1,158 Miles Exactly
The life of the motoring journalist has been described as "one long holiday"; while I do not agree entirely, I admit that the life can be one of the more agreeable if you are an enthusiast! However, besides driving motor cars, those who follow this profession also have to drive pens or typewriters and, consequently, if a reasonable amount of motoring is to be done it is often necessary to work to tight schedules.
The following is an account of one week I spent last month and while I am aware that those who cruise about Europe at 100 m.p.h., eating only at approved haunts of gourmets, will regard it as juvenile stuff and skip the next few pages, it is my hope that some interest may be derived from this article by those readers who were so kind as to say they enjoyed the General Notes with which I endeavoured to fill Motor Sport and prove that there was still a little motoring going on during the war and the years immediately following.
Anyway, it began on a Thursday morning, when I drove to the office to collect my Aintree passes, and then to Lincoln Cars on the Great West Road, where I left the VW and took over a Ford Squire estate car. In this versatile vehicle I set off, armed with a Michelin, my favourite road map, up the A40 motorway - which, alas, soon deteriorates into a normal English road - with the idea of making Chester in time for dinner. The Ford has no clock but this served to emphasise the utility of a Timex watch, which can so easily be changed over from one's own ignition-key ring to that of another car. Nothing much of note happened on this journey, which in any case I had made almost in entirety the previous weekend for the racing at Oulton Park. I did, however, divert from A40 to ascend the old Dashwood Hill, which in the nineteen-twenties figured in almost every one of the road tests conducted by The Times and which reduced the Squire to middle gear. Clear of Oxford the notices proclaiming that plain-clothes police were patrolling were evident and, sure enough, there was a Rover, whose driver had presumably been pressing-on, halted by two huge policemen in a Wolseley - I doubt very much if one person can judge another's driving-safety by observing from a stationary or following car and with the existing shortage of police manpower I question whether this practice should be continued. If it is, surely the able-bodied uniforms concerned would be better employed moving all stationary vehicles off the A and B roads onto verges, into lay-bys or to sideroads, instead of trying to give driving lessons at the roadside!
After Wolverhampton I was sorry to see that exceptionally high kerbs are being erected along the road to Newport, making it absolutely impossible for drivers to take evasive action when faced with an impending accident - normal kerbstones are unsightly and dangerous but these verge on the criminal. As I drove into Chester I was aroused to see a fine old hump-back bridge over a canal which is barred to all vehicles "except perambulators and push-cycles."
I was less amused to find the comfortable Queen Hotel full, especially as the only haven was a musty commercial house with poor service, comparatively high charges and undescribable food. I am grateful that when I had fled from cold lamb and stale potato, and a fellow diner engaged in consuming peas from his knife, the "Queen" allowed me, although a non-resident, the hospitality of its lounge.
The following day was spent watching the practice at Aintree and concluded at the unpretentious but entirely adequate Merton Hotel at Bootle.
Having watched Stirling Moss doing some truly masterly motor racing amongst a handful of slowly-circulating cars in the International 200 Race, I gathered up the Press handouts and entered the Squire, in which I had every confidence, with the idea of driving virtually non-stop to my home in Hampshire. Including getting clear of the course and through the suburbs of Liverpool to the Mersey Tunnel, a fairly prolonged refuelling stop, and a few minutes off to consume fruit in Stratford-on-Avon, this 200-mile drive was accomplished comfortably in less than 5 3/4 hours.
The Ford Squire is not only handy because it is an estate car but because it is such a sensible estate car. Basically it is the same as the Anglia and Prefect, with the well-tried 10-h.p. engine, giving 36 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m., three-speed gearbox controlled by the familiar, decisive central lever, sliding coil-spring "Glideride" i.f.s., 1/2-elliptic back springs with extra leaves, and Girling brakes.
In its new form the small Ford engine, which has a heavier crankshaft and other modifications, is amply up to its job, and gives off a smooth flow of useable power, propelling the Squire at an easy cruising speed of 55 to 60 m.p.h. and remaining flexible down to low speed in top gear. The controls are simple, the instrumentation likewise, and I liked the body arrangements very much. The front seats are separate, the squab of the passenger's folding to provide access to the bench back seat. This back seat is exposed by making two simple movements which pull its cushion and squab up from what is otherwise unrestricted floor space. With seating for five in place there is still ample luggage space behind the back seat, reached through a hinged rear window which can be opened without lowering the tailboard - a much nicer idea than the usual vertically-divided back doors.
Although no door pockets are fitted, a full-width under-facia shelf is provided and the Squire differs from the Ford Escort in having sliding side-windows for the back-seat occupants and wood slats to break the plain sides of the body. The front-seat occupants have the usual winding windows (two turns of the handle up to down) and ventilator windows with reasonable catches. The car I had for test was equipped with Ekco radio, heater, Efco floor mat and fog-lamp, and the off-side wing-mirror, essential in a fully-laden estate car, wasn't forgotten. I liked the loudspeaker at the left of the facia shelf, fog-lamp and heater switches convenient to the right hand and the sensible lamps-switch, between the choke and starter knobs on the facia, which you turn to get sidelamps but pull out for the foot-dipped headlamps. The hand-brake lever is conveniently placed between the seats but the 6 1/2-in. in-built headlamps hardly live up to their excellent switch, throwing a restricted beam. However, the full-beam indicator lamp in the speedometer is decently subdued. The tyres are 5.00 by 13 Firestone Heavy Duty.
The steering (just over two turns, lock-to-lock) is not particularly light or accurate but is quite adequate for the Ford's performance, and the Squire corners nicely. The 8-in. hydraulic brakes, too, are adequate without calling for much pressure on the pedal. The retention of a normal back axle is a disadvantage only on really rough roads, but the increased strength of the back springs seems to have endowed the car with some up-and-down motion on such surfaces. Retention of a three-speed gearbox is more of a handicap, because although 45 m.p.h is obtainable in middle gear before the valves bounce, this is accompanied by considerable engine noise,and the subsequent acceleration is stifled due to the big gap between this ratio (8.889 to 1 to 4.429 to 1, with a bottom gear of 16.232 to 1) and that of top gear. For passing lorries and hurrying generally a four-speed box would be much nicer, but within its limitistions the Ford gearbox is well suited to the car and the lever moves in a positive manner, care still being necessary if you are not to catch the reserve cogs in going from first to second.
After a few hours in my own bed I set off for Beaulieu, near Southampton, for the official opening of Lord Montagu's Motor Museum. I felt that the Squire would look as appropriate in this country setting as it had at Aintree, where shooting-brakes are the obvious choice!
I am not wholly in favour of interring old motor vehicles in museums, preferring to see them in action in suitable events organised by the V.S.C.C. and similar bodies. But I understand that the idea behind the Montagu Motor Museum at Beaulieu is to change the exhibits at fairly frequent intervals, so that, in fact, many of them will be on loan and will still be active performers in veteran and Edwardian events when not occupying the beautiful buildings in Lord Montagu's estate in Hampshire.
The motor-cycle section of the museum was opened by Geoff. Duke, O.B.E., pushing a 1912 Norton, holder of 112 speed records, into Palace House, and then Lord Brabazon of Tara, P.C., G.B.E., M.C., drove in Lord Montagu's 1903 60-h.p. Mercedes to unveil a memorial plaque to the late Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, the famous motor-car pioneer, at the entrance to the new car section of the museum. Prior to this there had been a small parade of appropriate machinery through Beaulieu village to Palace House, entering under the Clock Tower arch. In this Lord Brabazon drove the 1908 Grand Prix Austin, now, I gather, running much better since its ignition arrangements, of magneto and coil feeding the six cylinders through two separate three-cylinder distributors, has come to be better known; St. John Nixon was mounted on a 1903 6-h.p. de Dion Bouton; the Hon. Miss Elizabeth Scott-Montagu represented the Edwardians in a 1913 12.1-h.p. Fiat; and a splendid effort was that of Ronald Lawson, with intrepid lady passenger occupying the front seat of his 1898 Leon Bollee, which was running on hot-tube ignition. The two-wheelers were well represented by Duke's 1912 Norton, Graham Walker's 100-m.p.h. 1928 Rudge, Harold Daniell on a 1911 B.S.A., Alec Bennett's 1922 Sunbeam, Tommy Wood's 1928 Velocette - all these riders being ex-T.T. race-winners - as well as Hugh Viney's 1911 A.J.S., Joseph Greer's 1912 Royal Enfield, J. J. Allen's 1926 Ricardo Triumph, and a 1913 Calcott controlled by Col. C.E. Bowden. Many famous personalities from the vintage and veteran world were present in these lovely surroundings on this lovely spring morning, inspite of clashing fixtures such as the V.C.C. Woburn Park Rally and V.S.C.C. Light Car Trial, and Mr. C.F. Caunter, curator of the Transport Section of the Science Museum in London, was seen, no doubt having sympathetic fellow-feeling for Lord Montagu on this occasion.
After the parade we were entertained to an excellent lunch in the Domus of Beaulieu Abbey, which was built in 1204 - as one speaker remarked, one of the few good actions on the part of King John. After lunch came the speeches. Graham Walker referred to the motor-cycle section of the museum and said how B.B.C. broadcasts of the T.T. races to nine million listeners help to popularise the sport of motor-cycling, although modestly he refrained from remarking that it is the excellence of his commentaries which make these broadcasts so popular. He said that the speed of traffic in London is now lower than the open-road speed limit of olden times. Graham Walker was followed by Geoff. Duke. who told a humorous story of his earlier motor-cycling days. St John Nixon spoke of the motorcar side of the museum, recalling that it was precisely 56 years ago to a day that the 1,000 Miles Trial started, first milestone in the establishment of the British Motor Industry. Lord Brabazon of Tara, in a splendid address, kept his audience in fits of laughter and also pictured the early cars as something more than mere machinery. He, too, hit hard at the state of our roads, remarking that some thought the display of old motor vehicles in a setting dating back to 1204 inappropriate, but he would remind them that modern cars look just as out of place on roads which have changed little since the motor car was born - the only improvement, said Lord Brabazon, was the disappearance of dust in the wake of moving vehicles!
H. Evan Price spoke on behalf of the British Cycle and Motorcycle Industries Association, and a spokesman of the S.M.M.T. also made a short speech, in the course of which - V.C.C. and V.S.C.C. please note - he said he was delighted to see such a museum, because the time has come perhaps when old vehicles are not wanted on crowded modern roads, a theme which Graham Walker had also emphasised, but rather more on the lines that historic machines may be damaged by too frequent, or careless, usage; he clearly sees good both in veteran runs and static museum exhibits. Finally, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu said this was a very happy and momentous occasion for him and he hoped to expand the museum and to open a nearby motor-cycle scramble course.
After lunch in this historic room, during which I had artist George A. Oliver on my left, Harold Kerslake not far away and my wife was searted with an ex-member of the Norton racing team, had a brief look at the museum exhibits. The motor-cycle section ranges from an 1897 2 1/4-h.p. Beeston tricycle to a 1954 A.J.S. Porcupine racing machine, and includes a curious 1909 J.A.P. Experimental built by a railway engineer for his own use and with almost every component duplicated against mechanical failure. The cars range from the first two Wolseleys, built respectively in 1895 and 1896, to a 1953 V16 B.R.M. racing car. In addition to complete vehicles the museum houses historic catalogues, photographs, drawings, trophies, and many engines. One Panhard et Levassor engine being shown in the front half of the chassis with accompanying facia and controls. Many of the descriptive placards detail the history of firms as well as describing individual exhibits. The motor-cycle engines are especially interesting, but the famous de Dion Bouton "single" which powered so many early cars and boats and was so very reliable is rather spoilt by a liberal coating of aluminium paint on its cylinder. Rolls-Royce and model-T Ford are there, as well as a 12-h.p. 1898/9 Daimler chassis, the first car to be driven, by the late Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, into the House of Commons Yard. Incidentally, Lord Montagu owns the 1903 de Dion Bouton, 1913 Fiat, the Sixty Mercedes, a 1909 Rolls-Royce chassis, and a 1921 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost limousine; the only other vintage car exhibits are an Austin Seven Chummy, alleged to be of the original 1922 vintage, which is rare indeed, and a 1924 Rolls-Royce Twenty. Standing outside the new museum buildings is a well kept, solid-tyred, blue Daimler lorry of 1920, its cab and body in the wooden construction of that period, its massive pedals having side rests and the gear-gate a reverse-stop obviously intended for foot actuation.
In America motor museums are frequently encountered and in this country the Montagu Museum gains by its historic and very beautiful setting and well merits an early visit.
That evening I drove to London, where my family was staying, and retired at midnight after writing a report of the racing at Aintree and delivering to my office to await the early-morning compositors.
This brings me to Monday, when I set off for North Wales to undertake a penance which I had connived and which Kenneth Best, Competition Manager of the National Benzoic Company, was to compere. The plot was to discover whether the smallest-engined four-wheeled car on the market, in the form of a 2 c.v. Citroen. would make 100 ascents of the still-notorious Bwlch-y-Groes, for which purpose the drivers, R.A.C. observers and a representative from Citroen's Slough factory, were to assemble that evening at the excellent Buckley Arms Hotel at DinasMawddwy in the County of Merioneth, well known to rally competitors.
First I delivered the family and the inevitable family appurtenances back home, a job at which the Ford Squire excelled, every one travelling in comfort, unimpeded by the mountains of luggage. Then I set off, intending to take things comparatively easy, and regarding the sight of a 2 c.v. Citroen parked by the Thames near Wargrave as a good omen. A snag arose, however, when desiring to check the Squire's petrol consumption, I let it run dry. I had with me a small funnel and a can of fuel but - rally drivers take note - it is quite impossible to refuel this car from a can unless equipped with a cranked garage-size funnel or a pouring spout. The recessed filler-neck on the near side is horizontal and to induce petrol into it with the aid of a normal funnel or even a jug defies both skill and patience. Having got going again by letting more petrol flow onto the road than into the tank, I tried to purchase a suitable device with which to commence another consumption check. In Oxford everything had shut for lunch, except a Halford's, which couldn't help, although in searching I came upon the unusual sight of a white Triumph TR2 bearing L-plates and a big board over the radiator aperture advertising a driving school.
In Witney I diverted from A40, not to purchase blankets but to see if the sort of funnel I craved could be found in the premises of agricultural engineers - no luck, but fortunately the tank ran dry at a point where I was able to coast to a garage and fill up with Clevecol. The engine then refused to recommence; the attendant offered to prime the fuel pump for me in order to save the battery but when we opened the bonnet we found there was no hand-primer.
However. I now had a measured quantity of petrol in the tank and went on my way, if not rejoicing, at all events determined to enjoy the sunshine, dispelling from my thoughts how much Ford saves every year by economising so drastically on the tubing from which they make fuel-filler pipes! I took a brief detour from the lorry-infested road to Cheltenham to eat an alfresco lunch in the tiny village of Compton Abdale, where the sight of a woman carrying water suggested that, here, within a mile or so of a teeming main road, things have scarcely changed in the past hundred years.
Resuming, I was troubled by a bout of misfiring, which became so bad in Worcester that I called on the main Ford dealer. Messrs. Daniel laid on some expert service, tracing the Ford's immobility to a faulty condenser, while I had an excellent dinner in pleasant surroundings, overlooking the placid river, at the Diglis Hotel, which, incidentally, was largely submerged in the 1947 floods.
It was now a case of cruising the Squire at 60, on through Kidderminster, home town of Peter Collins, Bridgnorth, Shrewsbury and Welshpool and Llanfair Caereinion, to my night's destination, where I was told that a call had been arranged for 6:30 the next morning, so that I could take the second three-hour spell at the wheel of the Pass-storming Citroen.
That call came all too soon and after a hasty breakfast we loaded the Squire with cans of National Benzole - another job to which a normal saloon car would have been unsuited - and went out to BwIch-y-Groes. Here I took over the 2 c.v. from a cheerful Kenneth Best and, without praetice, commenced the 17th ascent. The task was to prove so easy as soon to become boring, until, towards the end, near midnight, the brakes vanished altogether and mist settled again at the summit of Bwlch. Details of this H.A.C.-observed run are given elsewhere, but I must remark that my respect for the little French car, already considerable, increased as we climbed steadily up, time after time, at 15 m.p.h. in bottom gear, dropping to just over 10 m.p.h. at the steepest point and rising to 20 m.p.h. in second gear for only three very brief spells each time. Coming down in overdrive top, engine idling by grace of the centrifugal clutch, 45 m.p.h. was possible in perfect safety, to the stench of hot brake linings, and Best got up to over 50 by relying on the excellent brakes - if they eventually changed in character from excellent to absent, a little adjustment restored them to power in the morning. The engine was running just as well after 18 1/2 hours of this bottom gear flogging, a tribute to its sound design and to the National Benzoic petrol and small quantity of National Benzoic oil that it consumed.
When not on duty I was taken back to the "Buckley Arms" in Best's Austin A50 to be very adequately refuelled. The hotel's proprietor is an enthusiast and made a point of coming out to the hill to enjoy Best's meteoric descents and the Citroen's staunch ascents, while the local farmer, whose family has farmed the area round BwIch-y-Groes for four generations, paid us visits in his Vauxhall and took a warm and sympathetic interest in our efforts.
Rising later the following morning I drove as far as Dolgelly, getting hopelessly lost in its one-way street system before filling the Squire to the brim with National Benzole in Dinas Mawddwy and setting out on the return journey. The Ford had by now covered nearly 1,000 miles in my hands and, the troublesome condenser apart, had given no trouble and used only a quart of Castrolite, which I put in at Cheltenham when investigating the irregular firing. It now got into its stride as well as ever, running at the customary 60 over the deserted Welsh roads, the adjacent fields abounding in sheep and young lambs, recalling the pleasure I derived some years ago from the book "I Bought a Mountain," by Thomas Firbank (Harrap, London, 1940), which vintage Bentley addicts should read. I must have motored for over 100 miles on traffic-free, well-surfaced roads, with no sign of "kerbitis" except at Knighton, where they were stacked ready for erection, and when I encountered a 2-litre Aston Martin in the town and spotted an A.A. signpost "Impractical for Motors" at the central junction! For a change I came home through Newtown, where a thunderstorm produced a deluge but of which loomed a vintage Hillman Fourteen saloon, and where, just after turning off up winding B4355 I saw an old Sunbeam saloon being towed behind a lorry.
At Heyop the single-line railway runs over a battlemented viaduct, Presteigne recalled V.S.C.C. Welsh Rallies, and at Kington, where you can go two ways to Hereford, I saw a well-preserved Riley Nine saloon. The thunderstorm caught up with us again at Hereford and the Squire skidded viciously on the ice-rink surface over the bridge on the road out to Ledbury, where big signs at the entrance to the town welcome the motorist without adding blatantly futile remarks about being careful or having your accident elsewhere.
After Tewkesbury the lorry traffic became troublesome and from Cheltenham onwards I was on familiar ground. The pleasure of seeing a biplane in flight over Oxford evaporated when a clumsy clot in a duffle coat and Land Rover showed impatience by hooking his front bumper in the Squire's rear one, but as I waved him by I was delighted to observe that his registration letters were DUD.
This less-hurried drive home, a matter of over 220 miles easily accomplished between midday and late tea, served to emphasise some further points about the Squire. Its handsome appearance brings forth praise. Its rear doors and seats rattle as do those of must low-priced estate cars. The rear-seat cushion slopes forward, which throws loose objects placed on it onto the floor. Some rainwater seeped in round the left-hand base of the screen and dripped onto the floor. The ignition key also locks the doors, which is convenient, as are the cloth door pulls and the concealed ashtray in the facia; there are twin vizors, an interior lamp on the screen sill and self-cancelling direction-flashers. The suction screen-wipers are self-parking and their speed can be controlled between lackadaisical to feverish by turning the control knob for all that. I prefer electric wipers. The upholstery is in durable-looking leather. The petrol comsumption worked out at 32.7 m.p.g. and I believe Ford are contemplating adopting o.h. valves for their small engines to improve this by better breathing.
On the Thursday morning, a week after setting out, I took the Squire to the weighbridge - it scaled 16 cwt. 3 qtr. 7 lb. ready for the road, without occupants, but with approximately one gallon of fuel, which isn't at all bad, especially in view of the extra equipment. Then back to Lincoln Cars, where I found the VW parked amongst huge American vehicles owned by uniformed Americans.
Consultation showed my Thursday/Thursday mileage in the Ford Squire to be 1,150 miles exactly. This useful car (its price, with purchase tax, is £660 17s.) had earned my considerable respect and I shall expect it to become an increasingly familiar part ot the farm and country scene. - W. B.