The Editor Tries Another Selection of Different Cars
THIS habit of going out, journalistically in as many different motor-cars as possible grows. The first that came up in June was Ronald Barker’s Magnificent Napier motor-carriage, a 30/35-h.p. six-cylinder delivered from Acton in November, 1909.
I don’t propose to say much here about its technicalities, because I hope to persuade Kent Karslake to make it the subject of one of his “Veteran Types” studies in the near future. Suffice it then to record that this imposing vehicle took us up to Napier’s, where it caused a vast measure of interest and somewhat disrupted work in the factory ! After lunch (from which we descended in a huge lift put in during the 1914-18 war for the express purpose of enabling Napier’s to move complete the aeroplane fuselages they were then making) we drove with Mr. Bellamy, the Publicity Manager, to an adjacent garage to admire Napier’s beautiful 1920 “40/50” saloon. Finally, after inspecting “Lion,” “Sabre” and other historic aeroplane engines and that vast power unit from the 1908 G.P. Napier racing car, we went on our way.
Barker cruises his car at 40-50 m.p.h. and more than 50 is on tap if you need it, so there was nothing tedious about this Edwardian means of progression. We called in to see his Type 30 Bugatti two seater which is being very nicely restored and paid other visits of a motoring flavour, eventually returning at night. The lofty Napier proceeding by the light of its oil side and acetylene headlamps is a sight long remembered, its ghostly passage enhanced by the low whirring sound characteristic of this early six-cylinder.
Next, Rootes lent me a Mark IV Hillman Minx saloon for the Eight Clubs Silverstone week-end.
At one time a Minx was just a reliable but rather dreary means of transport, possessed of a suspension sogginess not evident to ordinary drivers, but probably at times liable to inconvenience even them, and quite intolerable to the enthusiast. We have come a long way since then, and to-day the Hillman Minx is a car which it is quite permissible to introduce into the conversation wherever fast drivers forgather.
It handles splendidly, has excellent steering, very nice brakes. Moreover, with the new Mark IV 1,265-c.c. 37 1/2 b.h.p. engine, it does cover the ground. Late for Silverstone, I pushed it as hard as it would go from Radlett to Towcester, via congested St. Albans and it did that journey in just over the hour. The speedometer would sweep round to 60, 65, 70 and if you got a bit of downhill, would go to the stop at 75 and stay there. Now I never trust speedometers, but if this Mark IV Minx doesn’t cruise at over a mile-a-minute I’ll tear up all my petrol coupons. An indicated 50 or 60 is absolutely effortless—indeed, this Hillman is quite indecently quiet and refined for a car of its modest size and price. To acknowledge the return of unrationed petrol I didn’t check the fuel consumption, but, even driving really hard, it certainly wasn’t excessive.
I have already given Rootes full marks for the excellence of the Minx’s riding and handling qualities–qualities which make it a real pleasure to drive quickly along twisty ways or against the new-found freedom of the roads. I enthused, also, over the comfortable driving position, fine visibility, excellent steering-column gear-change and the full leather upholstery. I liked the layout of the facia, with its generous parcel-shelves, the three-abreast bench seats, and the satisfactory external appearance of this essentially modern-looking car. As with nearly all present-day cars the steering doesn’t feel quite as if it is connected to the front wheels by mechanical means, so that you can go along a straight road beating time with the steering-wheel to the music from the radio without the car deviating one iota from its path. But the Minx’s steering has complete freedom from return shocks, just the right castor-action and is geared just right. Coupled with supple yet not soggy suspension, you can corner fast and place the car where you will with precision, pleasure and without tyre scream. The Minx rides, too, with a certain firmness, bad surfaces merely sending a ripple along the rigid bonnet, that, experienced in the better cars from France and Italy pre-war, sent me into raptures. We really are catching up on the Continentals! Moreover, manufacturers of expensive vehicles must look rather askance at a £395 saloon which, cruised at the aforementioned indicated sixty, remains so undisturbed mechanically and aerodynamically that its occupants can hear every word of a play broadcast via the completely interference-free H.M.V. radio. I found I could drive as though this were a three-speed car, ignoring bottom, and the speedometer would go to 50 in third.
This Mark IV Minx really is a winner. Personally, for family and business transport, I should look no further. Incidentally, if you don’t like saloons this Hillman is made as an attractive six-seater convertible.
Good as the Minx was, something in a different key entirely seemed called for to celebrate the return of coupon-free petrol. Forrest Lycett provided it, by taking me out in his immortal 8-litre Bentley.
The long, low black two-seater impresses all who see it and the passenger more than most. It looked, and behaved, in as hale and hearty a manner as before the war. The 2.8-to-1 back axle was in use, giving, in conjunction with the 7.00-19 back tyres, 34 1/2 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. in top gear. I do not know whether it is this leisurely engine speed or the length of bonnet in front of you, or a combination of the two factors which makes high speed in the Bentley seem so restful. The fact remains that along winding roads, with the rev.-counter indicating 2,000 r.p.m. (69 m.p.h.), I had great difficulty, on this scorching June day, in keeping awake!
In same ways the docility of the car, with benzoil or a spot of “Octol” in the fuel, is as impressive as its speed. Lycett drove me gently through sleepy villages, and proved that a snatch-free 20.m.p.h. was possible in the high top gear. Yet, when the spirit moved, the great car came alive all right! The speedometer and rev.-counter needles would sweep round their big dials, the former frequently attaining the 90, not infrequently passing the 100-mark; and on one glorious occasion, free from lorries and fag-boxes,. it reached nearly the 120 position. These readings were, in sober fact, about three per cent. “fast,” so those of you will recall what I wrote of this car ten years and more ago will appreciate that the traffic was badly against us! Incidentally, even at 100 m.p.h. the engine is turning at under 3,000 r.p.m.
Never to have ridden with Lycett in his 8-litre is to fail to grasp the full meaning of what S. C. H. Davis meant when, of another Bentley, he wrote in his book “Motor Racing “: “the wind howled like a host of demons, the big car, throbbing with animal life, simply flew . . .” You cannot go as fast on the road as round Brooklands and Lycett doesn’t take even the slenderest risk, but the “animal life” is certainly there. A lightning juggle with the outside gear-lever, depression of the right-hand accelerator (the second accelerator, to the left of the clutch pedal, is for town-use only!), and the Bentley surges forward in a hard, purposeful manner, the seat pressing into your back, with a rapidity very, very few cars can equal. Like Oliver, you want more. For it is exceedingly exhilarating, I assure you.
A Mk. VI Bentley was passed as if it were stationary and an open “2 1/2” Jaguar, screen flat, faded away along every short straight. The Bentley makes light of corners with a sort of shrug of its long frame, and, at speed, gear noise, exhaust note and the wind merge to make merry music. Before you go really fast you stop, lift the long but light bonnet, and turn a cock, thus changing over from pump to air-pressure fuel feed. Lycett also has numerous tanks, similarly controlled, so that he can run on “Pool” or various combinations of petrol/benzole, at will. Another remarkable feature of the car is the low temperature of the cooling water, as recorded on one of those old-fashioned thermometers that look as if they know their job. On one of the hottest days of I lw year, wIticlt ended in a thunderstorm, the reading never went above 77 deg. C., and was normally at 70 deg. C. Probably the new exhaust system, each pair of cylinders feeding into a separate vertical pipe, was responsible.
All good things come to an end in time, but it was grand to find Lycett’s 8-litre out and about again—to his credit he refused an American offer of £4,000 for it during the war. There may be faster cars—a few—but surely none is quite so impressive as this? Indeed, unless you have had a drive in it your motoring experience is not entirely complete. The day before I sampled the 8-litre I drove a 1938 two-speed Trojan van which a friend has converted into a most useful Emmet-utility for hack and holiday transport. It gives 40 m.p.g and proceeds along the level at 28 m.p.h. and uphill at just above zero-m.p.h.—name me a greater contrast than this with the Bentley, if you can!
There was an afternoon visit, on one of those sweltering days that heralded the arrival of June, to Toulmin Motors’ new garage. I went “up the by-pass” in various examples of “the car of many hexagons.” First, in an “NA” Magnette four-seater, the first of these cars which I had driven since before the war and which thereby brought back many memories. It was faster than I expected but I never can bring myself to like entirely the steering, braking and low-gearing of the earlier M.G.s. Next I went up the same bit of road in a vastly more exciting car, No. 2 of the “Works” Q-type two-seaters. The blown 746-c.c., o.h.c. engine sounded exceedingly healthy and when I inquired timidly if it was “O.K. to go to five thousand,” the reply was that eight thousand was more like the answer. Clearly, the little car could be cornered very fast indeed, was very exciting generally, and it was fun to play with its self-change, Type 110 Wilson gearbox, the gears being preselected by a tiny lever, normally plated and working ln a quadrant, which functioned very nicely and which did much to supplement the seemingly rather lackadaisical brakes. But I should have needed twenty miles or so to get properly used to a Q-type.
The third M.G. I tried made an interesting contrast to the others and was an excellent example of the progress made down the years at the Abingdon factory. It was A. L. Toulmin’s own “TC,” thoroughly overhauled and loaded with such gadgets as radio, heater, and a dual-belt-driven Marshall-Roots supercharger. The latter made only a very subdued whine when the car was accelerating, but it did impart most pronounced urge, especially remembering that no weight-saving had been indulged in. During a short run which embraced a visit to a film studio and a breather beside the Thames, sixty and seventy came up very easily on the speedometer, the acceleration notably clean and brisk. The pleasant gear-change, the comfort, and the imposing view from the rather low seat over a broad, slightly up-sloping bonnet, gave a sense of decided superiority over the Magnette of a decade earlier. It is only fair to remark that even this car had a tendency to wander, especially under the brakes, but I have no doubt this was purely a matter of tyre pressures and brake adjustment.
H. R. Godfrey, immortal as the “G” of G.N., suggested a further trial of a 1 1/2-litre H.R.G. and naturally I accepted readily, for I have always had a very soft spot in my heart for this sports car. It really is good fun to drive, besides being a very quick means of transport which possesses that decidedly attractive present-day adjunct, a petrol gauge whose needle returns to zero in a leisurely manner. Driving hard, the consumption of “Pool” (widely naturally, the high-compression o.h.c. engine doesn’t like particularly) is in the region of 30 m.p.g., and “Austin Seven” consumptions are possible if you don’t hurry. Actually I cannot imagine anyone not hurrying in a “Herg,” for it is one of those easy to manipulate, essentially safe cars in which it is such fun to press along.
Apart from its economy and easy starting I formed a very good impression of the Singer power-unit. It provided regular, smooth acceleration up to 4,000 to 4,500 r.p.m. in third gear, equal to a genuine 55 to 62 m.p.h., which proved exceedingly useful for passing slower-moving vehicles. Top speed I didn’t try for, the wrong head being fitted to the Lucas distributor on this occasion. But, during a duel with a Daimler, 80 came up on the Jaeger speedometer—the driver of the other car afterwards told me condescendingly that I had “a nice little bus,” and that I had been doing ninety.
The driving position is good, both front wings are in view, the steering is high-geared yet light, and the car’s manner of riding is reminiscent of the Frazer-Nash it resembles, the hard suspension resulting in some hopping about and some diving here and there at speed along straight roads, but enabling you to go round corners just as fast as you dare. A softer rear springing is available now if you prefer it, but, on the car I tried— NQF 206–this wasn’t in use, yet my wife and three small daughters, not to mention some luggage, suffered not at all on a fast run concerned with their annual pilgrimage to the sea.
Returning alone that evening I thoroughly enjoyed myself in the H.R.G., over that rather fine road from Petersfield to Basingstoke via Alton. You direct the car where you want it to go and hurl it round bends, the “sports-car” springing adding to the fun. On an earlier car I tried, the cable-operated brakes were not up to modern standards. But an alteration in the length of the cam-levers (the overall leverage rentains the same, however) and improved lubrication of the enclosed cables huts worked wonders, and I could lock the wheels of this H.R.G. on a dry road and really make it come to heel in a hurry. You still had to press pretty hard on a rather uncomfortably small pedal, and heavy applications resulted in some squeal, but the anchorage was there all right. I got the impression, possibly erroneous, that rather frequent adjustment might be required; but there is a cockpit adjuster to look-after that.
If you don’t hurry it unduly, the synchromesh gear-change is delightful. So is the action of the fly-off hand-brake. A friend who tried the “Herg” thought the clutch rather heavy, but then, he had been driving Edwardian cars. As a matter of fact we spent what was left of that evening talking of’ Edwardians and vintage cars at a garage near Basingstoke-admiring a beautiful pre-1914 Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce, listening to a Halle siren driven from the flywheel of’ a 1909 Napier, which started first pull-up, and discussing the merits of the early Austin Twelves over those of a few years later.
But next day we attended Shelsley Walsh in the H.R.G. and voted it jolly good fun and very useful transport. We left late but arrived in ample time, which is another way of saying again that this H.R.G. covers the ground. It is a small sports car unspoiled by low-geared steering and transmission, looking as a stark British sports car should, yet smooth, silent, and well-equipped for everyday use. Note the knock-off wheels, high-set headlamps, fold-flat screen and rigid wings. Water and oil temperatures stayed at 75 deg. C. and 55 deg. C., respectively, in the June sunshine, incidentally. We returned the car to Surbiton with real regret early on the Monday morning. It had served us very well, had blown away the cobwebs and had shaken up my liver. If the ride is a little hard, if a bit of an effort is required to put the brakes on, who am I to complain, when girls like Betty Haig enjoy H.R.G. motoring and get such good results ? If you want to experience sports-car motoring effectively blended with present-day mod. cons. ask Godfrey to take you out in this H.R.G. demonstrator. It is a nice car. So nice that. I have entirely forgiven it for shedding a pint of engine oil over my trousers from a loose oil-gauge union nut!
A very different vehicle came along next, in the shape of one of the little Bond three-wheelers. Let no one, no matter what he or she drives, decry this minicar from Preston. It is a brilliant piece of design, likely to become classic. The widespread use of light-alloys, including 18-gauge aluminimum stressed-skin body-cum-chassis with a 14-gauge bulkhead, the absence of rear springs, the tiny wheels (you raise a laugh every time you produce the spare!), the cast-alloy trailing front unit carrying the entire power-unit, and the chain primary and final drives, are all part of the clever austerity scheme. There was even cable and bobbin steering on the car I tried, as on Bedelia, Sabella and other pre-1914 cyclecars, but as the really-careless have been known to clout kerbs and snap the cable, later models use rack and pinion.
The Bond originally had a 122-c.c. engine, but the current version uses one of 197 c.c. I came to admire that Villiers two-stroke, with its flywheel magneto-cum-generator and three-speed gearbox.
Once the knack was acquired it started reasonably easily on the internal pull-up lever, although I acquired the “Bond bruise” on my left arm while learning. It had an 8 to 1 compression-ratio, purred merrily, and made jolly noises on the over-run; I like these sounds so much that I may be driven to acquire one of those miniature motor-cycles, perhaps with side-car, that are now on the market, if not a Bond itself.
Whatever technicians say about petrol wastage with a two-cycle engine, the fact remains that this Bond goes twice as far on a gallon as an Austin Seven. Moreover, it cruises happily at it speedometer 45 m.p.h., shows 50 with the merest persuasion, and accelerates in a fashion which astonishes the drivers of ordinary cars. What is more, it steers and corners in a delightful manner, and sits down on the road surprisingly well. There is something particularly fascinating about minimum motoring in any of its several forms. As I bought oil to mix with the petrol, taught myself the correct starting technique, and discovered that you lay the thing on its side to change a wheel, I felt I was experiencing some of the atmosphere of the Cyclecar Age. After completing a journey of any length in the Bond I experienced a satisfactory sense of achievement.
This last statement is not intended to disparage the little car, however. It seats two very comfortably, three if need be, with bags of leg-room and luggage space, and, as I have already explained, there is a quite unexpected degree of performance. Stability, too, is of a high order. Cruising hard at 45 m.p.h. for some 60 miles, and doing a lot of starting and traffic driving, just over 80 miles were completed on a gallon of petrol. Admittedly, you have to add half-a-pint of oil to every gallon, which raises the price from 3s. 1d. to 3s. 10d., but then the annual tax saves you £5, and that will buy quite a number of half-pints— sufficient for over 10,000 miles’ motoring, in fact.
Naturally, the ride is a bit trying over rough roads, but then, you can always reduce speed over the bad bits. The quadrant gear-change is exceedingly easy to operate; second gear had a tendency to jump out, but this wasn’t particularly disastrous because you just stuffed it in again, it being possible to push the lever from one position to another with complete immunity from mechanical protests. The clutch seems to stand up to any amount of abuse. The brakes, on the back wheels, I found just adequate even when in a hurry. There is a big Perspex screen, a snug hood, and neat sidescreens, to keep out the weather. A motor-cycle Exide battery looks after lighting, horn and screenwiper. The facia has a big cubby hole and nothing to distract you except a speedometer, choke control, single lamps-switch, and a charming little magneto switch. In short, the Bond is not only the answer to the transport-prayer of District Nurses, Country Parsons and Busy Housewives, but a car that so grows on the enthusiast that, from using it light heartedly for errands, he comes to employ it for serious runs of upwards of 100 miles. I must confess I became completely “sold” with the idea. I used it for a 5 a.m. start for Croydon to catch the Airspeed Consul which flew MOTOR SPORT to the I.O.M. races, went down to the seaside in it, took it to Goodwood, and employed it for business calls in Leindon. It was ever a pleasure to remove the fuel filler cap and observe how slowly the level dropped; moreover, oil consumption is automatically linked with fuel consumption and doesn’t increase sharply with bore wear. The engine, by the way, gives 8 1/2 b.h.p. at. 4,000 r.p.m. and pulls a 4 to 1 top gear–although, of course. the front tyre it drives is a Goodyear 16-4. It was possible to wind up to an indicated 45 m.p.h. in the 5.6 to 1 second gear.
Altogether I approve thoroughly of the Bond. With petrol so savagely taxed it has arrived at a most opportune time, apart from which it has allowed me to visualise something I never could visualise before, namely, what the Nomad which MOTOR SPORT tested in 1926, and the Harper Runabout of an even earlier decade, must have been like. In this country such vehicles cause a good deal of mirth, but the French have been doing things of this sort for years. A £5 tax, £205, 80 m.p.g. minicar is just what a lot of people are seeking in these days of enforced austerity. So I predict that you will see lots of Bonds on our roads before very long. We used the one delivered for test, very hard. Snags? —a broken starter cable, loss of some small bolts from the hood frame, a burntout plug, loose driving mirror, and a rather opaque screen. The hand brake didn’t work properly, and—nothing being perfect in this world—we spent most of a night out of bed because a steering pulley fell off and was carried away as loot by some passing Scouts before we could recover it.–W.B.