Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Extra-curricular summertime activities of the author

If things have been a bit quiet on this blog recently, it's not because I have fallen off the world. I went to one of the inspirations for the Wild Hunt, the Le Mans 24 Hours race and since then have been making the most of what is turning out to be a fantastic summer.

This was the view from my sleeping bag of a morning - that's the Morgan of mate Al parked in the Houx campsite within the circuit and in the distance are the tribunes around the start and finish line.

Everyone was there because they were enthusiasts and we had a great time enjoying the atmosphere together. I felt very much like this during my time in this year's Land's End Trial.

Of course, what I should have been doing at Easter was promoting the launch of The Wormton Lamb for this was published on the Easter Saturday but this was the very day that I was making my almost triumphant ascent of Blue Hills near St Agnes. At Le Mans I should have been promoting the Engine Punk thing and networking with everyone, telling me who I am and what I write. Maybe one day. Sometimes it seems to happen naturally but at others I seem to be foisting myself on people. I reckon this could alienate them so I go with the flow and if it feels good I network like a loon and if it doesn't I do something else. Like enjoy the competitive spirit and great company. And the rolling sculpture.

When it comes to writing -- whether it’s books or blocks -- I find that it is a seasonal activity. When it's raining outside, which it did for much of last summer, it's easy to put together a website or a blog or a book when it's sunny outside I feel I must pursue some of my other interests. Good weather makes me feel wealthy in all sorts of non-monetary ways and I like to spend such wealth wisely. I also like to spend my good weather when ever I have the opportunity to spend it. Good weather is not like money, which can be spent many times over, but is more like time, which can only be spent once. There will be plenty of opportunities to write when there are no opportunities to build sheds, weld cars, paint cars, play with motorcycles, travel and socialise with friends while the sun is shining.

There have been a couple of other factors that have mitigated against blogging.

Late at night, when I am most likely to get my blogging muse, the Internet seems much less reliable than at other times of the day. The UK government is winding itself up over broadband speeds but, from what I can make out, there are many occasions where the Internet is simply not available. I know I live in a very rural area but I don't think you should make a difference. At the moment I'm having to dictate this blog entry into Word in anticipation of the Blogger website becoming available again.

The other obstacle to regular blogging is the ongoing lack of a proper workstation. I have no desk, just one dining room chair, a cordless keyboard, my Dragon voice recognition software and my screen. The ergonomics of this combination are not good. After about five minutes, I start to ache, no matter how interesting the subject matter, and after harping on about the importance of well-designed workstations on this very same blog I am only a little closer to solving this problem. However, I have ordered very nice plywood that, after a short interval, will metamorphosise into a splendid wraparound tabletop. I already have the executive leather chair but this hasn't emerged from its box yet or been assembled.

A forthcoming but short term lack of blog entries can be ascribed to me addressing these issues but disturbing the snake pit of all these cables and wrestling with a wireless connection again as I move my workstation upstairs will be a steadying step backwards before a giant leap forwards -- even if I do go off-line for a while.

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Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Vintage Thing No.26 - the Howard Pass Vincent powered Morgan

As a result of correspondence about VT8, the Vincent-HRD A series, I came across this device. It's the "plumber's nightmare" A series Vincent HRD engine plumbed into a Morgan three-wheeler. I'd seen a later Vincent engine in a Morgan for sale once and the combination - inevitably known as the Mogvin - looked just right and produced a very desirable piece of rolling sculpture. This device has something else again. It doesn't look so elegant but it has a knobbly, technical look that the later more streamlined Vincent engines don't offer.

It was built by a chap called Howard Pass and the photograph above was taken by Jeff Smith at a bent sprint at Curborough on 29th July 1973. The engine depicted had already enjoyed an illustrious history before being fitted to the Morgan.

It had originally powered a Vincent HRD owned by St John Horsfall, who is better known for exploits with Aston Martins. He also worked for MI5. On his Vincent-HRD, he set fastest time of day in atrocious weather conditions at the first post-war sprint meeting at Filton aerodrome run by the Bristol Aeroplane Co. Motor Sports Club in 1945. Jeff tells me that Horsfall's bike was broken up in the 1960s when it went through the hands of breaker Tom Somerton. I wonder if this was because the gearbox gave up?

The engine was later bought by Howard Pass who had already blown up one A series engine in his Morgan. He raced the rebuilt Mogvin or Vingan or Morcent or Vinmog throughout the seventies and into the eighties, sometimes passengered by Julia Errington. She modestly described herself as Howard's bit on the side. I assume they raced on circuits together because whenever I've seen Morgan three-wheelers at hillclimbs they don't have passengers. Reading between the lines, she was a very brave person. Eventually the engine blew up again but this time it was resurrected with some reproduction A series crankcases.

The reason Jeff knows all this is that he's tracing the history of all A series Vincent-HRDs with a view to writing a book on them. So if anyone out there knows anything about A series Vincents let me know and I'll pass your information on to him.

Jeff has a particular interest in the Howard Pass Morgan. The fist engine Howard blew up was reclaimed and now resides in Jeff's very own Vincent-HRD, on ethat rejoices in the brilliant name of "Glitterguts". I asked Jeff if this name came about becasue of an engine blow up where all the exotically polished internals came unexpectedly in to view but he said no.

Glitterguts was owned in the late 50’s by one Geoff Bilbruck of Hillgate Motors. This company carried out chrome plating and Geoff plated every bit of the bike he could and painted what he couldn't plate red. Glitterguts was the 5th A Rap built (in 1937) but a subsequent owner removed the original engine and put it in a later chassis, painted it red & chromed everything else to make another Glitterguts and this lives in Switzerland. The original chassis for Giltterguts lives with Jeff and is fitted with the first engine Howard Pass blew up. This is was 6th from the end of production in 1939, so Jeff's beast is a very early chassis with a very late engine.

I'm beginning to understand what a monumental task Jeff has taken on in tracing the histories of just the 78 A series Vincent-HRDs - three bikes and a Morgan all mixed up. But out of those four vehicles three remain today.

As the Burman gearbox was the Achilles heel of the A series Vincent-HRD, putting it into a Morgan three wheeler seems an excellent way of prolonging an orphaned engine's usefulness, even if an engine blow-up was ultimately inevitable in the hands of Howard Pass. He had a lot of fun with his machine, though, and I like his special, which believe still exists in Kent.

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Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Vintage Thing 8.1 - more A series Vincent-HRDs

It's probably nothing to do with this blog but Brian Verrall's A series Vinnie sold at Bonham's auction for £214,800. The estimate had been £125,000 to £150,000. I am ambivalent about this. I'm glad that such machinery is appreciated and this is a record for a British bike sold at auction. I'm sad that the original "snarling beast" is beyond the reach of most mortals. What a bike, though!

This is the model that established the Vincent-HRD and Vincent reputations and a fine example such as this is undoubtedly of historical importance. It's a work of art and is priced as such. I'm just not sure how much use any machine will get if it's worth the price of a house.

Around 50 are thought to still exist out of the 78 built, which is a pretty good survival rate but I think both these numbers are too low. They should have built more and how could anyone break one up? The Vincent Owner's Club has put together a register of the survivors and a few engines have been swapped between bikes. I rather like that sort of thing. It adds to the interest, especially if the engine had an illustrious history in another set of cycle parts.

One A series Vincent-HRD engine, said to be the first one ever, was plumbed into a Morgan 3 wheeler. After a serious of blow ups and engine swaps this Moggie is still A series powered and resides in Kent. Another A series Vinnie was used for sprinting and lurks around Brighton. I wonder how that long suffering Burman gearbox held out?

I've heard that there are plans to make replicas of the A-series Vincent-HRD engine and with today's metallurgical advances and bearing technology replica Burman gearboxes that could withstand the engine's power and torque would be possible.

Me - I'd like one with a Norman Hossack front end. These look like girder forks but are actually a wishbone design with an upright extended downwards. The result would be a vintage looking bike with good handling, although - having never ridden a girder-forked bike - I don't know what it's like to ride a vintage machine. People who have, say they go round corners well enough but they also think rigid tails handle well and, again without any personal experience, I beg to differ. A Vincent-HRD, of course, has a spring frame and a very elegant arrangement it is, too, because it's more of a sprung engine than a sprung frame. So my ideal Vincent-HRD A series would be quite heretical but serious fun with reproduction engine, beefed up box, twin front discs and what motorcycle suspension pioneer Tony Foale would call a "funny front end." It would be a bit like one of those old-fashioned but brand new retro Harleys and Triumphs where you get the looks of an old bike but it's still under guarantee.

I seem to have put together a business plan for resurrecting the Vincent-HRD A series.

The bike that I featured as VT8 has been identified by my new friends on the Vincent discussion group as "Old Harry". Apparently, it was owned for many years by a gentleman named Harry Cox and now his old bike lives on in the west country with his name. Wonderful. You don't get that sort of thing with a replica.

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