Vintage postbag, April 1980
Alec Ulmann eats ‘umble pie
You cannot imagine my delight in reading you “Some More Bentley Conundrums” on pages 1819 and 1820 of you December 1979 issue of Motor Sport. It clarified several points for me which I have been in doubt about regarding W. O. (or Walter, as you call him). It also caused me to purchase Donald Bastow’s book “W. O. Bentley Engineer”and order Elizabeth Nagle’s book, “The Other Bentley Boys” and “Lucky All My Life” by Jeff Clew.
First of all, Bastow’s book completely destroyed my assumption that W. O. copied the Glerget rotary when he built the BR1 and BR2. I can clearly see that he contributed a great deal to the completely new seperate cylinder head design, its through hold-down studs to the crank case and the alumunium cylinder muffs and pistons.
Regarding the cylinder, he surely pulled a rabbit out of a hat, at a time when there was very little knowledge of the Alfin type bonding process. I am prepared to eat crow. I authorise you to do so on my behalf, and I say “mea culpa”.
However, I cannot say as much for the overhead cam 1914 Hispano “De Luxe” engine of which several were sold in England before World War I. (They were the pointed radiator Alfonzo XIII models). W. O.’s vitriolic remarks about me seem strange. In my opinion, my article, which was written in a tongue-in-cheek style, asked for clarification of a specific nature, just as Bastow did so well in his story on the Clerget. The French say, “qui s’accuse”. W. O. could have pointed to specific major differences to the 3-litre Bentley engine, to get me back in the fold, as I respectfully suggested at the end of my article. Instead, he talked of sticking some libel lawyers on me. Strange! Well, the poor fellow is no longer with us and I suppose I should shut up. I could, of course, inform Mr Bastow that my qualifications as an MS and BS degree holder at MIT (Cambridge, Massachusetts) in Aero Engine Design and post-graduate work under Professor Fayette Taylor, in the MIT Aero Engine laboratory on cylinder gas flow on the early Pratt & Whitney Wasp and Wright Aeronautical Cyclones, exposed me to the many intracacies of intake poor design, supercharging and gas flow pulsations in manifolds. It so happened that I had the great luck of meeting the late Harry Weslake when he was active on the 500 cc Norton 100 h.p.-per-litre conversions. Here was a man who knew more about port and flow design than the combined brains of Ettore, W. O., Birkigt and many others. I can see he got the short end of the shift from old W. O., who was so idealised by your countrymen and especially the BOC [BDC? — Ed.] So, may they now rest in peace, wherever they are.
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Anything about Stars is always very interesting and the Star Postscript in the February 1980 issue revived memories which in due course would inevitably be forgotten.
As mentioned in your pages, tragic circumstances surrounded and certainly struck many individuals associated with the Star. But it was not only people who suffered for the company, as such, also had a run of bad luck the details of which were not always published. One unfortunate incident hit the company hard and was given some publicity in the motoring press; exact figures were not made available but it is believed the sum of £6,000 (a very considerable sum by present day values) was lost on that fateful March day in 1913.
At 2.15 a.m. a night watchman in the Star motor works detected the presence of a fire which very soon spread through the grinding and polishing shops, the plating shop, frame shop and engine house; within minutes, according to notes made at the time, the gearbox, axle, wheel and tinsmiths shops on the floor above were engulfed in flames. The Wolverhampton fire brigade confined the fire to one building but how the conflagration started was never known; it was believed to have started in the engine house, but wherever it began everything on the two floors of the doomed building was reduced to scrap. Luckily, the flames did not cross a road to the office and other works buildings where some uncompleted and some finished cars, said to be valued at about £25,000, were parked. Further destruction to existing property might have put paid to Star activities but things were not to be so for new works to build Briton cars were being erected in another part of Wolverhampton at the time and were soon put to good use.
Mr. Lisle (Dick), managing director of Stars at that time, when speaking to members of the motoring press shortly after the fire stated that delivery of Star cars would not be held up in any way, although as a matter of fact about 100 men had to be put off work as a result of this disaster.
When inspecting the damaged shops. Dick Lisle narrowly missed serious injuries; a distorted piece of metal hanging suddenly fell on Mr. Link, but fortunately without causing much harm.
This is but one of the series of unlucky incidents (not all of which were publicised) which occurred throughout the Star Story.
Maurice A. Harrison
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I am enclosing a photograph of our 1938 Georges-Irat coupé taken in 1946 outside our former home in Berkshire and wonder how many, if any, of these cars remain in this country. They were based, as you will remember, on the Citroën Light 15, with alloy body, wind-up windows and an early form of hydro-elastic suspension, for which I had to get replacement parts from Spencer-Moulton. Its top speed was in the region of 90 m.p.h. with superb roadholding. I wonder whether it in still in existence? I sold it to someone in Reading and its registered number, as far as I can decipher from another rather dark print, was GBH 332. Any news would be welcome.
I have read the earlier correspondence on the fastest road-car with interest. If I am correct, Rob Walker’s ex-“Bira” Delahaye was driven at Le Mans by Ian Connell, finishing a creditable 7th. I believe it was the first race after the War. I was a passenger in this car on three occasions during my undergraduate days at Cambridge, once during a CUAC Treasure Hunt of all unlikely events! Another time we did a rev. counter speed of just under 130 m.p.h. on a damp day along the Duxford Aerodrome straight. I gather its maximum was just over 140.
The Hugh Hunter 2.9 Alfa Romeo was, I believe, the twin-supercharged model. previously owned by Robert Arbuthnot of High Speed Motors and tuned by Ramponi. I drove Robert’s car and, if he was still with us I am sure he would agree that it was a real handful although possibly with a higher maximum. Certainly one of the most hairy and potentially dangerous cars l have ever driven. I wish I could go along with Anthony Blight’s claim, as I am a former Talbot owner and enthusiast and was very taken with the Lago-Talbots which I drove also in France just before the war. Taken all round, I still uphold the supporters of the Delahaye and contend that it would have won even if someone less accomplished had been driving.
Congratulations on your usual excellent February issue with its coverage of the “Exeter”.
[I road-tested the very rare Georges-lrat before the war and it would certainly he interesting to know if any are still running. — Ed.]