…. and new toys all round!


Well, for some people at least. The Great Collector has acquired a very rare beast; a marque that I’d not heard of before now though I’d heard of the Dorman engine that sits under the bonnet. The Vulcan, built in Southport – this one in 1920, is quite a big car and sports a 2.6L engine; more anon.

2.6L Dorman

And continuing with rare treats, Learned Counsel decided to make a few further enquiries concerning his ‘barn-find’ and we went to have a closer look and meet the owner a few days ago. I’d struggled to come up with any reference to the type of body this particular Austin 10 was wearing; on Google images there were cabriolets aplenty but not with this shaped boot. The only one that came close was one that incorporated a dickey seat which this car definitely never had.

Austin 10

The owner cleared up the mystery for us. It was a Gordon & Co cabriolet – or drop-head coupe – and was built in Sparkbrook, Birmingham, 8 miles up the road from Austin in Longbridge. Again, this was a new name to me but a quick search revealed that Gordon & Co were quite prolific and for a good long time, so I should have known about them.

Gordon & Co

Only 2 cars on the Austin 10 chassis with this style of Gordon body are known to survive so Learned Counsel took the plunge and a deal was struck. The car comes with a box of interesting paperwork and lots of pictures (so it was very quiet in the car on the way home) and a pleasing amount of spare bits and pieces to accompany the very complete car.

Jowett Jupiter grille

I’m still searching for a pair of Riley Merlin half-shafts and really need to get the engine position determined on the racing car. I was revving up to go and do that the other day when Learned Counsel popped in for a cup of tea and presented me with the grilles for the Jowett Jumble Sale and said, ‘just plate those for me would you…’ then promptly disappeared to Spain for a week. The Rolls is back together again and we all held our breath while Counsel did the honours. It sprang into life and settled down to a quiet rumble. Rumble!!?? No oil pressure! I took advice from clever chaps and it turned out that sometimes it can take up to a heart-stopping minute before the gauge tells you what you want to know. So, after priming all the oil pipes, we had another go and a stomach-knotting 40 seconds later we all congratulated ourselves on a job well done. Then the rattle that we’d first sought to correct, returned.

Fan belt adjustment

It was the fan shaft bush rattling on its shaft – a couple of turns on the knurled nut to loosen the belt and it disappeared. I consoled myself with the fact that the idler gear bearings were on the way out so it wasn’t a waste of time taking the front to bits.

And I’ve heard that lying in a barn in that village whose name I can never remember, are three Austin Sevens; a Ruby, a Pearl and an Opal. More trebles all round then!

What I Didn’t Know…..

…. was that unlike any other distributor I’d come across, Rolls-Royce had done things a little bit differently. RR book This slim volume that anyone who contemplates the maintenance of the Rolls-Royce 20/25 engine must add to their library, was particularly useful to me because it had quite a lot to say about the removal of the timing gear case – as described in ‘A Mystery’, back in May – and subsequently the removal of the crankshaft vibration damper for servicing and also the idler gear between the cam gear and the distributor drive gear. Timing gears As it turned out, the damper was deemed serviceable and the only remedial work was to renew the bearings in the idler gear. The problems began when I realised that I hadn’t marked the gears before disassembly and the valve timing et al was lost. Consulting with Very Learned Counsel, I was assured that this was not a problem and the procedure for re-timing everything was mere child’s play. I also looked in the book – everything did seem pretty straightforward – and cross-referenced the text with the excellent and illustrated diary of Stephe Boddice who happily for me, documented every step of his own 20/25 rebuild project. IO mark The crankshaft-to-camshaft timing on Rolls-Royce engines is done with reference only to the marks on the flywheel. The crankshaft must be turned only from the flywheel end, never from the front of the engine. So the first step was to set the mark IO (inlet open) to the pointer set into the bell-housing. Then No.1 pushrod is adjusted to allow .020 thou clearance with both valves on No.1 cylinder closed.  The camshaft gear is then turned anti-clockwise until the tappet is coming off the heel of the cam onto the ramp and the pushrod can just be rotated by hand. A mark is made on the rim of the camshaft gear that corresponds with the gear case stud conveniently placed at 12 o’clock to the cam gear. The cam gear is then rotated 2 teeth clockwise to allow the helical gear on the crankshaft damper to mesh correctly and, as it is tapped home, the cam gear repositions itself so that the mark regains its position at 12 o’clock. Simple (ish) so far. Rockers And here’s the bit that foxed me. How do I get the rotor arm in the right place? By adding the idler gear to the mix, the distributor drive would turn (all the gears are helical) so where would I set the gear to achieve the correct ignition timing? With No.1 cylinder just over TDC on the inlet stroke, maybe the rotor should be pointing somewhere around N0.5 (the bang previous to No.1) – surely RR wouldn’t encourage that sort of slap-dashery? I couldn’t work it out and nowhere could I find any information on what to do. I went home and slept on it. That didn’t help. Distributor cam But what did help was another chat with Very Learned Counsel who informed me that the distributor cam, unlike any other distributor cam I’ve come across, was on a taper – not keyed. So it didn’t matter what was going on with the drive, the distributor cam could be set wherever you wanted it. What I don’t know is always worth knowing.

The Real Discovery….

… was a little atelier in a nearby town where a third generation motorcycle dealer was restoring his grandfather’s 1925 Alcyon cyclecar.


It’s long been a source of mystery to me that the Pays Basque just didn’t seem to have any vintage cars; the Classic scene is well represented but anything pre-1939 didn’t appear to exist. In the Basque Museum in Bayonne, a period photograph of Saint-Jean-de-Luz shows some mid-20’s cars in a square but the photos of life in the country at that time are devoid of anything resembling motorized transport.


The Alcyon’s engine is a horizontally opposed two-cylinder, two-stroke of about 500cc and made I think, by the cyclecar manufacturer, SIMA-Violet.

Rear axle and gearbox

The rear axle is complete with a two-speed gearbox – an early transaxle possibly – operated by a sleeve which runs inside a torque-tube propshaft tunnel.

Gear lever

There is a reverse gear, the engagement of which is approached with caution as it somehow involves engaging 1st, first – so to speak.


The body was a very lightly constructed two-seat tub with a throttle lever mounted on the steering wheel. The dash had a clock and this lovely maker’s badge.

Maker's Badge

Scattered about the workshop were several other interesting bits and pieces, indicating that all three generations; Jean, his father and his grandfather, were similarly afflicted with the creative bug.

Aero engine

A spark ignition model aeroplane engine,


And this wonderful period go-kart, built by Jean’s father with the red fuel tank made from a headlamp shell. Of course, as soon as I mentioned all of this to some engineering chaps who I used to see at breakfast some mornings in the Hotel de La Paix, they all knew about the cyclecar and even introduced me to one of their company who was restoring a 1940’s Mochet cyclecar. Maybe I was asking the wrong questions? Peut etre my franglais?

Jowett Racer

Whilst I was away, Learned Counsel had been busy and taken the engine out of the Jowett racer. A dent in one of the tubes has to be repaired – it’s going to be easier to cut the piece out and replace it with the same spec material than try to get the dent out. There’s also been some discussion about the merits of an aluminium bulkhead and the possibility of adding lightness. Neither of us can see the advantage really because to retain the same integrity, the gauge of aluminium would have to be increased and I wouldn’t mind betting – in fact I’ll do the experiment with a good set of scales – that the saving, if any, would be negligible. The other factor is whether the FIA would accept a car so altered – probably not worth the risk to go to all that trouble only to be told it wasn’t allowed.

Austin 10 Cabriolet

And Learned Counsel has also been doing a bit of ferreting about and come up with his first ‘barn find’. Well, it’s a chicken shed find really but it’s one up from his Jowett Jollyboat which I found under a tarpaulin. This is an Austin 10 Cabriolet and it’s all there except the hood. Discoveries and trebles all round then!

My Continued Investigation….

… of the local fauna and flora has been especially rewarding since the sun graced us with its presence.

Hummingbird moth I think this is a Hummingbird Moth and I remember that there seemed to be an influx of them to Suffolk some years ago. A Jasmine tree around my back door was a regular port of call for this little chap – well, one of his chums anyway.

Red Kite At the other end of the scale, the Red Kite. This one seems to live a few yards from the house and (when the sun’s out) around lunchtime, a shadow might swoop across the table in the garden where we eat. I mostly have my camera ready but as always, the best opportunities present themselves when I’m carrying a tray or doing up my shoelaces.

Gecko Easier to catch are the numerous geckos that scuttle about the garden, darting in and out from under stones. I watched this one for some time but wasn’t able to catch the moment when the fly became wrapped in the gecko’s tongue and devoured. I thought I bolted my food but there’s no contest here.

Bee Orchid A Bee Orchid I think, from the shape of the petals.

Foxglove Foxgloves abound and….

Misc … quite a lot of little flowers up in the hills that I’m not qualified to identify.

Hill Country Another trip deep into the hills and over into Spain took Cook and me along roads that we’d never before travelled until this week. We passed through ancient farm yards and wound our way up into the mountains to discover the Fabrica de Orbaitzeta, an iron foundry nestling in the Val de Aezkoa, 5km from the border with France.

Iron Foundry Built in the latter part of the 18th century, the foundry became Carlos III’s main source of munitions – cannon balls, grenades and the like.

Waterway Water, in plentiful supply as it cascaded from the mountains, was the motive force in this vast three storey factory. Aqueducts and tunnels directed the flow of water to waterwheels (long gone) which operated the bellows that kept the furnaces alight and at a high enough temperature for the transformation of the iron ore.

Iron Foundry Surrounded also by woodland – the first Royal Arms Factory had run out of forest –  a constant source of fuel was to hand. The iron ore was in the mountains on the doorstep so it looked like a win-win situation all round. But being so isolated, it was under constant attack; the French army, Napoleon and the Chartists all had a pop at it.

Iron Foundry And if it wasn’t under attack, it was having terrible accidental fires that raised it to the ground more than once. The factory closed its doors for the last time in about 1880 and what you see is pretty much as it was left. The ruin has recently been made a site of Cultural Interest and there’s evidence of restoration work about to gather pace so some of the charm of its neglected state will be lost in the near future. But the real discovery….. to be continued.

Ways Of Seeing.

The part of the Pays Basque we come to work in is the gateway for the final push on to Santiago de Compostella and, as I’ve mentioned before, Ostabat – a hop over the col from us – is at the confluence of 3 major Pilgrim routes that wend their way to this spot from all over Europe. Countless people have for a thousand years made their way along these routes mostly I imagine for reasons connected to their religious beliefs. More recently – again I’m guessing – some event in the life of the secular pilgrim (if there is such a thing) has demanded some time out, a period of reflection that might provoke some catharsis or put some demon to bed. A number might do it just because it’s there.

Scenic routeIt’s easy to see why at least this stage of the Pilgrim’s journey would promote finer feelings, clear the hay loft of baser thoughts and, if they were so inclined, to marvel at the work of their particular god.

Scenic route 2For Cook and me, we just needed to get out of the kitchen and get some fresh air and a local chum recommended a circular route that took us to Spain via the Col de la Pierre-St-Martin (2348m), down into the valley to Isaba, back up to Port de Larrau (1573m) and into Larrau for an excellent lunch. From there, a quite narrow and sometimes precarious minor road took us back to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port where, coming down to earth, so to speak, we shopped for the next day’s lunch and dinner for the walkers.

The first part of our trip was our much trodden route to Mauleon. Following the road to Tardets, Montory and Lanne, a right turn to Arette is where things started to get interesting. As we climbed, the temperature dropped and as we got further into the mountains it looked as though we’d be crossing the Col in IMC until we got above Pierre-St-Martin when the clouds disappeared.

Hairpin And continuing the aviation theme, some of the hairpin bends we next encountered were the nearest thing to entering a spin in an aircraft; throttle back, next to nothing on the clock, full rudder and the rotation starts!

Spanish village Dropping down the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, the views towards Isaba and on into Spain were spectacular. We hugged the Southern slopes and turned right towards Port de Larrau. Larrau village is a few clicks further on and this is where I recommend a stop for lunch. The restaurant in the middle of the village has panoramic views of the Pyrenees and the food is excellent. The fact that you’re miles from anywhere and the restaurant is full says it all.

Restaurant From Larrau, a stop at Chapelle St-Sauveur, where there’s a memorial to the work of those involved in helping the Allied soldiers over the Pyrenees and into neutral Spain, affords more stunning views of the singular Basque countryside.

ChapelThe mountains soften as you descend towards St-Jean-Pied-de-Port and the extraordinary, almost model railway-like landscape returns. The reason I think, for this comparison is because the air here is so clear that every little detail is discernible from a great distance. It’s a new perspective, almost like being given a new pair of eyes.


Well, it would be churlish of me to do the deliberate mistake routine. Last week’s car was indeed a Renault, not a Peugeot, but in the interests of balance, here is a Peugeot 203; I know that because this time I took the trouble to look at the badge on the bonnet.

Peugeot 203
And the occasion was the Pau Grand Prix Historique. Pau is a splendid and elegant city and is home to one of the oldest street circuits in the world. Like Angouleme, the track snakes its way up to the top of the town, under bridges and round hairpin corners and rising about 500’ in the process, before plunging back down to the station and paddocks.

Pau Circuit

The joy of this spectacle was that all it cost was the princely sum of 2 Euros each. So in comparison to a similar event in the UK (the VSCC day at Snetterton at around £12-15 a head for instance) a family of four could have a fun day out for less than £20 including ice-creams all round (2 Euros a shot). It was a lot more to get into the paddock but that was to be expected. Elsewhere, all the viewing points and grandstands were available to all, in fact the Boulevard des Pyrenees straight was free to view – so to speak.

GP Pau Circuit
Learned Counsel and The Navigator arrived from Suffolk in their newly acquired MG Roadster after a test run of over 1000 miles and as we sat under the trees in one of Pau’s squares sipping coffee, this Delahaye carrossier with a body by Henri Chapron, came and parked in front of us setting the tone for the day.


And in contrast….

There were several C types on show – this I thought being the prettiest but my taking the picture coincided with the start of a race and I didn’t look to see if it was genuine or not; not that I cared because it ticked all the boxes for me.

C Type
Inside the park were arranged all the car clubs and individual cars that had come for the day. One of the most entertaining interludes was the parade of private vehicles that were invited to take a few turns around the circuit; refreshingly free of restriction and H&S!

After the first race, we repositioned ourselves at the back of the Casino de Pau where after the hairpin at the Lycee Barthou, we could watch the cars through a fast left hand curve before the cars disappeared round to the right at the top of Parc Beaumont (not my best video moment…!)

I’ve been coming to help Cook in the Pays Basque – the Lantabat valley specifically – since 1998, and in that time the only piece of kitchen equipment that’s been changed is the gas oven. It’s been changed for one that is even worse than the old one – which we got used to finally in 2012. The new oven cooks on the left, is cold on the right, burns in the middle and has only one wire tray. Catering for 20 people, all discerning diners, is a bit of a juggling act. We had a tricky moment with the Basque flans but managed, in the nick of time, to take corrective action.

The Question Is…

… how do they do it? When a solitary vulture spots lunch, 50 fellow diners are quickly on the spot and they seem to come from nowhere. They must have some method of communication – the avian equivalent of whale song – or eyesight which allows them to detect a pattern of flight that announces ‘dinner’s on the table’.


And whilst on the subject of wildlife, this little fellow hoved into view disguised as an African witch doctor.


The air is so clear here at the foot of the Pyrenees, that it’s hard not to stop by the roadside to take pictures. This track from Saint Palais to Navarrenx with the mountains just beginning to show under the lifting stratus, was a perfect stop.

Pays Basque

And in Navarrenx itself, this gem of a Peugeot was sitting in the square. As I ambled past a bit later on, the owner had the bonnet up to reveal a V6. That was a surprise.


But the weather here so close to the mountains is very similar to home. One day it’s warm and sunny, the next cold and wet. Obviously, as Spring turns to Summer, weather patterns establish themselves but in the evenings we’re often treated to a spectacular show of thunder and lightning, though mostly without the rain. I suppose that’s what makes it interesting; the relentless heat of Provence I would find debilitating; the storms in the Lantabat valley clear the air after a day in the kitchen.


Parked, appropriately enough in front of a bank, was this Cadillac. Not a car you’d want to take to the lanes in; it’s enough to squeeze past an ordinary size car when you’re on the back roads over a col. The verges tend to be 6” below the edge of the road and quite soft and if your car’s full of shopping or people, you could get into trouble very easily if you let yourself be pushed around.


But if you take the trouble to explore, simple scenes reminiscent of I’m not sure when but it was a long time ago, present themselves.


Continuing my exploration of local wild life, this water-boatman sat still long enough for a portrait.

Gave d'Oloron

Which wouldn’t have been the case had he been a resident of the Gave D’Oloron, the main river that runs through Sauveterre. The rivers I’ve come across at home always seem a bit underwhelming when compared to those in France but then we’re a bit short on mountains in Suffolk..


This week, due to an administrative error, transport has been by motorised roller-skate. I have to say that since I last drove a Smart (when in the middle of Bergerac, the engine did its eco stop routine and refused to start again) the marque is considerably improved. This basic model had a very refined and comfortable cockpit and the gearbox (sequential on a centre stick) changed down by itself. Of course, it left me wondering why it didn’t change up as well but I managed.


And when is a flower a weed? That is the question.