Technically Interesting and Unusual Cars Recalled
Whilst delving into the files and records in connection with my forthcoming book “Racing Car Review” I not unnaturally came across many interesting things that were rather beyond its scope ; nevertheless, I felt they would make interesting reading and also it was surprising how easily one’s memory could fade.
The Bimotore Alfa-Romeo, for instance, set one thinking of that incredible machine, built in 1931, that was casually described as a 12-cylinder Alfa-Romeo but in reality was an early Bimotore, in that it had two engines and also was a product of the ever-fertile brain of Vittorio Jano. In a fairly orthodox chassis two supercharged 1,750-c.c. engines were mounted side by side, each with its own clutch and 4-speed gearbox and a torque tube drive down each side of the cockpit to two differentials, one to each rear wheel. To avoid the engines running at different r.p.m. with consequent troubles due to spinning wheels, the engines were positively coupled together. The driver sat in the centre of the cockpit with a propeller shaft on each side and both gearboxes had a lever protruding and a rod joined them together. Gearchanging could be effected with either hand — or both if necessary! With 65 by 88 mm. 6-cylinder engines the total capacity was 3,495 c.c. and at 4,800 r.p.m. a total of some 300 h.p. was available. With a weight of 23 cwt. a 3 to 1 top gear was pulled and the car was quite fast for the time. About this time, of course, fantastic cars were the order of the day with Formula Libre in operation and Maseratis were enjoying themselves with their V16 cars: in their case the two engines were mounted on a common crankcase. In the early thirties, Maserati produced an incredible 3-litre f.w.d. car that had the look of an Army truck about its axles, while Douglas Hawkes was having fun with the Derby-Miller, which he modified considerably, retaining the front-wheel drive, but enlarging the engine to 59 by 76.5 mm., or 1,673 c.c. Like so many American racers it used centrifugal supercharger running at 40,000 r.p.m., with such accurate blade clearances that if it was left idle for any length of time oil congealed between the blades and the casing and it was not unusual for blades to shear off if a careless “tow-start” was used. It revved to 6,500 and was rapid for a 1,673-c.c. car, taking records around the 140 m.p.h. figure.
Unusual cars were not confined to the early thirties for in 1934 Count Trossi built his queer special, looking rather like an early Auto-Union, but having its radial 16-cyl., 2-stroke engine mounted in front of the. front axle. The whole thing looked absurdly nose heavy, but Trossi reported that it handled remarkably well. Dr. Zoller was connected with the design, the engine having eight radially-spaced, double-piston, two-stroke cylinders, with two M.160 Zoller compressors mounted behind it and at maximum speed having a swept volume of 25,000 litres per minute. A similar compressor on the McEvoy-Pomeroy R-type M.G. gave about 7,500 litres per minute. The engine was of 4 litres capacity and mention was made of 130 b.h.p. per litre; but then mentioning things which never happened was as popular then as it is now and the following year Biondetti was hard at work building a 5.9-litre, 12-cylinder, rear-engined car with a tubular chassis and 400 .b.h.p. available. Air cooling was to be employed using a centrifugal fan and the power unit was claimed to weigh a mere 265 kilogrammes. Claimed weight produced some amusing incidents during the 1934-37 Formula. At the 1935 French G.P. Freddie Zehender watched the Mercédès-Benz being weighed in and was amused to see that they only just qualified, weighing 749 kilogrammes. He then wheeled his Maserati on to the weighbridge and very nearly passed out when the official read off 783 kilogrammes. “Incredible,” said Zehender, “I’ve been racing it in this form all the season and all the other organisers have passed it.” Every possible thing was removed, even to the seat linings but to no avail. After much consultation it was passed, the officials glibly putting the weight down as 750 kilogrammes — happy days of understanding officials and elastic regulations; they knew he couldn’t win, anyway.
Elastic regulations, of course, allowed Phillipe Etancelin to compete in Formula events with his very beautiful 8-cylinder Maserati, shown in the illustration. Having the 20-in, wide chassis the cockpit width did not comply with Formula rules, so, as shown, aluminium sheets were bolted on so that the width across the driving seat was the right amount. Ferrari’s “Monoposto” Alfas had bulgedout cockpit sides for the same reason.
Maseratis and understanding officials remind one of the story of Joseph Bradzil, at the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix, who turned up with a brand-new, 6-cylinder, 3 1/2-litre Maserati, bought for him by his friend Marcic, he having borrowed the money from his fiancée. The engagement suddenly broke up and the outcome was that the two men found themselves in gaol. As it seemed a pity to waste a perfectly good Maserati Bradzil was allowed out of gaol to drive, providing he promised to return after the race. Unfortunately, Bradzil didn’t play fair and on his first practice lap he committed suicide by keeping his foot down at 125 m.p.h. going into a corner. The crash was terrific.
Not everyone had a lust for speed in the early thirties, for in 1931 the 350-c.c. racing-car class of the Bol d’Or was won at 20.2 m.p.h. by Antony in a car of the same name. Such gentlemanly racing. Twenty-four hours single-handed round a circuit must have tested the mind as well as the body. Not content with circulating cars, three-wheelers and cyclecars round the St. Germain circuit for a whole day, the preceding day was occupied by a 24-hour motor-cycle race and one, Cheret, rode a motor cycle for 24 hours, stepped off it at 5.45 p.m. on Sunday and stepped into a Sphinx-Staub three-wheeler, using a 350-c.c. engine and at 6 p.m. he set off for another 24 hours, single handed, winning the 3-wheeler class, averaging 27.5 m.p.h. until 6 p.m. on Monday evening. One is tempted to wonder what Cheret did during the spare hr. between the motor cycle and the car event. It is also Interesting that Giraud-Cabantous, who has figured prominently in 1947 racing, won the Bol d’Or in 1930 and the following year led until 11 a.m. on the Monday morning, when he had to retire.
Turning to later times an interesting photograph was of the Evans brothers trying out the Crystal Palace circuit before the first meeting took place, Kenneth in offset 6-carburetter Magnette and Dennis in the very special Montlhèry sprint car, the latter unfortunately having been broken up since, by a “keen-type” intent on making a trials car out of it!
New road circuits have always proved interesting; just as proposed circuits have since time immemorial. Even in 1913 a road circuit was under construction and it wasn’t Donington, the Campbell Circuit or the Crystal Palace. Similarly, in 1932 the Press inspected the site of a new road circuit in Hertfordshire, but, being wise, the instigators did not say too much, preferring to get on with the work before making a song about it. To the best of our knowledge the song was never published! Brighton and Irvinghoe circuits, had so much written about them that the simple-minded could easily visualise the races held there. There are always snags, of course, but all the same credit surely to Locke-King, for was it not then 1907?
Looking back is such fun that I can hardly wait until 1970, when I can look back on 1947.