of the four Zenith carburettors of the Laystall-tuned engine was quite a sight. Terrible wheel wobble was cured after the axle wedges had been reversed. Forty miles from Metcalfe’s, the clutch slipped chronically, and at Chippenham the journey was abandoned. Returning with Monckton’s Riley Monaco and a rope, amazingly all trace of the trouble had disappeared. The straight-eight engine ran at 1300 rpm at 35 mph in top and its maximum of 4500 rpm was prudently never approached. Alas, a petrol allowance of 13 gallons a month made the five to six mpg depressing and a jerry-can was used as the ration would scarcely have dampened the bottom of the big fuel tank. The high bottom gear made the Graham Paige seem useless for hillclimbs; it was only after he had sold it to someone who was emigrating to Rhodesia that Little

learned that bottom gear had been blanked off for outer-circuit racing! After one or two anxious moments with this exciting car it was rather a case of “too fast for owner”.

John Bobby wanted to get rid of his aforesaid Lancia Lambda (FN 6911) and Bill went to London, found him at a party, and the deal was done so quickly there wasn’t even time for the proverbial pint. A standard two-seater not cut-and-shut, this proved a good car, the engine noisy even for a Lambda, although it did once shed its twin spare wheels and made about STD at Naish hillclimb. It was sold to Jack Marsh and is now owned by Gerald Batt. It was around this time that Bill discovered the joys of CAPA racing round the fields of the late Joe Fry’s estate near Bristol, until the RAC stopped these carefree meetings in 1950. Most of the cars were A7s, or similar specials, with wonderful names like Cotopaxi, Salome, and Orange Pippen, a Morris Minor special owned by a man named Cox. Also the Alfi-Capa, which became the famous Caesar Special. To enjoy the carefree CAPA events Bill bought an Anzani-GN with Morgan ifs from Adrian Butler and Bobby Price but had to give up its name of “Stromboli”, so renamed it “Buttercup”, and the more potent Anzani-GN “Red Biddy”, built pre-war by the O’Reilly brothers. “Buttercup” held the lap-record, for about two weeks. Never was so much fun had for such a modest outlay! In 1947 Joe Fry, Dick Caesar and Jim Bosisto formed a small body-building company, which Bill joined as secretary and dogsbody. The first two bodies were on Morgan 4/4 chassis and others were built on Allard, Alvis TA 14 and Speed-20 chassis and some Iota and Arengo 500s were also made — I recall Bosisto driving an Arengo at

Weston, in 1949. After Fry’s fatal accident they closed down.

The Lambda was changed for a 2-litre Lagonda with the cams nearly round and a body made from chair-legs. A legacy then made it possible for Little to buy a 2.3 8C Alfa Romeo from HW Motors, a reserve 1934 2/4-seater short chassis Le Mans team-car (DY0 308). It was collected with the help of Bosisto’s 149 Bugatti, which was later to be rebodied by Max Hill. The Alfa was a true thoroughbred, but needed benzine in the fuel before 3500 rpm could safely be exceeded, and spares were virtually unobtainable. It was later to fulfill a lifelong ambition by allowing Bill Little to tow a Bugatti behind an Alfa to the Weston Sprint. The Bugatti in question was the ex-Duncan Hamilton red T35B Bugatti, quickly painted blue. This had 150 wire rear wheels, possibly because Duncan had driven through a gate six inches narrower than the car! So twin rear wheels could be fitted. The Bugatti was used for considerable

vintage racing in 1951, at Weston, Lulsgate (a 1st and a 3rd), VSCC Silverstone (2nd in the Y2-mile sprint, 3rd in a 3-lap race), Great Auclum (2nd), a number of Prescott meetings and Castle Combe (4th). In all this, the Bugatti had been very reliable, apart from a broken tappetfinger, a fractured air-pipe and some chewed-up second and third gears (not of Bugatti make). It was used on the road for a time, giving 10/12 mpg on methanol; “it was wonderful to pass another car at about 80 mph in third and then change into top”. . . The car was taken to meetings in Guy Arengo’s enormous Dodge transporter that would take three Arengo 500s in-line astern. The end came when Bill forgot to replace the oil-filter cap at Castle Coombe and after two laps, with no oil, two rods emerged, wrecking the block. The car was sold to someone in N. Wales and is now thought to be in Miami. Petrol rationing and the arrival of a daughter made the Alfa a luxury, but it was going

well, discounting some clutch trouble and a sticking Autovac valve. Griffiths, back in the Trade, part-exchanged it for a 30 mpg Lancia Augusta, Bill’s first saloon!

Fully overhauled and leatherupholstered, this was a useful car; but both trafficators emerged together, only noticed after driving it for six months! Next? A 1933 Talbot 105 James Young fixed-head coupe (BPB 459). It was very comfortable, and Mrs. Little thought it one of their most successful cars, but her husband says “there was a little too much chrome and a dreadful gearbox caused me no end of trouble.” Gearbox repairs, in fact, costing £70, it was sold and a rather rough long-chassis 19/90 hp Austro-Daimler chassis (YR 9749) obtained for around £50, Bill, a glutton for punishment, setting about making yet another body. This took so long that his wife thought he was keeping another woman. To meet the lower line, the steering column was raked and the gear lever bent — which was probably why the selectors ceased to function on a narrow road between Dawlish and Teignmouth, resulting in an enormous traffic jam. For this holiday the body was in primer, causing the hotel manager to request its removal. It was trimmed and given full weather protection and proved eminently satisfactory. One of the Axel-Bergs eventually bought it. Then model-car racing took hold and motoring was done in a rather-breathless Austin Ten. But moving North in 1954, all but one of the models were sold to Peter Hampton. Another Lancia Augusta was found (BLT 158); when the engine was stripped, the pistons were seen to be oval where they should have been round, and while draining the scuttle gravity tank to work on a defective reserve-tap, Bill accidentally touched the starter solenoid and the lot went up in flames — and he had just repainted it. . . The rear doors also flew open at the slightest provacation. After 18 months an 8th Series Lancia Lambda Farina dh coupe (UU 1958) with a 7th-series engine Was taken on, and on one occasion it towed Neve’s Ti’ Humber to Oulton Park. That was the occasion when, parked in Kenneth’s drive, blocking in the cars of all the other guests, the Lambda proved Immovable, until it was discovered that

the Humber’s cover had fallen through the floor and had wound itself round the rear universal!

The expected noisy engine, headwarping and wheel shimmy did not spoil a pleasant car. Then Peter Piper found a long-chassis 2.5 6C Alfa Romeo abandoned at Heathrow with a duff back axle. This was repaired and Bill took it on. It must have been stored in a hangar as it was covered in fuel-oil, which had preserved it; “it was the first car I had to clean with Brill° pads.” Giving about 90 bhp it went very well despite the heavy, comfortable and spacious body and road-holding was excellent. Somewhat heavy tyre wear was cured by reducing the wheel size to accept Michelin “Xs”. The many roller-bearings in the front suspension and steering-gear had to be renewed. Valve adjustment was simple, but the interior appointments left much to be desired. A head with triple singlechoke Webers made little difference over the normal single twin-choke Weber, speed being about 85 mph, with 18/20 mpg. Reliable, and an ideal tow-car. . . For three years Bill Little helped Kenneth Neve with his stable of interesting cars, about which you can read in “A Bit Behind the Times” (Grenville, 1988). Then in 1957 Bill’s thoughts turned to doing some more competition work of his own. A 1939 1 s-litre Alta was bought from Frank Lockhart in time of the VSCC Seaman Trophy Meeting. With this Bill had numerous adventures, and I much regret that space prevents me detailing them. The car was never quite running properly but on occasions displayed excellent acceleration off the line, and when it went sideways onto the grass at Oulton Park it did not roll over, as an

ERA might have done. But the allindependent suspension gave no better ride than that of a Bugatti. The Alta was usually towed with the 2.5 Alfa, until Bill took over Piper’s short-chassis 6C Farina two-seater (VNO 323), which had been bored out to 2.6 litres. After making 16 starts but finishing only four races, the Alta was sold to Hugh Clifford, who disposed of it, then bought it back again . . . It wasn’t all bad, for as Bill says “I still talk to Frank, and Hugh still talks to me.” Later in 1958 the Sumner-JAP was for sale, and was collected from John

Hinchcliffe’s parents’ house in Sevenoaks where it rightly occupied the drawing-room, with the Ghia Alfa and trailer. Mrs. Hinchcliffe regarded the dragging of it on its hubs over the parquet floor as a natural thing to do. . . By then the only original part of this onetime GN was its name. There was no engine, but a Beardmore power-unit was obtained. Alta problems led to disposing of the Sumner, the chassis locally, to someone who wanted its Brescia Bugatti back-axle, the Beardmore engine to an Australian owner of such cars. It was now that Bill met Peter Evans, who had raced a 20 hp Sunbeam tourer and was struggling with the Hooker-Thomaspowered Scriven Special “Nanette”. Bill acquired the latter, optimistically hoping to succeed with it where Evans had been unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Mrs. Little motored in a red and yellow American A7 (NV 6014), not a Bantam but the earlier version, like an English A7 but with lh controls. It was a little too vintage for its purpose, and the man who bought it managed to keep breaking prop-shafts. The 2.5 Alfa with its two spare engines was sold to a young man in London. A new chain-drive for Nanette’s ohcamshaft was made, to replace the Thomas eccentric-drive, and a start was made on a new original-pattern body — again! But before the engine could be run, the old racer was part-exchanged for a 1935 135M Delahaye chassis. (Majzub now has “Nanette”, but Bill wonders if Evans’ plan to install a 2-litre Lagonda engine would have worked). Much hard work went into the very rough Delahaye, and it is no surprise that a Bill Little body was made for it, using a 12/50 Alvis beetle-back tail. Tried on Tradeplates, it went well in the indirect ratios of the delightful Cotal gearbox but Grif

fiths, who bought it, said it faded away at the top end. Bill’s next venture was an A7 Special. It was based on the “Dutch Clog” single-seaters and although the elaborate off-set transmission could not be copied, much the same result was obtained by using a long and a short half-shaft in a standard axle, with the diff, some seven inches from the n/s back-plate. The engine was also slightly off-set, Hardy Spicar couplings overcoming any transmission problems. As even an Ulster engine was unobtainable a normal one was used, with a blower which Peter Evans described as “of unknown make but undoubted virtue”. It might have been alright had Bill Little

not moved to a Cheshire cottage with no garage facilities; working on a racing car in the open in several feet of water was not on . . . This A7 is now Richard Campbell’s very effective Fiat 1100-engined job, with a proper transfer-box. Transport was now provided by a £5 Jowett Javelin, after its defunct gearbox had been made to work. Going to Hart

ley Wintney for Christmas, the throttlecable broke in Kenilworth — string threaded through the driver’s window was a solution — but try getting string on Christmas morning! This make-shift repair gave Bill a stiff right arm, not wanted during the festive season! The Javelin was replaced with a Fiat 500C, also needing another gearbox. Away from Motorways it was a jolly little car, with all of 13 bhp, until its oil-thirst became excessive. Peter Evans was, by 1966, racing the Chawner-JAP he had bought from Peter Watson, with which Bill helped him — “tremendous fun”. He also had a half-share in Michael Chipperfield’s A-type Connaught, which was minus its pre-selector gearbox. Alan Southon had a possible one and they went to Hartley Wintney in Peter’s Volvo to see it. It was there that Bill spotted “something interesting” in a corner, a Special Alan had started on after the war but had not completed. The chassis was pre-war Humber Pullman with ifs, into which had been installed an almost unused 4.2-litre Maybach engine from a German troopcarrier. Rudge hubs had been fitted, and brakes from a Canadian Ford, of which the drums were missing. There was a pre-war Jaguar back-axle, also with Rudge hubs and a heavy Alvis pre-war gearbox, the kind reputed to have cost £180 to make. Alan offered to give the beast to Bill, and it was duly collected. Then commenced much work to complete it, and of course, construct a body for it. Welding and machining problems to make Jaguar axle and Alvis gearbox fit were solved, the 22″ prop-shaft gave no trouble, Konis at the back, Girling shock-absorbers at the front, improved road-holding, the 18″ rear brakes were converted to hydraulic operation, and post-war Jaguar drums mated with the front hubs. A post-war Sunbeam outside brake-lever completed a queer but impressive car, the body made in two halves, with a 10′ long bonnet. However, this was not acceptable as a pvt to the VSCC, due to the Humber chassis, so it was disposed of for a smal) sum. Not

long afterwards it was advertised in MOTOR SPORT for £495 and then for £750, which did not much please Bill. He was by now sharing a garage with Peter Evans, who had acquired the ex-Whithead Alta (AER 8841) chassis, which had been successively endowed with Riley Six, Jaguar, and Riley “Blue Streak” engines. Much work was carried out, but Bill was then posted to the South of England and Evans was occupied with the Chawner-JAP and Connaught. So the Alta went to John Ashton. There was, too, an Alvis GN, but it was no match for the Chawner-JAP at the VSCC Seaman Trophy meeting in 1965. Bill Little eventually moved to Fowey, where he still lives, his later cars including an A35 to replace the little Fiat, a Lancia Aurelia, a TVR, a 1959 Ihd VW Karmann Ghia and, in more recent times, a number of Alfa Romeos and Lancias. He has made models of many of the cars described in this look-back to over 25 years ago. What an interesting motoring life he has had! WB

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