Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Paved with bad intentions

Not far from where I live, Morgan cars are built. True sports cars (ie, penile bonnet, spine-jarring springs, impossible to enter with the canvas roof down, ludicrously over-priced), they tend to be owned by post-menopausal men who effect hogging caps. Until fairly recently the driver needed to press a dashboard button every 400 miles, causing oil to flow into the front suspension units.

When I was eighteen I would have loved one. From my forties onward, I held them in disdain. They belong to a tradition which equates discomfort with classicism. An era when breaking down was a form of getting back to nature.

Morgan has unseen links with my first, and worst, car the Austin Cambridge. The days when the customer wasn’t king. The Cambridge had a four-speed gearbox which meant first gear was necessary for some hills. But as everyone knew synchromesh on first failed permanently after a mere 600 miles from new. So engaging first required the driver to double-declutch. Hands up all those – especially Americans – who have even heard of this fearsome procedure.

It was impossible to remove the oil filter without de-activating the handbrake. Coolant replenishment occurred at about the same rate (and volume) as fuel replenishment. The oil system was close to total loss. Engine design had changed little since pre-war times. My present car enjoys, as they say, a charisma bypass yet I love it for its multiplicity, its matchless technology and its willingness to go. It lets me provide the soul.

8 comments:

Relucent Reader said...

I worked the loading dock at nearby trucking companies to pay for 2 colleges and 2 cars(neither a Morgan, thank goodness), so yes I do recognize double clutching, and the much noisier jake braking ...
Never knew that about the driver oiling via a pushbutton; you're kidding, right?
Enjoyed your post, thank you.

Sir Hugh said...

My first car was a 1959 Ford Popular. The single windscreen wiper worked by air off the carburettor. The speed of the wipers decreased in proportion to the increased speed of the car - an unbelievable example of a design which produced the opposite of the desired effect.

Julia said...

Wikipedia comes through again! Double declutching sounded at first like a form of skip rope, but after reading its definition, I can now raise my hand and say yes I have double declutched before. Is this a particularly American system?

Plutarch said...

I once double declutched on my first car, a Morris Minor, though I didn't need to. I think I did it by mistake. It had mechanical indicators which flipped out on either side when nudged appropriately. The car's worst fault was the headlight dip which was operated by a button under the accellerator pedal, so that you had to remove your foot from the pedal in order to dip the lights.

Theological question: Do cars have souls?

Occasional Speeder said...

You gave your car soul when you drove it over the Viaduct de Millau for the first time...

Barrett Bonden said...

Ah, there's nothing like a lousy car to get the memory ticking over. However, just so we're all sin... no, I can't use that disgusting cliché... equally informed, here's a summary of double declutching. You're slowing down in second gear and you wish to change down to first. You depress the clutch and you pull the gearchange lever into neutral (the connecting bit in the H-pattern of a four-speed box). With neutral selected you let out the clutch and you rev the engine. You depress the cluch again and pull the lever into first. You do all this a hundred times faster than it's just taken me to type it.

RR: Pushbutton oiling. True. This is Morgan. Morgan appeared on a TV programme where a former captain of industry advised them on improving production efficiency. He suggested using a guillotine to cut the bodywork metal, rather than tin-snips. Morgan refused. "Not traditional".

Sir Hugh: How about "suicide doors" hinged from the back rather than the front? Counter-intuitive? Indeed, but they were equipped with elegantly curving handles.

Julia: Positively un-American. Most of my neighbours in the US drove slush-pumps and feared stick-shifts. Telling them about double-declutching gave them more to fear. But WHY did you do it?

Plutarch: Well if your memory's good enough you can now read the above and check why it happened accidentally. A car's soul is detectable in its willingness to extend the hand of comfort; it's a very middle-class experience.

OS: Or when I turned up at Mas de Chimères and ordered a case of L'Oeillade. It means "wink" by the way which, I think, adds to its appeal.

Lucy said...

I feel one of the reasons we are rather perversely hanging on to the 20 year old BX - 16 of them in our possession - is that when it goes that will be one less car on the road with the amazing upsy-downsy Citroen hydraulics system with its amazing propensity to spring leaks and dribble coolant all over everywhere, as the ever growing patch on our drive testifies, and the passing of these beasts from the face of the earth will be the end of an era. The moment when the garagist is called is when the cost of repair might just be less than the cost of topping up the coolant.

The other reason is Tom won't let me drive the Xsara.

Avus said...

No-one mentioned the Morgan suspension (or lack of it). The saying is that if you run over a coin with one you can tell if it is heads or tails.

As to double declutching - I learnt to drive a bus with a crash gear box and one d/d clutched both upwards and down - it certainly teaches you gearbox sympathy.