First impressions of the 1903 Thornycroft are of the snub, well-louvred bonnet, the tasteful two-tone colour scheme and, aft of the scuttle, the obvious connection with horse-drawn carriage design - an elegant Edwardian machine from an elegant age, without an aerodynamic or mass produced care in the world!
This was a more leisured age when rpm was measured by hundreds rather than thousands, and "What'll she do" meant 30mph (48kph).
The high-set seats give the driver and front passenger a commanding view over the bonnet, and visibility is improved by the absence of a windscreen. Clutch and footbrake pedals will be familiar to modern drivers, but instead of an accelerator pedal there is a hand-controlled throttle in a quadrant at the centre of the steering wheel, a position shared with an ignition advance-retard lever. Handbrake and gear levers are mounted outside the car to the right of the driver, and there are neither speedometer nor rev counter, just an ammeter indicating the battery charging rate. And, strange to modern eyes, are an engine oil dispenser and gearbox greaser on the dash, both of them manually operated.
One searches in vain for a self-starter on the Thornycroft, because the engine is brought to life manually with a starting handle engaging with a forward extension of the crankshaft. In common with most other cars of its time, there is no choke on the Thornycroft and, instead, the engine must be primed. There is a priming cup in the inlet valve chest, a few drops of petrol are administered through a tap, and the veteran Thornycroft will start immediately with just one pull on the starting handle. Kick back is no problem provided the ignition is sufficiently retarded, and, after start-up, the ignition timing lever is adjusted to suit running conditions.
At idle, the twin-cylinder engine shakes the car, but the vibration evens out as revs increase. Once warmed up, the engine is mechanically quiet, thanks to its simple valve gear, with no tappets for the automatic inlet valves and low-clearance tappets for its side exhaust valves. Gear whine from the three-speed gearbox's two lower gears is modest. And, despite the 900cc-sized impulses, there is a quiet, unhurried BOP, BOP, BOP, BOP from the exhaust thanks to the low rpm and effective silencer. The dash-mounted trembler ignition coils make an audible buzz while the engine is running.
At 1,000rpm in top gear speed is around 25mph (40kph), although the car is reported to be faster than this. In the 1994 London-Brighton veteran car run the Thornycroft went down to Brighton with its full load of four up without complaint. Changing down with the external gear lever is easy, but upward changes are obstructive and definitely not a hot knife through butter experience! As usual with cars of this age, gear changes must be accompanied by double de-clutching, something which has to be done on all the HMAS's vehicles. The clutch is operated by the left pedal, and clutch action is good.
Mechanically-operated brakes are fitted and, in common with its contemporaries, the veteran Thornycroft does not have brakes on the front wheels. Anchors comprise rear-wheel brakes applied by the external hand lever, and a transmission brake on the front of the differential applied by the right pedal. These brakes can cope with traffic conditions and, although the transmission brake has metal-to-metal friction surfaces, the brake is quiet in operation. The Thornycroft has high-geared steering, its suspension gives a good ride and the car handles well when driven within its limits, but oversteer sets in if a corner is taken too fast, and care must be taken to ensure that the pressures on the car's thin, beaded edge tyres are correct.
The Thornycroft's total loss lubrication system means that the sump oil must be topped up every few miles. This is done on the move by pulling up the plunger of the dash-mounted oil dispenser and then releasing it, after which it descends slowly, supplying oil to the sump. After a journey, surplus oil, if any, must be drained from the sump to bring it back to the right level. However, the dispenser is very well matched to oil consumption and, for example, there was hardly any spare oil in the sump after the 1994 London-to-Brighton run. The car does not gulp oil and there is no oil smoke from the exhaust. The driver must also keep the gearbox bearings greased with the dash-mounted greaser, a device which can be used on the move.
Petrol consumption is estimated to be about 20mpg (14.1litres/100km), and the overall impression of this noble veteran is that it is much better in general respects than might be expected of a century-old machine. The car has passed its MOT, and its engine emissions were found to be lower than on modern cars!