Vintage postbag , August 1983

The Paris-Vienna Renaults


How interesting has been the exchange of views between Kent Karslake and Edward Eves on the method of operation of the inlet valves on the 1902 Paris-Vienna Renault.

In Karslake’s article (February 1983; page 157) he says, referring to Gerald Rose’s classic “A Record of Motor Racing 1894-1908”, “For many years, motor racing historians . . . have been puzzled by an obvious anomaly . . . with regard to the Renault racing voiture legere of 1902″. He goes on to explain that Gerald Rose says in his text that it had mechanically-operated inlet valves whereas, in his Appendix it says they were automatic, or atmospheric.

Yet Eves, writing in your June 1983 issue, on page 650, in reply to Karslake’s February article, makes the curious claim: “At the time [in February, presumably] I was able to point out to him [Karslake] something he had not spotted, namely the discrepancy between the appendix and the text in Rose’s ‘Record of Motor Racing’.” How, may one enquire, could Eves have pointed out what Karslake said he had been puzzled by for many years? Incidentally, it is not only with regard to the inlet valves that Gerald Rose’s text differs from the Appendix. In the text, the bore is given as 100 mm; in the Appendix it is 120.

In any case, who are we to doubt the figures in Rose’s so-called Appendix (in fact, it is headed Chapter XVII) when Rose himself expresses absolute . confidence in them? In his introduction to the chapter he says “The following list has been made up only from figures supplied by the makers themselves, in order to obtain the greatest possible accuracy.” And, after acknowledging the help provided by each of the manufacturers, he says of them “. . . firms, who have been good enough to accede to this [the author’s] request for authentic and accurate figures”.

More important, though, is Eves’ later reference to Hugh Rose, of whom he says he was “. . . an engineer, a very observant one .” This, one assumes, is another authority, unknown — I have to confess — to me. It may be that he has something useful so add.

I rather doubt it, though— for, surely, as Karslake rather diffidently suggests, the entire chassis of the so-called Paris-Vienna car is not in fact original, but came (some 20 years ago? — I forget) from a 4-cylinder commercial vehicle of the same date? Though I have not seen the car in the Renault Museum, I am told that this is confirmed by the absence of provision for the several plombeur’s seals required by the Paris-Vienna regulations — provision that is very clear on other, certified, 1902 Paris-Vienna cars.

EA Bruce, Clacton

[Gerald Rose was the young historian. Hugh Rose designed engines for Calthorpe, Belsize, Crossley, Riley, Sunbeam, Lea-Francis, etc., and was responsible for the LSR car “Silver Bullet” and some Guy lorries. — Ed.]

The Paris-Vienna Renault


I hope that if Mr Edward Eves has occasion to write to you again about motoring historians he will spare my blushes. I am not really as good as all that, as is exemplified by the fact that, until I read his letter in your June issue, I had no idea that French manufacturers were obliged to supply details of all new models, including racing cars, to the Bureau des Mines. Yet I think that this piece of evidence may provide an important clue to the solution of the mystery surrounding the engine of the Renault voiture legere which was victorious in the Paris-Vienna race of 1902.

All Mr Eves’ patient researches seem to indicate that this engine had automatic inlet valves. It is thus shown in the makers’ deposition to the Bureau des Mines; it is thus described in the appendix to Gerald Rose’s book, “made up from figures supplied by the makers themselves”; and, most important of all, Mr Eves has been able to check this detail himself on what is at least claimed to be the Paris-Vienna car in the Renault museum. Nevertheless both he and I are, I think, disposed to accept Gerald Rose’s statement that the engine of the winning car had mechanically operated inlet valves.

What seems inescapable is the fact that the 4-cylinder Renault engine of 1902, as originally conceived and built, had automatic inlet valves. If, therefore, mechanically operated inlet valves were used in the Paris-Vienna engine, this must have been a revised edition of the original concept. Suppose it was completed only just in time for the race, too late for the revised design to be submitted to the Bureau des Mines, the makers may have decided to use it all the same. The matter was of no concern to ACP, which only required that voitures legeres should weigh no more than 650 kg. But from the point of view of the French authorities, the car was presumably, an illegal vehicle. There was every reason in this case for Renault Freres to keep very quiet about it. This might well explain the absence of any reference to the revised engine in the Renault archives. The cover-up may still have been in force when the makers replied to Rose’s questionnaire some years later, with the result that particulars were given of the original automatic inlet valve engine as submitted to the Bureau des Mines. Finally, if the car now in the Renault museum really is the Paris-Vienna racer, it seems possible that the “illegal” engine may have been removed from it when it got back to the works, and the original AIV engine installed in its place. I sincerely hope that Mr Eves succeeds in his search for a photograph of the engine with side-by-side valves. But I am afraid I am not very sanguine. If my suspicions of a cover-up are well founded, one must assume that the bonnet was kept vigorously shut when photographers were about.

Even if all this is accepted, it remains to be explained how Gerald Rose discovered the truth about the engine. He was, as Mr Eves remarks, a very observant engineer, but he can hardly be supposed to have applied his talents in this respect to an inspection of the engine if he saw it in 1902 as he was, I think, only about 21 when his magnum opus was published in 1909. I think he must somewhere have come across a proper description of the engine with mechanically operated inlet valves; and it is this piece of evidence that I still hope will fall to Mr Eves’ patient researches.

Contemporary accounts in general, of course, quite failed to notice that Paris-Vienna had sounded the death-knell of the automatic inlet valve. On the first day, from Paris to Belfort, while the cars crossed the great plain of Eastern France, where engines could be allowed to run all-out most of the time on the straight French roads, the Panhard et Levassor, with an engine of 13,672 cc with AIV could easily outstrip the 6,786 cc Mercedes with mechanically operated inlet valves. But once they got among the Austrian mountains, and the benefits of a flexible engine began to pay dividends, the Mercedes inexorably overhauled the Panhard et Levassor. The same thing seems to have happened in the light car class, where the Darracq with 5,881 cc was fastest in France but succumbed to the Renault with only 3,770 cc in Austria. In the absence of any other evidence one would be almost bound to surmise that the latter used mechanically operated inlet valves. At least the designers of racing cars seem to have concluded that they offered the key to success. In 1903 not only Panhard et Levassor and Darracq but also Mors, CGV and Fiat abandoned automatic inlet valves in favour of mechanical operation.

Something equally seminal seems to be happening at the present time in Formula One racing, where engines with induction under atmospheric pressure seem to be making their last stand against turbocharged engines of half the size. But I think that motoring historians of the future are going to be very critical of the paucity of the information supplied to them on the subject. I read of a new short-stroke Cosworth engine, but seem to search in vain for details as to how its dimensions compare with those of its predecessors. I seem to wait in vain, too, for dimensions, crankshaft speeds, boost pressure, etc, in the case of the turbocharged engines made by Renault, Ferrari, Alfa-Romeo, BMW, Hart, etc. I am told that these develop “much more” power than the Cosworth engine, but not how much more. If, as seems possible, present developments in racing engines result in the general adoption of turbocharging for run-of-the-mill touring cars, there is something more important to report than who won the Drivers’ Championship. Since Motor Sport seems to be almost alone in realising this, might I ask, Sir, that at least by the end of the season we be given a thorough technical analysis of what is happening to Formula One engines in 1983?

Kent Karslake, George Nympton

[I can only say, over to our Grand Prix correspondent, who will undoubtedly read this letter from someone who reported motor racing of another era. I suppose a boy of 14 (Gerald Rose) might just have noticed the fact that the Paris-Vienna car, an exciting vehicle, surely, had no valves in its cylinder head, had he seen beneath its bonnet? This assumes that if AIV were used, they must have been “up stairs” Ed.]

Oliver Bertram


I have read your interesting article on Oliver Bertram’s Motor Racing with much pleasure. He was indeed quite a man. In the days when I was much involved with the promotion of motor racing in Singapore and Malaya (1949-1951), Oliver Bertram was Deputy Judge Advocate-General (RAF) in Singapore, and we lost no time in persuading him to take on the office of what in this country would be the RAC Steward at the series of circuit races we held on a town course in Johore Balm in those three years. His advice, encouragement and general experience were invaluable.

For the 1951 Meeting I was able to find someone to take over from me the Clerk of the Course’s duties, and let me have a drive in my 41/2-litre Bentley. On the night before the race we were having a drink in the Tanglin Club, I mentioned the habit of the Bentley’s cone clutch to stick under hard driving. “Do a clutchless change” said Oliver. “Boy, give the Tuan another stength (whisky)” and turning to me, “Drink up and go out and try”. I did, and in the race the clutch duly stuck on the first lap, and I drove the rest of the 25 laps doing a clutchless change six times per lap. And the gearbox is still in use! I remember Oliver Bertram with affection.

Gibbs Pancheri, Executive Director, Bentley DC, Long Crendon