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Offline JohnWalker

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Re: Cars, Trains, Guns and things
« Reply #4 on: September 30, 2017, 19:48:17 »
Great stuff Filmer01 - keep it coming.

Offline filmer01

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Re: Cars, Trains, Guns and things
« Reply #3 on: September 30, 2017, 18:49:28 »
Cars – part2

My newly acquired 1937 Austin Seven came with a packing case of spares, one of those large, basic, wooden crates with rope handles, used by people returning to UK after civilian service abroad. It fitted in my friends MiniVan and he followed me home to Newington from Leysdown. A learning experience, first time driving alone, a tired 1930’s gearbox needing double declutch changes up and down, hand signals only, I was exhausted but elated when we finally made it.

Much love was lavished on the car in the following weeks and months, the wheels were repainted silver rather than the dull red that matched the bodywork. This was with the assistance of my girlfriend, who in the style of 1968 had long hair, which she managed to catch in the electric drill. Nothing too major to resolve, but the drill (a Stanley Bridges one – what happened to them?) always smelled of burnt hair thereafter.

It did 55, mph and mpg and I enjoyed my freedom. It only had a drivers door probably in the vague hope of adding rigidity, which the feeble chassis certainly did not! The cable operated brakes were “amusing” there was a cross shaft to which the brake pedal was attached, with the cables for the front brakes in the middle of the car, and each rear brake from the appropriate end. Leaping on the pedal meant that the twist imparted to the shaft brought on the rear offside brake, then the fronts, roughly together, and then finally the nearside rear. Inevitably panic braking meant locking the offside rear wheel as they were only a small step up from push bike tyres with little grip. Great fun was had with old ladies on zebra crossings, especially the one at the bottom of Ufton Lane. The handbrake, a lever looking like it had escaped from a signal box, operated the same cross shaft, and being nearer the middle produced a different sequence and better braking.

Some friends and I went in convoy to investigate a scrap yard on the A20 near West Malling. The elderly owner, collar-less shirt, rolled up sleeves, waistcoat with watch chain, was greatly impressed with the Austin and I was invited in rather than being spoken to over the gate. A Nissen hut with three Triumph Roadsters, and a very early Austin Seven with a serious tree up through the floor and out of the roof, stick in the memory. He told us stories of his past, including, as a child, walking to Gravesend for the 1897 celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.

One night, on my way home, having sat at Key Street traffic lights on the A2, I pulled away, noticed the oil pressure gauge flicker upwards and then knock, knock, bang and I coasted to a halt. Three mile walk home, and then back the next day with my sister, her mini and a tow rope. Many of you will be familiar with the instruction to “keep the rope tight”, basically by letting the towed vehicle do the braking. Down the other side of the hill we were travelling faster than it had ever gone under its own power, and with brakes that took three goes to get passed for the MoT. My sister didn’t understand my panic.

I removed the cylinder head, only to find three pistons at top dead centre, two is the right number. The lubrication of these engines was called “spit and hope” whereby oil was sprayed at the rotating crankshaft which caught it in depressions in the crankshaft casting and then it worked its way to the bearings. The jets spraying the oil could block, that would cause a jump in oil pressure from its usual 5-8psi, which is what I saw and without oil a big end bearing had failed. Actually the bolts had failed, one in halves the other bent double, the rest were showing serious stress, as they were almost certainly overtightened. I have one still today, glued to a piece of wood as a momento.

A new learning experience then as I rebuilt the engine, and being 17 opened up the restrictive inlet and exhaust passageways within the engine to get more power. The damaged aluminium crankcase, where the con-rod had whacked it, was gently tapped back into shape, then body filler applied before a coat of shiny silver paint and it was as good as new(ish). Once reassembled we finally got it started by towing it down the road, and then I quickly sold it. £25 for the car and £10 for the spares – result.

Something with a real roof and a heater for the winter seemed a good idea and a black 1957 Morris Minor 1000, OMO 876, was bought cheaply. I drove this for over 18months, rebuilding and slightly enhancing that engine just before going to University in Birmingham to study Mechanical Engineering. Tony Young and I drove it to Scotland (to see my girlfriend) and back to run it in. Portable radio on the back parcel shelf fading in and out, and drifting further and further off Radio Luxembourg as we headed north up the M1 in the middle of the night.

I had learnt more about cars by practice, maintaining my sister’s Mini, and another couple for her friends. We discovered that her mini, 464 ML, had been re-imported from Jersey and was actually a very early 1959 car. Even so she taught me to do handbrake turns in it! I did clutch changes for friends parents and a few repairs on Ford 100Es that other friends had. The trouble I had with those was that reverse on their three-speed gearbox was where 1st gear was on the Morris – came close a couple of times at traffic lights.

Up to about age 13, I was good friends with a boy who lived two doors down, but we drifted apart, he off to Chatham Tech, me at Borden Grammar in Sittingbourne. One day we met outside as we came home from school, it was his 17th birthday that week and his father had found a Ford 100E for him as his birthday present. I had already passed my test and had the Austin for a couple of weeks, and with a full licence could supervise him with L plates. We drove miles and miles and while he learned were never stopped by the Police. When he broke his ankle I took over teaching his girlfriend to drive, rather scarily in her father’s Hillman Minx. This had a bench front seat, column gear change and the handbrake on the right hand side, so all I could do was panic. Couldn’t do that now, must be over 21 with 3 years experience to supervise.

One night we were woken by our neighbours tapping on our windows (bungalow by the way) as they had seen something going on by our garage, which was at the bottom of our long garden, facing Breach Lane to the side. Thieves had broken into the Tuck Inn opposite, stolen the safe, put it in a wheelbarrow that they found in the orchard behind the cafe, then wheeled it over the A2, down Breach Lane to our locked back gates. These they forced open, then broke into the garage and pulled my Morris out onto the drive. I never locked it when garaged, as I followed my father’s logic that if there were enough tools around to do damage, why tempt fate.

They had evidently got the safe into the front seat (2-door saloon) as it didn’t fit in the boot, then tried to start it. I had fitted a toggle switch on the dash, plain as day, and this interrupted the other side of the wiring to the ignition coil, not the switched side, so that “hot wiring” it would have no effect. The FP series ignition key could be turned with a screwdriver, as could most.

Probably annoyed at the delay they removed the safe, ripping the headlining in the process (never repaired, was the start of many jokes and curious looks). They then set about the safe with a handy pick axe that was in the garage, this woke the two neighbours to our left who turned up armed with pick handles. The thieves made off, the Police arrived with a dog unit, but he was unwilling to let the dog follow them as they had gone onto the railway embankment behind us, and third rails are not dog friendly. The Police borrowed the Morris for a couple of days then returned it covered in fingerprint powder. I actually had to wash it!

My sister’s new boyfriend was a mechanic who loaned her his car for some reason. This was a Ford Zodiac Mk2. Battleship grey, it sat low with wider wheels and had an understated look of speed. This was backed up by a modified engine (Raymond Mays head, unknown, non-standard camshaft, triple SU carburettors and a chromed rocker cover) The uprated brakes were servo assisted and inside it was re-trimmed with two bucket seats at the front rather than the bench seat and a floor change with overdrive. Raise the bonnet to check the oil in a garage and you had a crowd in no time. Unfortunately, before I could have a drive the boyfriend was replaced.

I was at University when my grandfather died. He left me some cash, and I was easily persuaded to invest some of it in a newer car, as the old Morris was not going to take being hammered up and down the M1, usually with the speedo right the way around to the fuel gauge, for much longer. I had joined Birmingham University Motor Club (an unfortunate set of initials) so something more sporty was ideal. A 3year old British Racing Green MG Midget Mk3. This remained standard apart from a Roll over bar. I didn’t compete in much motor sport, but did a fair bit of organising of autotests and 12car rallies, although my first marshalling effort found me needing a tow back from Wales (80+ miles) when a half shaft failed on the Morris.

My sister visited me early on in my time at Birmingham, but her long-suffering Mini got no further back than Coventry when she lost two gears. She limped it back to me then caught a train home. With it in the multi-storey car park at the Student’s Union a friend and I first disconnected the front subframe, then lifted the front of the car over the engine and front wheels and parked it neatly in the space behind. We then took the engine and gearbox out of the subframe, split the two and found that a small bolt had fallen out of a selector in the gearbox. A quick trip down into Selly Oak to Patrick Motors, new 9d bolt, and, as they say in the Haynes Manuals – reassembly is the reverse of dismantling (Note that you swear in different places!). This weekend activity attracted the security guys (called Vops by the students) who were actually very helpful.

Three of us shared a flat for the last two years of our course, one flat mate had started to build an autogyro as a school project. This was fully CAA checked and certificated as it was built, and just needed an engine, usually a modified VW Beetle engine was used. The owner was a member of the university air squadron and learnt to fly in Chipmunk trainers. He came from Gloucestershire and on his way to and from Birmingham had noticed a disused airfield with the runway still in fair condition. He got permission from the farmer to use it for an afternoon and we met him there with the autogyro on a trailer behind a borrowed Land Rover. A hand-held air speed indicator was taped to my car’s offside wing, and then the autogyro tied with a long rope to the roll over bar. We had a (very) primitive two-way cabled intercom, he using his RAF helmet. We had a great time, I had to drive at 50knots measured by a ball bouncing about in the indicator, while remaining straight, with another friend spotting from the passenger seat. It flew, actually it flew rather well, and once the car was in neutral he could actually slow me down and land with the rope tight.

The MG had an abnormal appetite for clutch release bearings, which were actually graphite rings, I changed three of them during my 15month ownership, and got quite good at driving without a clutch, and well practised at removing the engine, as the gearbox sits above the floor in a Midget.

My first summer was spent back home doing workshop training at Bowaters, Northfleet. The trainer was ex-RAF ground crew, and it came out that he had worked on the 617 Squadron Lancasters at Lossiemouth to prepare them for attacks on the Turpitz. Coincidentally my other flat mate’s father had been a navigator on those raids, and a teacher at my school was a Spitfire Photo Reconnaissance pilot for the same operation. Small world.

As with many students I was living beyond my means, so the MG had to go. I did a sort of reverse part exchange, and came away with a SAAB 96 and some money. This 1963 SAAB was the shape that Eric Carlsson had rallied successfully and had a very basic 850cc 3cylinder two stroke engine and many quirky and advanced features. The lever on the floor gave you freewheel – useful in slippery conditions with front wheel drive as when you lift off the power, the driven wheels regain grip. Seat belts were standard, through flow ventilation, aerodynamic bodywork with built-in roll over protection were just a few features, even if some unkind people thought that it looked like an upturned boat, and sounded like a washing machine/Lambretta. Unfortunately the drum brakes on this standard model were prone to fade when used hard, no wonder they did well on rallies, once they were rolling you couldn’t stop!

I bought another for spares, and in the pre-computer records age, would drive the one with the working engine, with the number plates from the one with the MoT and/or insurance. It was certainly water tight, as when stage marshalling a rally we got stuck in a ford that flowed in when the doors were opened, and we spent days getting the water out that was sloshing from side to side around corners.

I spent my second summer staying behind in Birmingham, this kept the flat occupied, but I needed an income. I went and started selling Encyclopedia Britannica, very badly. However I discovered that the other salespeople were generally mechanically incompetent and only too pleased to pay someone (me in this instance) to service and repair their cars. I also continued to put out huge numbers of leaflets using local kids. With Britannia at that time, you got 10% of the sale price and an extra £10 if you made your own lead. A good wage was £20 per week (well it was good to me!) and selling one set of books would nett this on commission, but by getting a good return on my leaflets, then giving them to proven salespeople in return for the £10 lead money, I was doing quite well.

The Australian manager at Britannia loved Jaguars. There was some arrangement whereby a person could take a car back to Oz as a personal import (I presume) once a year I seem to remember. So we went around auctions and scoured the small ads and bought him a 420, a beautiful blue Mk2 3.8, and an early fixed head E-Type. The latter two were taken off by his relatives. He then blew the head gasket on the 420, and I and another Britannia salesman went to Watford Gap services to rescue him and his family. We towed the Jag back with a hired van, I foolishly choosing to ride in the Jag – no power steering or servo assistance for the brakes, hard work. I replaced the head gasket, and had the cylinder head on the kitchen table in the flat to set up the valve clearances.

The non-flying flat mate had built himself a rally spec Mini Cooper S during the summer. With patches of filler and primer it looked a little shabby but was quite quick. A consistent handheld stopwatch time of about 7seconds to 60mph in 1972 was not bad going. I navigated him on a local rally around his home town of Grantham and we did quite well. With the mini given a coat of paint we entered a stage rally around Birmingham. Now all the timed bits were on private land so speeds were considerably up. We had great fun. I had duplicated the wiper, washer, horn and light switches into a panel in the passenger door pocket so Pete just had to drive. We broke the rear suspension, mended that outside a scrap yard, refitted the exhaust a couple of times, and nearly ran out of fuel. Doing 80+ along an old railway line, on the top of an embankment was an experience to remember.

One evening there was a knock at the door and standing there was a young lady who lived in a flat opposite, the owner of a pre-war Morris Eight convertible. She apologised for knocking but had seen various cars around, and was pleased to find that we were all final year engineering students, so could we tell her what was wrong with hers as it was “making a funny noise”. It had run its big end bearings and sounded like a machine gun in an echo chamber. I made a preliminary investigation and found that it had white metal bearings that needed to be cast in situ – prohibitively expensive at the time. However there was an interesting warehouse over at Aston selling all manner of bits and in there I found an almost complete side valve engine, brand new, which being in Birmingham had probably escaped from Longbridge twenty-odd years earlier. It was for an early Morris Minor and cheap, but a few scrapyard visits later we had a working engine. Mary was given the remains of the original engine and told that it must always go with the car.

I scrapped both SAABs when I left Birmingham in a hired Cortina estate.
Illegitimus nil carborundum

Offline conan

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Re: Cars, Trains, Guns and things
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2017, 20:26:27 »
Wonderful stuff filmer01,especially liked the budgie story :)
To remain ignorant of what happened before you were born is to remain a child......Cicero

Offline filmer01

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Cars, Trains, Guns and things
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2017, 18:32:57 »
The title refers to my major interests over the years. Rather than tell an absolutely chronological story, I thought to frame it around various strands which may intersect as they unfold, and enable me to add or clarify as I go.

I was born at 23 Maidstone Road, Rainham in 1951, when cars were not that common. However my mother always said that I stood up in my pram (one of those proper Silver Cross types) and pointing to one, said my first word “Car” - much to her annoyance, “Mum” being far and away the preferred utterance.

The “Austin of England” badge on the side of an A70 Hereford usually parked in the then dead-end of Thames Avenue sticks in my memory as we played around it, me in my red pedal car. My sister and I walked up the Maidstone Road to school at the top of Bettescombe Road in an old army camp of wooden huts that I now know had been an anti-aircraft battery. Me fascinated by any cars that we found on the way, a black Ford Mk1 Consul sticks in my mind as well as the Headmaster’s Jowett Javelin.

I started to acquire a modest collection of Dinky toys. An early memory is listening to “The Yellow Rose of Texas” on the radio and wondering where these rows of yellow taxis were. My Dinky taxi (Austin FX3?) was yellow, which attracted me to the song, as I only ever saw black ones. I was given this toy to play with when my Aunt visited with her own elderly Aunt in an Austin 10 all the way from Cornwall. The old lady was blind and did not spend any money on the car which was a dull matt green by now and the rear doors were tied together with rope. My 4foot 10.5 tall Aunt had blocks on the pedals.

We moved to Hartlip Hill, on the corner of Breach Lane and the A2, opposite The Tuck Inn transport cafe on April 1st 1958 it was total chaos as befits the date. Who these days would send their children to the new house by bus with the budgie in its cage covered in a cloth?

I now went to school in Sittingbourne. One term at Ufton Lane school, very frustrating because, as was the custom I was put into the middle ability class where I was so far ahead of the rest, never mind the previous basic surroundings, my old teachers had really done well. I quickly started making the 4 mile bus journey alone and noticed a strange car while waiting for the bus home. It was often there, I looked it up, a Facel-Vega, very rare, I was seriously hooked.

Barrow Grove school followed, the Headmistress at the time, Miss Findlay(?) drove a white Morris 1000. An American Nash station wagon driven by the parents of a girl younger than me (they were from Washington D.C.) certainly caught my attention, it had indicators, but white at the front and red at the rear not orange as ours. They did the school run, most unusual then, especially as she lived right next to Gore Court Cricket ground, where the road now runs, and the bus journey was simple.

My father was a lorry driver for NAAFI. His driving licence (the old red one) simply said “All Groups”. He never took a test, learning to drive my grandfather’s Bull Nose Morris Oxford in an orchard when 16 years old. Among other things, he had been a delivery driver pre-war (for International Stores), I still have the instruction book for the Model T van. Although 30years old when war broke out he was called up into the Royal Signals and spent time as a driver for a senior officer for part of the war and at some point had done a PSV course which included taking a double decker bus out onto a skid pan, to his great delight.

I often went with Dad on a Saturday, his half day, being picked up about 5am at the top of Berengrave Lane. If I was canny there would be samples of the cream cakes from the trays in the lorry from the nice ladies at our various stops. There were many, probably on different routes but I mostly remember the coast runs, Dunkirk’s aerials, Canterbury at sunrise, passing Manston watching for planes, Old Park and Connaught Barracks, Walmer and the toll bridge at Sandwich. I remember having to stay in the cab on many occasions, watching a pipe band rehearse somewhere, looking at rows of sand coloured vehicles (ready for Suez?) and most importantly, us driving into Dover Castle through the main gate.

We stopped early one morning and looked in the showroom in Canterbury displaying the latest MG record holder. The difference between petrol and diesel engines was explained to me, and demonstrated by driving through large puddles on the road above Dover cliffs while my father sang “Great Balls of Fire”.

Highlight of the drive home would be a stop at the Welcome Cafe as we left Thanet, it even had a pinball machine.

Etched into my memory is coming down the hill from Judd’s Folly near Ospringe on the A2 on the way home, passing the Doddington turn, and Dad getting quite excited as a little red car came towards us. Our first encounter with a Mini.

However a lorry driver’s wage did not finance a car so he remained a motor bike rider, and when we moved had descended to a Norman Nippy as cheap transport to work. This Ashford built device was to counter the Honda 50s but failed. One of the sit-up-and-beg Fords would occasionally be hired from Greens Garage. Luckily, my grandfather, with whom we lived, felt that he needed better regular transport than the number 26 bus could provide and bought a car, Dad to be the driver.

This was a brand new 1959 Humber Hawk,617 FKP, and when first bought I was small enough that I could sit in the middle of the bench front seat with my feet on the transmission tunnel, a column change kept the gear lever out of my way. My mother called it “Harry” from the character in the song Widdecombe Fair.

Dad subscribed to “Practical Motorist” and did all his own servicing, with my help, of course. I still have, and use, his ramps and Wanner grease gun.

The car was never used to ferry children about unless part of a family group, going to church on Sunday or to the coast. I was in the church choir, but choir practice and Scouts were either by bus or bike, a mile on the A2, pre M2, in the dark in winter. Should have been scary, but I enjoyed it, practising car recognition by lamp configuration, both from oncoming and as they passed me.

Because my father became unwell, he could no longer manage either a Thames Trader lorry, or the Humber so Granddad bought a Hillman Imp in 1963. It was very much the untested mark one with a notoriously weak clutch, hydraulic throttle linkage that would often mean pumping the throttle pedal and an automatic choke that stuck. His did not suffer from the intermixing of oil and water that many did, thankfully. These early ones had a Knock-kneed appearance from the front, as the front wheels were wider apart at the top than the bottom – positive camber. Allegedly this was because the headlamps were too low (there is a legal minimum) and jacking up the suspension gave the small difference needed.

My elder sister had followed her maths degree with a career in early computing, then got married when I was nine. She had dabbled with a scooter but after marriage they bought an early 50’s Hillman Minx. Just to be different, it was left hand drive, reimported from Belgium. Her husband spent many hours under it, even fitting a heater!! I enjoyed this car, because I could sit in the right hand front seat, and wave at other motorists, who saw an 11 year old without his hands on a steering wheel – huge fun to watch their reactions.

The younger of my two sisters started work for the school meals service as a trainee cook when she was 16. When she was 18 or 19 she bought an Austin A40 Somerset. Being in pale blue, it was christened Bluebell. I was allowed to shunt the Somerset to and fro on the drive and generally help with its upkeep. Her then boy friend had a Mini, which she eventually bought from him, and the prospective purchasers of the Somerset turned up earlier than arranged. So I sold them the car, for £25, Di had thought to only get £15, she was so pleased that we split the extra £10.

I had finally got properly mobile a couple of months after my 16th birthday with the purchase of an Ariel Arrow SS 250cc motor bike. My mother was suitably horrified but my father just jumped on it and disappeared for half an hour.

Unfortunately, in the middle of my O-Levels, I hit the rear of a Mini that pulled out of Church Lane in Newington right in front of me, and then stuttered almost to halt. I hit it square on and poked my helmeted head through the rear window, much to the surprise of the driver’s mother in law who was seated in the back. He got prosecuted for Due care and Attention, and I got a full pay out on the bike, and kept the wreck.

An Ariel Leader was found in Upchurch with a duff engine, and the two became one over the summer, a very ugly, half painted, hybrid. I built it in the shed, but then needed two burly guys to help me get it out on its rear wheel, as it had gone in in bits.

During that summer I worked on the pumps at Farthing Corner services. This was attendant service, so Sunday evening shift London bound there would be a dozen people serving and two supervisors taking turns on the till. Needing a light job Dad was working as a supervisor, and we occasionally worked together. What was most fun were the variety of cars and drivers. A quiet Sunday morning might bring the usual pre-war Bentley, whose driver dipped the tank with a carefully calibrated broom handle, then it would get busy with day trippers. You got very canny about Jaguars, those engines got seriously hot, and having “check oil daily” burned into your hand from the dipstick was not a good look, besides being painful. A Morris Isis stands out, a 6cylinder engine stuffed into a 1950’s Oxford, rare then, probably for the best,if the weight of that engine had the expected effect on the already soggy handling.

Hidden petrol fillers were popular, the spring loaded numberplate on a Mark2 Ford Consul being surely designed to remove fingers...

One quiet sunny midweek day, a little white convertible car pulled up, I went to serve it and saw large “NSU” labels on the doors. While I was filling the tank the driver popped the front bonnet to retrieve his coat and wallet, then opened the rear “engine cover” only for it to also be a boot. Hang on, I thought, where is the engine? So I asked, and it was under the rear luggage area, it was an experimental twin rotor Wankel engine, dwarfed by the usual ancillaries of dynamo, starter, carburettor etc. It was installed into the NSU Prinz Spider as a real life test bed for the larger engine to be used in the Ro80 Saloon. He gave me a load of literature about the single rotor usually used in the car, I was fascinated.

At Christmas Dad died. Within a couple of weeks Granddad had sold the Imp, to Green’s Garage along the road. I had to fiddle the automatic choke to get it to go before they came, and we all thought that was the last we would see of 3146 KP. Not so, a few weeks later and it was parked outside my school, one of my teachers had bought it. That was bit painful at the time.

However shortly after this I passed my bike test in Maidstone, and only a week or so later was 17. I had my first driving lesson in the dark that February evening, in a brand new Ford Escort, the first I had even seen, and six weeks later passed my test in Gillingham. The only traffic lights that I found in Gillingham at that time were at the junction outside the bus station, but they were still covered in sacking, and not yet working. The Canterbury Street/Watling Street junction was interesting, gave a whole new meaning to “the quick and the dead”!

Idly talking about it at school, I was offered an Austin Seven that the older brother of one of our class wanted to sell. £10 – how could I refuse? It was an open 2 seater “Special” looking a bit MGish, but it was a car – my car! 
Illegitimus nil carborundum


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