A History of the G.N.
Special Silver Jubilee Contribution
by Cecil Clutton
There are very few G.N.s still running today, fewer still in anything like original trim. Nevertheless, so typical is this make of the sporting British small car, so successful was it in competition and of such nostalgic memory is it to British enthusiasts, that we have no compunction in publishing this, the first detailed consecutive history and technical discourse on this famous cyclecar, which Cecil Clutton has written for this Silver Jubilee issue, in close collaboration with H. R. Godfrey — the “G ” of G.N. — himself. — Ed.
John Bolster, with his unrivalled driving experience of cars of every age and type, represents the G.N. and the “30/98” Vauxhall as the two outstanding cars of the vintage years. The truth of his words is shown by the fact that cars conforming basically to the original G.N. pattern remained in active production over a space of 25 years and are still successful in sprints nearly 40 years after the G.N. firm first went into production. Furthermore, although perhaps not half-a-dozen G.N.s now exist in standard form, they continue almost as a family name amongst motorists.
Much has been written about G.N.s, but no consecutive history of the firm and its products has yet been set down in print, and this article is intended to provide an authentic record for all time. When I undertook the task of writing such a history, I realised that I should be largely dependent upon the memory and records of H. R. Godfrey. In point of fact, both of these have proved to be so complete that my task was negligible, and by far the greater part of the following article is no more than a collated edition of Godfrey’s own words. Godfrey and Nash first met in 1905, as fellow students in mechanical engineering at City and Guilds, Finsbury, and afterwards were apprentices together at Willans & Robinson, the engineering firm at Rugby (now merged with the English Electric Company). During these years, the possibility was often discussed of making a vehicle combining the comparative liveliness and cheapness of the motor-cycle with the stability and other advantages of a light four-wheeler.
It must be remembered that at this period :—
(1) Roads were rough, with thick dust in dry weather and equally thick mud in winter.
((2) Motor-cycles, generally, were belt-driven, single-geared, and without clutches. Frames were rigid, tyres were small. Performance, however, was comparatively lively. In conjunction with existing conditions they were generally regarded as “dangerous.”
(3) Cars were still practically “rich men’s toys,” heavy and costly to buy and maintain. The few “light” cars lacked performance, particularly on hills, and were poor roadholders.
(4) Motoring was not “popular” or used for business, and was only indulged in by a few of two classes, the rich (with big cars) and the mad (motor-cyclists).
The answer to all this looked easy to the simple minds of Godfrey and Nash, Morgan, Borbeau (maker of the Bedelia) and a few others. Why not take a fairly powerful twin-cylinder motor-cycle engine, put it in a frame and add wheels to taste? During 1906 to 1910, Godfrey and Nash separately and together did make several machines on these lines, crude, but satisfying some of the requirements aimed at.
It was in the autumn of 1910 that Godfrey and Nash, then both in their early twenties, joined forces with the idea of making something a bit more complete and usable than previous efforts. At the back of their minds was the idea that a small number might be sold to a few people who were becoming interested. It hardly went beyond that.
However, events soon caused them to make up their minds to attempt to make these “quad cars” or runabouts (as they were beginning to be named) as a wholetime job. It so happened that the partners were ferreted out by the Motor Cycle, which described these machines in an article in December, 1910. The result was hundreds of letters from people who wanted to know if the cars could be bought, some wishing to place orders. So it was decided to “have a go.” The “works” at this time was a disused coach-house and stables at the back of Nash’s house near Hendon — rent free. Pooling all resources, the equipment amounted to: two foot lathes, a drilling machine, hand tools and £50 in cash. So far Godfrey and Nash had worked without assistance.
In view of the pile of inquiries, it was now necessary to produce a catalogue, and a certain amount of imagination was necessary to compile a specification and illustrations of something that might result in orders and at the same time look reasonably like the article that it was hoped to produce. All this meant burning much midnight oil as, during the day, work had to go on completing the prototypes and making them look something like the catalogue illustrations.
The result of sending out the first catalogues produced eight-or-so orders with one-third deposit, so that engines and material could be purchased. A batch of six “de luxe” chassis was laid down and a handyman labourer engaged. Somehow these six cars were finished and the balance of cash used to buy more engines and parts, but it was certainly hand-to-mouth and touch-and-go most of the time. Early in 1911, a small workshop was rented in “The Burroughs,” Hendon (Elms Works), where a few rather antique machine tools were installed, first driven by a motor-cycle engine and afterwards by gas engines. The employees now numbered about eight; juvenile labour was paid by size, the most microscopic boys receiving 1/4d. per hour. At this point it might be as well to explain why the early cyclecars, when one looks back, appeared to go a long way round to achieve a simple thing — for instance, the strange and complicated transmission systems, where a motor-cycle gearbox would have been cheaper, lighter and better. The reason was, of course, that such proprietary components just did not exist. All that could be procured, apart from raw material, amounted to motor-cycle engines, sprockets, chains, belt rims and wheel rims. Frames were made of wood, and wheels built up on gunmetal hubs cast at the local foundry. Parts had to be designed “round” for simple lathe work. Belt drive solved some of the design problems.
In the summer of 1911, a customer and G.N. owner, Cecil Whitehead, pleased with his car and seeing the firm always handicapped for lack of cash, suggested coming into the business with £1,000 cash. Up to then it was a partnership known as “Godfrey and Nash.” A company was formed known as G.N. Ltd., and adjoining premises were rented and additional plant, etc., obtained. Motoring certainly owes much to this discriminating gentleman, who, happily, is alive and well. It was now becoming evident that the motor-cycle engine, although the best obtainable, was really unsuitable for the work it had to do in a four-wheeler, having been designed for motor-cycle use with direct belt-drive and no clutch. Thus it was quite incapable of idling, and vibrated badly. Further, the small flywheels and crude carburetters of the period, together with the inferior balance of a narrow “V” engine, caused driving in traffic to be very tricky for fear of stopping the engine.
Starting was on the wire-and-ratchet principle with a return spring, and this worked well enough except when the engine back-fired and wound the operator back into the imitation radiator. Again, owing to the carburation defects, restarting was difficult, and when driving in traffic, owners generally idled at high revs., which shook off wings, etc., in a few hundred miles and overheated the engine. To overcome this, fans were fitted, but not infrequently the blades came off and stabbed the petrol tank. As the petrol then poured on to a hot engine a cheerful blaze usually resulted.
It was not possible to use a chain for the primary drive as it pulled the flywheels apart, and twin belts were therefore used. These got soaked with hot oil and often slipped. A very peculiar feature of these was that they frequently got crossed and continued so to run without ill-effect apart from rubbing each other, but one way and another it will be apparent that an owner had to possess a considerable fund of enthusiasm, determination and physical strength, and this fact had a limiting effect on sales.
A decision therefore had to be made, either to manufacture a suitable engine, or else give up. It had to be something quite different from either a motor-cycle engine, or a car engine which was much too heavy. The requirements were lightness, balance, slow-running capabilities, easy starting, deep finning for cooling, and, lastly, ease of manufacture with primitive machine tools. A 90-deg. air-cooled twin with a large flywheel appeared to be the most likely to suit the requirements and one was quickly designed and made. For simplicity, the first engine was made with automatic inlet valves and an overhung crank, but as soon as it was tried, it looked as if the objectives had all been attained: starting was easy, slow-running perfect, aided by the addition of a pilot jet to the motor-cycle carburetter and the vibration trouble was overcome. By early 1912 the new engine was in production and, although the automatic inlet valves had proved entirely satisfactory, very spindly push-rods were added as a concession to fashion. Godfrey and Nash now no longer had to hide when owners called, as previously they usually arrived, swearing vengeance, dripping blood and demanding that of the makers! The steady running of the new engine enabled a chain to be used for the primary drive. The rear belts had never given any trouble and were retained. With the exception of the first de luxe model, whose clutch was worked by expanding cams, all the cars had the famous simple single-plate clutch, which remained the standard model throughout the history of G.N. and Frazer-Nash. The whole car was in fact pleasant to drive and handle in every way and had a top speed of 40 to 45 m.p.h.
Towards the end of 1912 Temple Press, which had hitherto actively supported the movement for very light vehicles in Motor Cycling, now decided to publish a weekly journal devoted solely to them, with the title of The Cyclecar (now the Light Car). Also the Cyclecar Club, later the Junior Car Club and now the British Automobile Racing Club, had been formed, and the “new motoring,” as it was called, was creating a lot of interest. Many new makes of “cyclecar,” as these cars had now been christened, were coming on the market. A definition, including a maximum engine size of 1,100 c.c., was in force, and speed events and hill-climbs were being organised. Godfrey and Nash therefore decided to increase performance. The very successful engine was redesigned, increasing the bore to 84 mm. The finning was increased and the engine fitted across the frame with the exhaust side of both cylinders facing forward for maximum cooling. The clutch was moved to the flywheel, with shaft and bevel-drive to the cross-shaft. This arrangement enabled either four forward speeds or three forward and reverse to be used, the final drive still being by V-belts on large fixed pulleys. Maximum speed was now up to 50 to 55 m.p.h., with gear ratios of 4, 6 and 10 1/2 to 1. Freak gradients such as Alms Hill at Henley could be climbed.
By the middle of 1913, it was decided to get more space and a works was built at Bell Lane, Hendon, with about 10,000 square feet, and this was occupied by November, 1913. 1914 started with a production of about two cars per week, and this was no inconsiderable feat when it is remembered that the whole car, including the body, was made from raw materials at the new Etna Works. The excellent progress made by this time has been summed up by A. C. Armstrong, the founder and first Editor of the Cyclecar, and later the extremely successful Editor of the Motor. He was an enthusiastic G.N. owner and has written of them as follows: —
“Rather crude as was this vehicle, in my opinion, and I drove two models. some 30,000 miles without any serious breakdown, as well as other machines, it was the most practical and simple type of cyclecar evolved.”
One-off models were still not unusual in 1913 and one of these was a very light single-seater. At the time it was finished, a customer going abroad the next day demanded a tandem two-seater edition of the monocar. Within forty-eight hours, Godfrey and Nash cut the monocar in half, lengthened the chassis to accommodate the second seat and delivered the car in time to be embarked with its purchaser. August, 1914, saw the start of World War I, but for the first year efforts were made to keep going on cars, as the national cry was “business as usual” rather than “organise the country for warfare.” Actual fresh models were introduced during 1915, including the very light and simple “tourer,” of which an illustration appears, which was priced at 88 guineas. One cannot help wondering if, even today, a car on similar lines, possessing a vivid performance by means of extreme lightness and simplicity, could not be produced at a price which would appeal to many young men who are either unable to afford a car at all, or else are forced to be content with worn-out secondhand mass-produced cars of inherently inferior design, which can give them but little satisfaction. By the end of 1915, car manufacture was suspended and the factory organised for war work. Up to this time, between 150 and 200 cars had been made. During 1916-18, the only car work carried out was the making and testing of the chain-driven prototype which was to become the post-war layout. At the end of 1918, the four-chain model was put into production at the Etna Works, but it was quickly seen that the demand for cars would necessitate far more space and capital, so that at least 1,000 cars a year could be made. Towards the end of 1919, arrangements were made to amalgamate with the British Gregoire Agency, who had the necessary finance, together with a large available factory and plant at East Hill, Wandsworth. The British Gregoire directors joined the board and the Hendon factory was sold.
During 1920-21, the production of the chain-driven model reached 50 cars a week, and about 500 hands were employed. At the same time, the G.N. was made under licence by the Salmson Company in Paris, who, when the war ended, had not got their own car ready for production. They made about 3,000 G.N.s during these two years for France and the Latin countries.
The G.N. was now very well known for several reasons. It was comparatively cheap to buy and run and its performance far outstripped anything except at much greater cost. Unfortunately, it was still somewhat noisy, and potential customers at the Olympia Show not infrequently complained of this. Wilkinson, who was demonstrating the cars, was himself not insensible to the defect. On one occasion he retorted: “Anyway, what are you worrying about, you have only been in the thing five minutes and I have had to put up with it all day.”
The G.N. performed with great success in all forms of competition and 1921 was an outstanding year. During the season, they gained 112 “firsts” at speed trials, and made fastest-time-of-day at eleven, while, in reliability trials, they secured 28 “golds” and many lesser awards. In fuel consumption tests, they were no less successful, and to take only two occasions, they gained first place with 91 and 94 m.p.g., respectively. Godfrey and Nash themselves were constant competitors, and Cushman was part of the regular racing equipment. Nash always told Cushman he was going to take him as travelling mechanic, as in, this way he felt assured that at least the steering would be safe. On one occasion, when mechanics had to be carried, Nash put forward a suggestion that he should carry Cushman mounted horizontally in the back under a tonneau cover. There was, he pointed out, nothing in the regulations to say that passengers had to be normally seated. Cushman remarked that, for that matter, the regulations said nothing about the passenger being alive! During 1921, when on the way to France for a race, a crank-pin came loose, so Godfrey and Nash got permission from a Folkestone garage to use their lathe to turn up a new pin. To harden it, it was, as usual, heated and plunged into a bucket of water. Unfortunately, the water turned out to be petrol.
Incidentally, five years later, when secondhand prices had slumped, Ted Paxrnan bought a G.N. for 15s., ran it in the London-Edinburgh Trial and got a “gold,” resulting in an evening newspaper heading: “15s. car wins LondonEdinburgh race.”
In 1922, performance of the more conventional light-car began to improve, and this could also offer more comfort and accommodation. To combat this competition, the G.N. was given more spacious coach-work, but this meant increased weight and reduced performance. Also, firms with big production facilities, such as Rover and Morris, were making things difficult. Looking back, it was no doubt a mistake to attempt to compete with these newcomers for the family light-car market. It would have been better to reduce output and expenses and concentrate on the smaller high-performance market with a faster sportscar instead of a slower family one.
In the autumn of 1922 Godfrey and Nash both left the company, and about this time the remaining directors decided to manufacture a small shaft-drive more “family” car for 1923. Despite quite a promising specification, this model was not successful in competing with its rivals and the company got into difficulties and ceased car production. Nash, as is well known, went off on his own to make Frazer-Nash cars, but, in 1924, the G.N. Company had reconstructed itself and continued manufacturing cars, but on a greatly reduced scale.
Having a large stock of the chain-driven chassis parts still left, these were assembled and used in conjunction with the very excellent 1 1/2-litre Anzani four-cylinder engine. These cars were very light and lively, but for some unknown reason the frame was raised by putting a tremendous camber on the springs. This simple process converted a good roadholder into a most uncontrollable device with unmanageable over-steer. They were, in any case, unable to compete with the much improved edition being made by Nash, as the Frazer-Nash, which proved the soundness of the basic 1912 lay-out by remaining to the forefront of sports-car design until production virtually ceased around 1935, long after Nash had left the firm.
On leaving the company, Godfrey set up in Richmond, specialising in G.N. maintenance and repair, but later he came in for a protracted illness which kept him out of action for four years. Subsequently, he again joined up with Nash, and from 1930 to 1934 was working on the famous power-operated Frazer-Nash gun turret, and similar work. As is well known, he next joined up with Halford and Robins to manufacture the H.R.G., which successfully perpetuates many of the underlying principles of the G.N. in terms of modern requirements and has firmly established itself as a formidable competitor in modern sports-car racing. This brings the history of the firm and its founders up to date, and there now follows a list of all the catalogue models ever listed, with brief particulars and occasional comments.
In addition to the catalogue models, there were certain racing types, and as a good deal of confusion exists concerning these, fuller particulars are also given of each.
G.N. Catalogue Models
Late 1911 and early 1911 — “De Luxe” model.
8/10-h.p. s.v. J.A.P. air-cooled engine, 85 by 88, chain-drive to clutch on countershaft. Side chains to rear wheels with different ratios. Dog-clutches giving two speeds by driving either wheel separately. Wood frame, 1/4-elliptic springs. Internal expanding brakes. Wire-and-bobbin steering. Two-seater body with doors, pointed petrol tank over engine. All-up weight 400 lb. Six of these were made. They were very ugly but comfortable. The main trouble of this model resulted from the primary drive by chain.
1911 and early 1912 — Sporting two-seater.
8/10-h.p. J.A.P. engine. Double V-belt drive to clutch on countershaft. Two chains with dog-clutches to pulley countershaft, giving two speeds. Side belts to rear wheels. Wooden frame, 1/4-elliptics. Wire-and-bobbin steering. Brakes on belt rims. Doorless body. Pointed petrol tank. The main trouble with this model was the proneness of the primary belt drive to slip when soaked in oil.
I912 — Sporting two-seater with G.N. engine.
Similar to above but chain drive from engine to clutch-shaft instead of double belt. This was the first successful G.N., and the original catalogue particulars are therefore quoted verbatim.
(Sporting two-seater, side-by-side seats.)
Tax.— £3 3s. Registration. — £1.
Engine. — G.N. 8/10 h.p., 80 by 98-90 deg. Large outside fly-wheel. Air-cooled, fan.
Ignition. — Magneto, high tension.
Transmission. — Chain and double belt.
Clutch. — G.N. double plate.
Gear. — Two-speed sliding dog-clutch type.
Brakes. — Belt rim.
Body. Petrol capacity. — 200 miles, 50 m.p.g.
Speed. — 45 m.p.h.
Tyres. — 850 by 65 Michelin.
Weight. — 400 lb.
Wheel base. — 8 feet.
Length overall. — 11 feet 0 inches.
Width. 4 feet 2 inches.
Track. — 3 feet 6 inches.
Price … 95 guineas (Delivery at Works)
Chassis, with undershield and steps, … 87 guineas) (Delivery at Works)
1913-1914 — “Grand Prix” model.
Engine: G.N., 84 by 98,1,087 c.c. set across frame. Deeply finned. Inlet over exhaust. Clutch on flywheel. Bevel-driven countershaft. Two chains giving two speeds to pulley shaft, side belts to rear wheels. Belt-rim brakes, wire-and-bobbin steering, wood frame, 1/4-elliptics. Doorless body, pointed petrol tank.
The model was designed for the Amiens Voiturette Grand Prix. It weighed 7 1/2 to 8 cwt., and attained 56 m.p.h. The name was misleading as it was quite a suitable touring car. The gear ratios were and 8 to 1, and tyres 650 by 65, giving 17 m.p.h. at 1,000 r.p.m. Price, 99 guineas. Late 1914 models had four chains giving four speeds forward, or three forward and reverse.
1915 — “Grand Prix” model.
As above with minor improvements. Petrol tank In scuttle and dummy V-fronted radiator.
1915 — “Touring” (simple low-price model).
84 by 98 engine set along frame with front cylinder almost horizontal to assist cooling of the rear cylinder. Clutch on flywheel. Two chains for two speeds with dog-clutches to pulley shaft, belts to rear wheels. Belt-rim brakes. Wooden frame, wire-and-bobbin steering. Two-seater doorless body. Very light and simple, about 4 1/2 cwt. Price 88 guineas.
1914 and 1915 — “Vitesse” model.
Similar to 1915 Grand Prix but with tuned engine and steel pistons. Light narrow body with staggered bucket seats. 62 m.p.h. was guaranteed, and the price was £155. This was the last pre-war model.
1919-1921— “Standard” models.
Engine: 90 deg., 84 by 98, set across frame. Clutch on flywheel. Shaft drive to bevel cross-shaft. Four chains to solid back axle. Channel steel frame. Internal-expanding brakes, 1/4-elliptics. Bevel-geared steering box. Iron pistons. Doorless body, V dummy radiator.
One owner averaged 72 m.p.h. over 8,000 miles.
1919-1920 — “Three-seater” model.
As 1919-1921 “Standard,” but lengthened chassis. Body doorless with third seat “in tail.”
1919-1920 — “Vitesse” model.
Chassis as “Standard” 1919-1921. Engine as “Standard” but with alloy pistons and straight push-rod o.h. valves. Body doorless, light, narrow. Staggered bucket seats.
1919 1921 — French-built “Standard” model.
Identical with British.
1921 — French-built “Type Sport” model.
As “Standard” but with slightly inclined o.h. valves with hairpin springs, push-rod, alloy pistons, bronze heads. Doorless body with “boat” tail.
1921-1922 — “Legere” model.
As “Standard” but alloy pistons and tuned. Inlet over exhaust engine. Aluminium doorlessbody.
1922 — “Touring” model.
As “Standard” 1919-1921 chassis but front starting handle. Gear ratios, 4.1, 6.1 and 10.5 to 1 (reverse, 12 to 1). Body with higher sides and doors. Dickey seat. Total weight 8 1/2 cwt.
1922-O.H.C. “Vitesse” model.
84 by 98 engine, ball and roller bearing, with large inclined overhead valves. Overhead camshafts driven by chain at rear of heads. Gave about 35 b.h.p. on 5 1/2-to-1 c.r. Chassis as standard. Body, aluminium, doorless, with boat-shaped tail.
1923 — Shaft-driven model.
The gearbox was of the constant-mesh dog-engagement variety, the solid axle had spiral-bevel drive. The four-cylinder 62 by 91, 1,100-c.c., o.h.c. engine had a gear-driven dynamo and a self-starter was option at extra cost. An air-cooled two-cylinder side-valve engine was offered as an alternative.
1924-1925 — Four-cylinder chain-driven model.
This model was made up from old four-chain components with a 1 1/2-litre side-valve Anzani engine.
G.N. Special and Racing Models
I914 — “Kim.” 1,087 c.c.
“Kim,” Archie Frazer-Nash’s favourite mount, was originally built early in 1914, using a standard wood-frame, belt-driven “Grand Prix” chassis, the engine being specially designed. It is believed to have had the first example of the “hemispherical’ air-cooled bronze head. Following usual G.N. practice of a 90-deg. twin, 84 by 98, it differed in having a ball-bearing main shaft and overhead valves. The valves (47 mm. diameter) were inclined at a wide angle in bronze heads. Valve operation was by push-rods and rockers, which were forked to actuate the valves by means of collars midway down the valves, the springs being above the rockers. The original body was a light two-seater, narrow, with staggered seats, as it was intended to run it in the Dangerfield Trophy race to be held in the Isle of Man in September, 1914. This race was abandoned owing to the outbreak of World War I. In the summer of 1914, the well-known single-seater body was fitted and “Kim” appeared at the South Harting hill-climb and other events, still with belt drive.
After the war, in 1919, “Kim’s” engine was fitted in the current chassis of channel steel with the four-chain-driven solid back axle. In the autumn of 1920, “Kim” was badly wrecked in a crash at Brooklands when Nash was caught in the slipstream of another car, but the famous old engine was undamaged and was built into another current chassis. The body was repaired and it became “Kim II”
For a number of years, 1919 to 1922, “Kim” was unbeatable in sprints and hill-climbs, obtaining fastest time irrespective of class in the many public-road hill-climbs of the period. “Kim’s” engine, 35 years old, is now owned by H. R. Godfrey.
1914 — “Bluebottle.”
“Bluebottle” was originally intended for the Dangerfield Trophy Race, although its “Kim”-type engine was not completed when war broke out and during 1914 a standard, tuned engine was installed. In 1919, the lower part of its “Kim”-type engine was found, but the “Kim” heads had been lost during the war. 1919 “Vitesse” straight o.h.v. were therefore fitted. This car retained its wood frame and belt drive with wire-and-bobbin steering.
Although in hill-climbs, etc., it was some seconds slower than “Kim,” it invariably got fastest time in the 1,100 and 1,500-c.c. classes and sometimes f.t.d. when “Kim” was elsewhere. Normally, It had a light two-seater sports body, although an alternative single-seater body was at times used for Brooklands events during 1920.
“Bluebottle” was sold to Norman Black in 1923 and soon after perished by fire after running out of road and doing a multiple roll in a ploughed field.
1920-21 — “Akela.” 1,087 c.c., 84 by 98.
The “Akela” engines were designed with long-distance racing in view, particularly on the outer circuit of Brooklands, notoriously hard on engines. Still 90-deg. twins, they were ball and roller-bearing throughout, with four valves per cylinder in heavily-finned bronze heads, overhead camshafts, two magnetos and two plugs per cylinder.
In the 1920-21 engine, one only of which was built, the camshafts were driven by a single vertical shaft, bevel-geared to a horizontal shaft which drove both camshafts. The chassis was standard 1921 with the addition of Hartford “shockers.” Body: a light two-seater.
This car won the first 200-Mile Race (1,100-c.c. class) in 1921.
1920 — “Mowgli.”
(Note. — “Mowgli” was an individual car and engine, not a type. The o.h.c. “Vitesse” engine is often incorrectly referred to as a “Mowgli.” The engine size progressively increased, being at different times 84 by 98, 89 by 98, and 89 by 120.)
“Mowgli” was constructed about the middle of 1920 and some modifications were made to its design with the idea of making it more suitable than “Kim” for use on the Brooklands outer-circuit. A longer wheelbase with less unsprung weight was thought desirable and this was carried out without increasing the length of the propeller-shaft by driving a countershaft instead of the back axle by the usual four chains and thence using a single chain to the back axle. The engine had bronze heads with four valves and two plugs for each cylinder, similar to the first “Akela” which was made about the same time. Two magnetos were fitted. The overhead camshafts were chain-driven, the chain being in front of the engine. Crankshaft and big-ends were ball and rollerbearing.
When first made the bore and stroke were 84 by 98 (1,087 c.c.), but in December, 1920, in order to attempt some records in the 1,500-c.c. class, 89-mm.bore cylinders were fitted to bring the capacity over 1,100 c.c. The flying half-mile and 1-kilometre and 1-mile records were captured at about 88 m.p.h.
As well as its big cylinders, “Mowgli” also had a 120-mm. stroke crankshaft, so that its capacity could be increased to nearly 1,500 c.c.
B. H. Davenport purchased this engine with its extra parts and built it into a standard G.N. chassis, using the 89 by 120 bore and stroke. This was “Spider,” which broke the Shelsley record on three occasions and is still in active competition use by Davenport, although little of the original engine remains and the capacity has been increased to 2,000 c.c.
1922 — “Akela.” 84 by 98, 1,087 c.c.
The 1922 “Akela” was a cleaned-up version of the 1920-21, which had fully justified itself in every way, including standing up to full throttle for long distances on the outer circuit at Brooklands. Apart from minor details, the differences were: —
Drive to camshafts was taken by two bevel shafts, one to each o.h. camshaft direct from the timing case, instead of the T-arrangement of 1920-21. The connecting-rods were arranged one forked and one inner, whereas the 1920-21 model ran two single rods side by side. These had to be offset in the pistons as the cylinders were not staggered. In both types uncaged roller bearings were used.
Five “Akelas” were made altogether. Three ran in the 1922 200-Mile Race. The two 1922 cars were driven by Godfrey and Hawkins, Nash driving the old type he used in the 1921 race. This was the fastest but broke a piston, which was changed during the race. In spite of this Nash finished fifth, Godfrey being third and Hawkins fourth.
Geared about 3 1/4-to-1, with two-seater body and straight petrol, these “Akelas” reached close on 100 m.p.h. coming off the banking at Brooklands.