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

Thursday, 7 October 2010

This one didn't work well

After taking advantage of a legal loophole in the British motorcycle licence (with a three-wheel Bond minicar – an aluminium shoe-box with a 200 cc engine - followed by a Heinkel bubblecar, also a three-wheeler) it was time for a proper car with four wheels. The Austin Cambridge I bought in 1962 was not proper in any sense and that wretched vehicle enrages me every time I recall it.

Today’s drivers are happily unaware of their synchromesh gearboxes which ensure noiseless gear changes. Technically the Cambridge had synchromesh but it was accepted that this simply disappeared from first gear within a year: “They all do that,” was the supine excuse. To avoid crunching the cogs one learnt a macho procedure called double-declutching afterwards boasting about it in pubs.

But that wasn’t the only fault. The car was four or five years old which meant its crude pushrod engine was probably a prewar design. Certainly the lubrication system was close to total loss. Something weird happened to the cream paint-job which turned a dull matt, traced with ineradicable crazing. The squab broke away from the driver’s seat and the strut linking the top of a rear shock-absorber detached itself on a holiday in Scotland.

In an era of rotten UK cars this was as bad as any, typical of the hopelessness of British Motor Corporation which became British Leyland which became Rover which disappeared like first-gear synchromesh. Only the Mini, now made by BMW, survives. I am not a nationalist nor, lord love us, a patriot but I am susceptible to the country’s failings. The Austin Cambridge depressed me then as it depresses me now. In the above picture someone is happily driving a restored Cambridge. I hope he doesn’t see it as a “classic”.

8 comments:

Avus said...

The later British Motor Corporation was pretty dreadful. However Austins of this date (late '50s) and earlier were usually pretty good - yours must have been an unlucky one. My late grandfather, a Rolls Royce chauffeur to one family for 50 years, chose an Austin Cambridge just like yours for personal transport and swore by it. In the mid '60s I owned a 1951 Austin Hereford - a large, heavy 2.5 litre affair which was a magnificent car (petrol was, pro rata, cheaper then). So I have an affection for such Austins.
As to "double declutching" - today's motorists don't know they're born.

Plutarch said...

Not a car to be sentimental about, obviously. But somehow I can't help feeling a pang of something or other when I think about my Morris Minor Traveller which dates back to 1962 or 1963. Among its desgn faults was the need to remove your foot from the clutch pedal in order to dip the headlights.

Hattie said...

You may have had what the Germans refer to as a "Zitron."
My favorite "bad" car was a DAF sedan with the rubber-band gear mechanism. One day one of the bands snapped (what a noise!) and I had to drive home with wheels that did not turn on the right hand side.
It was a very silly Dutch car. So it isn't just the British who made goofy cars.
My word verification is enocan. As in "E no can make good cars?"

Sir Hugh said...

In the sixties I worked for a finance company. I spent much time repossessing cars, and sampled all those British failures of the designer’s art. Without doubt the worst of all was the Mk1 Vauxhall Victor.The body was made of a metal that reacted to the air we breath faster than iron filings in sulphuric acid. It had the prototype of the steering column gear change with so many linkages it was about as effective as hitting a snooker ball with a piece of spaghetti, and its contribution was further inhibited because there were only three gears. A six year old boy would have said straight away that the wheels were too small, although he might not have had the experience to know that this resulted in life threatening understeer.The front doors, when opened, revealed a piece of bodywork shaped like the ace of spades, the point of which was likely to disembowel you on entering, and I reckon almost any part of the car could have been easily broken by mildly accidental human hands.

The Crow said...

Whitewalls - spats for tires!

Barrett Bonden said...

Avus: A very unlucky one, but not as unlucky as I was. Let's put it this way: on top of everything else I felt I could do better. So I flogged it and bought a Beetle. Much better.

Double declutching. A commendable skill but, like butchering one's own pig, cleaning an outside loo, or button-hooking one's own boots, not something that should have been necessary in the mid-twentieth century.

Plutarch: The foot-operated dipswitch stayed around for quite some time. Its raison d'etre may have been that many manufacturers felt that driving their cars with one hand while using the other to dip the lights was far too risky.

Hattie: Brits and, I thought, Americans have used "lemon" in the same pejorative way.

Heavens, how you libel the poor old DAF. The rubber-band system system provided an infinitely variable set of gear ratios - clever but fragile. However it was, I believe, meant to be driven in Holland on very very flat roads. Perhaps you could do another post explaining something even more fascinating - how did you, a savvy Yank, ever get inveigled into buying such an obscure vehicle?

Sir Hugh: You write with passion but then there's nothing like a lousy car for arousing passion. I suppose Vauxhall was then owned by General Motors which explains some of the misplaced logic. For a long time a majority of US cars had steering-column gear-changes - the only difference being that the lever was, in effect, a sort of switch since it operated an automatic "slush pump" gearbox. Such cars also had only three gears which was fine if the engine capacity was six litres and full torque was developed at round about 1200 rpm. Less so with the Victor's weedy output. Certainly the Victor's body-styling suggested an American car which had shrunk in the wash.

The Crow: Tyre-spats are truer than you might imagine. In the UK whitewalls appeared to be on a separate circle of rubber, seemingly detached from the tyre itself. No doubt these circles flapped at speeds in excess of 46 mph.

Lucy said...

Now this has had the effect of sending me on a futile Google hunt to find out if it was indeed a Vauxhall Victor that my dad had in the late 60s. I asked Tom if he'd ever owned one and received the curt reply 'No, and don't call me Victor', but later he warmed to his recollections, getting a little misty-eyed about the Humber that he drove for a time, and happy to be reminded of the foot-operated dip button on the Morris Traveller.

Your description of an American car shrunk in the wash seems to fit my memories of the Victor, though I don't recall any of the horrors Sir Hugh describes. It was two-tone in particularly repellent shades of mouldy green, but I have to say we rather liked it, largely because it was an estate, our first, graduating from a two door Austin 1100 which for a family of six children, three of them still school age, was a modest conveyance indeed - I remember being small enough to be passed between the front seats to sit on Mum's lap when I got fractious and squabblesome with my siblings. The Victor, then, seemed most capacious, and we could happily rattle about in the boot without having to sit on plastic seats which stuck agonisingly to sweaty bare legs...Ah, the days before seat belts!

Car reminiscing, nothing like it. Nostalgia isn't quite the word, implying a wishing oneself back there, which I think we're all agreed is going too far.

Barrett Bonden said...

Lucy: Good grief, this group of commenteers resembles those toothless northerners in the Monty Python sketch boasting about their deprivations ("Gravel! You were lucky to get gravel. All we had to eat were t'holes in t'road...").

The trouble is you've just handed over another baton. The Austin 1100. Clever but horribly fragile. Memories now of attempting to get to the Plitvice Lakes in 1965 Yugoslavia on a road as rocky as the path up to Mickeldore, fearing for the car's very life, turning back, finally resuming the Adriatic coast road to the accompaniment of a knocking noise front, right. The errant drive shaft had to be replaced in Padua. You're right, this isn't nostalgia but how about nostalgie de la boue?