The Editor Investigates Alistair Templeton’s Exciting Re-creation of a Famous Twin-Cam, 3-litre Racing Car.
WHATEVER the position since the war, enthusiasts are aware of the fine sporting cars built by Vauxhall Motors of Luton, Bedfordshire, which faded with the 20/60 h.p. Hurlingham. Before the First World War, with the 30/98’s great career ahead, Vauxhall’s did noteworthy things in competition events, including the 1914 French Grand Prix, to enhance their fine reputation.
So it was not exactly a surprise when, the war over, they decided, to enter for the 1922 RAC TT race in the I.o.M. Laurence Pomeroy, their autocratic Chief Engineer, had taken his genius to Daimler’s, after creating the Edwardian 30/98 among other outstanding Vauxhall models. C. E. King had succeeded him and was redesigning the E-type 30/98 fast-tourer Vauxhall and the 14/40 Vauxhall. Perhaps Vauxhall’s re-entry into racing was to strengthen the position of these new models.
At all events, by 1921 the famous Luton Company was busy with a team of very advanced racing cars for the forthcoming TT, King doing the chassis, with Dr. (later Sir) Harry Ricardo, who was then at the height of his engine-research doctrines, and a friend of Percy Kidner, the Vauxhall Managing Director, designing the engine. The TT of 1922 was divided into a small-car and a large-car race, the latter for cars with engines not exceeding 3-litres. The story has got about that King and Ricardo had no idea, as they bent over their drawing-boards (or those of their subordinate draughtsmen) that after 1921 the International limit for the Grand Prix would be 2-litres, and consequently they made their engine up to the 3-litre limit of the 1921 GP — i.e., a four-cylinder of 85 mm. x 132 mm. (2,996 c.c.) — and were therefore eliminated from using these complicated and costly racing-cars in the Grand Prix of 1922 or the following year.
To me this has always seemed extraordinary — surely someone at Vauxhall’s must have been aware of the coming GP Formula change, if only from reading the weekly motoring papers? Is it not more likely that a full Grand Prix programme was never contemplated by Vauxhall’s but that the RAC Tourist Trophy Race (which, as it happened, rather fizzled out) was seen as excellent publicity and that to win it would require a team of cars with engines up to the full 3 litres, which could afterwards gain further, but far less-costly, publicity for the Company at Brooklands and in speed trials, etc — which is exactly what occurred? One must remember that the Tourist Trophy Race had gained useful advertisement, before the war, for the winning makes of Arrol-Johnston, Rolls-Royce, Rover, Beeston-Humber, Napier-Hutton, and Sunbeam and the Vauxhall Board could hardly have foreseen that the 1922 race would be almost washed-out by rain, that few people would watch the miserable stall at the dismal hour of half-past-nine-in-the-morning, or, and more unfortunate, that only two other makes (a total of nine cars) would challenge them in the big-car class, with a mere five finishers, spaced out by over an hour — scarcely exciting to watch.
Be that as it may, the cars Vauxhall prepared for the TT were of top-quality and technically-advanced. Laurence Pomeroy, Junr., perhaps biased in favour of his father’s old Company, gave a full description of them in the first volume of “the Grand Prix Car” (MRP, 1949). It suffices here to say that the engine of the 1922 TT Vauxhall had four-valves-per-cylinder, inclined at 90-degrees, operated by twin-overhead-camshafts driven by a train of spur-gears at the front of the engine. The cams attacked the valves via short rockers and non-adjustable tappets. There were two detachable bronze cylinder heads. The cylinder block was of aluminium, with wet cast-iron liners, and Ricardo slipper-pistons were used. The crankshaft was of built-up type, with the flywheel in the centre. It ran in seven ball-bearings, not counting the ball thrust-bearing, and the big-ends were of roller-type. For the first time on a British racing-car engine, Delco battery and coil ignition was used, following the lead taken by Louis Coatalen for Sunbeam and Talbot-Darracq racing cars, a 12-volt battery being placed over the gearbox, and the Vauxhall engine had three sparking-plugs per cylinder, although normally only using one. There was wet-sump lubrication from two valveless oscillating plunger-pumps, for jet-feed to the crank-throws and high-pressure feed to the valve-gear.
Carburation, in this era just prior to the time when supercharging became general, was from a two-choke Zenith carburetter, feeding into Nos. 1 and 4 cylinders, and independently into Nos. 2 and 3 cylinders, taking its air from the crankcase. Cooling water was circulated round the cylinder heads but was deliberately stagnant in the cylinder block.
A unit gearbox, driven by a multi-plate clutch, was used, instead of the more usual separate gearbox, an open propeller shaft took the drive to the straight bevel-gears back-axle, and the chassis frame was conventional, except that it was upswept over both axles. The wheel base was 8′ 11″, the track 4′ 5″, the height 47″, and unladen weight 22 1/2 cwt. What was highly unusual was that four-wheel-braking had servo assistance by pressurised air, supplied from an engine-driven pump and variable in its effect by the driver, this unique system not only reducing the effort required on the pedal,which operated all four brakes by cable and rods, but enabled the braking to be varied in effect, and also to be left on while approachirig the many corners of the loM circuit should the driver be using his feet and hands for changing gear.
The bodywork on these bright red two-seater TT Vauxhalls was very stark, and exciting to behold, with low cockpit sides, conical wind-funnels to protect the occupants, two spare wheels up behind the exposed triangular 32-gallon fuel-tank, with the tall brake-lever outside the cockpit. The front brake drums were of 12″ diameter, the back ones of 16″ diameter, the original tyre size of the Palmer Cords on the centre-lock wire wheels was 810 x 90 front, 820 x 120 rear, and the gear-ratios were: 9.4, 6.5, 4.65 and 3.75 to 1. The scuttle was detachable for better access to clutch, gearbox, instruments, etc.
Laurence Pomeroy, Jnr., was perhaps over-kind to these cars, excusing their output of only 43 b.h.p.-per-litre by saying that power in relation to piston-area was a better basis of comparison, and that the Vauxhall gave 3.7 h.p. per sq. in. The output of 129 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m. was excused by the low compression-ratio used by Ricardo, namely 5.8 to 1, as he was afraid that if h.c. pistons were fitted these would be savaged by a stuck-open valve. This was a common problem at a time when valve springs were undependable, and one of the reasons why Parry Thomas used leaf valve-springs. As for the maximum speed of the TT Vauxhall, Pomeroy put it at 112 m.p.h. at 4,400 r.p.m., based on a Brooklands’ lap-speed of 108 m.p.h. in 1922 and a flying kilo. covered at 111.85 mph. in 1925. However, Ricardo had intended his engine to use alcohol fuel and the high compression-ratios which could safely be used with it, and I wonder if, by the time these speeds were timed, that may have been the arrangement?
The three cars were duly entered for the 1922 TT, Vauxhall I to be driven by M. C. Park, Vauxhall II by 0. Payne, and Vauxhall III by E. Swain. They may even have expected to win, for the straight-8 STD cars had not shown up well in the previous year’s French Grand Prix and in practice for the TT Lee Guinness’ Sunbeam had run a bearing, while the Bentleys were simply sports-cars, in their first big race as a team, and had only had rear-wheel brakes. But it was not to be. . . Swain, too, was in trouble during practice, with piston problems, and the Vauxhall team used up all its spare tyres, a legacy from their differential-less back axles, Swain, being the fastest driver, destroying the most. A fresh supply was rushed from England, and the story of No. 5 engine also being shipped hastily to Douglas and landed with much difficulty may have foundation in Swain’s piston-failure. For if only one spare engine had been taken over, it would presumably have been used for this car and the team would then need another spare power-unit. In a race that opened in heavy rain, which Vauxhall’s had anticipated by fitting mudguards, windscreens, and windscreen-wipers operated by the mechanics, Park and Swain retired with broken pistons (or with a broken piston and broken big-end roller, depending on which report you believe). Payne finished third, however, behind the winning Sunbeam of the steady and experienced Jean Chassagne and F.C. Clement in the Bentley. Payne was chased hard by W. 0. Bentley, who was only six seconds behind the Vauxhall at the finish. But it cannot be overlooked that the victorious 3-litre Sunbeam was 18 min. 55.2 sec. quicker than the only Vauxhall to finish (although both Chassagne’s team-mates also retired whereas the Bentley team came home intact), in this damp 302-mile contest. The TT must have been a disappointment to Vauxhall’s. It has sometimes been said that the cars were too hastily prepared. Pomeroy, Jnr. while not committing himself admitted that the engine-design was complicated (one example being that the seven timing-gears had first to be meshed correctly, after which their fixing-spiders had to be locked with dowel-pins), and thus “the workshop has certainly been subordinate to the drawing-office” But apparently at least one engine was completed in good time and bench-tested for the equivalent of more than 4,000 miles, before the TT.
It was not long after the TT that Vauxhall’s had the No. 1 car in the public eye again. At Shelsley-Walsh on July 29th (the TT had been run on June 22nd) Park made fastest time-of-the-day, in 53.8 sec., although he did not break A. C. Bird’s record of 52.2 sec. with the bigger Sunbeam, which on this occasion was 0.2 sec. slower. Park followed this up by winning his class and the Formula category at the Southsea “Speed Camival” in August, doing 64.28 m.p.h. over the flying-kilometre, which vanquished Clement’s Bentley, somewhat redressing the TT results. Then it was to Brooklands, where Percy Kidner entered Park and the Vauxhall (which, if my Brooklands records mean anything, had its original engine, obviously repaired after the I.o.M. retirement) for the August Bank Holiday races. Still red, with black chassis and wheels, it was unplaced in the 100 m.p.h. Short and 90 m.p.h. Short and Long Handicaps. But it had the distinction of having started from scratch in both the latter races and during the afternoon pulled out two best standing-start laps of 84.92 m.p.h. and a best flying-lap of 101.23 m.p.h., although retiring from its last race, possibly as a result of the fatal accident involving a privately-entered 30/98 Vauxhall.
At the JCC South Harting hill-climb of 1922 Park made f.t.d., in 48 sec., again beating Clement in the Bentley, taking two other classes as well. Then, in October, at the Essex MC Championship Meeting at Brooklands, Park gained revenge over the 3-litre straight-eight Sunbeam, when the Vauxhall beat K. Lee. Guinness, averaging 97.8 m.p.h. after a magnificent start, to take the 3-litre Championship. Apart from which, he won the Essex “Lightning Short” at 97.6 m.p.h., and then swept through the field from a rehandicap to win the Essex Senior Long Handicap, at 100.52 m.p.h., following this by being placed second to Zborowski’s Ballot in the “Lightning Long”. To clinch a notable afternoon’s racing, the Vauxhall had also finished second to Thomas’ Leyland in the “Senior Short” Handicap.
It was then back to Brooklands for the Autumn Meeting, at which Park was second behind Clement’s Bentley, to which he had given a start of 20 sec. in 5 3/4 miles in the 100 m.p.h. Short Handicap, after which he went on to win the Lightning Long Handicap from Parry Thomas’s Leyland Eight, which had conceded the Vauxhall ten seconds in 8 1/2 miles. He had been third on his first appearance, doing a standing lap of 93.51 m.p.h. in the “Lighning Short” and because of a bad fire retired from his last race, in which he had received a rehandicap of four seconds. His fastest lap of 108.27 m.p.h. was done in winning the “Lightning Long”, so the TT Vauxhall was getting quicker all the time— it was now using alcohol fuel, with increased compression-ratio. Its top speed must have been around 114 mph.
After that very impressive 1922 season at the Track and in sprints, Vauxhall Motors retired from racing. But amateur racing-driver, Humphrey Cook, acquired TT Vauxhall No. 2, the one Swain had retired in the I.o.M. It had its original engine, like Park’s car, and the reason why the two cars that had failed to complete the TT course were used, instead of Vauxhall No. 3 that had come home fourth, was probably because the two defective cars would require overhauling anyway and would then be in good fettle, whereas Payne’s car, having run a full 302-mile race, with a fast last-lap, might not be. Cook had been racing his E-type side-valve 30/98 Vauxhall “Rouge-et-Noir” and clearly wanted a faster one. He took delivery of the TT car, naming it “Rouge-et-Noir II”, and with it had a very busy and successful 1923 season. He would have been well-known and therefore prone to suffer a heavy handicap from “Ebby,’ and seems to have withdrawn the car after a time, perhaps for this reason. Nevertheless, he took six second places and five “thirds” in 1923, and won the Lighning Long H’cap at Easter lapping at 104.41 m.p.h., and averaging 98.32 mph., although this was a hollow victory because the only other runner was Howey’s Leyland, that had given Cook a start of 16 sec. in 8 1/2 miles. However, many of his other “places” had been against drivers of the calibre of Parry Thomas. Brooklands apart, Cook gained a great many successes in the more important of the public-road speed hill-climbs and speed-trials. For example he was fastest at Kop in 1923 (27.5s) and made f.t.d. again at Aston-Clinton (46.4 sec), beating Clement’s Bentley. He did this f.t.d. thing yet again, at Skegness (36 sec.). Then at Holme Moss he was quickest once more, in 82.8 sec., and at Saltburn he was beaten only by the huge Isotta-Maybach. doing 107.74 m.p.h. There was a second place to Campbell’s bigger Sunbeam at Porthcawl in 1924 but at the Caerphilly hill-climb Cook gave best to Moir’s Bentley.
In 1924 Cook took three classes and made f.t.d. at Kop, was second to Dario Resta in the new GP Sunbeam at Aston-Clinton and repeated this at South Harting. He went to Brooklands in 1924 only for the Autumn races, being unplaced in his first, but being second to Parry Thomas in his next race and then ending his career with the Vauxhall splendidly, by winning the “100 Long”, at 98.5 m.p.h. from Barclay in Gurney’s TT Vauxhall, after a lap at 103.97 m.p.h. He ended that September afternoon with yet another second place, again behind Thomas’ Leyland-Thomas.
It wasn’t only Humphrey Cook who obtained good results from these TT Vauxhalls. Peter Gurney had acquired one, as we have seen, which he lent to Raymond Mays, for the 1924 hill-climb at Holme Moss, where Mays, after a fire during one ascent, made f.t.d. Gurney had intended to drive his scarlet car at Brooklands but, bowing to parental alarm, let Jack Barclay, who was a partner in the well-known Vauxhall dealers, Barclay & Wyse of Great Portland Street, drive it for him, Barclay winning the last race of 1924 in it. C. G. Brockleback tried another of the cars after his 1913 GP Peugeot had been destroyed in the crash at the Track that killed Toop, but it never went much over a 100 m.p.h. lap-speed. H. F. Clay, who had been using in sprint-events one of the 1914 4½-litre GP Vauxhalls which the “works” drivers Park and Swain had campaigned at Brooklands in 1921, was another driver of a TT Vauxhall, lending his, now streamlined, to Mays, who was second fastest in it at Shelsley Walsh in 1926, beaten by Davenport’s GN “Spider”. At this distance of time it is difficult to sort out which car was which, but at Brooklands in 1924 all three appeared in the Autumn Meeting, and Mays used one at Kop, making second-f.t.d.
For 1924, seeking more speed, Cook commissioned Mays’ friend Amherst Villiers to prepare a Roots supercharger for his Vauxhall, to be fitted at Luton. It was unsuccessful and he sold therm to Barclay. By 1925 Barclay was racing two TT Vauxhalls at the Track, occasionally letting Dan Higgin drive the slower one. He broke Class-D records in 1925 with the now-streamlined ex-Cook car endowed with No. 3 engine, including that two-way f.s. kilometre at 111.85 m.p.h. In 1926 Barclay lent one of his Vauxhalls to Parry Thomas, for the Evening News 100-Mile Handicap, Brooklands’ greatest driver finishing third, a tyre tread off one rear wheel, breaking Class-D records on the way, at well over 104 mph.
It was Barclay’s Vauxhall with the now well-streamlined body, virtually a single-seater, with the radiator cowled-in, which John Cobb, normally addicted to heavier metal, used in 1927, painted grey and later entered for him by J. Pickles. It had a maximum speed of some 120 m.p.h. and in a 50 Mile BARC race finished third after a duel with Purdy’s Thomas Special. Cobb reversed this in a 100-Mile Handicap, as I well recall watching with excitement on my first race-day visit to Brooklands. Again he and Purdy fought a desperate duel, until the Thomas Special broke a back spring and retired, with its undershield rubbing on the concrete. Barclay scored almost as many “places” and more wins at Brooklands than Humphrey Cook and besides this these old TT Vauxhalls continued to do well in sprints and sand races. In 1928 Raymond Mays bought the ex-Cook car from Barclay, with the disused supercharger, for £275. Painted blue, it made second fastest time at Shelsley-Walsh, running in blown form, as the Vauxhall-Villiers. Ignoring the many “places” obtained at Brooklands. the outright wins at the main Brooklands’ meetings of the vintage years by these TT Vauxhalls are truly impressive. (see table).
Besides this, Barclay won a race at a 1929 Surbiton MC Meeting but the table is concerned only with the major Brooklands’ Meetings. It is interesting that all down the years the engine size of these TT Vauxhalls never varied. Barclay painted one of them mauve for a time but by 1926 both his cars were red: Carson’s, which became the Carson Special with an inverted chassis frame, was red and blue.
Nor must we forget the wonderful escape Barclay had at the 1926 Easter Brooklands races, when the Vauxhall went out of control during the 100 m.p.h. Long Handicap. In Barclay’s own words: “I was proceeding down the Railway-straight in the second lap at about 116 m.p.h.. rapidly overhauling a bunch of slower cars. They took the banking about 200 yards ahead of me and it was apparent that I should have to mount the Byfleet banking considerably higher than I had intended. This I did, with ample room to pass. Some of the drivers ahead of me, unaware I was about to pass, went still higher. My speed was such that I could not wait to pass and had to go still higher. The Vauxhall started skidding, nose down the banking, tail overhanging the top. We slid sideways for some 50 yards, both rear wheels about 1 1/2″ from the edge of the Track. The car then turned completely round and slid to the very foot of the banking. I was now going at well over 80 mph. facing a car I had just passed. Luckily, the Vauxhall then gave a half-turn and as the engine had not stopped, I thought to continue the race”. Jack was a small chap, and did well to cope with the situation, although it might be said that he was somewhat prone to wild driving.
He would have continued the race had not Edwin Plaister, one of his salesmen who normally acted as his mechanic, advised against this in case the tyres had suffered. Later that afternoon Barclay went out again, to win the Lightning Long Handicap
Mays and Villiers developed their TT Vauxhall into the Vauxhall-Villiers-Supercharge, which eventually developed some 300 b.h.p. and David Brown likewise had his TT car supercharged, running it in sand races. etc. These cars are outside the scope of the present study, in which I am concerned with them in their original atmospherically-inducted form. But, if anyone cares to hunt it out, my youthful attempt to put into words the complexities of the Vauxhall-Villiers-Supercharge when it was owned by Sydney Cummings will be found in MOTOR SPORT for January, 1937.
After the potent engine of this car had been put into a Bugatti and taken out again after the war, Tony Brooke acquired it and many spares, from which he decided to recreate a supercharged Vauxhall-Villiers, rather in the David Brown idiom. More recently he passed on some castings and parts to Alistair Templeton, who has splendidly recreated No 1 TT Vauxhall from them, of necessity using a reproduction chassis frame.
Having sorted out the foregoing history, necessary to put the subject into perspective, I drove to Cheltenham to look at Templeton’s handiwork.
The chassis frame, as I have said, had to be recreated, and Alistair also made a new front axle, but the back axle of No. 1 can was found among Tom Plowman’s spares, and used after refurbishing, and the correct brake drums were discovered on Nick Boyle’s 30/98. Alistair made a new built-up crankshaft in his home workshop, also new con-rods and new camshafts were devised with the help of Leonard Reece. He also made new pistons from Cosworth forgings. Tony Brooke found various castings, and a TT gearbox whose internals were renewed. A suitable carburetter was located at Beaulieu, being an aero-type Zenith 48DC. Coil ignition is still used, but not Delco, because the distributor caps had cracked. A dynamo, driven from the prop shaft has been fitted, to keep the battery charged.
I was very interested to learn that the air braking system is still not only operating but providing retardation that would not disgrace a modern car. It is fed from an aero-type pump that has replaced the original, at the front of the engine just behind the radiator. The air pressure was originally controlled, and could be varied by the driver, from the steering-wheel r.h. quadrant Iever normally used as a hand-throttle, a screw-pattern throttle control under the scuttle replacing the lever. Alistair prefers to use the air-braking without this control. Another ingenious feature of the cable-and-rod braking is an adjustment, for use by the mechanic, being on the cockpit floor on his side, which moves backwards to take-up cable slack, and the pulleys on the outside of the side-members that reverse the direction of the brake compensating linkage. So the two steering-wheel controls are like those of a 30/98. The short, cranked r.h. gear-lever is inside the body in the usual open gate.
The narrow cockpit has two non-adjustable, shaped seats. Looking down on the polished aluminium bonnet the Vauxhall seems quite a small car. It has small instruments mounted on the backs of the air-deflection “funnels”, those before the driver, from I to r., consisting of a Watford speedometer, put in “to fill the hole”, a Vauxhall oil gauge for the pump feeding the valve-gear, reading from 5 to 40 lb./sq. in., in steps of five pounds, a little Jaeger tachometer going up to “60”, in stages of five r.p.m., and a Watford clock. The mechanic is confronted with a small Vauxhall air pressure gauge reading “1, 2, 3,4″, for use with the hand-pump on the cockpit wall (but the engine maintains its own pressure in the fuel tank), a Vauxhall air gauge for the braking system, calibrated from 20 to 120 lb./sq. in. in 20 lb steps, a Vauxhall oil gauge for the main bearings, going from to 40 lb./sq. in., and the ignition switch. The front axle is damped by two pairs of Hartford shock-absorbers and the car is shod with a Hood Rubber Co. tyre on the o/s. front wheel, a Dunlop on the opposite wheel, of 815 x 105, the back wheels, in deference to the lack of a differential, being more economically shod with 4.50” –21 Nokia covers.
This is splendidly-stark motor car. It rides hard, as befits a vintage racing car. The time-factor before the TT and the need to keep weight down was probably a factor in the simplicity of the body, the capacity of the original truly triangular tank having to be increased after tests had determined the fuel consumption. A pair of English-made Pirelli tyres are now strapped behind it. There is a bulb horn, a tiny screen, protected by a wire-mesh guard, for the driver, that long outside hand-brake and precious little else, in the way of equipment. No starter, so it commences correctly on the handle. The mansized exhaust-pipe runs along the near-side and the engine, No. 5, has the dual external inlet-manifolds on the off-side. The starting handle has a substantial tubular supporting-strut and evidence of the fact that no expense was spared by Vauxhall’s in building these cars is contained in the very detailed drawings, now in Alistair Templeton’s possession, meticulously copied in the Luton drawing-office from Ricardo’s originals. Templeton has done some 1,000 miles in the car, including going to the Raymond Mays’ Commemoration at Bourne, getting better than 22 m.p.g. cruising, shall we say, at 70 m.p.h. Oil consumption is a problem, but won’t be when there is time to rectify a leak from the near-side of the crankcase, at a place where a rod once expelled itself, while Tim Carson was warming-up at Brooklands, demolishing the drive between timing-gears and water pump. Templeton has no particular preferences over the oil used, but modern filters are fitted to safeguard a long and costly engine rebuild. Incidentally, two long parallel copper pipes return cooling water from the heads to the low, but typically-Vauxhall, radiator, constructed from a cutdown one from a 14/40 Vauxhall. I look forward to meeting the car again, in next year’s sprint events. — W.B.