In one of my photo albums is a picture of someone’s hand holding a CO2 powered model of Mignet’s Flying Flea. The picture was taken in my garden some 27 years ago and I’ve occasionally wondered who the hand belonged to.

Flying Flea

Well, this week I found out. The White Lion at Ufford in Suffolk hosts a vintage car meeting a couple of times a year. The spring gathering is not to be missed as vintage stuff comes out that you don’t see for the rest of the year and the event is always packed. The October meeting is less popular but, if the weather is half decent (we got soaked in the Austin last year) then it’s definitely worth the trip.

Ufford October

There’s always a good showing of Lagonda’s of all shapes and sizes but, more importantly for me, a chap turned up on a Cyclemaster powered bicycle. I was an NSU Quickly and Solex fan in my youth and in the last few years had restored a Trojan Mini-Motor for Mark the Furniture (a local antique dealer) so,

Trojan Mini-Motor

I popped over to have a look. I don’t know how we got on to the subject of Fleas but, well I never, it turned out that this was the chap who belonged to the hand in my photograph. I found a Flying Flea rudder in a local barn some years ago. This particular HM14 was registered appropriately enough to a Commander Bird and was reportedly flown (and crashed) at Bury St Edmunds. The main spars were way up in the rafters of the barn and couldn’t be reached and there was no sign of the fuselage or engine.


An inherent fault provoked by the unusual configuration of the Flea’s wings and which produced control reversal in certain modes of flight – resulting in the deaths of several enthusiasts – was enough to persuade the Air Board to issue a blanket ban of the Flea, even though a Cleverchap called Baynes had sorted out an Anti-Bernouli-Control-Device mod (ABCD to us Earthlings) making the aircraft safe. I often toyed with the idea of building a Flea and, because at one time I was lucky enough to have my own airstrip, I imagined that a taxi trial; whoops, we’re going a bit fast, hello, the ground’s falling away, would have been an exciting moment. I think Mignet got away with it because he flew his aircraft on rudder and throttle alone – throttle for going up and down and rudder for left and right, leaving the articulating wing pretty much alone. It would perhaps have been interesting to test that theory. I’m pleased to have on my shelves a copy of Mignet’s original book whose opening gambit declares that if you can nail a packing case together, then you can build a Flea. That’s the stuff!

Riley front springs

A trip to Norfolk – no doubt one of a great many to be undertaken – to borrow a couple of front spring shackles saw the first progress on the racing car. The rear springs – apparently of Maserati origin – are very neatly arranged.

Rear springs

No flies on the chap who designed this then.





That Was Clever…..

…. and I had a feeling that I was going to have to pay for it a bit further down the line.


I happened to have a piston ring compressor which fitted exactly the circumference of the Morris Minor synchromesh gear and within a couple of minutes the whole thing was back together again; no searching for balls and springs under the bench, no screwdrivers through the hand – it all seemed a bit too good to be true.

Morris Minor gearbox nose cone

Buoyed by this piece of luck, I went on to repair the main shaft bearing’s front cover (removed from the 3-speed box) and carefully glued the broken bits together with Araldite and filled in what was missing with Milliput. And, in what might be described as a dis-covery, the 4-speed box front cover it turns out, is not the same as the 3-speed box front cover – that was the payback. I may have to machine up a new cover if one can’t be located.

Hillman rear axle

I had a quick peek in the Hillman rear axle – the back plates were almost non-existent after sandblasting – and everything looked intact inside. I’ve got to drill out the drum screws which are currently as one with the drums but after that it should be plain-sailing; a little bit of heat and the hubs will fall off in an obliging manner, the bearings will slip from the half shafts…. you know the sort of thing.

Riley chassis

But the biggest excitement was having a massive clear out and tidy-up in the workshop to make space for the racing car. I had to call in Counsel to help me shift a couple of benches round and heave the milling machine about and to set up the chassis on trestles. I can now get round the car and the first job is to get the axles jury-rigged and see where everything might end up.


I also rested what I’ve got of the body on the chassis to give me a bit of inspiration. It probably isn’t in the right place ….


… but a picture is beginning to form. I must get hold of the photo of the car that had this body; that would be a great help in determining what goes where. Apart from the silent-third box, I’ve also managed to get a couple of very large brake drums – they always look very racy besides being a great deal more effective than the standard size, a steering column without all the pre-selector attachments (the box had a hole in it in any case) and a lighter front axle – still a Riley type. I’m also led to believe that the cast bulkhead, visible in the picture above, is copied from a Maserati bulkhead of the period, so that’s interesting to know.

Riley 9

And this is what under the bonnet should look like when it’s finished. I dropped in to see a chum who’s building a Riley Special and grabbed a couple of pics; any information – especially in photographic form – is going to help.

Riley Special

Blue and cream are very nice together.


So That Was The Problem….

… with the starter motor.

Starter motor

Behind the Bendix gear is another cup which contains a rubber block. (Caution – the retaining cap has a left-hand thread). This block is bonded both to the cup and a dog in the middle of the cup and is in effect a cush drive – preventing the torque from the starter motor stripping the teeth on the ring gear. The block had come adrift so the starter shaft was spinning and only just getting the engine to turn over. I think that if I’d hadn’t fitted electronic ignition, I’d still be pushing the car up the M20.

Cush drive

As these parts are unavailable, a search on the web turned up the options. A temporary fix (if I’m lucky) would be the application of a very good grade of super-glue or to adapt something from a Land Rover starter motor. As I’ve fitted the spare starter and that seems to be ok for the time being, I’ll go with the super-glue for starters – so to speak.

-Morris Minor gearbox

And super-glue is something I wished I’d had quantities of when re-assembling the Morris Minor gearbox. I was lucky to get new bearings from a local supplier and was looking forward to putting it all back together again – it came apart easily enough after all….. Well, 2 hours later, I’d nearly got it when I heard the tinkle of a ball bearing dropping into the casing; the synchromesh thingy had decided to complicate matters by slipping out of its sleeve…


…. letting the springs push the balls out. I was not very pleased.

Hillman rear axle

To restore my equilibrium, I called up Learned Counsel and we slipped off to collect the Hillman rear axle from the sandblaster’s. The treatment won’t have made the hubs any the easier to get off but at least the dog can see the rabbit, so half the battle’s won. The corrosion on the nuts and bolts is a bit more than I imagined and I’ve noticed that there’s an interesting method of connecting the two sets of brake shoes (handbrake and service) together. How useful that might be is questionable because it could allow the back wheels to lock up more readily – something I would like to avoid.

Austin 7 run

An opportunity arose to join a trip through the lanes with the local A7 club and, as Sunita hadn’t been out since before the trip to France, we joined in, using it as an excuse to call in on Learned Counsel and to report on the progress of the Jowett Jumble Sale. We saw a gold painted Jowett Javelin on the way round the lanes; the lighter shades seem to set the saloon off to more advantage than the usual black and dark blue schemes.

Jowett Jupiter

Although it looks much the same as a few weeks ago, much progress with paintwork and trim has been made. Getting the rubber bead evenly fixed between the wings and the body has been a bit of a fiddle and the interior is about to be completed with the addition of the newly upholstered seat.


Of course, he’d have been a lot further on if he’d kept his priorities in focus and not taken time out to make a new garden gate.


Getting Going Again.

First things first – make a decent loaf of bread.


Home-made bread seasoned with walnuts or apricots, olives or sun-dried tomatoes is difficult to keep away from and, if you make a sandwich with feta cheese, lettuce, Marmite and gherkins, you’ll go back for another inside a minute. In a bid to tidy up and get organised, I’ve decided to make up a new welding bench from an old print table that’s given sterling service in the past but which over time has become a repository for stuff I’m never going to use – a Henry Meadows gearbox for instance…

Meadows Gearbox

The table will need to be cut down and re-welded into a more manageable size,

Print table

a metal top added and then taken up to the workshop where it will replace an old and rather frail wooden bench that is currently home to a chum’s pre-war Morris Minor gearbox – come in for a rebuild.

Morris 8, 4-speed g'box

The box had been rather neglected in the past judging by the contents of the diesel tank I left it in to soak before we went off to Angouleme and now I’ve set about it, it’s become something of an exploded diagram. I’m sure I’ll remember where everything goes. Anyway, more importantly, once the new table is set up in the other workshop, that’ll give me a bit of extra space around the chassis of the new project.


It consists mostly of Riley bits and pieces and, as I understand it, has never been assembled. A pre-selector gearbox is among the bigger items (it’s ridiculously heavy for a 9hp engine) but a few months ago I managed to get a ‘silent third’ box which will give us half a chance off the grid and not consume half the power of the engine. I’m not really up on Riley’s but I have two good friends that specialise in the marque so I’m in good hands.

Special body

The body’s rather interesting – it’s a period piece – and I’m told that it was fashionable to dress up single-seater’s as Maserati’s – hence the red nose. I believe a picture exists of this particular body on a car but I’ll have to do some digging to find it.

A7 WingsBut, as I’ve been telling myself for the last 4 years, the next job on the list is the Austin’s front wings. When I originally finished the car it had a pair of front mudguards identical to the rear ones but I got the heights wrong – they’re still not right on the back but if you ease off a bit in the corners, the tyres don’t rub on the guard brackets. I realised I’d got the heights all wrong when, down a single track lane and in a public-spirited way, I drove up onto the verge to let an oncoming motorist past. Well, more fool me because when they’d gone, I found that I was stuck fast with both nearside wheels jammed up against their respective guards. Fortunately, not 10 minutes later, a couple of the farm hands happened by and, being burly sorts, lifted the car back onto the road.

That got me going again.


After two and half years of relatively intensive work on the Hillman culminating in our adventure to Angouleme, it was a bit difficult to get back into the swing of things. Firstly, the car had to be attended to because it had become increasingly difficult to start as time wore on and also, a curious clicking had developed between Rouen and Calais. While we had oil pressure and the water temperature was steady, we pressed on and once we were back on English roads, the surfaces being so bad, it was impossible to hear anything over the road noise in any case.

Exhaust gaskets

This was the clicking noise we heard. All the exhaust gaskets were completely shot but fortunately I had another set and, after fitting them, a trip to the VSCC races at Snetterton confirmed that all was well again. The starting problem (I really didn’t think I was going to make it to the Channel Tunnel train after switching off in the queue) was cured immediately by fitting a second starter motor – a spare I’m lucky to have because they’re peculiar to that engine and consequently very rare. The faulty motor has gone down to the shop to be sorted out.

Rear axle

A constant niggle in the back of my mind was whether the back axle was going to stand the pace – especially as I’d assembled it from a variety of bits and pieces of unknown origin. I’ve got a complete rear axle which looks untouched from new and although it’s not a pretty sight, I think the internals will be ok; at least they’ll have been matched together at the factory. Some lateral movement by the pinion in the pinion carrier has developed in the 1800 or so miles we’ve done and I might also have to consider balancing the propshaft. My original thought was that it was too short to be of any consequence but if that’s the cause of the play, it’ll be worth attending to. I’ll also pay careful attention to the pinion carrier’s assembly this time round because I recall that it was a bit of a puzzle trying to get it back together with all the right fits and clearances.

Jowett Jupiter upholstery

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Learned Counsel and The Navigator had been busy. The Jowett Jalopy’s seat is nearly complete and looks as good as new; just the armrest to finish off and install (the tricky bit) and some tidying up round the edges.

Jowett Jupiter

The bodywork has progressed to the point of fitting all the bits back together again and the cellulose paintwork really sets the car off; to see a period car finished in 2-pack is a bit like listening to a digital rehash of The Spiders From Mars – it just don’t cut the mustard.

Jowett Jupiter

You’ll have to imagine that the Jowett is BRG – I’ve always hated using a flash but sometimes there’s no way round it.

The Ambassador's Daughter

And finally, before I start the new project, I’d like to thank all the people who had a hand in ‘The Monaco Dash’. These things are never done in isolation and everyone who contributed to the success of the adventure has my heartfelt thanks – not least The Ambassador’s Daughter who in the final stages, rolled her sleeves up and got stuck in, making sure that we’d get to the start line on time.




The Reason Why.

After settling in at Chez Maurit, the next excitement was getting to Angouleme to see what was going on. Friday was billed as a bit of a special day and much was made of the Concourse de Elegance in the evening but, if I went to the races again, I would probably give Friday a miss. There was quite a lot of hanging around and by the time the party got going, it was time to get going – so we missed it.


As we did one of the bends on the way home. It was dark and the lights, although good for a vintage car, didn’t illuminate the tightness of the left-hander. Fortunately, there was a straight-on option – which I took!


Before we left the city, we took the opportunity to roar around as much of the circuit as possible. It’s very short and tight and heaving the Hillman round at speed would have been testing. I’d had to patch up a bit of the silencer before we left England but the repair hadn’t lasted which made our lap a bit of a head-turner.

Grand Tour

The following day, we positioned ourselves in the small town of Aubeterre in order to catch the procession of classic and vintage vehicles passing through. We got the timing a bit wrong so decided we’d go on to Chalais where the vehicles had gathered for lunch. When we got there, we were ushered in to the parking especially reserved for the top cars. I wasn’t about to disabuse anyone of their notions regarding our status and happily joined the tour which took us back through cheering crowds to Aubeterre.

Two things which made distinct impressions on The Ambassador’s Daughter and me were firstly, the quality of the French roads which must be the best in the world – silent, smooth and largely empty – and secondly, the enthusiasm and delight the French – old and young – have for vintage cars. Passing through tiny villages in the middle of nowhere, old folk would rise from their seats, clap and call ‘Bravo!’ Where we parked, we found it hard to get away, such was people’s interest. It was all very heart-warming and we never for a moment thought twice about leaving the car unattended for the day in a car park or a back street – we knew it would be safe.

The Pits

Sunday was the big day and the practicing started early. It was exciting stuff and the competitors were not behind the door considering the nature of the circuit. There were a couple of prangs and a few cars probably went home with less bodywork than they started with but I can only imagine that a good time was had by all.


Inevitably, there was a good showing of Bugatti’s but, come to think of it, I’d never seen so many Renault Alpine’s in one place either.

Jowett Jupiter

The sole representative of the Jowett marque was parked in one of the main squares in the town. It looked very original and well used. I would have liked to have seen under the bonnet but the owner wasn’t in evidence. But all this fun had to come to an end and on Monday morning we set off back to England. Once again, our hosts for the two stops we made were charming, accommodating and we ate very well.

Wednesday morning

The first sign of any inclement weather for the whole of our time in France came on Wednesday morning. We’d stayed at a small manoir about 50 miles South of Rouen and fortunately, the owners had made available a small motor house for the car overnight….

Manoir de Bouvry

… so the car was dry to start our dash to Calais for the 1.20pm train. It was a bit of a long haul but the car is comfortable and despite the wind, noise and the horrendous traffic in England ….


… the 9 hour trip back to Suffolk wasn’t at all onerous.

So, both sadly and happily, that really winds up this particular adventure and I was expecting to settle down to a moment’s peace and quiet but …

The next project

… hello, what’s this turned up in my workshop?



The First 170 Miles….

… went without a problem (apart from the utterly and completely incomprehensible French road numbering system leading us astray on more than one occasion) and we arrived at La Ferme en Ville, Bernay. As it was a Sunday evening we were expecting to have recourse to bread and scrape and in Abbeville, we’d stocked up with fruit, bread and cheese. Our hosts though, couldn’t have been more accommodating and delightful and we were treated to an excellent dinner – all home-grown salad and vegetables and locally sourced meat. That Robert and his wife were both classic car enthusiasts with a Mini and a Triumph Spitfire in the family was an unexpected bonus.


Following a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs and croissant, we set out to our next stop in Airvault, taking in Le Mans along the way. Some of the Monaco Dasher’s had been together at the Le Mans Classic a couple of years ago and the centre of the town was a bit of a building site. Not so now. We found a parking place in a quiet square behind the cathedral and went for a wander round. One of the things that has been so charming about our reception in France is the extraordinary enthusiasm and interest in the Hillman that people have expressed along the way. Sometimes it’s been difficult to get out of the car park but it’s been a real pleasure to chat away with people from all walks of life.

Le Mans

Having dawdled along the way somewhat…


… an impromptu lunch stop at a wayside cafe with 2 Sunbeam 90 dhc’s, a TR6 and the owner’s Triumph Spitfire couldn’t be ignored – we were a bit late at Le Vieux Chateau, Airvault. An interesting evening dining with all the other guests at a long banqueting table, kept us on our toes as none of the 10 spoke a word of English (which was nice).

La Rochelle

After a similarly communal breakfast (late again) we pressed on to the charming port of La Rochelle. It was a bit out of our way but I’d wanted to visit while I had the chance. The detour was worth it – a splendid lunch in a bustling little town with lots of history.

Chez Maurit

The Armstrong Siddeley Hurricane beat us to our destination and everyone, thankfully, arrived in one piece. The only real drama was that the Hurricane blew out an inner tube – fortunately only 20 yards from their chosen hotel – and that involved getting two more tyres and tubes flown out from Longstone Tyres in the UK.

The Golf Club

Our first entertainment was a couple of lemonades with the local car club. An Aero Morgan in very original condition, an XK and an Austin 7 were some of the cars to look at before we motored off to Aubeterre for lunch.


Aubeterre boasts an extraordinary church cut into the rock. It’s quite the most fantastic structure and, without thinking, I’d imagined that the excavations would have begun at the bottom. Not so – they started at the top and worked their way down; a fact that wasn’t at first obvious to me because you walk in at the bottom.

If that doesn’t make a lot of sense I can be excused after 170 brain-rattling miles in a vintage special…..