Austin Seven Chummy (Miss Prim) AZ 1677
This car came to me purely by chance. I was offered a job in Killinchy, Co Down and on day one I was taken by my new employer, Stanley Porter (no relation to Leslie Porter and our esteemed President’s family!), to the garage to be given my company car and having walked past an AC Aceca, a Beetle and a Land Rover the next car was this 1928 Chummy. It had been bought for his daughter’s 18th birthday but having told him “I wouldn’t be seen dead in that, Daddy” she got her request for a frog-eyed Sprite so the Chummy became my company car. This was January 1958.
Later that year Stanley was going to Monte Carlo (or perhaps Le Mans) and said he would make me a member of the VSCC and enter the car for the Spring Rally if I would take his daughter as navigator. At that time, the start was at Stormont Gates but later the local members built a ‘Memorial Start’ for the TT so the VSCC events subsequently started there. Any rallies to be entered I was there, that was how much I enjoyed the scene, even travelling to Clonmel (pictured above) and Cork where the rallies were run by local clubs or the Leinster Motor Club, and there were even entrants from England.
The following year I met Jack Frazer who had owned the Chummy in 1932. This was purely by chance as he had been in the Navy during the war and now visited HMS Caroline to which I belonged. I had borrowed the car to attend (it was still owned by the company) and Jack saw it in the car park and asked to speak to me. So now I had more history of the car. He had put motor cycle guards on, installed a four-speed gear box, an aluminium head and a Zenith Carburettor and fitted a tonneau cover the over the rear seats. So now she was more sporty looking as he fancied trialling. When home on leave for a few days his father asked him to cut logs for the fire so he took the engine out of the Chummy and used it to drive a saw so that the family would have the facility in his absence.
In 1961 Stanley was leaving the area and asked me if I would buy the Chummy. Having driven it for almost four years I could hardly say no, but I had to borrow £61 from the bank (I had already borrowed several thousand to buy the business from him). While owned by him all work was carried out by his mechanic, but I would deliver it and Jim would tell Stanley if I was not happy with it – ‘she thinks it’s a bloody Ferrari‘. Now the car was mine. I had taken part in many rallies in it and there were many more to follow.
The Ulster Vintage Car Club had been set up and soon after that, the IVVCC, and I became a member of both. In those days we as a Club used to meet in the TT Lounge in Comber on a Tuesday evening, and there we would exchange interesting car and social chat.
The UVCC had two members on the board of the IVVCC. I was invited to become one along with Lyn Kearny but during the Troubles it could be dangerous travelling South at night. Lyn had dropped out so I then was given the job of recording car owners and their cars throughout Ireland.
My Chummy by now was known as Miss Prim. On an occasion when I had had a new hood cover made I had brought her home in a trailer. As she emerged out and down the ramp my mother saw her and shouted out through the window, ‘Oh doesn’t she look smart‘, and when I came in she said ‘Miss Prim is home’. Locally in Killinchy she had several names, the Match Box and the Yellow Peril!
The IVVCC had several outings to the Continent and I went twice. On the first we went to Le Mans starting at a Distillery in Dublin, driving to Rosslare then ferry to Le Harve. We were given a reception and a drive around the Circuit of which my lasting memory will be driving under the Dunlop Bridge. (On leaving the Distillery the larger car owners were asked to take a case of whiskey for a reception at Le Mans.) We had wonderful weather. Another plus when we went to a rally in the South was coupons from Esso. As we all had the same number I came out of it quite well and was able to give my extra to other entrants (except when in France) when theirs were all used.
Some IVVCC members organised a 1000 mile rally around Ireland every other year, the first in 1990, with each one having its own quirk. One was to drive from Malin to Mizen in a day; another was a route to drive around many loughs/lakes – that one started with a drive around Strangford Lough.
Another momentous occasion for Miss Prim was being put, not on a ferry, but into a container to go to New Zealand for the 50th Anniversary of the NZ Vintage Car Club. Well, that was something quite different: two weeks in and around South Island. Six cars went from NI and cars from many countries were entered. My niece, Kathryn, was my navigator by now and she took two weeks off work to join me as several of us had travelled out earlier. When we arrived, Basil McCoy had collected the cars in Littleton and looked after them until we arrived. It was an amazing event. You see, I took my mother’s advice – ‘never miss an opportunity‘
More recently the little girl has had a major overhaul with the removal of the bodywork, much of which required replacement. The engine went to England and on return the bench test reads 22 bhp!
Even more recently she broke her crankshaft on a 1000 mile rally around Ireland which the Wolseley Club had now taken on and of course it happened at almost the furthest point in the Limerick area – it was worth belonging to the RAC. We were very well looked after and were taken around the rest of the rally by members who had had a fault nearer home so had their modern car.
My local car saviour did all the necessary work to her on this occasion and he has maintained her now for some time.
There is so much to tell about the times I have had with this little car. I have only once not driven her to a rally; I ordered a van but when a member heard about this she was most adamant that I must borrow her van.
During the first number of years of ownership I did most of the work on her myself. My biggest mess was changing the back axle. I was unaware that it could go in the wrong way round so I had one forward and four reverse gears! This was on a Thursday and my kindly neighbour mechanic corrected it and I was able to attend a rally on the Saturday.
The best navigator in the country I owe so much to, that is my niece, Kathryn.
If it was not for the generosity of friends and club members helping me out – though I was assured ‘men enjoy nothing more than heads under bonnets‘ – I would not be in a position to write this article.
I do hope the owner following me gets as much driving, competitive sport and pleasure out of Miss Prim as I have.
A final bit… Mother bought me a new lawn mower, the make HARRY, and on arrival I gave it a run around the grass. Later that evening mother asked me what I had done with the mower. Put it in the garage of course, I replied. Her response, ‘you cannot leave Harry and Miss Prim together in the garage overnight’.