It was at a very early age that I fell a victim of the desire for motors, the first I owned, or partly owned, being a 1921 3.5-h.p. Triumph motor-cycle. This model was purchased during my school days for the sum of 8s. 6d. My pal and I pushed it home a distance of three miles one dark night, and had it safely stowed away before anyone saw it.
When we ventured to see what it was made of we had a lot of trouble with the primary chain. It being a “chain-cum-belt, chain-come-off “machine, we decided to scrap the chain, consequently the gearbox was only a decoration. In this state it was induced to perform, under a bright moon, without any lights, also minus brakes and foot-rests; it was aptly christened the “Stonebreaker” by one of the elderly inhabitants. We decided to pull it to pieces, and the inevitable happened—it never went together again.
As my parents took a very firm stand regarding any more motor-cycles, I was forced to forget motoring for a few years until I was able to purchase a very much worn o.h.v. Morris Minor, which had quite an urge, and always motored merrily away from home, but seldom motored merrily back again. Its clutch gave up the ghost on the first week-end tour, quite a distance from home. After a two miles hike and a further 2.5 miles sitting on the floor of a farmer’s Morris Twelve, we completed the journey by taxi. After having this matter attended to it developed a colossal appetite for oil and a terrible hatred for my pal’s girl friend, as it did all sorts of terrible things when she was present. After inspecting a Triumph Super Seven and successfully making a deal with a small cash adjustment, I drove off in the Triumph. It was quite a nice little job, but never put its heart into any effort it made.
It, in turn, was traded for a 2-seater Austin Seven, which started life as a commercial vehicle and had a rather rakish, home-made body. After altering the body considerably, we dropped the steering column, extended the controls and set the seat over the back axle. The tank was fitted in the tail, and a 6-volt petrol-lift was employed. This car gave yeoman service. Having decided to purchase something with more speed, I next went in search of an M.G. After examining quite a few, I became the proud owner of a 1933 “J2” model, which was fitted with low-pressure tyres on the back, a 6-gallon oil tank below the bonnet, oil and radiator temperature gauges, and an extra oil-pressure gauge and clock to match. Some time later I was fortunate to meet the gentleman who had bought it when it was new, one Hugo Wilson, and he informed me that he had all these extras fitted prior to entering the Craigantlet hill climb. Later he raced at Phoenix Park without much success, the chief trouble being lack of oil where it was most required. After the engine had been dismantled the cause of the trouble was found; the back main bearing was not properly lined up, thus restricting the flow of oil from the crankcase. This being attended to, the trouble ceased.
About this time, through Motor Sport, I made the acquaintance of Ron Baker, of the R.C. of Signals, who owns a Riley 4-seater sports model, also “Nobby” Clarke, of the R.A.S.C., who was with “Bira” immediately before the war. We had some grand times together, until petrol rationing became acute. I tried a few experiments with Calor gas as a fuel, but the performance suffered badly, and, consequently, I sold the M.G. in favour of a more economical sports Austin Ten, the body of which was built by Whittingham and Mitchell, of London; also it was fitted with Rudge knock-on wheels and a non-standard radiator. There was nothing outstanding about its performance, and the springing was not so hot—it had hydraulic shockers on the front and friction on the back. Its maximum speed was 60 m.p.h. and it was good for 36 m.p.g.
We used to make frequent trips to Newtownards, when the Ards Motor-Cycle Club managed to hold frequent speed events and reliability trials, right until the very end of the motor-cycle basic-ration period. On one occasion, before the basic ration for cars disappeared, a special item was introduced for the benefit of car owners, a scratch event and a handicap, which consisted of a few laps of a large field. Those taking part in this event were: Noel Hillis, of Belfast, with a 3-litre Talbot; Wilbur Todd, of Lisburn, with a Riley; Peter Eve, of Walton-on-Thames, in an H.R.G.; Rex McCandless and Ray Noble with a Triumph Speed Twin and chain, and a 3-wheeled Morgan.
We have been very fortunate in Northern Ireland to have had our sport each year in spite of Shicklegruber, until practically the end of 1942. Here’s hoping for 1943, and may we all meet young men with red ties and “Red Label” Bentleys ere this year closes.
I am, Yours etc.,