Enthusiasm in the services
[We are pleased to announce that A. G. S. Anderson, R.A.F., and G. H. G. Burton, H.G., the writers of the following article, met as a direct result of the “Motor Sport” “Enthusiasts in the Services” scheme, which originated from a suggestion put out by J. Owen-Williams in a letter published last July.—Ed.]
THE writers met through your scheme for meetings between enthusiasts in the Forces, being a Home-Guardist and R.A.F. Pilot respectively; and we certainly bless the scheme, as it has meant motoring days reminiscent of peace-time.
Our first meeting marked the start of a positive orgy of engineering. The R.A.F. arrived complete with a J.2 M.G. Midget at “Home-Guard House.” On the way down the anchors had been, to put it mildly, erratic, owing to the near side rear cable having parted company with itself. A spare cable was to hand, and so at about 2 p.m. we blithely started to do the swap. It was November, and at 5 p.m. we were still at it. Evening came and went; the cable appeared to be some 2 inches too short. We swore and returned under the car to do further battle, now armed with a torch and sundry large tools. The atmosphere quailed under the storm of execrations as we chipped our previously virgin elbows, and filled our faces with grit and other unmentionables. Nine pip emma came and went, and we, apparently, went on for ever . . . Eventually the cable was in position, with the result that the brake was hard on; a shade of slack was achieved and the wheel just turned, and it was decided that it would have to stretch the rest in use. Two broken mortals retired in disorder, having thoroughly enjoyed an appalling afternoon, and the R.A.F. diced back to camp with the J.2, now making the other ditch its objective.
After sundry minor adventures with the Home Guard’s blown Riley Nine “Gamecock” and the M.G., the R.A.F. fell in a big way for an “International” four-seater Aston-Martin. The Midget was sold with much misgiving to one of the few enthusiasts in the camp and the R.A.F. collected the newcomer from a pub many miles distant from the camp. He arrived at 2 p.m. and contrived to take up all the floor-boards, overhaul the S.U. petrol pumps and carburetters and still have a quick one before closing time. The journey back on side-lights only, with shockingly adjusted brakes, not to mention the floor-boards catching alight, boded ill for the future. With doubt in his mind a cheque was signed, and the Aston was the property of the R.A.F.— all of it, including the sawdust in the gearbox—but that wasn’t known at the time! After a few chronic runs the R.A.F. almost believed his friends when they told him that he had been had for a mug, for they all drove staid perambulating green-houses, which arrived at their objectives as and when they desired. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal, and work commenced; decoke, valve grind and everything was done that could be done in a cramped garage without tools or equipment in any variety.
Christmas came and the “H.G.” invited the R.A.F. to stay a night or so. The R.A.F. went. So did No. 1 big-end, with heart-rending noises off and the R.A.F. sitting by the road-side in impotent rage cursing the world in general and the Aston-Martin in particular. A telephone call and the Riley was soon present with a tow-rope. Fortunately, the “H.G.” possessed an extremely well-equipped workshop and Christmas morning was spent in completely dismantling the Aston from the front bulkhead forwards. By dinner time the engine was out and confirmation was received—No. 1 big-end had gone straight out via the crankcase wall into the hedge-rows and ditches of Shropshire, leaving behind a very crooked connecting rod, a broken cylinder liner, and a hole in the crankcase the size of a dinner plate, through which the holocaust could be viewed. A sad sight, my masters, a sad sight! However, the gardener at the “H.G.” establishment had some years before bought, an 8 h.p. Ruby engine (ex-Senechal), complete with gearbox for 30/-. On examination it appeared to be in pretty good fettle, and so it was acquired for the same price at which it was originally purchased, thus saving it, incidentally, from the ignominious fate of sawing logs. The R.A.F. was taken back to camp in the Riley, which had the immortal rind to run out of petrol on the return journey, miles from anywhere on Xmas night. However, a Good Samaritan in the guise of a farmer put that right after the necessary coupons and lucre had changed hands.
The next day the “H.G.” attacked the Aston-Martin afresh and the Ruby (plus gearbox) was installed after a certain amount of cajoling. There were setbacks, of course; for instance, the exhaust system, if such it could be called, took the form of a veritable “plumber’s nightmare.” At first, very light-gauge copper tubing was used which glowed red-hot after about ten minutes running. This wasn’t so good, as the pipe passed within 3 inches of the carburetter (an S.U. off the Aston had displaced the somewhat antediluvian Zenith which had been originally fitted), and so it was abolished with all haste. New flanges were carved out of ⅜ in. mild-steel plate and some 1½ ins, of steel pipe was bent until it fitted, the hiatus between the two lengths being joined by 1 ft. of very imposing flexible tubing. This worked and all was well. A new clutch operation had to be faked up, and, owing to the lack of leverage available, turned out to be very much of the either “In” or “Out” variety, being somewhat heavy and possessed of about 1 inch of travel. The R.A.F.’s left leg is, however, now getting attuned to the strain! The magneto (made by Saga’s of Paris) was not as good as it might have been, and so about 3/16″ was sawn off and filed of from the base of the Aston magneto, which was then fitted, the vernier coupling being suitably adapted; luckily the direction of rotation was the same in both cases. At last the job was almost complete, and the Ruby gearbox coupled up to its Aston-Martin counterpart by a couple of feet of hollow shafting with a universal at each end, also ex-Aston. A week later the R.A.F. arrived by hitch-hike (“How are the mighty fallen”!), and we undertook the test run. The motor was smooth and quiet, starting immediately on the handle, and, although grossly over-geared, achieved about 20, 35, and 45 m.p.h. on the indirect gears and an unknown maximum in top, this being put at somewhere between 55 and 60. The acceleration in second was quite brisk, but in third and top it was poor owing to the weight and the high gearing. However, the cruising speed should be pretty near the maximum. After a few miles the motor passed out and, in the ensuing silence, an ominous ticking could be heard from the S.U. petrol pump. Fortunately a small boy passed on a bicycle, and, being fair-sized blokes, we borrowed the bicycle and the R.A.F. proceeded in search of petrol. The bicycle possessed negligible anchorage and was returned with a bent pedal, the R.A.F. having made forcible contact with a wall at no mean velocity. After pacifying the infant to the extent of 3/- we filled up and completed our maiden run. We were satisfied, but there was still a certain amount of finishing of to be done, and, in any case, the Ruby installation was regarded as a purely temporary measure. [Did the Treasury win the tax-balance?—Ed.]
During the installation of the Ruby the “H.G.” had discovered a 1929 supercharged 1½-litre F.W.D. Alvis, with an open fabric two-seater body decorated with a minute dickey “seat” (by courtesy) let into the tail, for sale at Llangollen, the price being £33. He informed the R.A.F. who, in turn, brought over a couple of Australian lads, the elder of whom had bought his M.G. The younger wanted the Alvis, which, incidentally, sported a small crest on each door, having apparently had as its first owner an earl, presumably belted. Unfortunately, the original log-book was missing, and so its past history could not be ascertained. We hied ourselves to Llangollen the convoy consisting of the M.G. and the Riley (complete with a cracked rocker box stud mounting, which released most of the oil pressure via the bonnet flutes into the great outer world). The roads were a solid sheet of ice, so a merry time was had by all; we arrived cold but enthusiastic. The Alvis appeared to be good, but the accumulators were flat, and owing to the arctic conditions and the fact that it had been standing for some time, it was impossible to swing the very imposing engine. The long-suffering Riley was put at one end of a rope and the Alvis at the other, with its owner at the wheel, and Australia Junior as ballast. There was only one snag; as soon as the Alvis clutch was let in the whole lot stopped with wheel-spin. However, by driving the Riley on the grass verge with the Alvis following closely in the rear, enough grip was achieved and she started. For this operation third gear had been used and there it stuck. Upon examination it was found that the positively Mephistophelean system of gear selection had tied itself into the most amazing knots, but with the aid of a jack-handle and a distressingly bucolic garage hand, this was sorted out, brute force being the deciding factor. This time the Alvis started on the handle and off we went for a proper run. The car was approved, and bought for £30, the bargain being sealed with a glass of sherry and a biscuit. On returning to “H.G. House,” the lights were fixed, the plugs cleaned, and a single S.U. fitted in place of forced induction and made to give a reasonable mixture, whereupon the car proceeded to go something akin to a bomb, being surprisingly smooth and silent. But the brakes were not so good; the front, on the transmission, made such horrid noises that, after application, one hurriedly took one’s foot off the pedal and prayed hard that nothing was coming, whilst at the same time one of the rear operating cables was broken— very exhilarating on ice, may I say! However, it was a definite bargain, and with a little time and labour, not to speak of cash, should be a very nice motor car. The R.A.F. finally left for camp at about 8 p.m. somewhat doubtful of a safe arrival, but still hopeful. After three miles the Alvis went all temperamental and stuck in two gears at once. Crowbars and Australian invective eventually freed things and camp was reached without further incident.
The Aston-Martin will be finished very shortly, and before the R.A.F. crowd are posted “somewhere in the South” a cortege consisting of four enthusiasts will dice their way round Shropshire as a finale to a couple of months of blissful, if exacting, motoring. The very fact that most of our time has been spent repairing things has helped tremendously, in that it has made the petrol ration available for one or two good hogs, instead of using it in petty hither and thither running about, whilst, at the same time, all concerned have profited considerably by the peace-time atmosphere achieved.
Soon will come the time when we are split, up but friendships have been made, and already plans are being formulated for our co-operating in trials, etc., after this confounded war has been won. In conclusion, we should like to wish all other enthusiasts, together with MOTOR SPORT, the very best of luck, and a speedy return to civilian dicing.