My Aeros

When I first bought my Aero there were a number of things that were not quite right with her. She had the wrong wheels and the wrong windscreen. The wheels were the bolt on type, bolted to flat, studded hubs whereas the original car would have had knock-on type wire wheels fitted to splined hubs. The windscreen had been fitted with a pair of Singer Nine pillars which not only looked wrong but meant that the double-curved screen would not fold flat as a result. It became my mission to put both of these things right as soon as possible.

Before and After

This is the car as bought, looking lovely but with one or two fundamentals to put back to get her right. (The image is courtesy Simon Geoghegan)
This the car now with the major things corrected although the grille shell is now painted due to considerable decay discovered while being stripped for re-plating.

Hillman Aero Minx. Produced from 1933-35, the Aero Minx was sold with an 1185cc L-Head engine later used in the Talbot Ten. Intended as a Sports car, cars were sold with other body styles as well

The wheels

On the day that I collected the car I also drove a few miles further on to meet another long time Aero owner Barrie Williams who I had spoken to a few days previously. Barrie had a number of Aero spares including a set of splined hubs which he was happy to part with for a very reasonable price.

I quickly discovered that the conversion of the front wheels would be a fairly straightforward affair, the tapered axles being suitable for both bolt on and splined hubs. The rear wheels would be a slightly different matter and would mean that I would learn a hard but ultimately valuable lesson.

The replacement of the front hubs was as hoped a fairly quick job once bearings and seals had been sourced but when it came to the rears I soon discovered that I would require new half shafts with tapered ends to carry the splined hubs. Buoyed with enthusiasm I rang round all contacts known to me at that time and learned that another owner who lived quite close to me had had a pair of shafts made for his own Aero and would be very happy to lend me a pattern and a special cutter which he had bought for the job. He pointed me in the direction of a local firm who had made them for him and off I went, happy as a sandboy. I asked for a quotation for a pair of shafts and rang a couple of days later to be told by an employee of the firm that it would cost £430. Not having had a pair of half shafts made before, I though that for a couple of turned steel bars about two foot six long it was expensive but would ultimately be worth it. Several long weeks passed with a number of delays and changes in delivery dates but they were finally ready and I went along to pick them up. As you, reader has probably already guessed the shafts were of course £430 EACH. At that stage I should have walked away but as I did not have the quotation in writing and I could, strictly speaking, have been wrong in my presumption that the quote was for the pair, I paid up and vowed never to let myself walk into that situation ever again. The postscript to this sorry tale is that some weeks later I found a NOS shaft on Ebay for £2.50 and then bought a second one from the chap I bought the car from for £20 ! My local engineer John who has helped me so much with the work told me that they were better than the ones I had had made and they are now in the car. The very expensive ones languish in a store cupboard in my workshop. Never again.

Ultimately the old rear hubs that I had bought were not really up to snuff when I came to fit them but the team at Orson Equipment in Dudley came up trumps and I soon took delivery of a beautiful brand spanking new set of hubs which completed the task. (Incidentally, they also quoted me £100 each for new half shafts!)
The wheels were the next problem to solve. The Aero wheels have a large centre hub which shrouds the brake drum and so cannot really be substituted for any other similar wheel without causing other problems. I was able to borrow a good old wheel from Barrie Williams and took it to Specialised Automobile Services, who were in the process of moving to a new factory at the time. This lead to a number of hold ups while they got settled in but I ended up with a fabulous new set of Aero wheels. Once shod with the very lovely new Blockley tyres the finished look is fantastic and very satisfying to see. Please see the pictures of the project.


(To view images please click on thumnail to enlarge, and scroll through section)

The car came with Singer 9 screen pillars or stanchions but with the correct type of screen frame which was a very good thing as the double curve shape would be tricky to replicate easily. I say type as it is in fact not an original, having no channel in the bottom for a ‘T’ section rubber skirt. I knew that another owner Peter, had his car in pieces and he very kindly allowed me to borrow his pillars as patterns. I had by chance discovered a foundry just west of London, New Pro Foundries that had made a cast of a tree carving in bronze for a local museum I am involved with. I contacted them and they were happy to make my new pillars for me. I duly raced up the M4 and deposited them with the foundry and within two weeks I was the proud owner of a lovely brand new pair of gunmetal items. I fettled and polished them myself to a certain degree and dropped them off at the chrome platers, Premier Plating in High Wycomb. Again about a fortnight later I had them back. The screen itself needed two small lugs attached to the face to carry the pivot and this work was carried beautifully out by a great local engineer, John. This frame was re-plated at the same time and I was able to fit the glass to the frame with new rubber seals from flat section bought from Phoenix, the pillars to the body (having made new rubbers) and the screen to the car. I was able to glue a rubber skirt successfully to the curved bottom edge of the screen using some fabulous super glue purchased from a stand at the Bristol Classic Car Show. One thing I discovered was that no two screens seemed to be the same. Everyone I spoke to had different measurements for every dimension that I needed to know. In the end I copied Peter’s measurements and have not been sorry. The pictures speak for themselves and the new screen with the new wheels makes all the difference.

Update October 2011

Well, things have moved on quite a bit since I last updated. I have continued to carry out improvements to ARW 480 as I find things that bother me. The radiator shell has been a story in itself but others may benefit from its telling.
I could see that the chrome on the radiator shell was wearing through in places and so decided that I would like to take a closer look at it. I removed the shell from the car and took it to Premier Plating for an assessment. They stripped it and gave me the bad news, the shell was as rotten as a pear and in their opinion beyond repair. It did look pretty sorry when stripped of its shiny coating and it was hard to argue with their assessment. I asked around for months but as expected finding a replacement shell would be a hard task and I had to consider all options – I now had a car with no rad shell and no immediate prospect of finding one. To get the car back on the road I decided to fill and paint the shell and refit it, which I did. While I had all feelers out for an old one I thought to myself ‘how hard can it be to make one’ and started off down the route of fabricating one from scratch.

I will not relate the whole tale here but suffice it to say I did make one from brass sheet but after a huge amount of effort over many, many weeks discovered that the grade of brass sheet I had used was making a very hard job extremely hard, not to say impossible – it was the wrong grade for panel forming, too hard. Anyway, after a massive amount of work I did finish it but events overtook me which I will start to tell you about now. Pic: Radshell 1

A gentleman rang me one evening and said, ‘You’ve got an Aero Minx, do you want another one, or two? They are in boxes but come and have a look at them if you’re interested’ Needless to say a couple of days later I was the proud owner of two more, boxed Aeros. Most of the main parts for two cars, including chassis, engines, axles, wheels, some bodywork AND documents were mine. 

Also included was one radiator shell, tatty but better than my existing one. A little while later I met another ‘old car nut’ from the village who told me he had just had all of his brightwork re-chromed by a company called S+T Plating in Yate near Bristol. I took the newest radshell down to them, they looked at it and said, yes, we can do something with that. About six weeks later I picked up my fantastic, new shiny rad shell. They had welded it, soldered it, polished it, copper plated it and finally chrome plated it and it is truly magnificent. A brilliant job, beautifully done. About a month later still, the chap I bought the two wrecks from rang and said he had sourced another, better radshell. It was such a nice one that I had the same job done on it by S+T and I suddenly had two ‘as new’ radshells. Funny how things turn out. The lessons I learned making my own shell were incredibly useful and have started me of on making all manner of panels and other items. I am planning to get more into body panel fabrication eventually and have already been on a few courses.

My New Aero ADU 101
I also began restoring one of the two wrecks and am already nearly at the rolling chassis stage with chassis, axles, wheels and brakes all done. I am in danger of getting too carried away and so will take a bit of a breather for a while so that my family – and bank account – can recover. A note of caution here regarding original documents. In an effort to get the two wrecks recognised by DVLA and get new log books issued I was advised by them to send a completed form and ONLY my original documents in. This I did but after several months of chasing and chivvying I was contacted by a manager from DVLA to tell me all of my original documents had been lost! DO NOT EVER SEND YOUR ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS TO DVLA. Even more bizarrely, completely out of the blue, I received a new log book for one of the cars a few weeks later still ! Don’t ask me.

The chassis

The chassis of ADU 101 was in quite good condition so its restoration has been fairly straightforward. I took it to a local grit blasting firm where it was blasted clean and painted immediately to avoid any danger of surface rust. They did a great job and this gave me a good start to the project. I also hand cleaned with drill and wire brush all of the various brackets and repainted them ready for refitting. 
I have aimed to keep to a methodical system but it seems that every time I think I am ready to assemble some components there is a part that I need which is still in the box of rusty bits and I have to stop while it is made ready. Worse still is discovering that the required part does not exist and needs sourcing.

The only thing wrong with the chassis was the fuel tank pan was missing. It seems that it had been cut out at some stage, possibly due to rot. I cut a sheet of steel to size and cut out the series of round holes as per the original on my other car. The holes are for reducing weight and also drainage. I then welded the new sheet into place although I did overheat it at some stage and it has buckled slightly which has been a source of annoyance. I do have to be realistic though and it simply isn’t worth replacing. It is new solid and will do its job.

I also took the leaf springs apart and cleaned them of all paint and grease. They were cord bound and again in very good condition and came up very nicely after a lot of elbow grease and wire brushing. I decided to refit original style bronze bushes and after consulting original manuals and carefully measuring the spring eyes, dumb irons and chassis brackets, came up with a design for both the shackle pins and bushes. They will comprise a steel bush fitted tightly to the spring eye, a bronze bush within the steel bush, a pair of thrust washers to bear on the ends of the bronze bush and lastly a shackle pin complete with grease channels and grease nipples. I still don’t know if I want to paint the springs but I will almost certainly bind them with cord again as I really like the look.

The front axle beam has also cleaned up very well as have the steering linkages although it did take me a while to track down new track rod ends. The early Hillmans seem to have different threads on the track rods to those on the steering links. I have decided to standardise these and have had new link bars made with threads to match those on the track rods. All these components have still to be assembled.

The Engine

Although the crank was in very good condition as were the shell bearings I decided to have them redone and went in search of someone to do this. At Beaulieu I met Ian Burlingham of JEL bearings and after a chat with Ian I decided to send the engine to him for white metalling which I duly did. He made a superb job of it and the work certainly looked terrific. He advised me that Austin Seven big end bolts would do the job and being plentiful this was good news. 
After carefully cleaning the rest of the engine block and giving it an initial coat of engine enamel I went for the assembly.  The crank dropped in nicely and turned very smoothly. I had previously bought a number of NOS pistons and chose the best set. After adjusting the piston rings as per the manual they slid in cleanly and after a bit of a false start when I overtightened a couple of the Austin big end bolts and stretched them the whole lot was torqued up and rotated very smoothly if a little tighter than I had expected.

Update September 2013

It has been far too long since I updated this story and I have forgotten much of the finer detail of what has occurred during the past months of toil so this may be a slightly abbreviated version of events.

Since completing the engine rebuild the engine has been installed in the car, the only difficulty being the lack of a particular mounting bracket that links the gearbox o the chassis. I had what I thought was the correct one but it did not fit. I was then given a second one that very nearly but sadly also ultimately did not fit. Finally I resorted to making one from some steel angle which after several tense welding sessions turned out quite well and connected everything pretty well, sandwiching the shaped rubber shock absorber between it and the gearbox.

The engine now being in the chassis I was able to continue to successfully assemble the previously mentioned springs and axles, closely followed by the stub axles and splined hubs. They looked really nice although I have to confess that the hardest thing by far is avoiding removing all the nice shiny new paint from the components as they go together. It is then impossible to re-spray any chips so I have invested in tins of paint to touch up such damage as it occurs. The wheels had been to James Whieldon near Salisbury Wilts for rebuilding and were now back in their shiny red paint. However, what happened next meant that the wheels did not go on the car and the whole project took an altogether new direction.

The Hillman Owners Club took a stand at the Classic Car Show at the NEC in November 2012 and we arranged for four Aeros to take pride of place. We had a cresta saloon from the Coventry Motor Museum, A streamlined two seater owned by Dr George Bailey, My four seater tourer and a lovely streamlined saloon owned by Dave Hanks.

To cut a long story short, having spent all weekend with the beautiful streamlined saloon I just had to have one and decided there and then to build ADU 101 as such a car, not having much of an idea of exactly how I was to go about it.

Dave Hanks was very supportive and allowed me unlimited access to his car to take as many measurements and other data as I need. The task being slightly further complicated by my decision not to copy Dave’s car exactly but to try to replicate the original 1932 motor show launch car which differs in some significant ways. This meant that I would have to work from the very few old photographs that exist in the slender archive that I have.

Quite how this decision affected the red wheels I will explain. I had always intended the tourer version to be red. I did not though see the coupe being red and quite quickly decided upon a two tone green scheme, with green or possibly black wheels. I therefore stuck the new red wheels on the green tourer and put the black ones on the project.

I now returned to ADU with renewed vigour to plan out the body shape and begin preparing some drawings to at least give me a guide. I decided to start with a known fixed point, the radiator and bonnet, and work my way backwards tackling windscreen, roof curve and rear wings in sequence.

I will not describe the whole process but suffice it to say progress was slow with a number of false starts while errors – mostly in dimensions and proportions – were corrected. It is always enormously tempting to consider allowing small discrepancies to go but never give in to the temptation, it will lead at the very least to disappointment if not disaster further down the line.

I am a carpenter by training and so was not particularly daunted by the ash framing and so far have enjoyed it very much, so much so that I cannot wait to have a go at another frame very soon. I am on the last leg now with all of the major shapes and curves complete. I am pleased with the shape and am excited by the prospect of having the aluminium skin fitted. I have two options for this element and am shortly going to have to decide who I ask to do the work. Probably the next big challenge foe me will be the doors as they are not only curved in two planes but also contain winding windows and some curved swage lines.