CARS I HAVE OWNED
1Harry Bowler, popular Vintage S.C.C. Competitions Secretary before the war, describes his cars, from a 1921 G.N. to his present 193S Lagonda.—Ed.1
ISTARTED motoring in 1922, with zt 2.?-h.p. Omega-Jap motor-cycle, followed a year later by a “16II” Norton, on which I scored my first competition success, winning a Public Schools M.C. handicap at Brooklands at 65.6 m.p.h. in August, 1924. The first car I drove was a Model-T Ford, but in December, 1924, I first owned a car : -a 1921 G.N. (NC 4725). This was a “Special ” job, having o.h. valves. push-rod operated, and four speeds and reverse, with five chains to the back axle, a separate lever being employed to engage reverse. A magneto chain and a dynamo chain made seven chains in all ! The cylinder heads cracked persistently and were replaced by a pair of Frazer-Nash conversion heads.
I built a very rakish ti:-seater body for this car and had a lot of fun and trouble with it. The more frequent causes Of trouble were (1) getting two gears in at Once; (2) running a big-end. I was told that this car was run by H. R. Godfrey in hill climbs during 1921 under the name of ” Green Bug,” but I have no confirmation of this.
At this time my father had a 10-h.p. Horstmann tourer with Coventry Simplex engine and a kick-starter projecting through the Boot, ss Inch always started the engine in one. Cantilever springs all round with no shock absorbers gave an excessively flexible suspension and the brakes were entirely negligible !
In December, 1926, the G.N. was partexchanged for a Waverley ” Special ” chassis, on which I built a body, but as this car and its successor, a G.N. hybrid, were dealt with in MOTOR SPORT for December, 1931, I will not describe them again. The registration numbers were NM 9940 and TM 4075, respectively. In 1928 I bought a 1921 G.N. 2-seater (HP’ 1447) for tfi. and this served as a quite reliable form of transport for six months, until it was dismantled to form the basis of TM 4075.
The family had now changed over to a 1926 ” 14/40 ” Vauxhall, which is a type deserving of attention amongst vintage enthusiasts. A four-cylinder, 2-litre s.v. engine, excellent brakes and steering, 00 m.p.h. with a very heavy touring body, 45 m.p.h. on third, and beautiful detail work were points entirely in its favour. 1 next had a Ceirano, in 19:10—a dreadful car ! The middle pair of exhaust valves burnt out every 200 Miles or so. while at similar intervals the water pump gland disintegrated and, as it was inside the Wiling case, discharged all the water into the sump ! This car was quickly partexchanged for a 1927 Morris-Cowley, to 18. hirli, apart from lowering the steering column and fitting a steering wheel off an Alfa-Romeo, nothing was done. During the frequent intervals when the Ceirano was off the road I bad been able to borrow a rather amusing car—a long-wheelbase Jow ett with standard 2-seater body (KW 99) and one of the detachable-head special engines, as used by .I. J. Hall in his record-breaking car. Only a handful of these engines were made, and they were certainly good. This car would do GO m.p.h., against the -15 m.p.h. or so of the standard Jowett, and its acceleration was also good. • The Alorris-Cow ley had no brakes, and so was exchanged for a Clyno, which had, and this lasted me until January, 1932, when I bought. a 1928 ” 12122 ” LeaFrancis tourer (YV 1322)—the long chassis model, with half-elliptic rear springs, disc wheels and two-bearing engine. Shortly afterwards I bought the remains of a wrecked ” Hyper ” Leaf, less engine. Out of the two I built up a car with Budge wheels and the ” Hyper” close-ratio gearbox. Then the engine began to rattle, so I fitted an Anzani side valve engine, of the earlier Leaf type, but adapted to three-point mounting— thia is very necessary, otherwisethe very flexible chassis pulls the timing case off
the front of the crankcase. This was quite a suecessful car—about e5 m.p.h.
on top, 55 m.p.h. on third gear. You could hit the gear-lever straight from third to top. just easing the clutch, without throttling down, at maximum r.p.m. While I had the Lea-Francis I started on my third hybrid—an imitation of Michael May’s B.P. ” Special,” which someone had started to make and given up as a bad job. This was an Amilear chassis with A.C. Six engine and Als-is gearbcx. The engine was installed quite well when I got it, the gearbox extremely badly, as it could be pushed up or down l” by hand ! I made a proper gearbox mounting coupled up the transmission via Horstm aim components and contpleted the mechanical salad with Clyno steering gear and handbrake, Lea-Francis tank,
rear shock absorbers and steering wheel, also a piece of Bentley. I forget which !
I fitted a very sketchy 2-seater body and wings, and the car was registered (car 489). Later high-compression pistons were fitted and three Solex carburetters. This
car suffered from a curious complaint which I never really fathomed ; sometimes it went like any E.R.A., at Other times it fired on only three or four cylinders at a time. Jets and plugs were changed without avail ; I think the trouble was unstable carburation due to the shape of the inlet stubs and the lack of balance pipes. But-why did it sometimes work well ? It ran in the 1939 Stanley Cup Meeting at the Crystal Palace, where it gave a shining display of the aforesaid temperament, in
the hands of the joint owner, D. L. Sidney. We became soniewhat tired of this car and exchanged it in August, 1939, for a large outboard motor-boat engine—of which perhaps more after the war !
To go back to 1934. I sold the LeaFrancis and bought a Bentley (RU 3089). This was a late 1926″ Red Label “3-litre,
with standard Vanden Plas body and 6.00H ;s 20″ wheels, 3.78 to 1axle ratio.
It had only had two previous owners. I had the engine overhauled at Bentley’s and a Hardy prop.-sliilft fitted. Then I started on a mild competition career, as a result of which I believe I am correct in claiming the following Bentley “records” :
(1) Only 3-litre to win on the Mountain course at Brooklands.
(2) Only Bentley of any size to win twice on the Mountain course.
(3) Only 3-litre to score a “double ” at Brooklands.
I also joined the Junior Racing Drivers’ Club and put in a lot of Mountain practice, which was very valuable.
No very startling mechanical modifications were made to the car, and the performance was obtained chiefly by keeping it in good condition. Throughout its competition career it was always roadworthy and always went to meetings under its own power.
After the original overhaul, all tuning and servicing was carried out by Edward Bowler, of Alperton„ who, by the way, is no relation. The modifications made were the fitting of hour-glass pistons and raising the compression-ratio to the maximum which ordinary pump Ethyl will stand (I cannot give the exact figure, probably about 0.3 to 1), polishing the ports and lightening the flywheel by turning a waist in the outside, so that the shanks of the clutch bolts are exposed.
As regards the rest of the car, the steering column was lowered, the windscreen lowered, and the body side cut away more deeply. Short front wings were added and all lamp and wing brackets fitted Over shouldered studs permanently fixed to the chassis ; the front wings with stays and lamps formed a single assembly, with the wiring taken to a three-pin plug and socket. Thus it was possible to drive down to Brooklands with screen, hood, wings and lamps all in place, and strip in about half-an-hour, reassembly taking little longer. I think its Brooklands career is best given in the form of a table :—
1986 Stanley Cup Meeting at Donington, winning one handicap, finishing fourth in a 10-lap scratch race and securing the award for the best vintage performance. I also ran in a number of trials and sprints, without any success, as it is hardly a suitable car for this kind of work. During the above period I had two major breakages—a chassis frame, due to fatigue, and a crankshaft, which broke on the flywheel flange and did no other damage. Botts these were replaced by new parts, as 1 ssauld not find good second-hau.d, okkcss In addition, I tan it in the
Minor troubles were one broken piston and a number of broken valve rockers— these were the dural type fitted to the late 1926 cars. I replaced these by the earlier steel pattern and had no further trouble. The 44-litre dural rockers are of different design and do not break, but they will not fit the 3-litre engine. I also had a stripped differential and a tooth out of the bottom gear pinion—both replaced by second-hand parts.
Bearing in mind the enormous amount of competition and ordinary running that this car did, I think the above total of breakages is comparatively light and my racing expenses were far below the cost of running any pukka racing car.
The road performance was about 85, 55, 70 and 80 m.p.h. on the gears. Speed in top was limited by the crankshaft period, which occurs at 8,000 r.p.m. (80 m.p.h.), and with full equipment on it would not go through this period without a tail wind or down-slope, so one usually had to stop just below it. With this assistance one could get up to nominal maximum engine speed-3,500 r.p.m. (94 m.p.h.), or even a little further ; these engines will stand 4,000 r.p.m. for short periods. I think a more lively road car would result from using 18 wheels (I always used this size on the Mountain course, Ly the way). One would then get 33, 51, 65 and 88 m.p.h. at 3,500 r.p.m., and acceleration all through is better on the smaller wheels.
It is often said against 3-litre Bentleys that they are sluggish and heavy in the steering. Some of them are, but can quite easily be cured. First of all the engine should be in good condition and the compression ratio raised to just over 6.0 to 1. The flywheel should be lightened—the standard one would serve a gas-engine well 1 Some of the early cars had a 3.53 to 1 axle ratio, and this is too high for any tyres larger than 6.00″ x 8″. All 3-litres are now old, and in most cases king-pin bearings and thrusts are worn and grease-ways blocked, so that parts of the bearings are dry. On top of this, most of them have had the original 120 mm.
(4.75) tyres at 45-50 lb.isq. in. pressure replaced by 5.58 or 6# tyres at 80-35 lb./ sq. in. pressure. The result is obvious. With king-pins in good order and properly lubricated, the steering is perfectly light, considering the high ratio (two turns lock to lock), even with 6″ tyres.
I continued to use this car up to the outbreak of war, when it was laid up and later sold to an enthusiast in the R.A.F. in April, 1941. •
To go back to 1936. I bought a 1934 Alvis “Firefly” with a drop-head coupe body.
This was not a very good car. The chassis and body were very heavy and really too much for the 14-litre engine. The engine had plenty of power, but was always turning round too fast. Twice it dropped an exhaust valve through a piston. It had a pre-selector gearbox, which I found fascinating, but having no separate clutch the get-away was not very smooth. The brakes, although of fairly ample size, required excessive pressure. The steering was heavy and, Ow ing to the slenderness of the steering column, was apt to bind when cornering fiercely. Latterly it developed an uncontrollable low-speed steering wobble of most terrifying magnitude, which could not be stopped without bringing the car to a standstill ; it only happened occasionally, at about 15 to 20 m.p.h., but was most disconcerting. I never found a real cure, although all the ball joints were renewed. I covered about 30,000 miles in this car before I sold it early in 1939, including the longest more or less continuous run I have done—Rickrnansworth to Lairg (640 miles) in 28 hours total time. In May, 1939, I bought the car which I still possess—a 1935 Lagonda 34-litre tourer (BXB 477)—from J. H. Bartlett for a very reasonable sum. It had done 22,000 miles. It has now done 45,500 miles and I still have not seen the inside of the engine. Replacements have been confined to brake linings, Bendix pinion and spring, pump diaphragms and one set of plugs, and the performance has not fallen off at all. Speeds on the gears are about
80, 50, 78 and 88 m.p.h. It is somewhat overgeared on top, as maximum engine speed (3,700 r.p.m.) corresponds to 100 m.p.h. I once had a speedometer 100 m.p.h. with a gale behind. Oil consumption (apart from changes) is still about 4,000 m.p.g. Not many of these 34-litre jobs were made. The chassis and body are identical with the ” Rapide,” except for a 3.6 to 1 axle ratio instead of 3.3 to 1. The engine is a larger edition of the 3-litre Lagonda and I believe was made by Crossley’s. The six-cylinder block and crankcase are in one ; it has seven main bearings, push-rod o.h.v. and two S.U. carburetters. The sump holds 84 gallons.
This chassis, I believe, was W. 0. Bentley’s first design for Lagonda, and it is interesting to compare this car with his 1926 design.
The most marked improvements, I think, are stability at high speeds, silence, smoothness and comfort. The steering still has the same high ratio (two turns) and a very similar feel, although there is less “kick-back.” Cornering is somewhat better, except on very tight bends, where the greater weight and longer wheelbase are noticeable. The 1926 brakes had a lot of spring and friction in the linkage (the 1935 Girlings have none), with corresponding reduction in pedal pressure. The clutch is lighter in operation. The 1935 gearbox (non-synchromesh) is silent on third and almost so on first and second. My only criticism here is that second should be higher, to give 58 or 60 m.p.h. The engine, although not of ” W.0.” design, shows similar improvement ; it is quieter mechanically, smoother, has no periods and is less liable to detonation.
This Lagonda is a really excellent car and I hope to be able to keep it on the road in spite of all restrictions! I have put up higher road averages on this car than any other-55 miles in one hour, 100 miles in two hours, are the best to date ; both on AS, north of St. Albans.
Twenty years—a quarter of a million miles—G.N. to Lagonda. What will the next twenty years bring ?