Among the various roads which lead out of London is one notable for few things other than its remarkable narrowness. And of the various factories which line part of this road, a certain electric cable works to which I invited myself on a recent Sunday looks singularly innocent of motoring interest.
Going in at the front door everything looks quite in keeping (unless you happen to notice that the acting-doorstop is a cracked R-type M.G. cylinder block) until you come into the office. Then you begin to get the shocks, as you successively find a crash helmet on the hatstand, a V-twin crankcase on top of the cupboard, and all the desk drawers stuffed with con.-rods, domed pistons of no mean size, and photographs bearing the familiar stamps of Klemantaski and Brymer. All of which is most surprising, until you know that “the boss,” who followed me into the gate on a Francis Barnett autocycle, is G.H. Symonds.
Since the war I had often wondered what had become of the B.H.D. and the R-type M.G. which Symonds ran so frequently and successfully in pre-war sprints and races. When he appeared at recent 750 Club meetings in a “Grasshopper” Austin I began by scrounging a ride in the Austin and then invited myself for a look at the racing cars which he retained. Which led to a remarkably interesting 11 hours in the course of a round of visits one Sunday.
Among the various machines residing at the back of the factory, pride of place really must go to that most potent of Shelsley perennials, the Davenport “Special” or B.H.D. At the moment this machine is in pieces, but its Shelsley days are not over yet. If Symonds does not run it himself, I gather it may be used by J.V. Bowles, whose unblown “Ulster” Austin ran so well in speed trials at Beechwood and elsewhere.
An air-cooled G.N., the Davenport’s engine was distinctly more potent than most for several reasons. At the base of the engine the typically G.N. crankshaft had the usual overhung crankpin supported from the rear only. But to avoid use of the usual forked connecting rod, this engine has a special crankcase with staggered cylinders, making possible the use of side-by-side roller-bearing big-ends. The two 750-c.c. cylinders are set at 90° and carry somewhat special heads, with chain-driven overhead camshafts; both two-valve and four-valve heads have been used, generally the former, with a pair of huge Solex(?) carburetters.
Since it was entirely dismantled, I could only see individual parts of the chassis. Apparently the subtle gear-lever locking device fitted to Frazer-Nashes was never used, and a bent axle of 100-ton steel testified to the detrimental effect of engaging two speeds together! Among sundry spares an interesting item was a 2-seater body, used by Davenport for racing at Southport.
Passing on to the present star of the Symonds circus, a nice dry lock-up was opened, to reveal a well-protected R-type M.G., the car which was previously owned by Sir Malcolm Campbell and R.E. Tongue. With sundry minor departures from standard, largely the work of Wilkinson, of Bellevue Garage, this is a very potent machine; with the possible exception of the twin o.h.c. Austins, it should be one of the fastest Class H cars in existence.
A most interesting design, the R-type M.G. Midget never received the intensive development which went into the earlier Q-type. This particular machine has the normal single o.h.c. head, which Symonds regards as preferable to the special twin o.h.c. head fitted to some of these cars. A conspicuous departure from standard is in the induction manifold, which now has two inlets from the blower in place of the original end feed: a simple modification which has overcome trouble with over-rich mixture in the rear cylinder.
Driven off the nose of the crankshaft, the Zoller compressor looks quite normal. Actually, the original unit suffered a cracked casing during a Mountain race at Brooklands (symptoms merely a sudden drop in speed of about 10 m.p.h.), and the new one has, for some unknown reason, raised the boost pressure from 25 to 30 lb./sq in. The car has never been raced on the outer circuit, but is said to have done a lap at about 120 m.p.h. on its usual back axle ratio.
The chassis design of the R-type, with its V-shaped frame and torsional suspension, is well known. This machine is standard in chassis details save for slightly stiffer torsion bars than usual (the suspension is still quite soft), and the car is said to ride and handle magnificently.
Weaving through a bunch of Gardner and Perkins diesel-engined lorries (I was interested to hear that the latter are the more lively, but at the expense of needing more attention), I was introduced to the touring car collection.
The latest acquisition, the “Grasshopper” Austin Seven, is a most desirable possession. It is the car which Scriven ran in trials before the war, features being a supercharged three-bearing engine, water-jacketed induction pipe and four speed gearbox. Having had a taste of the remarkable urge at low r.p.m., I can fully believe that it recently climbed the Patterdale side of Kirkstone Pass in third gear – but that is part of another story, which I hope Symonds himself will tell.
Also ready for use, when business and fresh air can be made to fit together, is a very nice Austin “65,” apparently fairly standard except for such things as a copperised head, etc.
Well, apart from dreams such as the V4.3-litre “Davenport Very Special,” which may or may not materialise, that’s the lot. Wait, though, what’s that rakish tourer hidden behind the inevitable Jowett van? A Rhode o.h.c., in quite decent order apparently, which I believe the Editor craves as his next war hack.
A pleasing collection of small racing and sports cars indeed, and very good to look on. If, as many folk expect, sprints are resumed very soon after the present job has been completed, Mr. Symonds should certainly get off on the right foot. – J.L.