1 ½-litre racing from 1935



A survey of recent international small car races. British E.R.A. achievements in perspective

TO the British enthusiast 1½-litre racing has a special significance, because, while this country has never made any attempt to compete in full Grand Prix racing, she has sought, and attained not a little success in events confined to cars the engine size of which does not exceed 1,500 c.c. There is, however, additional interest in 1½-litre racing arising from the German monopoly of International Formula Grands Prix of recent years, a monopoly which many authorities expected would have resulted in the adoption of a 1½-litre Formula for 1941, to encourage the wider interest already existing for this class of contest. The 1½-litre Formula is no new thing, for it was used in 1926 and 1927, Bugatti carrying the honours in the former year, and Delage in the latter. This period of 1½-litre history was reviewed in MOTOR SPORT for March 1938. In the present article we propose to deal with International 1½-litre racing from 1935 to the present-day, this period being chosen because Great Britain began to take a serious part in such racing after the 1934 season. Consequently, a survey of the last five seasons of 1½-litre racing serves both to portray the achievements of the British E.R.A. in this sphere, and to illustrate the recent development of small-car racing up to the time when the 1½-litre Formula seemed likely to be adopted internationally.

In MOTOR SPORT for June, 1934, we were able to publish comprehensive details of Humphrey Cook’s new 1½-litre E.R.A., designed to achieve successes that would enhance British prestige against the best racing light cars the world could produce—we published photographs of the E.R.A. engine, cylinder-head, chassis and front axle, etc., that are still worth close study to-day. This happened at a time when the general capacity of full Grand Prix cars was around 3 litres, and Varzi’s Alfa-Romeo of this size had just won at Tripoli at nearly 116 m.p.h. The E.R.A. began its racing career before the close of the 1934 season, but it was not until 1935 that the marque was properly organised for serious onslaught on 1½-litre honours. Just how successful the E.R.A. has been in this sphere, and how much we owe to Humphrey Cook, who financed the team entirely out of his own pocket, until he was obliged to withdraw his support in 1939, is evident from the race history which follows. The 1935 season opened with a number of Bugatti victories in the 1½-litre category of several not particularly important events. The first big 1½-litre contest was the R.A.C.’s Mannin Beg race in the Isle of Man. The course was fifty laps of the 4 mile “round-the-houses” course. There were thirteen starters, comprising the 1½-litre Riley of Freddie Dixon, Humber’s 1½-ltre Bugatti, the late Pat Fairfield and Raymond Mays with 1,100 c.c. E.R.A.s, three 1,100 c.c. M.G.s, two 1,100 c.c. Altas, and four 750 c.c. R-type M.G. Midgets. Fairfield had the Roots-blown E.R.A., but Mays was using the new Zoller compressor layout, and both were 1,090 c.c. cars. After a ding-dong first lap, Hall’s M.G. Magnette led Fairfield’s E.R.A., with Mays (E.R.A.) third, and Dixon (Riley) fourth. After three laps, Mays led by 50 yards from Hall, and Fairfield was a close third. Retirements began to come thick and fast, and Mays stopped on his fifth lap, allowing Fairfield to lead, the M.G. having been passed at the corner leading up Broadway in the fourth lap. Hall now had pit-stops to attend to a slipping top gear band, and to change plugs. At 10 laps, Fairfield led by a quarter of a mile from Dixon, with Mays third. Fairfield had been cornering with mathematical precision at the Promenade hairpin, and using the pavement at Onchan hairpin, and he set a lap record on his sixth lap of 71.21 m.p.h. Mays was suffering from a broken oil pipe which necessitated frequent change of visors, and Humber’s old G.P. Bugatti came up to third place. Dixon hoped to get through non-stop in the unblown Riley, whereas Fairfield would need to stop. This he did on his 24th lap, when 22 gallons of fuel went in in 1 min. 15 secs., the Dunlops not needing to be relieved. After 30 laps, Fairfield led by 55 secs. Fairfield went on to win easily at 67.29 m.p.h. as Dixon had a sick engine at the end, and lost much time taking on water. The Riley averaged 64.13 m.p.h. and the Bugatti blew up while in third place. Hall’s M.G. Magnette and. Baird’s R-type M.G. were the only other finishers.

The next important 1½-litre contest resulted in a most convincing E.R.A. victory. It was the 1½-litre category of the Eifelrennen over eight laps of the Nurburg Ring. The late R. J. B. Seaman (E.R.A.) led for some time, followed by Rose-Richards (E.R.A.) and Mays (E.R.A.), doing his second lap at 114½ k.p.h. Mays then passed Seaman and Ghersi was driving very hard in third place in his Maserati. Later Ghersi had to retire with an eye-wound when a stone smashed his goggles, and Ruesch (Maserati) became third. Raymond Mays carried on to win in 1 hr. 38 mins. 33 secs. at 69 m.p.h. Ruesch was second, passing when Seaman stopped for oil, and Rose-Richards also passed Seaman. Cook’s E.R.A. was fifth, Sojka’s Bugatti sixth, Kessler’s Maserati Seventh, and Castelbarco’s Maserati last. Mays won comfortably by 30 secs. Tapper’s Bugatti and Wimmer’s Zoller retired.

The only French race of 1935 confined to 1½-litre cars was the G.P. d’Albigeois over the very fast circuit des Planques. Two races, each of 20 laps, were run and the final positions arrived at by adding together the times made in each race, of which the distance was 8 km. 900. Howe’s Delage—the 1927 type—made best practice time, in 3 mins. 55 secs. Barbieri’s Maserati won the first race from Veyron’s Bugatti and Leoz’s Bugatti. Collier and Froy (M.G.s) both crashed, and Howe was fifth. Barbieri again led the second race until he blew up, when Veyron and Howe held first and second places. They finished in that order, and the final placings gave them these places outright.

The Nuffield Trophy Race, at Donington, was limited to cars up to 1½-litres, but was actually a handicap event, unblown 1½-litres and blown 1,100 c.c. cars getting 2 mins. start, and 750 c.c. cars two credit laps and 76 secs. start in 150 miles. The three 1½-litres were Eccles’s Bugatti, Davies’s Frazer-Nash and Connell’s Vale. Seaman’s E.R.A. ran a big-end in practice. Eccles soon retired with overheating, and Fairfield’s famous 1,100 c.c. E.R.A. eventually won at 63.67 m.p.h. from Maclure’s works Riley and Briault’s 750 c.c. M.G. Dixon’s Riley was fourth, “Bira’s” M.G. fifth, and Miss Evans’s M.G. sixth, and there were fourteen retirements.

The 1½-litre scene now changes to Dieppe. There were twenty-seven entries, and twenty starters. When the flag fell, Mays and Seaman got their E.R.A .s clean away from Lord Howe’s Delage, Veyron’s Bugatti Rovere’s Maserati, Berrone’s Maserati, Fairfield’s 1,100 c.c. E.R.A., and the remainder. In the first lap, Mrs. Stewart’s single-seater Derby retired with clutch trouble, Breillet’s Salmson also fell out, and Thorpe’s Frazer-Nash changed a plug. Rovere, driving the Maserati which held the 1,100 c.c. record, but now with 1½-litre engine, passed Seaman on lap 3, but was soon repassed. Then Seaman’s 1½-litre E.R.A. retired with transmission trouble, and Rovere had a long stop. Mays’s 1½-litre E.R.A. was establishing a new mode of progress in 1½-litre racing, and “Bira’s” E.R.A. was now second. After sixteen laps, Mays stopped with loose oil tank and misfiring engine, and, the latter trouble uncured, retired on the next lap. “Bira,” too, had stopped for a plug change, and Fairfield’s white 1,100 c.c. E.R.A. led easily from Veyron. Howe’s Delage had lost its anchorage, the Frazer-Nash its transmission, and two M.G. Magnettes were out. Fairfield went on to a wonderful win, at 181.973 k.p.h., making fastest lap in 3 mins. 47 secs. (Seaman did 3 mins. 42 secs. in training). “Bira” steadily closed the gap on Veyron’s eight-cylinder Bugatti, to the extent of 8 secs. a lap, to finish second, and Cook’s E.R.A. was fourth, Berrone’s Maserati fifth, Rayson’s Bugatti sixth, Hertzberger’s M.G. seventh, Rovere’s Maserati eighth, Guilbaut’s Bugatti ninth, and Dubois’s Bugatti tenth.

Froy’s and Tongue’s M.G.s were the only British cars in the Coppa Ciano 1½-litre race. Ghersi’s Maserati led until it retired, when Tuffanelli and Bianco (Maseratis) duelled for the lead. Tongue’s M.G. was in third place, but finally retired, as did Froy (M.G.). Tuffanelli finally won at 80.59 k.p.h. from Bianco, in spite of a pit stop to cure misfiring. He set a new lap record on lap seven. Villoresi and Ferrara on Fiats were third and fourth.

Came the important Coppa Acerbo 1½ -litre race at the Pescara circuit, starting at 8.30 a.m. (!) with twelve starters. In practice Seaman’s black E.R.A. was clocked at 143 m.p.h. over the flying kilo against Bianco’s 124 m.p.h. for Maserati—by way of comparison Varzi’s Auto-Union was doing 183 m.p.h. Seaman drove the only E.R.A. against Bergamini, Bianco, Tuffanelli, Castelbarco and Ghersi in Maseratis, and scored a truly decisive British victory in 48 mins. 42.4 secs., at 78.9 m.p.h. Tuffanelli crashed on the first lap, and Bianco was second, 1 min. 9.7 secs. behind the E.R.A., with Steinweg’s Bugatti third.

The Coppa Acerbo was followed by the G.P. of Berne. Seaman and his black E.R.A. led quite easily throughout, to win in 1 hr. 5 mins. 20 secs., at 82.64 m.p.h. “Bira” (E.R.A.) ran home second, 54 secs. behind Seaman, and Howe’s Delage was third. The foreign opposition came in behind these three—Tuffanelli, Ghersi and Ruesch, in that order, driving Maseratis. Mays on the experimental Zoller E.R.A. was seventh, after a series of minor troubles.

No British drivers competed in the 1½-litre race at Modena, but Cecchini drove an M.G. Magnette. Berrone led the opening stages in his Maserati, Barbieri was going very fast in second place, but had to retire, and Tuffanelli gradually came up with an 1,100 c.c. Maserati. Berrone finally won at 96.32 k.p.h. for the 80 kilos., from Bergamini and Taruffi—Maserati one, two and three.

The 1½-litre season concluded with the Masaryk G.P., when Seaman again led throughout, his E.R.A. winning at 71.16 m.p.h., in 3 hr. 48 mins. 32 secs. for the 437.13 km., 3 mins. 26.3 secs. ahead of Veyron’s Bugatti, with Sojka’s Bugatti third.

So the 1935 1½-litre “score” was: E.R.A. seven firsts, two seconds and one third; Maserati two firsts, four seconds and one third; Bugatti one first, one second and three thirds; Riley two seconds; Delage one second and one third; M.G. two thirds; and Fiat one third. Surely conclusive proof of British 1½-litre supremacy! The E.R.A. show was especially praiseworthy because three of the victories were achieved by Fairfield’s 1,100 c.c. car. The other E.R.A.s, and this wonderful 1,100 c.c. car, had the Murray-Jamieson Roots-blown engine, but later in the season Mays used the rear-placed, very large Zoller compressor, drawing from twin S.U. carburetters, and improvements were made to all the cars in respect of extra frame bracing and softer rear springs (“Expansion at Bourne,” MOTOR SPORT, June 1935, and “The Development of the E.R.A.,” MOTOR SPORT, October 1938). All the E.R.A.s had six-cylinder engines, push-rod valve gear, Wilson gearboxes and normal half elliptic springing. The 1½-litre (57 x 95.2 mm.) gave 180 b.h.p. and weighed about 13 cwt. Maserati used four-cylinder cars. We may assume that the Bugattis were supercharged double-wipe straight-eights, developed from the former Type 39a.

Nineteen thirty-six opened very successfully indeed for E.R.A. The Prince Rainier Cup Race over 50 laps of the immortal Monaco circuit attracted nine Maseratis, six E.R.A.s, an Alta, an Amilcar, and a Bugatti. Seaman’s ex-Howe Delage was even then in process of rebuilding, and unready and Trevoux’s E.R.A. and Kohlrausch’s M.G. were non-runners. When the flag fell, Howe’s E.R.A. got away with Mays (E.R.A.) and Tenni (Maserati) in hot pursuit. At the close of the sinuous 1.98 mile lap, Howe still led, but Tenni was in front of Mays. As the race progressed “Bira” (E.R.A.) began to work up steadily from eighth position. By lap 4 Tenni led for Maserati, as Howe was suffering misfiring, which necessitated a stop and spoilt his chances. Mays came in on this lap for plugs, and was technically excluded as poor carburation made a push start essential, which the rules forbade. After ten laps Tenni led Villoresi’s Maserati by 25 secs., and “Bira” was third, and Embiricos (E.R.A.) fourth. When Villoresi came in twice for plugs “Bira” moved into second place, and Tenni was driving like a demon. At half distance, Tenni led by nearly a minute, and Rovere (Maserati), having put up a race lap-record of 55.57 m.p.h., was now third. The leading Maserati soon began to be hampered by weakening brakes, and on lap 35 Tenni hit the sandbags by the gasworks, and retired with damaged steering. “Bira” continued, to win by 2 mins. 4.8 secs. from Lehoux’s E.R.A., which had been wildly handled in the opening stages. “Bira” took 1 hr. 51 mins. 51.5 secs., an average of 52.99 m.p.h. Embiricos was third, Kautz (Maserati) fourth, Howe fifth, and Villoresi sixth.

The next big 1½-litre scratch race was the R.A.C. International Car Race, over a new, shortened circuit in the I.O.M. for a duration of 200 miles. Twenty cars out of twenty-seven entries went over, including Seaman’s Delage, ten E.R.A.s, two M.G.s, two Altas, and one each of Austin, Bugatti, Frazer-Nash, Maserati, Rapier and Riley. Lehoux, on Howes E.R.A. did the fastest practice lap, in 3 mins. 16 secs. After one lap Howe led Seaman with Cyril Paul (E.R.A.) third. After five laps Seaman led, and shortly after he had passed the E.R.A., Howe had to come in to cure carburetter flooding. After twenty laps Seaman led by 15 sees. from Paul, “Bira” was third, and Fairfield fourth. On lap 21 “Bira” got past Paul just before St. Ninian’s corner, and Seaman replied with a record lap at 71.64 m.p.h. On his 27th lap, driving magnificently, Seaman clocked 72.0 m.p.h. Howe retired with a split fuel tank, and “Bira” refuelled in 50 secs. Mays broke an axle shaft. At 35 laps Seaman led “Bira” by 93 secs. and Lehoux was now third. The ten-year-old black Delage ran on faultlessly, nonstop, and won in 2 hrs. 52 mins. 1 sec. at 69.76 m.p.h. “Bira” was second at 69.23 m.p.h., 1 min. 17 secs. behind, and Paul, his face badly cut by stones, third. Fairfield’s E.R.A. was fourth, Lehoux’s E.R.A. fifth, and the Colegrave-Featherstonhaugh E.R.A. sixth.

The scene now shifts to the Nurburg Ring, in Germany, for the Eifel 1½-litre race, over eight laps of the 14¼ mile circuit. In practice, the new independently-sprung six-cylinder Maserati and Seaman’s wonderful Delage made fastest time and a great struggle was expected. Seaman led away, but after a lap Trossi on one of the new Maseratis led from “Bira’s” E.R.A. and Tenni’s four-cylinder Maserati. Mays lost all hope as he had to stop to secure a plug terminal, and Seaman ran out of road on this great first lap and retired the Delage. Thus is racing history made! At half distance Trossi led Tenni by 53 secs., “Bira” third. In this order they finished, Trossi 46 secs. ahead at 69.9 m.p.h., though Tenni lapped at 71.8 m.p.h. in an immense last-lap effort to close.

In the Milan 1½-litre race, over 40 laps of 1.6 miles, only Maseratis ran, Trossi winning from Villoresi and Belmondo.

The Picardie race was run this year as a scratch 1½-litre contest, in two heats and a final, over the Péronne circuit. Fairfield, now with a 1½-litre engine in his E.R.A., put up the best practice lap, in 4 mins. 6 secs. Rovere’s mechanic was badly injured when he crashed the six-cylinder Maserati. The heats were over about 60 miles, or 10 laps. In the first heat Fairfield led until lap seven, when Trossi passed, winning in his Maserati by 7 secs., “Bira’s” E.R.A. was third. In the second heat Howe led Mays, Seaman and Tongue. Delage got ahead of Howe and Mays through the corner on lap three, but Mays repassed to lead, until the Zoller E.R.A. retired. The old Delage won easily from Howe and Tongue. Arthur Dobson’s E.R.A. retired in the first heat with lubrication failings. In the final, Fairfield led lap one from Trossi, “Bira” and Seaman. On the next lap “Bira” was second, Seaman third. On lap five Seaman crashed at Brie and badly damaged the Delage. “Bira” closed with Fairfield towards the end, until an immense battle was taking place. “Bira” equalled his record lap of 4 mins. 11 secs. and momentarily passed Fairfield, but was repassed when he cornered wide. Then, on the very last lap “Bira’s” E.R.A. proved faster on the straight, and it took the lead, Fairfield hitting the bank at a corner in an immense endeavour to catch up. “Bira” won by 31 secs., at 85.7 m.p.h., a record for the Peronne circuit. Fairfield was second, McEvoy ‘s Maserati third.

The next important 1½-litre race was the Nuffield Trophy, over 150 miles of the full Donington circuit. As before, this was not strictly a 1½-litre contest pure and simple, as 750 c.c. and 1,100 c.c. cars received a start. Six E.R.A.s ran, opposed by Austin, Riley, M.G., Alta and Maserati. After 30 laps, Driscoll’s Austin led from “Bira’s” Austin and Maclure’s Riley. The Austins lost their lead to Maclure when they came in to refuel, and Driscoll’s car would not restart, so that it was ultimately retired. Maclure then lost much time changing the magneto, and “Bira” led from Charles Martin in Scribban’s E.R.A. On lap 48 the little Austin came in to the pits and Martin led, and gradually Arthur Dobson’s E.R.A. and Fairfield’s E.R.A. overhauled “Bira.” On the very last lap Fairfield retired with oil-pump malady, and Whitehead and Walker (E.R.A.) got home third, ahead of Dobbs’s Riley. Martin won in 2 hrs. 25 mins. 6 secs. at 68.5 m.p.h., 38 secs. ahead of Dobson’s E.R.A. The Albigereois G.P. came next, run as two separate races with the final placings curiously taken from the combined race times. Howe’s E.R.A. did the fastest practice lap. Lehoux and ” Bira” (E.R.A.s) had an immense duel in the first race, “Bira” finally winning at 93.43 m.p.h., some 37 secs. ahead. Fairfield’s E.R.A. was third, and Howe went out in the first lap with gearbox trouble. Six Maseratis opposed, and Bianco was fourth, ahead of Veyron’s Bugatti. Lehoux’s engine went back on him, and would not start for the second race, which  Bira” won easily at 92.06 m.p.h. from Veyron and Ruesch’s Maserati. The final placings were Bira,” at 93.43 m.p.h., 43.6 secs. ahead of Veyron, Ruesch third.

In the Coppa, Ciano Race, Trossi’s Maserati won easily from Embiricos (E.R.A.). Seaman’s Delage was delayed with fuel feed trouble. The Delage returned to form for the Coppa Acerbo and, chased by Trossi and Ruesch, won at 77.1 m.p.h., by 39¼ secs. All the E.R.A.s retired, “Bira’s” car catching fire, when being restarted at the pits, on account of a cracked head.

So to Switzerland, for the Prix de Berne. This time the works Maseratis were not ready. The works Zoller E.R.A.s were handled by Howe, Mays and Fairfield, and there were several privately-owned E.R.A.s, Bianco’s Maserati, McEvoy’s i.f.s. Maserati, Ruesch’s older Maserati, an old Talbot, an M.G., Baumer’s Austin, and Seaman’s great Delage. Fairfield did the best practice lap at 92.97 m.p.h. From the commencement Seaman led from Fairfield and “Bira.” Fairfield struck trouble, and Seaman set a record on lap 3 of 91.15 m.p.h. Howe had lost time on the line, “Bira” retired with a burnt valve, and Seaman won easily at 87.88 m.p.h., 1 mm. 23.4 secs. ahead of Embiricos (E.R.A.), with Tongue (E.R.A.) third, Howe fourth, Ruesch fifth, Baumer sixth, and Plate’s Talbot seventh.

The 1936 1½-litre racing season concluded with the Modena Race, in which Maserati finished first, second, third, Trossi victorious. The 200 Mile Race at Donington, as an unlimited scratch contest, cannot be included, but it is both interesting and significant that Seaman’s Delage won at 69.28 m.p.h. from Howe’s E.R.A. and the M.G.s of Briault and Evans—the big cars nowhere. The 1½-litre score this season was :— E.R.A. four firsts, six seconds, and five thirds; Maserati four firsts, three seconds and four thirds; Delage two firsts, and Bugatti one second. E.R.A. had used the Zoller-blown cars and private E.R.A. owners the older Roots-blown jobs. Apparently the later B-type cars had larger blowers than the early examples, as “Bira’s” 1935 “Romulus” was fitted with the bigger supercharger from the engine of his 1936 “Remus” for Picardie. (“Road Racing 1936,” page 108). Incidentally, “Bira” ran the 1935 car at Monaco, I.O.M., Eifel, Picardie, Acerbo, and with the 1936 engine, at Berne, and his new car at Albi, and in the “200.”

Maserati ran the new 65 x 75 mm. six-cylinder cars, later to become so well known in this country. They had Roots-blowers running at crankshaft speed, boosting at 18 lbs. per square inch, a compression-ratio of 5.5 to I, and only two main bearings. They gave 175 b.h.p. at 6,550 r.p.m. and had a track of 4 ft. 1 in., and a wheelbase of 8 ft. 2 in. Seaman’s Delage gained its remarkable victories by using a lower compression ratio than E.R.A. and Maserati, enabling it to run through 200 mile races without refuelling, allied to hydraulic brake actuation which overcame the poor anchorage which Howe suffered in 1935, much reduced weight, improved suspension, better general tuning and revised valve timing in particular, and, of course, Seaman’s perfect driving, which both humoured his car and saved time in cornering. In some respects the performances of the lone Delage indicated the comparatively small advance of 1½-litre design since 1928, and certainly Seaman’s handling and preparation of it stamped him there and then as one of our greatest drivers, quite apart from his subsequent endeavours with Mercédès-Benz. The Delage was estimated to give about 200 b.h.p., and gave a foretaste of its potency by winning two small 1½-litre races at Donington at the beginning of the season.

Apart from purely 1½-litre races, 1½-litre cars did outstandingly in some other big races. Fairfield’s E.R.A. was second in the British Empire Trophy, “Bira’s” E.R.A. won the International Trophy from Mays’s E.R.A., Tongue’s E.R.A. won at Cork, Arthur Dobson’s E.R.A. was second at Limerick to an M.G., an M.G. won at Phoenix Park, and, as already mentioned, Seaman won the “200” from Howe’s E.R.A.

[To be continued]