Vintage postbag, August 1966

Vertical Twins

Sir, I was interested to read your footnote to .a letter headed “Vertical Twins.” I was offered a Violet-Bogey car far the M.C.C. 1913. “Exeter.” This car had a vertical twin engine in which both pistons rose and fell together, and thus even firing occurred.

The engine appeared to run without undue vibration, and the exhaust sounded, of course, like a 4-cylinder.

The car was friction driven and it was essential to start off at “tick-over” revs, to avoid making a “flat” on the leather padding on the flywheel rim. The engine had sufficient torque at slow revs, and would start off on hills without slip. I recollect that I noticed about 24 hours before the start that the car had no lighting equipment fitted, but I managed to find a couple of acetylene motorcycle lamps and an oil tail-lamp.

At the start—Boxing night—the engine was frozen stiff, and a spectator who was chatting with the driver of the car behind me— a Morris, driven by W. H. Bashall—came forward, produced an oil-can from his pocket, and squirted paraffin through two taps in the cylinder head. That spectator was Wm. Morris (later Lord Nuffield). He also offered to turn the starting handle but, on hearing that it turned in an anti-clockwise direction, gave up and left it to me.

Incidentally, the “Violet-Bogey” completed the double journey without any trouble, and obtained a first-class award.

Chagford. W. A. JACOBS.


Referring to the letter in the June “Vintage Postbag,” perhaps I may be allowed to pass on a few early memories of Swift cars.

In 1915 my father bought a 1911 10-12 h.p. Swift with a 2-cylinder, 180° engine: It had dual ignition originally but the distributor and trembler coils had been removed when we took it over. Owing to the fuel shortage we used to add up to 75% of paraffin to the petrol, injecting a few drops of neat petrol through the compression taps to start the engine from cold. It was a rugged and conventional car and in common with others of its date it was very easy to delve into its works, I remember removing the camshaft by the roadside to find that a tapered pin had fallen out of one of the cams, which was turning on the shaft.

In 1921 we gave £135 for a secondhand De Dion-Bouton which was then about 10 years old. The R.A.C. rating was 7 h.p. but we had a 25% rebate off the tax as the year was pre-1914. This car had a 360° vertical twin 4-stroke engine with a single crank and one long big-end journal with the connecting rods rigidly attached to the ends. There was a lot of vibration, which was made visibly apparent by the fact that the flat front mudguards had a natural frequency tuned to the normal cruising speed of about 25 m.p.h., but this did not worry us; after all, it was nothing compared with the fundamental vibration of a trotting horse, which was considered to be beneficial to the liver. It is difficult to compare the performance of these two cars, as the De Dion-Bouton was run on pure petrol, but it is fair to say that what the 360° engine lost in dynamic balance the 180° lost in evenness of torque. The De Dion-Bouton had a quadrant gear-change with three forward speeds and reverse in line; and a decellerater linked to the transmission brake pedal, but the engine speed could be controlled by a hand lever when the foot was oft the pedal. For a slow car this was a very sensible arrangement. The oil pump had to be used every seven miles and as it was situated on the engine side of the dashboard there was always a ready excuse for “taking a little walk” on a long journey. We thought nothing of doing 150 miles in a day. This pump was designed to supply the same oil to the engine, gearbox and back axle by turning the handle to the indicated angle before depressing it. I cannot imagine how this ingenious piece of plumbing worked, but perhaps it never did, as the pipes to the latter parts had been disconnected before we had the car. One would expect the back axle to want something more robust than engine oil. We never changed the sump oil; it simply changed itself. We sold this excellent little car for £5 in 1925 while it was still in good running order.

Double-cylinder, 4-stroke engines with 360° cranks were certainly made quite early in this century. We had a cousin who had a 1905, 16-h.p. Albion and I well remember the thunderous but even beat of its engine. It had an upright flat petrol tank on the inside of the dashboard, which acted as a very effective sounding board. This car was chain-driven and had low-tension ignition. By the side of the huge starting. handle there was a half compression knob which, I presume, shifted the camshaft. There was a slightly newer 24-h.p., 4-cylinder Albion in the same coach-house.

To those of us who knew London when the National Steam Buses were whispering their way up and down the Bayswater Road the uneven beat of the 180° twin was too familiar to be considered odd, for about half the taxi-cabs were twin-cylinder Renaults with this type of engine, the other half being the 4-cylinder Unics. I think that they were both built in 1911 and they were still running for some years after the first war. But as far as odd noises are concerned the 3-cylinder Clyde, which was made in Leicester round about 1910, with a fleur-de-lis shaped engine, could knock spots off the 180° twins, for its mode of motion was that of a V12 missing on nine cylinders.

Dartmouth. N. R. HALL.


I feel I must hasten into print and wish to make a claim, as I am positive the late Mr. S. F. Edge would have done, that “Napier were first,” in that their 1899 vertical twin engine was fitted with a 360° crankshaft. They made a matter of two or possibly three engines with this type of crank in 1899. The first car they ever made in 1900, the 8-h.p. twin-cylinder, was fitted with this type of engine, with 360° crank. This engine was only used in 1900 as the 9-h.p. model of 1901 was fitted with a 180° crank.

My own car, a 1900 8-h.p. Napier, is fitted with a 360° crank and is very nearly impossible to balance, as it has an extremely small crankcase relative to the engine, with bore 4 in. and stroke 6 in. The crank-chamber is so small that the crankshaft and rods very nearly touch the sides, which means it suffers severely from crankcase compression with the large displacement of both pistons going up and down together. If one opens the oil-filler by mistake with the engine running it is very easy to receive the crankcase supply of oil in one’s face.

The balancing! The balance of this engine is carried out by fitting a balance-weight to the crankshaft web between the two con-rods. This weight, approximately 50 lb., is extremely alarming, virtually touching the crankcase, and it is so wide that it almost touches the con.-rods, which is rather frightening, as, in effect, it revolves in the opposite direction and between the con.-rods. When the car is stationary the vibration is horrifying and items such as mirrors, lamps, etc. would be likely to fall off if not secure. Once it conies under load and on the move, however, the vibration stops and it is very smooth.

Having got this off my chest, I shall sit and wait for some other correspondent to find that the 360° crank was fitted to a 2-cylinder, 4-stroke engine back in 18?? on a 1-wheel, left-hand-drive “push it.”

Hurstpierpoint. D. R. GROSSMARK.

Lanchesters at Brooklands


In his review of the Profile on the Lanchester 40, Mr. Boddy makes the point that Edge’s retirement from the attempt on the 12-Hour Record was occasioned by a broken steering arm. He implies that I am unduly partial to Lanchesters in saying the car was ordered in by George Lanchester, who noticed something was amiss. We are both right and both wrong in some aspects of this affair.

I was wrong in saying that the Lanchester in question was taken to Brooklands to investigate the phenomenon of wheel-shimmy, as this did not become an endemic trouble until a later date when the addition of front brakes increased the moment of inertia of the front axle beam and consequently lowered the bouncing period of the wheels (now fitted with medium-pressure tyres which also lowered the bounce-rate) so as to bring shimmy and tramp down within range of normal driving speeds.

The Lanchester which Edge drove was taken to Brooklands to investigate its potentiality as a racing car and Mr. Boddy is right in saying that the near-side steering arm broke; but I am also right in saying that it was signalled in by George Lanchester because of the appearance (not the re-appearance) of slight shimmy of the near-side wheel, which he also observed, as the car came off the bank into the straight, to be slightly out of track at certain speeds. The driver seems to have been unaware of the fracture until he slowed down to come in, as the steering was not affected at speed because centrifugal force kept the wheel almost correctly in track and “trail steering” looked after the cornering. It was only during the last 40 or 50 yards, as speed dropped, that the wheel went sufficiently out of track to put the car into a skid.

I am not happy about Mr. Boddy’s statement that oversize wheels were used as a cheap alternative to altering the final-drive ratio, and that this caused the trouble. I think he must be confusing the car with an earlier “Brooklands Lanchester” with which George Lanchester and A. W. Bird (works manager) experimented. This had oversize wheels on the back only—there would have been no point in altering the front wheels as Mr. Boddy points out—but photographs of the car Edge drove show it wearing the standard size 895 x 135 tyres. Also the final drive was altered. A 10-start worm drove a 31-tooth wheel, whereas the standard chassis were supplied with final-drive ratios of 9:35 or 9:33 according to the type of coachwork to be fitted. George Lanchester’s recollection of this detail is very clear and is supported by Edge’s Statement that the car was capable of “well over 100 m.p.h.”.

Mr. Boddy is surprised that the slight “epicyclic whine” emitted by a Lanchester 40 when stationary with the engine running (or for a few yards when starting from rest) was not sufficient to deter the “carriage gentry” from buying the car. The noise was barely audible; no more, perhaps slightly less, than the similar whine from the Daimlers of the ‘thirties and they never seemed to lose their appeal to the carriage folk. I do agree, however, that it was a slight disadvantage by comparison with the pre-Kaiser-War Lanchesters which had a different arrangement of the epicyclic trains and clutches, and consequently emitted no gear noise when standing. I apologise for this long letter but it may help to put the record straight.


[The point we both seem to have missed is that Edge drove a single-seater Lanchester, not the 2-seater “Winni Praps Prap ” as implied, but I think Mr. Bird is incorrect in claiming that the public enjoyed seeing three Lanchesters, “Softly Catch Monkey.” the Edge 40 and the Rapson 40 racing between 1922 and 1926. In 1921 the 2-seater ran in two B.A.R.C. races driven by C. A. Bird, lapping at 96.71 m.p.h. No post-war Lanchester was entered for a B.A.R.C. meeting in 1922 or 1923, but Edge took records with the single-seater, at speeds not exceeding 82 m.p.h., at the end of August 1922. I suggest it was regarded as too slow to be any use for the 1923 races; it was tried at Shelsley-Walsh, which implies it did not then have its 3.1 axle ratio. Rapson became interested in having a racing Lanchester and in 1924, driven by Parry Thomas, his single-seater appeared at the first B.A.R C. meeting, lapping at 104.85 m.p.h. Whether this was the Edge car with slightly modified bodywork or another, I do not know. Incidentally, I just missed buying this splendid Brooklands car for £5 during the war—it was broken up before I knew of its fate—ED.]

The Franklin


In reply to the letter of Mr. W. J. D. Clarke, I would like to add a few comments about the Franklin.

Approximately 150,000 Franklins were built in Syracuse, New York, between 1902 and 1934. The causes of the Franklin’s demise are generally considered to have resulted from attempts to produce too many different models, and the depression, rather than the full-eliptic springs and wood frame (which was done away with in 1928). There is a very active club today, however; at the last national meet there were 50 Franklins present, some of which had been driven over 700 miles to the meet. There are over 750 members in the Franklin club, and a magazine is published three times a year. Any questions concerning the Club or Franklins in general may be directed to Mr. A. H. Amick, Box 535. Cumberland, Maryland, U.S.A.

Indiana, U.S.A. DAVID L. GRAY,

A Glimpse of the ‘Twenties


I have been an intermittent reader of Motor Sport ever since it was the Brooklands Gazette and was peddled to the public on the Members’ Hill at Brooklands, and every time I buy a copy I seem to find something of absorbing interest to me personally. Is this chance, or do you publish a paper of perpetual interest?

Anyway, this time it is the letter from Grp.-Capt. B. Wynne. He rose from my past like a re-constituted ghost (positively no offence, Mr. Wynne!), not that I ever met him, but brother! Duxford in the 1920s, that was a heroic age if ever there was one. Old racing cars, wild, very wild, young men, and Gloster Grebes. Three Fighter Squadrons were on the Station, 19, 111, and I think 29, or was it 56? So wild was this era, according to participants from whom I received the accounts later, that the Air Ministry broke it up. They left 19 Squadron at Duxford, posted. 111 Squadron (Lord. Nelson’s Own for an unprintable reason) to Hornchurch where I joined them in 1928, and the third Squadron went to North Weald.

Now Mr. Wynne’s steamer; could this have been the immortal “Fitz Billy Stink Bomb”? Before the First War, a cycle shop in Cambridge, a few miles only from Duxford, used to let out to undergraduates an extremely ancient steam car, ancient, that is even in those days. The cycle shop was situated close to the Fitz William Museum, and thus the car acquired its name.

My own first contact with the R.A.F. camp at Duxford was in 1927, when Hugh Bergel and I went there to buy our first car—a joint effort. It was a 1912 G.P. Gregoire, and we gave £8, for it to the owner, who was under close arrest at the time, being one of the above mentioned wild men. In the hangar mentioned by Mr. Wynne. I remember a tremendous Austro-Daimler which was finished like a yacht in varnish, white paint and brass, and was reputed to have been used by a Russian nobleman for travelling between Moscow and Paris. There was also a Bugatti there, a car which quite unexpectedly became mine about a year later, but I don’t think it could have been the one remembered by Mr. Wynne because mine was the soul of reliability. It was a Full Brescia model and Hugh Bergel will remember it very well I think because he delivered it to me at R.A.F. Sealand where I was learning to fly. He became intoxicated by the Bugatti mysiery on that occasion, and I don’t believe he’s quite sober yet.

Another Flying Officer at Duxford about Mr. Wynne’s time had a Mathis tourer into which he had managed to cram an Austro-Daimler engine. He was an accomplished amateur engineer as may be imagined, and he got the engine into the little chassis by leaving out the gearbox. This only left the clutch for getting under way, and for neutral the clutch pedal was jammed down with a piece of wood. This officer was eventually posted to the Engineering Course at Henlow. He took the Mathis with him and parked it outside a hut. At the end of his course he abandoned the Mathis, and the story I heard was that Works and Bricks eventually built a wall round it because they had orders to build a wall there and they couldn’t get anyone to move the car.

I believe also that somebody at Duxford in those early days bought the Wolseley Moth from Captain Miller. At any rate it was a Wolseley racing car of some kind, and the man who told me this story (in 1929) went with his friend to tow the Wolseley to Duxford. The tow was being done at an unconventionally high speed, and rounding a corner the tower suddenly came on an old man in the middle of the road pushing a wheel barrow. He was just able to tighten the turn and cut inside the old man, but the racing car behind couldn’t manage it and had to go outside him. The tow rope took the old man behind the knees, so that the poor dear performed a complicated acrobatic and spun in. Of course, they were both horrified and as soon as they had managed to stop they ran back to the scene. They were just in time to see the old man disappear into a cottage. They knocked on the door without any result; they could see the man through the window sitting in a chair and glaring at them, but nothing would make bins open the door so they had to go away.

In 1931 I was posted to Duxford myself as a flying instructor with the Cambridge University Air Squadron. 19 Squadron was still there then, flying Bulldogs and having also had Siskins since their Grebes of 1926. In the C.U.A.S., besides the evergreen Avro 504, we had the last Bristol Fighters in the Service, in the U.K., at any rate. There were three of them, and when they too were finally replaced by Atlases, they went to Hawkinge to be broken up. I flew one of them on this last sad journey, and the airmen had entirely repainted each one and put them into showroom condition for the occasion. Even the brass turn-buckles on the control wires shone like gold, and the lettering on the Palmer Cord tyres was picked out in white.

I am afraid this sort of reminiscing has no end; one memory leads to another and before you know where you are you are lost among the biplanes and high pressure tyres. But it’s a pleasant world to go back to.

Thaxted. JOHN POLE.

[I was surprised to encounter a photograph of an exciting Prince Henry Austro-Daimler hanging on the wall of a toilet in a house rented to an Air Force officer and enquiry showed it to have been used at an aerodrome to which he was posted between the wars—could this be the car at Duxford mentioned by Mr. Pole?—ED.]