A 1913 25/35 Brixia-Züst
For those Motor Sport readers who cannot claim a readership-span of nearly thirty years I should explain, before embarking on the thirty-ninth article in this series, that E. K. H. Karslake wrote the first of these ” Veteran Types” studies for us in 1930. This first article dealt with Count Zborowski’s legendary Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang II, now owned and beautifully restored by Peter Harris-Mayes, but then in the hands of that ” purveyor of horseless carriages to the nobility and gentry,” David Scott-Moncrieff.
The intention behind Kent Karslake’s articles was to discover exciting old-timers and from the earlier articles in this series sprang the interest in big Edwardian touring and racing cars fostered officially by the Vintage Sports Car Club from 1936 onwards.
It is important to remember that Karslake insisted that the cars he wrote about should be in existence and that, indeed, he should take a short drive in them. In view of this, and the fact that he captured the atmosphere of how they were discovered, as well as including historical and technical data, these intriguing articles were unique and unparalleled by the mass of subsequent motor history which is being churned out all over the world.
In consequence of the foregoing I am anxious that ” Veteran Types ” shall remain alive, although most of the great Edwardian motor-cars have been included already, as the series was continued down the years in the care of a variety of authors. Some ears. such as Douglas Fitzpatrick’s Maybach-engined Metallurgique, Chitty-Bang-Bang I and the 200-h.p. Benz have not been included but have been the subject, as it were, of subsidiary articles. Therefore, keen as I am to continue these articles, the last of which was published in the November 1957 issue of Motor Sport, suitable subject matter is scarce.
However, having admired the imposing lines of Mr. Graham Brown’s 1913 Brixia-Züst on its rare appearances at Prescott hillclimbs, a solution to this year’s article caused me no further concern.
Apart from Mr. Brown having one of the larger and more imposing examples, Züst is a sufficiently obscure make to lend enchantment to my task.
In spite of its German-sounding name, this is an Italian car. It was apparently the product of lng. Roberto Züst, who was apparently a Swiss hydro-electrical engineer who had factories at Intra, Milan and Brescia, and who decided to build motor cars at the two latter places. These cars made at Brescia were known as Brixia-Züsts. There was an English agent operating in Long Acre but although D. Scott Monerieff states that ” quite a number of these reputedly excellent cars came into this country up to 1914 ” the fact remains that no mention of the Züst occurs in most of those sources of reference to which I am accustomed to turn for details of other long-forgotten makes, while only Mr. Brown’s example above seems to have survived of those imported. Indeed, there is some uncertainty as to when the Züst was in production. G. R. Doyle, in his tabulated ” The World’s Automobiles,” at first gave the period as 1910 to 1915 but has amended this in the later Temple Press edition to 1906 to 1909. Neither seems entirely accurate, because a Baron di Martino was killed while driving a Züst in the 1907 Coppa Florio race and a 24-h.p. Züst finished a poor third in the fabulous New York-Paris race of 1908 (not, as Scott-Moncrieff has it, in the Pekin-Paris race), while there is evidence which suggests that these cars were made at least up to the outbreak of the First World War. Some of the three-cylinder 10/15 Züsts apparently came to England as taxicabs. After the 1914/18 war the Züst was taken over by O.M,. which, in turn, has been absorbed by Fiat.
That, then, was the background to the make of car I proposed to travel to Wales to examine. Accordingly, one November Sunday, we set off on our long drive and, after lunch, under an overcast sky, having looked at the unprepossessing coast line of Llantwit Major, we drove back into that village and almost collided with the Ford van in which Mr. Brown was coming to meet us. It was then a matter of moments before we arrived together at his yard and were confronted with the broad radiator, tall cape cart hood and generous-sized wheels of that typical Edwardian touring car, the 1913 25/35 Züst.
The story of how this particular Züst came to Cardiff, to be discovered by Mr. Brown some eight years ago, is net without interest. It seems that in 1913 Enrico Bertelli, brother of A. C. Bertelli of Aston Martin fame, was in charge of the body building business of James Howell & Co. of Cardiff and that they decided to import some foreign chassis on which to display their craftsmanship. This 25/35 Züst was one of the chassis they acquired and on it they built a very eye-able three-door touring body, presumably to Bertelli’s design—in later years, E. Bertelli formed his own coachbuilding concern and made many special bodies on Aston Martin and other chassis.
Apparently the resultant handsome touring car was purchased by a Cardiff shipowner named Huss. It appeared in the 1914 Caerphilly speed hill-climb in the hands of R. F. Wakley, a well-known local driver. At this event there was a convenient class for four-cylinder cars with a cylinder bore not exceeding 100 mm., and as that of the Züst was exactly 100 mm., it ran in that class. However, it did not perform with any particular brilliance, clocking a mere 1 m. 34.2 s., finishing fourth on time and on formula. Its ascent, however, was remembered because Wakley appeared to misjudge one of the corners, the big car swerving sensationally, but recovering without further incident, a matter to which I shall make further reference later on. After the war the Züst got into the hands of a dealer, who sold it to the local racing driver, Sgonina, it is said for £850. This driver raced the 1914 T.T. Humber and a G.N. and no doubt employed the Züst as a fast road car. At all events, during the last war, by way of Motor Sport’s ” bush telegraph,” I heard that a racing Humber and a Züst lay disused in a shed in Cardiff. Having made public this exciting piece of news, Kenneth Neve went to see what it was all about and, as is now well-known, took possession of the Humber but left the Züst, which had apparently not been run since 1924, and was said to have a damaged back axle. It wasn’t until the nineteen-fifties that Graham Brown heard of the car and, having inspected it, forsook his love of 2-litre Lagondas to take it in hand. He has since done a fine job of restoration, for although the chassis was free from rust and the mechanical parts relatively little worn, rust had attacked the bonnet, mudguards and running boards, and the tyres were useless. The whole car was stripped down, Dunlop supplied new 880 by 120 beaded-edge herring-bone-tread tyres, and gradually the Züst was restored to good and original condition, as it met our gaze when we arrived on that dull winter afternoon at Llantwit Major.
The car is a 25/35-h.p. model, and appears to come between the 25 h.p. and 40 h.p. models listed in 1909. The 25-h.p. car had a bore and stroke of 100 by 130 mm., the Forty engine dimensions of 130 by 140 mm.—there was also a Seventy of 150 by 160 mm.— whereas Mr. Brown’s example has the tidy dimensions of 100 by 150 mm., giving a swept volume of 4,714 c.c. The engine number is 3113.
There is nothing particularly unusual about the Züst’s engine, even to modern eyes, although it is externally extremely neat and is obviously beautifully made. Mr. Brown, who has had it in pieces, mentions evidence of much hand-filing in its construction. It has all the cylinders cast in one block, the individual bores protruding from the base of the water jacket. Head and block are one unit. The crankshaft runs in three bearings, the H-section connecting rods carry pipes that take oil to the little-ends, the pistons are cast-iron and the valve guides are drilled directly in the cylinder block.
At the front of the engine there is a transverse shaft, driven from the timing gears by straight-tooth bevels, which drives the magneto on the off-side and a big water pump with screw-down greaser on the near-side. The magneto is a Bosch, working in conjunction with a Bosch coil system for starting. The radiator of this Züst has forsaken the square shape of the earlier cars and is of truly imposing dimensions. It has a square mesh reminiscent of the Mercedes radiators of the period, which is less surprising when it is seen that it was made in Stuttgart.
The side-by-side valves lie along the near-side of the engine, with sparking plugs and compression-taps above them, and from the back of the camshaft a drive is taken to an external oil-pump, which draws lubricant from the sump through a big external copper pipe. Incidentally, there is plenty of painstakingly polished copper and brass work on the ‘Züst; the top water pipe, which has a huge union nut where it enters the radiator of which any plumber would be proud, is but one example.
The inlet manifolding is internal, a Zenith-Züst carburetter bolting directly to the block on the oft side. The name ” ‘Züst” appears frequently about the car, on cylinder block, crankcase, valve cover and elsewhere, Roberto obviously having no reason to be ashamed of his products. Above the magneto someone has added a belt-driven dynamo. Cooling is encouraged not only by the generous radiator area but because the bonnet seals the engine compartment and air, drawn in by a belt-driven six-blade fan, is extracted by the fan-like spokes of the flywheel. Pleasing details are the two brass taps in a unit on the near-side of the crankcase, which enable the sump to be drained or its top-level ascertained, a fine brass breather, and, on the off-side, a long small-bore pipe, strut supported, which rises to the oil-gauge. The oil level taps are labelled, in Italian, ” Chiusa—Livello—Scarico.” An undershield extends to half-way down the car.
The chassis of the Züst is of really massive construction. The flywheel contains a small Hele-Shaw five-plate clutch, which becomes fierce only when in need of dressing. The drive is conveyed through a metallic joint to an immense four-speed gearbox with straight-tooth pinions, which is split on the line of its shafts so that, opened up, the layshaft can be lifted clear. Behind the gearbox a vast torque-tube, formed into a crutch at the forward end to accommodate a big universal joint under a metal cover, extends to the back axle, which has straight-tooth bevels. This axle contains a 19-tooth pinion meshing with a 59-tooth crown wheel, top gear thus being 3.1 to 1. At its first essay at Prescott the Züst experienced back axle failure and evidence was found of’ earlier back axle trouble and a casual repair. A new crown wheel and pinion had to be cut.
Below the gearbox is what appears, at first sight, to be a model back axle. This is the compensating gear for the rod-operated brakes, foot and hand controls operating separate pairs of shoes in the ribbed back-wheel drums. A hand-wheel for each system provides for easy adjustment.
Front suspension is ½-elliptic and the steering track-rod and drag-link are devoid of adjustment, which can puzzle Prescott scrutineers! The rear suspension is ingenious, what at first glance appears to be ¾-elliptic springing turning out, on closer investigation, to be cantilever top springs linked to ½-elliptics below. Each back spring thus has seven screw-down greasers.
Having set down the mechanical items of this rare motor car, we can take stock of its appearance. The driver has no door, his normal exit being impeded by the spare tyre and enormously-long brake and gear lever, the latter inside the former and both outside the body, which enables the width of the scuttle to remain slim. On a dash set well under the scuttle the only gauges are those for oil and air (petrol feed) pressure, the latter generated by a brass pump which swivels flush with the floor. There is a non-original brass electrical switch box incorporating ammeter and voltmeter and a Bosch switch cluster. Otherwise, the driver concentrates on driving, controlling the car with a four-spoke Bluemels’ steering wheel (non-original ?) which has small hand-throttle and ignition levers above it. A vast hood straps down to leave a gap above the framed single-pane screen—useful in fog—there is a bulb horn, soon to be supplemented by a period brass electrical Klaxon—for lorry drivers —and of the pedals, the accelerator is in the centre. The Züst is equipped with Lucas “King’s Own” oil sidelamps, splendid brass C.A.V. model-F electric headlamps and a brass model-TS C.A.V. rear lamp. Very choice is the period rear windscreen, with its folding side glasses, in a brass frame. The Züst carries a wooden tool box on one running board–made by Mr. Brown–and the typically Cardiff registration letters–BO.
All that remained was to go for a drive. Pressure was pumped up, a quick wind given to the handle, and the 4.7-litre engine woke to life. Soon we were rolling effortlessly along the Welsh coast roads at something like 50 m.p.h., the exhaust bellowing behind, the wind about our ears. Mr. Brown has eschewed any temptation to ” tune ” the Züst by installing lightweight pistons, etc., and its maximum speed probably does not exceed 60 m.p.h., when the engine would be doing a leisurely 1,800 r.p.m. The performance is not outstandingly brisk and although the change from third to top gear and vice versa is easy, third is on the low side and noisy, so that one is soon back, cruising easily in top gear. This car, which from certain angles looks like an English H.E., from the driving seat like an early vintage Fiat, has an exhaust note which, when the cut-out is opened, would, one feels, have pleased Mr. Toad of Toad Hall…! Fuel consumption, by the way, is 15-17 m.p.g. and oil pressure goes “off the clock”.
The steering is light and free from kick-back but exceedingly high-geared, asking about ¾ of a turn from lock-us-lock. As the unusual rear suspension promotes a tendency to wander the emphasis is very definitely on oversteer and the Züst has to be controlled with the tips of the fingers. Perhaps this is why Mr. Wakley’s ascent of Caerphilly Hill in 1914 looked so sensational to the onlookers ?
Otherwise, the Züst has no outstanding vices and virtues, being what its designer undoubtedly intended it to be, a typical Edwardian touring car, in which there is no more enjoyable way of going for a short ride in the country on a Sunday afternoon – W.B.