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Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

An “Auto” Biography

Singer 9 Le Mans.

I’ve had a lot of cars. Even a quick count has the total over 100. However, as I have been besotted by cars all my life, this means there is a fair swathe of time that covers.

My first motoring memory was a wonderful BRG Singer 9 Le Mans sports car which my father bought post WWII. He said it was one of the three Singers entered at Le Mans, and even though it had huge headlights with stone guards, it probably wasn’t one of the team cars. Dad was known to tell a few fibs, but I loved that car. I cried when it was sold. 

The next family car was a 1933 Morris Minor sedan. What a come-down from the racy Singer, but at least I was allowed to drive it on the deserted country roads of Scotland. The fact that the accelerator was in the middle, for some peculiar reason known only to William Morris (later Lord Nuffield), made driving the next car a problem till I got used to the normal position for the go pedal being on the right. The Morris was sold to the wreckers with a slipping clutch in 1953. I cried when that one went as well.

The first car I actually “owned” was a 1949 Austin A40 Devon. This model is distinguishable from the 1950 A40 Devon, in that it does not have quarter lights. I’m sure you will be on the lookout from now on. It does not really deserve to be remembered, other than the fact that I had to learn auto repairs to keep it running. My father bought me another Haynes manual, my automotive bibles.

By this stage in my ‘auto’ biography I had joined the MG Car Club (after beating an MG TF with the A40 in an unauthorized street race!) and I bought a BRG 1949 MG TC. I really was the starving medical student, working as a night watchman at the Red Cross Blood Bank and pumping petrol at the weekends and convinced a bank manager to give me a loan for “Text books”.


Having been seconded to a hospital in the Australian outback as a medical student, my next vehicle was a 1953 Ford V8 Customline. A lazy flat-head, side valve, huge lumbering beast that wallowed along the red dirt roads of western Queensland. It eventually disgraced itself by breaking a front stub axle and gently turned turtle on a suburban back street.

Buying another rather tatty Customline in 1964 for $50, I transferred all the good bits and traded it in for $175 on my next car, a black 1955 MGA, complete with a slipping clutch but with a new one in a box on the passenger’s seat. Another Haynes manual later and the MGA now had a clutch and numbers on the doors with white shoe polish and my racing career began.

A working trip to the UK and Europe in 1966 saw my first Mk VII Jaguar in the garage, followed by another Mk VII M. Just like the Customlines, I cannibalized the two cars, kept the best one (VII M) and sold the tatty one.

After two years in the UK and Europe I received an offer I couldn’t refuse for the VII M Jaguar and then bought a Fiat 1100 to last me for the final three months of my stay in the UK before taking up a position as a ship’s surgeon for the voyage back to Australia. It cost five pounds, drank oil, produced a smokescreen that could bring out the fire brigade, but it lasted the 12 weeks. I parked it on Tilbury Docks in London and threw the keys in the water. (If it is still there, you can have it.)

On my return to Australia I bought a Mini 850 (sliding window variety) and a 1965 MGB roadster and an MGB fire damaged shell. Once again, cannibalizing the MGBs I built the first of the Super Bee series MGB race cars, which I drove for the British Leyland Works Team in Australia.

To tow the race car, a Chrysler Valiant ex-ambulance was purchased. What a great vehicle this was. All sorts of nooks and crannies to store tools, a stretcher to sleep on after we all took turns at driving the outfit the thousands of kilometers between home base Brisbane and race meetings in Sydney New South Wales. This had an added advantage that cars in front would see an ambulance bearing down on them and get out of the way, to be left perplexed as an ambulance with a trailer and a race car would rocket past!

When British Leyland pulled out of Australia, I was offered a very special one-off Mini Clubman GT 1275 (Shamus). What a wonderful pocket rocket that was! But oh, the quality, or lack of. Gearbox mountings, door handles, wipers, seat mounts etc etc etc all broke. After two years, Mini Clubman GT was traded in on the first of my Citroens, a new GS 1220 Club.

Thankfully it came with a warranty, as it was back at the dealership with no front brake pads after 3,000 km. The inboard discs were a swine to get at, and I only kept the GS for 12 months, replacing it with my first Japanese car. A friend sold Toyotas and I said I would buy one if it was faster than the Citroen, so a fully optioned Toyota Crown with air-conditioning that even had a crutch blower, in case the dangly bits got overheated, was next in the garage.

Toyota Crown

It was a lovely car to drive, but really too pedestrian for me, and as I had returned to racing cars, the Crown had to go. So what came next? I’m afraid you will have to wait for another day, as there are lots more to come!


What did we learn from the Spanish GP?

Well, we learned that you can take the best 20 drivers in the best 20 cars and you can produce something so boring you become very glad you weren’t paying for the telecast. It was interesting to read one of the comments regarding the televised “best bits”. The comment went: “What best bits?”

What I did notice from my stool at Fletchers Folly was just how inept was the Ferrari pit wall. There was Leclerc obviously faster than Vettel and they left both Ferrari team cars tripping themselves up. When Leclerc finally got the nod to pass Vettel, he scampered away, only to be brought into the pits for a tyre change and put on to the slower (hard) rubber, so Vettel had the advantage once more.

Of course, I should have mentioned the Mercedes team cars which finished first and second for the fifth successive time. Whomever comes out leading in the first corner then stays leading for the rest of the race. Hamilton led every lap for the entire 66 laps, good drive, but totally boring, with Bottas second for every lap, double boring. Liberty Media and the FIA you will have to do better. All over the world you could hear the snores.

Rather than being totally negative, how about these ideas to sparkle up the spectacle: Success balance as used in touring cars. Every point from the last race translates into a 10 kg extra weight to be carried.

Another idea – reverse grids. ‘Sand bagging’ is countered by awarding points reducing from fastest to slowest.

Tyres. Only one grade of tyre to be used, but of soft compound so pit stops will still be necessary.

Of the newcomers, Lando Norris (McLaren) continues to impress, even though he was given the elbow by Lance Stroll (Team Rich Daddy).

The finishing order was the same as Qualifying, other than the first corner where Bottas was beaten by Hamilton.

L. Hamilton Mercedes·#44

V. Bottas Mercedes·#77

M. Verstappen Red Bull·#33

S. Vettel Ferrari·#5

C. Leclerc Ferrari # 16

The next GP is Monaco, May 26, a track which invites the drivers to try out their judgment, and most fail to get it right. The telecast will be at 8 p.m. Thai time. I will be watching at Fletchers Folly (300 meters before the Chicken Intersection on Siam Country Club Road and opposite Maxxis tyres).


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked what is this car?

Engine: one-cylinder, four-stroke

Displacement: 1660 cm³

Output: 2.5 hp (1.8 kW) at 500 rpm

Surface carburetor

Valves: automatic intake valve, controlled exhaust valve

Cooling system: water/thermosiphon cooling system

Lubrication: drip-feed lubricator and grease cap

Ignition: electric high voltage buzzer ignition

Tank: 4.5 liters in the carburetor

Starter: turning the flywheel

What car was this? Clue: Driven by a lady on Sundays.

It was the very first Benz, driven by Bertha Benz, who had “stolen” the car from her husband’s workshop.

(From the M-B website) “Decades of poverty and scorn now gave way to recognition and affluence. Many years were to pass before the innovation was generally accepted by the mass of the population. But in the 20th century the automobile was to become one of the most important cultural advances of the new era. Nobody would now dare to deny the great contribution to modern life made by the Benz family. And it was not least Bertha who made this possible: with her unshakeable belief, her capital and her bravery she made a major contribution to this success story. On her 95th birthday she was proclaimed an honorary senator by the Technical University of Karlsruhe. Bertha, who was never allowed to study herself because of the social constraints of her time. When she died two days later, she departed in peace. As a woman who allowed nothing and nobody to dissuade her from her visions.”

With the FIA now patting itself on the back for having a “Women’s” class in racing, they have also forgotten Bertha Benz who was the best driver of her time. However, Automania has not forgotten her.

So to this week. 22,000 orders on its first day of its release with only 101 BHP engine. What was this car?

For the Automania dehydrated beer this week (just add hops and water and store in a dark cupboard), be the first correct answer to email [email protected] or [email protected] Good luck!

Spanish GP this weekend

Barcelona is the venue for the fifth Grand Prix of the season. And probably the last Spanish GP for a while as the Dutch GP wants the slot.

The Spanish GP is on this weekend, and the questions on everyone’s lips is can Ferrari take the game to Mercedes and will the Ferrari pit wall allow Leclerc to pass Vettel, and can Bottas keep his team mate behind him?

Spain has a long history in GP racing, and the 5 km Circuit Catalunya was opened in 1991. A temporary chicane was built at ‘Nissan’ (a very shallow curve) in 1994, but for 1995, ‘Nissan’ was straightened reducing the length of a lap to the 5 km length.

Will it be another dirty air DRS? Will Ricciardo find reverse gear again? Will Kvyat do another torpedo trick? We will know the answers to all these questions by Sunday night.

I will be watching the F1 in front of the screen in Fletchers Folly, Siam Country Club Road, opposite MAXXis tyres and 300 meters from the Mitkamol (Chicken) intersection. The race will start at 8 p.m. but we get there early and have some dinner from the pub menu. Why not join me for dinner and a beer before the race?


Welch plugs

Any DIY motorist has come across a leaking welch plug at some stage. Please note this is not a discourse on Welsh people in the world.

I was reminded of this after reading Gavin Charlesworth’s Facebook item on correction of some sloppy work where a previous owner had tried to stop a welch plug leak with a smear of silastic or similar on the outside when the initial problem is on the inside.

Back in the early days when my transport was a 10 year old 1949 Austin A 40, the welch plug at the rear of the block began to weep. This I ignored, but by the time it had got to Niagara Falls proportions I realized I was going to have to do something.

Looking at the problem and listening to the advice which was, “Take the engine out.” This was far beyond my nascent skills, so I looked for Plan B.

Eye-balling the plug I could see I could measure its position relative to the engine side of the firewall. After that I could use the same measurements on the cabin side of the firewall, which should lead me straight to the leaking plug, provided my measurements were accurate.

Using a hole saw I cut through the firewall and Hallelujah, there was the culprit in direct vision. Hammer and chisel soon dispatched the rusty welch plug.

I cleaned the hole where the new plug was going to sit and offered it up, through the firewall. A couple of blows and the plug flattened itself into position.

All that was left was to close the hole in the firewall which was done by using the circle from the hole saw and some duct tape.

From that humble beginning I went on to such technological marvels as extracting broken exhaust studs, retrieving screws dropped into the inlet manifold, un-jamming a gearbox locked in first (as the ball bearing was stuck partially out of the synchro ring).

Whilst I am not at the level of Gavin, I am a dab hand with a gas axe to remove mudguards!


 Tesla posts surprisingly large 1st Q loss

Tom Krisher & Michael Liedtke

San Francisco (AP) — Tesla CEO Elon Musk had prepped Wall Street for a first quarter loss but analysts were still stunned by its size: $702.1 million, among the company's worst quarters in the past two years.

The net loss of $4.10 per share left Musk spending much of a conference call explaining how it happened. But he also extolled his forecast that demand and profit margins will increase as Tesla rolls out updated products and pricing for its three models, and sells more battery storage units.

Musk predicted another loss in the second quarter but said Tesla would be back in the black in the third quarter. The first quarter loss came after two consecutive profitable quarters, the first time that's happened in Tesla's 15-year history.

The company said that due to "unforeseen challenges" it was only able to deliver half of the vehicles ordered in the quarter by March 31 as it ramped up deliveries in Europe and China.

Tesla's cash balance at the end of the quarter shrunk by $1.5 billion since December, to $2.2 billion. The company attributed the decline to a $920 million bond payment, and Musk said it might be time for Tesla to raise capital again.

The company still expects to produce 360,000 to 400,000 vehicles this year, and if a new Chinese factory hits volume production at the end of the year, it could make 500,000.

Tesla likely is nearing its "cash floor," the amount it needs in the checking account to pay all the bills, said Gartner analyst Michael Ramsey.

"It's anxiety provoking," Ramsey said. If Tesla continues burning cash at the first quarter rate, it would run out of money in less than six months.

But Ramsey said that's not likely. If Tesla can produce and sell all the vehicles that it predicts in the current quarter, it will generate a lot of cash, easing its problem. Tesla said it believes deliveries will hit 90,000 to 100,000 vehicles from April through June.

Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn, meanwhile, hinted on the conference call that Tesla will build its new semi starting next year at its factory near Reno, Nevada. That's where the battery and electric drive units will be made, he said.

And Musk said the company will decide in the next few weeks whether it will build the Model Y small SUV in Nevada or at its Fremont, California, factory. Deliveries are scheduled to start in the fall of 2020.

 Tesla Model Y.

Another problem for Tesla is fading sales of its higher-priced models S and X as the vehicles age. But Tuesday night, the company announced updates to both, including a new drive system that increases the range by 10 percent per electric charge. Long-range versions of the S will be able to go 370 miles per charge, for example. The vehicles also will get new suspensions, faster acceleration and more comfortable rides, Tesla said.

Tesla has lost more than $6 billion since setting out to revolutionize the auto industry 15 years ago, but Musk foresees a profitable future fueled in part by a ride-hailing service made up of electric cars driven by robots.

Musk believes Tesla's technology is capable of letting the vehicles drive themselves. That terrifies some critics who worry Musk's plan to transport passengers in self-driving Teslas without a human to take control in emergencies will maim and kill people.


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked, what is this car? It was another example of engineers hoping six wheels would bring improved traction and handling on the track. The car was set to compete in the 12 hours of Sebring event in 1970, but it was stolen by some teenage hooligans before the race. It was an Alfa Romeo T33/6/12 race car that was tested at Sebring Raceway on April 1, 1970. (Date significant?)

So to this week. Here are the specifications for a very important car in the history of the automobile.


one-cylinder, four-stroke

Displacement: 1660 cm³ Output: 2.5 hp (1.8 kW) at 500 rpm

Surface carburetor

Valves: automatic intake valve, controlled exhaust valve

Cooling system: water/thermosiphon cooling system

Lubrication: drip-feed lubricator and grease cap

Ignition: electric high voltage buzzer ignition

Tank: 4.5 liters in the carburetor

Starter: turning the flywheel

What car was this? Clue: Driven by a lady on Sundays.

For the Automania dehydrated beer this week (just add hops and water and store in a dark cupboard), be the first correct answer to email [email protected] or [email protected] Good luck!


Car Club (Aka Natter, Nosh and Noggin)

The Car Club enthusiasts meets on Monday 13th May at Fletchers Folly Siam Country Club Road, 300 meters before the Mitkamol (Chicken) intersection and opposite Maxxis tyre outlet. Very casual group, starts around 6.30 – 7 p.m. The meeting is for enthusiasts, you don’t even need to own a car! Lively chat covering everything from ball bearings to ball tearers.


Vintage pick-up required.

Norm Aylward, a friend of a friend lives in Pattaya, and is a Harley Davidson enthusiast. He has both modern and classic bikes that he uses and shows. He’s probably the most knowledgeable guy on Harley Davidsons in Thailand. He’s a Canadian but speaks fluent Thai.

Norm has asked if I know of any car enthusiast friends or group members who has a vintage truck (pick-up) who likes to attend car and bike shows, as Norm would like to team up with someone who can transport his old Harley Panhead and go with him to attend various shows around Thailand. Norm says there is an event, which is mainly attended by Thais, up at Srinakarin Dam, Kanchanaburi on 16th November 2019 that he’d like to attend, so he’s interested to find a like-minded enthusiast with a classic or vintage pickup for that visit.

Any suggestions or contacts that I can pass on to Norm would be very much appreciated.


Old Benz wanted

I’ve sold my Jaguar XJ6 and am looking for a 1984 to 1991 Mercedes Benz W126 body either a 280 SE, 380 SE of 500 SE as a daily driver. As long as it has a solid rust free body and a clean and tidy interior I’ll be happy. I’ll even be interested in one retrofitted with a Toyota engine. Looking around the THB 150,000 price range. If you hear of one for sale please let me know.

Graeme Moore, email [email protected]


Mercedes Benz W 126.


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

An “Auto” Biography

Spanish GP this weekend