ADU 263

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The Editor makes the acquaintance of an historic singer  ” … certainly one of the most under-rated cars of this neglected (1934) period: the little 1½-litre six-cylinder.” Anthony Blight, in his book “George Roesch and the Invincible Talbot.” 

Terence J Barnes, Chairman and Managing Director of North Worcestershire Motors Limited, son of the late J Donald Barnes and nephew of Col FS Barnes, both of whom were so closely associated with competition Singer cars before the war, has had rebuilt ADU 263, one of a team of three 1½-litre, six-cylinder racing/trials Singers from that period, to a reasonably original specification, considering the very poor state of this historic motor car when he acquired it. It is now in pristine condition, its Napier green paintwork and plating gleaming, and in good running order, as I found out when I drove it. 

 ADU 263 was one of three 1,493 cc Singers prepared by Thompson & Taylor’s of Brooklands for the 1934 Ulster TT. In that race Donald Barnes drove LM25 (ADU 263), Ronnie Baker had LM26 (ADU 264) and Alf Langley was at the wheel of LM14 (KV 9246), the respective race-numbers being 21, 22 and 23. The cars were known as “The Three Graces”, by the drivers who gave them their individual names, “This,” “That,” and “T’Other” …. 

They set out for Ireland accompanied by a Singer van, SCH Davis being Chef d’Equipe and spare driver, with Stanley Barnes and Reg Bicknell the chief mechanic. Fortune did not exactly favour them, for Barnes’ car retired after seven laps with a blown gasket, the head holding-down studs proving inadequate, apart from loss of oil-pressure and Baker was out a lap later with transmission trouble. Langley was running when the course was closed. 

Incidentally, these Singers must not be confused with the 1½-litre entry of that make in the 1934 Le Mans race, driven by Lewis/Hindmarsh, this being a car constructed by Fox & Nicholl from parts supplied to them by Singer’s. It finished seventh, a place ahead of Barnes/Langley in a 1½-litre Singer. 

In 1935 the TT cars were withdrawn, and parts of them were used to make a team of three trials cars, crab-tracked by using 2-litre Singer front axles and with, I think, more weight over the back wheels, to suit trials hills. The cylinder heads also received extra holding-down studs! Their identities were retained, however, through the respective Reg Nos. I believe these cars pioneered the use of a Jocked differential to combat the mud of pre-war trials hills. 

For the 1935 TT, WE Bullock, who entered the “works” Singers, decided to run a team of four Singer Nines, with Alf Langley, Donald Barnes, Sammy Davis and Norman Black as their drivers, and FS Barnes in reserve. It is now common knowledge that three of them crashed, after 16, 19 and 25 laps, respectively, due to faulty heat-treatment of the ball-joints of their transverse steering drag-links, Langley’s going first, then Black’s, Davis’ car then landing on top of Black’s abandoned Singer, due to total steering failure in each case. Two laps later Barnes’ car was understandably withdrawn!

To side-track, it is a reminder of how racing was conducted in those days that so close to the road were the spectators that, after his spectacular accident, Sammy Davis enquired of the crowd if anyone had been hurt. He was told that a boy had fallen from the bank and cut his finger which Davis insisted on seeing (perhaps he had insurance-claims in mind): it is reported that “the boy seemed rather more pleased than otherwise”. 

I bring this in because it led to a hurried consultation at which the Singer Company decided to abandon further competition work. However, not wishing to lose valuable publicity, it entered into a contract with FS and JD Barnes for them to organise Singer teams from then on. That is how the well-known Autosports organisation was formed. Early in 1937 it acquired all three of the ex-TT 1935 trials cars, but from the latter part of 1937 four-cylinder trials Singers were used. For a time the individual cars of the trials team were painted red, white and blue, but the 1935 cars reverted to Napier green. 

Although it is impossible to say how much of ADU 263 was then as it had been in the TT, certainly the car did very well in trials and rally work appearing in such events as the 1934 Exeter, 1935 Colmore, RAC Rally, Land’s End, MG Abingdon, Edinburgh, Welsh Rally, Torquay Rally, MCC Sporting Trial, Experts, Exeter and in the 1936 Colmore, RAC Rally, Land’s End, Buxton, Abingdon, Edinburgh, Welsh Rally, Half-Day, Torquay Rally, Sporting and Experts trials and in the 1937 Exeter and Colmore, gaining altogether an enormous number of Premier Awards. After which, the 4-cylinder 1½-litre Singers took over. Incidentally, the Autosports’ logo was a three-leaf clover, with insignia emphasising participation in racing, rallies and trials …. 

Today ADU 263 is the only real survivor from the 1934 TT team. Very little is left of ADU 264 (it is said only its later front axle), and although KV 9246 exists in Ireland it has a four-cylinder engine, of unspecified make. To drive the resuscitated ADU 263 I went to Oldswinford, outside Stourbridge, where Frederick J Barnes, Terence’s grandfather, who was a long-distance professional cyclist before riding a TT Beeston-Humber motorcycle, set up his business in these machines, in 1916. It was here that many of the racing cars driven by Stanley and Donald Barnes were prepared, such as FS Barnes’ Salmson with which he started his racing career, the Austin Sevens raced later in important events, and the Autosports’ Singers. Today the business is at the same site, run by Terence Barnes, who has recently added an Alfa Romeo franchise to his well-known Vauxhall dealership. Col FS Barnes became very well known, of course, apart from his racing and rallying exploits and as a “works” Austin racing driver, when he was Manager of the RAC Competition Department from 1948 to 1954, and he had been Singer’s Competition Manager from 1935.

At the time when the TT team of six-cylinder Singers was mooted the production equivalent was the 1½-litre Le Mans Special Speed Model, which sold for £375 and for which a speed of 80 to 85-mph was quoted. (At Le Mans in 1934 the 11/2-litre Singers reached about 105 mph). The Singer Nine Le Mans four-seater then cost £195, the Le Mans two-seater £215, and the Le Mans Special Speed Model £225. In keeping with such modest prices, it was possible to offer drivers of the calibre of Tommy Wisdom ·and Norman Black an Autosports Le Mans drive for around £25 each, providing they paid their own travel expenses, hotel bills and insurance, prize and bonus money to be shared with the Barnes brothers! 

That is the background to ADU 263 as it is today. After Autosports had gone over to the four-cylinder trials Singers (the BAB-registered team) these ex-Le Mans cars, known after 1935 as the “Crabtracks”, were disposed of to approved drivers and they appeared in trials up to the outbreak of the war. Fittingly, ADU 263 has been rebuilt to trials specification, with full-scale mudguards, fold-flat screen, twin rear-mounted spare wheels, etc. It came back to the Stourbridge area in the 1960s, for sale at around £80. Donald Barnes was not much interested and it vanished again. When his son heard that it was in the Singer OC, around 1975, he took immediate steps to acquire it, for a rather higher figure! 

The car was in a sorry state, the chassis cracked in three places, front axle and stub axles cracked, the cylinder block badly damaged, the Scintilla Vertex magneto useless, dynamo, starter and crankshaft damper lost (an adapted Maxi pulley replaces the last named) and the radiator cowl and bulkhead requiring remaking, etc. Restoration was put into the hands of Antique Automobiles Ltd of Baston and ADU 263 is now pristine once more, as well it should be, after nearly 1,000 hours’ work, costing almost £11,000, before VAT. Before restoring ADU263, Antique Automobiles rebuilt one of the Fox & Nicholl 11/2-litre Singers, which had turned up in East Africa and is now in Italy. It was nice to be one of the first to try the car, outside the Barnes’ organisation (the car’s odometer read only 163 miles) and nicer still that Terence’s mother, Mrs Eileen Barnes, who had put in so many miles in ADU 263, navigating and co-driving with her husband Donald, was there to see me do this. 

The engine is the expected 59 x 91 mm Six, with chain driven o/h-camshaft. A bulkhead plaque confirms this as car LM 25. There are triple SU carburetters, fed by two bulkhead-mounted SU fuel pumps through plated piping. In place of the magneto an adapted Lucas distributor on the off-side supplies the six plugs, horizontal in the near-side of the head, via Champion water-proof terminals. A “High Power” coil is used. Ahead of the distributor is the water pump, behind it the dynamo. Also on the off-side is the impressive cast-alloy water gallery, which had to be remade I believe, stamped “Singer Le Mans Special Speed”. On the opposite side of the cross-flow engine there is the big six-branch exhaust manifold (supplied by the Singer OC) feeding into a centre off-take pipe. While the radiator and fuel tank have quick-action filler-caps, the oil-filler in the centre of the flat-topped cam-cover is of screw type and quite small; it is inscribed with the names of recommended lubricants – Castrol, Motorine, Mobiloil and Shell – with the reminder to “see the instruction-book for grades”.

The Singer proudly displays on its badge-bar 1939 SWAC Welsh Rally, BRDC, RAC and Monte Carlo Rally (“Per Ardua Ad Solem”) badges, along with twin horns and a large spotlight, and the competition number board is there. It has 1/2-elliptic springs all round, Hartford damped, and is on 4 75-5.00 x 18 Dunlop Gold Seal tyres. At the back the large fuel tank (25 gallons?) has a luggage-rack above it, with the twin wheels behind, a legacy from the days of changing to “Comp” covers, not, as one onlooker thought, as a precaution against double punctures! Hood and sidescreens are provided. 

Getting in through the small rear-hinged door, properly supported on a roller (the door, not me) I found the seat comfortable but non-adjustable, the large 4-spoke “sprung” steering-wheel therefore very much in my lap and my knees cranked, making clutch engagement a thought tricky. Before one, the wide, flat-topped bonnet characterises the Singer Six from the Nine. On a new polished mahogany dashboard are the matching expensive-type Jaeger speedometer (10-100 mph, with final mark at 105) and tachometer (5-6,000 rpm) and the little dials for oil-pressure, oil and water temperature and dynamo charge. A row of five tiny switches on the left are for the lamps, pumps and ignition, with the starter button between the last two. To the right there is a stop-watch and horn-button. Flashers and hazard-warning have been discreetly installed. A plaque on the left is a reminder that FS Barnes did well in the “Coupe de Petite Voiture” class of the 1935 Paris-Nice Trial, though not, in fact, in ADU 263 I think. On the floor are the remote gear-lever on its long tunnel, typical of the period, and the short, cranked hand-brake, with fly-off action of the ratchet for those old-time driving tests.

After a photographic session at Hagley Hall, seat of Lord and Lady Cobham, I was able to get the feel of this 47-year-old Singer in the Shelsley country. The clutch engages easily, the hydraulic brakes function well, given a hard prod on a small pedal. The little central gear lever possesses infinitesimal movements across the invisible gate; double-declutching both up and down is advisable for quiet gear changes, but from third to top the process is quicker if this is ignored, at the expense of a crunch. To engage reverse the lever is lifted and pulled back, beyond the top gear location. The ride can be frisky over rough roads but the steering controls things all right in spite of some free play, with, however, a tendency for the tail to wander, a reminder that much of the weight is over the back axle.

I did not achieve the acceleration I had expected, but the car is quite heavy (19 cwt) and of the two ratios that were available, the one in use gives gearing of, very roughly, 20 mph per 1,000 rpm in top. The engine must still be very stiff after the overhaul, so apart from one burst, I did not go above about 4,000 rpm. The Singer runs along very nicely at 50-55 mph and is perfectly easy to handle in towns. Bottom gear is extremely noisy, perhaps from much use in trials, and the axle hums, suggesting straight-cut final-drive teeth. Although we had a momentary flood of water on the screen up one hill, no loss of coolant resulted, temperature remaining at 70-75 deg C, with a maximum of 80 deg. Oil temperature was 140 deg, but the oil-pressure would zero at idling revs. and was never much above 10-12 lb/sq in. You sit high above the bonnet, so that the twin screen-wipers were apt to impede vision slightly and I should have kept the screen folded down. 

Altogether this was an interesting experience  and Terence Barnes is naturally delighted to have. the Singer back in the family. He also has a very fine OE 30/98 Vauxhall (he told me that his grandfather sold his first Vauxhall in 1905), which carries VSCC and pre-war BARC badges and accompanied us on the run. – WB.