This contest was instituted by the late Laurence Pomeroy in memory of his father, who designed Vauxhall and Daimler cars of the vintage era. He gave a Rex Hays’ model of a 1914 G.P. Vauxhall as a prize, stipulating that various tests be held to determine the best all-round touring car. Now that Laurence Pomeroy, too, is dead, this competition constitutes a fitting memorial to both father and son….
Down the years the contest has undergone some changes. It is the only V.S.C.C. event open to modern as well as pre-1941 cars and to secure a good entry all sizes are permitted, although the Pomeroy Trophy is only applicable to those exceeding 2,250 c.c. This year, due to the stricter control of rallies, the Sunday road section had to be abandoned, another event used part of the proposed route an hour beforehand, whereas the M.o.T. stipulates a week between each. So the issue was decided in a series of tests at Silverstone, on March 19th. In recent times what was intended as a touring car event has attracted sports/racing cars, but next year it is proposed to take into account luggage capacity, etc., and perhaps to require hoods to be used, and lowered, during the high-speed run, to bring things more closely in line with what Pomeroy had in mind.
This year’s event had an entry of 60, plus two reserves, of which 47 were in the over-2 1/2-litre class. The new V.S.C.C. President, Ron Barker, did not compete but made many excursions round the Paddock in his narrow-track 1922 Peugeot Quad.
In the steering test, Black’s ex-Summers’ 1931 Monza Alfa Romeo was very rapid indeed through the pylons, Stewart’s 1923 3-litre Bentley rather wild, Goodacre’s rusty 1957 Austin-Healey 100/6 quick, whereas Milner’s 1922 30/98 Vauxhall was sedate. Gue went the wrong way and spun his 1931 low-chassis 4 1/2-litre Invicta in swerving onto course, Bromley-Johnson’s 4 1/2-litre Bentley-powered T.T. Replica Frazer Nash accelerated well, Thompson handled his 1955 Jensen M45 gently, Jones was trying hard in his 30/98 Vauxhall, as was Barraclough in a lowered 8 1/2-litre Bentley, while Langton’s 1930 low-chassis 4 1/2-litre Invicta raised stones and dust through the chicanes. BendaII’s smart 30/98 Vauxhall was spitting back, Shoosmith’s Speed Six Bentley wasn’t very fast, Millar made his 30/98 Vauxhall Wensum lean on its tyres, Mrs. Shoosmith (flee Rose) in her 3 1/2-litre Bentley was quick, Blight took the first barrel with arms crossed in the 3.3-litre Talbot 105, BGH 23, Graham kept the hood of his 1929 DM Delage up, Saunders’ A.C. Ace-Zephyr was slow, and le Sage’s DB3S Aston Martin spun at the first pylon and knocked it over. Michael Bowler did lots of wheel-twirling in Blight’s Talbot 105, GO 52, and was followed by his father, naturally Bentley-mounted, Leo’s V12 4-cam sports/racing Lagonda was unimpressive, Merrick almost lost his M.G.-B, Bickerton made a splendid run in his T.T. Replica Frazer Nash Six and Giles was trying hard in his earlier T.T. Replica Nash, but Court merely toured along in his Porsche 1600. A misfiring engine slowed Hutchings’ 328 B.M.W., last year’s outright winner, a Cooper-Bristol seemed to be taking charge of Curtis, and Skirrow in his very fast Anzani-engined Frazer Nash Interceptor actually changed up.
While the brake test was taking place close to the pits wall, we looked round the Paddock, noticing that whereas Talbot BGH 23 had podgy 6.50 x 16 rear and 6.00 x 16 front tyres, GO 52 had 5.50 .18 racing Dunlops all round. Too many cars were on oversize tyres, like the 6.50 x 16s on the back wheels of Mrs. Shoosmith’s Bentley. “Jonty” Williamson’s Bentley had a 5.7-litre engine using four “pots” from a Speed Six, and the battery served as an arm-rest in Crocker’s’ Lagonda V12 “racer.”
Pollard again ran his blown 4.7-litre Studebaker Avanti, Corner had forsaken his Alfas for a Ferrari 250GT Berlinetta, Weeks’ Special had an 18/80 M.G. engine, gearbox and axles in a Riley chassis frame, with G-type M.G. body, and Joseland’s 1939 Atalanta saloon went very well, powered by a 20/25 Rolls-Royce engine. Back-wheel-braked cars were represented by Mann’s Straker-Squire. Clarke’s 1913 Talbot 25SB and Marsh’s 1920 Talbot 25/50 all-weather, which tended to seize up. Even the saloons had a go, H.C. Bergel’s Volvo 121 proving no sluggard in the high-speed trial and faster than Harding’s Volvo 122S.
After timed 1/4-miles there were two one-hour high-speed trials, which went off without incident, except that Weeks had a rear spring hanger come adrift on the Riley/M.G. and a body panel took flight from Glutton’s Type 43 Bugatti. Black’s Alfa Romeo went extremely well in the first hour run, and Hutchings’ 1937 328. B.M.W., rebuilt alter its Castle Combe crash, led the second. The two Talbot 105s frequently came round line-ahead, on one occasion passing a Bentley, one on each side, and the DB3S sent out an alarming smoke cloud for one lap. Nutter’s 6 1/2-litre Bentley out-cornered the Porsche at Beckett’s, Bergel’s Volvo was faster than Edwards’ Ulster Aston Martin, and Merrick’s M.G.-B, hood up, was notably quick. It was rumoured that Marsh and Clutton had prudently put their better tyres on the off-side wheels for this spell of motor-racing!
The Pomeroy Trophy win is decided by a complex formula, and the six best times in the individual tests, which bear on this, are appended. It will be noticed that modern cars are conspicuous by their poor showing in the steering test and that Mrs. Shoosmith’s Bentley upheld the “Silent Sports Car” slogan in the noise-level check. How fitting that Blight’s “oversize” Talbot 105 vindicated itself as the best all-round touring car, justifying again Roesch’s h.c. 6-cylinder engine with lightweight push-rod valve gear and disc-web crankshaft!-W.B.
When buildings were demolished recently at Bagshot a rusty but complete 1929/30 Austin 7 van was revealed. A 1935 Rover 12 with Salmons body was for sale in Rutland. The West of England Transport Collection staged its first open day of the season last month, and the Chapman Transport Collection at Taggs Island has an open day on Easter Sunday. Dudley Gahagan is rebuilding the Zoller-blown M.G. Montlhery Midget two-seater used in sprints by Dennis Evans, and he has also acquired the ex-J.H.T. Smith K3 M.G. Magnette. The motor engineering students of Stopsley Evening Institute are restoring a 1935 Hooper-bodied Daimler light straight-8 and the Principal, Mr. D.T. Wilson, wants to buy or borrow a workshop manual. Letters can be forwarded. The new President of the V.C.C. is Mr. Evelyn Mawer; membership is 1,873. Pomeroy’s 1914 Prince Henry Vauxhall is to be assembled for sale at Sotheby’s’. The A.C.O.C. has some 80 pre-1930 A.C.s on its books. G. Hooper, 540, Woodway Lane, Wyken, Coventry, is forming a Delahaye Register and requests data on these cars, and a reader seeks the history of the 1949 Silverstone Healey Motor Sport road-tested when it was a new model (Reg. No. JAC 100).
Traction Avant (continued)
Finally confining this list to cars commonly available on the British Market, Volkswagen, whose every model and unshakable reputation was founded on Dr. Porsche’s rear-engined design, have swung over to f.w.d. for the new Audi 1700 they built in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz. The E. German Wartburg, Trabant and Barkas, Vanden Plas 1100, the cab-like Checker from Michigan, the Spanish TZ,,and the Australian Zeta can be added, all front-drive vehicles.
Convention, in the form of placing the engine ahead of the driver, coupled to a driven back axle, predominates, but the rise of f.w.d. cannot be ignored. For small cars its properties of safe cornering, simple installation, an unobstructed floor and conventional rear luggage-boot are ousting rear-engine advantages, which are whittled down to somewhat better uphill traction on slippery ground and noise and fumes isolated from the driving compartment. Up to now there is thought to have been a limit to the power it is prudent to convey to the road through the front, steered wheels, and for this reason it has to be accepted that G.P. and many GT cars have the engine behind the driver, driving the back wheels, although historians will remind us of the cumbersome Christie, the Miller, Derby-Miller, Derby-Maserati, Alvis, Itala, Maserati and Trossi cars, for instance, not forgetting Rover’s f.w.d. gas-turbine Le Mans car.
The advent last year of the front-drive Oldsmobile Toronado tended to foil this theory, for in this surprising General Motors’ innovation a V8 engine puts no less than 385 b.h.p. through the steered wheels, which is some 260 horses more than even the most highly-tuned Mini-Coopers can boast. English motoring .writers who tried the Toronado went into raptures over its handling and stability-I quote from two such road-test reports : “The ultimate cornering power is extremely high and on a closed circuit we were leaving black lines on the road beneath the inner front wheel, so much power could we apply without ploughing straight on,” and “There is no doubt that the Toronado’s road-holding is as good as any car of its size we have driven, and superior to any of its rivals from Detroit . . . We cannot think of any European thoroughbred that feels more stable at high speeds.”
The American magazine Road Test was far less impressed and made these rude comments on the G.M. design : “Directional stability is acceptable as long as you don’t demand too much. But when you really stand on the pedal the Toronado skates all over the road . . . The Road Test staff feels that the impetus for f.w.d. didn’t come from the engineering department, but from the sales department.” They also drew attention to excessive tyre wear, to the tune of 1/4 in. tread wear in 1,100 miles on the front wheels, and a tyre life of 8,000 to 10,000 miles, driving hard, so perhaps the Toronado gets away without putting all this power through its front wheels only because it is a heavy car, weighing nearly 41 cwt., or far more than any acceptable modern racing car. But Roger Huntingdon, who owns a Toronado, says it’s hard to fault the handling, cornering, and traction, remarking : “The basic 60-40 weight distribution, large front slip angles with f.w.d. and the combination of shock damper and spring stiffeners combine to give outstanding cornering and stability”. So it depends on which American opinion you prefer to listen to. (I cannot confirm or deny these opinions, because the Toronado that was earmarked to Motor Sport for road-test caught fire before we set eyes on it, and although a very imposing example stopped opposite our offices the other day, the test car has so far not re-materialised.)
For passenger cars, particularly small ones, however, frontwheel-drive has had almost everything in its favour, since universal joints have become available which do not transmit kick-back through the steering. The only possible shortcomings are the possibility that a drive shaft or universal joint can seize up or break up and lock the steered front wheel’s, leaving even a skilled driver with absolutely no means of averting what could easily be an accident of titanic and far-reaching proportions, and the need to use low-geared steering to combat increased weight over the steered wheels, of which the B.M.C. 1800s are amongst the worst offenders (see table). This is why the recent M.o.T. slander of B.M.C. and Hardy Spicer was so serious, not only to these firms but to manufacturers of f.w.d. vehicles all over the World. So I am very glad it was quickly and completely resolved, in a manner which exonerated front-wheel-drive, being proved a Ministry red-herring, probably landed with red tape….
On the other hand, although clearly there is no possibility whatsoever of a f.w.d. B.M.C. car developing dangerous faults in its transmission if it is correctly serviced, the thought lingers that, neglected, this f.w.d. mechanism, or that of inferior design and/or construction, might turn out someday to be lethal. So perhaps I was not so stupid in making this point in the course of a road-test report on the Vauxhall Viva last Whitsun as some readers may have felt at the time!
The B.M.C. f.w.d. cars’ outer universal joints are free of blame but, dare I raise the question of how durable are the inner joints and what happens if they break, perhaps due to faulty maintenance ? After 2,000 miles a Morris 1100 I had been driving was emitting loud noises from the region of its o/s drive-shaft, and a B.M.C. mechanic who examined it declared it unsafe and repairs were put in hand, a flange haying fractured, I think on the inner Hooke joint. It must be emphasised that there had been plenty of very audible warning of impending disaster. A friend’s M.G. 1100 broke an inner universal joint but was going slowly at the time, so there was no drama. But the shaft got entangled in the surrounding structure, locking the wheel, and the front of the car had to be lifted clear of the road before it could be moved. Apparently it was the o/s joint which failed, and there is a theory that oil seeps from the engine onto the protective rubber sleeve on this side, causing it to perish and the joint’s lubricant, which is its salvation, to escape. On the other hand, a million or more of these cars have been sold without anxiety, so these matters would seem to be of academic interest only, although possibly meriting careful maintenance and periodic checking.
And, like Prof. Derry, I have not been averse to driving the very enjoyable Morris and M.G. 1100s since these incidents. . . .
However, the fact is that in the early days of front-wheel-brakes. some car owners were distinctly chary of what would happen it such new-tangled anchorage locked a wheel, and steering control was lost. The engine might seize and momentarily lock the back wheels, a propeller shaft might snap and dig into the road (as happened, to my knowledge, on cars as diverse as a Rover Eight and a T.T. Sava), but they reckoned to cope—but if a front wheel stopped turning suddenly you would not be able to steer your way out of a nasty predicament, and would as likely as not end up in the ditch which flanked the roads of those days. A relation of mine, who allowed his chauffeur to drive him along the exceedingly narrow, winding, high-hedged lanes of South Wales in the nineteen-twenties in back-braked Austin Twenty, Citroen, Chevrolet and Overland cars at first would have nothing whatsoever to do with these front-wheel-brakes, although later he journeyed contentedly in a later Austin so equipped. At this time correspondence in The Autocar criticised freins avant as encouraging dangerously fast approaches to corners by reckless drivers, putting a great strain on tyres, until they burst, and on front springs, until they broke, and of resulting in back-end damage from two-wheel-braked cars unable to stop as effectively! But late in 1921 H.M. the King’s new Daimler was supplied with front-wheel-brakes, which presumably killed such pessimism! (Alas, the early acceptance of B.M:C. Minis by members of the Royal Family did not exonerate it from the M.o.T.’s unthinking attack on its innocent mechanicals!)
The recent f.w.d. scare has died away in much the same manner as early prejudice against front brakes, but it is interesting to note that there is considerable divergence of opinion as to what type of universal joints should he used to drive the steered wheels, and that the layout of a f.w.d. system takes many forms, Citroen and Renault, for instance, putting the engine behind and the gearbox ahead of the final drive, whereas Ford Taunus, Auto-Union/D.K.W. and Audi have the power unit in front of the final drive and the gearbox behind it, while the ingenious Issigonis has his engine mounted transversely with the gearbox in the sump and the drive behind it. Peugeot cribbed the transverse power unit but has a separate gearbox in front of the engine. Autobianchini has also followed Issigonis’ transverse compaction but with a separate gearbox in line across the car. Oldsmobile packs in a big V8 engine by using chain-drive to an automatic gearbox at the side of the crankcase, while the Triumph 1300 employs spur gears to drive the clutch, which is behind the engine, and a transfer gear train down to the gearbox at the rear, below the sump level, and forward to the final-drive beneath the engine, engine, gearbox and final drive retaining each its own special oil.
The diversity of universal joints used by the various exponents of f.w.d. is interesting. In the pioneering days of front-wheel-drive this was the crux of the problem of taking the driving duty away from the back axle and giving it to the steered front wheels. I am told I tend to live largely in the past, but on this occasion, as there is to be much about early problems in the eagerly awaited book by Peter Hull and Norman Johnson on Vintage Alvis history, which bears on the f.w.d. 4 and 8-cylinder Alvis cars, and as “Best Wheel Forward,” by Gregoire. covers a lot of this, too, I will refrain from poaching on these sources of reference and confine myself to current f.w.d. practice. The table opposite shows, as far as it was possible to extract the information from manufacturer’s and concessionaires, the type of universal joints favoured by different design teams when laying out today’s efficient, and I hope safe, f.w.d. cars.
With big-output, World-renowned manufacturers of the calibre of B.M.C., Citroen, Renault, Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen/Auto-Union making front-drive cars, the traction avant system cannot be denied, whether it is primarily contrived to give supreme road-holding, aided by scientific weight distribution and small wheels, as pioneered by Alec Issigonis to reduce unsprung weight, with a wheel “at each corner,” or adopted mainly for construction convenience, an unobstructed floor area, and adaptability to commercial-vehicle and station-wagon requirements. We shall undoubtedly see front-wheel-drive increasingly favoured in future, at the expense of the “conventional” or “pioneering-Panhard” layout and the rear-drive, rear-engined concept.
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