RECALLING THE ROAD TESTS No. 3.—The 1927 Period of MOTOR SPORT Road Tests
THE year 1927, when the 8-litre Bentley was so very much in evidence and more than one sports car race was run at Brooklands—can it be 15 years ago ?—was productive of some absorbing road tests for those fortunate enough to borrow cars for this purpose on behalf of this paper. First, we tried the 2-litre Ballot Weymann fabric saloon, a car of square lines and undeniably solid worth. From the design viewpoint the Ballot was interesting, having a 12.1-h.p. fourcylinder o.h.c. engine with inclined valves, two oil pumps with very good filtering arrangements and ignition timing that was automatically controlled up to 30 m.p.h. On the road the car went easily up to 60 m.p.h. in third and to 75 m.p.h. in top gear (4.72 to 1), and it was outstandingly comfortable, with good brakes, a very big steering lock and wellpositioned controls. Indeed, it was written down (or up ?) as one of the best fourcylinders on the road, and with the aforementioned virtues it combined a very easy gear change and a good top gear performance. Reigate Hill was climbed at 48 m.p.h., using only third gear ; the gear ratios were 18.59, 12.08, 6.98 and 4.72 to 1.
The Ballot was followed by a FrazerNash—it as, in fact, a resume of 7,000 miles which Capt. Richard Twelvetrees, the Editor at this time, had covered in his own car, an all-aluminium Anzani 4-seater. In spite of a wider body than standard, necessitating a wider rear axle and a special facia, delivery was accomplished within three weeks of the order. To cope with the added weight of the body, a 4.0 to 1 top ratio was used, on which 78 m.p.h. was attainable. Fuel consumption was 80 m.p.g. normally and could be improved, to 35-40 m.p.g., by more gentle handling and restriction of the maximum to 60-65 m.p.h. Thesefigures explain the high price set nowadays on even such early Frazer-Nashes as this one. Reducing the oil pressure from 80 to 30 lb./sq. in. resulted in a consumption of about 1,000 m.p.g. Clutch, ratiochange and transmission were found satisfactory, given proper attention and adjustment, and road-holding and braking were good, although the brake lining emitted a peculiar smell under prolonged application. The next car to be tried was a test car with a vengeance, in the form of a “22/90” Alfa-Romeo chassis carrying two bench seats in lieu of a proper body. This was the now exceedingly rare, if not entirely extinct, push-rod 2,994-c.c. six-cylinder car, with twin Solex gasworks and drysump lubrication. According to the report, it wound up to a genuine 91 m.p.h., which is exceedingly good for a 1927 3-litre. The four-speed gearbox had ratios of 13.2, 9.8, 6.85 and 3.75 to 1, and central change. In spite of the high top ratio, it could be retained up most gradients encountered, although the gear change proved quite reasonable. The steering was light and accurate, with ample lock, and really rapid cornering could be, and was, indulged in. Consideration of police
opinion of exhaust note still figured in test reports, but the deep, mellow note of the Alfa-Romeo was not thought likely to be offensive. Third gear was quiet and allowed 10 to 60 m.p.h. to be achieved in 14 secs., while in second gear 1040 m.p.h. occupied 7.4 ‘sees.; 0-60 m.p.h. through the gears needed only 17 secs. Cruising speed was around 60 m.p.h., and from this gait, not using the transmission handbrake, the Dewanere servo four-wheel brakes pulled you up, and in the best possible manner in respect of those important minor points of brake behaviour, in 150 ft. So far as hill climbing went, Pebblecombe was taken in third at 40 m.p.h. in spite of slowing for the bend and Reigate Hill could just be surmounted in top, but was attempted again in third gear, when the Alfa-Romeo went under the bridge at 60 m.p.h. Wray Hill, leading up to Reigate Hill (given as 7-10ths of a mile long and with a maximum gradient of about 1 in 4) was climbed from a standing start in 82 secs., and later, when quite clear of traffic, in 72.4 secs., the cornering being inspiring. It was noted at the conclusion of the write-up that the Alfa-Romeo was without common faults and that the only other car possessing a performance in any way resembling it was a British production at roughly double the price. Vintage enthusiasts, it seems, might well seek a “22/90.”
Followed a 2-seater ” 14/40,” flatradiator (of course) Morris-Oxford, which inspired some excellent scenic photographic studies of the car and cottage variety, a simply gfeat Editorial on motoring in (and around) Oxford, a history of the Oxford University M.C. and another history of W. R. Morris. Or perhaps the idea of an “Oxford issue” was thought of first. . . . At all events, this M.G. did 4-67 m.p.h. in top gear and took Hinksey Hill at well over 40 m.p.h. 4,200 r.p.m. was reached in the second gear of 7.6 to 1, and the cornering properties were considered truly remarkably good. A ” 14;40 ‘ boat-shaped 213-seater Delage proved interesting, which was docile at low speeds in top gear, yet able to maintain between 65 and 75 m.p.h. for two laps of Brooklands, in spite of newness, three up, and uniuitable plugs, which resulted in pre-ignition. With a strong wind blowing against it down the Railway Straight, the Delage reached 70 m.p.h., and slightly more over the Fork and up the rise on to the Members’ banking. The stiff engine was not taken above 35-40 m.p.h. in second and well over 50 m.p.h. in ‘third. The Test Hill was ascended easily in second gear at 30 .m.p.h., until, the final section, where the speed fell to 25 m.p.h. From 20 m.p.h. the car could be stopped at once going down the hill, and on the level from 40 m.p.h. in about 105 ft. Incidentally, both hand and foot brake worked on all four wheels, and a lament arose that the rear wheels could not be locked independently, which reads unusual now. The brakes, despite their effectiveness, were not properly adjusted, acting rather
harshly and locking a rear wheel. The exhaust was pleasantly crisp towards full throttle, and cornering and road-holding were of a high order. Criticisms concerned rather stiff steering, probably due to the newness of the car, and ” leaky” floorboards. which allowed dust to blow about the cockpit at 60 m.p.h. The nice lines of the Delage were well shown by photographs taken at the Track. The price, as tested, was 1415. A ” Grand Sport ” Arnilcar came up next. The type with fixed cycle wings, V screen and straight-sided radiator cowl, it proved easy to manage in traffic, in spite of its appearance, if one overlooks a tendency to stall the engine under sudden application of the brakes. Cornering and braking were so outstanding that it was suggested that it would be difficult to average less than 40 m.p.h. ; the brakes pulled the car up from 5C m.p.h., slightly down hill, in a matter of 102 ft., using either handle or pedal. The suspension was a little harsh at low speeds, but this was offset by the pneumatic up
holstery. At 3,500 r.p.m. the speed was 60 m.p.h. in top, while some 4,500 r.p.m. could easily be reached in second gear of the three-speed box, equal to 4550 m.p.h. ; 30 m.p.h. could be held in bottom gear. Actually, the speedometer was believed to read “‘low” and did not go beyond 66 m.p.h., which, however,
it did on several occasions. The price was 1285, and 75 m.p.h. was the Maker’s claimed maximum. In the middle of 1927 the ” 33/180 ” Mercedes-Benz 4-seater came along for
test. Twice it attained the level 100 m.p.h. on its outward journey It was then brought back almost equally rapidly, and the 6,240-c.c. supercharged
engine, pulling gear-ratios of 3.28, 4.5, 7.0 and 11.5 to 1, averaged 11-14 m.p.g. of fuel. Corners were taken fast with no trace of roll, the comfort factor was high and the flexibility of the big, blown engine was especially remarked. Downward gear-changes were found just a little tricky without practice, but that was the only criticism offered. Incidentally, the car’s appearance, with a brief touring body and a higher radiator line than the
subsequent ” 36/220 ” and ” 38/250 ” cars, was rather outstanding. The chassis was at the time listed at 11,650, and peak engine speed quoted as 3,000 r.p.m. Another big car. followed, and a most interesting one at that. Much unrest had been caused in the bosoms of some motoring sportsmen who had been up at a Southport meeting and had seen an elegant black-and-yellow coupe running effectively about the sands. This car turned out to be an Excelsior, and when a stripped chassis was offered for test we accepted keenly enough. We actually took out a Super Sports model, but w ith a rather lower axle-ratio (4.0 to 1) than usual, whereas the Southport car was the standard chassis. The road-holding, braking and steering met with approval from the start, and over the undulating road over the Seven Hills towards Cobham the ExcelsIQr’s stability aroused the highest respect, albeit the passenger had a grim time in the unprotected bucket seat. At Brooklands a strong gale blowing up the Railway Straight, together with the newness of the engine, limited experiments as to maximum speed, but the 87 m.p.h. held everywhere except along the straight proves that these big cars of 14 years ago were very quick indeed. Some engine vibration was evident, the speed being considerable on the low ratio axle, but it entirely disappeared at 82 m.p.h. along the wind-swept section of the Track. On the gears, speeds of 28, 44 and 65 m.p.h. were attained before engine vibration set in. On the Track the stable, smooth riding was again confirmed. The Test Hill was made light of and the brakes, as was expected, held the car at any point of the descent. The central gear-change was easy providing the gears were not missed, whereupon things became more than a thought confused. The Excelsior was very much the top-gear car, quite at home in London’s crush of traffic, and really the only weak point appears to have been a lack of correct brake adjustment, of no consequence on dry roads. By all accounts a very fair car—yet do you ever encounter one now ? The car tested had the 5,346-c.c. six-cylinder engine with three Zenith carburetters ; it was a shaft-drive o.h.c. inclined valve unit. The central gear lever worked in a visible gate. This Super Sports version was claimed to attain 100 m.p.h. under the right conditions, and it was said that the coupe afore
mentioned would do 87 M.p.h. The respective chassis prices were £1,250 and £1,150.
Not any too Soon, you will probably say, we next tried a British production, in the form of a ” 16/40″ A.C. (Acedes) Six 3-seater. It still had the detachable bonnet sides and sunk steps in the running boards, reminiscent of the S. F. Edge era, and it had rear wheel brakes only. The famous chain-drive o.h.c. six-cylinder engine proved remarkably good at getting the car places in the highest gear ratio, running from 3-40 m.p.h. in top gear in 20 sees. Using the rear-axle three-speed box the time for this test was halved : 25 and 45 m.p.h. were the maxima attained on the lower gears and 65 m.p.h. was reached in top on several occasions, although on Brooklands slight wheel shimmy -set in at this speed. A bad engine period happened at between 401– 41 Am.p.h. . The clutch was extremely light and smooth and some care with the accelerator was necessary to avoid slip after rapid ratio shifts. The foot brake was rather heavy to operate, but made up by bringing the car to rest in 105 ft. from 30 m.p.h. down a slight slope on Wet tarmac, locked rear wheels notwithstanding. Front brakes, incidentally, were an •’ extra.” Steering was light and reasonably certain, the gear-change easy, but possessed of a noisy gate, and in a week-end of spirited driving this comfortable A.C. averaged 20 m.p.g. Caine that fine British production, the 3-litre twin o.h.c. Sunbeam, tested with fabric saloon body, lower than standard rear axle-ratio, and a most imposing vertical fan-tail. It was the actual chassis which Perkins had driven, fitted with open bodywork, at Shelsley Walsh. In a miserable autumn drizzle it was taken down to the Track, showing impeccable road-clinging over the Seven Hills, even when all four occupants ” found the roofs’ as a particularly vicious bump was struck at 70 m.p.h.—oh ! happy days, when fast motors went to and from Brooklands on all manner of missions. . . . On this especial day a gale was coming up the Railway Straight, mingled with fine rain. Even so, the Sunbeam, having put in a preliminary lap, four up, at around 70 m.p.h., went out with two occupants, reaching 86 m.p.h. and never showing less for the lap than 76 m.p.h. Later, against the stop-watch, it lapped at 77.5 m.p.h. The tight shock-absorbers, which had made their state felt on the run down, now proved of value, in conjunction with finger-light, absolutely positive Steering and excellent stability. The Test Hill was climbed in bottom gear from a standing start from the post at the .foot in 14 secs., being breasted at over 25 m.p.h. So far as acceleration went, the Sunbeam took 12 secs. to go from 10 to 40 m.p.h. in top gear and 8.5 sees. if the gears were used. It pulled up from 40 m.p.h. on the wet track, sliding quite straight, in 90 ft., the Dewandre servo working nicely. It was voted a car in w hich British engineering skill was exampled as second to none Continued on page 43
in the whole world. Powys-Lybbe still runs one. The year 1927 concluded, interestingly enough, with a Yank, in the form of a Safety Stutz-5 litres of distinctly sporting automobile. Actually, the 82.5 x 114.3 mm. (4,885 c.c.) straight eight engine gave, it was said, 110 b.h.p. at 3,600 r.p.m. It had o.h.c. valve gear and a nine-bearing crankshaft. The body was a long pointed-tail 4-seater with no running boards and close-up wings, so that you hardly noticed the bumpers. The action and efficiency of the hydraulic brakes called forth columns of praise, as did the car’s very real stability. The engine had run some 600 miles only and had a weak carburetter setting, yet the car cruised at 55-60 m.p.h. and seemed to have a genuine maximum of 8587 m.p.h., actually showing more on a down grade. The gear-change shouted “Automobile “until you forgot it entirely and drove in top gear. The top-gear performance really was immense and, in any
case, second gear was regarded as too low, being productive of only 50 m.p.h. Some acceleration figures were quoted, but it is not clear whether these were obtained during the test or from the catalogue. They were 5 to 25 m.p.h. in 6.5 secs. and 10 to 50 m.p.h. in 18 secs. So much for 1927, and I’m not at all sure I shouldn’t have liked to have been attached to the staff of MOTOR SPORT then, with my present outlook and experience, even if the penalty was that of being in the forties now ! The ears were loaned as follows :—Ballot (YR 3464), George New man ; Frazer-Nash (the Editor’s personal car) ; Alfa-Romeo (trade plates), AlfaRomeo British Sales, Ltd. ; M.G. (—), Morris Garages, Ltd. ; Delage (trade plates), J. Smith & Co. ; Amilcar (YL 89), Boon & Porter, Ltd. ; Mercedes-Benz (YP 5233), British Mercedes-Benz; Excelsior (—), Heyward Automobiles, Ltd. • A.C. (—), A.C. (Acedes), Ltd. ; Sunbeam (UK 3525), Sunbeam Motor Car Co., Ltd. Stutz (trade plates), Warwick Wright, Ltd