Rumblings, April 1943

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A very good play

It is not often now that one is able to relax and attend a London theatre, but one evening last month we were able to do just that and gravitated to the Apollo, to see Terence Rattigan’s “Flare Path”. Although this play has had a very long run, the house was crowded and, not surprising in view of the R.A.F. flavour, uniforms were much in evidence. The cast is admirably chosen, and it was only by very short odds that we voted Ivan Samson as Squadron-Leader Swanson, the aerodrome Adjutant and self-confessed “desk-pilot”, Martin Walker as Peter Kyle, the actor, and Molly Congreve as Mrs. Oakes, the Victorian hotel proprietress with a heart of gold, as out in front.

Certainly Leslie Dwyer as Sergeant Miller, the cockney rear gunner of a Wellington, Kathleen Harrison as the equally cockney Mrs. Miller, and Emrys Jones as the outwardly fearless Flight-Lieut. Graham, captain of a Wellington night bomber, whose nervous breakdown changes the whole course of the story, are very near runners-up. The play has its dramatic moments, and, for those who understand the great job which the R.A.F. is doing, a certain drama: it is, too, an object-lesson in the need to be absolutely discreet about “official information.” The sound effects are really magnificent, and in conjunction with the up-to-the-minute script and well-picked cast, make one ponder on what Terence Rattigan might not do with a motor-racing play directed by Anthony Asquith. Perhaps he will take the hint. . . . In the meantime, you should endeavour to see “Flare Path”, which is certainly more topical at present.

Aero-engined

Aero-engined racing cars were in vogue in the early nineteen-twenties, and about the last examples to be built happened around 1927, when poor Parry-Thomas’s death did little to prolong their existence. However, a letter from J. W. Burnand brings news of a recently-built “special” with a power unit of this kind. I remember Burnand motoring rather successfully at Southport and in speed trials with the little J.W.B., and he sends several pictures of this car, which covered the 0.5-mile at Wetherby in 31.95 secs, and finished 2nd in a 20-mile race at Southport in 1939, averaging 67.83 m.p.h. and losing by mere yards. The J.W.B. started as a sort of home-brewed Austin Seven with the driving seat literally behind the back-axle. but was later very considerably cleaned up and given a Riley Nine engine with twin S.U. carburetters, four separate exhaust pipes, an Armstrong-Siddeley water pump, Austin Seven front and rear axles and radiator, Bugatti steering, a steering-wheel off a 1905 car owned by Burnand ‘s father, aeroplane pressure gauges and rev.-counter, and a 5-gallon oil drum for a fuel tank. To revert to the aero-engined car, this is a 3-litre G.P. Sunbeam chassis—presumably one of the 1921 straight-eights, as Heal and Pratley will doubtless confirm—into which has been installed a V12 14.5-litre Rolls Royce “Falcon” aero engine. This engine gives 275 b.h.p. at 2,000 r.p.m., and, with a clutch and flywheel added, weighs about 7.5 cwt. The Sunbeam gearbox is retained, fitted back-to-front in the chassis, so that bottom gear is now “top”. The plot is to run the car in speed trials, and it is a very workmanlike job, combining the awe-inspiring appeal of the old aero-engined giants with something like practicability. I am very anxious to see it in action! Burnand really wrote about his “Alphonzo” Hispano-Suiza, which was mentioned in the article on the Vintage S.C.C. in the February issue. He owned this healthy veteran for four seasons, and in two years covered some 25,000 miles with it, entirely without involuntary pause. On a final drive ratio of 3 to 1 the Hispano would do about 70 m.p.h., and took the Snake, out of Sheffield, in top. Burnand’s last run in the old car was from Glasgow to Sheffield at an average of over 40 m.p.h., without using maximum r.p.m., in 1935 or 1986. As Capt. Wylie would tell you, the veterans are not to be despised. Burnand also recalls his 1922 “Blue Label” 3-litre Bentley, which from being a rear-braked saloon was converted into an open tourer with a Minerva f.w.b. axle and 7 in. x 21 in. tyres all round. This he had until after the outbreak of strife. His present car is an Alvis “Speed Twenty”, which used to tow the J.W.B. to meetings and which is still giving sound service. The sort of letter which warms the cockles. . . .

Unexpected

In search of spare parts, we turned off the main road and ran across a rough track over a village green. Passing through an iron gate, liberally chained and padlocked and bearing a notice “Strictly Private”, we woke the dogs chained to the railings before a solid, brick-built house. The owner, white-haired and unkempt, came forward to enquire our wants. He showed us the house, which he built after the last war for a son who had been gassed at the front, and the pumping plant he had devised to bring water from the near-by river. He spoke of the old engineering days and revealed a staggering collection of tools of all kinds which he had stored in the house and in adjoining sheds. He proudly displayed his all-white turkeys, and said, sadly, that foodstuffs for his poultry were nowadays very restricted, while the D.P.O. had offered him but one gallon a month for his Hillman Minx saloon. He pointed out a host of Austin charging-plants, a model-T Ford lorry with worm-driven rear axle and the earliest of early tipping bodies, an aircooled single-cylinder engine from an A.C. “Sociable”, a penny-farthing bicycle, and a very early 2-stroke James motor-bicycle that had scarcely been used. We were still hardly prepared for what was to come. Opening the doors of some rather more isolated sheds, our host indicated boxes full of magnetos, lengths of exhaust pipe, some 50 crankshafts piled high on a bench, and pattern-boxes stacked against the wall. . . .

Outside, hidden beneath some rubbish, was an Astral chassis, just as it had come off the stand at Olympia. Two tourers, which we had mistaken for early Citroens, turned out to be of the same make, with neat o.h.c. 4-cylinder engines beneath their rusty bonnets. As if to confirm that such a make had, indeed, existed, our informant mentioned that David Drummond, a banker’s son, had raced one of these cars at Brooklands–our records show that this driver first entered a 1,720-c.c. Astral “Goshawk” for the 1923 B.A.R.C. August meeting. Our informant was partner in the concern until it closed down, when he moved the contents of the East London works, lock, stock and barrel, to his country home. We had, in fact, literally come upon a motor car factory in a field.

Experimental

The experimental streamline Aston-Martin saloon, on which we reported fully in Motor Sport for June, 1942, is in daily use. Mr. Gordon Sutherland, of Aston-Martin, Ltd., may or may not go into production with such a car after the war, but if he does he intends to give this Aston-Martin something different from the old-type 2-litre engine with which the experimental “Atom” is endowed and to increase the wheelbase probably to 9 ft. 6 in. The coachwork, however, will remain essentially super-sports, interior space being sacrificed to air-cleaving qualities, so that this will be a car appealing only to the sporting fraternity, as befits the Feltham works. Mr. Sutherland favours retention of independent front suspension, a normal rear axle, a Cotal gearbox, and the present frontal treatment with concealed radiator. He visualises a smooth-running, silent sports saloon of around 100 b.h.p., capable of at least 90 m.p.h., and having very fine accelerative abilities, while giving at least 20 m.p.g., no matter how hard it is driven. He drives to and from business every week-day in the experimental car and runs it up a steep ramp into the works, which should convince those sceptics who consider that streamline form implies long, easily-damaged tail-ends. Tuned for economy, with single carburetter, an extra air-valve and a Cox Atomiser, and using “Petroids” in the Pool and Essolube 20 oil, the car contrives to do 30 m.p.g. on 15-mile runs, which should represent 35 m.p.g. on longer journeys; in this condition it is capable of 70 m.p.h. Nice, indeed!

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