Harrington 100 - Amberley Chalk Pits June 1997

(The following article first appeared in the Newsletter of Castle Point Transport Museum)

Amberley 1997I'm going to be a little bit self indulgent here because my Leyland Tiger has had its first passenger carrying outing in 47 years. Furthermore the centenary of a coach builder comes but once in .. well... a hundred years. Steve Rowland describes the epic journey to Amberley in an article elsewhere in the Newsletter. The idea actually started at the end of last year with my rather wistful comment to Steve that it was a shame she would not be able to get to the rally considering the age and rarity of the vehicle. At the time, Steve's simple "I don't see why not" seemed to me like a bit of comforting encouragement but as time went by he kept asking me "What date was it again?" It became apparent that he meant what he said and he duly arranged transportation. Considering he hardly knew  me at the time it was a very generous gesture.

 There are a number of specialist clubs and societies for commercial vehicle owners and almost all of them refer to the chassis make. Seldom does the type of body mounted on that chassis make any difference. Although there is not a formal club for Harrington bodied vehicles there is a sort of camaraderie that binds them even though the coaches come in different shapes and sizes. So every five years a gathering is organised at Amberley which is usually attended by many of the  former employees of the company.

 I was delighted (and rather surprised) to meet a sprightly craftsman who had finished an apprenticeship in 1935 and therefore would almost certainly have seen my coach arrive with its old Hoyal body and roll out with the new dorsal fin observation saloon. At this time Harringtons turned out approximately 200 bodies a year.  He described how the sides were built by one team, the steel parts like wings by another and the complicated bits like the ends were left to the most experienced panel beaters. He also described how the shape of the vertical post at the front of the door was very difficult to get right, being angled on every side. He also advised not to try and saw through it because it's got a strengthening steel bar running up the middle. I'll remember that when I come to that part.  

There were some real gems on show, like David Hurley's Surrey Motors 1950 AEC Regal, a real heavy weight 8' x 30' half cab, the restoration of which was   completed just in time for the event.  Thornes of Bubwith brought a 1958 Seddon with Wayfarer 4 body work which they have owned from new  and after some years lying derelict in their yard reputedly cost £35,000 to restore. Sadly difficult progress on Frazer Clayton's 1939 Blue Motors Leyland Cheetah meant that it was not able to attend as anticipated. It had attended the previous rally in a state similar to KD 5296 (actually worse, since the interior was missing). The Cheetah and KD 5296 are the only remaining pre-war Harringtons fitted with the famous dorsal fin.

Amberley 1997The day alternated with heavy rain showers and brilliant sunshine, the interiors of some leaky vehicles becoming almost tropical. The Tiger did leak a bit but the new "temporary" fabric roof was quite good considering it was made of the cheapest leathercloth material I could find and had billowed and stretched alarmingly in the slip stream of the lorry on the way down. The leaks did not seem to stop a succession of people finding their way inside to try out the seats. I wish I had a pound for every time I heard "Coo, look at this leather".

Those that know Amberley will know that the site is quite large and includes a replica Southdown garage where ancient solid tyred Tilling Stevens petrol electrics live and come out to play without concern for the MOT or other such modern requirements. So I determined that at the end of the day on my way back to the low loader I would detour up to the garage, around the loop road at the end of the quarry and see how the Tiger would run.

With the engine running and Glynis, Steve and my brother Robin on board it became a little difficult to disguise that something "interesting" was about to happen. Suddenly from nowhere some friends appeared with hopeful looks and in they came. A moment later two huge smiles heralded the arrival of John & Richard Gent, friends from C.P.T.M.S. who also settled down inside. As we set off there was a rush from some stragglers and I was obliged to stop at the Tramocar bus stop to let them on. When we set off we were about three quarters full which in my book constitutes a proper load of passengers and indeed probably the first since 1950 when the Tiger was last used on the road.

Now the thing is, I had only been as high as second gear before this time, the confines at Canvey precluding bursts of speed. Now I was going to do my experiments with a load of spectators. Supposing it pegs out half way round ? Will I crash the gears? Into third. What an obliging gearbox. I'm enjoying this immensely and greatly stressed all at the same time. Hello, I'm foot to the floor here and we're  not exactly racing away. Then I have to stop again. Someone has parked Dave Hurley's Cavalier outside the Southdown Garage and blocked the road. The coach is empty except for a sole passenger standing in the door way. I climb from the cab, the Tiger patiently ticks over and the passengers patiently wait. If it stalls, I think, I'm done for because it's a beggar to start on the handle when it's hot.
 "Is Dave about?" I ask.
"He wasn't driving", comes the reply.
"Can you move it out of the way then?" I ask .
"I can't drive"  is the unhelpful reply. Good Grief! Does he not know  how petrol Tigers drink fuel? My tiny substitute for a fuel tank will be empty soon .
"I'll move it" I suggest. This does not go down very well. He changes his stance a bit and appears to block the door slightly more.
"It's no problem... I know the owner" I explain. Not only does he grow even bigger but now he looks suspicious too.
"I'm not sure", he falters and then steps down from the door looking about for reinforcements. Whoosh. I am past him and into the driver’s seat. Fifteen feet later the road is clear.
Amberley 1997As I climb back into the Tiger's cab my passengers are still looking happy and content and I muse that probably this is, and was, all part of a coach trip. How many passengers had patiently sat there in the past waiting for the driver to shoo farm animals out of the way ? We move off again. Although there is a slight rise I still feel there should be a bit more go. Possibly I am under estimating the engine torque in my reluctance to change into top. The speedo is missing so I do not know how fast we're going but the hedges appear to be passing reasonably well. Finally, on a bit of a down gradient... into top. The grinding gearbox is suddenly much quieter. Now this is not so bad. I am slightly less tense. I'll build up some speed and charge the hill that leads up to the Pavoir museum and the waiting low-loader. Oh dear! (or words to that effect). There's a dirty great  Grenadier coming down the single track road. Anchors on. Instinct overcome. I have remembered that the accelerator is in the middle which puts the brake on the right which is not the first place your foot goes in a crisis. We stop reasonably well but this means that the hill is climbed in grinding second gear. I stop outside the Pavoir museum at the top as the heavens open again and and my passengers hope that I am not going to boot them out straight away. When they got on none of them had actually asked if I was going back to where I started and I point out that it's a down hill walk anyway and quite short by the foot path behind the museum.

Thinking about it afterwards I realised that the engine had been running with the ignition quite well retarded and some advance would have made a world of difference to the "pull". The adjustment quadrant is so worn I have wired up the linkage so it does not move.  And here I will let you into a secret. For as I manfully swing over the engine on the handle with comments coming over my shoulder like "They can snap your thumbs you know" or "I've seen people break arms on starting handles" I know that with that much fixed ignition retard this Tiger's more of a Tabby.

And so that was the end. I know that it will be many years before I get the Tiger into top gear again. For me, the day was that much of a pleasure I could bottle it, save it and drink deeply in the times when my spirits need a boost.

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