Three Darracqs

The point cannot be made too often that ownership of an antique motorcar is enhanced for most people if the history of its make and type, and if possible the antecedents of the particular car concerned, can be traced. It is not always easy, or possible, especially in the case of racing cars of which more than one of a given kind was produced; in later days each one will no doubt be quoted as the winning, or best-performing, car of any successful team — a case in point, where the later identity of each team car has never been established, in spite of long investigations and theories by those of chess-like erudition, is that of the three (or four?) 1914 TT Burgess-designed Humbers, of which Kenneth Neve/Judy Portway own the only example still extant and in good running order.

So it is nice to be able to recount what happened to three Darracqs — racing Darracqs, of course — at least for six years after they were built. I refer to the cars made by Alexandre Darracq & Company of Suresnes, Paris, for the “Four-Inch” Tourist Trophy race of 1908, so-called because the engines of the competing cars were limited to a cylinder-bore of not more than this diameter, and to have not more than four such cylinders. The race was run over nine laps of the sinuous Mountain loM course, a total distance of 339½ miles. Thirty-eight entries were received by the RAC, of which the Darrracqs were the favourites. There were three of them, to be driven by A Rawlinson, Sir Algernon Lee Guinness and Arthur George. They had engines of just under the required bore-size (100 x 160mm), with overhead valves operated by long exposed push-rods and rockers. They were reputed to develop 84 bhp, at 1400 rpm.

The race was won by W Watson, a Liverpool Vauxhall agent, driving a Hutton, who took the flag after a strenuous six hours, 43 minutes and five seconds. Second home came Lee Guinness, 2 min 16 secs in arrears. He was followed by the thirdplaced Darracq, brought over the line in that position by Arthur George, from Newcastle, who had consumed a dozen oysters during a pit-stop (which would have made me sick!). The winner averaged 50.?mph, an indication of the severity of the event, and George got his Darracq round the loM course faster than anyone else, at 52 mph, which meant a lap in 43min 15sec. Some way behind came a Calthorpe and a Thornycroft.

In fact, George had led the race easily after 300 miles and had equalled his first record circuit, but he was out of luck — that commodity which, even with fine driving and mechanical efficiency, is so essential for success in motor racing. . . Having changed all four wheels of the Darracq without losing his lead, George was going well, just beyond Ballacraine, with but 25 miles to go, when the carburettor caught fire. Legend has it that a spectator’s coat was used to quell the flames! He lost six minutes, but raced on to that third place. Lucky indeed was George — at one stage of the race he had collided with a roadside bank and he and his riding mechanic had to straighten out the damage with posts wrested from a convenient hedge. He was still active in 1922, with a 30/98 Vauxhall. It was Rawlinson, that determined military gentleman, who was ill-treated by Lady luck, or lacked skill, for he overturned at Ramsey, although able to continue.

After the race the fate of all three Darracqs is fairly well established. Rawlinson seems to have quickly acquired two of them, which he entered for the two “FourInch” races at Brooklands in 1909 (he lapped at 62.86 mph, Vidler at 71.02 mph). The car George drove was sold to a North Country doctor and than to a coal-mine owner in Wales. In poor condition it then went back to Darracq’s London depot and was fully restored. Malcolm Campbell ran it at Brooklands in 1911, winning a 60 mph Handicap and being second in a Private Competitors (as he then was) handicap, before turning to his slightly larger Darracq “The Flapper”.

G R N Minchin, whose wealth came from the Chloride Electrical Storage Co which supplied batteries to Rolls-Royce, then found this Darracq early in 1912 and had a touring body made for it by Mann Egerton, but retaining the bolster petrol tank and external exhaust pipes. He put on an SU carburettor and claimed some 80 mph and 18½ mpg, but as no half-compression device was fitted found starting difficult until he installed Bosch dual ignition. Research being what it is, even here Minchin, author of “N7” and “Under My Bonnet”, caused confusion because he would insist that in the TT George’s number was 17, whereas it was 30 (No 17 being worn by Guinness’s car); this Minchin repeated five times in 1913 (so that Malcolm Campbell had to gently remind him that he had the Guinness car, causing even The Autocar to get itself in a twist.

Campbell raced his “Four-inch” Darracq at Brooklands in 1912, as “Blue Bird II”, as a companion to his 1906 101/2-litre Darracq, which was his first “Blue Bird”, and ran it in 1913 as “Blue Bird Ill”. Campbell’s car (LN 870) had also been given Bosch dual-ignition, so that when warm it would start “on the switch”. It had a radiator cowl, disc wheels and mudguards (I hope its racing roundels did not attract too much Police attention!). Sir Algernon Lee Guinness also had one of the TT Darracqs, presumably the Rawlinson car (No 4 in the TT), perhaps purchased from Campbell. Minchin found his ideal for touring and all three owners spoke well of the reliability of these well-made Darracqs. W B