Cars I have owned

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[This, the ninth article of the series, is by C. W. Moss, the well-known competition driver, now in the R.N.V.R. He describes, from memory, the very large and varied number of cars he has owned, and also recalls some interesting cars with which he has been intimately associated, since the age of eight years.—Ed.]

THE Motoring Bug bit me when I was very young—eight years old, in fact—and I can still remember some runs on an early G.W.K. and the struggles of its owner on wet days when water penetrated to the linings of the “infinitely variable” drive.

I cannot remember the name of the next car to interest me, but I do remember that it caused me no little surprise, since it had an engine at the rear under a sort of lid, and had to be started with a cord wound round a pulley, just the same as we start outboard motor-boat engines to-day. A small crowd used to gather round when this was being done, and as it usually required such attention rather more often than it ran, I think it must have been quite well known in the district at the time.

Later on there were some most exciting times with a V-twin Tamplin cyclecar, which seemed to me to go very fast indeed, giving me an immense thrill to watch the flames shooting out of the short, stumpy exhausts. As a complete contrast to this were occasional rides in a large open Wolseley, very sedate in appearance and manner of handling compared with the rather stark nakedness of the Tamplin and its “dare-devil” driver. The Wolseley was remarkable for the enormous amount of polished brass on view, including an outsize “gas works” on one running board to supply the various acetylene lamps.

After that an early Morris Cowley provided plenty of enjoyment, followed by an “11.9” Standard two-seater which went very well indeed until it let my father down one Saturday night miles from anywhere in the Pennines. He walked on to find a telephone and I amused myself counting rabbits for two hours in the light of the headlamps. Not a soul passed along that road until I was collected somewhere about midnight. We pushed the car off the road and were back again at dawn on Sunday with a van to tow the Standard away. In the meantime, all the special plated lamps, spare wheel and cushions had been stolen.

Then came two Bean 12 hp. two-seaters, surely among the heaviest and most stoutly built cars of this size ever made. Nothing ever seemed to go wrong, and one of them did over 150,000 miles and was still going strong when we sold it. After these came a very comfortable 14 h.pi Standard two/three-seater with sidescreens winding down into the doors, and then a 1928 Austin Twelve four-seater, and as I was by then of a knowledgeable age, certain attention to that Austin caused something of a panic in the local Austin depot, where other owners gathered to complain of the comparative woolliness of their own models! Apparently, most of the disappointed owners were pacified by a tactfull salesman, who explained that the Austin people knew what they were doing and I didn’t, and he prophesied an early blow-up of our family “fast” tourer. But I am afraid he was disappointed for the old car ran for years after we parted with it—the last I saw of it was some years afterwards, high with fruit and vegetables, but going like stink!

I taught myself to drive when I was nearly thirteen, in the good old days when small boys could get away with such things, aided to a certain extent by a sympathetic local policeman who was singularly blind on many occasions. About this time a friend acquired an old Humber which we proceeded to pull apart and then put back again. We took our time and at the end had no bits over—in fact, being blessed with a lathe and workshop of our own, certain things were added which were never listed in the catalogue. Complete with all its gadgets that car ran well for several years in spite of its suicidal tendencies on greasy roads under the influence of rear wheel brakes and a transmission foot-brake.

From motor-cycles—the best of which was a T.T. Velocette converted for road use—I graduated to my first car, a “12/22” Lea-Francis two-seater. This was a most reliable machine with a wonderful top-gear performance, but it hadn’t quite the urge I wanted. So I sold it and for a time had the use of a 14 h.p. Sunbeam tourer, which handled beautifully, was extremely comfortable, and quite one of the easiest cars to drive. Even my girl-friend thought so too, and I taught her to drive on this car. It is to her credit that she emerged from this ordeal little the worse and recovered from it sufficiently well to become my wife at a later date.

I then obtained a 9 h.p. “Surbaisse” Amilcar, originally owned by Vernon Balls, according to the book of words. It was in wonderful condition, having been owned by an enthusiast and it went like the proverbial scalded cat, with open exhaust and screaming gearbox, while with a solid rear axle and narrow track, road holding was amazing. This car had staggered seating and a beautiful body without doors, and was lower than the usual “Grand Sport” model. After a time 50-odd in second gear proved rather too much for the little side-valve engine and a bearing liquefied. Some-one offered me a Rally four-speed o.h.v. job with the narrowest body ever built, but I didn’t fall for it. Instead I stripped the Amilcar to the last nut and bolt and found everything generally in very good order, and then I came across a Meadows engine being given away, complete with four-speed gearbox. Hasty measurements confirmed that it would go in with slight alterations to cross members and a shorter prop. shaft. I gradually rebuilt the Meadows unit to T.T. Frazer-Nash specification, with twin port head, B.H.B. pistons, R.R. alloy valves, etc. In due course, engine and chassis were mated and then—I was given a job miles from my old home, with no time to finish the “special” and no chance of moving it. I then met George Mangoletsi, who became almost as interested in my half-finished efforts as I did in his workshop and contents. Eventually, Mr. Mangoletsi presented me with a very excellent “12/50” Alvis in exchange for may bits and pieces, which he intended to complete himself.

Unfortunately. pressure of business prevented him from realising this aim, and eventually the body and chassis were sold separately and the engine passed into the hands of an Irishman who fitted it to his modified Lea-Francis, in place of an engine which had almost completely disintegrated. With no further attention other than running-in, he came in second in an Irish road race a few weeks later, so I began to feel a little better about that “child of my creation.”

Here I must mention that I had previously played a large part in the rebuilding of two cars belonging to a friend. The first was an aluminium bodied “Brooklands” 1½-litre AC with Anzani engine, disc wheels and the usual gearbox/axle combination adapted by that marque for so many years. When we had finished with the car it had Alvis wire wheels, F.W.B. by Morris and a “12/40” Alvis gearbox mounted astern of the clutch driving through a modified prop. shaft and axle. This latter was rather a difficult job, but with the aid of a good machine shop, it proved quite a practicable proposition. The other car was a Gwynne Eight “Chummy” three-seater which was purchased—or rather begged—for a surprisingly  small sum from a dealer, who regarded it with a great deal of misgiving, apparently because it was outside his normal class of car. Anyway, it was in excellent condition and responded extraordinarily well to a higher compression, polished ports, two carburetters, double valve springs, etc. The body was scrapped and at very light two-seater body, made up on the lines of that of the J.2 M.G. Midget, was fitted instead. The radiator was lowered and fitted with a header tank and we called on Mr. Morris again for some front anchors. This time Riley wire wheels were used and double Hartford shock-absorbers looked after the suspension. The result was quite a good little motor car which would run rings round sports Austin Sevens of those days and sometimes gave much bigger cars a run for their money. To return to the “12/50” Alvis—this was a most likeable car. Though heavy in build and to drive, it was completely reliable, road holding was excellent, and with a useful gearbox good averages came quite naturally on long runs. I liked the straightforward o.h.v. engine amid the fact that the passage of water from block to head did not take place through the cylinder head gasket. The adjustable universal-joint bearings were worthwhile until the advent of the Hardy-Spicer needle bearings and the rear axle with the oil throwers formed on the half-shafts was a beautiful job of work. Criticisms—poor brakes, heavy steering, and a tendency to show a low oil pressure on the slightest end wear of main and big-end bearings.

After the Alvis I bought a “12/40” Lea-Francis two/three-seater which I completely rebuilt from end to end. The engine was stripped, all bearings renewed and a rebored block fitted. A twin port head was acquired and various other modifications incorporated with the ultimate aim of increased performance. Double Hartfords from an Alvis were fitted all round, a Dewandre Servo cylinder for the brakes, a 14-gallon tank at the rear from a Sunbeam and rebuilt wheels for oversize tyres, were among the chassis variations. The body was painted battleship grey and the wings and wheels black. The only plated article on view was the radiator, and with a modified hood and screen, two spare wheels and a mahogany and black facia board from a 25 h.p. Sunbeam, this car looked most attractive. The performance was fully in keeping with the appearance, so much so that a young naval officer fell in love with it on sight some months later and wouldn’t leave me alone until I sold it to him! Had I known that he didn’t intend to look after the car I should not have let him have it, because it is always a pain in the neck to me to see scratched paintwork, damaged mudguards and rust creeping all over the place.

While waiting for the completion of the Lea-Francis, a Riley Nine and a Standard Nine gave me conveyance. The Riley had been Laystall-tuned previous to my purchasing it and the results were excellent, but the springing was so bad that I only kept the car a week. In that week I made many successful practice climbs of all the local trials hills, including Simms and Fingle, much to my benefit at a later date. Having disposed of the Lea-Francis I had occasion to visit Singers at Coventry, and there I saw a team of Singer Le Mans models being built for the Alpine Trial. One of these cars was nearly finished and I made up my mind that it had to be mine. I came back home for a conference with the “Ways and Means Committee” and eventually I went up to Coventry to take delivery. This car turned out to be one of the most successful I have ever owned and for a year it did little else but trials and rallies. Successes included Coupe des Glaciers and Team Award in the Alpine Trial; class winner in the Rome-Liege-Rome Trial; sundry M.C.C. gold medals; a very attractive gold lady in the nude from the R.A.C. Rally, and many others. This car was beautifully turned out from the works, with spare ignition gear, petrol pump, plugs, etc. under the bonnet ready for instant use. The bonnets of the Alpine Trial team were unusual in having small doors in the sides instead of the ordinary louvres and very efficient safety catches were fitted to the body doors. This car was usually rather embarrassing wherever it went because the figures 109 were never completely erased from the radiator and the black discs on the doors, many blobs of yellow and red paint, from the scrutineers and a general air of efficiency, managed to create the impression of something out of the ordinary.

I had always wanted to have a shot at Shelsley-Walsh and the prospects or 100 b.h.p. in about 12 cwt. of chassis and body seemed fairly reasonable. The price was unexpectedly low and so I became the possessor of the Lombard Special, comprising a highly supercharged 1,100 c.c. Lombard engine in a Frazer-Nash chassis, with a light aluminium shell for a body. It was partly a conception of E.J. Moor—of “Wasp” fame—and it certainly seemed to leave nothing to be desired in the matter of acceleration and speed. Trials, by the way, were carried out “somewhere on Dartmoor” at dawn one Sunday morning and I’m afraid the local animal life did not appreciate an open exhaust and a very pungent smell at that hour.

I bought a Lea-Francis for towing purposes and made up a “self-steering” tow-bar for the “Special.” After many days and nights of preparation, during which the wrath of my neighbours descended on me whenever I found it necessary to start up, we set off for Shelsley in the early hours of the morning.

Disaster came when a 9/16″ high-tensile steel bolt in the tow-bar broke through a flaw in the metal, and the “Special” finished up in a ditch. About a dozen men who were repairing a nearby bridge lifted her bodily out on to the road and we surveyed the damage, which consisted of a badly bent front axle, broken brake cross shafts to both front brakes, and a slightly bent chassis at the fore end. We stripped the axle and took it in the Lea-Francis to the nearest town, but no garage would undertake the work of straightening it. Eventually we discovered an engineering works and we spun a very moving yarn to the foreman thereof. He was very sorry, he would like to do it but they were making gun mountings and other things for the Government and work could not be stopped for anything or anybody. But still, if I liked I could see the managing director. I did, and in spite of—or perhaps because of—my dishevelled and dirty appearance, he gave orders for two of his men to cease work on the gun mountings and place themselves at my disposal. They made it professional job of the axle, even to heat treatment, and I went on my way rejoicing.

Two nearby enthusiasts very kindly cleared their garage for me to work in and the “Special” was soon under cover with light and other conveniences to hand. It was nearly seven o’clock in the evening of practice day when we arrived at our hotel at Shelsley, and after a rather sad meal we decided to sleep on it!

Next morning in the paddock came the old familiar scene—the “Special” started beautifully and a run down the road told me that I could manage without front brakes. Then, coming over the bridge into the paddock again I heard a curious crack and found on examination that the main leaf of one of the rear springs had cracked in two places in such a position that nothing could be done in time to run. So the “Special” was sorrowfully covered up and we became spectators. On the following day we towed her back to Plymouth and shortly afterwards a man in London made me a good offer for the whole outfit, so the Lombard-Special travelled by train, and I by Lea-Francis, to conclude the deal.

An Anzani-engined Frazer-Nash was my next mount, and much fun did I have beating up all comers with this car until it became necessary to acquire a rather more sober vehicle. This took the form of an Austin 10 h.p. two-seater which passed into my hands at 1,700 miles. I did things to that engine that no self-respecting Austin should stand, and afterwards the speedometer thereon did things that would make “Mr. Smith” open his eyes. That car surprised no end of people on the road, and it was that feeling of fun in having an ordinary car in appearance with an extraordinary performance which later led me to purchase a B.M.W.

However, after 11,000 miles the Austin clutch gave up the unequal struggle and I bought a very attractive 2-litre Lagonda Van den Plas tourer with very nice long sweeping wings. But Devon lanes and hills were net suitable for this large and rather sluggish motor car and I soon became the proud possessor of a “Colmore” Frazer-Nash. Before leaving the Lagonda, I must praise its delightful gearbox and steering and admire the clever layout of the under head camshafts; also I must compliment Messrs. Lagonda’s Service Department at Staines for their efficiency and the interest they showed in this car on the only occasion when I found it advisable to visit them.

The Frazer-Nash was a sheer delight after my usual loving attention had been expended on it. Performance was outstanding and there was practically nothing to touch it in the district. I was forever giving rides to admiring friends and I had many tempting offers to purchase the car. She was remarkable for having white loose covers over the black upholstery and looked very smart with black body and chromium waistline and wheels. When I eventually sold her, the new owner wrote to say that he found the car almost too good to be true and honestly doubted whether he could keep her in as good trim as I had done!

Business then made it necessary for me to run a saloon and an Austin Ten, Wolseley Ten and Wolseley Twelve followed in quick succession. The latter, together with a Wolseley Fourteen I purchased later, are without a doubt the most successful cars of their type and price class of the 1937-8 models. Fairly stiff springing, good steering, lively performance, a nearly “straight” gearbox and not too big a body, combine to produce a very likeable car which has done much to bring the name of Wolseley to the fore in the last few years.

An Austin Fourteen came next for a short time and then a serious illness cut out motoring for some months. Starting gently with an Austin Ten drophead coupe, I graduated to an Austin Sixteen drop-head coupe, which I had for exactly three days before a neighbour fell in love with it and I then bought another very good Lea-Francis to fill in the gaps! About a week after I bought it an obscure electrical short occurred and the poor old “Leaf” went up in flames, aided by a tank brimful of Discol.

I then found a car I had been looking for—a Frazer-Nash-B.M.W. 2-litre, Type 45. All I can say about it is that it fully lived up to the reputation these cars had so rapidly made for themselves. It was absolutely tireless to drive and it took everything in its stride to such an extent that amazingly high average speeds were recorded without conscious effort. The fun one could have with masses of American “Floating Power” had to be experienced to be believed! Almost its only faults were that the brakes were hardly up to the standard of the rest of the car and the filler plugs for the shock absorbers were square-headed and practically impossible to unscrew after being “weathered” for a few thousand miles. Petrol consumption was always 27 m.p.g. and even after 45,000 miles the oil consumed was negligible. Everything was beautifully made and the axle was a splendid job, fully adjustable without dismantling. Of course, high tensile steel bolts were used in most places, giving the advantage of less weight because of smaller size for a given strength, and the low total weight of the complete car was the explanation of the wonderful performance. I kept this car longer than any other I had previously owned and when I eventually sold it, I acquired a very nice Riley “Lynx” tourer. Though very much inferior in acceleration to the B.M.W., nevertheless its most efficient 1½ -litre engine gave this car a very good performance in spite of its high total weight. However, I never quite accepted the Newton clutch and “self-change” gearbox and the springing was unnecessarily hard—in fact, in an effort to improve this, I even used 16″ wheels with 6.50″ section tyres, but it was never very good. Otherwise the car was reliable and economical and the well-built body was very comfortable for both front and rear passengers. A rev. counter would have been a worthwhile fitment. but otherwise the equipment was complete.

I sold the Riley to a gentleman who made few comments on its marvellous condition and whose chief worry seemed to be whether the screen would fold flat easily. It did—and an S.S. 17 h.p. saloon came in part exchange. I only kept this car five days, and in spite of a side-valve engine the performance was quite brisk and the springing better than that of the Riley.

The previously-mentioned Wolseley Fourteen followed and I kept this car only a few weeks short of my record with the B.M.W. I sold it during the war at a profit, after a year’s very enjoyable motoring, and during the few weeks before joining the Navy an Austin Ten provided my means of transport. I am now running another very amazing small car—a Ford Eight—and it seems entirely suitable to these days of economy, with a performance some larger cars would not be ashamed to have, and suspension quite up to crawling out of bomb craters! Of the cars I handled in the 1926-1932 period the following stand out in my memory for reasons I shall state:-

A 3-litre o.h.c. Sunbeam tourer—the first car I was allowed to work on after passing out from my apprenticeship. It proved quite fast on test but for some reason I never worked up half as much enthusiasm for this car as I did for a 3-litre Bentley Van den Plus four-seater which I worked on a few weeks later. This really did seem like the Real Thing, and I’m afraid it aroused a good deal of envy in my young heart.

A 1½-Iitre F.W.D. Alvis (supercharged) was a car with lots of urge, the funniest ideas on the negotiation of corners and the devil’s own job to start unless the petrol was previously turned off and the carburetter allowed to run dry. The view over the rather high and very long bonnet was very poor from the low seating position, but the general design of the car was interesting.

Then a 2.3-litre G.P. Bugatti—what a motor car! Speed, acceleration, noise—everything the enthusiast craved. And what a petrol and plug consumption! I remember covering a certain 18-mile journey which was very familiar to me at a prodigious average speed, achieving a velocity of 97 m.p.h. at one spot, much to the amazement of a party of golfers, who forgot to play golf when I passed down the road alongside the fairway. Arriving at my destination, having worked the gear lever like the proverbial pump handle, I noticed a peculiar disinclination either to stand or to sit on the part of the lady on my left. Only then did we discover that the pneumatic cushion was punctured and the poor girl had been bouncing about on the steel underpan! The beautiful “Molsheim-blue” body, alloy wheels, polished axles, etc., were sufficient to bring young and old crowding round the car to do rightful homage wherever it stopped. At the other end of the scale were many delightful runs in an orange “Ulster” Austin Seven, ex the Earl of March. One such run which springs to mind was from Derbyshire to North Yorkshire to see friends, and back again the same day. The crackle of the exhaust and the scream of the little engine for hour after hour were most satisfying. The road holding was well looked after by bound springs and large shock absorbers, and corners came and went almost unnoticed and there was a beautifully live and one-piece feeling about this little car.

A 4½-litre Invicta L.C. tourer was a lovely car to handle, even though the front end did sometimes have a way of its own on a wet road. But what a lot under a very small bonnet; and the plugs were most awkward to change in a hurry! A 16-h.p. Wolseley tourer was a very useful hack car, and loaded with six lusty lads armed with picks and shovel, I took it further on the road from Sheffield to Glossop than any other car had been for three days previously, owing to snow and ice, in a successful attempt to rescue the aforementioned Invicta from under a snowdrift. This car was an excellent means of learning the art of skidding, and I used to work up to 40 m.p.h. or so on the ice covered tarmac at the local aerodrome and then apply the handbrake!

In the years 1933-1939 I can remember another 3-litre Bentley, belonging to it Naval Officer on one of our capital ships, which had been with him to many parts of the world. It had been rebored twice at intervals of about 95,000 miles and had been modified and improved in many small details in that period. It still had all its old charm and the performance was better than ever; the springing was unusually comfortable due to Woodhead springs damped by Andre Telecontrols, and rebuilt wheels with oversize tyres.

A long succession of Alvis cars, starting with the early Speed Twenties and working up through successively later models to the Speed Twenty-five and the 4.5-litre, provided some very enjoyable fast motoring, though I found the Speed Twenties were rather unkind to their bodies, in spite of independent front suspension. Three-and -a-half and 4¼-litre Bentleys, with their uncanny silent speed, left very little to be desired in the matter of luxury sports-car motoring, but the nearest approach to an ideal was a V12 Lagonda, which unfortunately finished a very promising career upside down, an almost total wreck. This car was in every respect a triumph of motor car building and a worthy product of the great name of its designer.

A “36/220” Mercedes-Benz, once run by Thistlethwaite in the T.T., gave plenty of thrills and blistered hands on a fast run up to Donington and back, but made one think that driving one of these cars in a road race must have been a he-man’s job! Petrol consumption worked out at about 7 m.p.g. if the blower was used to get maximum performance, but without its assistance 12 m.p.g. was fairly easy to obtain.

A very varied selection of M.G. , from a “Montlhery” Midget to the latest and largest product of this factory, was full of interest, especially some of the really hot “propaganda” models sent out by the factory, which certainly caused considerable local interest and no doubt assisted sales. One of these was a most remarkable “N” Magnette chassis with two-seater body and something very near a “K.3” engine. Rarely have I seen a rev. counter go further and faster when the loud pedal was depressed!

The Marendaz-Special demonstration 2-litre four-seater had a very nice shapely body with the hood folding down out of sight under a panel, an exhaust note worthy of a G.P. car, and a speedometer which would do 90 m.p.h. almost anywhere! The springing was very comfortable and I think that with a little redesigning of various parts it could have been quite a good model. The car used by Miss Summers at Brooklands and by Earl Howe in the French Grand Prix was quite fast, but in common with the Special short-chassis trials model used by Mrs. A. E. Moss, was spoiled by a poor gearbox, compared with the excellent pattern fitted as standard, and, strangely enough, of Moss manufacture. These cars had the 15 h.p. six-cylinder Coventry Climax engines and Mrs. Moss’s car was run for some time with aluminium cylinder heads in which the valve seats were cut direct in the head and without inserts of any kind. The performance was very impressive, and what hills it couldn’t be driven up it usually managed to climb by virtue of quick acceleration and high speed. This car was built with a very simple fabric two-seater body made to measure for Mrs. Moss, who is not very tall. Whenever I drove the car I found it rather difficult to know what to do as I am six feet tall!

There are many more interesting cars I have known but space forbids my going into further detail. Over many thousands of miles fast motoring I have always been struck by the fact that I have had only six punctures and three mechanical breakdowns, none of which have ever prevented me reaching my destination on the same day as intended. As far as my own cars are concerned this has doubtless been due to the fact that I have always done my own repairs and tuning and have endeavoured to keep everything as efficient as possible, with oil changes every -1,500 miles.

In common with most other enthusiast I am now looking forward with the greatest possible eagerness to the days when my marine and road motoring will not be carried out by kind permission of H.M. Navy.

If anyone has a really good sports-car for sale, I invite him to get into touch with me at my address given in the November, 1940, issue. Maybe I am unduly optimistic, but I don’t think it will be so long before I can put such a car to very good use!

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