Four-wheeler-itis

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Being the experiences of an amateur cycle-car builder

The cause of all the trouble was a desire on my part to own something on four wheels, which is a bad sign in a hitherto enthusiastic motor-cyclist

Lack of cash precluded the idea of a genuine motor-car, so my fancy turned to thoughts of second-hand bits. As a result, I eventually purchased what was optimistically described by the vendor as “6hp Peugeot chassis, less engine.”

On going round one evening to see it with a friend, we were shown into a small shed, evidently a store for old iron. However, a particular heap in one corner was pointed out as the aforesaid Peugeot chassis. The heap consisted of four wheels, “and tyres” as the man remarked, presumably referring to the rather whiskery canvas frills which adorned the rusty rims; also sundry bars and tubes, a box full of assorted junk, and a tubular frame, like a legless bedstead with a short sag in the middle.

While we gloomily surveyed the wreckage, the owner produced a gearbox and clutch from another heap, and assured us it was all there and only required assembling, and he’d tell us how to start.

We found later that it was more than all there, for when finished the junk box was far from empty. However, there seemed quite enough of it, so we discarded the rest and surveyed our handiwork.

We were impatient to see if it would go, so my friend and I took our seats, after a lurid push-start down the garden, when the vehicle mounted a four-foot grass bank and annihilated two promising young shrubs before it could be got out of gear. The seat was the rear cross member, and very hard, though my seat was rendered slightly more stable as I had the steering wheel to hold on to.

I engaged first gear, having de-clutched by hand and stopped the clutch with my left foot. I then firmly propped the hand-throttle and removed my foot from the clutch. When my passenger had picked himself out of the dirt and regained the car, we proceeded on to the high road, incidentally less any number-plate or licence, having none.

I then tried to change up, the only result being a nasty noise. Owing to the enormous jump from first to second gear (about 20:1 to 8:1), it was impossible to slow the engine down enough to engage second without bringing the car to rest completely. To force in the gear was impossible, owing to the weakness of the operating levers, so the foot method of clutch-stopping was employed.

A few test runs failed to break anything serious, so I decided to go down from Cambridge to London by way of a maiden trip, accompanied by a fellow motor-cyclist, who offered to be my mechanic, and to go on to his home at Rugby by train that evening.

The first stop, less than five miles out, was to secure the cargo a bit more firmly, and at the same time to clean out the carburettor. This was necessary at frequent intervals, owing to my having poured a quantity of filthy paraffin into the tank one dark evening under the impression that I was filling up with petrol. However, all went well except for this trouble till shortly before Hatfield, when I noticed that the off hind wheel appeared farther from the chassis than was its wont. I suggested a stop to investigate, but the passenger was all for going on, on the grounds that if the wheel came off, my side would go down and he would finish on top. Not seeing the force of his arguments, I stopped, and we found the necessary split pin had been omitted in assembly (we won’t say by whom), and the wheel was walking off along its shaft. A suitable split pin from our spare hardware soon remedied this trifling defect, and we went ahead again. On entering London, owing to the strain of keeping the vehicle under way in traffic without serious mishap, we got completely off our route and well lost. The brakes were a complete myth, the only thing that stopped the vehicle being the very considerable friction in the transmission. However, we found our way again in time and arrived at the hotel off the Strand just before lighting-up time, having averaged just under 15mph for the journey.

Having delivered the baggage to the somewhat scandalised hotel porter, we started off to garage the car. At the first attempt to start, on yanking the gear lever out of second, it came right through first and into reverse, the car leaping backwards and dealing my passenger a shrewd blow on the shin in the process. This was a trick it never really grew out of, and it was always advisable to push from the side when starting, as it was always uncertain what gear, if any, it would get into.

Shortly after this, it was decided that the chassis was considerably too short, so it was completely dismantled, and a start made to rebuild it longer, and with one or two of the more noticeable horrors in the construction eliminated.

About this time we began to get an exaggerated idea of the reliability of this monster; so in a rash moment I entered it in a local club whole-day trial. My passenger and I worked feverishly until late the previous night fixing some mudguards, consisting of strips of light galvanised iron rivetted to strip steel cross-members, which in turn were fastened to the chassis with perfectly good string, the whole structure being remarkably firm and giving no trouble.

Owing to the light weight of the chassis, we made remarkably good progress, mostly broadside, until we were well up among the solos, this not being the sort of trial where one kept down to schedule but, rather, went flat in a vain endeavour to keep up to it. An exciting scrap with the last solo in sight, ended in a victory for us when the solo man went through the hedge owing to a singular lack of control, quite excusable in the circumstances.

However, at the end of the section we found we had insufficient lock to turn into a narrow lane and we passed up the hedge on the opposite side and remained with one front wheel firmly hooked over the top. After dismounting and lifting it into the road we continued, but soon lost the course and in blaring round the country trying to find it again, we came round a slight bend all out, i.e. about 45mph, and beheld a fairly narrow but deep water splash about thirty yards away. I stamped feverishly on the foot brake, but the pedal sprang playfully sideways and jammed my foot in between it and the steering column; the hand throttle remained stuck wide open, and we entered the splash ‘flat’, emerging with very little loss of speed, soaked to the skin. The engine only cut out for a few seconds in the water, and then went as well as ever.

Soon after this we got so completely lost that we decided to retire, and finding a main road gently went home, after an enjoyable if somewhat hectic day, and deciding that after all my little A.J.S. motorcycle was a more suitable machine for trials work.

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