It would have been one of the first of the F28’ series of Oldsmobiles to be seen on that continent, powered by a new 55 horsepower sidevalve straight six and with a range of steel Fisher bodies and two-tone colour schemes suitable for the Jazz age. They were sold as ‘Creations by Artist-Engineers’.
This one is in one of the more subtle combinations of maroon and black. Otherwise the Oldsmobile resembles an Austin Seven Chummy that has been scaled up – and massively so. This Oldsmobile is significantly longer than a long-wheelbase Land Rover and much wider.
Apart from an orange enamel badge on the front bumper revealing that this car once took part in the Milligan Vintage Trial the other hints at its African origins are the solid steel disc wheels (more durable on rough roads than spokes), the boot scrapers on the running boards and, of course, the open Tourer body which would have provided well-ventilated (if rather dusty) motoring for crossing the veldt.
ON THE ROAD
Usually saying that a car drives like a tractor is the rankest sort of criticism but in this case it is a simple statement of fact, and as someone who enjoys a spell behind the wheel of a Massey-Ferguson I also mean it as a compliment.
That big sidevalve engine growls into life with a prod of the starter pedal (yes, a pedal) and churns away at a rather brisk idle sounding for all the world like a modern common-rail diesel engine.
The Oldsmobile’s three forward gears are swapped using a long, straight lever that gives the effect of poking each gear into place with a snooker cue (which, in effect, you are). First gear is entirely redundant, there being no mountains in Berkshire. In fact the Olds will happily lug away from rest in top gear thanks to engine’s seemingly flat torque curve – it will chug up even steep hills at walking pace with each individual exhaust stroke audible.
While one of the F28’s big technical advances was a water pump there is no thermostat, so you have to juggle the dash-mounted lever for the radiator grille shutters, which operate like a Venetian blind, to keep the engine at the right temperature. There’s also an ignition advance/retard lever on the steering wheel ; it’s connected to the automatic system under the bonnet so you can watch the lever twitch up and down as you prod the postage-stamp sized throttle pedal.
The top cruising speed, displayed on a tiny rotary drum speedo, is about 45mph. The whole car is undergeared and at that speed you feel you’re reaching the limits of sympathy for the engine. Even flat out the Oldsmobile is remarkably pleasant to drive – moreso than many more advanced cars from the ‘Forties and ‘Fifties. I think this is due to its sheer bulk which means it isn’t deflected by every hump and bump in the road. I’d say that is also behind it being surprisingly comfortable, despite having beam axles and leaf springs at both ends. The massive seats stuffed with horsehair probably have something to do with that too. The huge drum brakes on each wheel work well, provided you’re prepared to stamp on the brake pedal.
The overwhelming sense driving this Oldsmobile was one of solidity. Pre-war cars often come across as frail, dainty little things but I could easily picture this one forging across South Africa and I would have no qualms about using it all over the place in the UK, especially as it was so unexpectedly easy to drive. It’s by far the oldest car I’ve ever driven, and also one of the best.
TOP SPEED: 50mph
GEARBOX: 3-sp man