Coupés at the Tower

In September there was the annual Heritage Open Weekend where buildings of historic interest are opened to the public for a weekend. In 2015 the chosen weekend was 12th/13th of September.

A friend of mine, and one of the seven fellow Alvis Three-Quarter Coupe owners in the UK, whose father used to own Hadlow castle in Kent, decided that as Hadlow Tower was being opened that weekend it would be a good thing to celebrate with a few historic vehicles as well.

Donovan had done us proud as in addition to three Three-Quarter Coupes there were two narrow bodied 12/50 Sports Tourers, a Silver Eagle four seat tourer, a Speed 20, TA14 DHC, TC21 and a beautiful 4.3 litre saloon.

There were of course a few interlopers including Donovan's delightful post-war Slough-built Citroen Traction Avant, shown above at the far end of the row,

The photograph on the left shows the 4.3 litre Alvis trying to hide its bulk behind a tree.

The Tower which has been completely restored is about six feet taller than Nelson's column but there the similarity ends. Nelson's column has standing room on top for just one person whilst the Tower has been beautifully restored with three en-suite bedrooms, dining room, kitchen and all mod-cons including a state-of-the-art lift - slightly incongruous in a 200 year old building.

Photo source: Vivat PR

But I was very thankful for the lift as that only left me another 120 steps to climb to reach the viewing platform 140 feet up. 

This is a view of the Three-Quarter Coupes from that platform.

It was a quintessential English summer's day - an historic building in the Kent countryside, some old cars, some good company, a grass sward and of course some fine drizzle to interrupt the picnic.

Sadly the building is owned by the Vivat Trust which went into liquidation in August 2015, although the Hadlow Tower Visitor Centre is still open until further notice. You can find out more about the Tower in this link.

Some of my vintage car owning friends are still living in the dark ages...literally.

It’s as though having free road tax and MOT exemption makes them exempt from anything else such as proper lights and indicators. There’s one friend who I refuse to follow on some of our evening runs through Sussex lanes as suddenly on a tiny unlit country road an arm appears through the window gesticulating wildly... are we stooping, turning, has he found a pub or is his bladder just weakening.

No wonder he never takes his car to France - goodness knows what they’d think of him there as I suspect he would still think it within his rights to gesticulate wildly even though following drivers may put his actions down to a hyperactive (or more likely, scared, passenger).

I like to take the Alvis to France once or twice a year and even though I have upgraded the lights to Lucas ST38 “Pork Pie” lamps with stop, tail and indicator I felt the time had come to try out LEDs as they are supposed to be brighter and consume less current.
There are quite a few Alvis Register members who are sporting the EU type lights which are frequently used on trailers and lorries so there was plenty of advice available.
My Alvis is a slightly delicate little soul so I thought I would try converting the Pork Pies to full LED spec rather than using the EU spec lights, for the time being.
I had seen the advert for Classic Dynamo & Regulator Conversions in The Automobile and noticed they also did LED conversions so when I went to the Beaulieu Autojumble in September 2013 I took the plunge and bought two Pork Pie conversion kits, a relay for the indicators and two LEDs to operate the front side lights/indicators.
Before doing this you do need to know:
  1. Is the car negative or positive earth and indeed what voltage it is - Peter of “Classic Dynamo & Regulator” offers all these options.
  2. If your car already has an indicator switch and relay - how many pins does the relay have?
  3. Ideally I think your indicator switch should also make a noise or have a flashing light.
The kit of parts ready to fit to the Alvis

Out with the Old...
...and in with the New...

The lightboard with its legs on, ready to replace the old lighting circuit.

Below, the lightboard temporarily mounted in the “Pork Pie” waiting to be checked for the height of the separator. 
Trimming to size...

...and they work!...but my camera (actually probably me) is not good enough to capture the indicators working. But they do, and so do the brake lights and so far I haven’t seen the ammeter move from 0.
Lastly, I don’t like the idea of drilling holes in a dashboard which has managed to avoid being messed about with for 86 years so I made up a little pod which bolts onto the steering column to hold the water temperature gauge, fan switch and indicator switch so that a new owner could take all these off...if they’re misguided enough!


Alvis 12/50 - a shock to the wallet

Over the years I've owned many vintage and post-vintage cars - Rileys, Alvises, British Salmsons and Amilcars and without exception they have all had Andre Hartford friction shock absorbers, or dampers as some people prefer to call them.

From an early age I realised that to hold my own in the pub bragging stakes I would have to be able to claim to be able to adjust them; this is easily done by turning the nut on the shock absorber. "Just tightened them up by a turn old boy and now I can get round Woodcote at…blah, blah"

But firstly, how do they work?

The photo shows that there are two arms and where they join up in the centre there are a number of wooden discs usually made of beech or birch which are hidden inside that housing covered by that pretty painted disc. 

By adjusting the nut you can adjust the friction to get the desired driving "experience".

One thing I had never realised was that these discs should be lubricated…and I don't think I'm alone in that.

As we'll see later, my Alvis 12/50 should be set to a friction setting of about 23 lbs or 9 kilos.

Now assuming that the damper doesn't suffer from stiction (defined as the inability to move, because something has stuck - as  I grow older I am beginning to experience that…) then a 9 kilo weight as represented by the 18 half-kilo packs of flour balanced on the offside front wing should be sufficient.

Sadly the Alvis was suffering from a lot more than stiction…

Without going into too much detail about my weight let's just say that I had to jump on the nearside shock absorber to get it moving and even then...

So please do lubricate your friction Hartford shock absorbers.

So, assuming you've taken them apart and applied a little grease or 140 grade oil to both the discs and the mounts and reassembled them you'll need to know how to adjust them

Adjusting the Hartfords

If you want to lay claim to some speedy driving such as circuits or just fast touring then the answer used to be to do them up as tight as possible. 

On the other hand if you're doing trials then you want as much movement as possible so that when your bouncer bounces, his or her weight actually does something to the car rather than their vertebrae so you slacken them right off.

But science does come into it and there are several pet methods.

Method 1 - push down on the wing and if it bounces back then the dampers need tightening up. If the wing drops off, please don't blame me.

Method 2 - tighten the shock absorbers right up, jack the chassis up and slacken off the shock absorber until the axle just starts to drop. Apparently this is the way the works MG K3s were set up.

Method 3 - as suggested on a VSCC forum. Take the shock absorber off the car, clamp one end of the bracket and from the other end hang a four gallon tin of water. Tighten the nut up until the arm just holds the water. With one UK pint weighing 20 ounces then this would be equivalent to (4 gallons * 8 pints * 20 ounces)/16 = 40 lbs

Method 4 - which sounds a lot easier and more scientific is to get a spring balance of the sort that ensures that you're not going to pay exorbitant amounts to some airline or other. Take the damper off the car, clamp one arm of the shock absorber, attach the spring balance to the other arm and adjust the nut to give between 19 lbs and 25 lbs on the balance.

The actual amount depends on the car and my well-thumbed Alvis manual (The Vintage Alvis Manual by Micky Radfordand most of the contents will apply to other vintage cars as well)

Adjustments are as follows.

Weight of car, using Silentbloc bushes <20 cwt = 16 lbs, 20 - 25 cwt = 19 lbs and 25 - 30 cwt = 23 lbs.

Annual Maintenance

1. First the Hartfords must have been correctly greased up. 

Vintage and Classic Shock Absorbers Ltd who are rebuilding mine are fitting new wooden discs for obvious reasons

They pressure treat the wooden discs with 140 grade oil before reassembling them.

Michael Brown, the son of Graham who runs the company also had to cut out the old Silentblocs, heat up and reshape one of the arms where there had been too much contact with an immoveable object, replace the centre bushes and all at a very reasonable price. They can always be found at the September Beaulieu Autojumble.

2. Having just collected the rebuilt shock absorbers (February 28, 2013) from Vintage and Classic Shock Absorbers, Michael Brown is suggesting an initial setting of around 30 to 40 lbs because "the roads are better"; Michael has presumably not been to Brighton's Marine Parade for a while...

3. Michael also suggests slackening them off and then splashing thick oil all over them before readjusting them. But do wipe off any excess oil as otherwise it will collect grit which won't do your shock absorber discs any good at all.

I'm pretty certain that if a previous owner had followed this advice then the discs wouldn't have split; mind you some of the centre bushes were either missing or shot-to-pieces, two of the mounting bolts could not be shifted and both the shock absorbers were mounted upside down!

Hopefully this may go part way to curing the dreaded wheel shimmy on the Alvis.


A bent Alvis 12/50

If I'm ever lucky enough to reach the age of 85 then I suppose I wouldn't complain too much if I were just an inch or so out of true but the Alvis doors were beginning to annoy me.

The bottom edge of the driver's door stuck out by an inch and whilst the aluminium door skin was not very permanently attached it still meant that from the inside, daylight could be seen.

The passenger's side was every bit as bad and the lady navigator wouldn't go anywhere without a travel rug (or two).

Things came to a head one day when I closed the door rather firmly (OK, I slammed it because the hinges were worn) and rust fell onto the running board.

As you’ll see from later photos the aluminium door skin is attached to the door by crimping the skin round a mild steel strip which is screwed to the door frame. Over the years the steel strip had rusted completely through thus allowing the door skin to act as a vertical “spoiler”.

So, not only were the door frames warped but the door skins were barely attached to the door frames.

I had taken the Alvis to a coachbuilder last year but such was the sharp intake of breath that I thought I'd end up inside a whale.

Co-incidentally a friend of mine, who has a lovely collection of prewar oily rags and was also employed by Brighton's Royal Pavilion as a conservation expert, was seeking early retirement and it seemed only natural to ease him into retirement gently!

After the door hinges had been drilled out and new pins put in, off came the doors which were whisked away in Ray's only modern conveyance - an oily rag Morris Traveller with over 300k on the clock.

These photos of the driver’s door(left) and passenger’s door(right) taken in the back of the Traveller clearly shows the problem. 

That old adage "it's not what you know, but who you know" is only partially right because although I take great pride in being an apprentice bodger, Ray's skills seemed founded on a lifetime of proper experience.

So here is a rough idea of the process Ray went through to conserve the original woodwork and yet “de-warp” the door frames. 

Pre-Op 1 

This photo shows rather too well the delamination of the plywood of the inner door panels. The kicking strip/carpet which is laid along the base of the doors to a height of 4 inches has been folded back on itself at the top of the photo.

Pre-Op 2

This shows the drain hole in the bottom of the frame, which is a very sound door frame, but you can see the poor state of the mild steel metal strip which is screwed on to the frame and to which the aluminium door skin should attach.

Surgery 1

The patient on the operating table; the door is mounted in several clamps and vices with operating equipment laid out behind...and various dials which make it appear that the door is on a life-support system - I did say that Ray was very experienced!

Surgery 2 

The first incisions - just looking at these photos and writing about it reminds me too much of my dentist.

Surgery 3

What do we do with this bit?

This has been cut off the base of the door; the thinner part of the piece of wood is the leading edge of the door frame.

Surgery 4 

Transplant complete; and the piece of wood which was on the outside curvature of the door is now being clamped to the inside of the frame. 

Result - the frame is the same thickness but now it’s the correct shape!

Surgery 5

...and now the equivalent of the dressings; small aluminium brackets have been made to attach to the door frame in place of the old rusty pieces of metal - their positions are adjustable.

Driver's side 



Passenger's side 



There is slightly more patina in the paintwork where a couple of old screws have pushed against the aluminium but unless I go to Specsavers that should be the least of my problems!

British Engineerium Open Day - January 6th

Along with a couple of acquaintances of mine we’d been asked to arrange to display some cars for the third Open Day of the British Engineerium.

But first a little history about what was originally the Brighton, Hove and Preston Waterworks Company founded in 1834 by an Act of Parliament. After a name change it was bought by Brighton Corporation in 1872. 

By this time it was pumping 2.6 million gallons of water per day or 100,000 gallons per hour! 

But 100 years later in 1971 the Goldstone Pumping Station as it was then known was considered outdated and was replaced by a small electric version.

Jonathan Minns, a steam expert, along with a number of other volunteers started the restoration of the Engineerium. But despite a lot of fund-raising and a couple of royal visits there were ongoing funding problems and in 2006 it was put up for auction.

I remember this well as I looked at the Bonhams catalogue but the more I looked, the more I realised that I shouldn’t go along to the auction as there were about ten lots which I wanted to buy. I needn’t have worried because half-an-hour before the auction was due to start Mike Holland bought EVERYTHING.

Mike has spent a lot of time and money restoring the buildings and this Open Day was a precursor to the hopeful eventual opening of the British Engineerium full time.

The Open Day was on a Sunday and they had started to fire up the boiler three days previously.

On the day about thirteen or fourteen Ringmer Multimarques cars turned up as well as some Classic ‘50s/‘60s American cars, a dozen British bikes, some of Nick Spice’s cars as well as some military vehicles.

Inside the British Engineerium

In those days we had an Empire and engineers we could be proud of.

The boiler which has been fired up is at the far end of the photo to the right.

In addition to the 20 to 25 cars which turned up there were probably about three hundred to five hundred people there, including a lot of very well-behaved children! 

Mike Holland has been very careful to involve local schools as well as making the ticket prices very family friendly. You can find out more details of the British Engineerium here...

Outside the British Engineerium


Alvises watching the London to Brighton VCC run

It rained, a LOT.

Three of us had decided to breakfast at Staplefield to watch the event. 
Ray in the Riley had taken the scenic route from Piddinghoe whilst Jon with his newly acquired Alvis 12/50 Woodie met me on Brighton seafront in a lashing gale at 07.30.

Greasy Spoon, Gourmand and Oily Rag 

We trundled up the A23 at an estimated 45 - 50 mph; that’s the mid-point of the speedo’s oscillations from 30mph to off-the-clock (another winter job) 

At Staplefield, Jon drove the Woodie onto or should that be into the common land; into, because it sank due to all the recent rain we’d had. Fortunately I had a rubber mat in the dickey seat to put under one of the rear wheels and there were three or four helpers on hand to push.

We found some hard-standing and Jon proceeded to fire up his two BBQs... One for the coffee and the other two-burner BBQ for the ...

.. and Shepherd Neame
flavoured sausages. pudding, bacon, eggs...

And of course, this is the other reason we went there...

The way to arrive
Doing it in style...1901 Panhard Levassor

1898 De Dion Bouton

...the 1903 100hp 11.1 litre four cylinder Gordon Bennett
 Racing Napier...yes, that’s correct, the displacement
of each of its four cylinders is the same as the total
 displacement of a 2.8 litre Daimler Sovereign...

The sun shines on the...
Heading back to the Jack and Jill Inn at Clayton I lost the group when I got stuck behind some of the veteran cars so I headed back to Brighton via Ditchling and with some trepidation I drove up over the Beacon and was very pleased to have done it in third gear; double-declutching from third to second whilst driving up a hill is completely beyond me!


To Angouleme by Alvis 12/50 - Days 6 to 8

Returning to Brighton...
...Plus de repas, plus de vin, plus de fun

On Monday we set off to Saint Malo and stopped the first night at Le Lion D'Or on the Loire where we discovered that Monsieur Basil Fawlty was alive and well...

Tuesday night found us in Dinan at a lovely little hotel and Dinan is certainly worth a weekend break - it’s really beautiful.

Wednesday was an 08.00 start but in the event we arrived at the port in time to hear the announcements of the industrial action; resolved for us fortunately, but afterwards, expanded into a full blown strike.

We had a lovely day trip back to Portsmouth past the Channel Islands and then the drive home - what could go wrong?

Well, the driver in the overtaking lane on the Worthing by-pass had obviously had a brain by-pass as he cut from the right hand lane across me so that he could turn left. Fortunately I'd tweaked the brakes before we left Brighton but even so, our friends who were following in the Bugatti were not the only ones who thought the Alvis would fall over as I swerved and the car tried to do one of those clever stunt drives along the A27 on two wheels to avoid the "by-pass" man.

Luckily he drove off otherwise I think some damage may have occurred which wouldn't have been covered by my fully comp insurance.

And the end of the tale?

Just as we were passing Guernsey, the postman was trying to deliver the 120 Solex jet which had been stuck for nearly three weeks in the sorting office because the postage should have been 59 pence rather than 50 pence - Jobsworth?

I fitted the 120 jet (the manual recommends 115) and the car ran perfectly; slightly rich at tickover but no spitting and of course more reliable revving when double-declutching. The received wisdom is that Ethanol in petrol makes the fuel:air ratio leaner so if your car shows similar symptoms you should consider contacting the very helpful Carburretor Hospital.

It was a lovely laid back event and one which I would recommend to any Francophile but we could have done with three whole days in Angoulême as I never got to see the Cathedral, the paper mill or the famous comic museum.

We did 836 miles and apart from the spitting, the Alvis ran perfectly - enough to make the Bugatti owner go out and buy an Alvis, but that’s another story....well, let me put it this way, if we go again it may be the ex-Tony Leech Shooting Brake in front instead of the Type 40...or perhaps the Shooting Brake behind....


To Angouleme by Alvis 12/50 - Day 5

Race day at Angoulême

On Sunday we decided against public transport and we drove in to Angoulême; the sun was rising through the mists of the fields and it was a magical drive particularly when one of the marshals mistook us for the €300-entry rally cars.

We parked and escaped before the Gendarme pressed his case for us to move on - they're not really going to tow away a Bugatti are they?

For Toni and I the morning practice was rather easier to follow than the racing in the afternoon. I of course walked round the paddock but Toni, despite my training (as I apparently snore) found the pits...well, the pits and very noisy, so she went to look around the Cathedral.

The winning Bugatti
I met up with Barry O'Sullivan, a new member who is looking to lease/borrow/beg a 12/50 (see Autumn Bulletin, Page 3) in the paddock who had driven down on Friday night and was driving back on Sunday night(!).

In the event we only watched two races; the first comprised Panhard and Citroen single seaters. The Citroens appeared to be 2CVs turned back to front.

The second race was for vintage cars and comprised  Bugattis, Rileys, MGs, an Alfa etc....very exciting to see them sliding round the corners.

But 30 degree temperatures were beginning to take their toll and so we headed back to the Relais before all the racing had finished and the exodus had started. This time we opted for the à la carte menu which was to prove a big saving over the €39 menu and the Paris effect was still working!

Alfa Romeo approaching Carnot corner


To Angoulême by Alvis 12/50 - Day 4

Angoulême - Paddock and Atmosphere

On Saturday we set off bright and early to park at the local Auchan store from where we caught a bus into Angoulême. We collected the grandstand/paddock tickets and programmes and then found a coffee shop.

For those who could afford it there was a rally on Saturday which cost €300 and involved nearly as much eating and drinking as we planned to do for rather less.

The €35 tickets gave us access to the paddock on Saturday and Sunday as well as numbered grandstand tickets opposite the paddock exit and the Carnot corner at the end of the Cathedral straight. Just behind us you could look out over the Ramparts and see the cars racing round the hairpin bends below.

If you just wanted to soak up the atmosphere there were plenty of cafes in the town centre where one could see and hear the race cars being driven through the every day traffic of buses and cars to the paddock.

At the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) the cars were still being displayed from the Concours event of Friday evening.

Later in the afternoon we returned to Auchan to buy a picnic; did I mention that the temperature was nearly 30 degrees...


To Angouleme by Alvis 12/50 - Day 3

Tiffauges to Angoulême, 150 miles

Very early on Friday morning I reset the tappets to 6 thou cold rather than 3 thou hot and that made a big difference particularly when I put the hood down as I could barely hear the spitting and f***ing through the carb.

However there was a new distraction. The French equivalent of the Department of Transport came up with more deviations than the Marquis de Sade could have dreamt of; where the British would use traffic lights, the French used deviations which I'm sure were designed to show off their country to us.

The hotels in the centre of Angoulême had been mostly fully booked for months so we finally arrived at our Relais de Silence (which I had booked in April) just south of Angoulême (we had a bit of a shock in store for some of the auto-phobe guests seeking silence); on arrival there were already a couple of vintage Alvises, two Triumph Stags, a Porsche and a Rolls-Royce.

You’ll probably recognise the Alvises as belonging to Adrian Bell (who had given me a lot of advice before we booked) and Tony Leech who had been doing a meander through the Loire valley.

We ate at the hotel from a rather expensive menu but fortunately Jon's brother-in-law is from's true what they say about Parisians...and we had impeccable service from then on!

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