Out of the Past, September 1990

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For those of us who live largely in the past it is pleasing when interesting facets from years long ago turn up. Thus I drove to a well known town in Montgomeryshire to talk about the old days and was delighted to find a 1921 Brooklands racecard framed on the wall of the office in the local Spar stores.

We talked of many things, but mainly of Lou Kings, who raced cars at Brooklands for the Austin Motor Company. First the two-seater Austin Twenty ‘Black Maria’, of which some fine photographic enlargements were produced, at a time when an Austin customer, Felix Scriven of Bradford, was racing his own special Austin Twenty ‘Sergeant Murphy’. Later Kings raced Austin 7s. Apparently Kings’ name was really King, but at school they made him change it to Kings, presumably in case his real name made him overconfident! He lived in Ennesmore Gardens in London, where Sir Alastair Miller, Bt. and later Dick Seaman kept their racing cars, and took out his first driving licence in 1905. I was reminded of how Austins used the dreaded Bwlch-y-groes pass for testing, as late as the WW2 years, when one Austin Army truck was set to tow another to the summit.

Nor was this all, because at Peppers restaurant where we lunched (jolly good food!) there is a large framed photograph on the wall of an early Clyno two-seater, the type with 1/4-elliptic front springs and unpainted bonnet, once owned by a relative of the proprietress. Another photograph of Jehu’s garage in Llanfair Caereinion in the 1920s depicted therein a Calcott lightcar and an Edwardian Humber tourer.

Which reminds me that in the ‘Little Chef’ on the Hereford-Leominster road there is a photograph of an Ulster Austin with other cars, in a street in Hereford in the 1930s. Another of these useful pull-ins, has photographs mainly of pre-war Morrises in Banbury, and the ‘Cotswold Gateway’ Hotel at Burford, Oxon. One of a Trojan fabric saloon and other cars in Burford High Street when they were probably almost new.

Another link with both past and present occurred on the hottest of July days, when I was driven in Jim Taylor’s smart 1930 Singer Junior two-seater, with Roger Collings in the commodious dickey-seat, along the quiet roads of the Golden Valley near Hereford, to a little village store and garage in the village of Turnastone which has scarcely changed its appearance since the 1920s. The son of the present owner, Mr Wilding, recalled his father’s first car, a 1924 Hotchkiss-engined bullnose Morris and the 1928 Austin 7 saloon they had when he was ten. Today, as he has done since 1937, he runs the garage, still with its big Raleigh bicycle advertisement on the wall and its two UK petrol pumps, and he still occasionally rides his motorcycles, a BSA, Norton and BMW.

This worthy gentleman remembered working on the Singer in the 1930s, before its present owner acquired it 40 years ago, straightening a bent dumb-iron after an ‘incident’, and he recalled the nickname it then carried on its bonnet, before it was repainted. As it was refuelled through the scuttle filler, more convenient than an A7’s underbonnet fuel orifice, I remembered that it was from this country garage that the Trafford family used to refuel their Gipsy Moth biplane from two gallon cans, after landing in a field opposite their mansion, a story told in MOTOR SPORT some years ago, and photographs of which were forthcoming. As we drove home along deserted roads in the Singer it might have been in the leisure of 60 years back, when such cars could comfortably average their 30 or so mph. It recalled for me even earlier days, further south in Wales, when as a boy I was enthralled by rides along even narrower and even more deserted lanes, in Chevrolet and Overland tourers and a lofty Austin Twenty landaulette.

The Singer Junior, at all events in 1930 form, is a bigger and more like a larger car than the A7s, its wheelbase 15″ longer. The Singer’s overhead camshaft engine purred away with no clatter from this advanced, chain-driven valvegear. The body is surprisingly roomy, the mudguards substantial and the suspension is damped by telescopic shock absorbers. The gear lever has 1st and reverse to right, as on an A7, and you are confronted by an oval Rotax electrical panel containing speedometer, oil gauge and ammeter. To Collings, after the 1903 Mercedes, it must have seemed all very sedate; it reminded me that in the 848cc Junior the Singer Company had an effective answer to the 747cc Baby Austin! WB

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