Cars

My father would talk at length about his motorcars. His first was a tiller-steered Lanchester and when his next one came with a steering wheel he was far from pleased. “It lacks the extreme accuracy of the tiller” he would reminisce. Father taught me to drive as soon as I could reach the pedals on our T-Ford. I would be about 9 years old (in 1918) and he would prop me up beside him, ready to put his pipe between my lips whenever we came to a village. I can never remember not getting away with this and so became a reasonable driver at an absurdly tender age. Little did I realise that I was about to experience the art of teaching – something that was to play such a large part of my life later on. My father, who was a dentist had Dyson Perrins , of Worcester Sauce and Worcester China Works, as a patient. One of the China Works’ artists was a Mr Watmough who also came to my father for some dental treatment. Mr Watmough had a Rover two-cylinder car which he couldn’t manage properly and my father directed him to me for some lessons in the limited space of our drive at Berwyn. All father’s cars were open ones with canvas hood and side screens until he was about 80 when he bought his first saloon – a black Austin 10 – and in which he was arrested for car theft. He had pulled in at a local tobacconist for his pipe tobacco and another black Austin 10 had pulled in behind him. When he came out he got into the wrong car and had reached the centre of Great Malvern, half a mile away, when they stopped him The days of individual keys for ignition and doors were far in the future. Also almost all Austin 10s were black. This was interesting because the policeman who arrested him knew him well and in the end he escaped being locked up – but only just.

Every year father took me to the Shelsley Walsh Hill climb. The owner of the land was a patent of his and we had permission to drive up the famous hill whenever we wished. I have driven it in a Fiat 17/50. When I left Stowe at 17 I developed a passion for motorcycles. I had bought a Francis-Barnett 147cc from the lab-boy there and I remember the thrill of riding it home from Malvern Link station – an uphill mile or so. I would have ridden it from Stowe but for JF Roxburgh’s correct refusal permitting me doing so.

There was no driving test in those days and I spent much time in trying to improve the bike’s performance. The ignition was by flywheel magneto – the backplate fixed by a metal strap. Remove this and the backplate could be adjusted to give perhaps just that little more advanced ignition setting which might result in obtaining just a slightly higher speed when flat out. The result can be spectacular. It must be remembered that a 2-stroke engine will run in either direction – it is only a matter of ignition setting. Church Street, Great Malvern is a steep incline terminating into the Terrace abruptly. There was usually a policeman at this point and he had stopped me there to await a gap in the Terrace traffic. My engine had coughed a bit as I brought it to rest – but it continued to run. When the policeman beckoned me on I gave him a ‘thank you’ smile and proceeded rapidly backwards. My riding skill was not up to this and I finished in a sprawl at his feet.

In 1928 I went to Kew to study piano with Vernon Warner and my Francis-Barnett went with me. But I now coveted a 172cc super-sports TT James in a shop in Richmond at £32.50 and when I was offered a good price for the F-B I bought it. Here was my ideal motorcycle. I joined the British Two-Stroke Club, entered their trials, advanced from beginner to expert and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

My next mode of transport was Morgan three-wheeler. This had a V-twin Blackburn side-valve engine and cost me £24. Mr Morgan and his family were patents of my father and when I lost one pf the front wheels on this three-wheeler at night-time on a straight road near Pershore Mr Morgan personally opened the works next day (a Sunday) obtained a new wheel and axle and helped me fit it. Later on I bought the first F1 Morgan (with Ford 8 engine) but it was not a success. The extra weight of the water-cooled engine was too much for the front suspension struts and they would give way and wheel would splay out. Mr Morgan’s reason for not fitting a detachable rear wheel was ‘have you ever had a puncture in it?’ I admitted I never had. He continued “punctures are caused by front wheels kicking up nails etc, which become caught by the rear wheels directly behind them. There is no rear wheel behind in a Morgan”. Demand, however, won and a new rear suspension with detachable rear wheel was adopted – but only in the last year before the new Morgan 4-4 came out and the three-wheeler production finished.

The war came and went. I had married and we had started a family. We were always struggling a bit for lack of money and I remember little about the various cars I owned. All furniture was bought a auction sales but the time came when we needed something bigger to carry a growing family. I reckoned we could afford £100 – but there was nothing I could find. And then in Motor Sport of all journals I saw “Rolls-Royce Phantom 1 for sale with estate–type body used for caravan towing Price £75. Skegness Caravan co.”

I was a member of the RAC and knew the chief engineer Mr Hudlass well (via my Verdik Petrol Economizer) and I arranged to get an engineer’s report on this Rolls for £5. This read so well that I sent them a cheque and the car became mine. Car collection collected it and so began several years of interesting motoring. I wanted Father to drive it before he was stopped driving by his insurance company which had a fixed age limit of 90. This places the year as late 1950s. He had never driven a Rolls-Royce and he loved it. He lit his inevitable pipe and settled himself comfortably behind the wheel and sailed blissfully over the crossroad near Frieth without looking left or right and convinced me that his insurance company had a point and it was time to stop and not spoil a long clean driving licence during the remaining almost ten years he was to have. The picture of the Rolls with Snowdon in the background was taken during a holiday in Wales. We were exploring at the top of the Llanberis Pass along the Pyg track. I do not recommend it, except on a suitable motorcycle. I cannot remember why I sold the Rolls. The purchaser Col Stephens, repeated the original Lands End to John O Grotes trip of the Silver Ghost for historic reasons which was written up in the motoring press and he equipped it with ‘everything including the kitchen sink’ and I occasionally met it at motoring events. I had always had a longing to own an Alfa-Romeo Spider. A holiday in Rome with my wife in 1981 (flown there by our son William who was by then an airline captain with BA) gave me the chance to see plenty of them and a determination to own one. With the help of a London Alfa dealer this soon became possible and we had may happy trips and holidays with it. There was only one snag. I was getting older and found it hard to cope without power-assisted steering. Above 10mph OK but parking in ever-smaller car parks was becoming too difficult and it had to go. It was bought my the Headmistress of Wycombe Abbey girls school who years later is still enjoying it. But I miss its presence in my garage, even if only just to look at. For some reason the Alfa-Romeo Owner’s Club made me a life member so I continue to receive their newsletter which I love to see. My last Driving Licence expired in Nov 2004 but I had already stopped by then, and so my driving life terminated, like my father’s, in being accident free and without an insurance claim.

1 Response to “Cars”


  1. 1 Anonymous May 14, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    Just testing


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