It is nearly a year now since I was able to write in MoTOR SPORT that a new step had been taken towards the preservation of those relics of a glorious past, which have supplied the material for the “Veteran Types” series of articles in this paper. The first step had been the formation, in 1930, of the Veteran Car Club, which has since looked after the pre-1905 car admirably. The advance has been the decision of the Vintage Sports Car Club to add to its activities among the cars of the 1920’s by catering for the post 1904 pre-War machines which were still friendless. In this connection it is perhaps permissible to divulge a secret and declare that important developments are afoot ; but in the meantime we must get on to the matter immediately in hand.
The Southport races have, I imagine, been a potent factor in fostering motoring ‘enthusiasm in the North of England. There is no doubt that it is there. Therefore, when certain members of the Vintage Sports Car Club were informed that if they would proceed to Lancashire they would see something to their advantage, they had no hesitation in accepting the invitation. The five members of the party had as one of their conveyances, fittingly enough, a 30/98 Vauxhall, which was being tun in at not more than 70 m.p.h.; the other vehicle, though capable of emulating this speed, once its excessive newness had worn off, was, as is apparent, of no ” vintage ” but 1987 and by no means a sports-car. The start was to be at Beaconsfield at 9 o’clock, and at 9.15 a.m. Balacleur arrived shamefacedly after some phenomenal avoidances in a fog. It was a let-off to find that there was still no sign of two others of the party, who were motoring to the start in a 2-litre Ballot. They arrived an hour later, after being three times en panne with inconveniences in the fuel supply, a trouble which some of us have encountered before in motors which have but recently been put back into circulation.
Thus we were about an hour and a half late in starting on our journey to Preston. Moreover the Minister of Transport might note that the road system is such that though all may lead to Rome, none of them leads to Preston. The two cars were soon separated, and for some hours we saw nothing of the Vauxhall, which we naturally believed to be miles ahead. When at last we reached our rendezvous however, there was no sign of it. Did we but know it, its crew were even then on a different road from ours making cabalistic signs upon its flywheel in an attempt to retime a slipped magneto drive. Instead of the Vauxhall, however, our eyes beheld a majestic sight in the form of a magnificent Daimler, with a
tonneau body in resplendent red. Its owner, Mr. Bradshaw, was there to show it off to us, and we avidly ran over its salient features (this is no reference to a motor accident).
An Ancestral Sleeve-Valve Daimler—The Racing Fiat ” Mephistopheles,” and others interviewed by the Vintage Sports Car Club.
According to the Daimler company, the chassis was built in 1906. If they say so, of course they must know, but without their evidence I must admit that I should have put its date some three years later. The engine, they admit, is as late as 1908, and I may say in parenthesis that the chassis fits it like a glove.
In dating it, at any rate, one is up against the hard facts of history. ” Of course,” in the words of the poem, “nobody believes that his engine works in its sleeves.” But it does ; and I do not think that Mr. Charles Y. Knight had invented such things in 1906. It is I think fairly certain that the Daimler company only introduced them for the 1909 season ; and if this one was built in 1908, we must have been gazing upon one of the first sleeve-valve Daimler engines ever constructed. Known as the 48 h.p. type, it has a bore and stroke of 140 x 150 mm., giving a capacity of 9,236 c.c. The cylinders are cast in pairs, and already bear that curiously simple external aspect so
typical of the sleeve-valve engine. Indeed from the grill-topped radiator the car is already essentially Daimler. The engine drives through a leather-cone clutch of impressive proportions to a four-speed gearbox, with a separate lever which operates reverse. Final drive Is by side-chains. Perhaps it is permissible to remark that even in 1909, when all others where shaft-driven, the 48 h.p. model still retained the older type of final drive. The wheel-base is 10 ft. 6 in., particularly long for the period, and this permits of fitting capacious carriagework. The dash-board and windscreen stand up well from the flat bonnet, and the steering column, rated well back, is braced from the top of the dash-board by an impressive brass rod. The luxurious front seat is upholstered in red leather, and the long wheel-base allows of sideentrance doors to the tonneau in spite of the side-chains, which are snugly enclosed in oil-tight cases (heaven help
you if a link breaks 0. Taken all in all it is a most impressive sight.
We will return to the Daimler shortly. But in the meantime we must make a digression which has rathermore to do with the story than appears at first sight. In the year 1908 there took place at Brooklands a famous challenge race between Mr. S. F. Edge’s Napier ” SampsOn. ” and a Fiat, equally picturesquely named. ” Mephistopheles ” driven by Felice Nazzaro, who had already won the Grand Prix once and was destined to do so again fourteen years later. Nazzaro not only won the race, but established a lap record at 121.6 m.p.h. This was a pretty astonishing performance, for the Fiat was a typical racing-car of the day using an enormous four-cylinder engine with the cylinders cast in pairs and overhead valves operated by pushrods ; a high chassis, final drive by sidechains and artillery wheels with detach
able rims. The performance caused a sufficient furore for the timing to be questioned, without I think the smallest justification. After the race the Fiat stayed in England and appeared fairly frequently at the Brooklands of pre-war days. Then as giant racers have a habit of doing, Mephistopheles completely disappeared.
He was re-discovered in 1921 by Captain J. F. Duff in a suburban garage and a pitiful condition. The new owner, however, set to work to get the car back into racing trim, and in July of that year appeared with it at the Fanoe meeting In Denmark, where he proceeded to set up a record for the course. After that, Mephistopheles was back at Brooklands again and continued to show some of his old form, until one day in a fit of Mephistophelian humour he threw his rear cylinder block through the bonnet while travelling at speed along the railway straight. The cylinders narrowly missed the driver’s head, and Duff decided that Mephisto was a bit of a handful.
In the fertile brain of E. A. D. Eldridge, however, great schemes were hatching. He was already possessed of a Fiat airship engine, and he now proceeded to acquire the remains of Mephistopheles with a view to an amalgamation. The airship engine possessed six-cylinders with a bore and stroke of 160 x 180 mm., giving a capacity of 21,714 c.c., and a fairly simple arithmetical calculation will demonstrate that such an engine must be of considerable length. Not the least of the alterations which had to be carried out on the old chassis therefore was its elongation by a matter of 18 inches.
The rejuvenated Mephistopheles was now back at Brooklauds, where however it was soon apparent that his potential speed was far too great for the track. He ran nevertheless in a number of races, and at Brookland.s in September 1923 Eldridge succeeded in capturing the world’s record for the standing mile at 77.86 m.p.h. Everyone, including probably the owner however, was still wanting to know the car’s maximum speed. In July 1924 they got their answer. The Automobile Club de France had selected a stretch of magnificent road at Arpajon, near Paris, and succeeded in closing it for attempts on the flying kilometre record. Thither the Fiat was taken, its chief rival being Rene Thomas’s twelve-cylinder Delage. The later succeeded in averaging 143.25 m.p.h. for the two runs but Mephistopheles capped this with a speed of 146.8 m.p.h. Thomas immediately protested on the grounds that the Fiat had no reverse gear. This caused a tremendous outcry, but there is no doubt that under the rules Thomas was entirely justified. Curiously enough, however, the previous record was held by Kennelin Lee Guinness on the twelve-cylinder Sunbeam, which
equally had no reverse. Nevertheless in order to settle all arguments Eldridge fitted a reverse gear and a week later having managed to get the road closed again, he took the kilometre record without further question at a speed of exactly 140 m.p.h. The car—or some of it-was by that time sixteen years old.
After that the car passed into the hands successively of L. C. G. M. le Champion, J. Sharratt and W. G. S. Wihe and recently put in a reappearance in the Southport races. Now at last we may cease our digression, for among the party which welcomed us at Preston were its penultimate and present owners. Without delay therefore we set off to visit one of the most famous racing-cars of all times. In a garage attached to a large factory we found Mephistopheles. It was certainly a sight to gladden the eyes. The first impression was of an unbelievably long bonnet, scarred by a huge exhaust pipe and attached to the other adjuncts of a motor car of more or less normal size. Upon more critical analysis one begins to be surprised that Eldridge really found the remains of Nazzaro’s original chassis worth using at all. There is little enough left of it now. It is fairly easy to see where the frame has been cut and a new section inserted. On this new portion incidentally is plainly stamped L.G.O.C. Looking again at the engine one is tempted to wonder why the owner did not install it in a bus chassis and have done with it. Instead of Nazzaro’s wooden wheels
there are of course Rudge-Whitworth’s, even those at the back which are larger than those in front, appearing curiously
small. Gone is the old-type radiator, square with semi-elliptical header-tank, and in its place is a new one which must I think have been made specially for the reconstructed car. In form a cross between the Fiat radiator of the 1920’s and that of a Brescia Bugatti, it is of impressive proportions and dropped well down between the chassis members to give an infinitesimal ground clearance. It is an attractive radiator and I was glad that the car was not wearing the cowl with which it sometimes used to appear in the old days. In spite of the length of the engine, moreover, Eldridge had resisted all temptations and set the radiator well back behind the front axle. Behind the engine the original Mephistopheles becomes more apparent. The clutch I imagine was Nazzaro’s, although Eldridge fitted a special system of oil supply to its withdrawal mechanism ; so• doubtless was the gearbox (which has a geared up top) but I am tolerably certain that the brake and gear-levers, though drilled for lightness in the most approved style, are of considerably later date. There is still the final drive by side-chains, but the neat little streamlined tail which
completes the car would have greatly surprised the pundits of 1908. The engine itself is nothing if not impressive. The six enormous cylinders are cast separately and along their top runs the single overhead camshaft, operating four inclined valves per cylinder. Ignition was originally by two coils firing plugs screwed horizontally into the
cylinder heads. Eldridge apparently decided to add two more, for which he provided plugs similarly arranged, making four per cylinder. The two carburetters on the off-side of the engine feed through a well-branched system of induction pipes.
One intriguing feature pointed out to us by the present owner of Mephistopheles is in that spite of all the Arpajon excitement the car now has no reverse gear. According to his explanation of this curious fact, Eldridge faced with the problem of the absence of a reverse gear rendering his record invalid, obtained some long driving chains and fitted them crossed between the sprockets 1 The French authorities objected that in this condition the car would not work ; whereupon Eldridge, proving himself at least the equal of Rene Thomas at quibbling, pointed out that although the rules admittedly stated that the car must have a reverse gear, they did not stipulate that the reverse gear should work 1 It is a delightful story, and I should like to believe it. At the same time I must admit that a contemporary account states that Eldridge worked on the car for two days fitting the reverse gear, which seems a long time to take fitting crossed driving chains. Moreover, although I have not the rules in front of me, the authorities must I think have been considerably more friendly than they are usually represented if they accepted Eldridge’s
interpretation. Even if the story is a myth, it is a very good story ; and the hard. fact remains that at present the car has no reverse gear. Reluctantly we dragged ourselves away from Mephistopheles, for Mr. Bradshaw
had still to introduce us to some of his collection of veterans. For our benefit an 1896 Benz was started up after vigorous pulLs on its flywheel and chuffed up and down with the slightly comical dignity of which only a nineteenth century Benz is capable. In addition there was a prewar Standard and a model T Ford with a racing body and an overhead valve Frontenac head, a machine surely to make one’s hair stand on end. It is said to have been driven by Mr. Bradshaw’s father at a speed of 112 m.p.h. But the ancestral Daimler awaited our further attention. Pressure had first to be pumped up in order to drive oil from a tank to the sumps and petrol to the carburetter. Starting from cold assisted by placing a hand over the air intake, which is reached by removing a floorboard. This curious fact is explained by the length of the air-intake, which is enormous, and by its being carried down
to end near the exhaust pipe. This proper precaution having been taken, the engine is started by means of a vigorous swing. Once it is in motion one is immediately struck by the amazing silence of the tick-over, which is a real tribute to the earliest of sleeve-valves. Taking our places in the luxurious carriage we set off for St. Annes. Immediately we had started the really remarkable acceleration of this ancient became apparent. Control of the engine is by Means of an ignition advance and throttle lever, both working on quadrants on the steering wheel, and an extra air inlet operated by a pedal. On each successive speed the Daimler leapt to her task. At last she had taken her top ratio of 2 to 1, and in the gathering dusk was bounding across the marshes flanking the sea. The Modern car following behind was showing 56 m.p.h. on its speedometer. ” But then ” remarked the driver ” I do not like to push her unduly. The throttle is only about half open.” The salt wind swept in our faces over the low
windscreen, as we bowled along, the engine amazinglysilent, scarcely a sound from the drains. What a marvel she must have been in her day 1 What a marvel she is to-day, for that matter. One member of the party in a moment of enthusiasm declared that the brakes were excellent. I should hardly go so far as to say that, but then he is used to an elderly ” 30i98.” Apart from
them the Daimler has very little to concede to its modern descendants. “Just look behind” said the driver “and see that there is some blue smoke, and that there is not a police car.” Really it would have to be quite a good police car to matter.
All too soon we had to return south, but not before we had elicited a promise from its owner that the Daimler would be entered in the pre-War class of the Vintage Sports Car Club’s speed trials this summer. If it is, it should certainly distinguish itself. It is what we are looking forward to now.