Three years of wartime motoring

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24

George Foxlee makes our mouths water

It must at the outset be clear that I fully realise that I have been one of the lucky ones as far as motoring goes, since I have been able to keep up all, and possibly more, of my peace-time mileage, and, to my delight, mostly on vehicles of my own choice.

When war was officially introduced in 1939, one very nice sunny morning I smartly packed a kit-bag lately used for the more pleasant pastime of camping and got a girl friend of mine to drive me round the East Coast ports trying to persuade His Majesty’s Navy that I would like to assist them to mine-sweep. I think they must have run out of brooms or else they just didn’t like me. Alter several more experiences of this sort I departed to the Midlands, where I was initiated into the mysteries of those funny round engines, which they hang on several yards of bicycle tubing, by an old friend of mine, C. A. Broomhall. Here, also, were Percy Maclure and Leslie Innes. The latter had a very nice 328 B.M.W., which went to the local almost by instinct and as it it was very thirsty indeed. “C. A. B.” had a large Chrysler, which took us six miles to work and back each day in great comfort until we ran out of puddle. “C. A. B.” then purchased it little two-stroke of 98 c.c., on which his 6 ft. 4.5 in. looked somewhat droll. But, as he said, he could not fall off, as he only had to put his feet down to lift the little beast clear of the ground. I bought a 1938 Francis-Barnet “Cruiser” of 250 c.c.; a very line little machine. In the meantime, Robson and the girl friend towed up my caravan with the old trials Alvis, to which indignity the “12/50” did not object. Then I got bitten with the idea of going to Scotland and seeing what really happened when the engines aforesaid met up with the air-frame, so the Alvis was again attached to the van (with Cruiser inside) and a two of some 400 miles commenced. This trip went off without incident, except for a visit to D. D. Clapham at Derby on the way. The Group Captain seemed rather astonished at the arrival of one very stripped Alvis – with – attachment, covered in mud, due to snow on Bowes Moor, arriving outside his office, but offered a corner of the ‘drome for me to park on. This I gave up rather quickly, as I found the van got frightened at the close passage of Spitfires about 2 ft. off the roof and tried to take evasive action: also I found I was much too handy when things “went wrong!” We moved to an adjoining farm. . . .

After a while I discovered a very fine line in trials hills going up the side of the Carricks from the sea, with a real gradient and a loose shale surface. Al this time, also, a lovely coloured liquid was obtainable which, mixed with puddle and some oil, made the Alvis quite lively. Much of my time off duty was taken up with climbs of this “find”, in company with Robson, whom I had persuaded to come up and work with me and Bertie Gilmore. The local farmer was quite happy about it, and when (and if) you got to the top there was a magnificent view up into the Kyles of Bute and across to the Northern Rock off Belfast. On one occasion I found the Army about half-way up off the road and hopelessly stuck in a peat bog with an open truck. I was able to talk the C.O. into letting me show them how to get it out without the aid of several rolls of wire netting, pickaxes, shovels, and a number of swearing, hot and incredibly dirty men. I made them let the tyres down and remove various tree trunks they had carefully blocked the wheels with, then got all the men in the truck. To the accompaniment of “Bounce, you b——s, bounce” conducted by the C.O., she sailed. Truly a strange medley of sounds in the old Scotch hills, but very familiar to trials men….

In the winter of 1940, in the middle of the worst cold spell for years, I got a sudden urge to visit a friend who was living at Annick on the extreme North Coast of England. Looked up on the map, the only way seemed to be up to Edinburgh and then down the coast, or down to Carlisle and over to Newcastle. As I had only four days’ leave this didn’t seem very good, until I remembered a track I had seen while flying over these mountains. I looked this up on a flying map and found it ran from Sanquhar over the summit of Wanlock Head down to Peebles. This suited me very well. Obviously it was unsuited to even a trials car, even if I had the petrol, so it meant the little “Cruiser”. I started off on ice-bound roads as soon as it was light, in flying boots, helmet, and leather coat, plus a large sweater. In two miles you can scratch your name in the ice on the tank; but this wore off, and I began to enjoy myself while taking due care not to drop the model at this stage of the trip. Leaving the main road at Sanquhar I took to the track, which was loose gravel frozen firm, and started to climb. As I got high up the sun came out on the mountain-side, giving a pink glow to everything, the trees weighed down with snow and the stream at the side of the track frozen solid with long streamers of icicles hanging down and reflecting the light. I was very glad I had gone on.

At the top I came to the highest inn in Scotland. I eventually arrived at Annick for tea, having had no trouble at all and having retained my seat. Two days later I set out for Carlisle across the Northhumberland moors, and was astonished to see the inhabitants of one village gaily skating on the Tweed. “C. A. B.” was at this time at Carlisle, and I spent the night with him, setting out north again in the morning. The trip was the worst of any I can remember; just black ice and fog, so that a run of 104 miles took six hours, including dodging a telegraph pole which suddenly assaulted me at a most odd angle. Still no sign of trouble from the little beast, and there never was until I sold it a year later.

The next spot of fun came on New Year’s Day. The ‘drome was practically deserted, it being Scotland, but sunny and dry, with the tarmac having a nice coating of ice all over it. I “borrowed” a very nice fire engine made by Mr. Crossley, of the six-wheeler type, with open bodywork and no windscreen. This, I found, could be made to do beautifully controlled slides and figure eights, but while the onlookers got a lot of fun out of it, Authority pointed out that there might be a fire and they really did want it all in one piece, which was a pity.

Then one day I was nearly knocked down by a large Humber, and on being somewhat pointedly rude to the driver, found it was Joan Crossley of the Vintage S.C.C., so we arranged to meet for dinner and try the Alvis. This led to our spending our time together during the winter and the purchase of a Triumph, as Joan didn’t like the “Cruiser’s” tail end. This little car did very well for a while, the Alvis, after several fast runs to Carlisle, being laid up permanently. Then I got posted back down south, so Joan, who is with Air Transport Auxiliary, got posted back also, and the Triumph did its last run to the local registry office, where Joan and I were married. Then came the question of a car to take us south. I was lucky enough to find a “12/50” Alvis with a really large two-seater body. With this car I towed the van, plus luggage with Joan and her sister in the car, in heavy snow as far as Scotch Corner, 430 miles, in two and half days, to White Waltham.

Just for a fortnight I owned a 500-c.c. “Sloper” Ariel bought to pay a rapid visit to my mother at York. It steered like an inebriated donkey and tossed me smartly on my nose coming out of an S-bend, so I sold it.

The new Alvis then settled down to some very hard work, running all over the South of England. On one trip to Scotland during the Battle of Britain, covered with Hurricane parts, the rear wings began to come off on Bowes Moor so, on returning, I completed the process and fitted light ones and no running boards. This brought much rude comment on my head from various R.A.F. brass-hats, who, when a visit to a local airfield was proposed, would say, “I think we will take my car, old boy!” As I wanted to overhaul the brake gear and do one or two other small jobs, I bought a 2-litre Triumph saloon, which was very nice and much less tinny than most modern cars, but soft. I ran it until I had completed the Alvis. At about this time I had a very fine run to Castle Bromwich with Michael May in the ex-Powys-Lybbe T.T. “Silver Eagle” Alvis, and had the pleasure of driving it on the return trip. Even though it is getting rather tired and its owner has no time to rebuild it at present, it was still a great joy to drive. May also has a Vincent H.R.D. “Rapide”, the makers of which claim 0-100 m.p.h. in 25 seconds. I had no reason to doubt this, as I had it from 0-97 m.p.h. in a surprisingly short distance.

In order to continue motoring on basic I bought a 500-c.c. H. R. D. “Comet”. This really brought back the joy of living. “C. A. B”, now down here with M. A. P., got a 600-c.c. “Square Four” ArieI, and we managed to persuade our wives to ride astern and had a week’s holiday in Devon with a very nice spot of really fast motoring. This I repeated later with Gilmore, who got a 500-c.c. Levis “D-Special”. On arriving back from this trip I found that a Humber “Super Snipe” was due to be taken to Scotland, and I duly collected it from the R.A.F. M.T. in London, tied the Levis on the back, and Bertie and I set out for the north. I do not wish to start the old bogey of average speeds again, so I will content myself with the observation that we thought it rather quick. We found that once one got over the feeling that the thing was going to capsize it continued the corner at this queer angle, and just went on going round. This learnt, we got along quite well. In Scotland we made a rather hurried trip over the Fennock Moors to Glasgow in Bertie’s D.K.W. In September 1941, while visiting the ‘drome, I put the Alvis trials car back on the road, and in warm sunny weather, with the screen flat, drove her back to White Waltham; the most perfect 430 miles of motoring I have ever had and certainly the fastest. It was my first really long trip in the car at high speed since its last modification, and it far exceeded my hopes and expectations. It averaged 29 m.p.g. An R.A.F. officer to whom I gave a lift for some 150 miles did his utmost to buy it from me, but I’m afraid he didn’t understand that while I might break it up one day to build another, I would never sell it.

Meantime, my establishment had been growing, and with the blessings of the powers that be a 1931 “12/50” Alvis was bought and converted into a van for one of my staff, with the aid of Jock Parker, whom I discovered near here. Jock was the works chief at Alvis in times of peace, and many of us are grateful for “12/50” assistance in the past. This car had the close-ratio gearbox: I got it from Anthony Heal and completely re-built it.

Before the “basic” ceased lots of people used to turn up here for weekends and some good fun was laid. One of the most frequent, was Robson, and it was not unusual to find various cars in pieces in the meadow, including Gilmore’s Lancia “Astura”, which is perhaps the best car to work on I have ever met. All that will have to cease except when people manage to get here without cars and we hold a working party in my workshop. I still get a lot of good runs, but slowly, to conserve rubber. I have collected a lot of Alvis spares and am building up certain components, so that I can rebuild the trials car as soon as things look more reasonable; I think that will be a long time ahead.

In passing, one car which gave me some fun was a blown “17/50” Alfa-Romeo which Stamer asked me to come and try, as he thought of buying it. He did, and on the way back he drove it and I drove his Frazer-Nash, and it was rather surprising to notice that I could not be left on the twisty roads, but was, of course, out of it on the straights.

One piece of work the present “12/50” did was to tow up a 1931 “12/60” Alvis from Chippenham to Gloucester, and to White Waltham via Fish Hill, which it did with no bother at all. I discovered the car through John Wyer, of Solex and Sunbeam fame, and it was just the car a friend wanted to rebuild. It has a beetle-back body, close-ratio box, etc., so it should be at least one more good Alvis “for afterwards”. We had an excellent week-end out, calling on Robson for the night, who was most surprised to find two “12/50s” outside his van when he came home.

Well, here’s wishing all the best to Motor Sport and all who read it, and that the Sport comes back sooner than we may think possible.