"Penny wise, pound foolish."

"Penny wise, pound foolish."

A pioneer in the the teaching of English to foreign learners once declared that he never taught proverbs; he felt they were folksy and old-fashioned. Well, I thoroughly disagree with him. The anecdote below exemplifies at least the following handful:

"A penny wise and a pound foolish."
"Better safe than sorry."
"Many a true word spoken in jest."
"It never rains but it pours."

In 1967 I bought an all-Crossley single-decker NRA 717 from Chesterfield Corporation for the use of a college near Reading. The Transport Department offered to fit a reconditioned engine for an extra wad of notes, but in my unwisdom I judged the wad too thick and opted for the bus as it was. It seemed to go very nicely anyway.

The following summer we borrowed it to transport a secondary school party down to spend a week in the French Alps. The Crossley rode very comfortably on its soft springs and, having a highish axle ratio, covered the ground in good style.

A slight embarrassment occurred in Paris, where we had to mount a sort of raised pavement to park and a strategically-positioned piece of kerb knocked the drain plug out of the very low-slung fuel tank. We grovelled about with funnels and cans and somehow saved about two-thirds of the fuel, and how we mended the plug I can't remember, but it leaked no more. I realised then that the springs were not just soft but sagging.

We reached our picturesque lakeside destination in the mountains without further trouble, except that a ticking in the engine niggled at me. That evening we had a bit of a social get-together to celebrate our safe arrival, and one of the youngsters cheekily asked for an ashtray. I glanced up at one of the teachers, who didn't seem to object, so I said nothing but went out to the bus and brought in from our crate of spares a brand-new piston, complete with the corrugated toroidal combustion chamber with which Crossley famously sidestepped the Saurer patent. I triumphantly peeled off the greased paper, set the piston on the table and said: "Here's your ashtray---but treat it with care, because you never know when we might need it!" That was intended as a joke...

Next day we were to go over the hills and down into the next valley and as we climbed, the niggling tick became a noggling tock, so to give the engine some relief after a particularly long, slow, knocking climb I coasted down the other side. But when I revved up to get her back into gear the knock became an alarming clatter and I realised that the game was up.

The teacher in charge resourcefully arranged a tow back to base for the Crossley and hired transport for the party, who were very good-humoured about their interrupted trip. The following day, as co-driver Peter Beale and I donned boiler suits, the heavens opened with a most spectacular thunderstorm. Well, at least it wasn't a half-canopy coach, but we still got pretty drenched.

We had the sump off in no time and I was confident that we could drop the piston down past the crankshaft, but I was mistaken, so we took off the heads and soon saw the problem: a broken piston-ring half-embedded in the piston crown and threatening far worse. We duly fitted yesterday's ashtray stand-in and fervently thanked the Creator that we had brought it. The bore was visibly scored, but when we had the engine back together and plumbed up she started without protest, and suddenly the sump-oil in your ears and the emulsion squelching in your shoes didn't seem to matter.

For the rest of the trip NRA 717 performed adequately, but Peter and I kept a light throttle. Other ticks developed, suggesting that more rings were on the way, so we were most relieved to unload our passengers safe and sound back in Britain.

At the Commercial Vehicle show a year or two later the new fixed-head Leyland 500 engine was attracting much attention. Just out of curiosity, with our Alpine piston-changing adventure very much in mind, I asked the Leyland representative whether you could drop the pistons out past the crankshaft. "Not quite sure on that one," came the reply. "I'll just get one our technical bods to fill you in there." Unfortunately, though, the technical bod didn't know either, and I was left wondering how a serious potential customer would react to this level of unhelpfulness. There must be a proverb that sums that up too, but I can't think of one.

Ian Thompson

To see a photo of a Crossley similar to the one in Ians article click here.

Ironic, the reference to the Leyland 500 engine in the final paragraph of "Penny wise...." This family of engines was used, as we all know, in the Leyland National I. What is not so widely known is that Leyland National was a separate company from Leyland Motors and was a renaming of a dormant company that Leyland had on its books - Crossley Motors - taken over with AEC in 1962.

David Oldfield

My thanks to David Oldfield for his comment. It was an eye-opener to me. My first experience of a Leyland National was in Stoke-on-Trent in February 1972 (I hope I've got the year right) when a pal and I were taking an ex-Thames Valley Bristol LWL6B northward. We'd stopped for a break and were on foot in the town when we heard a fearful clattering just round a corner and saw a cloud of grey smoke. You've guessed: a brand new Leyland National. Progress? We later returned to our civilsed, sweet-running Bristol with relief and gratitude.

Ian Thompson



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