Young People Today!

Sixteen years ago, Counsel asked me if I would take his 11 year-old son Harry for a trip around the houses in my Jodel.

It was Harry’s first flight in a small aeroplane and it was clear from the start that he was a natural. As soon as we’d got air under the wheels, I just sat back and enjoyed the view until we came home and were 6ft off the ground on short finals to land. Harry subsequently joined the local branch of the ATC and was a keen participant in all its activities – especially flying.

Harry, at an age when I was still wet behind the ears, has now got one of the two best seats in the 737’s that he flies for a freight airline…..

…. and the other day, Counsel and I slipped off to Little Gransden to see him compete in his first aerobatic competition in which he gained a very respectable 6th place. Years ago, a friend of mine who also flew for an airline, successfully landed an A340 on only 3 sets of wheels, keeping the wing off the runway until the very last second. He was also a keen aerobatic competitor – the kind of pilot that it’s good to have up front when things don’t go according to plan.

More progress on Mr Slightly-Strange’s Model T tub. Things aren’t going quite as quickly as he’d hoped because….

…. there’s a bit of a leak in the nearside corner of his Bedford bus. As a trip away was imminent, a repair scheme was set in progress, but as is often the case, the further he got into the structure, evidence of earlier bodges was revealed and getting back to sound framework took some time.

This De Tomaso Vallelugga took my eye on the way back from Norfolk. I thought that I might stop at Roudham Industrial Estate which from 1916 to 1920 was the site of the RFC (Royal Flying Corps) airfield, ‘Harling Road’. The attraction was a 1st World War pattern General Service Hangar, just visible from the road and which boasts a Belfast Truss roof support structure – a wooden lattice affair resembling the geodetic pattern of a Wellington fuselage. I couldn’t get near the hangar, but I noticed a lot of people milling around some MG’s and drove in to see what was going on. An MG specialist company was hosting a stage on an MG Car Club run and all the stores and workshops were open for viewing.

At the end of a line of Midgets and Frogeyes awaiting restoration was this pretty little coupé. I don’t think it’s a Lenham, but it could be a WSM with a Sprite bonnet?

A few days later I tripped over this very rare chassis. The tubular construction hinted at something German, but I was surprised to learn that it was a Connaught Grand Prix car. There’s not a lot of information on Connaught’s individual models, but my guess is that this is a ‘B’ type and possibly powered by an DOHC Alta engine. I could be wrong; my file retrieval isn’t as good as it was in my younger days.


The Benefit Derived…..

…. from working in gloves is that when you do something stupid like crushing your finger, the blood stays in the glove, the wound stays relatively clean and you can continue working. One of the carb bodies from the Alvis got away from me on the wire wheel brush and trapped my finger between it and the bench. Ouch!

The trip from Rognan to Bodø was fun; my fellow Magneteer was familiar with rally driving techniques. The shadow in the top left of the picture is caused by the case of my phone beginning to obstruct the camera lens. I trim it up with a scalpel every couple of months, but it always sags again. It would be helpful if the lens was in the middle of the phone case rather than at the side.

Norway has always been a bit shy about her cottage industries (hence the camouflage) but giant marshmallow production is one of her success stories.

And I noticed this necklace cloud formation as we rolled into our descent over the North Sea. The eagle-eyed will also spot the airliner on a perpendicular heading about 1000′ below. We had the posh seats on the way back and though I’ve come to decline the meal (Bodø airport restaurant does an excellent English breakfast) a special box of three delicious chocolates is later served. Those and a glass of red are always very welcome.

I’d kept an eye on the weather whilst I was away and as I wasn’t going on to Sweden, it looked decent enough to arrange a breakfast run to Old Buckenham airfield. I’d arrived home the night before and as there was nothing in the house, another cooked breakfast was just the thing.

Later in the week, I followed Counsel on a delivery run to The Great Collector – the Wolseley Hornet wasn’t a recent purchase but had been kept in store until sufficient space was available. Despite the new bearings in the RR fan assembly, there was still on the over-run an occasional rattle which had initially disappeared when the fan belt was loosened. I’d read somewhere that this rattle came from the back of the engine though the noise would seem to come from the front. Another search in Google pulled up an article by a 20/25 owner belonging to the Goshawk Society – for owners of smaller capacity RR’s. Mr Lamrock says, “One of the brushes of the dynamo was frozen in its holder and was unable to make full contact with the commutator. When the rattling noise was at its peak, arcing was taking place in the gap between brush and commutator of strength similar to that of a welding arc. This resulted in a shudder in the rotation of the dynamo that transmitted back to the dynamo drive, onto the cam wheel.” Interesting.

The last job of the week was to clean and inspect the Alvis gearbox. It scrubbed up well and looks very little used. Most things benefit from a bit of elbow grease.



Things On.

I wanted to get some jobs squared away before I went to Rognan for a few days magnetising.

We were booked for an early departure on Monday morning when I noticed that SAS were on strike and most flights cancelled. We were delayed until the following day and the only option was a BA flight to Oslo and then on to Bodø with Norwegian. Of course, those carriers promptly doubled their prices to take advantage of everyone’s inconvenience.

The extra day came in handy as a chum’s Darracq was refusing to run – or it fired up for only long enough to keep you interested. The timing is, as on most cars with a mag, a pain to check and adjust. The symptoms included a manic desire to break the starter’s wrist, so it was definitely far too advanced. By the time I’d got there, the exhaust and intake manifolds were being replaced, so seeing what the pushrods were doing in order to establish TDC at the top of the firing stroke was difficult. I usually get everything 180° out on the first attempt and sure enough….

The photo’s a bit dark, but this Straker Squire in the same garage, never fails to impress. Wire wheels set it off as a truly elegant Edwardian.

The 1908 Rover sitting in my workshop needed a new brake cross shaft. The 3/4″ shaft runs in a tube with oiling points along its length. Rejecting the welded tube I was offered, I suggested that some seamless aircraft tube would be more suitable. It had been a few years since I’d bought any and the price of it was now ludicrous. Much less expensive was a 3/4″ x 200mm long drill and a bag of Norfolk sausages. Chumley did the honours and I got the final clearance by pulling the tube up against the flutes of the drill with a leather strap and then polishing internally with grinding paste. Worked a treat.

Conversely, new bearings for the RR fan spindle were not only available off the shelf, but surprisingly inexpensive at £13 the pair. Unfortunately, it looks like I could be away for the struggle to get the fan back on and dropping the tiny washers on the floor – that’s a shame. Other tasks included a repair to a 19th century fire-iron and re-working a top-link bracket on one of the farm’s tractors.

Regular commentator and all-round clever chap, Renaud (see Le Sandford de mon père) is making progress with his Series II Lotus 7. My only trip in a Series II was from The Central School of Art on London’s Southampton Row, down to the Aldwych and back up through the then open Holborn Kingsway underpass, to emerge again in the Row at an indicated 120mph. That was in 1968 and I’d just turned 12. The government of the day had obligingly abolished theatre censorship in time for the evening’s entertainment – Hair – then recently opened at The Shaftesbury Theatre.

There was a scene where nobody had anything on! Yikes!

Spring Clean.

There comes a point when the rationalisation of ‘stuff’ is an urgent prerequisite to progress.

So, the first thing was to heave the Alvis TD21 engine onto the bench to get it ready for a new owner – the Morris 6 engine being the favourite to go into the Teardrop Special. I didn’t know anything about this engine, but a check in the Alvis Archive revealed that no. 26023 was the 77th of around 1500 TD21’s produced. A cursory investigation before showing it the spanners, suggested that it had been removed from the car as one lump and never touched since new.

Off came all the ancillary bits and bobs and after a scrub up in the parts washer, my guess that the engine hadn’t been interfered with was looking about right. I had only 3 studs break off on me – the usual suspects attaching the various cooling system components – and after a couple of hours of careful drilling and re-tapping, all was as new again.

The TD21 has its timing chain at the back of the engine so to get at it, the gearbox (the same as used on the Austin-Healey) flywheel, bellhousing and backplate had to come off. No horror stories in there – apart from 1/2″ of sludge in the bottom of the sump…..

… another customer for the parts washer.

After which I was able to take a snap of the mains and big-ends by slipping my phone camera underneath the block – the block was too heavy for me to put on its side on my own. Again, it didn’t look as though anything had ever been touched.

Off came the head – that’s the Morris 6 head behind – to reveal all the original numbered valves…

… standard pistons and very nice condition bores. A de-glaze with a honing tool would see them right as rain. I may be able to persuade Counsel to drop by and help me put the block on its side so I can whip off a main bearing cap and a big-end clamp. It would be interesting to know what sort of shape the shells might be in. After that, I shall loosely reassemble the engine and produce a report.

The other day, I borrowed a truck from one of the boys in the yard and (as part of the Spring clear-out) took a couple of old lawn mowers over to Awkward. On the truck and about to go to the skip, was an electric reclining chair. As the chair was on its back with the cantilever mechanism facing me, I had an idea. It was also in the perfect position for me to remove the linear actuator, mains lead and remote control – two split-pins and a tie wrap was all it took. Back in the workshop, I set up the actuator to assess its power and speed. It moved at slightly slower than snail’s pace and I couldn’t hold it back. Perfect! I’m thinking of adapting it to raise and lower the anvil on the wheeling machine.

Rubbish out, rubbish in!

A Busy Week.

In Hartlepool, I discovered that the Grand Hotel did indeed still retain some grandness…

I understand that the franchisee has to maintain the listed plasterwork – that might lead to much sucking of teeth at intervals.

The everyday dining room’s decor was less complicated. This view, looking from the breakwater on The Headland back towards the docks (where I was) in West Hartlepool, adorned one end of the room and….

…. on the opposite wall, this study, challenged momentary derivatives as spatial forms and explored the conflict between emergent synergies and unrealities, reconfiguring our view of Jungian archetypes and multimedia experiences whilst at the same time saving the artist the inconvenience of disposing of left-over paint.

A small diversion on our return from Hartlepool took us to Gainsborough where I was able to pick up the Morris 6 bell-housing that had been engineered to fit the Ford T9 gearbox. It all bolted together perfectly. All that remains is to have the input shaft changed for the longer type, so the splines engage completely with the clutch plate.

A summons with Counsel to The Great Collector saw the removal of both fabric couplings from his 1920s Star tourer. There was evidence of previous bodging – as is often the case – and while we were there…

… a squeaky fan spindle was investigated. Fortunately, the spindle holder was easy to remove as the casting was so shaped that loosening the two retaining bolts allowed the complete assembly to be lifted off without the radiator being disturbed. An oiler was situated behind the aluminium bowl which should have provided the necessary lubrication, but it didn’t. It was a strange set-up inside; the shaft had two flats machined on its circumference which appeared to serve no purpose. A spring – a heavier version of a Biro spring – emerged from a drilling in line with the cavity in the bowl – again serving no obvious purpose. The shaft ran in two steel sleeves with grooves machined for the passage of oil. I couldn’t work out what was going on, so I drilled and tapped the casing for a grease nipple, packed the assembly with grease and now it’s quite as a mouse.

And still on the subject of fans, we removed the spindle assembly from the Rolls 20/25. What a palaver – and typically Rolls Royce! After removing the tensioner nut and the fan belt, it looked like only three nuts to go and we’d be home and dry, but we didn’t account for the lower stud being over long which prevented the whole shebang from being drawn off without disturbing the radiator. So, our only other option was to remove the fan from the spindle. That’s held on by a dozen small nuts and machine screws – completely over-engineered, but nevertheless a work of art. It’s going to be a right fiddle getting it back on. We’ll drop the tiny nuts and washers on the floor and struggle with the right-angled screwdriver in the small dark space between the radiator and the block. Coupled with my glasses not being quite the right focal length to get a clear view, it should be fun.

It’s better than not being busy.

T’riffic Reads.

“We shape our buildings and afterwards, our buildings shape us.” Sir Winston Churchill.

I was lucky enough to go to a boarding school whose origins stretched back to the reign of Elizabeth I. The Latin School, as it was then known, occupied a place in the churchyard in Wantage until it was moved to its present site in 1849 and rebuilt in the Gothic style by J. B. Clacy. Clacy thoughtfully incorporated the Norman doorway of the old school into part of his design. I particularly remember the towering edifice we knew as ‘The Gods’  (demolished in the 70s) which comprised four high-ceilinged classrooms with gas mantles suspended above the tiered rows of desks (a handy source of ignition for the popular gasper and other experiments). We grew up surrounded by antiquity. We had a sense of being part of history and we contributed to it as well (though not always entirely respectfully).

Courtesy Historic England

I was also lucky to receive recently, a copy of James Stevens Curl’s new book, ‘Making Dystopia’, subtitled: ‘The Strange Rise and Survival of Architectural Barbarism’. In it, Curl sets out a compelling argument that architecture’s Modernist movement’s deliberate exclusion of ornament, denial of history and devotion to a new industrial architecture, has done more over the last 100 years to generate dysfunctional societies than we might care to admit.

I write this as I sit beside the Deep Water Bay at the docks in West Hartlepool (developed in the mid-19th Century) loading the Willem de Vlamingh cable layer. Across the bay is The Headland – old Hartlepool (origins 7th Century) – with a small fishing fleet moored around its breakwater. Locals are particularly firm in their allegiance to their respective territories.

Janecki z Krakowa and I are billeted at The Grand Hotel in West Hartlepool. The hotel, built in 1899, must have once been truly grand as evidenced by the surviving plasterwork and stained glass in and around the stairwell. Opposite the hotel is the former Wesley Chapel, built in 1872. Now roofless after a fire in the upper storey, it must have been equally majestic in its day.

Pevsner’s ‘Buildings of England’ had been my only architectural reference until now and Curl’s book came as a broadside, opening my eyes to what’s around me as I go on my travels. Though Curl rightly highlights the lack of care and attention to context in many modern developments, he gives credit where it’s due. I think he would applaud the efforts made in the design of some of the newer buildings in Hartlepool that reflect the styles and materials used in the 19th Century. On the other hand, the cattle market shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds demonstrates Curl’s polemic perfectly. It resembles a lean-to of Bilbao’s Guggenhiem, dropped into a largely unspoilt Georgian market town.

Curl is forthright in his condemnation of the Modernist’s inability to create housing and workplaces that people might have liked to inhabit. Postmodern ‘celebrity’ architects who compete to design the next confection in the à la mode come in for short shrift, as do many architects continued slavish adherence to Corbusian dogma – Corbusier’s plans for the re-modelling of Paris are worth a look.


Making Dystopia’ is a seductively gripping read and Curl has avoided the academic convention of making things for the layman, all but unreadable. Curl’s magnum opus is also a tough read for those like me who have no foundation in architectural history. As an indictment of the ‘one size fits all’ political and cultural landscape towards which we seem to be moving, Curl’s book has exposed some of its roots with surgical precision.

Churchill would have got the point.


Teun Beresik, the illustrator and vintage car enthusiast…

… whose colourful and entertaining work many of us will be familiar with, very kindly sent me a spare copy of Old Motor, containing a pull-out documenting part of the history of the Hillman.

This issue, published in April 1976, was much clearer than the photocopy I’d been sent by the family of the original owners of the car.

The text was slightly inaccurate as the first owner in 1927 wasn’t the farmer who converted the car to a tractor, but the family who owned (and still do) the Howtown Hotel on Ullswater, Cumbria. That detail aside, the photo on the right shows clearly the broken chassis at the spring hanger on the nearside rail, and matches the general condition in which I found the car in a shed in Oxfordshire, 35 years after this article was written.

I think John Smith, from whom I bought the car, had some connection with Prince Marshall and Nick Baldwin, the editors of Old Motor, but I never discovered what.

Incidentally, readers of this blog may recall that under a tarpaulin on the same premises, we found Learned Counsel’s Jowett.

Volume 9. No. 4 was full of fascinating stuff. This Rolls Royce Nene powered Viking rang a few bells. Somewhere in my collection is a photo of Pa standing under the wing of an Avro Lancastrian equipped for testing purposes with two Nenes replacing the outer pair of Merlins.

I remember Pa was involved in some engineering capacity, but once again, I never discovered what exactly.

I had a few moments this week to begin forming the shrouds for the disc brakes on the Hillman. I’d specifically put the spare backplates in a safe place – you know the rest – so it was some time later before I could get on with the job. Once welded up, I’ll do the cut-outs for the calipers, form a strengthening flange on the edge, sand blast and powder coat. On the car I’ll have to strip down each hub assembly and remove the kingpins to get the new back plates on, but it will tidy up the look of the front axle. A dab of paint over the Wilwood logo on the calipers will complete the job.

The annual trip to Ufford went well although it was blinkin’ cold. The disc brakes on the Hillman raised a few eyebrows. It’s easy to forget that Lanchester patented a mechanical disc brake system in 1902. There’s not much that hasn’t been done before and the more you learn about the early days of motoring, the more you realise just how much knowledge was accumulated in such a short space of time and that often it was only for want of suitable materials – as in the case of Lanchester’s brake pads – that held up or prematurely ended developments. The same applies to early aviation; the Sopwith Symposium papers reveal an extraordinary level of sophistication in the understanding of aerodynamics as early as 1916 and it would be fair to say that not a lot changed until we approached and conquered the sound barrier, 30 or so years later.

The meet attracted everything from the sublime…

… to the splendidly hooligan.

Last week’s gaffe went unnoticed. The wire-locking on the Lambda boss plug was deliberately applied in the wrong sense.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.