Rumblings, March 1947
We repeatedly receive enquiries from the younger enthusiasts as to where inexpensive used cars can be found and whether prices are likely to drop. Our sympathy is with those of the younger generation who, because of prevailing inflation — we were recently asked £50 for a tyre-less 1923 cycle-car and over £100 for a decrepit fifteen-year-old Austin Seven — have to forgo the motoring pleasure we were fortunate enough to enjoy prior to 1940. However, we cannot see much chance of an early return to pre-war conditions. Not until the industry can again offer well-equipped baby saloons at £120 will second-hand cars resume their pre-war values. But it does seem likely that the really old vehicles will soon be procurable at lower figures than vendors are asking at present. Ordinary pleasure-seeking motorists distrust vintage cars and few business travellers employ them. Therefore, cars built, shall we say, before 1931 cannot be worth seven or eight times what they sold for in 1939, especially if they have been hard used in the meantime. Values are all astray at present, but £40 should buy the lesser cars of pre-1931 vintage, and doubtful baby cars should be available at a rather lower figure. And we think they soon will be, simply because car-storage, even for the Trade, costs money and now that the mad rush to “obtain anything on wheels at any price” is almost over, it will no longer be a business proposition to store the older models in the hope that they represent a dealer’s windfall. So young enthusiasts, experiencing all the urge you and I once experienced, to get out and about in one’s own car these Spring and Summer days, and to cope with setbacks and improve efficiency as occasion demands, can take heart. They should remember, too, the following points:
(a) If two kindred spirits share a car, costs are halved.
(b) That taxation hasn’t increased, nor has the price of petrol risen so very much, and
(c) That petrol rationing sets a limit to running costs, anyway.
The rosy age is gone when you could motor (forgive the liberty, Rolls-Bentley owners!) for 15s, a week, if you had somewhere to keep the car. But your enthusiast gets over a great many seemingly insurmountable difficulties and a lot can be done by biding one’s time, buying an aged vehicle at a sensible price, and working hard to restore it to good order. In conclusion, one suggestion we wish all impecunious enthusiasts to heed. When overhauling, put the chassis in order first. Re line the brakes before you open-out the ports; replace the king-pin and steering joint bushes before you buy double valve springs. A car with a sound chassis is faster and far more pleasant than one with a “hot” engine in a worn-out frame. It is also safer. And, apart from ensuring the security of yourself and your passenger, there are far-reaching reasons why old cars should only take the road in decent mechanical order. Thank you; sermon over!
Elsewhere reference is made to a special, very pleasing sports version of the modern Lea-Francis. It is now no secret that this is a Cowell-Watson production. Cowell used a 14-h.p. chassis, shortening it 13 1/2 in. and reducing its weight by one cwt. He outlined his requirements to D. S. Jenkinson, who designed a body well suited to sports-car racing. When we tried this Lea-Francis it was by no means run-in, and it had a quite normal saloon-car engine, except that the air cleaner had been removed from the single carburetter. Even so, the car went along very easily at 60 m.p.h., would do 70 on a small amount of throttle, and altogether gave the impression that it could be expected eventually to run up to around 90 m.p.h. The pleasing thing, to us, is the stark, practical and modern conception of the car as a whole. It is not strictly aerodynamic, never having been wind-tunnel tested, but its exterior is very clean, and the frontal area small, cooling air being taken to the special radiator at a point of high pressure. Purposely, the cockpit is rather narrow, for sports-car racing is the aim of its constructors, and neat fairings curve out over the side-members. The wings are of the attractive, fixed helmet-type; they obviously detract from the streamline aspect, but are made very easily detachable. The headlamps are in-built, the tail reminds one of an “Ulster” Aston-Martin, and so low is the bonnet that the H.T. leads had to be transferred from the top to the side of the distributor before the panel would shut. Pressure cooling assists in achieving this small frontal area.
The seats deserve full marks for being light, rigid and exceptionally comfortable and air obviously flows efficiently round the body, for the occupants keep very warm and are not conscious of draughts. This car may not be a dazzler, but its stark, “built-for-business” air will appeal to the true enthusiast and there seems to be nothing fitted that does not do a job of work. The main instruments are grouped before the driver, there is an efficient tonneau cover and ample storage room in the tail. The weight is given as 16 cwt.
As we have said, the engine was being run-in when we drove this Lea-Francis, but we were able to appreciate the potentialities of this refreshing car and to discover excellent Girling brakes, and driving-position, steering and handling qualities of the kind that make one at home behind the wheel within a few miles. We understand from Robert Cowell that he will go into limited production with a 1 1/2-litre sports-racing version of this car, for which Lea-Francis will provide a twin-carburetter engine and remote-control gearbox. Weight can be further reduced, and the car should be admirably suited to sports-car racing. Equipment and degree of tune will be largely to clients’ requirements, and we believe that Freddie Dixon will do the final tuning for the Cowell-Watson establishment. Apparently Dixon thinks very highly of the modern Lea-Francis engine, comparing it with his 115 m.p.h. T.T. Rileys. The price of these cars will, we are told, he around £1,250 with p.t., and they certainly show what happens when practical folk get going on designing a sports car.
Another Cowell-Watson venture is building most intriguing 500-c.c. racing engines for the Class I gentry. Many orders have been received already for these 67 by 69-mm., vertical-twin Aspin rotary-valve units. The block, head and base-chamber are of light-alloy and a fan driven from the rear of the crankshaft draws air over the sump and through a finned casing which completely surrounds the cylinders. Each head contains an Aspin rotary valve, these valves being geared together and driven by a vertical shaft from the front of the crankshaft. The very short, rigid, I-section duralumin connecting rods are about the lightest yet, and the crankshaft runs in three lead-bronze bearings. There is an inbuilt oil filter with control protruding from the front face of the sump. On the near-side are the two exhaust outlets and Amal carburetter, the 360-degree induction impulses well suiting a single carburetter. Something like 45 b.h.p. is produced, unblown, and a supercharged 500-c.c. Aspin-Cowell engine is in hand. A very straight power-curve is a feature of these engines and there is no valve bounce to hamper speed, which, looking at the sturdy bottomend, should be pretty shattering. It is hoped that 500-c.c. exponents will be able to buy these engines for about £85.
Yet another line is a 4-cylinder, 4-carburetter, 1,100-c.c. version of this engine, which will be built into a single-seater racing car, sprung on the new Lockheed struts about which much is likely to be heard. Two well-known drivers have ordered these cars, and Watson and Cowell also hope to build two for themselves, with Mr. Shinwell’s co-operation. These “eleven-hundreds” are intended to show Cisitalias the way, and they should appear this year. A supercharged 4-cylinder engine may follow.
Over and above all this, of course, Cowell and Watson are pressing on with the Aspin-valved 1 1/2-litre Grand Prix cars, of which we hope soon to be able to inspect and describe a chassis. These cars are the highest priority jobs in the entire scheme, but as a sideline Cowell’s Alta is being re-bodied and reduced from 2 litres to 1 1/2 litres as a car for Watson to drive until the G.P. team is ready. it is also possible that a Class I sprint car will be constructed by someone in this ambitious équipe, utilising a special Austin Seven rear axle from the Anderson Austin and, naturally, an Aspin-Cowell engine.