A Special Builder’s Notes

This is catch up time as I’ve been thinking about this new project for about a year and got going on it in December last.

A couple of years ago, I completed an Austin 7 Special and, bitten by the bug of vintage motoring, I sold my small aeroplane and invested the money in vintage cars. A 1924 Bayliss Thomas took my eye. This was a light car built by the Excelsior Motorcycle Company. A good deal of their production went out to the Antipodes and this example was no exception. A rakish body by Holden lent the BT a bit of style that the rather stodgy English bodies lacked. Of the survivors, said to number around 16, another happened to live no more than 15 miles from me. This one went like a rocket with its Meadows OHV engine – an unusual feature for the period – and I expected mine to have similar performance. I was to be dissappointed.

The problem with the BT was that it didn’t go fast enough and, despite having rebuilt the engine, it still didn’t perfom how I’d hoped. So, it proved to be rather more trouble than I’d bargained for and in the end I swopped it for a 1929 Hillman 14 Tourer.

Another 750cc  makes all the difference in the world and the Hillman positively flew in comparison to the BT. What’s more, it had a Clayton Dewandre brake servo lurking under the floorboards so it stopped as well. I was very impressed with the build quality of the Hillman; it was evident that someone had thought carefully about the detail work and, apart from the tappet adjustment being the usual side-valve nonsense, it was in all respects a superior motor car.

Now, what would it be like with 2 seats and a bigger engine? The chassis and running gear were just about the right dimensions – I thought that I might have to extend it a few inches but wiser counsel prevailed. Wire wheels were a must as were a pair of whopping great Marchal headlamps. A few sketches were in order. What prompted this train of thought was the fact that with the Hillman came enough spares to create another rolling chassis – if I had another chassis. Once I’d put pen to paper and told a few friends of my plans, there was no going back.

So the next thing was to try and find another Hillman 14, preferably in a sorry state as I didn’t want to wreck a perfectly restorable car. This was more difficult than I had imagined and at one point I thought I was going to have to fabricate the chassis myself.

Well, about August 2011 I finally managed to track down what I was looking for – a 1926 Hillman 14. This particular one was in a very sorry state. Built in 1926 and sold in January 1927, the car had spent most of its life in Ullswater. According to the buff log book, it was converted to an agricultural vehicle – the bodywork was chopped off behind the driver’s seat around 1946. In this guise it was reported to have suffered a collision with a very unforgiving object which broke the front nearside spring shackle in two, twisted the chassis and made a mess of the steering arm despite it being on the other side of the car. It must have been some impact and I doubt it moved very far after that.

Then, at some point after 1976, it came south and, after the second owner (unrecorded), it passed to the third owner and ended up in a garage outside Banbury where it languished for nigh on 30 years. A little bit of networking led me to this garage and after some protracted haggling, I collected the remains on the 28th December last year.

On the truck that pulled the trailer were three Morris Six engines. One of them was destined for the new Hillman Special.

It was unlikely that I would ever be able to afford a 6 cylinder OHC engine of the period, much less an aircraft engine to suit what I had in mind. I was at the time looking for Jowett spares for a friend of mine who, on my firm instruction, had purchased a complete but unloved Jowett Jupiter that happened to be on the same premises as the Hillman.

Trawling the net, I noticed that a scrapyard on the South coast was advertising a number of period engines amongst which was a Javelin engine – fundamentally the same as a Jupiter. But what was this curious device  at the bottom of the pile? It was a Wolseley 6/80 engine of the type used by police cars in the 50’s. It looked the part – tall and slim and with an alluring aluminium camshaft cover, ripe for polishing (to say nothing of the bevel drive tower and copper water pipes).

This particular engine was incomplete – a sump is not an easy thing to find and, it was seized solid. I learnt that the Morris Six engine is identical in all respects to the Wolseley 6/80 except having only one carburettor. I located 3 of these, including gearboxes and ancillaries, in a garage in Leicester. Everything was coming together.

Except the finance. I did have another car up my sleeve and, although this was the best of the bunch, it had to go. I had bought the Ford because it was immaculate and ready to go – there was nothing I needed to do to it except sort out the steering, put some shock-absorbers on and install a set of indicators. After that, there was nothing to do. Which was the problem, there was no tinkering to be done which is what I like to do. So that was the finance for the new project sorted out.

With the car back in my workshop, the strip down began. Instruments fell out of the dash at a touch as I discovered that all the woodwork was completely eaten away by worm. This called for some drastic action and the scuttle was cremated with little ceremony.

Quite a lot of the metal fittings looked as though they might come in handy at some point – running board supports being a case in point. I needed a couple of those to support my proposed long and sweeping mudguards. The third gear on my existing Hillman was very noisy so I unhooked the gearbox from the new Hillman and put it to one side although the car having had an agricultural past, the chances of the gear being usable were remote but then, I couldn’t see the ‘tractor’ getting into 3rd across a field so I might be lucky.

The block had frozen and there was a very large repair patch on the side – very neat and no doubt a highly skilled piece of work but, I’d got a spare ’14’ engine and the only bits worth salvaging were the oil pump and the sump. It took a couple of days to strip the car down to its bare chassis and on the last day of 2011, I lifted the chassis onto trestles to pause and consider.

An engine 20 years younger than the chassis and running gear was going to be an interesting match. I’d already examined the possibilities of converting at least the front brakes to hydraulics. I suppose  the only other concern would be whether the diff would cut the mustard. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The general arrangement drawing shown above was the first of 5 revisions. The first drawing looked the part but when the ruler was applied, the car was smaller than it appeared. I started out with 19″ wheels, then, after measuring the artillery wheels that came with the car (20″), I redrew the layout with 21″ wheels and brought the wheelbase back to its original 9’6″. It didn’t look right and so I moved the front of the radiator back to the centre line of the front axle. This squeezed an already over 5′ long engine and gearbox back further than I’d wanted it but, in shifting the seat position back 3″, the balance was beginning to emerge.

The  wings were probably one of the most important components in the visual. A la Ballot, they were to sweep from end to end as if drawn from a set of French curves. There was to be no compromise on this and they had to be just right. The manufacture of the wings was going to be a tough one but on paper they pulled the design together so the effort would be worth it.

I couldn’t help having a quick jury rig of the engine in the chassis, just to get the feel of things and to get on with the design of the new engine mountings.

The radiator was separate from the car when found and showed all the signs of having been used as an anvil for a trainee blacksmith. The core, equally, had all the hallmarks of a lack of integrity so I wasn’t too concerned about removing it with a blowlamp and then setting about the surround with the planishing hammer, dollies and file. I quickly discovered it was solid nickel and was quite easy to work. I got it as near to perfect as ever I was going to and turned my attention to what I should have been concentrating on – the engine mountings.

Or I should have done but, you’ll recall my throw away remark about converting the front brakes to hydraulics? Well, a learned friend asked me how I was going to balance the 2 systems – hydraulics to the fore and cables aft? Good question; I’ll have to wait until I wake up in the early hours to get to grips with that one. Of course, there are still other options because, as another learned friend told me, there are few brake systems that are rubbish from the outset, it’s only a lack of proper setting up and periodic adjustment which makes the remainder complete pants. I could retain the cables at the back and introduce the later rod system to the front brakes and, by way of a bonus, pinch the servo from the tourer?

Or, to make the whole thing much simpler, hydraulics all round. What am I thinking about? – I must get on with the engine mounts because I can’t do anything until the donk’s nailed down.

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7 comments on “A Special Builder’s Notes

  1. renaud says:

    Hello,
    I found your site on the A7Friend’s.
    Instant delight.

    I’m involved in building an A7 Special “In the spirit of the Fifties”. Nicknamed “the frogect”. I bought in UK last year a Ruby chassis. As I do not particularly like the A7 engine, fragile AND costly, (don’t quote me on the A7F please, I already said them, in milder words) I own a SIMCA/FIAT Ballila 1100cc OHV engine of the same year (1937) Also a very small roots SC (modern)
    So here is for me on your site a wonderful amount of stuff for the next months.
    As a francophile (your own words) you’ll have noticed I’m french, (of the breton kind) so you’ll maybe excuse my mistakes.
    Thanks.
    Kind regards,
    Renaud

    • Hi Renaud,
      Thank you for your kind comments, I always enjoy your contributions to the A7F site. On a sister blog – ‘I’m Just Going to the Shed; I May be Some Time’, I’m documenting the build of my A7 Special, or at least trying to… I’ll get it finished (the blog that is) when I’ve got a bit of spare time. I think the Simca engine sounds just the thing for the Ruby chassis and the supercharger will make it sing!
      All the best,
      Nigel

  2. renaud says:

    Yes, as you can see I abandonned the “free” Morris 8 engine (because I ended selling the car eventually, (lucky me, more money for the frogect!) and the target is now the Ballila 1100 (also free!). I read back the topic and your encouragement for my special on A7F. I clearly divided the chaps into pro’s and cons! All in one, very funny! Thanks.
    Cheers,
    Renaud

  3. onaroll says:

    Hope to find more on Wolseley 6/80 engine, a lump about which almost nothing is in print. Did anyone anyplace get the notion to use it in a sports car for racing? Its shortcomings as a donkey might not have been so serious in sprints, back when there were not so many good alternatives.

    • I’ve searched too for gen on the 6/80 and the MS engine and bar the workshop manual, I’ve drawn a blank. As it was a favourite of the Police forces in the UK, you might assume that someone in the competition world might have given the 6/80 a second look. In the back of my mind is a pre-WW1 GP Alfa/Fiat look-alike into which I’ll put one of my MS engines. I think it would go like the clappers.

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