WHY NOT CLASS I?
[This article, from Kenneth Neve’s pen, enlarges on a suggestion made in the correspondence pages last month. As so many great achievements have originated from two people thinking the same way at the same time without interchange of ideas, the plan seems worth consideration. Our personal objections were expressed in a footnote to the letter and still remain. Untraditional racing cars, like the American Midgets, do not appeal to us, and racing traditionally means handing on something useful to the road car. Thus, if SOO c.c. touring cars come into being, so will factory-built SOO c.c. “Specials.” But for a while Neve’s ideals might come to something.—Ed.1 TOWARDS the end of August 1939 the writer sat in—or more correctly on—
the none too comfortable seat of his home-made motor-car and made a gesture correctly interpreted by the driver of the aged ” Morris ” at the business end of the tow-rope as “Please proceed.” The Morris belched blue and ground its unmusical way forward, the clutch of the ” Special ” was engaged and, with a couple of coughs and a shudder, the culmination of two years’. spare-time. work came to life.
You shall be spared details of the car and the initial trials : sufficient to say that having driven five miles without shedding much machinery and having scared driver and onlookers stiff, it was decided that if all the bits that had come loose were Screwed up again it. would be worth .white towing the new recruit to the ranks of ” Specials ” the 90 odd miles to the Yorkshire S.C.C.’s September Meeting. Then an insufferable little man got uppish and Things Happened, so just how far up the drive at Weatherby the machinery would have progressed must remnia for ever a mystery.
The Idackness of the past months has given ample opportunity for speculation during the night watches, net only on the might have been, but on Steps to be taken if the machine proves, as is probable, to be just not good enough after the war. This inevitably led to a mental survey of the ” Specials ” Which have been built in the years between ]920 and 1939.
The article on sprint cycle-cars in Muroa Spinet’ in the July 1940 issue was of immense interest. True, it concentrated on the ” V-twin,” but it was a masterly survey of genuine ” Specials ” over some most interesting racing years. The builder of any ” Special ” which actually starts in a competition deserves a medal. It is 80 easy, in the comfort of the bar-parlour, to talk of “getting an old G.N. or Nash chassis from the wreckers and finding a couple of fast bike-engines or an ex-racing engine and marrying them together “—and, before closing-time, to be climbing Shelsley Walsh in about 42 seconds, no blown I
Translab, yolir would be competitor to his draughty garage : Give him his G.N. chassis ; give him his 80-h.p. engine—and watch his reactions when he discovers that if the engine is to sit in the chassis at all he must shift the clutch back four inches, alter the steering-box position and drill with his own fair hands and a belly-brace half-a-dozen in. holes in the frame. his enthusiasm in most cases withers and dies. All who have weathered the storm will understand ; yet ” Specials ” have been built in the most modestly-equipped garages and run most successfully. Wherein lies the success of the successful and why have the failures failed ?
The cynical say that success is spelt MONEY—but this is only partly true. It depends upon the interpretation of the word “success.” If success is considered
not to have be-en achieved until Raymond May’s time up Shelsky is beaten, then money in large quantities is essential and, be it added, .many other things as well 1 But if success means a class-place at Shelsley or Brighton, or perhaps a” fastest class time” at Lewes or Weatherby, then vast wealth is not an essential.
Here let it be made plain that this article is concerned with ” Specials ” made by the amateur and not for the amateur. The dearth in the number of amateurbuilt racing-cars during recent years may be. said to coincide with the advent of inexpensive and economical pseudo-sports cars—undersized fledglings modelled to suit our taxation system. Some are capable of reasonable performance over a limited span of years if left alone, or, if tuned, are capable of a. good performance over a still shorter time. . . . But whoa 1— your scribe is almost mounted on
his ” Vintage” hobby-horse at that long-suffering beast must remain locked in its stable for this article at least. . . .
The paragraph in ” Rumblings ” in the May 1941 issue of MOTOR SPORT, lamenting the lack of true ” Specials,” invited the query as to whether they would ever become “popular “—using the word in a comparative sense–again. The answer, if post-war competition is anything like pre-war, seems almost certain to be : ” No ” Design has passed the day when the layman’s ingenuity can help. Powerweight ratio is such on the average machine that endless hours with drill and file in the amateur’s workshop cannot fight even a level battle with the factory’s alloys.
The war came just in time to save the genuine ” Special ” from extinction ; competition was getting too nerve. The best of the ” Specials,” brillian t as they were.„ could not be expected to compete with E.R.A. and Alta and, with all the enthusiasm in the world, racing for the fun of it palls if before starting you know you stand im real chance of victory. It is reasonable to assume that the war will put a still wider chasm n between, the homemade and the factory product and that it will be little more than a waste of time and money for the amateur to build his own car to compete On level terms. Which seen is a pity. Are those enthusiasts who cannot afford a larger racing car and who See no fun in buying a stereotype machine to become spectators ? Even looking on will become pretty dull when the contestant merely buys a ‘,twang machine and sends it to a tuning establishment to have special innards fitted to make it buzz the louder so that it may compete with others from other timing shops with the same innards and different-colour bodies, A dismal pros pect, but we were heading that way before the war. Somehow a road back to individuality—inexpensive ineividuality if possible—must be found. There seems but one way. Why not pay greater attention to Class 1-500 c.c. ? An immediate reaction is to say ” Too tame” —but is it ? To begin with, the Class I fastest record stands at over 100 m.p.h. and the Class I standing start mile at 70.09 m.p.h. These are very respectable speeds and be it noted they are above the 750 c.c. speeds of ten years ago. The present 500 c.c. motor-cycle engine can do all that the 1,000 c.c. unit could do in 1925 or so, and no one will argue that Shelsley was tame in the days of the master Davenport. Compare for a momeut your ” Special ” with a motor-bike and side-car. It will have less frontal area and carry no passenger as must the combination. Putting aside all the acrobatics of the passenger, surely the speed and acceleration of a side-car outfit is not lightly to be regarded ? Think only of the Brighton Speed Trials! No one who remembers it would call John Bolster’s ” Mary ” in her original form tame, yet that had in it merely a side-valve 4-cam 1,000 c.c. J.A.P. engine. When Bolster litted the o.h.v. engine, the writer bought, and installed in a solo motorcycle frame, that same side-valve engine which had climbed Shelsley in 481 seconds. Without alteration it was used for journeys from Lancashire to London, times without number. It did this long-distance work at high speed with complete freedom from mechanical trouble, which, incidentally, speaks volumes for the skill of L. W. Hartley, of Plumstead, who originally tuned it. On the road (in the motor-cycle frame) it was often beaten by fast 500 c.c. solos and a converted D.T. Douglas could leave it standing on acceleration up to 05 m.p.h. This is not written to decry ” Mary’s” engine or her builder, far from it ; my point is that the engine, although of 1,000 c.c., was really quite ordinary and its performance could be equalled by a reasonably good 500 c.c. engine. Ingenuity in the construction of the original ” Mary ” and John Bolster’s driving constituted the reason for that car’s outstanding sprint success, not engine potency. And if it is still argued that 0500 c.c. would be tame in comparison with a modern 1,000 c.c., would a little less speed be a serious mutter? Remembering certain speed trial courses, a drop in speed would bring an increase in safety, and less power would offer correspondingly greater reward to driving and constructional merit. Toe many car owners there are to-day who did not. serve their apprenticeship on two wheels, and the tuning of a singk carburetter on a single cylinder will provide a valuable initiation into the mysteries of the high-speed i.e. engine. The barrier between many enthusiasts and Continued on page 401 speed competitions is lack Of money, and the 500 (lee. ” special ” scores tremendously here. The motor-cycle TN. regulations limit engine-size to 500 e.c, and for every fast 1,000 c.c. ” twin “. to be found there are quite a hundred 500 c.c. engines of real potency. Ex-dirt-track engines give phenomenal output and would be ideal for the job, and the cost is as many shillings as would be required pounds for a four-cylinder unit in similar tunic. Consider, too, the wide variety or engine-types available : 500 c.c. singles of ninny famous racing makes : vertical twins like the modern Triumph : flat twins, like the B.M.W. or DouglaS : V-twins (yes, these were made in 500 e.e., too !) a Scott water-cooled 2-stroke or the Ariel and Matchless air-cooled “Square 48,” Or even, perhaps, a V-4 T.T. A.J.S. With so varied a choice of power-units the class could not possibly be dull. The chassis, having to stable horses with legs less hairy than in larger classes, might be of ash, which is easily worked by the amateur. If it must be metal, t lie ubiquitous Austin Seven would serve, or the
evergreen G.N.. judiciously lightened, or, perhaps, a fourth wheel might tit, added to a Morgan, after the manner of Breyer’s “Salome.” The field is certainly enormous. . . .
Perhaps the most persuasive argument for Class I is low cost in construction, running and repair bills. If anything serious happens, how mu Ii cheaper to find one ” pot,” piston or big-end than four or six I The engine, with the sinele exception of lightening the Ilyislicel assembly for which centres are necessary, may be tuned by the knowledgeable amateur, and On the kitchen table at that. Block and tackle are not needed to lift the engine into and out of the chassis. The complete machine ean easily be trailed or towed ; in fact, the costs will stand in much the same ratio as those of a motor-bike to a car. More people will be able to compete, and as a natural corollary iii1rcst grows and meetings become more frequent. The yachting people found this out when the International Dinghy Classes were started, and motoring has the added
advantage that while •boats must be built strictly to dimensions, oars need no restriction other than the 500 c.c. enginesize. But among all these arguments, important as they are, the main issue must he kept clear. By developing Class I, a class is formed in which amateurs will
compete against amateurs without fear of factorybaeked elitries overshadowing them, [Under what guarantee ?— Ed.] and there will be given a new lease of life to the ‘mist fascinating of all types of motor, the genuine ” Shelsley Special.” All that remains now is for one of the leading clubs to promise a 500 c.c. class in their first post-s ar speed trial or, better still, for someone to offer the M.A.C. a cup for Class I at the next SheLsley Walsh meeting. One entry is guaranteed [At this stage this suggestion it t rigucd us so much that we have attempted to get it into some sort of focus by re firenec t el it in ” Rumblings ” in this issue ; an invitation to readers to submit 500 c.c. data and designs is also set out.-E1.1