Mr R. H. Beauchamp, AMIME, concludes his account of life at T & T’s of Brooklands under the great Reid Railton
One sunny Saturday afternoon in the early summer of 1946 I arrived back at Cheriton, T & T’s war-time quarters, to find John Cobb in conversation with Ken Thomson. He almost immediately handed me a sketch – obviously from Mr. Railton – saying “What do you think of that?”. I could see that this was a simple objective scheme to keep the engines running during gear-changes for Q.5000 – as the LSR car was known in the works – and just said “marvellous”. It then transpired that we were to go ahead with producing the scheme in conjunction with Mr. Railton’s co-operation from America for another go at the LSR.
The following week the body and chassis were unearthed from a country barn where they had been stored during the war years, and was a very woebegone sight from years of dust, but as the vital metal parts had been lacquered to prevent salt erosion the car had survived really well. The engines had been stored in T & T’s workshops for about seven years and these when opened up (as will be described later) were both in excellent condition due to careful attention in this interim period.
At this juncture it might be as well to explain that, although the car had done all and more than was asked of it (it was originally designed for 350 m.p.h.), there was the possibility of a snag arising in this way. The engines were originally designed for aircraft use with propellers, but as there was no such flywheel effect in the car with each engine driving through a free wheel it was found very difficult with the gear in neutral during gear-changes to keep the engines running before selecting the next gear. If the engines died during this stage there was no means of bringing them back to life. This did happen on one occasion in spite of an increase in the slow-running throttle position and proved to be expensive in both time and money as the run then had to be cancelled. The R. A. R. scheme would obviate this possibility and was changed as follows. A twin vee-belt drive was to be taken from the propeller shaft on the output side of the gearbox, to drive a shaft over the gearbox which in turn, via a removable dog, was to drive the outer ring of a free wheel, through a 7:1 gear train, mounted on the engine output shaft. With this arrangement, should either engine speed fall below 1/7 of the propeller shaft speed, the momentum of the respective wheels that each engine had been driving would be utilised to pick up the engine concerned and maintain it at that speed whilst gear-changing, so that upon reopening the throttle after gear-changing both engines were certain to be alive.
A start was made on the engine end of the scheme, and the first problem to arise was the time honoured one of getting a quart into a pint pot, without using sawdust (a Jock Pullen riddle). This arose as, although the crankcase was suitable for an airscrew shaft gear, the output housing – due to it being a direct-drive engine – was not. It was obvious, however, that it was essential to retain the existing output-shaft housing in its entirety, due to the fact of there being no room between the engine and gearbox for additional gearing and also because this housing was a complicated item with its output shaft, bearings, oil-feed, breather, and magneto drives and supports. A preliminary scheme was made, and this showed good prospects of the space available within the crankcase being sufficiently large tor the purpose. Great encouragement was given here by Ken Taylor agreeing to make the necessary arrangements to hand-machine away certain parts of the crankcase to accommodate a housing for the gearing to be added and with this modification the required room was found for it. The crankshaft being fed by oil from both ends – it was possible to make good use of the front oil-feed that had been used to lubricate the not now used reduction gearing by stopping up these jets and leading a fresh oilway from the crankshaft end directly into the centre of the roller-type free wheel in order to ensure that this member was adequately lubricated, as the speed difference here between adjacent parts was a maximum. The high speed input shaft, with its manually “freeable” dog by an external control and its intermediate shaft and gear, were all housed in an alum-bronze housing combining oil galleries for their bearing lubrication. Special roller bearings and bronze cages were made for this application. The external control for the freeable dog was included to avoid the engines being rotated when the car was being towed to the Salt Flats. The cooperation of the Napier Co. was then asked for and very willingly given after a visit to the Acton works by Mr. John Cobb, Ken Taylor and myself, and it was very pleasant to re-meet Tony Hall of Napier’s after so many years and to receive all the marvellous help that he and that Company were to be able to give. This engine end of the scheme was approved by Mr. Railton in America with his usual pointed comments during its development and eventually all the details and the two engines were handed over to Napier’s for complete manufacture. I recall one very bold decision made by them when the engines were completely dismantled and the master connecting rod main white-metal bearings were replaced as examined in spite of minute settling cracks which their experience prompted them to leave alone.
Whilst this work was going on at Napier’s the scheme for the driving end was proceeded with. The August holiday now seemed to be a good time to have a few days rest, so with a Morris car loaned by Ken Thomson I visited David Courage in Dorset who had been one of five bachelors K. J. T. had been good enough to have made up a happy menage with at Cheriton, East Horsley, during the war. It later turned out to be a regrettable decision to take out a hired skiff for a sail in Weymouth Bay as the leaky old lug sailboat proved no match for the wind and wave conditions of the Chesil race and with an inexperienced crew we managed to capsize it. More unfortunately in my case I managed to get entangled with the propeller of a rescuing launch, suffering rib and shoulder blade fractures, and waking up in hospital about five hours later. However, I could still walk and managed to return when expected back at Brooklands. The hernia that later developed was also somewhat restricting, especially when making efforts to find a supplier for the essentially narrow reinforced rubber vee-belts for the drive from the propeller-shaft pulley. These belts had to be of narrow width as a body bulkhead limited the space which they could occupy, apart from other reasons. Eventually R. A. R. and John Cobb were responsible for getting a dozen belts of the required size from America, manufactured by the Goodyear Co., and these were one of the few items not of British manufacture, but were gratefully welcomed.
The top pulley-bearing was supported off two cantilevered channel section members, which in turn were supported by two “A” brackets bolted to each side of each gearbox, with a cross-tube tie. The rear belt assembly also had a threaded adjustment for the belts with a cover over to shield the belts from any contact when the body was mated with the chassis. These two assemblies, i.e. the belt drive assembly and the engine unit gear assembly, were coupled with a Hardy Spicer small-size propeller-type shaft to complete it. The whole arrangement for each engine weighed 100 lb. – but as this was equally disposed about the existing centre of gravity of the car the added weight would be of advantage from an adhesion point of view as in 1938 I had seen that on accelerating away from a push start intermittent tyre rubber markings could be seen on the salt at explosion load intervals.
The works had during this time been busy dismantling and minutely examining the axles and gearboxes of the chassis. Hair line cracks were found in the front axle casing but as it was proposed to fit a different axle ratio the opportunity was taken to replace this light alloy casting with one of RR53 and also make room for the new bevel gears. The gearbox bearings all showed signs of wear which also showed how narrow was the safety margin in keeping weight to a minimum in the original design. The bearings were replaced and up-graded where necessary by filling the races with rollers and dispensing with cages. The gearbox output roller free-wheel back-up flaps were replaced by upgrading their material and fitting stronger return springs. The brake drums were skimmed and linings replaced. The body of the car was also given close attention, particularly regarding the riveting of the belt around the body through which the engines took their air. All these many rivets were either re-set or replaced which was again instituted by a comment from R. A. R. and was certainly justified when, after the record was taken, the body sides around the bell-area were seen to have a noticeable bulge! For the engine driving the front wheels to have better access to this air an aircraft type reinforced linen cover over one of the large lightening holes in this bell was removed, which leads one to the thought that adhesives must have been good even in those days.
Everything now being ready, it was decided to give the engine driving the rear wheels a run up to test the new anti-stalling gear. This took place on Sunday, June 22nd, 1947 but regrettably was to end in calamity when, perhaps because of the noise and smoke, the main drive free-wheel lock was let into engagement before the rear wheels had stopped. The resulting circulating torque parted the top bevel gears of the camshaft drive to the l.h. cylinder block. This was the weakest link in the chain, and the most easily replaceable item, which R. A. R. had foreseen when the anti-stalling gears, buried in the heart of the engine, were designed. This was a sad setback, as a Press review had been arranged for the following week. It was decided to replace the cylinder head complete when the car reached America, and a short while later I was to spend a late Saturday evening, locating Bob Reading and with his assistance getting the required cylinder head dismantled from the Brooklands spare engine for despatch to America. This disaster was hard to take as, upon being asked by John Cobb, I had optimistically said that I did not think (knowing how much good work Napier’s had put into building the engines) that it would be necessary to send the spare engine over to America. However, recalling the Kipling motto of the Wimbledon Tennis Club about treating triumph and disaster the same, I was encouraged by the fact of the project continuing and forwarded all relevant details on to R. A. R. in America. There were numerous items to which he would give his expert guidance, such as whether to retain the half a degree nose-up attitude of the body, attention to the Geecen tachograph recorder, how much ice to carry (the ice tank held 75 gallons, and had previously only been half-filled), the shock-absorber settings and many other items, including the retention or increase in size of the 3/8″ hole in the sides of the driver’s canopy through which the air exited (after entry through the base of the canopy) from the otherwise sealed driving compartment.
After the usual trial runs and adjustments on the Bonneville Salt Flats the record was taken at 394.20 m.p.h. on September 6th 1947, in conditions of track that were far from perfect. The tachograph showed that for the first time a speed of over 400 m.p.h. had been reached by a land vehicle driven through its wheels by internal combustion engine means. This was a terrific effort of John Cobb’s as not only did the tachograph show a maximum speed of 410-412 m.p.h. but it also showed that around that speed considerable vibration (probably of second or third order) had occurred in spite of the fact that the engine driving the front wheels took its drive through five flexible rubber couplings and the engine driving the rear wheels did so through three similar-type flexible couplings. At that speed the engines would have been turning at more than 4,000 r.p.m. and this from an engine whose basic crank.-rod and piston assemblies had been originally designed for 1,800 r.p.m. When the car returned to this country I noticed that the steering drag-link – previously clearing the back of J.C.’s driving seat by about 1″ – had quite obviously been chafing the back of it due to the gyroscopic flick from the front wheels in spite of them being severely restricted in vertical movement. After the record was taken the congratulatory letter I had from Mr. Railton said “Everything was perfect.”!
This LSR of 1947 was the first of the records with which the author was concerned at the conclusion of World War II. The following year another interesting project was first broached by Ken Taylor when the plan to fit an up-to-2-litre unsupercharged Jaguar engine unit in Lt.-Col. Gardener’s MG “Magic Midget” original chassis, was suggested.
This car is probably sufficiently well known not to need much description. It is an MG Magnette chassis with the transmission set at an angle in plan view to allow the driver to sit alongside the propeller shaft in an almost reclining attitude in order to keep the projected frontal area of the body to a minimum. The car with its really fine, smooth outline was arguably designed by Mr. Railton, and before the record attempt here described, already held a great number of class records, when driven by its owner, Lt.-Col. “Goldie” Gardener.
The Jaguar engine was larger in all respects than the engine it replaced and the first problem was how to dispose the increased height and depth within the existing body lines. It was decided to allow the standard oil-sump to protrude through the undershield by ½” and make a new fairing over the camshaft covers, 1″ above the existing line, and raise up the cockpit cover over the driver’s head by a similar amount to maintain the same view as before of the road ahead. It would probably have been preferable to provide a new oil-sump to be enclosed by the existing undershield as the records it was envisaged that the car would take would all be of short distances. But the Jaguar Co. was keen to ensure that the engine unit should be absolutely standard in all respects. The body and undershield were eventually suitably stiffened up with light alloy top-hat-section members where the necessary cut-outs required it.
Having decided on the line that the transmission should take in side view, and as the line in plan view was already laid down by the angle of the rear axle pinion relative to the centre line of the car, it only remained to settle the fore and aft position of the engine, to complete the rough general layout. It was found that if the engine and gearbox unit were placed as far forward as possible, the weight distribution on the front and rear wheels at speed would be substantially as before. This encouraging fact was achieved by substituting a rear engine supporting cross-member and another front engine cross-member, such that they offset the mass of the previously existing blower that had of necessity been placed forward of the front axle. As the road on which the car was to run in Belgium had bends at both ends of the course, the removal of the blower from its position ahead of the front axle was viewed with particular satisfaction.
Now that the position of the power unit in the frame was fixed, it was found very difficult to find space for frame cross-members between the front and rear of the unit, but room for a small cross-member was found ahead of the unit to improve the torsional rigidity of the frame, the side members of which could have been likened to the proverbial pepper-pot, due to the many combinations of engine that had been fitted to the car during its long (approx. 18 years) history of record performances.
Estimations of the various forces on the front and rear mountings were then made. It was decided not to use the existing rubber mounting but to allow all transverse forces to be taken through the rear engine mounting, and so through the frame where its sections were most suitable for taking care of them. To this end a bracket supporting a free-fitting ball was secured to the front of the engine casing. This ball was then made a sliding and rotatable fit on the top pin support of two pierced-steel members that formed a link, the lower pin of which was supported in a trunnion mounting below the centre of the front engine-mounting cross-member. Use was made of the trunnion mounting central rib in that it was cut away to act as a limiting stop for the link angular movement. The height of the ball mounting, and consequently the link length, was decided by a line in side view which passed through the front ball mounting, the node of the crankshaft, and the centre line of the rear engine trunnion. The rear engine unit mounting was made of a welded and machined-up steel member with a split cap, which in turn was located on the rear unit cross-member by split flanges suitably located. With this arrangement all torsional shocks emanating from the road wheels could only be transmitted through the frame and not through the crankcase.
Whilst work on these new parts was going on the axle ratio was changed and the chassis examined and prepared for the fitting of them. Additions and modifications to items such as petrol, oil, and water systems, as well as controls were all progressed to match the delivery time of the power unit. With regard to the cooling system there was the fortuitous fact that the long and comparatively large diameter piping from the forward-mounted radiator needed to be crossed over in plan to match up with existing engine connections as this obviated any “starving” that may have occurred due to positive and negative accelerations of the car.
The car left the Thomson & Taylor workshop for Belgium on September 11th 1948 almost exactly 11 weeks from the commencement of the work of scheming began, and after a short delay due to bad weather conditions, the flying kilometre Class E record (amongst others) was taken at 173.6 m.p.h.
This was another example of good team-work, which would not have been possible without the initiation of the scheme by Lt.-Col. Gardener with the concurrence of the Jaguar Co., with the welcome revived co-operation of Walter Hassan and Mr. Ken Taylor throughout, and particularly of the T & T mechanics who worked early and late when required with a cheerful willingness that was always encouraging. It is also right to mention that during the war years and afterwards during the post-war period the drawing office had been expanded by the invaluable presence of – incongruously – a German technician, J. Walker an ex-RAF man, G. Kenway with Naval associations, and P. Home an RAF cadet and also a keen apprentice.
The writer would like to conclude by paying tribute to the drivers of the cars – Mr. John Cobb and Lt.-Col. Gardener, who acted as the final link in the chain of events that led to the successful conclusion of the records described and personally feels that in these austere times when opportunities for driving cars of this record type are extremely rare, that their performances were absolutely beyond praise.
Neither of these two records would have taken place but for the guiding genius of Mr. R. A. Railton where this and earlier work on long and short distance record cars must have had a considerable bearing on the prestige and success of the British Motor Industry.