A chat with H.G. Munton

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91

The other day I had a chat with H. G. Munton, Works Manager of Boon & Porter Ltd., who was racing mechanic to the late B. S. Marshall in the “good old days.”

Fortunately Mr. Munton has kept his collection of Press photographs of those days, as an aid to memory refreshment. There are fine pictures of most of the cars Marshall—he of the black overalls and helmet—drove at Boulogne, Le Mans, on Brooklands and in sprint contests. There is the little Mathis, for example, built for the 1914 season, commandeered by the Germans during the war, recovered by its makers, and driven from Strasbourg to London by Munton for Marshall, who was a Mathis agent and had appeared in J.C.C. events with an 8-h.p. sports model of this make, to race at the Track.

This Mathis had a chain-drive o.h.c. engine and virtually no body—just a bolster petrol tank and two seats. Mr. Munton showed me one amusing photograph of it, the car leaning forward on oval wheels, as the plate cameras of those days depicted racing cars at speed, the Mathis with Marshall and himself on board right over the broad finishing line painted across the Finishing straight. There is an interesting story attached to this picture. Apparently the great French driver Chassagne was in the same race, driving the 5-litre Ballot, and he claimed to have won. The race was, however, awarded to the Mathis, by 2/5 sec., and this photograph, although not developed immediately as in a modern “photo-finish,” is there to prove the judge correct.

Later the little Mathis was repainted black, given a bigger exhaust pipe, the large steering wheel favoured by Marshall, and Houdaille shock-absorbers. A dodge adopted to fox handicapper Ebblewhite was to substitute 760 x 90 back tyres for the customary 710 x 90 tyres, which gave a small increase in speed without perceptible alteration to the car!

Incidentally, in several pictures I noted that Marshall favoured treaded tyres used diagonally in conjunction with plain racing treads, a treaded Englebert on the n/s front and o/s rear wheel only, for instance. This was thought to give good adhesion while saving drag on two of the wheels.

For the Le Mans light car race of 1922 Marshall had an Anzani-engined Crouch with a body made by Ewart’s, the geyser people. It was prepared by Munton in a mere five days, its first test run being from London to Southampton to catch the night boat to Le Havre. Yet it gave no trouble, finishing fourth in the race behind the team of “Invincible” Talbot-Darracqs, although by the end of the race the teeth of the 2nd-speed pinions were worn to knife-edges.

Marshall also drove the special racing Hampton, prepared by the makers, but the 2-bearing crankshaft of its Dorman type KNO engine was the limiting factor, at more than 89 m.p.h. on Brooklands. In fact, on one occasion Munton was driving away from the Track with an engineer from Dorman’s, who had come down to see whether the engine could he improved, beside him when, at Thames Ditton, a queer noise intruded. Opening the bonnet, Munton noticed a bent rocker, so he removed it, cut-out the plug to that cylinder, and drove on to London on three. In fact, when the engine was stripped, he found that the crankshaft had broken and was in two pieces, still, by a fluke, revolving as one! The Hampton gained one victory and two “seconds” at B.A.R.C. meetings during 1922, its best lap being at 82.86 m.p.h.

Marshall, whose cars were prepared at Basil Street and in a small works in Foley Street next door to which Henlys had their origin, also raced the famous side-valve Aston Martin “Bunny” (so called because at Le Mans a mechanic had pushed a rabbit’s tail through one of the drillings in the rear cross-member.)

But he is remembered mainly for his fine performances at the wheel of his Brescia Bugattis. For the J.C.C. 200-Mile race a streamlined body and radiator cowl made under Hawker by Compton’s of Hersham was fitted. At Boulogne in 1923 this same Bugatti suffered severe tyre trouble, Munton making sixteen changes, badly hampered by the spare (which, the rules specified, had to be used first) being difficult of access in the tail of the special body. This Bugatti, in which Marshall lapped in B.A.R.C. races at nearly 88 m.p.h., was sold to Lancaster.

For 1924 Munson built up a Bugatti from parts of three Brescia models, using a wheelbase of 7 ft. 2 in. instead of the normal 6 ft. 6 in. To get it within the 500 kg. voiturette class he removed one of the twin magnetos, but thought it worthwhile to fit front-wheel brakes with quite large drums, although this was done against the advice of Ettore Bugatti, who thought the chassis insufficiently strong. These brakes were genuine Perrot, purchased in Paris; not the Whitehead cable f.w.b. used on Raymond Mays’ Bugattis. Marshall’s car also had a wire-mesh radiator guard and aero-screens, and, because the roads in the T.T. and at Boulogne were appalling and it usually rained, Munton rigged up his light flared mud deflectors, also seen later on Miss Cynthia Turner’s Brescia Bugatti. The aero-screens were a sensible safeguard from serious injury from flying objects, as Munton appreciated after a pheasant had hit the radiator guard and grazed his head as it shot over the car—yet many drivers and mechanics went bare-headed, without any kind of screen. This Bugatti, XN 2191, was a Crossley-Bugatti, but did not have the round Maltese-cross badge I have in ray collection, which, perhaps, never got as far as being used on a radiator. It weighed under 10 cwt., causing Mon. Violet to protest, until it was weighed, after Marshall had won the race, as he did again in 1925.

In the T.T. the engine misfired. One of the contemporary Press reports preserved by Mr. Munton puts this down to a defective plug but he recalls that the trouble was a bent valve, cured by removing the tappet-inspection disc, bending the valve, which I should not have thought possible, and proceeding with it permanently shut. Happy days!—W. B.