Cars I Have Owned

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A. G. Sanderson writes of his motorcycles and cars and, in particular, of some rather hot M.G.s—Ed.

Like dozens of other enthusiasts, my brother and I started off on two wheels, our first mount being a 1922 Coulson Blackburn motor-cycle.

This machine, which cost us the gigantic sum of 10s., had a spring frame, two-speed gearbox and belt drive, but no clutch. To take off, one selected bottom gear, lifted the exhaust lever and, running alongside, released same, whereupon the bicycle promptly took charge, pulling you down the road. If you were fortunate enough to gain the saddle all was well until the next traffic block, when this performance had to be gone through all over again. I remember on one occasion the machine winning the race, to the detriment of someone’s front garden! My brother declares to this day that my “racing” change from top to bottom was the cause of the Coulson’s downfall, shearing the sprocket from the cam-wheel.

Incidentally, should anyone require an Albion gearbox and belt for this machine, they can be had for the asking.

Our next investment took the form of a 350-c.c. B.S.A., vintage 1926, complete with footboards, acetylene lighting, clutch and sit-up-and-beg handlebars. Being capable of about 55 m.p.h. this machine was a definite step in the right direction.

The acetylene lighting was a bugbear, the slightest bump being sufficient to extinguish the rear light, whilst the headlamp had a shocking habit of suddenly flaring up like mad and promptly going out. One night, the headlamp having just done its “party piece,” I was stopped by the arm of the law for being without a light. I explained to the constable that it had only just gone out, whereupon, to test my statement, he removed his glove, placing his hand on top of the lamp. Judging by the rapidity with which his hand was withdrawn it was perfectly obvious he had no reason to doubt the veracity of my story. It says much for his sportsmanship that I escaped with a caution!

My brother now purchased a 1928 350-c.c. New Imperial, whilst I had a series of Austin Sevens. The latter were: a saloon (1931), a tourer (1926), a tourer (1928), and a Gordon England “Cup” model. These little cars had one thing in common, the brakes (or, rather, lack of them). I well remember, when three of us were ambling around North Devon in one of the tourers, making what I strongly believe to be the fastest descent of Porlock Hill. My friend, who was driving, managed to find second gear and stood on the foot-brake, while the front passenger held on to the handbrake like grim death. As for myself, in the back, all I could do was to heave myself over the hood and act as a drag-anchor. At the bottom of the hill, the remains of my shoes were on fire!

It was upon one of these cars that we made our first attempt at tuning. The ports were polished, the compression raised, double valve springs fitted and lastly, we obtained a special exhaust system. The result was hardly worth the labour expended. Whilst the car, before the operation, would not have been able to pull the proverbial skin from a rice pudding, afterwards it might just have managed this task!

By this time my brother had purchased an Austin Seven 2-seater with a very long pointed tail. This car certainly looked fast and had cost him £25. I was running the “Cup” model for which I had paid £7. After a number of arguments as to the merits of our respective vehicles, we decided to settle the matter by a “dice” around the houses. Scouts were placed on every corner of the course, and off we went. I was leading by ten yards when one of the scouts signalled us to stop. I pulled up, but my brother couldn’t, his starting handle punching a neat hole dead in the centre of “Cup” model’s tail. This proved beyond doubt my car’s superiority, whereupon I sold it for £17.

Much to the disgust of the local Austin brigade I now deserted Longbridge for Abingdon, a step which I have never had cause to regret.

My first M.G. Midget, a 1933 J2, was my faithful companion for five years. During this time it was flogged unmercifully in trials, hill-climbs, and sprint events with remarkable success. In all it cost me one clutch (burnt out on “Nailsworth”), one crown-wheel and pinion, a crankshaft, and one connecting rod.

One fact that has always puzzled me is that, whilst (in certain circles) M.G. cars are frowned upon, Austin “Nippys,” “Speedys,” and the like are regarded with reverence. At this point I must digress for a moment and dwell upon the dreadful experience of a friend of mine, a dyed-in-the-wool motor-cyclist. After a rather serious accident on the bicycle, parental pressure was brought to bear and he purchased a “Nippy” Austin Seven. As if experiencing all the troubles expounded by Capt. Moon in the April issue of Motor Sport were not enough, he was finally passed, when flat out on the Great North Road, by a London taxicab! Two days afterwards he was back on a bicycle.

One day I happened to see a remarkably clean 1928 Alvis “12/50” 4-seater tourer. This car had a new hood and tonneau cover, five new tyres, chrome headlamps, and had just been re-sprayed Ulster green. In fact, at the price of £22, the whole thing was so fishy that it reeked. As I had always wanted one of these cars, and had garage space available, a trial run was arranged, and it became my property. After eight miles a big-end ran, and after another 30 miles another one followed suit. An engineer friend of mine held an inquest on the crankshaft, declaring that it had gone too far to be reground and advised another. We sought everywhere for a secondhand one without success, so the Alvis had to go. I traded it to a dealer for a 1981 unblovvn “Ulster” Austin Seven. Many times have I regretted parting with the Alvis (UP 633) and hope it found a good home. Being honest with the trader, I lost about £5 on this deal. Upon taking delivery of the “Ulster” I found great difficulty in driving it, owing to lack of leg-room. (I must say here that I am 6ft. 4 in., and weigh some 15 stone.) However, by removing the stuffing from the back of the seat, and scrapping the spring wheel in favour of one of the standard “dished” variety, I managed to get along fairly well. (I still possess the spring wheel if anyone wants it.) On the rare occasions when the hood was erected, my head made a large dome where it pressed against the canvas. The performance was fairly satisfactory, the speedo. showing 30 m.p.h. in bottom, 60 m.p.h. in second, and about 70 m.p.h. in top gear. Unfortunately, the roadholding and steering were decidedly “Austinish.” The car was so light that by placing one hand under the tail I could lift it round in the road.

I now found that running two cars was too much of a drain on the exchequer, so the Austin gave place to a Velocette G.T.P. 250-c.c. two-stroke. This little bicycle ran very well, but was prone to dry up if kept flat out for any length of time. Being rather long in the leg, I could change up by hooking my knee over the gear-lever. In this way quite a happy change could be made.

By this time my brother had had a 250-c.c. B.S.A., a 350-c.c. A.J.S., and a 350-c.c. Triumph “Tiger 80.” With both the latter machines he had collected a fair amount of pottery. Of the two, although the Triumph was the faster, I preferred the A.J.S. for roadholding and steering.

After the Velocette I purchased a 1926 Morris-Cowley 2-seater, taxed and insured for £2 10s. This I ran until the tax expired, when it was sold for £4. Of its condition I need only say that my fiancee, by no means fastidious, refused to ride in it. However, it ran well and will, no doubt, be still running when many 1939 models have gone to the breakers.

My next car was a 1933 Wolseley Hornet saloon for business purposes. Altogether it was a very satisfactory proposition, being smooth, economical, and roomy. On one occasion I actually ran it in a trial (the J2 being off colour), and collected a second class award, tying in the driving test with a certain well-known blown M.G. for fastest time of the day.

In due course this car was swopped for a 10-h.p. Lanchester sportsman’s coupe, mainly, I think, because I wanted to try a self-change gearbox. I liked the Lanchester less than any car I have owned. It was far too heavy for the engine, and kept breaking rear springs. The thing boiled like a kettle at the slightest provocation, and I was for ever topping up the fluid-flywheel. A quick change from third to top always resulted in the gear-band slipping and the bucket seats collapsed, in turn, under my weight.

I now had a chance to acquire a real motor car at last and, selling both the J2 and the Lanchester, bought from B. Rogers his 1932 blown M.G. “Montlhèry” Midget and a 1929 Riley Nine tourer. The “Montlhèry” (RX 8628) I believe to be the car in which Capt. Samuelson put up such a fine show in the 1932 Le Mans race. At any rate, his name was in the log book and the filler-caps of the M.G. were all drilled for the Le Mans seals. This race is described in detail in Barré Lyndon’s book “Combat,” without which no enthusiast’s bookshelf can be complete.

I well remember Rogers’s remarkable effort at the Howard Park (Aston Clinton) speed trials where he piloted the M.G. down the 1/4-mile course in 16.5 sec., beating A. Baron (1,496-c.c. Bugatti, S) by 1/10 sec. On the road the “Montlhèry” was a delight, the whine of the straight-cut rear-axle unit merging with the drone of the Powerplus No. 7 supercharger between the dumbirons. The exhaust note was of the type that makes strong men blanch and women hide their young, and one had only to change down to clear anything from a flock of sheep to a cycling club, mobs of hikers opening up like the Sea of Galilee.

The solidity of the E.N.V. gearbox had to be felt to be understood. The rest of the specification included a beautiful little crankshaft machined from the solid and connecting rods like those of a battle-cruiser. A hand-controlled “Vertex” magneto looked after the “sparks department,” whilst brakes and “shockers” were adjustable from the driving -seat.

Although the gears were on the high side for sprint work, I never came home empty-handed from an event in which I ran this car.

Incidentally, I have a few bits and pieces left over from the “Montlhèry” which I should be only too pleased to pass on, free of charge, to anyone with a similar machine. These include a new cylinder for the S.U., fitted with a heavy bronze piston (for snap acceleration), and about eight different needles for same.

The Riley did yeoman service, and having twin Zenith carburetters, had a respectable performance. My brother, very much impressed, also bought a Riley. His, being a 1930 tourer, had better brakes than mine, and was fitted with twin S.U. carburetters. The back axles of both these cars gave the usual trouble, but otherwise they handled like machines of double the h.p.

In 1939, as I was contemplating matrimony, expenses had to be cut down, so I sold both the M.G. and the Riley, purchasing a new Standard Eight drophead coupe. With this little car we covered some 22,000 miles with next to no trouble. The Standard stood up to hard driving without complaint, but on parting, I think the satisfaction was mutual.

Just after the outbreak of war I picked up a 1936 M.G. Midget (Type P.B.). The car has an outside exhaust system similar to the ” Montlhèry,” Scintilla magneto, and Marshall bIower. The long, sweeping front wings had been scrapped in favour of very scanty strips of aluminium. This car has been completely rebuilt during the war and is now ready for the “basic.”

After an uninteresting month or so riding an A.J.W. two-stroke having the flat-top piston Villiers engine, I obtained a 500-c.c. Ariel “De Luxe,” All was well until a drastic cut in my petrol allowance argued something less thirsty. Consequently a 1940 Rudge auto-cycle took the place of the Ariel. Having the rigidity and narrow tyres of an ordinary bicycle, with a top speed (downhill) of 42 m.p.h., its behaviour on ice and wet wood blocks in the blackout can be imagined. The machine, although being the slowest that I have owned, was, without the slightest doubt, the most dangerous. Many are the occasions when I have arrived at work wet with perspiration with the temperature well below freezing point! It was constantly seizing up, whereupon one sat down in the gutter fanning the wretched engine with a cap or anything that happened to be handy. The direct lighting worked well enough under 20 m.p.h., but if you should, in a moment of exuberance,”turn up the taps,” the infernal bulbs promptly blew, leaving you as blind as a bat. The pocket of my leather coat was always stuffed with spare bulbs, but one night, the demand having exceeded the supply, I had a nightmare ride of five miles harried by policemen, wardens, and anyone who happened to be about. Lest I appear somewhat hard on the Rudge, let me say that the task I set it was beyond its powers, but it would, no doubt, have been ideal for carrying district nurses to confinements

After the auto-cycle I unearthed a 1930 350-c.c. Velocette, model M.A.C. This I have used for the last three years, and although not particularly rapid, it steers to a hair and has given excellent service.

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