M. E. Nixon describes an interesting and potent hybrid and ponders its possibilities.
This car was bought in January, 1942, and had been laid up for some time previously. It was sent to a firm in London for a few minor adjustments, mainly with a view to obtaining extra leg room, as the cockpit was rather cramped. Also the engine and fuel-feed system were to have been checked over. However, this was not done, with the result that as soon as the car was collected trouble with magneto (very soon cured by Scintilla’s) and with the fuel system became apparent. In view of this, and the fact that my aunt offered me the loan of an Austin Big Seven for the duration, it was decided to lay up the Atalanta in June and strip it for post-war reconstruction, incorporating some ideas of my own.
The chassis and body are that of the 9 ft. wheelbase 1.5 or 2-litre 3-seater drophead coupe Atalanta, of which a 1,650 c.c. version was road-tested by The Light Car in April, 1939, when a speed of 88 m.p.h. was recorded. General dimensions are wheelbase 9 ft., track 4 ft. 5 in. front, 4 ft. 6 in. rear. Overall length 13 ft. 6 in., width 5 ft. 3 ins., height 4 ft. 6 in., radiator height 37 in., weight 23 cwt. approx. Suspension is independent all round on the trailing link principle with horizontal coil springs lying inside the main frame members at the rear and vertical coil springs at the front. Damping is by Andre telecontrolled shock absorbers at the rear and Armstrong hydraulics at the front, but this arrangement may be changed over, as it seems to me to be a more practical idea to have the softer action at the rear and to control the front. Steering is by a divided track rod and is a very nice lay-out. The frame is the normal type of channel-section with cross-bracing and tubular cross members. Aft of the rear suspension pick-up fittings the section is very much reduced, to save weight, but as the shock absorbers have been mounted on this portion of the chassis the general effect has been to add another undamped spring on each side and to whip the body about.
The engine is one of the 3-litre Talbot racing units of the “105” type that was so successful in such events as the “Double Twelve” and “500.” It originally had dynamotor starting, but a normal-type starter has been added, although as this is very noisy I hope to discard it. The “105” Talbot engine must be familiar to most readers, so I will not describe it in detail. This particular example has three S.U. carburetters which face slightly forward, and have a rather ingenious combined balance pipe and butterfly control. I am not sure about retaining these as, although they are more efficient than a single carburetter, maintenance is more tricky, and I really want this car as a fast touring car as opposed to one tuned for absolute performance. Bonnet space may prevent the fitting of the old downdraught Zenith, however. The gearbox was a 3-speed American box with Warner dual overdrive, which was very pleasant for main road work, but I intend to revert to the older type of Wilson preselector gearbox.
The body is a 2/3-seater drophead coupe by Abbott, in which the third seat is crosswise behind the other two. It is a very comfortable body, but unfortunately the head does not drop right away.
The impressions I gathered from running the car were as follows: The Suspension is remarkably good, although somewhat noisy. Rough surfaces can be taken at speed without discomfort and with the car under complete control. Owing to heavy Army lorries having driven up it, our drive is so badly potholed that normally-sprung cars, even of the town carriage type, such as a Wolseley “Super Six,” are reduced to a crawl; in the Atalanta speed is maintained and no shocks are experienced, but a bumping noise is apparent from the rear. I hope that a rubber block between the coil spring and the chassis will cure this. Cornering is really excellent, as although there is a slight roll, cornering on a good road is as fast as in a T-type M.G. Midget, although I was unfamiliar with the Atalanta and had the T-type taped. Over rough surfaces cornering is very much better than with any normally-suspended car. I thought that the 3-speed and dual overdrive box was rather a failure for two reasons: (1) The ratios were too wide for the engine; and (2) with the automatic engaging and disengaging of the high ratio it was a bit difficult to tell what gear actually was engaged. This type of box is very nice and easy for main road, top-gear work, but does not give sufficient feel for cornering and country lanes. This was my only fundamental complaint. The free wheel and slow gear change did not give that absolute accuracy of control so essential if fast cornering is the order of the day.
This snag of gear changing spoilt the engine and gave a very false impression of lack of flexibility, as the engine is surprisingly flexible even on Pool, and starting was normally very good.
I am at present in the throes of dismantling the car and now have the body off and the front suspension partially stripped. A number of points has come to light, notably that the engine and gearbox installation is very much of a “lash-up”—as this was carried out in America it is no reflection on the standard Atalanta. Another feature is that the suspension incorporates a number of h.t. steel bolts running direct in R.R.56 alloy links. I hope to be able to replace these with hard chromed bolts and bronze bushes. The bushes will be necessary in any case owing to the wear, and steel in bronze is not a good idea when road grit is present. I hope to be able to have the engine reconditioned, and would really like to sleeve it and chrome the crankshaft. Also I think that lead-bronze bearings would be a help. I intend to fit one of the original Wilson preselector gearboxes and generally to restore the engine to the form in which it was so successful in the Talbot chassis.
On the chassis side I want to improve shock absorbers, suspension, details and also to stiffen up the chassis all round. I should like to incorporate an under-shield as it has always annoyed me to see the mud which collects inside the chassis of a car. With a small ground clearance (i.e., 6 to 8 in.) I do not consider that the air flow is sufficient to give any aerodynamic benefit, although this point is worthy of study, as air flow under a car should be discouraged, partly due to high interference drag and partly due to the danger of pressure build-up under the car, and consequent loss of wheel adhesion. There are a number of minor points which require attention, such as improved brake drum securing bolts, etc.
The brakes themselves are Lockheed, working in 16-in. Elektron drums with liners.
The bodywork is very satisfactory, although I hope to be able to fair-in the headlamps at the front and to make the sweep of the tail more gradual, enclosing such details as number plates, tail lamps, etc. I should also like to incorporate a fully concealed drophead, as the existing head is rather unsightly when furled. In conclusion, although it is now apparent that the car is not as the previous owner claimed, a possible contender for “fastest sports car” honours, it should be possible to make it into a really fast touring car, which will enable me to go places in speed, comfort and reliability. It should fulfil my motoring requirements for an everyday car for home-to-office travel along country lanes, a touring car for evening trips in the country, a fast car for travelling long distances in a short week-end, and should enable me to compete in such events as the “Exeter,” Scottish Six-days, and perhaps a few club meetings at Donington, etc., without dishonour, if also without distinction. In fact, I’m trying to make it a substitute for a Type 57SC Bugatti.
Having inflicted so much of my ego upon you, I might as well add a few general remarks. I like a small car because I do a great deal of motoring along twisting roads and find a small car easier to handle. In order to get road holding all-independent suspension is really necessary if comfort is not to he sacrificed, although for a production job a simple i.f.s. with well-damped normal rear suspension seems to be the best compromise. A large engine is essential unless the car is frequently changed, as a small-engined car has always to be driven with engine life perpetually in mind. For speed trials and trials work a car of the “Grasshopper” Austin type is definitely the best. I cannot see any fun in driving a glorified farm tractor or motor-lorry up Shelsley or Red Roads. On the question of speed from the Atalanta, the 1,050 c.c. car gave 88 m.p.h. with 82 b.h.p. 140 b.h.p. has been quoted for the Talbot engine equal to a speed of about 115 m.p.h. With the existing back axle ratio I am hoping to get, about 110 m.p.h., at which speed the engine should be doing some 4,700 r.p.m. The extra 300 r.p.m. needed to give 117 m.p.h. would only be achieved super-tuning and I don’t want to try this. In any case, I feel that these performance figures would depend on improving the airflow by fairing-in such items as head lamp, etc., on the lines of the ex-Craig Type 57 Bugatti coupe