VETERAN TYPES X.—A 1 / 4 G. P. OPEL
/N all the long history of motor racing there has probably never been a contest more interesting in prospect Or more dramatic in its conclusions than the Grand Prix that was run at Lyons in July, 1914. For this race some of the oldest firms who for years had been out of the .game, returned to the arena ; no fewer than thirty-nine cars started, and the nations represented were England, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland.
The tale of the grim straggle between the German Mercedes and the French Peugeots., and how but a few weeks before the outbreak of War it finished in the triumph of the former, is probably familiar to all : but as well as the cars from Untethirckheim the German contingent included three cars from the Opel factory. In. the race these cars were entrusted to Karl Joerns, Erdtmarm and Bruckheimer, and in view of the fact that the marque had not been seen in the great races since the Opel-Darracq days, their performance was watched with inte:est.
The race proved a veritable test to destruction, and of the 39 cars which started 28, including two of the Opels fell by the wayside. Joerns on Opel I, however, succeeded in finishing tenth, averaging 56.3 m.p.h. for the 467 miles of the race. This car together with one of the others was shipped to England after the race, and on August Bank Holiday, immediately before the outbreak of war, the two white Opels appeared at Brooklands. During the War they remained safely stored away somewhere, and in 1920 Joerns’ car was acquired by H. 0. D. Segrave, then an unknown driver, who was determined to make his name in the racing world.
A Memory of 64 H.O.D.”
During 1920 the car was raced by him fairly consistently at Brooklands and also took part, I think, in a Kop hill
climb, with such good results that Segrave’s ambition was fulfilled, and he was given a place in the SunbeamTalbot team in 1921. The Opel, however, passed somewhat into oblivion, and I think that lately few people had any idea of where it was. ,
It was, therefore, with considerable interest that I heard that this motor car is at present for sale by Messrs. B.M.C., Ltd., of Brick Street, Park Lane, and my interest was still further aroused when I was informed that its present owners would be pleased to give me a run on it so that I could record my impressions of it on the road in MOTOR SPORT. And so at the appointed hour one afternoon I duly arrived at Brick Street, and was rather Pleasantly surprised, I must admit, knowing the ways of many of those who go . down to the road in motor cars, to find the Opel standing in. the mews, apparently all ready to set off. Unlike many others of its type which have been altered out of all recognition, the Opel at a first glance looks exactly what it is, a late pre-war racing car. It is true that it has since been fitted with a diminutive :single
panel windscreen, of the type which folds fonvard flat on the scuttle, a hood a.lad mudguards, but these are all of an unobtrusive nature which add to the convenience of tht.. car without detracting materially from its appearance. First impressions of the car are a long bonnet and scuttle, a bolster petrol tank behind the seats and a couple of spare wheels strapped on behind that.
The chassis of the car is, I believe, more or less that of the standard 1914 Opel and gives one the impression of being rather slender for a racing car, which is borne out by the fact that the Opels were the lightest cars of all at Lyons, turning the -scale at only just over 18 cwt. The engine, however, is definitely “special,” and is of advanced 1914 racing type. The ‘four cylinders have a bore and stroke of 94 x 160 mm. dimensions which were by far the most popular at Lyons, being used also by Sunbeam, Delage, Nazzaro, Alda and Schneider, and the capacity of the engine is thus 4,440 c.c. as against the limit for the Grand Prix of 41-litres. At the back of the engine there is a bevel gear Which drives a cross-shaft, operating the magneto on the right and the water pump on the left-hand side of the engine, and in addition the vertical shaft which in turn drives the single overhead camshaft lying centrally along the top of the cylinders. By means of rockers, the outer ends of which project from the camshaft casing, the latter operates four inclined valves per cylinder, their springs being also exposed. On the right-hand side of the engine is the single large Zenith carburettor, which is now fed from the rear petrol tank by means of an Autovac, which is presumably a comparatively recent addition. The lubrication is interesting, oil being poured into a large tank in the scuttle, whence it flows both to the sump and. to a subsidiary tank from which it is fed by no fewer than eight pipes to the overhead valve gear and .camshaft bearings. Behind the engine is a leather cone clutch which transmits the drive by way of a metal universal joint to the separate 4-speed gear-box. Behind this again is a short open propellor shaft whith two universal joints and a built-up backaxle with a cast steel centre casing and drawn steel conical sleeves. There is no torque rod proper, but the back springs are partly relieved of this stress in a rather interesting manner. A metal band, the ends of which are joined by a stiff coil spring, is clamped round each outer end of the axle sleeves
and is attached by short articulated rods to the chassis. This band, which under heavy stress can slip slightly on the axle casing, works as a shock absorber and also takes a proportion of the torque.
Four wheel brakes appeared for the first time on serious racing cars at Lyons, but they were not fitted to any of the German entries, and in the case of the Opel the foot-brake works on the transmission and the handbrake on the back-wheel drums. The car has large Rudge-Whitworth wheels, which are, I think, those used in the Grand Prix, smaller ones being afterwards employed at Brooklands, and the tyre size is 880 x 120 m.m., the section appearing extraordinarily small to modern eyes. The general appearance of the car is satisfactorily completed by a narrow V radiator protected by a stoneguard, outside brake and gear levers and a huge outside exhaust pipe. Having completed our inspection of the car we readily
accepted an invitation to set off, and the engine, having been quickly started with the aid of the half corn pression device, we clambered on board and shot out of the yard. Even while threading o u r way through the thick of the London traffic we were able to note that the engine although some seventeen years
old, still had plenty of power, the acceleration when an opening presented itself in traffic, being colossal. The maximum engine speed is not of course very high—I doubt if it materially exceeds 3,000 r.p.m.—and the car gets away with a satisfactory series of distinct reports before settling down to its steady roar. Another feature which was soon noticeable was the remarkable silence of the valve gear, an attribute which is not shared with the double overhead camshaft 1914 racing engines of which I have experience, and the equal silence of the gear-box. I am inclined to think as a matter of fact that the mileage which this car has done is little higher than that put in. by many a car nowadays in a year, an impression which is fortified by the fact that the Palmer Cord tyre gracing one front wheel may very well have been of about the same age as the car. At last we were free of the London traffic and were well away on one of the better bypass roads. It is as well, however, for anybody who doe; not like such noises that the gear-box is quiet, for the greater part of one’s time is spent on the indirect ratios. The cone clutch is apt to be somewhat fierce, and first speed is sufficiently low to make the first change up a s1’wih one, but once second is engaged the acceleration is terrific and third is a useful fast gear for ordinary work. The direct drive with the large wheels fitted is very high—the final ratio at Lyons was 2.5 to 1, and I should judge that it has not since been altered—with the result that it can only be profitably used when the way is fairly clear. The maximum speed on this gear is of course very high, something I should imagine between 90 and 100 m.p.h., and with the high ratio is not easily reached except on a good route nationale or the
Great North Road, at night, The car is fitted with a speedometer mounted between the scuttle and the steering column, but it is of the type which merely wags dizzily at over about 50 m.p.h., and is thus almost completely useless. I should judge, however, that in the course of our run we attained about 75 m.p.h. at which speed the car is a little inclined to wander, due perhaps to the fact that the front wheels fitted do not appear to be of exactly the same size. Roaring along with the wind whistling by our ears and the steady boom of the exhaust echoing behind us we were almost inclined to believe for a moment that we
had been transferred to that long straight on the Lyons course called “la montagne Russe ” and that the date was the 4th July, 1914. Now the driver was applying the brakes, but with feet firmly braced against the dashboard we were suddenly aware that this was not ” les Sept Cheniins “hairpin, but an ordinary cross-road where an A.A. scout was directing a swarm of boxes on wheels and we were once more on the outskirts of London. Back at Messrs:. B.M.C.’s we regretfully climbed out of the car on which one of the greatest of English drivers first made his name and as we murmured our appreciation we reflected that the Opel might yet teach a future owner how to win the Grand Pri.—F.K.H.K.