Sorting Out Speed!

Study the International Class records as they existed at the outbreak of war and what do you find? That the highest speed achieved by a 350-c.c. car is Cecchini’s. 91.3 m.p.h. with the Moscerino. That the fastest 500-c.c. record belongs to Count Lurani’s Nibbio at 106.7 m.p.h., and that amongst the 750-c.c. cars Bobbie Kohlrausch ‘s M.G. has achieved 140.7 m.p.h. Going on through the lists one finds Major Gardner’s M.G. topping the 1,100 c.c. and 1 1/2 litre categories, respectively, at 203.5 and 204.3 m.p.h., that the fastest 2-litre is Mrs. Stewart’s Derby-Miller at 147.7 m.p.h.. the fastest 3-litre Caracciola’s Mercédès Benz at 248.3 m.p.h., the fastest 3-5-litre car Rosemeyer’s Auto-Union at 219.3 m.p.h., the most rapid Class B record holder (5-8 litres) Caracciola’s Mercédès Benz with a two-way kilo at 268.9 m.p.h. And fastest or all to date is John Cobb’s Railton, with a two-way mile 369.7 m.p.h. This is interesting, but it is only part of the story. True, the speeds quoted are beyond question, but what of the dates at which these records were established? We find on examination that the Class I and J records were made in 1939. Kohlrausch ran the M.G. on the Frankfurt-Heidelberg highway in 1936, but Major Gardner took his great 200 m.p.h. records in 1939, whereas Mrs. Stewart took the Class E record in 1934, at Montlhèry. The German cars ran in 1938, 1937 and 1939, respectively. and Cobb, or course, ran just before the war at Utah.

Already, Therefore, in looking at just one record in each capacity class, it is not speed alone that tempers comparisons. Bring in achievements in road and track racing, and some sorting out of performances of varying, but comparable, standards becomes desirable.

A speed of 100 m.p.h. is exciting from a sports car, but now commonplace in racing. We had that as long ago as 1904 Rigolly’s Gobron-Brillie had officially clocked 103.56 m.p.h. Laurence Pomeroy of The Motor has been at great pains to establish the authentic speeds of road-racing cars, and by his reckoning the 1907 G.P. Mercédès could exceed 100 m.p.h. in road-racing trim. Just which was the first small car (taking “small car” to mean a car of under 1 1/2 litres capacity) to exceed 100 m.p.h. is a moot point, because class records divided as we now know them were not introduced until 1925, and soon after the 1914-18 War several light cars, were achieving this speed (notably A.C. and Aston-Martin), while in 1910 a 3-litre Vauxhall had established fame as the first car of this size to exceed the magic century.

In 1922 a 1,496-c.c. unsupercharged 4-cylinder A.C. lapped Brooklands in a race at 100.61 m.p.h., and the following year this car did 102.69 m.p.h. as against the best lap of the supercharged 1 1/2 litre Fiat in the 200-mile Race of 101.64 m.p.h. So we can safely say that the 100 m.p.h. 1 1/2 litre car was born certainly by 1922, perhaps even prior to the last war. Here we get, at once, two interesting  comparisons, namely, the fact that the unblown A.C. was apparently more rapid than the blown Fiat and that the winning 2-litre G.P. Fiat of 1922 was about as fast as the 1922 1 1/2 litre  A.C.

Unfortunately, of course, we are beginning to wander into the realm of “guestimates,” because few persons can agree as to the discrepancy which should be considered to exist between “flat-out” and Brooklands lap speed (indeed, it varies car to car), while we know that the Fiats were prepared for a 200-mile race, the A.C. for a sprint. Nevertheless, it is better, surely, to attempt such comparisons than to flounder entirely in the dark. This matter of road racing versus track speeds is nicely portrayed by the 100 m.p.h. 3-litre record-breaking Vauxhall of 1910 and the estimated speed of 100 m.p.h. for the 7.6-litre G.P. Peugeot of 1911, when a 3-litre G.P. Sunbeam probably did 81 m.p.h. approx., and the speed in excess of 100 m.p.h. at which the 1913 Coupe de l’Auto Peugeot was timed at Brooklands.

Incidentally, Zborowski lapped Brooklands at over 109 m.p.h. in an unblown 2-litre Miller in 1923, in which year the fastest road-racing car was probably the supercharged 2-litre Fiat, which Pomeroy estimates could reach 118 m.p.h., so the track car showed little advantage then. These comparisons begin to become we quite involved enough without investigating the 1,100 c.c. and under position, but in 1926 came Goutte’s Brooklands lap of 114.49 m.p.h. in a blown 1,100-c.c. Salmson, at which time the fastest record in this class was Morel’s 122.67 m.p.h, with an Amilcar Six, although up to that time 1,100-c.c. cars had not generally exceeded 90 m.p.h. Here, again, comes a striking comparison, if the 100 m.p.h. of Capt. Frazer-Nash’s G.N. “Kim” in 1920 is authentic.

The battle between the “1/2 pint” cars was being contested at speeds of over 100 m.p.h. by 1931, between M.G., Austin (as a side-valve) and Lord Ridley’s Ridley-Special, all of which exceeded this speed, as did, incedently, an 850-c.c. side-valve Morris Minor. All used blown engines, of course, and the honour of first exceeding the still magic century in a 750-c.c. car fell to Capt. George Eyston, who, in February, 1931, covered 5 kilo’s at Montlhèry at 103.13 m.p.h. The M.G. was virtually a 2-seater, and not the later “Magic Midget,” incidentally. Just to show how much sorting out of speed there is to do, Venatier, with a 746-c.c. Ratier-built Grazide, had covered 5 kilos at Montlhery at. 96.76 m.p.h. five seasons earlier, in 1927. In the 500 c.c. category 100 m.p.h. was first exceeded in 1935, by Count Lurani’s Nibbio.

So far, we have considered the attainment of 100 m.p.h. by different size and type cars as a maximum speed effort. But what of the attainment of this speed over a considerable distance? Taking the hour record first, we find that by 1913 Lambert had managed to exceed this speed with the 4 1/2 litre s.v. Talbot, averaging 103.84 m.p.h. By 1922 a 1 1/2 litre car in the form of Joyce’s A.C. had put over 100 miles into 60 minutes, and in 1928 Prince Ghica’s 1,100-c.c. Cozette-blown M.G. had done likewise at Montlhèry. The record lists during 1931 chronicled a like achievement in the 750-c.c. class, to the credit of Eyston and an M.G. Incidentally, the present 750 c.c. Hour Record stands at 113.99 m.p.h., to the credit of Dodson’s Austin Seven, established in 1936, but then the 1,100 c.c. “Hour” has soared to 120.88 m.p.h. (Eyston’s  M.G. “Magic Magnette” 1934), and the 1 1/2 litre “Hour” has risen to 119.01 m.p.h. (Veyron’s Bugatti – 1933). In Classes I and J speeds over a considerable distance have yet to rise above the century, but the present Class I one hour record is up to 86.02 m.p.h., established by Cecchini’s wonderful Fiat in 1938 at Monza, while the Class J “Hour” belongs to Gush and the tiny Vitesse, at 73.04 m.p.h., which he established at Brooklands in 1934. Just in case this record of the rapid rise in speeds in all the International classes over both sprint and considerable distances tend to damp the ardour of possible would-be record contenders, or the long time that has elapsed since cars in almost every category have attained 100 m.p.h. for brief periods and for the hour run, should have a like effect, let us list the oldest World’s and International records still remaining in the Record Book.

The oldest World’s record is Sir Malcolm Campbell’s 238.6 m.p.h. for the flying 10 kilos, at Daytona Beach in 1932, this standing also in Class A. No single record stands out as vintage in Class B, but in Class C we find  two 1933 records, the 50 kilos and 50 mile, to the credit of Frame’s Union 76 Special, at nearly 140 m.p.h. for the latter distance. Class D gives us Jack Dunfee’s flying 5 miles with the Sunbeam at 126.8 m.p.h., set up at Montlhèry in 1930, while Class E gives us Dunfee’s 200 mile record with a 2-litre Sunbeam at 117.67 m.p.h., which just beats Prince Liechtenstein’s 1930 record at Tat (standing mile at 94.0 m.p.h. with a Bugatti). In Class F we get several records by Eldridge’s Miller, dating right back to 1926, at up to 122.48 m.p.h. Class G has some long distance records by Eyston and Denley with a Riley, made at 98.99 m.p.h. in 1931, and Class H more Eyston and Denley runs with an M.G., set up in December, 1932, at speeds of 92.25 m.p.h. for long distances. Class I produces a solitary 1927 record – Rovin’s “Hour” at 74.44 m.p.h. and Class J the Jappic’s standing-start sprint records of 1925, Walters up. Comparison with more up-to-date adjacent records shows whether the fact that these records have lived on is attributable to apathy on the  part of later contenders, or an outstanding performance never surpassed. There really is no end to this sorting out of speed.

(To be continued.)