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Driving a Standard Big 9 Swallow back to Brighton.

Gary Edwards Drives his Standard Big 9 Swallow 207 miles home to Brighton driving a pre-War car - sensible or madness?

Gary writes:

I am no stranger to driving a pre-War car, my regular driver and my "modern" is a 1934 Austin 7 Ruby. This has been my main steed since 2020, when I was using this in preference to my other "modern" a 1965 Rover P6. I was driving the P6 less and less, and took the decision to sell the car and divert my attentions to driving my pre-War cars - it is not a mad as it sounds!

The Ruby is an easy car to drive, modern cars have the same foot pedal layout, they also follow the same gear change gate pattern, so driving a modern car and then a Ruby seems familiar to a driver not used to pre-War motoring.

In addition, I had modified my Ruby to make it more usable in today's traffic, for example, it has a hydraulic brake conversion to replace the cable brakes, a close-ratio gearbox to help with hill-climbing and minor engine modifications to improve performance. With these changes, my Ruby is quite usable - the car is insured for business use as well as pleasure and the miles do build up. Long journeys are completely feasible, in 2022, I did the "End to End" run organised by an Austin 7 Club, which was a Land's End to John o'Groats (LEJoG), or a John o'Groats to Land's End (JoGLE), I went both ways!

I have three pre-War cars, the other two are both Swallows, a 1930 Austin 7 Swallow saloon and a 1930 Standard Swallow saloon. The Austin 7 Swallow is comparable to the Ruby, but retains its original cable brakes and has a 3-speed crash gearbox. This is a lighter car being aluminium bodied so goes well and performs well, but its top speed falls short of what I have obtained in the Ruby - the final drive gearing is different so it will not achieve the same top speed.

The Standard Swallow is a different beast, it has a much more vintage feel, is bigger and has a more powerful engine, 1287cc's compared to the Austin's 747cc's.

The Standard Swallow has cable brakes to the front and rod brakes to the rear. The handbrake operates on all four wheels. Brakes are up to the job and if extra leverage is required the handbrake lever can be pulled. It has a 4-speed crash gearbox, but is actually quite easy to get the gear changes without crunching.

Last known to have been taxed in 1938, the Standard Swallow was to make its debut at the 2024 Practical Classics Car & Restoration Show at the NEC and appeared on the Club stand.

Prior to the Show, whilst the car was in a roadworthy condition, I had done very little proper road-testing to iron out any teething issues, so the car was largely untested. Consequently, In order to ensure that I arrived at the Show, I arranged with a transport firm to trailer the car from Brighton to Birmingham, but I decided that the return journey would be made under the car's own power.

Was this absolute madness or do-able?

Well, I had a back-up plan in place. I have AA Recovery, so there is a fall back - I would get home no matter what!

My first task for a long journey in a pre-War car was to determine the route - it would NOT be on the motorway (although I have driven my Austin 7 several times on the M27 and M4) and also to avoid dual carriageways where national speed limit applies.

I look for a route, or rather a series of routes, that take me away from the cut & thrust of modern traffic, onto quieter and much more enjoyable roads. I pick out key places that should give me the route I want.

I then programme these into my satnav as a series of numbered steps (so they are all listed in the correct order) and with the satnav set to "avoid motorways" and "shortest route" I can then rely on this to do the job. Sometimes, in order to force the satnav to take the route I want, the steps are quite small, could be say 5-10 miles, rather than say 50 miles, as inevitably, the satnav will force you onto roads that you are wishing to avoid - the A* algorithm that satnavs use do not always calculate the shortest distance correctly, I suspect that there are local "blocks"imposed to keep traffic levels low...

Generally, the steps work well, sometimes, during the route a road ahead is closed and an alternative route has to be chosen, often, these days in my experience, they don't bother to put in a diversion and leave drivers to fend for themselves and the satnav is useful to re-calculate a revised route for that particular step.

Thus, I planned my journey home to Brighton from the NEC, away from the NEC to the East was dual carriageways & motorways - to be avoided absolutely, so that left going West through the suburbs and Solihull to reach open countryside. I had around 13 steps to get me down to Chichester on the south coast back to roads that I could easily drive without the assistance of the satnav.

Once away from Birmingham, I was on delightful roads and went through pretty villages, and well away from traffic! Often, I would drive for many miles without seeing cars, either on-coming or behind, such a different experience to driving on the main roads.

Of course, the average speeds are lower on these roads and the journey does take longer - which was wholly anticipated. The overall mileage was about 30 miles longer than using the motorway network.

There were a couple of places where I joined a fast "A" road for a short distance and I had to cross a very busy roundabout on the A27 at Chichester during rush-hour, which was challenging and would have been the case even in a modern car (if there ever was a place that a roundabout needed traffic lights, this would be it!).

So, was the journey of 207 miles from the NEC to Brighton madness or do-able?

Well, a resounding YES it was do-able, taking into consideration the extra time required for the journey, there are many more smiles per mile and it was a very enjoyable experience. Pre-War cars in reasonable order should be quite capable of undertaking long distances under their own power, but having the back-up of breakdown cover gives confidence in knowing you & your car will get home one way or another.

My journey of actual driving took around 9 hours, longer adding in breaks to about 10 hours, the driving averaged out of a distance achieved of just under 25 miles per hour. Most of the journey, probably about 150 miles out of the 207, there was not a single traffic light, and reasonable progress could be made. Route planning and allowing the time for the journey mean that 200 miles in a day is possible, longer journeys might need to be broken with an over-night stop, so long distances should not be a barrier to driving your car, it is all part of the adventure!"

All the best, Gary.


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Phil Homer


Standard Motor Club



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