Rumblings, August 1949
This Silver Jubilee of Motor Sport unleashes a flood of memories. When this was first published outer-circuit racing held sway at Brooklands, the Land Speed Record stood at a mere 146.16 m.p.h. (to the credit of Campbell’s 350-h.p. V12 Sunbeam) and we goggled at the supercharged four-cylinder Darracqs as we do to-day at the straight-eight Alfettes. The accident at Kop was to result in an R.A.C. ban on public-road speed events. Yet enthusiasm was as great then as ever it has been since and all manner of sports-light cars, and some not deserving the title, used to compete in events of which the J.C.C. High Speed Trial, run over that so-sporting course embracing the Brooklands entrance road and descent of the Test Hill, besides the Track itself, was typical. Motor sport was already within the reach of those with quite small purses, for the ubiquitous Austin Seven was available in several sporting versions, and if you couldn’t afford that there was the “Aero” Morgan.
As the years roll on we find more specialised racing, at first amongst the Grand Prix Delage and Talbot cars, later between the P2 Alfa-Romeos, “3.3” Bugattis and “2.9” Maseratis, before a decline set in, taking us quickly to sports car racing in lieu of Grands Prix, even in France. Yet that, in itself, was a truly absorbing period, with Bentley building British prestige up and up in battles royal against the big, white Mercédès-Benz and, on formula, the beautiful twin o.h.c. Alfa-Romeos, and with Austin operating, officially and effectively, their team of orange Sevens. Then came the emergence to an era when Alfa-Romeo, Maserati and Bugatti took a last gallant stand against the State-sponsored onslaught of Mercédès-Benz and Auto-Union with their teams of meticulously-prepared cars which, in action, made fighter aircraft seem tame in comparison. Britain, too, upheld her reputation with the advent of the E.R.A. — a wonderful racing car, to be sure — and the beautiful little twin-cam Austins. Came war, and that fearful period of no petrol, but all that came to an end eventually and, lo, there was motor racing again, at Bristol and Gransden. We had seen, too, Continental sports car racing between racing cars scarcely disguised by screens and mudguards and the serious arrival of saloons in races like Le Mans, a legacy from aerodynamic racing and record-breaking exploits by Peugeot, Renault, Hotchkiss and others a decade earlier.
Reading through twenty-five years of road-test reports is an education in itself. Some of the spidery French sports cars of the mid-nineteen-twenties — invariably with pointed “Grand Prix” tails and cowled radiators — wouldn’t be deemed suitable for going to the post in to-day, yet Richard Twelvetrees quite cheerfully used to time them up Box Hill’s Zig Zag and aim them at its notorious Goat Track. A G.P. Bugatti of those times evoked nearly as much awe and admiration as the XK Jaguar does now and we come upon the debut of cars like the M.G. Midget, in “Double Twelve” and “Montlhèry” form for example, followed by the six-cylinder M.G. Magnas and Magnettes, and the Wolseley Hornet in divers sports versions (it eventually preferred chain drive for its o.h. camshaft, whereas the M.G. stuck to its vertical dynamo). What a tribute to our technicians that few, if any, of these cars would hold a candle to the presentday Jowett Javelin, for example!
Red-letter days of testing embraced cars like the very regal “Speed Six” Bentley, and the range of blown Mercédès starting with the “16/55” and progressing through the “33/180” and “36/220” to the almost mythical “38/250” T.T. car. We scored something of a scoop when we published a detailed test-report on the three-carburetter 5 1/2-litre Super Sports Excelsior, at the time when the identity of this “mysterious yellow and black coupé seen at Southport” was being hotly debated in the weekly Press. We did a special Rolls-Royce number to celebrate the introduction of the new 20/25-h.p. model and tried an open Stutz “Bearcat” with its supercharger clutch-controlled rather as on a Mercédès. In later times the tempo quickened and our testers tasted real speed, a “Light Sports” Railton being particularly rapid, Lycett’s 8-litre Bentley offering the experience of 130 m.p.h. on the Oxford By-pass as well as round Brooklands, and the smaller cars, represented now by the Squire, “Ulster” Aston-Martin, H.R.G. and the like, improving out of all knowledge, while a 4 1/4-litre Bentley averaged over 50 m.p.h. from London right up to John o’ Groats, as, earlier, a straight-eight Delage had done for a rather shorter day’s motoring. The Ford V8 in different guises was another car that provided a foretaste of high-performance as we know it to-day.
Down the years Motor Sport made many friends, and a few enemies. It had its pet aversions, such as too-freakish trials cars, cinder-shifting, and silly names and racing numbers on road motor cars. It developed a decided warmth for good vintage cars, the faster Edwardians and properly-restored veterans and a liking for history. It commenced detailed and analytical road tests of the more interesting cars and reported as fully as possible on the classic races and sprint events. Much water has flowed since issue No. 1 of The Brooklands Gazette appeared in 1924; Motor Sport has been issued with numerous cover-styles, has been edited by quite a number of different persons and has changed its headquarters from time to time. Its Silver Jubilee sees it well established in the heart of London, conducted by a man who is still as keen on all aspects of motoring as he was in his school-days and who successfully bronght the paper through the war years.
Whatever the future may hold for motor sportsmen and motoring journalism, it is his hope and aim that Motor Sport will continue to serve the cause of the greatest Sport of all, for another quarter of a century and beyond.
Last Show time, when we were writing nostalgically of the days when the industry made good, husky motor cars worth their weight in steel and wood (and we do not mean this facetiously) we passed the remark that one day we must devote an article to those cars which called themselves “14/40s.” A reader having recently reminded us that we never fulfilled this promise, we hasten to put right the omission.
At one time horse-power was quoted less openly, unless as “Forty” or “Ninety” to emphasise the lordliness of really big cars of earlier days. Instead, it was the bore that mattered. Following the success of the Sunbeams in the 1912 Coupe de l’Auto race, the convenient 80-bore engine became the rage, a very popular engine size being 80 by 120 mm. A tradition carried on, of course, by the famous 3-litre Bentley in the postwar era. With horse-power thrown into prominence by the ill-conceived £1 per h.p. taxation of 1920, which resulted in re-registration of all used cars the following year, makers began to feel the advisability of stating the taxable power of their cars in their catalogues. From that it was but a short step to quoting the developed, or brake, horse-power also, even if this simple explanation of “double-power” doesn’t, as we now know, apply in the case of the immortal “30/98” Vauxhall. But “8/18s,” “10/23s,” “11/22s,” “12/30s” and similar designations became current — indeed, to be perfectly honest, some makers had used such model classifications prior to the Kaiser war, although in this case the raison d’etre isn’t so obvious and usually has something to do with French h.p. calculations.
Coming, then, to our “14/40s,” the first thought is that vintage cars so styled must, of necessity, be pretty comfortable vehicles. For if a sizeable chassis will be needed to accommodate an engine rated at 14 h.p., at least, the performance need not be too utterly dull, for in reality is not 40 horse-power developed? Enough to offer some hint of briskness, yet suggesting an unstressed, easy-running power unit. Especially as, not every maker being as honest as Alvis, whose evergreen “12/50” really does seem to develop its fifty horses or some number close adjacent, we need not take rivals proclaiming themselves as “14/50s,” or “14/60s,” too seriously it seems, indeed, that in the nineteen-twenties not many manufacturers dared to claim an output of 25 b.h.p. per litre, yet few were as modest in this respect as Cluley or as daring as Talbot who, on the one hand listed a little-known “14/30,” and on the other the classic “14/45” (the latter, however, with o.h. valves and six compact cylinders to back its claim). Most were happy to offer 40 horses from engines rated as Fourteens and really there were a remarkable number of such “14/46s.” Calling on the memory and what sketchy records are to hand reveals the following: Bean, Berliet, Bond, C.M.N., Delage, Delaunay-Belleville, Donnet-Zedel, H.E., Humber, Lea-Francis, M.G., Scotsman, Star, Storey, Sunbeam, Swift, Vauxhall, Vermorel and Vulcan. Quite a formidable list, you will agree, and one which doesn’t include those cars whose makers, either from a sense of modesty or prudence, merely called them “Fourteens.”
We mustn’t generalise to any extent, or we shall never be through with this piece, but it is rather interesting that a bore and stroke of 75 by 120 mm. was almost universal for a “14/40,” although Bean and Vauxhall had a 130-mm. stroke, while Humber and M.G. went in for something rather shorter-116 and 102 mm., respectively, all with the 75-bore, of course. Besides these and a few oddly-dimensioned four-cylinders, were the small “14/40” sixes by Berliet, Lea-Francis and Vulcan. Running through these “14/40s,” it is interesting to see how much diversity and varied character there can be between cars in one horse-power group. The Berliet, Bond, C.M.N., Donnet-Zedel, Scotsman and Vermorel never became well-known, at all events in England. The Bean, or more correctly, the Hadfield-Bean, was a rugged, square-contoured sports (or fast touring) car, the last private car to be built by this old-established firm (which was a legacy of Perry) before it went over to commercial vehicles and finally went out of business. The Delage was one of the nicest of the “14/40s,” although I believe that in the country of its origin it was just a plain “Fourteen.” It was available in sporting guise as the D.I.S., and has a good following in this country to this day, being stolid, well-braked and brisk, while in detail and conception it is delightfully “Continental,” as the similarity of its brake lever and gear lever suggests as soon as you seat yourself in it. Before it was finally discontinued in favour of those elegant “sixes” and “eights,” the “14/40” Delage was endowed with quite a lengthy bonnet and often accommodated large saloon bodywork, so that outwardly, it was difficult to distinguish it from the 21-h.p. six-cylinder. A worthy four-cylinder if ever there was one! [Dr. Ewen wrote an article for Motor Sport, in October, 1945, devoted to these cars.]
The Delaunay-Belleville, retaining a distinct trace of pre-war ancestry in its elegant rounded bonnet and radiator, the former opening only after a little door had been raised and a hitherto-concealed catch released, was a more sedate car than the Delage, despite its o.h. camshaft engine, rated at 15.9 h.p., and one of those expensive-looking, split, alloy steering boxes held together by rows of bolts. It was a delightful town-carriage and a firm at Maida Vale bought a whole batch of the new chassis and offered them for sale at competitive prices about the time when Motor Sport first appeared on the bookstalls.
The H.E. was an altogether more exciting affair, built by the Herbert Engineering Co., at Reading, and contriving to go very nicely indeed on a side-valve four-cylinder engine. A rakish boat-tailed body and 13/4-elliptic rear springs made the three-seater a distinctive car and just the thing for young bloods who wanted to park in Piccadilly without encountering another car exactly like theirs and who eschewed the 3-litre Bentley for this reason, or because it was a trifle too large. The “14/40” H.E. survived for many years before its makers became interested in two additional cylinders, and we have told all about it in one of those lengthy articles on vintage sports cars that every so often break out in Motor Sport.
The Humber, with its o.h. inlet, s.v. exhaust engine, was an example of the British touring car at its very best, whereas the Lea-Francis was neither quite a touring car nor yet quite a sports car, its modest bonnet opening to reveal a twin o.h. camshaft engine of exciting aspect — actually a Meadows product, common also to the Vulcan. The M.G. was a very clever adaptation of the trustworthy Morris-Oxford, conceived by the late Cecil Kimber at his Morris Garage in Oxford and following the main specification of the Morris — first “bull-nose,” later with flat-fronted radiator — down the years, until the Midget and the “18/80” Six seemed better propositions. Reference is made to this particular “14/40” in “Vintage Veerings” this month. The Star looked outwardly merely another tourer, but it had certain endearing features peculiar to itself and actually went quite fast in occasional competitions. The Storey was a rare bird, made in a pocket factory at a certain grass-verged road in South London — a factory which has long since disappeared, along with the grass verges.
The “14/40” Sunbeam was one of the great Wolverhampton firm’s classic products — a very refined, individualistic car, somewhat hampered, perhaps, by a gearbox offering only three forward speeds and by a somewhat delicate back axle. We hope to publish a leading article on many of the Sunbeam models before the year is out, when the “14/40,” last of the four-cylinder Sunbeams of the old range. will be seen in true perspective. Swift’s “14/40” never became as popular as their smaller models, but the Vauxhall, with its Ricardo-designed, alloy-head side-valve engine, tubular front axle, lightweight construction, cantilever rear springs and, on later models, knock-off hubs and wire wheels, was one of the most famous of all the “14/40s.” Indeed, with its lines so closely resembling a scaled-down “30/98,” it is surprising that it is not more sought after to-day by vintage connoisseurs. And that about exhausts the subject, except to observe that the cars termed “14/40s” were, and remain, convenient and desirable vehicles.
Further details are now available of the British race meetings that are destined to enliven the month of August. On the 13th the B.A.R.C. will hold its Members’ Day at Goodwood, the first racing we have had at this interesting new circuit since Easter. A series of three and five-lap handicap races will be contested and entries are confined to ordinary sports cars, although certain items of equipment can be non-standard and benzole may be added to pump petrol. Methanol, however, is barred and cars must be in “full touring trim.” Practising and scrutineering will occupy the Saturday morning and racing will occupy the afternoon. This sounds like a really good day’s sport and intending entrants should obtain details from the B.A.R.C., 55, Park Lane, London, W.1, without delay. Members and friends will be admitted free to spectators’ enclosures, and be granted free car-parking.
Then, on August 20th, the B.R.D.C. will stage its great International fixture over the full Silverstone circuit, unhampered by chicanery. The big event will be a Formula I Grand Prix, and the organisers have decided that, as long races tire both cars and spectators, the entry will compete in two 20-lap (approximately 60-mile) heats, the race being decided by a 30-lap (approximately 90-mile) Final, this deciding race to be between the 15 fastest finishers in each heat. Lap speeds around 90 m.p.h. can be expected and these short races should produce homeric struggles such as we have seldom seen before in this country.
The Daily Express is sponsoring the meeting, and the winner of each heat will receive ISO, with the Daily Express Trophy and £300 for the winner of the Final — and netting £360 in 150 miles of racing isn’t to be sneezed at. There will be other prizes in addition, naturally, including £20 for the fastest lap. Moreover, at last we have the sensible arrangement that entry fees will be refunded in full to all starters. Bravo, B.R.D.C.
An immensely exciting field can be expected, although it is unlikely that the Alfa-Romeo team will be present. Ferrari, Maserati, Talbot, Alta and E.R.A., however, will almost certainly be in the thick of it. Moreover, preceding this great race there will be two other races. One is a 10-lap race for 500-c.c. cars, the other will be the One Hour Daily Express Production-Car Race, in which competing cars will be standard except for carburetter settings, ignition timing and control, size, make and type of tyres, while cylinders may be linered providing the bore is as stated in the catalogue. Pump fuel alone, save for upper cylinder lubricant, must be used and bodywork must not only comply with the F.I.A. code, but also to manufacturers’ or recognised bodybuilders’ specifications. As if that isn’t enough, no fuel, oil or even water may be put in during the race and only the driver can carry out repairs, unaided by any external source of tools or spares. This race will be perhaps the most interesting, if not the most exciting, of the year. Entry fees are again returnable to starters and there is over £200 to be won, of which £75 goes to the outright winner. The classes are: Up to 1 1/2 litre, 1 1/2-2 1/2 litre, over 2 1/2 litre, and there is a Team Award. We can hope to see H.R.G., Jowett Javelin, M.G., Riley, Aston-Martin, Frazer-Nash, Healey, Allard and Bentley locked in earnest combat — and may the best car win. The pre-meeting publicity will presumably be looked after by the Daily Express, so that a crowd of well over 100,000 can be expected — which is why Motor Sport hopes to camp at the course! In all, the Daily Express has contributed over £900 in prize money. Details from the B.R.D.C., 2a, Brick Street, Park Lane, W.1. Grand stand seats cost 25s. and 20s., car parking 10s.
Then, to keep the excitement going as it were, the W. Hants and Dorset C.C. will stage a most interesting race meeting at Blandford Camp, Dorset, on August 27th. The course will comprise the hill and return road used for the Blandford speed hill-climb, but lapped in, the opposite direction. The corners range from a 30 m.p.h. right-angle to 90 and 100 m.p.h. bends, the lap distance being 3 miles 220 yards and the motor-cycle lap record 88 m.p.h. This will be a National Meeting, open to all comers. It is planned to hold three 5-lap races, respectively for sports cars up to 1,100-c.c., sports cars of 1,101-1,500-c.c. and sports cars of 1,501-2,000-c.c., a 10-lap race for 500-c.c. racing cars to 500 Club Formula, for which the first live finishers in three 5-lap beats will be eligible, and — big event of the day — the 33-lap Blandford Trophy Race for non-supercharged racing cars up to 2 litres. That makes eight races in all; the first will commence at 12 noon. No supercharged cars will be allowed in any of the races. Apart from cups and trophies, prize money totalling over £400 is offered. Lady drivers are not eligible. Mass starts will be employed. Practice will take place on August 26th, and for two hours on the morning of August 27th. Spectators are assured of excellent vantage points, say the organisers, crossing bridges are being built and refreshments, loud-speakers and score-boards will be provided, while admission charges will be “moderate.” An innovation will be the sale of practice times and race results immediately after each race. Entries close on August 6th. The fee for the Blandford Trophy Race is £10 10s. per car and we may expect a battle royal between such makes as Ferrari, Alta, Aston-Martin, Riley, Vanguard, H.R.G. Cooper, M.G., etc. Details from: D. S. Ship, Canford Cliffs Motors, Ltd., Canford Cliffs, Bournemouth, Hants.
British enthusiasts are certainly going to get their fill this month. If details of entries for these various meetings are available before we close for Press they will be included elsewhere. Incidentally, an additional attraction at the Daily Express meeting will be demonstration runs by Cobb in his 400-m.p.h. Railton Mobil Special, Lt.-Col. Gardner in his record-holding car and Bob Berry on his famous Brough-Superior motor-cycle.