A Section Devoted to Old-Car Matters
Driver’s Mate on the Brighton Road
The Editor Goes on the H.C.V.C Run in the ex-Chivers’ 1919 Leyland Van
That companion Run to the Veteran Car Brighton, the event form Battersea to Brighton organised by the Historic Commercial Vehicle Club and sponsored by National Benzole, took place in excellent weather and amid the usual enthusiasm. For the writer this entailed rising at 5.30 a.m. and eating Chivers’ Olde English thick-cut marmalade for breakfast, preparatory to going as driver’s mate on the ex-Chivers Leyland van, a First World War-type vehicle.
We made the start in the Austin Maxi and while waiting for the Leyland to arrive, a fan-belt having broken, we noticed the usual interesting items as the enormous variety of different age commercials of all types left the start. For instance, the driver of an Albion-Merryweather fire engine was wearing National Benzole overalls but his vehicle was named “Mrs. Frequently”, the passengers of Bridger’s 1929 Dennis fire-engine were roped on, Sibley’s 1937 Albion was laden with bags of coal, the Lindleys’ 1928 Leyland firefighter was on solid tyres and the 14½ -litre Belsize was boiling. Lines’ Guy Arab ‘bus carried period posters including a Picture Post advertisement, and ex-Lytham St. Annes Leyland single-decker had “Gearless” torque-converter transmission, Angates Toys’ 1927 Morris light van was late starting due to a shortage of sparks, the R.A.F. Trojan was boiling, a General omnibus carried No. 12 and a “Dulwich, the Plough” destination board, North Cheshire Motors, begin Dodge distributors, had entered a 1931 Dodge, the Fiat-bodied Austin Twenty coach entered by David Bygrave had f.w.b. and the Essex van was very smart, with advertising for Marconi radio and electric lighting. Sharp had a 2½ -ton Type YL Halley, Wyatt a splendid 1913 chain-drive Baico Model-T Ford.
Now it was time to get up beside David Hurley, who handles the Club’s ex-Chivers Leyland with expertise, and ride with him to the Sussex watering place. This Leyland is a most interesting vehicle, being of the type famous as R.A.F. transports in the First World War. After the Armistice many commercials, left over from war-service, were sold in an unsatisfactory condition. Leyland Motors Ltd. decided to have none of this, so they bought up as many as they could and conditioned them at Kingston-on-Thames before resale. The Leyland I found myself in was one of these, which Chivers had bought in 1919 for £1,250 as a box van, taxing it on January 11th, 1921, under the revised registration system. Like many more of these works rebuilt Leylands, which were made up to 1926, after which Trojan cars were produced in the ex-aircraft factory, it gave excellent service at a time when new commercial vehicles were in short supply and it was kept busy on London deliveries until 1934. It then went up to Chivers’ Histon factory on general duties and when war broke out it was given a water tank in lieu of a body and supplemented the factory’s war-time brigade. When peace broke out the old Leyland, now with pneumatic front tyres, was relegated to farm duties. Then, in replica box van body for it painted in their livery, and using it for publicity purposes on rallies, like the Brighton Run.
Then you-know-who took over and the Leyland was presented by Chivers to the H.C.V.C. this year, as I climbed up into its lofty and spacious cab, it was on its fifth Brighton Run. It really is an impressive vehicle. The filler for the tall gilled-tube radiator is nearly six feet above the ground, the bonnet being higher than the roof of most modern small cars. From the driving seat all one sees is the square bonnet and polished radiator, the mudguards being out of sight and no clue to the make being presented to the crew. The engine is a conventional 4 in. x 6 in. L-head four-cylinder of rather less than 4½ -litres capacity, adequately cooled by pump and fan and fed by a Zenith carburettor on the n/s. Last year the Leyland was a non-starter because of magneto rouble, so three spare instruments were on board this time, but the Simms in use behaved perfectly. Moreover, we did the journey without refuelling, the under-seat tank holding some 45 gallons of National Benzole, which offsets a consumption of 3 to 6 m.p.g.
A heavy and sudden but very sure cone clutch takes the drive to a four-speed and reverse gearbox, and worm-drive back axle lubricated with 140 e.h.p. Castrol. The front wheels are shod with 160 for 720 Dunlop solids, the back wheels have twin Dunlops of rather thinner section. The unladen weight is 4 tons 19 swt. 2 qtrs., and the maximum speed legend on the body says 12 but we progressed at a stolid 15 to 16 m.p.h. The driver is confronted with a five-spoke wooden wheel controlling surprisingly light steering, with ignition lever below, throttle lever above the quadrant. The r.h. gear-lever moves in long sweeps in an open gate, 1st gear normally being ignored. Outboard of the gear-lever is a truly massive push-on hand-brake, operating the r.w.b. via rods. The foot pedal works a transmission brake, and an oddly placed r.h. accelerator, which pushes downwards into a footwell, effects the modest changes in r.p.m. the only other items for the driver to cope with are a tiny oil-pressure button, from the union of which dribbled a little of the heavy-grade Castrol with which the big alloy sump had been filled, a choke-knob which a legend on a brass plate said pushed down to enrich the mixture, and central ignition switch.
Having taken this simple layout in I found we were negotiating what there was of South London traffic at a steady but inexorable gait on this bright Sunday morning. And that is how the Leyland ran all day. It is noisy and vibrates but surprisingly few shock reach the occupants through the enormous half-elliptic springs. The radiator frets about a little but the overall impression is of a lorry chassis so well and massively made as to be virtually indestructible. No wonder, at this period of transport, many operators were glad to let Leyland carry their loads. . . .
Our virtually one-speed, one-gear progression lacked character, but it certainly felt that nothing could stop us. We might have been going out to retrieve a Bristol Fighter or an S.E.5 in Flanders, or delivering jam to London retail shops, marvelling meanwhile that Alcock and Brown had crossed the Atlantic in a Vimy, instead of amusing onlookers in a 1969 rally. Apart from one unintended detour round a Croydon one-way system and two pauses for water, to counter a leaking pump gland, the Chivers van rumbled on, making Brighton in not much more than four hours’ running time, and never missing a beat. The “driver’s mate” took over for a spell, finding that the gear change is very heavy and the ratios so widely spaced that if you miss a change-down it is policy, nay essential, to stop, get into second, and start all over again. The weight of the van is apparent on downgrades but alternate use of hand- and foot-brake keeps it well in check. I remarked to Mr. Huntley that it must have been tiring on war-time nights, forcing the R.A.F. drivers into slumber and that probably no-one drove one more than a few miles a day in peacetime. But he reminded me that Waring & Gillow used such Leyland 3-tonners as furniture vans and that the Chivers van no doubt travelled between London and Cambridge in its later years, so 100 miles or more a day would have been commonplace. Indeed, he was taking “our” Leyland part way back that day and so would have chalked up about this distance on the day’s haul.
Anyway, we had a no-trouble run in this historic Leyland, a “subsidy” design of which apparently some 6,000 were used as R.A.F. tenders in 1914/9, half of them in France. This one, chassis 9514, is the later type, with disc wheels and four speeds. Looking down from the sheltered but screenless cab, on to that reassuringly solid bonnet with its brass centre strip, it was nice to know that the oil sidelamps were filled, in readiness for a night journey should it arise. But it didn’t, nor did many people appear to be in trouble. A Guy box van, acting as tender and full of people, boiled merrily, a Morris Commercial was about to be towed but one Austin taxi was being washed at a wayside garage. . . . Except for Redhill and at one point near Brighton traffic was extremely light and although a modern Southdown coach had a spectacular accident en route, all the oldsters appears to have got through unscathed.—W. B.