Crowning glory… or ignominy

Alan Corwood's Morris 8 'ate' crown wheels and pinions.

 I acquired my first car in the summer of 1956 when I was 19 years old. I was in the RAF stationed at Horsham St Faith. My home was in Cheshire, more than 200 miles away. The quickest and cheapest way to get to Cheshire was to hitchhike, but it was haphazard and I could never be sure of getting back on time. 

One of my brothers said “What you need is a car – I’ll get you one.” 

I had driven cars at home, but my experience of owning one was nil. All this was soon to change radically. 

The car bought for me was a 1932 Morris 8, registration LV 3590. It was a funny-looking car – it had a square front and a rounded back. My very first introduction to the car involved starting it (you inserted a starting handle at the front) and engaging the clutch (double de-clutch was essential) and then I had immediately to set off for a 200-mile journey from Cheshire to Norfolk. 

The journey was a nightmare. 

I soon discovered that the car had alarming brakes. Applying them was like throwing an anchor out – the first time I braked I almost went through the windscreen. The brakes, it turned out, were cable operated. 

Somehow I got to Norwich. After such a journey I didn’t want the car but I felt obliged to my brother, so against all common sense I decided to get the brakes converted to hydraulic. Special parts had to be designed and made and this was done for me by a friend at Foden’s Motor Works in Cheshire. The conversion work itself was completed in Norwich by Mann Egerton in Prince of Wales Road – by their apprentices as a project, to keep costs to a minimum. 

When the converted car was handed over to me, the foreman said “Young man, your car is now worth £25. The brakes are worth £20 and the rest of the car £5.” 

The problem was that, even with new brakes, poor old LV 3590 remained fundamentally flawed. The biggest weakness, among many, was the drivetrain which like all cars at the time was through the rear wheels via a driveshaft. However, unlike other cars, the driveshaft on LV 3590 did not have a universal joint – it had a primitive canvas joint. This meant that every few months the crown wheel and pinion broke. 

I went to a scrapyard in Norwich and bought a pile of scrapped crown wheels and pinions. I became adept at changing them – I could still change one in my sleep. But eventually local scrapyards were going to run out of them, so in 1957 I acquired another car, a very nice Austin 10, with – luxury of luxuries – an electric start button. LV 3590 was left on the parade ground at St Faith’s unused. 

Just before my demob, I was given an ultimatum by the commanding officer at St Faith’s to “Get that damned car off my parade ground.” The car hadn’t been started for six months, but I opened the bonnet, primed the carburettor, inserted the starting handle and swung once – the engine started instantly and within a minute was ticking over like a dream. There never was anything wrong with the engine of LV 3590. 

A pal took it off my hands. He actually bought it; he gave me what was in his wallet – which was £1 10 shillings. It went up to Tadcaster in Yorkshire where it came to a final demise the first time the crown wheel and pinion broke. 

To own LV 3590 you needed not money, but perseverance and stoicism of a very high order. 

Alan Corwood, The Avenues, Norwich.

To share your own first car memories, send them with a photo to Sadie.Jennings@archant.co.uk.

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