The first car I owned was an Austin 12-4, 1928 Clifton Tourer, registration RT 4071, rescued from a farmer’s barn in Suffolk in 1950. It was discovered by my brother and I when helping with the harvest.
It had been adapted during the war to carry a storage tank to supply cattle with water. Some considerable bodywork rebuilding was needed behind the front seats. Using father’s car we towed it home.
The first thing was to remove the engine which was in reasonable condition. A top overhaul was carried out – the spare parts were still available from Austin as the engine was basically the same as that fitted to many London taxis.
The magneto ignition was intact but the dynamo was missing and a replacement was soon found from a local scrapyard. The rear of the car was rebuilt with a timber framework clad with galvanised metal sheeting. A folding roof framework from a Humber Tourer was also acquired from the same scrap dealer, adapted, fitted and covered in canvas.
The first trial run was successful although the engine tended to overheat. The first trip planned was to join two other cars in a bid to reach Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point of mainland Scotland.
The Austin was to tow a trailer for the camping gear. The other cars were a 1933 MG and a remodelled 1933 Morris Minor, both two-seaters.
The rendezvous was at Colchester in July 1951 and the first part of the journey went well apart from minor problems with the Austin involving punctures and overheating.
The first, but enforced, camp site was at Colsterworth on the A1 due to ignition failure. Overheating had melted the shellac insulation to the core of the magnets. A local garage referred us to an electrician in Grantham and the next day a trip was made to obtain the parts. At Grantham they advised us to contact a company in Peterborough where we bought a replacement magneto core and coupling. The following day we took the parts to Grantham where they reassembled and tested the magneto. This we refitted and a test run satisfactorily accomplished. The nextg day the northward journey up the A1 started again.
Disaster struck again mid-morning at Gamston, Nottinghamshire, where again no spark was produced by the magneto. It was decided the Austin was holding up progress and the other two cars should proceed to the Lake District. Camping gear was divided up and the heavily-laden MG and Morris left. Two of us thumbed a lift to Grantham with the magneto for more repairs. The two remaining members set up camp nearby into which on our eventual return we all man-handled the Austin.
Our trip to Grantham had resulted in some success – we were advised the simplest and cheapest way out would be to disconnect the magneto, fit coil ignition and adapt the distributor. A wiring diagram was supplied plus a coil and on returning the parts were fitted as directed.
The car was soon running again and no time was lost heading north. After successfully motoring all day without major problems Penrith was reached and at a pre-arranged rendezvous a joyful reunion took place and the Austin was guided to camp three beside Ullswater. Cape Wrath was now unobtainable so the goal was at least to reach Scotland.
The next day, with an early start, we eventually reached Scotland. Camp four was north of Sterling. From this point on only minor incidents occurred and the journey was, in the main, largely unimpeded. The most northerly point reached was Fort Augustus on Loch Ness, 100 miles short of Cape Wrath. As we were in the Highlands we visited Mallaig on the west coast. Camp five was at Fort William and camp six further east in the more remote regions of the Highlands.
The return journey saw camp seven at Edinburgh, camp eight just north of Newcastle and camp nine a revisit to camp one at Colsterworth.
Subsequent holidays included journeys to Wales, Devon and Cornwall and the car was even loaned to a colleague and his family for a touring holiday. Some 40 years later my wife and I eventually made it to Cape Wrath in a modern up-to-date car and experienced its splendour and atmosphere on a perfect day.
John Shambrook, Norwich.
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