The Fastest Racing Car





The fastest Racing Car. is final it is

WHATEVER is its final outcome, it is at least encouraging to consider that a certain amount of interest. is again being taken in racing rules. The ” formule libre ” in my opinion has gone on. quite long enough, and has been productive of only one really interesting result, namely that it appears that to-day a car with an engine between two and three litres is faster, on the road, than anything else. How many owners of sports cars with engines of 4i litres or over would admit that their machines were slower on the road than cars with engines half the size or less ? Yet AlfaRomeo and Maserati seem definitely to have found that their straight-eights were faster than their 16 cylinders, and Bugatti has practically given up the 5-litre in favour of the old 2.3 litre size. Certainly the ” free-for-all ” race has not proved the triumph of the giant engine.

A famous Panhard driver.

Whatever else they do the new racing rules must break up the depressing standardisation which has lately existed in racing cars. All three of the manufacturers who alone during the last year or two have taken racing seriously, have not only used 2-3-litre engines, but straight eights as well. This universality of the straight eight is curious, for as a type it is still not very common among touring cars. The first racing car to be fitted with an engine with eight cylinders in line was, I believe, the 40 h.p. C.G.V. built in 1902 or 1903. The builders of this machine were all famous racing drivers. Charron, the first of them, started his career as a champion cyclist, but by 1897 both he and Girardot were driving 6 h.p. Panhard et Levassors 111 the great races, and the latter distinguished himself that same year by using the first gilled tube radiator which he had made to his own specification by MM. Grouvelle et Arquembourg and which he hung at the back of his car. Charron was a most successful driver, and after Levassor and Mayade, before Rene de )113rff, he was the crack of the Panhard team, in days when Panhards won pretty well every race worth mentioning. Marseilles-Nice and Paris-Amsterdam-Paris were his great victories in 1898, ParisBordeaux in 1899, and the first GordonBennett Cup Race from Paris to Lyons In 1900. Of course he was not always successful and he had as many adventures as anyone. In Marseilles-Nice-la Turbie of 1897 he took a sharp corner downhill too fast and his car turned a complete

somersault, landing on all four wheels again with Charron still clinging to the tiller, although all the other moveables, including the mechanic were emptied out on to the road On the sixth day of the Tour de France race in 1899 Charron found himself near le Mans with a car which would only travel in reverse ; but as at that time he was third in the race he refused to be daunted and drove 25 miles into Alencon backwards, sitting on the bonnet of his car.

“The Eternal Second.”

But if Charron was usually successful, Girardot has become almost equally famous as “The Eternal Second.” It is

true that he won Paris-Ostende and ParisBoulogne in 1899, but the number of races in which he finished second was really amazing. They included Paris-Amsterdam-Paris in 1898, Nice-Castellane-Nice and the Tour de France in 1899, the Gordon-Bennett Race in 1900, the Grand Prix de Pau and Paris-Berlin in 1901, and the Circuit des Ardennes in 1903. In Paris-Berlin, so says Charles Jarrott, “he was Fournier’s terror.” But the latter arrived there an hour all but five minutes before Girardot, although as soon as the cars moved off for the formal procession through the Brandenburger Tor, Fournier broke a driving chain and spent such time fitting a new link that Girardot certainly had never missed first place by a smaller margin than on this occasion. Girardot, however, went on racing until 1905, but a bad accident in the French Eliminating Race for the Gordon Bennett cup that year decided him to retire from the game.

Voigt, the third member of the trio, appears on the scene rather later than his companions, but is eternally famous because nobody seems to know if he ought to have an H in his name or not. Incidentally as if to complete the symmetry of the thing, in the first two really important races in which he drove—ParisToulouse-Paris of 1900, and Paris-Bordeaux of 1901, he finished third. He also drove in Paris-Berlin and Paris-Madrid, In which incidentally he finished sixth in the heavy car class.

The first Straight-eight.

Up till then all these three had been driving Panhard et Levassors, but in 1902 they set about building cars of their own, and produced the straight-eight engine, which, though you have probably entirely forgotten it, is what we are really talking about. This C.G.V. unit had a bore and stroke of 100 x 130 mm. (8,168

c.c.) with separate steel cylinders fitted with sheet brass water jackets. The valves were at the sides in a T-head, and the plugs were screwed horizontally into the inlet valve chambers. The most interesting point about the engine was that the cranks were set at 45°.

Five years later the problem was attacked again, this time in England by Weigel. For the 1907 Grand Prix at Dieppe this firm constructed an 80 h.p. racer with 8 cylinders in line, the bore and stroke being 120 x 140 mm. (12,867 c.c.). The cylinders were cast in Paris, and the crankshaft had only four throws and five bearings, two connecting rods being attached to each throw. These racers, however were not particularly successful, and the next year the A.C.F. introduced the limited bore rule which practically confined attention to 4-cylinder engines.

The first Bugatti Straight-eight.

The more perspicacious among my readers will hardly be surprised to find that at this point M. Ettore Bugatti comes into the story—he usually does one way or another. We have already seen “Signor Bugatti of Milan” riding upon an Italian-built tricycle in 1899, and we have seen him in 1902 at the bottom of the Semmering Pass on the 24 h.p. Bugatti-De Dietrich, with all the other competitors’ suit-cases aboard. The other day I suddenly came upon a mention, in 1905 I think, of the Hertnes-Bugatti car. What was this ? Perhaps some one of my readers would be so good as to tell me all about it, but in the methitime it has nothing to do with the matter in hand. The fact remains that in 1913 Ettore Bugatti built a straight eight engine, with a bore and stroke of 68 x 100 mm. (Brescia enthusiasts please note) and a capacity of 2,905 c.c. The crankshaft was arranged on the 4-4 principle, that is to say like two 4-cylinder engine crankshafts end to end, with the two sets of cranks at 180° to each other, and the engine had three overhead valves per cylinder operated by an overhead camshaft (Grand Prix Bugattisti please note). When war broke out the Germans invaded Alsace and M. Bugatti was left without a factory, but nothing daunted, he set about designing an aero engine on the same principle as the 3-litre straight-eight, but on a slightly larger scale. This unit in fact had a bore and stroke of 120 x 160 mm. (14,476 c.c.), and before going any further it may be remarked that with the dimensions modified only to 125 x 150 mm. (14,726 c.c.) it was represented sub

stantially by the engine fitted to the first Golden Bugatti built in 1927. The bore remained the same but the stroke was reduced to 130 mm. and the capacity thus to 12,760 c.c. in the production type Golden Bugatti shown at Olympia this year. I hope that advancing age is not bringing with it moderation on the part of EAtore.

A “blown one gallon.”

one However to return, the designs for the aero engine, which were completed in about 1916, were adopted by the French and American governments, and engines of this type were built in France in the Bara works at Levallois and in the States by Duesenberg. Now at that time the Bara works were presided over by a Swiss engineer named M. Henry. This M. Henry was already a man of note, for had he not been responsible for those racing Peugeots which carried all before them in the years just before the War ? As a builder of high-efficiency racing cars he had in fact succeeded, as the presiding genius, his compatriot, Marc Birkigt, who was responsible for those Hispano-Suiza cars from Barcelona, which in 1910 were the first 4-cylinder cars to win the Coupe des Voiturettes. At any rate by the end of the War, M. Henry had had considerable experience in building Bugatti-designed straight-eight engines, and at this point in his career he joined the firm of Ballot, which for years had built engines, but which now was bent on constructing complete cars. What was more they were even determined to build racing cars, and so eager were they to begin that they entered for the Indianapolis race of 1919. This event was limited to cars with engines up to 300 cubic inches, which, for the benefit of my nicer minded readers, I may say is equal to approximately 4,916.1066 cubic centimetres. When, by the way, did we give up the barbarous habit in England of building engines to inch dimensions ? Early racing Napiers of course puzzle one at first by having a bore and stroke of 165.1 x 152.4 mm.— which looks as if the builder had got things a bit wrong. As late as 1908 we had the .4-inch race, and Rolls-Royce carried on the tradition for years. I think it is a pity, however, that for capacity

purposes one always stuck to cubic inches as otherwise the owner of a ” 44″ might proudly state ” I have a blown one gallon Bentley, you know,” and someone else “I’m running my Midget in the 1 i-pint class.” I admit that this form of nomenclatures might lead ignorant passengers unduly to favour the bigger classes.

Straight-eight Ballots.

But to return to M. Henry. The War finished in November, 1918, and the Indianapolis race was on 30th May, 1919, so that little time was available for testing any novel design. Yet M. Henry had

the courage to start off at the end of January, 1931, to design, build and send to America in the brief space of four months a team of racing cars fitted with straight-eight engines, of which the dimensions were 74 x 140 mm. (4,817 c.c.). Like the Bugatti engine the Ballots had the 4-4 crankshaft arrangement, but M. Henry, after his pre-war Peugeot , experience was not content with a single overhead camshaft, and fitted two.

As the matter of fact these Ballots did not win at Indianapolis, and curiously enough first and third places in the race were taken by 44-litre 1914 Grand Prix Peugeots, a type which had also won the last Indianapolis race in 1916, and which had also been designed by M. Henry. One of the Ballots, however, finished fourth, driven by Albert Guyot, and it was at least proved that the straight-eight was a workable proposition. By the next year the race was for 3-litre cars, and the engines of the Ballots built for it had a bore and stroke of 65 x 112 mm. (2,973 c.c.). This year also Duesenberg, likewise after his experience of the Bugatti aero engine in the War, built a set of straight-eight engined racers, and in the final result a Ballot was second and a Duesenberg third. The straight-eight was becoming a vogue.

The Vogue.

By 1921 it was the rage. The Indianapolis ” 500 ” was won by a straight-eight Durant, with a straight-eight Duesenberg second. S.T.D. entered the field and ran straight-eight Sunbeams and TalbotDarracqs at Indianapolis. The final out

come was the 1921 Grand Prix at le Mans —the first after the War—when every single car except for one of the Ballots and a Mathis which were not up to the 3-litre limit, was fitted with a straight eight engine. The makes represented were Ballot, Duesenberg, Talbot and Talbot-Darracq. That same year the great Torinese firm succumbed to the infection, and a team of 3-litre straighteight Fiats appeared in the Italian Grand Prix at Brescia.

Firmly established. however, when it looked as if

Just, however, when it looked as the straight-eight was the only possible design for a racing engine, the tide seemed to turn. In the 1922 Grand Prix at Strasbourg, Ettore Bugatti, who in reality had been the cause of the whole trouble, appeared himself with a team of 2-litre straight-eight racers, and his example was followed by Rolland-Pilain. But all the makers who had used straight-eights the year before abandoned them, Fiat for a “Six,” Sunbeam and Ballot for” Fours.” The straight-eight, however, had only recoiled itself in order to jump better. The next year at Tours, in order to make things more exciting Delage appeared with a “Twelve,” Sunbeam and Voisin with ” Sixes ” ; but Fiat had gone back to the straight-eight and Bugatti and Rolland-Pilain remained faithful to it, except for one car of the latter team which had a six-cylinder cuff-valve engine, designed by—M. Henry ! In 1924 at Lyons the position was as follows : Fiat, Bugatti, Alfa-Romeo and Miller,” straight eights ” ; Delage, ” Twelve ” ; Sunbeam. ” Six ” and Schmidt, ” Six ” (designed by M. Henry !) Montlhery in 1925 showed no change, except that Fiat, Miller and

Schmidt were not there, and in 1926 there was, practically speaking no Grand Prix. Then in 1927 we find Delage, the champion of the ” Twelve ” since 1923 and Talbot, representing Sunbeam, the exponent of

the ” Six ” since the same date, changing over to the straight-eight. The triumph of the latter was complete—and has been ever since.

And the Straight-ten? But what about the ?

But what about the straight-ten ? Oh! you must ask chez Nacional Pescara •