The Production Model Ballots

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Continuing our informative articles on classic vintage sports car is this contribution by Paul Frere of Brussels on that famous French car, the Ballot. He deals not only with the 2 LT and 2 LTS 2-litres, of which quite a number are still in use in this country, but with the rare twin-o.h.c. 2-litre, an even more rare six-cylinder, and the imposing straight-eight in its several forms. — Ed.].

Though I cannot claim to have had considerable experience in driving Ballot cars, because I was too young to be allowed to drive regularly the four models my father owned from 1924 to 1936, except the last one, I might perhaps venture to say that I have a more extensive knowledge of them than the majority, even among enthusiasts, first because, even as a small boy, I was immensely enthusiastic and did not fail to take notice of everything that happened to the car, and also because I have in my possession rather comprehensive literature on the various Ballot models.

Before 1914, the Ballot works were specialising in building both car and stationary engines one of the best-known car manufacturers using them being Delage. After the Kaiser war, Ballot decided to go in for the manufacture of complete cars and got hold of that famous engineer M. Henri, who had gained fame in building the 1914 twin o.h.c. racing Peugeots. Up to 1921, only racing cars were built, straight-eights of 5 and 3-litres, then 2-litre, four cylinders. Of the straight-eights, Anthony Heal and Cecil Clutton have given much more detailed descriptions than I could produce, so I will begin my account with the first production model, the “2-litres Sport,” which was developed from the 1921 racing 2-litre. [Apparently about 50 were made, the chassis price being £1,200. — Ed.]

In accordance with the general practice of those times the chassis was, by modern standards, of rather generous overall dimensions, having a wheelbase of 110 ins, and a track of just over 51 ins. Both the front and rear axle were underslung on rather flat semi-elliptic springs. The drive was taken via a cone clutch, a separate 4-speed gearbox with visible gate right-hand change and an open propeller shaft to a fully floating split rear axle, of which the differential casing was of aluminium alloy. The final drive was by spiral bevel.

The four cylinders of the engine were held by studs on a cast aluminium crankcase. Bore and stroke were 69.9 by 130 mm., which gave, taking into account a slight offset of the cylinders from the crankshaft, a swept volume of 1,986-c.c. Four valves per cylinder were operated from twin o.h.c., driven from the front of the engine by a vertical shaft and bevel gears. The two-piece crankshaft ran in three roller bearings, but the big-ends were plain, with fully-floating two-piece bushes as in the Ford V8. The con. rods. were of I-section. The induction manifold was external and drew mixture from an updraft carburetter which, I believe, was of Zenith manufacture. The exhaust manifold, on the other side (near side) of the engine, was beautifully swept. All the auxiliaries were driven from the lower end of the vertical timing shaft, at the front of the engine, the dynamo being in line with the engine, whereas magneto and water pump were on either side of a transverse shaft. Also at the front, but at sump bottom level, was the oil pump, of gear-type. There was no fan.

Engine and gearbox were assembled on a subframe which had a three-point ball mounting in the rather whippy chassis.

The steering was of worm and nut pattern and the front wheel brakes were made under Isotta-Fraschini patents, the brake shafts being carried by the axle. The outside lever applied the front brakes only, the rear wheel brakes being cared for by the pedal.

Rudge wheels for 815 by 105 or 820 by 120 tyres were fitted and four Hartford friction shock absorbers were standardised.

I have had no personal experience of this model, but, judging from a road-test which was published in La Vie Automobile in 1924, the performance was obviously very good. The car tested was fitted with a very low-geared back axle, as it had previously competed in a hill climb, so that the maximum speed for the open 4-seater was something between 84 and 87 m.p.h. and the engine reached over 4,200 r.p.m., which is about 400 r.p.m. above peak revs. The tester estimated the speed with the correct ratio at about 93 m.p.h. In spite of the fact that the car sealed about 25 cwt. 2 qtr. in road trim, the acceleration was very good, 60 m.p.h. being reached in 1/4 mile, and 80 m.p.h. in 1/2 mile, the acceleration from 60 to 80 being specially outstanding. This more than confirms an unofficial claim of 70 b.h.p. A brake test gave a stop in 39 ft. from 30 m.p.h., which was good at that time.

With its beautifully-shaped radiator placed well behind the front axle and with its highest point only 3 1/2 ft. above ground level, with its long bonnet (the engine was set very far back in the frame) and driver’s seat, quite close to the rear wheels, the “2-litres Sport” was a car to delight the vintage enthusiast I wonder how many have escaped the breaker’s yards? If there is any such car left in England, it may interest the owner that M. Decrose, who is the agent for the Nuffield Group in Brussels and who raced these cars very successfully at the time of their glory, still owns, a dismantled engine of the type under review, of which only the crankshaft is broken. He has contemplated rebuilding it for many years, but has never found time for it, and I am sure that, being a great enthusiast himself, he would sell it for spares to anyone interested.

At the end of 1923, the Ballot works launched their first real touring car, called the “2-litres Tourisme ” or 2 LT. [The chassis price in 1927 was £450. — Ed.] But for the engine dimensions, it was a complete departure from the sports model. A single overhead camshaft was used, light and hollow hardened steel pistons being interposed between the vertical valves and the cams, only two valves per cylinder being used. The camshaft was driven from the front end of the crankshaft by means of a vertical shaft and skew gears. Water pump and ignition distributor (or, optionally, magneto) were driven by a cross shaft, as in the sports model, but the dynamo had a separate drive and was on the near side of the engine. On the same side were the sparking plugs and the exhaust manifold, the intake being on the off side, with internal piping and a triple diffuser Zenith carburetter. A fan was fitted and was also driven by skew gears from the vertical timing shaft, a dog clutch being provided for easy engagement or disengagement. Aluminium alloy pistons were used, with floating gudgeon pins in long and whippy-looking connecting rods having two-bolt white-metalled big-ends. The, by modern standards, very light crankshaft ran in three white-metal bearings and had external circumferential oil ducts. The cylinders were slightly offset from the centre line of the crankshaft. They were cast in one unit, held down on the aluminium crankcase by eight studs.

The engine was built into a unit with the noisy and rather slow 4-speed gearbox which had rather wide ratios, but a wonderfully rigid ball-mounted central lever. The clutch was of single-plate type and very good. The unit had a three point rigid mounting in the frame, two at clutch housing level and one on the front transverse member supporting the radiator. As in the sports model, Hotchkiss drive was used, but in connection with a steel banjo semi-floating rear axle.

The chassis was dropped just behind the rather flimsy aluminium scuttle. There were four cross members of U-shape and in addition, the dumbirons were tied together at their foremost and rearmost ends by a steel tube. The springs were flat semi-elliptics, underslung at the rear, but overslung over the front axle. In contrast to the sports model, the hand lever operated the rear wheel brakes, whilst the Isotta-pattern front brakes were operated by the pedal. The drums were made of pressed steel and were not finned, but they were of useful size and stood up to their job very well. There was a compensating mechanism incorporating miniature differentials between the brakes of each axle. The brakes were rod-operated throughout.

The 2 LT was in production from 1923 to 1928, but underwent a number of modifications during that period. The first batch of chassis had the hand brake to the left of the gear lever, but it was moved to the other side in 1924. My father’s first car, which he bought in spring 1924 had it in that position. The chassis number was 888. For 1925, a Dewandre servo was used; it could easily be fitted to existing chassis. The servo amplified the action of the brake pedal and acted on both front and rear brake. A brake test by La Vie Automobile showed the almost unbelievable stopping distance of 23 ft. from 30 m.p.h. The hand brake became thus an emergency brake and was, in 1926, again moved away from the driver’s legs, to the near side of the gearbox. The Hartford dampers originally used were replaced for 1925 by a type increasing the friction between the leaves; these were again abandoned in 1926 in favour of Excelsior-AFA friction type.

The first chassis were very whippy; my father’s first car broke both its dumbirons and the aluminium scuttle also broke at several points. It must be said, however, that the body fitted was rather too heavy. It is nevertheless of interest that to stop the body disintegrating, it had to be mounted on two points in the centre line of the chassis, with the main body frame about an inch above the chassis, lateral coil springs maintaining the body in position.

For 1926, the dumbirons were considerably increased in height; this made a lot of difference to their stiffness and allowed the use of low pressure 31 by 5.25 tyres instead of the 820 by 120 used formerly. With the lighter chassis, the low-pressure tyres were said to ruin the steering, though we cannot claim experience on this matter. At the same time, the cast aluminium scuttle was also stiffened. In 1925, the 2 LT chassis had been brought into line with the newly-introduced 2 LTS by fitting twin 6-volt batteries in series instead of the single 6-volt. The voltage thus changed over from 6 to 12-volt. Other modifications included a slightly modified, more rigid crankcase, which was necessary in view of the greater output of the 2 LTS and was also adopted for the 2 LT, a camshaft damper spring, a valve-cover breather, the removal of the fan, which could, however, still be fitted as an extra, and fitting the plugs to the other side of the engine. The height of the radiator was increased by about 2 ins. Low-pressure tyres were, however, only introduced for 1926, together with the stiffer chassis, as mentioned before. From 1926, to 1928 when 4-cylinder Ballot cars were discontinued, no major .changes were introduced.

In 1925 the “2-litres Sport” was discontinued and was replaced by the aforementioned “2-litres Tourisme-Sport” (2 LTS), which was identical with the contemporary 2 LT, except for the valve gear, which incorporated valves with an included angle of 50 deg., actuated, as in present Singer engines, by short rockers from the overhead camshaft. The carburetter was of Viel manufacture instead of Zenith. [The chassis price of the 2 LTS in 1927-28 was £445. — Ed.]

This model had the sparking plugs on the carburetter side right from the start and with this model a slightly different crankcase was introduced. The valves were bigger than on the 2 LT model and the engine ran at 3,500 r.p.m. instead of 3,000. Manual ignition overriding control was fitted and the Rudge caps were eared.

Here are some numerical data about the cars: —

Bore and stroke: 69.9 by 130.
Peak engine speed: 2 LT, 3,000; 2 LTS, 3,500 r.p.m.
Chassis weight: Originally about 19 cwt. 1 qr.; it increased to 19 cwt. 3 qr. in 1925 and 21 cwt. 2 qr. in 1926-28.
Gearbox ratios: 1; 1.48; 2.56; 3.94 to 1.
Back-axle ratios: 11/52 or 11/55 optional.
Wheelbase: Normal 122 Ins.: long (introduced 1925) 129 ins.
Track: 53 ins.

Curiously, the valve timing was the same for both the 2 LT and 2 LTS, this being; —
Inlet opens 5 deg. after T.D.C.
Inlet closes 45 deg. after B.D.C.
Exhaust opens 50 deg. before B.D.C.
Exhaust closes 10 deg. after T.D.C.
On both cars, the ignition timing was at T.D.C. fully retarded, with coil ignition, but with magnet ignition, the timing was 20 deg. before T.D.C. for the 2 LT and 10 deg. before T.D.C. for the 2 LTS.

In the 2 LT, the valves could only be adjusted by removing the camshaft. The adjustment was by small hardened-steel washers which were put inside small caps on the valve stem. To make accurate adjustments, it was necessary to take careful note of the clearance of each valve before removing the camshaft and then selecting the washers to obtain the exact clearance required. I well remember performing this tedious job at night under my father’s supervision; in fact the whole family took part in the proceedings, but once the job was correctly done, the setting did not alter for a long time. Correct clearance is 23/100 mm. for the 2 LTS and 30/100 mm. for the 2 LT, with a cold engine and for both inlet and exhaust valves. In the 2 LTS, valve adjustment is very easy and placing of the washers only involves removing the rockers, each pair being held by four nuts.

My father’s second car was a long chassis 1926 2 LT, chassis No. 1812 which he purchased in September or October that year. He had it fitted with a 4-light Weymann saloon body and, in spite of the longer chassis and its generally stronger build, it scaled nearly 4 cwt. less than the 1924 model. The performance was thus much bettered and we had still no intention to sell it when my father was tempted by a second-hand straight-eight, in 1930. When the car was sold, it had done 40,000 trouble-free miles, except for the fact that, at 20,000 miles, the engine was ruined in one day when an unscrupulous garage attendant in Norway put some third-class brand of oil into the sump instead of the specified Mobiloil. The Dewandre servo was a big improvement; it acted on a cable connecting the front and rear brake linkages, by means of two jockey pulleys which twisted the cable into an S shape, thus obtaining full compensation between front and rear wheel brakes.

It was as well to ascertain from time to time that the cable was not on the point of breaking. When it broke, however, the pedal still applied the front wheel brakes and the hand lever could be used to apply those at the rear. For greasing the servo piston, it is recommended not to use too thick grease, as this tends to make the piston stick.

The stiffer frame, together with the lighter body, made quite an improvement to the roadholding of the 1926 car, as compared with that of the 1924 model. The good roadholding of the car was enhanced by the rather heavy but magnificent steering which has been a feature of all Ballot cars. I have never come across any car of the make in which the steering gear (by worm and nut) had developed any play. The only point to watch is that the drop arm is held firmly on its splines. The action of the steering was perfectly positive but extremely smooth; the aforementioned heaviness can be accounted for by the high gearing, but never was there the slightest trace of “sticking.”

As regards performance, the 2 LT was good for about 66 m.p.h. and the 2 LTS was tested by La Vie Automobile at a mean speed of 72 m.p.h. with 4-seater touring body.

At the beginning of 1927, Ballot catalogued a 2-litre 6-cylinder model of 65 by 100 mm. bore and stroke. Its chassis was very much like that of the 4-cylinder cars, but was much longer, having a wheelbase of about 133. ins. The engine had a 4 bearing plate-type crankshaft and the valve gear was identical with that of the 2 LTS. The main departure from previous practice was the fact that the camshaft was driven by chains from the front of the engine, the lower chain also driving the magneto. A twin-choke carburetter of Zenith manufacture was used and the dynamo was driven off the front end of the crankshaft. This model, the 2 LT 6, must have been produced in only very small quantities; I, personally, have never seen one. It was superseded almost at once by the straight eight, type RH.

The RH model appeared at the Paris Motor Show of 1927. Its chassis followed very much the lines set up by the four-cylinder models, but it was longer (130 1/2 ins.), the track remaining at 53 ins. The front springs were set a little closer together to provide a better lock. A long chassis had 142 ins. wheelbase.

The main interest centres on the engine, which began its career with a bore and stroke of 63 by 105 mm., which was increased during the following year to 66 by 105 (type RH 2) and to 68 by 105 (3,050-c.c.) (type RH 3) in 1930. [The RH 3 cost £790 as a chassis in 1931. — Ed.] Except for the fact that a nine-bearing, plate-type 2-4-2 crankshaft, machined from solid, was used, and the fact that the overhead camshaft was driven from the rear, the general layout of this engine very much resembled that of the 2 LT. At its lower end, the skew gear vertical 3-piece timing shaft drove the submerged oil pump, in its middle the coil ignition distributor gears and at its upper end, of course, the camshaft. The pistons had an aluminium alloy head and a cast iron skirt; in my father’s car, two skirts broke after 40,000 miles at legs than 300 miles’ interval, causing otherwise no damage. On very late cars I believe that the pistons were all-aluminium alloy. The connecting rods were much stronger than on the 2-litre cars. The dynamo was driven from the front end of the crankshaft and was said to serve as a torsional vibration damper, but a slight period around 2,500 r.p.m. was still noticeable. Firing order was 1-6-2-5-8-3-7-4, and twin contact-breakers were used. As in the 2-litre cars, the cylinders were slightly offset from the crankshaft. The valve timing is as follows: —

Inlet opens 9 deg. before T.D.C.
Inlet closes 46 deg. after B.D.C.
Exhaust opens 52 deg. before B.D.C.
Exhaust closes 8 deg. after T.D.C.

The valve clearance should be between 15/100 mm. and 25/100 mm. with the cam opposite the valve stem. The ignition setting is 16 deg. before TDC, fully retarded. There is no manual ignition control. A twin-choke updraught Zenith carburetter was used.

The fan was driven through a plate clutch from the camshaft, the clutch having Bowden control from the facia. Turning at camshaft speed, however, and being of rather small dimensions, the fan was not a much use and the car tended to overheat in mountain going. Those who should know say that the RH did not develop more than 65 b.h.p.

The clutch was of the two-disc type and four back-axle ratios were available: 10/55, 11/55, 11/52 and 12/54. I think that the gearbox ratios were as on the four-cylinder cars. The chassis weight was kept down to 22 cwt. 2 qr.

This model had finned brake drums. Though I never timed our cars, I believe that the maximum speed of the RH 3 (68 mm. bore) was in the neighbourhood of 75/78 m.p.h. with the 11/52 back axle and an all-up weight of about 33 cwt.

My father’s first car was a 1928 model (No. 6186) which he bought second-hand after it had been brought up to 1930 specification. Soon after he had bought it, he had it completely overhauled at the works and the car lasted another 40,000 miles.

In 1934 the body was transferred on to a chassis of the latest type, which included some modifications. The most obvious of them were broader springs giving a softer action, Houdaille hydraulic dampers instead of the former Excelsior AFAs, a belt-driven fan turning at engine speed and of much more generous dimensions than formerly, which made radically away with all overheating difficulties, a new type of gearbox with a longer and slimmer lever and in which reverse gear was no longer in line with first and second (a big improvement for quick changes down to first) and which was quicker and more silent. The new fan arrangement made it necessary to have the radiator mounted about 2 1/2 ins. farther forward.

A point to watch is the steering drop arm. In early straight-eights it was too slim and we broke one, fortunately when manoeuvring. It was replaced by the works free of charge for a heavier one, and this must have been a dangerous weak point, as I know that the works wrote to every known owner of this type of car, offering a free replacement. It is also essential for good steering that the front tyres be correctly balanced and toe-in will induce wheel wobble.

My father’s cars have been sold all over Europe and I wonder how many are still running. No. 888 went to a car-hiring company in the Black Forest; No. 1812 was sold in Brussels and I saw it just before the war being towed towards, I fear, a breaker’s yard. No. 6186, the first 8-cylinder, was left at the works in Paris and No. 7000 and something was sold in Vienna in 1936.

Two straight-eights and two 4-cylinders are still to be seen regularly in Brussels, in addition to M. Decrose’s breakdown van, which is a 2 LTS of 1925 vintage. The last-named I acquired recently.

This car is late 1925 or early 1926, having the lighter type of chassis and beaded-edge 820 by 120 tyres, but twin 6-volt batteries and normal friction shock absorbers, Hartford in front and Excelsior-AFA at the back. Judging from the general condition of the car, the very low mileage recorded, 32,000, seems to be true. The only thing I had to do to put the car into perfect running order was to fit new batteries. The whole car gives the impression of halting been serviced really adequately throughout its life, even during its duties as a breakdown van. The chassis is perfect, but for some lateral play in the spring shackles and some, but not excessive, play in the king-pins. The engine uses practically no oil and has excellent compression.

This car gave me a more personal acquaintance of the 2-litre than was possible twenty years ago. As the body comprises only a scuttle, a bench-type front seat, screen and hood with, at the back, only a luggage boot and the spare wheel, which have replaced the garage equipment, the light chassis is perfectly adequate and, the weight of the car being very low for its type (I estimate it at about 22-23 cwt.), the performance is excellent. My main pre-occupation being not to blow-up the engine, I never tried for maxima in the gears or in top, but the car will cruise all day at a genuine 50-55. The highest I have cared to go is a genuine 65 m.p.h. Acceleration off the mark is rather sluggish, as the flywheel seems to be very heavy, and taken as a whole, the car is not particularly pleasant to drive in town. When starting, I always use bottom gear, in order to spare the clutch, getting into second after two or three yards, but the quickest getaways are made in second. When the gearbox oil has warmed up, all changes upward are desperately slow, except third to top, which is comparatively quick. Double declutching only makes things worse, because of the heavy flywheel. Downward changes can easily be made without moving the accelerator from the floorboards and the position of the pedals enables the engine to be speeded up easily while braking.

It is only on the open road that the car really comes into its own. Steering to a hair, endowed with good brakes, and having excellent acceleration between 40 and 55 m.p.h., the 2 LTS is more than a match for most present-day popular cars.

I may add that my car is not fitted with a Viel carburetter, but with a Zenith similar to the type used in the 2 LT. I have not looked at the jet and choke sizes, but I find the mixture-control lever on the instrument panel an extremely useful fitment, giving good economy when cruising at reduced speed, while the mixture for maximum performance can be had by a simple flick at the lever whenever this is required. A Scintilla magneto is fitted, adjustment being by a very accessible Vernier coupling.

Even on present-day petrol, it seems to be impossible to make the engine pink through too much advance and it requires a considerable amount of over-advance to make it feel rough. The only result of too much advance seems to be to cause pre-ignition as soon as the engine is called upon to do some hard work. I took the car to Italy this year, first having rebuilt the wheels to take 6.00 by 20 tyres. The car ran beautifully for this trip of over 2,000 miles and, in spite of having no fan, climbed the St. Gotthard Pass on a hot day at a speed which earned the respect of most modern cars similarly engaged, with no overheating. Oil consumption was rather heavy, so I took the head off on my return, only to find the bores perfect; probably new piston rings will restore matters. Chassis and engine numbers of my car are respectively, 3215 and 47212.