Rumblings, December 1943
Even the more optimistic members of the Vintage Sports Car Club admit that it seems unlikely that anymore pre-1914 cars with racing associations will come to light for restoration and subsequent participation in veteran speed events. A sufficient number exist to ensure very interesting contests after the war, and only those who crave ownership of such cars really regret that all known specimens now have good homes. However, just to whet the appetite, as it were, let us recall a few cars which, although doubtless lost to posterity, were in existence many years after they were built, so that there is just a possibility that they could still be traced by diligent search. For instance, apart from the 1905 “St. Petersburg-Moscow” Itala in the Isle of Wight, whose owner will neither sell it nor run it, what has become of the 1908 “Four Inch” T.T. Metallurgique which Mortimer Batten so carefully rebuilt after the last war? Warwick Wright drove her in the T.T. of 1908, and we believe that Philip Rampon owned her before Batten. The latter had her rebuilt regardless of cost, the engine by Laystalls and the chassis by Rubery Owen. The crankshaft was ground and drilled to convert the original splash lubrication to pressure feed, a new camshaft was made, and the cylinders rebored. New pistons, valves, valve guides, tappets and bearings were fitted, and three sets of new valve caps were made up, to provide three different compression ratios. The flywheel was reduced in weight by 18 lb. and drives were provided for an oil pump, dynamo and rev.-counter. The chassis was trued and then heat-treated to obviate crystallisation, the kingpins and stub-axles were built up by Fescol, and a new radiator, of Metallurgique shape, made. The new lubrication system employed a double pump from a Sunbeam “Arab” aero-engine, driven by chain from the cam shaft. The bottom part of the pump scavenged the sump and returned the oil to a new dashboard tank and the upper part supplied the crankshaft via a h.p. valve and the cams and timing wheels via a 1.p. bypass. It may seem sacrilege to thus convert such an historic engine, but it was excusable, for in the I.O.M. the timing wheels failed to stand up to lubrication by screw-down greaser! The bills for this rejuvenation came to nearly £200. Then matrimony intervened, and the car was roughly assembled and sold to Eric Vereker, to whom we are indebted for information about the car. This was early in 1928, and as Vereker was due to sail his father’s yacht through the French canals to the Mediterranean that summer, he decided to sell the car, but no one showed any desire to possess her. That winter work on the yacht kept Vereker busy, and the next summer he sailed to Holland. Incidentally, the family’s cars at that time comprised a “Boulogne” Hispano-Suiza, and a Renault 45, and the Metallurgique seemed little more than a curio. However, in the winter of 1930 work was commenced on her. The clutch, brakes, gearbox and back-axle were found to be original, the clutch having the expanding bronze shoes which gave the marque its name, and the brakes having internal-expanding bronze bands. The clutch and brakes were in poor condition, but Vereker managed to fit new clutch levers, clutch shaft and ball races and new races in the back axle. He had bought a 1914 sports N.A.G. intending to transfer the beautifully made, wooden, pointed-tail body to the Metallurgique, but, anxious for a drive, he merely put on sheet iron wings and bonnet, and a 3-ply body. The engine started after a short tow and a very brisk drive ensued, the clutch being useless except for get-away, but the gears going in well nevertheless. Vereker describes the get-away as the greatest he has experienced, before or since!
Shortly afterwards lack of garage space made it necessary to get rid of her, and Vereker sold her, with the N.A.G., for £8, because he rather liked the youngster who came to see her. It was then 1931, and when the Vintage S.C.C. was formed soon afterwards Vereker could have kicked himself. He had reason to believe that the Metallurgique would be the fastest of the pre-1914 cars. When Oscar Cupper brought it to Brooklands later in 1908 he exceeded 100 m.p.h., so there were certainly great possibilities. The engine had its four cylinders in two pairs, each measuring 100 by 170 mm., the capacity being 5 1/2 litres. The crankshaft ran in three bearings, the con.-rods were tubular, and 105 b.h.p. was claimed at 2,500 r.p.m.
The exhaust valves were in the heads, push-rod operated, and the inlet valves at the side, in cages. There was a Zenith carburetter feeding into an oval-section manifold, and Siamesed ports. The cylinders were de saxe. The original system of lubrication was drip feed to cylinders and main bearings. Cooling was by pump, and the pistons were cast-iron. The gearbox gave ratios of 2, 4, 6 and 8 to 1; the rear axle had semi-floating shafts and a differential. The foot-brake worked on the transmission. The wheelbase was 8 ft. 2 in., the track 4 ft. 8 1/2 in., and the tyres 820 by 120. Suspension was 1/2-elliptic front, 3/4-elliptic rear. The chassis was extensively drilled and weighed 15 cwt., the complete car, in T.T. trim, weighing under a ton. When rebuilt alloy pistons, composed of 4 1/2-litre Bentley castings, were fitted, and Vereker used a rear petrol tank in place of the original scuttle tank. Where, then, is this car now? As soon as he heard to whom Vereker had sold it twelve years ago, the Editor commenced yet another of his persistent and exhaustive searches. It appears that the youngster who bought it found no use for it (in spite of the Vintage S.C.C. meetings) and that it lay for years at his father’s garage in London. He entered the R.A.F. at the outbreak of war and went overseas, and the Metallurgique and his Bugatti have both vanished without trace. There is, however, some hope of tracing the old car, because we believe it was sold only 2 1/2 years ago, although, alas, our informant said to a breaker. Up to the time of writing no direct evidence of this is to hand, and the Editor is pursuing the slenderest of clues.
News of this T.T. Metallurgique has whetted the appetite for pre-1914 ex-racing cars, and we recall two others which at least existed after the last war and which, remote as the chance is, may still be in hiding somewhere, although never discovered by Vintage S.C.C. members. The first is a 1914 Grand Prix Nagant, which finished sixth in the hands of Esser at Lyons. It had a 94.8 by 158 mm. 4 1/2-litre twin o.h. camshaft 16-valve 4-cylinder engine and a 4-speed gearbox with an overdrive top of 2.8 to 1. Fitted with lamp and wings, it was run on the road by a Glasgow motorist, at least until late in 1923, giving 10-12 m.p.g. from a Zenith carburetter. The other is a Nazzaro, which appeared at Lewes, as a competitor, about the early nineteen-thirties. It bore a London registration – XW3431 – and had sports bodywork, curiously flowing exhaust pipes coming from the bonnet side. This may have been a standard example, but it seems more likely that it was the 1914 G.P. Nazzaro, which Capt. Miller used to enter for Brooklands short handicaps up to 1925, modified for road use. We believe that the car was not mentioned in reports of the meeting, and as we have no Lewes programmes of this period, we do not know who drove it on its last public appearance. Can anyone throw more light on the possible fate or whereabouts of these three pre-1914 ex-racing cars?
In connection with the British versus the Continentals controversy we have received by air mail from India a most interesting communication from Lt. P.F. Whalley, dated September 28th. This contains a a series of challenges to Lt. Peter Hampton, and we reproduce the letter below, for it certainly merits greater prominence than the correspondence pages would afford it. We sincerely hope these duels will take place after the war, and that we shall be invited to witness them and to report on them. We would gladly hold the stakes and judge the contests if the participants should so desire. Peter Hampton has acquired the ex-Monkhouse Amilcar Six, so that it should not be necessary for him to borrow Charlesworth’s car, if he agrees to run against Peter Whalley ‘s K3 M.G. Magnette. Lt. Whalley’s letter reads as follows:
Sir, I feel that Mr. Hampton’s letter calls for some reply. I will pass over his, in my opinion, gross under-rating of British sports car successes on the Continent, and confine myself to personal experiences which may be of interest. First of all, in 1939 I tested a Lancia “Aprilia,” current model, in perfect trim, against a T.B. type, absolutely standard M.G., for acceleration from 0-60. The M.G. won quite easily. I can supply the Lancia owner’s address if anyone doubts this. It was a prearranged and very careful test.
Secondly, I believe that the Delahayes, Lago Specials, and Delages raced so successfully on the Continent are as unlike as chalk from cheese when compared to the models of these marques sold to the public in England. I mean that the one you buy new in England is very inferior to the “publicity motors” used for racing. I further believe that they are grossly inferior in performance as well as quality from the “4.3” Alvis, 4 1/4-litre Bentley, 4 1/2-litre Lagondas. I have owned a 3 1/2-litre “Competition” Delahaye, bought new in 1938; also driven an earlier “3.2” Delahaye for big mileages, and they simply did not compare with a “4.3” Alvis I had later, though it was a long-chassis job. The “3.2” Delahaye was the roughest car I have ever handled, not excluding “36/220” Mercédès-Benz, and early vintage cars of many makes. I was beaten at the Inter-Varsity speed hill climb in 1938, driving the 3 1/2-litre “Competition” Delahaye, by a 1 1/2-litre H.R.G. coupé. The Delahaye had been de-coked by T. and T.’s and was in perfect trim. I put my foot down hard the whole way, too; the course is nearly straight and driving hardly entered into it.
Thirdly, Mr. Hampton’s statement that the “1,100” blown 6-cylinder Amilcar can out-perform the M.G. Magnettes (unqualified) sounds like rubbish to me. Surely the K3 M.G. successes, which reached their ultimate peak in 1939 with Gardner’s world records, rather disproves this? The original 2-seaters could do 120 m.p.h. minus lamps and wings.
Finally a challenge. If Mr. Hampton is game, after the war, I’ll back an unblown British sports car of equal litreage to beat his Type 57 S.C. Bugatti on five laps of the Outer Circuit, and if he can raise an “1,100” Amilcar (I believe Mr. Charlesworth has a good one), I’ll race him on my K3 M.G. on any circuit he chooses. The car to beat his Bugatti is the ex-Mike Cowper Talbot, which is now mine. In both cases I’ll put up a £50 stake. Further, I’ll race him in his beloved standard Lancia “Aprilia” in a T.B. M.G. at the Palace or at Donington, and if he can raise a Mille Miglia model Lancia, I’ll guarantee to take his pants off with an Alta, which he seems to despise.
Thanks for keeping Motor Sport going; it’s the staff of life to me!
I am, Yours, etc.,
P.T. Whalley (Lieut.).
Arising out of Hampton’s letters, we have now further investigated the M.G.-Maserati duels in the 1,100 c.c. class of the Mille Miglia races. In 1933, as recently described in detail in Motor Sport, the M.G. Magnettes very conclusively vanquished the Maserati and Fiat cars. In 1934 Lord Howe again ran his team of M.G. Magnettes, with McConnell as team manager, the cars now having Roots blowers delivering at a lower pressure, to obviate the previous year’s oiling-up troubles. This made the M.G.s slower than before, although Howe’s car, with high compression ratio, exceeded 100 m.p.h. The drivers were Howe, Lurani and Penn Hughes, and Hall and his wife. while the Germans Fork and Charly drove a T.T. M.G. Magnette. Howe crashed, and Hall retired early with water in the sump, but Lurani and Hughes finished second in their class and were one hour faster than the best 1933 1,100 c.c. time, while Fork was 21st in the race. But Taruffi won the class with his beautiful little Maserati at 64.16 m.p.h., 5.38 m.p.h. faster than the M.G. He was 2 h. 20 m. faster than Eyston’s 1933 record, and 5th in the race.