By L/Cpl. CLIVE EDWARDS, Bart.
[Sir Clive Edwards, well known as the driver of an R-type M.G. in racing events, is now a Lance-Corporal in the R.A.S.C. He is running an H.R.G. and wrote the following article for us after night duty. The series “Cars I Have Owned” has proved so popular that we have no compunction about publishing virtually two such articles in one issue. Ed.]
I CANNOT remember accurately when my motor enthusiasm commenced in the first place, but the very first of all the vehicles I owned was at the age of two or three years, in the shape of a pedal car! Perhaps, then, it was this which laid down the foundation for the future, added to an interesting collection of motors in the family at that time. For my fourteenth birthday I received, to my unbounded joy, a 16 h.p. Wolseley two-seater, of a vintage about 1923, which had been bought for £10 by a cousin from a local scrap yard, and of which he was unable to dispose. I had this car for about six months, and used it around fields and private roads. The car had an o.h.c. engine, about 8 inches steering play, and an open two-seater body. It was a bent selecting fork which finally put this vehicle out of action, and the remains were sold for 30/- to a dealer. Albeit various odd nuts and pieces are still in use to-day, and in fact my present button-stick is made from the plate on the valve cover. The old car had, however, taught me a great deal of “who’s who and what’s what” in the motoring line. Some time elapsed before the great day of ”seventeen,” when I would be legally permitted to drive in public. I had a few days on the family “hack” before taking a solo. This only served to whet the appetite, already awakened by a visit that year to Shelsley Walsh. The early meetings, with the orchard as the paddock, I have always considered the more enjoyable, if less efficient from the competitors’ point of view. It was not surprising, therefore, that after these events a car really became essential, and hence like so many enthusiasts I became an M.G. owner. The “F” type “Magna” was an excellent car for the beginner, having all the dicing appeal, with a performance suitable to the apprentice. This particular car had a special Abbey four-seater body, of the usual green, and had been the property of a Canadian friend, having been, in fact, upon several occasions to Canada, where it had created considerable interest. As your readers will recall, the gearchange was centre gate, with a pull back for third, which made for snappy changes, once the unusual movement had been mastered. It was in this car that I first visited the track, to which I have always been attracted ever since. Brooklands has an atmosphere of its own. I kept this car for twelve months and Iearnt all I could about it; it was, at the beginning of the war, still running about locally. Without disturbing the proverbial hornet’s nest, there was much to commend the small six. Next came a Mark II “Le Mans” Aston-Martin two-four-seater, a car unsurpassed for road holding, though inclined to have its snags. This car I entered for the 1935 Welsh Rally and for the Southsea Speed Trials. That year the Rally was continuous, and owing to a misunderstanding, we were unable to have any sleep en route; I can recall that at one point I thought, whilst actually driving, I was sitting in an armchair discussing matters with my co-driver, whilst he later confessed that he was under the impression we were three in the car, and were having a long argument. In fact, neither of us had spoken a word. In spite of all this, the course of 1,000 miles was covered without loss of marks, though the final placings were never published. I had a new set of pistons fitted after this, and was unable in consequence to reach Southsea. One of the finest qualities of the Aston-Martin was the bodywork, which was beautifully made. My car, however, had one unfortunate fault. The vales were not fitted with cotters, but were screwed down by a lock-nut. (Some “Ulsters” had cotters as well, I believe.) These nuts had a habit of undoing themselves about every 5,000 miles, causing me on one occasion to hold up long queues of cars en route for 1937 Donington G.P. After putting the tappet clearance from “4” and “6,” to “6” and “8,” and only getting the same result on a higher mileage, I had a new set of valves made ⅛ inch longer than standard, which allowed more thread for the locking nuts, and cured the trouble for good. Incidentally, the tappet clearance could then be put back to “4” and “6” as on the old type of rocker plate, making for considerable quietness in running. Meanwhile I had decided to buy a separate car for competition work. At the time I had bought the Aston there was a dearth of medium-sized fast cars, and the Aston performance was inclined to lag behind the motors produced after this era. After much deliberation and forethought, I purchased an R-type M.G., from D. G. Briault, via the Bellevue Garage, with a view to sprint events.
The M.G. R-type had been converted to a twin camshaft, along with five others, I believe, but this one was the only one that really worked, and I believe was the fastest of the bunch. They were not very suitable for long-distance work, and a little heavy for sprints. All the same, a very good motor-car. Incidentally, it was exceedingly hard to get any of the wheels to leave the ground, which says a good deal for the torsion bar suspension. The car was taken down to the track for tuning, but the oil pump decided it was tired of life, and gave up the ghost. However, upon a later date I was able to try the car and have a demonstration by “Wilkie” of the Bellevue Garage. On the stop watch he performed lappery at 121 m.p.h., which is within a figure or two of the class record. I myself took the car round to get the feel of things, and I must confess felt somewhat at sea, it being my very first experience with a racing-car. The more so as the steering takes a little knowing, and the whole car leans over at corners, due to the suspension but one soon gets used to this. The anchorage on this car is excellent, having been slightly altered from standard with regard to the cable layout. A lower axle ratio and small wheels were fitted for a better getaway, and the car was entered for Shelsley in the first event. I have not my programmes or details to hand, and cannot therefore give any useful figures, but my Lewes best times are around 21 secs. and Shelsley about 46 secs. I have always enjoyed Shelsley Walsh most of all. One has to be so careful there, because one corner spoilt will ruin the whole climb. I have had the M.G. for two seasons, and was just getting my hand in when things were put off for the duration, alas! Although I lay no claim to fame as a motoring ace, I had hoped for a larger programme last summer on a sports-car, which must now be delayed for the time being. But even so, I have always entered any event purely for the fun of the thing, rather than as a “pot hunter,” but at the same time I have always endeavoured to make an efficient show.
By now I had decided to exchange the Aston, and was thinking of buying a new car; by no means an easy task. A visit to the Show was a disappointment, as the only suitably bodied car was a very attractive ”20/90” British Samson. I enquired after a blown four-cylinder, but only to have the reply that they possessed no car for demonstration purposes other than a racing-car, and would require six months to build a car—and, I thought, two years for a spare part! This was out of the question and something else must be found. In consequence I tried a firm making a 2-litre six-cylinder of promising design and performance, only to be told that the firm couldn’t bring a car all the way to my home, unless I really was going to buy one! Very strange methods some firms have. However, I then tried the T.T. B.M.W., which was more or less what I was after; an open two-seater, with a high performance, not depending on revs. But for several reasons I did not feel it was exactly what I required. I have rather a dislike for low cars. As a last effort I had the Aston rebored and looked over, and ran it for a few miles more, when I came upon exactly what I was after, in the shape of an open two-seater 3½-litre Bentley, which Captain Eyston had recently exchanged for a new 4¼. I tried the car and bought it on the spot. Many people run the Rolls-Bentley down on the strength of lack of one thing or another, but I must disagree. Bentley motoring grows on you. My car had an effortless performance (95 m.p.h. on the speedo), a simply glorious gearbox and 101 per cent. reliability. The steering on the 3½ is not as good as the new model, but the engine is preferable to the original 4¼. As regards the running costs, i.e. petrol and oil. Oil consumption is almost nil, and on a long run 25 m.p.g. is easily obtained. This car carried me many happy miles, till returning home from the last Shelsley meeting prior to the war a dazzling sun caused me to motor over the hedge into a cornfield, with the net result that I did not see the car again till two days before the war, whereupon it was laid up alongside the M.G. In the meantime I had purchased a 1935 Austin Ten to tootle around till the Bentley came, but have been using this till recently. Although of no performance, the car was very reliable and had a jolly gearbox, making for snappy changes, and could be cruised at 45 m.p.h.
However, a strong desire for a fast sports-car presented itself again, with the result that I bought the ex-works l½-litre H.R.G.; a new set of tyres were fitted, pistons altered to suit pool petrol and the car was mine. Save for some plug trouble and a pump going wrong, the car has given a good account of itself, and is possessed of a very potent performance and excellent anchorage. The only trouble being the number of times I have been asked what the initials H.R.G. stand for!
Well, that concludes the sum total of my motoring; I only wish that it could have been longer. There were, of course, many enjoyable runs with other cars. A demonstration with one of the first Phantom III Rolls-Royces. An excellent run in a 4¼-litre Bentley, leaving Boulogne at 3.30, with dinner at Troies, losing the way at Belfort, breakfast at Basle at 5.30, arriving at Zurich at 8 in the morning, some well-earned sleep, and then Davos by 6 o’clock that night. . . . Or more recently still, a trip by air to Paris and Paris to the Cote d’Azure and back by car, where for some time the Cote was anything but Azure, and the outlook was definitely very “rouge.” Various journeys, too, with Army vehicles, and memories of examining the innards of “Chitty Bang Bang,” also some long runs in a 4½-titre Invicta and a “30/98” Vauxhall or two. And a very distressing and tiresome run from South Wales to London via Yorkshire in a 3-litre Bentley. May we resume these happy times in the not too distant future.