White elephantitis

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92

PRIDE OF THE HERD? THAT LOW-CHASSIS SLEEVE-VALVE DAIMLER DOUBLE-SIX 50

THIS series of articles commenced in June 1959 and dealt with a Sickleley Special of just under 5-litres swept volume. I then decided that over 5-litres was a more realistic limit for these petrol-thirsty, unwieldy and unusual cars, which to my mind constituted the “white elephants” of the motoring world. They are the sort of vehicles that are unquestionably fascinating but not everyone’s idea of driving bliss—Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Bugattis, etc., are, of course, in a different category. Rare as the species is, to date I have dealt with Hispano-Suiza, Isotta-Fraschini, Roamer-Duesenberg, 35-120-h.p. Daimler, Renault 45, 32/34-h.p. Minerva, Model-J Dueseriberg, V16 Cadillac and V12 Packard.

Now we come to what could well be regarded as the Leader of the Herd, that great 2 1/2-ton bull-elephant of a low-chassis Daimler Double-Six 50, with its enormous wheels, complex 7.1-litre double-sleeve-valve engine; and enormously long bonnet. It is in captivity in Somerset, not all that far from the Lions of Longleat, and thither I journeyed in the comfort and security of a Rover 2000TC last October, to get the measure of it.

The origin of this massive car has to some extent been obscured by the mists of antiquity. It was a development of the normal Daimler Double-Six luxury cars, as favoured by the Royal Family, of which the first great 50-h.p. model appeared in 1926; they have been described in back issues of Motor Sport, and are to form the subject of Profile No. 40 later this month. It seems that a Capt. Wilson, who lived in Norfolk. and L. H. Pomeroy. Daimler’s Chief Engineer, persuaded Thomson & Taylor, the well-known Brooklands engineering concern, to build a low-chassis to take the Double-Six 50 components, Reid Railton being responsible for the design.

It seems that Pomeroy and Wilson envisaged a sports version of the Double-Six. After T. & T. had prepared the chassis, which Railton tested on Brooklands, Daimler completed the car and did the final testing, while Boucher of T. & T. worked at Daimler’s on the car and C. M. Simpson of Daimler tuned the engine by “high-speed” timing of the sleeves. This car, registered UW 53, was endowed with a striking close-coupled four-seater body, built very low, so that bonnet and scuttle formed a straight line not much higher than the tops of the road-wheels. Long flowing front mudguards, separate back mudguards, no running-boards, and twin rear wheels mounted behind made up an extremely exciting big sports car. This sports Daimler was finished early in 1930, and was displayed for a time in Stratton-Instone’s London showrooms.

A Mr. Hutchinson was so impressed by Capt. Wilson’s car that he ordered a similar one for himself, but specified a two-door sports saloon body, which had rain-gutters above the low windows and a big searchlight on the o/s screen pillar. This one was registered GP 4831, and seems to have been completed by September 1930. By this time Daimler had dropped this largest of their V12 engines and these low-chassis cars may have been a means of using up redundant power units. GP 4831’s subsequent history is unknown, except that, presumably before the war, the original body was replaced by a Corsica coupe body, also of two door type, although curiously the doors were now hinged at the back, whereas those of the 1930 body were hung from their leading edges. The original body styling of this low-chassis car was fairly faithfully reproduced in the Corsica version.

UW 53 had a normal 4-speed gearbox with central control. At first I could not understand why Capt. Wilson should have bought a Daimler without a self-change gearbox and the sensational new fluid flywheel. A little research, however, shows that it was not until May 1930 that the adoption by Daimler of the fluid flywheel was made public. It had been sampled by the motoring Press on a Double-Six 30, the only model on which it was then available—at an extra cost of £50, Moreover, it was used in conjunction with a friction clutch and sliding-pinion gearbox and the Daimler Company was cagey about releasing full details of the latest Pomeroy innovation. The Wilson pre-selector gearbox (no connection with the aforesaid Capt. Wilson) had, however, been adopted by Armstrong Siddeley two years before. The first car was certainly completed by mid-March, whereas it wasn’t until late in June that Daimler, influenced by their Chairman, Perey Martin. came round to using the Wilson epicyclic gearbox, which appeared first on the 20/30-h.p. 6-cylinder model. By mid-September this transmission had been adopted or the new 30/40-h.p. Double-Six, and for the Motor Show it was found, also, on the 40/50-h.p. Double-Six which superseded the 50-h.p. version. On the Double-Six 30 and the 35-h.p. 6-cylinder Daimlers, however, the fluid fIywheel/pre-seleetor transmission cost £100 extra. As far as I cart ascertain. Mr. Hutchinson’s special car wasn’t completed until September 1930, so it could by then have the new transmission even though they installed the by-then-obsolete 50-h.p. V12 engine.

A few years ago I came upon the Daimler Double-Six coupe in a state of almost total decay in a country breaker’s yard. It interested my friend Charles Mortimer, who saved it front oblivion and set about restoring it. Later it appeared for sale in London, a price of £2,500 being placed upon it. But Daimlers are not Rolls-Royces and there were no takers. So this enormous white elephant, which Selfridges could not have supplied, appeared at a Beaulieu Auction Sale. The present owner, Mr. R. G. F. Burnett of Wrington, happened to emerge from the beer-tent as the Daimler came up for bidding and got it for a very fair sum—no-one being more surprised than he was. An enthusiast for the larger pre-war cars, Mr. Burnett set about the formidable task of getting his newly-acquired monster home but after numerous set-backs, accompanied by the most enormous smoke-clouds, his wife had to assist, finding herself ”on tow” for the first time in her life.

The Daimler’s owner is a builder, not an automobile engineer, so it is to his everlasting credit that he stripped down the complex power unit himself and, without any helpful literature, reassembled it so that it now runs admirably. In this he was able to draw on almost a complete spare engine and a big stock of tyres which Mortimer handed over with the car.

When I came face to face with this giant but tame “white elephant,” I had two surprises. The first was the very presentable condition of the car, paint sound, the big fluted radiator and wire wheels highly polished, after the decrepit state in which I had last seen it. The second surprise was how easy this long, wide motor car is to drive—more of this anon.

In appearance, however, this special Double-Six 50 remains the most impressive of cars. The wheelbase measures 12ft. 10 in. The wheels, or “pillars” in elephant parlance, are shod with 7.50 in. x 23 in. Dunlop Fort tyres. The distance from windscreen to radiator is no less than seven feet! The weight? Two tons, nine cwt.

Because of its low build the dimensions seem greater. The chassis really is low-slung, a nice contrast to Railton’s later, high E.R.A. chassis frames. But the low build was achieved mainly by lowering radiator, scuttle and steering, aided by the straight line of the chassis side-members and the flat springs, fuel tank and spare wheels being mounted inboard to obviate overhang, only the back axle being underslung.

The front axle is an H-section beam with upswept tubular ends, sprung on massive, gaitered 1/2-elliptic springs shackled at their forward ends and mounted on long vertical hangers at the rear, which are cross-braced by a tubular rod. The worm-drive back axle is similarly sprung on gaitered springs, tubular extensions of the channel-section side-members, originally plated, passing beneath the back axle to form the rear-spring mountings. There are Hartford shock-absorbers ahead of the front axle. The front-wheel brakes have rod-actuated Perrot mechanism and all the drums are recessed in the wheel centres, Daimler fashion. There is vacuum servo assistance. The wheels are typically Daimler, with the centre-lock hubs carrying the maker’s script, and two rows of wire spokes, the whole plated and highly polished.

The car’s appearance is well balanced, the low build effectively off-set by a big flat-topped radiator which is nevertheless unmistakably Daimler, the long bonnet well louvred and ventilated, the big fixed cycle-type wings Lucas Pico headlamps, and steps in lieu of running-boards highly appropriate to the style of the car, which looks relatively modern, certainly not vintage, yet which is impressively large in the way that a Bugatti Royale was large, and therefore pretty horrific to the Mini-mounted natives!

The engine fills the enormous under-bonnet space very snugly. It is a magnificent sight, with pipes, manifolds, wires and controls tightly clustered. It follows almost entirely, as far as has been ascertained, the specification of the normal Daimler Double-Six 50. The power output is quoted as 150 b.h.p., although Daimler eventually gave this as the output of the standard engine. It is a Knight double-sleeve-valve 6o° VI2 of 81.5 x 114 mm. (7,136 c.c.) with Daimler carburetters feeding inlet manifolds on the outsides of the cylinder blocks and the exhaust manifolds within the vee formed by the blocks. The details are interesting. Each carburetter draws air from the centre of the engine, and the mixture goes into an upper alloy gallery which is surrounded by water to heat the mixture, priming taps passing into the manifold through the water jacket. The warmed mixture then goes into the 6-branch alloy inlet manifold beneath the water gallery. So tortuous is this induction system that some tell turns on the starter are necessary to fill the cylinders, after which the engine fires promptly!

The cooling system provides for pump circulation, water travelling from the pump at the front, into each block via a 6-branch manifold on the inside, leaving at the back of the engine and through the aforesaid heater-gallery and out into the radiator header tank. A small-bore pipe makes another connection between header tank and gallery, suggesting that a thermostat was at one time either fitted or contemplated, to enable water to circulate through engine and gallery without passing through the radiator, but if so, there is no trace of it now. A 4-bladed fan is driven by Whittle-belting.

Haying put the inlet manifolding on the outside of the engine, Laurence Pomeroy, who designed it, was able to get big-bore ribbed exhaust manifolds within the vee of the cylinder blocks, although there is not much space to spare. The off-take from the manifold serving the n/s cylinders leaves at the front, that for the o/s cylinders at the rear of the engine, the pipes crossing over on their run to the silencers at the back of the car, so that the tailpipe on the o/s carries away the gases from the o/s cylinder bank and vice versa.

Just as each cylinder bank has its own inlet and cooling system, so the ignition systems are independent. The distributors are driven by vertical shafts rising from the skew gears at the front of the engine and feed one sparking plug in each head. The original Rotax coils have been replaced by modern Lucas 12-volt coils. Below the o/s coil there is space for a transversely-driven magneto, but it seems that dual ignition was not used for the low-chassis cats.

Sleeve-valve engines required skilled servicing and very few remain intact today, no other Double-Six 50s now existing in working order, as far as I know. Some years ago I met a Daimler expert who gave me chapter and verse on how the ignition and sleeves of these V12 engines should be timed and their carburation adjusted, using his own laid-up Double-Six 30 on which to demonstrate. He said that chauffeurs who didn’t understand how to do this, or who were too lazy to set things correctly, must have been responsible for many owners changing their Daimler Double-Sixes for other makes, as the roughness of running either became apparent or was pointed out to them.

It is, therefore, very much to Mr. Burnett’s credit that he has made such a good lob of his engine. Aluminium pistons work in steel sleeves and it was found that, in place of multiple pistols rings, two compression rings and one scraper per piston were satisfactory. Champion R7 plugs have cured oiling-up, although in some cases the extensions into which they were screwed have been left in place—they are probably unnecessary. Originally the o/s cylinder bank was the oiliest, now the other bank is the offender, but on the whole the position is satisfactory, oil consumption being approximately 350 m.p.g. The sump contains 4 3/4 gallons of oil, the level being indicated by a float-gauge on the o/s. Castrol XXL is used.

One interesting point came to light when the engine was stripped and explained the excessive smoke screen the Daimler had been laying. At the base of each cylinder bank there is a gallery intended to draw off surplus oil from the sleeves. These pipes were completely blocked, so the oil remained, to foul the combustion chambers. These pipes are connected to an oil-rectifier mounted at the back of the n/s exhaust manifold. Suction from the inlet manifolds draws off excess oil and delivers it to this rectifier. When it becomes full a float shuts off the suction valve and opens a vent to atmosphere, which results in the accumulated oil returning to the sump via the timing chain. Now that this is functioning properly the engine emits no noticeable smoke haze in the wake of the car. Contrary to expectation, there is no provision for an auxiliary oil-feed to the sleeves when starting-up but oil is supplied at this time to the carburetters, thus reaching the sleeves through the inlet ports. The owner’s tenacity in getting all twelve cylinders and two-dozen sleeves working in unison must have been formidable—especially as he was unable, at this late date, to comply with the request, displayed on one of the engine plates, “Please quote the engine number (20072) when ordering replacements “!

The engine drives through a Daimler fluid flywheel, which, filled with Castrol XL, also used in the pre-selector gearbox, gives no anxiety in spite of a slight leak. Chassis lubrication is looked after by five grouped nipples in a recess behind the o/s step.

The steering-gear layout, which is special to these lowered Cars, embraces a steering-box on the bulkhead, operating a horizontal drop-arm which moves a chassis-mounted bell-crank, from which runs a normal drag-link, set very close to the side-member. To provide clearance for the drop-arm on full-lock the bonnet-top has a suitable hump, with an opposite dummy one to match it.

Having assimilated these intriguing technicalities, the bonnet was closed and I contemplated once more this great beast of a car. It is very big, but undeniably handsome, its dumb-irons neatly aproned, two Trico suction horns adding to the frontal appearance, and a row of badges—A.A., Nova Piscators, Bentley D.C., Daimler/Lanchester O.C., Delage O.C. and R.A.C.—being dwarfed by the radiator, which has a hole for the starting handle if the 12-volt starter should prove inadequate and is topped by a temperature-recording Motometer.

Over lunch Mr. Burnett had remarked that the gear-change pedal was difficult to prod with the left foot and if the driving seat was set back far enough to get a straight kick at it the driver’s door couldn’t be opened. However, driving this great bull-elephant I found unexpectedly easy. The view over the enormous flat bonnet and front wings at the same level makes width-judging simple, even if there is much width to judge! The engine isn’t silent, but it is quiet, and it picks up speed in an eager, fluid manner. The pedal certainly calls for firm, full-travel prods, but, given this, it selects the gears satisfactorily. Add steering, geared less than 2 1/2 turns, lock-to-lock, which is fairly light once on the move, and servo-assisted brakes that give confidence, and it will be apparent that one hasn’t to be a particularly skilled animal-trainer to make this Double-Six perform.

The tachometer doesn’t work, because it is of the 4-to-1 nstead of the usual 2-to-1 type and a replacement hasn’t been located, and the speedometer—both are by Smiths—reads fast, but Mr. Burnett cruises his charge at 55/60 m.p.h. on long runs, keeping engine speed to below 2,200 r.p.m. In fact, the engine, fed “cooking” petrol, does almost everything in top cog, idling over. It takes many miles to become thoroughly warm, giving of its best on long runs, when it achieves about 7 1/2 m.p.g. Pottering about pulls this down to 5 m.p.g. Fortunately, the tank takes 46 gallons!

The instruments are non-original but in keeping with the second body. The two main dials, with a clock within the tachometer, are supplemented by an ammeter but, in Daimler manner, a light suffices to warn of low oil-pressure. There is a sliding advance and retard control on the facia, a l.h. extension carries twin horn buttons (again a Daimler characteristic) by means of which very adequate warning of the approach of the juggernaut can be sounded (those Trico air trumpets!) but the steering wheel, uncharacteristically, has four, not five spokes. Its rim at the top comes within an inch of the single-pane screen. The plated wheel centre carries the hand-throttle, lamps and dynamo controls and the “Petrol Control,” which progressively enrichens the mixture between settings 1-6, after having been set in the “start-primer” position, in which the aforesaid oil for the sleeves is fed to the carburetters along with neat petrol. Acceleration suffers unless sensible use is made of this control. There is a cubby-hole on the facia’s left and on the right of the steering column is found the gear-lever, metal and unadorned, working in an unelaborate metal quadrant annotated 4, 3, 2; 1, N, R. A delightful little r.h. brake lever pushes on to apply the parking brakes—another item that is typically Daimler. A Lucas wiper-motor before the passenger, a central accelerator pedal, and a petrol reserve control under the facia complete the cockpit of this unique motor car.

So, in the October sunshine, I found myself at last behind the wheel of a Daimler Double-Six 50, with its original sleeve-valve engine, and one of the legendary low-chassis versions, what’s more! The steering wheel had accommodating finger holds, the pre-selector lever could be moved to the position that anticipated the next gear-change, and the complex power plant, having rumbled into life, took us lazily on our way, in a style not exactly sporting, dignified certainly, yet quite different from the dignity of a dowager’s stately limousine, the overall impression, in spite of the unexpected simplicity of handling, being of this great cat’s enormous size. In short, no other car I have driven compares directly with this rare and exotic Daimler which nowadays roams the lanes of Somerset. I was delighted to have run it to earth, in the hands of such a sympathetic “keeper.”

As the autumn afternoon drew to a close we returned the Double-Six to the modern 3-bay garage it shares with its owner’s other cars—a Delage D8-S.S.100 Figoni coupe with quadruple S.U.s, a Phantom I Rolls-Royce which is not only undergoing a thorough engine rebuild but has had an effective home-made touring body built on it, and a particularly stark 6 1/2-litre Bentley two-seater which, in the mystic way of some B.D.C. members, contrives to feed its six cylinders from four S.U. carburetters.

The Rover 2000TC bore me home very effectively but lacked the allure of the motor cars I had been examining!