FEW enthusiasts can resist an opportunity to explore a hitherto undiscovered breaker’s yard, although the chance of finding anything rare therein is a slender one nowadays, particularly if the scrap yard in question is on a well-frequented road. The breaker sells scrap-metal and spares, and if he does any business at all in the latter, he will stock the popular makes, for there is no object in keeping unbroken makes so unusual that a call for parts is highly unlikely. So far, the war effort is finding sufficient scrap without clearing up the many car dumps dotted about the country and it seems that breakers may be having quite a good time, now that new spares are so difficult to obtain. And while breakers exist, enthusiasts will hopefully probe their stocks. There is a deal more to be had out of such a voyage of discovery than merely trying to unearth a dirt-cheap modern or a vintage or veteran still intact. It is, for instance, surprising how baffling can be the identity of even commonplace cars when radiator, body and some of the major components are missing. In trying to ascertain the make and age of such cars, much of historical and technical interest can emerge. The cone clutch is often associated with the early post-Great War era, prior to 1925. Yet you may come across Renault models of quite four years later with inverted leather cone clutches, although what at first appears to be a cone clutch on a Riley Twelve of the same period will turn out to be the aluminium casting of the earlier clutch doing duty as the thrust member of a plate clutch. The Morris Light Six provides an interesting example of a clutch functioning in engine oil, and if you find a Rover Six of about a dozen years ago, you will see another example, oil being force-fed from the engine to gearbox and clutch. In rather the same way, separate gearboxes usually date a car as very old, yet fairly recent makes having this construction include Aston-Martin, Bean Fourteen, H.E. Six, Armstrong-Siddeley Fifteen, Bugatti and Bentley. The H.E., incidentally, had a layshaft beside the driving-shaft, but the constant-mesh wheels at the rear of the box. If you see a massive box with intermediate bearings for the shafts, the car it belonged to was probably a pre-1928 Arrol-Aster, while a speedometer-drive taken through an intermediate fibre wheel from the top and third sliding-gear, instead of from the rear of the box, suggests a “20/60” Vauxhall; a tyre-pump mounted on the gearbox, Mercedes Benz.
Rear axles offer less easy means of identity, but an underhung worm-drive on any but very old cars indicates Triumph Super-Seven, Rover, Aston-Martin, Standard Nine or Lanchester. A bare chassis-frame provides an interesting problem. There is three-quarter elliptic rear springing up to comparatively recent times on the Morris-Cowley, the pronounced sweep-in at the centre of the H.E. frame, the “U”-section side-members of the O.M. and Rhodes, and the big, central tubular cross-member, through which the driving-shaft from the clutch passes, of the older A.Cs. Brakes, before Mr. Lockheed, Mr. Bendix and Mr. Girling standardized their operational methods for us, were a study in themselves, but it is interesting that as late as 1928, “7/12” Peugeot, Jowett and Chevrolet were without front brakes, while the transmission brake reappeared to some extent about this time to provide the “separate braking system” demanded by law— you will find it on the “20/60” Vauxhall, for instance. The truly knowledgeable can fix the date of a car by even finer points—the Rover Fifteen has two geared-together brake cross-shafts and, if the gearing is enclosed the car is 1927, if exposed, 1928. Should you chance upon a “16/50” Voisin, here is an example of brake actuation so complicated that “The Automobile Engineer” once said of it “the complete system has to be seen to be fully appreciated.” As to engines, can you name a push-rod o.h.v. unit with ports on opposite sides of the head; an engine having a flywheel in the centre of its crankshaft; a unit having an exhaust passage within a detachable head, with exhaust pipes attached to front and rear; or an engine mounted at one end on a leaf spring assembly? If not, your education, via the breaker’s yard, is not by any means completed.