My first car was called Jezebel, which in retrospect seems a little cruel, because she was a lovely little thing, who did her very best for me during the three years I owned her. Mind you, her best wouldn’t cut much ice these days, for quite a few reasons, not least her lack of comfort!
Problem one, she was a 1925 Morris open top ‘sports’ car, with a canvas folding roof, but no side screens, giving little protection to the driver (me).
Problem two, she had brake drums so small that, as the handbook put it, “In an emergency, press down with a foot on the brake pedal as hard as possible, while at the same time pulling up on the handbrake, with both hands if necessary”, which I had to do on several occasions and which proved to be unreliable, especially when descending a steep hill – it was impossible to do more than just slow the car down under those circumstances. Luckily, I was never put to the ultimate test!
Problem three, the petrol tank fed fuel to the carburettor by gravity, so it had (obviously) to be higher than the engine. The only place that was higher, and the place where the designers placed the fuel tank, was directly above the engine, in the forward compartment, bolted to the front of the bulkhead between the driver and the engine, with a hose leading down to the inlet! This presented two additional problems; one, any clumsiness while filling the tank could result in petrol dripping down onto a hot engine and two, any fuel in the hose just mentioned would instantly evaporate if the engine was stopped, interrupting the flow. So I had to fill up with the engine running, or sit there for half an hour while everything cooled and fuel would flow again, down the gravity-feed hose! Naturally, I never waited the half hour.
The car possessed none of the conveniences we are used to today, the windscreen wiper had to be operated by hand, while steering with the other, the ignition advance and retard was controlled by a manual lever behind the steering wheel, the gear box was built long before the discovery of synchro-mesh, meaning I had to double de-clutch every time I wanted to select a lower gear and of course there was no air conditioner or heater – what good would they have done anyway, in a car with no side-screens? Every time I drove anywhere I was blasted by hundreds of litres of nice fresh air, feeling somewhat colder than whatever the prevailing temperature was outside!
The car did have its good points mind, the strangest of all being the fact that underneath the bonnet it had a lovely little motor, which should have been in, and was designed for – an MG! It was an engine of true beauty, with all oil lines mounted on the outside of the engine, all gleaming bronze pipework, while the electrical cables were carefully wrapped with coloured wire, into tidy skeins, instead of an untidy knot. This lovely power unit drove the car along much faster than the braking could cope with, should an emergency have occurred, but it was certainly a pleasure to drive, exciting even! On top of that, the engine was such a delightfully simple affair, especially by today’s standards, that I could easily take the head off on a Sunday morning, de-coke it, and have it back together before tea time, something I managed to do on one occasion, even though I was suffering a severe hang-over! On a modern car, like my VW Passat, I barely recognise anything in the engine compartment, let alone be able to decoke it (something not required nowadays anyway, with modern fuels).
Certainly cars today are on a different planet to my Jezebel; more comfortable, more economical, much safer and a lot faster, but I have to admit I loved her and we had a lot of fun together, a lot of which would most likely be illegal today. But I have memories which can never be taken away from me, and I miss the little beauty still 60 years later!
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