CARS I HAVE OWNED
IN all I have owned 25 cars and handled and looked after two owned by my father. Of these only two were ” bad ” cars, in the sense that they had incurable defects, and one of these” bad” cars I liked more than any. Most of them I bought secondhand and many were foreign. This for the reason that I like high-class ears, but have not been able to afford them new, and because the best secondhand bargains are to be found among foreign ears, to which I was accustomed by my early experience.
I learnt to drive in 1904 on a Darracq 8-11.p. single-cylinder with a tonneau body. The gear-change was controlled by a lever under the steering wheel (the latest fashion!) This was at Brighton. My teacher made me drive through the traffic on Brighton front during my second lesson. This car was driven on the gears. Second speed was required for slight rises, such as the one past the old fish market at Brighton.
My father then bought a PanhardLe v a s so r 8 /11-11.p . 8-cylinder chassis, which he had fitted with a ” Roi des Beiges” body by Thorn, with a detachable canopy. He was advised by a friend who was one of the leaders of the motor industry, that there was no British car fit to buy. This was in 1905, and I think it was wrong. The Panhard, although famous, was out of date, with chain drive and automatic inlet valves, etc., and friction-driven water pump. This model was miserably under-powered. Maximum speed was about 25 m.p.h., and any hill with a gradient of 1 in 15 or so called for 1st speed (4 m.p.h.) We were often overtaken by cyclists and trains!
My mother and I took this car for a tour in Spain in early 1906. The car was shipped to Malaga and driven over the Sierra Nevada to Granada and thence to Cordova and Sevilla. Local information said (I believe erroneously) that there was no practicable road to Madrid, so the car was sent by train. Attempts to get north from there were foiled by snow on the Sierra de Guadarrarna, and again the car went by train to Bilbao. We drove it from there out of Spain.
In those days it was the correct thing to hold the clutch out downhill. This I remember was very tiring down mountain passes on this trip. It was a piano-type pedal with a strong spring. When one wished to change up from 1st when a hill eased, it was often impossible to do so becatise the speed fell off too much before the eltitch shaft stopped spinning sufficiently to engage the gear. This was cured by fitting a crude form of clutch stop, which was most effective.
We carried a real French chauffeurmechanic on this trip, fortunately. At a remote village in Andalusia one of the radius rods collapsed. He dismounted it, took it to the local blacksmith’s, welded and refitted it. This car was supplemented after three years by a 80-h.p. Thornycroft, a very massive job of up-to-date design and a real treat after the Panhard. Unfortunately, I specified p, high gear ratio, which spoilt the top gear performance. The Thornycroft was in use up to the 1914 war, and was most reliable. It did at least one Continental tour and was never much trouble. One great feature was accessibility, of a degree for which This time by Capt. S. M. Townsend, who will be remembered as the Chairman of Townsend Bros. Ferries, Ltd., who were the first people to provide a special cross-Channel steamship service for motorists, at low rates. He likes
one now sighs in vain. One could remove a valve in two minutes or less.
This car had 880 mm. by 120 mm. tyres. We lived in Sussex, where the roads were flint, and ordinary canvas tyres, Dunlop or Michelin, only lasted 2,000 miles. Palmer cord lasted 5,000 miles, but had to be run at a pressure of 90 lb., and cost 160 the set of four. I consider that the spread of motoring is due almost entirely to the modern road surfaces and improved tyres. One car I now own, a Lincoln “Zephyr,’ has done 47,000 miles on the original tyres, spare unused.
In 1910 a friend bought a racing car which bore on each wheel cap a note of interrogation. He found himself unable to control it, and first lent, and then gave, it to me. It was one of three cars built for the Darracq Co. to their design by Messrs. G. & J. Weir, of Glasgow, in 1904. They were intended as British entrants for the Gordon-Bennett race, and are reputedly the most expensive cars ever built. They failed in the eliminating trials. The engines were 4-cylinder 160 mm. bore by 140. mm. stroke. After various adventures with my member of this family I scrapped the engine and had a 42-h.p. Daimler fitted in its place. At that time Daitnlers had taken to the Knight engine and were selling off the poppet valve motors they had in stock. This Daimler engine coped easily with the top-speed ratio of 1-1.25 and provided me with a remarkable car. The engine was only ticking over at 80 m.p.h., and yet it was possible. to drive from Brighton to Reigate in top and climb Reigate Hill at over 50 m.p.h. in second. The brakes were rather sketchy, but that didn’t worry me. The quadrant gearchange had no notches, and one had to feel for the gears, but that didn’t matter either. After three years I sold this unique car to a friend, Capt. F. 0. Morris, who won three races at Brooklands with it in 1914, lapping at 97 m.p.h. The weight of the car was 2,251 lb. with the original engine.
My next was a very different affair, a 12-h.p. Rover given to me as a wedding present. It had a very nice coupe body by Lawton Goodman. I took it straight off on a tour round France, and neither then nor afterwards had any trouble with it. In 1916 I sold it because I took a poor view of my chances of survival, and although I got more for it than it cost, I afterwards regretted this sale. After the war cars were scarce, but I
found a secondhand A.C. Apart from a horrible clutch, which was either in or out, this was a good little ‘bus, but I soon exchanged it for a very good-looking new A.C., which I liked very well until, in 1920, I bought a Fiat 10-h.p. Model 501, Which was a real gem. I had it fitted with an Avro mass-produced saloon, which had nothing to recommend it but its lightness. This car cost me over £800, and I kept it for 10 years. It was as good as new when I parted with it. The only defects were harsh springing and an annoying whine from the timing gears.
Shortly before I got the Fiat I wanted to visit the battlefields and did not think the A.C. stout enough, so bought, secondhand, my second 12-h.p. Rover. With this I did the battlefield tour, breaking only one spring, and then, having had it painted, sold it at a profit. That was a red-letter day. My next. was a new 18-11.p. Adler. This was one of a batch of chassis I imported from Germany as a speculation which failed, owing, I believe, to hostility to things German. It was an excellent piece of work, typically German for thoroughness, every nut split-pinned and very solid throughout. These cars were what the German Staff had used. I had it fitted with an open 4-seater, with glass windows and metalframed hood.
Attending an auction one day at Althidges I was taken with an imposinglooking Delahaye cabriolet and bought it for 1250, I think. A good car in every other way, it suffered from an incurable occasional slipping clutch, an intolerable vice. I kept it. however, for about a year and then exchanged it for a secondhand 40-h.p. Fiat, Model 519, of 1925 vintage. This was a Weymann saloon and very large. A fine car with the cleanest design of engine I have seen. Great care was needed with the brakes, which were hydraulic servo, immensely powerful and very sudden. They saved me from a bad smash, though, at an unguarded, blind level-crossing in Switzerland, where I was abruptly confronted with a train. In 1931 I found a secondhand 16/45
6-cylinder 1929 Panhard-Levassor with a close-coupled saloon, which I bought for £150, and I think I got more pleasure out of driving this than any car I have owned. This was partly due to the artistic design and good finish of all the details (even the radiator cap was a joy to sit behind and the dashboard fittings were admirable), partly also to the perfection of the controls. The gearbox was ideal, silent changes requiring no effort, and the steering and roadholding were excellent. The engine, a sleeve valve, unfortunately had a ‘defect in the design of the lubrictition system and sustained speeds of over 40 m.p.h. resulted in seized sleeves and expensive repairs, so that eventually, to my great regret, we had to part. Not, however, before this car also had done a tour in Switzerland. It was followed by a 1980 18-h.p. Panhard, in which the lubrication trouble had been remedied. A very fine car indeed, notable for a most elaborate instrument panel which had pilot lights for all the lamps, to show if they were burning. Both these Panhards had twin carburetters fitted with two sizes of choke tube, selective from the dash. The large
chokes were intended as economisers, but were also useful at high altitudes. These Panhard sleeve-valve engines were designed for power, unlike the Daimler, and both these cars would do about 70 m.p.h. In the meantime I had bought, as
chauffeur-driven cars, first an 8-h.p.
Voisin coupe de vile, and then an 18-h.p. 1928 Delage, also a coupe de vile. Both these were secondhand and both very handsome. The Voisin, a sleeve-valve job, was underpowered. The Delage was the only car I have ever had examined by an expert before purchase. It was ‘ passed by the A.A. engineer, but at once I had to have the engine rebored, the clutch relined, and part of the back axle assembly repaired. However, the car cost only £150 and the repairs about 250, quite cheap for a £1,000 car. I kept it in use myself until 1938, when I had a ‘bus body put on it, and handed it over to Townsend Bros. Ferries, Ltd., for use at Dover for conveying officials from the town to the Eastern Arm. On the outbreak of war it was lent to a hospital,
and I believe is still going strong.
Once when on holiday at Biarritz in 1923 I took advantage of a slump in the franc and bought a new Citroen 7-h.p. for £100, selling it to a friend when I left.
This was a useful little car but a bit rough.
Also on two occasions when visiting the Riviera I bought a secondhand car to drive home in. One was a 12-h.p. Berliet box-shaped saloon of great comfort and well sprung. I think this was in 1923. These cars had a bad reputation in France, and garage hands everywhere wagged their heads on seeing it, and remarked ” Mauvais marchandise.” However, it brought us safely home, although passing through Lyon, where it was made, I had something done to it at the works. This resulted in a 36-hours stay in that centre of good cooking and a considerable strain
on the digestion. The other was a 2-litre Bugatti which I bought from the secretary of the Bains de Mer at Monte Carlo in 1924. I cannot remember what I paid for it, but feel certain not more than £300. It was fairly new, and I felt sure I could sell it • at a profit in England, but no such luck. I did not keep it very long because the lower gears were so noisy and were in constant use in town. This was quite the safest car I have ever handled, and my only trouble was in finding suitable plugs (eventually a brand of A.C.s did the trick.)
The body on this car was remarkable. A 2-seater with dickey, it had a superstructure hinged behind the front seats and spring-tensioned. On releasing a catch on the dashboard the superstructure lifted up and back, taking the hood. and two side windows with it, so that one could stand up and step out. There were no door’s. The hood could be folded back separately. Very practical, and I am surprised I have seen no more of these bodies. English motor tourists who think the French police indifferent to motorists should try driving a Bugatti with French numbers in France. It is like a red rag to a bull. They start waving you down at sight, even if you are crawling. In other ways, too, it is an experience. Everyone wants to race you, even lorry drivers, I suppose in order to boast of having kept ahead of a Bugatti for half a kilometre or a kilometre, and generally one proceeds in a kind of aura of glory i Other cars I had for a short time were an 8-h.p. Morris and a 14-h.p. Hillman, the latter a coupe, both secondhand. I liked them both, the Morris having very nice controls and roadholding for a little
About 1931 I bought my second 10-h.p. Fiat drophead coupe, very much used. I neglected my usual precaution of immediately changing the engine oil and ran a big-end on my first journey. That is the only time I have had this occur. The oil was of the consistency of paraffin. Afterwards this car served me well for
the short time I had it. I think there is something especially attractive about a coupe (drophead, of
course). In addition to the two Panhards already mentioned, I had one more, but it was in bad condition. At this time my wife demanded a softly-sprung car, so I traded this last Panhard for a new V8 Ford (1935), American-built, which I replaced by a new 1936, English-built, after a year, because someone told me not to keep a Ford longer than that. Of course this is nonsense. The Ford V8 needs no praise from me. Both cars served me very well, but the English one was not so well sprung as the American. The first needed back-axle repairs at 10,000 miles, and so did the Lincoln ” Zephyr,” which I bought in 1938 (shop-soiled 1937 model). The back axle trouble did not recur. All
these Ford products went for tours on the Continent, and provided very coinfortable fast travel. The ” Zephyr” cruises at 65, and will climb most main road hills at 60. With all my experience I cannot tell the speed without looking at the speedometer. In 1939 I hired a 10-h.p. Model 508C Fiat on the Riviera and took such a fancy to it that I bought one on my return, a drophead coupe, not new, but nearly so. The charm of this car is exemplified by the fact that my son, who had only driven the Fords and the Lincoln, said after driving the Fiat that he never wanted to drive the Lincoln again. I laid the Lincoln up when the war started, and as my son had taken possession of the Fiat, I bought a 6-h.p. Fiat, the ” clockwork mouse,” for my own use. Secondhand, nearly new. I get great fun out of this. Nice controls, light steering, good lock and a very clever body (the 4-seater). The springing made even long journeys (when they were
possible) comfortable. The car is lively enough with one up, but more than two make it sluggish. I find that I have made one omission, and that closes my list. A 1934 20-h.p. Mercedes, with the smoothest engine in my experience, but bought rather too secondhand. I had the overdrive giving two sets of ratios. The lower too low and the higher too noisy, owing, no doubt,
Someone once said, “There are no bad cars, only bad drivers.” I think this is almost true.