Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories about vehicles owned and ridden or driven by the late Lindsay Lafford, Lord of Ridley who passed away in April 2014 at the age of 101½, after a brief illness. Born in Gloucester, England, he was appointed organist and master of the choristers at St. John’s Cathedral, Hong Kong, in 1935 and moved to the United States in 1939, where he taught at several U.S. colleges. He was is an accomplished composer and conductor who had done performances around the world. One of Lindsay’s sons, Peter, is completing the task of preparing these stories, and is pleased to provide the series as a Father’s Day memorial. More about Lindsay Lafford is available at http://Lord-of-Ridley.com.
My first motor vehicle, obtained in 1926, was a 1914 Triumph belt-driven motorcycle, a weird and wonderful way to get introduced to the motoring world. It had bicycle pedals to help it up the steeper hills (and to pedal down the road to get started), acetylene lighting (always hoping one had a match), and one had to remember to pump a shot of oil into the engine every five miles.
To help with starting on a cold morning one opened a little tap under the tank and dribbled a few drops of gas into a funnel on top of the cylinder; the funnel also had a tap to open to let the gas in, then it had to be closed to keep the explosion in!
Mine had an addition called an NSU gear. Like the continuously variable transmissions that have become so popular, it worked by squeezing the shoulders of the engine pulley or relaxing them. Operated by a handle mounted on the upper side of the gas tank, it permitted one to fully relax the belt, or gradually to tighten it, thus changing the gear ratio and helping greatly on hills.
After four motorcycles, I transitioned to a Morgan three-wheeler and then to my first four-wheeler, an Austin 7 saloon (which is not an establishment for drinking but what the British call a sedan).
A successful maker of Wolesley engine-powered sheep-shearing machines, in 1906 Herbert Austin launched into cars . He would introduce the revolutionary vest-pocket sized Austin Seven in 1922 and eventually received knighthood.
My Seven — it was yellow — had been owned by many former owners (I could afford only the cheapest of cars). Because of its long hard use and so much up-and-down vibration, the two large doors, which opened at the front, had ground away their latches. Bolts had been added. However, if one forgot to fasten a bolt the wind pressure would eventually spring the door open with a startling bang (and a big lurch of the car).
The rear quarter of the body had little holes punched in it where the door handles had been swung back with force.
The two roof pillars on either side of the upright windshield also had fractured at the cowl line, so the roof and the rest of the body would pound up and down as one went over bumps.
There was no luggage compartment (or, boot, in English), but there was a built-in fold-down luggage rack at the rear. When any weight was put on, it tilted back the body, lifting up the windshield pillars quite considerably. I sought a partial cure by having the pillars welded, but the forces proved too much for the welds; so plates were screwed on. This worked, provided one tightened the screws regularly.
There was no heater. One wintry day, returning home from London over the Cotswolds with my late cousin Benita, the only way to effect any visibility was to keep one’s hand pressed against the inside of the windshield to provide a little thawing for the wiper to work.
I remember reading about an improvisation by a team taking part in one of the rallies then popular — from Murmansk to Monte Carlo or some such. Crossing the Alps they encountered icing and, using their trusty metal shears, they cut vents in the hood to allow some of the engine heat to flow onto the windshield. This is how great inventions are born.
Tomorrow: Hong Kong, cars and Nine Dragons