Great racing marques

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48

The Darracq—continued.

By E. K. H. KARSLAKE.

This conclusion of the article in our last issue deals with the post-war activities of the Darracq when it merged with the Talbot, and in racing became known as such.

When the war came to an end, it was some time since Darracqs had figured in the great races ; soon after the close of hostilities, however, a fusion was made between the Sunbeam, Talbot and Darracq firms, and the French car, which bore the name of Talbot-Darracq, had the advantage of the engineering genius of M. Louis Coatalen. For the first post-war Grand Prix, which was for 3-litre cars and which was run at le Mans in July, 1921, cars were built in each of the firm’s three factories, at Wolverhampton, London and Suresnes. At this time the vogue of the straight-eight was almost as universal as it is now by reason of its successful adoption, following war experience by Ballot in Europe and Duesenberg in America. The Grand Prix Talbot-Darracq, therefore, had this number of cylinders, with two overhead camshafts. Two cars were entered and had as their drivers André Boillot, who had already earned for himself a reputation for daring, and the wily Réné Thomas. They had only been completed just in time for the race, but, although Thomas was early in trouble, Boillot rapidly got into fourth place. He was destined, however, to be betrayed by tyres, for the cars were fitted with a totally unsuitable type of which the tread wore away in an amazingly short time. The S.T.D. pits soon presented an extraordinary spectacle due to the heaps of discarded tyres ; and after Boillot had changed tyres nine times, his pit personnel succeeded in borrowing some of another make from one of the other competitors. As a result of this Boillot, who had dropped to eighth, improved his position and finally finished fifth. In the meantime, however, a flying stone had punctured the oil tank on Thomas’ car and he was forced to retire.

While these cars were suffering the reverses of fortune, however, some other racers were under construction in the Darracq factory, which were destined to race for five consecutive racing seasons and never to suffer defeat. These of course were the famous 1,500 c.c. Talbot-Darracqs, which entirely dominated the light car world during these years. The cars had 4-cylinder engines with a bore and stroke of 65 x 112 mms. (1,486 c.c.), with four overhead valves per cylinder operated by two overhead camshafts, the engines being in fact half the three litre power units. They were entered for the Grand Prix des Voiturettes of 1921, which was run on the same course as the Grand Prix at le Mans, and had Réné Thomas, K. Lee Guinness and H. O. D. Segrave as their drivers. From the outset of the race it was evident that these new racers would sweep all before them, and they rapidly captured the three first places, which positions they retained until the end of the race. The winner, Thomas, averaged 72.1 m.p.h. for the 279 miles of the race, and thus set up a light car road-racing record, which compared well with the average of 78.1 m.p.h. by the Grand Prix winner’s 3-litre car on the same course. A career of victory was fittingly inaugurated.

The speed of the little cars—as they were then regarded—was soon to be amply proved ; for the team were entered for the first 200 Miles Race which took place that year at Brooklands. Once more the Talbot-Darracqs walked away from all their adversaries and came home in the first three places ; while the winner, Segrave, averaged 88.82 m.p.h.

The next year witnessed the revival in the Isle of Man of the R.A.C. Tourist Trophy races for 3-litre and 1,500 c.c. cars ; and the three Talbot-Darracqs were entered in the latter division. Their drivers were now Sir Algernon Lee Guinness, Albert Divo and Jean Moriceau, and their first meeting in a road race with the official Bugatti team was awaited with much excitement. On the first lap, however, Moriceau burst a tyre and overturned, and the Talbot-Darracq team was reduced to two. The survivors, however, rapidly gained the lead, and lived up to their reputation by finishing in the first two places, Guinness, the winner, averaging 53.3 m.p.h. over 226 miles of the Manx course.

The Second Two-Hundred.

The next big light car event of the year was the second 200 Miles Race, and again the Talbot-Darracqs were among the starters. In this race the three cars were driven by K. Lee Guinness, Segrave and Chassagne ; but although their habitual victory awaited them they were not to achieve their usual grand slam. Chassagne experienced ignition trouble at the outset, and having remedied this defect, set out to catch up his team-mates. On the railway straight, however, he burst a tyre and went over the top of the banking, and although fortunately neither he nor his mechanic were injured, one of the team was out of it. Guinness, however, upheld the reputation for invincibility by winning at 88.06 m.p.h., while Segrave, who had not been without his share of trouble, finished third.

From Brooklands, the scene of activity was moved to le Mans, where the Talbot-Darracqs made their second attack on the Grand Prix des Voiturettes. It is a significant fact that in 1921, when they first appeared, there were seventeen starters in this race : now there were five ; so great was the prestige which they had won. The cars had as their drivers K. Lee Guinness, Segrave and Divo, and in view of the lack of competition the lace was something of a foregone conclusion, the three Talbot-Darracqs finishing in the first three places. Guinness, the winner, averaged 72.1 m.p.h. for 375 miles, his speed being exactly equal to that of Thomas over a shorter distance in the same race the year before.

In the Autumn of 1922 the Spanish Club of the Penya Rhin held a race for 1,500 c.c. cars near Barcelona, and for this event the three Talbot-Darracqs were entered. The cars were taken to Barcelona on Sir A. Lee Guinness’ yacht, ” Ocean Rover,” and ran in the race with K. Lee Guinness, Segrave and Jean Chassagne as their drivers. Chassagne was put out of the contest with valve trouble, but Guinness, fresh from his victories in the 200 Miles Race and the Grand Prix des Voiturettes, again proved the victor, covering the 331 miles of the difficult road circuit at 65.5 m.p.h., while Segrave finished fourth.

Two Seasons of Success.

The Talbot-Darracqs had thus completed two racing seasons without ever being beaten in any race for which they had been entered ; and during this time they had received no important modifications. For the 1923 season, however, it was decided to rebuild the old chassis and fit them with new engines so as to bring the cars up to date. The new power unit had four cylinders with a bore and stroke of 67 x 105 mms. (1,481 c.c.), with two valves per cylinder instead of four, operated by two overhead camshafts. The new engines attained well over 5,000 r.p.m., as against 4,000 r.p.m. attained by the old ones, and developed over 70 b.h.p.

The new cars, which were now known as Talbots in France and Darracqs in England, though for the sake of simplicity is best to call them by the latter name, made their initial appearance at the 1923 light car race at Boulogne. They were handled by Guinness, Segrave and Divo, and at once set out to prove that although fresh from the factory, they were as invincible as they had been before their metamorphosis. On the first lap, however, Guinness went out while in the lead with a broken ball race in the back axle, and left Divo and Segrave to lead the field. The former, however, was put out by engine trouble, but Segrave, having set up a record lap for the Boulogne circuit at 72 m.p.h., went on to win easily, averaging 67.3 m.p.h. for 279 miles

The next important event of the year for 1,500 c.c. cars was the Grand Prix des Voiturettes at le Mans, and for this the Darracqs were again entered. In 1922 only two other competitors had thought fit to challenge the redoubtable team, but this year only one hardy individual in the form of Colomb could be found to compete with them. The Darracqs were driven by Albert Divo, Jean Moriceau and Edmond Bourlier, and a triple win looked certain until a fire on Bourlier’s car put him out of the race. The other two went on, however, to win the first two places, Divo averaging 71.5 m.p.h. for the 257 miles. This speed was less than that of either of the two former years, due to the entire lack of competition, but just to show what could be done, Divo set up a lap record for the course at 80.5 m.p.h. By these three consecutive victories in the Grand Prix des Voiturettes, the Talbot Company secured permanent possession of the light car cup.

Much to the disappointment of English enthusiasts, who looked forward to a thrilling duel between them and the supercharged Fiats, the Darracqs did not appear in the 1923 200 Miles Race. Instead, an expedition was made to Spain as in the previous year, and the cars were entered for the Penya Rhin Grand Prix, with Divo, Moriceau and Dario Resta as their drivers. A part for Moriceau’s car, however, could not be obtained from the factory in time for the race, and thus only two cars were left in the contest. These two, however, set off at high speed and Divo proceeded to set up a lap record at 72 m.p.h. and win at 67.2 m.p.h., thus breaking the record, for the race set up by Guinness the year before. Resta, in the meantime, having been first in the lead and then second, had to work on his engine towards the end of the race and finished third. The Penya Rhin Grand Prix was followed by the opening race on the new Spanish track at Sitges, near Barcelona, in which the two Darracqs started and succeeded in gaining the first two places, Resta winning by ten seconds from his companion and averaging 85.1 m.p.h.. for 373 miles.

The 1924 season opened with the Swiss Grand Prix for cars up to 1,500 c.c., which was run on the Meyrin circuit near Geneva in June. Two of the Darracqs were entered for this event, with K. Lee Guinness and Dario Resta as their drivers. From the start they drew right away from their rivals, and having held their lead from beginning to end, Guinness finally won at an average speed of 70 m.p.h., having covered a lap at 76.9 m.p.h., with Resta second.

For the 200 Miles Race of that year, however, it was decided that the cars should be brought thoroughly up to date by fitting a Rootes type supercharger, and with this addition 100 b.h.p. was developed by the engine. As well as this, the chassis was lengthened slightly so as to give better track holding, and it was evident that the trio would be more formidable than ever. The race was to prove perhaps the greatest triumph of their whole career. The cars were driven by K. Lee Guinness, George Duller and H. O. D. Segrave, and they made it apparent from the outset that the race was going to be nothing else than a procession. In pre-arranged order they simply swept round the track at about 200 yards distance from each other, and when finally they completed the 200 miles, Guinness, the winner, had averaged 102.27 m.p.h., while the third man, Segrave, was six laps ahead of their nearest competitor. By this performance Guinness, with a car running in a race and carrying two people, beat the 1,500 c.c. record for one hour, the most coveted record in the class ; and also succeeded in what had long been attempted—covering 200 miles in two hours. The race was indeed one of the greatest of the many Darracq triumphs.

The three racing Darracqs appeared once more in October in the first 1,500 c.c. race on the new Montlhery track. The cars were handled by J. E. Scales, H. O. D. Segrave and Edmond Bonnier, and at once demonstrated that they would repeat their performance in the 200 Miles Race. The three cars led for the whole 186 miles of the race, and finally finished in close formation, Scales, the winner, averaging 100.3 m.p.h.

At Miramas.

The race which marked the first appearance of the Darracqs in 1925 was the Grand Prix de Provence for the Hartford cup, which was run at the Miramas track in March. The race was supposed to be for standard cars, and as a concession to this rule the cars were run without superchargers, their drivers being Count Conelli, H. O. D. Segrave and George Duller. The race was for cars up to 4,000 c.c., but in spite of this the three Darracqs soon took the lead of the whole field and looked like making another grand slam of it. Just before the end, however, two of the high-tension leads on Duller’s car jumped off their plugs and he finished the race on two cylinders, being passed by Vidal on a 2-litre Bugatti in the process. Segrave, however, captured first place, averaging 78.8 m.p.h. for the 313 miles, with Conelli second and Duller fourth, while they occupied the first three places in the 1,500 c.c. class.

The same trio of cars and drivers made their next appearance in the Grand Prix de l’Ouverture at Montlhery, which was for 1,500 c.c. cars. Competition was keen, but finally the Darracqs got the lead and held it. At the finish, however, an incident occurred which very nearly proved a tragedy. Conelli, who was lying second, tried to pass Duller just as they approached the finishing line, but the track being wet, he skidded and turned over, both he and the car rolling over the line. Duller, however, won first place, having averaged 97.2 m.p.h. for 312 miles, while Conelli, although finishing on his head, fortunately without serious injuries, was second, and Segrave third.

In the meantime, however, in France it was being demonstrated that the standard Darracq products had not failed to benefit by all this racing experience. The Circuit des Routes Pavées is certainly one of the hardest touring tar races of the whole season, and for this event in 1924 two Darracq 1,500 c.c sporting models were entered with J. E. Scales and George Heath as their drivers. The latter turned over during the race and his car was placed hors de combat ; but J. E. Scales went on not only to win the 1,500 c.c. class, but to gain second place in the unlimited division having averaged 51.7 m.p.h. for 178 miles of the worst pavé which can be found in France.

It was in July of that year that occurred the event which necessitated a qualification in the invincible description of the famous Darracqs. From the day when they first appeared in the Grand Prix des Voiturettes of 1921 to that on which they were sold in 1926 these cars were never beaten in a race in which they ran in racing trim. But in 1925 they were entered for the Touring Grand Prix of the A.C.F., and in order to comply with the rules of the race, and also because fuel consumption was limited, their superchargers were replaced with dynamos, and the cars were fitted with hoods, wings and windscreens. The three cars were driven by Chassagne, Bourlier and Ledu, and Bourlier soon took the lead in the 1,500 c.c. class, until he was put out of the race by a defective steering gear. The other two drivers, however, were held back by trouble with their cars’ novel experiment in the hood and windscreen line, and finally both of them ran out of petrol before the end of the race. Ledu, however, being only about three-quarters of a mile from the finish, pushed his car over the line and so gained fourth place in the 1,500 c.c. class.

The defeat, however, did not have to wait long to be avenged. The three cars, rehabilitated as proper racing machines, were entered for the 200 Miles Race, which this year, for the first time, included artificial bends in the course. The drivers of the cars were the two Italian Counts, Conelli and Masetti, and H. O. D. Segrave ; but at the start it looked as if the Darracq luck had really broken with the Touring Grand Prix. Count Conelli made rather too vigorous a start with his car, pulled a tooth out of the back axle bevel and retired at the end of the first lap. But the other two cars lived up to their reputation, rapidly gained the lead and finished first and second, Segrave, the winner, averaging 78.8 m.p.h. Once more the Darracqs had triumphed.

A Grand Finale.

In 1926 the limit for the international Grands Prix was reduced from two litres to 1,500 c.c., and the Darracq company therefore decided to build new racers for the big events. The famous old invincibles, however, made one last appearance before finally retiring upon their well-earned laurels. For the second time the Grand Prix de Provence was run at Miramas in March, 1926, and in it three Darracqs started. Two of them, driven by Segrave and Bourlier, were members of the veteran team, while the third, which had Moriceau at the wheel, had a similar engine mounted in a special English Talbot chassis without front-wheel brakes. As two turns had been introduced in the course, Moriceau was somewhat at a disadvantage. Bourlier dropped out towards the end of the race, but Segrave went on to win at 81.8 m.p.h. for 156 miles, with Moriceau on the Clement-Talbot second. By these two consecutive wins in the Grand Prix de Provence, Segrave secured permanent possession of the Hartford Cup.

In the meantime, however, the new racers were being built in the factory at Suresnes. These cars, in accordance with the most modern practice, had straight-eight engines of 56 x 75.5 mms. bore and stroke (1,485 c.c.), with two valves per cylinder operated by two overhead camshafts, and, of course, a supercharger ; they also differed from the old 4-cylinder machines in having the propeller shaft enclosed in a torque tube.

The cars were not ready in time for the French Grand Prix, and their first appearance was in the first British Grand Prix at Brooklands.. The three cars were driven by Segrave, Divo and Moriceau, and everyone was eager to see if they were going to repeat the performance of their predecessors. At first it looked like it, for with the start of the race the three cars got away from the field, and at the end of the first lap were in the lead. Then, however, the front axle on Moriceau’s car gave way and he was put out of the running. For the first part of the race, however, first Divo, then Segrave held the lead, until both were delayed with minor troubles and finally had to retire.

During the race however, the Darracqs had shown, that they were actually faster than any of their rivals, and it was not long before they tasted the sweets of victory. The three cars with the same three drivers were entered for the 200 Miles Race of that year and took the lead from the very outset. For half of the race they maintained their position, and then, while taking one of the bends, Moriceau’s car skidded and buried its tail in the sandbank. Unaided Moriceau set to work and dug it out, but by the time he had done so he had dropped from third to twenty-third place ; and although he made frantic efforts to make up for lost time, he could only finish fourteenth. In the meantime, however, Segrave and Divo were never headed, and finally finished first and second, the latter being nine laps ahead of their nearest rival, while Segrave averaged 75.56 m.p.h. Thus it was shown what the new Darracqs could do, while the firm had won its fifth 200 Miles Race.

Before the year was out, however, the three cars and drivers appeared once more, this time in the Grand Prix du Salon on the Montlhery road circuit. As at Brooklands, the three cars dominated the race throughout, and this time no untoward incident occurred to mar their performance, with the result that they finished in the first three places, Divo, the winner, averaging 62.6 m.p.h.

In the meantime, also, Albert Divo had been engaged in showing the actual maximum speed of the new Darracq by attacking the short distance records in the 1,500 c.c. class. On the specially prepared road at Arpajon, he succeeded in covering the flying kilometre at 130.51 m.p.h., and the flying mile at 128.78 m.p.h., and thus set up a record which surprised even the connoisseurs of 1,500 c.c. racing cars.

The 1927 French Grand Prix was held at Montlhery, and. it was soon evident that the event was going to develop into a duel between Darracq and Delage, the only outside competitor being Eyston on the Halford Special. The Darracq team had three excellent drivers in Williams, Divo and Wagner, and the cars were modified versions of those which had shown such promise the year before.

Fortune, however, did not favour them in this race. Divo took the lead at the outset, but was forced to retire at half distance, while Wagner’s car developed trouble which caused it to overheat, and he too dropped out of the race. Only Williams remained, and he was dogged by plug trouble, finally, however, succeeding in finishing fourth behind the victorious Delages.

At the same meeting, however, there was run a free-for-all race in which Divo started on one of the Darracqs, and, taking the lead at the outset, never left it until he had won the race at an average speed of 75 m.p.h.

This was the last event in which the Darracqs appeared officially, and since that time the Darracq Company has somewhat retired from racing, though the 1,500 c.c. racers have appeared from time to time in the hands of amateurs : certainly the Darracq is one of the cars we should have liked to have seen representing France at le Mans in June, and perhaps one day the famous name may again figure on the entry lists of the classic races.