Apprentices at play



[The “Cars I have Owned” series has proved so entirely successful that, apart from one of these articles each month, it seems a sound scheme to include articles auxiliary to the full length one and, perhaps, in a rather different form. Here are some notes on a variety of interesting cars owned by some keen apprentices. —Ed.]

TO begin with, I had better explain that all the cars, etc., mentioned in this article were the property of the apprentices of a large commercial vehicle manufacturers in the North of England. We were provided with a large, well-equipped garage and excellent machining facilities.

My first possession was a large number of bits and pieces, which when fitted together proved to be a Scott. Unfortunately it never went under its own power, due to the omission of two of the four sealing rings round the cylinders. However, one day, in an attempt to produce results, a friend proceeded to tow me down the road with a “Brooklands” Riley at about 60 m.p.h. I had never ridden a motor-cycle before and was much too scared to think of changing from bottom, with the result that the engine of the Scott was doing about 8,000 r.p.m. and giving a spasmodic explosion about every 32 revs.

After this experience I acquired a 350 c.c. B.S.A. which ran satisfactorily except for a defective oil-pump. This was succeeded by a 350 c.c. o.h.c. A.J.S., which, converted to foot-change, went well, if not very fast. A telegraph-post finally got in the way and rather spoilt things. . . .

My first car was a twin-cam 2-litre Lagonda fitted with a huge open 2-seater body. It was very reliable and did about 65 m.p.h. comfortably; above this figure the prop-shaft showed a marked tendency to smite one in the approved place, particularly on the over-run.

The only trouble I had was a run—a big-end—due to a suction oil-pipe fracturing. Eventually I found that, whereas I had to keep filling up the radiator regularly, the oil-level in the sump daily rose of its own accord. However, as the engine raised no objections, I continued to run the Lagonda for a fortnight, until I exchanged it for an f.w.d. Alvis saloon.

My first action on getting the Alvis home was to remove as many of the bolts holding body and chassis together as I could find. I then attached a crane to the body and lifted the complete car, to the accompaniment of much cracking and groaning from the body. After removal of some more bolts, the body was finally disposed of, revealing a bent side member.

I decided to strip everything down and completely rebuild it during the winter. Having stripped the frame of everything possible I attacked the 30 odd rivets on one side member with hammer and chisel and at last succeeded in detaching it. Then, with the aid of a doorway, several jacks, and many stout pieces of timber, I succeeded in straightening it. As winter progressed the car began to take shape once more, but this time with a very light, open 4-seater body. I had made new bushes, pins, etc., for the steering layout, which was now restored to good condition, and I had taken up the bearings of the engine and fitted new rings, etc.

Much of the body-work I was able to do while in the tinsmiths’ department, cutting out, welding, beating out cowls and wiring the edges, etc. The body turned out quite well, and when fitted with a fold-flat screen and painted green, with aluminium wheels, looked quite good and was just ready for the first Donington meeting of the year. It went quite well and did about 70 m.p.h. despite a most inefficient inlet manifold. I always intended to fit twin carburetters and raise the compression-ratio, but I never did so.

While still running the 4-seater, I came upon a supercharged 2-seater, in very neglected condition and decided to rebuild it at my leisure. I found that it was one of a batch of six specially built for the 1928 T.T. by the Alvis Company. It was fitted with a 4 to 1 rear axle ratio in place of the normal 4.77 to 1 ratio and had friction shock-absorbers instead of the normal spring-loaded clips on the front springs (as mentioned in an article in “Motor Racing “—Le Mans, 1928). The body was removed very gingerly to prevent complete disintegration and everything stripped down. Both side members were cracked and had to be welded up. The whole car was cleaned up and painted and reassembly proceeded slowly, new parts being made where necessary. The bearings of the swinging arms carrying the rear wheels were badly worn and I decided to fit the much improved ball-bearing type from a later model.

Eventually the chassis was restored to fairly good order, although I was unable to spend as much money on the engine as I should have liked to do. It had apparently thrown a rod at some time, which had left its mark. I now turned to the body, which was of aluminium, with a long, rounded tail similar to the production models except for an external petrol filler cap. There was a hinged lid giving excellent luggage and tool-space. I had to replace the dashboard and much of the wooden framework and floor, fit a new aluminium panel on the off-side, and a new door. Eventually the car was completely rewired, with the battery in the tail, instead of hanging on to the side member beside the engine. The windscreen was plated in the works, and the car painted green with aluminium wheels.

Shortly after, I took the car home to Ireland and had a most enjoyable and trouble-free holiday, including a tour of Connemara and part of Northern Ireland.

Sometime after my return from Ireland I had the only piece of serious trouble. The clutch stop on the engine-shaft of the gearbox became loose and worked up against the clutch putting a heavy end thrust on the shaft, which seized solid with the mainshaft and sheared the end of the mainshaft. As the final drive pinion was integral with the mainshaft, I had to replace this, and the crown wheel, with a standard pair, which was a pity.

I drove a good deal without the blower, which was rather worn and only gave a maximum of about 3 lb. per square inch. In this condition, however, the torque fell badly above about 3,500 r.p.m. and maximum speed was about 70 m.p.h. with the low axle ratio and 75 m.p.h. with the high ratio. With the blower in action it did well over 80, and on two occasions I did over 100 m.p.h. down a long hill. Maximum engine speed was 4,250 r.p.m. (104 m.p.h. on high ratio; 86 on low). In ordinary conditions the blower was most noticeable when hill-climbing, when it really was a great advantage. The brakes, which required a fairly strong pedal-pressure, were very good, as was the steering and road-holding.

Many criticisms, including poor hill-climbing, are heard in respect of front-drive, but I never found them borne out in the Alvis, and have climbed Bwlch-y-Groes, Honister and Kirkstone by the old loose-surfaced road, etc., and that without the blower. Being somewhat short of “shekels,” I was forced to sell the Alvis, and sometime later I bought two B.S.A. 3-wheelers from a scrap-yard. One had a wrecked body but sound chassis, while the other had had its front end completely written off in a smash, but without damage to the body. From these I built a reasonably good machine which although not in anyway “tuned,” possessed quite exciting acceleration. However, I disliked its tendency to try and tip me out if I cornered with too much “Alvivacity,” so I decided once more to turn to two wheels. I accordingly bought a trusty 350 c.c. Rudge, which I converted to foot-change in the course of a general overhaul.

I had long considered the possibilities of constructing a Special, with the idea of racing a bit at Southport and possibly trying my luck at Shelsley. I had already got out a number of drawings for it and sometime previously had started getting bits and pieces together. At the outbreak of war it had fairly well taken shape, with a f.w.d. Alvis engine and transmission unit placed behind the driver, and driving the rear wheels. And there it stands, until the present trouble blows over.

Just before the war I had bought an old Lea-Francis very cheaply. It was in quite good condition mechanically, had a twin carburetter engine and 4.25 to 1 rear axle-ratio, and I thought it should form the basis of quite a decent car if bereft of the heavy drophead coupe body. Having already had some experience in this line, I soon dealt with this one and then proceeded to remove 21 in. from the wheelbase, by cutting the chassis and reduced the width of the rear half of the frame by 5 in.

I moved the engine back somewhat and lowered the radiator considerably, also altering the position of the steering-box. In that condition it now stands beside the Special. The only other car I had was a 14/65 Talbot saloon, which I sold without registering it.

There have been many other cars owned by various members of our community which deserve mention. A friend of mine had for his first car a “Brooklands” Riley Nine which went very well, except on one occasion when the little-end of a connecting rod broke. However, the damage was confined to the piston and valves, and was soon put right. His next car was a beautiful Type 37 Bugatti, on which he polished everything he could carry into the works, including the front axle and springs. This was followed by one of the old racing Talbot “90s” (P.L.4) which proceeded to throw a rod with disastrous results when he took a few of us for a trial run after returning with it from London. After a complete engine rebuild, including sleeving, new rods, bearings, etc., it was a very good and reliable motor. Next he had another Talbot “90,” specially built with, I believe, the engine, back axle (special high ratio) and other parts from one of the crashed “Double Twelve” cars. It was very low, looking more like a Talbot Ten from the front, and altogether a fine car.

Another interesting car was an Arab, of which only about half-a-dozen were made. The engine is a four-cylinder of about 70 x 127mm., fitted with an enormous 2-bearing crank, which did not seem to give the least trouble, and tubular rods. The single overhead camshaft, which was driven by chain at the front, operated two inclined valves per cylinder, in hemispherical combustion chambers, through straight rockers. Leaf springs, one to each pair, controlled the valves. Carburation was by a single up-draught Solex, to an elaborately water-jacketed inlet manifold. Transmission was through a separate 4-speed gearbox and open propeller-shaft, to an underslung rear axle.

A car having a similar engine to the Arab, but of slightly larger bore, was the Spurrier-Railton. This would appear to have been the forerunner of the Arab. The chassis was pretty useless and was eventually scrapped and the engine acquired by the owner of the Arab.

A machine on which much time and ingenuity was expended was the “Lidderdale Special,” consisting of a G.N. chassis fitted with f.w.b. and Rudge hubs and wheels. The engine was a four-cylinder Wolseley o.h.c. of about 1½-litres with gearbox attached. As the owner also had the G.N. transmission, he alone knew how many speeds he possessed and even then had a slide-rule and table attached to the dash to help him when in doubt! The machine was fitted with a “1¼”-seater body and looked very fierce. There was also a G.N. chassis with V-twin engine (o.h. inlet, side exhaust) but it never came to much.

Another interesting car, which has already been described in MOTOR SPORT by its owner, was M. S. Soames’s Morgan, which was being prepared for racing.

A very fast car, which was driven with great circumspection by its owner, was a T.T. Replica Frazer-Nash. It was later exchanged for a very smart-looking “C” type M.G., but it was found to be considerably de-tuned, the original cylinder-head having been removed and another substituted.

A fine little car in which I enjoyed many a run to Donington and elsewhere was an unblown “Ulster” Austin Seven, with Laystall crankshaft and camshaft. The engine had remarkable revving powers and very close-ratio second and top gears resulted in the car going faster in second than in top. If the owner was engaged in a fast “dice,” he would keep on in second gear for miles on end.

At one period he modified the body so frequently that one could never be sure of recognising the car week by week. It was succeeded by a long-tail G.P. Salmson 2-seater, which, although in better condition, did not impress me so much.

A marque which enjoyed considerable popularity amongst the community was the Lancia, there being three or four “Lambdas” of various series from time to time.

There was an open Speed Model 2-litre twin-cam Lagonda, which was followed by a 4-litre British Samson with somewhat fragile bodywork.

There were, of course, numerous other cars of well-known types and so of less general interest, such as 3-litre Bentleys, Alvises, Lea-Francises, a Wolseley, various M.G.s, etc., and, alas, in later days, many saloons, which were at one time completely taboo. [The race grows softer:— Ed.] Also there were some interesting motor cycles, including two “International” Nortons, an H.R.D., a 350 c.c. T.T. Excelsior once raced by Crabtree, and a 500 c.c. o.h.c. A.J.S.

In conclusion, one must mention the local circuits known as the “long and short T.T.” composed mostly of by-roads, around which most of the aforementioned cars have often been well diced.