CARS I HAVE OWNED
COKING back over 20 years of sports-car ownership the most strik
ing things about it are, first, the immense amount of fun and thrill I have had out of it and, secondly, how very little sports cars seem to have changed in that time, both in appearance and, to a minor degree, performance. By this I mean the ordinary” as sold to the public” type of sports car and not special models turned out for some T.T. or Le Mans type of race. My first car was a 1922 11.9 Bugatti, bought in Nice from a M. Guerin, who I believe made scent at Grasse and dabbled in high-speed motor ears in his spare time. I graduated from motor-cycles, having previously owned a very hot Diamond Jap and a 16H Norton, the former being the fastest ” 250 ” at Cambridge in its day. However, to get back to the Bugatti. I drove it back from Cannes to England in company with the “family barouttlie,” a ” 40/50 ” IOUs-Royce, and on the long straight French roads the little car was almost a dream car ; alas, wliat a different story she had to tell away from her native country! I put her into the late B. S. Marshall (then the Bugatti king) for VariOuS adjustments and overhaul, but the traffic and slow speeds necessary near London completely cramped her style. Trouble started, plugs oiled up continually, and I must have left pounds of skin and flesh on her radiator as I battled hour after hour to get her started. I never kept a date ; I would arrange to collect a girl at 7.30 and would still be trying to start at 8.15. I spent all I possessed on every known and unknown type of plug. I have a dim recollection of lending it to some enthusiastic Bugatti representative in Eastbourne for a hill climb and, later, I fitted it with two Cox Atmos carburetters, one of which fell off whilst on a practice run at Shelsley Walsh. I am afraid I blamed Marshall unjustly for all these troubles, and it was not until some years later that I learned that it was only the normal Bugatti way of going about. Her looks were nearly Perfect—polished aluminium streamline body, blue upholstery, two spare wheels and the large spotlight and squeaky horn dear to the heart of Frenchmen. In fact, with larger section tyres and f.w.b. she
would not look out of date to-day. However, at about this time (1924) Riley had just brought out their new “Redwing,” and I parted, with few regrets, with my first and last Bugatti. The Riley ” Redwing ” was perfect peace after the sweat and toil of the Bugatti ; not so fast, of course, but a ” honey ” just the same, and with her it was possible to “go places.” I expect the description is well known, but for those who do not remember, it wits it 1,:;ott-c.c. Side-valve, 4-cylinder straight forward joi), with no frills but very sound. I did my first car trial in the 1924 SouthamptonExeter. On the way AO the start I seized a piston and the rings broke, but after working all night under a lamppost (yes, they were lit all night then) I found I could do nothing. -So I put the head back and got through with, as far as I can remember, a “gold.” I did many
trials after this: London—Exeter, Land’s End—Edinburgh, South Harting hill climb, etc. I made the acquaintance of all the
E.R.H.H., now a R.A.F. Squadron Leader, recalls a varied selection and some competition motoring and Continental travel.—Ed.
Riley boys—Walsgrave, Gordon Marshall, John Havers and Victor Riley (wlio was kindness itself), and was present at the inaugural meeting of the Riley ( lub in Edinburgh. I tried hard to get some real speed out of her, and Laystalls and Rileys helped, but rather took opposite views on what made a car go. 1.-tileys would say, ” What on earth have you done to your crankshaft ? ” and I would meekly reply, ” I only had it balanced.”
sold it eventually to a quiet little man who said he was going to race it at Brooklands. I said .nothing ! And I was extremely surprised to see that the quiet little man who wanted to race it got his wish, and, I believe, got over 100 m.p.h. out of it eventually, and ultimately became a famous driver of an Alfa-Romeo. My next love was another Riley “Redwing,” a 4-seater. here the story is the Same ; more trials and highSpeed runs at lirooklands, a very pleasant trip to Cannes and back, again accompanied by a Rolls-Royce (whose chaulteur was amazed at the way the Riley kept up mile after mile and its passengers as fresh as any after the day’s run). This Riley again gave no trial Lie and was as goodlooking as it was ellicient
The next car was a ” 14/40 ” D.I.S. Deluge, discovered in Great Portland Street covered in mud, with a cracked wilidsereett, vitii a lovely 3-seater woodendecked body ” with a hole in the back.” I fell for it, and on enquiry found that only at that minute had it been traded in in part exchange for some other car.
The vendors insisted on repainting it, and a few weeks later I proudly showed my new possession to my lather, who took one look, and hearing that it was secondhand, said ” t mph, wants a coat of paint,” which shook me someWhat. 1 his car ran perfectly. 1 did many miles with it, and again went to Cannes, where she disgraced herself by suddenly losing all lights at once, going fast in the dark. This trip was made alone, and it steaks well for the car that it could be trusted to take on a long and arduous journey of this nature ; the lighting failure was soon cured, and having hit nothing whilst coming to a standstill, all was well. I did one Loialon-Ldinburgh trip with her, and was greatly embarrassed by the friendly -Riley boys who insisted that I attended their dinner in spite of getting “gold ” not in a Kiley. To make it worse, when the pltotogral:h of the proceedings was taken the two largest objects in the photograph of rather unprepossessing appearanee were the Delage driver and its passenger. 1 cannot reine»d,er quite why I sold this car. I think it was because I had a friend with a 2-litre Diatto which impressed me quite a hit. I found that Cyril burlacher had a chassis and I had a very tleasant open fabric si orting 4-seater body built for it. The mudguards were dead straight over the top of the wheels, with another at axle height (quite illegal now). ‘1 his car was very fast, and in the high Sj ced Trial at brooklands in 192$ averaged 68.4 m.p.h. for the hour, after starting nearly a lap late (the passenger not arriving on time), and a Stop fOr a itemboard catching tire. It was run at Shelsley 1alsh, but was usually defeated by Oates on a very sr ecial O.M. I know it was special because it was offeredfor sale later, and for a standard sports car it was quite surp rising. My car was written off in an argument with a lais in 1929, coming back from Shelsleythe ‘bus won, although it had to give ground. The engine was salvaged and put into a single-Step hydro) lane, which caught fire after its first trip ; Lut I digress. The next car was another Diatto 2-seater, which I did not have long. I got engaged at the time, and the
reason I sold the second Diatto was because my fiancee’s dog, a small Cairn who obediently sat on the floor over the exhaust pipe, got roasted too often—the smell of roast dog getting tiresome after a time.
So the next venture was a new Riley Nine with a fabric saloon body in 1930, which I took out to Italy on my honeymoon, along the old familiar roads through Cannes, and then on to Genoa and north to Como. The little Riley created immense interest in Italy, which was surprising, and we had our first experience of Autostradas which we thought were marvellous, though to be treated with caution.
However, I soon felt that the little Riley was having too hard a life and was always being driven too near its maximum capacity, so the next car was boughtan M.G. Mark I 6-cylinder 1,800.c.c., based very largely on the Morris “Isis.” This was a delightful car, fast, quiet, comfortable, and full of pleasant gadgets. It had a fabric body by Jarvis, of Wimbledon. I took it out to Biarritz in 1931 with no trouble except financial (England went off the gold standard in the middle of our holiday !). I did no trials in her, although I raised the compression slightly. The next car was a real step down—no doubt due to the imminent arrival of additions to the family making high speed out of the question—a Morris” 12/6″ coupe, with dummy hood irons. This was very comfortable, but with a really shocking performance. Acceleration was bad, and the maximum speed about 45 m.p.h. Later on we thought the new member of the family was car sick through being in a closed car, and with a hoot of joy and “bags of reaction,” I plunged into ownership of a 3-litre Bentley, very open, and a welcome relief from the horseless carriage I had just had. The scarcity of” Red Label “short-chassis models at this time (about 1934) resulted in Bentley Motors, Ltd., offering to convert a long-chassis to ” Speed specification for me. In due course the car was ready, fitted with a new open 4-seater body, high compression pistons, and lots of rumble from the exhaust. Curiously enough, this car gave me seVeral patches of serious trouble, once when the crown wheel went, and on another occasion when the cross-shaftdrive to the magnetos sheared. It was
An interesting bill relating to some “hotting-up” by Laystalls of the Riley “Redwing ” 2-seater in 1925. not very fast, and on the whole I was disappointed with it. The climax came
one winter’s day on the Kingston By-pass at the Shannon Corner lights ; it was just starting to snow and the lights were at ” stop ” when, to the sounds of sweet music a lovely boy arrived alongside in a big Yank saloon. _With no hat, warm and comfortable, he looked a complete and utter Cissie, whilst there was I wrapped up like a sore thumb, cold, but at least feeling slightly superior, whilst the old Bentley chugged happily away ready to go. The lights went green. “Now I would show this Cissie what a car could do.” Unfortunately he was not there to show. He had departed with no noise except the soft strains of the B.B.C., and left me standing. After this I thought there was no need to have cold and no comfort, noise and no speed, so the Bentley was sold and a Lancia ” Aprilia ” was bought in November, 1937. This is an eye opener, and although my trials days are over I have had more real motoring in this car than any other. She has been to Switzerland—Zurich to Le Touquet in a day—with mother and sister unfatigued at the journey’s end. To Berlin in November, 1938, with four passengers and luggage—clocking 84 on the Autobahn, but usually only allowed to cruise at 65 for fear of “expensive noises.” On the road she is afraid of nothing, and I should be accused of shooting a hell of a line” if I described some of the little scraps that have happened from time to time, but the Lancia has never been ” left ” yet. The only fault is a slight drumming on a rough surface, and rather rapid wear of the universals. She is still with me as a cobelligerent, working for the R.A.F., though not as much as I would like. To go back a bit, the Bentley being a large and heavy car, I purchased a Morris Eight fabric saloon for £12, for shorter journeys. This was a really exciting car to drive, 35 m.p.h. was like 90 m.p.h. in any other car, and at 45 m.p.h. both doors would fly open ; a highly dangerous performance, and the journey would finish up with the doors joined together across the car with string. This Morris was sold, and a Fiat 500 bought in March, 1937. This I still have, and it is used by my wife for farm and station work, and the last time I was home we took a calf to market in it. I feel quite sure it is the only calf that has ever ridden in a blown Fiat ! The blower was put on by Leslie Ballamy, together with an enormous Fram filter
designed to keep the oil pure for the rest of the car’s life ; also a straight-through Gervais silencer was fitted. Unfortunately I have not had any opportunity to get any real speed out of her, but after the war, with 100-octane, she should be grand. The roadholding is excellent, and whilst third gear is a little low for this country, I find it a real motor-car ; it amuses itself by chasing after bigger brethren and sitting on their tails—rather childish but great fun. In about February, 1942, the inevitable truck turned round in front of the Lancia, which got the worst of the argument and went to hospital for many months (many too many, in fact) so in the meanwhile I purchased from Ballamy one of his old self-drive-hire cars, a 1934 Wolseley Hornet saloon. Without rear shockabsorbers she was promptly called ” Matilda,” and ran perfectly. I had no breakdown with it and everything worked, including the free wheel—a new toy to me. The steering was moody at times, but a little doctoring by L.M.B. soon cured this. Matilda is now doing many thousands of miles with the R.O.C., and the new owner told me a month after he had bought it that it only wanted running in as the petrol consumption was improving the longer he had it ! In conclusion, I have often felt like rushing into print re the merit of foreign cars compared with
our own, and I think I have seen enough of both to form an opinion. I think, on the whole, we were apt to “Buy British and be proud of it” out of patriotism, shutting our eyes to improved designs elsewhere, a very dangerous thing and a big handicap to us at the beginning of this war. To belittle the productions of other countries, be they ears, aircraft or weapons, can be very costly when the actual test comes. British workmanship, given the ideas behind it, can compete with any other nation on earth. It is up to the designers and manufacturers to see that this skill is used for world-wide distribution, not just for home market economical family saloons.