Two thoroughbreds in war time
[INSPITE OF THE WAR, MUCH GOOD MOTORING IS GOING ON, AND R. W. SEYS HERE DESCRIBES HOW HIS BENTLEY AND M.G. ARE MAKING THE BEST OF THE POOL ERA.—ED]
PERHAPS I had better introduce you first of all to the two vehicles in question—”The Old Lady,” which is a 1928 4½-litre T.T. Bentley—and “The Baby,” a late 1933 J.2 M.G. Midget.
When war broke out I had, as younger brother to the Bentley, one of the twin overhead camshaft Grand Prix Salmsons. Just after Christmas, however, this was traded in for a most business-like machine which was once a 7 h.p. Austin grocer’s van. In 1938 though, the grocer’s van idea was scuppered, and the engine was considerably hotted up and fitted with a very neat outside exhaust manifold. A very well-built fully-faired two-seater body was then fitted, painted in opalescent blue, with silver wheels, and given the unimposing name (on the bonnet) of the “Imp”; I craved to add another “p” to the name, but never succeeded in summoning the energy to do so. And it went like a veritable bomb! So much so that “one dark and icy night” I topped a hill much too fast just outside Reading on a lonely road, broadsided, collected a deep ditch and a bank, and— to my intense annoyance—had to sit down in a snowstorm and wait for an hour and a half before someone came along to help me push it out of the ditch. This episode was found to have a detrimental effect upon the steering arrangements and this factor, combined with cycle mudguards that insisted on breaking their stays, and also the extreme exposure of the vehicle during the icy weather, hardened my heart.
Then there was a pilgrimage to Lewes, as a result of a letter in MOTOR SPORT, to locate the Leyland Thomas in a scrap yard, but to my great disgust, the last remaining visible portion was the exhaust pipe. And so it was that the M.G. was found, for it was in a garage near the gates of the dump out of which I had so disconsolately walked. A good luncheon combined with a run to Eastbourne and back in thick snow with the Austin persuaded me to part with my “Imp,” and that evening I drove out of Lewes in the M.G.
Having by then joined the Army, I took the M.G. with me up North and was most satisfied with its performance on “puddle fuel.” Much attention was given to the twin S.U. carburetters from the point of view of tuning, and the smallest main-jets obtainable were fitted. The finished article then gave me a fairish 70 m.p.h. in top and up to 35 m.p.g. on petrol, using “Vol-o-pep” tablets and “Petrecon”—which contain graphite and ether, respectively. The M.G.’s engine number, by the way, does not appear in the registration book, but its chassis number is J.3082.
With so many cars off the road it is now possible by day to put up some quite creditable averages over long distances, and motoring conditions just at present, I consider, are better than they have been for many years. I did notice, however, that the surface of some roads has been badly damaged as a result of the heavy snowstorms we had over Christmastide; as little attempt has yet been made to repair the damage, due to labour being employed in other spheres, it may in places become permanent. Perhaps the best (or should I say “worst”?) example of this is our old friend, the Great North Road, outside Stamford. Here, at night, the surface is really dangerous for anyone unacquainted with the conditions. As for restricted areas, the 30 m.p.h. rule seems to have become considerably more lax in view—undoubtedly—of the fact that now the police have something other to think about than the unfortunate motorist; but personally I drive the type of car that always starts a “speedcop’s” stopwatch ticking, and so I consider it inadvisable to take advantage of present conditions!
The Bentley, when war broke out, was an old friend, for I had acquired her from a well-known lady racing motorcyclist almost a year before, after a miraculous escape from death in my 3-litre Bentley when sleep overcame me one night on Salisbury Plain, whilst I was pedalling quite fast. The “4½” lay for some time beside the main London road at Farnborough with a large “for sale” notice on her windscreen, and I used to pass her almost every day. And then one day I suddenly decided to purchase her.
When war broke out, the car was actually off the road, but early in January she was recommissioned and I had a most pleasant run down to Bournemouth and back even though it sleeted most of the day, and ice at night invited a glorious broadside on the Basingstoke by-pass. Shortly after that, however, a piston did an expensive thing on the run down off the Hartford Bridge Flats into Blackwater, and she was towed rather humbly up to Victoria for attention by the “Wizard of Bentleys”—Mr. McKenzie.
As compared with a standard 4½-litre Bentley, I must admit that the car’s performance was in the first place good. To this day I have been unable to trace her history, but she has the racing Le Mans type engine, thirty gallon petrol tank with pump and petrolift feed, armoured wiring, the racing instruments, racing footbrake adjuster, etc. She gives every indication that she has been used in races, though I can get no information on the subject and the original registration book is not with the car. All I can gather is that she complies in every respect with the T.T. specification and she may be one of the T.T. team cars. Her engine number is T.X.3234 and her chassis number is M.F.3174.
Well, up at McKenzie’s tremendous activity commenced. Special alloy pistons were cast; 80-ton gudgeon pins were fitted with special connecting-rods; new valves were supplied and the valve guides were replaced; the twin magnetos were reconditioned; the brakes were relined and carbon-steel ribbed brake drums fitted; a set of six new wheels were supplied (the others were a bit shaky) with 6.00″ x21″ tyres at the rear and 5.25″ x 21″ at the front; and last— but not least—in a blinding snowstorm I perambulated down to Southampton to purchase a set of silver-steel Le Mans cycle mudguards from a crashed Speed Six, which were fitted in place of the T.T. mudguards.
In late March the car was ready for the road, and I had several fine runs up and down the Great North Road. The speedometer at present is of a rebellious disposition, but on the rev.counter she was knocking up a very easy 90-95 in cruising speed on puddle fuel with a maximum in excess of this, though a good deal of pinking was experienced when accelerating. With “Vol-o-peps” and “Petrecon” I managed to maintain my pre-war petrol consumption figures—i.e. 14-15 m.p.g. on the open road and roughly 12 m.p.g. in traffic. Nevertheless, considering the conditions I was delighted with the car’s performance and perhaps my best rum—without any attempts at “dicing”—was the 100 miles from Grantham to London, which was covered in one hour 40 minutes dead. I am not an average-speed maniac, nor am I a disciple of the speedometer needle, and therefore I am not prepared to enter into any arguments with readers on this average, and, too, it must be remembered that it was done by a twelve-year old car under wartime conditions.
In spite of this increased performance, the old Bentley still managed to retain its great charm of being what I call “a gentleman’s sporting motorcar”; by this I mean that she is quiet, extremely comfortably sprung, and yet has a real “bite” if required. So many sports-cars are blood-and-thunder vehicles which, though grand for short spins, are little pleasure for really long runs especially if done frequently in all weathers.
War or no war, motoring still has its bright sides. Space does not permit recounting all one’s adventures. There was an attempt to purchase the ex-Rayson .Maserati at Egham; twenty-two breakdowns one wet night in the Bentley from Esher to London after dinner, due to pool sludge in the petrolift, followed by bed at 6.30 a.m.; a chance meeting of Mr. Forrest Lycett and the 8-litre Bentley which resulted in a run up the hill on to the Fairway at Henley at 122 m.p.h., and on to view an Itala and a Speed Six Bentley at Benson. Also, a run to Scotland with an Army lorry which included a real Shelsley-memories “dice” up Shap Fell, and finally a terrific crash, and total write-off of the vehicle near Gretna Green. These are but a few of many excitements in the motoring line.
But, alas, sooner or later in these days most of us must face a lay-up. The Bentley is now up at Victoria again for a general check-up and to have yet another petrol-supply fitted—this time, an Autovac–so that with three lines of supply she should not suffer from any more trouble in that department. “Mac.” is fitting up a series of taps and pipes, so that the various lines of supply can be changed over easily, and I am told that the titillated article will closely resemble Hampton Court Maze! As for the M.G., that is now down at Esher, and “The Old Lady” will shortly be going down to Byfleet to be stored as well. So now I am “mounted” upon my Royal Enfield motorcycle, which is the famous 250 c.c. S.2 Special, which was run by the works for two years, and was specially built for F. E. Thacker to ride in 1935. It was the only one of its type ever built, though I am told that certain replicas were made for private owners. It has a long history of trials successes and is still a remarkably potent little machine. Its engine and chassis number are S.1160 and S.1350, respectively.
In discussing the vehicles, I have mentioned the engine and chassis numbers for, being a super-enthusiastic owner, I should be very pleased if any readers would care to give me any information they may have concerning them. I am sure MOTOR SPORT would not mind forwarding to me any letters on the subject or publishing information in the correspondence columns of this journal.
Let me conclude by paying a tribute to those die-hards who still continue to run their sporting carriages in the most adverse circumstances and express a hope that the day is not far off when the rest of us once again take the helm of our respected steeds.