Elizabeth is modelling Ground Control’s proposed solution to wet-weather driving without a hood: a World War I (we think) dispatch rider’s coat, which belonged to GC’s late brother, who probably bought it at a classic car auction somewhere in the dim and distant past. It’s so stiff and heavy it virtually stands up on its own. It smells of old canvas. The sleeves come almost to her knees. Elizabeth refuses to wear it for driving, and thanks Liz Heyer for her excellent alternative suggestions!
Today Ground Control and I drove Chattie, on the back of the Sprinter, to Thetford Engineering, where Crispin Thetford will be working on the car to get her into sound order for my tour next year. My mileage is estimated to be somewhere in the region of 6,700 miles in the 7 months from April to September next year. We don’t know whether Chattie will be baking in tremendous summer heat or drenched in wet summer conditions – and Chattie means me, too. After talking to Crispin (Pin), he told me that his mother always drove her vintage Alvis without an all-weather hood; took it out daily and managed to stay dry with the right clothing. We have debated the all-weather-hood issue long and hard, and have talked to other Singer and vintage car owners about it. At pre-war Prescott someone kindly demonstrated their own hood to me. The knowledge of the right actions and the skill required to get it put up and down look similar in difficulty to playing the violin, or solving the rubics cube – at least that’s the impression I got. Once up, the view is obscured, as the windscreen for the Singer is very low and the dark hood comes right down over ones normal field of vision when sitting upright in the seat. They are not entirely waterproof, either. Pin said the water often comes down on the inside of the windscreen and drips nicely down the dashboard onto your knees. So all in all, Ground Control and I are leaning towards keeping the car open, while I wrap up seriously well in industrial-quality waterproofs – watch this space! I have had a very helpful discussion with Liz Heyer, who commented on my Airfields page. She has just completed a 2,000 mile jaunt in her Singer Le Mans, also hoodless, I think – though she may correct me on that. Liz – I need to ask you how you keep dry!
Other aspects of the car to be looked at are the head gasket and its long-standing problems, the brakes (currently non-existent), and the engine cooling system, which currently wouldn’t stand up to crawling along in traffic. Pin told me that today’s petrol heats the engine more than was the case in the1930s, and of course traffic conditions were very different then. A electric-powered system to keep the engine cool can be installed for my own driving, but this can be easily reversed in future in order to return the engine to a condition nearer to an original if required. Pin thought the Singer Le Mans cars were a cut above the rest when they came out. Chattie was probably considered fast and racy compared to many of her contemporaries. She still turns heads today. No wonder Dad loved his own green Singer Le Mans so much.
We’re looking forward very much to Pin’s initial assessment of the car.
The book is published by Fonthill Media.
Watch this space!
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I have now collected a total of just over £200.00 through the Where They Served project, some of which has gone to the RAF Charitable Trust as part of the Pre-War Prescott ticket donations, but the majority of course is for the RAF Benevolent Fund. My thanks to all those who have donated so generously so far.
It may seem as if things have gone quiet at the moment, but in fact it is all very busy behind the scenes. The airfields tour proper is scheduled to start in April 2015, and currently Ground Control and I are working on the itinerary, which is quite a big job. On the vehicle side, Thetford Engineering have booked Chattie into their vintage car workshop for a complete assessment and overhaul, which will happen, hopefully, at the end of September, and work on the car will I suspect be continuing throughout the Autumn months, as we also have to try and fit her with an all-weather hood. I am also working on raising sponsorship for next year. If you can help with this, or are interested in sponsoring Where They Served for the national tour next year, please get in touch.
OK, it’s confession time. Here’s my experience in full of offloading Chattie for the first time ON MY OWN. It was at the Royal International Air Tattoo . Read carefully if you want to learn how NOT to do it, and avoid the most basic mistake.
After my two-hour drive to Fairford, I had arrived in the Sprinter, with Chattie strapped on the back, to the place on the airfield allocated by RIAT for trade vehicles. I was the only person there, among a few parked trucks; so with a bit of relief that there was no one to watch me, I put my swede gardening gloves on to protect my hands, and tackled the businsess of unloading the car.
I was being so careful about the webbing straps, which had taken us (Ground Control and I) so very long to do up and get right the night before, that I concentrated on getting them undone in the right order, leaving Chattie’s left front wheel to the last, as it was towards the highest point on the flatbed, nearest the cab. I had forgotten the most important bit of all, which was to attach the winch before unstrapping ANYTHING. I thought I was doing really well. But when I loosened the last webbing strap, it started paying out and the car itself moved backwards, beginning a roll down the flatbed. I had put on the handbrake, but obviously not enough to hold it on the slope. Talk about panic feeling! I immediately felt the webbing paying out through my left hand; meanwhile my right hand, which had just opened the ‘spindle’ out to ‘unlock’ it, wasn’t strong enough to pull the lever to re-cock it again. With my left hand I was pulling with all my might to try and stop the strapping from paying out further. Inch by inch I was losing, and I just couldn’t get the handle to go back to the ratchet point. I’d like you just to imagine the situation. One 1935 vintage car on a flatbed trailer about 2.5 feet off the ground, heading inexorably towards the two narrow tracking planks, but not necessarily properly lined up. If I couldn’t stop the car going backwards, it was going to plunge off the treads and fall damaged amongst them. My only hope was to let go of the webbing with my left hand and use both hands as quickly as I could to get the webbing ‘spindle’ (I don’t know what it’s called) to lock. Even then, would one web-strapping hold the whole car?
At this point, a friendly voice behind me said cheerfully, ‘Do you want any help?’ Without turning round I instantly recognised the voice of Christian, a RIAT volunteer who had shown me to my place. ‘Yes!’ I shouted. ‘Please can you put that chock there under that wheel!’ He did so, and immediately I was able to put both hands to the spindle and ratchet the thing back a little, then lock it. ‘Thank you!’ I said, with great feeling. ‘Perhaps it would be a good idea to put it on the winch?’ said Christian in as tactful a way as it would be possible for anyone do say so under the circumstances. That young man knew absolutely it would be a good idea, but showed what I consider to be the most exceptional tact and diplomacy I have come across in a long time. ‘Absolutely it would!’ I said, ‘I was just about to do it!’ Christian, I think you saved my life that day. I’ve thanked you several times, but here’s another for the road. You were an angel in disguise, sent to rescue me from total disaster, and I’ll never forget it.
I truly believe I will never forget this lesson, either. I will NEVER loosen up the strappings on the car UNTIL I’VE ATTACHED IT TO THE WINCH FIRST.
I know some of you men out there will be chuckling at tutting at me, but I don’t care – I’ve come clean now so that some poor soul following me won’t make the same mistake.
Driving back from Kidderminster with Chattie on the Sprinter, I drew up at some lights and two young lads across the road shouted out – ‘Is that a Bugatti?’ Of course,I replied, ‘No, it’s a Singer Le Mans,’ before the lights changed. They shrugged as I moved off as if to say, ‘A Singer Le What?!’ I’ll never know why they thought it might be a Bugatti I was carrying, but was impressed they were interested enough to ask.
Ground Control and I are going back to Kidderminster tomorrow to pick up the Sprinter (still loaded up with Chattie) after its service. A rather expensive service, as it turns out, but at least we know the Sprinter is good and roadworthy. We had to take it to the Mercedes-Benz dealer, and as I chatted to their Service Advisor, Andrew Brown, he said, ‘My father was in the RAF, too’. Turns out his father, Thomas Royster ‘Roy’ Brown, was a Ground Crew engineer with one of the reconnaissance squadrons. ‘In fact,’ said Andrew, ‘It’s funny you should come today, because I’ve got this with me; it’s from a Spitfire’ and he reached down beside the desk and picked up a piece of equipment that looked like something you might use for technical drawing. See photo:
Andrew explained that his father worked on the photographs brought back by the reconnaissance Spitfires, taking the plates off the aircraft and analysing them, in order to work out the distances and degrees on the photographs and translate them into miles and readable navigation routes. These would then be fed back to the bomber squadrons, pinpointing the target and how they were going to reach it: a vital part of the ability of Bomber Command to get its planes to target successfully. This piece of equipment Andrew is holding, calibrated for this purpose, was used in this way by his father.
Meanwhile, Chattie is in good – if rather overwhelming – company!
As a matter of record, it took me 1 hour 45 minutes to get Chattie onto the back of the Sprinter and firmly tied down, at the end of Pre-War Prescott. Working on my own, it’s hard work, but this was always part of the challenge. We have some modifications to make to the rig, which will make it easier, like loops to go round the wheels instead of wrapping the webbing round. But here, for the record, is the result, which I’m glad to say lasted the whole way home. Here Chattie is shown still tied down on the way to Rygor’s of Kidderminster, for the Sprinter to have its service. Easier to leave Chattie on the back, after all that effort. Here I’m showing off my finished rigging. Not the best, perhaps, but MY best!