The racing Austro-Dailmers

My piece last month on the sports 19/100 hp Austro-Daimler is a reminder that several purely racing cars of this famed Austrian make came to this country, between the two World Wars. Dr Ferdinand Porsche who was with the A-D Company in the immediate post-war period liked motor-racing and for the 1922 Targa Florio he laid down some very advanced 1,100 cc cars. They were called the “Sascha” Austro-Daimlers after Count Sascha Kolowrat, a well-known Austrian film-producer and sportsman, who was to lead the team apparently, some reports saying he has sponsored the building of these cars, and one that he had been partly responsible for their design.

These “Sascha” A-Ds had a four-cylinder, 88.3 x 75mm (1,097 cc) twin-cam engine with two valves per cylinder (although several writers quote four-valves, a reminder of D.S.J .’s theory of how time distorts history) in a ci head, an aluminium cylinder block, and two plugs per cylinder fired from dual coils and distributors, with a generator driven from the vertical shaft at the front that drove the camshafts through helical gears, and also a large fan, cooling being by thermo-syphon. The chassis had a wheelbase of 8 ft 2 in and a track of 4 ft 4 in and was unusual for such a small car in having cantilever rear springs, with the longer part of their leaves ahead of the pivots. The fuel tanks were carried on each side of the propshaft, the central-control four-speed gearbox was in unit with the · engine, and there were pedal-operated four-wheel-brakes with a bias on the back wheels, which had the larger drums. The brake operating-shafts were carried neatly through the extremities of the front axle. A cowled radiator gave these “Sascha”, A-Ds a handsome frontal appearance but bodywork consisting of little more than two small bucket seats and sometimes a brief, airship-like tail, presented an unbalanced rear aspect.

As twin-cam cars in 1922 these A-Ds ran parallel with the Salmson and I am surprised not to find them referred to in Griffith Borgeson’s book “The Classic Twin-Cam Engine” … It has been suggested that the intention was to sell them in sports and racing forms to ordinary customers; apparently a price of £450 was quoted for the “Sascha” in London, but not many appear to have found buyers. In the tough Targa Florio Count Kolowrat retired with a seized engine but Alfred Neubauer, later to become the most famous Team Manager of all time after he had joined Mercedes-Benz, but who was then a tester at A-D’s, won his class in one of these 1,100 cc cars, finishing 19th overall at 34.6 mph, with his team-mates Kula and Porcher respectively 22nd and 24th. It seems that the team cars were identified by emblems well-known to card-players, Neubauer’s being the “Ace-of-Diamonds”.

For the 1922 Italian Gp in September Dr Porsche prepared a team of four 2-litre four-cylinder, 74 x 116 mm (1,996 cc) twin-cam sixteen-valve racers, as well as a 72 x 92 mm (1,496 cc) version of the “Sascha” model for voiturette events, using the same chassis. Whereas the 1,100 cc engine ‘ developed 40, 45 or up to SO bhp at 5,000 rpm depending on whom you believe, the 2-litre GP engine was credited with 90 bhp at this crankshaft speed. However, Monza proved unfortunate for Austro-Daimler, because one of their drivers, Otto Hieronymus, was killed while practising for the Grand Prix and the team was withdrawn and in the earlier 373-mile small-car race Porcher and Raiden were last, flagged-off at the end, behind the four Fiats, as victorious as the Turinese make was to prove in the Gp, and a Chiribiri. After which the A-D Company lost interest in racing with Dr Porsche’s departure, although not before it had claimed 43 victories and eight second places in 51 events; it is always difficult to know how such statistics are arrived at and in this case events must have been involved which those in this country did not know of.

The closure of A-D’s racing department did not prevent these advanced-design cars appearing here. In fact, the 1922 Targa Florio had been run in April and by the summer Francis M. Luther of Beardmore’s was driving a 1½-litre Austro-Daimler in speed trials. It carried an Ace-of-Spades but whether it was an actual Targa Florio car with a later engine the mists of time have obscured. However, the link with the Beardmore Co is easier to understand. It resulted because it had built the in-line six-cylinder ohc Austro-Daimler aero-engines under licence, an engine owing something to Dr Porsche’s pre-war very successful competition cars and said by one British aeronautical journal to be quite the best aero-engine of the First World War. These engines had also been made by Crossley Motors but mainly by Beardmore’s, the celebrated general-engineering company, in Scotland. Later Beardmore worked with Arrol-Johnston in turning the A-D engine into the 230 hp BHP aero-engine, its initials representing Beardmore, Halford (Frank Halford, of later DH Cirrus and Gipsy engine and Halford Special racing-car fame), and Pullinger (T. C. Pullinger, General Manager of Arrol-Johnston Ltd). Eventually the BHP engine became the Siddeley Puma, used in such machines as the DH9, the original four-engined Bristol Braemar, the twin-engined Avro Manchester, the racing Avro Baby and the Short sporting seaplane, before Armstrong Siddeley changed to radial aero-engines. In 1918 the Puma sold for £1,089. Siddeley-Deasy built 2,000 Pumas after the war but there was initial trouble with production of dependable aluminium cylinder blocks, from which the Arrol-Johnston / Galloway engines were immune.

So Beardmore had a useful link with the Austrian Company and as the high-quality Beardmore taxicabs operated in London, necessitating a service depot at Hendon, it is not surprising that Mr Luther of Beardmore’s, who had had earlier direct associations with A-D, was in a good position to import and service any A-D racing cars in which British drivers showed any interest. This in spite of A. D. Motors Ltd having their own premises in Great Portland Street for selling new touring and sports-cars. One of the drivers who was interested was Capt (later Sir) Malcolm Campbell. He drove a 72 x 92 mm 1½-litre white car with red wheels and that “Ace-of-Spades” insignia at the Brooklands Whitsun Meeting, lapping at 81 mph without being placed, took it to Saltburn, where it was third in its class behind Capt Nash’s GN and Raymond May’s Bugatti, ran it at the Holme Moss speed-hill-climb and was entered by Luther for the Essex MC Brooklands Meeting, where Campbell won .’ .,the Junior Handicap at 761/2 mph, from : Oates’ Lagonda and Woolf Barnato’s Ansaldo, and was second in the Junior Long H’cap, behind George Duller’s Ansaldo. Campbell ran the car again at the August Brooklands’ races for Mr Luther but it went slowly and the presumably newer A-D Campbell had ordered for the JCC 200 Mile Race failed to arrive in time.

In sprint events there were good results, When Luther himself wasn’t competing Cyril Paul· (who was to break the Shelsley Walsh record in 1924 with a Beardmore – note the connection) was taking third place in his class at Southsea, doing the S.S. kilo at 581/4 mph, and climbing Shelsley Walsh in 60-sec beaten only by H. K. Moir’s Aston-Martin, and H. K. Lewis was running on the sands at Portcawl, the A-D fitted with horizontal wings, after he had driven it tripped at the Caerphilly hill-climb, where it ran wide on a bend.

The, following year that well-known Northern · sportsman, Geoffrey Boston, bought what was almost certainly the ex-Luther car, which he repainted dark blue, driving it at Angle Bank and Sutton Bank, while in Scotland R. B. Tennant had notable successes in sprint events with another of these cars, very smartly painted in cream and red, and in 1924; the last full season of public-road speed-events. However, this would not have prevented A-D asking Mr Luther to dispose of any of their racing cars for which they no longer had any use but which could well appeal to Brooklands’ competitors, at that home of lost causes and fascinatingly mixed types of motor cars…

Thus at the BARC Whitsun Meeting of 1923 we find Luther entering someone known as R. K. Cooper to drive one of the 2-litre Austro-Daimlers for him in a 100 mph Long Handicap, or maybe this gentleman was a prospective customer who believed that if you were trying out a racing car you should do so in its natural habitat. Anyway, this car, in the A-D colours of white and red, got away much quicker than the straight-eight 3-litre Ballot Campbell was now driving and lapped as fast, at 92.23 mph, but was unplaced. No more was heard of it at the Track that year, but it was probably the car with which H. G. Sissons took two third places in class at the Ringinglow hill-climb that August.

By 1924 Lucas-Scudamore was racing one of the true 1,097 cc “Sascha” cars at Brooklands, in the same colours, even if it never lapped at more than 66.39 mph before taking on the role of habitual non-starter. This was far from the end of the Austro-Daimler at the Track, however, for not only did a Major Bradshaw nominate R. Sahl to conduct what was probably the Scudamore “Sascha” (at under 70 mph lap-speed), but at that 1925 Whitsun Meeting J. P. Turner appeared with one of the 2-litre GP Austro-Daimlers. As it was in grey paint it may well have been the car Luther was trying to dispose of, awaiting refurbishing in Turner’s orange finish. On this initial appearance it lapped at nearly 82½ mph before failing on the first lap in its second race. But better was to follow.

At the Summer Meeting the twin-cam A-D arrived in orange and red, with black wheels·, and took second place in the 75 mph Short H’cap. Re-handicapped, it repeated this in the 90 mph Short H’cap, behind Ropner’s 30/98, its lap-speed up to over 88 mph. Not content with that, the wily Turner, who had gradually increased his speed during the afternoon, to fix handi-capper “Ebby”, although made to owe the field 8 sec., pulled off his third 2nd place of the day, after lapping at better than 92½ mph. Then, remarkably, Turner scored another 2nd place at the August races, behind Parry Thomas in the big Lanchester single-seater, the A-D’s lap-speed creeping up to nearly 95 mph.

By this time the popular Euston Road motor-dealer George Newman, having got over the excitement of an aerial honeymoon by Avro 504 and racing his Salmson, became interested in the 2-litre A-D. At the last BARC Meeting of 1925 he entered the orange and black car for Turner to drive. It had to give 18 sec to Purdy’s quick 12/50 Alvis but as they swept into the Finishing-straight Turner was coming up fast, to claim a dead-heat. A frustrated “Ebby” piled on the penalties after that, yet Turner got his fourth 2nd place later that day, after going round at 97.65 mph. Finally, in a third race, although now lapping at just over 98 mph, the handicap proved too heavy for a place… Incidentally, many of these 2nd places were in the nature of “photo-finishes”.

For the 1926 Brooklands’ season Jack Dunfee was campaigning the 2-litre A-D, letting its former owner J. P. Turner enter it. It continued the 2nd place tradition, taking this position in the Easter 90 mph Short H’cap, and with it Dunfee lapped at not far short of 100 mph. The reason why Newman had forsaken his 2-litre A-D was because he now had a 3-litre. This was built, I believe, in 1921, using a six-cylinder twin-cam engine with four-valves-per-cylinder, of 74 x 116 mm (2,996 cc) and a chassis of the same dimensions as that of the 2-litre GP cars, with the same half-elliptic springing, the front axle underslung but long, straight rear springs about the back axle. Originally the power output was 109 bhp at 4,500 rpm. This A-D was referred to as a Targa Florio car and it may have been built with that race in mind, but I cannot trace that it ever ran in one. At the time most events were barred to “enemy” makes but it is said to have gained a number of local victories. At Brooklands it had two Zenith carburetters feeding into three-branch inlet manifolds on the n/s, ignition by twin Bosch magnetos at the rear of the engine, each one supplying three plugs, and drove through a 3-speed gearbox.

When Newman first had it, it was in the expected white, with red chassis, clearly imported from Austria. This was soon altered to crimson and I used to think this A-D was one of the best looking cars at the Track, with its handsomely-cowled radiator, slightly staggered seats, long tail, and the silencer beneath a tunnel on .the n/s of the body, with the compulsory fish-tail protruding. The brakes, as on the other cars, had smaller front than rear drums, and cable operation. The detachable scuttle was strap-retained and the car ran on Aviation or Ethyl petrol.

Newman was paid· the compliment of being put on the scratch mark in his second race with the 3-litre A-p and it immediately responded by lapping at 105.74 mph. On its next outing, at the 1926 Summer Meeting, it copied its smaller sister’s habit, taking a 2nd place, behind Barclay’s Vauxhall and at the August races it took another 2nd behind Howey’s Ballot, its lap-speed up to 107 .34 mph. (Incidentally, I believe the chassis and gearbox of the 2-litre A-D were used for the Laystall Special that made its debut at the Track in 1928.)

For the 1927 season Clive Dunfee took over the 3-litre S-D, painting it crimson (I have heard that the cylinder head had warped and had to be changed, which shows that spares were available) and it was to stand him in very good stead. It wasn’t until the Autumn 1927 Meeting that the car was going properly, but unplaced. In 1928 it finished second to its former owner, Newman, in his Salmson, in the Easter “75 Short”, and discarded its fire-extinguisher in its next race, a reminder of how bumpy Brooklands was. Continuing the A-D Brooklands’ tradition, Dunfee took two 2nd places during the 1928 season. Then in the 1929 President’s Gold Plate H’cap Dunfee was on scratch, but putting in the fastest lap it ever did in a BARC race, at 109.22 mph, the old Austro-Daimler came up fast, to finish second to Spero’s A7, after doing the best ss lap of the race, at 88.62 mph. For that it was penalised an additional 1 min 11 sec in the Gold Star 25-mile H’cap but managed to come in third. By this time Dunfee was spending less time on motor racing and the crimson A-D was offered for sale at £250. Apparently there were no takers, for Clive ran the car at the 1930 Brooklands Club Meeting, fulfilling expectations by netting 2nd place in the Racing Short H’cap, followed by a 3rd place, the speed still well up to standard. It appeared once more, unsuccessfully, in Clive’s hands, before he was so tragically killed driving the 8-litre Bentley in the 1932 BRDC 500 mile Race. R. E. O. Hall then acquired the car, which I used to see in a showroom at Merton, where the fwd BSA-base Palmer Specials were made. By 1932 £100 would have bought it but much as I coveted the old A-D, which still looked every inch a racer, I hadn’t that sort of money. I wonder what became of it?

Another Austro-Daimler which caused a considerable stir when it came to Great Britain was the special sprint car, with engine based on the 19/100 hp sports-cars but enlarged to 3½-litres, said to be installed in a 1921 chassis, with which Hans von Stuck won the 1930 European Hill-Climbing Championship. At Shelsley Walsh it quietly and unexpectedly broke Raymond Mays’ course-record with the supercharged Vauxhall-Villiers by no less than 2.8 sec. Indeed, it took until 1933 for this new figure to be bettered, and then only by 1.6 sec, by Whitney Straight and his blown Maserati. Before this Stuck had made ftd at Zbraslav at 76.89 mph, at Barina at 41.25 mph and at Semmering at 57.29 mph in the 1929 European Hill-Climbing Championship, with the Austro-Daimler. Stuck also used the car for GP racing, as at Monaco in 1930 when the brakes proved inadequate. The engine was said to give 120 bhp at 5,500 rpm and some reports speak of 200 bhp.

Those were the only racing Austro-Daimlers of any significance to come to this country between the wars. – W.B.