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Cyclecars Rule OK?

When I was fighting my way through the last 12 months of building the SSII I took a fancy for a new project to follow on from the Limper. I looked at a Morris 8 c 1946 and after a terrifying test drive I decided against it. The brakes took about 10 yards to start working and then only just stopped the car. The steering was direct but had so much play and so little effect and the crash three-speed gearbox needed coaxing along. As I was used to the solid reliability of the Brooklands I found this a little disturbing and very much a retrograde step.

An Austin 7 Ruby came up on eBay and I bid £1500.00 for it, won it and immediately regretted the win as the car had no V5C. I backed out of the purchase and waited.

I discussed the idea with my pal Martin (of autosparks fame and builder of both my wiring looms) and he expressed an interest in a shared project. This sounded good as it would reduce costs and give us a toy for off-the-wall entertainments. He is busy re-building an Alfa-Romeo Giulietta which will be finished relatively soon and then…

A rolling Austin 7 chassis with running engine and gearbox came up in North Devon and so I asked Chris Day to go and have a look to see what was what. His report was favourable so I bid and won.

Martin and I hired a Renault Trafic van and drove to the South West and found the address. It had been a Military Tourer but the original body had long been removed. It fired up easily so we handed over the dosh and pushed it up some ramps into the van.

Into Martin’s shed and allow to stew for 18 months!

Having finished the limper (are they ever finished?) and had a ride to Germany and much other fun besides, I decided to take December and January off to allow for some toy-playing.

We blew the tyres up a little to ease the roll onto the trailer and as we were pushing it along there was the most astonishingly loud bang, as loud as a pistol shot. The tube in one of the rather perished tyres gave out and left two 4" long splits in the tyre wall.

Into my shed and then into the workshop after a tidy up. I put the chassis upon axle stands as high as they would go and started making a drawing for a folded floor with integral transmission tunnel. I used some scrap zinc to fold up a test piece, discovered were it was short or long and then progressed to a cardboard half pattern to use to mark out the real thing. To gather more information I joined the "Friends of Austin Seven" forum and was directed to a Nick Turley who was happy for us to visit to see his cars. I think he has 6! We arranged a date and I persuaded Martin that it would be a nice ride out in the limper so we set of for Sowerby Bridge on what must have been the first really cold day in December.

Nick was most welcoming and for the first hour at his home he let us lean against the AGA while he talked in full and fascinating detail about the various options available. We then got to see his workshop which was a treat and so tidy. Very well laid out with a mezzanine floor which allowed him to roll a car over some stands on the lower side.

Then he took us to see his cars a real treat! They were perfectly restored interesting examples of an Ulster, a Speedy and a Swallow bodied coupe.

He was suitably impressed by the limper and promised advice and assistance as required. This he has supplied!

Back at the ranch I got out some 2*1 and cut it into slim strips, found sheets of card and hardboard and ply and set to work with basic formers, timber stringers and billy-band string to get some lines and forms sorted out.

I have been following a French cyclecar forum "Amicale de Tricyclecaristes de France" for some time and have fallen in love with Benjamin cyclecars from the 1920’s. These are fairly straightforward cars, quite similar in size and class to the Austin 7, usually with a Chapuis-Dornier or sometimes Ruby engine. The bodywork is usually of a "skiff" type tail with a single door to the passenger side, generally two-seaters, sometimes with a dickie "seat".

The company made a surprisingly wide range of vehicles from lightweights through 4-seater tourers to small trucks and wagons with trailers. They also made motor-cycles and bicycles.

This is where my thoughts were drawn with a view to creating a "Benjaustin" or something. Having posted a picture of my progress on the Austin forum I was congratulated on my use of CAD. This puzzled me until the contributor mentioned "cardboard aided design"!

Having had a fair crack at a shape I ordered 2 sheets of 1.5mm and 5 sheets 1.2 aluminium and waited for it to arrive.

At this point there is a distraction, more of which later.

The aluminium arrives and I set about one of the sheets of 1.5mm. The half pattern is laid on, allowance made for the tunnel and then the other side marked out. I offer the sheet up to the guillotine and find it is not 8’ * 4’ but 2500 * 1250 mm so I have to cut it to the floor length to allow it into the slot. Like the Pembleton floor, I’ve decided to fold a flange along the curved edge to give it some strength and this has to be done after the tunnel is formed. This is because the flange would interfere with the folding process. A little tricky as the forming of a curved flange creates a convex panel which needs to be shrunk to true it up.

I had already cut down the rear of the chassis where the fuel tank and bump stops were mounted leaving a flat rear-end to the chassis. All that was needed was a couple of hours to fit the front of the floor and tunnel around the gearbox. The next job was to start the front bulkhead and I used the patterns I’d made in zinc at the earlier stage. This sort of construction usually is done around an ash frame but as I have little interest in woodwork my plan is to do all the construction in metal.

To be continued…

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