THE appearance of the dual-drive Alfa-Romeo racing car following closely upon that of the four-wheel drive Bugatti is to my mind an event of considerable interest, if only because it indicates that even in these degenerate days development of the road racing car is not at a standstill. I remember that a year or more ago a writer, evidently shrewd, in MOTOR SPORT, observed that for years we had been paying too much
attention to the engines of racing cars and not enough to the rest of the machine. Fairly obviously we have now reached a point where a phenomenal amount of power can be produced by a comparatively small, light engine, and this by increasing its speed is that the transmission no longer has to take the violent torque strains of the big old power units and so can be made light too. But there is little point in getting over 100 h.p. per litre, and being able to build a light, highpowered car, if you can’t get the power fully directed towards rolling the wheels along anything but an almost perfect surface. Signor Jam), or whoever is responsible for the new Alfa-Romeo, has evidently been impressed by the satisfactory results achieved in this respect from the ” double-six ” production of the Milan factory with its two propellor shafts ; but in his 4-wheel drive design Ettore Bugatti in characteristic manner has gone the whole hog.
Front Wheel Brakes.
After all if one has got four wheels on a car, why not use the lot of them for transmitting power to the road instead of having two doing nothing except provide their share of rolling resistance ? Of course one may argue that 4-wheel drive involves complication, but if one compares say, a motor car of 1902 with one of 1932, one can hardly come to the conclusion that simplification is a feature of automobile development. Complication was a cry which retarded for a good many years the universal adoption of 4-wheel brakes. For a good many more years incidently than many people imagine, for I believe that the majority would date them at about 1912 when Argyll was so courageous as to fit them. However, the other day I came across a photograph of a Mercedes, which in 1902 had been fitted with front wheel brakes, which it was stated, were quite safe as long as one was careful to see that the back brakes came on first—a heresy which had a life of about a quarter of a century before it. I wonder if in a few years time a car will be just as out of date if its front wheels are not drivers as it is to-day if they are not brakers. Perhaps the years will not be so few as all that, for our Mercedes preceded by 20 years or more the adoption of 4-wheel brakes even by makers who lay claim to being first-class motor car constructors.
Alfa’s Grand Slam.
With or without dual drive, Alfa-Romeo incidentally seems to be making as complete a grand slam of the races of this season as history can show. One can hardly count Panhard et Levassor, which won almost every race run between 1895 and 1900, and otherwise to compare with By ” BALADEUR “
the Alfa-Romeo record one can only quote Mors in 1901, Fiat, or I should say F.I.A.T., in 1907, and Peugeot in 1913. There are other years in which various makers were remarkably successful, but usually you will find that someone else was winning in the light car class or the touring car class, and success was not catholic. I do not say that the same thing will happen to Alfa-Romeo, but it is rather remarkable that these years of overwhelming success in the past have almost invariably been followed by a disappointing season. The Paris-Vienna Race of 1902 was a complete debacle for .Mors, almost the whole team falling out of the race on the first, and easiest, day. The 1908 F.I.A.T.’s were tremendously fast, but they too were unable to stay the pace of the French Grand Prix. Similarly the 1914 Peugeots seemed if anything faster than those of 1913, although the engines were, by regulation, smaller, and in addition they had, for the first time, front wheel brakes. But in the 1914 French Grand Prix, one of the most famous races of all times, the Peugeots suffered complete defeat at the hands of the Mercedes, with less advanced engines, having one instead of two camshafts, and only brakes on the back wheels. Perhaps, however, Signor J ano may profit by these examples and see that the 1933 Alfa-Romeos retain their real winning form.
Mechanically closed Valves.
Talking of the 1914 Grand Prix reminds me that I find many people who forget that the :Pelages, which ran in that race, and which were in reality very successful, ,had valves which were mechanically closed as well as opened. The eve of the War was in fact a period of tremendous possibilities in automobile design, and at that time it would have been hard to say which was the more important innovation, front wheel brakes or mechanically closed valves. The latter might have proved as great a turning point as had mechanically opened inlet valves. Yet, when the war was over progressive makers such as Delage and Hispano-Suiza immediately adopted front wheel brakes, which gradually spread until about 1926, when the laggards were forced to fit what for years they had declared were dangerous devices. The development of the mechanically closed valve on the other hand was left to Jacques Biguan, who, however, was destined to prove that at any rate in the hands of the amateur, “desdronomique ” control was a little too efficient. In the meantime the War had given publicity to the supercharger, Mercedes and Fiat were proving its adaptability to motor cars, and its adoption was doing away with the chief raison d’etre of the mechanically closed valve. To-day the question of this latter development, which thrilled some of us a decade or more ago, is almost forgotten, but perhaps one day it will be reopened, when for some reason its contribution to efficiency is once more needed.
The niceties of driving, it is to be supposed, vary with different epochs. For instance in the early days of motor racing when engine speeds were very nearly constant, the intensive use to which the gear box is put in hard driving on a modern sports or racing car, was unknown. On the other hand the modern driver has not got to worry about a score of things which engaged the attention of his predecessors. As an instance one may take lubrication. To-day one just attempts to get the oil to the right temperature before starting, keeps an eye on the gauge to see that the pump is working and pays no more attention to the matter until it is time to fill up. The batteries of tanks, taps, pumps and drip-feeds which decorate the dash board of the car of thirty years ago, however, show that things were not always so simple. The other day I and a friend of mine were amusing ourselves by timing a 1904 sports car on a miniature triangular road circuit, consisting of two dead straights, one slightly winding road and three acute corners. At the beginning of one lap as I was acting as mechanician, I remarked to the driver, “You must decide about this : I should be inclined to give her a shot of oil into the crankcase with the hand pump ; if I do, she may oil Number one plug, or she may go quite a bit better.” The driver decided in favour of giving her the “shot.” Number One went on firing quite happily and the motor at once picked up to such an extent that we clipped 12 seconds off a lap time of 2 minutes 54. Of course I know that motor cyclists are very well aware of the niceties of oil supply, but I imagine that there are many drivers of sports cars nowadays, who really know nothing of this aspect of the science. It was, however, a problem which sorely taxed the intelligence of many drivers before the War, and in fact some makers such as Hispano-Suiza attempted to solve the difficulty for them by fitting a float chamber in the oil supply system with a view to maintaining at all times the correct level in the sump.
The Hispano-Suiza. ” “
Mention of Hispano-Suiza ” sideslips ” me quite easily to the subject of gearchanging. Not unnaturally, I know a large number of sports car drivers who started their careers with those grand ” old warrior” G.N.’s which now, alas ! are no more. Of these drivers an enormous proportion have never succeeded since in bringing themselves to regard an ordinary gear-box with the respect which is considered necessary by the orthodox driver who really can drive. One man in particular, now an enthusiastic Bugattisto, frequently replies to protesting passengers, that “the gear-box was made for man, not man for the gear-box.” Personally I started life with a pre-war HispanoSuiza, a car on which the gear-change is quite delightful and fundamentally different to any other I have ever come across. I am well aware that my own gear-changing on other boxes has suffered in consequence, but a short time ago a friend of mine who rather prided himself on his prowess in this respect acquired a Hispalm. He demonstrated it to me the first (Continued on page 473)
day he had it, and remarked that he found the gear-change rather queer. On taking over, -‘however, I found that this 8-litre, 6-cylinder machine had a change exactly like my car Wit twenty years ago, and I felt really at home once more, shoving its pinions about. The next day my friend did too: and just recently he sadly informed me that now he couldn’t operate an ordinary gear lever at all. • At the wheel of his 40 h.p. primrose Delage he was sweeping along the Promenade des Anglais at Nice at a quite excessive speed, his attention, no doubt, concentrated on the attractions of the Eden Rock bar at Cap d’Antibes. Suddenly he heard a prolonged blast On a whistle, and a gendarme, purple in the face with fury, appeared in the road as if from nowhere, Wildly waving his baton
de commande, The Delage brakes went on hard, and the car drew up beside the irate officer. ” Monsieur,” he said, before the outraged gendarme had recovered his coinpot=aire sufficiently to speak, ” you are going to say that I was going too fast. I apologise. My wife, who is in Cannes, is expecting a most interesting event. I have been summoned by telephone, and I am all anxiety lest I should not be there
in time. . ” Saere nom d’im nom,” replied the gendarme,” why do you stop here talking. Get off at once—-fdez “
A little time later he was gaily treating the occupants of the Eden Rock to the story. A few days had gone by and, at the wheel of his 40 h.p. primrose Delage he was sweeping along the Promenade des
Anglais at Nice at a quite excessive Speed, his attention, no doubt, concentrated on the attractions of the Eden Rock Bar. Suddenly he heard a prolonged blast on a whistle, and a gendarme, purple in the face with fury, appeared in the road as if from nowhere, wildly waving his baton de commande. The Delage brakes went on hard, and the car drew up beside the irate officer.
” Monsieur,” he said, before the irate gendarme had recovered his composure sufficiently to speak, ” you are going to say that I was going too fast. I apologise. My wife, who is in Cannes, is expecting a most interesting event . . . ” Sacré nom,” replied the gendarme, “again, so soon ? ” ,
The time which was to have been spent in the Eden Rock, had to be industriously employed in quite the nearest estaminet.