Getting the Royces right

It used to be common practice, and still is, for manufacturers to examine, test and even dissect the cars of competitors to discover what the opposition had to offer. In this respect Rolls-Royce Ltd was no exception. Thanks to the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club, which has again generously placed some more of their archive material at my disposal, we are able to divulge more on this fascinating topic. And if you think this applies only to non-sporting cars, remember that the 40/50 Ghosts did make occasional appearances in Brooklands’ races, speed hill-climbs and in long-distance and other trials. Also, that the R-R Twenty was developed into the 25/30, from which were evolved the 3½-litre and 4¼-litre Derby-Bentleys, with which E R Hall did so well in three TT races.

During the Great War, Henry Royce had been using a Calcott light car, and by 1918 he was convinced the Company should have a smaller car to supplement the splendid 40/50, to meet post-war economic changes. He began designing the dohc Goshawk engine in 1919, based on war-time aero-engine concepts, but only one was built. Subsequent development of the small Royce encompassed push-rod overhead valve-gear, unit engine and gearbox, and a three-speed central-change gearbox.

As early as January 1919 it was thought that a good continental car should be examined, and a 15.9 Delage was acquired albeit in such poor condition that even the delivery driver complained. It was overhauled before submission to Royce, and EW Hives decided in future that he’d like to see cars bought for experimental purposes first, as he found the Delage disappointing, “a proper bunch of trouble, a nasty heavy brute”.

Royce was furnished with a detailed description, and the engine was dynamometer-tested. Mr Royce caused more delay by asking that the Delage be fitted with alight body, not a heavy 4-seater, new tyres, and other small modifications. Hives had to tell Royce that a two-seater body with dickey was fitted but the weight with passengers would be 5cwt over his request, as the wheelbase was very long. The Delage would now do 45 mph, 55mph down a slight hill, but only 12 to 13mpg, which it was hoped aero-engine vacuum-control would improve. Conduit Street was now asking about using it for a staff car, perhaps because there was a shortage of available Royces at the end of the war. Hives (later Lord Hives) told them that Royce might keep the Delage for only a month as it wasn’t very suitable, but after a Buick had been investigated this might be available, or a Marmon, when received.

Meanwhile, after a crude wiring diagram of the Rushmore electrics had been drawn up, the Delage was driven down to West Wittering. An R-R carburettor from an old two-cylinder R-R had been tried but the original Claudel-Hobson was replaced, which gave 20mpg at 30mph. Hives thought that after the Delage they should get a Buick, as the French car was “not in the same street.”

By April 1919, Royce was driving the Delage. He remarked that small cylinders and high gearing militated against good fuel consumption. He compared the Delage with a 40/50 R-R, which gave a regular 16 to 18mpg on ordinary cross-country journeys, “if the temperature is sufficiently high and the roads hard”. For the TT races of 1905/6 Royce used high gears and compression ratios in a slow-speed engine, and driver control of mixture strength and water heat. (Rolls had won in 1906, Northey was second in 1905). Before the end of April 1919 Royce had finished with the little Delage, having concluded it had “a large, heavy, clumsy chassis” with a radiator too small for summer use and a low cylinder capacity per mile — an unusual measurement. He told Claude Johnson, the R-R Manager, he thought they should make £50 on the resale and that experience with the Delage made him confident that six cylinders were the way to go, but that the small Royce must be lighter and of at least 20 rated hp. He still blamed poor post-war petrol for bad mpg.

The next move was to borrow a four-wheel braked Type GS Delage with a six-cylinder 4524cc engine. Royce was sent a description, as before. He was told that the engine ‘over-oiled’ when running light, with bad smoking, and that the valve gear was very noisy, and that there was a very bad vibration period at 43mph in third gear. The top speed was 60mph, so the period could not be tried in top as the same revs meant 67mph. lithe throttle was opened quickly the engine stopped. Without a clutch-brake it was normal to crash the gears, but the clutch only grabbed lightly on take up. The top gear ratio was 3.75 to 1.

Royce was interested mainly in the brakes, with the 40/50 Rolls Royce in mind. Both cars weighed 36 cwt, the Delage on non-skid Michelin tyrcs, the Royce on Dunlop Magnums, at 601b per sq in. The Delage beat the Royce’s dry pull-up distances, taking 40 yards from 40mph. On front brakes alone the Delage needed 82 yards. Royce approved of the Delage’s braking, but suspected it would not stand up like a 40/50’s if used continuously, due to its unribbed drums. But he found even the countershaft brake good, as on locked wheels the car “skidded but did not jump”. Royce judged “the Delage steering very nice, but heavy on full lock, the chassis low so of rather nice appearance, but the brakes the outstanding feature”. They had chosen a Delage as more of these cars had 4WB than all the other so-equipped French cars put together.

Considered heavy for its power, the chassis with lamps and battery weighed 27cwt and gave 18mpg at 40mph. The Weymann vacuum-feed stalled the engine, so for bench tests pressure-feed was substituted. The car was obtained in 1920 and kept until January 1923, then sold.

A Committee of Hives and four other executives decided in October 1921 to look at Goshawk-size cars at Olympia and at Delage, Fiat and Dietrich in particular; Claude Johnson then had a run in a used Delage, as they and Mr Royce decided a new car would not provide the required data. They did try out softer springs on the Delage and did all manner of tests with weights on the steering wheels and drop-arms of both cars, and wobble trials, which not being an engineer, I fail to understand! The castor-angle was measured and the cooling system showed how much water it passed (five gal at 1250rpm took 5min 15sec). Performance up Ticknall Hill was also recorded.

In June 1922, Royce drove the Delage, finding it noisy. “The plugs fouled up, the starter would not turn the cold engine and the footbrake required a Samson to make a quick stop.” After nine miles the car broke down, Royce’s first such stop since 1906, as without coil ignition and with a dud starter he was helpless as the magneto had packed up. He left the car in a shed, and came home in a Ford. But remember his was a used car. As an electrical engineer I do not think he would have approved of a starter switch of two cheap carbon contacts, one on a spring blade. Royce summed-up “If this is a specimen of Delage effort to cut out R-R, it is not a bit like an R-R”…! Other experimental cars were ‘Stork’ and ‘Heron’ and a Hispano Suiza was used to prepare the Ghosts for 4WBs by 1924/5.

Those were just two cars used by R-R for valuation; there were many others, but that is another story…