Ex-Army Austin 8 staff car was in the wars!
Richard Clarke bought an ex-Army wartime Austin 8 AP tourer staff car as his first car but it certainly didn't run with military motoring precision.
My first car was an Austin 8 AP two-seater tourer, an Army staff car manufactured around 1939.
I bought it in 1965 for £10 from a chap in Barnet, London, who had it in his garage, just as I went back to university in Wales
It was a drab Army khaki colour so I painted it racing green. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the registration number.
The hood was canvas, didn’t stay up and was full of holes, the front windscreen folded forwards, so no need for wipers in the rain, and the side windows were removable – not glass but a kind of plastic with a canvas flap beneath and two lugs that you had to lower into two holes in the top of the door.
It drank oil – presumably the pistons were worn to bits. In those days most garages did repairs and kept the old oil in large green tanks on the forecourt so, when I stopped for petrol, I also used to cadge a gallon of old sump oil free to top up the levels as I went along. It produced clouds of smoke – you could see me coming for miles.
Another consequence of this was a lack of power. Top speed was around 40mph on the flat. And It wouldn’t go forward up steep hills – I had to turn round and go up in reverse.
But the car was easy to work on. When the clutch failed I jacked the front wheels up on blocks outside my digs – no restricted parking in those days – dropped the engine so it could slide forward and separate from the gearbox and clutch housing.
I took the broken bit out – one of five levers that separated the plates against a spring – and took it to the local blacksmith. In those days, most towns and large villages – agricultural anyway – had one. He made a replica in about 10 minutes and I fitted it and everything worked.
My only mishap was to lose the petrol cap. In its place I stuffed some old rags in the filler. A policeman stopped me, I received a summons and was fined £10 in magistrates court for driving a car in a dangerous condition. There was no MOT test either in those days.
Eventually – after a couple of years – the car stopped running but I can’t remember why and I took it to a scrapyard but I wish I’d kept the number plates.
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