Henry Williamson 

6 April 1951

[As presented to Barnstaple solicitors.

File copy is a duplicate (two copies) typed on 6 quarto pages]





DYY 764 was bought in 1946, second hand for £800. The engine was then reconditioned, but a previous owner had run in the engine badly, and soon it had to be rebored. The coachwork also was renewed. The jobs were done badly, estimated to cost £145: actual bill was £245. The work took from Oct 1946–May 1947; and was paid by agreement of £200.


After careful running in trouble occurred. It was decided another rebore was necessary, after 7000 miles. This was entrusted to another firm, Messrs W. J. Coe Ltd of Ipswich.


During preliminary inspection of the block and bores, and measurements taken, it was decided to fit new pistons and to bore out the existing liners to fit them. An estimate was asked for and later given. The engineers reported cracks in the cylinder block, but gave the opinion that they would not matter, as being in the stud-holes.


The work was done, and paid for; and the engine assembled by another hand. The job was completed in April 1949. The motorcar had been laid up previously, after being decoked by yet another firm, who could not assemble it properly. The valve-timing, among other things, was four teeth late. It was after this, that Messrs WJ Coe undertook the work of reconditioning the engine.


[Written in mauve ink ms in the margin here is the following note: To clarify: Coe did the machining and preparing of the second engine, which later proved to be so bad that a third engine–re-conditioning was undertaken on an entirely new estimate.]


The ‘other hand’ who assembled it had difficulties; and delays, as has been mentioned, kept the car off the road until April 1949. The job cost about £100. Trouble soon was apparent, during slow running-in. The plugs oiled up rapidly and frequently; oil got into the radiator. A continental tour had been planned; and after the cylinder head had been removed, twice, and new [margin ms (not HW’s hand) Plexseal] gaskets fitted, in the hope of curing the oil-water mix-up, 2,000 miles were motored in France. It was a miserable tour; plugs oiled up every 50 miles or so. Oil consumption was excessive.


On return to England, Messrs Coe removed the head, drew the pistons, found great gaps in the pistons. It was decided that the trouble was caused by bad fitting by the ‘other hand’. The rings had gaps of 1/8 inch, which is enormous.




[Another ms insertion here: The third engine re-conditioning, which is the subject of the letter]


Messrs Coe now come to the forefront. I decided to ask them to strip the engine with a view to undertake making good the engine; and asked for an estimate. This was in October 1949, when I left the car with them in their Ipswich shop.


Messrs Coe had had to do with a famous racing driver, St. John Horsfall, who rebuilt his racing Astons with Coe; and I had every confidence in L. Coe, the proprietor, himself an Aston owner.


Just before I left the car there, there was some correspondence, dated 12 Sept and 15 Sept 1949.


The estimate for the work came in on 19 January 1950. [margin note in another hand: £125 approx] I agreed for the work to be done on this basis. Prices were quoted as attached letter shows. A point to note is that my old cracked block was to be welded and new liners to be fitted. The date of delivery of reconditioned car was April 1950.


Owing to labour difficulties, this work was not ready by that date, and I was put to some inconvenience, requiring the car for my business as author and descriptive writer; and when two months had elapsed I called to see Mr. Thorburn, who advised that any action taken in this matter was impracticable.


During a visit to Ipswich in May 1950, I learned that my block had not been welded; another had been substituted; I was told this was a better block altogether, one belonging to St John Horsfall, who had recently been killed in a motor race. I took delivery of the motorcar end of June 1950 and it looked a pleasing job.


During the slow run, 300 miles, from Ipswich to Devon, it ran well until Taunton, when plugs began to oil up. I had nursed the engine very carefully indeed, determined that after the years of trouble and expense, this engine should be first class.


Reporting the trouble to Mr. Coe, he volunteered to come down to Devon, and strip the top of the engine, and draw the faulty piston of No 4 cylinder.


He came down and found considerable wear in the rings of No 4. This was in the summer of 1950. He suspected the other pistons were likewise fitted with faulty rings, but having only brought one set, only No 4 could be refitted.


This work took two days; and as he had not brought a proper cylinder head gasket, but a thick one which did not permit proper tappet clearance, the engine did not run properly. The tappet clearance ought to be 12/thousandths of an inch: they were 40/thou.


Mr. Coe volunteered to come down again, and take the Aston to Ipswich. I did not like to put him to another 600 mile journey so had a correct paper gasket fitted at Barnstaple Motor company, at my own expense. This permitted the correct tappet clearance.


Alas, the oiling up of plugs continued. It was obvious the oil was blowing past the piston rings. I had arranged to go abroad to visit my Italian and French publishers in the autumn; and so in September 1950 I took the Aston to Ipswich, where the head was taken down, the pistons drawn, and (I was told) new rings were fitted.


On the way to Dover the plugs oiled up. I turned back. I could not face again a second continental tour, buying oil at the rate of a gallon for every 300 miles, with limited currency: nor changing plugs every 50 miles or so, and wondering if, as I passed in traffic, the engine would clank on one cylinder, or two firing. It was dangerous.


But I suspected that the old leads to the plugs might be faulty. I changed No 4 and the engine ran well after this. One proceeded at 30-35 mph, to run in the new rings. The journey through France was easy, no oiling of plugs occurring. But the oil consumption was still poor, though not so bad as formerly.


After 1000 miles the plugs tended to oil up again. I wrote to Mr. Coe from France, suggesting that on my return the head be taken off and the pistons drawn, at my expense, to find finally what the trouble was.


When, in Oct. 1950, I returned to Ipswich, he told me that this was not necessary. He removed the head, decoked the engine, fitted new leads to plugs, and said he hoped it would be all right.


He said nothing about new plugs.


The journey to Devon, a fast and pleasant one, was good. (Had I known that new rings had been fitted, as the bill later claims to be the fact, I would of course have gone at 30 mph.)


In the meantime I was asking for the bill. I had already paid £75, the quoted price for the reconditioning, in March 1950. I wrote, in all, 6 letters or cards for the bill, which did not come in until March 1951. The sum then staggered me.


I wrote a reply on 27 March 1950 [sic] as attached copy, asking for an analysis of the various items. The bill was more than double I had expected.


Since writing that letter, I have learned that the trouble might have occurred by faulty honing of the rebores. ‘If the piston’s rings are allowed to lap themselves in, to do the work of honing in other words, they will wear quickly; and it is of no use to replace them with new rings, as by then the bore will have been worn oval, which permits oil to pass up the combustion chamber, to oil the plugs, to waste the oil away unduly.’


At the present time, after about 4000 miles since the reconditioning, the oil consumption is about 300mpg. Incidentally, I do not think liners were fitted, as estimated for, but the ‘better’ block was only bored out to take my existing pistons.


I mention this as I did suggest CROMARD liners, as fitted by Rolls-Royce, but Mr Coe said they would be unsuitable in his opinion, to which I deferred.


Recently I heard from an Aston owner, who fitted CROMARD liners, and also had the help of an ex-Rolls-Royce fitter, to help him, who toured 6000 miles in France recently and used in that distance “less than a quart of oil”. He is a well-known competition driver, and not likely to exaggerate.


Some of the items in the Bill no doubt are due to my asking Mr Coe to do any little extra jobs that he found necessary in order to give me a first class reconditioned Aston. I trusted him implicitly: and he, in regard to the engine, seemed as puzzled as I was. He could not understand why the rings were faulty, when he came to Devon after I had done 300 miles in the car. It is strange that the rings, supplied by him but fitted by another, after his first reboring of the old block in 1949, also showed excessive wear; while no scoring of the bores was apparent. He suggested the rings were, on both occasions, showing undue wear owing to faulty manufacture.


But as has been said, if the bores are not HONED perfectly, but left comparatively rough, the rings will do the honing or polishing instead: and being sprung rings, not a sedate circle, will bed themselves in ovally.

As this happened with two engine-reborings done by Coe, it looks like imperfect honing.




This third engine (total of Aston running in 5 years is only 15,000 miles) will have to be reconditioned. I cannot sell a dud engine: and while it is speedy enough, oil consumption is 300mpg instead of a normal 1000 is not good enough. Had Mr Coe written or asked me if I would consent to a better block replacing my cracked block, and to rebore that block instead of fitting new liners, I would probably have agreed; for I trusted him. But he did not say anything until by chance I heard, from a mechanic, that ‘it isn’t your old block’. Technically Mr Coe has not fulfilled his quotation, which provides for new liners (see his letter-estimate 19 Jan 1950).


The other point is the largeness of the Bill. I’m sure many of the items charged for should have been included in the £75 for ‘reconditioning of engine’.


If he replies to my letter of 25 March 1951 asking for specified details of each job, then I may be able to sort out what these items are. But I fancy he is likely to try for a settlement through a solicitor, as he is as worried by the whole affair as I am. He is sick of it. I am more than sick of it.


It has, by constantly lying on my mind, affected my literary work. This is no exaggeration, for a writer relies on his feelings, freedom from worry, to do his best work. I had a book commissioned in high hopes by a publisher in Nov 1949, the sum being £500 down on signing the agreement, £500 on delivery of Mss. It was delivered in March 1951; and pronounced disappointing. I rewrote it, 120,000 words. It was better, but not what they had hoped for. I rewrote it. Another publisher looked at it; agreed it was not anything like the author’s best work. It was flat. In all, doing little else, I rewrote it ten times, writing grimly while this damned motorcar and the feeling of not having a square deal, came in like dry rot upon what should have been sound timber. In the end, the publisher who had commissioned the work, asked to be relieved of obligation, by contract, to publish it.


Of course, one does not suggest that damages could be proved, or any attempt be made to prove the point at all: but it is nevertheless a fact that one must have a free mind if one is to be free to create an illusion, fortified by considerable research and assembly of facts, which makes what is called a good book. I could never get the Aston out of my mind; and this helped, by its worry, to spoil a year’s work.


I like Coe personally; I think he is a good man: he is young, and not so long ago inherited a business from his father, of welding etc, and branched out into a garage; and so became a business-man in a period of the ‘seller’s market’.


It will be noted that his Bill does not mention new liners. I think this omission of his, though possibly done for my imagined benefit (also it saves him a great deal of time) is the lever by which some settlement can be made; for I want this suspended situation to end, before it spoils other books of mine. Obviously he is not a very good engineer: if one is to judge not by good intentions but by results.


The gearbox item, with the credit done by Barnstaple Motor Company to correct his errors, reveals this. The box was so bad that when Barnstaple took it down, they sent me a report: gears incorrectly in position, so that synchro-mesh could not operate: it was like a bad crash-box of olden time.


The road-springs examination also was poor. One of the front springs had three leaves, an old break, gone when they examined it. The car collapsed in this village, fortunately at 2mph. The two fresh breaks were new; the three old ones, deeply rusted.


Also, after that 300-mile Ipswich-Devon run in, the dynamo coupling came apart. The bolts had not split pins to hold the nuts, as is usual. Carelessness.


There is an item for new front brake linings. Mr Coe told me in Sept 1950, when I took the car over for France, that the linings were unworn, the old ones; so he had not replaced any, as I had asked him to do, if necessary. Then there is the item on the bill of ‘replacing faulty rings’ dated 26 Oct; these were done (if they were done) before I went to France on 26 Sept. You will not be charged for replacing ‘defective’ rings.


One has the feeling also that the bill was delayed so long, in order to allow time to confuse the various items.