Out of the past, May 1993



Mr R C Shelly has kindly sent me the remaining part of a diary kept by a Mr D Hume, about journeys he did in a Gwynne 8. They are worth summarising as a reminder of how deserted the roads of England were, even as late as 1928, and what was likely to befall the user of a light-car in those days.

Mr Hume was a paper company’s travelling representative, living in Billericay, Essex, and it seems reasonable to surmise that he had acquired a used Gwynne 8, which the Ace Motor Works in that town had overhauled for him. The first diary entry is about driving to Norwich, with calls at Ipswich for 90 minutes, a run of 95 miles. The Gwynne used half-a-pint of oil. Its dynamo wasn’t charging at under 30 mph but all hills were climbed in top gear, second being needed only through congested Ipswich. Mr Hume got in by 3.30pm and stayed at the Castle Hotel. The following afternoon he left at 1pm and arrived at the Bowden Hotel, Nottingham, before lighting-up time, on that February day. He stopped at the AA garage in Kings Lynn, where the dynamo belt was tightened for a charge of 1/-(5p). That put the charge up to 10 to 12 amps, but as the mechanic had said it should not exceed 6 to 8 amps, Mr Hume worried a bit! But at times the belt continued to “slip a bit”. The G8 cantered along at 30 mph “went up everything in top”, and never got more than hot — no boiling. In the two days it gave about 1600mpg of oil, in spite of the remark that “it throws a bit off”, and in the 221 miles it was given six gallons of benzole, equal to at least 37 mpg.

After a few days the return run was undertaken, and then on the Sunday it was off to Nottingham again, 149 miles at an average of just less than 30 mph, deducting an hour’s pause. This in the teeth of the bitter East wind, with the whole of the Great North Road virtually deserted, the driver meeting only about two cars per mile. At Grantham the G8 was given a pint of oil. After 70 miles the near-side headlamp “came loose again”, and one tappet obviously required adjustment (G8s had a push-rod ohv 950cc engine). Several big cars were reported at the roadside while their occupants ate oranges; a girl threw out some peel, which Mr Hume thought might have damaged his car, so he inspected it while “erecting a side screen”. His sense of humour, perhaps, as he remarked on not expecting to see orange peel on the Great North Road…

The next entry concerns a 285-mile journey to Leeds, much of it in snow and hail, and a wind that made putting up the hood unwise. In fact, the wind blew the G8 off course more than once and visibility was bad. Very few cars were seen and garages reported trade as dead — this in April 1928, before the slump bit… In Leeds the “wagging headlamp” was mended and the car greased — “very smart people, nothing too big, nothing too small”. From an empty petrol tank at the start, the G8 was given ten gallons, and two pints of oil. Next day, in hail, snow, sleet, and rain, it was on to Newcastle-onTyne, the gale again making the hood unuseable. But on the 30 miles between Wetherby and Darlington the G8 twice touched 45 mph — “imagine 20 miles straight as a ruler, and three times as wide as the Southend Arterial Road. . .”. In an accumulating mileage of 373 the G8 had been given 14 gallons of fuel, with three gallons probably not used, so the mpg was being maintained, at approx 34, and oil thirst at around 1000 mpg.

A paper strike gave Mr Hume and his G8 a respite, then he was off again to Newcastle and Leeds via Retford. First he got the Ace Works to grease the car and take up play in the steering. An unspecified spare part was also ordered by ‘phone from the Gwynne works. Again, few cars were met on the 95-mile run, and Hume “opened out a little on the 32-mile racing track to Borough Bridge”. A girl in a sports Alvis went by at 60 mph and was assumed to be responsbile for a dead Minorca cockerel on the road. The log now gives 16-1/2 gallons of petrol and four pints of oil in 468 miles. Then it was into a garage, as the horn was u/s, back mud-guards wobbling, and o/s headlamp loose again. The bonnet clips, too, had never been right. The Klaxon and other defects were efficiently rectified. Mr Hume, who had previously demanded his shilling be deducted from the bill for the slipping dynamo belt, now said no more work for the electrician who had allowed the horn to “short”…

By May 1928 the rakish dark blue G8 was given new Balata straps for the back axle (2/- = 10p) and new tyres — 700 x 80 Firestones were available in Birmingham for 22/- each, Michelins for 26/-, but a “wonderful 700 x 85 tyre, which knocks everything else silly” was found for 30/-, new and guaranteed. A 249-mile journey to Liverpool via Chelmsford, Thaxted, Saffron Walden, Kettering, Leicester and Derby gave 35 mpg and used a pint of oil. There is a dramatic account of climbing the hill out of Ashbourne, even a verse about it! The “gear handle” had to be held in second with the foot, and the engine roared and screamed, but they made it, where three cars had broken down. Hume coasted down the other side.

Further motoring in the Manchester area used 12 gallons and two pints of oil in 330 miles but at Sowerby Bridge the gears jammed. But after taking up the floorboards Mr Hume knocked a steel rod and, by luck, freed them. The horn had packed up again and after the cobblestones and “the worst road in Great Britain”, from Liverpool to Prescott, greasing was deemed advisable. Even that summer few other cars were about, and garage trade was bad. The diary ends with an account of how the G8’s n/s front spring broke, 90 miles from home, outside Weedon. Mr Hume limped along and left the Gwynnne at Clarke’s Garage. It would take four days to get a spare but as the place ran three big red ‘buses (bus folk will be able to identify them) Mr Hume was confident they could easily fit a new spring. The car had been serviced weekly by the Ace Works, and its engine was running smoothly, with 20 lb oil pressure. As the Gwynne 8 did not sell in any numbers after 1925 I assume this was an early model, probably of 1923/24 vintage.

So much for motoring, 65 years ago. This link with Mr Shelly reminds me of the pleasant drive I had in 1964, in a Lancia Flavia coupé, to see his collection of aero-engine which I am glad to say he still enjoys, with his son. WB