A Le Mans Car on the Road
An Exhilarating Day's Motoring in Peter Clark's 1½ H.R.G.
History, they say, repeats itself. Certainly in 1939 Peter Clark invited us to borrow his Meadows-engined "Le Mans" H.R.G. for a brisk day's winter motoring and last month, ten years later, he invited us to do likewise with the Singer-engined 1½-litre H.R.G. that he drove at Le Mans and Spa this season. It will be recalled that at Le Mans Clark's car suffered from overheating due to a radiator leak, that Scott's car also overheated, but that Thompson's car won the 1½-litre class at 70.7 m.p.h., finishing eighth in general classification. In 1939 Clark's car had averaged 67 m.p.h. in winning the 1½-litre class at Le Mans. The H.R.G. team then went on to Spa, where Thompson's car, which had received no attention since the Le Mans 24-hour race, won the 1½-litre class of this further 24-hour race, at 64.5 m.p.h. Scott's car being third, Clark's fourth in the class, these H.R.G.s taking the coveted Team Award.
That, then, was the background of the car we tried recently on the road and some technical details of which were published in Motor Sport last June.
Compared with the 1939 car, Clark's present "Le Mans" H.R.G. is distinctly spartan. A scuttle-hump and Perspex screen adequately shield the driver, but if a passenger is carried he or she receives the full blast of air and the uninitiated get a greatly exaggerated sense of speed The cockpit presents an essentially business-like appearance without unnecessary complication. You sit in a comfortable fixed driving seat with side pieces to hold you firm and the pedals are small and fairly close-set, the clutch pedal slightly cut away to give foot room. The steering wheel, which takes the front wheels from one generous lock to the other in 1¾ turns, occupies your lap and the view ahead is unbroken. Beneath your legs there is a tap which cuts off the fuel supply or brings in a three-gallon reserve supply from the 17-gallon rear tank and beside it is the handwheel brake-adjuster. Beneath the passenger's legs is a fire-extinguisher and the turnbuckles for more serious adjustment of the brakes.
The mottled-metal facia carries a large Jaeger rev.-counter, with clock inset, reading to 6,000 r.p.m., but possessing "reminders" at 4,000, 4,500 and 5,000 r.p.m. To the left of this are the Smith's oil and water thermometers, oil gauge and ammeter, a lap-scorer, and pull-out switches for the magneto, choke, starter, head, side and tail lamps, the two fuel pumps, and the green "recce" lamp which shines pit-wards from the off side of the scuttle. A large switch on the edge of the scuttle by the driver's right hand puts out the headlamps, which must have been convenient at the Le Mans pits, where headlamps are expected to be switched off when a car comes in. There is a horn-push in the wheel centre, sounding a very "polite" hooter, a normal Lucas dashlamp, and a control on the extreme left of the facia for lowering reserve oil from a small under-bonnet tank to the sump. There is no hand ignition control or hand throttle. The substantial ball-mounted central gear-lever is conveniently remote from the gearbox and outside it the fly-off handbrake is usefully to hand. That is the sum total of the equipment in the "office" of the "Le Mans" H.R.G.
The car had its Le Mans' axle-ratio of 3.7 to 1 when we took it over, but was running on 5.25 by 16 tyres instead of the 18-in. tyres used for racing, resulting in a speed of just over 21 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. in top gear instead of 23 m.p.h. It was running on a 60-30-10 methanol-benzole-petrol mixture, the compression-ratio being 10 to 1, and we were told that we could expect a consumption of at least 18 m.p.g.
From the very commencement this compact, business-like H.R.G. is impressive. The engine commences easily and has an exhaust note whicht belies its outwardly-normal appearance, although this is by no means objectionable when motoring through towns. The gear change is delightful providing the clutch is fully depressed, third flicking in with a touch of throttle when double-declutching, while the lower ratios produce an immensely satisfying whine, high-pitched and purposeful in third gear, lower-pitched when accelerating in second. This gear-noise, and a hint of straight-cut gears in the back axle, brings joy to those who associate such music with the "real motor-car." In contrast the engine is virtually inaudible.
Acceleration is clean and impressive, although until we "put a watch on the rev.-counter" it was impossible to assess it, for the fairly high gear ratios preclude any "hit-in-the-shoulders" effect. The actual ratios are 11.34, 7.16, 4.63 and 8.7 to 1 and we soon found that, although the H.R.G. is perfectly docile in towns in top gear and engaging second gear is seldom necessary (indeed, to use second at low speed magnifies snatchy running due to the typically H.R.G. accelerator), conversely it paid to keep up the revs. on the open road so that third gear was frequently selected before fast corners to maintain speed out of them and this ratio is, indeed, in use for considerable periods. Encountering a weighbridge at Hemel Hempstead we drove the H.R.G. on to it. Result-14 cwt. exactly, without occupants but with 10 gallons of fuel. Out on the open road towards Royston the car proved to have a typically high-geared sense of "unburstableness," cruising contentedly at 3,500 r.p.m. (74 m.p.h.). The steering is very light, with moderate castor-action, and corners could be taken as rapidly as you cared to drive round them, with no protest from the tyres or deviation of the tail. Handling qualities can be dismissed as typically H.R.G. So can the suspension, which rendered the car distinctly lively on rough roads, the back wheels in particular having a seemingly busy time and the tail of the car sometimes, displaying a desire to dance from side to side, which quick wrist-movement of the steering wheel effectively dissuaded. You are conscious of the ratio of sprung to unsprung weight in this light motor-car. Indeed, at speed along the less-well-cared-for secondary roads this lively riding, allied to considerable movement of the facia panel and the juddering of the steering column, offered exhilarating motoring on this November afternoon that we shall not easily forget and proved that when Peter Clark goes motor-racing he does so in no "steel-hand-in-velvet glove" manner. Personally, we enjoyed it immensely, but the thought lingers that for habitual use this car might be more suited to those who have had their appendix removed, than to those who have not.
Along the straight road towards Newmarket we took some stop-watch readings. Standstill to 5,000 r.p.m. in second gear (47 m.p.h.) occupied 10.0 sec., and standstill to 4,000 r.p.m. in third gear (67.4 m.p.h.) 17.6 sec., the engine being taken to 4,000 r.p.m. in first gear and to 5,000 r.p.m. in second gear on the latter occasion. It should be emphasised that our driving methods were fairly casual and unrehearsed and no doubt Clark would record better times. We concluded these experiments by clocking the car from a steady 8,000 r.p.m. to 5,000 r.p.m. in second (32.8 to 47 m.p.h.), the sort of acceleration you use out of slow corners, and the time occupied was 5.1 sec. The engine is smooth and "pink-free," and never "ran-on" and a harshness felt at 4,000 r.p.m. smoothed out before 4,500 r.p.m., peak power being developed at 4,800 r.p.m. Normal oil pressure was 80 lb./sq. in., water temperature 70 degrees C., and oil temperature 50 degrees C.
The maximum achieved in top gear was 4,100 r.p.m., or nearly 87 m.p.h., and in third gear we reached 5,000 r.p.m., equal to 85 m.p.h. It must be remembered that a passenger appreciably increased the frontal area; at Spa we believe 103 m.p.h. was reached, on the larger wheels.
Another H.R.G. feature is the brakes, which require appreciable pedal pressure to secure effective retardation, although in fairness it should be said that the driving position which was designed round Clark and Morris Goodall found us with legs too abbreviated to prod the pedals properly, even the accelerator being somewhat uncomfortable to operate. Before the light faded we enjoyed a good look round the H.R.G. The bonnet panel is easily lifted off, as two diminutive finger-holds are provided. The Singer engine has Champion plugs, two 1¼-in. S.U. carburetters beneath a "power bulge" on the near side, shielded from the exhaust system, and a Lucas vertical magneto. The fuse boxes are numbered and spare plugs accommodated on the off side of the bulkhead. The two S.U. fuel pumps live by the off-side sidemember, feeding via flexible piping, there are extra small-bore water lines from the whittle-belt-driven water pump on the near side to the water off-take on the off side and single bayonet filler caps close the valve cover oil filler, the auxiliary oil tank and the big header tank of the special Gallay radiator. A big Tecalemit ribbed oil cooler-cum-filter is mounted transversely in front of the sump and the fuel system incorporates an aero-type filter. There is a big air-scoop for each brake, the cam-levers protruding through the gauzes of the front ones, a half under-tray, and a Brooklands-type silencer beneath the centre of the car. The tail of the car is very neatly conceived, the spare wheel laying in it horizontally; twin quick-action fillers grace the fuel tank. The clever frontal aspect can be seen in the accompanying photograph.
As the winter dusk developed we hurried back to Monaco, Ltd., where the H.R.G. is garaged, the headlamps making night as day when they could be used; we were reminded that this is a Le Mans car because no dipping device is fitted and consequently we were plunged into inky darkness whenever we had to extinguish in response to the frenzied flashings of on-coming drivers. In due course, however, Watford was reached, two chilly but wide-awake mortals indebted to Peter Clark for a very enjoyable experience.
As a new team of new Le Mans cars is planned by Peter Clark for next year, this year's team cars are for sale. We understand that the price of the car we tried is £1,250; the sounds and smell alone are worth the money. — W. B.