My A7 PART II     

   In the summer of 1959 I returned to work in London for a few weeks.  My journey down from the north was my first venture on to the newly opened M1.  Of course I drove too fast, boiled away a lot of water and suffered from vaporisation of petrol in the fuel pipe.  Thus I arrived late at Marble Arch in the rush hour, driving very gingerly and trying not to stop the engine for any reason.  Of course a policeman chose to stop me to check everything.   I told him I would prefer not to stop the engine as I might become a traffic obstruction.  He insisted and suffered the consequences.  Reluctantly agreeing to give me a push to get me out of the way, he was puce in the face before I furtively turned on the ignition at about Lancaster Gate.        

   About this time there was a diversion in the shape of a 3.5 litre 1936 SS (pre Jaguar) saloon bought, with two other students, from a policeman’s mother. The officer concerned had pulled me over in the Liverpool rush hour with the surprising remark- `You look as if you’d buy a daft old car’.   We agreed a price of £5.  This price fairly reflected its condition and after perjuring myself to get insurance, much pleasure was derived from some outrageously fast motoring.  The only problems were the need to borrow several A7 batteries each time I went out and an almost total lack of foot brake power.   A long tube was therefore placed over the handbrake lever, to be operated by the passenger on instructions from the driver.  This effectively locked the rear brakes.  This was particularly impressive when carried out from 50mph in the Mersey Tunnel.   My real love for A7s prevailed, however, and after a couple of broken halfshafts due to fierce acceleration, it was sold for £13 to some engineering students.  


    Later RD2373 was filled to the gunwales with confetti at my wedding.   The next year it took us on a 800 mile leisurely camping trip to Normandy, Paris, Versailles and down the Loire valley as far as Tours.   The car did by then look rather antique, causing much mirth among the staff craning it aboard the ferry at Newhaven.   The only problem on the trip was a broken main leaf in a rear spring, discovered by chance and lashed together on the spot with jubilee clips and a large tyre lever.  This repair served well until the onset of the MOT.   I also had the chance to try the car on the famous straight at Arpajon, then part of the main N20 south of Paris.  48mph was reached before the petrol pipe could not keep up with the demands of the carburettor and we coasted gently to a halt.   Paris traffic, particularly around the Arc de Triumph as I remember, was most stimulating.

   At this time the MOT test, although initially covering only brakes, lights and steering, was decimating old cars.  I was determined not be beaten and after some tricky engineering in the rain under a street lamp in late November, fitted a Morris Minor hydraulic system.   This necessitated fitting a sturdier 1938 front axle and radius arms, machining the rear axle halves and finding a set of stronger ex-WD wheels.   The result was a revelation and the unsuspecting MOT tester practically lost his front teeth.   I would never go back, even in the interests of originality, to those horrible stretchy wires, festooned with the rusty tensioners we knew so well.  

   One result of the French Tour was the onset of a family, starting with twins.   This may or may not have been partly due to A7 springs on French Pave.  RD 2373 would clearly not accommodate all the essential paraphernalia.  Money was then scraped together to buy an early Austin Mini in 1962.   The A7 retreated into hibernation in a damp and decrepit garage in my mother’s garden.   I found that I could not part with it.

   1969 saw the now derelict car moved by Transit van to Greenwich, where I was now living.  Although I was mainly occupied with a young family it was partially resurrected.  I used it sporadically until house moves meant I no longer had a garage.  As it was looked after by various friends some distance away it saw little use through the '70s.   At this time I was obsessed with yachting, eventually causing some local controversy by building a 26’ sailing cruiser in my front garden.   By the mid 80’s, however,  I had a garage again and RD 2373 came back into use from time to time when my modern cars frequently let me down.   The astonished looks and jeers as I drove through Brixton one rainy day in 1986 were only matched by the look on the face of my passenger who was having her first experience of A7 motoring, in this case without windows under a leaky 30 year old hood.

   The fashion for vintage wedding cars led to a request for me to do a family wedding in Bradford in 1997.    Although running, RD 2373 was in a sad state.  Some restoration would be necessary.  The car was entirely sound structurally, its aluminium body and timber frame being as solid as the day it left Longbridge in January 1931 but the mechanics were pretty well worn out and the paintwork the remains of a 1950s 'Valspar' job.     I had in the meantime acquired an original early 1931 engine and gearbox, reputedly left in a shed under an army blanket for 45 years.   My patience for serious engineering was long since exhausted.  Nor do I think that my cavalier attitude to precision, which in the past had enabled me to successfully mate crown wheels and pinions from different axles, would be much use in today’s legal climate and traffic conditions.   I dismantled the car and had the replacement engine and original back axle reconditioned by 'Austineers' in Bradford on Avon.    I stripped all the paintwork and coach painted it in an tasteful 1920s shade of maroon over black wings.  The 1959 leathercloth hood, somewhat patched, was just about good enough to serve on but the upholstery, such as remained after more than 65 years, had to be replaced.   Lots of lost and worn out parts and details were replaced with the help of Tony Leslie, Mac Bonar and others, together with trips to Thirsk, Bradford on Avon and autojumbles.    The restoration process and its cost brought it home to me how times had changed from the days of my student `breadline’ motoring.

   As a matter of policy I retained my hydraulic brakes but otherwise tried, I must say without much real enthusiasm, to follow the current desire for authenticity.   On day I may even go back to spindly 19” wheels.  Most of all I did not, however, want to create the impression of a new car.  RD 2373 is nearly 70 and I do not want mutton dressed as lamb.   I sought to achieve the impression of a car that has been never been restored but well looked after, just driven, somewhat updated where sensible and maybe polished from time to time.   Having had the car for over 40 years I know the precise story behind its visible scars, including the mysterious holes in the bulkhead.  They are part of its history.  Be that as it may, a much more respectable RD 2373 emerged from this process in good time to do the Bradford wedding and, a year later, my own daughter’s wedding in Cheshire. 

   Nowadays the car lives in a nice warm garage, starting on the button to be taken out at least weekly to the Supermarket or DIY.   It went as far as Bewl in 1997.  Gone are the days of wet winter nights in the open on Merseyside.   No longer must I mangle away on the handle due to a stripped starter ring or with a sheared starting handle dog as well, perform acrobatics to achieve a single-handed push start.  I’m not sure I still could.   Even the lights and windscreen wiper work. I am very glad I did not throw it away when I graduated to more modern machinery.   In my speech at my daughter’s wedding, on being recognised as the chauffeur of the funny old car, I was able to say that RD2373 is about the only thing I possess which pre-dates the bride.   Perhaps there should be special club for us long-term A7 owners.                              

Geoffrey Holland  OBE  Club member No 519.