rumblings, August 1939
The Fastest Road Car
IBELIEVE that a writer of motor notes for one of the daily newspapers wrote of the Invitation Road-Car Race which took place at Brooklands on Whit-Monday that about all it proved was that the fastest road-equipped car was Arthur Dobson’s. The majority of students of form with whom I have discussed the matter seem to share the view that this race, or to be more accurate, these two contests over Mountain and Campbell circuits, did not supply an adequate final answer to the query as to which is the fastest road-equipped car. At the risk of labouring the argument, I think perhaps the views of one who knows quite a lot of this subject may be of interest. His identity shall be concealed because when he expressed the views which follow be had no idea that they would be committed to print. He says that he believes that Ian Connell’s 4-litre Darracq has a big claim on the honours, if you include acceleration, stability, good braking and general convenience in any consideration of what constitutes the ” fastest ” sports-type car. This Darracq is essentially reliable, runs on a genuine pump fuel, never calls for a change of plugs (I believe the road plugs are employed at speed trials, but racing plugs are used for Brooklands racing) and uses only one rear axle (the ratio of which, by the way, is 3.1 to 1). It has beaten Lycett’s famous 8-litre Bentley at Syston, and at Shelsley, *and has climbed Shelsley in 43.76 secs. and clocked 20.6 secs. at Lewes. Spares are readily available from the factory, and the car has
given a fine record of dependability. If, however, acceleration is taken as the primary means of settling this argument, my informant suggests that the Bentley has it, for it has been up the Lewes course in 20.2 secs.—incidentally, at the last Kent & Sussex L.C.C. Lewes meeting Lycett’s gearbox trouble happened a long way before the finish, but, coasting to the line, he still managed second fastest sports-car time of the day ! And the MOTOR SPORT test figures for this car, have to my knowledge, never been bettered, including, as they do, the standing quarter-mile in 15.0 secs., the standing half-mile in 26.2 secs., and 0-100 m.p.h. in under ’20 secs.
However, indulging in a little permissible hairsplitting, my informer reminds me that on the occasion of our last test of the 8-litre it was running on a proportion of P.M.S. 2 (which Lycett pointed out himself at the time, quite openly), that changes of back axleratio are resorted to in order to achieve the best results and that he believes the ignition-control asks for some delicate attention in getting the Bentley going quickly from rest.
Passing to Hugh Hunter’s famous supercharged 2.9-litre Alfa-Romeo, our friend says that be is pretty sure the Darracq was originally a match for it on acceleration and in the matter of maximum speed, but that recently high compression pistons have gone in, which, he believes, would enable the Alfa to show both the Darracq and the Bentley the way home. But, rather as if to preserve the complexity of the absorbing argument, he emphasises that this change necessitates running the Alfa on a 50/50 Benzole mixture and that the typical action of the Italian car’s clutch sets it back some seconds in any standingstart duel. But the Alfa is now astoundingly rapid and has, I believe, actually passed Connell’s Darracq along the Railway Straight at Brooklands on a lap which the latter turned at a cool 125.6 m.p.h. Moreover, whereas Connell could do with a rather lower axle-ratio for sprint work, the Alfa is not unduly high geared and could probably pull a higher ratio on Brooklands when it should be faster still—that is [to say, phenomenally fast. Of the Delahaye with which Arthur Dobson won the honours in the Whitsun contest, which attempted to. clean up all this argument but which only accentuated it, this same authority maintains that, wonderful car that it is, and splendidly as it ran at Le Mans (when Connell shared the handling of it) it has inferior performance to the Darracq, and only won at Brooklands on account of Dobson’s truly masterful driving.— and, in fairness to Connell, we should mention that the Darracq then had new brake linings which wantedbedding in so that it had to be braked early for the corners. In any case, I understand that this Delahaye now has a Cotal electric gearbox fitted, with a bottom
gear-ratio so high as to materially reduce its accelerative qualities.
That, you might think, almost puts all the essential facts in a nutshell, inasmuch as no production sports. car is likely to approach the potency of the cars just discussed, not even, I should imagine a Type 57 SC Bugatti. Certainly, cars such as the big Atalanta and Allard-Special cannot do so, a point which Sydney Allard, I know, appreciates, immense as such cars are in the lower speed ranges. They come in an altogether more favourable price category, of course. However, we have not yet exhausted the list of more specialised road-equipped cars. The Le Mans Lagonda must be really an outstanding vehicle, although a lot would seem to depend on how much it owes to its racing, virtually single-seater bodywork, which rather places it outside the realm of practical, everyday cars, which is what we now imply by ” roadequipped ” sports-cars. There is, however, the blown 3-litre Maserati recently owned by Lt. Torin and here our adviser suggests that it is probably a match for anyone—when we tested it last March it certainly equalled the Bentley’s figure for the standing start
quarter-mile, and on a wet track at that. In this instance, the debatable point is, can it equal the others in respect of tractability, reliability and general convenience? After all, this is really a racing-car with road gear tacked on, and the plugs were changed for our test. Craig’s supercharged “4.9 ” Bugatti hasn’t been seen much of late and is not reckoned to be quick enough off the mark to rival the aforementioned cars. Still, one never knows . . . . Just as if the situation has not become sufficiently complex, Cowell, the Alta exponent has said he believes his blown 2-litre sports Alta is bettering the ” Lycett figures” at Brooklands, and, as for speed, I believe this car does something like 125 m.p.h. on pump fuel. Then, a letter which we published last month from Denis Conan Doyle put forth a strong argument in favour of the S.S.K.L. Mercedes-Benz (although I do not know where this car is now) which reminds me that this discussion started in these very columns, years ago, when we suggested that either this Mercedes-Benz or the Blower Le Mans 41-litre Bentley, in its original trim with the big port block which Robertson-Roger’s car apparently has not got, must rank as the world’s most formidable road car—and there is yet another possible contender for you ! As a race apparently cannot settle the argument, timed tests of acceleration and maximum speed
seem the only solution if settlement is to be reached. At the speeds which these cars attain, the official timing strips should be used if direct and invidious comparisions are to be made. Whether this will ever be done remains to been seen, especially as it has to be admitted that the matter is of academic rather than practical interest, because the cars involved are not exactly catalogue models, and only a few wealthy sportsmen are directly interested and likely to stay their hands in purchasing replicas until one such car emerges as the Crowned King of all the road-equipped, pump-fuel-burning cars. We hope from time to time to be able to publish performance data and details of some of the cars which I have been discussing, but on account of their individual interest rather than
to provoke, or further, arguments relating to their comparative potency. And, just to drop you a final bombshell, the person whose views I have been quoting, closes by remarking that he wouldn’t be surprised if the new sports 4i-litre Darracq or 3-litre Delage (or V12 Delahaye ?—Ed.) would not leave everything else standing and that perhaps the result of the T.T. next month will automatically and decisively put all the existing claimants out of the running . . .
A Race to Revive
The level headed young men or young women of to-day would probably be quite justified in dealing forcibly with anyone who prates about “the good old days” without being able to claim any very clear idea as to why the old days were so very good. Not, of course, that I would ask Sam Clutton or Dick Nash to second me on this subject at a public debate. But, be this as it may, it does pay, at times, to cast back to lessons of old times in any serious consideration of the future health of motoring sport. When nearly everyone was clamouring for a team of British Grand Prix cars, we asked that the future health of classic British races should not be entirely neglected and published a leading article on some factors affecting the future. Now it is clearly time to put out a few observations relating to the health of the amateur side of the sport—remembering that we have not yet got our G.P. team, nor our 1 i-litre team, and that at least two big British races have beeen cancelled this season. You may say that the amateur is as keen as ever and has more speed events to attend than has ever been the case previously. A glimpse at reports of club speed events of yesteryear will leave you less complaisent. Entries for the J.C.C. High Speed Trial, for instance, were once far larger than they are to-day and competitors with comparatively unttmed machinery seemed to have more fun than is possible in these times. Going up the scale a bit, but not by any means into the realm of big National fixtures, races such as the J.C.C. Sporting Car Race and Production Car Race, and the old Surbiton M.C. and Essex M.C. club days at Brooklands, got all the support in the world. Moreover, there was quite a lot of prestige going, for, believe it or not, the evening and Sunday newspapers of those times gave quite a decent bit of space to an event like a Brookland’s High Speed Trial, and the weekly motor papers gave you something really worth sticking in the Album-of-Personal Achievement. You know how different are these thing in 1939. You know, too, how entries have dwindled. And you know, or
for your sake I hope you know, just how far you will get with a standard, inexpensive motor in club speed events. One thing which has reduced the appeal of such events is the widespread hotting-up of modern cars, so that organisers have to raise schedule speeds in duration speed events to a figure which completely defeats the impecunious owner. Another factor is the growing business element, which makes owners of fast cars demand money prizes before they will play and the organiser, in turn, to ask quite large entry fees. I think that possibly the balance between events which matter and events which do not, has much to do with it. The J.C.C. gives us a High Speed Trial which is excellent fun, excellent value-for-money, and which calls for a good car if a Special Award is to be achieved. The same afternoon it stages a series of rather expensive short handicaps which are still great fun, but which prove very little and which are not remembered for very long. The club Donington meetings are in every way excellent, but achievements thereat live for not more than a week, except in the organising club’s particular circle. Speed trials and speed hill-climbs seem the next step and then the owner of an only-fairly-fast car is at once hopelessly outclassed. Far from it to suggest that your enthusiast craves only Press publicity and a pot, but he does seek worthwhile competition and some fairly concrete recognition of his abilities as a tuning-wizard. One of our greatest and most respected authorities has often advised beginners that it is preferable to concentrate on one fairly important event than on a series of less significant fixtures. Bearing this in mind, might one be excused for bewailing the demise of the Relay Race and for suggesting that this 100 per cent. sporting contest, in which three persons shared the expense and combined attributes of each team, could very profitably be revived in 1940? I would like to see the Frazer-Nash and B.M.W. M.C. or the J.C.C. or the M.C.C. as organisers. Also a High Speed Trial put over by the B.A.R.C. and run as an open event,
or as a closed invitation event open to five good clubs, might achieve something of the lost atmosphere and support of the J.C.C. equivalent as it was constituted some eight or more years ago.
The sad state of the game is evident on all sides— by the political interference and influence in G.P. racing, by the cancellation of big British races, and by the small entries for once well-supported meetings. When the ” Double Twelve” was run it attracted a very big field and quite a lot of amateur or semiamateur support. This year the L.C.C. planned an excellent 3 Hour Sports-Car Race and found wealthy sports-car owners quite disinterested, not on account of any flaw in the regulations, but because the T.T. was only six weeks hence and whereas the R.A.C. can offer substantial money prizes the L.C.C. cannot. At least let us save the amateur aspect of the Sport from this commercialised outlook. Trials should be fairly immune, and should continue to flourish if the M.O.T. does not stop them entirely, but even in this sphere a return to the old scheme of allowing competitors to compete against the organiser, for gold and silver medals, instead of against each other for special cups and individual awards, might clean things up a whole lot, and materially strengthen the position in general. Anyway, please bear in mind that Sport and Commerce are bad mixers.