Great British Achievements VI

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The Editor describes Outstanding Light-Car Records — I922 and 1946

This country has favoured small cars since there were small cars to favour, and while this age of austerity continues, such cars will he more in evidence than ever. The British light car, regarded purely as transport, did„ before the war, represent extremely good value for money. If you could go into your local showroom now and buy a brand-new 8-h.p. saloon with five 100 per cent, real rubber tyres for £120 or so, you would rather feel you had achieved a bargain. The excellence of our small cars can be traced to racing and record-breaking achievements of long ago.

Before the Kaiser war cars of under 1 1/2-litres capacity were not very rapid. At Brooklands, a Singer Ten is the fastest thing I can trace; it lapped fairly consistently at 73-73 m.p.h., with a Bugatti almost as fast. McMinnies took a Morgan over to France in 1913 and won the Cyclecar Grand Prix. But, generally, the smaller cars hadn’t got what they came to boast of in later years.

After the 1914-18 war, however, things began to move. The A.C., endowed with a 16-valve, 4-cylinder o.h.c. engine, was, by 1921, a really fast car. This lean, aluminium single-seater, driven by Harry Hawker, covered the Brooklands’ half-mile, in June, at 105.14 m.p.h. — the first 1 1/2-litre to achieve the century. In 1922 Joyce lapped at over 100 m.p.h. on several occasions in Brooklands’ races in this car, and also scored the distinction of being the first light-car driver to win a Brooklands’ race at over 100 m.p.h. All this led up to an attack on the class F hour record, which the A.C., driven by Joyce, captured at 101.39 m.p.h. on November 24th, 1922.

Those were very high speeds for an unblown 1 1/2-litre of this period and no other small cars came near to these performances, although in 1923 an Aston-Martin did a race-lap at over 100 m.p.h.

It was one thing to make a small car fast, quite another to render it both fast and reliable. Yet in May, 1922, we find A.C. and Aston-Martin exhibiting both these qualities at time Weybridge track. The Aston-Martin was out to try to cover the greatest possible distance within 24 hours’ lappery. The A.C. had a more specific task, that of attempting to break the British Double-Twelve Hour record, held by a Wolseley Ten at 61.06 m.p.h. S. E. Edge sponsored the A.C., Lionel Martin the Aston-Martin, and that both of them booked Brookiands for the same day certainly added zest to what proved an historic occasion.

Before the grey dawn, at. 4.30 a.m., Lionel marshalled his crew at the bay on the Members’ Banking, just beyond the Bridge. A white line across the concrete served to mark the target at which the driver would aim his front wheels at each depot stop. A huge blackboard lay in readiness for signalling the car, there were other coloured boards for this purpose, and, tyres being what they were in 1922, a jack, wheel-brace and a box of surplus wheel nuts were set out for each wheel. The drivers were Sammy Davis, Kensington Moir and Clive Gallop. The car was none other than “Bunny,” the famous s.v. 2-seater, its bolt-on artillery wheels shod with Pirelli tyres and damped by Houdaille shock-absorbers. The engine ran on Castrol “R” and the usual Marles steering was used.

At 4.30 a.m. the little car moved off. Working up to a steady lap speed of 80 m.p.h., the driver gave the engine a pumpful of fresh oil once a lap and kept a watchful eye on the gauges, the airpressure reading in particular.

At 7 a.m., from another depot not far distant, the A.C. set out. It was a s.v. Anzani-engined car carrying a Hawker 2-seater body intended for the 200-Mile Race Rudge centre-lock wire wheels shod with Dunlop tyres were used and the engine was run on Shell fuel. It is interesting that a contemporary report states: The Aston-Martin had four speeds in its gearbox.”

This apparently curious statement was deliberate, to emphasise that the A.C., normally a 3-speed car, had but top gear in its rear-axle box! It was pushed off after depot stops. At 8 a.m. it came in and the sump was drained and re-filled, a routine which was religiously observed at the end of each hour. Joyce and Day were the drivers. Like the Aston, the A.C. had an extra oil supply, fed to the engine by hand-pump.

The Aston came in about every two hours for fuel and a check over and each driver did 3-hour spells in the cockpit. At 11.30 a.m. Lionel Martin was able to chalk up his first record, seven hours at 76.9 m.p.h. The A.C. wasn’t so fast, so that it was occasionally lapped. After seven hours “Bunny” began to mis-fire, and a plug change failed to effect a cure. However, in eight minutes the magneto had been changed for a new one, and the Aston lapped as healthily as before. Even so, that stop cost them the 8-hour record, which the A.C. took at 75.01 m.p.h.

As the day were on the heat became intense and tea was brewed in quantity at the depots. The A.C. would stop for its routine oil-drain, then hum round again, coming in unexpectedly when its oil tank worked loose, which took only minutes to rectify. After nine hours the Aston broke a spring U-bolt, letting the 10-hour record go to Edge’s camp, at 74.78 m.p.h. Both these s.v. small cars of twenty-four years ago were lapping at over 80 m.p.h., and the Aston went faster still later in the day. The A.C., on the other hand, eased up somewhat, and Gilett took a turn at the wheel to relieve its exhausted pair of drivers. At 7 p.m. that evening the A.C. finished, being sealed by officials and locked away until Thursday morning.

To Edge’s astonishment the Aston continued.

The first World’s record ever taken by a light car became Martin’s at 1,100 miles, and after 15 hours this World’s record was likewise taken, at 75.99 m.p.h. The 16, 17, 18 and 19-hour World’s records, in turn, fell to “Bunny,” together with the corresponding mile and kilometre World’s records, at 76.2, 75.02, 70.85 and 67.12 m.p.h., respectively. In all, this remarkable small car captured ten World’s records and 22 class records, from 7 hours at 76.9 m.p.h. to 14 hours at 75.99 m.p.h. Incidentally, Moir was deaf for days afterwards, and all three drivers had their backs rubbed bare against time unpadded aluminium seat. The World’s records which the Aston beat were held by a 23.8-h.p. Sunbeam and the Edge 60-h.p. Napier.

Seven a.m. next day saw the A.C. off again. It lapped faultlessly for eleven hours, twenty minutes. Then, at 6.20 that evening, the crankshaft and clutch succumbed to the strain of the arduous run. However, by that time it had covered 1,709 miles, 1,234 yards. at an average of 71.23 m.p.h. That was 128 miles faster than Edge’s 60-h.p. Napier ran in 24 hours in 1907 and 10.17 m.p.h. faster than the previous British record. The World’s record was only missed because a broken run in two spells of 12 hours isn’t recognised internationally and, of course, night running was forbidden at Brooklands.

That, then, is an account of some truly outstanding long-distance records established nearly 25 years ago by British small cars. How many s.v. 1 1/2-litre cars would, today, average over 70 m.p.h. for the equivalent of a month’s ordinary motoring? Incidentally, four days later the single-seater A.C., also using only top gear and starting on the clutch, did a standing lap of Brooklands at over 70 and broke the five and ten miles f.s. class records, at 100.75 and 100.59 m.p.h., respectively. And by the end of 1922 the 1 1/2-litre half-mile record was up to over 108 m.p.h.

Small cars became faster and faster. There was the Austin versus M.G. battle for the honour of first exceeding 100 m.p.h. with a 750-c.c. car, culminating in George Eyston’s 103.13 m.p.h. for five of Montlhèry’s kilometres in February, 1931, in what was virtually a 2-seater M.G. 120 m.p.h. was somehow the next target of note and Eyston and an M.G. scored again, in 1932.

By 1938 light-car short-distance record speeds had risen to staggering levels. Major A. T. G. Gardner had motored his 1,100-c.c. M.G. at 186 m.p.h. — and still he wasn’t content.

In 1939 this M.G. was taken out to the motor road at Dessau, in Germany, and there, for all Huns to see, it set the class flying-kilometre record to 203.34 m.p.h. and the flying-mile record to 203.16 m.p.h. One mile was covered at 207.37 m.p.h. The engine of the M.G. was then bored-out, in the chassis, to 1,105 1/2 c.c., and Gardner went out again and captured time 1 1/2-litre f.s. mile, f.s. kilometre and f.s. 5-kilometre records at 203.85, 204.28 and 200.62 m.p.h., respectively. This time the fastest run was a kilometre 206.35 m.p.h. of which must given lots of young Germans destined Hitler’s war machines plenty to digest.

Now Lt.-Col. “Goldie” Gardner has been at it again, in the 750-c.c. category. Earlier this year he took the M.G. to Italy in an entirely untried condition, because the Government let Brooklands be sold to the aircraft industry so much as batting an eyelid. He was defeated from establishing new Class H records by an awkward bend in the road and by supercharger trouble, But “Goldie” does’n’t sit about moping.

Late in October he took the M.G. to the 20-kilometre dual-track concrete road between Jabbeke and Aeltre, in Belgium. When the rain left off, Gardner got cracking — and the result is a new Class H flying-mile record to 159.151 m.p.h., the f.s. kilometre to 159.098 m.p.h. and the f.s. 5-kilometre record to 150.467 m.p.h. His best run was a kilometre at 164.722 m.p.h. This is an astonishing achievement for a 750-c.c. car, ranking with Cobb’s out-and-out car speed record in technical worth and national prestige establishment.

The previous mile and kilometre records were the property of the German driver, Kohlrausch, who also used an M.G., and the 5-kilometre record belonged to Bert Denly’s M.G. Gardner beat the old figures by 18.4, 18.5 and 21.9 m.p.h., respectively.

Gardner used a run of 15 kilometres, being timed over a 9-kilometre run. The M.G. was much as it was in 1 ,100-c.c. and 1 1/2-litre form in 1939, but the 6-cylinder, vertical valve engine now measures 53 by 56 mm. (741 c.c.). It is now fed by a Shorrock-Clyde supercharger at 28 lb./sq. in., the fuel being supplied by two 2 3/16 in. dia. S.U. carburetters. This supercharger rims at 0.392 times engine speeds. Block, crankshaft, con-rods and pistons are special and 170 b.h.p. is developed at 8,900 r.p.m. — against the 45-50 b.h.p. of the racing 1 1/2-litre cars of 1922. Lodge RL51 sparking plugs are used, and the oil pressure is +60 lb./sq. in. Chassis and body are unchanged. The latter was designed by Reid Railton and was built by M.G’s. under licence granted by W. Keller St Co., of Stuttgart. It fully encloses the wheels, and has a semi-enclosed cockpit. On his first run Gardner entered the measured distance at 6,600 r.p.m. and finished at 7,600 r.p.m. Turning round, the M.G. then got going at 7,600 r.p.m. and reached a maximum engine speed of 8,200 r.p.m. The latter speed is equivalent to 172 m.p.h., with the 4.3 to 1 rear axle ratio now used — a truly creditable speed for a motor-car of 741 c.c.

[Compiling this article gives a very good indication of the difficulties which confront motoring historians. For instance, Joyce is usually quoted as the first man to exceed 100 m.p.h. with a light car, Hawker’s 105 m.p.h. 1/2-mile in 1921 being ignored. This record apparently did not rank as a Class A (up to 1,638 c.c.) Brooklands’ record, presumably because the A.C. did not get within the minimum weight limit imposed; that 1/2-mile record, even in 1922, was at a mere 87.21 m.p.h., by a 1,504-c.c. A.C. But it did stand as a Light Car Class (1 1/2-litre) Brooklands’ record. Then no less an authority than S. C. H. Davis, in “Motor Racing,” gives K. Don as the first man to exceed 100 miles in an hour in a 1 1/2-litre car. Actually, Don covered 94.7 miles in the hour in the A .C. in 1921 and it was Joyce who first exceeded 100 m.p.h. for this period, in November, 1922. Even a list compiled by Mr. Ebblewhite for the Motor, giving the best Brooklands’ over-100 m.p.h. race-laps, and reprinted in “Wheels Take Wings,” contains an error, Joyce’s A.C. being credited with a best-lap of 102.69 m.p.h. in June, 1923, whereas, at the 1922 Autumn B.A.R.C. Meeting, one lap was achieved at 103.52 m.p.h. — Ed.)

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