VINTAGE POSTBAG, June 1958
I was delighted to read of Mr. Davenport’s G.N.s, as in 1922 my father purchased one of these fascinating and most reliable vehicles in ” new second-hand” condition, an early 1922 model. He carried out a few alterations to the body, including setting the rear-mounted spare wheel carrier a little further back, and on a wooden mounting block to throw the angle of carriage somewhat snore vertically, to make room for a most ingenious and comfortable folding two-seat dickey. Thereafter, it travelled many roads throughout the country, carrying two adults and two hefty teen-age youngsters. The single large brass headlamp, though impressive in appearance, was most disappointing from an illumination viewpoint, despite various changes of lamp-bulb, focus, etc., and in those days Rotax, whose electrical equipment was fitted, could not suggest means of improvement. Looking back, it seems obvious that the wiring to the lamp was far too modest in gauge, though wrapped in imposing metal sheathing, as I recall that the bigger the bulb, the less the light. The 6-volt generator was driven by Whittle belt from the prop.-shaft. The replacement of the two solid brass sidelamps with two Cadison lamps of 4-in. diameter gave little improvement, and as the Morris and Clyno cars were beginning to appear on the roads with very good Lucas lamps of almost modern power, the problem of dazzle at night was a very real one.
My father was an excellent driver, with a phenomenally short reaction time, but could never master the art of double-declutching— possibly due to his earlier years with motor-cycles—with the unfortunate result that he would at times succeed in getting two gear dogs engaged at once. The long ¼-in. rods from the gate to the cross-shaft made this quite easy to do, if one was ham-handed and heavy with the lever. The consequence was always a horrid bang from underneath, a chain in the underpan or on the road, and sometimes a bent cross-shaft. The first couple of times this event took place, my father sent to East Hill, Wandsworth for a new shaft, but by the time he had a stock of three (one in the vehicle and two nicely bowed ones in the workshop), he decided to have a rota of home-straightening. This he did by first setting up a wooden jig in which the bowed shaft could be mounted and slowly turned by hand against a scriber fashioned by a nail in a block. A few deft blows with a heavy hammer via a hard wooden cushion, followed by further checks, more blows, and so on, until, remarkably, the shaft was straight once more and ready for installation after the next heavy gear change. The maximum speed from the full power of the big V-twin was around the mile-a-minute, but one could cruise all day at 40-45, taking main road hills in one’s stride.
The family were all sorry to see this lovable machine go, and I think that one deciding factor was the uncomfortable and heavy work of starting by means of the handle at the side, engaging in the end of the aforesaid cross-shaft, and thus turning the big twin through a 4-to-1 step-up. This, on a wet day, could be very trying, especially as one had to stand in the gutter to perform the task, the handle being on the near side, and of gigantic proportions so as to get a bit of leverage.
There were hopes of getting one of the new four-cylinder watercooled G.N.s, which were said to be on the stocks, using an Anzani engine, but I do not recall seeing one, and I believe that East Hill closed down before that venture became a reality—at least to the general car-buying public. The Gwynne Eight looked attractive, and was generally supposed to have an excellent performance. In any case, they sold well for a while, but on examination seemed very small for a growing family.
The replacement ultimately selected was a make which I have never seen mentioned, but which was so robust and well constructed that it is surprising that none have survived. This was the Autocrat, which was advertised as ” The Aristocrat of Light Cars.” It had a side valve four-cylinder water-cooled Dorman engine, a three-or four-speed gearbox to choice, an imposing and shapely plated radiator, and polished aluminium bonnet. All the fittings were solid and heavily plated, and the whole car did in fact give an impression of well-made solidity. The model selected was a two-seater and dickey, with all-weather equipment, which latter was remarkably complete and efficient. I think the year was 1924. Two basic types were offered—a 10.8-h.p., and an 11.4-h.p. The former had a less lavish equipment, and combined head-and-side lamps. The full Lucas equipment on the larger model was excellent, and was completely trouble-free. We fitted a ” pneumatic ” dip-and-switch attachment, which many will recall demanded a smart pull on a small pump arrangement under the dash, which, by means of a small rubber hose, actuated a similar pump in the lamp. It could be extremely tiring if a lot of traffic was met, whilst if one kept it extended the slight leakage of vacuum which was almost inevitable released the lamps to full beam at the most inconvenient moment for the oncoming vehicles.
I remember that it was quite difficult to find out the price of these vehicles, as the advertisements and also the nice brochure which one could write for refused to give any price, under the plea that the manufacturers felt that their customers would not wish their friends and neighbours to know what they had paid for their Motor car ! Pressed steel wheels were fitted—some of the earliest, I would imagine, and there was a tendency for fatigue cracks to appear, running from one or more of the four bolt-holes to the open centre. Top speed was indeterminate, as at anything above about 45 m.p.h. the prop.-shaft would develop vibration, and further opening of the throttle seemed merely to increase the din rather than the speed. It was, however, a very reliable and comfortable vehicle, and covered the ground at quite a fair average. If Hardy-Spicer couplings had been used instead of primitive fabric ones, I think the transmission difficulty would have disappeared. By coincidence, we found, after we had taken delivery, that some acquaintances whom we met occasionally, and who lived only some three miles distant, had also chosen this make and model, and consequently interesting comparisons on performance and experiences were readily to hand.
As I have mentioned, the car was very well finished in a dark blue colour, which, with the polished aluminium bonnet and plated parts, looked very well. However, scratching its way through very narrow Hampshire lanes caused the coach painting to deteriorate, and my father intended to have a repaint. Full of good intentions, and influenced by the advertisements for the then new cellulose brushing enamels—” the brush mark, melt away “—I took the opportunity of pleasantly surprising him by carrying out a home re-paint whilst he was away on a week’s business trip. In the early days, the colour range of these cellulose brush enamels was limited and the only blue was a sort of light electric blue, so this had to do. The first coat was thin in places, so a second coat was indicated. Immediately this made contact, it dissolved and softened the first coat, making a very sticky mass, and therefore the result was not quite as good as the sales leaflets had suggested. In order to relieve the colour a bit, and take the eye off the streaks, I therefore obtained a tin of red, and touched up the wheel centres, bonnet louvres mouldings, etc., with this pleasing contrast.
Looking back, I realise what a fine man my father was, as when he was confronted with this appalling sight, he realised that I had meant well, and had given a week of my own holiday to the task, and without further ado had the car removed to a professional repaint shop.
I would be most interested to know if any reader recalls the make and whether anything is known of one still with us.
I am. Yours, etc.,
D. B. HAIGH
[One Autocrat at least survives,—ED.]
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In ” Vintage Postbag ” some interest has been displayed in the 18/80 M.G. As a user for well over 20 years and roughly 350,000 miles, perhaps some of my comments may be of interest. My father and self own four complete examples of different types. When they were introduced in my youth I determined to acquire one as soon as possible. My first, which I still have, was a 1929 open four-door tourer Mark I. This car has been a faithful and very economical servant, having regard to the many abuses it has endured. It has done many quite rough trials, minor speed hill-climbs, and towed in many 3/5-ton commercials. 165,000 miles were covered without reboring and main bearings did 230,000 without appreciable drop in oil pressure. Duckhams N.O.L. 50 being used in the engine and K.O. 6 in the transmission. During the war it covered 40,000 miles including the red petrol period, without the head being removed, and later when examined the exhaust valves did not demand grinding in. Cruising at 60 m.p.h., one can rely on 26 m.p.g. It has broken a few half-shafts, but most of these were intended for a vehicle with less h.h.p. It. has successfully climbed Nailsworth Ladder, Doverhay and many other old trials favourites on many occasions. The original S.U. carbs. have only had jets and needles replaced. Steering and roadholding is excellent. 3 to 80 m.p.h. is possible in top, 60 m.p.h. in second, but acceleration is greater in top above 50 than in the lower gear. Top-gear pull by Tapley meter is about 240 lb. on this car.
A few years later. I added a Mark III which had covered about 100,000 miles. I have only used this car intermittently and I am waiting an opportunity to rebuild it as nearly as possible to its original specification.
In 1946, a Speed Model Mk. I four-seater was obtained and this car has since covered about 120,000 miles and is a constant source of joy to me. Having met two past owners, I have reason to believe that when I rebored it in 1955 it had covered at least 160,000 miles since previous cylinder attention. Big-ends have been renewed, but mains have not been touched; the oil pressure on Duckham’s 20/50 Multigrade is very little below its original 1946 figure. During summer months it has many times covered 800-1,000-mile trips at 30-32 m.p.g. taken dry to dry. It is a bit faster than the tourer and after a few minor alterations has a very exceptional top-gear performance, recording over 300 lb. pull on a Tapley meter. It has done many ” trials ” and other abuses similar to those inflicted on the tourer. This one also covered 40,000 miles without head removal or loss of performance. A Mark II saloon, also in daily use, has not been rebored since before the war, has piston slap but uses little oil. The crankshaft was reground and bearings renewed in 1947, but the cylinder head has not been off since 1953, yet the car still exceeds 75 m.p.h.. 22 m.p.g. on runs and about 17 m.p.g. about town. I have owned several others for periods up to 10 years. Clutches average 40,000 miles of hard use before relining is necessary. Starting when left out overnight in winter is always extremely easy, the dual contact breaker distributor requiring very little attention. The many refinements, such as a spare gravity petrol tank and oil tank, are very useful and enable petrol consumption tests to be carried out speedily and accurately.
The Marles steering can be adjusted to a higher standard than practically any other type, and the S.U. carburetters and tappets can safely be left without attention for long periods. It. is unwise to operate the engine with considerable ” blow past ” for any length of time as the resulting sludging effect can seriously reduce the lubrication of distributor and oil-pump drive gears, also it tends to drive engine oil into the gearbox and back axle.
Although there are many cars with higher maximum speeds now available, one can give many moderns food for thought with an 18/80.
In course of business, I have driven most vehicles of interest, including ” specials ” and many with maximum speeds well past the 100 m.p.h., but few of these can be safely taken off a tarred road and the general all-round handling is less pleasant to me. I hope I shall be able to enjoy the use of 18/80s in 25 years’ time.
I could go rambling on on this subject, but feel that enough space has been taken up.
I am, Yours, etc.,
Redland, W M. G. MARSHALL.
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With reference to page 157, March edition-1928 14-h.p. Hadfield Bean. A regular reader of your journal, who knows my car, brought me his copy; most interesting to me. Evidently Mr. Sowerby had taken the photograph one Sunday when I was in Saltburn last August.
I bought this car new and it has always been driven and maintained by me; it has been in regular use continually with the exception of about two years ‘during the war when petrol was unobtainable, and is in first-class condition, all instruments working, including original deck, original dynamo and starter.
I put two sets of new rings into the engine in 122,000 miles, then had the cylinders bored Brico liners inserted, new pistons, valves and bearings, crankshaft reground, etc.—a perfect job; in fact the engine is as sweet as when new. I have done many thousands of miles since then and only had the cylinder head off once since.
I am. Yours, etc.,
Wolsingham, J. G. BROWN.
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In your March issue a reader, Mr. P. K. Shaw, of Theydon Bois. Essex, asks for particulars of the G.W.K. friction-driven car. Two of these cars were owned by my father, Dr. G. W. Collins, of Wanstead, Essex, and were in everyday use by him. The first was a 1912 model two-cylinder with engine at the rear, was water-cooled from a radiator in the front of the vehicle, and had a two-seater body and a Stepney wheel. Detachable wheels were not to my knowledge fitted to any G.W.K. model before 1920, when the engine, a four-cylinder unit, was placed in the front of the vehicle. The 1912 model was by far the most reliable unit and I believe the price was £175, with oil side and tail lamps. A fair amount of skill was required to obtain the best performance out of these sturdy little cars, but ‘after a few days’ experience one could tackle almost any hill in the country with them, and I have myself toured Devon and Cornwall with one and never been failed on any hill. The two-cylinder engine was a Coventry Simplex unit with Bosch magneto ignition and a Sterthos carburetter, a firm never heard of these days.
If your readers would like more particulars. etc., he can write to me, c/o MOTOR SPORT, and I shall be pleased to help him, though I do not know of any G.W.K.s in existence today, though I tried to obtain one some years ago.
Another reader asks about a Cubitt car and states age around 1928. This, I think, is incorrect, as another doctor in Wanstead had a Cubitt car around 1921, and it was built, I believe, by the firm of building contractors, Holland & Hannon and Cubitt Ltd. I have driven one of these cars on many occasions, but only about 60 were produced.
I trust the information in this letter may be of some use to you and your readers. Before closing I would like to add that I owned a 1910 Alldays Midget car—a two-Cylinder two-seater, a 1919 G.N. twoseater, an A.V. monocar and also a 1924 Rover 8-h.p. two-cylinder, air-cooled. My father also owned and ran a 1914 F.N. tourer and early two-seater Humberette, a model-T Ford, a White steam car and a French car called a Brasiu.
Trusting this letter will bring back memories of some very old and trustworthy makes of pioneer days.
I am, Yours, etc.,
Thorpe le Soken. T. S. COLLINS
Don’t forget the Elstree Air Display on June 14th. Gates open 2.30. p.m. admission 1s.