Some Notes on an ex-Brooklands car which has recently changed hands
The fact that this Delage has recently changed hands, having been bought by Miss Bunty Romer, is, perhaps, no excuse for writing it up, because its new owner is unlikely to be able to move the car from its present stable for some time, while even more time is likely to elapse before she can use it. However, the 5.1-litre Delage which Clive Windsor Richards has had in his garage for some years is of sufficient technical and historical interest to justify the following description of it, gleaned during a recent visit to the garage at Bentley in Hampshire where it at present reposes. It was constructed by the Delage Company in 1922 and was the first racing car to be built by them after the 1914-18 unpleasantness. It was by no means a first-line car, being intended for sprints and hill-climbs, but it seems probable that drivers of the calibre of Divo and Rene Thomas handled it at Continental meetings. In appearance it was very similar to the better-known V12 10 1/2-litre Delage now owned by Cecil Clutton, with much the same chassis and single-seater carriage work, but there the similarity ends, although both cars were built at about the same time and for the same initial purpose. It was constructed largely of existing parts, suitably strengthened for the purpose. There seems little doubt that the chassis was materially that of the production Delage Twenty-Five with the engine bored out 5 mm. This was a car ranking with the world’s outstanding luxury cars of that time, the chassis costing £1,800 in 1919. The engine had a bore and stroke of 85 x 150 mm., giving a capacity of 5.107 c.c., and as then raced on straight petrol, the compression ratio was 6 to 1. In 1928 Capt. Alastair Miller, who brought so many and varied cars to the Brooklands outer circuit, bought this, and a similar 6-litre car, from the Deluge Company. He introduced them to Brooklands, the bigger car being known as Delage I. It would seem probable that Delage I had an engine based on that of the Type GL Delage, which was in production until 1927. At all events, the engine size of 95 x 140 mm. (5,952 c.c.) is the same. Both cars – in appearance they were identical – were raced quite extensively, gained a number of successes and suffered a certain amount of temperament. The compression ratio of Delage II was raised to 8.2 to 1, and to overcome valve gear trouble it was given a very elaborate system of forced-feed lubrication to the valve rockers by Thomson and Taylor. Delage II ultimately lapped at 121.47 m.p.h., whereas Delage I was only about 2 1/2 m.p.h. faster in spite of its extra capacity of over three-quarters of a litre, its best race lap being timed at 123.89 m.p.h. Delage I went to Ireland in 1931 and is believed to have been burnt out in the 1934 Pheonix Park Race. Delage II, considerably modified from its Track form, still exists at Windsor Richards’s garage, where we were recently able to examine it. Its first Brooklands race appears to have been the Founder’s Gold Vase Handicap at the 1928 Whitsun Meeting, when “J. Taylor” won by 150 yards at 108.9 m.p.h. At the same meeting “Taylor ” was second in the Lightning Short Handicap. At the August Meeting he retired in the 100-m.p.h. Short Handicap, which Miller won with Delage I at 109.61 m.p.h., but it came into its own again at the Autumn Meeting. “Taylor” had presented a special cup for a One Lap Sprint Handicap and ran himself with the Delage, dead-heating for first place with Bouts’s 2-litre G.P. Sunbeam, at 101.84 m.p.h. This gives an excellent idea of the acceleration of the Delage, which started 8 secs. after the supercharged Sunbeam; it seems possible, too, that the average quoted is that of the Sunbeam and that the Delage went even faster. The best standing race lap of that time stood at 110.19 m.p.h., by Parry Thomas with the Leyland-Thomas. “Taylor” also won a five-lap handicap at one of the B.A.R.C. Evening Meetings, at the excellent speed, from scratch, of 114.75 m.p.h.
J. P. Turner drove the car at the 1929 Easter Meeting, and was third in the Founder’s Gold Cup Race behind Froy in Delage I. Turner then won the 100 m.p.h. Long Handicap at 113.75 m.p.h. very easily, and finished second in the Lightning Long Handicap, starting 10 secs. behind Dunfee’s Sunbeam and being 60 yards away at the finish, after Dunfee had pulled out 111.6 m.p.h. Leonard Headlam now bought Delage II from Turner, but was unfortunately killed while driving in another car to Brooklands to practise, and so it was a nonstarter at the opening meeting of 1930. E. Fronteras then acquired the car and Turner returned to racing to drive it for him, while Fronteras himself and Ramponi all took turns to drive it in different races at the Easter Meeting of 1930, without success. It was even in for a Mountain race, but did not start.
Noel Gardiner acquired it next, but its racing days were over. The new owner getting married and finding a single-seater Track car of little use to him, the single-seater body was removed and a close-coupled two-door saloon body by Jensen’s was fitted. In 1934, in this guise, this once 120-m.p.h. Delage came on the market, at £385. In February, 1930, John Lawson bought the car and thoroughly overhauled it, fitting new clutch, gearbox, propeller shaft and brake details. The compression ratio was lowered and an ugly 2-seater body was mated up to the scuttle, which had evidently been widened to accommodate the saloon body. Windsor Richards drove the car at Prescott and at Lewes and, with the engine virtually run-in and using very restrained throttle openings, be clocked 23.3 secs. at the latter venue. In 1938 the car was for sale at £210 and Windsor Richards bought it. Now it has been sold to Miss Romer.
The engine, unlike that of the V12, has its cylinders in one block. The valves are overhead, set vertically and transversely side by side, operation being by push-rods on the near side of the block. The valve rockers form a fairly wide V one to another, the shorter ones actuating the exhaust valves. The rockers are pivoted in elaborate bronze housings, each held to the head by three studs. The tappets are exposed at the base of the push-rods, and the rockers bear direct on both valves and push-rods. Possibly this is what gave rise to the afore-mentioned valve trouble, and very imposing lubrication arrangements were incorporated to feed oil to these points of contact and to the rocker pivot bearings. A galley pipe running along the offside has twelve off-take pipes for this purpose. The valves have double springs. A black cover of considerable dimensions, held down by three knurled nuts, encloses the valve mechanism. An interesting feature is that the sparking plugs, entering the head vertically on the inlet side, are well buried and require plug terminals like those one associates with a sleeve-valve engine. Moreover, before a plug can be changed, it is necessary to remove the valve cover, which, in turn, entails releasing and raising one end of the radiator tie-rod. This would obviously rule out the car for long-distance racing and, as Delage I actually ran in the 1930 500 Mile Race, until its special long-range fuel tank collapsed and fired the car, it would be interesting to know if it enjoyed the same plug location. According to Windsor Richards, in spite of the heat and the oil, the plugs gave no particular trouble in Delage II when he ran it. The crankshaft has extended balance webs and 2.2″ diameter big-end journals, and runs in four plain bearings. The connecting rods also have plain big and little end bearing’s. They constitute the weak feature of the engine, being of an I section inadequate to the power output and long stroke, albeit very light. They measure rather more than 12 1/2″ in length and are unsafe above 3,600 r.p.m., and at Lewes one of them broke when this speed was exceeded. It will be recalled that the V12 Delage has tubular rods unsuited to high crankshaft speeds, and the 1925 2-litre V12 cars also experienced connecting rod troubles, which were not present in the 1 1/2-litre G.P. Delage cars designed by M. Lory. At the front of the engine a crossshaft drives a Bosch magneto on the off side and a water pump on the near side; there is provision for a belt-driven fan. On the off side are three Zenith Triple Diffuser carburetters fed by three electric pumps on the bulkhead, from three fuel tanks, one at the rear and two amidships in the chassis. There is a 1/2″ diameter balance pipe between the carburetters. Lubrication is on the dry sump system, with large bore external pipes set very low beneath the crankcase, taking lubricant to and from a 5-gallon oil tank neatly slung between the front dumbirons, its sides recessed to clear the front shock absorbers. Two heavily ribbed plated oil coolers are mounted on the tank. We imagine that this tank was fitted by the person who turned the car into a saloon, but we incline to the view that the rocker feeds were put in earlier, for racing. The radiator is typically Delage, very massive, and with stone guard and quick-action filler cap. The chassis is No. 8392 and has Perrot-type front wheel brakes with somewhat unusual universals. Operation is by cable, via twin vacuum servos, which were fitted when the car was converted for road use. The front axle is of I section and alI the springs are half elliptic all round, shackled at the rear, those at the back being absolutely flat-set. There are two pairs of friction shock absorbers for the front axle, those ahead of the axle being slightly the smaller. The drive passes to a four-speed close-ratio gearbox and spiral bevel rear axle. Brake and gear levers are central and both have knobs, as anyone who knows the marque would expect. while the accelerator is right-hand. Big dial rev.-counter and speedometer grace the facia, reading to 4,000 r.p.m. and 120 m.p.h. respectively, and there is a thermometer and an oil gauge going to 100 lb./sq. in. The exhaust system is a beautiful piece of work, comprising six separate plated pipes with square flanges external beside the near side bonnet panel, merging into one large pipe. The tyres are 6.00″ x 21″ Dunlops on Rudge well-base wheels, with, we believe, two larger ones available for special conditions. There are also available six different final drive ratios of which the present now gives about 30 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. in top gear, or a maximum of 105 m.p.h. at maximum safe engine speed. Two big Autorocho headlamps and two Lucas spotlights add to the frontal appearance of this stark 2-seater; the starting handle is detachable. It is estimated that the power output was about 200 b.h.p. with the 8.2 to 1 compression ratio, or about 40 b.h.p. per litre. The weight is quoted as 23 cwt., which seems a fairly conservative estimate, although bonnet and body are notably light. Windsor Richards considers that, if new connecting rods were designed and if the compression ratio were raised to 10 to 1, which the piston and cylinder head layout permits, some 150 m.p.h. would be possible on the highest axle ratio. As the car must have done around 130 m.p.h. at Brooklands this seems a reasonable estimate, and Miss Romer should have some tough motoring to come, whether or not she carries out these modifications. Certainly, it is hard to believe that Delage II is 20 years old. Many spares, including a 3-litre cylinder block, are stored with the car. Windsor Richards’s fabric-bodied “30/98” Vauxhall, which he told us about in his “Cars I Have Owned” article in October, stood beside the Delage, its two S.U. carburetters cunningly mounted on a cut-down and rewelded 4 1/2-litre Bentley inlet manifold, and huge suction pipes running to twin Dewandre vacuum servo units, which, by means of a two-way tap in the cockpit, enabled powerful four- or rear-wheel braking to be enjoyed at will. Plenty of “30/98” spares were in evidence, too, including two almost complete O.E. type cars. Finally, Clive’s blue 4-seater Morgan 4/4 ran very smoothly, steadily and with admirable urge in the course of the brief run we took in it.