The Editor Goes on the H.C.V.C. Brighton Run
The Historic Commercial Vehicle Run to Brighton is a memorable annual event, not to be missed if this can possibly be avoided. This year it took place in beautiful weather on May 5th, starting at the gruesome hour of 6 a.m. from Battersea Park, because the Metropolitan Police wanted the ancient load-carriers clear of their Metropolis before the traffic thickened. (They need not have worried, because congestion was never apparent; it is nice to recall that elsewhere the Police were most helpful to the participants, whose vehicles give so much pleasure to so many citizens, particularly those with long memories.)
Bill Thornycroft, the Museum Officer to the club, had kindly arranged for me to ride on the 1919 ex-R.A.F. Leyland van, splendidly restored by Chivers, whose property it was until 1959, who having put it into pristine order, then presented it to the H.C.V.C. So, having made a point of eating Chivers “Olde English” thick-cut marmalade with my 4 a.m. breakfast (as all members of the H.C.V.C. should do every morning, and Chivers jams for their tea, in appreciation of this generous gift), I set off for the start anticipating an interesting run. Alas, the Leyland had broken down and I had to find a seat on some other vehicle. Having previously thought up the heading for this outpouring, I wanted it to have solid tyres and when I saw the Best brothers’ Daimler arriving in the Park, I knew this was an appropriate one; I was warned that it might not make the distance, but decided to take that chance.
This Daimler Y-type is a most interesting lorry. Its actual age isn’t known, but is usually quoted as 1915. It was sold to its only other owner at an Army Disposals sale in 1921 and used for many years carrying potatoes in the Upminster district. It became derelict by 1928 and lay decaying, its cab tilted forward onto the bonnet. The Best brothers, who own the war-time Wolseley W.D. lorry in which I travelled to Brighton last year, discovered it but it was some years’ before they could persuade the owner to part with it. For some three years they have been preparing it. It was so original that not much had to be done, beyond restoring the mechanical aspects, repairing the cab, and removing a windscreen which had at some time been rigged up. Apparently it is a bit quicker than the Wolseley and has an easier gear change.
What is so interesting is that this Daimler has a sleeve-valve engine, for in my experience there are not very many of these still functioning. In this engine they operate happily, lubricated with Castrol XL. A plate on the crankcase informs those whom it may concern that the engine was built by the Daimler Co. of Coventry under licence from the Knight & Kilbourne Patents Co. A plate more likely to have caused concern is that emphasising how important it was to oil the governor every day (but the governor is no longer fitted). The double-sleeves operate in two pairs of impressively tall cylinders. Otherwise, the design is conventional, with a Zenith carburetter (not necessarily original) feeding through a Y-shaped inlet manifold on the n/s and the gases leaving via a big-bore exhaust manifold on the o/s—what’s so new about cross-flow porting? Also on the o/s are the Simms magneto and a waterpump, driven through fabric couplings’ from the timing gears. The drive goes via a cone clutch and 4-speed gearbox to an overhead worm back axle. The gears are changed by a massive r.h. lever with an ingenious pedal-operated block to prevent inadvertent engagement of reverse gear and outboard of this is the hand brake. The accelerator is central; the other pedals have hinged foot-plates. I suspect that W.D. subsidy requirements dictated the control layout.
The driving compartment is entirely devoid of instruments and no lamps are fitted, although there is evidence that this delectable Daimler was at one time gas lit. It rides on substantial ½-elliptic springs and the steel-spoked wheels are shod with solids, or, more correctly, Henley Air Cushion Tyres, although the air cushions are not apparent and these are uninflatable tyres, incidentally in good condition, as are the powerful brakes. A typical Daimler tube radiator of impressive dimensions, with flap filler, nowadays weeps to itself as if afflicted with perpetual hay-fever.
It was on this excellent. Daimler that we set off, driven by Norman Best. All seemed to be in order until we stopped in S. Croydon to take on ten gallons of National Benzole and couldn’t restart the engine on the handle. The Daimler responded to a push but soon began to mis-fire, to the accompaniment of shattering back-fires. We came to a final halt at Coulsdon and after much cogitation found the cause to be melted shellac in the magneto. This responded to being dismantled and washed in petrol but thereafter never gave a spark which would penetrate the now-oily plugs. (And try re-timing the ignition of a Knight engine by the road-side, with no valve stems by which so cheek the firing-strokes!) Which was the end of the 1968 Run for us, in spite of my hopeful prophesy last year that the Daimler, which had retired with roasted h.t. leads, would make it, next time. Had we left Battersea at 6.30 a.m. fully-laden, in contemporary times, presumably several families would have had no potatoes for dinner that night!
Fortunately, Bill Best was with us in the willing Michelin-shod Thames platform lorry. Although it was already carrying a Ford Cortina and a full load of passengers, it made light of towing the massive Daimler the rest of the way. It was not the only participant in this predicament, because I saw a Dennis fire-engine on a similar tow-chain. And already, I am told, another magneto, bought for 10s., has put the Bests’ lorry back in action. So I think this venerable sleeve-valve Daimler stands a very good chance of motoring all the way in 1969 under its own—I nearly wrote steam. . . .—W. B.