CARS I HAVE OWNED
MY enthusiasm for motoring was probably born some twenty years ago when, as a schoolboy, I listened with awe to an enthusiast running up the engine of a real motor car. The enthusiast was Raymond Mays, and the car, one of the two Brescia Bugattis, either “Cordon Bleu” or “Cordon Rouge.” Whichever it was, the atmosphere—the musical notes of the Bugatti’s exhaust, and the aroma of ” dope ” and Castrol “R “—created a profound impression on my then impressionable mind. Thus was another enthusiast created.
During the next few years I avidly collected and devoured all the motoring literature I could find. The highlights of that adolescent period were the times when I could watch Raymond Mays, Amhurst Villiers, Peter Berthon, Murray Jamieson and the others of the Bourne equipe prepare their cars—the Bugattis, the 1+-litre and 2-litre racing Mercedes and the lovely little 11-litre Mercedes with Corsica-built 2-seater sports bodywork, the cream 6-carburetter, 4i-litre Invicta, the White Riley, and then, of course, E.R.A.s.
By 1930 I decided that something should be done about my own conveyance and, accordingly, a 150-c.c. foot-change 2-speed 2-stroke Excelsior was purchased. With the maximum speed 40-plus m.p.h. coincident with my normal cruising speed, it is natural that it was only a matter of time before I obtained first-hand knowledge of expensive noises. It was rather obvious that something a little faster was desirable, and accordingly the Excelsior left me for, it is to be hoped, a more considerate owner, and a five-year-old Scott ” Squirrel ” was acquired for a small sum of money. The figure asked should have warned me, but with all the optimism of youth I took delivery of my Scott. To cut a long story short I quickly disposed of this machine. It was in very poor condition, and went in part-exchange for a new 1981 250-c.c. Grindlay Peerless, complete with T.T. Replica Budge engine. This little machine gave me excellent service and many trouble-free miles. Its maximum speed was somewhere around the 70 m.p.h. mark—quite creditable for a 1931 “250.” The only real incident with the Grindlay was an attempt to emulate an aircraft when I rode over a sharp hump-back bridge much too quickly, the only ill-effects being an attack of gravel rash and a slightly bent bicycle. Shortly afterwards I accompanied a friend in his 350-c.c. New Imperial on a holiday in the West Country, and on the return journey we decided to spend a night at Stratford-on-Avon. There I found a man who wished to sell his 1926 “Grand Sport” Amilcar and, to make matters more convenient, he wished to buy a 250-c.c. motor-bicycle. The transaction did not take long to complete and I left Stratford the proud possessor of my first car. The only incident of note on the journey home was when travelling down a hill near Grantham at maximum speed (speedometer reading 70 m.p.h.) the’ bonnet came adrift and, luckily for me, the air flow lifted it over the Vee windscreen. My friend, travelling behind on the New Imperial, suddenly had visions of the bonnet flapping towards him, for all the world like a huge bird, and managed to make a7successful Arthur Rusling, who last September described his war-time motoring in three Continents, now recalls the prewar days. Incidentally, his is the forty
phenomenal avoidance. The Amilcar was run for a few months in its purchased condition, but it soon became evident that a major overhaul was necessary.
Around this time an old school friend, Victor Wherry, who later ran a P-type M.G. Midget and various Hillman ” Aero Minxes” in trials, came along to show me a 5th Series Lancia ” Lambda ” tourer. I immediately fell in love with her and eventually bought her. She was in excellent condition in every respect. The body was rather nicer than that on most “Lambdas,” and had two hoods, one of which covered all four seats while the other merely covered the front seats. So far as I can remember I never used either. Needless to say, cornering and roadholding were excellent. She would clock 70 at any time, had a nice gearchange, and was extraordinarily pleasant to handle.
I now had two cars on my hands and decided to sell the Amilcar, resplendent in her fresh coat of cream, so the French car left me for a new home in London. The Lancia, during her life in my hands, gave no trouble whatsoever, and one fast run across Leicestershire still lingers in my memory. However, Christmas Eve, 1932, found me involved in an accident that completely wrote off the car. The humiliating part of it was that the cause of the accident was a silly little man in an Austin Seven. It transpired that he had been celebrating the birth of his first child, and certainly he Was in no condition even to push its perambulator. I finished my day’s driving in a convenient field, and was perhaps pardonably surnrised when. after watching the wretched man turn his fabric-bodied saloon over twice, he staggered up to me, dripping blood, handed me his card (he was a complete stranger) and said, “I’m terribly sorry, old man, but we are not going to let a little thing like this spoil our friendship, are we ? ” I think my answer was unprintable I Anyway, that little incident left me carleQs, and I began to search for a likely means of transport. During the search
alternately used a borrowed 1981 Hillman Straight-Eight close-coupled saloon and a Chrysler 65 coupe. The }Tillman would show a speedometer reading of 71 m.p.h. but for its petrol eonsumption—word; fail me. The Chrysler was a pleasant car to drive in the day, but at night its 6-volt lighting system gave poor results. Eventually I visited Jack Bartlett’s establishment and found a four-year-old, front-wheel-drive Alvis fabric saloon. (Sorry, Mr. Editor, but it was winter !)
This Alvis was a fascinating car. Much has been written about the model’s tendency to take control when travelling quickly, but that only happened once to me, and I blame myself entirely. Luckily, at the time the road was free of other traffic and the only result was a somewhat shaken and surprised conducteur. The Alvis covered 12,000 miles under my direction, and the only real trouble I experienced was that occasionally reverse or bottom gear would jam. I later experienced the same trouble with another F.W.D. Alvis, of which more anon.
I was sorry to part with the Alvis, but in 1984 decided to buy a new J2 M.G. It is, of course, fashionable to belittle these cars but, to be quite frank, I thought it was a pleasant enough means of transport. I covered some 9,000 miles in it in three months and then let it go in partexchange for a new Singer Nine sports coupe. When I look back that rather amazes me, and I can only attribute the reason to the girl who is now my wife. Anyway, that little Singer gave me excellent service. In a little more than a year I covered over 50,000 miles in it, including driving along many indifferent farm roads, and met with no serious trouble. It was not fast—a little more than 60 m.p.h.but it would, and did, cruise all day long at 50-55 m.p.h., and gave a petrol consumption of 85 m.p.g. Oil consumption was negligible, and when the engine was decarbonised some two or three thousand miles prior to its sale, cylinder wear was found to be very small indeed. And that, I think, is a record of which the manufacturers may well be proud. Incidentally, the Singer eventually found its way to a very well-known London motor trading company, and I came across it in either 1936 or 1937 in St. John’s Wood. I asked the new owner how it was behaving, and he replied, “Very well—but, of course, it should. It has only done 19,000 miles.” Further enquiry elicited the information that he had bought it from the dealers to whom
had sold the car !
had only had the Singer for three months or so when, again entirely my own fault, I did a slow roll in it, thereby necessitating a complete rebuild, which, if memory is reliable, took about two months. During the first two or three weeks of this period I used a six-year-old Morris Oxford coupe and a quite new ” Airflow ” Chrysler. The Morris was in extraordinarily good condition, but took too great a time to travel from A to 13, while this particular Chrysler was one of the most dangerous vehicles I have ever driven, and was absolutely uncontrollable at any speed on a wet road. Consequently, I looked round for a motor car that would at least steer, and found my answer in a 1081 unblown M.G. ” Montlhery Midget.” This little car, finished in British racing green, steered as if on rails, and had a most satisfying exhaust note. The gear ratios were well chosen for normal fast touring, and on one occasion, in the heat of a” tear-up” with a long-chassis AstonMartin, I took the willing engine up to 6,700 r.p.m. on the indirect ratios. So far as top-gear performance was concerned it never motored phenomenally but it went through one or two
—continued from page 95 trials with me, and I had a great deal of fun on. the road with it. When the Singer was sold a grand old motor car was acquired—a 1929 F.W.D. supercharged T.T. Alvis. Again finished in dark green, this car was reputed to have a racing history. With its long bonnet and workmanlike body it was an imposing car, and its handling on a dry road lived up to its appearance. On a wet road, however, it needed care with the tiller, and it was possible to spin the front wheels on a slippery surface even in top gear by sudden pressure on the accelerator pedal. Over Salisbury Plain a rev.-counter reading corresponding to 91 m.p.h. was obtained—not too bad for a six-year-old 12-h.p. car. Starting in cold weather was difficult until Ki-Gass was fitted. Again, trouble was experienced with the gears sticking. This was overcome by modification of the long selector rods. Tyres on the front wheels were rather a problem ; by accelerating violently it was possible to wear a pair of Dunlop “90s” quite smooth inside 8,000 miles ! Petrol consumption, too, was particularly heavy. The combination of exhaust note and transmission whine once caused Peter Berthon to remark that the Alvis
was noisier than any of his E.R.A.s ! Nevertheless, with all her faults, she was a grand motor car.
At this juncture I became connected with the motor Trade and found it unnecessary to own further personal cars, other than an Avon Standard coupe, a Riley Nine ” Monaco ” saloon and an 14-type M.G. Magna ” Continental ” coupe, which I used from time to time, purely for family purposes.
Of those motor Trade experiences, embracing almost every vintage and modern sporting vehicle on the British market, a book could be written. May those happy days soon return.