ISSUE NO 2 – WINTER 2018
Published early January, the contents include an account of driving a Daimler 30-40 from London to Spain – in 1906!, the fascinating if chequered history of glassfibre cars, Nuvolari’s most extraordinary grand prix races, one woman’s 35 year love affair with her Morris Traveler, Douglas Blain’s affectionate obituary for the Lamborghini Miura, John Simister in praise of the much-underrated Hillman Imp, the legendary engineer-racer Bill Milliken and his assault on Pikes Peak in a Bugatti, Steve Cropley on the last gasp of Citroen’s 2CV and three owners love affair with la petite escargot, Richard Bremner on the Argyll – a lesser known Scottish supercar, Colin Goodwin’s attempt to cross the Channel in an aquatic Ford Fiesta and so much more…
THE SOUTHBOUND CAR
Owen Llewellyn, one of the first Britons to work as a motoring journalist, wrote with dry wit and genuine enthusiasm for what, at the turn of the 20th century, were still regarded as horseless carriages. Rudimentary they may have been, but nothing deterred this intrepid Edwardian from travelling vast distances abroad, as these early stages of a lengthy continental adventure in the winter of 1907 highlight
THE ROAD TO SPAIN IS DOWN PICCADILLY, THROUGH St James’s Park, and over Westminster Bridge. That is to say, if you start from the Automobile Club motor-house, as we did.
But another time, and with a less powerful car than our 30-40 Daimler, there should be other and less spectacular routes. And the reason is this. There were (and still are) four of us, all men of more or less large proportions. By the mercy of Providence, two of our wives who were to have taken the place of one of us, Jarge to wit, relinquished the idea. To understand the full meaning of this sentence it should be read backwards, and to get at the full meaning of what our wives escaped they had only to look at the car as we emerged out of the club motor-cellar, fully loaded.
For the benefit of those who may be tempted to follow our example, let me take this opportunity to catalogue our chief accoutrements:
Two spare Dunlop covers (studded)
Four spare Dunlop tubes
One spare pump (water)
Two spare chains
One spare coil
Two spare sets of accumulators
Two sets Parsons’ chains
Twelve feet copper piping, and
A never-to-be-forgotten jack.
Added to which were innumerable spare plugs, wires, bolts, nuts, butterflies, washers, tools, levers, spanners and such like, most of which were only carried in order to intimidate the car into not requiring them, and to help fill the tonneau. Also a joy for ever came in the shape of six Parsons’ sparklet inflators, which allowed us the freedom from the tyre-pump during the whole journey. Consequently, two tons would not have been in the same street with what we totalled up.
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AGE CANNOT WEARY IT
In the aftermath of WW2, says Mathew Vale, the motoring world woke up to the seemingly endless possibilities of magical new shape-shifting and corrosion-proof bodywork
BACK IN THE EARLY ‘80S WHEN I RAN A TEN-YEAR-OLD Triumph Spitfire (a proper one – a Mk3 – none of your ‘modern’ BL rubbish) I’d gaze wistfully and treacherously at a mate’s Lotus Elan, and wonder why my gently decaying bodywork couldn’t have been made from this age-resistant plastic. The Spitfire wasn’t that bad, but every MoT test revealed that more of the floor had decided to ‘reduce itself to produce’, which gifted Ray the Welder with another pricey session.
Year-on-year more metal was inserted to replace the powdery mess that genuine Triumph steel had turned into, and every year Ray would insert a little more. Eventually it was retired to my parents’ barn in Somerset. Today, of course, it would be worth a fortune, but then it was just another old knacker I couldn’t bring myself to scrap.
Eventually, after another new floor weld, I turned the Spit into a deposit on my first house. But the main thing it gave me, apart from a lot of great journeys down memory lane, was an abiding interest in glass fibre. In fact, my father worked in the industry and I also did time during school holidays in various industrial glass-fibre plants – my main claims to fame being helping to fashion Austin Allegro sill extensions, the canopy at London Bridge station, and seats on the London Underground. But best of all, I’m now happily burdened with a brace of restoration-needy Lotus Elan Plus 2s.
So what is this stuff – glass fibre? Those two short words describe a post-War innovation that spawned myriad UK-based automotive companies, some small and short-lived, others still plugging away today. A product of the accelerated scientific advances of WW2, glass-fibre-reinforced-plastic (GRP) combined two technologies – artificial oil-based polyester resins and spun glass. During the war it mainly benefited the aircraft industry where its low weight, relative tensile strength and tolerance of a wide temperature range was much valued. But, come peace time, all that glass-fibre know-how built up in the UK and USA needed new outlets, which mostly meant wider aeronautical applications, surfboards, boats and, by the late ’40s, the car industry.
After the war, with the UK economy in tatters, most new car production was directed overseas to generate much-needed hard currency; and everything was in short supply. Such harsh conditions fed into a market for refurbishing obsolete modes of transport and getting them back on the road. Even though the main issue with old crocks was their rotten bodywork, before the advent of GRP there was little demand for proprietary replacement bodies, as owners made their own or commissioned wood and/or metal one-offs.
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ULYSSES SCALES PIKES PEAK
Peter Wright, ex-BRM, ex-Lotus, recalls a friend and colleague whose impact on automotive and aviation engineering, to say nothing of motor racing, was both original and far-reaching
HOW CREDIBLE IS THIS? A STRANGER WALKS INTO YOUR office and without so much as a by-your-leave, stamps his talents, his skills and his friendship on the rest of your life. Well, let me introduce William F Milliken Jr who made just such an entrance at Team Lotus in 1982. An engineer, racer and adventurer, Bill remained a hugely valued companion and touchstone until his death in 2012, aged 101. He taught me most of what I know about vehicle dynamics, and all that I know about closing deals, the two of us getting into many a scrape along the way, mostly involving weird machines, and very often laughing until we cried.
From early on Bill was fascinated ‘…by the hero’s mode of action: taking a chance and, like Ulysses, pushing on regardless’. His century-long life was shaped by just such an ethic. It guided him through a 20th century crowded with adventure and achievement in both aviation and the automobile. And one of the most colourful and heroic of his ‘modes of action’ was a racing assault, 70 years ago in 1947, on the 14,110ft summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado in 1947, driving his highly modified T35A Bugatti.
It was a life-affirming blast that gives us, today, a sense of his personal and technical approaches to the challenges he willed himself
to take on. What’s more, it was an adventure we can all share, and which we draw on here, inspired by his lively and superbly illustrated autobiography, Equations of Motion, Adventure, Risk and Innovation (Bentley Publishers), which I heartily recommend.
Bill was born in Old Town, Maine, in 1911, to a father who surveyed new railroad routes through the Rockies and across Mexico and Alaska, and a mother who was an accomplished musician. His early upbringing was influenced by cousin Eddie who took him from a series of ‘push’ Indy cars to a more sophisticated Excelsior motorcycle engined construction. A parallel interest in aircraft saw that engine attached to a propeller-powered ski-mobile in which he’d navigate his local snow-covered streets. More than 20 different and extraordinary such machines filled Bill’s life between the ages of 10 and 18, after which he branched out into full-blown aircraft design, producing his Milliken M1 – designed, built, flown and crashed by the time he was 22 – for an all-up cost of $300. The restored M1 resides today in the Owls Head Transportation Museum, Near Owls Head, Maine.
After discovering the discipline of stability and control the hard way, Bill decided to make it his life’s work, and prior to enrolling at MIT, won a scholarship to the Boeing School of Aeronautics where he learned to fly properly. Early employment after MIT involved development of the flight characteristics of the Vought Corsair, the US Navy’s ultimate piston-engined fighter, but by the time WW2 broke out, Bill had gravitated west again to Boeing, which was developing the world’s first pressurised aircraft, the Boeing 307 Stratoliner.
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A GIRL’S GUIDE TO TRAVELLERS
Few of us stick with a single car as a daily driver for decade after decade. But Mikki Rain is one such stoic, and in the process reckons she’s become as one with her vehicle of choice – a very choice Morris Minor 1000 Traveller
CAR OWNERSHIP AMONG OUR STUDENT GROUP IN THE ‘70S was generally the province of the boys – and heavily dependent on what was available, and available cheaply. Hello Zephyrs, Consuls and Zodiacs, or a Ford Pop or Austin 7 for those squeezed by even tighter budgets. And, sadly if inevitably, some of the beefier machines ended their careers at Matchams Park Demolition Derby on the edge of the New Forest.
The smart one we kept for best was a Humber Super Snipe Estate which gulped fuel at a rate of about 10mpg, so requiring a whipround before we all piled in and headed off on a drive. Indeed, that was the era when you did simply go for ‘a drive’ and there were still such creatures as ‘Sunday drivers’. I remember our monster, packed with friends, children and large hairy dog, regularly heading for the Purbeck Hills or a beach, which was enormous fun. And it was shortly after this idyllic period that I progressed to independent mobility and, unlike today when it is something of an event to even see one, I fixed on the cheap and ordinary, indeed ubiquitous, Morris Minor.
They were everywhere, in all their forms: saloons, convertibles, pick-ups, Travellers, Post Office vans and, amazingly, even police cars. Back in those college days, the British Motor Corporation had only just ended production having released about 1.3 million onto the roads. Their distinctive farting exhaust note when decelerating, a unique and endearing feature, was a familiar sound right across Britain. The joke was ‘nought to 60… eventually’, then add a following wind and a downhill gradient. But speed wasn’t an issue for me – simplicity and practicality were much further up the priority list. So, yes, this was the car for me.
I owned two saloons prior to the Traveller, both a mere step away from the scrapper. One met its demise following a damning MoT verdict which reported, ‘Extensively corroded throughout’. The other became the local joy-riding vehicle of choice for some unsavoury characters who racked up a trail of traffic violations, prompting a visit from the local constabulary under the misapprehension that such reprehensible behaviour was down to me. As if.
But in 1981, no longer a student, and living in London on a meagre wage as an art-slave in an embryonic publishing company that rose phoenix-like out of the ashes of Oz magazine, I could afford to upgrade. With a budget of £500 I was in the market for a better quality vehicle and thought a Traveller would be just the ticket – a more practical shape into which, at a squeeze, you could fit a bike or chest of draws.
Then, while visiting my father in Poole, I spotted a small ad in the Echo for a 1971 teal blue example with just ‘two careful lady owners’. When I phoned up, the ‘lady’ asked me to come round the next morning, but, impatient for a sneaky preview, I visited the vendor’s address that afternoon thinking she’d be out. Instead, there were husband and wife struggling to push the car up their steep drive.
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