Veteran Edwardian Vintage, April 1979
A section devoted to old-car matters
Some Thoughts About Bentleys
I reviewed Donald Bastow’s book about the engineering aspects of all the Walter Bentley products, from BR rotary aero-engines to the post-war Lagondas, last month (“W. O. Bentley Engineer” by Donald Bastow, Haynes, 1978). But it is rather heavy going, which I have been absorbing slowly, coming upon some more interesting items on the way. For instance, I was aware, as most Bentley followers are, that W. O. Bentley was not in agreement with Sir Henry Birkin, Bt., when the latter decided to supercharge the 4½-litre Bentley in collaboration with Amherst Villiers. This is apparent from W. O.’s own books that he wrote in conjunction with Richard Hough, now, I see, an Editor at Heinemann’s. For example, in his first of these books W. O. makes it plain that he preferred increasing the capacity of his engines when more power was required, rather than using a supercharger, which he called “a false inducer”. He went on to say that “a supercharged 4½ never won a race, suffered a never-ending series of mechanical failures, brought the marque Bentley disrepute”, never mentioning Birkin’s lap-records at Brooklands with the single-seater.
From that you might think that W. O.’s sole objection to supercharging his 4½-litre engine was that it courted noise and unreliability. He says that reluctantly they were “obliged to construct no less than fifty of these machines for sale to the public”, in order to meet the Le Mans regulations after Tim Birkin had persuaded Woolf Barnato to enter a team of blower-4½ Bentleys for the 1930 race. This statement occurs in at least two of W. O.’s books. Donald Bastow takes this further. He confirms that W. O. was against supercharging the 4½-litre engine but adds that he was “even more against it when supercharging required an increase in main-bearing diameter from 55 mm. to 80 mm. to avoid breakages under the higher loads, since this increase had to be applied to the unblown engines to meet the requirement of homologation numbers, and W. O. complained that this increase reduced the power that could be obtained from the unblown 4½-litre engine”.
Without studying the regulations for the 1930 Le Mans race I cannot entirely follow this. Possibly they called for at least 50 cars of the type raced being made for sale, although presumably not in the same year, as Bastow says only 14 blower-4½ Bentleys were produced in 1930, with a further 37 in 1931, a total of 51. If the race rules had called for 50 cars of this type to have been built by the race date, or in the year of the race, it may have been Barnato’s or Birkin’s intention to get sufficient non-supercharged 4½-litre engines with the bigger crankshafts and modified con.-rods, etc. made, to which Villiers superchargers could have been fitted had the race organisers begun to probe. This would have been viable, as 138 4½-litre Bentleys were made in 1930, from which we might deduce that by June some 60 or more would have been available for this ploy, or as many of these would presumably have left the factory, enough at any rate to add to the 14 genuine blower 4½s made that year for homologation purposes. Or did the race regulations perhaps split-up the requirements, or were they worded as if they did, so that had a blower-4½ instead of a Speed Six won the 1930 race it could have been stripped and, the scrutineers finding the bigger crankshaft, they would demand that at least so cars had been, or would be, produced with this modification, and that 50 had been, or were to be, made with superchargers, but not necessarily on the same engines?
As I have said, without the Le Mans regulations to consult, one cannot be sure. It may simply have been that the machining capacity at Cricklewood/Welwyn was inadequate for making both sizes of crankshaft simultaneously and therefore Birkin’s will prevailed, as financier Barnato was backing him, and W. O. had to turn out bigger crankshafts for all the post-1929 4½-litre cars? It would be interesting to know how much power loss the non-blown cars suffered from this increase in journal size and how rnany were made, but Bastow’s book does not cover the blower-4½ Bentleys. Incidentally, W. O. says that 54, not 51, blown cars were made but this can be explained because he takes his output figures to beyond 1931, whereas Bastow stops at 1931; the latter’s figures are accurate (but see later) this means that of these post-1930 4½-litre Bentleys, three were blown, three were not.
While on the subject of these Villiers’ blown cars, I see from that excellent book “By Jupiter!’ by Bill Gunston – reviewed last month – a book which shows how the late Roy Fedden worked to Rolls-Royce standards of engineering in establishing the Bristol radial poppet-valve and sleeve-valve aero-engines between the wars and how be built up the Bristol Aeroplane Co. into a vast and widely-respected concern, its engines made under royalties in 16 countries including America and Russia, between the wars, that when they were testing an old and much misused Taurus cylinder (during WW2) on a test-rig, it was supercharged with a blower from a Bentley car, to 32 lb./sq. in. and as the b.m.c.p. reached 340 the junkhead blew off and disappeared through the test-house roof. In fact, the author refers to the Bentley as a 4½-litre but I am sure the Villiers supercharger is implied*. As T. B. Barrington had joined Bristol’s from Sheffield-Simplex and W. O. Bentley’s team, to work on Fedden’s sleeve-valve engine configurations, there may have been a link. Finally, before we leave these blower-4½ speculations, I am reminded that, although Eoin Young has it that after Amherst Villiers had prepared a beautiful brochure about his blower-system which he intended to give to customers on the Bentley stand at the 1930 Motor Show, he discovered that his personal name-plate had been left off the installation and destroyed his publication in disgust, Fred Conway, the Bentley store-keeper, has said that someone had to creep into the Show at night and fit the plates, which had been made in a hurry. So it seems that maybe Villiers’ temper got the better of him and caused him unnecessarily to waste his lovely booklets. Amusing, too, that The Autocar said only details of the cars had been changed, in view of that big crank!
Then, on the subject of output figures, which I have been quoting recently in these columns for the 40/50 h.p. Rolls-Royce (“They Believed In Ghosts”), Donald Bastow gives those for the Cricklewood Bentleys but they differ somewhat from a list provided by W. O. himself, in 1958. Thus Bastow has one fewer 3-litre made in 1922 than W. O., but one more in 1924, and he has lopped-off three 3-litres against W. O.’s total for 1925, and another two for 1926, but has added an extra one for 1927, as he has done for 1928, although both sources agree to eight made in 1929, the last year of 3-litre Bentley production. The 4½-litre production figures are likewise at but W. O. has told us that too of this model were variance, the 1928 total being ten down on Bastow’s reckoning, four down for 1929, but agreeing with W. O.’s for the next two years. When it comes to 6½-litre outputs, Bastow is up five on W. O. for 1929 but agrees for 1930. The total Bentley output given by Bastow as 2,888 but W. O.’s list extends to post-1931, to a grand total of 3,061. The W. O. Bentley Computation gives 506 of the 1,639 3-litres as “Speed Models” and 15 as short-chassis “100 m p.h.” models. The Bastow list says that of the 3-litre output, 547 were “sporting models”. I don’t think the “Speed Model” went into production until 1926 and I believe that the “100 m.p.h.” model was a 1924/25 product. This leaves a discrepancy of 26 sporting models in Bastow’s book, no doubt explained because his list commences at 1922. He sub-divides the 6½-litre Bentleys into 258 “Standard” and 176 “Speed Six” cars; W. O. quoted five fewer “Speed Sixes” in a total of 539 of this model, both ending with 1930. Over to Stanley Sedgwick, President of the Bentley Drivers Club, perhaps?
Bastow ignores figures for the 8-litre Bentley made. This is interesting, in view of his description of the 4-litre i.o.e. Bentley as “curious and little-lamented”, because W. O. has said that only 50 4-litre Bentleys were made, and very few sold. This conflicts with the implication I got from Ian Lloyd’s splendid Rolls-Royce History (also referred to last month) in which it is remarked that the 8-litre Bentley averaged six sales-a-month, the 4-litre Bentley 19 sales-per-month, up to June 1931.
When you look at the total output of W. O. Bentleys, the 40/50 h.p. Rolls-Royce is again shown up in a very favourable light. A total of 6,173 of British-built Royces were built, against 3,061 Bentleys, and although the 40/50 Rolls-Royce was in production from 1907 until 1924/5 whereas W. O.’s cars were made only from 1922 to 1931, R-R production must have diminished during the 1914/18 war and in the pre-1914 period one would expect the demand for cars, especially luxury models, to be smaller than that for more sporting types in the motor-mad nineteen-twenties. …
* In fact we now hear that Fedden thought this engine came from a Derby-built 4½. Was this an experimental blower bought from Bentley comapny?Ocer to Bentley historians.
V-E-V Miscellany. The Hispano-Suiza Society is thriving in America, operating from 230, Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017, Suite 1624. It has over 200 members and meets in Long Island in May, with the American Bugatti Club. Incidentally, when we reported that the 1913 Alfonso Hispano-Suiza once owned by Forrest Lycett, and then the Editor of Motor Sport, is going well in Germany, we should have said in France, as its owner, Uwe Hucke, formerly of Germany, now lives in Roquebrune. The National Motor Museum Trust has stated in its Newsletter that its vehicles, excluding bicycles, total 274, made up of 100 motorcycles and 174 cars and commercial vehicles, of which 39 are owned by the Trust. Work is proceeding on the Trust’s 1927 36/220 Mercedes-Benz. In future the Museum workshops will phase out work on customer’s vehicles and concentrate on their own and other museums’ vehicles. A reader who rides vintage motorcycles writes to say he has a Raydyot windscreen-fitting combined licence holder and insurance certificate holder. Inside this chromium-plated holder was an orange tax-disc relating to a Singer Nine taxed in Bedford for the first half of 1933 and its insurance cover – perhaps the Raydyot people issued these holders when compulsory third-party insurance was introduced. Our reader would be glad to hear from anyone who has a use for this original piece of equipment. Letters can be forwarded and it would be nice if it went back on a Singer. As we have published criticism of the DVL Centre at Swansea over old log-books and the issuing of appropriate registrations for old vehicles we are glad to be able to counteract this with the comment that Hugh Conway and Major Weld have no complaints, albeit although the latter was given all his car’s old log-books without requesting them, his top Crossley, owned originally by Comdr. James Bird, OBE, RN, of Grosvenor House. Park Lane, W1, is now called a Wolseley in its modern registration document! Conway took a vintage car used for racing on a trailer for its inspection at Woolwich, after which, in six weeks, an unused appropriate number was issued to it, as the car is now to be used on the road.
In Dacca an old Daimler laundaulette in sad but restorable condition, probably a just pre-war or early post-Armistice sleeve-valve 45 h.p. model, formerly the property of a maharajah, is likely to be preserved. We were sorry to learn that 18 cars in a New Zealand Motor Museum were destroyed by fire on New Year’s Day. They seem to have been a 1903 Autobuggy, a 1907 Alldays, a 1913 Morris-Oxford, a Morris Commercial, a 1923 Delage, an ex-Mayoral Morris-Cowley four-seater, an Empire-model Morris-Cowley once used by the Bishop of Christchurch, a 1928 Morris-Oxford saloon, and a 1935 15/6 Morris. Also destroyed, according to Press reports, were a Daimler once used by HM The Queen on a Royal visit to New Zealand, a Model-T Ford, a circa-1924 Fiat, and a straight-eight Nash. An ex-mail-service 1908 Darracq and a 1924 Morris-Cowley two-seater escaped destruction.
The owner of a 1929 Austin 12/4 tourer, Reg. No. HS 5881, found in very original condition after it had been in a Somerset barn for two years would like to trace the car’s history and also receive advice about a journey he is contemplating in it, to India and back via North Africa, in 1980. The Western Morning News has been publishing old photographs sent in by its readers, one of which was of a car thought to have been one of the earliest in use in Cornwall, before the need for number plates. The make puzzled the newspaper but it is, in fact, a Benz Ideal, circa-1899. We are told by a reader that the 1913 Rolls-Royce 40/50 with replica body that appeared in an episode in the “Thomas & Sarah” TV play was originally the property of the daughter of Lord Thynne and that it was garaged for many years in Wiltshire alongside a Reo estate-wagon and a Humber two-seater. A nice touch was that the person in the film who was advising the chauffeur how to handle the car was at one time its real-life chauffeur, and son of the chauffeur who collected the car when it was new from the Midland Counties Garage, Leicester. The Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club, in conjunction with Rolls-Royce Motors Ltd., is having a drive from Knutsford to Manchester on April 1st to commemorate the first drive, actually in the reverse direction, by Henry Royce in his new two-cylinder Royce car. Lex Mead (Cookshoot) Ltd. are sponsoring the run and it is hoped that 100 Rolls-Royce, many of them prewar models, and Bentley cars made by Rolls-Royce Ltd. will take part. Some members will be invited to see over Brae Cottage, Royce’s residence in Knutsford, but the event is not open to the public – but you can watch, the start being at about 10.45 from King Street public car park, Knutsford and the cavalcade leaving via A556 to pass various places of R-R interest en route. The Lord Mayor of the City of Manchester and other dignitaries will “take the salute” from Manchester Town Hall from 12-noon onwards. I have been asked to say that the notes about Lucas history which appeared on page 37 in the January issue were compiled from special supplement in the Birmingham Evening Mail, approved by Lucas and adapted from the Lucas books by Harold Nockolds (David & Charles, 1978). I was unaware of the source of this supplement at the time and the books were not sent to me for review. – W. B.
Craigantlet Hill-climb Anniversary
As the Continental Correspondent has observed, there are too many anniversaries, commemorations and the like these days. But no-one can say this of the 50th Anniversary of the Craigantlet speed hill-climb, due to be recognised on August 3rd/4th by the Ulster AC and the Ulster Vintage CC. So many people enjoyed so greatly the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the Ulster TT race last year that a considerable attendance can be expected at Craigantlet. This speed hill-climb first happened in 1913 and there were some 1920s meetings there but it was not until 1929 that the Ulster AC took over, organising the event for the week-end preceding the TT. It is a well-remembered fixture, with Raymond Mays, Earl Howe, Eddie Hall, Archie Frazer-Nash, Sydney Allard and other famous sprint exponents competing there, and I recall Dick Nash with his Special running out of road and ending up with his front wheels between the legs of spectators sitting on the bank.
Craigantlet is the longest speed hill-climb course in the British Isles, at 1,833 yards, and it constitutes a round in the RAC Hill-Climb Championship. The course record is currently held by Douglas-Osborne, in 51.64 sec. For some time a vintage-car class has been incorporated in the programme and for the 50th Anniversary Meeting the Ulster AC intends to run a full-scale event on the Friday for vintage and historic cars, with the “moderns” doing their climbs on the Saturday, rather as the VSCC uses Shelsley Walsh on a Saturday and the modern racers go there on the Sunday. It is hoped that many cars which ran pre-war at Craigantlet will be attracted to the Ulster event, and a degree of financial help for “overseas” entrants is envisaged. It all sounds excellent and would enable those who go over to take another look (or their first look) at the IT circuit and memorialpits, etc., as the hill is close to Belfast. Details from: Basil McCoy, 48, Portaferry Road, Ballygarvin, Kircubbin, Co. Down.
That Man Again!
Alec Ulmann, contributor to the Bulb Horn, official journal of the VMCC of America, has an unhappy knack of getting himself into journalistic hot water. He very much upset the British apple-cart by suggesting that W. O. Bentley had cribbed from an obscure pre-war Hispano Suiza engine when planning his post-Armistice 3-litre Bentley. W. O. replied that if he studied anything, it was the 1912 GP Peugeot and the 1914 GP Mercedes layouts. Alec Ulmann then tried another ploy, maintaining that, before this, W. O. Bentley had directly copied the French Clerget when designing his famous wartime BR1 and BR2 rotary aero-engines (Ulmann having proved, he says, that the Gnome engine that led to the Clerget was really an American Adams Farwell). W. O. Bentley’s caustic reply to this criticism was published in full in Motor Sport at the time and can be found in Donald Bastow’s new book, referred to above.
Ulmann next reversed his procedure, telling the New York Times that it had incorrectly attributed the first single-armature electric starter to Kettering of Cadillac’s, whereas this starter was a copy of the 1906 French Bossu starter. He was soon back on the American war path, however. His next outbreak suggested that it took America’s Charles King to get Ettore Bugatti’s war-time 16-cylinder aero-engine through its French and American 50-hour official tests, and that the Duesenberg Co. finally built it. Ulmann next got into trouble with some of his own folk, when he declared that the origins Model-A Duesenberg car could out-perform the mighty Model-J.
Now, in the pages of the Bulb Horn, the President of the American Hispano-Suiza Society has been at it again. This time his theme is that the Rolls-Royce aero-engines which won for us that decisive victory in the Battle of Britain, thus ensuring the eventual defeat of Adolf Hitler namely, the R-R Merlins and the R-R Kestrels from which the Merlin was developed, owed much to the Curtiss D-12 engine, which was designed for the American Curtiss Company by the American engineer Charles B. Kirkham, after a Willys-Overland consortium had taker over the Curtiss Company.
This time Ulmann is on a safer track, because a Curtiss D-12 engine was given by the British Government to Rolls-Royce in 1925, and their designer, Arthur Rowledge, no doubt looked closely at the American engine before designing the mono-block R-R Kestrel, just as during the 1914/18 war Henry Royce had studied the engine of the 1914 GP Mercedes car before embarking on the separate-cylinders R-R Eagle aero-engine. Ulmann says that, in his turn, Kirkham had studied the mono-block Hispano-Suiza engine that was being made under licence by Wright-Martin in New Jersey.
In fact, it was our C. R. Fairey who recognised the advance made by Curtiss with the low-drag V12 liquid-cooled D-12, after this fine engine, which in production guise gave 450 h.p. at the then high crankshaft speed of 2,200 r.p.m., had set the World’s Air Speed Record to 267 m.p.h. and had powered the Curtiss CR-3 seaplane which won the 1923 Schneider Trophy race. Fairey was refused aid by the British Government to manufacture such engines here, although Rolls-Royce Ltd. was encouraged to do so. Fairey imported some of these D-12s, however, and used them for his very fast Fairey Fox two-seat bomber, which out-flew the single-seater RAF fighters. The Government also imported Some 30 D-12s to power these Fairey bombers.
I believe it was the superiority of Curtiss engines and aeroplanes at this time that caused C. G. Grey to castigate British designs and methods so thoroughly and caustically in The Aeroplane, of which he was the Editor, that his British advertisers withdrew their support, a situation that was, the story goes, met by the irrepressible Grey publishing even more pointed comments, until the blank advertisement pages were rapidly refilled. This being the case, I wonder if Bill Gunston, in his fine book “By Jupiter!” (see above) has got it quite right when he says Grey “poured scorn on such advances’, when Lord Rothermere of the Daily Mail bought the very advanced Bristol Type 142 for his personal use? This wasn’t at all like Grey I used to read and, indeed, what I think he criticised on this occasion was the fact that this fine Bristol aeroplane might not be acceptable when it went for its Martlesham Acceptance-Tests, and that when Lord Beiverbrook sought to out-do his opponent and purchase a Douglas executive aeroplane from the USA his Lordship was deterred by discovering the amount of Import-duty involved and by Grey reminding him that as an eminent Empire Free Trader and a patriotic protectionist he could hardly pay the price with a clear conscience. In fact, this aeroplane was very successful and became the renowned Bristol Blenheim, another bomber faster in 1936 than the fighters.
In reading Gunston’s book, and Lloyd’s R-R history books one is struck by how carefully Rolls-Royce guarded their lofty position in the Motor and Aero-engine Industries. The facts about how they acquired secretly Bentley Motors Ltd., to prevent the 8-litre Bentley and the new 6¼-litre car W. O. Bentley was designing for Napier encroaching on the sales of their Phantom 11 is clearly stated in Lloyd’s detailed R-R history (Macdonald, 1978). Gunston, in his book, shows how Rolls-Royce Ltd. was protected by the Government in the 1930s in promoting the liquid-cooled in-line type of aero-engine over the air-cooled radials that Fedden had brought to equal near-perfection, and how, when Fedden suggested the vital need for an Apprentices’ Training School, Lord Hives quickly set one up at Derby, whereas Fedden was refused all support for his project and, in later days, lacked skilled engineers in consequence. Much earlier, during WW1, Fedden had been forbidden to make rival in-line aero-engines by the R-R solicitor, while he was sub-contracting at Straker Squire’s, although Royce even then tried to entice him to join the R-R Company (according to Gunston, Royce called Fedden a “pretty good engineer” at that time; this reminds me of the story of how, years later, after R-R had taken over W. O. along with his old Bentley Company, Royce was interviewing W. O. and asked him if he was a “commercial man”, to which W. O. implied that he was more of a “technical specialist”. When Royce tried to suggest that W. O. wasn’t an engineer Bentley reminded Sir Henry that he had started as a Premium Apprentice with the LNER at Doncaster soon after Royce had become a boy in the GN railway running-sheds. …!). Rolls-Royce later tried to take over Lagonda’s and, of course, stopped W. O. Bentley calling his latest design a Lagonda-Bentley … long after he had severed with R-R Ltd. in post-WW2 days. … Incidentally, at one time S. F. Edge, who used to call his AC the Rolls-Royce of Light-Cars, suggested that R-R should make them; the offer was declined.
A Coachwork Competition
In the best traditions of the past, The Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers of London (presented with the Royal Charter in 1677) is presenting an additional Award this year, at the Coachwork of the Year contest which takes place at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, on May 19th. This is for the Best Reproduction Body, for recognised pre-1939 body designs, mounted on any appropriate original chassis. The idea is that the materials used will as nearly as possible relate to and match the originals and major body rebuilds are eligible, even if these have some existing parts and fittings. The class is open to professional and private builders of hand-made bodies on private-car chassis. Entries have closed but those interested in reproduction coachwork may wish to attend this competition. – W. B.
V-E-V Odds and Ends. The Pre-50 American Auto Club’s Rally of the Giants is to take place at Burford on July 15th and it has a Northern Rally in Stockport scheduled for May 20th and its Sugar Loaf Rally in Bristol on June 23rd/24th. Those who like the older American automobiles can get details from Mick Fuller, 31, Longdown Lane North, Epsom, Surrey. The Bean CC holds its annual Daffodil Run this year on April 22nd. The Rover Sports Register is holding a rally for Rovers of all ages and types at Belvoir Castle, between Nottingham and Grantham, on June 24th – entry forms from M. T. Couldry, 5, Holme Lane, Radcliffe Road, Bassingfield, Radcliffe-on-Trent, near Nottingham. The 750 MC will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, notably with a big meeting at the Crystal Palace on June 10th, open to all the types of car this Club now caters for but especially for all Austin 75 up to 1940. Entry forms from: N. Morgan, 41, Bourne Vale, Bromley, Kent. Publication No. 1978/D of the Austin Seven Clubs’ Association contained articles on Arrow bodywork, on pre-war Austin 7 racing cars, and some Ulster memories by Terry Bond. The 750 MC Beaulieu Rally, that big gathering of Austin 7s is on July 1st. The Austin Ten Drivers’ Club, which caters for pre-war Austins of all types except Sevens, announces its 1,000th genuine fully subscribed member.