Life at Thomson & Taylor's -- 1927 to 1939
Mr. R. H. Beauchamp, AMIME, follows up his account of working for Parry Thomas (Motor Sport, Oct. and Nov. issues) with life at T & T’s of Brooklands, under the great Reid A. Railton
It was not long after the formation of Thomson & Taylor (Brooklands) Ltd. that the position of Chief Designer was filled by Mr. Reid A. Railton. He was a BSc from Rugby and Manchester University who was beginning to produce the Arab car in small numbers at Letchworth. Upon my introduction to him, we soon found a very good understanding that was to last for the following twelve years, and intermittently over the next half a century.
His first remarks, however, were not particularly encouraging, as when I explained that I was working on the sleeve-valve aero-engine project that Parry Thomas had started, he immediately said “Well we are going to stop that”. This certainly showed a direct approach but I was soon pleased to hear that we were to start work on a special car for John Cobb, which would be powered by a similar Napier Lion engine to that which I had been involved with in its type testing days with the Napier Co. Apparently John Cobb was not satisfied with the performance of his V12 Delage and a new car was to be built from scratch to improve his Brooklands performances, as well as for long distance records. This was marvellous news, and with the engine-drawings available, work was soon started on the proposed layout as outlined by Mr. Railton.
Unfortunately, in the same way that I was to have a motorcycle accident when starting with the Thomas Inventions Co., I managed to have another more serious one soon after starting with Thomson & Taylor. It might be as well to mention here that when a sparrow flies into one’s front wheel this should not provide a good reason for looking backwards to see if it is dead, as even at forty miles per hour, a lot of distance is covered, and B-class roads are seldom straight for long. In short, my footrest-scraping slide failed to keep me out of the rear wheel of a now stationary car around the bend, and the resulting somersault gave me a compound leg fracture that kept me immobile for six months. Once again, however, Ken Thomson, who kindly took time off from his many duties to visit me, agreed with Mr. Railton that the job would be kept open for me as soon as I felt fit to return. In the meantime “Pa” Saunders was maintaining progress with the work and I returned to find that the drawing office was now occupying an end room in “The Hermitage”, nearest to the workshop with Mr. Railton’s office at the same end of the building across the corridor.
This car was an absorbingly interesting vehicle to work on, in all its aspects. As the weeks rolled by the objective manner in which Mr. Railton tackled all the problems involved was a revelation. The necessarily long wheelbase, due to the size of the Napier engine, was of advantage in the car’s later task of riding the notorious Brooklands bumps. The underslung frame at each end and its additional check straps above each axle allowed much more than the usual axle movements, to assist in the same end. A great deal of attention was given to the suspension, the duplicated main leaves of both front and rear springs being also comparatively wide in order to absorb the high engine torque involved, and with rebound rubbers on the frame, together with hand-adjustable Telecontrol and pre-set shock absorbers, completed an assembly that was to perform very satisfactorily. The vertical movement of the front axle was also controlled by a tie-rod under each front spring, giving a “Watts type” movement to the axle, which together with a long drag link from the adapted Bentley steering-box ensured the least feed-back to the steering wheel, with consequent benefits to the steering of the car. The good old Napier engine was isolated from any wracking from the main frame by a three-point-mounted sub-frame and the airscrew shaft was modified to take a very large-diameter, machined-all-over flywheel to house a single-plate clutch. This arrangement served two main purposes in that it provided a good flywheel effect for the engine — now that no propeller effect would occur — during gear changes, and the single-plate clutch would ensure that there was no clutch drag to interfere with the small crash-type gearbox during gear changes, and so safeguard it.
All these and many more details of the car are accurately set out in Mr. W. Boddy’s “History of Brooklands Motor Course”. Suffice it to say that throughout the work high quality materials were used, in a serious effort to keep the overall weight down to a minimum.
During the manufacture and construction of the car the close co-operation of Ken Taylor was most helpful, and I well remember his remark that there was no real point in limiting a bolt’s clearance hole to 1/64″ when 1/32″ was just as effective from a clamping point of view. This “clamping effect of clearance bolts” comment of his was later to lead to torque tightness testing for special applications throughout the range of bolt sizes. He also suggested that where a ring of studs was required to be fitted, they should have pin-faced seats for a washer and castle nuts, the nuts being wired together for total security, such was his meticulous attention to detail. P.T., as he was called by Mr. Railton (to distinguish this “Ken” Taylor from “Ken” Thomson), was also helpful, during the eventual running of the car, in tailoring a solid footrest to safeguard John Cobb’s left foot from the open-running clutch mechanism, and to assist him in bracing himself in the driving seat. A firmly-anchored armchair seat, closely fitting his hips as a lateral anchor, was also fitted. Before taking the car to Utah brackets were added at the front frame end for a quickly-detachable set of headlamps to be either added or demounted according as to whether the car was running during daylight or night-time hours. Another item schemed for the American runs was a 100-gallon fuel tank with its Bentley type quick filler. Saunders, a kindly man and a good engineer, had now left the firm to take up a position with the Vauxhall Co. and an Italian friend of Mr. Railton in the cheerful personage of Achille Sampietro had now joined the drawing office staff. Not surprisingly, being confronted with and solving all the problems connected with these high speed cars, Mr. Railton’s health was often troubled with migraine headaches and it was during one of a number of visits to the Alpine area to recuperate this time in Italy that Mr. Railton I believe first met Sampietro. R.A.R. once asked him to check the capacity of the tank already drawn up with the rapid use of his calculus method “Sammy” reported 102 gallons. I insisted on 100 gallons and I could see by the twinkle in R.A.R.’s eye that he agreed that each in his own way we were both right Sammy from a theoretical angle and myself from a practical angle. On another occasion he asked us what would be the diameter of a steering column, given certain conditions of load for light alloy tube of 1.0 s.w. gauge. Sammy said 2.0″ o/dia. and more for fun than any other reason I suggested 2-1/8″ o/dia. Here again R.A.R. seemed amused as on this occasion Sammy was correct from a practical angle whereas my result could be considered more correct this time from a theoretical angle — as these odd diameters were not readily obtainable at the time. On other reliability grounds the scheme was not used anyway, but this is just mentioned to illustrate the many considerations given for just one other small design item.
It was at about this time that the scheme of adding a starting gear (with an R.A.R.-Lucas motor) to the car as undertaken by J. B. Perrett who had joined the firm in 1934. As the motor in the disengaged position lay between the two forward sections of the near side rear springs, I was somewhat anxious in the layout to ensure that the motor did not get knocked off on the bumps. This scheme is described in the May ’78 issue of Motor Sport by J. B. Perrett.
Later again another very ingenious scheme of a vertical aerofoil was mounted at the front end of the car, balanced by an arm with a ball filled with lead shot (as on some light-fittings used about then), the purpose of which was to provide an inward component of effort at the front end to take some of the strain off the driver in continuously circling a 12-mile diameter circle at record speed.
From some notes I have dated January 1935 this speed could be 160 m.p.h. with an effective rear wheel circumference of 128.5″, and rear axle ratio of 1.68-1 at 2,200 r.p.m. but there was no governor on the engine speed — so the car’s maximum speed was not assessed — and was presumably arranged by mutual consent with the chef d’équipe, usually Mr. Railton, John Cobb needing no persuading to put his foot down, and the basic capabilities of the engine to exceed the above speed became well known later.
This car was eminently suitable for these long-distance records, as after hours of pounding, the salt surface tended to break up resembling an even worse track than that at Brooklands. It also says much for the strength and stamina of John Cobb himself, as well as that of his equally tough and cheerful co-driver Charles Brackenbury who assisted him.
In the late 1920s whilst the work on the Napier-Railton was going on, R.A.R. had been working on the Riley Nine chassis and by verbal instructions to mechanics had cut and re-welded an existing Riley frame to provide the first of a range of Brooklands-type Riley cars that were to become well known. This first particular chassis with shortened wheelbase and the centre section swept out to the full width of the car enabled the driver to sit to one side of the propeller shaft, in very close proximity to the ground. The engine was also considerably modified and great interest was aroused when, on its first outing, a maximum speed of 103 m.p.h. was attained when driven by Mr. Railton himself. This was a notable performance for a 1,100 c.c. car and ensured the continued support of Mr. Victor Riley,
Some trouble was experienced and conquered with the running clearance of the new pistons and all the Ulster TT cars were equipped with a special large sized ribbed aluminium alloy oil sump complete with a vertical stem and quick filler lid. The rockers and their push-rods also caused some concern regarding material selection for wear, as although this tended to be compensated for by valve stretch, the valve timing could be affected. The water circulation was therefore carefully considered.
This design and development work led to the arrangement and marketing of two stages of tune that any private owner could purchase for the improved running of the now famous Riley Nine.
During this time of preparation T&T’s had acquired a small Heenan and Froude water-type power brake on which test-bench all the Riley engines were run. As the water pressure was variable — and sometimes non-existent! — P.T. soon had installed a roof high-cistern for its use. We were now in what I suppose could be called “limited production” with these modified Riley engines and perhaps because of my previous experiences of this brake I was co-opted into the test shop to help with the work. I arrived in the test shop one morning to see an engine ready for test on a trolley but no assistant around, and not wishing to delay the test hoisted it on to the bench. Unfortunately this resulted in a ruptured groin muscle, and I was not long in receiving good medical attention in the local Brentford Cottage Hospital at P.T.’s suggestion.
Back again after a month away my morale was almost immediately raised by the sight of the Maina & Villiers designed Blue Bird I and Speed Record car of Malcolm Campbell standing outside the workshop with its brilliant blue and yellow paintwork shining in the sun. Here obviously was the start of another very interesting project and I can perhaps best quote from an extract of a paper by Mr. Railton entitled “Blue Bird 1930-33” written for the Institution of Automobile Engineers Proceedings, Vol. 28, Session 1933-34:
“The first Napier-engined Blue Bird was built in 1926 to the designs of Mr. J. Maina and Mr. A. Villiers, and its original engine was of 450 h.p.
“To account for the form and general design of the car as it is today, it may be of interest to recount the position when the author first took the job in hand in 1930. The previous year Campbell had taken his old Blue Bird car to South Africa and had put up an average speed of 218 m.p.h. over the mile. Unfortunately for him, Segrave was at Daytona with the Golden Arrow at the same time, and had put the record up to 231 m.p.h — a figure which Campbell’s car was quite unable to reach. The Blue Bird, as it then was, had a Napier engine giving just over 900 h.p. with a clutch and transmission disposed in the ordinary manner. The driver sat over the propeller tube on the centre line of the car, and the body was streamlined as well as was possible with the necessarily high driving position. The radiator was very small and was carried in the nose of the car, the exit for the air behind the radiator being through a gap in the undershield.
Early in the new year of 1930, Campbell made up his mind to make an attempt on Segrave’s record of 231 m.p.h. He had in mind the use of the supercharged Napier racing engine which had been developed for seaplanes in connection with the Schneider Trophy, and at this point he got into touch with the author to advise him on the feasibility or rebuilding the old car with this new engine.
“Obviously, given the time and the money, the best course would have been to have built a completely new car round the new 1,400 h.p. Napier engine, and this, of course, is what we should have preferred to do. However, the money was limited, and Campbell was determined to go to Daytona the following January, so the task immediately resolved itself into that of rebuilding the existing car. In the end, the only major units of the old car that survived were the front axle and brake gear, the steering gear and the frame side members; but the resulting saving of time made it just possible for the car to be ready for the appointed date.”
The challenge now was not to beat Thomas’ 171 m.p.h. but to break the 231.44 m.p.h. record that Segrave held and the time available was just one year, with a car to be modified that had previously not exceeded 206 m.p.h. A start was soon made on a 1/8-scale layout with the new supercharged Napier Lion engine and the existing frame with a new clutch and gearbox with the layshaft offset 7″, driving the offset rear axle through the propellor shaft and tube which was now alongside the driver. From this preliminary layout a wooden-based 1/10-scale model was made, with all the major units in wood and a gauze simulation for the new radiator added, smoothly clothed in plasticine to achieve a streamlined form. This particular scale was chosen to allow the Vickers wind-tunnel results to be quickly transposed into full-scale form, and news of the results achieved from R.A.R. were good, in that we were to go ahead with the project as he had planned. A Mr. Plumb was enlisted to deal with the rear axle scheme and details whilst I tackled the forward section, and soon we were issuing drawings of structural parts, hand forging drawings, and casting details. The production of parts was marvellously assisted by such outside firms as John Thompson, Firth Derihon, David Brown, ENV, and many others at a later date. We were now working in the British inch system of measurement, as against the metric system of Parry-Thomas, and as my training was concerned with inches I fell back into the use of the standard “Newall” System. Mr. Railton with P.T. soon agreed that some of these limits were too close for the job in hand and himself considered how most running bits could be modified to give an equivalent of about 10,000 miles of running of an ordinary vehicle, to avoid catch ups. In a similar way the Hoffman Bearing Co. supplied bearings of “000”-type indicating a “free” clearance greater than normal practice would require, upon examination of the application in question.
Very little trouble was experienced with the car abroad, with the exception of a tendency for the gearbox dogs to kick-back if the gear change was not exactly timed. As usual the Dunlop tyres performed faultlessly and both runs were completed without stopping.
The following year the car was again taken to Daytona after modifications to the radiator size and its cowling and again broke the World Land Speed record on February 24th 1932 with a speed of 253.97 m.p.h.
In the meantime there was plenty of interest in customers’ cars, and the office planimeter and pipette were kept busy checking compression ratios with the workshop milling machine machining cylinder heads, as well as design modifications of most items for the top end of an engine on the front end or tail end of a car. All to the same end of either improved speed or acceleration, suspension or road-holding and handling, but seldom having comfort predominantly in mind! There was for instance the ingenious internal gear for the blower drive of Whitney-Straight’s Maserati (which not only increased the blower speed in relation to the engine but also positioned the blower correctly between the front cross member and the engine) as well as steering modifications made for him to this car. With these modifications, Straight successfully took the Brooklands Mountain Circuit lap record at some 78 m.p.h., a speed that was not equalled at that time by any other car irrespective of engine size, with a “D” Class car of under 3-litres, which certainly showed his skill and daring as a first class driver.
Great assistance was given by a small local firm of gear cutters — Sykes of Staines — who supplied form cutters for this blower drive and even took some time and trouble to sort out suitable cutters for the gears of S. C. H. Davis’ ancient Leon Bollée three-wheeler, albeit a gear which resulted in somewhat increased backlash clearance which was however admissible!
The ill-fated Bentley of Sir H. Birkin was also fitted with an instrument panel bulkhead that decided the line of the new single-seater body and with positive displacement blower modifications and silencer details to comply with the regulations then in force, and these items enabled him at one time to take the Brooklands lap record.
In April 1932 Malcolm Campbell presented Mr. Railton with a drawing of the Rolls-Royce “R” engine with the suggestion that this engine should now power the Blue Bird! A new frame would be required due to the length of the R-R engine. As the R-R engine torque was almost double that of the Napier the whole transmission had to be rechecked and eventually a new clutch, layshaft, propeller shaft and rear axle bevels were schemed, detailed, and produced together with modified shock-absorbers and road springs, with again a revised radiator, mounting and cowling. The materials were all carefully checked as the relevant parts had to be encased in the existing gearbox and axle casing which R.A.R. had decided must be used again if the record was to be taken in the following February. The T & T works lathe was kept busy turning up material test pieces which were then tested in a Houndsfield tensometer which the firm had now acquired. Eventually the car was made ready in the time available and the record was taken, after the mechanics had made a modification in double quick time in America to an oil seal scroll at the gearbox output shaft end. The speed recorded was 272.46 m.p.h.
In the interim period another interesting car to evolve was the engineering involved in placing the 4-litre Sunbeam V12 roller-bearing engine in a new chassis with a Wilson s.c. epicyclic gearbox. New suspension and some very large composite brake drums of light alloy and carbon steel were also fitted and with a new body the car successfully took the class C lap record for the Mountain Circuit the same year.
During the late 1920s and early 1930s the works and design office had the unique experience of having dealings with a remarkable range of cars including Alfa Romeo, Amilcar, Bentley, Bugatti, Daimler, Delage, Duesenberg, Fiat, Hornet, Invicta, Leyland 8s, MG Magnette and Midget, Maserati, Morris, Riley, Thomas Specials, Salmson, Talbot and Triumph. This list may not be complete but it is sufficient to show what a wonderful chance it gave to see how various designers tackled similar problems.
It was in 1930 that Mr. Railton, in consultation with Mr. Simpson (who was at that time Chief Designer of the Daimler Co.) accepted the brief of designing a low-slung touring car to be built by the Daimler Co. from their mainly existing “standard” components. I was given the task of producing the necessary working drawings with good assistance from another Daimler man in their drawing office at Coventry. I was now the enthusiastic owner of a long-stroke Sunbeam motorcycle and this was used to commute between Brentford and Coventry or Brooklands, at week-ends. A friendly rivalry between a Coventry man who visited Putney using an o.h.v. Rudge bike often resulted in this inter-city 100 miles or more run being made in something like 2 hr. 10 min. The car used a standard Daimler radiator for a Double-Six Daimler sleeve-valve engine, clutch and crash box with a short propeller shaft driving a worm drive rear axle — with these components in a new low-slung frame. A large petrol tank at the rear together with two spare wheels aft of this and a Gurney Nutting touring body resulted in the whole assembly being a rather splendid touring car. The work was completed in six months and the first chassis was delivered to its owner, a certain Capt. Wilson, in 1931. I was grateful for the line co-operation of the Daimler Co. and found it a very pleasant project to work on.
1934 was a particularly interesting year as two projects of widely differing characteristics were pursued. The first was of a chassis to take the Riley engine developed by Raymond Mays and his colleague Peter Berthon and this was to be suitable for Grand Prix type races such as the Mountain Circuit. In consequence it was vitally necessary to provide a chassis with a minimum weight and maximum torsional rigidity as well as having an efficient braking system. A layout was made posing the question of an over- or underslung rear end which could have had a hypoid or a worm drive axle to achieve a low single seating position for the driver over the propeller shaft. This was soon discarded by R.A.R. who was not unaware of the fact that the serious accident that S. C. H. Davis had had with an Invicta car was partly due to the centre of gravity of the car being at about hub height, and which on a bad surface — adhesion wise — could and did give an instantaneous break away, impossible to correct. The ERA, as it was to become, therefore was designed with a much cheaper and more tribologically efficient composite light alloy casing and steel trumpeted rear axle of a straight tooth bevel type. With this arrangement with a comparatively high centre of gravity, the driver had some “feel” of the gravitational effects on a bend, and with the “balloon” tyres R.A.R. suggested, then fitted to a C3P car for the first time, also had the benefit of a contact “patch” of increased area.
Before the work on the ERA cars was really complete the determination of Malcolm Campbell was again in evidence, in that he was keen to break the Land Speed Record by being Ithe first to achieve 300 m.p.h. Mr. Railton had previously been dissatisfied with the fairing of the R-R engine into the windscreen and tail as well as the frontal car aspects. It was found that with a new body entirely, the projected frontal area could be somewhat reduced which together with a smoother nether area resulted in much better drag figures. A new honeycomb flat radiator, almost the full width of the car, was mounted at the front end, taking its air entry from a slot across the front end, and exiting just in front of the front wheels above the nose fairing. This air entry slot was fitted with a shutter operable by the driver, which he was to close with a separate lever just before the car entered the mile timed section, and the effect was to reduce the air drag through the radiator as well as to avoid “warmed” air entering the air duct entry to the engine. Just aft of the twin rear wheels, now to be fitted, were two air brakes — one on each side of the car in the top skin of the body of two square feet area each. These flaps were mounted on a tube inside the body and operated to an angular position by a lever on the tube and powered by a large cylinder — vacuum operated. The adhesion of the twin rear wheels was met by the addition of some 1,500 lb. of lead, 500 lb. of which was arranged to be fairly easily demountable. These two questions of adhesion and braking were carefully gone into by R.A.R. as it was becoming increasingly difficult to be ensured of a sufficiently good and long track at Daytona to achieve the speed required. The driver controls all needed fairly considerable effort. The steering, with a road wheel movement of a maximum of 10° from the straight ahead position, was now equipped with a TTN Products inertia damper, the front axle movement being severely restricted by six friction shock absorbers, one pair operating from the top of the king-pins for maximum effect. The clutch had a long movement with about 70 lb. on the pedal and the accelerator pedal movement was also fairly long as in addition to operating long semi-flexible controls to the engine a further travel was required to trigger off the vacuum operation for the air brakes. The wheel brakes themselves were vacuum servo controlled. The car was again taken to Daytona and in March 1935 achieved a record speed of 276.82 m.p.h. The conditions under which this record was taken were far from ideal, and later in the year the information regarding the possibility of the Salt Flats at Bonneville, Utah was looked at, as not only was Campbell troubled by the uneven track but the sand particles were a painful hazard. Mr. Railton was convinced that the car could exceed the 300 m.p.h. that Campbell had set his heart on and the following September the car was taken to Utah and his and Campbell’s expectations were realised when the record was broken at 301.13 m.p.h.
It was in September 1936 that my notes indicate that an increasing gear for Sir Malcolm Campbell with its support and drive tube from the engine weighed separately gave a total of 283 lb. This statement seems to indicate that early in that year (and it must have been almost Immediately after attaining his 1935 Land Speed Record) Sir Malcolm was in touch with the Vosper Co. to produce a boat for him for an attack on the water speed record. The machinery was to be designed by Reid Railton, and in this field he was again to show great ingenuity. The normal procedure at that time was to couple the converging lines (in side view) of the input drive shaft and the output propeller shaft by an angled pair of bevel gears, with resultant complication of thrust forces through the box and on to the box supports. R.A.R.’s solution was to produce a tubular shaft drive from the engine, driving through a dog clutch and a pair of helical spur gears, through an internally cut pair of straight tooth bevel wheels, to not only give the required angle of drive to the propeller shaft but also to offset its forward thrust, with bearings contained in a steel housing, the residual thrust from the propeller being taken through the light alloy box casing on to a composite cross-member in the boat. The gear set was produced by David Brown of Huddersfield.
The boat itself duly arrived at Brooklands (by road) and was slung up on the wooden lattice supported roof beams of the Chapel at two attitudes to establish the exact centre of gravity, with some anxiety. The machinery with a walking stick control to the dog clutch, the two side guiding keels, rudder with its Arens control, an inlet trunking and instrument including pitot tube all fitted, with the presence of Leo Villa, Sir Malcolm’s mechanic, much in evidence.
In addition, one of the most noteworthy and essential items was the semi-circular and tapering form of the steel water pick-up tube at the rear of the boat together with its supports which functioned perfectly.
The record was duly taken at 141.74 mph.
Reverting to the earlier 1930’s, a number of different projects were presented to R.A.R. for design and development due to the many successes he had already achieved. Amongst these was a positively operated internal cam gear for valve operation, but this was not pursued due to its inherent mechanical objections. Another interesting engine was the Wankel engine, an eccentrically driven rotary conception. This project also was not pursued as I believe Mr. Railton although being interested in its rotary possibilities felt that the tooling necessary to produce the unusual case shapes, together with the probable difficulties involved in producing effective tip and end of rotor sealing precluded a firm of the comparatively small resources of T&T’s from assisting in its development.
There was however the automatic gearbox presented by a Russian engineer, a certain Mr. Kamper, which was developed. This was a twin clutch, swinging layshaft, four-speed gearbox with vacuum servo control from the engine.
I well remember Mr. Kamper’s frequent visits to the drawing office during this time when due to his unusual pronunciation of English his usual opening remark was “Any snakes” meaning any snags and there were plenty of these but it was initially fitted to a Morris 12 and made to work successfully. Due to its complication it was not taken up by the Nuffield Organisation, but was to be later adopted by the Crossley Co. for truck use.
In 1937 J. B. Perret left the firm to pursue the development of the “Robot” gearbox with Mr. Kamper. Sampietro could often be seen walking around the aerodrome deep in thought with problems possibly associated with solving by calculus methods of the terminal speed of a vehicle, taking into account dozens of variables. He was to leave also and after designing a box frame with independent front suspension for the Healey car, he was eventually to go to America to settle down. They were both colleagues who were easy to get along with and I was sorry to see them go.
1934 saw the old tyre store by the “Chapel” occupied by Wally Hassan at work on “Babe” Barnato’s Bentleys with the assistance of Jack Sapp, borrowed from T&T’s. In stepping up the Bentley engine capacity from 6-1/2 to 8-litres he was soon becoming a threat to the success of John Cobb’s Napier-Railton and perhaps temporarily to slow up this development I suggested to him “Why not supercharge it?” A forward-facing air intake was fitted and later Wally commented to me in a slightly humorous but aggrieved tone “You did not mention the pressure balancing of the float chambers!”
In the early months another marque to receive attention both in the direction of design and tuning in the works was the MG Midget and Magnette but it was not the policy of the MG Co. to engage directly in racing as was indicated by the then MG Chief, Mr. Kimber, in a paper he gave to the Institution of Automobile Engineers entitled “Making Modest Production Pay in Motor Car Manufacture”. He did however allow the “Magic Midget” to be produced –I believe at Cowley — to the body design of Mr. RaiIton, under “Jaray” patents, and this car with many different capacity engines was extremely successful, particularly in record run when driven by Col. “Goldie” Gardner. I was involved in work on this car at a much later date as will be shown later. In the meantime people such as The Earl of March, Staniland, Horton, Bartlett, Hall Hamilton and many others were extracting better and better performances from these small cars with co-operation between themselves, the MG Company and T&T’s. The Land ‘Speed Record car work was not to be left in abeyance as only a month after Sir Malcolm had taken the record at 301 m.p.h. R.A.R. was busy with calculations for a four-wheel-drive car to be designed and built exclusively for this record for John Cobb. Five scale models were made to establish the minimum projected frontal area coupled with the surface area that could enclose the two supercharged Napier aero engines envisaged to power the car. They were known as A. “Three wheeler”, B. “Cigar”, C. “BB with troughs”, D. “Long tail” and E. “Bun”. The “Bun” was chosen after tunnel tests in the National Physical Laboratory, in spite of its somewhat larger projected area, but smaller surface area than some of the other models, and a 1/8-scale layout was begun of the necessary machinery. To reduce the overall width of the car an ingenious method was devised by R.A.R. in that each engine was slung on either side of the central main frame, with each engine at 10° to the centre line of the car but staggered fore and aft in plan. This entailed an “S”-shaped frame in plan which was efficiently coped with in practice by the John Thompson Co. from the four sections, hot riveted together as per drawings supplied.
Before long I was joined by a Mr. Hobbs who took over the drawings required for the body. To maintain secrecy we now had a lock on the office door using a hatch and a telephone for communication.
This hand-built body was a splendid piece of work, made by Bill Masters and one assistant only and with the assistance of ply formers made from drawings by Hobbs and resulted in a wonderfully smooth and accurate outline. It is conceivable that the seasoned and treated plywood was Vosper supplied as a result of work on Sir Malcolm Campbell’s boat but more of that later.
With the car now built the run-up test was dramatically stopped after a few seconds when P.T. noticed that no oil pressure was showing. R.A.R. immediately just said one word “alcohol!” and when the long capillary tube to the gauge was suitably primed the test proceeded satisfactorily.
I was informed soon afterwards that I was to be given the opportunity of going with Mr. Taylor and the car to America, as a holiday and to assist wherever possible. This was a terrific boost for me, and resulted in three of the most interesting months I can remember. The car was loaded on to the deck of the Bremen, where it was possible to keep an eye on it, at Southampton. The four and a half days to New York went like a flash in company with P.T.’s friends “Taso” Mathieson, his brother, and a Mr. Snow, especially as we were allowed down in the engine room, at the captain’s table and on the bridge, as well as a memorable star-room evening of champagne cocktails on the top-most deck.
Jimmy Rand and Bob Reading saw the car safely overladen by rail whilst Mr. Taylor and I flew via United Air Lines to Salt Lake City, with an interesting night flight out of Chicago through an electrical storm. I was never quite sure whether the other sole occupant of the 32-seater plane — the Stewardess — came over to reassure herself or ourselves, but the blue lightning flashes along the leading edge of the wing was a new experience for me, and reminded me of crocuses. The vertical positive and negative accelerations were much less interesting. However we arrived safely at Salt Lake City the following day in sunshine to be transported to Wendover in a Hudson six, which company were to provide this car and a Hudson eight with Cotal box as transport for us as a result of Mr. Railton’s liaison with that company in using some Hudson basic chassis items for the Railton car being produced for sale to the general public.
(To be continued)