by Ralph Watson.
In January 1986 I decided to attempt a nostalgic 2,500 mile tour in my BSA Special covering historic race meetings, hoping to bring back memories of thirty years earlier. Driving a much faster car I had then toured many of the circuits with more serious racing in mind
The BSA was to the best of my knowledge first registered in N.Z. late in 1931 and was one of three front wheel drive V-twin cylinder models that came to this country. Mechanical modifications I had made included, twin carburettors, new improved connecting rods, a caged big end bearing with oil pressure feed, improved camshaft, larger valves with speedway J.A.P. springs, 7.7 compression ratio, close ratio gears and a new worm and wheel to give a 4.4 ratio final drive.
As a trial run for the proposed long distance drive, I had previously attended a classic motor cycle meeting held at Taupo, which was approximately 200 miles distant from my home in Auckland. Cars which the organisers considered had the right type of engines, in keeping with motor cycle interests, were invited to do demonstration runs around the one-mile circuit.
I left home at eight in the morning and after a drive of an hour and a half, over bumpy tar seal roads, I had enough and called at a friend's farm for a break and a welcome cup of tea. Thus revived and travelling over improving road surfaces, the driving became much more enjoyable. I arrived in Taupo, at two thirty in the afternoon, and was lucky to find a motel owned by a vintage car enthusiast. What is more, he was restoring a BSA, which was one of the rear-wheel drive saloons.
During the next two days there were demonstration runs around the small circuit, which were fun and appreciated by the motor cyclists, especially when the silencers on the BSA were removed. However this caused a flat spot at low r.p.m., “megaphonitis”, the motor cycle enthusiasts called it.
The drive home the following day went much better than the trip down, care being taken to choose smoother and less frequented roads.
After this trip I decided a lengthy tour was possible and a month was spent giving the springs and shock absorbers attention in order to improve and soften the ride. I disregarded my old habit of saving weight and packed the car with spare parts, tools and luggage, telling myself that this would provide greater comfort. In actual fact the ride was now very good for a light vintage car and it was simply that I had become older and accustomed to modern suspension.
The first motor race meeting of the tour was held in Wellington. This was a major street race for saloon cars, with supporting races for historic cars. I covered the 420 miles to Wellington in two days. The BSA arrived with the speedometer out of action. An enquiry at the workshop of Len Southward resulted in the location of a retired Jaeger instrument specialist, who replaced a stripped gear.
An enjoyable weekend was spent in Wellington staying with Bob Gibbons, another driver and competitor I had known in previous years. I also attended the two day Wellington Road Race meeting, where I seemed to be regarded as a privileged spectator.
While in Wellington I took the opportunity to call on Alan Freeman, who raced a Talbot- Lago G.P. racing car in the 1950 period. I also contacted Martin Ferner, who had an interest in the BSA having had the parts of the car stored away for about twenty years. He was thrilled to have a demonstration run in the restored car.
The following day, after crossing to the South Island on the ferry, I drove to Nelson, a distance of 80 odd miles over twisty hilly roads which suited the BSA very well. It was good to be in the South Island again with much less traffic, better road surfaces and many pleasant memories along the way. A week was spent in Nelson with my sister and I visited old school mates, as well as vintage car collectors.
The next stage of my journey took me to Christchurch and was the longest run I had taken on in a single day. Acting on local advice I took the Lewis Pass route, 200 miles down the centre of the island. The road crosses three ranges of hills and follows river valleys, where it twists and turns and provides scenic views. The BSA covered the distance in seven hours, with three stops on the way as a result of a bothersome sticking carburettor slide.
On arriving in Christchurch, I met old and new motoring friends and attended an historic car race meeting held on the two-mile Wigram Air Field circuit. Not wanting to risk any mechanical problems, or do damage which might spoil the tour, I competed cautiously in the BSA and kept out of trouble.
The BSA was on the front row of the starting grid comprising a group of cars including two Bentley open tourers, two Fraser Nash, Invicta, V12 Lagonda, Rolls Royce Phantom Tourer and a 2.5 Litre Riley sports special. After a rapid start the BSA had a good lead, but the Riley came past and disappeared into the distance. It was two laps before anything else passed me, but then a group of later model cars including XK120 Jaguars, Austin Healys etc., as well as a P3 Alfa Romeo, caught up and it seemed wise to leave room for all this heavy metal to go past. After these first two fast laps, I decided not to stretch my luck by pushing the little car too hard for too long.
After this fun competition and a day of rest to check over the car, I set off for Dunedin. This involved 150 miles of mostly flat straight roads, covered at a cruising speed of between 55 and 60 m.p.h. for most of the journey. While in Dunedin I stayed with Ralph Smith, the owner of the Lycoming Special, this being the last car I had built and raced extensively throughout the country during the very late fifties. Unfortunately the weather deteriorated to a week of rain and showers and so time was spent working on the cars. I was able to locate the cause of the sticking carburettor slides, which turned out to be swelled O-rings. Some oil leaks were also attended to.
Both the Lycoming and the BSA had been entered in a hill climb, but the weather put an end to competing in this event. However the weather cleared the next day for the Round the Houses Historic Street Race and this was a very interesting meeting. I started in the race at the back of the field, but found the circuit very bumpy with a lot of second gear acceleration. These conditions were not good for an air-cooled V-twin and I would have preferred to have been running on an alcohol fuel, rather than pump petrol.
After waiting a couple of days for the rain to clear, I set off for home following the same route. I spent a few days in Christchurch in order to see the start of the Pan Pacific International Vintage Rally, which involved around seven hundred cars.
On leaving Wellington rain made driving unpleasant, so I stopped at Len Southward's Motor Museum and spent a lazy day looking at the exhibits, staying the night at a nearby motel. In the morning the rain had cleared so I set off in better conditions. On the way home I made a detour through Glen Murray to call on Ron Roycroft. We had a long chat about cars and the times when we had toured the N.Z. racing circuit together.
I had been away from home for six weeks and it was unfortunate that I missed an Auckland Historic Car Club race meeting. However I was in time for the always enjoyable, annual Chelsea Hillclimb, held in the grounds of the Chelsea Sugar Works and organised by a branch of the Vintage Car Club. The BSA ran well on this short hill, recording a respectable time in a field of extremely wide variety, i.e. from a vintage Metallurgique, to a Formula Ford racing car.
A few weeks later, I attended a practice day for classic cars at the Pukekohe Racing Circuit. For this event, a fuel brew comprising fifty- percent alcohol was mixed. With some surprise I twice saw 95 m.p.h. on the speedometer during my run of only a few laps. This represented an engine speed of 5,500 r.p.m. Running on good fuel and being close to home, I was more confident to put my foot down.
After having become accustomed to travelling long distances in the little BSA, I completed the season by driving 230 miles to New Plymouth in order to attend a Vintage Car Rally. This event completed a very happy season, with my once again faithful, but far from youthful BSA.
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