WB miscellany, April 2005

Peugeot’s fine 4-litre

While some luxury car makers were increasing the performance of their pre-war models by giving side-valve engines push-rod overhead valves, Peugeot decided to obviate poppet valves entirely with a complicated system that ignored all other solutions such as double or single-sleeve valves, slide valves, the crankcase-compression two-stroke, rotary valves or rotary engines; it was a ‘valveless’ engine using cuff valves.

The cuff valves consisted of discs with piston-type rings which went up and down in each cylinder. These were operated by shafts equipped with eccentrics on either side of the engine and long pushrods and substantial rocking beams crossing above the top of the engine. The cuffs closed and uncovered the inlet and exhaust ports, timing achieved as the chain driving the two eccentric shafts had one sprocket twice the circumference of its fellow. If you fail to understand this worry not, neither do I.

The stems of the cuffs which passed through the detachable cylinder head were substantial, as they had to partially rotate. They also had to be gas-tight, any mixture escaping being caught in a chamber above, which a downward moving piston would suck back. This engine of 95 x 140 (5954cc) was put into an 11ft 4in-wheelbase chassis costing £1630 and exhibited in 1919 at the Paris Salon and Olympia. A sports-touring version of this new Peugeot with outside handbrake and flowing mudguards was also shown. But this was the cuff’s only public appearance. Peugeot’s next act was to test a two-stroke fuel-injected 3593cc diesel twin made under Tartrais patents. Intended for commercial vehicles, it gave 50bhp at 1200rpm and was thought to be a possible car power unit. A 2199cc version was put into a 15hp Peugeot chassis and compared with a 2950cc petrol engined tourer. In a day’s strenuous run the oiler was slower over a flying-start kilometre, but the fuel used cost 7/3d per mile against 28/2d for the petrol Peugeot. The next move to obviate the poppets was to use Knight double sleeve valves. Peugeot used such engines with thin light sleeves for their new 20/30 car while their other models retained side valves. They also used sleeve-valve engines for their racing sportscars which obtained such excellent results. André Boillot, brother of the great Georges, who had won such acclaim before the war with the twin-cam, multi-valve Peugeots, won the 1923 ACF Touring Car GP at Tours in the 4-litre Peugeot, followed home by the Morillon brothers to a 1-2-3 finish, the 1000kg class a similar walkover. In 1924 Dauvergne beat the Voisins in this important race and Boillot won again at Montlhéry in 1925 and in the Spa 24 Hours (Boillot/Rigal) in 1926. The same sleeve-valve engine was found in the bolster-tank racing Peugeot with which Boillot won the 1925 Coppa Florio and was sixth in the 1931 Monaco Grand Prix.

The Type 174 20/30 Peugeot had a 95 x 135 (3828cc) four-cylinder engine, which for me passes as a 4-litre. The touring car gave 158bhp at 4300rpm. It used an SEV magneto, had a unit four-speed gearbox and a 3.7:1 top gear with 895 x 135 tyres. It had appeared in Britain by 1924 and was later designated the 23/65, engine size unchanged. I do not know how many were sold here but the Bugatti enthusiast, R C Symondson, in a Motor Sport ‘Cars I Have Owned’ contribution, said he had owned one of the sports-racing Peugeots (from 1926 until 1934), which could beat up any 4-1/2-litre Bentleys encountered on the road, although it had inferior low-speed acceleration. The engine ran up to 3800rpm, giving a top speed of 90mph and an easy cruising speed of 85mph. The production models had much the same performance, cruising easily at 75mph, and were available until 1929. One of the great sportscars of the 1920s.


GP star’s road to revival

My recent recall of famous racing cars which later became normal road cars has apparently been of interest. Two of the Mercedes team cars which scored that dominating 1-2-3 victory in the 1914 French GP at Lyons, after they had broken up the Peugeot of Georges Boillot whom the French had expected to win the last great race on the eve of war, later served as touring cars.

Mercedes had refused to sell Christian Lautenschlager’s winning car even to Gordon Watney, the Weybridge Mercedes expert. But after the war Louis Zbrowski managed to acquire what seems to have been this immortal racing car, which he ran with much success at Brooklands in 1921/22. It was then passed to the Robinson brothers; they had less success, but netted one second place.

The next owner, C Brocklebank, had been a prominent and winning Brooklands driver with his 1913 GP Peugeot until Capt Toop went over the Byfleet banking with it. Toop was killed and the car destroyed.

The Mercedes now had a Berliet engine and a four-seater touring body, both probably fitted by the Robinsons. However, Brocklebank gave up racing and let his son’s godfather, Mr G Fane, have the now hybrid car. The Major had the original engine which he re-installed, using the Mercedes until 1932. The family was reluctant to let the car go, and it was lost sight of.

In 1961 Philip Mann, then the president of the VSCC, was anxious to find it and eventually traced it to a stables in Kelvedon. This prompted Stanley Sears to step in, but as Mann had found the missing racer he gave him a part share. When Sears went to live abroad Mann obtained full possession and he set about a complete restoration. I went on the first test run, and told the whole story in Motor Sport for June 1970.

After that triumph at Lyons, Mercedes sent the reserve car to England for publicity purposes. It was taken hastily to Rolls-Royce for inspection. In 1925 it was discovered hiding in the London depot of Hooper’s, the coachbuilders, now with a comfortable two-seater body and road-rigged. Major Veal, who had long tried to buy it, took delivery and used it as a normal road car until 1932. Peter Clark, a VSCC member and competitor, later persuaded the Major to sell it in 1939 and put it back into Lyons 1914 trim, having to make a new body for it. He sold it to America in 1952.


Racing cars on war service

Former racing cars were used after WWI for road use, but what of those which served during the war, in addition to the RFC Crossleys, Leyland and Thorneycroft trucks, the private cars acting as ambulances and the LGDC omnibuses, not to overlook those Renault taxis which were part of the battle in the 1914-18 war?

The Mercedes with which Sailer made fastest lap in the 1914 French GP and the Itala driven by Fournier in the 1908 GP were so used. Marc Douezy reminds me that one of the 1914 4.4-litre GP Theophile-Schneiders was sold after the war to the legendary French fighter pilot Charles Nungesser, who brought down 43 German aeroplanes.

The Th-Schneider was as raced, except for electric side lamps and a big horn. Three of these started in the GP, Champoiseau’s finishing ninth, those of Gabriel and Juvanon retiring with engine trouble.


Publicity drive in US

Jaguar’s handsome XK concept car has had a first press showing in New York. It must rank as one of the oddest previews, the car having only a 30hp electric motor for propulsion.

Yet such is the Jaguar name that the reputable journal involved devoted a front cover, an editorial and an eight-page description to it, hailing it as a worthy successor to the E-type, although the only test run was a crawl through Manhattan traffic. The huge transporter which brought the car was allowed to park unmolested in Times Square, as were Mercedes-Benz’ huge trucks on double-yellows in Kensington when its veteran cars came from Stuttgart for the 1982 Brighton Run.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if in the meantime Jaguar had challenged BMW, Audi and Bentley at Le Mans, instead of its F1 fiasco?


Lady of the Apple

You remember The Lady of the Apple? She was eating hers while driving, which resulted in a police car, a helicopter and an aeroplane being called out to follow her for criminally driving one-handed. She refused to pay a £60 fine and this is apparently now going to court, which will no doubt cost us, the taxpayers, thousands of pounds.

I find this incredible unless the car was swerving about or nearly caused an accident, none of which has been recorded.

The police are acting either out of malice or are obeying orders from someone up above.

The Daily Mail reports that a driver who took a hairbrush out of the car’s door pocket while it was crawling in traffic was stopped, and the case will go to court as he refused to pay a £30 fixed penalty.

Another driver who was eating an unwrapped Kit Kat on a motorway was fined £20, another was fined for eating a sausage roll while his car was stationary. A lady received a £30 fixed penalty notice for eating a banana while driving, and another lady a similar punishment for taking a sip of mineral water while her car was stationary at traffic lights.

It appears that to be immune from such appalling persecution one needs a car with an automatic gearbox and a control system for working the horn, direction indicators, radio and lamps, in the same way as Formula One cars were for a period given adjustments from the pits.

Then you can be sure that both your hands can clutch your steering wheel firmly until the car stops, as those of the cops presumably do.


The cars nobody wanted

The headline doesn’t refer to the Seabrook and Maudslay advanced editions, which were never put into production. Instead I mean the quality post-vintage make of Armstrong Siddeley.

I found a quite respectable 1934 Long-15hp side-valve Armstrong Siddeley saloon which I drove home with unsullied satisfaction, except when I discovered that if you failed to correctly select a gear with the pre-selector lever the foot pedal took a violent dislike to your left foot, thrusting it rather violently upwards.

With other cars to be attended to I reluctantly felt I must find another owner for this particular Armstrong, especially as the lady who lived near us complained that its presence in what served as our garden was an eyesore that should be removed which saddened me as she had said she had once been a secretary or something at the Coventry works.

Anyway, in 1966 I offered the car to the AS Club which, after two inspections, sent their secretary-general to collect it. He lunched with us and I saw him off on his journey back to the Club’s HQ.

About 10 days later I was passing a garage just a few yards from where we lived when its proprietor asked me when I was going to discuss payment for the storage rent of my car.

“What car?” I enquired. The AS Club’s secretary-general, not the present one I hasten to add, had left it there and departed by train without any explanation. Eventually I found someone who was willing to take the AS away. Later I was in a nearby county town with a friend who had never been to Wales. He was convinced that every garage or barn would reveal ancient vehicles. I knew otherwise, having investigated myself and found only a very derelict 1925 Cluley which DSJ and I bought and drove home, later to be completely rebuilt and bodied by a person to whom it eventually went and whom I knew would look after it.

But to satisfy my friend, when he noticed a shed behind a pub I peered through the door and, lo, there was another Armstrong Siddeley! We went into the pub and asked the publican about it. It was a 17hp which he had run until the Suez Crisis petrol rationing. It had stood idle ever since. I offered to buy it, he produced the Log Book, I laid a £5 note on the counter and it was mine.

We went back, armed with trade plates which for a time Jenks and I had shared, and my friend soon had the engine running. We set off on the five miles home, dust and cobwebs blowing off behind us. Very soon the first police Panda car I had ever seen on this road (and I have never seen one since in 45 years) stopped us. The young constable asked for the trade plate permit. I explained that we were on general plates and such were not issued. He bent down to try to read the status of our plates and it occurred to me that a desperate criminal could have run him down.

It ended amicably, but the intended Mid-Wales Motor Museum for which the plates had been issued to an optimistic DSJ and WB never materialised. So here was another AS which remained unused in the barn for many years, after one brief unofficial run in it. No one showed any interest for a very long time, so although I liked these cars I felt I was justified in calling them in the magazine ‘the cars that no one wants’.

At the same time two sound Siddeley Specials, one of them the prototype, remained unsold for a long period after the death of their owner, and in desperation a 1935 17hp AS was being offered for 10/-.

Today the ASOC is an active club formed in the early 1960s, looking after the needs of its 760 members, publishing its monthly magazine Sphinx, organising the usual runs and socials and helping with spares.

I should emphasise that I have nothing against ASs and have in fact enjoyed driving them and having runs in Siddeley Specials, and would willingly have had a Star Sapphire. I wonder what did become of the 15hp (KV 8840) no one seemed to want?


Who had the first Bentley?

The dramatic story of how WO Bentley set about making the 3-litre in 1919 and got one to the Olympia Show, albeit with a mock wooden crankcase and valve cover and no valves, is history. But who was the first customer for one of these desirable cars?

In his autobiography, WO describes how one morning in September 1921 he met Noel van Raalte, to whom he handed over “the low 3-litre coupé that was waiting for him”, telling the wealthy recipient about the car’s five-year guarantee. “Our first customer had taken delivery of our first production car,” WO wrote. It was an important occasion which he would remember clearly.

Pennal, a mechanic quoted in Miss Nagle’s book The Other Bentley Boys, confirms “the little square boxlike body” but says a coupé came later, hinting at a possible body change. But was this actually a production car, in customer terms? It seems a little odd that in December 1921 The Autocar published a photograph of a normal Bentley saloon captioned a “smart model owned by Mr van Raalte”.

Does this suggest that van Raalte may have sent this coupé back? Unless he by then had two Bentleys, but there’s no record of this. Expert Bentley historian Michael Hay says No1 went to van Raalte and illustrates it in his Bentley — The Vintage Years with a lofty saloon body. However, in the lists of all the pre-war Bentleys, that so commendably painstaking chore undertaken by the late Stanley Sedgwick, working from 16 volumes of the works Service Records and also meticulous Sales Records, he quotes chassis No1 as sold to the Rt Hon J Frankland on September 9 1921, after chassis No3 had gone to Ivor Llewellyn the month before.

The engine sequence was No4 in the latter’s 3-litre, No3 in the Frankland car, and No2 in car No2, sold during either that August or September to R Reynolds.

WO used a Harrison all-weather 3-litre, BM 9771, registered in September 1920, reputed to have experimental chassis 4EX. Could he have sold this to van Raalte? Surely not, as even with its hood erect it hardly qualifies as a ‘low coupé’.

Sedgwick shows van Raalte as having another 3-litre in January 1924 and in October 1925, one of the 100mph sports chassis 3-litre cars with a Gurney-Nutting saloon body, copied by Ben Collings for his latest Bentley, as mentioned last month. This body was too cramped for van Raalte’s family and was removed by 1926. So who did have the historic first-sold 3-litre?


From Rolls-Royces to taxis...

From 1935 to 1939 Rolls-Royce sent to R-R and Bentley customers publications depicting these cars in scenic settings, with celebrities and interesting places to visit. Beautifully produced, these were promotional rather than advertising offerings. Bentley owners got 13 of these ‘On The Road’ issues depicting 125 Derby Bentleys and with articles on English and Welsh history, Tattersall’s, country markets, tours, Ireland, Geoffrey Smith of The Autocar on a continental holiday, Eddie Hall on his Bentley racing, a Journalist’s day at the Track with Sir Malcolm Campbell, and a rewritten piece about my ‘John O’Groats Jaunt’ in a 4-1/4-litre Vanden Plas coupé for Motor Sport, etc.

Dalton Watson Fine Books of Ferring, Sussex and Deerfield, Illinois have reissued these in two beautiful produced volumes (ISBN 1 85443 203 6, £95). The first details in every way the contents of the second volume, both the work of Bernard L King, who lists the 59 coachbuilders involved and in all but 15 cases has managed to correct the bogus reg. numbers the photographers inflicted on 44 originals. He includes customer deliveries year by year of the relevant Bentleys and those sold abroad.

A few errors have arisen, such as saying my Scottish JoG run began one morning whereas I left with Big Ben striking midnight, getting to JoG at 3.14 pm. a running average of 50.5mph, and Amy Johnson did not win the RAC Rally, but otherwise a magnificent recall which should be especially in demand by those Bentley folk who like to have everything about their cars, and for other keen Bentley admirers.

Then there’s Malcolm Bobbitt’s Taxi –The story of the London Cab, packed with information about every make on those streets from 1897 until now, with a truly great back-up of statistics and production figures. I can recall a Punch book on this fascinating subject, a driver’s memories, and of course Nick Georgano’s serious work, all out of print. But here is the truly complete coverage, available from Veloce. ISBN 1-903706-55-6, £15.99.