CARS I HAVE OWNED
ISUPPOSE that it all started through finding a copy of “Motor-cycles and How to Manage Them,” printed in 1902, with a picture on the cover of a man in a Norfolk jacket, on the latest model motor tricycle.
This publication started a craze for motor-cycles, and eventually I managed to purchase what was then the latest model Scott. Just after the Armistice I was a Norton fan ; most agents had long waiting lists, but after a search I was able to obtain one of the single-speed B.R.S. Nortons (guaranteed speed 70 m.p.h.). It was at this point that my education really started, as the Norton was hotted-up and carted to hill climbs whenever pocket money ran to entry fees. The old B.R.S. stuck it well until I got one of the first o.h.v. Nortons for the 1923 Senior T.T. This o.h.v. job was most reliable, as during two years’ continual racing the only trouble was one dud condenser.
Some time prior to this my father decided that a sports car should be taken into the family, the choice finally resting between an A.C. and a “Speed Model” Hillman. Our house was at the end of a cart track with a gradient of one-inthree, and it was finally decided that whichever car climbed the hill the farthest should be the one purchased. The driver of the A.C. took one look at the hill and departed for home. The Hillman made a valiant attempt and got about three-quarters of the way up. It was a grand little car with a 1,500-c.c. side-valve engine, and for those days quite fast, with a maximum of about 60 and a most satisfying exhaust note from its 3-in. copper exhaust pipe.
Quite unknown to father it made fastest time at several speed trials, the increase in speed after hotting-up being put down by the family to careful running in !
At the end of 1922 we decided that the new 3-litre Bentley was the only car, and placed an order for a Van den Pins 4seater. About this time the family began to take an interest in racing, and at one Southport meeting there was a class for sports cars which my young sister, May, entered with the Bentley.
After this the car was gradually hotted-up until its maximum on sand was in the region of 85 m.p.h., and eventually May began to look round for something faster.
About this time one of the I.O.M. Bentleys, with the flat radiator (FR 5189), which had been very much lightened and hotted-up by Porter, of Blackpool, came on the market, and after a try out at Southport, May bought the car. Almost everything on the car had been drilled, and the most interesting feature was the three earlairetters—one whacking great Claude] in the centre, aided by two small replicas at either end of the induction pipe.
May won quite a lot with this car, including the Women’s Record at Shelsley ; she would have won more than she did at Southport but for the beaded-edge covers leaving the rims on corners in spite of numerous security bolts. Wellbase wheels, with well fillers, later made their appearance. The red Bentley was, I think, the nicestIhandling motor car I have ever
J. 0. Cunliffe, brother of May Cunliffe, who held the Ladies’ Record at Shelsley Walsh in 1927 and 1928, tells of the cars and motor-cycles he, his wife, and his famous sister have used and raced. Ed.
driven, apart from Bugattis, and really was fast, the body consisting only of a shell with two seats, and a tank mounted on top of the chassis.
The car was badly damaged in a crash at the Blackpool speed trials, and went back to the works for repairs ; whilst it was there I believe that most of the 24-Hour Record engine was fitted (98 m.p.h. for 24 hours at Montlhery by Duff in 1024), and a huge Roots-type blower was fitted between the front dumb-irons. A Solex similar in size to the blower supplied the gas.
May and my father only used the car in this guise at seven or eight meetings, as it was suffering from various teething troubles, the biggest being incorrect mixture. In spite of this, the car broke the Women’s Record at Sheisley in 53.4 secs., and also Basil Davenport’s Frazer-Nash record over the standing third-of-a-mile at Stalybridge.
Incidentally, the engine was turning over at live thou. two in third across the finishing line at Stalybridge ! I ‘imagine that father got fed up with sending the car to I3entleys for tuning, as it seemed to mend rather worse as far as the carburation went, so a visit was made to the Sunbeam works, and finally
one of the 2-litre blown G.P. cars was purchased.
When May got used to the car she was very successful with it ; but it was a bit tricky to get off the mark on sand after the Bentley, with its (comparatively) heavy flywheel, and, personally, I thought the performance of the Sunbeam was no better than could be obtained from the blown Bentley if it had been persevered with. However, May liked the car and managed to beat Segrave’s time up Shelsley with a similar car, taking the Women’s Record again in 1928 in 51.2 secs.
I regret to say that I took very little interest in the Sunbeam, which was a beautiful engineering job ; my chief recollection was that it had a gear-change similar to a Cubitt, and I still covet the rev.-counters, which were the expensive sort which tick for some time after the engine has stopped. At the time I put in quite a bit of work on the blower Bentley, and had got it really cracking when May decided to sell it.
In the meantime father had bought another 3-litre Bentley fitted with a Cooper all-weather body, to act as a tender for the Sunbeam ; the sight of this motor, loaded to the roof with spare wheels, etc., being cornered at its absolute maximum in an attempt to keep near the Sunbeam, was something to be remembered. This, I think, was the most uninteresting Bentley I have known, being a long chassis and very much over-bodied, the amusing thing being that father, who liked open cars, always wound all windows up, whilst mother, who preferred “greenhouses on wheels,” always wound them down. Having had a very good year with the bikes in 1927, I was all set for the best season ever. I had a Brough, which had clocked well over the hundred at Southport, as a spare, and a new big-twin A.J.W. with distinct possibilities, to say
nothing of greatly-increased bonuses (of which father did not approve ; he did not believe in professionalism in any sport), when the Sunbeam turned over at Southport and he was killed.
This rendered me too busy to spend much time on the bikes, and I only managed to race occasionally, and I am afraid the machines suffered from lack of preparation, quite apart from the fact that there was not the same fun in comparing experiences after the meetings. After a lot of consideration the bikes were tucked away and I looked for something more “pansy ” than a two-wheeler. After some time I found one of the 1928 Alvis T.T. cars, reputed to be the blown f.w.d. which Cushman drove into second place in Ulster, 13 secs. behind Kaye Don (whom I remembered very well from the old T.T. days when he was usually known as Don of Avons).
There was no doubt that this Alvis was, to say the least of it, a pretty good motor ; the only trouble, with the big-ends, was cured by running on Speedwell “White Ideal.” I have heard many opinions about the F.W.D. Alvis ; mine was, like all Alvis cars, on the heavy side, and the straight-toothed bevel was rather noisy. However, the steering, roadholding and brakes were excellent, and the car was reasonably fast (a speedometer 90, which was probably a genuine 80-85), while acceleration was about in keeping.
I kept this car until after I married Pauline in 1933, when, being a bit hard up at one time, the Alvis was sold. We were then carless for three months, after which period the urge became too great, and we bought our first Bugatti, a Modified Brescia (0M1643).
This was one of the jobs with a huge bolster petrol tank and a 2-seater body bulged out to fit one’s hips ; fortunately, both Pauline and I were on the slim side and so were able to squeeze into the seating department. The chassis was in pretty poor condition, but after getting the leverages somewhere about right on the Whitehead front brakes, fitting new gear wheels, and generally doing the motor up, it made one of the nicest and most interesting cars that I have ever driven ; the maximum speed was 65-70, with 40 miles to the gallon on a long run. A journey during which we sat in pools of water for about six hours decided us to have a change, so Pauline left for London to get something more weatherproof than the Bugatti. She returned complete with an S.S., always referred to as the “Sexual Six” ; it was one of the early models, which looked like a snail with its house at the back
The S.S. rather amazed us, as it gave no trouble ; at the time we were using the East Lancashire road quite a lot, and the poor thing was driven flat out for miles on end, and seemed to thrive on the same treatment which would be . given to a boot scraper. One day I dropped into one of the showrooms at Southport to see a friend, and beard one of the salesmen bewailing a deal in which they had taken a Vauxhall in part exchange. It certainly looked horrible with the hood up, and eventually I bought it for /12, which I should think is a record low price for an O.E. ” 80/98 ” in good mechanical condition. The paint
was bad, so we re-sprayed it. Unfortunately, the dark navy cellulose turned out to be Reckitt’s blue, and I think it was the colour which persuaded us to part with the car to Peter Wike for SM. It was a grand car apart from the brakes (which had the comic compensating mechanism on the front stoppers), and we had a very good 5,000 miles in the car before parting with it. We never had the motor down, and it was funny to hear later that the cylinder head joint was made with a brown paper washer.
The S.S. was now showing signs of old age, and Pauline, who, thanks to old copies of The Brooklands Gazette and MOTOR SPORT, had developed into a real car enthusiast, departed to find something Bugatti. I was still too busy to get away and she was quite competent, as one bright spark who gave her a trials run on a Brescia Bugatti found out. The Brescia had gone manfully on three cylinders, and he had decided that the wreckage was as good as sold when Pauline removed the oil filter. As she said afterwards : “It might have held a shade more white metal, but only a shade,” and her remarks were very terse and to the point.
Bachelier’s was her last hope, where she really wallowed in real Bugattis, and having enquired prices, said in a small but hopeful voice : “You don’t happen to have an old Brescia anywhere ? We might afford to buy that.” Alas, they hadn’t.
Shortly afterwards we heard that Lane Jones was selling his Type 37, so, having raised the wind in every way possible, we, bought our first G.P. (Y053). We were both delighted with the car. It was quite fast, and it handled like a Bugatti. It was in grand condition, and we had a long period with no trouble until a valve dropped in, probably due to over-revving a few days earlier along the Ashbourne road. According to the rev.-counter the maximum speed was something over 90; probably Lane Jones could supply the actual maximum, as he did very well with the car at various speed trials. The only time the petrol consumption VMS checked was on a run to Shelsley, when it was just over 35 to the gallon. I am glad to say that I still have this car anti am busy rebuilding it in odd moments free from Home Guard duties.
In the meantime Pauline’s father had presented her with a Riley Nine saloon with a self-changing gearbox ; it was a nice little car but was not blessed with very much urge, though it handled very nicely indeed.
I then discovered May’s racing Bentley near Macclesfield ; it seemed to be owned by a syndicate who hoped to make their fortunes out of it, so we did not bother any further. A few months later it came into the possession of a friend in the Trade, and I managed to buy it at a quarter the price I had been asked previously.
Some previous owner had fitted an ugly 2-seater body, sundry imitation oil filters and tanks, and lots of flexible pipes which looked imposing but led nowhere, and had fitted the petrol tank with a huge quick-action filler can, leaving the hole where the original filler cap had been still as small as ever ! The car now sported a Crossley front
axle which made the steering simply horrible (from lock to lock in half a turn of the steering wheel). The first thing we did was to remove about a hundredweight of old iron and the Crossley axle, plus the imitation trimmings. We were lucky enough to pick up a long chassis from which we obtained a front axle and brake cross-shafts, a couple of Lucas P.100s, and innumerable spares. The engine was stripped and rebuilt with a couple of S.U.s, the blower having been wrecked at some time. It was quite a job drilling the chassis on the short model (wheelbase about 8 ft. 9 in.), the material being far tougher than the long chassis ; it took about a week to drill and file the holes for the brake cross-shafts. The old car, when finished, was grand, with a maximum of about 90 in third, but owing to the high axle ratio for use with the blower, only about 85 in top, which was very pleasant on long straight roads, second and third being able to take care of any car normally met on any of the runs we did.
Pauline had now changed her Riley for something a bit meatier, in the form of a. 2-litre Frazer-Nash B.M.W. This was a grand car in most ways, having a maximum of about 75, good steering and brakes, and bags of acceleration which used to surprise owners of big Yanks. Carburation was troublesome. It was the two-carburetter job, and I have always thought that fitting three carburetters would have cured the trouble we had with the car. Early in the war these cars were packed up. In the meantime, a friend wanted to sell his 3-litre Bentley which had made fastest time at a West Hartlepool speed trial before the war. The price was attractive, so I bought the car for spares. It was, I imagine, a long chassis which had been shortened and had a very small and cut-away 2-seater body, with huge cowls, rather on Mae West lines, and lots of instruments, even including a blower gauge. The oil gauge worked
The beast annoyed me every time I looked at it, and eventually it was traded in part exchange with ” Bentley ” Metcalfe for a “Speed Six.” I have not had the chance of much mileage on this, as we broke a fibre timing pinion when doing a speedo. 79 on third. After decoking, even unto the sump, and building up the engine, the car seems really good and handles far better than I expected such a big car could handle. Incidentally, any notes on the shortening of these chassis would be very welcome.
The “Ulster” T.T. Alvis, which I mentioned previously, came home to roost a short time ago and is being rebuilt ; it has still not reached the :30,000 mark and has a lot of mileage left in it.
Until the present bother is finished I am reduced to using either a “Silver Star” B.S.A. or one of Noel Pope’s I.O.M. Nortons kr Home Guard use, and when the weather is really bad, as it is sometimes in Buxton, I crawl into a Standard Nine (which runs with the absolute minimum of attention), and decide that I am not as young as I used to be.
I regret to say that I still have not ridden a motor tricycle.