A Chance Encounter.
GOOD fortune is all the more pleasing when it is unexpected. I was having dinner the other night with quite a large party, but during the meal had been placed between two rather unresponsive neighbours. After the ladies had left the room I got talking to a Russian who had been sitting further down the table, and asked him if he knew anything about the motoring conditions on the roads traversed last month in the Monte Carlo Rally. He gave me graphic accounts of the different sorts of nastiness one might meet with, and then quite by accident our conversation turned to motor-racing.
There had been much of it in Russia before the War. Iffy neighbour had taken part in several races, and had even gone to Sicily to take part in the Targa Florio. Pressing him for further particulars I found that he had driven a Mercedes and finished third in the 1911 race which was won by Ceirano on a S.C.A.T. at an average speed of 31.09 m.p.h. Dust and tyres were the great problems in pre-War days.
. As a touring car he drove a 90 Mercedes apparently identical except for a sour-seater body with the one tested by MOTOR SPORT in November, and travelled to France to see the 1914 French Grand Prix, in which of course Lautenschlager was the winner.
The Fastest car in Russia.
His most famous car was the 100 h.p. Renault with which Szioz won the first French Grand Prix in 1906, and was the fastest car in Russia until a 200 h.p. Brasier came on the scene. Engine size was the designer’s god in those days, and my acquaintance rattled off the cylinder dimensions of the various cars as easily as we would the R.A.C. rating. The figures certainly were remarkable, since the Renault had a four-cylinder engine in which the cylinders measured 150 x 165 mm., giving the substantial capacity of just under 13 litres ! The bonnet was made of wire netting to allow the heat to get away, so that the proud owner got the prestige of his large power-unit even when the car was on the road.
The Good Old Days.
I liked one of the stories about the Renault, which, in common with most of the high-powered cars of the day, used to suffer from clutch slip. To stop this the leather of the cone had been packed up with strips of
brass, but this treatment was, if anything, too successful, as it was found that no amount of pressure on the clutch pedal would cause the members to come apart. There was no time to dismantle the car before the speed event for which it was entered, so the back of the car was jacked up so that the wheels were clear of the ground. With second gear engaged, the engine was started and the mechanic took his seat. When the flag dropped a crew of helpers hurled the car off the jacks, the tyres bit into the ground and the Renault leapt off with a smell of rubber and a shower of stones. The other gears were somehow engaged in succession and the car roared over the finishing line in good style. On the same occasion the ignition switch had also given up the ghost at the last minute, but this was easily overcome by having a string to the high-tension lead from the coil, which was pulled away by the mechanic as the car crossed the line.
The unexpected was always happening in racing in the old days, as in fact it still does, and I look forward to hearing some more reminiscences of racing in Russia and elsewhere.
Made to Measure.
We all know the enthusiast who executes “cunning conversions ” by installing four cylinder engines in G.N. chassis, uniting an A.C. engine and chassis to an A.B.C. gearbox and back axle, or inverting a Cowley chassis and putting the engine back on what was originally the bottom side of the side members, to mention but a few schemes which have been carried out or suggested. Up to a few months ago, however, I had not heard of any simple way in which the wheelbase of a car could be shortened, the snag being that side members are hard to cut and difficult to rejoin, and bodies not easily altered to suit. These difficulties do not arise in the old Lancia Lambdas, where chassis and body are one, consisting of a single sheet of pressed steel. The first Lambda I saw converted in this way was one belonging to R. Bickford, who drives it in reliability trials. This car, as far as one could see from the outside, was one of the long wheel-base 13.9 h.p. models—the short wheel-base ones would hardly merit this attention—and the body had been cut through with an acetylene cutter behind and in front of the rear doors, the surplus two feet of metal thrown away, and the back and the front parts of the chassis welded together again. To expert welders this
is a fairly simple matter, and another Lancia enthusiast told me the other day that it will be done for 210. The only other part required is a new carden shaft. One then has a motor car which with the Lancia’s good steering-lock is capable of negotiating with ease hairpins and other obstacles which made trials such difficult affairs for drivers of full-sized cars.
Carried to Extremes.
Our tame jester suggests that this scheme should be carried further and the chassis made so short that the car would approach the dimensions of a ” Fronty ” Ford—seven foot wheel-base and five foot track—and would then be able to perform on the cinders at the White City. Further that it would be interesting to cut in half the chassis of two front-wheel-drive Alvis and join them up so that one had an engine unit at each end. Neither of these suggestions carries the editorial blessing, but supposing any reader is rash enough to try the second of the two, we suggest that it would be wise to synchronise the two engines by means of a fore-and-aft shaft, also to change over the bevel in one of the power units, otherwise the compound car might be found to suffer from disconcerting changes of wheelbase!
The Alfa-Romeo Retirement.
A friend who is winter-sporting at St. Moritz tells me that for sheer thrills and sensations of speed a solo down the Cresta Run beats anything that a high-speed sports car can provide. Racing motorists have always
been attracted by this sport, and I believe ” Archie ” Nash used to hold the Cresta record at one fine. Lt.Col. J. T. C. Moore-Brabazon was also a famous Cresta Run exponent, and used to do a lot of bob-sleigh work at one time. Rudolf Caracciola has spent this winter at Ariisa, in Switzerland, while Louis Chiron has been ski-ing in Austria.
Nuvolari—Stop Press !
Elsewhere in this issue our Continental Correspondent reports that Nuvolari has been offered a large sum to race a new Fiat sports model in the Targa Florio, Monaco. G.P. and Coppa (Nano. He now tells me that Nuvolari has joined the racing stable of Ferrari, and that the world’s finest driver will be seen at the wheel of a 2.3. biposto Alfa-Romeo throughout the season.
I am firmly convinced that the sport is bound to suffer whenever a particular make is supreme in race after race. This state of affairs has two inevitable results, both of them unsatisfactory. Either it discourages rival firms from competing, as happened at Le Mans a few years ago when Bentleys were at the height of their form. Or else the firm in question gains the impression that further victories cannot enhance their reputation, and decide to give racing a rest—as seems to have happened with the Alfas.
But we shall see. The new 2.8 litre Bugattis and the 3 litre Maseratis will take a lot of beating by private owners with 2.3 Alfa-Romeos, and I shall be very surprised if the Milanese firm will be able to stand by quietly in the event of a series of Bugatti and Maserati wins.
Meanwhile, the wonderful ” tnonoposto ” Alf aRomeos, the finest road-racing cars the world has so far seen, will remain at the factory sine die.