Owner: Richard Duffy
Model: Heavy 12/4
Austin Heavy 12/4 Open Road Tourer.
How it all began.
It would be fair to say that anyone who had an interest in vintage cars would have a particular interest in ‘open cars’. These ‘rag-top’ cars as Open Road Tourers were usually called were very difficult to find and usually very pricy.
I had always wanted to have a ‘rag-top’ vintage car but prices and availability were a problem. I also wanted an original tourer and not a converted saloon. The car that I had in mind was the ubiquitous Ford Model T.
Then in March 2003 the chance came to acquire a ‘rag-top’. While tidying the family grave in the local cemetery in preparation for the coming Patron Day I got into conversation with a neighbour, and the conversation included vintage cars. He enquired if I was interested in another old car. I replied that I had enough cars. But the mention of a car “with a canvass roof” sounded interesting and he undertook to find out more about it.
The car was in a shed on a farm near Arklow in Co Wicklow. A few days later I was given a piece of paper with a name and ‘phone number on it. I had this piece of paper in my pocket for a few days when I mentioned it to my son, Ciarán. I still wasn’t too enthusiastic about another car, especially when there were five in the barn waiting to be restored. But this was a ‘rag-top’ and tourers were rare cars. Ciarán persuaded me that I should check it anyway. Eventually on March 19th I rang the number and after speaking to Mr James Kavanagh, a date and time was arranged to view the car. .James said the car was a 1929/30 Austin 12.
At the time of writing the exact date of manufacture has not been established. Wicklow Co. Council has issued a replacement tax book dated January 1929. I think this is too early. When the car was taxed on 24 August 2004, the Meath Co. Council computer records listed the car as last taxed in 1931. That would mean it could be at least a 1930 car. Finbarr Corry, in his book “The Automobile Treasury of Ireland”, dates the car as 1931.
Both Ciarán and I drove down to Arklow the next day and met with James. The car was parked in an open farm shed with a dust cover over it. At first sight I knew that this was what I was looking for and for some reason I didn’t examine it very closely. I didn’t remove the cover completely. I didn’t even start the engine or turn over the engine with the handle. Somehow I felt that it was a genuine car and all I needed to check was if it was an Irish registered car or an import. The reg. number IZ 1912 was Co Mayo and James said that he had the tax book in the house. The next thing was the price. We adjourned to the house and over numerous mugs of coffee the haggling started. Eventually we parted without agreeing on a price. I had made an offer that James said he could not take and we left him “to think about it”. James said that he had considered taking the car to the UK to sell it. As we drove away Ciarán expressed concern that we might lose the best chance to acquire a ‘ragtop’. I had hoped that James might take the offer just as we were leaving. He didn’t and as we drove off I said that I would ring him to see if he had changed his mind. My intentions were to ring the following evening and if necessary I would agree to James’ price.
When I came home I rang Noel Clinton, our club chairman, for his views and on the 21st of March I rang Arklow. Before I could make my offer James named a price that was below the one I had in mind. The deal was done there and then. All arrangements to collect the car were made and with the assistance of Noel and his transporter we took IZ 1912 Austin Heavy 12/4 Open Road Tourer home. Every time I looked at the car convinced me that this was what I had always wanted in a tourer. The car was complete, nothing was missing. It was original and had not been modified. The chrome-work was very good. The only fault mentioned by James was just a minor water leak from the water pump.
Of course, when home, we had to ‘try it out’ and a quick check of the ignition points and a splash of petrol into the tank and we were off. Everything worked, the lights, trafficators, horn, wipers etc so we were confident heading out on the road even at a very late hour. With the roof down and wind in the hair and bugs in the teeth we sped along enjoying the first ever drive in a ‘rag-top’ car. The first stop was the nearest fuel station in nearby Balbriggan to fill up with petrol. Things like tax or insurance were not even considered. Well, not until we broke-down and the police drove by as we opened the bonnet on the car with no lights on the side of a busy road in darkness. A motorist stopped and offered to drive me home for the tools to sort the problem. A piece of a leaf under a valve in the autovac was the problem. The problem returned further along the road so we just towed it home. A complete clean out of the fuel system solved the problem.
Insurance was arranged and the car was checked out on a few trips and it performed splendidly. On April 10th the leaking exhaust was repaired. By now the leak at the water pump was checked out and with assistance from Pat Morgan, a club member, a new water pump and dynamo chain were sourced and fitted.
On April 17th the spindle in the carburettor was rebushed and this improved the engine idling. About this time I rang James Kavanagh about the tax book. The tax book could not be located and after many attempts by James to get a duplicate he gave me all the details and after considerable hassle and weeks later I got the book from Wicklow Co. Council.
The reflectors in the headlamps needed to be resilvered and I brought them to the Stafford Auto jumble in the UK and ‘S and T’ chrome-platers resilvered them.
The condition of the roof was often discussed at club meetings and Jim Hadcock, another club member who happens to have worked all his life in the car upholstery business, agreed to have a look at it on the 13th of May. A new roof was needed and as soon as he was in a position Jim would make and fit one.
Saturday 30th June the 12/4 had a faultless run to the Virginia Vintage Show and back. On the 7th July the 12/4 was at Clontibret Co Monaghan Vintage Show and one week later visited the local Ring Commons Field Day.
By now the decision was to do a full restoration on the car. This would really be paintwork, all upholstery/interior work and new hood. March ’03 was the starting time.
Dismantling started with removal of the rear bumpers, timber pieces on the hood frame, rear panel timber piece, rear lights, rear wings, luggage carrier, rear valance, spare wheel carrier pieces. The base of the rear body was rusted and this was
cut out and replaced. Next removed were the running boards and brackets, all seats, wood flooring pieces. The chassis was checked and it was in sound condition. The seat runners needed some welding and then were painted. The battery lead connections were cleaned and sorted. The handbrake mechanism was removed, cleaned, freed out and refitted
It was now the turn of the doors. These were removed and examined. All the hinges were bent and all had washers used to space and adjust the doors. The paint stripping from the doors proved to be quite a task. There appeared to be up to seven changes of paint colour on the car. The shade of blue on it now, a lighter shade of blue, white, black, a blue similar to the present shade and couple of blacks with primer in between and the original colour. The original colour matched the final colour which meant that the car was painted in its correct colour. The front bumper, front wings and headlamps were removed. The paint on the body was next removed. The bodywork was in perfect sound condition. This pointed to the car having had a sheltered life.
The first work to be done on the tourer roof was to the wood pieces. The wood piece fitted to the rear of the body had to be replaced because of all the tack holes from previous fitted hoods. The timber was sound enough but there would be problems trying to get the tacks to hold the new hood. The two wood pieces fitted to the hood frame were in similar condition and were also replaced. The timber was ash and I was able to source the pieces from Gerry Stretton, a timber supplier to our college Woodwork Department. With assistance from work colleague, Jim Boylan the pieces were rough-cut to shape using a band saw. The final shaping was done using of a plane, spoke shave and wood chisels. The rear piece was easy enough to shape but the other two pieces were more difficult. The front timber had to have a piece removed to allow the wiper arms space to move when the screen was opened. When finished and fitting properly they were undercoated and finished in black paint. The metal brackets and fittings were all cleaned of surface rust and also painted black together with the hood frame. All three wood pieces were then fitted in place on the hood frame quite easily.
The dismantling of the remainder of the car started on June 30th ’03. The first bits removed were the front screen pillar chrome covers. This was followed by six side screens, two trafficators, two dash wood side pieces, two scuttle vent doors, one wiper motor and wiper arms, timber strip across dash, two screen clamps, two side lamps, two head lamps, one radiator surround, two flitch plates, two chassis panels, two kick panels, four door panels, four doors, complete bonnet, front bumper and bracket, front valance rear luggage carrier, rear bumpers, rear valance, spare wheel carrier (five bits), rear lamp, two rear wings, petrol tank, two running boards c/w supports, two front seats, rear squab and rest, all carpeting, two front wings, and all door receivers. All these items were labelled and stored to be checked later. Some would require just cleaning and painting while some would need minor repairs done first. Also some bits would need to be rechromed. Details of the coach lines along each side of the body and doors were noted.
By early July the body, bonnet and the doors were ready for primer. Very little work was needed apart from minor filling. All door hinges were dismantled and all parts straighten and one pin made to replace a broken one. When fitted to the doors all fitted perfectly. This was a bit of a surprise as I expected to have a bit of work to get the doors to fit properly. Next job would be the painting of the body.
All areas were primed and prepared for finish colour. The first coat of colour had a lot of orange peel showing due to paint not thinned enough. Once again Noel Clinton was consulted and the result was a perfect finish (done by Noel using his own equipment on 20th August ‘03).
Paint mix; Add 50% hardener to paint, stir and leave for a few minutes, then add 50% (of mix) thinners and stir.
Two chrome on brass door receivers were very worn and these were repaired and prepared for rechroming. A number of bits required re-chroming. These were; two door receivers, two front screen clamps, four side screen catches and two headlamp base pieces.
The rear skirt was next to be stripped of all paint. It was in sound condition and only needed dents removed. It was etched primed and stored until later. (Minor blemishes to be repaired with stopping before final painting). The tail lamp was dismantled and all paint removed. It just needed repainting. The spare wheel carrier was next and all that it required was the centrepiece to be replaced by welding in a new bit. It was etch primed and left ready for colour. The spare wheel cover was stripped of all paint. It was in sound condition and awaited primer and paint.
On instructions from Jim Hadcock all side screens were dismantled. The covers were not original and would have to be re-covered and have new transparent pieces fitted. All bits were cleaned and painted. All were assembled to ensure no bits were lost. NB, all screws and nuts would have to be replaced with correct type
All door handles, locks and receivers were checked and necessary repairs done. On October 1st all four shocks were examined and only required topping up with fluid and adjusting.
The next thing to be done was the hood. Jim Hadcock was still working on other cars and wasn’t ready until Tuesday 28th of October. The car was transported to Jim’s and parked ready for the hood. Then Jim became ill and was hospitalised and didn’t start until early December. Some photos were taken using a digital camera to record the hood work.
In the meantime work was continuing on the other parts. The pieces to be chromed had returned and the two headlamps were re-assembled. The piece missing from one headlamp was made from brass sheet and fitted. All bits were then stored until reassembly time came. The paint stripping continued on the front and rear aprons, the four wings, the luggage carrier and the spare-wheel cover. This proved to be quite a task because of the amount of old paint. It took almost five litres of Nitromors paint remover to remove all the paint.
By December 4th the hood had progressed quite a bit and some ‘photos were taken. Work had commenced on the side-screens by December 23rd and the hood and side-screens were completed on January 21st. The new hood changed the appearance of the car completely. The car was transported home on January 24th. The radiator front honeycomb piece was fitted on February 4th.
The engine belly plates were cleaned and painted. The trafficators and the wiper motor were wired and tested. As the weather improved it was possible to prime the rear and front aprons. The four wings had all dents removed and minor welding repairs done. All were primed by February 21st.
The two running boards were next examined and new wood was needed. An old shop counter, salvaged from a demolished shop, was just perfect for the boards. These were planed all over and cut to rough size. The final cutting would be done when the wings were fitted.
The four wings, front and rear aprons and the luggage carrier were sprayed on March 27th. The reassembling started on March 31st with the fitting of the rear apron and rear bumper irons. The four wheels were stripped of tyres and sent for powder coating. By the 10th of April all four wings were fitted and the car was beginning to look very nice indeed. The bumpers, headlamps, side lamps and tail-lamp were next to be fitted and wired up. The final bit was the making of the running boards and fitting the rubber cover to them. The assembly work was completed on April 17th ’04. The upholstery work had still to be done.
For some reason a water loss problem occurred on a trip to the Celbridge Show. The problem seemed to be a faulty cylinder head gasket. The compression test had indicated a valve problem or a head gasket problem. The head was removed and skimmed and 4 new exhaust valves fitted (parts sourced by club member Gerry Hoey) but this did not cure the water loss problem. The water was being lost out through the radiator over-flow pipe. The previous owner had fitted a new radiator core and it seemed that the new water pump was delivering too much water to the header tank. Strangely it wasn’t doing this before the restoration work. All sorts of solutions were considered. Reducing the efficiency of the pump by machining the impellor was considered. A simply idea of restricting the flow to the pump was the first step. A 30mm diameter piece of aluminium with a ½” hole drilled in it was fitted into the bottom water hose. A road test showed that all was well up to 35 mph. Over 35 mph the water was still being lost. Another aluminium piece with a 3/8” hole was fitted and this proved to be just right. A good test of 50/55mph on the M1 for 20 miles showed no water loss. (When your running late for an important club football match you have to be merciless)
The car has been on club runs and at car shows during the summer. It has also done a few weddings as well. It drives very well returning over 30 miles to the gallon. It runs nicely at about 40 to 45 mph.
The upholstery work was scheduled for the winter of ‘04. The colour of the leather was selected at the annual Kilbroney Show.
On Saturday the 18th of September the car was delivered to Jim Hadcock to have the seats redone in new leather. On Thursday the 23rd I called to see Jim and discussed the work to be done. Jim advised doing a complete re-trim of the car in the correct materials. It was the only option as anything less than that would spoil the finished car.
On Monday October 4th the carpet type and colour was selected. Regular visits were made to see the progress and to wonder at the transformation that was taking place. On one such visit I was shown the nests that mice had built in the seats together with one of the mice. I took plenty of photos as the work progressed.
On November 29th Jim had the seats and the door trims completed and only had to make and fit the carpets. A few days later I got a call to say the car was ready for collection. I collected it on Saturday December 11th. I would say that it looked every bit as good if not better than it did when it left Longbridge almost 75 years ago.
To say that I was very pleased with Jim’s work would be an understatement. It was perfect in every way. A work of art. When the front seats were being done Jim fitted new springs and had me test the firmness. “It had to be right” he said. He then matched the other seat to this one. On the journey home after collecting the car I then understood why the seats “had to be right”. The sitting position was much improved and the seat itself much better as well.
There is a line from a well known song that goes “where have all the flowers gone...” Well the day will come (hopefully not for a long time yet) when we will say “where have all the skilled tradesmen or women gone”. I would be pretty sure that we do not have here in this country anyone who could come near the standards or quality of workmanship of our own club member Jim Hadcock when it comes to re-trimming a vintage car.
The car is now completed except for two minor items. The steering wheel needs recovering with plastic and the ‘auster-screen’ has to be re-chromed