Rare find - a twin-cam 2LS Ballot

The other day I was introduced to a rare car, in the form of a 2-litre twin-cam 2LS Ballot, of which not many were made and of which very few survive. The French manufacturer Etablissements Ballot of Paris made very fine motor-cars but prior to the 1914-18 war in Europe had specialised only in supplying engines to other automobile makers, notably to Delage. During the period of hostilities the firm's founder, Edouard Ballot, must have thought about producing his own cars and to introduce them he commissioned the great designer/ draughtsman Ernest Henry to build a team of four 4.9-litre racing cars for the first post-war Indianapolis race of 1919.

Straight-eight Ballots the twin-overhead-camshafts and four-valves-per-cylinder which he had pioneered for the epoch making and very successful 1912 7.6-litre Peugeot that had won that year's French Grand Prix, and which Henry was to follow with the equally successful smaller Peugeots of 1913 and the 1914 4 1/2-litre cars which Mercedes vanquished at Lyons. No wonder, then, that M Ballot persuaded the master to produce his first racing cars, the 4.9-litre cars said to have been designed and built in an unbelievably brief number of days. They were not rewarded with good luck in America, but when the formula was changed to 3 litres for 1920 Ballot encouraged Henry to build another team of straight-eight cars for him. Ballot had managed to engage top drivers, and in the 1920 Indy race Ralph de Palma was two laps in the lead after 190 of the 200 circuits of the "brickyard" when the magneto gave out, leaving Rene Thomas to come home second to Chevrolet's Monroe, de Palma fifth, Jean Chassagne seventh.

It was much the same at Le Mans in 1921, where Ballot fielded a team of three 3-litre straight-eights, and as the fourth car wasn't ready, filled in with a similar Henry-designed twin o h c 2-litre four-cylinder Ballot, for the revived French Grand Prix. These cars missed early practice, for which one of the older 4.9-litre Ballots was used, but again Edouard Ballot had the services of some top drivers — the American de Palma, Chassagne, the veteran Louis Wagner and Jules Goux. For a time Chassagne in the 4-speed, 4WB Ballot battled with Boyer's 3-speed, "water"-braked Duesenberg but retired with a split fuel tank on the rockstrewn road. De Palma had trouble restarting his engine after a pit-stop and finished the 322-mile race 15 minutes after Murphy's victorious Duesenberg had crossed the finish-line. Wagner's Ballot was back in seventh place, but the outstanding performance had been that of Goux in the little 2-litre Ballot, which came home third, only six minutes and 27.6 seconds behind de Palma's bigger Ballot, after a non-stop run.

It was not surprising, therefore, that when he was ready to go into production with road-going cars, Ballot based these on his 2-litre racing-car. In fact, the specification of his first catalogue model was closely akin to that of the Ballot with which Goux had performed so well in the 1921 Grand Prix. The first of these advanced sports cars made the Paris Salon, accompanied by one of the 3-litre GP cars, freshly painted and its bonnet locked, but it seems that Ballot only just made the 1921 Olympia/White City Show, because the make was absent from preliminary lists of exhibits. But in the outcome they contrived to show three of these exciting new twin-cam sports cars at the White City, with two and three-seater boat-tail bodies, backed up by some displays of smaller engines, a legacy presumably from pre-war days, although one was a 2-litre single-oh-camshaft power-unit, a foretaste of less sporting models to come.

The twin-cam cars created much interest, as well they might. Their engines had four valves per cylinder, inclined at 60deg, the camshafts driven by a vertical shaft and bevel gears from the front of the ballbearing crankshaft, and a bore and stroke, 69.9 x 130 mm (1996 cc), exactly like the racing engine. Another Henry hallmark, a three-point sub-frame, was used, a Scintilla magneto and the water pump were driven by a cross-shaft at the front and the bigends were force-lubricated. A cone clutch took the drive to a 4-speed and reverse gearbox and a spiral-bevel back-axle. Suspension was by half-elliptic springs front and back and the brake lever applied lsotta-Fraschini-type front brakes, the pedal rear wheel brakes, in the cautious idiom of those early 1920s. A single Claudel carburetter was fitted and the specification was that of the racing car except for a modified exhaust system, a revised dashboard, and the provision of such equipment as a Delco lighting and starting set. The price, with any of the body styles, was 72,000 francs from the Boulevard Brune in Paris, which at the then rate of exchange was in the region of £1200. But if a fourcylinder Bugatti or a Bentley were less costly, the new Ballot was quoted as the fastest car of its type in the Show. The bodies were by the Parisian coachbuilder Felber et Fils and had long flared front wings.

Ballot was absent from the 1922 Olympia Show but returned there in 1923, when the twin-cam car was supplemented by the 12/45 hp model, the cylinder bore enlarged by 1 mm to increase the capacity to 2001 cc, and to emphasise the touring capabilities a quite large coupe de ville body was displayed on this chassis, in which the engine was more forward in the frame and coil ignition was used. Later the single-ohc theme was utilised for the well-liked 2LT and 2LTS models. However, the exciting 12/75 hp twin-cam was still in evidence, with bright green 3-seater body and red upholstery and wheels, straight from attracting attention at the Paris Salon. The chassis price in England was £1550 and the sports-model cost £1850. Although it was in production from 1921 to 1924, the 12/75 hp Ballot was made in decidedly limited numbers, Ballot expert Paul Frere quotes a figure of less than 100, other sources around 50. So it was all the more surprising when one of these delectable motor-cars surfaced a short drive from my house in Wales.

The disappointment which Edouard Ballot had experienced from his technically efficient but unsuccessful 4.9-litre and his later 3-litre racing cars, alleviated only when the latter achieved first and second places, driven by Goux and Chassagne, in the 1921 Italian GP, was to be further alleviated by his 2-litre cars. For example, Goux, with his mechanic Pierre Decrose, so nearly won the 1922 Targa Florio, until the car left the road on the final lap; Goux recovered, to be placed second to Count Masetti's 4 1/2-litre 1914 GP-type Mercedes, with Foresti's Ballot third, Leo Villa as his mechanic. The cars were driven to Sicily from Paris and back again. Then at San Sebastian in 1923 the amateur driver Haimovinci was third in the 277-mile race behind two straight-eight GP Rolland Pilains, and in 1924 Debuck and Decrose had an extremely good lead in the Spa 24-hour touring car race when the Ballot's back-axle packed up on the last lap. Amends were made in 1925 with the same 2LS four-seater, with its outside exhaust pipe, when they won the San Sabastian GP de Tourismo at 61 mph. All endorsed by Goux's remarkable third place in the 1921 French GP. . .

These fast Ballots naturally attracted the attention of competition drivers in this country but due to the close similarity of the production cars to the works racing cars, even to retention of the four-valves-per cylinder and the two-piece ball-bearing crankshaft, it is impossible to say whether any of the actual works cars came to England. Certainly, however, by Easter Monday 1923 Capt (later Sir) Malcolm Campbell was racing a 1922 2-litre Ballot of the classic dimensions at Brooklands, winning the 90 mph Short Handicap from a Bentley and a 30/98 Vauxhall, with a best lap at just over 89 mph. This saxe-blue car was called, don't ask me why, "Vanda" (Campbell reserved "Blue Bird" for his 3-litre 1ndy/GP Ballot; this car and the big Ballots raced by Count Zborowski, Humphrey Cook, Jack Barclay and R B Howey, etc, were popular at the Track but I am concerned here only with the 2LS Ballots).

Campbell's Ballot eventually lapped at 94.15 mph, confirming that these were 100 mph cars. Campbell was an agent for Ballot and other cars and he sold the car he had raced, with two bodies, the lightweight racing one and a Mulliner 3-seater, to Col Tennant later in the year. In September the Colonel was asking £1350 for it, after it had been to Paris for an overhaul at 3000 miles. No takers, it seems, for Campbell then offered it for £1300 ono that September.

By August 1923 J Lucas-Scudamore, of the same family as the current Champion Jockey and Daily Mail horse-racing correspondent, was at the track with his 2LS Ballot. While at Oxford Lucas-Scudamore had competed with this car in the 1923 Inter-'Varsity speed-trials at Aston hill near Tring. FTD was secured by R F Summers, after a wild run in his 30/98 Vauxhall in 45.5s, but this was rather over-shadowed by Scudamore, whose smaller Ballot clocked second fastest time, in 45.9s. He was described as "coming up very well, and holding the road at the double corner in a remarkable manner."

At Brooklands the grey car lapped at 89.74 mph but Scudamore did not have much luck with the BARC handicappers, and he went over to a 1097cc Sascha Austro-Daimler.

I think it is worth quoting in full a letter Lucas-Scudamore wrote to an enquirer about the Ballot while it was in his possession: "I have owned one of these cars for about a year and a half, and covered some 15,000 miles. During this period I have never had an involuntary stop except for punctures, and for one or two trifling details. As regards maximum speed on top, this naturally depends on many things, but I would see no reason why 100 mph should not be obtained under favourable circumstances. My car, without any tuning or practising, and driven by myself in my first race on the track, achieved a lap speed of 89.75 mph, and a standing lap at an average speed of 72.5 mph (the official BARC records show that these speeds were achieved in different races, at 89.74 and 71.95 mph so he may have been referring to another Club's Meeting) and I have every reason to believe that an experienced driver could have improved considerably on those figures. Minimum speed on top gear, with the carburetter fitted as standard, I should place at about 15 mph, but I have fitted a Zenith, and can now do about 6 or 8 mph, with very little loss in maximum speed. Docility in traffic: like all racing cars, it is by no means ideal and frequent gear changing is necessary, but there is no danger of oiling up the plugs. Total weight ready for the road, with a very substantial three-seater body, is 25 cwt. It will keep in tune for at least 10,000 miles. Oil consumption is rather heavy, and petrol consumption varies from 22-30 mpg according to road conditions. The acceleration is very good, and at 2000 revolutions is really stupendous, while the brakes are truly amazing, and may be applied at full speed with absolute safety. I believe that the car will wear for ever and that the workmanship on the engine and chassis is finer than that of any other car produced, the only possible source of repairs being the accessories, etc. Gear changing is not easy, but can be mastered in a few days, after which it will be found difficult to miss a gear, though skill and care are required to effect a silent change, even after years of practice. As regards suitability for use in England, I would not exchange the car for any other make, although, frankly, I would not recommend it to any old or nervous person!. To conclude, I must say that the Ballot, in my opinion, is the most wonderful car of its type in the world, and I defy anyone to produce a car which would not have collapsed long ago (with the possible exception of the Bentley, which is a 3-litre car) under the terrible gruelling to which I have subjected this one."

Lucas-Scudamore's 1922 car had been stripped and repainted in 1923 and in 1926 was sold to a Mr McArthur of Melbourne, Australia, who fitted an experimental rotary-valve head. This ruined the block but McArthur's son, when he decided to completely restore the car, was able to obtain another engine from Col A Archdale in England, who had acquired it from Colin Crabbe but was unable to find a suitable chassis for it. Then there is the replica of Goux's Targa Florio Ballot which was meticulously made by Wildae Restorations Ltd of Brasinton, Devon to the order of Andre Plasch of Brussels. It won the 1987 Pursuit of Excellence Trophy awarded by John Donner for the highest form of artistic achievement, judged by a panel of R-R EC experts. It is a top Concours d'Elegance exercise obviously.

Another Targa Florio replica is owned by Rinsey Mills in Devon. (The car Ian Connell drove in trials when he was up at Oxford may be the same car.) The Ballot which Campbell raced in 1923 has disappeared, unless it is the car rumoured to be in the north of England but at least two more 2LS cars went to Australia, one of which contested the Australian GP three years in succession.

Otherwise precious few 2LS Ballots have survived. So I was quick to make the short journey to see another one, if somewhat apprehensive of Lucas-Scudamore's comments about these not being cars for the aged or nervous! This 2LS was bought in 1922 from Malcolm Campbell by Lord Cunliffe, the second Baron, just back from the war, while he was up at Oxford. His father was Governor of the Bank of England. The Ballot, a Park Ward three-seater, was not popular with Lady Cunliffe, who said its difficult starting made her late for social functions, and if it rained she got wet. It was replaced by a Beardmore which was promptly returned because it failed to attain its advertised speed. But the Ballot must have been a highly desirable car, until Lord Cunliffe turned his attention to Bentleys. It was disposed of to Vasena, son of a rich Argentinian steel magnate, while he, too, was at Oxford, but by 1930 was in the hands of a trader in Hastings. Here it languished under a back street railway arch for nearly 60 years. . .

It was known to a number of Ballot afficionados but in 1989 was acquired by Paul Ffoulkes-Halbard, its engine seized, and later advertised in MOTOR SPORT by C A R Howard as a remarkable discovery. This attracted the attention of Ekhart Berg, the Alfa Romeo expert in Munich, who bought the Ballot and stripped it down in its entirety, making new parts of the highest quality, where required. But fortunately a replacement body did not interest him, so the patina of the car remains undisturbed, especially as Berg carefully preserved any worn or suspect original components which had to be replaced. In time Berg heard of a Miller that he craved and the Ballot returned here as part of the deal. It was put up for sale again by Fisken's and in 1992 acquired by the present owner.

As soon as I saw XL 6839 I knew that here was something rather special — a 2-litre sports car of low, lean looks, stamped very clearly as the work of the immortal Ernest Henry. You have only to look at the engine and chassis to see the Henry influence. The specification is as aforesaid, the twin-cam engine which now develops 74 bhp at 4200 rpm (confirmed on the test-bed after the rebuild) in the 9 ft 2 in chassis used even for the racing models. Contemporary accounts of output vary, but Leo Villa's ms notes (preserved by Ffoulkes-Halbard) speak of 72-74 bhp at 4000 rpm.

The two-branch inlet manifold well removed from the cylinder block, with its priming tap for ether injection (still needed for a cold start) and its updraught Claudel-Hobson carburettor, is pure Henry. As are the engine subframe, the camshaft covers and the vertical drive shaft for the camshafts. The engine is well back, enabling the dynamo to be behind the radiator, not beneath it, and there is no cooling fan. From the cross-shaft a Bosch GA4 T4H magneto is driven on the off-side, the water pump on the opposite side. Other typical Henry features are the hole in the o/s of the bonnet for priming the gas-works, and the neat inspection covers and breathers on the base of the crankcase — a legacy of the designer's marine-engine experience, perhaps? As are the substantial four-bolt big-ends with floating bronze bushes (did Ford copy these for the famous V8?)

The engine is No 21 and many of its components are stamped with the magic "EB". On the near side is the bunch-of-bananas exhaust manifold. There is a tiny cover plate on the back of the o/s cambox for the fuel pump used for the racing cars. Under the scuttle a tank is provided for extra oil feed to the sump on the "chicken-feed" principle, but this is not needed for road use. (The oil feed to the camshafts was reversed by Berg when he rebuilt the engine, to give cleaner lubricant to the front main bearing). Starting is somewhat hindered as there is no hand throttle; the ring on the steering wheel boss is for ignition advance and retard. Timing has been set as advised in Leo Villa's notes, made when he worked on Campbell's racing car. An unusual cut-out deflects the gases, not to the atmosphere, but around the inner body of the silencer.

The Park Ward body suits this Ballot admirably. The original mudguards, which are still with the car, have been supplemented by more sporting ones made by Crailville of London, celebrated for their bodywork on many historic luxury cars. The headlamps are a masterpiece in themselves —a pair of Bleriot PHIs, with external beam adjustment and efficient clips and hinges for their glasses. The wiring is likewise very neatly contrived. The wire wheels have centre-lock hubs and 820 x 120 Dunlop Cord tyres. The leather seats and hood and side screens are original and equipment includes a swivelling spot-lamp by Phares Besnard for the driver's amusement, and Bosch and bulb horns.

The brakes are a reflection of the days when 4WB were somewhat suspect — the big front drums are somewhat smaller than the rear drums, operated independently hand/foot, and the interesting Isotta Fraschini front brakes have their shoes attached to the back plates and the rods beneath the axle beam. The rh gear-lever has first and second positions to the right of the gate, reverse on the extreme right. The polished metal dash is fully stocked, with, from left to right, Le Nivex fuel-gauge and knob, water-heat gauge, 120 mph Jaeger speedometer, fuel tank air-pressure gauge, with the wood-handled pump lever on the extreme left for the luckless passenger to attend to, a Ballot oil-pressure indicator (a red sector comes on should this drop below the customary 10 to 15 lb/sq in), a large Kirby-Smith ammeter with knurled lamp bezel as on a Bentley, a Jaeger-Paris tachometer reading to 4000 rpm, and over to the right an ignition cut-out and a spotlamp switch.

You enter this endearing motor-car through the single n/s door. After the ether doping the engine breaks into life with the eager note which typifies a twin-cam power unit of racing pedigree. The cone clutch is no problem but, as Lucas-Scudamore discovered all those years ago, the gearbox isn't easy. The heavy flywheel and lack of a clutch stop make the change up from bottom to second gear slow, between these widely spaced ratios. But into the higher close-ratio gears, although care is needed to avoid a crunchy change, the acceleration is most impressive, particularly for a 2-litre 1922 car of this comfortable wheelbase. We are talking in terms of 100 mph at 4000 rpm in the high top cog, around 75 mph in third, 62 in second. In touring rig the maximum is around 92 mph. The exhaust bark from the fish-tailed pipe is purposeful, but becomes subdued once top is in.

Ernest Henry no doubt used a transverse magneto-drive to make the contact-breaker points accessible, then thought important. With the dynamo drive, this lands the timing arrangement with a total of 12 gears and as the cross-shaft has no seals this is a somewhat oily engine. A small price to pay, however, for such a "driveable" car, which takes fast corners without noticeable roll and can make larger vintage sports-cars uncomfortably breathless. A rare find indeed! W B