ON THE ROAD WITH A LEYLAND EIGHT
IMPRESSIONS OF SIR LIONEL PHILLIPS’S 1927 TWO-SEATER. EXTREME ORIGINALITY AND A MAXIMUM OF WELL OVER 100 M.P.H.
ALTHOUGH the Leyland Eight was discontinued over a dozen years ago, it is a car which still arouses great interest and no little respect amongst enthusiasts, as one of the most outstanding of the many first-class cars for which the late J. G. Parry Thomas was responsible, and the one from Which he evolved the Leyland Thomas single seaters, probably the most consistently successful track cars ever constructed anywhere in the world. The Leyland Eight, evolved as a supreme development of the British super-car, was described in the motor Press at the end of 1920 and exhibited at the Motor Show of that year. It bristled well-nigh literally with advanced and original features. Its straight-eight 7-litre engine, originally designed kr aero work, had an overhead camshaft driven by rods and triple eccentrics, each cam arranged to actuate an inlet and an exhaust valve. The tulip valves, designed to obviate any need of grinding in, were inclined in hemispherical heads and closed by transverse leaf-springs. The lubricant was flung from the sump into a crankcasecontainer by the flywheel, from whence it was fed under pressure to the bearings and even to the gudgeon pins in the tubular connecting-rods. The intake pipe was exhaust heated and thermostat Cooling was used in conjunction with a belt-driven fan arranged to run less effectively at high speeds by reason of a
suction control. The pistons were aluminium and the crankshaft ran in six bearings. In 1924) form this engine was claimed to develop 100 b.h.p. at 1,800 r.p.m., and 60 b.h.p. at 1,000 r.p.m., with a maximum b.h.p. of about 145, and a m.e.p. of 112. The separate gearbox was mounted on leather rings, and there were double bevels in the final drive, the differential assembly being carried on the torque tube, while the axle shafts were splayed in a wide V. The chassis had deep drilled sidemembers and suspension was by torsion bar, at the rear in conjunction with very long quarter-elliptic springs, at the front in union with half-elliptic freely-shackled Springs. Anti-rolling bars were used for both axles, and the torsion bars ran transversely. The rear brakes were vacuum-servo operated, there was a suction-operated ignition switch to rut off current whenever the engine stopped and chassis lubrication by gravity feed aided by plunger-pm:tips controlled by the rear spring movements. In brief, Parry Thomas laid down a design that might well have been a rich enthusiast’s individual ideal and it is hardly surprising that in 1920 the chassis price Of the Ley land Eight was 2.4;2,500. In 1921 this wonderful car went into limited production and the 1922 catalogue gives the chassis price as 41,875. Thomas found that a practically standard two-seater would lap Brooklands at 100 m.p.h., and he was encouraged to Commence development work. His earlier racing two-seater lapped at 117i m.p.h. and a later LeylandThomas single-seater eventually lapped
Brooklands at 129.30 m.p.h. Reverting to the standard job, in a letter which he wrote to me seven years ago, Mr. H. Spurrier, Junr., Assistant General Manager to Messrs. Leyland Motors, Ltd., told me that production ceased in 1925 and that approximately eighteen Leyland Eights were completed—incidentally, H. Spurrier, Senr., was recently given a birthday party by his employees to celebrate his seventieth birthday. He is the first and only Managing Director of Leylands Motors Ltd., of Lancs.
In spite of its age, the advanced design of the Leyland Eight allied to its performance qualities, lifts it right out of the ordinary run of vintage motors. Certainly I was extremely interested to have the privilege of a rim in the two-seater which must be the only car of this marque still on the road ; that owned by Sir Lionel Phillips, Bart. This car is a 1927 model, and it was first registered in London in 1929. That would seem to need some qualification, in view of the foregoing remarks, but I think the solution is that after Parry Thomas’s sad accident Messrs. Thompson and Taylor, Ltd., took over his stock of Leyland cars and parts, and the car in question would appear to have been assembled by them for a client after production had ceased at the 1,eyland works. Sir Lionel retains two chassis at Brooklands for spares, and Thompson and Taylor still have a tourer, sans engine, in their works at the track. The particular car in question had only one previous owner, who used it for fast touring abroad, as one is reminded by the ” G.B. ” plaques on the tail. Sir Lionel Phillips acquired it a short time ago, for the sum of .440, and set about reconditioning it. He is fairly certain that it was not one of the racing chassis. The dashboard, however, bears a plate with the legend: “35 c.v. LeylandThomas. 1,778 kgs. M.O.T. No. T.T.22. Chassis No. T.T. 22.” However, I believe that the Leyland-Thomas raced by Capt. Howey was the one subsequently raced by Dudley Froy and T. H. and Mrs. Wisdom, after being fitted for a while with a coupe body, and that it is still in racing trim. So that unless Sir Lionel’s car is the second Howey car, which I believe blew up, it could only be Thomas’s own job, and that was being raced in 1927, by John Cobb. So I am quite prepared to believe it to be a normal chassis assembled by Thompson and Taylor. However, it differs somewhat from the earlier production chassis. For example, there are four Zenith carburetters on the oft. side, feeding via external two-branch manifolds, whereas the catalogue talks of twin instruments and internal piping. The manner in which the plugs enter the combustion spaces, and the provision of a crankshaft vibration damper, also distinguishes this car from earlier examples. There is no fan, and I believe the chassis joints are lubricated by grease-gun, and not automatically. Then there are cableand-rod-operated front brakes, though the right-hand brake lever actuates on the rear drums only, and the engine size is 7,200 c.c., whereas the 1921 cars were 89 x140 mm. (0,920 c.c.), though subsequently the stroke grew another 6 mm., giving 7,28(1 C.C., which starts off suspicion, –especially as Howells car was 7,938 c.c. from 1926, growing with the years to 8,468 c.c. Certainly there is nothing ” racer ” about the body, which displays beautiful finish and design that is a credit to Barker & Co., Ltd., It is a black twoseater with cowled radiator and wedge tail, with very low doors to the cockpit. The flaired wings detach easily, the big brass-bound running-boards have strapstaples to facilitate luggage carrying, and the main screen folds flat, when twin aero screens deflect the wind over the occupants’ heads. The tail lifts to disclose two batteries mounted high up behind the seats, the spare wheel, set horizontally, a cylindrical fuel-tank holding about 25 gallons, and a space for tools, the lid being padlocked when shut. The rear-lamp is in the centre and the rear number-plates are inbuilt and illuminated—the first body to incorporate this idea. On the near side eight external exhausts drop into an immense silencer
aud the exhaust pipe terminates in a big
fan tail. The full width cowl and untaped bonnet, together with the flaked wings and raked screen, render the Leyland one of the most imposing road cars in existence. I was extremely anxious to try this car, as the only other road-test published to my knowledge is a rather uninformative one in a contemporary of November 1921, though it is significant that the only criticism therein concerned the noise of the brake servo ! Arrived at Sir Lionel’s London residence, where I made friends with his Alsatian pup, the Leyland’s owner soon arrived astride ” Cissy,” his very healthy Rudge motor-cycle that he hopes to race this year over the Brooklands road circuit and perhaps in considerably more ambitious races abroad. After an innocent Morris Eight had been persuaded to remove itself from the garage entrance, Sir Lionel and his manservant coaxed the mighty Leyland into action. The immense bonnet was opened, to disclose the neat engine with inclined plugs set deep in the off side of the block and fed by a single distributor. The starting handle was unstrapped from its place beside the engine and, aided by a few pumps of the Ki-gass, the response was surprisingly prompt. The idling note is a brisk crackle from the fan-tail. Climbing into the car one is immediately intrigued by the high-seating position, giving a very soul-satisfying view over the wide expanse of bonnet and of both front wings. The doors reach only on a level with one’s legs, so that occasionally the passenger is glad of the grip on
the facia. Incidentally, in starting yet another Leyland novelty is apparent, as the starter is actuated by putting the short right-hand gear-lever in a special notch between reverse and first-gear locations in the gate, which obviates fiddling movements with hand or foot. A battery master switch puts the starter out of action for servicing requirements. Pausing at a garage in the King’s Road for air, water and 20 gallons of Disco’, the Leyland came in for the not unexpected “hero-worship,” from awe-inspired fugbox owners. Running out into heavy London traffic, I was amazed at the rapid pick-up, once the clutch had coped with the drive, which belied the capacity of over 7-litres. The engine runs smoothly and unobtrusively until opened up for acceleration or gear-changing, when the crackle from the fan-tail becomes an increasing roar, and not a ” wuffle
wuffle ” one might have expected. It was immensely fascinating to dribble along at a mere 750 r.p.m., in the knowledge that to exceed 1,000 r.p.m. in top would incur the displeasure of the police in built-up areas, as this speed is equivalent to :34 m.p.h. The gear-change needs knowing, and is slightly complicated because the engine, although warming up remarkably quickly and displaying hardly any tendency to mis-fire, does not pick up from idling absolutely without hesitation. Even. so, the changes are quite rapid and no protests came from the gearbox.