Starting up

It would be somewhat misleading to suggest that veteran and even vintage cars were all easy starters. Indeed, in the early days, what was known as the starting-up procedure could be quite complicated. It might involve flooding the carburettor, priming the cylinders with petrol via the compression or priming taps, or on more sophisticated cars skilfully operating the mixture control or Ki-gass pump.

In extreme cases you might have to take out the sparking-plugs and heat them on a fire, or even gently cook the magneto in a domestic oven. The choke or the mixture-enriching control tended to be of much greater importance then. There was also the everpresent problem of whether the starter-motor would be man enough to turn over sufficiently fast an engine which was gummed up with the then less viscous lubricating oils.

Last month I referred to the way in which Lancia, on its stillborn V12 chassis which was introduced in 1919, used 6-volt electrics supplemented by 12 volts for turning the starter-motor — a foretaste of Georges Roesch’s solution on his Talbots. On this I can enlarge a little.

It was for his 3-litre 95 and 105 engines that Roesch provided 24-volt starting, with an otherwise normal 12-volt electrical system. A relay switch was operated by the starter-button on the instrument panel to couple the two 12-volt batteries in series for starting. Even this did not always come to the driver’s aid if there was something slightly amiss or the battery was under par; the Talbot’s direct-drive dynamotor, a silent form of starting used by Morris in bull-nose days, needed things to be absolutely right for a prompt cold-weather start, especially when the engine was allied to the drag of the Talbot pre-selector gearbox, as Anthony Blight explains on page 384 of Georges Roesch and the Invincible Talbot (Grenville, 1970).

A rather different precaution was taken by Marc Birkigt when he designed his fine 37.2hp Hispano Suisa of 1919. Since he was using the Delco coil-ignition which was becoming popular instead of a magneto, he was anxious that there should always be sufficient current for the coil, so he used two batteries of differing amperage. The larger one served the lamps, starter and this ignition system, and there was a smaller reserve battery which, by what was described as a “very ingenious” switch, was confined to the ignition-coil and side-lamps only. So if the starter and/or the headlamps exhausted the main battery , the engine would at least start on the handle.

Thus did designers of the pre-war years take steps to make sure their engines could be fired-up. WB