Cars I have owned
The first article on this subject, by Donald Munro in the April issue, proved so popular that we hope to include others by well-known personalities from time to time. The second of what we hope will be a series is presented herewith, the author being W. G. S. Wike, a very well-known member of the Northern Section of the Vintage S.C.C. "The owner knows most" is a very true saying, so these articles touch on some very interesting detail information and, dealing with ownership over an appreciable period, strike a good balance between vintage and modern reminiscences.—Ed.
MUST of the cars I have owned have been bought with an eye to low depreciation—in other words, they have been cheap! But altogether they number thirty-five, and. even if some of them have been quickly sold again, they have taken me over a quarter of a million miles, mostly pleasant ones.
The first car I ever drove was a pre-war (which war?) Bedelia, which had belt drive, and was the pride of the preparatory school at which I am afraid I drove it; the driver sat behind the passenger, and the wheels were such that when the owner bought a G.N., the tyres on the latter looked positively doughnut (they were about 700 x 80)
But I digress. When I was really old enough to drive, I went to a motor school: I had two lessons in the busiest street of Manchester, and then bought an "11.9" Morris-Oxford, of which not many were made. My mechanical knowledge was more enthusiastic than accurate, as will be realised when I admit I did not notice that there was no nut at the top end of the steering column, and the wheel came off in my hands. As the car had few or no brakes, and could only do 38 m.p.h., there was no mishap.
Then a generous parent provided a successor: the name of Chrysler was great in the land, and a Model 70 turned up. This car had some good points, none of which were evident in wet weather, especially if stopping was needed. The car had a Bosch magneto, probably the last American production car to be so fitted. I knocked down about a hundred feet of iron fencing, and sold it. (No, not the fencing.)
At last I had acquired some sense, and the first of six "30/98s" thundered into my garage. This was 0.E.57, with Whitehead f.w.b., and after the other cars, these seemed miracles of anchorage. The weather being cold and wet, I learnt the gentle art of starting by hand, being thrown appreciable distances until I learnt to retard the spark. I did about 20,000 miles on this machine, and for the first time exceeded 90 m.p.h. —there were two men leading a horse about a mile down the road. They left the horse.
When I thought the Vauxhall cost too much to run, I got a very early Anzani Frazer-Nash. This had 710 x 90 tyres. I also got a rivet extractor and some spare links, having heard awful tales about the transmission, but I had three Frazer-Nashes in all, and only twice broke a chain. On one occasion, I was starting the engine by method C (there was no starter, and I had mislaid the handle)—method C being to run alongside and then shove it in second. The throttle was unfortunately about half open, and I was on the step at about 35 m.p.h. until I could persuade the switch to direct the electric fluid into the chassis rather than the engine. Naturally, I never thought of shutting the throttle, or even pulling the dogs apart, such is the reaction of the youthful intelligence in moments of stress. The Anzani used a lot of oil, and if driven fast for an hour or two would empty the sump, but I never had any trouble with bearings, and eventually fell for a Lancia "Lambda." This was a Third Series, and was so good that I have forgotten all about it, except that I drove it from Torquay to Southport without stopping (well, nearly . . .) in pouring rain, with no front wings, as these had been made by me, and therefore fell off.
I then tried a side-valve "30/98" Vauxhall. This was a special car made for a local rich man, and weighed just under a ton; the body was of such thin aluminium that I think one could have pushed a nail through it! On one occasion it shed a rear tyre, and I did not notice it for at least a mile. On another, the felt oil-retaining ring came out of the back main bearings, and naturally entered the oil-pump; with very occasional gauge-readings of about 5 lb. I coaxed it on tiny throttle openings for over 50 miles, and no bearings had gone.
Next came one of the few closed cars I have had, a 24 h.p. Minerva coupe. Not a very exciting carriage, you say, but the controls were so beautiful, and the engine so utterly silent and willing, that its maximum of 55 and not too sudden acceleration, suited me for over a year. It climbed well, and had good brakes compared with the "30/98." The water pump was fitted with spring-loaded grease-cups, a good idea, as they kept a steady pressure of grease on the string inside the pump.
To keep it company I had an "Alfonso" Hispano, the car now owned by Mr. Lycett. I noticed something wrong with one of the rear hubs, and on dismantling it, found that all the splines had gone long ago, and the taper was packed with old razor blades, a useful hint and/or tip. It had a lovely gear change, and absolutely no brakes whatsoever.
I sold these two, and bought a car I had long admired, a "22/90" Alfa-Romeo, painted gold, covered with millions of tiny red, blue and green spots. In case readers imagine that this was about the time I started drinking, this colour scheme had some popularity about 1925, the body and painting being by Mulliner of Northampton. It was a lovely car, too; perfect steering, perfect road-holding (by "30/98" standards) and very fair brakes. A curious fault was the failure of the case hardening of the tappet feet, and I always carried a spare. The o.h.v. rockers were lubricated by wicks, and the tappet adjustment was at the bottom of the push-rods, where there were auxiliary imitation valve springs, presumably in the interests of silence. The hand brake worked on the transmission, which was as well; instead of bell-cranks, the front brake operating levers had tiny chains and sprockets, and the failure of a chain left the fully-compensated brakes helpless. We never hit anything.
A disadvantage of the colour-scheme became apparent when we had a slight attack of gatepost disease, as nobody could possibly touch-up the paint to match.
About this time I met Sharratt, then owner of the famous Fiat "Mephistopheles." I bought this from him, and collected the car in a very mossy condition from Knutsford, where it had lain for about a year previously. It seems that Sharratt and Le Champion were driving this work of art from Leamington (where they used it for shopping) to Preston, but as it has no dynamo, and uses about 20 amps with all four ignitions igniting, the battery had appeared to have run down. However, this proved not to be the case, as one of the exhaust valves was in the sump, the resultant noise being mistaken for late ignition. I got a piston, some valves, and a full set of rings from Coley, of Kingston, the piston weighing 9 lb. and costing 9/-. We then worked for a year getting the whole car in spot-on condition, with the intention of taking the flying mile at Southport, but after doing about 120 before the event, we unwisely filled up with benzol bought from a fellow-aspirant, which possibly accounted for the water in the float chambers. No race. The Fiat was magnificent to drive; there was a huge ignition lever, about as big as a Bugatti gear lever, and one could not advance under about 800 r.p.m., as the whole show caught fire, but when one did shove it forward (at about 75 in top), the acceleration was pleasing. Yet I drove it round the streets of Birkdale, even using TOP gear; about 50 r.p.m. I should think. The car is now in Preston, and the present owner would not sell it for worlds, nor drive it.
Now the Alfa was not provided with transmission up to towing the Fiat, so I cast round for another car, and bought the side-valve "30/98" Vauxhall which had appeared at Olympia in 1921. This had been owned since new by a local eccentric, who kept it in faultless condition. It had a bulbous one-door, three-seater body, with an absolutely perfect concealed hood, which went up and down instantly and neatly; surely rare? It had never had a silencer, but had instead a most resplendent copper exhaust pipe which made a NICE noise. It had wheel-discs, a blessing. In some ways, this was the best car I have had yet as it did 20 m.p.g. and about 85 m.p.h., and gave not the slightest trouble in 22,000 miles. It towed the Fiat at a rousing sixty, but after We had done several runs on the Fiat at over 100, it was most difficult to proceed down Lord Street, Southport, at much less than the aforesaid sixty.
I had an egg-shaped Swallow Austin Seven for a short time, and this provided much geographical interest, as the radiator came loose, and taught me where all the streams and horse troughs in the vicinity were situated. It did about 50, but did it often, and although the waterless engine seized up quite a dozen times, no harm appeared to come to it. Possibly the absence of an oil gauge was a good thing, too…
One evening I was in the local, and got into conversation with the village taxi-proprietor, who ran a fleet of "23/60" Vauxhalls. He said he had bought a "23/60" tourer for spares, so we went and had a look, and it was a "30/98"! It had a broken piston, so I decided to buy it for spares, as no "30/98" parts will fit a "23/60'' (it is strange how two such outwardly similar engines can differ so—and why the different bore, anyway?) After a lot of beer, I got it for 30/-.
A few weeks later, I was in the other car, travelling hurriedly to avoid being overtaken by a blown 3-litre Sunbeam, when the ball joint at the bottom of the steering drop-arm broke off: we ran into an iron telegraph pole, turned over, and slid 206 feet upside down, ending up in a cottage garden. I never heard the noise, and did not feel hurt, but the petrol dripping out of the top of the Autovac on to the warm exhaust manifold made a most interesting sound. The Sunbeam owner and some yokels lifted the 30/98 off me, and apart from a dislocated elbow, and collar-bone and shoulder-blade bent a bit, all was well. The car was, of course, a complete wreck.
The taxi-man's car was then made into a 100 per cent, good motor, and is the one now run by Shorrock, of Centric fame; the engine is the one out of my crashed car, and he is toying with a blower and a gas-producer. .
When I was in better form, I bought a Twenty Daimler saloon, but apart from the aristocratic noise made by the gearwheels, it was pretty awful, so I got a 3-litre Sunbeam fabric saloon, with suede upholstery, and this was a very useful and completely reliable car. The day after I sold it, two connecting rods came through the side of the engine.
At the same time I wanted an open car, and having tried several 3-litre Bentleys, decided for their superior braking and road-holding. I went to London with Shorrock on a "24/100" Mercedes saloon with no windscreen: as it rained most of the way, our application for a room at the Park Lane surprised the reception clerk no little, as our faces were well manured, and I am sure, almost sprouting! We went to look at the 3-litre of my choice, at Manor Motors, off Knightsbridge and there, lurking in a lock-up, was a really magnificent 6½-litre. In spite of Shorrock's gloomy prophecies about impending bankruptcy, it was just too grand to resist; it was a huge seven seater tourer, with a deck over the rear seats, and a nobleman's crest on the door with the motto "Carpe diem," which I did.
I did nearly 40,000 miles on this car. It would do 15 m.p.g. at a pinch, and had the high axle ratio, so was ever so nice on long straights, where the presence of six or seven Donington-bound enthusiasts did not prevent it swooping down the long hills of the Buxton-Ashbourne road at nearly 90 miles an hour. It had one carburetter, and a terrible induction pipe. It once developed a mysterious faint rattle, hardly a rattle, more of a tremor, and this was due to all six big-ends having shed their wafer-thin white metal. And No. 6 piston cannot be withdrawn from below . . . I sold it eventually to a friend, who still runs and loves it. It has probably done 120,000 miles, and seems as good as new.
Having sold the Sunbeam, I was tempted by a "19/70" Austro-Daimler. I have never had a car with such perfect brakes and steering, but the engine . . . The first day I had it, the pinion fell off the end of the starter, and was at once ground into bronze dust between the flywheel teeth and the clutch housing —a strange noise. The engine used so much oil that I arrived at the works one day, found the man draining the lorry sump, and at once emptied the drainings into the Austro—that's despair for you! The body had no doors, and no hood, and was brilliant red: the design of the front brake operating gear was very neat, with the brake cross shaft inside the axle, a la Mercedes. I paid £25 for this object, and sold it for £4. It had a horn button on the floor, by the clutch pedal, a good place.
The lure of the "30/98" was again too strong for me, so having sold the 6½-litre and the above horror, I got an 0.E. from Jack Cunliffe, of Brough fame, the brother of May Cunliffe. It was painted a bilious blue, and bore the name "Xerxes." I think I paid £20 for it, in 1933; after running it for about 15,000 miles, during which time it cost very little in repairs, I sold it to Sharratt of Fiat renown, and he still owns it, and keeps it in better condition than any other "30/98" I know of. It had "kidney-box" brakes, which I redesigned, scrapping the shaft brake at the same time. A 30-gallon fuel tank kept the tail on the road.
At the same time, I was offered a 1926 3-litre Bentley for very little. It had a suspiciously low chassis number, short wheelbase, one Smith carburetter, and 6.00"x20" tyres. I found that it was a 1922 car, which had spent the first four years at Poona (gad, sir!), and some enthusiast had fitted a 3 to 1 axle ratio; it did 30, 50, 60, and 65 on the gears, and a consistent 25 m.p.g., but the slightest hill, or even dirt on the road, brought it off top! It had no starter motor, and I never bought one, as it always started first or second turn, and had a low compression. The brakes (f.w.b. had been fitted) were admirable, as were the Bosch headlamps.
Another Lancia "Lambda" then came into the fold, and again it was so reliable that I remember little about it, except that an attempt to redesign the brake gear resulted in a voyage through the streets of Macclesfield with about a mile of wire trailing behind, and a curious failure to stop! Also, the fabric universals failed, and were repaired with fence-wire, which held until a garage was reached.
I sold the "30/98," and bought another Anzani Frazer-Nash. This had been fitted with Michelin R.L.P. tyres, 140/40, then all the rage. It did 60 in second, and about the same in top, and used a lot of oil, but I liked it so much that, having sold it to a friend, I bought it back a year later. I felt a real affection for this little machine, but it was not too reliable; the excessive tyre-adhesion broke the back axle on one occasion (and the tow-waggon which came for it, at midnight, blew up on arrival, so we left them both), and it was some time before I could get front spring U-bolts to stick it. I believe it is still running.
I also bought Sharratt's 1922 3-litre Bentley for £13: this was said to have been Douglas Hawkes's T.T. car, with a shorter wheelbase than usual, and had been fitted with a very nice four-seater body. It was the nicest looking car I had seen up to then, and had absolutely MINUS brakes, as the previous owner did not consider them necessary. I sold it to an enthusiast who spent about £100 on modernizing it; it may still be running—I hope so.
For a short time I had a "20/60" push-rod Sunbeam, with cantilever rear springs, Dunlop wheels (like a Rolls), and a Centric supercharger. It was much too fast for its chassis, and only did about 14 m.p.g. I also had another 6½-litre Bentley, with a sports-touring body, but it had an electrical mishap, which destroyed much of the body fabric, and the dealer from whom I bought it gave me my money back—incredible! I then had a 14/40 Delage for exactly one hour, selling it at a large profit at the end of this period!
I happened to be buying some travelling greenhouses for a friend, and in the same showroom was a 38 h.p. Hispano-Suiza. In the end, I got this for £25, with six brand new 7.00"x21" tyres, it being the property of Yates, the Wine Lodge King. I still have the tiny spanners for tappet-adjustment and the tiny nuts round the valve cover. The oil-filler was a box holding about a quart, a sensible idea. There were several levers on the steering wheel, two of them, which opened and shut holes in the bowels of the carburetter, having no apparent effect whatsoever. Eventually it was sold in Cornwall for £8. It had the usual nice Hispano gearchange, and mechanical servo brakes; though built in 1921 it was far nicer than the Phantom II which a rich friend had just bought—to his annoyance! I used the Hispano as a spare lorry at the works, and loads made no difference to the performance, which was about 35 in second, and 75 in top—not a sporting gearbox!
By some coincidence I became car-less, and bought another 3-litre Bentley, with a very narrow one-door four-seater body. Two things I noticed; it did 85 m.p.h. almost anywhere, and there were cover-plates round the nuts at the bottom of the block. I must have covered a thousand miles before I realised that it had a 4½-litre engine. The funny thing is that after I sold it the police bought it as an instruction car, and they didn't know it was a 4½! Perhaps you would like to know what tax I paid on it. Well, I dare say you would! The radiator had a nasty dent in the top tank, so I had a cowl made, and crowds would collect to find out what the funny motor was, especially as I picked up a set of hub caps with no name on them. It was really fast, being low geared and light; V8 Fords were just appearing, but they were nowhere.
I got a good price for it, and after much hesitation got a blown 1,500 c.c. Alfa-Romeo, the car driven by Ramponi in, I think, the Double Twelve, but I am open to correction. It gave me 18,000 miles at a cost in repairs of 1/4d. The next owner broke the crank at about 5,000 r.p:m., which the engine would do, but not safely . . . It had the peculiar steering which other Alfa owners have mentioned, in that if one tried to corner fast, it was a bad thing, but if one just rested one's hands on the wheel and looked round the corner, round she went, at an incredible velocity. It did 18 m.p.g., used little oil, and I fitted a big S.U. instead of the double Italian Zenith (a fearful gasworks), which made the car tractable in traffic. It was definitely a two-plug motor, the best soft plugs I found were Lodge C3 (tut!) and Champion R11 for dicing. The soft plugs would simply pass out if imposed upon, as the blower pressure was about 8 lbs. per square inch. It did not often oil up the R11s, but would soot them up in traffic. It was a marvellous starter in cold weather.
For more sensible motoring I had a large ugly touring 4½-litre Bentley, which was good, but undistinguished.
Eventually the Alfa found a buyer, and was replaced by a very fast Speed Twenty Alvis two-seater, which did about 14 m.p.g., and devoured a piston and exhaust valve, damaging the head in the process. This trouble was caused by an inserted valve seating coming loose, a most unusual trouble, I hope. I lost confidence in it, and sold it after about 1,500 miles. It was a match for the 3½-litre S.S. 100, then just out, and was certainly safer!
Having driven a 1903 60 h.p. Mercedes in the Brighton Veterans' Run the previous year, I bought the 1902 Regal De Dion from Karslake. It was in only moderate condition, but after doing all I could, I ran it in the 1938 Run, which was very wet, and the wind so strong that second gear was needed on the level. I afterwards used it as a runabout at home, and it is really quite a nice little car! Changing gear is a feat, as there is no throttle, so when changing up, the only way to slow down the clutch shaft is to switch off the engine, then change up, engage the clutch, and switch on again: you get used to it. It does 25 in top, and about 30 m.p.g.
I next got a "Nurburg" Frazer-Nash with Meadows engine, and at last had a really fast Nash. Unfortunately, I injured my knee, resulting in a stiff leg, and was unable to get into the car, which had no doors, so I disposed of it, and took in part exchange a late 0.E. "30/98" Vauxhall, with a hydraulic braking system, but of course, no brakes. I fitted the front axle off the 4½-litre Bentley, and sold the car to a friend; it had an outside exhaust system off a "36/220" Mercedes, and a side-valve back axle, which resulted in a sort of cock-eyed crab-track. I then got one of the latest 3-litre Bentleys made, and fitted the engine out of the 4½, scrapping the rest of the latter, and this was the best of my Bentleys. In June, 1939, I drove from Elton, north of Aberdeen, to Shap, leaving Elton after a late breakfast, and arriving at Shap in time for a late lunch, doing the first 120 miles in two hours, which I have never done before or since, or hope to repeat. It cruised at 75-80, steered to perfection (with a huge bus steering-wheel) and had brakes, and on this run did 16 m.p.g.
A silly little man with a silly little moustache then appeared about to do something typically silly, so I had a good look round for a small good car for the Duration. By a fluke I got a good buyer for the Bentley (which has since towed a caravan at 72 m.p.h., I am told), and after a very careful inspection, got an 1,100 c.c. H.R.G. It is rather like a little "30/98," and very much like a Nash, and does 40 m.p.g., so perhaps I have bought wisely.
We get the cars we deserve.
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ENTHUSIASTS IN THE SERVICES
We are receiving quite a lot of letters from enthusiasts who are in H.M. Forces, stationed away from home, and who enquire whether we can put them in touch with clubs or individual enthusiasts near to where they are stationed. It is easy to realise how these persons feel, away from their friends and, as likely as not, divorced from their cars. There must be many hundreds scattered around the country, at military training camps, R.A .F. aerodromes, searchlight stations, balloon barrage camps, etc., who are a long way from home and unlikely to move to other locations, or to go overseas, for a considerable time. If enthusiasts not in the Services would get in touch, with a view to corresponding, meeting and perhaps offering an occasional drive, to these fellows, much good would result. Naturally, we have no means of knowing which of our subscribers are in a position to do this, nor is it always possible to publish the addresses of Service readers. However, if those readers with the time and inclination to meet fellow enthusiasts in the Services will let us have their names and addresses, we will gladly publish them, so that lonely Service men can communicate direct.
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We regret, and apologise for, some recent errors. In the last issue the worst was that which described Stuart-Wilton as a pupil in the R.A.O.C.., whereas he is actually an Instructor to the R.A.O.C. down at Frazer-Nash's. Incidentally, he occupies his spare time working on the M.G. which he used to race before the war, and remains 100 per cent. enthusiastic. His present car is a Fiat 500. Mr. Jones, not Mr. Bourne of "The Motor Cycle," is another instructor. Another error gave the address of Bochaton Motors as 111, Notting Hill Gate, whereas the correct No. is 140. In the heading to John Bolster's article in the January issue, we carelessly suggested that the original two-engined "Mary" was converted into the four-engined, 4-litre car, and that the article described this conversion. Actually, as Bolster told us clearly at the time, he merely borrowed the two engines from his first car to install in the new chassis, and they could have been replaced in the older frame at any time had he wished to compete in the 2-litre class. Consequently, the article describes the development of the second, four-engined car, and not conversion of the original Bolster-Special. John is now toying with the idea of a 500 c.c. single-cylinder engine in the older