Forgotten Makes No. 91: The K.R.C.

In what we now regard as the vintage years there were many instances of sports models based on standard chassis being offered to the public, in some instances giving genuinely increased performance but in other cases being provided with bodies of sporting type but very little else to justify the designation of sports car.

In a very few cases manufacturers listed genuine racing models for sale to the public, and it cannot be denied that there is a special charisma surrounding such cars. Without a shadow of a doubt Bugatti was foremost in this field but there were a few others. The AC Company of Thames Dillon listed for a short time a replica of their successful 1½-litre Brooklands single-seater, priced at £1000, and the Amilcar Six was surely intended first and foremost as a customers' racing car. The tiny Jappic was another which could be bought and used for racing without modification. And the reason why I have included the K.R.C. in this long running series is because on its only appearance at the London Motor Show a pure racing version was shown alongside a more staid two-seater with dickey.

Otherwise the K.R.C. has few claims to recognition. It was sold by the National Motor Cab Company (1922) Ltd, which had premises at 134 King Street, in London's Hammersmith. Those who were promoting it seemed shy of participating in the prolific small car trials and competitions of the time. Until, that is, the 1922 JCC 200 Mile Race at Brooklands, for which a green and gold K.R.C. was entered in the 1100 cc class of this gruelling race. It was entrusted to the well-known Brooklands motorcycle exponent, W D Marchant. He had begun a successful racing career riding Motosacoche, Sheffield-Henderson and Zenith machines, before turning to his effective Chater-Leas. It was for one of these lastnamed motorcycles that Dougal Marchant virtually redesigned and built the Blackburne engine, and indeed the machine itself, to be rewarded by becoming the first rider to exceed 100 mph on a 350.

That was in 1924 but perhaps the unknown K.R.C. people had signed on Marchant because of his knowledge of Blackburne engines, or was it that he saw here a chance of getting a footing in the four-wheeler world? I do not know! But certainly this make which was to burst previously unannounced on the following White City Motor Show, used vee-twin Blackburne engines, four-point mounted on tubular cross-members. In the standard chassis this was a fixed-head side-valve engine but the racing car had a push-rod overhead-valve engine, with detachable cylinder heads. In both cases these Blackburne cycle car engines were watercooled. The K.R.C. chassis was typical of the times, with quite slender sidemembers, half-elliptic front and long quarter-elliptic back springs and it ran on disc wheels shod with those almost unbelievably slim 700 x 80 mm tyres that were not uncommon in 1922. The vee-twin engine of 85 x 96.8 mm bore and stroke (1090 cc), taxed at £39 per annum, had the drip feed lubrication of its kind and used an ML magneto and a Flexi carburettor. There were two clever items about this short-lived little car. Whoever planned it had given it a separate Moss four-speed gearbox when so many small cars were struggling along with only three forward speeds, and the cone clutch could be adjusted without resorting to tools. From the gearbox the drive went by shaft to a Wrigley spiral-bevel back axle sans differential, enabling an economy in brake drums to be effected, the handbrake operating on one drum, the footbrake on the opposite one.

The wheelbase was 8'3", or 24 inches longer than that of the revolutionary new Austin 7, the petrol tank held 6½ gallons, and the two-seater shown at the White City (an overflow exhibition from that at Olympia, to and from which visitors were shuttled in Unic charabancs) apparently had quite a well-made body. It was priced at £275, complete with lighting-set, spare wheel and hood, but if an electric starter was specified there was a small extra charge. It cannot be overlooked that the Austin 7, which was to spell the deathknell of so many cars like the K.R.C., was then priced at £225, which was soon to be substantially reduced.

The racing K.R.C. had an 85 x 96 mm Blackburne ohv engine, higher gear ratios and long quarter-elliptic rear springs, and small-bore exhaust pipes ran along each side. Its two-seater body was well streamlined, having something of the appearance of the current single-seater Salmson, and its initials were emblazoned on the radiator cowl. The springs were cord bound and friction shock absorbers were fitted. Dougal had breathed on the engine of the 200-Mile Race car and in practice he lapped impressively quickly. Alas, in this prestigious race the little K.R.C. lasted a mere ten laps (out of a total of 73) before it went onto one cylinder and retired, as one reporter had it, "with a cloud of steam fuming up, as the bonnet was lifted", a water jacket having burst. So what had been called "a remarkably fast 1100" was out; maybe Marchant would have done better with the standard air-cooled sv engine. . .

Notwithstanding, the racing car appeared on the White City stand, the body said to be identical with that used in the race. I have been in trouble with the Bentley DC over the exact meaning of "identical" when we were debating the origins of Duff's 1923 Le Mans-winning Bentley, but I suspect that the racing K.R.C. on show, which was devoid of road equipment, was the same one that had been run in the 200-Mile Race three months previously, although it was now red, probably in the hope that its debacle at Brooklands would not be too readily remembered . . . It was advertised as "Undoubtedly The Chief Attraction" of the Show and you could have bought it for £255, its speed given as what seems a rather optimistic 80 mph.

This racing K.R.C. was driven through the 1922 MCC London-Exeter-London trial by S H Richards. As it had no hood and crude mudguards he was soon plastered with mud. He made a fast ascent of White Sheet hill but afterwards had a narrow escape when the steering gear came adrift. This was repaired but he was too late to get an award. However, another K.R.C. driven by D J D Dickson gained a gold medal. The 1923 Land's End Trial saw Richards driving one of the new four-cylinder 1247cc K.R.C.s, the makers, White, Holmes & Co Ltd also of Hammersmith, having decided to abandon the cycle-car stigma and use Coventry-Climax power units, win a gold medal, as he was to do in the London-Edinburgh Trial. These were excellent performances but otherwise there were few competition appearances in comparison with those of rival small cars, although R M Clever was second in three classes at the Goudhurst formula hillclimb, probably with one of the 60 mph pointed-tail sports models, beaten by Mathis and Gwynne cars, and A G Mansell in the 1923 N W London M C General Efficiency trial with a disc wheeled sports K.R.C. made the only non-stop run.

After two years the K.R.C. vanished from the Motor Shows and the Buyers' Guides and was on its way to becoming another forgotten make. . . WB