A pioneer who, eight years ago, exceeded 200 m.p.h. with a 3-litre car
Eight years ago the motor-racing world was all agog with the struggle for the land-speed title. Segrave held it with the twin-engined Sunbeam at a speed of 203 m.p.h., but Campbell was challenging with his Bluebird, which was newly fitted with a 900 h.p. Napier Schneider Trophy engine. Against him were ranged two American drivers, handling cars which displayed the greatest possible contrast in design. Keech ‘s car was the White Triplex, a mechanical atrocity consisting of a truck chassis on which were mounted three Liberty aero engines, with a total capacity of 81,000 c.c. The other machine was the Lockhart Stutz, a slender projectile, beautifully streamlined, and powered with a mere three litres of capacity.
Lockhart’s untimely death prevented the full speed of the car from being known, but in practice runs at Daytona it attained a speed of over 200 m.p.h. Such a speed eight years ago was almost unthinkable, and in fact, since Lockhart’s speeds were only put up in practice, the 3-litre flying-mile still stands at a mere 136 m.p.h. It is particularly interesting to know that at the present time, Freddy Dixon is breaking away from aeroplaneengined monsters in his attempts to secure the land-speed record, and will use an engine of eight to ten litres, which though it is nearly three times the size of Lockhart’s unit can at any rate be considered as coming within the limit of private-car capacities.
No mention of the Lockhart Stutz would be complete without some account of the driver’s amazing rise to fame. At the age of 20 he was employed in California doing stunt driving for film companies. Race organisers down there soon recog nised that here was a coming man, and he was soon racing on the dirttracks there. In 1926 he took part for the first time in the 500-miles race at Indianapolis, at the wheel of a 1-litre Miller, and to everyone’s astonishment carried off first place at a speed of 95.8 m.p.h. The following year he competed again, but went out with engine trouble after running at even higher speeds. Then taking the Miller to Murock Salt Lake, California, he captured the 1.4-1itre record with a speed of 164.01 m.p.h., a speed which stands to this day.
Segrave’s record-breaking run in 1927 made a tremendous impression in the United States, and public opinion criedout for a car to compete for the record which Englishmen were striving for on American ground. Lockhart felt confident that he could design a car which would do the trick. He was, at that time, working in the experimental department of the Stutz Company at Indianapolis. The firm at that time took a prominent part in stock car events, though they had not gone out for records. They agreed to the proposal, and Lockhart began his labours on the new car. A practical mechanic as well as a driver and designer, he constructed many parts of the car with his own hands, and in addition put up £2,000 of his own savings towards the £14,000 which it ultimately cost.
As might have been expected, the record-breaker combined points from both Miller and Stutz design, the cylinder-blocks being those of the former car, while the transmission followed Stutz practice. The engine lay-out, chassis design, and the perfect streamlining, in fact the whole general conception, was the young American’s own. The engine had two blocks of eight cylinders, inclined at 15 degrees to one another, and two crankshafts geared together at the rear by means of a central pinion mounted at the front end of the tical overhead valves were used with two overhead camshafts. The engine was designed to run up to 7,500 r.p.m., when 400 h.p. was developed. Two centrifugal blowers mounted at the front end of the engine ran at five times engine speed, and forced the mixture into a central reservoir between the cylinders. There were, therefore, no less than over sixty explosions per second, and combined with the blower wail at nearly 40,000 r.p.m., the engine made the most shattering sound imaginable.
A three-speed gear-box was used. At 7,000 r.p.m., the road speeds were 60 on first, 160 on second and 220 m.p.h. on direct. A worm drive back axle was used with a ratio of 2.2 to 1 and the tyres were 30 by 5 in. A single steering box was used with two fore and aft rods.
The chassis was light, extremely narrow and tapered to a point at the rear, where it carried the point of the streamline body. The fuel tank was minute holding only two or three gallons. The front springing was unusual consisting of two pairs of very short quarter-elliptic springs arranged on either side of the chassis above and below the axle. Hydraulic brakes were used.
The polished aluminium body was just wide enough to fit the driver and the top of the bonnet was only thirty-six inches above the ground. Ice was used in the two aeroplane radiators, which were carried on the scuttle, and all other parts of the mechanism were completely enclosed. Aluminium fairings enclosed the disc wheels to within a few inches of the ground, and the axles were similarly dealt with to offer the minimum resistance. The wheelbase w;,, 9 ft. 4 in. and the track 4 ft. 4 in., the total length of the body was 16 ft. and each wheel fairing was 5 ft. front to rear. The complete car weighed 26 cwt.
At the beginning of 1928 all was ready and Lockhart set off for Daytona, where he proposed to make his final tests. Only 24 years old, his skill and courage and his pleasant and unassuming way had already made him a national figue commanding almost the respect of Lindbergh himself, and his fortunes at Daytona were closely followed throughout the United States.
With no surplus horse-power to play with, the tuning of the Stutz took a considerable time, the car was only beginning to give of its best when the week set apart for the record attempts came along. It had, however, made one run at 202 m.p.h., so hopes were high.
Once again trouble ensued, first with clutch slip and then with faulty carburetion. The beach was in bad condition, and even Sir Malcolm Campbell with his enormous Bluebird found it difficult to hold a straight course. Two days before the end of the week Campbell made his attempt, and succeeded in raising the record by 3 m.p.h. to 206 m.p.h. Lockhart was disspirited, not wishing to drive his light car under such unfavourable conditions, but pressed strongly by his friends, determined to make a final try on the last day of the meeting.
A light rain was falling as he went down to the beach ; to make matters worse, there was a strong in-shore wind. He decided to start from the south end of the course, and soon a high-pitched drone heralded the coming of the tiny silver car flashing up at terrific speed to the beginning of the measured mile. Scarcely had it passed the closely-packed crowds when it was seen to swerve. A gust of wind had caught it, swung it in close to the sand-hills, then out again, heading for the sea.
Still travelling at 150 m.p.h. it struck the water, throwing up a sheet of water fifty feet high. Up it shot again, turned a double somersault in the air and crashed down amidst the breaking surf. Dozens of helpers rushed across the beach and into the water and tried to drag the driver from the cockpit, though it seemed almost impossible that he could still be alive. At last a chain of men and women combined their strength to drag the car from the water, to find that Lockhart though knocked unconscious and imprisoned by the steering wheel was almost unhurt. It was one of the most astonishing escapes in the extraordinary history of motor-racing.
Undeterred by his hair-breadth escape from death, Lockhart set to work to rebuild the car. Keech, too, was all out for the record which he had been prevented from attempting in February owing to his car not being fitted with a reverse gear. On the 22nd April he made his attempt, and beat Campbell’s record with a speed of 207.5 m.p.h. His arm was badly burnt with burning petrol thrown out from a back-fire, and like previous contestants he had several bad moments from a gusty cross-wind.
This new record was a challenge which Lockhart was unable to resist, and three days later he was down at the beach. The surface was cut up, with ruts running parallel to the shore, but he was determined to make the attempt. On his third run he clocked 203.45 m.p.h. Coming south at maximum speed on the fourth run, one of the rear tyres burst almost opposite the grandstand: In an instant the car swung sideways, was half corrected, bounded into the air and turned a somersault and slid along again for another hundred yards before coming to rest. The driver was flung out as the car turned over, and killed instantly, ending in this unhappy way the career of America’s most promising young driver.
Daytona had taken toll of yet another victim, and had set back the progress of the small record-breaker for another six years. Had the record attempts been run on the perfect surface of the Salduro Salt Flats, the result might have been far different. As it was, not until the advent of the German racing cars, with their independent suspension, has 200 m.p.h. with a small car been deemed possible, and even those machines, of course, had a capacity of over three litres. When considering the speeds of modern racing cars and also the prospects of Freddy Dixon with his 8-litre record-breaker, let us therefore never forget the name of Frank Lockhart, the pioneer, who bettered 200 m.p.h. with three litres in 1928.