VETERAN TYPES–” VIEUX CHARLES III”
A 1912 GRAND PRIX LORRAINE-DIETRICH By BALADEUR
IN 1908 the French motor industry suffered a grievous defeat in the Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France. This race, the Grand Prix, had originally been organised to avoid just such a contingency. The Gordon Bennett Cup race rules stipulated that each country might enter three cars ; and although France had won it in 1904 and 1905, she felt that it was manifestly unfair that, with far the largest motor industry in the world, she was only allowed to enter the same number of cars as were other countries. So in 1906 it was decided that the Gordon Bennett rave should be run no more, and that the Grand Prix should be run in its stead. At first all went well, for in that year the race was won by a Renault. The next year however was bad enough, for an Italian F.I.A.T. car came in first. But this was nothing to 1908 ! When the final results were posted, a German Mercedes was first, a German Benz second, a German Benz third, a German Mercedes fifth, a German Opel sixth, and a German Benz seventh. Fourth place with a BayardClement was the best that France could do. It absolutely knocked the heart out of the French manufacturers. The A.C.F. got out the rules for the 1909 Grand Prix, but there was practically no support for it. The same situation ruled in 1910 and 1911. Then the tide
turned, and when the AC. V. announced a great two-day race at Dieppe for 1912 entries began to poer in until they reached the formidable total of fifty-eight.
But the old French champions still had not the heart to come back. Where were Panhard et LevaFsor, Brasier, Renault, Bayard-Clement and Mors ? Only one of the names famous in the early Grand Prix era was present on the entry list—Lorraine-Dietrich. Still, this was a name to conjure with. The nineteenth Century entry lists had seen it—so had Paris-Berlin and ParisViemia. In Paris-Madrid Charles Jarrott’s De Dietrich had finished third in the heavy
class. In 1905 Duray’s De Dietrich was in the French team for the Gordon Bennett Cup. The Grand Prix of 1906, 1907 and 1908 had seen the marque in the entry list and in 1906 Durav’s De Dietrich had won the Circuit des Ardennes. When the aficionados assembled at Dieppe for the 1912 Grand Prix, the LorraineDietrichs were well up among the favourites. During the hiatus of 1908 to 1912 the world of motor-racing had not stood still. Almost unnoticed by contemporary observers the thread had been taken up where the old Champions had laid it down by the protagonists of the Coupe
des Voiturettes. Among this despised ” small beer “new names, or names almost forgotten, had been coming to the fore. Peugeot, Delage, Sizaire-Naudin, 1-lipano-Sniza, Sunbeam, Vauxhall and the rest. Under first a limited bore and then a limited capacity rule, these makers had evolved the light high-speed engined racer which was destined to become the prototype of racing-cars for twenty years. The Delage which won the race in 1911 had a four-cylinder engine of 80 x 149 mm. bore and stroke, dimensions which were to set the standard for ” :3-litres ” for years to come. And, in Spite of this ” diminutive ” engine, it succeeded in averaging 55 m.p.h. for 387 miles of the
Boulogne circuit. The Peugeot, which finished second, had a bore and stroke of 78 x 156 mm.—–its designers had loved long strokes ever since the days of the limited bore rule, and were probably guided by the 2 to 1 limit on the strokebore ratio in 1911. This marque had entered for the Grand Prix in 1912, which was a ” free-for-all “
race. Its designers, however, had chosen a moderate engine size with dimensions of 110 x 200 min.—they still clung to their long Stroke—and a capacity of 7,602 c.c. It is to be feared that all this development had rather passed Lorraine-Dietrich by. In their heyday, when they had won the Circuit des Ardennes in 1 904i, they had used a bore and stroke of 190 x 160 nun. The rules for the 1908 Grand Prix had limited the bore of engines to 155 mm., and, greatly daring, they had used a stroke of 180 min.—almost the longest used in the race. Perhaps, they felt that a real big bore was a thing of the past, and se) for 1912 they decided on the small one stipulated for the 1908 race. This was 40 per cent. greater than that used by Peugeot ; but they had heard all about these long strokes which were being used by the Voiturettes, and their engine had the same stroke as the
Peugeot. Nevertheless, the bore-stroke ratio was rather different and dimensions of 155 x200 mm. gave a capacity of 15,095 c.c.—almost twice as big as that of the Peugeot. In other respects the LorraineDietriChs were still almost 1908 racers, with their push-rod operated overhead valves and final drive by side chains. Four cars were entered for the race and had as their drivers, Bablot, who had won the 1911 Coupe des Voiturettes, Hemery and Hantiot of the successful Benz team in 1908, and Heim, a less well known driver. It must be admitted that the tale of the race itself is hardly a stirring one from the point of view of Lorraine-Dietrich. Ten laps were to be covered on each of two days, making a total of twenty. On the second lap Hemery cracked a cylinder and Heim also fell out, while on the seventh circuit a fate similar to Hemery’s overtook Bablot. This only left Hanriot at the end of the first day, and he for some reason did not start on the second. It was left to F.I.A.T. the other protagonist of the old regime to pit ,its giant red racers against the impudent i=oiturettes and to
go down on the last lap to the victorious Peugeot. The last, however, had not yet been heard of at least one of the 1912 Grand Prix Lorraine-Dietrichs. There could be little thought of trying again in the 1913 Grand Prix, for the rules stipulated a maximum petrol consumption which induced Peugeot, for instance, to reduce their engine size to 5,6′.4 c.c. B roo klands, however, that refuge of the obsolescent racing-car, saved at least one of the Lorraine-Dietrich team from oblivion. It was brought to this country by Sir Malcolm Campbell—it would be interesting some time to compile a list of all the interesting racers which he has imported. From him it passed into the hands of the Hon. H, M. Upton, who entered it for the first Brooklands meeting held after the War, the Whitsun Meeting
of 1920. The Lorraine-Dietrich was already eight years old—a mere chicken in the light of later performances, but thus early it showed its mettle. Driven by W. D. Hawkes it won both the short and the long 100 m.p.h. handicaps, the latter at 90.5 m.p.h. This was the start of a long-and successful Brooklands career. Three years later we find it again winning a 100 m.p.h. long handicap, the thirty-fourth, at the Summer Meeting of 1923, driven this time by A. Ellison. By now, too, the car had found more speed, for its average for the race was 96 m.p.h. Later in the season V,11ison again scored a first, this time in the twenty-second Lightning Long Handicap, which he won at 96.5 m.p.h. at the Autumn Meeting. During 1924 he collected Several seconds and thirds, without however scoring any actual wins. At
the Summer Meeting of 1923, however, W. D. Hawkes was more fortunate, for he came home first in the twenty-ninth Lightning Short. Handicap. Moreover, like a real vintage wine, ” Vieux Ch;irles III,” as the Lorraine-Dietrich was known in its Brooklands days, seemed to be
improving with age, and in spite of this being only a 51mile race, the old car ; -.speed increased to 99 m.p.h.
Already, however, the Brooklands Authorities were beginning to frown on the chain-driven pre-War racing-car. One by one they disappeared from the scene, and among them the veteran Lorraine-Dietrich retired into obscurity. I myself lost sight of it for several years, until one day I went down to Brooklands to visit C. S. Burney and the stable of veteran ears which he kept there. Most of his stock, of course, consisted of real veterans—pre-1905 maehines—but at the back of his sheds I espied a mere chicken by comparison, but a stirring sight nevertheless, ” Vieux Charles HI ” him
self. ” I hope to get the old LorraineDietrich going one of these days ‘ Mr. Burney told inc. Some years later, however, Burney ‘s premises and a large part of his stock passed into the hands of R. C. J. Nash, who thus acquired the Lorraine-Dietrich. Moreover, by this time the Vintage Sports Car Club was in existence and was providing, in the pre-War Class, at its speed trials, just the setting for the re appearance of ” Vieux Charles.First of all at the opening of the new track at the Crystal Palace on 2 Rh :pril, 1937, Nash appeared with the I,orraineDietrich to give a ” demonstration run ” (the authorities were insistent that it must not be a race for these dangerous monsters of the past) in company with
Clutton’s 1998 12-litre Itala. ” Vieux Charles ” promptly exhibited a surprising turn of speed—he was unofficially credited with covering a flying lap of the difficult circuit at 37 m.p.h.–and showed, according to elution, a clean pair of heels to the Itala.
At the end of the season, however, in the Vintage Sports Car Club speed trials at Croydon on 5th September, they met again, this time in earnest and a real speed event. There was no doubt now that, with its extra 3 litres of capacity and weight of only 254 cwt. compared with the $4 cwt. of the Itala, the LorraineDietrich was the faster tar of the two It got round the difficult course in 40.2 seconds, which was faster than at least one of the modern car class winners.