Last May we published a news-letter from R. A. D. Hood, of the Royal Australian Air Force. Below we print a similar letter from his friend R. Beal Pritchett, of Neutral Bay, N.S.W., in which he tells of the real enthusiasm which exists in Australia and enlarges on some of the interesting cars previously referred to by Hood.—Ed.
I was very excited to see in your last issue but one a letter from R. A. D. Hood, of Victoria. He and I met through your paper, he being inspired to write to me when he was stationed in N.S.W. through seeing my last letter in your correspondence columns, and many were our meetings over noggins of (unhappily-rationed) nut brown. It was great to come into contact with another whose views are so much in accord with my own about such desecrations as Ford V8 motors in chassis such as Frazer-Nash, Ballot, Bugatti, etc., a habit to which the racing fraternity out here is so disgustingly prone.
Then the latest issue to reach me was absolutely super; I refer to the one in which the Lancia, ‘Nash and supercharged Riley “Gamecock” are featured. It has gone out on the rounds of the “Scuderia.”
A more detailed review of our Scuderia might not be out of place, if you can bear the infliction on your limited space. First must come the Frazer-Nash. This has had quite a varied existence, starting life as a 3-speed Anzani-engined job. While in England its owner, Alex. Mackinnon, fitted it with an A.C. Six engine (by the way, he claims to have originated this cult), and in this form, with three carburetters, it lapped the Track at 95 m.p.h. against the clock. He then brought it out here, partly with the idea of competing in the proposed Round Australia race, which was abandoned for lack of public enthusiasm in this Philistine of countries.
Once here, having paid an entrance duty roughly equal to the value of the car, a body was slung together with very limited facilities, and she has done yeoman service since, having been lately fitted with four speeds; a blower is awaiting installation when more favourable times come. It is, perhaps, the most attractive car I have known, and I cannot understand those chaps who decry the ‘Nash because it isn’t “pansy” in traffic. Many more capable than myself have sung the praises of the Frazer-Nash, so I will just subscribe myself as another devotee.
Next must come the “30/98” Vauxhall. It is just an ordinary representative of the marque, perhaps in better condition than some, having only about 40,000 miles to its credit, and has the usual Vauxhall characteristics of exhilarating performance in top gear, brakes made up of Christian Science and string, and an enlivening tendency to wag its tail when it is happy. Unfortunately, we have not had a chance to get to know it properly yet, propulsive fluid being rather scarce.
Its predecessor, another O.E, was with us for only a short time before some enthusiast bagged it, but was not such a good example as the present one; for one thing it positively galloped through the gas, and, for another, it had high-pressure tyres and absolutely Tarzan steering. By the way, the previous owner of the present Vauxhall also had a Bentley “Red Label” boat-tail 2-seater, and, I believe, one of the three N.S.W. 3-litre twin o.h. camshaft Sunbeams. He also had an interesting penchant for painting the bonnets of his cars black—a point which has given us cause for much amused speculation.
Then there is the Aston-Martin. In one never-to-be-forgotten week in the year 1940. no fewer than three people approached us with a request for good homes for their cars, the others having a 2-litre Lea-Francis and a modified Brescia Bugatti, They were all, needless to say, welcomed with open arms. The Aston is a side-valve clover-leaf with fabric body distinct from the bonnet, very similar to the one you illustrated last year, except that it has front wings which sweep back to the running hoards and two spare wheels at the back. Its road manners are well-nigh perfect within the rather limited performance of which it is capable, about 65 m.p.h. being its limit. The engine has been flogged rather too drastically, and for some time now we have been toying with the idea of a nicely-tuned Alvis “12/50” engine, which should make it quite an interesting car. I have no doubt that the road-holding and brakes are capable of dealing with the increased performance, and Mackinnon is the acknowledged Alvis king of the Southern Hemisphere, of which more anon.
Next, I think, the Frontenac Ford. The motor in this was originally from an old T-model truck, and had probably been to the moon and back before it ever thought of going fast. Then it was seized upon by one “Spanner” Matthews, and treated to an 8-valve push-rod head and various other surgery, finally emerging as a very sawn-off 2-seater. One of its features was a 2-speed Ruxtell differential, giving four very potent ratio combinations. Memory fades, alas, except of the gentle hissing noise which the handbrake produced from thimble-size rear drums and the horrible burning smell the footbrake aroused from the transmission, if one were injudicious enough to use it; also the very ingenious bracing of the cycle-type front wings—they never rattled or worked loose. It has departed the fold a year or more now, but we hear that in a fit of petulant nostalgia it broke the arm of its new owner while he was trying to start it. It had practically no flywheel and certainly no starter, except the “Armstrong.”
An inspiring sight and sound used to be the Siz. and the ‘Nash dicing our local circuit, with thunderous bellowings from the Siz. and wasp-like rasps from the ‘Nash as another ratio was found. Since petrol rationing, our neighbours have just lately started to talk to us again. Funny, isn’t it!
The Leaf was quite interesting; a long-chassis sports tourer, rather too heavy to be spectacular, and with a distressing tendency to eat its differential. After it had done this once or twice, someone approached us with honeyed words and bags of gold, and he now has a Meadows twin-o.h.c. 6-cylinder 2-litre engine for his special (i.f.s. and de Dion back axle), and we had, until lately, a Leaf chassis complete except for power unit. It was the packet of cigarettes he offered that turned the scale. . . .
The Bugatti, which I described in my last letter, was bought as an act of ingratiation by one who had fallen from grace — from a Singer Le Mans he descended by way of a Willys 15-h.p. saloon to a perambulating jelly fish known as a Chrysler. He seemed to have recaptured his youthful zest for a while, but was rather at sea after a couple of years of sticking the cog handle in top and leaving it there; also he was softened by the same period of really adequate weather protection, so the Bugatti went to a more appreciative owner who, until moved to a battle station, was to be seen in all weathers (and heard) galloping around between 3,500 and 5,000 r.p.m. in anything but top gear.
I might add that there is still hope for our friend; we have recently wheedled him into buying a really fine “105” Talbot, with Van den Plas touring body.
We are contemplating the acquisition of a T.T. M.G. Magnette which has been raced with quite a lot of success by J. A. Barraclough. It is a beautiful car, with Wilson ratio chest, and the owner is quite reasonable in his demands; when the present insanity is over quite a lot of dicing could be had to the great edification of all concerned.
By the way, contributors to your paper seem to take a decidedly distorted view of midget car racing. I admit that I used to take a dim view of it myself, but found that it has many good points. Of course, we are handicapped out here by the fact that serious meetings are few and far between, and the doodle racing at least makes a noise like the real stuff; also it is probably not as much commercialised here as your remarks would indicate. Most drivers build their own cars, making up the frames from Ford T and A parts. which have the advantages of being light, strong and plentiful. The suspensions tend to be stereotyped, most going for transverse elliptics with radius arms and transverse torque links: others have two semi-elliptics in front and transverse at the rear, while a few have had great success with Frazer-Nash type front suspension. Engines are rather commonplace, Ford A and Continental 4 cylinders being favourites—they carry quite a lot of tune and are very reliable- although there is a Riley (English, not American), a “Sebastian” Salmson, a complete factory-built midget with Offenhauser 1,500 c.c. twin o.h.e. engine, and our Alvis “12/50,”
The Alvis has been developed over a few years; it started life with a sidevalve “12/40” engine. Then an o.h.v. block was fitted to the original base, a small-port head and high-compression pistons giving an appreciable improvement. In original form and with the “12/50” block, at first twin S.U.s from Morris bullnoses were used, then a chance came to acquire the remains of the blower AIvis mentioned several times by you and owned here by Les. Bullen. The interesting parts of this comprised the block, crankcase, 1,500 c.c. crankshaft, high-tensile I-section rods, lightened valve gear, etc.—the bronze head was snapped up by some other enthusiast, alas.
From the rapidly increasing store of bits we assembled a motor, still using the two S.U.s, and the car ran with some success, collecting the point score trophy for that year. Then the man who bought the head (who had been gloating over us on every possible occasion) eventually submitted to our blandishments and surrendered it to us. Now our fun began. This head is of lead-bronze, a very clean casting, and has the largest ports ever known to man, carefully polished, apparently with Brasso. While the engine was stripped for its reception we also got to work on the camshaft, and gave it something nearer to our conception of good form. New valves and springs were also fitted and a double oil pump (originally the blower Alvis had dry-sump lubrication), and she was ready for try-out. The two S.U.s were still in use at that time, and the performance was unproved to such an extent that the limit of road-holding was in sight.
Our quest for more power led to the importing from the States of a downdraught carburetter, but in the meantime I sacrificed the downdraught S.U. which I had rifled from the family Morris Twenty-five for my Crossley.
Strangely enough, it suited the Alvis without much change of needle; we emeried it a bit in the middle opening and it worked without a fault, doubtless due to the high alcohol content of the fuel.
The carburetter from the States arrived and was tried and found wanting, so we made enquiries through our extensive network of spies, and were able to get hold of a large Solex, which had been raced in an Alvis “12/50” some 15 years ago at Maroubra. This was fitted, and by now the car was being driven at the absolute edge of its road-holding, so a period of intense development took place in the suspension department. Another distraction arrived, however; while the new gasworks was being experimented with the engine started eating the plugs in No. 3 cylinder with monotonous regularity, which led to fatigue, Alvis then getting sick of No. 3 rod, which she threw away, with rather unhappy results for the base, still the original from the s.v. engine. Nevertheless, the point score trophy was carried off for the second successive year. Anyhow, we had at that time, I think, three complete o.h.v. engines, four bases, a big-port head and three spare cranks and two gearboxes, so another engine was assembled.
Just as things got really cracking again, however, our precarious supply of fuel was cut off and racing was discontinued for the duration.
There are lots more. The blower f.w.d. Alvis we prepared for Bathurst, that year Peter Whitehead was here, and the E.R.A. lapped a quite rapid Austin twice in one lap; in the early morning the Alvis was gonged while doing 95 m.p.h. on the approach to the town, the Frazer-Nash not far behind. “Alvis” said to the man-in-blue, “but I’m just running in new pistons and can’t exceed 35” – and got away with it !
Of course, there is my “20/70” Crossley, which I bought for £47. When I got it home I started, to replace the fabric universals in the propeller shaft, and finished up by stripping the car to the last nut and bolt, with many tears for the neglect she had suffered. Finally, after about a year’s intensive week-end work, I got everything clean and together again—yes, everything! At that time I was quite inexperienced in major overhaul, and the great day came when I renewed the registration and proudly drove her on the road, very cautiously at first.
The gasworks was Zenith triple diffuser, an invention of the devil. We were fortunate then in living right at the top of a long hill, but several times I very nearly ran out of hill before I could coax her to start, so my father being about to get rid of his Morris, I did a deal with him for the downdraught S.U., fitting a Stromberg off a Ford V8 in its stead.
Starting and performance generally improved out of sight, albeit I had to replace the Autovac with a pressure pump to the tank. All in the tradition, however, as was the complete lack of hood! She would do about 75 m.p.h. and averaged 22 m.p.g., which was quite good, I thought. Then, one morning, I was deliberately savaged by a milk cart, bending myself somewhat and the car not a little. When I came out, of hospital I was taken in hand by a young woman, who thought that the reconstruction of wrecked Crossleys was not a fit occupation, and after a sad look at the mess and an even sadder exploration of my pocket, I agreed with her, so we got married and have lived happily ever since. Soon, however, the germ of enthusiasm began a tender regrowth, and when we were offered a complete, though not assembled, Mercedes, we were observed to froth slightly at the mouth and strain gently at the leash.
My share will be, when the pocket shows recovery, the engine, radiator, gearbox and back axle, which will go complete into the Crossley chassis. With this machinery came a beautiful instruction book, translated from the original German into English by a German. Talk about gems of phraseology!
Anyhow, the engine is an o.h.c. 9-cylinder, just under 4 litres, with driver-controlled “Kompressor” in the real Merc. style; the book says it will unstable 100 neddies without, 140 with, the blower. The book also says the car will travel with complete smoothness from 90 r.p.m. to its maximum of above 3,000 r.p.m.!
The Crossley “20/70” engine was 4-cylinder side-valve of very straightforward design; the “cog-trunk,” as you observed in your road test, takes knowing. It has f.w.b., with 15-in. finned drums with steel liners (very effective at any speed), the lightest steering I’ve met (1.75 turns lock to lock), 19″ x 6.00″ Rudge wheels on 80-mm. hubs, immense roadholding owing to a 10 ft. 6 in. wheelbase and 4 ft. 8 in. track—in short, I’m looking forward to the time when I can get it on the road with the new engine installed. Keep Motor Sport going; it’s all that keeps us alive these dull days.
I am, Yours etc.,
New South Wales. R. Beal Pritchett. October, 1942.