By Alec Jacobs
In one of what is hoped will be many articles relating to members and their cars, ALEC JACOBS recalls his restoration of his 1935 Arthur Mulliner 3 1/2 litre Sports Saloon B138EF. The first section of this article was written in 2013, with the second, and the photos, added in December 2019.
"For some years now I’ve been the proud owner of two ACs, a 1927 AC Six Tourer (recently seen in Downton Abbey) and a 1938 4 seater Drop Head Coupe. Both cars have involved me in the sort of major restoration work that I enjoy. So it is true that having a project to work on generally is essential to my sense of fulfilment and wellbeing.
Three years ago, never having been seriously ill before, unexpectedly I was faced with the diagnosis of total kidney failure and soon my life became a sequence of hospital visits, peritoneal dialysis, peritonitis and eventually haemodialysis. After many tests and set-backs, in July 2011, courtesy of my incredible youngest daughter to whom my eternal thanks, and the Surgeon Paul Lear, I received a transplanted kidney that in so many ways gave me my life back.
Feeling in need of a project and bearing in mind a certain pressure from Malcolm Hobbs to get a Rolls-Royce or Bentley, I soon settled on a 1935 Arthur Mulliner 3 1/2 litre Sports Saloon from The Real Car Company. Its condition provided sufficient scope to be the project I was looking for and being from one of the rarer coach builders increased its attraction to me. The choice of a saloon followed quite naturally. First, I already had two open cars and secondly, the immuno-suppressive drugs I am now on mean I must keep out of the sun as much as possible. It is also true that saloons are more affordable than open cars. The car I bought, B138EF, was driveable but in need of tender loving care in several areas, - notably the original interior was really past saving but provided a superb pattern to copy – the wings that were exhibiting blistering paint from aluminium white oxide pushing at the paint, - and a general need for re-commissioning consequent upon a mileage of 1600 in the last 40 years. 15 years from 1972 in the States resulted in no mileage as I believe it was in a collection or museum. During this time it seems to have gained the green body with a bare metal re-spray. To return to the UK in 1987 it looks as if the running boards and rear wings were roughly bolted back on without benefit of wing piping. The top of the boot had gained several dents. But crucially the ash frame and the way the doors opened and shut were satisfyingly sound and confidence inspiring.
All the MOTs since 1987 add up to the 1600 miles quoted.
Last winter I spent some time tidying the underside, making sure all the components, the brakes and one-shot system were working well. Also I removed, repaired and straightened the existing under-trays and manufactured a front sump tray as it was missing from the car, (the front tray from Malcolm’s car was my pattern). I took the opportunity to improve the way the trays are attached, exchanging the original and awkward nut and bolt fasteners for set bolts driven into tapped holes – so much easier to manage single-handed.
Another satisfying task was to remove the front floorboards to relieve any areas of the wooden underside where there was indication of contact with the gearbox the gear-change or the brake servo. I also replaced all the sponge rubber strips between the boards. This, of course, also improved the clearances.
Late last year I fitted a Tim Payne overdrive to the car, taking the chance to check the front prop-shaft damper for its correct operation. The overdrive transforms the car into a relaxed motorway cruiser at very modern speeds and is totally usable at 30 and 40 mph on local roads being wonderfully tractable even at 1200 rpm.
So that I can continue to use the car regularly I intend a running restoration organised in such a way as to complete each part of the ongoing work in finite packages to keep the car available for use, particularly throughout the summer. With this in mind I decided that I would start by removing the leaking windscreen to replace the glass and seals and have the frame re-chromed.
Also needing chroming were the various elements of the front bumper, the horns, the badge bar, the radiator cap, the boot catches and the boot rack. This latter I’d replicated by welding 5/8” steel tube and chain links for the strap loops. Luckily Nigel Stone has a similar Arthur Mulliner saloon with an original boot rack and he has kindly sent me photos and dimensions of his to make my job easier. Although my car was originally fitted with the mountings for the rack the Factory records declared it to be ‘ Not Supplied’. Whilst most of the carpet in the rear was quite good, the front carpet was too small and very worn and the bulkhead was totally uncarpeted. I managed to buy some identically coloured Wilton carpet, albeit a little thicker, made patterns to fit the floor and bulkhead and cut and bound the edges with leather.
The other part of this winter’s package is the door and side window trim and draught excluder seals. The seats and headlining will be tackled in later packages. I’d purchased several hides of green leather last year and subsequently bought 6mm plywood and some fibre-board to reproduce the door panels which were falling apart. The use of 6mm plywood is necessitated by the fact that the inner and outer edges of the outer frame of the panels is sculpted almost to an aerofoil section. The fibre-board inner panel is tacked to the outer frame after the leather is glued to the inside edge and before the leather is glued around the outside edge – not at all easy. Replicating the construction of the front and rear door pockets involved making new stiffening from two layers of thick gasket paper and sewing the combined leather and stiffener components. The old rubber tubing inside the original draught excluder was virtually solid and perished. I am using leather covered 3/8” diameter sponge cord rubber as it makes a better and softer seal.
Continuation of the story of B138EF, my Arthur Mulliner Three and a half litre Sports Saloon
I am writing this at the end of 2019 and much water has passed under the bridge since the last epistle. Many lengthy tours and trips have been successfully undertaken, including more than 6000 miles on the Continent.
In 2013, whilst the attractive coaming and door capping woodwork trim was away with Joe Crabtree in Attleborough, being beautifully restored, I persevered with the leatherwork, replacing all parts of the front and rear seats with some of the seven hides of dark green leather I’d purchased from Andrew Muirhead. I quite enjoy making the long lengths of piping and sewing and filling the flutes on the seats. It is very satisfying. I also improved the front door trim centre panels by my own design of ‘sun ray’, pattern in which the lower ray forms the door pocket, and dispensed with the earlier version I’d copied from the original. The new headlining, using original wool worsted cloth, was straight forward enough but replicating the chain link sewing holding the sides of the roof cloth to the neck of the piping of the draught excluder along the cant rail was singularly arm aching. It was very encouraging to see how good the ash framing was under the head lining, particularly under the rear window where most cars have suffered badly.
In the spring of 2014, I bought and fitted a full flow engine oil filter system from Ristes for all the obvious reasons and as it was my intention very soon to rebuild the engine and clean out its crankshaft, as I had no idea when, if ever, it had been done. To make the access for changing the filter as easy as possible, I cut an aperture in the offside under tray, filled with a hinged door to obviate the frequent removal of the under tray.
Changing the roof colour from green to black improved the look of the car immensely, giving it a much lower sporty look. This was followed as the opportunity arose by the repair and spraying of the front wings and much later by the removal and restoration of the rear wings, in particular to achieve my long awaited ambition to actually have wing piping between the body and the rear wings. This seems to have been torn away when the body had its bare metal respray turning it from black to green, in the USA between 1972 and 1989.
I have never been as keen as some on cleaning and polishing cars and spoked wheels can test this reluctance severely. I saw a set of redeemable Ace discs for the 18” Derby wheels on Ebay and managed to get them for a mere £200 including packing and postage. Repair, renovation, modification and painting involved many hours of toil but cleaning the visible parts of the wheels is now almost a pleasure.
By half-way through 2015, we had finally decided to keep the body of the car green, as not only had many people told us how much they liked it, but Wendy and I had come to like it too. In fact, having heard from the previous owner that he had christened it ‘Kermit’, we find we are often adopting the soubriquet ourselves.
Towards the end of 2015, after another overseas tour through Spain and Portugal, it was time to bite the bullet and overhaul the engine. The oil pressure was still within the accepted limits but it was a little noisier than the best of them. With the car on my scissor jack positioned over the pit, there is easy access to above and below the engine. The first surprise, on removing the sump, was to find that there were 12 parts of the non-thrust /split skirt sides of all the pistons sticking out of the mud on the floor of the sump. After measuring the bores at about 6 thou over standard and finding that the pistons were marked as standard, it was eventually surmised that it was probably in an attempt to improve the fit of these pistons in the bores that they had been expanded by levering at the split in the skirt, thereby starting the cracks that propagated until each and every ‘door’ departed the piston sides to find their way to the sump. It is perhaps remarkable just how well he engine ran in this condition. Now it’s possible to remove all the big end caps and check the journals and bearings. Lowering the scissor jack to remove the bonnet, headlamps and radiator gives wonderful access to the top of the engine to remove the air cleaner, carburettors and manifolds etc. The head and then the block were lifted clear of the crankcase using my overhead crane which can be positioned accurately exactly above the centre of the engine, to give a very efficient separation. I was lucky to obtain from Thorntons a set of original Peter Hepworth pistons sized at 3.25”+ 0.7mm (just less than 30 thou). Apparently they are often collecting old new stock from sales and auctions. You just have to be lucky and ask! Although I have my own Wandess boring bar, a good friend of mine is well practised at all aspects of boring blocks, so I entrusted opening up the bores to suit my new pistons to him.
Now, from below, I could jack up the crankshaft so that it nestles deeply into the top shells and removing one main bearing cap at a time, not only can I check and measure each main journal but I can replace each cap with a strip of Plastigauge to determine the up and down clearance. Clearly the majority of the wear occurs on the bottom shell and quite a lot less above and to the sides. Working steadily in this way I pretty soon discovered that the mains were all in very fine condition and that the journals everywhere were well inside the Manual’s suggested limits of 3 thou worn and 1 thou oval. In fact they were, typically, 2 thou worn and half a thou oval. Not bad after probably more than 150,000 miles and certainly well within the nitriding depth of each journal. Having ascertained the Plastigauge clearance, both tenth of an inch whitemetal nosed shims under the caps were ground thinner to achieve the required 2 thou clearance. To do this I used my high speed oscillating Worx tool with a hole drilled in its blade to allow a suitable ball bearing to transfer the motion to the hole in the shim, held against my oiled carborundum block. This allows very controlled removal of the necessary thous whilst keeping everything square and accurate.
Looking closely at the big end bearing shells there were slight signs of surface fatigue cracking that led me to decide to re-metal all the big ends and machine them to a 2 thou clearance and this time with the required rather large side clearance that was unexpectedly missing from the old bearings. The endwise location for the con-rods is at the small end, so attempting the same at the big end also is rather difficult.
By the middle of 2017, I had come to the conclusion that, as I moved into my eighties, it was unlikely that I would be getting much stronger and that, if I am going to continue to enjoy driving the car for many more years, then lightening the steering would be essential. Working through the available options, it soon became clear the best solution was EZ power steering; rather expensive but technically approved and well proven. So it was, in August I delivered the car to Mike Waters in Dawlish, who removed the steering column, sent it to Leerdam in the Netherlands, for their total refurbishment and embodiment of the electric actuator. When returned and reunited with the car, I collected it and in the ensuing weeks started really enjoying driving it again. It was to be expected that moving the car out of the garage, around the yard and parking in general would be so much improved. What I was not prepared for was the gorgeous driveability on winding country roads where it is now possible to sit comfortably and feel the car corner as if on rails, with none of that weighting up as shoulders and arms fought to keep the car from the verges. The small knob that controls the amount of assistance allows adjustment from 0 to 100%. For the yard and parking 100% can be used but on the road, I find about 40% gives the right assistance and feel, while for the motorway as little as 20% seems about right. I believe the company has now developed a GPS speed sensor to do some of this automatically but I’m happy with mine as it is. Mike Waters was terrific throughout. He did what he said he would do and ended up a friend.
Suzanne Finch - written during her time as Club Chairman
Suzanne is also a past Great Western Section Chairman
If I could have foreseen all the fun and excitement we were going to have over the next 40 years, I might have shown a bit more enthusiasm when in 1973 Nicholas bought a dilapidated Bentley 3½ litre and joined the RREC. As it was, to say my reaction to the news was muted would be an understatement!
It was fortuitous that the restoration of the car was finally completed in 1986, coinciding with the formation of the Great Western Section. It was not long before both Nicholas and I were serving on the Section Committee, for many years as Secretary and Treasurer respectively. By attending Club Conferences and getting involved in the organisation of the Annual Rally as well as other national events, we made many friends and I developed an interest in how the RREC operated.
In April 2004 I was elected to the Management Committee. When in March 2005 Peter Baines, RREC General Secretary, died suddenly and prematurely, the MC had to consider who was going to run the Hunt House and edit The Bulletin until a successor for Peter could be found. I agreed to act as General Secretary with Malcolm Tucker editing the Bulletin whilst the recruitment process took its course.
It may well have been because of that hands-on experience that later in the year I was elected Deputy Chairman, taking over as Chairman on 1 April 2007. I already had a fairly good idea of what I wanted to achieve and was able to “hit the ground running.” Between 2007 and 2009, we launched a redesigned website, implemented the computerisation of the club accounting system, streamlined membership renewal facilities and introduced the new, credit card style, membership cards. We also celebrated the Club’s 50th Anniversary in style with a couple of high profile events attended by many long-serving members. Happy occasions indeed!
My colleagues on the Management Committee agreed with me that, in our anniversary year, the RREC should have a presence at the annual NEC Classic Car Show. The end result was that our stand, put together by a team led by Great Western’s own Malcolm Hobbs, was so good that at the end of the show, I was extremely proud to collect a prize for the best stand in our category. This event has now become an annual fixture for the club.
One of the most pleasurable duties of being Chairman is that of presenting prizes and badges to deserving members. Probably the most memorable of all was when, in April 2009, I had the honour of presenting the first ever 50 year badge to our dear late President, Eric Barrass.
Another duty, hardly onerous, is to visit as many Sections as possible, both in the UK and overseas. Our first overseas trip was to Switzerland for the Swiss Section AGM held in Vitznau on Lake Lucerne.
The beauty and elegance of our surroundings were certainly awe inspiring, but it was the hospitality and warmth of the welcome we received which really touched Nicholas and me, and this set the precedent for all of our trips over the next two years.
We were required to attend both of the last two Euro Rallies. The first was based near Berlin and the second in St Moritz, Switzerland.
Closer to home, we made our first ever visits to Ireland, to Edinburgh and to the Isle of Man. However, probably our greatest adventure entailed attending a French Section rally near Deauville, then driving through Holland, Belgium, Germany and Denmark to Varberg for the Swedish Section AGM. The few days spent driving between the two events turned out to be the nearest thing we had to a holiday for two years!
Although nothing prepared me for the intensity of the experience of being Chairman, I do not regret for a moment taking it on. It was without doubt a great honour. Amongst the negatives were the considerable responsibility, the 24 hour nature of the job and the total abandonment of any home life. However the help and support I received from my friends in the Great Western Section, the new friendships made and the greater awareness of all that membership of the RREC has to offer are all lasting positives which far outweigh the negatives.
In 2013, Nicholas and Suzanne celebrated 40 years of membership.