Charles Holford reports:
Recently I was reviewing the article on pressure feed crankshaft three bearing engines. One came into my possession in 1969. They must be very rare for many reasons. How many Nippys were made with three bearing engines? Not so many and even fewer with pressure feed to the crank because they cost more and there was more choice of small sports cars by then. How many three bearing pressure feed engines are known to exist? In addition the pressure feed three bearing would have been just as liable to crankshaft fracture as the normal “spit and hope” three bearing engine, the fracture being caused by main bearing differential wear or poor fitting of the centre main bearing resulting in misalignment and flexing of the crank. The one in the earlier post here could have been unearthed by me in 1969-70. At the time I was a Medical House Office at the Mayday Hospital in Croydon. If you work in a large NHS Hospital it does not take you long to work out that the nerve centre of the hospital is the telephone switch board. I think this applies to any large institution! The switch board girls (they were nearly all women then) knew all and everything about anybody who worked in the institution. They were a mine of information but incredibly discrete. It was best to keep on the right side of the switch board staff and I was a regular visitor to their lair hidden away in the depths of the building.
By this time I was already a Nippy enthusiast and frequently scanned Exchange and Mart for Austin Seven parts. It was unofficial but the switch board staff used to let me phone sellers in the evenings without charge to me; not really allowed – but doing me a favour. One of them must have overheard a call as afterwards she came on the line and asked me what I was hoping to find. “I need some spare parts for an old car, an Austin Seven Nippy” I replied. “No, I don’t believe it” came the reply. “My brother has got one of those in bits in his cellar…”
I nearly fell off my chair but in no time she had given me his name, address and telephone number. Contact was made and not long after I was outside a terraced house somewhere in Croydon soon to be lead down some basement steps into a poorly lit room. There was an almost complete 1937 Nippy, completely dismantled, all components removed from the chassis. Even the engine was part dismantled with the sump, block and head removed.
I did not have the funds to buy the whole car but the engine lower half was a three bearing and looked to be in good condition so I asked the owner how much it was. “Oh, I don’t know, give us ten quid”. The deal was done and I went home with the engine.
Later I looked at it and I am able to tell you it was exactly as the one in the archive photos, centre bearing pressure feed, no “spit and hope” system and plates on the crank webs. There were brass and/or silver soldered plugged drill ways on the sides of the big end journals but no visible signs of drilling or plugs anywhere on the crank webs each side of the center bearing. I realized it was a pressure feed crank but could not work out exactly how oil was transmitted from the centre bearing to the rest of the crankshaft.
At this time I did not know that there were Nippy three bearing pressure feed engine and mistakenly I thought it may have come from a “Grasshopper”. I also did not know that early Grasshoppers had pressure feed two bearing engines and only later did the Le Mans Grasshoppers have three bearing pressure feed engines. The upshot of all of this is that a year or so later I decided to sell the engine and advertised it as ” Austin Seven pressure fed three bearing crank engine ?Ex-Grasshopper”.
I really cannot remember the price, perhaps £ 150. Anyway a gentleman from the 750 Motor Club came to see it and the deal was done. He seemed very pleased. I do remember that the individual had a first name that was not so common in those days. When I sold the engine it would have been about 1971 when I was working at St James Hospital Balham, London. Others may have knowledge of these events but it is a long time ago. What happened to the car in the cellar I do not know.
Any more 3 bearing engines out there in cars or in garages? Perhaps we can network the owners…
By the way, its awfully quiet on here despite a massive readership. I could do with some new material (like Charles’, here) being put forward, or any offers from those who might like to get involved with editing the Nippy archive via the wordpress system. It would be a good way for Nippy owners or supporters to support their restorations or networking. Do let us know of cars you hear come up for sale or of new owners. There are some Nippy fliers I can send out to those interested if you cover the postage!