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 motorcar, so my fancy turned to thoughts of secondhand bits. As a result, I eventually purchased what was optimistically described by the vendor as “6 H.P. 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 small assorted junk, and a tubular frame, like a legless bedstead with a sharp sag in the middle.
While we gloomily surveyed the wreckage, the owner produced a gear-box and clutch from another heap, and assured us that it was all there, and only required assembling, and he’d just 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.
The wheelbase was just five feet, which gave a stunted appearance, and restricted the seating accommodation. The springing was of the full-elliptic variety, now used almost exclusively on farm-carts and similar vehicles. The gear-box would do credit to a three-ton lorry, while the back axle was no lightweight. Nearly everything else was tubular, channel steel chassis, etc.—evidently not having been thought of in the dark ages when this weird chariot first saw the light.
The steering column was almost vertical, and the steering was direct (or would have been, given a little less wear and play in the connections). The propeller-shaft was a Finc1i bar about 18 inches long, having at the front end an extremely universal joint, which consistently ran just over 2 inches out of
centre. The joint depended entirely for its well-being on a long Fin, pin which held it all together. This had a habit of dropping out at inopportune moments, whereupon the propeller shaft had a gay time among the surrounding ironwork of the chassis.
However, we anticipate ; when assembly was complete the vehicle was still “less engine,” which was a distinct handicap for care-free motoring.
I then purchased a I920 8 h.p. air-cooled J.A.P. engine, complete with magneto and carburettor, which, apart from rather tired valve springs and piston rings, was in excellent condition. It had once been fitted in a Morgan, and had an outside flywheel, to which it was possible to adapt the clutch, though there was no spigot, and the clutch member (inverted cone) slid on a very worn splined shaft, which, in its turn, was supported at the gear-box end only in a very worn bronze bush.
For various reasons it was impossible to withdraw the clutch more than # in., the most potent being that the clutch then came hard against the flywheel itself.
From this it may be gathered that sweetness of engagement and freedom from drag was not one of the features of this interesting design !
The gears were actuated by a small lever about 4 inches long at the top of the steering column ; that is to say, if the clutch pedal were depressed, and the gear lever pushed hard towards first, piercing shrieks issued from the gear-box while the gear lever bent gently, thus was it seen that a clutch stop would be a help.
There was a peculiar metal disc bolted to the clutch, which was intended when the clutch was withdrawn, to engage with some friction material and to stop the clutch spinning.
However, we were impatient to “see if it would go,” so my friend and I took our seats, after a lurid pushstart 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 declutched by hand and stopped the clutch with my left foot on the abovementioned metal disc. I then firmly propped the handthrottle 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 to i to 8 to 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.
When we reached top gear (4 to I), the clutch slipped steadily, maximum speed thus being about 20 miles per hour on the level. At the end of this short run, my left shoe had no sole worth mentioning, so we bolted a piece of oak one inch by two across the chassis, and screwed a piece of Ferodo to it, so that the metal plate rubbed against it when the clutch was withdrawn, and at all other times due to the malformation of the above disc. The contents of a tin of Erma belt grip induced the worn-out leather lining to grip effectively.
THE AUTHOR NEGOTIATING A SLIPPERV SECTION IN THE TRIAL NIEN7rIoNE1). THE PASSENGER IS EVIDENTLY BLESSED WITH A SENSE OF HUMUUR.
Next we fitted a body, consisting of floorboards and a bucket seat. Then I licensed it. Fortunately, the authorities believed all I said, with the result that the registration book defined it as” Peugeot (J.A.P. engine), private car, 2-seater, colour dark red” ; the idea being that if it ever had a body, it would be dark red. It is a pity that this journal’s reputation prevents us giving a few of our definitions of it.
A few test runs failed to break anything serious, so I decided to go down from Cambridge to London on it by way of a maiden trip, accompanied by a fellow motor-cyclist, who very sportingly offered to be my mechanic, and to go on to his home at Rugby by train that evening. We loaded up with a large suitcase, and some small bags of tools and assorted ironmongery in case of trouble
by the wayside. The passenger sat on the suitcase, with his feet over the back, and we were pushed off by many willing hands at about 2 p.m., and got clear of the town without mishap. 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. We had drained the paraffin, but not the accompanying sediment, and we had good cause to bless the accessible design of the Solex carburettor when cleaning some score of times on that one journey. 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 nut having unscrewed with the hub-cap, 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 after sundry other ‘stoppages Tor carburettor cleaning and one broken oil-pipe, we arrived at the required hotel off the Strand just before lightingup time, having averaged just under 15 m.p.h. for the whole journey, including all stops, etc. 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. This was its’first run of any length, and incidentally, one of the most trouble-free, as no vital parts burst completely.
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.
The wheel-base was increased by 2 ft. 3 ins, by cutting off the lugs on the end of the chassis tubes, which held the springs, inserting the required length of tubing and an extra cross-member, and brazing on the lugs again at the end.
This, of course, necessitated a new and ‘very much longer propeller-shaft, and it was at this point that the real trouble started. Having decided that the metal universal on the gear-box would have to be abolished, we hunted round fora substitute and found a discarded Hardy joint with two-prong spiders, which had been considerably bent owing to the car in which they had started life having broken a propeller-shaft at some 70 m.p.h., the said shaft having wrapped itself round every chassis member within reach.
We failed to bend these parts sufficiently straight, and the new propeller-shaft was almost as out of truth as the original, and owing to its much greater size and weight, it began to matter, and for the next few weeks we used to make up a new propeller-shaft nearly every time we took the road.
This trouble was eventually cured by fitting a Rover 8-joint, with 3-prong spiders, and this never gave any more trouble.
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 till 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.
Soon after the start of the trial, we came to a good slimy section of the old Roman road, which was well prepared for us by the weather, and any trials enthusiast who has mournfully foot-slogged along the Ickneild way and similar delightful thoroughfares will require no description of the old “Roman Roads” so beloved of trials secretaries.
Owing to the light weight of the chassis, we made remarkably good progress, mostly broadside, until we had passed the sidecars and 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, which ended in a victory for us when the solo man went through the hedge owing to a singular lack of control, which was quite excusable in the circumstances.
However, at the end of the section we found we had insufficient lock to turn into the narrow lane which crossed the Roman road, and we passed up the hedge on the opposite side of the lane and remained with one front wheel firmly hooked over the top. After dismounting and lifting it into the road again, we continued. Shortly after this, we went off the course and got lost, and in blaring round the country trying to find it again, we came round a slight bend all out—i.e., about 45 m.p.h. —and beheld a fairly narrow but deep watersplasb about thirty yards away. I stamped feverishly on the footbrake, but the pedal sprang playfully sideways and jambed 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 went gently home, after an enjoyable if somewhat hectic day, and deciding that after all my little A.J.S. was a more suit able machine for trials work.