AN ECHO OF LE MANS
[Even though the Le :11ans 24-Hour Race is past history, we publish this letter from Peter Clark as we feel sure that many of our readers Will be interested in this preparation for the race .—Ed.
LE MANS, 1938
Le Mans, so far as I am concerned, really started on February 28th, after the ” Cohnore ” trial. It was then that I definitely and finally withdrew my H.R.G. from trials work. Marcus Chambers, who was to prepare the car for racing, had been nagging me since November about my continuing to ” break it up,” as he Called it. Well, he took it all to pieces, and considering it had hardly missed a trial since the previous June, there weren’t many
things broken. He reassembled the chassis first, lock-nutting everything. Then he started on the engine, and it is only fair to say that most of the things he decided to do were in the nature Of hoped-for improvements, rather than necessary repairs : all the bearings and so On were perfect, after 16,000 miles of hard competition work. The car ran at the March Brooklands meeting, and at a Donington Club event, with hardly any coachwork on at all, and we satisfied ourselves that, subject to a final overhaul, the performance was
satisfactory. In the matter of coachwork, I wanted a tail and inulershield., in the hope that this would give a ” cruising maximum ” of 80 to 85 m.p.h. on a smaller throttle opening than would otherwise be the case : a great asset in a long race. On the other hand, I did not want to sacrifice the excellent luggage space of the standard H.R.G. body, in view of the necessity of carrying all spares and tools on the car at Le Mans.
Our first effort in this direction appeared at the Easter Brooklands meeting, but after motoring backwards a good deal during practice, and nearly doing so once during the race, I decided our tail was too long and had about a foot sawn off. The final result was seen at Shelsley, and in MOTOR SPORT’S photo last month.
I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my time at Shelsley, for although I carried full Le Mans equipment and the special gears were far too high, I felt that all our careful tuning should have enabled me at least to equal my time last year, stripped but with perfectly standard engine. We therefore decided, whilst not competing in the Brooklands WhitSun Meeting, to do a spot of practising to ” see if anything fell off.” It did. Bystanders said it was one of the most complete auto-dismantlements they had seen for ages. There we were, Saturday before Whitsun Bank Holiday, seven days before shipping abroad, and a good deal of our engine strewn along the Railway
Straight. Things certainly looked black, for few engineering firms would be open even on Tuesday, so that Wednesday or Thursday was the earliest we could hope for parts to begin rebuilding the engine . . . and we already had a full programme of last minute ” sundries.” Then I remembered that Ken Farley, the well known trials H.R.G. exponent, was about to get married, and might not be using his H.R.G. on his honeymoon. I rang him up, and he very sportingly
offered his engine. On Whit Monday, ably assisted by one of the directors of Bochaton Motors (who look after Ken’s car), we took the two engines to pieces and rebuilt a ” new ” one from selected parts of both. As dawn broke on the Tuesday, I pressed the starter button— and it worked.
So we set off on the appointed day, slept soundly on non-upholstered shelves on the boat, and in due course reached Le Mans—a journey memorable, perhaps, for our ” Chef d’Equipe’s ” request to a garage near Dieppe, on finding his Lancia’s tyres a little soft for the unwonted load of spares and tools. Translated literally, he asked them to ” whistle a bit in the ‘wheels.’ Eventually came the great day. The car had run well in practice, but our hotch-potch engine was naturally rather an unknown quantity, and we decided to limit ourselves to a maximum of 3,800 r.p.m. This gave us less than 80 m.p.h. in top, but by using the H.R.G.’s wonder
ful cornering and brakes to the full, we could lap at about 64 m.p.h. We had heard a lot about the dire effects of the heat andlor the fuel on valves, and as a result, rather overdid the rich mixture stunt : I oiled a plug after about an hour, and again an hour later. This was an annoying waste of time, but was an opportunity to lash up one of the headlights, which had broken adrift—as well as of weakening the mixture.
After that all went well for about 130 laps, we made up the time lost by those two early pits stops, and were running about 5 m.p.h. ahead of qualifying speed. Two hours from the end a derangement in the valve gear caused an involuntary stop, but after removing a few pieces the car was able to proceed, and actually lapped at about 48 m.p.h. on two (and occasionally three) cylinders. On the following day, we broached our chestful Of spares (unused during the race) and did what was necessary to the engine. Incidentally, on our return to England it was clapped straight back into Ken Parley’s car, without further attention, for him to run in the J .C.C. show at Brooklands, so the ” derangement ” was not too serious. Having ascertained during the race that the French idea of a properly ” constructed silencer” is none other than a straight through pipe, we childishly decided to construct one for the return journey, and therefore hied us to a steam-roller breakers, as being a likely purveyor of a suitable sewer. The
requisite pipe, in metric figures, was rather an uneven and unusual size, but our friend, armed with an oxy-acetylene cutter on a mountain of metal, scorned calipers and selected a pipe by eye. It was with some misgivings that we brought it back (eight miles), but surprisingly enough, it fitted perfectly. Incidentally, we found the standard of welding and so on, and the speed with which one can get special bits made up in France, quite amazing. Thus ended the best holiday of my life— and although nine people spent the whole of their spare time for six months talking, thinking, dreaming and planning nothing else, it was only a holiday, and a very amateur little effort compared with the wonderfully organised (and financed)
Continental entries. IvIore’s the pity. And anyone who says ” You can do Le Mans on a hundred quid” is talking through a portion of his anatomy intended by nature for quite another purpose. I am, Yours etc., PETER CLARE%