by Paul Sweeney
I had an embarrassing moment this morning. Despite having easily passed the CoF (advanced version of Britain's MOT test) for vehicles used to carry passengers for hire or reward recently, the horn button on the steering wheel of the Daimler didn't work.
I pulled the centre button off and found ... no wiring at all! Being something of an amateur electrician myself, I quickly formed a strong suspicion that this could be a factor in my lack of "horniness", as it were (settle down at the back, please!).
So, as I was in town anyway this morning, I stopped at my favourite car repair place (they hate me, but love my credit card) and asked them what auto electrician they would recommend. I was directed to a workshop just 200m away and tootled off happily. This was going to be easy!
I parked up and presented myself at Reception where I quickly explained my "horn-y" issue to a reassuringly oily young chap in overalls (don't you hate trying to talk about car thingies to dolly birds or men in suits?). As soon as I stopped talking, he uttered those immortal words, "Sorry but we don't touch classics, mate" (thank God he didn't call me, "Bro"). "But" I protested lamely, "it's just a simple 12v system". He smiled patiently, "Sorry, no. You will have to see Dave". "Dave?" I asked. "Yes, Dave. You know - off Austin Street. He does all the classic cars round here". Not wanting to seem stupid, I responded, "Oh - that Dave .... of course!" and after thanking him, left to seek out Dave, the Legendary Wizard of Classic Car Electrics.
I pulled up outside the only place off Austin Street that had signs that mentioned car electrics and wandered inside. A lovely lady who was not a dolly bird - and I mean that in a good way. I suppose I need to explain that now ... she was shall we say a little mature to be so described - but more importantly, she was interested in me and my car and keen to help - woohoo! Once I had outlined my horn-tabulous troubles, she declared, "You know who you need? Dave! He's not here at the moment but will be back soon." With that, she retreated back into her SRS or Special Receptionist Space. How did I know it was a Special Receptionist Space? It had a heater, of course!
So, I resigned myself to hanging around for a bit and turned to look at the cars inside the workshop. Right next to me was an old British saloon; quite a big one. I had to find the badging to identify it - a Morris 14. It hadn't had a WoF (MOT) for 2 years but the bonnet was up and the wiring running from the spark plugs looked new and very tidy indeed - clearly evidence of Grand Master Dave's prowess! I pulled out my smartphone and took a couple of pictures (below).
I was about to take more pictures of the Morris when Dave appeared at my side, asking how he could help. He marched me outside to look at Queenie immediately as I told him about my horn-tastic problem.
When I opened the door, he glanced inside as I pointed to the un-horn-y button as if he wouldn't have known where to find it while I mumbled about there being no wires inside. Dave thought for a moment, then said, "The cheapest way to get your horn working is to run a wire to a new button - those old ones can be fiddly".
Then he leaned inside and said, "Or of course you could just press this one instead" and pressed a button I'd never noticed before that was mounted on the underside of the steering column. A loud, HONK! emanated from the car as the horn (for indeed that was undeniably what was making the sound) worked perfectly!
Dave smiled pityingly at me for a moment, said "I think you're OK then" and marched briskly away chuckling to himself. "Thank you Dave!" I called weakly after his rapidly-departing figure.
I admit I jumped into Queenie and left as quickly as I could. I suppose my feelings are mixed, in truth. On the one hand, I hadn't bought a car that passed it's CoF test when it shouldn't have and also it wasn't going to cost money to fix. On the other hand, I did feel a little silly.
But never mind, I'll soon get over that and if I'm honest, I've done sillier things before now!
In each 'Spotlight' article, we feature one of our cars in more detail. First up is 'Queenie', the 1954 Daimler Conquest.
I will address the obvious question first; why 'Queenie'? The answer is simply that she was imported from England brand new in 1954 to be used as one of the official cars for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's Royal Tour of New Zealand that year.
We don't know who among Her Maj's entourage rode in her, but I did recently meet a lovely local lady who was fairly certain her late father had driven this very car - he was one of a team of chauffeurs hired for the duration of the tour. Given the history, it was probably inevitable that some bright spark would acquire the 'HRH' plate for her to complete the royal look!
When I started looking for a classic car to use for the Napier Classic Cars business I wanted to set up, I had already decided that I wanted something from the 1950s as it would be a point of difference from other classic cars already in the Hawkes Bay area and just as importantly, its an era of car design that I love.
So, my mental check list ( I never wrote it down) went something like this:
After talking to friends, one suggested a local guy who had two Daimlers for sale. They were large 1960s limos and just didnt float my boat, lovely as they were. Too modern, too like a Jaguar and not distinctive enough somehow. I needed to really think about this.
A few weeks later I was wandering around the British Car Museum in sunny Te Awanga one day when I spied two half-forgotten lovelies tucked away in the corner (see photos below). The first was a Lanchester Leda and the second a Daimler Conquest with an intriguing notice fixed to the windscreen that read, "1953 Daimler Conquest - used for the Queen's Visit in 1953".
My curiosity piqued, I sought out my friend the museum's owner Ian Hope to ask what he knew about it. Ian told me that it was believed his Conquest had carried Her Maj's official manicurist during the tour. That lodged itself firmly in my brain ... this was something special!
As a relative newcomer to the classic car scene, I'd never even heard of Lanchester before and the Conquest was a Daimler model I'd not come across before either, so some homework was definitely in order. The first thing that struck me about the Leda and the Conquest was they looked almost identical - why was that?
Much maligned as it is, thank God for the internet. I believe more research is conducted today - and more information shared - than ever before in the history of humankind. There's simply no way I would have travelled to a local library looking for a book on the history of Lanchester and Daimler cars. However, one simple Google search and the whole story unfurled before me in seconds.
It transpired that Lanchester was one of England's earliest motor manufacturers but got into financial difficulties after the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression that followed, with the result Lanchester's bankers called in their loans and the company was forcibly sold to Daimler for a mere £26,000 - considerably less than the value of it's assets at the time.
The reason the Lanchester 14 and the Daimler Conquest look so alike is that the Conquest was developed from the 14. I subsequently read that a Conquest cost £1500 new in 1953 - around the same as an average house. This was no 'everyman' car.
Why the name 'Conquest'? The pre-tax list price of the car at launch was £1066 ... 1066 also being the year of the Norman Conquest of Britain.
Far more historic and technical information is provided separately for those with the appetite for it. Click on 'read more' at the foot of this page.
How I found Queenie
My interest truly piqued, I asked some people more au fait with classics than I am if they had any knowledge of the Conquest and if so, their thoughts about whether it might be a good buy. The answers were pretty much positive so I decided to look for a Conquest for sale.
A quick search on Trade Me in New Zealand revealed no less than four Conquests for sale - suggesting they were not overly rare so parts should be reasonably easy to find. I first attempted to investigate a lovely red Conquest advertised for private sale, but the seller failed to respond to my enquiries, so I moved on.
Next I found a dealer called Waimak Classic Cars located near Christchurch on NZ's South Island who - remarkably - had two 1954 Conquests for sale at the same price. After poring over the photos and a video Jesmond (the owner) had posted online, I decided to make contact with him.
Here is the video posted online by Waimak Classic Cars - my first close look at Queenie, albeit only online - I added the music.
Confounding all the usual car dealer stereotypes, Jesmond turned out to be not only a thoroughly decent chap, but also a bona fide classic car lover and he couldn't have been more helpful. After several discussions about what I was looking for, he recommended one of his Conquests as the better option for me and the deal was soon done, subject to an independent technical appraisal which uncovered no nasty surprises.
Short cut to two or three weeks later and Queenie arrived safely in Napier on the back of a huge transporter truck, ready to begin a new phase in her already long life story here in sunny Hawkes Bay. What did I find when I climbed in for the first time? Power steering and a heater - luxury indeed!
So far, I'm delighted with her and hope this is just the start of a long friendship. Her last private owner was 94 years old, so I have quite a way to go to match that!