CARS I HAVE OWNED
[In this contribution to the series B. Webb-Ware describes the cars in which he has covered 150,000 miles in the last ten years ; he used to know Tom Moore, late owner of this paper, in the days when he drove a 3-litre Bentley in the 1.0.M.—Ed.]
ALTHOUGH my mechanical knowledge was rather limited at the time, I can claim fairly early initiation into active motoring, even though I am not including the family two-cylinder 1908 Swift, in which I first took the air. In the early part of the last war, at the ripe age of about eight, I used—quite illegally—to sit on the parental knee and steer the 1913 12-11.p. Rover and the 1914 ” 11.9 ” ArrotJohnson, which comprised the family stable at that date. As a matter of fact, the driving of these two cars was rather a masterpiece of co-operation, because, although I was still far too short to Teach the pedals, I used to change gear on the hefty right-hand gate change on the word ” Go ” at the same time as the other half of the combination did some hearty declutching.
Following the war, the Arrol-Johnson was sold at a slightly higher price than its original cost five years before, but the Rover continued to give good service until it was replaced after ten years of useful existence by a “10/15 ” Fiat. This in turn gave place to a whole covey of Austins, but in the meanwhile I had launched out on my own account.
In 1927 I looked round—never having even sat on a Motor-cycle—for what seemed to be a really sporting machine and settled on a T.T. Scott ” Flying Squirrel,” a year after the type had first come out. I enjoyed the ” Squirrel ” for two years until a heavy crash terminated my motor-cycling career. Then, in 1931, I really began motoring.
Starting with an ” “(?)-type M.G. Midget with a boat body, I ran through a series of three M.G. Midgets before getting on to bigger stuff. The first was a nice little job that had only done about 4,000 miles. My main criticism of it was that when y ou put the hood up your progress turned into a kind of inverted sack race. That is to say, you were almost blind, unless you poked your head out of the side into the wide open spaces beyond. The gear change, via a gear lever with several kinks in it, took some knowing. The cable brakes on this car were not too brilliant, and the same milk’ also be said very literally of the lights; but the engine and chassis gave me no trouble, even though, in an excess of enthusiasm, I found an excuse to strip some part of it and over-lubricate it at least once daily. At the end of 1931 I was fortunate in buying from the then Earl of March his Jarvis-bodied ” Special ” M.G. Midget. I don’t know how many people still remember these delightful little cars, but I for one still treasure a road-test of it from MOTOR SPORT of 1932. The Jarvis body was a first-rate job, on the lines of a in i a iature international 1i-litre AstonMartin tourer and, despite the previous criticisms of brakes and lamps, I drove this car very happily till I fell heavily for ” The Autocax ” test of the original “J.2 “-type M.G. Midget. Then followed some months of bank-account wangling, until I filially became possessed of one in February, 1933. At the time I was living in Newcastle, and we ran that car in very efficiently in the space of four trips down the North Road to Ely on four successive week-ends. Personally, I think that the two-bearing engines of this design have been somewhat maligned. I ran the ” J.2 ” for some 28,000 miles in 18 months, and when I finally parted with it the next owner was so decent as to write to me and congratulate me on its condition. Despite their reputation to blow up, it never gave any serious mechanical trouble once the valve guides had been shortened —sticking valve guides being, I fancy, a familiar trouble with early models of this type—and it was using little oil up to the last. The only faint criticisms I had were that the brakes were non-existent when really wet and that, .although it was -claimed to be an 80-m.p.b. car, nothing would induce more than 74 m.p.h. out of it. In passing, I would say that this has been my experience all along. The original ” “-type M.G. AI idg(.•ts, for
which people would glibly claim 70, never gave me more than 65, and I have always found that my cars were some 5 to 10 m.p.h. slower than the speeds casually bandied about for them in conversation. This does not mean that the “J.2 ” was not as nippy from point to point as practically anything I have driven and, looking back, I think I got more genuine enjoyment from it than from any other car.
Coming down the North Road one day in 1934 I was overtaken by two Lancias in rapid succession. I thought at first from their progress that they must have the narrow Vs engines in them, but on finding that these ” Augustas ” were merely powered by four-cylinder units of a bare 1,200 c.c., and furthermore cost about £445, I dismissed them contemptuously from my mind.
Two weeks later I walked into Kevill, Davies and March, Ltd., in Berkeley Street, and bought one., and I never regretted it. Although my car had -a flat-out maximum speed of about 65, it would travel indefinitely at 60, and it never let me down on the road in43,000 miles. The snags were a c(ao ilete iiiahihty to retain the water pump gland packing for more than 1,000 miles, a hobby of breaking rear shock-absorber arms, and, latterly, an exasperating habit of the starter pinion throwing itself out of mesh. The water pump was cured by a lovely bit of work in the way of a special gland turned out for me by Booth & Croft during the course of one night. I wish I could remember the name of the chap who did it, as he was a lirst-rate engineer and I have often wanted to get in touch with him and ask what was the ultimate fate of that hand-built Frazer-Nash-type ” Special ” which was gradually taking shape upstairs in the Mews behind Harrods and was destined, I think, to have an elderly, but potentially extravagantly potent, supercharged I Fare Miller engine of Eldridge’s installed in it.
1936 found me yearning for an open car again. I was by then doing a job of work which had called for an enclosed wagon for all-the-year travelling, hence the Lancia ” Augusta ” saloon, but I quite erroneously argued that you could keep two cars for the price of one (cf. ” Two can live as cheaply as one “) and went out into the market again. I nearly fell for a 1 i-litre Aston-Martin of 1934 vintage, and, of course, ever since have wished I had bought it, just to see what it was like. Instead, I was persuaded by a friend of mine, an mirch-Frazer-Nash enthusiast, to invest in a 1934 T.T. Replica FrazerNash with Meadows twin-carburetter engine. I loved that ‘Nash—on occasions. On the whole, though, I am inclined to be a. heretic and agree with a past article of John Bolster’s, in which he said that the Frazer-Nash by then had already lost its point. My own was infernally heavy to handle on all the controls amid the front Hartfords had to be dead hard to avoid Jumping sideways on a rough corner taken at speed; but all the same there was a fascination in the louvred bonnet, the sight of both front wings and that instantaneous dog change — when once you knew that you must put pressure on the lever before kicking the clutch if you were ever going to pull a dog out of mesh —and the feeling that wherever you slid it was just about impossible to turn it over, not to mention the metallic clanging of the exhaust at about 3,500 r.p.m.
I drove the Frazer-Nash out to Budapest that summer and through seven European countries in the course of a fortnight, including over the Gloek-ner and the Furke and Grimsel Passes. Going up the Autobahn out of Munich we kept the rev.counter at 3,0110 r.p.m., which, with my high top, represented 65 m.p.h. After half an hour we had covered 32 miles. That is what I call making an average. . . . On another occasion on that trip we got an mixed up with Hitler’s retinue on the way up to Berchtesgarten, Hitler himself included ; but that is another story, as also the oc(asion when an Austrian cyclist wobbled across the road in front of us and I had to turn the ‘Nash completely round at 65. We pushed the cyclist into the ditch with the tail of the car, sliding backwards down the road. at about 20. And we were both so surprised that all I could do was to shake hands with him and say, ” Wie gehts.” He got on his bike and rode on. I barked the ‘Nash round and went on to Vienna. That proved that you really had to try to turn it over. . . . All the same, on my frequent journeys in London it was pretty average hell, and as the opportunities for using it for long journeys on the open road got less and less I sold Per, after a long search for a purchaser, to a bricklayer’s labourer, who walked in one day with the cash price in pound notes in a bag under his arm and took delivery on the spot. While I had the ‘Nash I burnt out the dynamo at Graz, used an inordinate amount of oil (although nominally the engine had been
reconditioned) and bust the top ratio chain twice. Each time the chain fell into the under shield and we went on quite blithely in third for the rest of the journey. I also struggled permanently with the S.U. petrol pump until in desperation we took the whole thing to pieces outside Innsbruck and reassembled it from first principles. It was not a good ‘Nash, but it was the only car in which I have done 100 miles in this country in under two hours, and sometimes, despite its faults, it was sheer joy. Its normal maximum was 78, and I have done 45 on it in reverse. The Lancia, lasted for a few more months only ; the starting difficulties got me down completely, even though the engine refused to use oil and the greatest wear in any cylinder was under 4 thou. Seeing a description of the then new Type 329 B.M.W. t the .Berlin Show of early 1937, I ordered one through Isleworth. I liked this motor very well from a handling point of view, and although it virtually had the Type 45 engine with twin Solex carburetters, it would get up to 70 very rapidly. I don’t think, though, that the steering was quite in the same class as that of the “Augusta,” and the gear change certainly wasn’t. The coupe body was the best I have ever had, beautifully solid and free from rattles ; but, all the same, the whole car was dogged by an irritating series of small ailments. The door locks went west. The petrol gauge went west. So did the thermostatically-operated radiator shutters and the radiator itself got choked, and so on through a series of other little faults, until the engine began to overheat badly
and ultimately I had to get Laystall’s to re-metal the con-rods at a bare 18,000 miles. I still think that these were firstrate cars, but possibly at that time the Hun was already building up his vast reserves for the Luftwaffe and some of the stuff going into his domestic cars was just not quite up to scratch. Anyhow, my opinion of the B.M.W. was that the engine was designed to such fine limits of lightness that it had to be free to the ” nth ” degree to keep really satisfactory. Although I had the B.M.W. up to 83 on one occasion with a following wind, I would put the maximum at 75, with a comfortable cruising speed of 65-70 m.p.h.
If you exclude a third-hand 1938 Hillman Minx, a most adequate and exasperatingly uninteresting vehicle, which I have just sold after a summer’s use, the only other car I have possessed has been my present 1939 Rover 16 coupe. I just cannot say why I like that Rover so well, but there is some attraction about it you just cannot define. It is no speedwagon, despite a rate of over 80 estimated by an excessively optimisti.: speedometer. Although the coupling of the front shock absorbers helps its handling on a corner, its best friend could not say that it has the road-holding of either the Lancia or the B.M.W., and yet, for general purposes, I would rather drive the Rover than any of them. Just before the war I drove down from the north of Scotland by myself, a distance of rather more than 600 miles, in two days, and I know I felt fresher at the end than I would in any of the others. Amongst other cars I have tried was an amazing Coventry Climax engined
Triumph Ten tourer of 1937 vintage, which took us all over Austria in 1937 and well up into the north of Scandinavia in 1938. A heavy and superficially uninspiring motor, it had a remarkable habit of getting along in a hurry and, except for stripping the thread of the clearanceadjusting nipple of one push rod, never gave us any trouble in 5,000 arduous Continental miles. I am deliberately excluding one hectic night travelling up through heavy rain from Stockholm into the interior of Sweden, when the battery went flat through no fault of the motor’s and I stood on my head under the scuttle hammering the petrol pump with the “Europa Touring Guide” in order to get along in quarter-mile bursts. It had one feature that appealed to me a lot in the twin S.U. carburetters, of which the big horizontal down draught unit only cut in under the action of an ingenious linkage at about three-quarters throttle, giving most perceptible urge with economy. Almost an application of the Mercedes blower principle to an unblown car.
I am afraid that perhaps this description sounds pretty tame compared with the experiences of other people who have taken an active part in trials driving and racing. All the same, it represents nearly 150,000 miles of intensive touring in about eight years and will, I hope, call out other reminiscences under the “Cars I Have Owned ” heading, which personally I have enioyed tremendously from the start. It Is too early to say what will replace the Rover, but if Bentley or Lagonda could be induced to produce a 2-litre after the present unpleasantness— oh, boy !