SPORTING CARS EVOLVED BY RACING.
AFAVOURITE argument used by the racing enthusiast, to justify his sport, is that ” the racing car of to-day is the touring car of to-morrow” ; so threadbare has this phrase become that it is now almost a motoring proverb and is in danger of becoming a platitude.
Without setting myself up in opposition to the great minds who expound this theory, I would suggest that though true, it is a trifle incomplete, in that it deals only with the present and the future, whereas a really thorough ” saw ” should deal with the past as well.
My motoring proverb therefore would read “the racing car of yesterday is the sports car of to-day, and the sports car of to-day is the touring car of tomorrow.”
The truth of this cannot be confuted, for the difference between a genuine racer of recent date and a touring car of the same make is too great to be dismissed in one fell swoop ; if, however, a stepping stone is introduced, in the form of an up-to-date sports model, the change becomes less abrupt and all the more credible as an argument for the original theory. Bearing this theory in mind the study of a few of the more important sports models, developed on racing lines, will prove interesting, exemplifying as they do, the direction of thought along which the cleverest men in the industry are working. A comprehensive study of the question, however, is a far wider affair than would at first appear, for such matters as national temperament and legislation are involved, and the only satisfactory method is to deal with one country at a time.
Taking Great Britain first it must be remembered that we are a nation of shopkeepers—generally speaking, utility comes before beauty (both of form and performance), so that out of a large total of motorcars, a comparatively small percentage is of the ” sporting” variety. The 1927 Olympia Motor Show, however, disclosed a distinct tendency for a revival of interest in real “pleasure motoring,” as opposed to the use of a motor for the better enjoyment of other pastimes. Of recent years the Great International Races have become rather highly specialised events, demanding little more than high speed reliability on fairly straightforward courses ; for numerous reasons the British industry has ceased to
contest these events, such racing as it has supported being mainly races for standard cars, and long distance road affairs which allow or demand the use of models approximating to the standard production. In connection with these events three names at once leap into the mind, namely Alvis, Bentley and Sunbeam, each in its respective class has been deservedly successful and each has employed cars so nearly approaching the standard product in design and performance that the prospective owner knows exactly what to expect from one of these cars. The Alvis is perhaps the most popular 1500 c.c. sports model in this country, its general layout has successfully withstood the test of time, and if not of ultra modern design it continues to justify its existence, while the firm’s experimental activities show that when the time
comes for revolutionary principles to be employed, Alvis will still be to the fore.
Bentley is another post war firm which has worked on sound up-to-date lines without producing anything startling.
Being a comparatively large car the Bentley has escaped the feverish turmoil of small car design with its multi-cylinders and blowers and fantastic engine revolutions. The builders have kept in their minds road work—nothing but road work, and by concentrating on one design have produced a car which can hold its own with any continental or other rival in the three or five litre class.
Sunbeam too have one model which owes its existence to racing purely—though the designer’s racing experience appears in numerous features of the other models. The three litre engine is one with which the firm have been particularly successful, even in genuine Grand Prix events, while the production 3-litre (described fully in the last issue of. Motor Sport) has shown that, given the opportunity, it could distinguish itself in open competition with the world’s best cars.
The firm of Aston-Martin have always believed in racing and have set themselves up as the champions of” pleasure motoring.” During the last few years their activities have been in abeyance, but those with long memories will recall that the initials A. M. were frequently in the limelight at one time.
Now that they have re-emerged from their retirement with even more attractive models (described elsewhere in this issue), Aston-Martins are determined to uphold British prestige in all standard car races—may they prosper !
Turning to those firms which have not quite such a wide experience of racing, but which are just beginning to realise its importance, we find the names of Lea Francis and Riley most prominent. Lea Francis are pioneers in that they are the first to market a supercharged model in this country. This car made its debut in sensational fashion at Boulogne, in the hands of Kaye Don, when it proved that it will
indeed be a force to be reckoned with in 1928. Apart from the supercharger, the influence of racing experience is betrayed by the low build of the whole chassis, the highly efficient engine design, and the powerful braking system ; the comparison between the hyper-sports model and the standard models is very interesting.
Riley are even ” newer-comers ” to the racing world and have tapped a potential market in the 1100 c.c. class which should have almost unlimited possibilities, in view of the successful French invasion in this class. The 1100 c.c. racing model and the slightly tamer sports models aroused great excitement at Olympia while even the saloon models are capable of a most exhilarating performance.
Incidently a non-supercharged racing model has lapped Brooklands at 99 m.p.h., while the chassis layout seems up to Grand Prix standard,—perhaps Britain is waking up at last!
Last but not least in our discussion is the firm of Frazer-Nash, which has always ploughed a lonely furrow, in spite of numerous vicissitudes and hardships. There have been times when the Frazer-Nash was the only really sporting light car made in this country and it has a remarkable list of successes to its credit in all types of event. Its light weight and efficient (though unconventional) transmission enable its comparatively normal engine to work wonders, and to give a road performance only equalled by the most expensive speed models.
Racing experience is strongly evident in the latest ” slug” model which will be obtainable in supercharged form, while nothing but fast road work can account for the superlative steering and stability of these cars.
Let us now turn to France—an excitable Latin race to whom speed is a god. We find that nearly all French cars, with the exception of the basest of utility vehicles, are what we should call sports models. At both ends of the price scale there are fairly sedate vehicles, but in the medium class, as exemplified by Panhard, Voisin, Delage, etc., sports models, saloon or otherwise, are predominant. The ordinary English type touring car is much rarer, while the continental idea of a ” type sport” is something considerably more ” sporting ” than a British sports car. If the Frenchman is out for speed, mudguards, hoods and windscreens are dispensed with, in fact a real enthusiast may often be seen on a are chassis equipped with a couple of wicker bucket However, taking the medium size car first we find has not influenced standard engine design to any a extent ; chassis, transmission and braking systems have been brought to a high state of perfection by such racing as has been done, but the connection between the successful 1500 c.c. 8-cylinder Delage and the most sporting production Delage is very slender ; Panhard, Voisin and Renault have developed their engines by track work, while Peugeot, Aries and Lorraine-Dietrich have all reaped general benefit from road racing, so that their cars rank with some of the best British makes.
By far the most interesting movement in the French industry is to be found in the smaller classes, which border on the genuine racing types—for instance Salmson, Amilcar and Bugatti.
Salmson and Amilcar as the leaders of the 1100 c.c. class, are deservedly popular both in their native land and in this country, and much of their success is undoubtedly due to the healthy competition existing between them in all the big races. Salmson market a model which is to all intents and purposes the same as their own racing cars ; it may be
had with or without supercharger and is of the 4-cylinder type. It has long been known that the firm have been experimenting with an 8-cylinder design which will doubtless appear in due course when the earlier model becomes outclassed. One glance at a Grand Sport Amilcar is sufficient to show how racing has influenced the chassis design. For sheer roadworthiness and safety at any speed of which the car is capable it would be hard to beat, while the new 6-cylinder supercharged model—almost identical with
the invincible racing machines, combines these virtues with a four speed gearbox and an engine capable of over 100 m.p.h. Bugatti is in a class quite by himself ; his cars are first and foremost racing cars, capable of a creditable per formance in competition with the most highly specialised racers in the world. Such is their design, however, that they are not at all unsuited to fast touring conditions, and they are to be found fitted with all styles of body work as well as the regulation two seater. 1500 c.c., 2000 c.c., 2300 c.c. and 3000 c.c. models are marketed, all with the same design of 8-cylinder engine, except the 1500 c.c. model which may be had with a 4-cylinder engine at a quite competitive price. Superchargers can
be fitted to any model and readers will probably remember a really ” naughty” 2300 c.c. 4-seater so fitted at Olympia, capable of about 110 m.p.h. Motoring conditions in Italy and Austria have tended to develope a distinct type of sports car, which probably does not owe very much to actual racing. Extremely hilly country, however, demands great engine power and
superlative braking—both features which are found in such cars as the 0.M., Lancia, Alfa Romeo in Italy and in the Austro Daimler and Steyr in Austria.
Fiat, O.M. and Alfa Romeo have raced and experimented fairly extensively since the war and no doubt improved their standard models thereby, though only the last two now market anything approaching a sporting car. However, Italian cars enjoy an enviable reputation for road holding, reliability and speed, the secret of
which features is only found out in the hard school of racing.
The position in Germany is somewhat difficult as the country is naturally passing through a rather disturbed period ; however the Mercedes (now Daimler-MercedesBenz) was always a name to conjure with in the racing world and to-day the firm produce one of the finest cars in the world. German thoroughness coupled with racing experience second to none have resulted in a car which is alike a tourer or a racer at will. True the engine is on the large side but even so is by no means inefficient and is capable of holding its own in “free for all events.” The 1928 supercharged 36-200 h.p. model bears numerous testimonies to the influence of racing. So far as sports cars are concerned, America reveals practically nothing ; there are several large cars capable of fairly high speeds but insufficient enthusiasm for racing has caused the latter to become an even more specialised affair than it is in Europe. One car stands out as showing signs of being designed with a view to racing conditions—namely, the Stutz. Again this is a fairly large engine, but the chassis is extremely attractive and bears the slogan “safety “—a feature which racing does much to develop. Incidently it is not surprising that in one of the few ” stock car” races held in the U.S.A. Stutz swept the board and showed itself
capable of a reliable performance at 90 m.p.h. over several hundreds of miles.
With regard to the general tendency of sports car design, the whole question of the future seems to depend on the supercharger. Recent International Racing rules has restricted engine size and resulted in multi cylinder designs with forced induction. Had these rules remained in force it is reasonable to suppose that these features would have been incorporated in standard sports cars and eventually in touring cars. Now the restriction of engine sizes has been removed, and the battle of the types will be waged afresh, both in International competition and in the open market. Both types have their advantages and adherents, who are convinced that their theories are right.
It must be remembered, however, that in every branch of industry and civilization the tendency is towards greater efficiency from any given unit, rather than towards a multiplication of the given unit ; it seems probable therefore that the small high efficiency engine will eventually triumph over its less efficient and larger rival, but this, only time will show. Further improvements in transmission, suspension and streamlining are but a few of the problems continually occurring in the automobile world and all will be answered in the course of time, but it is quite certain that any future developments will be definitely accelerated by racing experience.