When the old-car movement came into being it was possible to find suitable cars at give-away prices all over the place in the back of garages, in country barns, even abandoned in the most unexpected places.
After WW2 the interest in motoring history which that non-mobile period had engendered, and the resultant desire to own an heirloom from it, cut down the number of old cars remaining undiscovered and alas, from about 1950, alerted the trade. Today, prices for anything worthwhile in veteran, Edwardian, vintage and classic vehicles are astronomical.
I was lucky to come on the aforesaid scene before it passed out of my reach. Indeed, before the war I discovered what I suppose might count as oddities, the ABC and then a 1922 Rhode with, allegedly, a 1924 trials engine. It was in 1956 that I bought a 1924 12/20 Calthorpe from a telephone-linesman; his wife objected to its open two-seater body.
Jenks and I hastened to Essex to see it. After I had agreed to have it, the owner asked if we liked music; we had noticed in the hall of his house some odd pipes. Those proved to be part of his home-made organ.
Looking out of the door to see that his neighbours were out, he started to play. The entire house seemed to vibrate as the sound swelled out… We beat a hasty retreat, Jenks driving back to Hampshire at as much speed as this pedestrian car could muster. Pedestrian it is, but it possesses good 4WBs and powerful scuttle-mounted sidelamps. I still have it.
After we had moved to Wales I was directed to a forlorn vintage chassis in a field beside the A44, which proved to be a 1925 10/20 Cluley. The body had long since gone, except for the rusty scuttle and a wooden seat. The farmer-owner wanted gold for it, saying one day an American restorer would pay it. However, Jenks and I called in from time to time and as it was rotting in the open he eventually accepted a single piece of folding money. Jenks took the wheel of this conspicuous vehicle, which had one wire wheel and three artillery wheels. On the A44 a police car was soon encountered, trapped in traffic, which could not make a U-turn. We had just attained a back lane home as it shot past the turning at high speed…
The flat platform of this odd little car was ideal for taking dustbins down the drive to the front gate. It lasted until the engine stopped on a trial flip to Rhayader. A friend towed it back, and it languished in the barn for years. Now it is being restored by a member of the Cluley clan.
Then a small boy pointed me towards a 1921 22.4hp Leon Boll& with improvised truck body, its back wheels replaced by iron rollers. The head-mistress wanted this eyesore removed, so we obliged, the cost 50 Players for the groundsman.
Later I learned that it had started life as a “Star” newspaper van. It had been sold for £2 in 1933 for towing a gang-mower at the paper’s sportsground. We never got as far as making the 4-litre engine run.
There was a 1927 Morgan for disposal in Croydon, whither Jenks and I went in his VW pick-up. We looked into the garden shed and offered £5. The son of the late owner accepted that saying, as he went to find the logbook, “If you hadn’t made the offer I was going to give it to you”. We were happy with this Family model, original down to the flower vase and supplier’s plaque, since stolen.
Others? A sad Austin 12/4 with ‘railway carriage’ door handles, converted into a truck, and a 17hp Armstrong-Siddeley saloon laid up after Suez which has a leather valve-cover (to deaden tappet noise?). It was driven away, trailing the dust and cobwebs of long storage. Alas, vandals have stolen its mascot and headlamps, so no-one now is likely to take pity on it… Or on my 1950s Lanchester Ten, after a similar fate.
Then there was a Belgian FN saloon my wife got me when I was without a vintage car. It had twin carburettors to its 2-litre engine could it have been the car F H Hayward drove in the 1928 TT?
There was also a vast 1924 Reo Speed Wagon coach, abandoned in Wiltshire, which Tom Lush and I took home to Hampshire before we had calculated the cost of a new hood and tyres, and the very nice Trojan saloon with lazy-tongs openable roof which Jenks said must go after cyclists had overtaken it up Egham hill his word was law. But odd cars appealed to me, as did their low prices to the then impecunious motoring writer…