Cars I have owned

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24

G.F. Lomas of Dundee, who has written for us before, tells of some rather rate makes and others not so rare. – Ed.

Many of the articles in this series have been both interesting and entertaining, and not a few informative. The only claim that might be made for my list of cars is that some of the types have received very little mention in these pages, although the seven Straker-Squires were dealt with in an article in November, 1940.

Let me state right away that I have never knowingly exeeeded 90 m.p.h. (except in a train), have never entered a speed trial, and have never built a “special.” My claim to be an enthusiast lies in the fact that I like motoring for motoring’s sake and not for just getting from A to B, that I greatly prefer an open car to a closed one, and that any vehicle I drive must have good brakes and steering and be in first-class mechanical condition. Perhaps this last proviso, which certainly does not appear to apply to all enthusiasts, is due to the fact that I am an engineer by trade and profession.

My introduction to internal-combustion locomotion was in 1910, when my father bought a 2 3/4-h.p. Douglas motor-cycle with direct belt drive (no clutch or gears), automatic inlet valves, and pedals. I covered a good many uncomfortable miles on the carrier of this, and also on a 1912 650-c.e. Excelsior big single which followed it. This Excelsior had a Villiers’ hub clutch, no gears, and a wicker sidecar. The greatest bugbear with these two machines was punctures, due to flint-made roads.

In 1923 my father practically made me a present of a new 700-c,c. flat-twin Raleigh. This was a beautiful machine, with cantilever rear springing. Brampton forks, footboards, leg-shields, chain-cases, and quickly detachable wheels. In fact, it provided armchair comfort on two wheels up to 65 m.p.h. and did 70 m.p.g. Its faults were overheating of exhaust valves, causing cracked seatings and dished valves, and a proneness to lie down on greasy roads. Its longest day’s run was Sheffield-London-Leicester.

The other and last bike I had was a 550-c.c. Triumph of about 1920, probably the last direct-belt-drive machine they made, and which was, I believe, originally the property of Norman Black. It was a remarkable machine, would do 60 m.p.h. (with vibration) and 100 m.p.g., weighed less than 180 lb., had no silencer, and yet was reasonably quiet, would climb any road hill in spite of having no gears or clutch, and would pull at 4 m.p.h., with aid of decompressor, on the level.

The riding position was most comfortable and, best of all, it would not readily skid. It was a nuisance, however, in very wet weather, as the belt would slip and bring one to a standstill on even a moderate hill. I regret to state that when moving house I left it for the dustman to collect. These bicycles did not altogether precede the cars, but I thought it better to dispose of them first.

My advent to motoring was in 1921, when two of us who were in “digs” together bought a 1910 Straker-Squire grey 2-seater for £10, and learnt to drive on it, much to the detriment of grass margins and the nerves of the instructor. We had not had it long when we received an advantageous offer for it, and to deliver it had to drive from Leicester to Burton-on-Trent after work one dark, wet evening before the licence expired. This drive was an epic. The acetylene headlamp gave out at once and left us with oil sides and rear. The driver (to flatter him) just sat and steered and saw nothing, the man who knew the road stood up in the middle looking over the screen and shouted “‘ware right,” “‘ware left,” etc., and I sat on the left keeping up pressure in tank by hand pump, ceaselessly, commenting, often forcibly, on our distance from the verge.

However, we got there, collected cash, and soon got another Straker, this time a 1912 tourer which had been a doctor’s car. This was a good car, and the chap who had bought the grey one was so taken with it that he bought this one as well.

The next venture was a 15.9-h.p. 1914 Argyll with f.w.b. The steering, springing, and gear changing were about the best I have sampled, but it would not pull the proverbial skin off a rice pudding and it was annoying to be passing a lorry, come to a hill and have to drop behind again. Also one would put in enough oil to oil up the plugs and in about 60 miles seize through lack of it. Another annoying habit was to fade out, defying any attempt to restart for about a quarter of an hour, and then start up and run like a Rolls again for no apparent reason at all. I have taken 15 scouts and their kit to camp in this car on one journey.

Whilst still owning the Argyll we bought a 1915 Straker-Squire tourer at a fairly high price. This car was in very good condition and we had plenty of use out of it. After a time we decided to decarbonise and take up the bearings, which feat was accomplished in the open, in mid-winter, with the aid of flashlamps. We needed to take it in turn lying underneath, fitting the bearings, for about ten minutes at a time, by which time our hands and feet would be frozen, then spend our ten minutes’ respite exercising to regain circulation. Two mishaps occurred with this car, the crown wheel shedding five teeth outside Sheffield, necessitating a £16 repair bill, and one night, coming back from Shrewsbury, the celluloid accumulator cases burnt down to acid level and left me in total darkness. To help pay the running of this car we used to teach people to drive, and on several occasions hired it to a Rolls chauffeur for his holidays.

Other cars owned during this period were a 13-h.p. bull-nosed Fiat coupé, which was inclined to wander all over the road, and a 1913 Straker-Squire 2-seater fitted with Michelin disc wheels and huge balloon tyres, and a very high axle ratio. A very enjoyable holiday we had (in Wales) in this car.

Then, in 1927, my partner got married and went out of town, so, looking around, after selling the Straker, I traded my Raleigh and cash for a car which I am sure would delight most enthusiasts even to-day. This was a 12-h.p. w.c. flat-twin Douglas o.h.v. ex-racing car of about 1922, which had originally been the property of Roy Winn, of Leicester, but had since had a very poor time in the hands of a college student. From the radiator cowl to tail it measured nearly 16 feet, and it was only 2 ft. 6 in. wide, the passenger’s very narrow seat being staggered. Light wings and a lighting set had been added, but no hood or doors. The engine was of push-rod type with high compression and a big overlap and the large hollow-stemmed tulip valves had 150 lb. springs on them. Lubrication was by dry sump and had an oil radiator in circuit, and there was a supply tank under the scuttle. Castrol R was used. Ignition Was by 6v coil, and woe betide anyone attempting to start it with spark advanced. Carburation was by a single Claudel-Hobson, but there was a spare for fitting two, though I understand that so fitted it had a penchant for catching fire. There was a 2 3/4 in. copper exhaust pipe about 11 ft. long along each side of the car and a small expansion chamber and large fishtail at the end of each. It was impossible to keep steel wool, turnings, or baffles in this chamber as they were quickly blown out. Steering was a sheer delight and the car could be placed to an inch. Brakes, rear wheels only, were totally inefficient, and as the acceleration kept time with the movement of the pedal, and the brake pedal and accelerator were very close together, interesting situations sometimes arose. Once, instead of pulling up behind a tram loading passengers, I had to do a quick shoot across to the far right of the road in front of an oncoming tram and pass that, on the wrong side at about 50.

I bought it with a broken mainshaft in gearbox, and having renewed this, suffered from a seized ball race, also in gearbox. Fortunately a good friend was passing in his Bentley at the time and was back with a rope before I had disconnected the universal. Altogether it was for me a most unfortunate car. Having repaired the gearbox, I left the car outside and it got caught by a late frost in April, which cracked both cylinder water jackets and one head, and I did not find this out until the big-ends ran! However, I set about the engine and gave it a minor overhaul. An excellent job was made of welding the cracks, no distortion of bore being apparent, and the hig-ends we re-metalled (direct on rod). Unfortunately I replaced the oil supply pipe in the crankcase at the wrong angle and away went the bigends once more, just north of Derby. As the main bearings were roller, the white metal big-ends were only scoop fed, a weak point. The Allestree Garage Co. took the job in hand and repaired the damage, and I then looked forward to getting some running out of the car, but was offered an advantageous commercial post for which this type of car was useless. This I took, sold the Douglas and bought a 1914 Straker 2-seater for use in connection with the job. The Douglas had a reputed speed of 95 m.p.h. on Brooklands, and with its long internally strutted aluminium body and half elliptics, looked very different from the rather squat coiled-sprung Douglas usually depicted in illustrations. Can any reader shed further light on these models?

The 1914 Straker had a plated show chassis and gave me a couple of years’ yeoman service. Once the contact breaker fibre block broke up, but a hardwood substitute was cut from the nearby hedge and lasted the rest of the day until a replacement could be obtained. Another time the leather cone clutch refused to take us out of Sheffield, but judiciously inserted bits of hacksaw blade did the trick and the clutch gave no more trouble. One alarming incident was when the handbrake ratchet slipped whilst the car was standing on the hill leading to Precipice Walk, Barmouth. Fortunately, I was out of the car opening a gate into the field where we were camping, as the car ran backwards and put one rear wheel over a low stone retaining wall with a 20 ft. drop below, and was held, apparently, on the tank and running board. She had to stay thus all night, but in the morning, after a gap in the wall had been made, a set of blocks with about 20 boys on the rope soon had her on the road again, and as the filler was a sensible one of about 4 in. diameter, the tank was soon beaten out straight again.

I was eventually transferred to the London office and sold the Straker to my successor in the Midlands, but before long I bought a 1924 21-h.p. Straker tourer for private use. This was a very comfortable, good-looking car, and I had plenty of good running out of her, including a holiday in Scotland, during which I stopped and restarted on the steepest portion of Amulree. A mysterious trouble, when I first had her, proved to be a partially flooded Autovac float, and a snag was that the crankshaft was slightly bent at the first journal. Once when passing through Rickmansworth, the fibre element of the Simms vernier coupling disintegrated, but on going into a garage about 20 yards away I found they had a spare the same size and a mechanic who had worked on the car for the previous owner – the gods do smile occasionally. An amusing incident was when taking the car for winter storage into the heart of Sussex, I backed over a small green to get a signpost in the headlamps and promptly put a back wheel into a 2 ft. drain. A Bentley and a Chevrolet would make no impression on a tow rope, which was unfortunate, as I had a damsel with me whom I didn’t know too well, and there we were stranded in the wilds of Sussex. However, on returning with spades, etc., next morning we found the owner of the Chevrolet had very kindly had the car lifted high and dry on the road for us. Incidentally, a man in Tooting, who didn’t know me from Adam, lent me a pair of unlimited trade plates to do this trip. I spent quite a lot of time and money in perfecting this car in every detail, and then, as appears usual, came across one I liked better – a 23.8-h.p. 6-cylinder Straker-Squire 2-seater (MB829).

As far as I am concerned, this was the car, but as it has received previous mention in Motor Sport I will not go into details. Suffice to say that after an £80 overhaul it proved to be even better than expected and was always a real joy to drive. If one came up against a car which approached the same maximum, i.e. 85 m.p.h., all one had to do was to tail him until a hill was reached and then test his eyesight on a receding number plate! This procedure never failed and nearly always discouraged the “come again” merchants. There was one point on which I never made up my mind; at a little over 80 every vibration died away and left the engine uncannily smooth and silent; was that a sign that the engine was at that period in perfect balance, or was it approaching violent disintegration? Once when motoring between Nottingham and Mansfield in pouring rain at about 60 m.p.h. I saw on a straight stretch of road a large closed car of Minerva type approaching, with a dark object alongside it, but it was not until I was much too close to do much about it that I realised it was one of his wheels running alongside him. How I managed to nip in between him and the wheel I do not know, but being hit by a heavy wheel at an aggregate 100 m.p.h. would, I imagine, be anything but pleasant. I parted with this car when I got married, as I felt that I wanted something lighter and better braked for my wife to drive, but I have regretted since that I did not keep it as a second car for high days and holidays.

Shortly after overhauling the Straker I was sent to Scotland, the whole of which I represented for my firm, and after using the Straker for a time was supplied with a new 1934 Morris 10-h.p. saloon. In this I did 62,000 miles in 20 months, all without a rebore. This car did 34 m.p.g. overall, and would touch 60 m.p.h. On the only two occasions that I grossly exceeded this figure on downhill stretches, the big-ends went, but in each case were replaced by the nearest Morris agent inside three hours. Probably due to weak mixture and persistent flogging, exhaust valves burnt out every 7,000 miles. My good fairy came to my rescue again with this car. When still new to me I was passing a lorry on a lonely stretch of road on the way to Peebles when the engine died and I had to stop. The lorry also stopped, and finding plenty of petrol in the tank and none in carburetter, the lorry driver removed the top of the vertical electric pump, jiggled the float up and down and, hey presto, off we went again. This trouble never recurred, and as I had previously only been accustomed to Autovacs, it might have taken me quite a lot of time and trouble before solving the problem.

This car was followed by a 1936 edition of the same job, but with “a streamlined” body, a nice car with the same performance as the previous one, but I could never get it to exceed 30 m.p.g., and often got less. All the time I drove these saloons I had, of course, my Straker, as I never dreamt of using them for real pleasure, excellent conveyances though they were.

However, as already mentioned, the Straker went and I took delivery of a new 8-h.p. 2-seater 1936 Morris. These popular little cars need no description here; suffice to say that this one did 61 m.p.h. and an overall 42 m.p.g. Valve bounce acted as a safety valve against downhill speeding. At 900 miles the car suddenly pulled up dead from 40 m.p.h. with a noise like an aeroplane crash, but as no evidence could be seen of external damage, the engine was tried, upon which it started up and never gave any more trouble. A temporary seizure, I suppose.

This car was followed by a 1937 one, which also did 61 m.p.h., but which would never better 40 m.p.g., and often did less. We did Dundee to Hampstead (478 miles), in 11 3/4 hours in this, and arrived fresh. On this run we had a long argument with a 16-h.p. Austin saloon. He was slightly faster uphill and we had it downhill, and eventually we lost him on some long stretches of the Great North Road, but, of course, on pulling up for juice, away he went miles in front. We christened him “Stagshorns,” as there was a large bundle of that commodity strapped on his carrier, and at Doncaster we managed to catch him again by slipping past on the inside of a huge queue caused by the excavation of tramlines. At the south end of Doncaster the traffic lights were against me with two cars waiting abreast. He chose, quite rightly, to park behind the left one and I risked the right. On the “green” the man in front of me fortunately went straight on, but the fool in front of “Stagshorns” wanted to turn right! Wfth the amount of traffic both behind and oncoming I imagine the delay was considerable, and poor old “Stagshorn’s” frantic hootings are still audible when I think about it!

I kept this car two years and then changed it for my present car, a new 1939 Morris 8-h.p. tourer. This is a big improvement on the previous ones, being faster, more economical, and much more roomy. It will do 65 m.p.h. on the flat and 42-52 m.p.g. according to speed. Modifications I have carried out are the fitting of running boards, full tonneau cover, electric clock, central mirror on dash, high voltage coil, stiff support for starting handle on bumper, dual screen wiper, and spare wheel cover. I also took some trouble in altering the driver’s seating, raising the whole 1 in. by hardwood strips under runners, putting a greater angle of slope on the seat cushion, giving better support for thighs, and re-upholstering the squab to give more upright position. A Yale padlock is fitted through the brake ratchet release and a secret fuse in ignition circuit also. Although off the road now, we have been very pleased with this car and regard it as our magic carpet. It will take the three of us in comfort to anywhere in the kingdom at a moment’s notice at an average of 40 m.p.h. without the slightest dubiety about getting there. It will climb Amulree and Sutton Bank without trouble. A Morris Eight can be driven hard all the time and even so do 20,000 miles without need for decarbonising or new tyres; with the uncertainty of the general financial position after the war I am sticking to this type for general use and have my name down for another when available again.

Earlier in the war an attempt was made to convert this last car to steam, and a Bolsover flash boiler and an automatic hopper were fitted in the back seating space. I was, however, unable to obtain delivery of an engine, so I returned boiler to the makers. I have often toyed with the idea of getting just that little bit extra in performance which would enable me to pass stuck models of the same class with greater safety and have considered fitting either an Arnott supercharger or a 10-h.p. Morris engine. Can any reader give me the pros and cons of these alternatives, though please note that I do not wish to sacrifice reliability in any way and that broken half-shafts and thrown connecting rods are distinctly taboo.

Lest it may be thought by now that I am not an enthusiast at all, let me add that I am going south next month and hope to send back a “Blue Label” Bentley which I have known all its life, and which has been languishing in a farm shed for some years. It used to do a very nice 75 m.p.h. with tall Weymann saloon body, so I am hoping that with an open body and moderate tuning I may he able to get a reliable 80 m.p.h. for holiday times, etc. Any advice on tuning would be gladly received.

Other cars with which I have had considerable dealings are: a 20-h.p. 6-cylinder Star saloon, which had the nasty habit of reversing its rear shackles on a hump-back bridge, necessitating vigorous work with jack and tyre levers; a 1937 12/48-h.p. Wolseley Special coupé, a beautiful car, but with rather limited rear seating; and a 1939 Morris 12-h.p. saloon, which appears to be a very good car. All these were my father’s.

In conclusion, let me congratulate Mr. Boddy and the band of enthusiasts who are so successfully keeping Motor Sport up to a very high standard, and add, in the words of Kay Cavendish, “It’s not what you do, but the way that you do it” – an excellent maxim for motorists.