The Editor Discourses on the Subject of Distances Covered in Sixty Minutes by Production-style Cars
Once upon a time, long, long ago, no motor car had covered a distance of one hundred miles in the space of sixty minutes. Come to that, it was not until 1904 that a car had been timed at 100 m.p.h. even for a brief space of time. This was rectified fifty-one years ago, at Ostend, by one Rigolly in a 130-h.p. chain-drive Gobron-Brillé, which covered a kilometre in 21.6 sec., to return a. speed of 103.55 m.p.h. This car appears to have had a pointed snout, but otherwise was quite unstreamlined.
The magic century having been exceeded, it was open to restless and never-satisfied homo sapiens to attempt to maintain 100 m.p.h. for longer distances or to attain it in smaller-engined, less-powerful cars.
So we pass on to man’s attempt to pack at least 100 miles into sixty minutes, a technical achievement blending speed with reliability, and one which ever since has singled out the hour record as an extreme test of engine, chassis, tyres and driver.
In February, 1913, the late Percy Lambert was the first to achieve “100 in the hour,” at Brooklands Track, when his beautifully wind-defeating side-valve 25-h.p. Clement-Talbot single-seater, Palmer-shod, put 103.84 miles into a single round of the minute-hand. This British achievement aroused widespread interest and enthusiasm and there are, I know, persons still alive who either worked on the car or were at Weybridge on this historic occasion, and, although I set down all I have been able to glean about Lambert’s car in Motor Sport some years ago and in my “Story of Brooklands” published by Grenville, I shall be delighted if anyone can recall any more of the occasion. Incidentally, that the world’s hour-record was, before the 1914/18 war, a tough test received a sad reminder when Lambert was killed, following a tyre burst, while defending his record later in 1913.
The hour record, whether as a worlds title or in the Internationally-recognised capacity classes, has remained a difficult assignment: it progressed up to 1939 as the following table shows, and from which it is seen that the world’s title has passed out of the grasp of ordinary racing motorists; —
Almost as fascinating is the rise in speed of the hour record in the smaller-capacity classes, a subject which, as long-standing readers of Motor Sport with long memories may recall, has been dealt with in these columns some years back.
Such records, however, are open to out-and-out racing cars, perhaps specially streamlined and geared for the job, or even to specialised record-cars too extreme to be of much value for racing, such as the car with only one speed in its gearbox which A.C. once used for record attacks. What I am concerned with on this occasion, however, is the achievement of exceeding 100 miles in the hour with production-type cars, a feat which the recent B.M.C. onslaught at Montlhèry, when five of their products, three of which were saloons, accomplished it successfully, renders topical.
To be of real significance such runs should obviously be made with absolutely catalogue, or stock, vehicles. Alas, no scrutineer breathes who would accept the task of checking for possible deviations from standard, and, in British and Continental factories at all events, it is considered impractical, not done, to allow officials to select a car at random from the assembly lines before such a timed run. It was this very impossibility of ensuring that cars making such attempts were reasonably standard that decided the. R.A.C. to refuse to officially observe these attempts. However, the main idea seems to have been pretty decently adhered to, at least up to the Second World War; it was simply that the car concerned should carry road-equipment and consume pump fuel.
This particular ball commenced bouncing in 1937, when S. C. H. Davis took out an all-white 2-litre Type 328 B.M.W. at Brooklands and motored it for an hour at a speed of 102.22 m.p.h. These B.M.W.S as imported by the Aldington brothers were very remarkable cars in their day. I remember being extremely impressed by Bill Aldington’s personal Type 55, which I borrowed for a Bugatti O.C. Night Trial – its triple-Solex 2-litre engine gave excellent “poke” and the rack-and-pinion steering was a revelation of lightness and accuracy. The Type 328 was the more potent version, more shapely, and with the inclined o.h.v. engine using cross-pushrods from a normally-located camshaft, an ingenious form of valve gear pioneered by Sunbeam for a lorry power unit and developed many years later by Lago-Talbot. Since the war Bristol have made very good use of this B.M.W. engine.
Well, then, there was “Sammy’s” 102.22 in the hour as a keen challenge to all sports cars. Mind you, tongues soon began to wag, for the car ran with the passenger’s seat cowled over but screen erect, and private owners whose 328 B.M.W. s were a mile-an-hour or two short of the century said, of course, this was a non-standard car and wicked things of that kind. Be that as it may, Davis had proved that, in 1937, when, incidentally, the absolute hour record stood at a fantastic 177 m.p.h., a sports car of only 2 litres capacity and, moreover, a docile car using ordinary petrol, could very comfortably lap Brooklands at over 100 m.p.h. for an hour’s motoring.
Challenges were expected, perhaps; certainly they came! Indeed. the B.M.W.’s R.A.C.-observed run merely recalled a stupendous feat, still unequalled, put up by a Type 57S Le Mans-type 3.3-litre Bugatti at Montlhèry the previous year, when the late Robert Benoist covered 135.42 miles in the hour. I have no doubt at all but that the critics of that day, reminded of the Bugatti’s “sports-car hour,” queried whether, in fact, it ran on fuel equivalent to that sold from an English roadside pomp, and if its “hour” was timed from a standing start or from a flying lap-the last-named another “catch” in this matter of comparing officially-observed one-hour performances. Not that Benoist cared; because he, after International class records, had used a Le Mans-style, road-equipped Bugatti as sufficiently fast for the job but not necessarily with a view to limelighting this fine sports car as such.
Back in this country, 1937 saw Alan Hess in Arthur Fox’s 4½-litre open T.T. Lagonda (Reg. No. EPE 97 — even number-plates were carried), accompanied by a passenger. Oyer 104.44 miles in an hour at Brooklands under official observation a performance overshadowed the next year when Earl Howe managed 101.3 miles in the hour in a V12 Lagonda saloon; moreover, changing a punctured wheel on his way! Until the puncture he had averaged 105.32 m.p.h. Incidentally, the R.A.C. had by now refused to observe such runs, in view of the impossibility of knowing whether or not a car differed from standard specification, and Howe was timed by the B.A.R.C.
The ladies, God bless ’em, had to have a go; at least. in 1939, Jill Thomas brought out her husband’s 328 B.M.W. at Brooklands and rang up 101.22 it, the hour. That she was one-mile-an-hour slower than Davis could be taken as a measure of woman’s inferiority or as confirmation that Davis’ B.M.W. was that much quicker than yours or mine, on which count there were people quick to suggest that Thomas’ also had the edge of most of these cars.
In 1939. also, A. W. Sleator, Rolls-Royce’s French manager, took out a 4¼-litre Bentley at Montlhèry, a car endowed with an unusual streamlined saloon body by Paulin, termed the Continental, and succeeded in covering 107.42 miles in the hour. Not to be outdone in this matter of fast closed-car motoring, Bugatti fielded a Type 57C four-door Galibier saloon, also at Montlhèry, in which the late Robert Benoist. chain-smoking throughout, put away. 112miles in the sixty minutes.
Finally, on the eve of war, came George Eyston’s run in a streamlined 4¼-litre Rolls-Royce,built Bentley saloon, called the Continental, as is the lastest of today’s production Bentleys. Eyston, veteran record-breaker, used this beautiful car to cover a “sports-car hour” at 114.64 m.p.h., round Brooklands.
Apart from lone observed one-hour runs, high speeds had been achieved by competitors in the annual M.C.C. One-Hour High-Speed Trial at Brooklands, and as the faster cars in this event, which was confined to road-equipped vehicles, rose. towards 100 m.p.h., an M.C.C. Committee member gave a trophy, the Badderley Trophy, for the greatest distance attained. In 1937 wet weather spoilt things but in 1938 three cars exceeded the century. Elgood’s 4½-litre Bentley averaged 110.3m.p.h., Aldington’s 328 B.M.W. did 107.1 m.p.h., the late Sir Lionel Phillips. Bt. accomplished 106.71 m.p.h. in his Leyland Eight, which I tested at the time for Motor Sport, and Wooding managed 103.22 m.p.h. in a Talbot 95 which had started life as a saloon but now had an open body. Incidentally, passengers were carried in this event. War put paid to this M.C.C. fixture the following year and with the demise of Brooklands Track it was never revived, but I think these runs are worthy of inclusion, because the event was properly organised and timed.
After the war the game went on — indeed, still goes on. In 1948 Tommy Wisdom used a Riley-engined Healey saloon to cover 101.7 miles in the hour at Montlhèry, as a useful way of demonstrating the high speed and reliability of one of the most promising of the post-war high-performance cars. His f.s. hour was accomplished at 103.76 m.p.h.
In 1950 Leslie Johnson took his Jaguar XK120 to Montlhèry. where, partnered by Stirling Moss, he averaged 107.46 m.p.h. for 24 hours, using the car’s lamps to illuminate the thirteen hours of darkness (the world’s 24-hour record stood nearly 60 m.p.h. higher, but the Jaguar’s performance was tame compared to the International Class D 24-hour record of 123.93 m.p.h. set up in 1936 by a road-equipped sports Le Mans-type 57S Bugatti). In the last hour 112.4 miles were covered, another one for the list of “sports-car hour records.” Early the next year Johnson improved this to 131.2 miles in the hour with a Jaguar XK120 at the Paris track. This fine speed, inferior only to that accomplished fifteen years earlier, nevertheless began to lift this “sports-car hour” business into unreal realms, because, although the C-type engine modifications were now available to Johnson, at this time (although he used 80-octane fuel) the average XK owner knew that anything like 130 m.p.h. was well beyond his Jaguar’s capabilities, even for half a mile. Incidentally, a better representation of the feat, from the viewpoint of ordinary sports-car owners, was that accomplished by Tony Crook when, making use of a Bristol aeroplane to fly his Bristol 401 saloon across the Channel, he left home one morning, covered 104.78 miles in the hour at Montlhèry, and was back at his home not far from London in the evening of the same day. The next year (1951) Tony Crook did a s.s. hour run at 119.49 m.p.h. and the f.s. hour run at 0.48 m.p.h. faster in a Le Mans Frazer-Nash at Montlhèry.
The year 1952 witnessed a high-speed run by a British production-type car of truly outstanding merit — it ranks, to my mind, as perhaps our finest post-war accomplishment. Leslie Johnson, supported by Moss, Hadley and Fairman. took a Jaguar XK120 fixed-head coupé to Montlhèry, where this team captured four world’s records up to 10,000 miles at 100.66 m.p.h. and five International Class C records. It continued for seven days and nights and, although stopped by breakage of a road spring, repairs to which obviated attempts on further International records, the Jaguar coupé was officially observed to average 100.31 m.p.h. for the, total distance of 16,852 miles, This has no bearing on “100 in the hour,” except that in most of the hours involved the Jaguar exceeded 100 miles, but it was a magnificent achievement for a production-style 3½ -litre coupé — alas, in this, as with the other observed runs recalled, I am unable to tell you whether the car differed from “catalogue” and if so in what way, but a compression ratio of 8 to 1, enabling it to consume ordinary Shell petrol, silenced the sceptics! For a docile closed car to exceed 100 m.p.h. for seven days and nights is an achievement of which Bill Lyons, Bill Haynes and all concerned can still be immensely proud. Although F.I.A. rules call for any parts replaced on a record-attacking car to be carried by that car, so that after outside repairs on the fourth day the Jaguar was no longer qualified to attack official records, in fact it bettered the nearest world’s record at the end of its week of circulation by about 12½ m.p.h., this record being held by Mme. Descollas and co-drivers in a Matford’-Yacco of almost equivalent cylinder displacement but having two more cylinders than the Jaguar.
This splendid Jaguar run seemed to temporarily kill enthusiasm for the hour, but in 1953 T. H. Plowman, just for fun, took his 1924 OE 30/98 Vauxhall to Montlhèry for an hour’s canter. He recorded an officially-timed 106.91 m.p.h.. and although he used a flying-start at some 105 m.p.h. instead of the usual standing-start, in view of the age of his car I do not expect anyone to quibble at its inclusion in this discourse! Also in 1953, to mark the debut of the Sunbeam Alpine, Rootes let Johnson do an observed hour at Montlhèry in a rather special version, running with a full-length undershield in place and a wind-deflector in place of a windscreen, and it achieved 110.56 miles from a standing-start and 111.2 miles from a flying-start, after which Stirling Moss borrowed Johnson’s pullover (or was it vice versa?), got in, and did a lap at 115.85 m.p.h.
After 1953 there was a lull in this matter of observed high-speed runs, but just recently the British Motor Corporation has returned to this form of demonstration. They caused five of their cars to be taken to Montlhèry under the control of their Competition Manager, Marcus Chambers, whom I remember very well as a keen and capable driver of a big 1907 Renault in days when Edwardianism was hardly a common pursuit, as a competitor at the wheels of very hairy versions of the vintage Bentley; and, when the call came to economise, as racing a very effective single-seater Austin Seven into which Marcus was then able to insert himself; I wonder if he could today?
The B.M.C. cars concerned were a Wolseley 6/90 saloon, an Austin A90 Westminster saloon, a Riley Pathfinder saloon, an Austin-Healey 100M, an M.G. series MGA and another MGA M.G. in Series II tune. Each of these cars proved capable of covering over 100 miles in the hour under exceedingly unpleasant weather conditions.
This B.M.C. onslaught on the observed hour run differs from former attempts, for whereas in the past the theory was to run standard cars, or standard cars modified only with kits of special parts available from the manufacturer, in the case of the three B.M.C. saloons it was obvious that in standard trim they would fall far short of the 100-m.p.h. target. Consequently, they were modified in accordance with F.I.A. regulations governing production cars in competition trim. The result was that Bob Porter achieved a remarkable 108.03 Miles in the Riley Pathfinder, adding to the history of these runs by carrying three passengers in the car; John Gott managed 101.99 miles in the Austin A90, after it had burst a Dunlop on its initial attempt; and the same driver clocked 101.2 miles in the Wolseley 6/90. The maximum speed of these cars in standard trim can be taken as 100, 91 and 97 m.p.h., respectively, so that the “degree of tune” employed was equal to about 11, 14 and 8 m.p.h., respectively, allowing that the maximum for each car would be certainly 3 m.p.h. above its timed one-hour average, a very conservative estimate. Such increase of speed in cars already capable of well over 90 m.p.h. implies appreciable modification. This is more than borne out by an earlier run at Montlhèry by Bob Porter in a standard Riley Pathfinder saloon, when the best he could achieve was 94.18 m.p.h. in the hour. As “tuning-kits” are not normally available from B.M.C. for these three cars the point of these demonstrations is open to question, although it is only fair to record that normal pump B.P. Super petrol and Castrol R oil were used.
So fast were these tuned saloons that the rather droll result was that the Riley Pathfinder saloon was 3.71 m.p.h. faster than the Austin-Healey 100M sports car and the M.G. series-MGA sports car! Ron Flockhart drove the former with hood and sidescreens erect and covered 104.32 miles, and Ken Wharton handled the M.G. in like rig to cover 102.54 miles in the hour. The Series II M.G., running with its screen, bumpers and hood removed and an undertray fitted, and using a Le Mans back-axle ratio, was driven by Gott and recorded 112.36 miles for the hour, with a lap at 114 m.p.h., some reports referring to more tyre trouble at the first attempt.
Originally the spirit of such runs was to use a near-standard car in road-trim even to screen and hood. The B.M.C. party seems to have departed rather drastically from this ideal, for they inform us that the Riley Pathfinder had h.c. pistons to raise the compression ratio to 8.6 to 1, the Austin A90 bad a special two-carburetter head giving a compression ratio of 8.0 to 1, and the Wolseley 6/90 had the same special head. While all three saloons had their back-axle ratios raised to 3.7 to 1. The M.G. and Austin-Healey were in standard but tuned trim, and we believe smaller than normal wheels were fitted to the M.G. before Wharton’s run.
It was, of course, clearly stated that the cars were modified under Class 3 of the E.T.A. rules, and that pump petrol was used — another “unwritten law ” for such performances — is fully appreciated. The advertising bods, however, tended to deceive in announcing that “B.M.C. are the only manufacturers to offer you five 100-m.p.h. models yet there is no increase in the price of any of these superbly-engineered cars,” inasmuch as the three saloons would not do over 100 in the hour in the form in which they are sold, while although the modifications to the Austin-Healey and M.G. are available to customers, naturally to have them incorporated raises the price of these sports cars.
These runs commenced harmlessly enough in 1937 with attempts by reasonably-standard cars, even if aero-screens were employed and hoods stowed within the body. Very soon the R.A.C. pronounced against them, however, because of the tendency for non-standard cars to be used, and we have to accept that special streamlining was employed for the aforementioned M.G. and for the Sunbeam Alpine in 1953, the latter car dispensing with a windscreen, while undoubtedly Leslie Johnson employed some special — although no doubt freely obtainable — engine parts in his outwardly-XK Jaguar on the occasion of his 131-m.p.h. hour “record,” and the fastest of them all, the 1936 Bugatti, had a non-production, all-enveloping “tank” body.
If we include these runs we are certainly entitled to let in the little Cooper-Climax which recently set the International Class G record to 125.34 m.p.h. (subject to F.I.A. confirmation) at Montlhèry, Jim Russell “up.” Let it be clear that the car went out for International class records and it is only incidental that because it was a sports car it has the best of both worlds. It didn’t carry a hood but it did have a windscreen and it carried a full complement of lamps, a horn, battery and two seats, while it ran on normal Esso Extra petrol and Essolube oil. That it recorded over 125 m.p.h. on 1,100 c.c. is a great credit to the vest-pocket firm of Cooper Cars Ltd. and to Coventry-Climax who made the engine — it makes the Series II Le Mans-trim M.G. look 13 m.p.h. slow
These officially-observed runs arc great fun, besides being extremely instructive, and although it is now impossible to do anything about them in this country, for the “Mira” banked circuit is virtually out-of-bounds, no sports car would exceed 100 miles in the hour on our road or airfield circuits, and the R.A.C. refuses to witness such runs in any case. Montlhèry is quite handy, especially with the convenience of Silver City Airways, and Italy has the new banked circuit at Monza.
I hope we have not seen the last of these unofficial “records,” and if the hour is a bit overdone there is always the 12 or 24-hour attack. Now that saloons, even quite a number of completely standard ones, will reach 100 m.p.h., no self-respecting sports car should be content to do less than 110 m.p.h., and it would he so nice if all manufacturers of such cars would submit them to an observed sixty-minutes at Montlhèry or Monza to demonstrate the speed and reliability of their products. To conclude, I append a table of most of these unofficial hour “records” with speeds in order of merit; I think the list will be found to be reasonably complete but if I have omitted anyone it is very careless of me and I apologise in advance. The run at over 135.nt.p.h. which heads the list, by A 3.3-litre 57S Bugatti, was like the Cooper-Climax run, an International Class record; it is a magnificent achievement and makes one wonder how much progress has been made in sports-car design so far as maximum speed allied to stamina is concerned! — W. B.