VETERAN TYPES-XXXIV

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VETERAN TYPES-xxxiv

by A. S. HEAL and

IFHEN the Automobile Club de France finally decided that in 1906 it would not organise the Gordon Bennett Race, but would run its Grand Prix instead, Britisk motorists in general, and British motor manufacturers in particular, took a very poor view of the decision. In consequence, there were no British entries for the first Grand Prix, and even in 1907 only Mr. Weigel saw fit to represent this country, with some eight-cylinder racers, which, however,

were not very successful. It rather looked as if we had retired from serious motorracing altogether. In 1908, however, there came a revival. For this race, the third of the series and the second held at Dieppe, Mr. Weigel again entered some cars. More important, perhaps, Napier, the British firm which in 1902 had won the Gordon Bennett Trophy, also entered some cars—only to withdraw them again, when they were told, unreasonably enough, that they might not use detachable wheels. And, most important of all, both in its results

and for our present purpose, an entry also came from Mr. Herbert Austin, who had been responsible for the Wolseley racers in the Gordon Bennett days, and who was now making cars on his own. The British abstention from racing, however, had been long enough that British manufacturers had in the mean time departed from the tradition of making racing cars, at least in the con ventional manner. After sticking to the old weight limit of 1,000 kilos for the 1906 race, the A.C.F. bad abandoned it in 1907 in favour of a fuel consumption limit, and in 1908 had abandoned this in its turn in favour of limiting the bore of four-cylinder engines to 155 mm. This figure, it seems, had been arrived at by negotiation—the French had really wanted to make it 160 mm., but the Italians had wanted 130 rum., and the concession of 5 mm. on. the part -of the A.C.F. presumably represented its tribute to the fact that F.I.A.T. had won the

Grand Prix in 1907. All concerned, of course, were thinking in terms of fourcylinder engines, but, since other numbers of cylinders were not barred, the fourcylinder bore limit of 155 mm. had to be translated into piston area, and other bore limits to be calculated accordingly. On this basis, that for six-cylinder engines was fixed at 127 mm. Now, abjuring slide-rules as being insufficiently accurate, and doing some very careful arithmetic, taking w to four places of decimals, we find that the piston area of a four-cylinder engine with a bore of 155 mm. is 75,476.94 square millimetres. The official answer, we believe, was 75,476.8 square millimetres, but doubtless the officials used a longer-winded 71than we have, and perhaps were less accurate. In any case, still working on our own basis, we find that the piston area of a six-cylinder engine with a bore of 127 mm. is 76,006.2936 square millimetres. This shows an error, on the credit side, when compared with the 155-mm. four-cylinder engine, of 0.70 per cent.; but, on the other hand, 126 mm. shows an error, on the debit side, of 0.88 per cent., and clearly, therefore, 127 mm. for six-cylinder engines was the correct equivalent, to the nearest millimetre, of 155 mm. for four-cylinder ones. In this fact there appeared to us to be nothing very surprising, until we reflected that in this same year, 1908. the R.A.C. ran its famous “Four-inch Race” in the Isle of Man ; and on that occasion it was stated that the maximum permitted bore measurement of four inches was equivalent to 101.6 mm. Now if 101.6 mm. equals four inches, 127 mm. equals five inches, not approximately, but to the nearest tenth of a millimetre, or possibly nearer ; and the bore limit for six-cylinder engines in the 1908 Grand Prix was, therefore, five inches. This fact appears to be purely accidental, but, as all experienced motorists know, accidents will happen ; and it seems only right and proper that at least one among British manufacturers, who at that time were still inclined to think in terms of inches, should have entered a car with a six-cylinder engine for the Grand Prix. Particularly right and proper, perhaps, in the ease of Austins, who were doubtless as reluctant as others of their compatriots to build anything so freakish as a 155-mm. bore four-cylinder, and who saw an opportunity of turning to account their standard 60-h.p. six-cylinder engine, which had a bore and stroke of 4f by 5 inches. The bore, as shall be shown presently, was capable of expansion from 4f to 5 inches by a particularly ingenious method ; and, as a matter of fact, the chief draw back to the use of this engine was the stroke. Since this latter dimension was unlimited, enterprising Continental manu facturers such as Bayard-Clement and Opel extended it to 185 mm. and their stroke-bore ratio to nearly 1.2 to 1;

whereas Austins, by sticking to the standard stroke of only 127 rum., were content with a ” square ” engine, and a capacity of only 9,677 c.c. against the 13,963 c.c. of their largest rivals. An engine of only two-thirds the capacity of his rivals was a handicap that might well have daunted a less stubborn character than Austin, who will always be remembered in connection with those remarkable little Class H racing cars that carried his name in races and hill-climbs in this country and

abroad from 1923 until 1939. But though he is most remembered for his miniature racing cars, Lord Austin’s earliest ventures had been in the production of machines to represent Great Britain in the international races for Grandes Voituresthe equivalent, in. their day, of the present F.A.I. Formula Grand Prix cars. In the Paris-Vienna race of 1902 Mr. Herbert Austin (as he then was) drove, with Montagu Graham White, a fourcylinder 30-h.p. Wolseley. It was remarkable for the fact that the cylinders lay horizontally and the crankshaft ran athwart the frame. Unfortunately, mis

firing, due to faulty ignition coils, resulted in a broken crankshaft on the second day of the race. Undeterred, however, Austin continued to develop the idea of the horizontal engine with the larger and more powerful Wolseley cars that he built for the 1903 and 1904 Gordon Bennett races. The series culminated with the 96-h.p. Wolseley ” Beetle ” (four cylinders, 6-in, bore by 6i-in. stroke), driven by the Hon. C. S. Rolls, who finished eighth in the 1905 Gordon Bennett Cup. Another Wolseley handled by Jarrott’s ex-mechanic, Bianchi, came in eleventh. Austin’s Wolseley racing cars seldom receive the credit that is due to them. Their performance in the Gordon Bennett races has, unfortunately, been largely overshadowed by the glamour built up around the achievements of S. F. Edge’s Napiers. Edge was a publicist who could not resist the limelight, whereas Austin was an engineer who was too much absorbed in his motor cars to bother much about publicity. It may help to put the achievements of these two pioneers into proper perspective if we examine the following extracts from the results of the Gordon Bennett races : 1902. Napier (Edge) —1st NVolseley (Austin)—Retired 1903. Napier (Edge) —Disqualified Napier (Jarrott) —Retired, 2nd lap Napier (Stocks) —Retired, 1st lap 1904. Wolseley (Girling)-9th Wolseley (Jarrott)-12th Napier (Edge) —Retired, 3rd lap 1905. Wolseley (Rolls) —8th Napier (Harp) —9th Wolseley (Bianchi)-11th The 1905 Wolseley ” Beetle ” was the last of Austin’s racing cars to use a

horizontal engine. For the 1908 Grand Prix he modified his standard 60-h.p. six-cylinder touring car, which had a fairly conventional vertical engine with T-head. The cylinders were each cast separately, and to enable the bore to be increased from 41 to 5 inches the castings for the racing engines were made direct from the wooden master patterns instead of the cast-iron patterns usually used in the foundry for the production of the standard engines. These iron patterns were cast from the wooden master patterns, the latter having been made somewhat larger to allow for the contraction that takes place when molten metal cools. In case the iron ones should become damaged in use, the wooden patterns were normally carefully stored, but Austin used them for making a short run of oversize cylinders for the four Grand Prix cars.

Pre-race photographs of the 60-h.p. Austin racers show a single vertical carburetter connected to the centre of a straight manifold by an inverted U-shaped induction pipe, but it seems that various experiments were made with different types of induction arrangements. The car tested by MOTOR SPORT is fitted with two horizontal carburetters that are m.otmted above the induction manifolds and feed them through water-jacketted elbows. A kind of foreshadowing of the downdraught carburetter. On the off side of the engine provision is made for driving two magnetos, the original idea being to use a pair of threecylinder instruments to fire plugs screwed into the inlet valve-caps. Shortly before the race a six-cylinder magneto was tried, in conjunction with a coil and distributor ; alternative ignition systems were thus available but they both used the same set of plugs. At present the car is fitted with Bosch dual ignition and two sets of plugs (the second set being fitted to the exhaust valve-caps). Only one set is in use at a time. Judging by the writers’ experience with the 1908 ” Four-inch ” Hutton, an improvement in

running might be obtained if both sets of plugs could be fired simultaneously ; incidentally, the capacious tool-box behind the seats was found to contain the original high-tension distributor of the coil-ignition set.

The engine is lubricated by a mechanical pump which may be supplemented, in moments of stress, by the mechanic, who can pump oil to the vital parts from an oil tank beside him. The water pump, mounted on the near side, feeds cold water into each separately-cast cylinder just below the exhaust valve, and six vertical off-take pipes, fitted to the centre of the cylinder head carry the coolant to. the large Megevet honeycomb radiator. A belt-driven fan is fitted and the flywheel spokes are cast at an angle to assist the passage of air through the engine compartment. The flywheel contains a compact disc-clutch which is. remarkably smooth in operation. An unusual feature of the gearbox, which is of an imposing size, is the overdrive top gear, third speed being direct. As was standard Austin practice, the gearshafts are supported on three bearings, which may help to account for the quiet running on the indirect geats and the smoothness of the shift.”

Four Grand Prix cars were produced,. although only three were entered in the race, leaving one as spare. On two the final drive was by cardan shaft and a fairly normal back axle (only the ratio and a strengthened differential being different from the standard 60-h.p. model). The other two cars were equipped with the classic type of final drive by outside chains running over enormous sprockets. No doubt Austin was influenced by his earlier experience with the chain-driven Wolseley ” Beetle ” and by the practice of many successful Continental racing-car manufacturers, such as. F.I.A.T., Mercedes, Richard-Brasier, etc. The car now in the possession of the Austin Company is one of the shaftdriven machines. As far as we know it is. the only one of the four 1908 Grand Prix Austins that still exists. The speeds recorded by the Austins during the race were rather disappointing. Timed by Charles Faroux over a kilometre they only achieved 82 m.p.h. With 117 b.h.p. available and the engines capable of 2,000 r.p.m. one might have expected the cars to work up to a rather higher speed on the favourable stretch of N 25 between Eu and Dieppe. The speeds on the gears at 1,500 r.p.m. were as follows :—

Overdrive top … 92 m.p.h. Direct 3rd

2nd … … 80.75 m.p.h.

… 63.4 m.p.h.

1st … … 84 m.p.h. Wooden wheels with Dunlop detachable rims are fitted with 880 by 120 beadededge tyres. The Dunlop rims gave no trouble at all during the race. The crews of the three Austins changed 17 tyres without a hitch, whereas the new design of Michelin rim, used by the Renaults and others, gave a good deal of trouble, tyres coming off at speed and the nms,

refusing to be detached by the mechanics at the pits.

A ” push-on ” hand-lever operates the brakes on the rear wheels and the pedal works the transmission brake. Originally the mechanic was able to direct water on to the brake drums from a little triangular-shaped tank behind his seat, but this little refinement was missing from the car when we tested it. The long I-elliptic springs are damped by friction shock-absorbers of a type known as “La Glissoire.” The chassis side-members are of channel-section with the lower web extended inwards, thus dispensing with the need for a sub-frame and at the same time providing a low mounting for the engine and gearbox. The Aitstins shared with the halos the distinction of having the longest wheelbase (9 ft. 9 in.) amongst the cars entered in the race. The Aust ins appear also to have been heavier than the majority of the competitors, weighing just over 26 cwt. Only the Italas and the Weigels (27 cwt.) weighed more.

A few days before the race Dario Resta overturned one of the chain-driven cars during a little unofficial practice, and on the following day lie damaged one of the shaft-driven machines when he encountered a horse and cart at a cross-roads. The Austin driver was arrested and it was only with considerable difficulty that he could be extricated from gaol and the car repaired in time to start in the race. The other two cars were handled by Warwick Wright and Moore Brabazon. The former was the fastest of the Austin team, but after averaging 63.5 m.p.h. for four laps of the 471-mile Dieppe circuit and working up to 14th place among a field of 48, he had to retire as “the bearings of the engine were practically melted out.” His mechanic had “allowed the engine and oil supply tank to run quite dry.” Moore Brabazon and Resta, however, had .no mechanical trouble, although the former suffered from water in his petrol tank. They finished 18th and 19th, respectively, having averaged 54.8 m.p.h. and 54.3 m.p.h. Less than half the starters finished.

We were unable to establish the identity of the shaft-driven car that the Austin Motor Company still possess. The engine number 1011 and the registration number BE 3 might help to solve the problem. Can any of MOTOR SPORT’S knowledgeable readers help ? The appearance of this delectable machine in the Jubilee Cavalcades, and again at the exhibition of racing cars

held at Henly Hall last winter, caused considerable excitement among the connoisseurs of such vehicles ; but, even in the Cavalcades, it was borne along on a lorry, and nobody really knew whether or not it was a “runner.” Any doubts on this score, however, were effectively set at rest by the performance of Mr. Alan Hess at the wheel of the 40-year-old racer on the occasion of the Veteran Car Club’s rally at the Austin works last summer, and it was clear that here, in full working order, was a ” veteran type” of quite peculiar interest.

There was no further room for delay. At the Editor’s bidding a contingent of Mama SPORT’S shock troops, in the shape of the present writers, was promptly thrown into action ; and thus it was that, by the kindness of this same Mr. Alan Hess, we found ourselves, one bright October morning, standing in Austin’s experimental department, which is presided over by Mr. A. Depper, who helped to build the Grand Prix cars, and surveying, not something on the secret list for 1949, but the firm’s monster racing car of 1908. A comparison with the Itala which ran in the same race, and which is familiar to both of us, as well, probably, as to the majority of our readers, immediately suggests itself, and on this basis one’s first impression of the Austin is that it is much longer and lower. Actually the wheelbase in both cases is the same to within an inch or two, but this similarity merely serves to emphasize the relatively moderate height of the Austin, which, with a side-valve engine and a stroke of 127 mm., can obviously do with a much lower bonnet than that required by the Itala with its stroke of 160 mm. and its overhead inlet valves. On the other hand, a six-cylinder engine with a bore of 127 mm. is inevitably longer than a four-cylinder with a bore of 155 mm., with the result that whereas the Itala now contrives to carry a four-seater body reasonably comfortably, the driver and mechanic on the Austin are seated only just forward of the back axle. As a matter of fact, this is not entirely due to the length of the engine, for whereas on the Itala one sits high above the world behind a sharply upswept scuttle, the designer of the Austin was apparently reluctant to waste the moderate height given him by his short stroke ; the car has no scuttle at all behind the low bonnet, and the seats are very little raised above the level of the floorboards. The long and slender steering column is

very sharply raked, and is entirely unsupported, a feature which, according to colleague Cecil Clutton, is a hallmark of a good car, and as a result of which said column waves about delightfully if the engine is running and no one is holding it. The wheel on the end of it gives the impression, when one first tries the driving position, of being a very long way away from the seat, an impression, incidentally, which completely vanishes when the car is on the move.

For the moment, however, a couple of mechanics were patiently engaged in getting the car ready for the road. In its present state, the car only has its standard fuel tank between the dumb-irons, and petrol is brought to the carburetters by means of pressure supplied by an aerotype hand pump, which also starts oil circulation when switched over to the appropriate tank.

These preliminaries having been attended to, an apparently anachronistic adjunct in the shape of a detachable starting handle was set in motion and the engine swung against half-compression, with the aid of which even a 10-litre ” six ” turns without undue difficulty, while the presence of a coil means that it does not have to turn unduly quickly.

No sooner had it started than one was struck with its extraordinary silence, compared with contemporary four-cylinder units of approximately similar power. The mechanics, however, were far from satisfied with its regularity of running, and, indeed, it was fairly clear from the exhaust note, in spite of a remarkably effective silencer, that she was not hitting evenly on all six cylinders. Both ignition systems were suspected, tested, and found apparently blameless. The engine, however, has two exhaust manifolds, each serving three cylinders, and as the engine continued running it became clear that while the hinder of these was warming up nicely, the front one was remaining depressingly cool. This turned suspicions to number one carburetter, and at length, after a careful comparison of both instruments, it was revealed that part of the main jet present in number two was absent in number one. The cause, or so one of the mechanics shrewdly suggested, was that Mr. Hess had got the throttle so wide open during the V.C.C. hill-climb that the engine had just inhaled anything that it found it could dislodge. All this, of course, was taking time, and our host was inclined to apologise for the fact that the car was not one

hundred per cent. ready by the time we arrived on the scene. We assured him, however, that this would hardly have been in the vintage tradition ; one does not expect to leap into a 1908 racing car and dash straight off in it as if it were an A 90. Secretly, we were a little comforted by the reflection that even professionals have their problems. Our complacency, however, was quickly shattered when the Experimental Department, having discovered that part of a jet was missing, calmly set to to make a replacement.

This effected an improvement and, although the engine still did not sound perfect, we decided that we could not afford to delay any longer. The MOTOR SPORT crew, therefore, clambered on board, with the bolder of the two occupying the driving seat. We reversed out of the experimental shop and, with sundry splutters and bangs from the big engine, shot up the hill to the perimeter track of the Austin aerodrome.

Grateful as we are to have had the use of this track at all, truth compels the admission that it is hardly ideal for testing a 40-year-old 90-miles-an-hour motor car with which one is not familiar. It is by no means wide, it is nowhere. straight, and it is pitted in places with some very nasty holes. Moreover, the sometime aerodrome which it encircles was being prepared at the time of our visit for the erection of new factory buildings, with the result that the view was obstructed at frequent intervals by temporary buildings and such like, there was a lorry park on both sides of one section of the track, and at irregular intervals fresh lorries emerged from the feeder roads to join them. All these hazards, we felt, we could have taken in our stride if only our mount had been fitted with a throttle pedal. In its original single-carburetter guL:e it apparently had one, but when the two carburetters were fitted, the pedal was dispensed with, leaving only

the band throttle on the steering wheel. This is a species of control with which, it seems certain, our predecessors were more apt at coping than is the present generation of drivers. All of us find it awkward ; and when, as in the present case, the throttle lever and its quadrant turn round with the steering wheel, some of us find it intolerable. Not that either of the test-crew need admit to callow inexperience in this matter, for both of us have driven the 1908 Sizaire Naudin, which shared with the Austin this idiosyncracy in its engine-speed control ; but then, as we both cordially agreed, on the Sizaire things did not happen quite so quickly. As it was, we found ourselves on one occasion sweeping round a long left-hand bend, with the Austin on its third speed and the rev.counter indicating the equivalent of some 50 m.p.h.; a little way ahead, a whole host of obstacles were looming up through the autumnal haze ; and it was in these circumstances that the driver and passenger saw fit to enter into a somewhat heated argument as to which way the throttle shut! Of course, the passenger was right, because panic had stimulated his wits to an abnormal extent, but lest anyone should suppose that the driver was being merely obstinate, it should perhaps be explained that,

unless the throttle is opened very progressively, further opening beyond a certain point seems actually to slow the engine ; and as this point had been passed on the present occasion, partial closing of the throttle served only to accelerate the motor.

We have inevitably dwelt at some length on this throttle question, because it is the aspect of the car that would almost inevitably most vividly impress itself on the present-day driver. Once one becomes more or less accustomed to it, however, one begins to appreciate other qualities of this really remarkable motor car. In the first place, the low driving position presents a remarkable contrast to that used on the majority of contemporary machines, and one is inclined to regard it as phenomenally modern, until one remembers that it is a direct legacy from the Wolseley “Beetle.”

Even the push-on. hand brake represents a link with the earlier racing car. The plate clutch, at least in its present condition, tends to drag somewhat, and it is difficult to engage a gear quietly with the car at rest. It is, however, beautifully smooth in its action, and combines with the multi-cylinder engine to give a delightfully easy take-off, in spite of the high bottom gear. Once under way, one immediately appreciates the almost complete silence of the indirect gears, due, presumably, to their excellence of manufacture and the massive size of the gearbox. One is inclined to regard almost with incredulity early motorists’ accounts of long runs on which, in order to avoid speeding, they never “got on to the top speed ” ; and, indeed, in the majority of present-day cars this would be an intolerable proceeding. But on the Austin, second is the pleasantest touring gear imaginable, the engine giving no impression of working hard, and the gearbox no impression of working at all. The direct-drive third was really the highest speed which we could use to any real advantage on the perimeter track, but, with modernity’s passion for so doing, we both essayed to use the overdrive top, and both, inciden tally, found that the change down to third again was surprisingly tricky, unlike others on the box, which went with the ease that is typical of good Edwardian cars. Top, however, was really too high for the prevailing conditions, except on one occasion when the engine was induced to hit good and hearty on all six cylinders while pulling it, and the next hazard loomed up so quickly that the passenger forgot his job of watching the rev.

counter, which was probably showing some 1,000 r.p.m., equivalent to about 60-m.p.h. At which moment. the driver fortunately remembered which way to shut the throttle. Intermittent faulty carburation entirely defeated our attempts to time the Austin over a standing quarter-mile, and physi

cal conditions effectively prevented our even attempting to test maximum speed. We were forced, therefore, to content ourselves with general impressions, but neither of us felt ourselves so surfeited with Edwardian motoring as to fail to appreciate that here was something not quite like anything which we had ex

perienced before. The Austin is not, probably, quite so fast as the 1910 F.I.A.T. or the 1908 Itala, but it must be in the same class as they are. By comparison, the F.I.A.T. has what feels like a high speed engine, but the Austin, instead of the ” punch ” of the Itala, has that steam

engine quality of the big six-cylinder, which makes its performance rather like that of a “Silver Ghost” Rolls-Royce chassis, only more so.

One way and another, it is a matter for the liveliest rejoicing that this motor car has been restored to running order. It is probably the only British Grand Prix-type car of the 1906-8 era which survives, and although the English idiom in such products differs from the Continental, it is none the less fascinating on that account.

The car needs some detail tuning to iron out those wrinkles which years of idleness have allowed to form in its anatomy. It needs a foot throttle, if it is to be driven by modern man in modern conditions ; but this should not be a difficult modification, and would apparently only restore matters to their original condition. Its sponsors consider that it needs new wheels, the original wooden artillery ones showing some signs of old age, although we ourselves thought that we had seen many worse.

With these minor improvements it would become one of the most delectable motor cars in the country ; although, just for ourselves, we think that if we are lucky enough ever again to have the chance of driving it, and if we could select the venue, we should plump, perhaps, for that 48-mile circuit at Dieppe on which it first went into action.