Book reviews, April 1965, April 1965



“Lanchester Motor Cars,” by Anthony Bird and Francis Hutton-Stott. 240 pp. 8-3/4 in. x 5-1/2 in. (Cassell and Co. Ltd., 35, Red Lion Square, London, W.C.1. 36s.)

Following closely on Anthony Bird’s Rolls-Royce book, this history of Lanchester cars by these two well-known enthusiasts for this make of car, is, taken as a whole, more readable than the former, although its presentation isn’t anything like so attractive, the illustrations are no more than of average quality, and for this latest Montagu Motor Book the publishers have been content to use their usual “blotting-paper.”

The style of writing and range of information imparted more than offset the foregoing comments. The authors have arrived at a happy compromise in covering a complex subject, for the three Lanchester brothers jointly had so much influence on the development of the motor car, and Dr. Frederick Lanchester, in particular, was a scientist and pioneer in matters outside the world of automobilism, that this must have been a difficult history to compile. Congratulations are therefore due to Anthony Bird for writing a book that is readable to the last page, which strikes just the right balance in comparing other contemporary products with those of the Lanchester Motor Company, and in presenting a fair and unbiased account of the work of the Lanchesters in the automotive field.

Naturally, much of the book is devoted to the remarkably advanced and completely unconventional Lanchesters of the veteran period, complete with fascinating discourses on their engines, suspension, transmission, ignition, controls and wick-carburetter. While reading about how and why F. W. Lanchester chose to design all these items differently from any other automobile engineer, the reader at the same time assimilates easily the broad picture of motor-car evolution.

The later days are equally well described, even to the last models bearing the illustrious name of Lanchester, so that even the little Lanchester Ten and subsequent models are seen in proper perspective and the Ten not as black as some writers would paint it! We learn that the 21-h.p. Lanchester was known as “The Pup,” being a smaller version of the great Forty, that George Lanchester worked on the design of the 12/70 Alvis, of why the 21 h.p. had four-wheel-brakes when the Forty did not, and many other intriguing facets of Lanchester history.

The manner in which, in its decline, Lanchester became entwined with Daimler, the controversial matter of whether Rolls-Royce or Lanchester were first with torsional crankshaft vibration dampers, and the commercial influences which strangled the brilliant technical attributes of Lanchester cars are well reported, while such unexpected aspects as Lanchester’s wooden cyclecar (which is illustrated) and George Lanchester’s solution to the mystery or the Yellow Emperor’s South-Pointing Chariot leaven the story. However, it is only fair to remark that some of this information was published previously in “The Life of an Engineer.” by Dr. P. W. Kingsford, which book Bird acknowledges and which Motor Sport reviewed at the time of its publication.

The Preface is by George Lanchester and the appendices cover such fascinating items as the Lanchester l.t. ignition, “M” – standard thread, unilateral gauge limits, the abduction of a policeman (in Kipling’s Lanchester car), the history of Lanchester springs 1918-31 (they are claimed to have been the only manufacturer to have made their own road springs), the specifications of all the Lanchester models from 1895 to 1956, and details of Lanchester successes in record-breaking and Brooklands races. The last-named is not entirely accurate, but only because two symbols identifying “Softly-Catch-Monkey” from the Lanchester Forty single-seaters have been omitted. (This reviewer, incidentally, was able to correct very minor errors in this department at proof stage.) The odd name of Tommy Hann’s “Hoich-Wayaryeh-Gointoo is incorrectly rendered in a caption, although it seems more logical as printed than as inscribed on the bonnet-sides of this 1911 racing Lanchester!

Otherwise, no complaints, except possibly a mild regret that more Lanchester anecdotes such as Hutton-Stott has at times regaled us with, do not figure in the text. Also, of course, verbatim quotes, such as that from my Motor Sport road-test report on the Lanchester Ten of 1946, are apt to be read in context with current instead of contemporary thought—the fast-driving handling qualities of this car, which I praised nineteen years ago, might fail to impress me today! Curiously, nowhere can I find any mention or the ingenious gauge-glass in the vintage Lanchester radiator which enables the water level to be checked without removal of the filler cap. It is also stated that no-one copied Lanchester’s full cantilever front springing, but Horstman had these, without the radius rods.

This is one of the best one-make histories yet published, the book obviously benefiting from the knowledge and enthusiasm of the joint authors. Bird having been bequeathed the late Lord Charnwood’s 1904 Lanchester and Hutton-Stott having a collection embracing almost every model of the marque at his home at Speen in Berkshire. The book even lists the appropriate clubs which Lanchester owners can join, although the list of models and owners on the Lanchester Register must have dated by the time the book was published.

Altogether, this is a worthwhile and splendidly written history, highly recommended.—W. B.


“The High-Speed Two-Stroke Petrol Engine,” by Philip H. Smith, A.M.I.MECH.E 432 pp. 8-3/4 in. x 5-1/2 in. (G. T. Foulis & Co. Ltd., 1-5, Portpool Lane, London, E.C.1., 55s.)

Either you like two-stroke engines, or you loathe them. For those in the former category, this comprehensive study of car and motorcycle-type two-cycle engines by the well-known technical author, Philip Smith, will be of absorbing: and instructional interest.

Although primarily a technical work, with chapters dividing the subject into the different parts of two-stroke engines from the design viewpoint, there is also a certain amount of history in this book. Indeed, Chapter 2 is devoted entirely to the origin of the valveless petrol engine, starting with the Lenoir gas-engine of circa 1880 and the pioneer “pumped” Clerk Cycle of the same period, while the following chapter deals with the early development of both conventional and unusual two-stroke engines. The Scott patents fill Chapter 4, with several pages and diagrams devoted to racing and car engines of this make, even the projected Scott two-stroke square-four aero-engine of 1917 being included.

Having thoroughly explained the technical aspects of port timing, scavenging, crankcase charging, the exhaust system, auxiliary and special porting, the induction, ignition, and lubrication systems of two-stroke engines and their cylinders, pistons and general mechanical design, the author adopts the useful practice of describing briefly current car, motorcycle and marine two-stroke power units, the car engines embracing the 3-cylinder D.K.W. range, the Saab 96, the Villiers Mk. 4T and the Wartburg 1000. The motorcycle engines described are the Ariel Arrow, 196-c.c. Bultaco, 125-c.c. Rumi, 596-c.c. Scott, Velocette flat-twin, Villiers Starmaker and Yahama YDS 2.

Extremely interesting is the chapter about racing, prototype and projected designs, the racing side commencing with the 1-1/2-litre Fiat and Duesenberg two-stroke racing engines prepared to the 1926-7 G.P. Formula. This leads on through D.K.W. and Scott racing engines to present-day power units such as the 50-c..c. T.T. Suzuki, 125-c.c, T.T. MZ, 125-c.c. E.M.C. de Hayilland 250-c.c MZ twin, and, in the car world again, the Mantzel and Mitter-modified D.K.W. engines. The illustration of the prototype Scott 90° vee-four is reproduced from Motor Sport. Altogether this book provides comprehensive coverage of this specialised subject, and it is very well illustrated.—W. B.

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Referring to last month’s review of “Autocourse 1963/4,” Sporting Motorist points out that it passed on the former publication because it did not want to depart from its high ideals and it had proved impossible to maintain standards they had set themselves, to produce it within a sensible time limit and to make it an economically viable proposition. Their Editor makes the point that the inherent difficulties are emphasised by the lateness of the new edition of “Autocourse” from the new publisher, and, further, that “Autocourse” was never a supplement to Sporting Motorist, as we iinplied, but a separate publication.

Cars in books

This feature has been running for so long that I am inclined to think that there are as many books in which cars, fictional or actual, are mentioned as those in which they are not! Last month I quoted from a book the author of which admitted that cars meant nothing to him, and in “Yesterday,” by His Honour J. W. Scobell Armstrong, C.B.E., (Hutchinson 1955) the matter is taken further by the eminent author remarking that “. . . in those quieter days they (men and women) looked at life with a clearer vision than is vouchsafed to them in an age when the road from birth to death resembles Silverstone Race Track.” Although this Judge regards the craving for speed as “childish” this did not prevent me from deriving considerable pleasure from his autobiography, in which he tells us that his “first drive in a motor car was along the road by the sea between Penzance and Marazion.” The car was a Serpollet steamer (spelt “Serpolet” in the book) and it “actually reached, between Penzance and Long Rock, the appalling speed of 30 m.p.h.” The Judge continues: “Today I not infrequently drive from Penzance to Bodmin at a speed exceeding at times 50 m.p.h. and feel neither surprised nor exhilarated but intensely bored”! And I would remind him that there was an occasion (page 76), when, to further his own interests, he “hired the first visible conveyance, and told the driver to drive along the Embankment as fast as he could “—so speed had its uses, at times! There is, too, a reference to some skilful driving by the author’s father’s chauffeur, “in the big Cadillac,” when a lady walked in front of the car, a fine tribute to the effective brakes of what was presumably a vintage Cadillac.—W. B.