CARS I HAVE OWNED
FIRST let me write that I am On an aerodrome away from all my old diaries, photograph albums, etc.,. which are (I hope) in London, so that dates and ti nes are rather vague. My first car, and it hardly ‘deserves that name, was an A.V. Monocar. About the only thing it had in common with a car
was that it had four wheels in the cotwentional places, roughly one at each corner. It was a singleseater with a track of about 3 ft. 6 in. as .far as I can miner-Aber. The engine, a 7-11.p. .1.1.1)., air-cooled, was at the back and drove by a chain through a two-speed epicyclic gear down to the solid back axle. The steering was by “bobbin and cable,” i.e., the steering column, vertical, had a wire cable wound around it, secured by a bolt, and the ends of the cable passed direct to the ends of the front axle Which was pivoted in the centre and, as faz as I remember, unsprung. When seated the driver’s posterior was some 10 in. from the ground. Funnily enough it went quite well and I had a lot of fun out of it ; the main snag was that there was practically no weight on the front axle (tll(rt !wing no reverse, one got out and, literally, picked up the front of the car and walked it round if reversing became necessary), and in snow or slippery roads the car just Went
straight on irrespective of the steering. I nearly forgot its main feature–the starting apparatus. The crankshaft had an extra external chain sprocket fitted with a free-wheel. To start up one pulled a chain, about 3 ft. in length, which made contact with this sprocket. In theory it really was very good as it spun the engine over about four complete turns. In prac tice one gave a sharp pull and the engine would start immediately. Unfortunately, the epieyelie gear would bind and the car would immediately start to creep forward, leaving the unfortunate owner holding it back by the chain at the rear. If he tried to slack off the chain the CUT ran away, and if he held on he couldn’t (a) get into his seat, or (b) reach the throttle ! What happened depended on whether help was forthcoming or not. A second “seat ” was provided in the form of a pad on top of the cowling between the front cylinder and the driver’s head ! Any misguided person who could be persuaded to have a trip sat up in the air with his feet down on the driver’s seat, and any acceleration (and that was good) slid him or her smartly back on to a nearly red-hot front cylinder and a nicely situated sparldini: ping. I sold it, to a fellow undergraduat at Cambridge, carefully warning the proud new owner that he must not corner fat or he would turn over. Ms only remark was, ” Oh, you’re windy,” and he shot off down Jesus Lane at great speed, only to turn over on the very first corner and
break his arm, by which time 1 was safely with his cheque in a conveniently nearby bank ! I have just remembered that I bought the A.V. originally from Mavrogordato, who was then ” up ” as well. A pause of about six months, then a small ” windfall ” put me in the market again. My next purchase was an 11.9 Bugatti (funnily enough I bought it from A. R. Lindsay, who wrote about it in Moron. Seoirr some time ago). This Was descrihed in the advertisement as having ” a clover-leaf body painted in deep cream ! ” In practice it was bright
CARS I HAVE OWNED
This instalment is by a well-known vintagent who requests us to hide his identity under the pen name of ” Rivers “—Ed. primrose with black wings. This was a really good car and I had it about two years. Its snags were the Bugatti snags of the period. First the brake pedal and brake levers appeared to be there merely as ornaments ; the former worked on the transmission, and application produced either an unpleasant smell of frying oil or a violent -skid ; in neither case was there any appreciable diminution in speed. The latter’s position was governed by whether the driver minded it rattling or not it had no effect at all. Sonic year or so later I had ” halo ” brake finings fitted and this was a marked improvement. As mentioned, this car was good fun. I won two prizes at Dean Ifill (near Roinsey) and came in well up in the first J.C.C. sports-car affair at I3rooklandsthe High Speed Trial, being robbed of a “gold ” by a broken dynamo belt. Tim Rose Richards made his first appearance in this trial, also on a Bugatti. The real snag was the starting up—or lack of it. To this day I do not know what was wrong. I had mags, changed, carburetter changed, valve guides seen to, and all sorts of experts from Cushman downward working on it, but the result was the same. One could walk up, give it one pull up, and away it would go as good as gold ;
stop it for a moment and towing it behind a taxi wouldn’t start it. I, in common with all old Bugatti drivers, still have a permanently thickened knuckle on my right forefinger, which used to come in contact with the split-pin holding the nut on the band front shock-absorber. The hand, On the starting handle, had a clearance of about thirty thou. with this, and one’s knuckle never got time to heal up.
Next, like ” I got fed up with complications and bought a “Red Winger” 10.9-h.p. 2-seater Riley. I honestly think that this was one of the best ears ever made. A lovely driving position, four speeds, and a straightforward side-valve engine which gave no trouble whatsoever. In its standard form it would do about 64 m.p.h., and brakes and steering were first class.
” and I were, and still are, great friends, and our car experiences rather overlap; I went through practically everytrial in England as his navigator.” In 1926 (I think) I got bitten by the Brooklands hug and turned my Riley over to Laystalls. They balanced the crankshaft, much to Victor Riley’s horror, fitted new pistons and an entirely different camshaft. Then Victor Cillow —just starting out then—lowered the chassis and did the final toning. The speed went up to around 80 m.p.h., but the transmission couldn’t take it, and my BrooklandS appearance was a complete fiasco, as the propeller-shaft ” whipped ” so much that I couldn’t hold the top gear in ; so that was that. Simultaneously I received a message from my bank manager saying that something was ” out of balance ” in his department also, so I sold the Riley. My next was a really lovely 14-1i.p. Delage. An open 4-seater body with the rear seats decked over and given a second windscreen—the whole
rear shield being mounted on an ” oleo ” so that it could not slam down and break the screen. The hood could be either left in the conventional position or could be taken off, folded in three easy movements, and stowed in a box under the offside running board. The 4-cylinder pushrod o.h.v. engine had bags of power, and the steering was the best on any car I have ever known. I do not know how it was done, but one could come up fast to a corner, turn the wheel with one finger if one liked, and to straighten up, merely loose the wheel, which flicked back straight instantaneously. The engine had composite pistons—the crowns being aluminium-alloy and the skirts castiron (anti-slap), and soon after I had it it developed a slight tapping noise when idling. A year’s “mucking about “—including my good friends Thompson and Taylor—failed to cure this, and it made no difference to the running, but when I did sell the car to Jerry Sayers—then of Hawkers—I couldn’t help being amused by his saying, ” Oh, I’ll stop that in a few moments ; it’s only a tappet.” Again starting was the trouble ; there was a combined starter-dynamo on the front end of the crankshaft, and the epicyclic gears were much too small and constantly sheared, so eventually I welded the lot up solid and used it as a dynamo only ; she always started (Ki-gas) on three pulls up. Next a “Red Label” 3-litre Bentley, with an open Park-Ward 4-seater body ; she was the old ” double sump “type and a perfect car which never gave any trouble at all, and took me all over the British Isles. My only queer experience was starting off on leave for Devonshire, and just coming out of Guildford towards the hog’s Back, when there was a sudden Shriek from the engine ; it was so loud that passers-by on the pavements stopped and looked round. I pulled up—not a sound, but acceleration produced the same noise. I was near a garage and pulled in, being almost sure that the top
bevel drive to the camshaft had run dry.
I took off the camshaft casing—all perfect. Noise again, but now, seemingly, from the magneto cross-shaft drive ; awful panic, then a brainwave. I took off the port magneto and the noise stopped ; Spun the magneto up on a lathe and got the noise at once, but curiously enough it was not the internal gear wheels ; it was merely a chipped carbon bush which was, presumably, dithering up and down causing the shriek. No one in the garage, or myself, had ever heard of it happening before. Then, tragedy! I left the Bentley in the car park outside the Empire in Leicester Square when I went to a cinema. Came out of the show —no car! To cut a long story short— to quote Nathaniel Gubbins—it was later recovered smashed to pieces in a smash-and-grab raid, and was gone for some six months. Meantime I bought a 3-litre Bentley “Blue Label” (chassis No. 47); no f.w.b., and the b.w.b. (why does that look queer ?) were metal to metal, and produced a loud ” pishing ” noise like a vacuum brake—an excellent pedestrian scarer. The gearbox was actually nicer than the Red Label, as all the ratios were closer. It had a Smith ” beehive ” carburetter, and I could get an honest 27 m.p.g. on a decent run ; pretty good for a 16-h.p. car ; also the centre of the camshaft casing boasted a
lovely breather like a copper mushroom. The car was called “The Ancestor,” and beyond breaking out into beads of sweat all over the radiator on steep hills, never gave a moment’s trouble. I sold it when my “lied Label” was returned. I must digress for a moment to say that I never went near any works except Bentley’s own Kingsbury depot with any of my Bentleys, and I can never wish to
have made more pleasant friends. I always had the Bentley “seal ” on my engines and never had cause to regret it—or only once ; see later. The heyday of my motoring career was reached when I bought KM 3088, a
genuine 4F-litre Le Mans team Bentley. She was 1929, unblown, and had been owned by Lauchlan Rose ever since Bentley’s sold her. I never want any other car ; alas, the war and finance forced me to sell her. In 1929 Bentley’s made two unblown 41s for Le Mans (the other has been burned), and they differed from other models in that they had large 32-gallon saddle tanks set in the tail over the rear axle with the fillers right up on the hood and the spare wheel upright in
the tail of the body shell. There are some good photographs of “the Old Girl ” in Sammy Davis’s book ; one hitting a sandbank in the “Double Twelve” and one having a spot of hood bother in the pits. Her number plate is YW 2557. This car carried me for some four years all over Great Britain, Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany and Austria and was, to my way of thinking, perfect. I covered 84 miles in an hour on the WurtzburgMunich autobahn, and that taking things quite gently. My only fiasco was when I tried to run her at Shelsley (quite the wrong type of car, but good fun), and Bentley’s lent me two Rolls-Bentley pumps. I think they must have pumped against each other, as I only just got to the top of the bill in bottom gear ! That was the only time they let me down. I ran in various speed trials, but mostly I liked long-distance touring. There were many points on the car which could be standard on all cars. A panel in the side of the bonnet could be opened and at one glance the oil level could be ascertained and, if necessary, fresh oil added without opening the bonnet. A jockey pulley on the cable took up all brakes by a handwlieel on the cockpit floor ; all fillers were enormous. I never had any trouble running on discol, and on a big run did anything from 14 to 17 m.p.g. Frankly, unless you have a Le Mans job, and a GENUINE one, too (not one of the numerous fakes), I do not think the standark 41 is worth the extra tax ; I’d rather have a 3-litre. My car still had all the duplicate, pressure or electric pump system fuel supply, and duplicate oil pipes strapped alongside all external ones. It really hurts to think that I will never drive her again. I got married in 1938 and the Bentley was supplemented with a Fiat “500.” A grand car, and I mean that by all standards ; drove just like a big car, high-geared and more leg-room than the Bentley. That, alas, has gone too, so at the moment, for the first time since 1919, I am a genuine pedestrian. This article is about cars I have owned, but at various times I had quite a bit to
do with the following unusual ones, amongst others. A 1914 27/80-h.p. Austro-Daimler—one of the four special cars built for the 1914 Alpine trials. A friend of mine had it in 1920 and it -was years ahead of its time even then. The engine was actually a 4-cylinder edition of the Austro-Daimler aero engine (from which the Beardmore was copied and which gave many ideas to the B.H.P. and Puma aero engines). The separate cylinders were copper water jacketed, and the overhead camshaft operated two valves set at 90° in each cylinder. By undoing the manifolds and a locking ring the valves complete with seatings were instantly detachable. The two magnetos were driven like the Bentley mags., from a cross-shaft. The braking system was unique. No f.w.b. but two footbrakes and a handbrake, all effective. One brake pedal operated_ internal expanding b.w.b., the other a transmission brake, and the hand-lever worked external contracting b.w.b. Four-speed box and a maximum of 1,400 r.p.m. all out. Really a lovely car by any standard.
Then there was a fast Chenard-Walker, with f.w.b. and transmission brake, but no b.w.b. ; a Burt McCullam sleevevalved racing Bertelli ; several Diattos ; a 90-11.p. rotary-valve Itala ; a Berliet (the radiator badge of which was a locomotive, and the weight of the car about the same) ; a rotary-valve Darracq ; several ” 30/98 ” Vauxhalls ; but best of all, 3-, 4-, 41-, 61and 8-litre Bentleys.
Curiously enough (apart from the A.V., which was hardly a motor car) I have never had a car without four speeds, have always had 4-cylinder engines, and still like a ” crash ” gearbox. The only piece of constructive motor legislation that I would like to introduce would be a regulation whereby no one could obtain their first licence to drive a car unless they could produce proof that they had ridden a motor-cycle for at least 2,500 miles between September and April of any year. New drivers would then appreciate acceleration and braking on greasy, roads.
It seems all wrong to be motorless, but it is probably a good thing, as it makes one appreciate how lucky one has been before, and when I am offered a lift on the road I can accept it with a clear conscience, as I have always given lifts when I’ve been driving myself. ‘Anyhow, I have only to doze off for a few moments in a chair to feel the wind in my ban; again and hear the old “hour glass” pistons rattling away. Grand days !
A final word. I lost my right leg many years ago and dislike ” tin ” ones intensely. If any of your readers are in doubt as to the best way of modifying a car (and the cheapest !) I will be only too glad to tell them. After 25 years I know all the snags, and ways of overcoming them. ••••••••••••••??••••+,••••••••?••••••••
••••••••••••••??••••+,••••••••?•••••••• COVER PICTURE
This month’s cover picture was topical at the time this hurriedly-prepared issue went to press, for Le Mans had just fallen into British and American hands. It shows Alfa-Romeo and Bugatti sports cars in action during the classic 24-liour race held every summer on the circuit outside this French town.