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Testing Times for BSA

Eighty-three years on a cold March day in 1939, two BSA motorcycles and their riders set out from London to drive non-stop around the coastlines of England and Wales. The 2,500 mile trip, using bikes straight off the showroom floor without any alteration or pre-preparation, was designed to showcase the reliabililty and flexibility of BSA's machines.

One was a 500cc Silver Star, the other a 600cc side-valve model. One was fitted with a sidecar in which the ACU observer had to spend the entire trip. Brr!

Having included 25 ascents and descents of the infamous 'Welsh Terror' (the Bwlch-y-Groes pass), the journey ended at Brooklands for 100 miles of full-speed lapping of the track and 100 consecutive ascents of the the Brooklands Test Hill.


The bikes were then completely stripped down in front of an ACU inspector and examined for signs of wear. They were reportedly perfect (of course!).

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The world's first successful two-stroke engine was built

by Dugald Clerk, a Scottish engineer, in 1878. He patented his Clerk Cycle internal combustion engine in England in 1881.

Clerk Cycle generates an ignition once every two strokes of the piston (rather than once every four strokes as in the Otto Cycle). Clerk's first two-stroke engine used a second piston as a charging pump. He later simplified the process by using pressure from a sealed crank case.

Clerk was often invited to judge at car reliability trials, a popular feature of the early years of motoring.

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The winner of the Targa Florio race of 1919 did it the hard way, crossing the finishing line driving backwards.

André Boillot, driving his 2.5ltr Peugeot EX5, was approaching the finish line when he realised that it was blocked by spectators. He braked hard to avoid hitting them, spinning the car around and crossing the line in reverse.


At the demand of the ungrateful spectators (whose lives he had undoubtedly saved), Boillot was forced to turn the car around and cross the line again in a more appropriate manner. He was still far enough ahead to win the race. 


Do you need to have seatbelts in a classic car? Well, if your car was built prior to 1966 and was originally manufactured without seatbelts, you have no legal requirement in the UK to fit them.

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We may know Suzuki for its cars and motorcycles, but for the first thirty years it made weaving looms for Japan's silk industry. It wasn't until 1937 that the company began to work on designing small cars.


Can I take children in classic cars? If your car was originally built without seatbelts, you can't carry children under three years of age in it. Children over three are only allowed to sit in the back seats.

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The MG Midget M-Type was based on a Morris Minor chassis.


The original Deuce Coupe was a 1932 Ford Model 18.


The UK Motor Act (1934) made it an offence to sell vehicles unfit for the road... unless for export!


A gallon of water weighs more than a gallon of petrol.

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"One day we shall construct machines capable of propelling large ships at a speed far superior to that of an entire crew of oarsmen and needing only a pilot to steer them. One day we shall endow chariots with incredible speed without the aid of any animal. One day we shall construct winged machines able to lift themselves into the air like birds."

Francis Bacon 1561 - 1626

The Isle of Man T.T. (Tourist Trophy) race was launched to help the development of touring motorcycles. Britain's road rules stifled racing, but the Manx government was far less hidebound. The Highways (Light Locomotive) Act of 1904 made possible the  Gordon Bennett Car Trial on the 'Highlands' course. The first motorcycles ran in 1905 but struggled with the 'Highlands' course. The first Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race took place in 1911.

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Bob a Mile

In 1939, a Greenwich magistrate - Frank Powell - took an unusual approach to speeding motorists hauled up before him.

He imposed fines at the rate of a "shilling a mile" so, presumably, the faster you were nicked by the local constable, the better!

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The Lloyd LS300's body was largely made of plywood (due to post-war steel shortages). It was nicknamed the "Band-Aid Bomber" as it was believed panels could be just as easily repaired with surgical sticking plasters as more conventional materials.

Did you know?

In 1938 there was serious discussion in the UK as to whether red or yellow ochre should be added to all road surfacing materials as it was argued that the ochre would make the surface very slightly luminous in the dark, thus making night driving safer.

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The Jaguar XK120 took its name from its top speed - 120mph. Built from 1948 - 1954, it was the world's fastest production car. When new, it sold for £1,263.

The first customer in line at the London Motor Show launch was the Holloywood actor Clark Gable.

Cruise control was invented by Ralph Teetor (1890 - 1982). A gifted angineer and prolific inventor, he was also blind.

In 1950 he patented a "speed control device for resisting the operation of the accelerator".

Did you know?

The Marcos 1800 GT features a full monocoque made out of almost 400 pieces of plywood.

The Marcos company was formed in North Wales by Jeremy Marsh and Frank Costin. Marsh had raced Austin 7-based specials, and Costin had previously designed gliders for de Havilland (he had also been involved in the design of the de Havilland Mosquito).

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The Steel Teddy Bear

The little Austin A30 - the replacement to the immensely successful and influential Austin Seven - was the company's, and Britain's, first monocoque production car. 


Initially designed by Ken Garrett and Ian Duncan, it was deemed so cute and cuddly-looking that it was nicknamed the 'Steel Teddy Bear'.

Fogging up?

Windows misting up or icing now that the colder weather is here? In 1954, Practical Motorist & Motor Cyclist suggested that:

"A mixture of equal proportions of glycerine and methylated spirits applied with a clean, non-fluffy cloth will effectively prevent any such misting and will also prove efficacious for de-icing the exterior of the screen".

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The Vauxhall 30/98 Velox was produced to satisfy a race who complained that no car was available that could maintain a 100mph at Brooklands. Vauxhall answered the challenge - 115bhp, 4.2ltr, 4 cylinders, and fitted with electric lights and starter motor. Approximately 600 were produced between 1913-1927 of which around a third are believed to have survived.

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Cars capable of 100mph or more in 1939 include...

Lagonda V12, 4.5ltr saloon, 4,480cc, £1,550; 105mph

Alvis 4.3ltr saloon, 6 cyl., 4,387cc, £995; 100.56mph

Darracq 4ltr, streamlined saloon, 3,996cc, £1,175; 115mph

Mercedes Benz Type 540, straight 8, 5,401cc, £2,250; 107-118mph

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Did you know?

The Jensen Interceptor FF (Ferguson Formula), in production from 1966 - 1971, was the first ever performance car to be built with four-wheel drive, beating the Audi Quattro by fourteen years. At the time it was launched, it was the world's most technologically advanced car, including being the first to be fitted with anti-lock brakes. It cost about 30% more than the Jensen Interceptor.

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