The first to wear the green
A Review of Napier Racing Cars, 1900-1908 AS the result of Edge's victory, the honour…
BY VICTOR HODGSON
MY earliest memories start with the stone age cars of the Avon tyre advertisements and the 1907 14116-11.p. Argyll. I was only eight years old when this car was sold in 1913— my lather considered it was worn Out then—but I remember many features of it, as I saw it dismantled quite a few times. The T-head Aster engine had four separate cylinders which required careful alignment on assembly, as my father discovered when he broke an induction pipe flange. The Longuemare carburetter lived almost in the undertray on the off side, and the mixture had a long and sinuous journey through a swan-necked induction pipe to the tiring point. Ignition was originally by four Connecticut trembler coils (with which I had great fun in later years) Controlled by a vertical low-tension distributor on the near side of the timing case. I wonder whether the word ” tuning ” originated in the endeavour to have all the coil tremblers buzzing at the same pitch! The coils were later supplanted by a Bosch Magneto, for which provision was made in the original design, and the range of the car was no longer dependent on a miscellany of accumulators charged from the 220-volt D.C. mains through carbon filament lamps at great expense. Accumulators were among the numerous expendable items in those days. Engine lubrication was attended to by a lubricator on the dashboard with a row of adjustable drip feeds and the chassis was equipped with the fashionable multitude of brass grease cups. The Hele-Shaw multiplate clutch was lubricated by a Mixture of engine oil and paraffin. I do not remember how many speeds there were in the gearbox, hut reverse was engaged by a separate lever. Perhaps it was possible to engage reverse and a forward speed at the same time; it certainly was with the worn forks in the gate of our 1914 Studebaker Four. If my memory is correct, engine speed was originally regulated entirely by a hand-throttle. The hand-brake lever design was evidently copied from that of a stage coach. The car was equipped with a sprag, which my father never had to use, for the car would climb almost anything, and he used to say he would be afraid to use it, anyway. There was a tremendous amount of brasswork and this was usually spotlessly clean, as waS the rest of the car. The petrol tank was under the front seat and fed by gravity; It was consequently advisable to keep the tank fairly full in our hilly neighbourhood. The cape cart hood seemed enormous in the eyes of a small boy, and it boasted two great leather straps fastened to the dumb-irons. These straps were not loosely flapping dummies—they were essential, because the hood was not attached to the windscreen.
Tyres were a source of great trouble and expense. I believe they used to last only 2,000 to 3,000 miles, and punctures were commonplace. My father had nine punctures in three days on one holiday tour. The wheels were fixed and a Stepney rim was provided to get the car home as an alternative to mending the puncture on the spot. Puncture mending was not as Simple as nowadays, for the patches were anything but adhesive, and it was advisable to press them to the tube in a vice until the rubber solution dried. Work was also complicated by the numerous security bolts which were intended to hold the tyre in the beads of the rim, but were a fruitful source of punctures if they were incorrectly fitted. The tyres were painted with white or light grey tyre paint. It is interesting to observe that motor tyres are among the very few things that are no dearer than in the pre-1914 years, and the present cost per mile is infinitely less. The great improvement in road surfaces has had considerable influence on tyre life but this is countered by increases in speed and braking power, and the progress in tyre design over the past fifty years is immeasurable. The Argyll never failed to get home, but it needed constant maintenance by 1913 when it was superseded by one of the earliest 25-11.p. D-type Vauxhalls. The chassis retained a number of features of earlier Vauxhall designs which persisted in the 30198 and 23100 models until 1928 and are well known to vintage enthusiasts. I doubt whether present-day clutches excel the smoothness of a carefully maintained Vauxhall multi-plate clutch. This clutch was lubricated with flake graphite and it was essential to flush the casing frequently with paraffin and replenish with the lubricant. The car was fitted with Bosch dual ignition (with two sets of plugs.) and a White and Poppe carburetter. I wonder how
many examples of the former are still in exiStence ? The engine would often start on the switch when it was warm, and it. occasionally did so from cold. The White and Poppe c,arburetter was not easy to adjust, hut it was otherwise troublefree. The Vauxhall was a sturdy car with quite a good performance in its day, and it gave no trouble before it was sold early in World War I. On his return from the war my father bought a 1914 Studebaker Four, and this car gave a fair amount of trouble in the two years of ownership. The gearbox was in the back axle and the gearchange was not as simple as might have been desired. It consequently suffered front earlier ham-handlings and had to be overhauled and fitted with new second-speed pinions. The leatherfaced cone clutch was always rather fierce and was probably the cause of an axle-shaft breakage. The breakage, of course, occurred at a most inconvenient time. Petrol consumption was 13 m.p.g. until the Schebler carburetter was replaced by a horizontal Zenith, when it improved to about 20 m.p.g. (petrol at that time was much the same price as at present). The brakes were very poor indeed. The foot-brakes were external bands contracting on very thin drums, and the hand-brake mechanism operated normal shoes inside. Reasonable braking was obtainable only by using both brakes together to prevent the drums from distorting one way or the other. The car had a side-valve 4-cylinder monobloc engine
with a fixed L-head, and this was quite reliable. It had Remy coil ignition and was equipped with a Wagner electric starter which turned the engine at the nose of the crankshaft through a chain-driven freewheel. The splash lubrication was supplied through a sight-glass on the instrument hoard from an accessible plunger pump driven by an eccentric on the camshaft. Front springs were semi-elliptic and the rear were full-elliptic. There were no shock-absorbers, and it was just as well that the maxinnun speed was only 45 m.p.h., fur the ride was distinctly lively at that speed. •fhe back axle was of the banjo-type, fully-floating, with the wheels secured on the sleeves by large nuts and lock-nuts. The straight-toothed final drive had a characteristic hum which could be distinguished blindfold at a range of one hundred yards. I started to drive in this car, so my memories of it are still affectionate in spite of its shortcomings. In 1922 the Studebaker was succeeded by a 1917 25-11.p. Vauxhall. This car had served in the war and it bore three wound scars, probably from a shell-burst. It had undoubtedly covered a considerable mileage, and before we had the car long the engine was completely overhauled. At one time or another I dismantled every part of the chassis except the engine and steeringbox, and did so single-handed, including the removal and replacement of the block for decarbonising. It is surprising how heavy lifting can be avoided with a few blocks of wood on such an accessible car. After four years the ” War Model “was exchanged for a 1920 model and this was the last car my father had. It gave him very little trouble. but when I used it in 1032 during a holiday from ovt:r;ea. it had a cracked foot-brake drum liner (the brake was on the propeller shaft). One svrious application of the brake tvould shave down the lining sufficiently to render it useless. Of course I would not stop to adjust the brake every time it was used, and the usual practice Was to do so before entering a town. Life was consequently full of excitement, but in
several thousand miles we never hit anything. The story would be somewhat different nowadays, but with this and another car to be described I learnt to use brakes sparingly and still do so.
My first employers placed a 1926 493-c.c., s.v. B.S.A. motorcycle at my disposal, and I rode several thousand miles on it over Cornish lanes and cart-tracks in all kinds of weather. I had many a tumble and soon got into the habit of never riding without gloves. I still think there is no land transport to compare for sheer delight with a motorcycle on an open road or a willing horse over clear country on a fine day. For several months I was also provided with a model-T Ford tourer, It was only two years old, but what a car! Although it had been fitted with a Bosch magneto, it was always a devil to start from cold. On the colder winter mornings I used to jack up a back wheel and engage top gear, fill the radiator with hot water, heat the plugs over the blacksmith’s fire, replace them and start cranking! On steep hills it used to boil and on one occasion it showered so much boiling water over the windscreen that I had to use the (hand-operated) wiper. It sometimes steered to the right with the wheel on left lock. Punctures were innumerable, and a 4-1b. hammer was carried to remove or replace one of the detachable rims which had become oval. If reverse gear was used in conjunction with the foot-brake the braking was quite impressive, especially to back-seat passengers who sometimes unwillingly joined the party in the front seats. The Ford broke down three times in the last few days that I used it. The crown-wheel and pinion were the first casualties. “rhen a valve head dropped in a cylinder. On the last day there was an almighty bang and clatter and a large hole appeared in the gearbox casing. I left the car to be towed in and it was never driven again, but as a motoring interlude it was most interesting, and I would not have missed it for worlds. After the demise of the ” Tin Lizzie ” I bought my first car, a
1923. Ansaldo. This creation deserved to be much better known. The chassis was beautifully finished and the only poor features in the design were the brakes and valves. The engine Capacity was approximately 2 litres, and with a light chassis and body the perfOrmance was not bad for a touring car. The 4-cylinder engine had an overhead camshaft with a bevel drive attached tti the head, and the vertical shaft was split with a tongue and fork connection. The latter could only be fitted in one way, SO the timing was not disturbed on removing the head, and top decarbonisation was delightfully simple. The valve-stems were threaded at the ends and the valves were secured with a special cap nut. The nut exterior was conical at the open end and this portion mated with a female cone in the valve washer. The nut was hardened and the rocker operated on the closed end. Valve clearance was adjusted by turning the nut one way or the other with a spanner. This was all most beautifully simple when everything Was new, but after wear had taken place and the threads had become slack the nuts tended to loosen. On two occasions a valve dropped into its cylinder. The first time this happened a piston and valve seat were dented and a new valve was required, but on the subsequent occurrence no damage was caused. Petrol was fed by gravity to the Zenith updraught carburetter from a tank on the bulkhead. Ignition was by a Marelli magneto and the car always started very easily.
The instrument board of the Ansaldo was most ingenious, and might still be copied with advantage. It consisted of an aluminium casting hinged at the bottom and secured at the top by two screws; after removing the screws and detaching the pipe from the oil-pressure gauge, the board could be swung backwards to a horizontal position to make everything accessible.
The 3-speed gearbox afforded a leisurely ” butter-cutting ” change that rendered synchromesh superfluous. All gear-ratios were rather low in the Italian fashion of that time, but the maximum speed was 55-60 m.p.h. and the car was very well suited to Cornish road conditions of the nineteen-twenties. The Ansaldo was very much livelier than most family tourers and could more than hold its own on winding hilly roads with contemporary j!,-litre sports cars. The cardan-shaft foot-brake was constantly lubricated from the gearbox through a worn oil-seal and when the rear-wheel hand-brake linings became worn out towards the end of my term of ownership, driving became somewhat exciting. Through a succession of miracles the only collision was a very light pat on the back of a jowett. I was agreeably surprised when the wife of the Jowett aiver charmingly apologised for his sudden stop; he was so astonished as to be speechless! By the time that I sold the car before going overseas, the tyres were all worn through the canvas and wear was taken by linoleum inserts. Apart from being illegal, such practice would be suicidal nowadays. I did not keep count of the punctures, but doubt whether I have had so many: since that time.
My motoring in India started in 1929 with a 1918 41-h.p. Triumph -motorcycle, and this was followed by a 1918 2f-h.p. Douglas. As our communication with the nearest town was over 45 miles of veily rough and rutty dirt road, I only rode there once and the round trip occupied a full day. The Douglas was an ideal machine for local runs; one just pushed it a couple of yards and hopped on. The bikes Were succeeded by a 1933 Ford V8 touring car. On primitive roads and over sleep sand and mud this was a worthy successor to the model-T. This Ford carried me many thousands of miles over the roughest tracks, breaking springs galore, and it never failed to get me home. Loose sand and known patches of deep mud Could always be negotiated by charging them as fast as possible and correcting the skids. The .special 7.56 in. tyres on the back wheels were of great assistance under such conditions. The abnormal thirst of this car was rectified by substituting the later dual carburetter and manifold for the original single-throat carburetter. The brakes were rather poor for that period, but were adequate for my purposes. The Ford was followed by a 1936 Oldsmobile Six, and a Pontiac purchased new in 194r just before production for the civilian market ceased. In 1941 the Oldsmobile broke two axle-shafts and it. was obvious that fatigue was setting in as a consequence of hard driving over rough roads. As the war seemed likely to last a long time a change was indicated, and I was fortunate to secure the new Pontiac before it was too late. Both cars were well suited to the conditions and gave .-good service. American cars of the 19365 were rather scoffed at by enthusiasts in this country, but in Colonial Service they were far superior to their British contemporaries. On dirt roads they steered very well and remarkably high speeds could be maintained over rough and rutted surfaces. The woodwork of the Oldsmobile became somewhat rickety after about three years’ service and I had this replaced in teak by our patternmakers, who made a splendid job of it. The cars were washed every morning and Simonized regularly, so that they always looked well at home although they were plastered with mud or covered with dust long before the end of any journey. Regular washing with a hose is indispensable for the preservation of bodywork, and dry-cleaning is an abomination.
During my three home leaves before the war, I had a 23/66 Vauxhall and two 2-litre Lagondas. The Vauxhall was purchased for I, to from a garage where the car had been left and ” forgotten.” This was one of the last of the family touring cars in the Edwardian tradition. Apart from a Somewhat smoother engine it was little different from the D model and I had a lot of troublefree fun with it. The car subsequently served an old garage-owner friend of mine as a breakdown truck for several years. The hand-brakes were relined by exchanging the shoes for good ones purchased at a breaker’s for eight shillings, and the initially low oil pressure was rectified by repairing a broken oil feed to the Lanchester balancer. The ” D ” and ‘ OD ” Vauxhalls were wonderfully accessible when the very few eccentricities were mastered, and it is a pity that such accessibility is a thing of the past, as I can no longer work easily underneath a car—I have to remove the dynamo from my A95 to clean the petrol pump, and after greasing this car once I have always left the job to a garage!
The Lagondas were a 1930 Speed Model, VR2745, and a 1931 ” blown ” 2-litre, 115814. The performance of these cars was not outstanding, but they were delightful to drive after the gearchange was mastered. In these two cars I drove nearly 30,00D miles with the greatest pleasure. Both cars had covered considerable distances before I bought them and as a result of my overdriving on French roads the ” blown ” car twice broke a con.-rod, but on each occasion the bores were undamaged—possibly because the breakages were near the little-end and I switched off in double-quick time. The Zoller blower broke at speed one fine evening and made a heart-rending noise, but I was able to get it repaired by Amon. A few years ago I heard that the ” blown ” 2-litre was still in use in East Africa. The 2-litre Lavinia was a fast touring car rather than a .sports model., as 11 was rather heavy, but the controls were delightfully smooth, the steering and brakes were excellent, and there was nothing tinny about the car. I shall always have a soft spot for them. After the war I was home for a couple of years ani bought a 1935 Austin Seven Ruby saloon as soon as petrol was available for private purposes. At one time I turned up my nose at these cars, but ownership brought appreciation of their great serviceability and reliability. My car was driven unmercifully and it never protested. It was ideal for town pottering and for short runs in the country. At the time the notice-boards prohibiting motoring on the prehistoric roads along the rop of the Sussex downs had disappeared into Army campfires, and my wife and I explored nearly all these tracks in the little Austin, which could negotiate the
narrow gaps through the bushy places. For longer runs, and to get an extra petrol ration,.we bought a t931 12/60 Alvis beetleback. This car was a ” lemon.” The engine was not at its best, and as I intended going overseas again it was not worth my while to rebuild it. I much preferred my Lagondas, fir the Alvis did not handle any better and its performance was inferior. The. service offered by the Alvis Company, however, was superb. Shortly before going abroad again I sold the Alvis at the top of the postwar market. After keeping the Austin laid up for a couple of years, I had to sell it when I was obliged to vacate the garage.
In Canada we lived in an isolated community where the aggregate length of roads did not exceed ten miles. I consequently contented myself with driving the various vehicles supplied by my employers. or these the Willys Jeep was the only interesting car, but ibis handy little vehicle is too well known to call for more than my acknowledgement of its wonderful qualities in certain conditions. In the winters we used a Snowmobile at times when roads Were temporarily impassable. This vehicle was carried on two rubber caterpillars which formed tracks for pneumatic-tyred wheels and idlers, and it was steered by two large skis at the front —not by caterpillars. Power was supplied from a 6-cylinder Chrysler engine at the rear, and the maximum speed was not much mOre than 30 m.p.h. The heaviness of the steering was phenomenal and no enjoyment was to be had in driving the monster, but it would arrive when nothing else could!
My personal vehicles in Cyprus were firstly a Ford V8 and a 1947 Chevrolet, which were reliable but no fun to drive on mountainous roads. They were followed by a 1955 Riley Pathfinder and a 1956 Morris-Oxford. The Pathfinder was most disappointing and I was obliged to bring heavy pressure on the agents before they made any serious efforts to rectify the various faults that appeared in the first few days of use of this car. Dust entered the car in great clouds, and the self-adjusting front brakes rubbed so much that molten grease flowed from the hubs in the first fifty miles. The brakes faded completely on mountain descents, and the frame anchorage of the Panhard rod broke—all within 6,000 miles. ‘I’he brake servo was situated in the line of fire of stones from the front wheels; it therefore frequently became dented so that the piston would stick and lock the brakes: A spare was kept for use whilst the dents were being ironed out. The car was rather heavy to drive on twistv-turny roads, but on fast open bends it always felt safe, and the 4-cylinder engine seemed to be unburstable. The Morris-Oxford was perfectly reliable—and a good workhorse, but utterly uninspiring. In my experience some of our manufacturers do not take sufficient interest in the after-sales welfare of the cars that they sell overseas. The activities of their agents should be more critically scrutinised, particularly in the spares departments, where stocks
are frequently inadequate.
My present ears are a 1957 Austin A95 saloon and a 1936 25/301) p. Rolls-Royce owner-driver 4-door Barker saloon. The A95 has done 40,000 miles without giving any trouble. It is quite fast enough for my everyday purposes, bearing in mind that it is not a sports car, and it is not at all tiring to drive 350 miles or more in a day over English roads. Petrol consumption has averaged 22.1 M.p.g. over the 4c000 miles and oil consumption is low. The engine was decarbonised after 32,000 miles and the rear springs were dismantled and cleaned at 25,000 miles; otherwise the car has required only routine attention and examination.
The 25130h.p. Rolls-Royce, CXY26 was found after a long, search and I ant very proud of her. The total mileage since new is now 65,000, of which I have driven 10,000 miles in three years. Certain minor items received attention after the car was purchased, and a dynamo drive ball race had to be replaced a few months later. The exterior chromium plate Was renewed this year with plating of the very highest quality. The windscreen wipers were overhauled recenth,… An additional driving mirror has been fitted to clear a large blind Spot for safety’s sake, but the car is otherwise tmmodified and whilst I. am, concerned it will remain So. Apart from these affairs the car has needed only routine lubrication and adjustment. The body of this car was built for the Marquesa de Portago and the interior is ” one-off.” I was not particularly attracted by it at first, but appreciation has grown in the course of time and I would not swop the car for anything else in the world. Cars with such individuality are rarely made nowadays. I endeavour to keep the whole car as clean as a Rolls should be; in fact 1 don’t feel comfortable in a dirty car of any kind.
It is often said that there is no pleasure in motoring nowadays, but I enjoy driving and working on motor cars as much as ever. The Rolls is quite accessible, but I wish I could say the same of the Austin. I find modern cars much easier to vvaasit than those of the vintage and earlier periods, for there are fewer inaccessible corners, but much of the chromium-plated muzzle ” never would be missed.” After the criticisms, I consider that modern ears are a great improvement on their counterparts of former times. In earlier days there were some well-designed ears, but there were also numerous ” duds ” that gave endless trouble from the moment they left the works. Today we may prefer some cars to others, but they are all serviceable. Many enthusiasts will disagree with me, but others may remember that ill the vintage decade also it was fashionable (but untrue) to say ” they ain’t made like the old ‘uns.” Despite this opinion I feel that the veteran, vintage and similar clubs have had an immense influence in the preservation of certain cars which may justly he described as works of art, and I should like to pay a tribute to the many who devote so much of their spare time to the administration of these clubs.
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