RECALLING THE ROAD TESTS
No. I : The 1924-5 Period of MOTOR SPORT Test Reports
SINCE war broke out MOTOR SPORT has relied to a tremendous extent on the enthusiasm and generosity of voluntary contributors, and to these persons, whose motoring know ledge and writing ability has been placed so unstintingly at our disposal, our heartfelt thanks are due. Besides those whose help has been of such a practical and essential nature, we are indebted to the many readers who have written suggesting the policy which the journal should pursue through the difficult period during which Nazi Germany is being repressed. Not all of these suggestions have been workable, but they are appreciated, nevertheless. A frequent appeal has been for the reprint of road-test reports that have appeared in past issues of MOTOR SPORT. We have decided that to reprint in full tests of out-of-date cars, photographs of which are no longer available, would not constitute a sound move from the viewpoint of the majority of readers, but as so much interest attaches to early sports cars, we are presenting a precis of past test reports in the form of a series of articles dealing with them volume by volume, of which this forms No. 1. Those who require to see the full test report will usually find that back numbers of the issue concerned are still available and a full index of road-tests appeared in May, 1938. In reading such accounts, it should not be overlooked that secondhand ears must not be expected to handle and perform quite as brand-new demonstration cars do, at all events without extensive reconditioning, while it should also be borne in mind that standards of judgment relating to almost every unmeasurable aspect of car character and construction have been undergoing not inconsiderable change in the passage of one-and-a-half decades. Bearing these points fully in mind, recalling the road-tests of the past is a refreshing undertaking.
Fittingly enough, the very first car tested by this paper (then “The Brooklands Gazette “) for the issue of July, 1924, was the 3-litre Bentley. The “Speed Model” was the example sampled, with the 3.53 to 1 rear axle ratio, and it is interesting that 25 m.p.g. at 30 m.p.h. was guaranteed, using a single five-jet Smith-Bentley carburetter—not that anyone ever drove or drives a 3-litre Bentley at 30 m.p.h., of course ! This test Bentley must have been a good example, for it did 70 m.p.h. on second gear and, while the top-gear docility is amply emphasised, equally is it mentioned that the gearbox is there to be used ; an especially nice manoeuvre, it seems, was changing from top to second at 45 m.p.h., without troubling about third. No criticism of this delectable motor-car, then blushing under the Clement-Duff laurels of Le Mans, was forthcoming, if we overlook a hint that there wasn’t an overabundance of seating-room ; the maximum was given as in the neighbourhood of 80 m.p.h. The next outing partaken of by the scribes of those days was in the 12!30 h.p. Sporting Crouch—the job with the four
cylinder 1,496 c.c. Anzani s.v. engine. It cost 2295, or 2300 if you wanted the distinction of a polished aluminium body, compared to the Bentley’s price of 21,125. Poor old B. S. Marshall supplied these cars, the test version being a 2-seater with a dickey-seat out in a pointed tail, a V-screen, and flowing wings, finished royal blue with red chassis, wheels and wings. The car must have been light, for the Anzani engine would pick up nicely from 5 or 6 m.p.h. on top gear and take the car along all day at 40 m.p.h., with some 5 m.p.h. still to come. Diligent searchers of breakers’ yards will surely admit defeat when it comes to the Crouch, of which outstanding features were cone clutch, duplex front and normal rear I-elliptic springs, tubular front axle, 12-volt lighting and starting and wire wheels. The marque has long been dead, although the writer came upon one during his apprenticeship ; that was in London in about 1028. Of course, the racing version, “Grandpa,” was well known at Brooklands, even in 200-mile races, and a rear-cngined Crouch was also raced. Our road-test concludes with a note about the 2450 Super Sports Crouch, guaranteed to reach 80 m.p.h. fully equipped and 90 m.p.h. in racing guise, so the Track associations apparently bore fruit. It makes you feel that 100 m.p.h. stripped should be the regular thing from 12-h.p. sports cars of to-day—but is it ? Then followed a 2-litre, four-cylinder o.h.c. Ansaldo sports tourer from Turin— in these stern times, note, only really rapid stuff bore the simple title of “sports.” The actual speed of the Ansaldo was not quoted, but its general performance, suspension and four-wheel braking came in for special praise, although the top gear ratio was apparently on the low side, the three-speed gearbox being, perhaps, to blame. The engine was especially sensitive to the ignition control. This car, which cost 2425 as a chassis, was ” discovered ” by “The Automobile Engineer’ some four years later. In the same issue the
12/32 ” Coatalen-plotted Sports Darracq was effectively written-up, an open fourseater being driven at high speed from Lyons to Paris, while a Weymann fabric saloon was also sampled. The engine of both ears proved unusually smooth and quiet and the chassis-frame very much of the non-whipping variety, while a maximum of well over 70 m.p.h. was reached, and the then almost-unique four-wheel brakes with servo-shoes proved powerful and secure. That concluded the 1924 year, from the road-testing point of view, and early in the new year Vernon Balls was approached and a sports Amilcar came along for test. This was the splash-lubricated 8.9 h.p. example, in which there was no oil-pump, lubricant being lifted from the sump to troughs by the flywheel. No speed figure, as such, is quoted, but it is significant that the car was stopped from 69 m.p.h. in less than 150 feet by means of the cable-actuated f.w.b.—the guaranteed speed was 75 m.p.h., remarkably good
for a s.v. small car. The an-round controllability came in for unstinted praise.
Then, as to-day, the motor scribe carried out an abridged road-test when occasion demanded ; try a car for a weekend and a full report is the accepted obligation, try it for half-a-day, and only a brief account can usually be given, although this hardly applies to the quantity of concentrated praise, penned as often as not by unknowledgable writers for daily and provincial newspaper reports, after a trial extending over a week or more. . . . Now, of course, the topical problem is to get as many and fair impressions as possible in a limited mileage. Reverting to sixteen years ago, we did a brief test of the three-wheeler D’Yrsan, bits of one of which still sit in a certain boatyard by Kew Bridge. With four-cylinder water-cooled, push-rod o.h.v. 750 c.c. engine, three-speed gearbox, independent front suspension by traesverse leaf-springs and front wheel and transmissiOn braking, this little car proved the French once again to have the knack of building utility vehicles of more than utility interest. The touring job cost £150, now with electric lighting, although acetylene had been used only a year previously. What Was of More moment in our world was that quite fantastic sports versions, said to do 70 m.p.h. and more, were listed—did the Bol d’Lor teach the Froggie things worth learning, we wonder ?
The next report was on the famous little ” Brooklands ” model Austin Seven, almost all of which seem to have disappeared, though Roderick Seys ran one not so long ago and we believe that some of the constructional features are retained by a member of the 750 Club in a lowchassis Special. The faired, racing style of bodywork, in conjunction with a drilled crankshaft, twin HK Zeeith carburetters, a three-branch external exhaust system, special camshaft, pistons, valves, tappets, and head, resulted in a very ” real ” little motor, which was sold, for t265, with a Brooklands certificate for 75 m.p.h., stripped—the meagre road-equipment apparently lopped off a full 10 m.p.h. During the test, the gradient from Bisham up to Winter Hill was climbed in second gear, with top before the summit, the engine-speed falling to below 3,500 r.p.m. on the hairpin and rising to over 4,000 r.p.m. thereafter. A successful restart was also reported, on a greasy gradient of some 1 in 4. There conies up, next, the famous ” 12/50 ” Alvis with the classic aluminium 2-seater body and outside exhaust system, of which half-a-dozen excellent pictures were published. It was an expensive car, costing 2550, and Twelvetrees put her to it hard. It was, in that age of trapping and the 20 m.p.h. speed-limit, deemed inadvisable to quote the speed attained on the road, but it was stated that the guaranteed 70 m.p.h. could be comfortably exceeded.’ Brooldands Test Hill was climbed from a standing start in about 12 secs., and Alms Hill was both climbed and descended without chains in
the depth of winter, after a little help up beyond the Cannons. The exhaust was described as delightfully ” musical,” but outside opinion, while interesting, did not endorse this view, the opinion expressed being that of a policeman near Chertsey —a fantail was recommended when niotoriag near Weybridge. The Alvis WaS pronounced its near perfeetion, the only criticisms relating to the close proximity of the steering-wheel to the body side when using the r.h. gear-lever, a slightly inaccessible hand-brake and the absence of ” motometre ” and rev. counter.
The test report which followed was that of a most interesting car, in the form of an ” L “-type Mathis Six sports 2-seater, With six-cylinder oh. camshaft engine of 60 by 70 mm. (1,187 c.c.), with four-speed gearbox—a car forgotten by most supporters of early French sports light ears. The body was a pont ted-tail racing shell in the typical French style, and the long bonnet, Hared wings, and disc-wheels shod with Michelin ” Balloon ” tyres, combined to suggest more than 12 h.p. The guaranteed speed was 70 m.p.h. and Broeldands laps, of which seven were done all-out, were timed at around 74 m.p.h., the belt-driven speedometer, calibrated in k.p.h., being all but useless. We showed four pictures of the car at the Track, Parry Thomas, deep in thought, regarding the engine in one of them. Incidentally, no screen of any sort appears to have been fitted. The road-holding was very warmly praised, indeed, was considered the most outstanding feature of the car, the big covers notwithstanding. The four-wheel brakes came on neither too fiercely nor yet too ineffectively and the suspension was excellent once the speed worked up. The Box Hill zig-zag was climbed very nicely ard criticism confined to slight clutchslip after the pedal was home, inadequate bonnet-fasteners, tool-el ips and speedometer and loss of lubricating properties of the oil after a 250-mile run. A guess may well be hazarded that not more than a few readers even know of the car next to be tested. This was a fourcylinder 12/40 h.p. Mercedes 2-seater—a Mercedes rated at 11.5 h.p. and having the famous Mercedes supercharger syStern. The engine, indeed, was a smaller version of the later six-cylinder units found in the ” :33/180,” ” :36/220 ” and ” 38;250 ” ears ; it had a bore and stroke of 68 by 108 m.m. (1,568 (.c.). Again we put the car through exhaustive tests on Brooklands, and this time showed a photograph of not only Parry Thomas, but George Duller and Gedge also, examining the engine. George Duller also rode beside the Editor for some of the lamicry. The car was really a touring rather than a. sports car, IMITOW as to track, and with a Si tial, rather-too-roomy coach built body the price being £775. Yet on the track it did a speedometer ” 80 ” and worked hard for an hour without complaint. The top gear performance was good, the road-holding excellent and the acceleration wonderful. The gearbox, giving ratios of 4, 6, 10 and 20 to 1, was intended to be used, and the tdiaage and, in fact, the feel of the car as a whale, was described as reminiscent of thc old ” Sixty ” Mercedes. The blower uioi-t is graphically put over and we like the following interpretation : ” . . . the release of the accelerator in throwing the supercharger Out of action causes the etwilie to (rive forth a prolonged ” G-o-o-o-oh which almost becomes an appeal to the driver for a further spell of supercharging exhilaration.’ The car If I no shock-absorbers, a rather incorivoniently-placed speedometer, and rear !wakes only that felt son te what inadequate at over 50 m.p.h. But would that we could locate LII ex:imple of this miniature 1.(.:acedes to-day thirdly less interesting was the Renault Foi-t-live tourer, which was said to do a happy 93 m.p.h. at a mere 2,600 r.p.m., by grace of 9 litres of six-cylinder side-valve engine. We had it for live days and it went on a round tour of 180 Miles to Canterbury and back on the first day and then I p to ‘S kcgiiess for a said race meeting, Covering 400 miles in the day. Not only was this big car extremely well Made, but it proved a very fast road car. Sunday (yes I 1 la ppy days . . .) saw the Renault
at Track, where the best lap was put in at nearly 87 m.p.h. (2,300 ratan.), the car going quite high on the bankings, but riding exceptionally well, although the cantilever rear-springs used only five leaves apiece. The Test Hill was ascended. Fast, and so was the crowded zig-zag of Box Hill, where three large ears had to reverse on the second bend. Pebblecombe was almost climbed on the 3 to] top gear, hair up, but a momentary drop to second (.5.15 to 1) was necessary to complete the ascent at 25 m.p.h. Alms Hill was aetually climbed so fast that the Cannons were not ever, noticed lw the occupants What a remarkable car ‘! Yet we doubt if there was a single example in use in this country at the outbreak of war, although we believe one is preserved in America. The servo brakes were So powerful it was desirable to warn the passengers of their presence, and equipment included oil purifier and cooler and an oil thermometer. Some people, we noted, called the ” Forty-five ” harsh, but we did not agree, although a lower top gear and four-speed gearbox would havy been likeable. Incidentally. in spite ants long wheelbase, fast cornering was possible, and we published one of our (lassie cornering studies—in this instance the car hurling up clouds of dust on a lefthand bend on a building estate—ahich were to be a feature of many subsequent road-test reports. The next car to come up for test was the ” 11.9 ” Bteratti four-seaterit would be a modified Brescia model. It :n•tually inspired us to rhyme, as follows :— ” Johnny had a little Bug, it changed gear with a flick—
The guy that wants to catch that Bug has gotta be damn quick.”
Be that as it may, the little car reached 52 m.p.h. in second, although that, and an biIil y to do 10 m.p.h. in top gear if need w, were the only figures quoted. Poor rcar-seating, a badly-placed speedometer and lack of adequate weather-prottetioli were offset by Very playful acceleration and excellent stability, the ” cornering study on this ()erasion being, patently, the Brooklands’ tunnel approach road. In September of 1925 we published a lengthy report on the ” 30/98 ” Vauxhall
touring car, although some considerable space was devoted to touring topics gleaned along the route used for the test, which comprised London to Ttmbridge Wells On the Friday evening, a potter round Maidenhead on the Saturday, and excursion to a Brooklands meeting, and a longer run to Malvern and back On the Swiday. However, it is stated that the ” 30/98 ” did 40 m.p.h. in second and 30 m.p.h. in third, reaching 70 m.p.h. front a standstill in 26 seconds. As to gradients, it successfully negotiated a grass bank of 1 in 2, while Alms was an easy second gear climb. The steering and gear-change were considered a thought heavy, and the brakes -a trifle slow in action, while, as scents fairly common at this period, the speedometer was badlyplaced over on the near side of the instrument-panel, but, all in all, it is not surprising that Marva SPORT found the Vauxhall ” . . . the closest approach to mechanical perfection in modern ‘automobile design and construction as applied to sporting oar practice.” One photograph, in particular, is just typical ” 30/98.”
An M.G. Super Sports followed, of the type proelahnirtg its direct Morris ancestry with bullnose radiator, although the 4-seater aluminium Itody possessed excellent lines, dise-wheels and flowing front wings helping considerably.
It was frankly admitted that, Save for balancing and port polishing, the engine was standard Morris, with the three-speed gearbox giving ratios of 4.4, 7.6 and 14.3 to 1. Nevertheless:, 55 m.p.h. was a happy cruising speed and the speed, a meter showed ” ” without undue fuss being apparent. 0-50 m.p.h. took _just over 24 seconds. A little-known hill, starting at 1 in 6 and steepening to 1 in 3 for some 80 yards, embracing on the way an awkward bend and a rough surface, was ascended in bottom at nearly 20 m.p.h. Reigate Hill was climbed with four up, at 28 m.p.h. in second gear. The four-wheel I wakes worked well with just a trace of ” Morris-squeak ” arid criticisms were confined to a side-brake lever rather close to time door, exhaust noisy and pipe rather close to the ground :tad rather heavy steering at low speeds. Incidentally, the car submitted for test had gained a ” Gold ” in the Land’s End trial and had an S.U. in place of the normal Smith carburetter. The engine would pull down to 6 m.p.h. in lop and the car’s price was £375. Enthusiasts might still consider this engine when a biggish unit, is wanted for a. light ” Special,”• for the M.G. weighed 18 cwt. 2 qrs. and went remarkably well. Most interesting was the next car to he tested—a side-valve ” 20/70 ” sports Crossley. This is a rare model and WC doubt if 1111V still exi-t in this country, although One was mentioned not long ago in a letter from Australia. The engine was outwardly a very straightforward, single-carburetter unit. of 90 by 150 nint. (3,706 c.c.), although actually it had tulip valves, carefully devised porting and a sports eamsh:t ft . The separate righthand controlled gearbox had ratios of 3.33, 5.17, 7.93 and 12.5 to 1. This gearbox definitely wanted knowing, although Continued on page 415
the clutch-stop could be adjusted to assist snap changes ; the lever moved a trifle stiffly. The front-‘y lied brakes worked on the Perrot system, and the inner wheel automatically freed when cornering. They worked extremely well, as did the suspension, while a 1 in 3-1 gradient with a chalky surface, taken with zero-run, did not stop the Crossley. A very docile car, the ” 20/70 ” nevertheless had a lap speed, guaranteed, of 75 m.p.h., =stripped. It will be remembered that Leon Cushman was running two of these cars at Brooklauds at this time. The concluding test of the 1925 season was concerned with a rather unexpected car, in the form of a sleeve-valve” 16/55 ” Daimler with 2-seater boat-shaped body ; we again had the pleasure of testing a Daimler last year and memories of its quality and useful performance still linger. The 1925 Daimler was not by any manner of means a sports model, but it did 10-35 m.p.h. in second gear in 8 seconds for all that, and did a very easy 65, or 70 when pushed. The engine was said to run up to 4,000 r.p.m., and certainly the car did 45 m.p.h. on middle gear of the threespeed box. There was ample enginepower low down, the suspension was excellent, and at high speeds the transmission brake, operated by a push-on side lever, was quite useful. An unusual fitting was hand-control of the mixture flow through the carburetter jets and a lack of equipment, including absence of an automatic screen-wiper, was attributed to the rush necessary to complete the car
in time for the Show. The engine ran very cool after colonial going, the fourwheel brakes were good and fuel-consumption was 30 m.p.g. The bodywork was truly luxurious. Brockley Hill was ascended in top gear at a good 45 m.p.h. with no effort at all, while Kop was climbed first in top, and then fast in Second gear, when the speed over the steepest portion was 88 m.p.h.—owners of modern cars may care to make comparison with the hill-climbing feats of sixteen years ago. That, then, was testing as the motorscribe of 1925 found it. With a further cut in petrol-rationing likely, we would gladly slide back those sixteen summers right now, were it not a stipulation that we revert to our then age of twelve years In case any of these demonstration-ears still exist, it may be mentioned that they were loaned by the following firms and bore the following registered numbers— we quote for 1925 only, as in 1924 the photographs appear mostly to be of other than the actual test-cars: Austin Seven : Gordon England, Ltd. (–) ; Amilear : Vernon Balls (–) ; Alvis : Henlys Ltd. (trade plates) ; Mathis : Atom Motor Co. Ltd. (trade plates) ; Mercedes : British Mercedes Ltd. (Y4139) ; Renault Renault Ltd. (X Y5614) •, Bugatti Charles Jarrott & Letts Ltd. (AT8803)
Vauxhall : Vauxhall Motors Ltd. ) M.G. : The Morris Garages (FC8004) Crossley : Cluoics Jarrott & Letts Ltd. (N E802) ; Daimler Statton-Instone
Ltd. ( ).