A very interesting lecture, illustrated by lantern slides, was given by Charles Goodacre, ex-Austin racing driver, to the 750 Club on January 5th. Goodacre had a great deal to do with the development of the “works” Austin racing cars and, although he apologised for any errors consequent on having to think back a great many years, his talk was not only extremely interesting, but his replies to technical queries were given concisely and with confidence. We gained the impression that Goodacre enjoyed being reminded of the good old days by the questions, every bit as much as the audience enjoyed his capable lecture.
The Austin Seven, said Mr. Goodacre, was developed by the late Lord Austin to meet the need for a post-Kaiser war economy car, and admittedly the little Peugeot provided the inspiration. That was in 1921 and work proceeded in the billiards-room of Lord Austin’s house, Austin doing almost all the work himself, aided by one draughtsman. At first a flat-twin engine was intended, but was not proceeded with.
The first post-war “works” racing Austin formed the subject of the first slide. It was the two-seater Twenty “Black Maria,” driven at Brooklands by L. Kings, who, Goodacre told us, is still at Longbridge, in charge of road-testing. This car used twin Zenith carburetters, had outrigged rear springs, gave about 70 b.h.p. and weighed about 23 cwt., its whippy chassis making it quite a handful for Kings to bring off the Members’ banking. Goodacre spoke of a lap speed of 104 m.p.h., but “The Story of Brooklands” quotes Scriven’s Austin Twenty as the fastest car of this sort at the Track, with a lap at 94.99 m.p.h.
The next slide showed the original racing Austin Seven, which Goodacre explained had 1-in. dia. crank-pins, 6.8-to-1 compression ratio and two carburetters, giving 23 b.h.p. and 70 to 75 m.p.h. Next he showed us the first supercharged car, lengthened 6 in., with 1 1/4-in. crank-pins, alterations to the gearbox layshaft to give closer gear ratios, and an Austin-Roots blower driven by gears from the front of the crankshaft. This engine ran up to 5,000 r.p.m. and the car, very well streamlined, did about 90 m.p.h. on 50/50 petrol/benzole. The chassis of this car broke, and it was rebuilt with 6-in, instead of 5-in, brake drums, a modification subsequently adopted for the production Seven. The carburetter was a Cox Atmos and the fuel tank was in the tail. Much gasket trouble was experienced.
We were then shown “Mrs. Jo Jo,” which, about the year 1929, gave some 28 b.h.p. unblown. The car, constructed at short notice for Capt. (now Colonel) Arthur Waite when, being out in Australia on a sales-drive, he wished to win the Australian Grand Prix, was shown next. It had a standard chassis, Cozette supercharger blowing at 7 lb./sq. in., a 5 1/2-to-1 compression ratio and 1 5/16-in. crank-pins. The blower ran at engine speed and gave plenty of trouble, but, on 50/50 petrol/benzole, about 28 to 30 b.h.p. was developed, and Waite achieved his ambition of winning the Australian G.P.
This car was virtually the forerunner of the “Ulster,” and two were built, one running at Southport. At Brooklands, using a 14-stud cylinder block, gaskets and plugs gave up the ghost continuously, but it was possible to attain 5,250 r.p.m., after which the blower flew to pieces. That was 80 to 85 m.p.h. on the 4.9-to-1 axle ratio. On the line K.L.G. 244 plugs were put in, but even then to avoid oiling-up was an ever-present problem. Holbrook and Poppe did their best, however.
Goodacre rather glossed over the “Ulster” cars and took us on to a special fabric-bodied car produced for Capt. Waite to use on the Mountain circuit. This had a blower giving 11 lb./sq. in. boost at 6,500 r.p.m. when the engine was doing 5,000 r.p.m., 1 1/2-in, crankpins, and gave 38 b.h.p. The weak point was the off-set transmission, to give lower seating, this being done by moving the banjo case on the axle over 12 in. but keeping a straight torque-tube, an ordinary double-block universal joint taking care of the angularity — or, rather, not taking care of it, because, do what the lubrication experts might, after a very short distance the universal blocks came out looking like cinders.
It was this car which was modified for Malcolm Campbell to take to Daytona, where he did just under 100 m.p.h., hampered by a 4.4-to-1 axle ratio. For publicity purposes a standard radiator was fitted. This car was bought by a keen Argentinian and never heard of again.
In 1930 Lord Austin called for a real racing car, but the budget to cover it was none too large. The top-hat-section frame was retained, but off-set transmission was again used, though with a properly-adapted crown-wheel and pinion. A non-counterbalanced 1 1/2-in, crankshaft was used, and a Roots blower driven vertically from the front of the engine. Brockhouse was the mechanic mainly responsible for preparing these cars. With Solex carburetter and 15 lb./sq. in. boost, 45 b.h.p. was developed. Solid copper gaskets were used with alloy heads, and new water passages and a 28-stud block, using 3/8-in, instead of 5/16-in. studs, was employed, also coil ignition and a three-speed gearbox. A lap speed of 101 m.p.h. was realised and Cushman achieved an official 100 m.p.h. with this car. Later, on methanol, 60 b.h.p. was developed and Mrs. Stewart went for records at Montlhèry. She was successful, but the inter-wheel windboxes fell off and these had to be completely removed and the tail shortened.
From this car were evolved the three “Dutch clog” cars, known to the works as the “rubber ducks.” They were never very successful, were extremely uncomfortable and used 10-gauge steel plate to strengthen the body sides! Lord Austin said they looked horrid and expressed general disappointment. One of these cars went to South Africa and a slide of it was shown, its frontal appearance improved by a “Ruby”-type cowl.
The late Murray Jamieson, from Amherst Villiers, was hired at this time to design a real racing car. His first was a record car — a white well-faired machine — having a blower about 4 in. long, with steel rotors, running at three times engine speed. A 32-stud block, 1 5/8-in. counter-balanced crank and 6.5-to-1 compression-ratio were used and 8,000 r.p.m. was achieved. This car did 122 m.p.h. and formed the basis of a road-racing car, which did 9,500 r.p.m. at 24 lb./sq. in. boost but cracked its blocks like fun.
So to the twin-cam Austins, Jamieson calling in Bill Appleby and Tom Brown to assist in the design. Three of these famous cars were built, and six sets of parts. One was crashed at Backwell and written off, even to the engine, but two are rotting under dust-sheets at Longbridge to this day. Inspired by the Lory Delage, these cars were built almost regardless of cost, and in original trim gave 98 b.h.p. at 7,800 r.p.m. on a fuel composed of 75 per cent. methanol, 15 per cent. ethyl alcohol, 10 per cent. water and 3 c.c. per gallon t.e.l. The crankshaft had 1 3/4-in, crank-pins and ran in roller bearings with a 2 1/2-in, lead-bronze centre bearing; 6.0, 6.8 and 7.5-to-1 compression ratios were used as conditions demanded, and the ultimate road speed was 125 m.p.h., while with a lower boost, higher compression ratio and Brooklands axle-ratio, 126 to 127 m.p.h. was attained, and Goodacre mentioned a lap at 132 m.p.h. on methanol. [The record 750-c.c. lap was set up by an M.G. at 122.4 m.p.h. — Ed.] Jamieson used his own 13-plate friction shock-absorbers and soft suspension. The engines were very smooth and the slightest roughness meant trouble, but the direct-acting cams gave rise to a few headaches.
For Crystal Palace racing the cars were geared low and the engines allowed to rev, their heads off — at Shelsley Walsh the same applied, and the life of the valve heads was then about ten minutes! Goodacre emphasised how futile it is for a private individual to try to race such cars. They not only required a factory backing but the ” know-how ” to arrive at a satisfactory compromise between boost-pressure, compression-ratio and axle-ratio for any given race or event. Thus, high boost and low compression-ratio were called for in sprints, low boost and high compression-ratio for long races, but the exact figures were a matter of accumulated experience.
Of the Crystal Palace circuit Goodacre remarked that it was very slippery and called for no steering castor action of any sort, or you got so tired the car felt like a tractor after a few laps. The twin-cam Austin was admirably suited to this circuit when allowed to rev. drastically.
Goodacre generously concluded his lecture with a slide showing Maclachlan’s well-known single-seater Austin Seven, which, he said, could even beat up the “works” cars on occasion, being 2 1/2 cwt. or so lighter, and which “hasn’t cracked its block yet, no one knows why!” Question time brought out a host of absorbing Austin facts. Goodacre thought the “Le Mans” engine a poor thing; it used a single downdraught carburetter as this was as effective as two carburetters. The “Grasshoppers” had three-bearing cranks with slightly non-standard webs, and the works never broke one. Goodacre adopted War Office springs on his “Le Mans” car and thus were born the “Grasshoppers.” He spoke of 60 or more b.h.p. in trials, and a road maximum of 100 m.p.h., making the cars very tricky to handle and top-gear cars in the truest sense of the word. The interesting point was made that methanol can sometimes aggravate or promote cracking of the cylinder block, due to the cooling effect on the inlet side being excessive. Cozette carburetters were discarded as difficult to clean — they caused starvation to the rear cylinders unless the carburetter was turned through 90 deg. from its original position. Goodacre felt that the two-bearing crank should do all that a three-bearing can do.
Altogether a most interesting evening, greatly enjoyed by all Austin-minded 750-ists.