MOTORING AS IT WAS A Look-Back to the 1920s
(Continued from the September roue:
WE FIND “Owen John”, the amateur motor-noter, ending his annual holiday in Scotland with pungent thoughts on two topics which have a topical ring to them, i.e., the ending of “British Summer Time”, and the forthcoming Motor Show. On the former, “O.J.” felt that certain high-brows and busybody agriculturalists were responsible for it, by suggesting that summer-time was had for children and old people, whereas its early end deprived motorists, motorcyclists, and cyclists of hundreds of hours of extra light and made driving more hazardous. Well, we have it still, inspire of “O.J.’s” reminder that the late King Edward refused to tamper with the Sandringham clocks a long time before Mr. Willett arrived. But now that children and old people spend most of the evening, summer-time or not, glued to the “telly”, and car lighting has so enormously improved, his arguments are less valid, nice as it must have been to enjoy October evenings in the Highlands that were “light” up to 7 o’clock.
“O.J.” was spending his holiday at “the far end of the longest glen in all Scotland”, the nearest station being 15 miles off, reached by only one road — so it was little wonder that he was missing his faithful Crossley. On the subject of the Motor Show, which then meant the One in London, at Olympia and the White City, “O.J.” was saying: “Let us get away from it, out anywhere where the wind blows over the fields, where trees are threshing off their last leaves, where one can see the clouds and the sky, and where the air has not just come out of the lungs of somebody else”. I will drink to that — in a non-alcoholic beverage, of course.
Mat may seem a trifle critical of the spacious Birmingham halls in which the Motor Show of 1982 is staged, and would call for a sun-roof on the inevitable closed cars most of us drive these days. But it was, and is, a sound sentiment, because cars are rosin their natural habitat inside a Motor Show — which, incidentally, The Autocar was referring to as “‘The Automobile Show” as lest as 1921. “Of.” continued with a diatribe about gear-changing being the most difficult thing for a novice to master, by unsophisticated females in particular, so that, good as little cars were (and the 1921 Show was a small-car Show par excellence) big ones were better, for those who wanted to get moving in real earnest over the hills, who liked being in a hurry, and who did not want everybody else to pass them, apart from calling for far less gear-shifting. Of course, “O.J.” did not know of the VW Golf GTi and similar quick little cars of today; but he was being snide about the Orient Buckboard, which had promised to do everything that man could want for hardly more than the cost of a bicycle — and where was that, in 1921? He felt that, whereas trying to teach a lady of the aforesaid kind to drive and change gear on a small can was tedious in the extreme, if the lady was put into a six-cylinder car, “in ten minutes she would either bc frightened to death at the pace she was driving or be sighing for new automobile worlds to conquer”. This led “O.J.” to do a bit of boasting on behalf of the pioneers, who “. . . had to watch the rows of oil-drips, the tremblers, the water-gauge, and now and then give the universal grease-cup a hefty turn. Horns wanted blowing, and everything one met had to be humoured. Dogs and chickens and children had no idea how
fast even 20 m.p.h. could be”. Synchro-mesh was to change all that, although I still hold to the opinion. that a beginner learns more quickly by going out first in a car with automatictransmission, later, with confidence gained, trying the tricky task of using a clutch. Iris the inspiring of confidence which is all important, and so I am ever-indebted to the person who showed me just how accurately and safely the flat-nose Morris-Cowley saloon on which he was teaching me to drive, 50 years ago, could be controlled. lathe far-away days of 1921, of dim lights, bad roads, and gear-changing difficulties, “O.J.” was asked terry various now long-forgotten motoring gadgets. One of these was a mica RAF Plug Intensifier, sold by a man living in Dudbridge, Stroud for 3s. 6d. (171/2p). It was said to prevent sooting of sparking-plugs and as the inventor had a Model-T Ford and lived in probably the hilliest district in England, he should know, added “O.J.”. But he did not propose to prove iron his Crossley, because that fine car never offended by sooting up its plugs, nor did it use sufficient oil for the owner’s peace of mind, of the new Shell brand, which was less-expensive than most other oils. Iris hard to believe that Shell loved “O.J.”, after he had written that his car ran mice as quietly on the old as it did on their new oil, but adding that he had just had a crack in the exhaust-pipe welded up! Another 1921 gadget was a cover for a driver’s pipe, to prevent hot ashes blowing into his face while driving, which may not apply to the Euroboxes (to borrow an unbowdlerised term from D.S.J.) that most people now motor about in, but does make me wonder, as we are soon all robe attached for safety’s-sake firmly to our cars, whether smoking of any kind — not to mention fooling around with CB radio — should not be banned to drivers of all motor-vehicles? “O.J.” had also, in 1921, been asked by an American firm to sample a new headlamps’ “dimmer”. He refused, saying that he was poor at switches and when stung into the courtesy of putting out his
headlamps by a like action on the part of an oncoming driver, he had at times completely doused every glimmer of light on his car and nearly frightened his wife and children into fits. There are modern cars on which it is also all too easy to do the same, until one has become completely accustomed to their switchgear, but there is a nice “period” touch to “O. J.’s remarks, as they applied mainly to occasions when, in cold weather, necessitating driving in gloves, all switches felt very much alike. . . Irons an age of cyclists without rear lights, no headlamp dipping on the majority of cars, and poor street-lighting, so that headlamps were advocated in towns (I have heard that far more recently than 1921!), although “Of.” conceded that in properly’ illuminated streets there was no need at all for big headlights “and they should -nder be used”. (Present-day drivers and fiuthorities please copy.) But they managed, and opinion was against low-level light beams, which “Of.” endorsed after running into a fallen bough of aster when meeting the last train at his local station in a gale. He strengthened his argument by telling of the luckless passengers on the top of a ‘bus, who had been swept off their seats by .808 telegraph-wires, which the low-beamed lamps of the vehicle did not illuminate — so maybe we un better off with closed-top omnibuses, which Scotland Yard opposed for so long for use in London, on the grounds that they were likely to topple over, to the infinite benefit of umbrella makers. “O.J.” would have approved of the powerful lamps of post-war cars, for he was dead against the findings of the 1921 Anti-Dazzle Committee that had been pontificating anent reducing the power of motor-car headlamps; indeed, he was suggesting that Messrs. Lucas Ltd. had missed the golden opportunity of misquoting the Latin tag as “Lucas a non huenda”. “Fiat lux”, he added. — W.B.
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