The Editor Drives a Selection of Different Motor Cars
Having completed the third volume of my “Story of Brooklands,” I realised that I had been driving a pen for a long time and interesting motor cars far too infrequently. A “busman’s holiday” seemed indicated, more particularly as quite a lot of readers are kind enough to say they miss the “General Notes” feature which used to appear in Motor Sport and which was a sort of Editorial diary of the different cars I drove.
It was the Advertisement Manager who took me along to Queens Garage of Wimbledon to see their very smart 1940 Type C 2-litre “Speed Model” Aston-Martin. It was one of the rare 2-litre models with the “air-flow” front and the unique airship-like tapering tail containing the spare wheel, sidescreens and what-have-you. This Aston-Martin deserved the title of sports car, for it comprised just two—but comfortable and uncramped—seats, had, under its broad bonnet, the well-liked o.h.c. twin carburetter engine, a “plain” four-speed gearbox and an ignition control in the wheel centre that required to be used to kill “pinking”—at all events on “Pool.”
Outwardly, and in respect of weather arrangements and upholstery, it was like a new car. And it was remarkably pleasant to drive. The steering, heavy at low speeds on sharp corners, was really high-geared and accurate, the gearchange, once mastered, a delight, the little central lever going in precise manner through the exposed gate—and there was the usual A.M. reverse stop that you lift clear before engagement. So little revving up was needed to get from top into third that the ratios must be close, and second gear a thought high for starting on any sort of gradient.
The engine started promptly, idled satisfactorily, and by taking it up to 4,500 r.p.m. in the gears, very useful acceleration was procurable—and I mean very useful. At the other end of the scale, and a feature I particularly appreciated when going from Croydon to Waterloo in a hurry, the car was tractable and absolutely quiet in top gear. I live in the country, where we know not the Mobile Constable, and in London, in this very “obvious” vehicle, I was doubly thankful for its good manners! It was, however, only necessary to change-down and prod the accelerator to encounter the familiar Aston-Martin exhaust note and gear whine and all the punch most of you could wish for. Acceleration was clean all the way up to 4,500 r.p.m., oil pressure being on the right side of forty (right side, that is, regarded in an oil-pressure, not a human, sense), and nothing grew over-hot or seemed overstressed. The brakes, too, were powerful, even and light, the suspension not too terribly “sports car.”
This Aston-Martin was, in fact, an interesting reminder of how far the “aerodynamic modern” had got to by the outbreak of war. Here was the old 2-litre Aston dressed up in an imposing “air-defeating” body, with wings to match, a car which prompted a hushed sense of awe rather than yells of “cor, ricer” from the pavements. The dashboard had somehow become mixed between two eras, being a vast painted metal affair with huge passenger’s cubbyhole, but also possessing those expensive aero-switches, pull-out dash-lamps, Scintilla switchbox and 6-in. Jaeger rev. counter and 120-m.p.h. speedometer that denote the real motor car; 1,500 r.p.m. in top equalled a soothing 30 m.p.h., 75 m.p.h. came up easily on the derestricted bit past Croydon aerodrome, and draughts were happily excluded by a full-width screen behind which two little aeroscreens rattled unhappily and a dithering central mirror reduced the image of the pursuing police cars to a sort of hydrogen bomb explosion seen in a television screen—or haven’t you seen that one, yet? Over the “modern” bonnet the front wings were just invisible to me and I can’t say how much fuel the car used because one moment the gauge said 12 gallons, the next minus 4, but there was a reserve pump, anyhow. Altogether, this seemed to be a very good and enjoyable car. Its registration number, in case it has old friends, is ANN 4.
From the Aston-Martin I went on to a Zagato-type Alfa-Romeo 1,750-c.c. twin cam two-seater at Simmons Garage at Croydon. It had been rebuilt for resale and was a dazzling property. Finished in Alfa red, an imitation “Monza” cowl covered the radiator, tiny Union Jacks flanked the long bonnet and a chromium badge-bar arched between the front dumb-irons. The wings had been raised slightly and flaired, polished metal covers adorned the running boards, front axle, springs and brakes, both drums and back-plates, were set-off in silver paint, and the seat squabs were of red plastic, piped in white. The original Alfa-Romeo steering wheel had given place to a big, white-rimmed spring wheel with plated centre, the old hand-throttle control now serving to advance or retard Mr. Bosch. The instrument panel, tucked characteristically away under the shapely scuttle, was “per Milano,” except that none of the instruments did anything. Indeed, the car was not entirely finished, and its white-duck hood with contrasting red piping had, I was told, yet to be fitted.
Inspection under the bonnet revealed that beautiful engine with Roots blower fed by a twin Memini carburetter, a new set of A.C. plugs and a high-voltage coil being evident. I was informed that the car had been completely rebuilt, the frame crack-tested by Laystall and the engine rebuilt by a man called Boon. It was shod with new 5.25/5.50-18 Michelin tyres, and had been re-registered —AUU 594. A plated exhaust tail pipe emerged from beneath the tail.
After a battery had been coupled up I was push-started for a trial run. Soon the engine broke into that delightful “woop-woop,” like playing at warming-up a Grand Prix racer, the clutch reminded me I was driving an Alfa, and we shot out into Croydon’s narrow police-patrolled thoroughfares. Alas, the brakes had not been readjusted since being relined and were hardly on a par with those of a similar vintage Austin Seven, so I didn’t dare go quickly. But the urge seemed to be there all right, third whined shrilly and, as usual with only an aero-screen for protection, it was all most exhilarating, wind tearing at one’s hair and water spraying back from the quick-action radiator filler. The steering, in spite of the big white wheel, was decidedly “Alfa,” in that if you wanted to, you didn’t, so to speak.
Having returned, dishevelled and breathless, in this boy’s-Alfa, I was taken out in a J4 M.G. Midget (registered number KY 4963) which somebody had supercharged by the simple expedient of driving a Marshall cabin-blower by dual belts from the nose of the crankshaft. This, and the centrally-located S.U. carburetter, were covered by a rather firmly fixed tin shroud to which the front number-plate was attached, suggesting that frequent adjustments were not required. The run was rendered more exciting because we left this shroud, and consequently our for’ard legality, in the garage.
The needle of the large speedometer had a distinct affinity for the “90-old-boy” position, and that of an ex-aircraft boost gauge flitted tantalisingly between +8 and -8 lb./sq. in., so I concentrated on the rev.-counter. Up the aforementioned hill past Croydon aerodrome—incidentally, I used to watch the flying there in the Instone Airline days before this M.G. was thought of—we began at 3,400 r.p.m., were doing about 3,200 at the top. I was told 1,000 r.p.m. in top gear equals about 17 m.p.h.. I don’t recall much blower noise; no plug trouble was evident. Later, driving this J4 myself, I had fun finding the rather small brake pedal, and found that the “back-to-front” remote control gear-change needed all one’s attention, although the pull-back action from top to third could be as snappy as you liked to make it. Back at the kerb-side, some wear was evident. in the steering box, offset by the exciting appearance of the car, with its bonnet-strap, vast quick-action radiator cap and external four-branch exhaust system.
My busman’s vacation was shaping well, for yet another car was brought out for my edification, a great 1930 37.2-h.p. Hispano-Suiza with an open four-seater body. We literally thundered about the local roads in this, for it is a sad fact, and one I observed last year on a similar vintage Rolls-Royce, that cars notable for silent running when in their prime are as raucous as any others after their silencers have rusted away. There is no denying that this Hispano-Suiza had seen some ill-usage and wasn’t in quite the condition in which it once, perhaps, purred along the Boulevards at Boulogne. But it had lots of punch, its servo brakes would still lock the wheels, although the pedal was almost on the floorboards, and as I drove it, changing gear easily on that man-size right-hand lever with its remarkably long travel, steering it easily in spite of its immense length, something of the dignity and charm of motor cars of this vintage came back to me, perhaps more so than to the passers-by, for, although the old Hispano did its best to hold up its head still, it was evident that, as Mr. Simmons has stated, sane loving care is overdue. Before I had really coped with the lorry-like controls and a front seat that prevented me from adequately grasping or prodding them, the tank ran dry. After a final glance at that great engine, now oozing water and oil to some degree, needing a new fan belt and a lot of elbow-grease, but a grand power-unit for all that, I was rescued by the J4 M.C. which I drove back, and the first part of my bus-driver’s vacation had come to an end.
Incidentally, I encountered a much better preserved example of Hispano-Suiza not far away from the one I drove, at Briand’s garage. This was none other than the very first of the 45-h.p. “Boulogne” models, as Kent Karslake told me a few days later, and the car Dubonnet drove in a Targa Florio. Without being aware of these facts, the car profoundly impressed me, because it had a sports body such as only France could produce, a wooden four-seater with the back seats forming a separate cockpit with its own aero-screens, in the vast, bulbous tail, and the control levers outside the front cockpit. The veneered wood, from which the body was made was surprisingly thin, and damaged on the top deck, but I gather this is to be restored; the engine is externally presentable, and when it takes the road again this will be one of the most imposing vintage cars anyone could wish for.
The next day I found myself in a very different class of vehicle, for I was fortunate in having the use of a smart maroon Jowett Javelin saloon over the Easter holidays. And a very nice Easter egg the Javelin proved to be. Getting out of London that Thursday afternoon was a slow process, for even then the traffic streaming westwards was of pre-war intensity and the jams at Hyde Park Corner and elsewhere in keeping. But the brisk Javelin pick-up, together with excellent driver-visibility and a steering-lock like a taxi, make light of such conditions and soon we were out along A 30, having full and games with a Mk. VI Bentley and leaving all other cars behind. Apparently a Javelin looks safe weaving in and out amongst slower traffic, for a police Wolseley that we passed as if it were stationary took no subsequent interest.
The first stop was at Camberley Car Services, where Ronald Barker had driven in his very beautiful 1909 30-h.p. six-cylinder landaulette, to beg for it a more reliable magneto than the one he was using. He had gone to the obvious place for, sure enough, Francis Hutton-Stott and henchman Upton were preparing for Easter Sunday’s V.C.C. Hurlingham Rally. I was able to see Hutton-Stott’s latest discovery, a vast 1910 28-h.p. Lanchester landaulette, admire his very-perfect and absolutely authentic 1903 two-cylinder Thornycroft, and be shown a 1913 “30/35” six-cylinder Napier that in due course is to be made into a period sporting two-seater. This Napier has rather an amusing history. As I remember it, the car was given as a present to its chauffeur of many years’ service on the death of his master. When this worthy went to get a job at a Staines’ garage, he was able to take his own breakdown-car with him, so to speak. Carrying a crane in place of a landaulette body, this Napier served in its new capacity as faithfully as it had before, and when the garage felt it to be a little too long in the tooth to go out and succour ailing tin-ware, they very creditably refused to let breakers anywhere near it. It duly went to Capt. Browell, who has a grand 1923 “40/50” Napier, and I am glad it has now found a good home at Camberley.
Leaving Barker with handfuls of 1910 magnetos and chanting firing-orders and ignition-timings to himself, we Javelined off to tea. That evening we went up to the “Phoenix” to quaff Tint Carson’s pint and admire the vintage cars which assemble there on “first-Thursdays.” Actually, more than half the vehicles assembled were moderns and Tim, himself had arrived in a f.w.d. Citroën. But we were not depressed. We knew . . . that Barker’s great Napier was soon to arrive. Alas, the hours and pints passed, but it hadn’t come. So we set forth, snugly, in the Javelin to look for it. Two very faint oil lamps, a thunder of machinery, and it went by. Hastily we turned, heavily I pressed on the accelerator, but it needed some three miles of the Hartford Bridge Flats ere 1950 came up with 1910—for the old Napier, like some ghostly apparition from another age, must have been cruising at over 50 along those dark roads. As Barker climbed out, lit in honour by our Lucas headlamps in the “Phoenix” yard, he was heard to remark, “Unfortunately, she was only on four or five most of the time . . . !”
This Napier was rescued by Anthony Heal during the war and I believe he intended to use it one day as a station car, only Barker begged to be allowed to restore it—and right justifiably has he done so. Much later that evening Mr. Lucas, and several other people’s Mr. Lucases as well, helped to light the great car on its way, for Barker’s acetylene headlamps refused to function, water coming out of the jet and, as we were delighted to point out, flame and water don’t mix . . .
Good Friday was spent driving at the built-up-area legal limit along country lanes very far away from built-up areas. Few cars were encountered, the children were able to pick primroses in the woods, many were the admiring glances that the Javelin drew on that delightful, sunny afternoon, and the wife was in raptures over the comfort of this six-seater saloon, the leg-room, the silent running, and general convenience. For my part I was rather proud of having done a two-hour circular tour of some of the nicest scenery in unknown north-east Hampshire on little more than a gallon of fuel.
Later came fast runs through more beautiful country for the practice and racing at Goodwood, the Javelin just as restful and comfortable at speed, and such fun to drive. The very low first gear was ignored, the box being treated as three-speed, and once familiarity had returned with the off-set pedals, the proximity of the steering-column to the brake pedal and the firm cant of the car when cornering fast, it, was possible to use the Javelin to the greatest advantage. That means covering the ground with deceptive rapidity, still with great economy, sixty being a natural cruising speed. The ride is really excellent and the car notably refined for a high-performance 1½-litre. Coupling these good characteristics with the immensely roomy body and luggage locker explains the popularity of the Javelin and prompts one to suggest that it has no close competitor. The car I tried was the “de luxe” saloon, possessing the wooden instrument board, its inset, dials with neat white needles, and tiny pull-out switches all very “Rolls-Bentley,” the heater truly effective and the H.M.V. radio beyond reproach. The three-spoke steering-wheel, which will also be a feature of the Jupiter, gives an unobstructed view of the instruments; the oil gauge showed a steady 50 lb./sq. in. warm or cold, idling or running fast, and after a fairly prolonged warming-up period the water temperature was about 60 deg. C.
I shall always remember Easter, 1950, as Javelin Easter, because I met Clive Gallop on the Saturday and ran him down to Goodwood and later drove his Javelin saloon, of which he speaks highly and to which he has fitted some interesting extras, such as a separate oil gauge (replacing the indicator of the normal model), oversize (5.50-16) rear tyres, balanced wheels, wind-deflectors to the front windows, brake-testing equipment, “competition” shock-absorbers, Fram by-pass oil-filter to supplement the existing Vokes full-flow filler, radiator muff, etc., while on Easter Monday the Managing Director of Motor Sport came down to Goodwood in his Javelin. Now we all await with scarcely-concealed impatience the Jupiter, which, of lower weight, with better gear-ratios and ten more horsepower, should indeed be an exceptional motor car. I have pleasure in appending a photograph of it in production form. —W. B.