Letters from readers, December 1943
Whilst I found Mr. Hampton’s article very interesting, I would like to say that I entirely agree with Mr. A.F. Brookes in both his letters to Motor Sport. Mr. Clutton was, I think, the first to sweep aside all British sports cars, presumably because there is nothing quite comparable with Bugatti and Lago Special Darracq, which I suppose is true. But that gentleman also admitted in his article,”Vintage v. Modern,” that the modern Mercédès was woolly-engined (like a good many others), and the Alfa-Romeo completely rotten.
Apart from patriotism what I dislike about foreign cars is their low-roofed saloon bodies, hard cloth seats, sparse instrument boards, and fixed screens, sometimes too sharply sloping. On the design side there are such dubious features as gravity petrol feed, front wheel drive, Cotal gearbox, and total independent suspension. They do not in every case have a good i.f.s. system either. As regards the spares question I say, “Hear, hear,” to Mr. Dix. The same applies to other things like instruments, which sometimes talk only their native language. Then we all know that make which dispenses with a starting handle, another with a very inadequate-sized battery, and that one that requires three carburetters to produce 55 b.h.p. from a 2-litre engine. Finally, judging by their secondhand prices, their lasting qualities and reliability do not seem to be too good.
I realise, of course, that I have been generalising and that there are a few outstanding continental cars, but only about five out of three other large car-producing countries against our own, which has no autobahns demanding high speeds, and not so many bad roads, which have contributed to the advancement of independent suspension. Talking of high speeds reminds me that streamlined bodywork seems more forward on the Continent, although it is strange that, since it was proved in 1935 by Adlers, even in 1939 streamlined cars were not tumbling off the production lines. The vaunted Fiat “1,100” was a special job, and the best small streamlined car, to my mind, was the 1938 Steyr. I have also noticed that, in general, continental cars are higher-geared than our own, except Frazer-Nash and H.R.G. Does anyone know why this is so? I am stumped there!
Defending the British car is a big subject, and, summarising, I would say that, while all are not perfect, most are good, honest jobs, with performance more dependent on individual tuning, and more amenable to it than foreigners. On the question of feel, personally I am not faddy, as long as a car steers well on the straight. I have always found that I could corner faster than most people, and my own opinion is that, on the whole, British cars are not as bad in these respects as some people make out.
In conclusion, I agree with Mr. Fitzpatrick about the d.h. coupé body, although I have often wondered whether it is possible to fit a tonneau-cover to it. I would also like to mention that I have ridden many pre-war miles in all conditions except absolute blizzard on a thing called a motor-cycle, and enjoyed it. Indeed, I have been interested in motorcycles since the days when their riders wore multi-coloured berets, and agree with many of Mr. Clutton’s views in his article of some time ago, “Shall We Go Motor-Cycling?”
I am, Yours, etc.,
In reply to C.W.P. Hampton, I think that he is rather narrow-minded in some respects. For instance, the “half-wit” who wrote a lot of “bunkum” on Lancia “Lambdas” and other continentals merely wrote what was in a large measure true, viz., that whilst being good cars, they were not as good as other “halfwits” made them out to be.
Far is it from my mind to sneer at the continentals, many of which, like the Type 540K Mercédès-Benz, 328 B.M.W., Le Mans 2-litre Peugeot, and also a super streamlined Delahaye (type unknown, but featured in the cigarette card series in 1937) I admire immensely. All I maintain is that, as far as I am concerned, British cars offer better value for money, in performance, and breeding.
However, everyone knows there are two sides to every argument, ours and the wrong one!
I am, Yours, etc.,
Without wishing to become embroiled too much in “Two-Point-Six’s” argument, I think the final comment by the Editor referring to “race bred cars” raises an interesting side line to the duel. From 1924 to about 1932 all the well-known sports cars took an active part in competitions. In the Irish G.P. and T.T. races of 1928 and 1929, for example, we have such names as Alvis, Lea-Francis, Aston-Martin, Bugatti, Bentley, Austro-Daimler, Mercédès, Alfa-Romeo, O.M., Amilcar, Riley, Lagonda, Austin, and Sunbeam; and the rivalry between these firms and the enthusiasm created amongst the motoring public was considerable. I have by me a copy of the Motor which devotes no fewer than ten pages to the report of the 1925 Le Mans race, and I do not remember the last Le Mans race causing so much enthusiasm. Not only did the manufacturers enter teams and use these races as a testing ground, but, furthermore, they put on the market replicas of the T.T., Le Mans, or Ulster cars, and it is the association of these cars with the big races of the period, together with their undeniable race-bred qualities that has caused them to be remembered and respected for so long.
Since those days sports car racing has gradually deteriorated until (with one or two obvious exceptions) manufacturers no longer supported events like the T.T. and Le Mans. Consequently the enthusiast is disappointed when he finds the entry list comprised of expensive streamlined continental makes that are seldom seen in this country, and a gallant handful of privately-owned cars in ones and twos.
After all, sports cars are designed for the enthusiast, who in turn is a keen follower of motor sport and is greatly influenced by a car that does well in open competition. Many of the vintage cars given in the above list were developed from Grand Prix racing, and further improved by the lessons learnt in sports car races. It is not surprising, then, that the real enthusiast shows a lack of interest towards the many modern “sports” cars developed from tourers and which are seldom seen beyond the car parks at Donington and elsewhere. We all know that there were some very fine sports cars being built just before the war, but I do not think they will be remembered and argued over like the cars of ten and more years ago.
I am, Yours, etc.,
“Two-Point-Six” may have achieved his ambition when his article appeared in the October issue of Motor Sport, but, so far as modern sports cars are concerned, he seemed to offer nothing new either in fact or opinion. He did, however, manage to rid his system of much thinly disguised exasperation with vintage enthusiasts. Evidently his verbal arguments in favour of the modern car have fallen on such stony ground that he decided to try the effect of “getting at” them through the medium of the Press, rather forgetting that the enforced regimentation of minority opinion is regarded with more than usual disfavour at the present time. He would also do well to remember that the leading spirits of the vintage movement are men who command respect and admiration by virtue of their achievements in the competition world, and the fact that they are authorities on the history of the Sport and the drivers and cars who made that history lends weight to their opinions. They have always been ready to explain quite clearly why these old cars appeal to them and why they, personally, prefer them to the modern variety. That they stand firmly by their convictions is surely no sign of affectation, but is the manifestation of a national characteristic of no mean value.
We come next to “Two-Point-Six’s” somewhat confused paragraph concerning very wintry motoring, followed by a number of rhetorical questions which he then answers to his own satisfaction, arriving eventually at his triumphantly italicised conclusion “discomfort.” As no vintagent would be so affected as to don a hairshirt and/or busby in a heatwave, they cannot have shared “Two-Point-Six’s” experience, but I am sure they will take his word as to the result. It is an inescapable fact that the pursuit of any sport is attended by a certain amount of physical discomfort, mainly climatic in character. There is no “he-man” attitude, and certainly no seeking after discomfort for its own sake, among the followers of any sport it is just accepted with resignation, ignored, or even enjoyed, entirely according to the temperament and physique of the individual. The enthusiast who sets out on a 300-Mile journey in cold and snow, who decides to ignore the discomfort and get as much fun out of the run as possible, will enjoy it. Surely his joie de vivre is to be envied rather than condemned.
In conclusion, to ridicule the possessions of those less well-endowed financially than himself cannot be considered as an argument in favour of the newer cars. Those who have purchased old cars, put them into as good running order as funds permit, often with no proper tools or equipment, have a pride of ownership and sense of achievement that mere money cannot buy. It is not surprising that when two such enthusiasts meet they find much of mutual interest to discuss, leaving captious criticism to the more dogmatic devotees of the up-to-date.
I am, Yours, etc.,
I cannot agree with “Two-Point-Six” that “half this vintage stuff is affectation.” We keep and use our old cars because we can, and do, appreciate well-made and beautifully-finished machinery; some of us even loathe the pressed-tin abominations that pass for cars to-day. Who can raise any pride of possession in a Sten as against owning a S.M.L.E. or P17 rifle?
Granted that most mass-produced articles do their job, but their life is usually short compared with that of the craftsman-made article, and it is this which seems to militate against one imparting something of one’s individuality to them, so that they become part of one’s being, while they are being used, and that to part with them or to allow another to use them fills one with a sense of discomfort until their return.
Further, the vintage-minded person is usually proud to tinker with his car, and in so doing gets an almost paternal pride of possession, but the person who merely owns a car as a means of rapid transport and no more, will never become vintage-minded and will decry our love for our old favourites.
I have had the very great pleasure of owning and driving Bentleys for nearly 20 years, and the apple of my eye to-day is my 16 1/2-year-old 6 1/2-litre, which is neither a junk heap, nor crawls painfully along the highway at from 25-35 m.p.h.
During this last month I have driven several models of a modern car fitted with independent front-wheel springing, etc., and yesterday, in the course of my duty, I had the too rare joy of taking the 6 1/2-litre out. The comparison between the various vehicles as to handling, feel and capabilities was so marked that I am more confirmed in my vintage-mindedness than ever and, what is more, so unrepentant that I have burst into writing about it.
I should be very grateful if someone could find for me an induction manifold and twin carburetters (S.U.) with controls as far as the bottom of the steering column for my 6 1/2-litre.
I am, Yours, etc.,
I wish to seek the aid of any of your readers who may be versed in Lagondas. With the assistance of my brother I hope to rebuild after the war a 1927 2-litre Lagonda which is at present stored in a London garage. It is a long-chassis effort, in good condition mechanically, but rather slow in its present condition. The main drawback is a wide-ratio gearbox, and it is concerning the latter that I mainly require some information.
Is it possible to substitute a later-type close-ratio gearbox without too much structural alteration?
We hope to extract a few more hairy-legged horses by a thorough top and bottom overhaul of the engine, and I am considering fitting later type “Speed Model” pistons which would give a higher compression ratio, different camshafts permitting a longer valve-opening period, and/or higher valve lift, more advance on the ignition timing, modern type of carburetter, and possibly modifying the exhaust manifold. Any suggestions?
The whole idea is to improve the performance with moderation yet preserve the vintage characteristics.
We will be extremely grateful for any replies to the queries raised and also for any other suggestions or general information on 2-litre Lagondas.
Motor Sport continues to arrive regularly despite my frequent changes of address, and great is the joy on its arrival.
I am, Yours, etc.,
H.G. Hanmer (Sgmn.).
By Air Mail,
I saw with interest Mr. Clutton’s mention of the Scott 6-cylinder 2-stroke giving 50 h.p. per litre.
I had one of these engines installed in my 1928 I.S. Aston-Martin in 1937, and it was one of the most attractive vehicles it has ever been my good fortune to drive.
I saw the engine giving 86 h.p. on the dynamometer after it was first built up, and McCall, the designer, said, if I did not mind a heavy petrol thirst, I could by port modifications have 126 h.p. from it, or for sprint work, 170 h.p. with a frightful consumption. This is in all cases unblown. In the last case, of 86 h.p. per litre, the engine could never be restored to normal. The engine was of 2-litre capacity.
The car would readily exceed 80 m.p.h. with the “touring” layout of engine, and gave a marvellous acceleration with “12-cylinder” torque and total absence of vibration. The petrol consumption was round the 25 m.p.g. mark.
Unfortunately, owing to the underslung worm drive of the A.M., I had very little clearance under the rear of the crankcase, and this did not fit in well with Yorkshire S.C. Club trials, so I had the engine removed and was intending to have it fitted in a 2-litre G.P. Bugatti chassis, but financial stringency put a stop to that.
The conversion was carried out for me by Messrs. F. Hambling & Co., of Leeds. I enclose a photo of the engine as fitted.
I am, Yours, etc.,
The outline for a design of a post-war sports car by Capt. J.S. Moon is very interesting and, in the main, will be wanted after the war by the connoisseur.
Some time before the war I had a complete design for an ideal sports model giving roughly the performance he mentions, i.e., a cruising speed of 70-80 m.p.h. and a top speed of 100 m.p.h. for an engine output of 70 b.h.p., and total weight of 13 cwt. I do not think that an engine with a bore of 69 mm. to peak at 5,000 r.p.m. would be reliable; the volume of heat to be dealt with calls for very difficult piston design. Further, a heavy crankshaft must be employed, and to limit the speed to 3,500 r.p.m. for safety means too big a reduction of power. It is, therefore. better to keep the bore to 60 mm. or under and increase the number of cylinders and have a bore-stroke ratio approximately square and use a supercharger. Power can be used up to 6,000 r.p.m. with absolute reliability, the piston speed and inertia stresses being kept down. Good balance should be the primary object in the layout of the engine; if good balance is obtained very light engine and transmission can be used; also heat losses in the head should be reduced to a minimum.
I agree that the gears should be of the constant-mesh type and have a bearing between each set of pinions and a light remote control be fitted under the steering wheel; also a differential lock should be fitted, controlled from the driver’s seat. Without question, the tubular backbone chassis is the lightest form of chassis construction, and by placing the engine at one end, gearbox and driving axle at the other, the load carried in the centre gives an ideal balance of weights.
The springing should be independent and under the driver’s control.
The body will then be a shell with the wings moulded into the body lines and completely covered in underneath, and the seat should be wide enough to seat three at a pinch; the whole must be bolted to the chassis so that the body could be removed in one piece and a form of detachable coupé should be fitted; this is not an easy job to make really neat, but is required all the same.
The demand is, therefore, for an individual sports car witty character, and this can only be obtained by designing the car as a whole. Such a car is under way, based on years of experience with all types of sports models, which will mark a new era without departing far from sound engineering practice.
I am, Yours, etc.,
It was with great interest that I read, in your November issue, that your contributor, Mr. G.F. Lomas, had owned a Douglas car, the more so as it was a special o.h.v. version. I had one of the side-valve cars in 1924; it, too, was rather special, having been the property of Mr. S.L. Bailey, of the Douglas Company. As I think I mentioned in these columns some time ago, I exchanged one of my special Duzmos with D.E. Calder for the car. At the time I had no interest in four-wheeled speed, and so my recollections are not very complete.
The engine was a water-cooled, side-valve, horizontally-opposed twin of 92 min. bore by 92 mm. stroke (1,223 c.c.). It was fitted with two vertical Zenith carburetters which occasionally caught fire when starting. There was, of course, no starter, but the magneto was fitted with a device which, when cranking the engine, wound up a spring which spun the armature across the contact-breaking point, thus giving a fat spark for starting. It was put out of action centrifugally at a higher speed. The chassis had half-elliptic front suspension damped by Houdaille shock-absorbers, and the rear axle was mounted on a pair of transverse bell cranks which had coil springs between their inboard extremities. The body work was definitely “Grand Prix,” consisting of two staggered bucket seats and an enormous bolster petrol tank, in which the pressure was maintained by hand-pump. Mudguards were very sketchy, and I generally drove without them, as was allowed in those days.
So far as I remember, the gearbox was four-speed, with a right-hand gate inside the body, the hand brake being outside. Like Mr. Lomas, I found the steering perfect, and the brakes not so! The maxitnum speed was approximately 65, and the “putter-putter” of the exhaust extremely pleasant to hear. This would change to a thunderous boom whenever the perforated lids blew off the 2 1/2 in. straight-out pipes which comprised its silencing arrangements; I always carried a supply of these lids in the car! I have before me a programme of the Essex Club’s Brooklands meeting of August 13th, 1921, at which Miss D. Addis-Price drove this same car off a long start; I do not know the results, as I was only interested in the motor-cycle entrants.
I had some agreeable runs in this car (I think it was built in 1918) in the company of S.S. Tresillian, of 12-cylinder Lagonda design fame, in the 1,100-c.c. J.A.P.-engined Eric Longden he drove at C.U.M.C.C. events in those days. I finally disposed of it to the Service Company, at Cambridge. They, in turn, sold it to a coloured student, known as “Prince Paraffin,” who drove it through a water splash, and the combination of the low carburetters and the fact that water is incompressible rather spoilt the engine.
I lost touch with the car until it turned up in 1932, in trials, driven by Miss Marshall (I confirmed this with Rodney Walkerley, of the Light Car) and then it disappeared into oblivion; may it rest in peace. Mr. Lomas may be interested to hear that two years ago I met a fellow who had, so he told me, worked at Straker-Squires. I gathered from him that the 6-cylinder 3.9-litre engine weighed 447 pounds, with generator, and was designed by Fedden; compression ratio of 5.2 to 1. Kensington Moir’s track car, with a ratio of 6.8 to 1 and lightened valve gear with return springs, gave 120 b.h.p. on a mixture of petrol-benzol-alcohol at 4,000 r.p.m. He was instrumental in painting the celebrated dazzle stripes on this famous car.
I am, Yours, etc.,