A DIY car

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Building sports cars from kits is a fairly recent innovation, judged by the long run of motoring history. Making an entire car, or cyclecar, at home was a product of the years just before the First World War, when simple three-and four-wheelers of the ‘new motoring’ age had a brief popularity. It was then that some clever people constructed cars in their home garages, preferring to do this rather than buy one of the many cyclecars that flooded the market from 1912 until war snuffed them out. One of the first to do this was Mr Harold E Dew. Moreover, he pioneered that rare device, the road-going, as distinct from racing, monocar, or single-seater, doing this in 1911, a year or so before ‘new motoring’ got into its stride. Dew said he built his simple monocar because he was fed up with skating along in the road after his motorcycle had skidded and thrown him off (roads were more slippery, dusty, cambered and rutted in Edwardian times) or, if he escaped that, of turning up at journey’s end looking dirty instead of respectable.

So what he did was to amass a supply of straight steel tubes of various gauges, from which he constructed a simple frame. At the front of this he installed an air-cooled single-cylinder 85×85 mm JAP engine, mounted as in a motorcycle. It had a Bosch magneto and the maker’s carburettor. This drove by a 1×5/16 in Reynold chain to a countershaft mounted in eccentric ball-bearings, to allow for chain adjustment. The engine drove a two-speed gear based on the back gear of a lathe system, enclosed in a revolving case, giving ratios of 10:1 and 5 1/8:1 . The drive to the back-axle was by 7/9 in belts, from 6 in pulleys on the ends of the countershaft, to belt-rims spoked to the back wheels. A cylindrical petrol tank above the engine fed the carburettor by gravity. The complete outfit weighed 250 lb. What could be more simple?

Mr Dew, seated in his hammock-like single seat, a bulb-horn attached to his steering wheel, became quite famous as he chuntered about in what he termed his Spider Monocar. He advised others to construct similar machines, pointing out that expense could be cut by using a cheaper engine than a JAP, less-costly tyres than his £45 worth of 26×2¼ Goodrich rubber and by using a coil-set in place of an expensive magneto. He even encouraged readers of The Model Engineer (which I am glad to see is still on the bookstalls) to have a go. encouraging them by saying his monocar had climbed Tonbridge, Crowborough, School Hill, Lewes, Handcross and Reigate hills, using the lower gear only a the summits and for starting. He had averaged 21 mph on a non-stop jaunt from Eynesford to Brighton and 16 mph from Brighton to Battersea Park via Sutton and Tooting. The Spider Monocar seems to have achieved his desire for a car combining simplicity, accessibility, cleanliness (of occupant), lightness and strength and to be able to average 25 mph on the open roads of the day. But Mr Dew wisely advised those who copied him to “use the best components if they could afford to do so, as it is always cheapest in the end”. If there were to be a sequel to this home-building of the simplest of cars we might see such creations racing at Colerne one day, instead of invalid chairs. t

This reminds me that I have a Beardmore Precision cyclecar engine sans valve guides, and a ex-Morgan air-cooled JAP engine, sans valves (a curious co-incidence) which I might lend a practical builder. On the other hand. I might not!