Chapter One. In The Beginning
After Russell took ownership, he rebuilt the brakes, and had modern seals fitted to the rear brake hubs. This work was done by Brian Florimel in 1983. The gearbox had work done on it by John Needham (cost $250 in 1983) and new sealed bearings were fitted to the front hubs. I am not sure when Will Kerr bought the car from Russell, but I imagine it was around this time as Will told me he had fitted the brakes with Russell. Sometime after Will took ownership he discovered that engine had water in the oil and that there appeared to serious head or corrosion issues. The car then sat on blocks until the mid 1990s.
At this point I need to digress and thoroughly confuse the reader. In the mid 1990s I purchased a pair of Aprilias (1937 Berlina 38-4091) & (1938 platform chassis 39-2424) with a view to finishing the restoration of the Berlina sedan. The engine for this car had been apparently rebuilt many years before but never run. Prior to purchasing the car I had been told that the Berlina had a twist to the front of the car as the result of an accident. The car had been recently painted and looked good, and I was not overly worried about the residual accident damage as I knew that marvellous things can be done these days with Porta Power gear and the like. I should have looked more carefully, as it became apparent that it was beyond my capabilities to get the car to a standard that I would be happy with. A year or two later I was able to purchase another Aprilia (1937 Berlina 38-1761). This car had a nice straight body but had rusty sills and was missing many parts. Both of the two Berlinas had been previously owned by Nick Langford and then sold to a syndicate comprising Russell Meehan, Will Kerr and Graeme Steinfort (who was restoring another pre war Berlina.) At this time many of the parts of the cars were mixed up with each other, and some were used or kept for spares for the Stainless Stephen car. If the reader is confused, you might be able to imagine the incomplete jigsaw puzzle I was confronted with.
I eventually came to the conclusion that neither of the two Berlinas were a practical restoration project for someone of my skills, and then sold them to Tony Sammut for a very modest sum, with the comment that the rusty car might be a better prospect than the painted car, and that he really needed to think about importing a complete but rusty wreck from Europe to make a restoration viable. I did however keep both the platform chassis and the rebuilt engine (no 4260), as the chassis is one of the best examples surviving of its type, and has a full kit of works supplied front panels. I still have this car and am close to starting a body building project after years of accumulating and restoring enough parts to make such a project viable. My apologies for boring the reader with my digressions, but it was necessary background information for the rest of the Stainless Stephen car’s story.
During the mid 1990s I came to know Will Kerr well through local V.S.C.C events and activities. Realising that he had come to a metaphorical roadblock with the car, I suggested to him that we put my engine in his car, get the car roadworthy, and run it in a few V.S.C.C events. My rationale was that it would get him motivated to do something about his engine woes, and give me the Aprilia know-how (Will had previously owned another Aprilia) I desperately needed to make some headway with my own project. This seemed like an eminently good idea to Will, and we had a happy few months of sorting out his car and fitting the engine. However Will’s health was not good, and I lived an hour and a half drive away from his place, so progress was sporadic, slow and interspersed with organising a couple of V.S.C.C road trials. On one visit Will gave me the grim news that he had been diagnosed with a nasty little (inoperable) cancer that threatened to cut off the blood flow between his heart and lungs. Progress became slower, but we had the engine installed and enough done to imagine we were close to our goal.
The engine seemed tight, but would turn freely after giving it a bit a nudge with a bar and socket on the crankshaft pulley. On further investigation we decided the bearing clearances were an issue and this would need attention. Shortly after this, Will departed for his annual weeklong camping trip with some close friends. After a few days Will packed up his tent (and the Lancia Flag he always flew at the campsite), and drove himself home in his Beta coupe. A week later he was dead at the young age of 60, and so passed a terrific bloke and a font of knowledge about all things Lancia. The family placed the Lancia Flag on his coffin at his funeral.
A couple of years later, Russell Meehan suggested to me that it would be good idea if I were to buy the Stainless Stephen car, as it was still sitting in Will’s garage with my engine in it. I saw the logic in Russell’s suggestion and subsequently bought the car from Will’s widow Margaret. Once I had the car home and had the opportunity to have a hard look at all that needed to be done, my enthusiasm faltered somewhat, and progress became glacial over the next decade as work and family commitments took precedence. Being able to use my father’s Lambda on a regular basis provided another distraction.
A couple of years ago time and money became less of a problem and I was able to start thinking about old car things again. To my shame I did not make any progress on the Stainless Stephen car, partly because I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy a mostly completed vintage car (a Bayliss-Thomas Special), which was really a body building project I had always wanted to do, but not as demanding as the Aprilia project I had on the back burner. Garage space was an issue, but Noel Macwhirter came to the rescue with a spot in his garage at Venus Bay.
Lancia Aprilia Berlina chassis number 38-7308 first registered 11/11/1938 as SS 4067 in the U.K. The original owner was a well-known British music hall comedian, one Arthur Clifford Baynes (1892-1971), known by the stage name of Stainless Stephen, who somehow managed to organise the personalised number plates. (www.ask.com/wiki/Stainless_Stephen) I have the buff continuation log book that starts from April 1957 and lists the U.K owners (and their addresses) after that date. The colour of the car was originally listed as being “Sun Metal”, but it had been changed to Green in 1965. The car had been re-registered as JUR 730 by 1957. I assume that Stainless Stephen kept the original plates. The last stamp in the book is dated 1980. The Department of Transport V5 document which dates from around that time tells us that the car was still Green but the engine number was 8314 with a cubic capacity of 1670cc!
Graham Lane Baker purchased the car on the 7th of June 1968. Graham died in approximately 1980 and Gerald Batt then helped to organise the sale of the car to Russell Meehan in November 1981, and then its export to Australia. At the time of the sale the car was fitted with engine number 1909. Russell sold the car to his friend the late Will Kerr during the 1980s and I purchased the car from Will’s estate in 1999.
I know little of the car’s owners prior to Graham Baker, but Graham was a well-known figure in Lancia circles. Graham was active in motor sport with his Aprilias (he had a number of Aprilias) and wrote a couple of articles for the Lancia Motor Club newsletter describing his exploits. Gerald Batt told me that JUR 730 had the best body of all Graham’s cars, and that Graham had commenced a restoration on the car prior to his death. After Graham’s passing it appears a number of his friends assembled the car to make it saleable. At the time of the sale the car was Blue in colour, and a number of the components had been reconditioned, and the seats reupholstered in fabric (U.K assembled Aprilias were done in leather and door trims which came with the car are Red leather). The motor had apparently been rebuilt by Aprilia guru Harry Manning, and has high compression pistons. The instruments had been rebuilt and the car was fitted with new Michelin X tyres and reproduction (?) alloy bumpers. The radiator surround and insert had been re-plated. The front axle had been replaced with a late 2nd series unit, but one kingpin was worn.
I managed to rationalise my decision to take up his generous offer with the logic that having another Aprilia in his garage would give him a reference point to look at while he was fettling his car. In reality what he found is that there is a myriad of significant differences between an early and late 1st Series Aprilia, although the architecture is basically the same. I have also become a beneficiary of Noel’s many endeavours and enquiries, and have been able to accumulate parts and much information that Noel has found on the internet and elsewhere. One problem with my car was the front end; it had significant wear in one kingpin and was from a late 2nd series car. The later front end is nearly identical to the Aurelia’s arrangement, and it is a more robust unit than the original. I would imagine that Graham Baker fitted it with competition in mind.
Joe Wilson helped me with this problem by swapping me his spare front end that was correct for my car. Grant Cowie made a set of tools to service Don Hume’s identical front end. Don and I both paid 50% of the cost of the tools, and now share ownership. This enabled Noel and I to overhaul the new front end and fit new seals. Don supplied a replacement main spring. The steering bushes also required replacement. Noel sourced these from Cavalitto in Italy and kindly sorted out the other bits on his lathe.
Aprilia water pumps are always an issue. Peter Renou resuscitated mine, and fitted a modern seal. Peter also sorted through my collection of carbys and returned them with notes as to their condition. I bought two N.O.S distributors from Italy (via eBay) complete with caps and rotor button, and also reproduction hubcaps and many other bits. Grant Cowie supplied me with a full flow engine oil filter conversion kit.
The engine sat in the back corner of the garage until late last year when I was able to find someone to sort out the bearing clearances. Noel and I fitted it to the car in early January 2011. Once we had rigged up a gravity fed fuel supply (and I had remembered to turn the ignition on), the engine fired up and ran sweetly without a glitch or the expected leaks and other dramas; miracles do happen! The brakes and steering still needed minor fettling, but the car actually moved under its own power for the first time since the mid 1970s(?). Noel wasn’t sure that driving a car a foot forward and then backwards was that significant, but for me, this was a red-letter occasion.
THE TALES OF STAINLESS STEPHEN’S LANCIA APRILIA