Letters from Readers, February 1950

“Sunbeams Between The Wars”

I have read with great interest the article by Messrs. Coombes and Wyer on “Sunbeams Between The Wars” in the December issue.

As at one time I was the owner of a 3-litre twin o.h.c. Sunbeam with a Weyman saloon (No. 24) I can endorse what a remarkable sports car it was.

During the General Strike in 1929 I offered to fetch the French-printed Daily Mail from Dover. A Daily Mail representative accompanied me to London, our route being via Canterbury, Charing, Maidstone, Wrotham, Farningham to London.

From the bottom of Dover Hill to Vauxhall Bridge was covered in 80 minutes exactly, and we had 5 cwt. of newspapers in the back. Where possible we touched 92 m.p.h. The maximum I ever reached was 95 m.p.h. and this was after fitting Delco coil ignition.

My car was not filed with Ki-Gas and the battery ignition made starting easier. The original brakes were servo-shoe with Ferodo; these I had changed to cast-iron linings which were very good indeed but it bit on the noisy side. Later Sunbeams fitted a Dewandre servo with Ferodo linings.

I have always been under the impression that the 3-litre engines were manufactured at the Talbot works in Barlby Road; a Mr. Fenn was the works manager at the time. Mention, I think, should be made of the careful way the underside of the chassis was enclosed and thus streamlined. Tire average petrol consumption was 21 m.p.g. using a 25 per cent. Benzol, 75 per cent, petrol mixture.

Referring to the 16-h.p. models I actually own one today which is in daily use and recently won an award in the Hull to Scarborough Rally. It is of the October, 1922, type, first registered in October. 1930, and was in fact the Olympia Show model of that year.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Noel Hans Hamilton.
West Hartlepool Wing commander

Your articles on the history of the Sunbeam Motor Co. have been most interesting and informative.

Until recently I was the rather proud owner of a 1928 16-h.p. 10 ft. 6¼ in. wheelbase Sunbeam tourer. Considering the extremely large body on this model, the performance was good and the petrol consumption quite exceptional. On a run from London to Port Isaac, Cornwall, last year, 26 m.p.g. was maintained with the car fully loaded. This figure was, of course, attained with the choke at “economy” for the most part, but there was a good proportion of lower gear work towards the end of the journey. Of the suspension and steering there can be no criticism and the cornering and road-holding qualities were excellent. A genuine 70 m.p.h. could be reached and one was able to cruise very comfortably at 35 m.p.h. all day.

I found the only really disappointing feature of the car, as pointed out in the article, to be very odd gear ratios, top gear was good, but the third was too low to be used to advantage, while bottom was low enough to take you up the side of a house.

The final tragedy was that on moving to a new home it was discovered that my dear old “Juggernaut” was too large for his garage and being too impecunious to rent him one of a respectable size, I was forced, though very unwillingly, to dispose of him.

Although I ant too young to remember the golden days of motoring, it seems difficult to believe that the somewhat beetle-like objects of today will ever become immortalised like their vintage ancestors.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Mill Hill, N.W.7. C. J. M. Hull.
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How “Hot-Rods” Are Timed

In a recent issue of Motor Sport I had the opportunity of reading your article entitled “This Hot-Rod Business.” As President of the Southern California Timing Association I would like to clear up several items to which you made reference. As to the book called “California Bill’s Hot-Bod Manual,” I can assure you it is not our Bible for racing out here, it is strictly for beginners. As for its accuracy of facts they were all right two years ago, but to-day are outdated by it long way. You touched on the subject or timing. I would like to explain our timing for you. Basically it is built by our chief timer, J. Otto Crocker of San Diego, California, and is operated by two electronic light cells which can be spaced as wide as a mile and operate very nicely. The watch, made by Mr. Crocker, is a large electric-sweep type with fully automatic clutches, etc. We had it checked at the U.S. Navy laboratory on a 72-hour run and they assured us with a certificate that it is far more accurate than ordinary stop-watches as employed by A.A.A., our official timing body in the U.S.A. We have a standing offer to match any timer at any time under all conditions to prove our timer’s accuracy. So far no one has taken up our challenge.

In regard to the speeds we attain with L-head engines I must admit they are astounding, but never let anyone tell you they are not accurate or authentic. For your information our latest record, 193 m.p.h., one way, at Bonneville, Utah, set up by Fydias and Bachelor, was made possible by a 296-cu. in. Mercury engine developing 231 b.h.p, at 5,100 r. p.m. Incidentally, the gear-ratio used was approximately 2.60, and the tach, reading was 5,400 r.p.m. using 6.00 by 18 tyres. The body was a copy of the M.G. record-breaker, except for engine location, etc. Even our experts here find it hard to believe these speeds. However, we will prove our timer and cars at any time. This same type Mercury engine powered a roadster 1927-model Ford, minus fenders of course, at 152.62 m.p.h. average two ways on El Mirage dry lake course in October, 1949, which was accomplished with 2.94 differential gears again, the r.p.m. above 5,000. Another example is the Curtis sports car about the same size as an XK Jaguar, which, equipped with a 274-cu. in. Mercury engine, averaged 142.51 m.p.h. However, this was on methanol with three-carburetter manifold and its speed on petrol, with a two-carburetter manifold, was only 132 m.p.h. So I really think our boys have developed Ford Mercury-type engines over here to an outstanding degree and should not be denied any glory—which I must admit took ten years of testing to accomplish—for these remarkable feats of amateur engineering.

In regard to what coupés do I must admit they also fool me. However, I have been up to their timed meetings and have actually seen a 1936 Ford coupé, complete with fenders, etc., clock over 130 m.p.h. on a two-way fun, equipped with an engine of the same size as Fydias and Bachelor, 296-cu. in., so I must admit myself the old horse-power and r.p.m. are actually in these Mercury engines and I will wager anyone on the accuracy of our timing. So let’s all admit, not ridicule, that “Hot-Rods” do a very fine job of satisfying the urge for speed found in so many of us. How they compare with some fine European cars I can only judge by what few European cars we have here in the Los Angeles area, mostly M.G.s, except for Tony Lee’s fine collection. We have invited Mr. Lee many times to bring his cars out and only once did he come out with a supercharged Alfa-Romeo which he runs at Indianapolis. We clocked it at 137 m.p.h. This speed shocked us as we were expecting 160 m.p.h. or better; however, I know it could not have been tuned properly. More recently I challenged a Vincent H.R.D. to a go, but instead I got an Ariel Square Four all hotted-up to 128 m.p.h. which I procceded to run with a 214-cu. in. Model B Ford, equipped with a four-port Riley head, B Ford roadster body, which clocked 135 m.p.h. This proved to be an exciting race as both were even till they got up to 99 m.p.h. from 0-10 m.p.h. roll-start. From then the Ford easily outran the motor-cycle, but I must admit if English car owners over here could put up the show your motor-cycles do we would all own English cars instead “Hot-Rods,” but it will have to be proven in competition that Jaguars, etc., can outdice our equipment, known as “L.C+A Hot-Rods.”

I am, Yours. etc.,
Whittier, Akton Miller.

[Who measures and surveys the course, and are English or American measurements taken?—Ed.]

Another Mystery

American speed timing figures are certainly hard to believe, and have been for some years.

I have just been reading your article on “Hot Rods.” A couple of hours previously I had been delving into the Motor for February 21st, 1905, wherein I read that a 90-h.p. Napier had been sent out to America to do battle with the locals at the Daytona Beach speed trials. It succeeded in breaking several local records, including the standing—repeat standing—kilometre in 27.40 sec.—repeat twenty-seven point four—a time which would have earned it seventh f.t.d. at the last Brighton meeting, ahead of Noel Carr’s 2-litre Alta. No one in this country—not Mr. Clutton himself—has a greater enthusiasm than myself for the Edwardian “giant racer”: a type of car which captures the imagination as much as anything in history, but I just cannot believe that a 1904 example, with a maximum of 107 m.p.h. at the very outside, could average 83 m.p.h. over the standing—repeat standing—kilometre.

American figures do take a lot of swallowing.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Banwell, W. A. Taylor.

[We submitted this letter to Mr. A. S. Heal who replies as under.—Ed.]
In answer to your enquiry regarding the performance of the 90-h.p. six-cylinder Napier at Daytona, I cannot throw any light on the question raised by your correspondent about the correctness of the time given for the standing kilometre. In an interview with the Motor (February 21st, 1905) McDonald claimed to have set up six World’s records and one American record, as follows:—

1 Kilo., standing start – 27.4 sec. (World Record)
1 Kilo., flying start – 23 sec. (American Record)
1 Mlle, standing start – 37.4 sec. (World Record)
1 Mile, flying start – 34.4 sec. (World Record)
5 Miles flying start – 3 m. 17 sec. (World Record)
10 Miles, flying start – 6 m. 15 sec. (World Record)
20 Miles, (including 2 minutes controls) – 15 m. 27 sec. (World Record)

The Autocar (February 25th, 1905) confirmed these figures and gave the following speeds in addition to the times:—

1 Kilo., standing start – 81.6 m.p.h.
1 Kilo., flying start – 97.2 m.p.h.
1 Mile, standing start – 96.25 m.p.h.
1 Mile, flying start – 104.65 m.p.h.
5 Miles, – 91.37 m.p.h.
10 Miles, – 96.00 m.p.h.
20 Miles, – 89.21 m.p.h.

The very slight difference between the times for the standing and flying start records (both for the mile and for the kilometre) is very striking. It seems possible that some kind of “rolling start” may have been used.
—Anthony S. Heal.
* * *

Straw Bales!

I have attended the three big Silverstone meetings, the first I witnessed from Maggots Corner, and the others from Stowe Corner, and thus saw the accidents of Ansell, Bolster and St. John Horsfall.

Your correspondent in the December issue, Mr. H. R. Thompson, suggests that the high centre of gravity of the E.R.A.s caused them to overturn on striking the straw bales, whereas several Maseratis which struck them did not.

Might I suggest, however, that the foremost part of an E.R.A., being the front wheels, caused the cars to pivot on their front axles on meeting the bales, for as I saw them they appeared to commence to overturn endwise and not sideways.

In my opinion, should the bales be less than axle high, the cars would be effectively prevented from running off the road and there would be no risk of overturning.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Eltham, M. D. M. Miller.
* * *

Export Query

I have been very interested in the recent controversy in your columns over the relative merits of the M.G. and H.R.G. cars. Out here the H.R.G. has a competition record much better than that of the T.C. series M.G. It would seem, however, that if one wants a good fast touring car suitable for an occasional “dice” then the M.G. is the car, but if one is a serious competitor then the H.R.G. will repay its extra cost.

What I would like to know, however, is how the Morgan 4/4 compares with either of these cars. It has no reputation whatever here. Perhaps one of your readers can enlighten me, as on paper it would appear to at least rival the M.G.

Thanking you very much for your interesting paper.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Victoria, W. Barber.
* * *


For a great many years now I have been governed in my sport, first by the N.C.U., then by the A.C.U., and lastly by the R.A.C.

At one time the N.C.U. were absolutely omnipotent in cycle racing, but I see another body lt.as now sprung up to challenge the right of the old body. This new body came into being with the sole object of breaking a most strictly observed rule—a rule which even thirty years ago was thought to be wrong and against the wishes of the majority.

The A.C.U. seem to be only a subsidiary body to the R.A.C. as recently a permit granted by them was rescinded by the R.A.C.

At the present time it seems to me most clubs are upset with the R.A.C. over such things as competitors’ licences and fees, the granting of competition permits, the publishing of balance sheets, etc., and now the senseless American affair.

In my ignorance I ask, who gave the R.A.C. the controlling rights over motor sport? If not self-appointed, surely the wishes of the governed should be considered.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Frank Pinkney.
Richmond, Yorkshire.
* * *

The B.R.M.

I have read your magazine for a number of years but so far have not ventured to correspond with such a technical journal, but I feel your suggestion for a team of B.R.M. drivers does not do credit to our available man-power.

A glance at the 1949 Grand Prix results reveals “Bira” as our outstanding asset, and although not technically British, his long association with racing and his life in Britain combined with his superb driving makes him eligible. Reg. Parnell and Bob Gerard are equally outstanding, with Peter Whitehead as reserve. May I hasten to explain that I do not wish to belittle Messrs. Rolt, Romaine and Walker, but suggest that aerodrome racing and hill-climbs are not a sufficient yard-stick of ability when one gets into the Ascari, Fangio and Farina class.

We must not let our Scuderia Britannia adopt the “good show, old boy” or “better luck next time” attitude that becomes in time a panacea for all failures. We need the most experienced Grand Prix drivers available to emulate the Alfa-Romeo regularity of successes.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Taunton. H. Wyatt.

[We omitted “Bira” as not strictly a British driver, not because we didn’t think him capable.—Ed.]

It is, I think, of interest to note that the Grand Prix car engine is now being produced in form roughly comparable to the most advanced new engines of the 1939-41 period—that is, as 12-cylinder Vee engines, with overhead camshafts and valves and considerable supercharge.

It will be recalled, however, that the ultimate piston engines produced by Rolls-Royce and Napier were 24-cylinder “H” engines, with sleeve valves.

The increase in the number of cylinders was accounted for by the same fundamental reasons as led to the change from six to eight, to twelve, to sixteen. The “H” type was chosen as the only layout which would keep the engine’s overall dimensions approximately the same.

Sleeve valves were chosen to gain port area, and so improve volumetric efficiency.

I feel it would be of very great interest to your readers if you could publish any informed opinions on the likelihood or otherwise or racing car designers following the same trend.

I am, Your’s, etc.,
Crewe John H. Middleton.
Commander, Royal Navy (retired).

[By now our correspondent will have read the specification of the B.R.M., which uses an almost flat 16 cylinder engine, but poppet valves.—Ed.]
* * *

Vintage Service

I know of three other local Vintagents who do all their motoring in Vintage cars. My wife has a 1922 “11/40” open four-seater Riley and a 1922 “8/18” Talbot two-seater—I just drive the — things—and keep them running. Neither has front brakes and both drive normally with hand brake put on first, especially for cornering Emma (Riley). Sary Jane has a fixed axle with hand brake one end and foot the other. Both are kept to start on the handle, first swing usually, though wife prefers the starter. Neither car has been modified. Emma still has the six-light rear screen. Both were obtained from previous owners who had purchased from the original owners in 1945 and ran them only a few miles before passing them on to me. Such few spares as have been required have been readily obtainable, though I could do with two inner tubes for Emma to fit 705/105 beaded covers at 60 lb. pressure) as two have very slow leaks not yet found. Petrol consumption is reasonable, 25 m.p.g. for Emma and 35 m.p.g. for Sary Jane in town. On long runs nearly 40 m.p.g. has been obtained on Emma and over 50 m.p.g. on Sary Jane.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Mortlake, S.W.14. Stanley D. Wade.
* * *

Improving The H.R.G.

Much having been said and written upon the traditional hardness of H.R.G. suspension, with further comments recently in the road-test reports on the three Monaco team cars, some people might be interested and surprised by the following notes from an effete driver who really detests being bumped, but finds an H.R.G. a sturdy and practical vehicle for everyday use in the country. When new, despite the large-sectioned tyres, my car was as shattering as any in its “springing,” so having completed Malloja HW-Climb, I took firm steps to attend to my creature comforts for home use. After a few experiments, I found that this car handles satisfactorily with all four friction shock-absorbers let right off—really unwound. Tyre pressures are about 15 lb., not more, while the rear springs are always kept well oiled. Driving like this, even on rough country lanes, helped perhaps by the long wheelbase, I find that the H.R.G. now has a surprisingly comfortable ride (if not yet quite up to B.M.W. standards). Moreover, it will still corner quite as fast as one is likely to want to go round any corner in this country, without any sign of roll, bowl or pitch! Another point to which I gave some attention was that strange wander in the steering, of which I have heard several people complain, in these cars. This was merely a case of resetting the front axle to give more castor action. I also took up most of the—to my mind—surplus play by the very simple adjustment in the Marles box. The steering is now excellent and dead accurate up to any speed that this particular car is capable of. I must say, however, that when the car was new and I first took it on to the long straight roads of the Continent last summer, I found that passing other vehicles at high speed was an exceedingly hazardous procedure, as I seemed to require three-quarters of the road to accommodate the steering wander! However, under these conditions it was fairly easy to trace the cause to insufficient self-centring action. Curing this trouble is very simple with these cars, but on English roads, the cause of the trouble might not be so easy to detect.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Nutbourae Common, Betty Haig.
* * *

Riley Economy

I was very interested in your article “Choosing and Tuning a Riley Nine” as I run a 1933 model myself.

I wonder if any of your readers could tell me what increase in fuel consumption I ought to expect when substituting an exhaust cam-shaft for an inlet one and using 30 mm. S.U.s.

My engine does 30-32 m.p.g. on a 7 to 1 compressor ratio and a single 22 mm. Solex.

This small matter I have raised is a very big consideration these days.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Bath. J. F. Scott.
* * *


I have been asked to write and point out that the results of the Wakefield Trophy Race as given in your January issue are not correct. There were two races, the O’Boyle Trophy (handicap), of which the result was:

1st: J. J. Flynn (939-c.c. M.G.), 55.52 m.p.h.
2nd: W. B. Groves (1,250-c.c. M.G.)
3rd: W. Leeper (1,250-c.c. M.G.)

and the Wakefield Trophy (scratch) Race, of which the result was:

1st: A. Powys-Lybbe (2,905-c:c. Alfa-Romeo), 71.82 m.p.h.
2nd: P. Fotheringham-Parker (1,494-c.c. Maserati).
3rd: D. Folland (1,995-c.c. Ferrari).

Plans are afoot for this year’s race on September 6th and it is hoped to make it even more attractive for drivers from Great Britain.

I am, Yours, etc.,
A. Harrison.
The Irish Motor Racing Club.