CARS I HAVE OWNED
In the past, and particularly throughout the period of the Second World War, articles in the “Cars I Have Owned” series proved to be one of the most popular features appearing in MOTOR SPORT. We only discontinued them when repetition of experiences threatened to diminish the interest of these fascinating and revealing accounts. Later the series was revived on a slightly different basis, famous personalities in the world of motor sport being invited to write under this heading. Now, in answer to continued requests for these articles to re-appear, we have pleasure in publishing one sent to us by Eric Lister, the well-known amateur competition exponent from Manchester. If other readers, famous or just enthusiast, care to send us their experiences and photographs, we may be able to share our readers’ pleasure at seeing a resumption, subject to the exigencies of space, of this series.—EL).] DURING the late summer of 1945 I got home from the Merchant Navy (the family had moved from Manchester to Southport)
On extended leave. A basic petrol allowance had been granted, so my father took his Chrysler (this was Dad’s third Chrysler) off its blocks. A soldier billeted near our home kindly affered to take me out for a driving lesson on the wonderful Southport beach; I jumped at the offer and off we went one Saturday afternoon. He showed inc the controls, then allowed me to leap along the sands in a series of shuddering jerks. After about an hour of these antics my instructor spotted a young lady he knew and that was the end af my lesson. Finding myself abandoned in a 24-h.p. monster, I was rather scared; however, 1 tried to figure out what he had told me and somehow managed to drive into town, parked the car (plenty of space in those days!), and met my parents for tea. When they found out I had driven the car into town alone a ” situation ” developed, during which my mother nearly swooned. However, I managed to persuade them to loan me the car that evening (funny how one could get anything when on leave!) and drove around town gaining confidence, and no doubt scaring other motorists. The next week I met a man who offered me a 1936 B.S.A. twoseater for £200. I viewed it, was impressed by its immaculate green paintwork, borrowed a little from my father, and so came to own my first car. I drove it home feeling on top of the world, but couldn’t understand the dreadful smell, and why it kept stopping every time I put it in top gear, until I came to put the hand-brake on and found this was unnecessary. On a trip from Lancaster she stopped outside Preston one evening at about 10.30 p.m. Not having any mechanical knowledge or a torch, I couldn’t find the reason for this (plenty of petrol in the tank but the engine would not start), so. after groping about in the dark, I decided to take my heavy suitcase and try to hitch a lift. By about 4.30 8.111. I had walked the 12 miles home. It seems people don’t like giving lifts to scruffy young men carrying large suitcases late at night ! After a few hours’ sleep I borrowed my sister’s bicycle and rode out to the field where I bad abandoned the car; within 30 seconds I discovered which wire had become disconnected from the S.U. petrol pump, connected it up, and she fired immediately. (I am glad I was alone at that moment.)
The B.S.A. was definitely a good little beginner’s car. I remember it cornered very well with its front-wheel drive and on occasions reached an indicated 65 m.p.h. However, after a few weeks I was advised by a well-wisher to get rid of it, as the front-drive unit was badly worn. I took his advice and that is how I came to make my first and almost only profit on a car.
Now came a new era, the era of small Fords. A 1937 Ford Eight same first. This, at the beginning, I found to be horrible; too high, swaying all over the road and most uncomfortable. Eventually I discovered the knack of handling it and found it much better than I thought originally; corners could be taken reasonably quickly and it cruised at a steady 50 m.p.h. on suitable roads. Next came a pre-war Ten, then another Eight, followed by a third Eight in which I had fitted a 10-h.p. engine. This whetted my appetite for more performance, as it had very good torque at the bottom-end and beat the majority of small cars away from the lights. By this time I was out of the Merchant Navy and representing my father’s furniture manufacturing business. I had placed on order a new car that intrigued me, the flat-four 1-litre Jowett Javelin saloon, which was to have cost £550. When eventually it turned up in mid-’48 its price had grown to £850 and engine to 1 litres. I should have loved it but couldn’t afford it. I eyed it up and down in the showroom but it was impossible. The next day I decided my Ford was too ordinary, so off again to a dealer’s, where 1 found a 1937 Fiat Topolino which appeared immaculate in its red and black paint; in fact so immaculate that. I part-exchanged it there and then without even hearing the engine running. This stupid move was because the dealer had given me to understand that the starter was being overhauled but otherwise it was as good mechanically as bodily. Anyhow, I fell for it, and picked it up the next evening, eve of the Easter holidays. Then the fun started. The engine sounded disappointing (but I’d bought ii ” as seen, tried and approved”
and the interior smelt like a nightmare in Fleetwood. It seems the roof had just been repaired with best-quality fish glue . . . I shall never forget that smell; but this, I thought, would soon waft away on the journey back to Southport. Whilst driving through Man. chester I reached the lights at Market Street and, changing down, the gear-lever came out by the roots. I made a panic stop, pushed the lever back in, and continued my journey undaunted as far as the East Lanes road, where I opened her up to 45 m.p.h., which I figured was not an unreasonable speed for a small car. I was enjoying the suspension and steering (but not the stink !) when suddenly a small knock started in the engine. Within 30 seconds it became a crescendo. I switched off but, alas, too late; just a horrible racket and silence. I stepped out into the road, slipping in a pool of oil, and to my horror I found the block in little pieces all over the place. I pushed her into a lay-by and this time managed to thumb a lift to Southport. The next day a friend drove me to Manchester. The dealer was in but all he could say was “Seen, tried and approved.” I threatened everything but he had gone deaf. The Fiat was towed to a garage and by the time the job was finished and I had managed to sell it I’d lost over £100. The buyer has still got it and claims never to have bad a moment’s trouble. but says that for six months after buying it, wherever he parked it he returned to find two or three eats sniffing round it . .
Next came a 1934 Lagouda Rapier coupe. With this car I began to find out a little about real cornering and enjoyed it immensely for a few weeks but, alas, the Wilson box was clapped out, and every time I put my foot down the bands slipped. These were repaired by a so-called specialist, but, taking her up to 75 m.p.h. one day, the bands slipped again, the rev.-couuter needle shot up, and once again I switched off too late — a big-end had gone. I got it repaired, motored her gently for a few more weeks, then got rid of her when a new (1949) Ford Anglia came through for me, my first brand-new car. After running it in carefully I took it over to Preston, where the Shorroek brothers were at the time. They fitted it with a supercharger and away I went. This was an amazing little car, giving no trouble at all in over 11,000 miles. Nobody ever believed me when I said she would do a genuine 75 m.p.h. and accelerate from 0-50 in 15 seconds, but this was quite true. On one journey after a holiday on the Norfolk Broads, with a friend following me in a new TC M.G., we left Norwich at 5.30 a.m. arid covered 110 miles in two hours (I was four up and luggage), and in the first hour we made exactly 60 miles. Call it a Ripley story if you like, hut it is correct. During the time I had DIU 368 I drove in some mild ” petrol ration ” competitions, rallies and sprints, meeting with moderate success. Many people were curious about this car as at that thne most of the blown Fords were ” specials.” One curious person was the salesman at my local Ford agent. He had a hotted-up 8/10 Anglin as his personal car. One morning we arranged to swap cars for a little drive. It was mid-winter and the roads were icy. Whilst driving his car down a hill I applied the brakes gently, and promptly slid about twenty yards smack into the back of a horse-drawn coal-cart. This had about 20 cwt. of coal on the back, which fell off onto the bonnet of the car, so I don’t think I need describe the Ford’s ” new look “; it was definitely a disco-volante front-end. I was mildly shaken, and climbed out of the steaming wreck to speak to the angry coalman and pat the placid horse, which didn’t seem to have noticed anything at all. The eoalman was raging, but not about the cart; oh, no I His first remark was ” What about my b— dinner—it’s in that box.” Ile pointed to a pile of splinters protruding from the wreck. This lunch-box was always carried on the rear of the cart. But the worst was yet to conic. I walked back to the showroom, where the salesman was waiting for the return of his shiny new Anglia. As I went in he smiled and eagerly asked. ” Well, what do you think of her ? ” stood silent for a few seconds, then said : ” Look George, I—er—er I’ve smashed your car up.” Unfortunately George thought I was joking and gave a polite snigger. ” I really mean it, George,” I said. He could see I was serious and his face changed in a piteous manner. The wreck was towed in and for the next few weeks George
had my blown car for an extended demonstration. That night at home I played Louis Armstrong’s “Coal-Cart Blues” ta times— it helped.
The blown Anglia was mine for a year, a record (it so happened the covenant lasted that long !). In February, 1950, 1 was at home getting over ‘flu and as usual reading the motoring adverts when suddenly I spotted it. A long advert. extolling the virtues of a rare make of sports car, only done 2,000 miles, terrific acceleration, and worth just about the value of the Anglia. My 1111 was immediately cured. I ‘phoned the gentleman in London, he fancied my Anglia after I had extolled its virtues in a similar manner, and so the next day we arranged to meet at Croydon, inspect and swap. I arrived in Croydon dining a snowstorm, the Anglia looking filthy. His car was standing brightly polished in a dry, warm garage. It looked Splendid. Finished in cream with red wheels and upholstery, outside chrome exhausts, and under the strapped bonnet a Ford V8 engine. Onee again I fell without any convincing. That’s how I acquired the J.B.M. 2/4-seater. I drove her home in a state of sublime happiness : what superb acceleration, at the bottotn-end especially (only!? cwt.), good roadholding, and a delightful exhaust burble at low speeds. It was, of course, an early V8 chassis and engine suitably attended to by James Boothby Motors-, fitted with a semi-streamlined sports body, later christened the ” Flying Banana.” With a friend I commenced serious competition motoring, rallies, sprints and even a five-lap race at Croft, in which I came last due to torrential rain, overheating, and inexperience. Actually, the J.B.M. with its very light back-end was a real handful on Wet roads.
Around that time my already reasonable interest in vintage cars became more intense and I spent many hours searching in likely country spots for undiscovered vintage machinery. When I took the J.B.M. on the Continent and the body almost rattled to pieces, with large stripe’ of paint peeling off in the heat, 1 decided on my return to London to seek out a good specimen. The specimen I found after three days’ search was not quite vintage in year but very much in character. It was a 1931 O.M. 2.3-litre supercharged *seater tourer, original in every detail, with superb Italian coachwork in red. with black leather upholstery, Bosch electrics, four-speed close-ratio gearbox, Rontes blower, and an engine giving about 97 b.h.p. Actnally, I later discovered that this car was one of the works team ears brought over in 1930 for an Irish race. As it crashed in practice it was left in this country and completely rebuilt us new to be used as a road car before the war. It was then stored for many years. A most handsome machine, it looked not unlike a Zagato Alfa, probably the prettiest O.M. in existence. I learnt more about driving on this car than on all the others It together. First I learnt to use a crash gearbox, which when mastered I raved about. The car was so beautifully balanced, without any vices at all, that I could take a bend on a wet road twenty miles an hour faster than in the J.11.M. without even a budge from the hack-end. I have driven many sports ears, but have yet to find one with better handling qualities than the O.M. As for performance, this was around 0-50 in 13 see. with 98 m.p’.h. in top and a 75-m.p.h. cruising speed, hardly a whine from the blower, and a petrol consumption of approximately 22 m.p.g. The weakest point was the brakes. I used her in a few competitions but it seemed a shame to spoil such a beautiful car, especially as spares and repairs were very expensive. Actually, whilst I had her the only troubles were a burst radiator and burnt-out clutch; but these items cost me enough to worry about what might go Wrong. During ownerithip I met a
chap in Manchester who also owned an 0.N1.—a later 2-litre model. His name is Bill Northover. Between us we formed an 0.M. Register and found about 25 owners in this country. Bill has since carried it on and now owns a large collection of O.M. spares, including a very rare o.h.v. head; he also knows as ranch as anybody in England about these cars and helped me a great deal with tuning, etc.
1 run the O.M. for about nine months and enjoyed every moment. When 1-finally decided to sell it she went to a London dealer who sold it to a man from Manchester who wouldn’t buy it from me when I had previously offered it to him cheaper; sounds ridiculous. lt,was. Now and again I see it locally, neglected and looking very shabby indeed. and feel ashamed of myself for selling it. When I can afford to I should like to buy it back and restore it for occasional use.
Some 18 mont hs previous -to my acquiring the O.M. I had started using the firm’s Ford Eight van for some of my business trips, and recently had it fitted with a slightly hotted-up 10-h.p. engine and home-made stabilisers, etc. Weighing only 12 cwt., it performed very well, even gaining a second place in the up-to-1,300-e.c. closed class at a Northern hill-climb. The van, with its specia1rear springs, etc., definitely holds the road better than the car and is a pleasant if humpy little vehicle. I now use an Anglia-type van which also performs very well.
Next on the menu came a 1946 ‘It M.G. This I took to Ted Lund to be breathed on. This he did most successfully, as it became quite a fast Tc, giving over 90 m.p.h. timed. I drove it very hard in competitions and on the Continent for over 12,000 miles with no trouble at all. It bad already’ done 35,000 miles when I purchased it and drank a pint Of oil for every 50 miles. This was attended to by Lund, who fitted Duaftex rings; evermore she did at least 800 miles per pint and went like a bomb. Roadholding and steering left something to be desired but a beautiful gearbox made up somewhat for these failures, and as a whole I have pleasant memories of this car. Exchange time came in February, 1951, thiti time for a 1,948 1,500-e.e. KLE 62. Once again a resigned look from the
family, who were never quite sure by this time which car I owned. I never quite found out what the previous owner of the ” Hurg ” had done to the engine but it was certainly fast. The compression ratio Was between 9i and 10 to 1, and she only ran well on a good benzoic mixture, when she was as smooth as silk. A lot has been written about the 11.11.G. being very cart-sprung; this is all true, but it is worth it when you can enjoy delightful cornering on smooth roads. The steering was good but needed frequent adjustments, otherwise in 10,000 miles this car gave no trouble at all; in fact, it was sold as mechanically perfect and lived up to it. I toured Spain over some horrible roads; my rear suffered but not the car. In competitions the ” Hurg ” and I were successful, gaining a number of close firsts in hill-climbs and sprints, trials, etc. She recorded 18.3 sec. for the standing quarter-mile, which was a good time for a standard-bodied car. The 11.R.G. was a car I regretted parting with, especially as I met my wife-to-be whilst I had it. In fact I am not sure whom she fell for,” Hurg ” or me. Anyhow she loved it and even stood for the bumps. I think our record trip was immediately after getting married. We left the reception at Southport at 10.35 p.m. and covered the 57 miles to our ” secret ” hotel in 1 hr. 1 min. I must have been over anxious to get there ! The next day we got ” copped ” going through Dunstable at about 50 m.p.h., but I showed the policeman our new marriage licence and he understood. My wife soon passed her driving teat and I bought a second car for her use, a 1929 12/40 Lea-Francis coupe. This we checked over and repainted black and yellow. It had a surprisingly good top. gear performance and cruised at 45 m.p.h. with ease, but didn’t have the best of vintage roadholding and WaS rather heavy on the steering in town. My wife managed the crash box like a veteran, and it now gives her great pleasure to use a crash box when many mere males can’t even use synchromesh properly. Since the ” Leaf,” as second cars, we have had a 1930 Riley, a 1933 M.G. salonette which
never ran at all, and two Austin Sevens, a saloon and a tourer. A year last May my wife acquired a truly delightful little 1926 Austin Seven Chummy, which we named ” Clothilde.” This car was salvaged from a crashed write-off and with a friend we rebuilt it, painted it turquoise and black, and restored it to as near-original as possible. Since then, she has driven her over 10,000 miles without anything but, magneto trouble and this was soon cured. It does 45 m.p.g. and almost 50 m.p.h., and is a well-loved and respected member of our local community.
The” Hurg ” went in the autumn of 1953, and I just couldn’t find a replacement. On the advice of friends and readers’ letters in MOTOR SPORT I decided to try a Morris Minor. I found a lOW? mileage 1952 tourer and away we went again. On the maiden voyage to Goodwood and back to Manchester I found it a pleasant little car with good road manners but with no pep at all. So to remedy this I put a Shorrocks blower under the bonnet. This improved the car immensely, giving about 10 m.p.h. on top speed and clipping some 10 sec, off the 0-50 acceleration time I must say it. was a good tourer which never let rain in and was very cosy. The rack-andpinion steering, although precise, transmitted a lot of road shock. I found this also on our family M.G. 11-litre saloon; it can be most disconcerting when cornering fast on a rough surface. Nothing ever went wrong with the Minor but it left me with rather an empty feeling, as although it did everything quite well, I never got that deep pleasure from driving it.
After the Morris came a 1950 Healey Westland tourer. Right from the beginning I had trouble with this car. It seemed 0.k. on the trial run, with good oil pressure, and quite smooth. On leaving the showroom, however, theoil pressure mysteriously dropped 10 lb., the engine seemed rough, and the suspension up the pole. I had these points attended to by A decoke, new oil-pressure valve ball and spring, and reconditioned suspension unit. Even then I did not like the car. The back-end jumped around, it was dicey on wet roads and the steering was tough work in town. It was fast, clocking 105 m.p.h., but that is not everything in a car. Funny, but this must have been a bad Healey, because people I know, swear by them in every respect.
A. few months previous to this a friend of mine from Southport had bought, a new Volkswagen saloon. I did not think much of it then, also it was German, so the VW had not come to be on my ” wants ” list. However, one Sunday my friend asked to try the Healey, so I drove the VW purely out of interest and a desire to drive as many vehicles of all types as I can. I knew the moment I got into it I was going to like it—the superb finish inside and out with no frills or nonsense, instead of a shoddy cheap carpet good rubber flooring, the way the doors closed and the windows worked. I drove it and was amazed : a completely new motoring experience. It seemed to glide on ball-bearings at maximum speed of 65 m.p.h., had the fastest gearbox I had ever used, and smooth, sensitive steering without shock or play. Oversteer I had heard about and could feel, but it offered a challenge and a chance of learning a new driving technique. The only snag was that it was not quite powerful ‘enough for me, although it had plenty at the bottom-end. This snag was quickly solved as during the next week the new largerengined model was announced.
I arranged for a ” demo” and found a great improvement in the top-end performance. This completely “sold” ” the car to me. Even though I did not care for the idea of buying a German car, I figured that as it was my money I was spending I was entitled to get what I considered the best value I could, therefore if I couldn’t find it on home ground I would seek it abroad. The number of VWs being sold now in Britain and abroad will, I feel sure, indirectly do the British industry a lot of good, as the VW is sold purely on excellent quality throughout. I will even go as far as to say that no British mass-produced car selling for under £1,000 has anything like that quality, and VWs make 1,000 vehicles a week. I realise how much has been printed in MOTOR SPORT on this subject and I am most reluctant to praise the German motor industry, but I Can only say what I know to be true from my own experience, and that is that I ran nay VW for 18 months and always enjoyed driving it, even to the office. In competitions she was driven to the limit and loved it. The tyres didn’t wear out. Oversteer, when one got used to it, was no problem at all, and only required a reversal of the usual understeer technique when cornering really fast. October, 1955, 21,000 miles on the ” clock ” and time for yet another change (which does not prove I am fed up with V Ws; I just don’t keep any car for a very long time). I heard a lot of nice things about the Triumph TR2 and felt I would like to get back in the 100-m.p.h. class, so I purchased a lowmileage model. This car holds the record in two ways for me : the Continued on page 137 fastest car I had owned to date and the shortest period owned. I kept it two weeks only; I Call hear thousands of readers saying, ” That proves lie is crazy.” All I ran answer briefly is this. The TR2 is just as S(1111I41. fast ;old stable as it is claimed to be. hat as the Editor put in his road test. ” It lacks 4:14:iracter.” I entirely agree with him (as I usually do). It is most difficult to put into words what this means in relation to a motor car, and it could only
be applied to a no of drivers’ reactions towards it car. It may sound quite ridiculous to the majority but, in simple words, it is a kind of human feeling, and applies to many things apart from motor cars—antiques, old homes, good and haul jazz music, homemade bread; or is all this too surrealiStie for a motor magazine ?
don’t mean that character only exists in hand-built cars. A designer can ” get through ” on a good mass-produced car. I did not lose money on the TIM and it was a pleasant change to feel the wind in Illy hair at over 100 m.p.h., but I am no longer an opensports-car fanatic.
Back to a Continental saloon; for the past (Our months I have owned a 1955 Simca Aronde, which I am at the moment enjoying very much. As with the majority of French ears steering and roadholding are quite: exceptional, especially on wet roads. The performance is extremely good fOr a 1.2-litre saloon. the engine being smooth, yet having it hard feeling at high revs. The finish of the interior is not outstanding, although I actually prefer the alloy to chrome on the exterior of the Aronde. It’s my first eolumn gear. change and seems much better than I expected. ln future I shall not condemn until I have actually tried. We must face facts : most good Continental ears seem tit have adopted the colninn gear-change, even the expensive Gran Turismo type, and although I still prefer a floor change a column lever won’t put MN Off itt the future. After driving dozens of motor cars I have deeided that most 4:54ntinental ears have that extra something that I like. Whilst driving the Simea I can still feel that stiperla balance that I felt whilst driving the 0.M. Also little things. like the magic wand which NI irks out from the steering column on the. Simett with which one can control the lights so precisely. My circle of motoring friends are mostly young enthusiasts like myself who all feel that the ” Big Five ” should not disiniss Continental rivals as being freaks. If the ” Big Five ” continue with their samg attitude, the so,called ” freaks ” will only be made in this country ! It is quite amazing that after marketing a delightful little conventional motor car which is acclaimed by enthusiasts and lay motorists the world over as a winner. a large British manufacturer decides that the public is wrong, and that this car should be improved (sic) by fitting a new engine two sizes too small. and gear ratios of a motor scooter.
So that’s nay total of cars to date. I don’t really regret having owned any of them as tme can only learn the hard way. It has cost me a lot of money but I have gained valuable experience. and knowledge of driving, also a bit about mechanitts and A lot about car dealers. and I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun.