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  •   Greg MacLeman reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    STEPHEN BAYLEY THE AESTHETE

    The word ‘carburettor’ is now almost extinct in everyday life. Thus it joins ‘amarulence’ (bitterness) and ‘sinapistic’ (containing mustard) in a treasury of neglect. It occurred to me that I scarcely knew what a carburettor is. Or I should say ‘was’. They belong to the past, just like real chauffeurs whose original job, from the French for ‘heat’, was to warm-up primitive engines.

    The #carburettor predates the automobile and, according to the Oxford English Dictionary was first used in #1866 , exactly 20 years before Benz’s #Motorwagen patent. A carburettor was an apparatus for passing hydrogen, coal gas or air over a liquid hydrocarbon so as to produce what the lexicologists delightfully described as ‘illuminating power’.
    There is a wonderful poetic vocabulary associated with illuminating power, now fading into memory. Downdraught, butterfly valves, float-chamber, choke, throttle jets, flooding and backfire. I specially remember flooding. Although I was completely ignorant of Bernoulli’s Principle - the one that says ‘in flowing air, speed and pressure work inversely’, and which governs carburettor design - I spent hours under the bonnet of my old #MG trying to balance its erratic twin SUs.

    This is why I am feeling nostalgic. Carburettors evoke an age when you could look at an engine and read its function. My MG’s A-series was like a child’s diagram of the laws of physics. You could see that air came in one side, got mixed with fuel on its way into the cylinder head where, by way of a controlled explosion, it produced that illuminating power whose residue escaped as smelly hot gas out of the other side. It was elemental, even primal, and very satisfying, aesthetically speaking.

    Carburettors spoke a visual language all of their own. The pleasant, rounded domes of the classic #SU seemed to suggest English correctness, even a slight primness since they disguised some of its functions. Altogether more feral was the Amal sidedraught carburettor used on JAP-engined Cooper Formula 3 cars and Triumph Bonneville bikes. It seemed erotically assertive: a mechanical proposition with sexual suggestion. Visually it said raw power. You could almost hear it hiss.

    Or look at a vast four-barrel Holley carburettor, as gross as a piece of military equipment, the sort you might find on a US muscle car with a Muncie four-on-the-floor and lake pipes painted matt white. How could such gigantic apparatus be anything other than American? A Holley says four-hundred-cubic-inch gurgling, molecule-bashing V8.

    But most evocative of all is a Ferrari V12 with its martial row of six pairs of glittering downdraught Webers. Their arrogant air trumpets strut themselves and suck-in the atmosphere like the most rampant gigolo. Such a display (and it is a display) of seductive, proud, ridiculous excess could only be from Emilia- Romagna, just as an SU could only be from Birmingham.

    In #1991 #Ferrari organised an exhibition in Florence’s Belvedere, with its greatest cars in vast Plexiglass boxes, floodlit against a renaissance backdrop. The exhibition catalogue had gravure illustrations of the greatest Ferrari engines. Whenever I am quizzed about my fascination with cars and asked how I reconcile it with a strict training in academic art history, I reach for a gravure illustration of the #1967 #Dino 206SP’s 65° V6 and its three pairs of #Weber 40DCN/4 carburettors to make my point. I really do not know anything more beautiful.

    No-one makes a car with a carburettor today. Ford supplied the last Crown Victoria Police Cruiser (a personal favourite) fitted with a carburettor to the NYPD in 1991. The very last car with a carburettor was, and no surprises here, a 2006 Lada. Meanwhile, Weber ended production in Italy in 1992 and Holley went bust in 2008.

    Today we have fuel injection. Its advantages have long been known: in the Second World War, #Rolls-Royce Merlin engines withcarburettors suffered fuelstarvation in extreme manoeuvres, while the injected #BMW and #Daimler engines of the Luftwaffe maintained fuel flow even pulling out of steep dives. Of course, fuel injection is technically superior; mandatory catalytic converters require its precision and on-board diagnostics demand systems with microchip-powered reporting ability. You don’t get that sort of thing from imprecise, messy and temperamental carburettors. That’s why they are so wonderful.

    AMAL’S SIDE-DRAUGHT CARBURETTOR SEEMED EROTICALLY ASSERTIVE: A MECHANICAL PROPOSITION WITH SEXUAL SUGGESTION

    STEPHEN BAYLEY

    Author, critic, consultant, broadcaster, debater and curator Stephen co-created the Boilerhouse Project at London's V&A, was chief executive of The Design Museum, and fell out with Peter Mandelson when he told him the Millennium Dome ‘could turn out to be crap'.
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  •   Davy Lewis reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    COMMER CAMPER

    BEERS ‘N’ BIDS A few beers and some eBaying led to Scott Worsey ending up with a serious project on
    his hands – thankfully he was more than up to the task.

    Words: Adam Sloman images: Jon-Robinson Pratt

    Beer and eBay is a bad combination. You know what I mean. You have a couple of drinks, switch on the laptop and start looking and then, before you know it you’ve started bidding. That’s exactly what happened to Scott Worsey back in 2010. “I’d been away for a weekend’s camping with the family and was thinking how good a camper van would be for us as a family,” recalls Scott. “I had a few beers and I started looked at some of the modern, coach built stuff and saw they were mad money, then I looked at VW ‘campers’ and they were equally expensive. I started looking at other old vans and saw a couple of Commers. I had a few more beers and then put in a bid.”

    Scott thought that was that and went to bed, a belly full of beer and a head full of campers. The following morning he woke up to an email on his phone, he’d won the Commer. “It was in Shrewsbury, a good five hours away, so I convinced a mate to give me a hand and hook up a trailer to his L200 and help me go and get it.”

    When he arrived in the Midlands he found the Commer, named Katy, resting and rusting quietly under a tree. “My mate, Clark, told me to leave it exactly where it was – I told him I couldn’t cos I’d already paid for it!” The Commer was loaded up and brought back to Devon, with Scott fearing the worst once he got home. “I thought my wife was going to divorce me, but it was quite the opposite, the kids were climbing all over it and my wife was taking loads of pictures. She told me she liked it, but it’s got to be done.”

    Like most Commers, Scott’s van had significant rot and the interior wasn’t much better. “The old boy I bought it from had had a go at doing the interior, but it hadn’t work too well, the roof had been leaking. A lot of it was rotten and it smelled awful.”

    Scott started by stripping out that rotten interior and began to realise just how far the rot had gone. “The peak and the gutters were in good nick, which was a plus but there were holes all over the floor. The outriggers were shot, the spring hangers were rotten, the bottoms of the doors were gone it was pretty bad.”


    While Scott was happy to tackle the basics, he knew he’d need help to bring the van back to life and so roped in his mate Clark to help him once again. With the strip down done Scott realised the rot was so extensive that some drastic action was required. “We basically cut the bottom 300mm out of van, and we then cut out about two-thirds of the floor.

    Scott was lacking a workshop and so invested in a gazebo. “We built a gazebo and did it in that, Clark had got rid of most of his workshop tools so we did the van with some basic workshop tools. When we cut the sides of the van off some of the outriggers came with it,” recalls Scott.

    Scott cracked on with the body, stripping the paint by hand while Clark rebuilt the outriggers and the sides of the van – though not through choice, recalls Scott. “When the sides were cut off the van the outriggers came with it!” Despite the relative rarity of the Commer when compared to other old school campers, there are plenty of panels available, but Scott and Clark wanted to go in a different direction with his ‘van and so the pair bought up some sheet steel from a local engineering fi rm. “Clark fabricated every panel that needed replacing from a sheet of steel I bought,” says Scott.

    Clark de-seamed the Commer though he has added one or two flutes along the van’s flanks in order to give a flavour of the original style. The front panel has also been modified with an extra set of lights, while the cold air intake for the heater has been done away with, giving the van a cleaner look. “The side windows have been shortened too,” says Scott. “I needed space to build a cupboard at the back.” At the rear, the Commer’s standard lamps have made way for Range Rover items, representing another subtle but smart mod to the ‘van.

    When the camper’s body was finally solid once again, Scott was then tasked with deciding what colour it should be painted. “A lot of Commers are two-tone,” notes Scott. “I had all sorts of ideas for matte paints and stuff, but Clark came up with the colour. Funnily enough it’s a VW paint shade.” The Commer still bears the name Katy, though now it’s been lovingly airbrushed on, rather than written on by hand.

    The paint went on in October 2011, while the wheels were painted in a contrasting Magenta Pearl. “I really like the wheels,” notes Scott. “The only thing is a lot of the colour is hidden by the wheel trims.”

    Scott then needed to sort himself out a roof. “I went on the Commer Van Fan Forum and bought a second hand roof. I thought the holes would be the same – it took me and Clark four full days to graft it in.” Though in good condition it still needed a full respray and a retrim to bring it up to the same standard as the rest of the ‘van.

    By November, the Commer was ready to come back to Scott’s and another temporary home. “I bought a marquee and pitched it over the van to give me somewhere to work but the weather was so bad it was lifting the marquee up – I used railway sleepers to secure it but the wind was swinging the sleepers toward the van!”

    Mechanically, the ‘van needed little, but Scott has upgraded the ‘van with an electric fan and fuel pump. He’s also fitted a re-cored radiator and electronic ignition, as well as other consumables like plugs and leads.

    Having weathered the storms, Scott started 2012 by removing whatever old trim he could find in the ‘van as well as starting to insulate the inside panels. Scott wanted to make sure the inside of the ‘van was up to the same standard as the freshly-painted body and headed back online to the Van Fan Forum.


    “The guy I bought my ‘van from had a go at making his own interior but it was a real mess, and with the ‘van stripped I had a blank slate. A guy on the forum was really good and measured up all the cupboards for me.” Initially Scott was planning to build a simple interior that remained faithful to the Commer’s original interior but with carpentry experience to call on, he felt he could do a little better. “I spent most of 2012 squirreled away in the van, starting with ply lining it. By May I was building the frames inside the ‘van” says Scott.

    Once the frames were in situ, Scott covered them with flexible MDF and put radiuses on the corners to round them off. He then covered the panels in car body filler to give them a smooth finish. “I treated the cupboards as if I was doing the body of a car” he adds. When he was happy with the finish, Scott then pulled the cupboards out of the Commer and put them into the garage where, over the course of the winter, he painted them with one pack coach enamel. Scott turned to eBay to find the front seats for Commer, ultimately sourcing a pair of cream leather MGF items. A local retired upholsterer renewed the seats as well as making the dash cover, which Scott then trimmed and fitted, Scott recalls. “I fitted the dash and also retrimmed the door cards and the rear. I then got the cupboards back in and then it was ready for an MoT.”

    Finally, it was ready for its first MoT in years. “It passed, I don’t know the last time it was on the road. I’ve spent evenings and weekends on it since then doing the last few bits and bobs on it.”

    Normally, that would be that, but for Scott, he found there was more work waiting for him. “The roof leaked,” recalls Scott – clearly still annoyed by the memory. “It ruined the carpet – which had cost me something like £200. The cupboards got a soaking – I thought it was all going to be ruined – I was just about ready to get rid of it when I thought the interior was trashed.”

    Luckily for Scott the interior survived with minimal damage – Scott replaced the floor covering and all was good once more. Those weekends, and the water damage meant that Scott spent the rest of 2013 finishing the ‘van off, leaving no time to try it out. “We’ve had one night in it in Exmouth, but this year we’ll do a lot more – it feels finished now.”
    Scott’s right – the van does feel finished – and to a very high standard. The little details, like the curved cupboards, really lift the interior – you’d struggle to know that this was the product of one (admittedly talented) bloke in a garage.

    “I was really lucky with the project,” admits Scott. “I didn’t struggle to find any bits for it – everything I needed came either via the forum or eBay and with Clark’s help it went really well.” There’s something very cool about a Commer – the world of the classic camper is so utterly dominated by all things Volkswagen, Scott’s van stands out in the crowd and while you’ll initially notice it because it’s not a VW, the neat details built into the van by Clark keep your attention.


    SPECIFICATION #Commer-Camper / #Commer / #1960#1983 / #Commer-FC / #Rootes-Group / #Chrysler-Europe

    ENGINE: 1725cc, standard with #Weber carburettor
    TRANSMISSION: Four-speed manual, standard.
    SUSPENSION: Standard
    BRAKES: Standard
    WHEELS AND TYRES: Standard steel wheels, powder-coated and painted in Hot Magenta pearl. Toyo tyres.
    INTERIOR: MGF front seats in cream leather. Custom-trimmed dash and door cards. Custom fabricated cupboard units. Retrimmed rear seats. Campervan fixtures include oven, two-ring hob/sink unit. Four-berth with double bed and hammocks in elevating roof section.
    EXTERIOR: Custom front panel with additional lights, smoothed and air intake removed. Custom rear with Land Rover tail-lights. Custom fabricated side panels. Body resprayed in VW cream.
    SHOUT: The wife Claire and kids Elliot and Millie for putting up with missed weekends and evenings as well as having a grumpy Dad/ husband. Commer Van Forum (www. commervanfan.co.uk) and forum members “Panky”, “Commerracer Tim”, “Triumph Dan”, Suzanne for the curtains, Ernie for the rear seat pads. Clark for all his help. Richard and Lee at Clearcut Conversions (www.clearcutconversions.co.uk)

    “The outriggers were shot, the spring hangers were rotten, the bottoms of the doors were gone it was pretty bad.”
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  •   Charlotte Tambling reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    CLASSIC TOURS / #Singer-Chamois-MkII / #Singer-Chamois / #1969 / #Singer / #Hillman-Imp / #Hillman / #Rootes-Group / #Chrysler-Europe / #Chrysler / #Michael-Parkes / #Tim-Fry

    The Black Country’s hidden history explored by Imp. Famous for its coal mining and heavy industry, the Black Country isn’t short of history or fascinating places to visit. We take a tour with a handsome Singer Chamois and its local owner. Words & Pics: Paul Guinness.

    Look for the Black Country on a map and it’s unlikely you’ll find it, even though this once heavily industrialised part of the West Midlands now boasts its own flag, its own regional day of celebration and a population that’s fiercely loyal about the area’s individual identity. Make the mistake of referring to a true Black Countryman as a ‘Brummie’ and you’ll soon be set straight, even though Birmingham city centre is less than ten miles away from this proud and historic region.

    The problem for anyone outside the area, however, is confusion over exactly which towns are classed as part of the Black Country, particularly as the number seems to have increased over the years. As somebody born and bred in Stourbridge, I can relate to this; many locals claim that my home town is within the Black Country region thanks to its world-famous glassmaking industry of old, whilst traditionalists insist that Stourbridge has no right to be included. Little wonder then, that to an outsider there’s the potential for confusion.


    The name itself dates back to the region’s role in the mining industry, with many historians insisting that the Black Country comprises the area where the local 30-feetdeep coal seam comes to the surface. On that basis it would include towns like Blackheath, Old Hill, Cradley Heath, Bilston, Dudley, Tipton and Wednesfield; and although the more modern approach is to include the four Metropolitan District Council areas of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton within the Black Country, I can’t help thinking that historians have the better definition.

    If the Black Country was built on coal mining, its reputation as a dark and grimy region was reinforced by heavy industry. Indeed, this was once one of the most industrialised areas in Britain, right at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. Its skyline was filled with countless belching chimneys that poured smoke into the air day and night, whilst forges, foundries and ironworks made use of the area’s vast canal network to move their products around the country prior to shipping them worldwide. Queen Victoria was famously so appalled by the sight of the Black Country that, as a 13-year-old child, she closed the curtains in her carriage as she passed through, later writing in her diary that the area was “all black” and had a “strange and extraordinary appearance.”

    Yet the Black Country has much to be proud of. Did you know, for example, that the world’s first successful steam engine was built in the Black Country; or that the anchors for the ill-fated Titanic were cast in Netherton and towed to Dudley train station by twenty shire horses en route to Belfast? The history is fascinating, and these days there’s no shortage of local attractions celebrating the region’s past as well as playing a role in its future. So with Black Country day fast approaching back in July, we couldn’t resist jumping aboard a classic and doing a little local exploring of our own.

    IMP-RESSIVE SINGER

    The car in question is the 1969 Singer Chamois you see gleaming in the photographs, a splendid MkII example with just 74,000 miles under its wheels and the same doting owner for the last seven years. Living in Birmingham but working in the Black Country (for West Midlands Police), Charlotte Tambling is a fan of all things Impbased, although particularly pleased to own the now relatively scarce Singer version. And as she pulled into the long, straight driveway of Himley Hall, near Dudley, the car looked superb.

    That’s not surprising, as Charlotte has invested both time and money into making sure that her already very solid Chamois was given the aesthetic attention it deserved, which explains its excellent quality respray (in a nonstandard shade of red, but one that suits the car brilliantly) and its Cosmic wheels. The end result is a head-turning example of one of the more luxurious members of the Imp family, its quadheadlamp front end, faux leather upholstery and wood-effect dashboard giving it something of an upmarket look both outside and in.


    This Chamois also benefits from some under the- skin upgrades, including a twin-carb ( #Weber ) conversion for some immediately noticeable extra ‘oomph’. And as we finally set off from Himley Hall, after chatting about the car and planning our route for the day, it was immediately obvious that this much-loved Singer is no slouch. Himley Hall itself, easily found on the B4176 just four miles from Dudley town centre, is well worth checking out; built in the 18th century as a Palladian mansion to replace the medieval manor that had stood there before, it’s now owned by Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and is open to visitors. However, it’s the 180 acres of parkland surrounding Himley Hall that attracts most of the 200,000 annual visitors, arriving there to walk dogs, keep fit, go fishing in the lake or play a round or two at the on-site golf course. For anyone seeking fresh air and family fun, it’s an excellent destination – as well as being the venue of numerous classic car events throughout the year.

    “I’ve been to quite a few car shows at Himley Hall,” confirmed Charlotte, as we waited for the traffic to clear, enabling us to turn left out of the gates in the general direction of Dudley. We’d decided to focus our attention on this particular Black Country town, not least because Dudley has endured a tarnished reputation over the last couple of decades, with drive-to shopping centres wreaking havoc on its retail trade. Dudley has been through some tough times, yet as a tourist destination it now has a surprising amount to offer.

    JAUNTY ANGLE

    Half a mile along the #B4176 from #Himley (and just over the border between South Staffordshire and the West Midlands) was our first stop, a popular pub appropriately named The Crooked House, originally built as a farmhouse in 1765. It’s in a relatively remote spot at the end of a long, narrow drive – but was an ideal starting point for our #Black-Country tour thanks to the building’s connection with the local mining industry. Indeed, mine shafts running beneath it caused the farmhouse to start subsiding in the 1800s, with one side dramatically sinking into the ground.

    The building eventually became a public house, and was a local novelty thanks to its distinctly crooked appearance, one end of it being an incredible four feet lower than the other. It was subsequently propped up with buttresses and extra strengthening, but by the 1940s was condemned as unsafe and was due for demolition. Happily, however, Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries stepped in to save the pub, restoring it to its former glory whilst retaining its unique ‘tilt’. Nowadays, it’s extremely popular throughout the year, and is well worth dropping in at if you fancy a pint and a pie.

    Sadly, given our tight schedule, Charlotte and I had time for neither as we had a quick look round The Crooked House before rejoining the B4176 and continuing in the general direction of Dudley, giving us time to choose our various drop-offs points for the day. If time had allowed, we would no doubt have paid a visit to the excellent Black Country Living Museum (www.bclm.co.uk), a 26-acre site that recreates Black Country life from the late 1800s, filled with period buildings saved from around the region and painstakingly rebuilt on site. Visitors can walk round the village and enter the shops and houses, see the local blacksmith at work, take a canal trip, head down a mine and ride a tram, which means that even a full day spent at the museum isn’t long enough to see everything. We gave it a wave as we drove along Tipton Road, Dudley, but didn’t dare call in for fear of falling behind schedule.

    We did, however, find time to drop in at Dudley Castle, situated next to Dudley Zoological Gardens where visitors can get up close and personal with over 200 different species of animals, reptiles and endangered species. The zoo itself was first opened in 1937 and is unique for featuring an array of Tectonic art decostyle buildings and animal enclosures, most of which have been thoroughly restored in recent years. Nowadays the zoo plays a major role in conservation and education, as well as being a superb destination for family days out.

    RUINED BUILDINGS

    On this occasion, however, it was the castle we’d come to see, which meant parking the Chamois in the easy-to-find Tipton Road car park and heading through the gates on foot. A ticket to Dudley Zoological Gardens also allows access to Dudley Castle, an impressive fortress that dates back to 1070, although much of it was added in the 1500s by John Dudley, the son of an economic adviser to Henry VII. This new addition created an entire new wing known as Sharington Range (named after its architect, William Sharington) and transformed the castle into an opulent palace, although a huge fire in 1750 saw the entire building reduced to a ruin. Nowadays Dudley Castle is preserved in the same state, its two ruined sections separated by almost 500 years, and is world renowned as one of Britain’s most haunted buildings.


    With little likelihood of a ghost appearing during our brief visit in the mid-summer sunshine, Charlotte and I headed back to the parked-up Singer, driving on to Tipton Road again and heading to Castle Hill and The Broadway, with Priory Park a little further along on the right-hand side. And for anybody fascinated by ruined buildings and who isn’t in a position to pay to visit a venue, this park is the must-see location of Dudley Priory.

    Now in ruins but fascinating for visitors of all ages, Dudley Priory was founded in 1160 and its remains are now both Grade I listed and officially classed as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The priory fell into disrepair in the late 16th century (having been closed by Henry VIII in the 1530s as part of his Dissolution of the Monastries) and has remained a ruin ever since. Visiting it now though, certainly brought back memories for me, as I explained to Charlotte over a flask of coffee inside her Singer: “My grandparents lived just the other side of the park,” I said, pointing beyond the priory. “When I was a child, my grandfather would often walk me across the park and I’d play in amongst these ruins.” It seemed strange being back there now, four decades later.

    COUNTRY WALKS

    With time rolling on, however, the flask and mugs were packed away and the Singer was once more pressed into action, this time heading out of Dudley towards Birmingham New Road, which we’d join for only a very short stretch before turning left into Sedgley Road West, through Sedgley and out on to the A463. Having driven through built-up suburbia we found the landscape changing suddenly, with a far more rural view around us and ahead a large sign pointing towards Baggeridge Country Park.

    This seemed like another excellent stop-off point, given that the park was originally part of the Himley Estate (owned by the Earls of Dudley) and was therefore linked to our day’s starting point. In the 18th century it was landscaped by none other than Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, and was kept in that state until the early 1900s when some of the grounds were given over to mining. Nowadays, however, Baggeridge is officially classed as a country park, packed with various walking routes and a combination of grassland, woodland and wetland backdrops to enjoy. You can park all day for £2.60, take a picnic and enjoy a rural day out just a short drive from Dudley, as many people choose to do throughout the summer months.

    As for us, we just had time for a few more photographs before jumping back into Charlotte’s hard-working Chamois and easing back out on to the A463, this time heading away from Sedgley and really putting the twin-carb Singer through its paces, tackling the twists and turns of the road with real confidence. Anybody who doubts the handling capability of a rear-engined classic should try a well-sorted Imp (or derivative) for themselves, with Charlotte’s example gripping the road impressively well, cornering with a surprising lack of body roll and at no times feeling unpredictable.

    With a roundabout looming at the end of the A463, it was time to take the first exit and head along the A449, the major trunk road that in its entirety stretches from South Wales to Stafford. On this short section, however, the combination of single- and dual-carriageway layout at the national speed limit gave us a chance to blow away some Imp-shaped cobwebs, with the twin Webers of the Singer’s 875cc all-alloy engine making their presence felt via eager acceleration and – by small-car standards – effortless cruising. The Chamois blasted its way along the initial stretch of dual-carriageway with real eagerness, only slowing when the road narrowed and we found ourselves behind less speedy traffic. It might not have lasted long, but that quick burst was enough to reinforce just how much potential any well-sorted Imp really does have.


    While a regular Chamois would have pumped out 37bhp in single-carb guise when new, a twincarb Sunbeam Sport boosted this to 51bhp (and a top speed of 90mph), which gives an indication of what Charlotte’s uprated Singer is capable of. She openly admits that she makes the most of the car’s performance potential, and has great fun on every trip as a result.

    As we turned left at the next major crossroads, we found ourselves back on the B4176 from which we’d started, which meant that within a few hundred yards we’d once again be at Himley Hall. The entire day had been both fun and fascinating in equal measure, with the various destinations proving just how much the Black Country offers anyone seeking a Midlands-based adventure. My advice? Just make sure you do it at the wheel of a car as entertaining as this cute-as-a-puppy Singer Chamois.

    Distance: 22 miles
    Time: Half a day with stop-off (but allow longer for Dudley Zoo and the Black Country Living Museum)
    Any shortcuts: Locating Himley Hill is easy via A449. Closest Motorway is the M5 J2.

    "The Chamois blasted its way along the initial stretch of dual-carriageway with real eagerness"

    Dudley Castle and Priory (inset) were just two of the interesting venues our Chamois visited during this tour of the Black Country.

    Unfortunately there weren't any four-legged Chamois in residence at Dudley Zoo to keep our game little four-wheeled variant company on the day we parked up outside.


    The car of choice for this month's classic tour was this superbly presented low mileage 1969 Singer Chamois owned by Charlotte Tambling (above) and driven by Paul Guinness (top), one of our regular contributors.
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  • It’s always fascinated me how some cars are destined for greatness and others seem to fade away. I mean the classic example is the #Sunbeam-Tiger . Here was the #Sunbeam-Alpine , a little four-cylinder car, and it got an American V8 but it revitalised the Sunbeam, it gave it some panache and made it an exciting car. Yet the whole time there was another car in the background that was certainly the equal of the #Sunbeam #Tiger and maybe even more sophisticated. That was the #Daimler-SP250 ‘Dart’.

    I saw my first Dart when I was 16 years old. It was parked near the bowling alley. Like every one I’ve seen over the years it was not in particularly good shape. By that time it was three or four years old and a Massachusetts winter had taken its toll. But I was fascinated by the V8 and the dual exhausts and the four-speed-plus-overdrive.

    It was not the greatest-looking car. In fact when it was introduced in #1959 at the New York Auto Show it was deemed the ‘ugliest car’ at the show. But what made it so fascinating was this little jewel of a motor; a Hemi-head, 2.5-litre V8, developed by Edward Turner, the motorcycle designer responsible for such classic engines as the Aerial Square Four and the #Triumph-Bonneville .

    And when you open the Dart’s hood it knocks you out. It’s a visually stunning motor with the dual carburettors on it. It put out 140bhp. The body was made of glassfibre, so it weighed around 2000lb, and it was certainly the equal in performance of the #Jaguar #XK120 , #XK140 or #XK150 . It just wasn’t the best-looking car.

    The idea was that Daimler wanted to design something that would appeal to Americans. Everybody had fins so #Daimler thought, well, let’s put fins on our car. So the kind of camp-ish looking front end combined with the American fins, and it’s probably the most American car in concept that the English had designed up to that point. It had roll-up windows and had a heater and defroster, when most British cars still had plastic windows you had to slide yourself.

    So why wasn’t it a success? They built only 2648 of them and half were exported to America. They never quite caught on here because the 2.5-litre engine, although big for England, was pretty minuscule by American standards. The early cars suffered from flexible chassis and people used to complain that when you went around corners the doors flew open.

    ‘WHEN YOU OPEN THE DAIMLER DART’S HOOD IT KNOCKS YOU OUT. THAT V8 IS A VISUALLY STUNNING MOTOR’

    Yet it was incredibly fast. In fact it was so fast that the London police department ordered 30 of them, with automatic transmission, so they could catch the motorcyclists at the Ace Cafe - where they’d play a record and you had to go 100mph and be back in the cafe before the record ended. Well this is the only car that could catch those guys.

    So occasionally you see one of the 30 London police cars for sale. A guy wrote me a letter, telling me his uncle had bought the car new and willed it to him when he died. It was parked in the backyard for 40 years, but being glassfibre it never rusted out. I bought it sight unseen. I know you’re not supposed to do that but sometimes, when something different comes along, what are the odds of finding another one? From the photograph it all looked like it was there and I got a good deal on it.

    We brought it back to my shop and modified an intake manifold to take a #Weber carburettor. We put in rack-and-pinion steering and upgraded the brakes. And we did put a Tremec five-speed in place of the four-speed and overdrive. It drives so well, the looks grow on you. It’s fun to show up at British sports car events with a car that a lot of people have never heard of and even some of the older guys barely remember.

    I just wonder why it got so lost in British automotive history. I mean, we look back at the Elan with fondness. And the #MGB , the TR3. There are huge clubs devoted to these and so many love stories about them. Why the Daimler is not included in those I don’t know. I’ve found only two books on it, whereas you can go to a bookstore and find hundreds on the MG and the Triumph and even the Humber Super Snipe!

    When Daimler was bought by Jaguar, Sir William Lyons was appalled at its build quality, so he made sure the frames were strengthened and tried to correct the mistakes. He made it a pretty good car, but by that time the #Jaguar-E-type had made its debut so why would Jaguar want to take sales away from itself? Why have two competing sports cars? That’s why the #Daimler-Dart faded into obscurity.

    JAY LENO

    Comedian and talk show legend Jay Leno is one of the most famous entertainers in the USA. He is also a true petrolhead, with a massive collection of cars and bikes (see jaylenosgarage. com). Jay was speaking with Jeremy Hart.
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