TWICE TIMES TWENTY-FOUR
A TEST OF THE ASTON-MARTIN, FIRST BRITISH CAR TO FINISH AT LE MANS
WHAT does twice times twentyfour make ? There is no catch. It makes forty-eight. But when that forty-eight means forty-eight hours of strenuous racing, the sum of two hard fought contests at Le Mans, one expects it to make some considerable inroad upon the life of a car. One is not always Correct, for some cars seem to keep on going for ever. They are real old soldiers, veterans who can last out a battle better than many of the young recruits.
The Ulster model Aston-Martin which was kindly placed at the disposal of MOTOR SPORT by Speed Models, Ltd., the sports Car specialists of 6a, Pembridge Mews, London, W.11, is a veteran, however, only in the light of its performances. In 1935, as one of the ” official ” works ears, it was driven at Le Mans by the two Charles’s, Martin and Braekenbury, and, having covered 1804i miles, ran out a worthy winner of the Rudge-Whitworth Cup with a figure of merit, on the handicap formula, of 1.31.
In 1936 there was no race at Le Mans, owing to industrial troubles, but in 1937 the Aston-Martin, which in the meanwhile had been in use as an ordinary road car, returned to the fray. Now it had changed hands, and had be-come the property of the Hon. J. M. W. Skeffington. It was entered in the race jointly by Skeffington and R. C. Murton-Neale, director of Speed Models, Ltd., and thus lost its qualification for the Biennial Rudge-Whitworth Cup. in which contest it is the entrant’s previous qualification, and not the car’s, which counts. This left the car with two objects. first, to compete in the race for the longest distance—a stiff task, as it is only li-litres in engine capacity—and secondly, to qualify for the 1938 Biennial Cup. Both these aims were nobly fulfilled. In the Grand Prix d’Enduranee, for the longest distance, the It-litre Aston-. Martin, competing against the fast foreigners, with engines more than double the size, not to mention a number of larger British cars, actually finished fifth. It covered 1,710 miles, against the winning Eugatti’s 2,041 miles, and was the first British car to finish. The Aston-Martin’s average speed was 71.6 m.p.h. It won
the 1,500 c.c. class easily, and was also faster than any of the 2-litre cars which finished.
Naturally this fine feat also ensured a qualification for the next Biennial Cup, while in the annual contest on the formula basis, the car was placed third. The performance was particularly creditable, for whereas in 1935 Martin and Brackenbury, both drivers of great experience, covered a slightly greater mileage, the recent race was Skeffington’s first effort at the wheel, and it is no discredit to him to record that his laps were necessarily slower than those of the experienced Murton-Neale.
The low, bright red car looked so wickedly impressive when I first saw it that I insisted upon Murton-Neale driving it out of the im:lee of London traffic, a precaution which subsequently was proved to have been quite needless. It still bore proudly its Le Mans numbers, and, Murton-Neale told me, was in the exact condition in winch it had finished the race. ” Preparing for the race ” he said ” we fitted new pistons, valves. and springs, and assembled everything very carefully. ‘ Chick ‘ Fowler, Sir Malcolm
the tuning, but practically all the running in that was possible was the run down to the coast and then across France.
” In the race itself the car was steadily running itself in till eventually we were getting 5,500 r.p.m. in top, or perhaps a maximum of 5,600 r.p.m., if we wanted it. That would be about 111 m.p.h.”
” Did you have much in hand ? ” I asked, as we negotiated the traffic.
” Lots ” he said. ” if we had used all our speed we might have picked up several places. One can always say that after a race, though ! “
He was at the wheel, he told me, when the multiple crash occurred, and was held up for a few moments while the debris was removed. We were both silent for a short time, thinking of the tragic consequence for poor Pat Fairfield.
We were making for Brooklands track, of course, and at last on the Kingston By-pass could Open up a little. Watching the rev. counter mount, and admiring the steady cornering. I asked what the car’s best lap at Le Mans was.
” About 83 m.p.h. ” returned the driver. This was certainly shifting, for an unblown 11-litre car.
When I took •oyer the Wheel, I ibUnd that the handling Of the Car in traffic was delightful. Owing to the high gears, it was necessary to give the engine quite a lot of revs, when starting off, but this was only to be expected. The clutch, which had not been adjusted since before the race, was still perfectly smooth, though there was some slight bother in getting into first gear quietly with the car stationary. The gear change itself was swift and easy, and with the high gears one could really get a kick out of frequent use of the lever. Another remarkable fact to place on record is that the brakes never needed any adjustment throughout the race. As the car was when I drove it, the brakes had been taken up a little, more Or less “
for luck,” after the finish of the event. An extremely rapid stop when another car turned suddenly in front of us proved their efficiency.
The same set of tyres that had been used ever since the race started was still fitted, and the Dunlop racing treads were still bold and hardly marked.
” Did you have any mechanical trouble at all during the race ? ” I asked Murton-Neale.
” ‘Not a bit ” he replied. ” We used the same set of N.: .L.G. $41 plugs throughout, and without wanting to ‘ puff ‘ them, I must say they stood up splendidly. Our only untoward stop was for one single broken lamp bulb.”
We were using ” soft ” plugs for the run on the road down to the track, but in spite of an 8 A, to 1 compression ratio there were no signs of pre-ignition or misfiring even when we went up to 4,500 r.p.m. on the gears.
” ‘What type of fuel did you use for the race ? ” I asked. ” We used pure benzole at Le Mans ” said Murton-Neale ” but we are running on a fifty-fifty mixture now. Our fuel consumption in the race worked out at
18.5 m.p.g. Both fuel and oil were supplied by the Esso people, and the oil consumption was about 1,000 m.p.g. in the actual race.”
When one considers that average -speed of 71.6 m.p.h. for the twenty-four hours, these figures are remarkable. Anyone who has checked his fuel consumption at high speeds on an ordinary car knows how startling is the increase.
At the track we fitted the racing plugs again, :and, having tightened up the Andre Telecontrol shock-absorbers, I set out to try the car’s paces. Now that one could really let the car have its head, 5,000 r.p.m. appeared on the rev. counter with astonishingly little fuss on all the gears, and the swift change up made only 4 slight break in the beautiful snarl from the engine.
Brooklands, as everyone knows, is by no means smooth at speeds of over 100 m.p.h., but the Aston-Martin held the track unfalteringly, and really gave me a remarkably comfortable ride. After a few warming-up laps I settled my foot against the floor-hoards, and the speed rose till the rev, counter showed 5,200 r.p.m. (about 106 m.p.h.), while the car held 5,000 r.p.m. all round the track, even up the slope to the Members’ Banking.
Murton-Neale was disappointed when I came in and reported this figure.
” The oil is running very cool ” I told him. ” Look, even now it is only $7. Still that is a good fault.” ” That is where we are losing the extra few revs.” said he. ” Even at Le Mans the oil temperature did not rise above a
maximum of 55°, after speed sustained for all those hours. During the night the oil temperature fell as low as 35′, or even less. The water ran at about 70°.”
I dipped my finger in the oil tank— the car has dry-sump lubrication, with the oil tank mounted between the front dumb-irons—and indeed the oil had barely ” got the chill off it.” Such cool running, though it may not help maximum speeds in a short burst, owing to the extra drag set up, certainly makes for reliability in a long race.
The car was not built for sprints, but to stand up for long distances, so I did not try any acceleration figures. The extremely high gears, useful enough in a road race, would not have been suited for some such figure as 0-30 m.p.h. !
The speeds that we had attained Were, of course, reached with full road equipment of wings, headlamps, side-lamps, horn, screen, etc. So all we had to do fo return to London was to replace the ” soft ” plugs. When we reached the London traffic again. I found the car very tractable
indeed. Naturally one relied chiefly on bottom and second gears, and for a long period near Hammersmith, where the evening traffic was at its worst, I never got out of bottom gear at all. In spite of this slow running, the car did not soot up a plug, and was quite content to amble along behind huge buses and lorries. Then we turned into a deserted side road, and were able to ai(!elorate once more. The engine note rose, clear and faultless.
The Aston-Martin is a ” real racer,” but is not temperamental, as some such cars are. It is a fine credit, both to its manufacturers and to Speed Models, for their preparation of the car for the world’s longest race.