An eye on the opposition

Quite why Sir Henry Royce Wanted to sample an OHC Austro-Daimler in 1925 (Motor Sport, November) I do not know, as the twin-ohc ‘Goshawk’ engine had already been abandoned for a pushrod power unit for the production R-R Twenty. Yet there was even concern, when the A-D they had tried proved unexpectedly slow, as to whether or not it had been the sports version.

To try a Fiat Forty, that dignified car with enormous brake drums and a radiator not unlike that of a Rolls, which sold in 1925 for £.1175, was more understandable. The R-R New Phantom had just been announced, with a much larger engine, the chassis priced at £1850. Was the ‘Tipo 519 Fiat a competitor?

So in October 1925, E W (later Lord) Hives reported for Royce on a Fiat limousine. It weighed 2.15 tons empty. The pushrod 4766cc six-cylinder engine’s noisiest feature was from the carburettor intake, and a driver heard nothing obtrusive from the valve-gear. But, bonnet open, two bad tappet knocks were noted and generally the Fiat’s engine “was less silent than that of a Rolls.”

The rocker shaft had to be lubricated two or three times a day by depressing a pump on the dash and the valves oiled by can. It was difficult to get out of top gear due to strong selector springs and a badly-placed lever; the indirect gears were not so quiet as on an average R-R Phantom, and reverse was “definitely a bad gear.”

The multi-plate clutch was very smooth “and stopped quickly.” The side brake was “singularly inaccessible and quite ineffective.” At low speeds there was no servo braking assistance, much pressure being required, and lag was equally bad forwards or backwards. The servo was effective “but it was difficult to detect when you were pushing against the return spring or dosing the servo valve, giving a feeling of insecurity and uncertainty. Not much front braking, and a gear growl was heard even by backseat occupants as the servo oil-pump teeth came under load, but braking did not affect steering. The Studebaker’s brakes of similar design were better.”

Those in the back seats thought the rear axle “very good.” But acceleration from 10 to 20mph in top was bad, and the “carburettor wanted humouring all the time.” Hives imagined the car to be overcooled but no radiator thermometer was fitted, and Fiat’s driver had been refused a blanking plate. The Fiat 40 was “over-sprung and rides like a lorry.” London’s squares gave very noticeable shocks all round over worn setts. The Brockley hill test took 58sec against a Phantom’s 49sec, the latter’s engine being 2902cc larger. The Fiat’s engine was rougher than a Phantom’s throughout its range and a vibration came up at 45mph on third, and a slight one at 40 in top.

Apart from the steering’s freedom from road shock and the nice clutch, Rolls-Royce could not see that they were likely to learn anything from the Italian car in respect of engine silence, flexibility and efficiency, gearbox silence, suspension, braking or lightness of steering. I assume they decided not to buy one for further road testing and possible disassembly

Fiat fans can console themselves that this was a very restricted appraisal, the A-D and Fiat both being tried on one day, mostly in London. In Italy, had Fiat wanted to test a Rolls-Royce, I suspect they would have gone much further and much faster.