A utility car with a difference


A VERY large number of cars of the utility-bodied sort is now in service, on military or civilian wartime duties. There is a very great deal to be said for such cars, which are both light or medium-sized, van and private car at one and the same time. Their practicability is, indeed, emphasised by their universal adoption by the British Army. G. E. Wallis & Sons Ltd. of 8, Duncannon Street, London, W.C.2, builders, decorators and electrical engineers, are now busy putting such bodies on to a variety of suitable chassis. From the enthusiast’s viewpoint the idea is a happy one, whatever he formerly thought, for an old car that is to be laid up can instead, in many instances, be given one of these bodies “for the duration” and so be fitted for labours for which supplementary fuel rations are readily ,forthcoming. Or, again, when the need arises for a general-purpose vehicle, an interesting chassis can be chosen to accommodate it, so combining driving appeal with the ends in view. It is very easy to think of any number of interesting fast-car chassis well-suited to such duties. For instance, G. E. Wallis & Sons Ltd., under the direction of S. B. Jaques, late advertising manager of this paper, has recently completed such coachwork on 4½-litre Invicta and 4½-litre Bentley vintage chassis. The bodies are made of oak, birch and ash, in the usual style, and are extremely well-finished externally. Entrance is via two normal side-doors, which have winding windows, or from the rear, where the tailboard folds down and the full-width rear window lifts up to the horizontal position on outriggers. Normally, entrance to the seats that fill the interior would be made from the front, leaving the rear panel padlocked in position. With the seats removed, an extremely roomy van results, and very bulky articles can be loaded from the rear with ease. In the ease of the Invicta a floor-space of 4 ft. 2 in. by 9 ft. 2 in. is provided, together with headroom enabling one to stand nearly upright anywhere within the car; moreover, this interior space is quite unrestricted. Sliding windows are fitted all round to offer normal vision and ventilation when passengers—up to eight in number—are carried, and every pane of glass is of the toughened variety.

The car’s existing wings and running-boards are usually retained, which results in an unusually pleasing and unfreakish appearance. We recently undertook a 200-mile road-test of the 4½-litre Invicta so fitted and the impressions gained were entirely favourable. The size of the vehicle is never even considered, the excellent vision afforded by the many windows making the concentration in handling less than with a normal saloon. On the other hand, the light, airy interior of the car is in no way uncomforting, and, in dismal traffic jams in dreary parts of London, one was at once conscious of the sense of big-car security that a long bonnet and deep-sided body impart. Moreover, this was backed up by the great performance of the car, even in this guise, for it easily led everything away from the lights. We gave it no timed tests, but a P-type M.G. Midget was easily beaten on acceleration when its driver was definitely trying.

The Invicta chassis was acquired second-hand and could have done with attention to various details, but it proved entirely satisfactory. The maximum speed achieved was 65 m.p.h., but at 50 m.p.h. this remarkable utility car got along with ample reserve in hand. The brakes were quite adequate, and the suspension seemingly unaffected by the overhang; probably the body-weight shows a saving over a normal passenger car. Some idea of the usefulness of this style of vehicle was demonstrated in the process of moving garage. Into the back we loaded a suit-case, a tin chest full of precious back-issues of MOTOR SPORT, a tool-kit, a tyre, two five-gallon oil-drums, and other odds and ends. The floor-space still looked ridiculously barren, even with four passengers up! Later we took a small car in tow, and there was no very great change in the manner of going! The Wallis war-conversion idea definitely appealed to us. . . . As to the Invicta, it was as interesting a chassis as you could wish to mount this body on. The right-hand heavy gear-lever worked well in its open gate, calling for distinct skill in changing down and some care coming up, save from third to top, when you could snap it through. The clutch action was excellent, as we learned when towing with a well-frayed clothes-line, and it seemed ready to take any punishment. Steering was quite low-geared and very light, making manoeuvring easy. There was continued, severe kick-back through the wheel and a tendency to road-wheel shimmy, which attention to tyre-pressures and shock-absorbers would probably have cured, as the king-pin wear was not excessive, although clearly there was considerable front-end movement. The brake-pedal, too, indicated excess frame-whip somewhere. The engine started instantly from cold on operation of the S.U. starting-jet and ran with a definite power roar, which changed its note on the overrun. It had both coil and magneto ignition and ran well on the magneto alone but not on the coil alone. The engine was slightly sensitive to advance and retard. Quite rapid cornering could be indulged in and the roll was not excessive in spite of soft suspension. The driving position was excellent; the view down the shapely bonnet and over the high-set headlamps highly satisfactory, while the light, simply-constructed seats were quite comfortable. Minor criticisms were that the window-winders might have been a little nearer the door-centres and that the ignition warning light was too bright. The rear number-plate was rather low. The minor controls—throttle, ignition and lamps—on the wheel-centre worked well. The button pulled up to actuate the starter and went down to sound the Klaxon-note horn. Oil pressure varied with engine speed, staying at 40 lb. per sq. in. at cruising speed. The water temperature never rose above 85° C. except when stationary, and fell very rapidly as soon as the car moved off, indicating ample radiator area. The big autovac trapped about three gallons of fuel in reserve and the autovac main and reserve taps were reasonably accessible under the scuttle. A very rough check at first suggested a consumption of about 9 m.p.g., towing included, but when a stop was made to clean a choked filter slight seepage was observed from the starting-jet pipe-line and when this was cured a better figure resulted, although no definite check could be made. The steering-lock, by the way, was excellent and the general impression was one of amusement and satisfaction at having all the fun of handling a thoroughbred fast car with so useful a body for present conditions. Troops extending optimistic thumbs appreciate it too, incidentally. The Invicta went about the task in hand in a husky manner and required sufficient skill in effective handling to make the shortest journey interesting. Under the bonnet the six-cylinder engine amply endorses these impressions. The neat black valve-cover carries a detailed data-plate and the two S.U. carburetters on the off-side feed into a square section external manifold. The magneto, protected by a drip tray, is on this side also; the coil and distributor on the near side, with the exhaust manifold, which has six off-takes and central pipe. There is a 4-bladed fan, the fuses are accessible and there is a well-placed oil-filler. The clutch and brake pedals are fairly close and the accelerator is right-handed. The handbrake lever operated in true vintage style; it was very near the gear-lever. The 4-spoke steering wheel was pleasantly thin-rimmed. The fascia carried two cubbyholes, thermometer, 100 m.p.h. speedometer, ignition light, petrol gauge, clock, ammeter, oil-gauge, starting-control, etc. Two spare wheels were carried, one each side of the scuttle. Past owners of the car may care to know that it is chassis A135. The gear-ratios are 3.9, 5.3, 7.5 and 11.2 to 1.

Of course, the Invicta may not be everyone’s choice, but it does illustrate the possibilities of having fun with a car that is yet fully capable of justifying the fuel it is allowed. The body can be adapted equally successfully to more modern, high-powered chassis, and the cost, is £120 complete, no matter to what it is fitted. Civil defence stations should welcome being able to have such bodies installed readv-made, as it were, and would do well to contact the makers—their ‘phone numbers are Sloane 9443, Ashford 287, Maidstone 4058 and Gravesend 567. Any enthusiast whose family is engaged on war work falling for an Estate car will, we imagine, derive great pleasure from finding an appropriate chassis for Mr. Jaques’s tape-measure, For ourselves, we look forward to trying the Wallis utility-bodied 4½-litre Bentley, presumably second only to Jack Fry’s Bentley “lorry.” Mr. Jaques deserves praise for giving old sports chassis a chance of continuing in service or of enjoying an unexpected fresh lease of life —apart from so usefully fitting out other chassis for war jobs.