Mad about Motors 4

 

 

LAP 1: On two wheels

 

LAP 2: Two wheels plus an engine (Nortons)

 

LAP 3: Four wheels (Peugeot to Alvis Silver Eagle, via Auto Union)

 

LAP 4: Moving up a gear (Aston Martin to MG Magnette)

 

LAP 5: The car that never was (Bédélia)

 

 

 

LAP 4

 

Moving up a gear

 

 

In early 1946, while HW was still resident at the family home, Bank House, in Botesdale, a totally new twist was given to the tale of his motoring. It came about because of the exciting events that were taking place in this quiet little Suffolk village: the road through the village was being used to test out a racing car, secretly, by a famous racing driver of that era. The car was an Aston Martin 2-litre Speed Model, registration JMC 388, known as the ‘Black Car’ – and the driver was the suave (but near-blind!) St John (Jock) Horsfall. The family home of the Horsfalls was in nearby Dunwich, but Jock had a garage in the village where he was fine-tuning his Aston in preparation for the 1946 Belgian Grand Prix.

 

 

motors 4 1 Horsfall Black Car
The 'Black Car'
 
motors 4 1a Horsfall car Belgian grand Prix 1946

Horsfall's black Speed Model with laurels won

in the 1946 Belgian Grand Prix

Taken from Dudley Coram, Aston Martin: The Story of a Sports Car (1957)
 
motors 4 1b Jock Horsfall rev
Jock Horsfall with the Black Car at Brooklands in 1935
 
motors 4 1d Jock Horsfall Aston Martin
Horsfall racing a later model Aston Martin

 

The Grand Prix took place on 16 June 1946 at the Bois de la Cambre outside Brussels. There were three categories: 1100cc, 2000cc, & 1400cc. Horsfall is generally acclaimed in this country as the winner of the 1946 Belgian Grand Prix, but he actually won the 2000cc category, while the overall winner was the French driver Eugène Chaboud in a 3-litre Delahaye, who is the man officially recorded as the ‘pilote victorieux’.

 

A couple of years later Horsfall also worked on the new model Aston – the very secret ‘Spa Special’, which HW’s then young son Richard remembers very well. Richard also remembers members of the Horsfall family attending a cocktail party at their house. Horsfall’s work in MI5 in the Second World War included the famous night drive up the length of England to Greenock, where the dead body used in ‘Operation Mincemeat’ (filmed as The Man Who Never Was), was loaded on to a submarine – although this is not part of the story here, other than perhaps that Sir Eric Holt-Wilson (1875–1950), head of MI5, owned Redgrave Hall (the village adjoining Botesdale) and Horsfall had lived in his stable, or had a base there, during the war years. No doubt this is where he stored the Aston and therefore why he was working on it in Botesdale. Interestingly, Horsfall’s mother had been a driver to Holt-Wilson in the First World War. Sadly, after his extraordinary performance driving solo in the Spa 24-hour race in 1949, Jock Horsfall was killed at Silverstone in August 1949 when the unfamiliar ERA he was driving went out of control.

 

Richard wrote of his memories to a motoring magazine – which, and when, are lost in the mists of time!

 

 

 motors 4 19 Jock Horsfall Aston RLCW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HW was obviously very impressed – awed even – by the proximity to such a famous car and its charismatic driver, and determined to own an Aston Martin. By coincidence, he saw an advertisement for a 1938 2-litre Aston for sale in the regional Eastern Daily Press newspaper (for which HW had written articles during the war years). The car was owned by a Dr Julius Vincenzi (1910–1996), living just a few miles away near Woodbridge. Unfortunately HW did not record in his diary any details concerning the purchase.

 

 

motors 4 1x Aston Martin with children

 

motors 4 1y Williamson family Aston Field c 1948

HW's first wife Loetitia with Robert, Richard and Sarah in their father's new car

at the Field, Ox's Cross

 

 

The car, registration number DYY 764 (chassis no. H7/808/SO; engine HY/707/SO), had apparently had several previous owners and had been driven hard by RAF types during the recently-ended war. There is nothing to say how long Dr Vincenzi had owned the car – although that would have been listed in its log book at the time. But we do know that Vincenzi had just had the engine reconditioned by Friary Motors of Old Windsor, Berks. Two documents reveal the work done: one is from Ben Kent Precision Engineers Ltd of Boston, dated 15 April 1946, for boring out cylinders etc., cost £6.11.2d. The other is from Friary Motors for fitting main bearings, big ends, cleaning out cylinder blocks and reconditioning, plus a list of parts involved – total £25.16.11d.

 

 

motors 4 2b Vicenzi repair Ben Fleet

 

motors 4 2a engine repair vicenzi

 

 

HW paid £800 for the car. For that time it does seem a large amount for a second-hand car in poor condition. He tried to get the price reduced, but Vincenzi stated that he had bought a new 2½ litre Riley and needed to cover the cost. But he agreed to reimburse HW for a necessary new gear-box (although apparently never did, which became a bone of contention).

 

 

motors 4 2x Gearbox repair

 

 

It was not to be a happy relationship. Everything seemed to be wrong with the car. Nothing HW did to improve matters seemed to help. One needs to take into account here HW’s state of mind at that time. The years immediately following the Second World War were a time of great stress for HW. The strain and exhaustion of the war; the work on the farm and attendant struggle to earn income through his writing; the subsequent sale of the farm and the breakup of his marriage, all told on him. He returned to Devon and determined – now free of immediate family responsibilities – to finally begin his magnus opus, the 15-volume A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight. However, a second marriage and the birth of a new son meant the return of the difficulties of family life versus writing. The first volume of the Chronicle, The Dark Lantern, had a very difficult genesis, and up to mid-1951 he had several false starts before he found the form and ‘tone’ that was to be its hallmark. It seems to me that much – probably most – of his constant anxiety over the Aston Martin was a transference of his turbulent emotions about his writing.

 

The main continuous problem was the constant oiling up of plugs – they needed to be changed every 50 miles – and the high consumption of oil by the engine. The file of papers concerning all this is quite extensive and extraordinarily detailed, but is summed up by the notes HW wrote inside the front cover of his 2 Litre Aston Martin Instruction Book which give a précis of the whole situation.

 

 

motors 4 3a cover Aston Martin instruction book      motors 4 3b AMOC instruction book Title page HW note

 

 

motors 4 3c HW notes

 

 

Transcript:

 

DYY 764

 

Purchased in poor condition by HW in May 1946 for £800, less cost of new gear-box. Had to sue previous owner for this two years later, £75.

 

Engine had been badly re-sleeved. After 3000 miles (new engine May 1946) had to be done again. Body to be rebuilt, + engine, at Friary Motors, Windsor, quoted £145. DYY 764 there Oct 1946–May 1947. Body badly done. Bill presented £245. Settled for £200. After 3000 miles, engine very poor. Went to O. Sear, Botesdale, & Coe of Ipswich for rebuilding and reboring, October June 1948–April 1949. Cost £120. So badly done, plugs oiled at once; oil in radiator, block was cracked. After 4000 awful miles, to Coe of Ipswich for complete rebuild, plus painting, new carpets, seats etc in October 1949. Work not done in June 1950. Engine bad from start. Oiled plugs. Worn rings to 100/1000ths at 300 miles at 30 m.p.h. Coe came to Devon & refitted one piston: no good. Later at Ipswich refitted others. No good. In France used oil 300-400 m.p.g. Bill £298. I paid £75. Rest apparently remitted via solicitor. Went April 1951 to Friary Motors. Took delivery (delay by lawyers) late Oct 1951. Engine appears to be good. No oiling, smooth, after 600 miles at 2000 r.p.m. no plugs touched. New, bigger radiator fitted. New springs (1951). Redex oil fitted. Cost, £200. Coe in 1950 fitted block 707/50, ex Horsfall-spare, estimate was to weld & renew my old block. Speedo reading at latest rebuilt engine, after 60-80 miles or so run-trial by Friary’s, 15745. (The speedo head was new in May 1946.)

 

The file of correspondence and receipts from all of the above reveals considerable work being done over the first two years after HW purchased DYY 764. A point which becomes very clear is the chronic shortage of material and parts during this early post-war period, which accounts for at least some of the delays in the work being undertaken. Friary Motors mentions this more than once in letters replying to HW’s obvious complaints: ‘We regret we do not have replacements available.’

 

Friary Motors of Old Windsor was at that time the accredited Aston Martin garage. The current owner/managing director of Aston Martin, R. G. Sutherland, was also the owner/managing director of Friary Motors, and their work would surely have been to the highest standards – the name of Aston Martin depended upon that. A rare diary note states that HW took the car to them on 11 July 1946 (earlier than the above notes suggest: they were presumably written from memory at a later date), and the invoice for the new gear-box (and new rockers) is dated 23 August 1946: cost £26.10s. They also sent new road springs down to Barnstaple Motors (HW’s local Devon garage) in August. In October, Friary Motors noted that ‘Messrs Aston Martin have dismantled the body of your car for repainting, and it is in general in a sorry state.’ The estimate came to £145. But HW wrote back with a longish list of things he thought also needed doing, stating: ‘I am in no hurry for the car, as I drive a small saloon in the winter' (the Ford 8) – and also that he was officially taking the Aston off the road so that he need not pay tax and insurance. He was very taken aback to find the actual bill for the work came to £245! As he notes above, he settled for £200.

 

 

motors 4 4b Friary account

 

motors 4 4c ditto p2

 

 

Although not mentioned in his notes above, HW also had recourse at an early stage to the well-known large Egertons garage in Ipswich. A letter from them dated 9 December 1947 notes: ‘Have made tonneau cover, total cost £8.7.8.’

 

 

motors 4 4d Part of Egerton letter

 

 

They had also carried out decarbonising and HW had obviously complained about that, and the sluggishness of his engine, while there was also a water leak affecting the cylinder head gasket. He objected to paying their bill until the various points were dealt with. On 20 December the matter was taken up by ‘F.C. Lyne, Director’, who pointed out their own problems if accounts were not paid. This little dispute rumbled on (with Egertons pointing out that some of the items actually refer to work done on the Ford), and on 13 January 1948 there was a meeting with Col. Lyne DSO, recorded, obviously at HW’s request, by Ann Thomas.

 

 

motors 4 4e AT notes on meeting with Lyne

 

 

Then HW transferred to W. J. Coe Motors, also of Ipswich (indeed, with premises in the same street as Egertons). The first letter in the file is dated 24 May 1948:

 

 

motors 4 4f Coe letter May 1948

 

 

Invoices followed:

 

 

motors 4 4h1 Coe invoice 1948

 

motors 4 4g1 Coe receipt June 1049

 

 

There is brief mention in HW’s above notes of ‘O. Sear’. Oliver Sear ran Hamblyn House, a small country club in Botesdale, and HW had evidently got to know him socially. His sole qualification for taking on the job of repairing HW’s Aston seems to have been based on the fact that he owned a (very desirable and prestigious) 1936 Aston Martin Ulster (2-seater, registration CMX 743). Involving Sear created its own set of problems, with delay in doing the work being the chief of them: caused, one suspects, by Sear being more concerned with his own car, which also had problems, than HW’s!

 

Two handwritten letters from Sear, formally addressed ‘Dear Mr. Williamson’, are annoyingly undated but are by deduction 1948. One letter mentions he has spent £10 to date of money HW has paid on account, for which there is a dated receipt.

 

 

motors 4 4x Oliver Sear receipt

 

motors 4 4y part letter Sear

 

 

Another letter (which has to be 1949 due to its references to a proposed journey) opens with personal details about his family, then:

 

Now the Aston.

 

I am hoping to get the Engine in soon. Burroughs has done his painting. Has to make the Floor Boards. [Burroughs was the local blacksmith.] The car should be ready in good time. I envy you your proposed journey.

 

I am sending your instruction book which will give all the information you require, also a list of your tyres with their numbers.

 

I have your battery back, in a new case . . .

 

I think it advisable to take a spare front Spring in view of what you said, but I feel the breakages may have been due to the “Bralse Torque Stabilising Rods” being out of adjustment. I should also take a spare S.U. Fuel pump, a Rotor Arm and contact breaker points for the magneto, also elec. light bulbs. . . .

 

 

motors 4 4z Tyre details

 

 

The reason for HW’s extreme anxiety over the delay caused by Oliver Sear was that he had arranged to go to France in April 1949. The previous summer he had met a young teacher, fallen in love, and married again on 13 April 1949. The trip to France was to be their honeymoon, staying with Richard Aldington a writer friend, in the south of France, but combining this with visiting his publishers in both Italy and Paris, which enabled him to obtain extra petrol coupons. The post-war regulations were still very stringent. Money was restricted to £35 per person – HW was allowed £50 as he was claiming a business trip. Petrol was equally rationed, coupons being issued for exchange with every purchase. According to HW, the system was that when money was exchanged at the Bank of France, for every £5 changed one got 5,500 francs plus 20 petrol tickets, each for 10 litres of essence.

 

 

motors 4 5b petrol coupons     motors 4 5a petrol coupons
Some of HW's petrol coupons    

 

 

The day after the wedding HW and Christine travelled up to Botesdale in the Ford 8, staying the night with HW’s first wife, and collecting the Aston Martin from Oliver Sear. The Ford, having had a reconditioned engine the previous June, was left with Loetitia.

 

 

motors 4 5c Ford repair details

 

 

Spending a couple of days in the area visiting friends, HW’s diary records:

 

Have doubts about how O. Sear has remade the Aston. It gets very hot and the pistons slop badly.

 

He returned to Botesdale:

 

Query water in sump of Aston. O. Sear examined & said no . . . so off to Old Windsor, the Aston Service Station to get spares for France as planned.

 

At Windsor:

 

Cylinder head removed & new copper gasket fitted. O Sear had also wrongly timed the valves – 1 tooth too early.

 

The Aston had little luggage space, and the bucket-seat area and footwell were totally loaded up with camping paraphernalia, a spare front spring, cans of lubricating oil, a jack, tools, and two duffle bags of (minimal) clothes. On the outskirts of Folkestone, the problems with the car seemed so bad that he turned back and cancelled that sailing. However, after advice from a garage in Lewes, he decided to continue the next day. And as he wrote in an article on his return:

 

The holiday in France could have been a wonderful one, had it not been for that damned motorcar. [The Adelphi, 1949]

 

The whole trip was fraught in the extreme. The plugs continually oiled up, the engine overheated alarmingly, the magneto conked out at Boulogne (although expertly dealt with by French mechanics). But the next morning the engine conked at once: ‘points of distributor faulty’. However, he noted one bonus: the night’s lodging plus food only cost 1600 francs, ‘about 3/-‘.

 

HW had planned to stop off to visit the area of the First World War battlefields around Arras (as he had done on his first honeymoon in 1925), but after the briefest of stops could not face this and they continued on the journey south. The actual honeymoon visit on the south coast went well – but the time came to leave for ‘Milano’ and onwards. As I wrote in my 1995 biography of HW:

 

That meant taking the Aston over the Alps, a daunting prospect, with the highly-strung car matching its owner for unpredictability.

 

HW was dreading the drive over ‘those great mountains’, especially as money was getting very low, and the cost of oil and petrol consumption rather high – and, possibly the most important factor, the car had no fan: a problem which quickly manifested itself on the Milano autostrada when he was stuck behind heavy lorries. He could not rely on the car’s current performance to enable overtaking, having ‘no authentic Aston-Martin acceleration,’ while ‘tiny 5 h.p. Fiats and the wonderful post-war 11 h.p. Lancias did it again and again’. One detail he particularly noted was going ‘over bridges of rocking swaying wood [built] besides those blown up during the war.’ (War was never far from HW’s mind.)

 

Milan gave them the chance to catch their breath and gird their loins before tackling the drive up to the Simplon Pass. As they began the final climb it began to rain: pouring rain and torrential river in the gorge, and ‘a climb equal to eight Porlocks and eight Kentisburys’ (famously very steep hills on the North Devon coastline).

 

A thundering shuddering announced the Aston had boiled. Once it had cooled HW clambered down rocks to get water from the raging torrent – relieved to find no real damage had been done to the engine. It needed oil. They had bought an expensive 2-gallon tin of oil before starting. But on getting it out of the back of the car the tin was empty – it had split and the footwell was fouled with oil that had drained out of holes in the floorboards. It boiled twice more before reaching the summit: two more refills from the raging torrent for the raging car and then they were at the top.

 

Before us arose an immense falcon, carved in stone, looking down into Italy.

 

 

motors 4 6 Simplon Sculpture Golden Eagle
(photo: André Schild)

 

This sculpture, over 8 metres high, was created by Ernst Baumann (1890–1980, Swiss architect and sculptor) at the request of the 11th Alpine Brigade of the Swiss Army, based in Zwischbergen. The stone monument, inaugurated in September 1944, depicts an eagle, the symbol of the brigade, and was constructed from granite blocks, or 'tailings', from the old fortification of Gondo, a town near the pass. One feels this must have made a huge impression on HW. At the top of the pass Christine took a photograph of HW at the wheel of the Aston, with the eagle in the background, while he snapped her filling the radiator using a wine bottle; an exercise that would be repeated when they undertook the same trip the following year.

 

 

motors 4 7a HW Simplon Pass 1949

 

motors 4 7b water in radiator Simplon Pass 1949

 

motors 4 7c simplon Pass

 

 

The rest of the journey home through France passed without any further undue incidents.

 

On his return to England HW took the car back to W. J. Coe of Ipswich; namely Laurence Coe (known as ‘Slim’, he is stated in Dudley Coram’s 1957 book Aston Martin to be an excellent engineer). ‘Slim’ Coe was much involved with Jock Horsfall, working on the Black Car and the Spa Special – and indeed accompanied Horsfall to the 1949 venue as they were working on the car until the very last moment.

 

Coe also owned an Aston – a 1937 2-litre drop-head coupé , long chassis saloon, FMF744 – as confirmed by his entry in the Aston Martin Owners Club booklet for 1950:

 

 

motors 4 8a AMOC members cover

 

motors 4 8b Coes entry

 

 

In a letter dated 12 September 1949 Coe states:

 

My own car is still in pieces and will remain so until we have a little less work on hand, and in the meantime a humble little Riley 9 provides a satisfactory means of transport.

 

In another letter he states:

 

After much thought I have disposed of my Aston Martin. In its place for the time being is a 4-litre Alvis which was taken in exchange.

 

Coe’s numerous letters are mostly handwritten, friendly and very ‘newsy’.

 

The plan was for Coe to recondition HW’s engine over the winter at an estimated cost of £135. But a letter dated 1 March 1950 reveals HW is also having the car repainted – as Coe suggests ‘contrasting wheels’. HW was never happy with the work done by Coe, considering it to be substandard, and indeed, as will be seen later, involved a solicitor to try and get redress.

 

Meanwhile HW wrote up the story of his Aston Martin, its visit to France and all its problems, stating they were due almost solely to bad workmanship, for the December 1949 edition of the club’s Newsletter. He gave fictional names to the firms, but of course they would have been recognised by the people concerned. That the editor was worried is shown by his opening comment: ‘I have accepted the story as a work of fiction . . .’! However, nobody sued – but one suspects they felt more than a little disgruntled!

 

 

motors 4 9 article 1949 AMOC

 

 

The entire article is given on a separate page.

 

HW also wrote an account of this visit for The Adelphi magazine over three issues in 1949/50, which were reprinted in Words on the West Wind (Henry Williamson Society, 2000: pp 78–97; e-book edition 2013).

 

At this point I want to take a small diversion off the main track – a short pit stop. In the late 1940s HW’s son Richard was a pupil at St Michael’s School in Worcestershire – where A. B. (Brian) Demaus, today well known among the vintage car fraternity, was one of the teachers. Richard remembers Demaus taking a great interest in the Aston Martin when his father came to visit. And indeed the AMOC List of Members booklet for 1950 reveals ‘Lt. Demaus’ owning a 1923 side-valve 4-seater Aston (FY 6013; chassis no.1920). (Demaus had been a lieutenant in the Royal Navy serving with the Arctic Convoys during the Second World War.) Richard also remembers hearing a great deal about the famous 1922 S.V. 2-S racing Aston (PE 2516) known as ‘Green Pea’, which Demaus apparently owned at some point (although it is not assigned his name in the 1950 list). The car Demaus actually had when Richard was his pupil was an MG open sports 2-seater with boat tail. Contact with Demaus was resumed in the late 1960s, when by coincidence his son Robert came to live just down the road from us. And it was Robert who eventually took over the gargantuan task of refurbishing their Reed Railton Arab: rather a beast of a car!

 

 

motors 4 10 Demaus entry Green Pea

 

motors 4 11 HW entry

 

 

To return to the main track: in the autumn of 1949, after his return from the difficult trip to the Continent, HW took the Aston Martin back to Coe for refurbishment over the winter: the engine to be reconditioned, including welding and new liners, but also several other less major items. Horsfall had just been killed in the ERA at Silverstone, an incident almost certainly watched by Coe, which must have been extremely distressing. And it wasn’t until March 1950 that HW learnt Coe had had problems over labour and illness, and therefore that his own Aston had thus lost its place at the coachbuilders, causing a further delay on the work.

 

Eventually a telegram dated 6 June 1950 announces ‘Aston ready for collection’:

 

 

motors 4 11x Telegram coe to HW

 

 

HW travelled up to collect it, again staying with his first wife, and writing to his current wife on the back of that telegram:

 

The Aston is SUPERB. . . . The block (new) is a Jock Horsfall one & an exchange at par. No extra charge.

 

However, he had not been told in advance by Coe that, instead of refurbishing his original engine, this switch had been made, and later, when this euphoria wore off, it became a point of irritation. Indeed, the same oil problems re-emerged while he travelled back to Devon. Coe very patiently made the journey down to Devon at the end of July to fix cylinder No 4 – but found all the cylinders needed fixing, which would mean another visit as he had only brought what was immediately necessary. To avoid this, HW said he would take the car back to Ipswich when convenient.

 

 

motors 4 12 Aston Martin in field

 

motors 4 12a HW Aston friend field

DYY 764 and 'friend' in the Field at Ox's Cross

(HW, his wife Christine & son Poody: other driver unknown,

but apparently not Coe as the number does not fit his AMOC entry as above)

 

 

The focus here is that HW had again arranged a trip to the Continent in the autumn – an exact repeat of the previous year’s journey. As on the previous occasion, immediately prior to departure HW, with Christine and their new four-month-old baby son, drove up to stay with his first wife. HW took the car back to Coe who ‘took the head down, the pistons drawn, and fitted new rings’ and returned the car to HW. (There is no further mention of the baby, who doesn’t appear to have accompanied them.)

 

At Boulogne HW noted ‘Aston running well’. But on arrival at the South Coast of France he recorded:

 

Rather afraid my running at 3000 r.p.m. after only 260 miles of new rings may have spoiled the excellent work done by Coe.

 

He mentions that during this visit they all went over to St Tropez. These two unmarked photographs are probably from there:

 

 

motors 4 13 HW Aston south coast France

 

motors 4 13a Aston abroad 1950

 

 

Again the Aston inevitably boiled when climbing the Simplon Pass: ‘Poured into radiator bottle after bottle of icy water’. The next photographs were taken in the pass:

 

 

motors 4 13d Simplon Pass in misty rain

 

motors 4 13e Aston back view Simplon Pass

 

 

On return to England HW took the Aston back to Coe for another refurbishment, but this work got delayed. When Coe eventually submitted his bill, it was for £298. HW could not account for all the items, had already decided the work had never been up to standard – and was incandescent! He paid £75 for items outstanding and made contact with a firm of Barnstaple solicitors with intent to sue Coe. His full ‘Statement’ to the solicitors is given on a separate page.

 

The engine had by then been taken to Friary Motors who sent an itemised report on work needed and costs. The report makes sorry reading:

 

 

motors 4 14a Friary report

 

motors 4 14b details report

 

motors 4 14c report 2

 

 

The solicitors suggested that an insurance engineer should look at the engine. HW was insured with the National Farmers Union (a relict of the Norfolk Farm years) and they suggested their own ‘Consulting Engineer’, E. K. Porter based in London. Porter examined the engine at Friary Motors and his detailed report noted a series of problems, suggesting that the cost of putting them right would be about £140 and that he should meet with ‘the original repairers’ and put it to them that they carried the onus of responsibility. However, the solicitor pointed out that liability would be almost impossible to prove, and that any judge would throw the case out. In effect, he was inferring that HW had no case against Coe: ‘It is difficult to adduce any direct evidence that negligence took place.’

 

So HW had to accept the situation. He notes that the solicitors dealt with Coe’s account. Apart from the various extra expenses involved he had not had any use of the car throughout the summer of 1951.

 

Friary Motors suggested around this time that the car would benefit from a larger radiator, but HW demurred. He had wanted a fan installed, but it was explained that there was no room for this without quite extensive (and expensive) rebuilding of the bodywork.

 

He kept detailed notes in his diaries, this from 1951:

 

 

motors 4 14x Aston notes 1951

 

 

And at the front of his 1953 diary:

 

 

motors 4 14za further notes diary 1953 notes at front

 

 

The car continued to have many problems and was forever being taken into Barnstaple Motors for repairs, and also Friary Motors. A larger radiator was eventually fitted and did solve a great number of the problems. HW covered many miles in the car. He had a restless personality and often drove around to relieve tension. His diary entries around this time tended to be rather sporadic due to the huge pressure of writing of the early volumes of the Chronicle.

 

As will have become obvious, HW had been a member of the Aston Martin Owners Club (AMOC) from first owning the car in 1949.

 

 

motors 4 15 HW AMOC membership card

 

 

One of his real pleasures in life was attending various annual race meetings of the St John Horsfall Trophy, set up in honour of this racing hero after his tragic death. He did not attend the first 1950 meeting (as he was abroad), nor 1951 (his Aston was dismantled), although there is an official leaflet of the ‘Full Results’ for the 1951 meeting at Silverstone on 28 July.

 

In 1952, he was at Snetterton on 3 May (staying with his first wife at Bungay) and Silverstone on 26 July. In 1953 he was again at Snetterton on 18 April:

 

I went with Gipsy, John [their second oldest son, RAF, glider pilot] & Richard to Snetterton motor races. A fine day.

 

Then again at Silverstone on 15 August. His diary records a further visit to Snetterton on 12 September, but going in the Ford, which by then he had given to Gipsy but was borrowing while his Aston was out of action. In 1954 he recorded another visit on 24 April, after a difficult journey up from Georgeham in the Aston, which broke down twice; eventually he had to leave it by the road about 3 miles short of Bungay and walk the rest – however, the next day:

 

Aston Martin Races at Snetterton. Went with Gipsy, Sarah [their young daughter] and John. – fine day. B.R.M. went like a bomb, or like itself, a 1½ litre developing 260 b.h.p. at 26,000 r.p.m. It ran away at once & circled the course alone & broke record – 91.18 m.p.h. A good day.

 

 

motors 4 17 entry tickets

 

 

Even years after the Aston had been sold HW occasionally attended race meetings.

 

In the spring of 1955 young ‘Poody’ (son Harry) became five years old. Apart from the technical difficulties surrounding the Aston Martin, the two-seater car was obviously unsuitable for family life, and particularly for their planned visit to Ireland for a camping holiday. On 5 April HW’s diary notes that he and Christine left for a conference in Oxford, where HW was giving a lecture on ‘The Writer’s Craft’. The next day going on to London:

 

Called at Wandsworth firm to see a new Austin A40 Countryman.

 

Two days later, on Saturday 8 April:

 

Bought Austin ‘Countryman’ in morning. Allowance £300 for Aston Martin.

 

Rather sad to see last of the motorcar which has caused so much trouble.

 

Part of a letter survives, written in October 1955, from the gentleman who eventually bought the Aston:

 

Very many thanks for your encouraging card about DYY 764. I apologise for my delay in answering but I have been having various parts of the car checked and felt that it would be worth waiting until this had been done.

 

Yes I have the certificate of repairs from Barnstaple Motor Co. and engine repair invoice from Friary’s. They have certainly been useful.

 

Since you sold the car it has been converted to coil ignition and I have just had the carburettors rebuilt and tuned.

 

So far no one has been able to find any major fault with the engine and transmission . . .

 

Richard Williamson came across the Aston at a race meeting at Silverstone in the 1970s being driven by the then well-known Malcolm Cann. At the end of the race a thick stream of oil was sprayed across the bonnet and all over the windscreen. Cann did not seem in the least bit bothered, commenting ‘Quite normal’ – and when Richard related the tale of his father’s constant chronic oil problems, just laughed. But Cann was known to be a rather wild ‘devil-may-care’ character!

 

The Aston Martin still lives on. It is understood that DYY 764 is now wrapped up and cossetted at the prestigious Bertelli lock-up in London – and worth rather a large sum of money. Poor car – how bored it must be!

 

However, there is still a small part of the original car still the treasured property of his son Richard:

 

 

motors 4 18 DYY number plate pistons

 

 

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The sale of the Aston Martin saw the end of fast sports cars for HW, and the beginning of a more practical motoring career, although it was not, however, the last of his problems with garages, as will be seen below.

 

He still hankered after sporting models – his Triumph Herald, successor to the Countryman, had twin carburettors, while his last car was a MG Magnette saloon, described as ‘a very highly respected sporting saloon’ – and a desirable classic car today.

 

The green Austin A40 Countryman was indeed used for their proposed Irish camping holiday. It did not go well for, apart from anything else (including a windscreen which cracked suddenly as they waited for a funeral to pass by), HW's temperament was totally unsuited to such a venture!

 

 

motors 4 20 HW Countryman

Harry and HW in the Austin Countryman (back seat down,

sleeping bags at the ready), taken at the Field prior to

departure, with the Writing Hut in the background.

 

 

A scarce sight indeed on the roads today, this is an example of the Austin A40 Countryman (not HW’s, though the same colour):

 

 

motors 4 21 Austin A40 Countryman
(photo: Chris Sampson, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15207022)

 

 After the Countryman HW bought a green Triumph Herald, CU0 638C, which was scrapped in July 1969 (no photographs of this seem to have survived). In a series of letters written to Anne Wright during 1973/4 (HWSJ 57, September 2021, pp. 54-80) he mentions his cars several times. In a letter dated 15 February 1973, he relates the story of how the Herald came to be written off:

 

Once I had a lovely 2-carburettor Triumph - & leaving Taunton, on my way to Shaftesbury, a winters night & 2 lines of headlights in my eyes – suddenly the car rocked – swayed – sank – & I thought ‘Poor little car’ – & the steering wheel dropped off. And I sat in the leaning car. It was 6 pm & much traffic. The old narrow road had been widened to a point 3 miles from Taunton – & then the old narrow main road was left, with curbstones loosely put down.

 

Result 1 front wheel snapped off. Kariata [karate] blow on knee broke steering wheel – a miracle or a fluke, no bones broken – and the wheel off – 2 lorries stopped – others heaved Triumph into a hedge, just near a small hotel. The police came, took me to hospital. Anti tetanus. I wasn’t scared: only sad – how could it have happened to me . . . car was £20 plus estimated expenses to recondition so I had Triumph back. BUT it was scamped – the stub axle (near side) had been cracked & it collapsed one day at 30 m.p.h. & I got a cheque for value.

 

After the Triumph Herald, HW bought a secondhand 1955 MG Magnette saloon.

 

 

motors 4 23 spode house 25 May 1970

HW’s photographer friend Oswald ‘Ossie’ Jones leans

against HW’s MG at Spode House, Rugeley, at the

May 1970 'Social and Literary Week-end' hosted by

the Aylesford Review.

 
motors 4 22 spode house 25 May 1970 1

HW, one of the speakers at the week-end, talking with an

attendee (who is wearing HW's cap, placed there by him

as he thought it matched her coat), the open door of the

MG behind him

photos © John Gregory 1970

 

 

motors 4 24 MG Magnette brochure

 

 

HW relates some of the trials and tribulations of owning the MG, described as being by this time ‘a little battered’ in his letters to Anne Wright:

 

12 February 1973: On 22 Feb. M.G. goes to garage in Ilfracombe to have wings re-aligned, etc etc & all body resprayed and renewed (£75 job).

 

9 March: I set out to get a car (old) prepared for me at a knacker’s yard. My own MG is still stripped up by the old sheds (its that kind of ‘garage’) & so they lent me a car. The battery was NIL: so they lent me another – a Morris of 1951, & only one ‘flasher’ works – the offside, unreachable one, so I came back, here in the sun, instead of risking a journey to B’ple & a smash, since my left arm is too short to wave out of the (unopenable) left window. Only the offside yellow thing directs. . .

 

10 March: I have a very old & ½ rotten Morris to drive, while my M.G. is having new wings & door panels – it had NO horn and no left or near side ‘trafficator’ – I dared not take it on the road – lent by the scruffy mechanics who had delayed the job (while I was in Norfolk; & then London), because they had not done the M.G. job as contracted. I felt ill & upset – until I called at a garage near the other lot, & within 2 minutes the faults were remedied – the 2 fuses – one to yellow trafficator.

 

15 March: My old M.G. has been laid up for 2 weeks – contract was one week to do the job of cutting off lower half of 4 doors, welding on new steel replacements, and then spray all green. But they (garage) have “slipped” – they welded the low ‘skirts’ of doors & body, & put on the wrong paint. For it all curled up, & remained patchy. So now it’s all to do again, while I drive a ‘lent’ Morris.

 

18 May: I left my MG in a lane last night; first puncture in 25,000 miles of Cross-ply tyres. I must get a bus and walk to 1½ miles from Ox’s Cross.

 

24 May: I am wondering if my 1955 Magnette – far too much cash spent on an old vint (I nearly wrote ‘crock’, but ’twould have been unkind, owing to how it came into my hands in 1968) – will be good enough to bring me to Gotherington fairly soon – (at a week-end?) – & back again. Yesterday a red spot glowed on the facia board (and tis a new battery) and despite full-charged battery, it stuttered & stopt. Then remembered itself & continued along the Torrington–Bideford road (once a canal, crossing the Torridge at Canal Bridge (now leading to Beam Manor).

 

25 May [in response to Anne’s query about the puncture a few days previously]: Oh, I got the wheel of MG off – walked 1 mile, found garage, chap ran us both to MG, & ’twas done for NOWT (under A.A. claim) & 75 n.p. [new pence] next day for mended puncture. The old MG runs well but has a little humming hardness after 60 mph. The gear-box may be worn – the cogs, I mean. So I go nicely at 50 mph.

 

And, finally, in an undated letter:

 

My old M.G. runs better with a new prop. shaft – the cogged-each-end which fits into the cogs of the gear-box.

 

HW kept the MG until he became too ill to drive. It was then found that much expensive work would have been needed to keep it in roadworthy condition, and so it met its demise.

 

 

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LAP 1: On two wheels

 

LAP 2: Two wheels plus an engine (Nortons)

 

LAP 3: Four wheels (Peugeot to Alvis Silver Eagle, via Auto Union)

 

LAP 5: The car that never was (Bédélia)

 

 

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