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Kenya page 2 Kenya page 3

The History of John Hissey’s Buckler Part I (KBU 744)


I have been asked by my family and members of the Buckler Register to write some notes on the this car. As the events recorded here happened half a century ago and in my 74th year my memory is not what it was, I cannot vouch for total accuracy. On the other hand I have the cups, press cuttings and my letters home from Kenya which together have enabled me to relive those days and put the modern version of "pen to paper".

After leaving public school in 1947 I served in the Grenadier Guards and Sandhurst and it was there that I became interested in motoring. I should explain that this was soon after World War II and that petrol was still rationed and the idea of getting about the place when and where I wanted instead of being tied to public transport was the attraction. I had passed my motor transport tests and even won the motor cycle despatch riding competition which mostly involved riding over Bagshot Heath in trials like conditions with a heavy army BSA 500cc sidevalver. Thus my first buy was a motor cycle and this was a 350cc "Cammy" Velocette followed by a 1938 model Triumph 500cc Speed Twin. This served me well into civilian life when I started work in the City but a very cold winter caused me to trade it in for an elderly (1935) Austin 7. I joined a motor club and took part in some minor rallies.

After a desk-bound couple of years in insurance, at the end of 1952 I was offered a job at the company’s Nairobi office as underwriter and claims assessor. I was able to buy an Austin A30 with the grand capacity of 800cc to take with me. I joined the local motor club, entering the small saloon car class in hill climbs, speed trials and even races. I often won the under 1100cc saloon car classes. I entered it in the 1954 Safari rally of some 2000 miles throughout East Africa but the rough roads caused a front shock absorber to give up leading to the bending of the lower suspension members causing retirement half way.

Flooding and ruts on Kenya’s main road between Nairobi and Mombasa

Clearly I needed a sports car but it had to have tough suspension and good ground clearance to cope with the local roads. At that time few sports cars were made but they were beyond my pocket and anyway did not fit my specification. I had visited the Buckler works north of Reading and had been impressed. Building my own car would be rather fun and give me something to do. My letters home will tell the tale:-

22 Oct 1953 "I have bought a 1948 Ford 10 which went upside down. All the parts I need are in good order and I have a buyer for the rest. I have the Bucklers booklet and a letter with all my questions answered in a most efficient manner. I am ordering now and am going for the longer Mk VI chassis with all supports and fittings, independent front suspension, radiator, petrol tank, remote gear change, special steering and silencer. It should make the local MGs hop!"

The crashed Ford 10 purchased for the mechanical parts

5 Dec 1953 "I have had a letter from Bucklers to say that all is ready for shipment. Total cost £182-9-2."

30 Jan 1954 "The engine has been reconditioned with an 8hp head fitted (this was the usual trick to increase compression) and the gearbox and rear axle assemblies are ready. I am having to have two new stub axles (£3-15-0 each), two new wheels (ditto each), battery @ £7 & two tyres @ £6 each. I have just got a rise taking my salary to £655 pa."

12 March 1954 "The Buckler has still not yet arrived. The railways are pretty hopeless here because they are a monopoly. No road haulage is permitted (I think this was because of the roads) so we just have to wait for them to send stuff when they like which is any time up to 6 weeks."

19 March 1954 "At Mombasa my Buckler has taken a month to get from the dock onto the train and it should be in Nairobi on Tuesday – great excitement. I will have to get it onto its wheels quickly as I am being turned out of my digs but have found others although without cover for car building."

26 March 1954 "Believe it or not the Buckler has arrived! It got to Nairobi on Friday but I couldn’t get it out of customs until Thursday and even then I had to pay £60 as I had not the correct signed invoices. I have sent for these and should get half back. I borrowed the firm’s pick up van and took it to my digs myself at lunch time. It was a very odd sight. The crate with the bits was built inside the frame. I got a couple of planks off and peered into the interior. It was so well packed that I couldn’t see what was there. In the evening I had to attend a meeting of the East Africa Motor Sports Club about the rally (the Safari – see above) so I didn’t get back till after 6 when I got to work helped by one of our boys (as our African servants were called irrespective of age!). It was dark by the time we got all of it out of the case (we had to use the external "car port" without lighting). There was a very shiny remote control gear lever, a very odd shaped petrol tank, radiator, a strong and efficient looking front suspension unit all painted black complete with spring and hinged on rubber bushes everywhere. There were also bits of body support which are rather a jig saw and I will have fun in the absence of an instruction book. Oh, and there is a very long steering column. The radius arms are a huge V, and you could see straight through the rather flat silencer which had a pipe to fit but I’m not sure how. It is quite undamaged but there is some surface rust due to the long delay. This evening I will try to get it onto its wheels so we can tow it to my new digs but it still has most of the crate inside."

The Buckler frame and with the mechanical components attached

7 April 1954 "Very busy these days building the Buckler and moving digs. The digs are quite comfortable but there is no cover so I am having to do with a tarpaulin for the Buckler and it is the wet season! In spite of the signed invoices the Customs are refusing to return my £30. I am having some small problems. The steering column is too close to the engine, altering the pedals to fit are a bit of a ‘do’. The radiator fixing will take a bit if ingenuity and the rear shock absorbers won’t reach but all things considered it is beginning to look like a car. The body is going to take a little thought too."

28 April 1954 "Hooray the Buckler is now on the road but without seat, dynamo, instruments or body. As it is still very wet I won’t take it about much."

I had two L shaped fittings that I thought must be the special dynamo (with fan) mounting but I could not work out how they went. I wrote to Bucklers who said they were strengthening plates for the stub axle arms which bolted to the brake backplates. The dynamo mounting didn’t arrive until August as it had been sent by sea mail. The stub axle arms were indeed not up to the job on the rough untarmaced roads and I remember returning from an event steering on one wheel only! This only meant turning the steering wheel twice the normal amount and the idle wheel tended to follow the other. This didn’t work in the ruts however and climbing a single track escarpment without a barrier and a drop of many hundreds of feet was quite exciting!

7 May 1954 "All has gone well with the Buckler. I have done about 50 miles on the road but I am still without a body or dynamo so I use the handle for starting to save the battery which then only has to run the ignition. The local agents have fitted the shock absorbers and adjusted the tracking. I have taken a couple of leaves out of the rear spring and it rides very well now."

18 May 1954 "The Buckler is coming on well and I am trying to save the £100 quoted for a body from my Police Reserve pay." (The Mau Mau ‘emergency’ was in full flight and with my military background I had volunteered for some night duties).

24 June 1954 "The Brackenhurst hill climb went quite well although I had trouble at the hairpin as there is insufficient left lock but plenty to the right! (later corrected). I did 71.3 secs against the best in my class 7.5 sec faster which is not bad for a start. Driving on gravel without mudguards or even a body is not to be recommended as one gets peppered. The mileage is already 250."

The car in the "nude" as run at Brackenhurst and on right at the Menengai Hill Climb

7 July 1954 "I did the Menengai hill climb last week end. I took Jack with me and still bodyless we did the 100 tarmac miles to Nakuru on Saturday morning without trouble other than sore bottoms. (I had used the wood from the crate for a temporary floor and we sat on the tarpaulin.) We had lunch at the Stags Head and went off to the hill for practice. It was a most interesting climb about a mile long with several twists and turns & rather narrow. The Buckler boiled a bit when reaching the car park but didn’t seem to overheat on the hill itself. I found that once I had started I could do it in top at about 30mph. I managed 1min 53 secs on my first run which I was quite pleased with. Again as at Brackenhurst I was faster than any saloon car. On Sunday it was the real thing but the course had become rather dusty and rutted and I took a second more on my first run. During a sandwich lunch there was a cloudburst and 2 inches of rain was recorded in 1½ hours so the morning’s runs had to stand. On going back to the car which was completely exposed, I found each plug sitting in its own pool of water on the cylinder head (remember it was a side valve). Many of the other cars were having trouble starting but the Buckler fired first turn on the handle and it was fun watching the water evaporate. The mud had become black and sticky so we helped each other out and slid down the hill one by one very slowly. The prize giving was at the Stags Head and did we laugh? Everyone was covered in mud from head to foot. We started back but got benighted so fixed up torches each side. After the heat of the day we got very cold as we rose to some 8000 feet out of the Rift Valley up the escarpment. I don’t think I have ever suffered from sunburn and frostbite on the same day! I now have 500 miles on the speedo and it shows great reliability yet there is much to be done."

15 July 1954 "The Buckler body is coming on well. My main difficulties are carburettors and gears. I am thinking of ordering both from the UK for some £35. The carbs are the special aquaplane twin SUs. I have ordered some aluminium mudguards from V.W.Derrington of 159 London Road, Kingston on Thames."

26 July 1954 "I hope to be going to Eldoret some 200 miles NW with the Buckler to do a bit of racing there on a new circuit next week end. Most of the body is done but I am still without fan, dynamo, lights, handbrake or mudgards. The body looks very nice."

10 Aug 1954 "Eldoret races were great fun. I took Dicky Edwards with me as he wanted a lift. We got as far as Niavasha but then boiled. On to Nakuru we pressed as the skies darkened and soon we were engulfed in a tropical downpour. As we neared the equator it actually hailed and being without a windscreen we simply had to stop as it was too painful. Up went our tarpaulin over the car and we sat on the bare wet boards and roared with laughter at our ridiculous predicament! The hail came down even harder and actually hurt us through the tarpaulin. We clung on for an hour and then gave up as the roads were then just mud so we returned to Nakuru soaked as we had no hope of getting another 100 miles before dark. We were revived with hot tea and baths at the Stags Head followed by an excellent dinner and much further liquid refreshment. We restarted at the crack of dawn. The weather had cleared but it was very cold and hard going through the mud and we boiled again on a steep hill. I went straight into practice on the oval grass circuit with a chicane halfway down one straight. I overheated again but equalled the time of the fastest sports car in my class. Being without mudguards or lights I was however put in the unlimited racing car class in spite of being a two seater. Still I won my heat as the others didn’t seem to be able to cope on the slippery wet grass that soon turned to mud. Indeed I might have won the final but had to accept second as the race was stopped in the 7th lap out of 10 as heavy rain had started again."

The car as run at Eldoret in the mud and the broken half-shaft at Menengai II.

14 Sept 1954 "We have at last traced the boiling problem to the incorrect pressure cap on the radiator for 6000 feet elevation with the result that we blow out water. I thought it was the absence of a fan but when it was fitted with all the electrics, it made no difference. We were not actually overheating as water boils at a lower temperature at these altitudes."

4 Oct 1954 "The Buckler’s carburettors and mudguards have arrived. Having fitted the former I can now reach 75mph on standard gear ratios, not bad for an 1172 sidevalver! Standing start to 50 is about 13 secs. The mudguards and headlamps go on this week and the double valve springs next week then all is set for the Nakuru races on the 17th. I gather it is a grass circuit of exactly a mile. I am down for the under 1500cc sports car race of 10 laps and the 20 lap all comers handicap."

14 Oct 1954 "Nakuru motor races are this Sunday with a dance on Saturday night. The Buckler looks grand with headlights and mudguards and is now a proper sports car. It will be an exciting struggle as I am up against Monty Bank’s 1089cc OHV Singer Special (built in the police motor workshops), David Markham’s and Bob Barret’s 1089cc OHV Skoda Specials built by the local agents and Vic Preston in the Anglia Special (same engine as me) built by the local Ford agents. My target is third place which will get me on the stand."

Leaving the paddock before the Nakuru races One of the Skodas is push-started

18 Oct 1954 "Well I can’t get over my excitement over yesterday’s Nakuru Motor races. During practice the clutch gave out but due to the ease of assembly, I and some volunteers changed it in a couple of hours at the local garage who kept open for us. I tested the car up and down the Nakuru main road to the cheers of the locals with the police looking the other way. We were so quick I had time for a bath and a drink before the dinner dance! My slow practice put me half way down the grid but I was next to John Manussis, the Kenya motor racing champion and Safari winner, and behind an MG. I made short work of both of them at the start then took a Riley 1500 on the first lap. Quite soon I was up to the Anglia which I held on the straight and simply drove by on the main bend due to my good roadholding. I was now up to 3rd. I could see Monty in the lead with one of the Skodas close to him which then began to fall back so I passed him at the halfway mark. I now had the bit between my teeth and the car was going beautifully and I closed on the Singer quite easily. The dust was getting thick and it was difficult to see when I got close. I was faster through the chicane but there was no room to get past. He was actually holding me up on this twisty bit then pulling away on the straight. I decided to hold back at the chicane, go faster through it and see if I could get him on the main bend too but the race ended before I was able to try this ploy. Well I got an unexpected Second and when we first three came into the paddock everyone was very excited and cheering and we could hardly get through. No other car has ever been able to challenge Monty. He says it weighs only 9cwt with some 70bhp. I am about 10cwt and only some 40bhp. My roadholding did the trick. I could place the car exactly where I wanted."

The dust was a bit thick and it can be seen obscuring I pull out to overtake the Anglia Special

the other side of the circuit


Monty with a Skoda close. I am coming up (on the Entering the chicane but there was no room to pass, right in the background)

Cont."The stewards decided to run the Open Handicap in two heats of 10 laps with a 10 lap final. Monty and I were in the first heat and we had two cars started 50 seconds ahead of me with Monty 5 secs behind. I only had to make 3rd place to qualify for the final so I let him through and followed at a convenient distance. We took the all the slower cars bar one before the end so I got my 3rd. We were six cars in the final including a Cooper 500 which blew up so we were 5. Monty was handicapped out and in the dust I couldn’t see to get close to the works Anglia which had started ahead. One surprise was an A90 engined Austin Special (2600cc ?) which got close but couldn’t catch me so I took another unexpected 2nd! Thus I had to go to the stand twice to collect my cups which were presented by Kay Don of Brooklands fame. What a weekend!"

I collect a cup from Kay Don The Buckler, me and my cups

8 Dec 1954 "I am competing in my last motoring event in East Africa at Menengai on Sunday. The Buckler is handed to the railway on Monday for sending home."

I broke a half shaft after my first run at Menengai and got home in time for Christmas and the Buckler followed.

Click here to see Part Two


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