1950 Jowett Javelin: still a sharp performer
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I've heard of a car bra to protect paint from chips, but not one to protect the engine from overcooling. However this 1950 Jowett Javelin's radiator is so efficient, in winter its owner, Peter Wilding, has to fit a cover over the lift-up part of the cast aluminium grille to cut air flowing through.
Lift-up grille? Yep, for this engine bay has an unusual set-up, with the 1.5-litre 37kW flat-four motor set beneath the radiator, with part of the grille hinged upwards to allow access.
Why did he choose a Javelin? After all, it wasn't his first car. That was an Austin 7, which took him initially to school, and then from the North Shore to Teacher's College in Mt Roskill. But his dad had a Javelin, and his grandfather used to sell them in Dannevirke, when he had the agency before they went out of production, so yes, this car is a nostalgia trip.
A long time ago he'd owned a 1966 Humber Super Snipe and wanted another. "I saw a lovely 1957 Super Snipe, but by the time I'd organised the cash it had gone." Then this car came up online, from Kingseat, south of Auckland. "The owner told me it was a barn find he'd bought from an estate auction," but when Peter acquired it, it was "pretty much in this condition".
It doesn't seem to need much attention. "As a teen I greased Dad's car every 500 miles, but modern greases are so sticky, it's every WoF. Even the cheapest oil is vastly superior to anything in the 1950s." However, he doesn't do the work on it. "I took it to a local garage, and he knew what it was even before he saw it," so that's where it goes for maintenance.
He's a member of the Jowett club, "And they are extremely supportive, the spare parts are brilliant. There are more spare parts for Javelins here than there are in England". He says though Jowett car production stopped in 1953 -- and the marque closed shop entirely in 1954 -- spare parts continued being made for a while under VW, and when it decided to stop operations, the Jowett car club somehow obtained about three container-loads of parts, "So I needed a kingpin for a WoF and it arrived by return mail."
The car's in generally good condition. Peter says all the wood is original, "though it may have been revarnished", and he suspects the seats have been reupholstered. The radio works -- on AM only -- but it's clear the car has been well-used, and "who knows how many times it's been around the clock?"
Once the car's idling, it has the exhaust burble of a classic river launch, and I open the passenger suicide door to get in. The front cabin is spacious - the engine sits so low that the front floor is flat, there's no hump covering the driveshaft. Peter says the flat four is an efficient design, and "if they'd stayed in production they'd have been the equivalent of a Subaru Impreza in performance".
He says the steering is as heavy as a truck until you get going - there's no power steer, of course, and it's riding on modern radial tyres. It's hauled up by drum brakes all round - "they are pretty good though" - with power put to the ground via a four-speed transmission, "but first gear is knackered, which isn't uncommon".
This model was designed during World War II by the Bradford-based British brand as a big step forward over pre-war designs, and it was an executive car with performance pretensions -- a Javelin won its class at the Monte Carlo rally in 1949, another won its class at the Spa 24-hour race that year, and one even won its class at the 1952 International RAC rally.
"In its day only a Lancia Aurelia would beat it, but you wouldn't think that now," says Peter, and he should know, as he drove it home to the Kerikeri region from Kingseat, and has taken it to Kaitaia a couple of times. "It's used! At least twice a week."
The appeal of an old car, he says, is that "you are actually driving, and driving it all the way". During our ramble we topped out at about 80km/h, which felt quite fast enough and kept up with the modern traffic we encountered. That's his preferred cruising speed, though as he points out it would have gone faster in its day, "They did 80mph [128km/h], and on the Auckland motorway -- where it's smooth -- I'll probably go at 60mph."
The ride is good. "That was always a feature, they were expensive cars, in the same class and cost as Rover 75s and 90s," he says. "They were £1250 new, the Zephyr of the time was £950, if you had overseas funds, and were permitted on the waiting list," which he quips also required that you were a National-voting dairy farmer.
Nowadays you can be a Far North retiree to drive one, and that's just as Peter likes it. Keep an eye out for him if you're up that way this summer.