Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Reader's cars: Chris' Townscars little and large

Chris Thomas, who runs the magazine for the Register of Unusual Microcars appears to be a fan of Mini based cars, too. He wrote to me about the soft spot he has for William Towns' creations: "I had liked the look of the Aston Martin Lagonda, but it was well out of my price range. But a Hustler perhaps not. I could understand his design logic and liked what I saw. He was my kind of car designer. Being tall I always had problems finding small cars that fitted me. I remember going to the 1974 Motor show and going onto each stand and trying the drivers seat. It was the same routine. Wait my turn, get in, run the seat right back, lower the seat if it could, and then raise the steering column if it could, and then set the seat back angle if it could. In the total show only two cars allowed me to sit in the right position, that allowed me to touch my knees together under the steering wheel, and one was the latest Hustler. By this time I had a Renault 5, which for short journeys was okay, but after a drive down to Italy I got out looking like a gorilla that had just swung in through the trees. Never again would I drive with my knees around my ears, hunched under a low roof. One day at work I spotted in the local paper a Hustler for sale. I rang, and after work dashed down to look at it. Immediately, I recognised it as being the Hustler from the motor show back in 1974. I had to have it."

"When I got it home I went over it with a keen eye discovering all those little impracticalities that do not matter on a show car, like the door locks did not work, and it was almost impossible to get into the back seats, and getting into reverse gear was difficult as the drivers seat was too wide, and so the list went on. With my rudimentary skills, learnt in school metalwork classes, I managed to make them work after a fashion. Once on the road I discovered why the last owner wished to sell it. On tight corners and roundabouts, it would suddenly learch sideways in the opposite direction to that you wanted to travel in. Very disconcerting. I soon worked out that the Hydrolastic suspension at the rear was connected across the car rather than front to back. So as the load on the off side wheels went up, so it pumped the fluid across to the near side wheels so pushing that side up further, making it feel like it was about to roll over. By reconnecting the fluid connections together on each side, it now handled very well.
I took it to several car shows, and had some fun driving there and back. Cars would slow down on the motorways for a good look, and the kids in the back would change from bored to smiling and give a big thumbs up, or a wave. I even has a Ferrari F40 owner slow down and have a good look. It is not often you turn a Ferrari owners head."

Chris' Hustler Huntsman 6. No doubt it's a William Towns design in all its glory
Picture courtesy Chris Thomas

"Our local garage owner, who had MOT'd my Hustler a few times, told me there was another one like this on a farm near by, and the owner wanted to sell it. I shot down after work to see it and found it was not a Hustler but an Elswick Envoy, but not just any Elswick, it wore chassis number 1. I had to have it. Having fallen in love with all William Towns designed, to let this one go would be a sin. The story goes that a bunch of friends had bought the Elswick for a friend who was about to retire, and thought it would be fun to present him with an invalid carriage at his birthday party, and this was the only one for sale at the time. On the day of the retirement party it was driven into his back garden and given to him, to much hilarity amongst the inebriated friends. The new owner promptly tried to drive it around his garden using the hand controls, and very nearly crashed it. By this time his mood was rather tired and emotional, and he gave the car back to the so called friends and the party died. The rejected present sat for a few weeks before I heard about it."

"When the trailer arrived at my house with the Elswick onboard, I bravely reversed it off, and proceeded to manoeuvre it onto my driveway. Having never used hand controls before, I found it a major challenge. I have driven motorbikes and scooters, mopeds and automatics, but an Elswick with hand controls was one step beyond what my brain could cope with. With some pushing from neighbours we parked it, and I set about working out what would need doing to it. The main rusty item was all the rear suspension, which was a mini rear subframe with the middle removed, and a thick steel plate welded onto the bottom. All the Mini subframe part had rusted badly. So it all had to come out and a new mini subframe modified and welded to the thick steel plate, hot zinc sprayed and then immersed in a bath of Hammerite paint. All done and re-installed, next was the bodywork, grinding out the cracks and reinforcing the back, filling and sanding ready for a respray. That was until I looked at the rear door and realised water had seeped in, and the metal reinforcement inside that the window frame it was welded to, was all rusty and would all need replacing and bonding in. At that point I decided it may be better to buy a new rear door from a scraped Elswick. Could I find one? No! Since that day it has sat hand in hand with the Hustler under a big tarpaulin on my driveway."

"Over the years my confidence, eyesight, and patience with car repairs, have all waned. I became more involved with microcars and editing Rumcar News, running my own small company, and trying to loose weight. Now is the time to admit to myself that I will never drive them again, and it would be better for everybody if I sell them to somebody with the skills and passion for them. I did at one time toy with converting the Hustler into an electric car, installing the batteries between the four rear wheels, and mounting the electric motor where the Metro engine is, and adding as many PV panels to the upper part of the body as possible. Being as the panels are all flat, that should not have been too difficult. But like everything else it stayed as an idea. Now that I am in my dotage, I may need an invalid carriage one day. So should I keep the Elswick? No! I will just get my wife to drive me everywhere."

And his Elswick Envoy, wearing chassis number 1. He may be tempted to sell...
Picture courtesy Chris Thomas

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