Breadline Motoring

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Breadline Motoring

THE latter end of the great slump found me occupying a mouldering and remote farmhouse, unemployed, and owner of one ” 14/40 ” Sunbeam and one slightly decayed S.V. ” 12/40 ” Alvis 2-seater.

The latter luxuries came under the axe forthwith, the Alvis being presented to my slightly astonished garage man in token payment of his bill, the Sunbeam sold to a friend in Yorkshire, who subsequently added some70,000 miles to her clock before losing her in a fire. But having regard to my geographical position, my last journey in the car took me to a local serapyard, whence we returned with twenty-five shillingsworth of ancient 2-stroke DuneIt lashed to the luggagegrid. This, my frail link-to-be with the outside world, was a 1920 edition, with inclined twin-port engine with a double diameter piston and alloy head. The machine generally was in the last stages of decay, but a few more months of useful life were wrung from her. She took letters to the post, carried groceries in a bass bag balanced on the tank, lapped the surrounding grass field in spirited fashion as a diversion, and fetched bottled beer from the “Five Bells” of an evening„ illuminated by a wavering torch held in the hand not engaged in steadying the cargo.

The biryele’s chief characteristic was a deceptive burst of exemplary running which one learnt to recognise as the final warning of imminent seizure ; not surprising in view of the lubricant, which was mostly drained from old tractor oil drums ; nor was she innocent of an occasional whiff of paraffin in her odorous wake. She gave of her best, however, in the mist of a September dawn, when we set forth in haste to fetch the doctor and his black bag ; an epic ride, culminating in despairing squeaks and the inevitable seizure a mile from our goal. The machinery was pushed into a dry ditch, and the journey finished at a panic-stricken and perspiring jog-trot. .When recovered from the ditch by a proud parent 36 hours later, the engine commenced at the first prod.

She met her Waterloo some weeks later when the rear spindle broke whilst negotiating the I-mile of farm track known to the family as ” the back _ drive,” and I was forced to carry the rear end and steer the front—no mean feat—to her journey’s end. I sold her piecemeal to an earnest youth who was rebuilding a sister model, at a fixed price of 5s. the piece, and showed a profit at the end of the somewhat protracted proceedings. A G.T.P. 250-e.e. Velocette followed, which, after 2-4 hours of ownership, blew up coniprehensively, strewing its vitals far and wide. A kind-hearted dealer took it hack, and hired me a comic little bicycle by Enfields, called the Cycar, a really clever attempt at an all-enclosed lightweight, which would have been grand with a more ambitious engine. I rode it throughout the winter, doing a 25-mile journey in darkness morning and night to a newly-acquired job, with no trouble whatever, except for one incident, rather pleasant than otherwise. The rear chain jumped its sprocket on a lonely stretch of road, and while blasphemously unravelling it by the light of matches, a rapidly moving car pulled up, reversed back, and offered to light the subject with a large spotlight. The car was an Alvis “Silver Eagle,” and on learning of my interest in the breed, this good Samaritan suggested leaving the bike in the hedge and taking a trundle down the road. We duly “

trundled” at an astonishing gait, and I learnt that my helper was Ivan Waller, and the car but recently returned from its very creditable performance at Phcenix Park. On retracing our steps we were quite unable for some time to ‘locate my green bicycle, nestling coyly in its green hedge, despite the aid of the enormous spotlight. By this time I was heartily sick of motor-cycles as a mode of winter transport, so returned the Cycar to my kindly dealer, and for the sum of £3 15s. became the owner of a 10-h.p. Singer tourer, purchased from the wife of a Bentley-owning Being a sequel to ” How the Poor Live,” published in the December, 1944, issue. Although, as the author says, cars that will give good service are almost a thing of the past, nevertheless, his observations should go some way towards encouraging impecunious ex

Service folk.—Ed. friend (much to his relief). This modest price included a fag-end of insurance and a few weeks’ tax, so we sallied forth in the car-owning class again. I look back with a feeling of warm regard for this little car, and I certainly got my money’s worth. A 1924 model, with an ungainly but roomy body, the Singer was fitted with a neat and accessible o.h.v. pushrod engine, unit 3-speed gearbox, steel disc wheels and 710 by 90 covers, innocent of tread. Life became one long struggle to keep the car off its rims, there being no money to spare for new covers, and a great dearth of same in the breakers’ yards. But it would surprise the moderns to learn just how long one could extend the life of the old high-pressure covers ; the appearance of the breakerstrip merely heralded a sort of St. Martin’s Summer. (N.B.—Not applicable to early Brescias !)

After a top-overhaul and general cheekover, we repainted the wings, wheels and valances, patched the hood, cleaned up the bodywork and plugged a radiator leak with chewing-gum and black paint. M.p.g. was 35/38 on No. 3 spirit, and oil negligible. All the early Singers had something in this respect ; a cylinder block which resolutely refused to wear. About this time I was in rooms in Lincoln during the week and making the 40-odd-mile journey home at the week

end. So when my wife was laid low with ‘flu with next to no help and a very new daughter to maintain, something had to be done. My gallant 75 hobsworth rose to the occasion, and for a fortnight I did the trip daily, in bitter winter weather over snowbound roads, slithering along on bald treads, clinging to top gear to keep the petrol consumption down. (My microscopic mileage allowance didn’t start till I reached the office.) Finally, in the following spring, whilst negotiating a long stretch of flooded road near Ruskington, the faithful engine ceased abruptly, leaving me marooned amid the waters; Even in the midst of this element, however, the usual small boy appeared, wading to the knees, and after extracting the maximum enjoyment from viewing my predicament, consented to make contact with the headman of the village, who presently appeared on the farther shore. After some minutes of somewhat stilted and difficult conversation at maximum lung-power, a horse was produced, and we entered the village in style. A ‘phone call brought a friend and a tow home, where it was found that a fibre timing pinion had chosen just that spot in all those perishing miles to strip its teeth. A replacement was obtained from my breaker friend, but went again a few weeks later. Time being precious, I parted with the Singer with real regret.

A bull-nosed Morris-Cowley took its place in the cart-shed, if not in my heart ; a ghastly thirst for oil and an anvil chorus from the engine made her a nightmare to own and drive, though in fairness to Lord Nuffield, she never let me down. I kept her for the duration of one drum of unbranded oil, and traded her for a 10-h.p. Hampton 4-seater, with a Peterborough breaker. Now the Hampton in its day was a quality light car in the Lea-Francis class, and this one retained the tattered rags of its gentility. The power-unit was an o.h.v. Meadows, and the gearbox a 4-speed Moss, so far as I remember, with right-hand gate. The body boasted good leather upholstery, with an adjustable bench front seat, giving a good driving position when the column had been lowered. No brakes to speak of, and a maximum speed of about 56 m.p.h., after I had eliminated a fearful propellershaft „judder . by replacing the fabric joints and truing up the shaft in situ by a few judicious wallops with a large baulk of timber.

The usual heart-breaking search for serviceable 710 by 90 covers was resumed, lightened somewhat by fortune’s smile when I chanced upon a nearly new one on an old caravan axle in a garage in Gargrave, and was offered it for Os. And this charge included fitting, what time I consumed bread and cheese and a half can in the local nearby. I have raised my hat to that small garage in passing ever since. Altogether I found the Hampton a very nice car, quite trouble-free and very economical to run, until an almost total lack of brakes and tyres, plus a shaky battery, forced me to sell her back to the breaker, and for a couple of pounds or so I took over a 7.5-h.p. Citroen.

The attraction of this equipage consisted chiefly in its magnificent Michelin balloon tyres, offering a truce from the old nightmare. It was fitted with an almost unmarked 3-seater clover-leaf body, with a full set of side-curtains, and I was at first mystified by its abandonment in a scrapyard. The riddle solved itself without delay. In all my life I have never struck such a gutless, inanimate lump of metal. Nothing that one could do availed to improve things. Its lack of ambition was inherent in its inadequate gas passages and wretched little valves. Never shall I forget the dreadful feeling of impotence as one rushed the approach of some long main-road hill at its flatout maximum of 28 m.p.h., watched the Jaeger needle sink to 15, changed down, and ground towards the summit with awful deliberation and a scream of cheap pinions. Its reliability was never in question ; doubtless the thing is going yet ; but it was more than I could bear. I drove it to the Harrogate district to spend Christmas with friends, the junior member swaddled cocoonwise in the single rear seat, and for that 100 miles of main road, including a short tea stop, we took six hours, on full bore, the crew frozen stiff and bored to death. On my return we read a family commination service over the thing, and I had no difficulty in disposing of it at a slight profit, again on the strength of those tyres.

My next venture was much better. Armed with 15 in hard cash I stalked my prey with stealth and cunning. I had noticed in the garden of an isolated house in the district a weather-beaten ” 10/23 ” Talbot 2-seater which had been in the open for at least 12 months. I approached the owner, an elderly invalid, who was at first reluctant to part with it. It took some little time to persuade him that a fiver in the hand was better than a rusty motor in the garden, but after several visits he saw my point, and I took possession of an excellent little car. A cursory inspection proved the mechanical side good, but the body panels were badly rusted, the hood fabric a dead loss, and the battery beyond hope. I disregarded the hood, did what I could with the panels with sheet zinc and Robbialac, and bought a secondhand battery. In my opinion the ” 10/28 ” Talbot was a very good motor car indeed, and a great loss to the Talbot range when it was dropped. It was less a scaled-up ” 8/18 ” than a scaled-down ” 12/40 ” Darracq, with all its young brother’s appetite for revs., but with much improved roadholding and braking, and fitted with a differential and 19-in. by 500 tyres. The whole car was beautifully made, uncannily quiet for a small 11-year-old, and gave me a long run of pleasant motoring at a tireless cruising speed of 40 m.p.h. As with its big brothers, a water-pump was fitted, and even Honister Pass from Buttermere failed to flurry the engine. The only spot of bother was caused by a ball-joint in the ignition control linkage coming adrift where it passed behind the cylinder block, allowing the rod to drop neatly across the rapidly revolving clutch spring studs; shearing all but one. It felt very expensive when it happened, but Barlby Road provided spares by return, and I

had the car on the road again within a few hours. The Talbot then went on to cover some 7,000 miles of business and pleasure motoring with no untoward incidents or expense. I am, indeed, hard put to it to explain the reason for her sale, so satisfac tory was her behaviour, so must simply ascribe it to the restless lust for change. But the sands of time and space are running out, with less than half of my breakers’ bargains catalogued. Indeed it may well be that these modest adventures are of scant interest to anyone but the owner, who alone knows the hopes and fears, the schemings and triumphs of motoring on an average income of about £3 per week, augmented in part by a meagre mileage cheque. Mention must be made, however, in common justice, of two chummy Austins of the 1925/6 era, of which no more need be said than that one could, and frequently did, throw a suitcase into them and set forth on a 200-mile journey with less than 10s. in one’s pocket to meet emergencies ; the cheaper of the two cost just £3, arid had neither starter motor nor dogs on the crankshaft nose, starting being achieved by walking the car smartly down the road and smacking it into 2nd and out again. An entirely satisfactory mancruvre, ex

cept for the night when I failed to select neutral, stumbled, and was left on all fours in the road, what time the Austin, containing my life-partner, tettered off on its own towards home. Taken for granted to the same degree were the four Jowetts of different lengths ; a short 2-seater was the most fun, and the only one of the quartet to give trouble ; a crown wheel shed its teeth as a result of my exuberance. These, however, have been spoken of in an earlier issue. Another 10-h.p. Singer also yielded up its remaining miles in my ownership ; this time a smart ” Custom-built ” 2-seater with sportive unvalanced wings and skeleton running-boards. On the strength

of these amenities I competed in some mild trials, with but moderate success. The stop and restart bits were not so hot, and we were unfairly outclassed by the semi-professional cads who could not only stop, but did restart. However, it was great fun, and I bought a check shirt. The Singer eventually expired with a

locked rear axle slap between the narrow gate-posts of a friend’s bungalow. At one time it seemed that to dig out the gate-posts was the only solution. to the impasse. Two Morgans complete the tale ; a very bad ” Aero-Anzani ” which blew up,

and a very fast hybrid with ” family ‘ body, Aero radiator and o.h.v. J.A.P. motor, which just wouldn’t, despite the modest twenty shillings it cost me. If this rambling story has a point at all, it is this : that what may read like a chapter of irresponsible tinkering and haphazard collecting of junk, actually represented between 60,000 and 70,000 miles of quite serious motoring, over a period of five or six years, in return for a ridiculous outlay in cash. Although I have no reliable records to quote from, I have for the purpose of this article, gone as carefully as memory will allow into the cost of it all. I have taken re-sale prices (if any) into consideration, and cannot make the total reach £35. A

further £3 would certainly cover replacements, and work done other than by myself. True, much of that mileage was covered at an average speed that would cause some distress to younger and more fire-eating readers, and some of it would have pained the minions of the law. But I can count on the fingers of one hand the occasions when I failed to arrive at my destination, albeit late and dirty now and then. And on the sole occasion when I caused another road-user any concern (by ramming the stern of a ” 90 ” Talbot in a double traffic line), the injured party apologised to me very charmingly.

When the Editor suggested that I should record these experiences with breakers’ models, he expressed the hope that it might serve to interest and encourage those of his readers who look forward to post-war fun and games with high hopes but low bank balances. Sincerely do I echo the hope, but I feel impelled to strike a cautious note. Leaving aside the twin bogeys of increasingly repressive legislation and insurance, let one reason suffice. The sane, sound light cars of the middle ‘twenties, so devoid of frills, so easy to take apart and put together, and to maintain in reasonably roadworthy trim, are gone. To my mind they have no counterpart in the decade that followed.

It is not my intention to decry the ‘Nashes and Astons of 10 to 15 years ago, but they and their like will not be bought for many times the sum I paid for my Talbot or Hampton. Yet these were also quality cars of their day. But let me not paint a gloomy future for other impecunious enthusiasts. The building of Specials ” and the ambitious restoration of existing cars will doubtless flourish as of old, amongst those with the facilities, time and skill. But I fear that the days of the £5 motor car, as anything more than an amusing plaything, are gone, not to return.—G. H. D. •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

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