WB Miscellany, December 2005

The enthusiast’s Ballot

The French sports 2-litre Ballot is a car which deserves to be remembered. To confirm this I decided to check what other scribes had thought of it, before giving my own description. In the very first book about vintage cars by Cecil Clutton and John Stanford (Batsford, 1954) it is recognised as having really outstanding performance even with the big Weymann saloon bodies with rear trunks, when a top pace of just over 70mph is quoted.

But with poor acceleration and a slow gearbox, though excellent roadholding, he did not deal with it under Sports Cars but under Touring Cars.

However, J R Buckley writing in his later volume Cars Of The Connoisseur (Batsford, 1960) wrote of it as a most delightful motor car and recalled that in the early years of the VSCC Bruce Whitehouse had excellent service from quite a fleet of this make.

TR Nicholson, with his book on vintage cars (Batsford, 1966), affords the 2LTS only a few lines, and Lord Montagu in Volume 2 of his very comprehensive and intriguing Lost Causes Of Motoring (Cassell, 1971) has chapters on a dozen French makes but only some 34 words on Ballot, reminding us that the concern, whose showrooms were in Paris’s Boulevard Brune, had sold only 100 cars in three years.

A Vintage Car Casebook  by Peter Hull and Nigel Arnold-Forster (Batsford, 1976) has chapters on 17 makes but omits Ballot; however, in my little Sports Car Pocket Book (Batsford, 1961) I called the 2LTS “long-legged, comfortable and well-braked”.

So let’s get down to it. The Ballot’s racing pedigree may have been a sales factor. Giving up making proprietary engines in his Paris factory, Ballot had gone into top-class racing with top-class drivers, obtaining the service of the then greatest designer in this field, Ernest Henry, whose revolutionary twin-cam multi-valve Peugeots had been unbeatable in the French GPs of 1912 and 1913. Henry produced the 5-litre straight-eight 32-valve Indy Ballot and a 3-litre GP version. After the Indianapolis disaster of 1919 (undersized tyres, Goux/Campari), successes included first and second in the 1921 Italian GP (Goux, Chassagne), second and third in the 1921 French GP (de Palma, Goux), and in 1922 second in the Targa Florio (Goux) and third in the Indy 500 (Hearne), with good results later in sportscar races. In later years Brooklands spectators would have seen these cars racing there from 1920 to 1934.

In 1922 Ballot gave up racing to make production cars, his first a very expensive 90mph 2-litre with its engine based on those of the racers. He must have realised that this was hardly profit-making and by 1923 had built the simplified 2LS with the same capacity 1995cc four-cylinder engine but with eight valves and a single overhead camshaft instead of 16 valves and twin camshafts. This acceptable fast tourer was joined in 1925 by a more sporting version, the 2LTS. The design was much the same but the valves were inclined at 110 degrees, operated as in the 2LT by an overhead camshaft driven by a slightly offset vertical shaft at the front of the engine so as to accept skew-gear drive, short light rockers operating the valves instead of the cams attacking the valves directly.

Tappet adjustment was by thimble and shim, as in racing engines, to ensure less likelihood of settings altering, with screw threads, but this was a time-waster for private owners. The valve cotters were split but as the valves were overhead these were, as I recall, easier to replace, especially with a special tool, than the same type on an Austin 7. The crankshaft ran in three plain bearings instead of the ball-races used for the now nearly defunct 16-valve sportscar.

Ballot engine performance was improved by machined and polished combustion chambers, valve overlap (exhaust valves closing 5mm after TDC), and the gear ratios were 12.0, 10.84, 8.8 and 4.7 to 1, with an optional 4.0 to 1 axle-ratio. A single Zenith triple-diffuser carburettor was used and the maximum speed of an open 2LTS was in the region of 80mph. The wheelbase was 10ft 2in, track 4ft 4in, with 30×5.77 tyres. The four-wheel brakes had a vacuum servo and there was easy adjustment of clutch pedal, steering box and brakes. The chassis price in 1927 was £495 (the 14/40 Delage cost £350). After 1928 Ballot concentrated on luxury straight-eights.

Altogether a notable enthusiast’s car, with a handsome radiator, the ship’s anchor badge and a mascot of a trumpet-blower.


I remember, I remember…

In 1941, when war made filling motor papers somewhat difficult, the editor of Motor Cycling  had the bright idea of getting JJ (Jim) Hall to contribute his recollections of pre-war racing. He did this with some amusing items headed ‘I Remember’. He was helped by ‘Wackers’ who was I think Rodney Walkerley, who became The Motor’s  sports editor, and I thought it an easy way of filling pages, which I now want to try myself.

So, I remember the excitement of seeing Percy Riley win the 1938 JCC International Trophy race by just 0.2mph from Raymond Mays’s ERA, in the 1.7-litre Riley he had prepared himself, and the wonderful reception he got as he returned to the paddock, before he could drive off in his scruffy Riley 9 saloon.

I remember two rather close finishes at Brooklands, particularly that in the 1936 JCC race, in which the ERAs of Prince Bira and Raymond Mays fought a truly dramatic battle, Bira winning by one second, at 91.00mph to Mays’s 90.99mph, with one of the ERA’s rear tyres nearly finished. After which Bira was rushed to London in Prince Chula’s Bentley just in time to appear on the BBC’s ‘Tonight’ programme, still in oily overalls and with blackened face…

I remember those exciting 1930s LCC Relay races and how in 1931 the brave Morgan three-wheeler drivers had Lord Austin’s works Austin 7s to contend with. I so wanted the crackling cyclecars to win, their hand-throttles held wide-open with rubber bands so that both hands could be on the steering wheels. But it was not to be; the A7 team won at a rousing 82.77mph.

Finally, for the time being, I recall driving my vintage A7 Mulliner coupé on a wet day and offering a girl a lift, as was not unusual in prewar times. She accepted, and as I drove off she asked whether the price of two pairs of silk stockings was all right? A naïve person, I was both annoyed and slightly alarmed and said no, at which she demanded to be let out to resume her beat. I pulled up by a line of people waiting for a bus. As the prostitute left in anger she pulled the door of the A7 open so forcibly that it fell with a crash onto the pavement. The bus queue looked on astonished as I tried to get the door into the car without blocking my seat, and a dubious female went off muttering from what looked to them like a very unusual motor car…


The noble lord and the novelist

Did you know that after Lord de Clifford was the last peer to be tried in the House of Lords, in 1935 he brought a libel case against the writer Rose Macaulay, who had objected to the verdict in her column in The Spectator? He had faced a manslaughter charge resulting from the death of another driver after a crash when he was driving his Frazer Nash (which Motor Sport  described some time ago), but was acquitted. Macaulay lost, which cost her £600, after the paper had paid the main legal costs.

The novelist often wrote of her enjoyment of driving, at first in her second-hand Morris Ten, later changed for a Morris Eight. In America the Macaulays had long drives in a friend’s Essex saloon: it shed a back wheel, water got into the carburettor and the radiator began to leak about a pint per mile when crossing the California desert en route for Texas. Rose also liked flying: after the usual joyride in 1932 she was taken up in a Klemm monoplane from Heston some time around 1934.


In defence of the Model-T

I am puzzled by the critical comments about the Model-T Ford, following a Greenpeace ad in The Times, noting that it did 25mpg or better than the 13mpg from Ford’s Range Rover Sport, offering thus a sarcastic congratulation to Ford for having made no progress in lowering emissions in 80 years.

This stupid comparison brought forth a surprising attack on the Model-T from Steve Cropley, Editor-in-Chief of Autocar, who said that although it could give 20bhp from 2.9 litres, in a 30mph accident it probably slaughtered all its occupants, that a trip of more than 20 miles in one was an ordeal, that its top speed was below 40mph, that its toxic fumes were probably 50 times more than those from today’s five-seater Fords, and that the Model-T could never survive today’s road conditions.

Cropley owns a Model-T and claims to enjoy it, so I can only think he was joking, like when he interviewed me for Autocar and I confused him by talking too much.

What Tucket Bros, who deal exclusively in Ford Model-Ts and are, I am told, doing quite nicely, thought of this I shudder to think.

The Model-T was an enormous tribute to Henry Ford as the most inexpensive car, yet made of top materials for durability with an epicyclic gearbox, which those used to horse or mule or even camel propulsion could cope with, and a high ground clearance to suit the prevailing post-1906 roads and tracks. That the T sold over 15 million is proof of this.

I have driven a number, lent to me for rallies, and admit you should be stone-cold sober and composed to be able to understand what the three pedals do, that low speed of the two speeds available means crawling up hills, but I remember a 1926 saloon that was unexpectedly quiet — at about 45mph on level going. So a wonderful car in its day, which Henry had the sense to replace by 1927 with the Models A and B. Why, a T would even sometimes caress its owner while he was cranking it up against a wall and the gear bands were in the mood for forward thrust.

The Trojan was in much the same idiom but was, maybe, a shade too late. The Ford-T Register and a dozen VSCC members are addicted to Ts and will know I am right. A Ford T climbed Ben Nevis in 1911 and others won races or served as ambulances in WWI, etc, and two made a run across frozen Sweden in 1925 to celebrate the sale of 30,000 there. That feat was repeated this year by a Model-T, which survived, as reported by Sophie Campbell in Talkback, Ford of Europe’s magazine, with no more trouble than “losing a bearing from one of the connector rods” and a puncture. The black-radiator tourer’s top speed is quoted as about 30mph, when a good T was in fact somewhat faster.


The Welsh a VSCC institution

The VSCC’s Welsh Trial on October 9/10 was regarded by the club as “an institution”. It reminds me that this event has to date had some 3000 entrants, around 8000 bouncer-passengers, has involved 5000 marshals and officials, some serving more than once, and that only 50 farmers/landowners have been involved.

The very historic Radnorshire Arms hotel in Presteigne is the trial HQ, and in 2003 it presented to the club the Judges Gavel, which is named after the famous Judges’ Lodgings in the town, and which is awarded for the best performance by a lady competitor; the town also flies a VSCC-badged flag while the event is there and its high street is filled with ancient motor cars, which have become an annual attraction for the residents and visitors.

This being the case, it seems a good idea, to me anyway, to see how the event started back in 1938, when the VSCC catered for the enthusiasm of sporting motors made before 1931, with a special class for pre1915 machines. Popular Tim Carson was then the Club Secretary; he lived in Basingstoke and I believe thought Wales a long way to go. But he knew a fellow publican at Presteigne, so he suggested that town, only just over the Welsh border, as the finish point. The winner was to be the entrant who came furthest, start and turning points established by telegram (now, no telegrams so petrol receipts from garages are used, relying on participants’ honesty).

In March 1938 23 cars started, ranging from J Bradshaw’s 1906 9-1/2-litre Daimler to J Prince’s 1925 Austin 7, including E Buck’s 1929 Alvis. The local post office was overwhelmed, as 66 telegrams came in, some including amusing reports. Snow was experienced from the 9am starting-time. Clive Windsor-Richards was running his 30/98 Vauxhall on racing fuel. Anthony Heal had no screen on the big 1906 Renault, nor had John Seth-Smith, bravely coping with the difficult 1908 single-cylinder Sizaire-Naudin. R Caesar had only taken delivery of his 1912 Belsize the night before. David Fitzpatrick had a supercharger on his 1926 Phantom I Rolls-Royce. Forrest Lycett was driving the 1914 Alfonso Hispano-Suiza, and John Mills actually did 100 miles on a 1901 Benz, his telegram arriving after his last four miles, all of them late in any case. Carson relied on a 1922 Bentley, it was first time out for W Worthington and his 5-litre Martini of 1903, Joan Richmond was in her 1928 Lancia Lambda, and J Boswell used a 4-1/2-litre Bentley. The only car to retire from the event was the 1928 Austro-Daimler of W Peck.

In this adventurous event (which was organised by John Swainson, helped by Tom Rolt) Col. Clutton, Cecil Clutton’s father, covered the greatest Edwardian distance, 227 miles, on the 1910 Fafnir, the big Daimler only 11 miles behind.

H Dakin’s 1931(!) Talbot won the Associate section, Windsor-Richards’s 30/98 the Vintage class. First-class awards were won by the Fafnir and Joan’s Lancia. After this the Edwardians indulged in a half-mile 1 in 10/1 in 6 hillclimb on the Sunday, Heal quickest in the Renault (86sec), and the more modern cars did a hilly trial won by the 30/98, Joan second, on the Harry Bowler marking system. After which Hitler caused a bit of a pause.

In the 2005 ‘Welsh’, with drivers endeavouring to clean sections such as Smatcher, Lloyds, Cwm Hay, Railway and Cwm Whitton’s three gradients, after a 100-mile road run to confirm that all the cars were legal and more or less normal, awards were as follows: Harry Bowler Trophy: Dr Geraint Owen (1930 Morris-JAP Special); Judge’s Gavel: Ben Cox (1923 Bugatti Brescia); Presteigne Trophy: Craig Collings (1925 Bentley 3/4-1/2). Road Rally — Talyllyn Trophy: John Potter (1927 12/50 Alvis).


South Downs speed and the Ner-a-Car

Books covering the story of one-venue racing are now available for many hillclimb and speed trial courses. The most recent is Jeremy Wood’s Speed on the South Downs — Lewes Speed Trials 1924-1939 (ISBN 0-9522766-1-5, £22.50, published by JWFA Books, 95 High Street, Billinghurst, West Sussex RH14 9QX). The large colour picture on the front of the dust jacket of RGJ (Dick) Nash getting ready to start in his Union Special for the last time before war stopped the Lewes events in 1939, Dick having competed there since 1927, whets the appetite. The 67 rare pictures in the 199 pages bear this out, as do the reports, a chapter for every year. All 66 of the fixtures at this pleasant and popular course are covered, with class winners and their times, backed up with lists of the 16 drivers who took under 20sec, with dates of the meetings and details of all the cars and drivers who took part, plus a good index and bibliography.

So one of the very best books of Its kind, about a place where Malcolm Campbell’s Bugatti made record time (21.8sec) in 1927 and the all-time record was that by the late Peter Monkhouse (ERA) in 18.27sec. and GNs and Specials added to the variety. I enjoyed it immensely and hope Jeremy will proceed with his idea of a book about all the seaside speed-trials.

Book News:

Ken Philip has written a very good account of the Ner-a-Car, that motorcycle of the vintage years which was intended to be safer and to keep its riders cleaner than did the conventional machine. This A4-sized book is full of rare pictures of an often forgotten make (one of which Motor Sport  road-tested some 79 years ago), made famous by pioneer lady motorbikers. It is a private work, available for £24.95 post-free from 31 Ravensthorpe Drive, Loughborough, Leics LE114FU.

The Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust has gone to a large format for its latest publication in its Technical series, No7 being Rocket Development with Liquid Propellants, translated from Dr J C Kelly’s original by WHJ Reichel. One for boffins outside motor racing, perhaps, but a serious study for anyone interested in such science, with details and illustrations of rocket-propelled racing cars. ISBN 1 872922 32 5, available to non-members for £20 from the R-RHT, PO Box 31, Derby DE24 8BJ.

Mrs Elizabeth Bennett, who edits the VCC’s literature, has compiled a book to celebrate the club’s 75th anniversary. It uses a small typeface which may find older readers reaching for magnifying glasses, but this enables a wealth of past Gazette articles to be packed into its 176 modest-sized pages, together with cartoons and masses of nostalgic pictures, etc. Aimed also at prospective members of the club, it is available from VCC, Jessamine Court, 15 High Street, Ashwell, Herts SG7 5NL, or call 01462 742818.


Honours for Segrave

Did you know that after Major Segrave had raised the LSR to over 200mph at Daytona Beach in America in 1927 with the twin-engined Sunbeam (which is now in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu) he wanted to make another attempt but was advised not to as a brake was faulty? It was stated the the Dunlop tyre had grown by 1-1/2in, which could have raised the axle ratio and given more speed. But maybe Norman Freeman, Dunlop’s expert, demurred.

From 2am that morning a crowd estimated at 15,000 had begun to block the roads to the beach. The Sunbeam had been kept in the Clarendon Garage, from which it was pushed at 9am, and prepared for the record bid at 10am. Just before the event Segrave received a good-luck telegram from Mrs Segrave.

Segrave was honoured at a banquet given by the Chamber of Commerce at the Hotel Williams before he returned home in the liner Berengaria. He had also for a time attended a dinner for his mechanics, with Tommy Harrison in the chair and Alex Broome, Bill Perkins, Jack Ridley, Ernie Lavender, Steve McDonald and Dick Pater said to have been present. In London the Evening News, which had talked to Segrave after the run, printed a special edition which sold 800,000 copies.

It was reported that John D Rockefeller got his chauffeur to ask Segrave to come out of the hotel to see him in his car; the oil baron said he gave a dime to those he liked, and he gave Segrave four. The mayor of Winter Park returned to Segrave the 10-dollar bond he had received, presumably for speeding in the 3-litre twin-cam Sunbeam he had taken out with him. He sold that car to Gar Wood, the speedboat champion, before he left.

Ninety-five policemen, some mounted, had controlled the beach and some were given souvenirs such as Segrave’s goggles, helmet and belt, etc. Officials who checked the record included Gar Wood, Indianapolis Speedway manager TE Wood, Otis Porter (in charge of timing), and chief calculator J W Galliard. Segrave was presented with a picture of the beach and a 12in high silver loving cup by the local Chamber of Commerce. Soon after the record films of it were shown in Daytona’s Vivian Theatre.

Just another piece of history…


Money on the top shelf

You will have wondered why, last month, I coupled my obituary for Leonard Setright with my association with a pornographic magazine. A paragraph was omitted, as follows:

One fond memory I have of LJKS is of going out with him in a new Ford at a press launch at Torquay. He was driving at the time: when we had stopped at a red light I asked. “Leonard, does it embarrass you that you write about cars for Playboy magazine?” While he pondered a carefully-phrased reply the lights turned green and those behind us began hooting. “I do the same for Mayfair (circulation 330,866), delivered of course in a plain envelope,” I told him. “Why do you do that?” he asked, as we eventually moved off. “For the money”.   I answered. “That is my reason.” LS then admitted.


Peculiar choices

A puzzle impossible to solve is why obscure makes of car sold in place of well-known, frequently encountered and recommended ones in the 1920s. Why a Hurtu or a Ruston-Hornsby or an Arrol-Johnson instead of an Austin, a Waverley or Storey rather than a Humber or a Rover, a British Ensign and not a Rolls-Royce? Yet such were obviously sold new, as ads for used ones prove.

In a few cases the convenience of a local supplier with service facilities was probably the cause, or maybe wives saw a car they liked and no other would do! Perhaps a family member had owned the chosen make, too long ago for its reputation to be discussed. In a few instances a visit to Brooklands may have resulted in a particularly striking racer being the cause of a rare-make sale, or a profitable bet with ‘Long Tom’ giving the same result, and never mind that the car never won again…

I have always thought that efficient agents in Cardiff and other Welsh towns were responsible for the considerable numbers of Chevrolets and Overlands to be seen on South Wales’s roads soon after the end of the Kaiser War. But why did Trumbull, Motobloc, Oryx, Marshall-Arter, Krit and so many other rare cars find buyers? If you have any ideas, do let me know.