Shelsley Oddballs

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Sir,

A friend has drawn my attention to your reference to my “Panther” of 1933 (not 1934). Recognition by your distinguished magazine is honour indeed! The last time my “oddball” appeared in print was in the Shelsley report in The Motor of May 30, 1933.

My “Luttman Special” (its official name) was short-lived; it appeared at Shelsley only once and nobody seemed to be particularly interested in it. I am astonished, therefore, by the detail and accuracy of your description — in particular by your calling it the “Panther”, a name known only to a few friends.

Apart from being a year out in the date, your only error lies in your very understandably mistaking which end went first! As you will see from the enclosed photograph, the big wheels were at the front. This had nothing to do with clever calculations of optimum gear ratios — with the Vauxhall and Coventry Premier gearboxes in series, I had all the ratios I could possibly want. The real reason was that I had to use the complete Vauxhall front axle, front springs and steering assembly, because the 23/60 engine was too heavy for the Coventry Premier originals.

Although probably of little interest to anybody, except your author with his appreciation of “forlorn hopes”, an outline of my assault on Shelsley begins in 1932 while a post-graduate apprentice at Armstrong-Whitworth Aircraft — a source, I now confess, of a few “foreigners” for my motor engineering. (At least I acknowledged my indebtedness by naming the result after the A-S Panther aero-engine!) I acquired the decaying remains of a Coventry-Premier for 12/-, converted it into some sort of racing car, and impudently entered it for Shelsley. Though it clambered up the hill satisfactorily in practice, its little v-twin engine packed up on The Day, in the middle of the S-bend; I was pushed off the road facing the massed spectators on the bank.

Clearly I needed more power. A friend owned an old 3-litre Bentley with a sadly battered body which he was anxious to replace. He found a Vauxhall 23/60 with a gin-palace of a body, which we transferred to the Bentley. I bought what was left of the Vauxhall for £10.

This had a subframe carrying radiator, engine and separate gearbox, which fitted neatly between lengths of ash packing in the channel longerons of the Coventry Premier. The Coventry front axle and springs, manifestly too weak to carry the bigger engine, were replaced by the Vauxhall front axle, springs (laboriously converted by hacksaw from semi-to-quarter-elliptic) and steering gear, slightly skewed to suit the single-seater layout. This made the Coventry front wheels available, mounted back-to-back to provide twin rear wheels.

On a practice run, the Panther clocked 58sec. But on the day of that May meeting of 1933, it poured with rain, one of the earlier cars hit the bank and brought some mud down at the S-bend, and for all its twin-wheels, wheelspin was our undoing; 67.4sec was the best we could do.

That “one crowded hour of glorious life” was, alas, the end of my dabbling in motorsport. I stayed in the aircraft business, spending most of my professional life in the USA and Canada. The Panther was never in action again in my hands, and was sold for £30 to a local garage when I was posted overseas in 1938. It had been a great experience and it taught me a lot.

H C Luttman, Sevenoaks, Kent.