The Horseless Carriage — 11 Comments

  1. A side valve engined Ford Prefect was my first car in the UK in 1967. After learning to drive on an Army Land rover, which had 4 forward gears, I found the 3 forward gears of the Prefect a bit strange at first. The biggest problem I had with it was the starter motor kept jamming when trying to start the car. What I couldn't't work out was why the windscreen wipers would slow down whenever I went up a hill. Swapped it for a Renault 4 and never looked back.

    • I can't give any technical details as I was looking at it from the point of view of a 5 or 6 year old [it was the early fifties].  The two noticeable features in my memory where the flat boot [the Anglia looked much the same but the boot looked a bit pregnant] and the headlamps on stalks on the front wings.  Later models had the headlights incorporated in the wings.  It also had quite a few grease nipples…….

    • Yes, I had the very similar Ford Popular as my first car. Wipers were driven by the engine vacuum so the more you pressed the accelerator the slower they went, getting up hills in the rain was an interesting experience. The transverse springs made cornering interesting too when you had a few passengers, on bendy roads it was best if everyone leaned into the curves like motor cyclists. I eventually graduated to a Morris Minor convertable, which was great except it had suffered from bodged welding. If more than two people got in it their weight distorted the car and the doors wouldn't fit and close, It could cope with two people, then you closed the doors, any extra passengers had to climb in over the boot.

  2. The wipers were driven by a smaller version of a condensing steam engine except instead of steam it used the suction, vacuum, developed in the car engine air inlet pipework, manifold, to let the outside air atmospheric pressure push a piston back and forward.  The manifold connected to wiper motor by rubber tubing.

    Proof that early car designers were steam buffs. Did not trust that electrickery. Reason that Joseph Lucas was known as the Prince of Darkness.

    Fine when you are whizzing along on the flat, but as the engine slowed the suction got less. Slower wipers.

  3. In my early childhood, my dad had a 1933 Morris 8, already more than 20 years old – the semaphore indicators had died many years earlier so hand-signals only, no heater (obviously no radio), wooden floorboards with gaps for flood-water to enter at will, 6v electrics, one candle-power headlights, a single wiper and virtually no brakes.  He always parked it on a slope so he could bump-start it as the battery wasn't up to that, or out with the starting-handle.   Despite all that, I never remember it breaking down or failing to get us home.  It had that old-car smell which you still get in vintage cars, that evocative blend of oil, petrol, leather and clutch-plate.  Happy days.

  4. I met an old mechanic in Dublin about twenty years ago who said he was giving up because modern cars were deliberately built to exclude maintenance by traditional mechanics. He would have been delighted to have had a Ford Prefect above his inspection pit.

  5. The vacuum in a petrol cars inlet manifold is inversely proportional to the throttle opening. Wide open (i.e. foot to the floor) and there is virtually no restriction to the airflow, and consequently virtually no vacuum. Take your foot right off the throttle, and the engine becomes a large vacuum pump, since it is trying to suck in air past an almost closed throttle plate. That's why the Ford Pop's wipers ran fast while sitting at the traffic lights, and then slowed to a crawl as you pulled away. Ironically, vacuum servo assisted brakes aren't a problem, as you normally won't be braking when you also have the throttle wide open – although Rally drivers may disagree…

  6. Who could have predicted that a drop of reminiscence about old cars could turn into a discussion on pneumatics?!

    • Well the vacuum wipers were a regular talking point with the Ford Pop! At least the Mk1 Mini I started out in had electric ones – but only single speed, and (IIRC) they didn't park automatically. The screen wash was a simple push button, and it (like the wiper switch) couldn't be reached if you had the non-inertia reel seat belt done up properly, One of the accessory companies made some plastic extensions you could push over the originals. The headlight dip switch was another button – this time, on the floor near the clutch pedal! The indicators were controlled by a column mounted stalk, but once again, they didn't self cancel, and with the general racket inside a small tin box just a foot away from the engine, it was easy to drive for miles with the damn things blinking away.

      Oh, and "Greasing Nipples & Adjusting Tappets" was still obligatory in those days – none of the new fangled "Sealed For Life" ball joints and hydraulic valve lifters we take for granted now. I very much doubt the average modern car thief would be able to start a 50-60's vintage car if the engine was cold – you need to pull the choke out when there's no computers running the engine. He (or she) wouldn't know about brake fade either – I sure as hell found out the first time I tried stopping from 80 with drum brakes all round…

      • Aha!  Keep reading this site.  There's a small piece about Minis coming up.

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