The first car I ever handled was an uncle’s 1925 Lancia “Dilambda,” which struck me at the early age of 14 as easy to steer and possessed of a wonderful lock. I was then permitted by my mother to learn the art of driving on her 1930 14-h.p. Voisin which, after the Lancia, I remember finding almost impossible to steer. However, I managed to pass out to my parent’s satisfaction without doing major damage to the machinery or myself. This particular car had a 3-speed gearbox with additional low top, 2nd and 1st, operated electrically from a lever on the dash, I remember.
For my birthday in 1933 I was presented, out of my savings from benevolent relations, with a brand new “J2” M.G. This was the joy of my life until my grandfather died, when I sought pastures new and saw faults in my M.G. to which I had been previously blind. Its 2-bearing crankshaft vibrated and whipped at any appreciable speed, its acceleration was mediocre and the gearbox, with its wide ratios, became, as time went on and I learnt more, a nightmare. I must in fairness say it never once let me down and steered and stopped as a motor should. The road-holding for its size and year of manufacture was first class.
My next car was a 1935 again – new Aston-Martin, Mark II, a truly remark able car at the time and in retrospect. Snags, I remember, were the time taken to strike a happy medium between road holding and comfort with the double Hartfords fitted. This, I remember, exercised most of my spare time until I got things to my satisfaction with the aid of a spring balance. It was, in my opinion, about 2 cwt. too heavy. To show the stuff these cars were made of I used to tour the Lake District and Scotland in my leave periods from Sandhurst, where I was at the time. In my ignorance I used to keep the rev.-counter needle on 4,000 for mile after mile up the Great North Road and back again, with not a single complaint. This car (BGF557) after I parted with it was, I believe, fitted with a 2-litre engine and used at Brooklands.
I was next persuaded by a friend that a super Marendaz had come on the market in the form of the 2-litre or “15/90.” One of these I purchased new in the summer of 1936. It was carefully run in, as were all my cars, and for the first 5,000 miles gave me great pleasure. It steered well, held the road better than my Aston, due in part to the rear cantilever springs, and had better acceleration and a higher cruising speed on the 4-to-1 rear axle ratio. Again I went over the passes in Westmorland and West Scotland and returned home full of praise for the car which, incidentally, gave off an honest 88 m.p.h. without the help of gravity. From 5,000 to 9,000 miles, when I sold it for a song, it rapidly got tired of motoring; the gearbox gave incessant trouble, half shafts managed to disengage at the most embarrassing moments, and the front wings preferred trailing along the ground to remaining an integral part of the body. The steering could be wound and unwound without any appreciable effect on the front wheels; the power unit was, however, game to the last.
I then got a 1937 S.S. “100” – I think the best car I have ever owned. I wish I still had it! It had no snags and gave no trouble. It finished second of the cars from John o’ Groats in the Monte Carlo Rally, and 31st on general classification. The acceleration was colossal, the braking and steering beyond criticism, the road-holding, after fitting Hartfords at the rear in place of the standard hydraulics, was again all that could be desired for normal purposes, and the engine was as good the day I sold it as when new.
I exchanged this S.S. for a 1931 4 1/2-litre blower Bentley, which, I am afraid to admit, I did not like. Brakes were poor, steering was like an Army lorry, apart from front end dither at 55-60 m.p.h., and, of course, the engine was rough in comparison with the S.S. No, I am afraid I must be the wrong type and not good to know, for I have never yet driven a vintage Bentley that I was madly keen to own. [Modernists cannot say that we refrain from publishing both aspects of an argument! – Ed.]
A friend, failing to realise what a radiator was for, blew up the Bentley and so I bought a 1932 sloping-radiator 2-litre Lagonda. This had the finest steering of any car I have ever driven and a perfect engine, which always started, summer and winter, first push of the button. If only the chassis had been eight cwt. lighter, what a car that would have proved!
A woman then persuaded me that open motoring was a bad thing as far as her hair was concerned, so I bought a 1937 Talbot “110” saloon, with body by Young of Bromley. This machine had steering like a lorry (due to worn king pins, I think) but, this apart, it went like a bomb and was very pleasant. The sunshine roof was lethal and had a habit of parting company with the car when passing cyclists. However, a garage fixed this for me and saved other users of the road considerable panic and myself not a little embarrassment. This car I sold at 50,000 miles, as it needed a re-bore and other such things. Incidentally, it had a “crash” box and not the Wilson which is usual, I believe, for this model.
I now bought a 12-h.p. Atalanta and a 16-h.p. B.M.W., both secondhand, the first in 1939 and the other in 1940. The former I still have stored away. It was one of the works team cars that won the team prize in the R.A.C. Rally, I think in 1938. Apart from the engine noise due to fair wear and tear this machine was ideal. The suspension, independent on all four wheels by coil springs, could not be bettered, to my mind. The steering was practically as good as the Lagonda, and the power-to-weight ratio for a 1 1/2 litre was well above average. On the 4-to-1 axle ratio we could cruise all day at 75 m.p.h. The braking was first-class and the cornering unrivalled; altogether the best value I have so far encountered. The B.M.W. was an awful motor-car. I will say no more except that I must have been unlucky. It was a Type 329, and progressed like a mountain goat, cornered like a Yank, and braked like an Austin Seven; its acceleration was good.
I now have a 1938 3 1/2-litre Jensen drophead, to which I have fitted, to save gas, a H.V. Delco-Remy coil, and Cox Atmos economisers to the two down-draught S.U.s. This motor I prefer to any so far, chiefly for its 2.9-to-1 overdrive, giving 60 m.p.h. at 2,000 r.p.m., and noiseless and vibrationless travel up to 90 m.p.h.; the braking and road-holding are excellent and the acceleration as good as most.
In June this car was laid up and I shudder to think I shall become a cyclist-cum-pedestrian until present urgent matters are finally settled, when I will, with luck, afford a family saloon of vintage aspect.