About Driving Your Classic Vehicle

You are now the proud owner of a Classic Vehicle. Do you know how to drive it?

Hudson Free Spirit

Do you understand what  the various controls, switches etc do?

Jaguar E Type

The modern Classic is probably quite straightforward and not too much different from its modern counterparts. It is unlikely to have sat nav, cruise control, anti lock brakes or air conditioning. It might possibly have power assisted steering and could have electric windows.

Our Man James now looks at the older vehicles and considers some of the equipment you may find in your new purchase.

MG VA Saloon

Looking at the instruments, you should find a speedometer and maybe a fuel gauge which will be familiar, temperature gauge too perhaps. There could be an ammeter showing if your dynamo is charging and an oil pressure gauge to tell you if the engine is healthy. This is an important item. You need to know what your particular vehicle should be showing, when cold and hot. An M.G.B. for instance should show 60-80 lbs per sq inch when started but a Morris Cowley of the 1920’s may have only 5-10lbs. A sudden drop in pressure indicates that there is a problem and you should stop the engine and investigate. A rise in pressure can mean a blocked oil way which is equally serious.

Switches will vary from car to car to control, lights, indicators, wipers etc.

Watch out for the pedals though. On some prewar vehicles you will find that the accelerator is the middle one and the brake is on the right. A Model T Ford needs a special paragraph and will be dealt with shortly.

Have you a manual gearbox, automatic or a pre-select one? Manual ones are simple enough but beware, some are the wrong way around. First being bottom right and top being where first is. 3 speed boxes often have reverse where first should be. All this makes life interesting if you are not concentrating. Certain cars have the gear lever on the right hand side. This often goes up the driver’s trouser leg on entering or exiting the car. Our Man James was filming on a Miss Marple set and was waiting for traffic lights to turn green. When they did he inadvertently selected reverse and ran into the hero’s car behind, all because the gear change was back to front.

The pre-select gearbox will be found on many Daimlers. Lanchesters and Rileys. Everything looks normal as regards the pedals and you will see a gearshift either on the steering column or maybe on the floor. There is no H pattern as the changes are linear. Starting a car fitted with such a box, produces a strange whining noise which is the fluid flywheel. Whilst the car is in Neutral you will see that the clutch pedal comes  only halfway up its normal travel. To engage gear move the lever to 1. Nothing will happen until you depress the clutch pedal and it is wise to put your right foot on the brake at this point. You must treat the clutch pedal as a switch, give it a sharp tap and let go. Do not attempt to slip the clutch and ease the power in, the fluid flywheel takes care of that.Although the car will now try and creep forward it is restrained by your foot on the brake pedal. Letting go will cause the car to move and a gentle touch of the throttle will send you on your way. Select the next gear and hit the clutch ‘switch’ and so on to the 3rd and 4th. At a T junction you will have selected 2 perhaps. Simply slow the car on the brake and when ready, move off by pushing the throttle pedal. You do not need to touch the clutch as you would in the case of a manual gearbox. Reversing is the same. Select R, tap the clutch pedal and off you go.

The Model T Ford deserves special mention. Our Man James would defer to Neil Tucker ( www.modeltford.co.uk ) as the acknowledged expert on this particular vehicle in the U.K. and it is believed that on purchasing a vehicle from him, he is prepared to offer driving instruction on his Buckinghamshire farm.

There are many versions of the Model T, saloon, tourer, Doctor’s Coupe and a host of commercials, but all share the same basic controls. A young gentleman from Birmingahm arrived one day in a shiny white Transit  to inspect a Model T van . It was love at first sight until he was offered a test drive. It was all too much for the poor chap and he returned home with a puzzled look on his face.

The apprentices at Ford’s Dagenham factory built a Model T tourer from scratch. It is a beautiful re creation but how many of them could actually drive it?

Ford Model T Van inside  It looks harmless enough. You see three pedals and a handbrake, what is hard about that?

Take the pedals. The left hand one , the clutch perhaps? No, depress it and the car moves forward in low gear, release it and you are in top, heading for the scenery at a fair rate of knots. Hit the middle one to slow up?-Mistake, it is reverse . The brake is on the right.

Where is the accelerator then?- its a lever on the steering column. When in doubt reach for the handbrake? Um no. There are three positions for the handbrake. Half way is a form of neutral and best marked in some way with a bit of chalk or paint along its track. Some say you should be in this position to start the car, others suggest you start with the lever right back. The fully forward position will release the car if it has not taken itself off already.

Some Model T’s have a self starter, others need to be wound over on the crank handle. It is important to know that the car is in neutral before winding the handle as it is quite possible that the car will eagerly leap forward with unfortunate consequences. If in doubt it is recommended that the rear wheels are jacked up off the ground prior to starting. It is easy to see if the car is in neutral and if it actually isn’t, no harm will be done.

Having said this, there is enormous pleasure to be had from mastering a Model T. It has respectable performance and attracts enormous interest at Shows and Rallies. There is also a feeling of reverence towards those that have learned to live with one. Don’t be put off and certainly add one to your wish list.

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