Before the war he was an up-and-coming racer but hostilities drew Tony Rolt from Donington…
ENTHUSIASM FROM NEW ZEALAND Geoffrey Easterbrook-Smith, R.N.Z.A.F., describes his cars
IHAVE just had no fewer than five copies of MOTOR SPORT come to hand and have had such an orgy of interesting reading that I feel prompted to write to you. I must confess that my driving experience dates back only five years, but I have been a motor-cyclist for eight years, getting my licence on my 17th birthday and riding in my first race two weeks later. My mount was a very ancient Douglas, which gave place to an o.h.c. A.J.S., a 500-c.c. job with a maximum
near the fle m.p.h. mark. This provided more racing experience, but I must confess I was very frightened at speed on this machine. Next came a 348-c.c. Grand Prix F.N.— a marvellous frame with an exquisitely built unit-construction engine. In its prime it was the fastest 350 c.c. in New Zealand, E. Bradshaw, the first owner, being particularly successful with it. I rode it in hill climbs, beach races, trials and even in the N.Z. Grand Prix, a 150-mile road race over a 6/1-10th-mile course. The F.N. raised my interest in beach racing to such a pitch that I pur
chased a 500-c.c. o.h.v. Douglas (a converted dirt track model) in order to be able to compete in 500-c.c. races. About this time I had moved from Christchurch to Wellington, where I found myself working with a very keen en thusiast named Ian Jones. Ian graduated from T.T. Replica Scotts to an Austin Seven, after which came a 1 Hitre four cylinder Bugatti, on which he built his own body ; a ” 12/50 ” Alvis, again with his own body. When I first knew him he had a 1i-litre Marendaz “Special,” with s.v. Anzani engine. This was a very attractive car and performed quite well, but complete lack of weather equipment in Wellington’s untrustworthy climate
forced hint to sell it. Looking round for another car he purchased a 1,850-c.c. Ansaldo, which was my first contact with this make. Around this time (1936-37-38) the Ixian M.C.C. ran car races at their beach meet ings in addition to the normal motor cycle events, and in one meeting an ancient 2-litre four-cylinder Ansaldo of 1923 vintage appeared. Prepared by a clever driver and engineer named John McMillan, it looked a real old-timer alongside modern Le Mans Singers, “J2 ” Midgets and the usual run of smallish modern sports cars. When it was pushed out for a race the ignorant laughed, but when, giving away a minimum start of 40 secs., it came home between a quarter and half mile ahead of the next car in a four-mile race, the laughter turned to admiration. My friend, the late Rex Brooke-Taylor, bought it soon afterwards, which meant two Ansaldos in the stable. Some time after I had occasion to transport one of my motor-cycles to the races by car and managed to persuade another Ansaldo owner to tie the plot on the back of his car, and this particular example of the marque, still with its old highpressure, beaded-edge tyres, pulled five adults, plus a motor-cycle on the carrier, from Wellington to Waikanae, a distance of 43 miles, including a climb to nearly 1,000 ft., without changing down, except on one occasion, when the Douglas’s back wheel touched the ground over a particularly big bump and the plot was torn
off the carrier. Result—a broken gear change, which Rex Brooke-Taylor spliced up with a piece of driftwood when we reached the beach and the Douglas took the field as though nothing had happened. By this time my interest in Ansaldos had become really intense, and when the last
mentioned car was offered to me for 220 I jumped at the chance, but sold it for 240 the day after buying it My only previous experience of car ownership had been with a 11-litre s.v. Crossley tourer, which lost a wheel and sundry parts of the rear-end when doing some mild dicing, the first intimation being Rex’s girl friend saying, “That looks funny “— ” that ” being the wheel and axle running along about 2 ft. out from the side of the car.
To return to Ansaldos, I had no sooner sold the old one when I had an opportunity to buy a 1926 1,850-c.c. fourcylinder example, in almost perfect condition, although it had done some 75,000 miles. Unfortunately it was fitted with V8 Ford wheels, which made it hopelessly undergeared, with a maximum speed of somewhere about 55 m.p.h. In spite of this it served me nobly for 18 months, carrying motor-cycles all over the lower part of the North Island. On one trip to Foxton for the grass track races, with a T.T. Replica Vincent-H.R.D. in the back, I was fortunate enough to meet and have a short talk to Capt. S. A. Gibbons, then the owner of a “Red Label” Bentley and now the proud possessor of a 41-litre Invicta. The Ansaldo also took us on a 1,200-mile tlip round the North Island to Auckland to see the N.Z. Tourist Trophy and back, but on the return trip I had an argument with a large Yank, which removed one side of the car, while the bank into which he pushed me took away the other. Repairs took a considerable time, but at length I got the car back and used it to take the F.N. to the beach for the last meeting before the war. I remember Rex doing a frantic 50 m.p.h. in the. Ansaldo and sliding it beautifully at this speed, convincing proof of the absolute inability to roll over.
When the war started I was posted to a G.R. squadron and had six miserable motorless months until I got married, taking both wife and car back with me. By this time the car was in a terrible state after six months in the open, but running as well as ever. The sight of a 4i-litre Bentley led to my meeting a particularly enthusiastic family, who, in addition to the 41-litre, have now acquired a Speed Six Bentley. The 4i-litre VMS in such perfect order that, full of shame, I set to work to improve the external appearance of my car. A fold-flat windscreen, a tonneau cover which my wife made with great skill, a cowling over the rear part of the chassis (duralumin—ex-one of H.M. aircraft), a tie-bar at the front end and divers new lamps, some of them ex-Crossley, plus a
coat of black enamel and a general clean up, quite transformed the sedate tourer. Model ” A ” Ford wheels in place of the V8 wheels brought the car almost back to its original gearing, and a straightthrough exhaust pipe with a large fishtail gave an exhaust note that was terrific, albeit quiet enough for town use with the loud pedal not unduly depressed. Note well that I had not touched the engine except for a magneto overhaul, hut the maximum was now up to 63 m.p.h. (:1,600 r.p.m. in the 5 to 1 top gear), while I had reached 4,000 r.p.m. in second gear. As the stroke is 120 mm., this is rather excessive. The afore-mentioned exhaust note, incidentally, caused the troops to rush out of their barracks on more than one occasion when the Ansaldo was passing at speed, under the impression that a “shoot up” was in progress.
Christmas, 1940, saw another added to my many motoring friends, this being Errol Ansell, ex-Le Mans Singer owner and now the owner of a particularly potent, although externally ordinary, Citroen. We had a road course just over three miles round, over which I drove the 44. and 6i-litre Bentleys at quite high velocities, as well as the Citroen (which was an education in cornering) and the Ansaldo, which put in a lap at 44 m.p.h. Considering that there are four right-angle corners and a double “S “-bend in the lap, this was quite good. Driving the Bentleys fast was something mere words cannot describe. The Citroen’s 0-50 time was below 11 secs. and the speedometer was dead accurate.
Soon after Christmas I was transferred back to Wellington as an engine instructor. This necessitated selling the F.N., which . nearly broke my heart; as I was using it as a hack and enjoying it hugely.
The Ansaldo did a few more good runs in Wellington, on one occasion beating up a quite modern Vauxhall, much to the excitement of my wife and the disgust of the Vauxhall occupants, who did not like being passed by such a passé bolide. The day before registration ended I had a final dice up a five-mile local hill, which makes the Grossglockner or Stelvio look like an autobahn, and right well the old girl took it.
I had now had the car for three years, had decoked it once and had never removed the sump. The sole trouble was a blown gasket and a tendency for No. 1 plug to oil-up running downhill. I greased everything and changed the oil every 500 miles, but apart from that never touched the engine except to clean it. Mileage under my ownership was 20,000 and most of it fairly fast. After such a good performance I considered the car deserved a complete overhaul, so I stripped the engine right down. Maximum cylinder wear, measured with a very accurate Sabito gauge, was 0.0035″, the pistons were well-nigh perfect and valves and guides quite ready for another term of service. An inlet valve had evidently dropped through a piston at some stage, as the
inlet valve in No. 3 was a stranger, 2.5 gms. heavier than the others, and the piston was oz. heavier than it should have been (8i oz.), so replacement with correct parts should help engine balance considerably. The case-hardening on several rocker arms was worn through, so I had them stellite tipped. Double valve springs have been fitted in place of the previous single springs and new rings put in, and I am at present building up the engine again. I am playing with the idea of cycle-type mudguards and hope to fit an outside exhaust system with four pipes coming out at the side of the bonnet. In my wilder moments I even dream of four Amals to replace the present Zenith.
The performance in the rehashed form should be distinctly interesting, and 70 m.p.h. is spoken of without too much bate in the breath, although 4,000 r.p.m. will give a rather excessive piston speed. Gear ratios are 5, 9 and 16 to 1, which is the one big snag about the car. In case some of your readers have never heard of an Ansaldo, the four-cylinder models were made in two sizes, 1.85 and 2-litres, developing somewhere about 50 b.h.p. (or perhaps 40 !). The valves
are actuated by a bevel-driven overhead camshaft and work in a semi-hemispherical cylinder head. The cylinder head is detachable and the block is separate from the light-alloy crankcase. The sump, also of light alloy, is heavily finned and, of course, highly polished. The three-speed gearbox has given absolutely no trouble and quite a reasonably quick change up or down is possible. Instruments are radiator thermometer, ammeter, oil pressure gauge (the original 80 lb./sq. in. pressure is still maintained), clock (which works even if R.N.Z.A.F. instrument repairers did replace the face upside down!) and 75-m.p.h. Jaeger speedometer. I have a St. Christopher, but, alas, as yet no grab rail or cigarette lighter The engine runs remarkably cool, circulation being provided by a centri
fugal brass pump. A three-bearing crankshaft keeps the engine turning smoothly, helped by a rather heavy flywheel.
If any of your readers have had an Ansaldo I should be very pleased to read their experiences.
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