Another remarkable restoration ... of a Veteran racing-car

The Editor Rides with Bill Lake on his 1902 9.2-litre Paris-Vienna Mors

In 1970, MOTOR SPORT devoted considerable space to Philip Mann’s rebuilt 1914 Mercedes, winner of that year’s French Grand Prix, describing it as the restoration of the decade. We are not in the habit of cramming our pages with accounts of any recently restored ancient cars that turn up, preferring to wait until something comes to hand which is worthy of the full-scale treatment. Very definitely the magnificently-restored Mors belonging to Bill Lake is such a car. Not only is it that very rare type, the veteran racing-car (indeed, surely the only fully authentic one of its era in this country) but it is exciting on two outstanding counts, apart from being a desirable car in its own right. First, Mr. Lake re-imported it from America. Secondly, he has done as much of the resuscitation as possible himself, putting in some 2,000 hours in his workshop—and he is an amateur, who is not in the Motor Trade—since work began in 1971.

Long years ago I satisfied some of my youthful enthusiasm for motor racing by reading Charles Jarrott’s famous account of what it was like in very early times, his “Ten Years of Motor Racing”. Even then, there was nothing left resembling the races he described, those epics run from capital to capital across Europe, the primitive cars racing along the never-ending, ruler-straight Continental roads towards the ever-receding horizon, controlled by a masked driver who travelled with the gods in the eyes of lesser mortals, his mechanic crouched beside him, a mile-long plume of white dust trailing behind, as high as the tops of the poplars by which those following frequently had to steer. Such was motor-racing in the veteran age. The cars were as remote by the time I was reading Jarrott, as the contests they took part in and the men who built and drove them. Gilledtube radiators slung low in front of flat louvred bonnets, and behind these just the seats, the slender steering columns, the controls, and piles of tyres strapped on behind. Engines were seen to have tall, separate cylinders surrounded by empirical carburetter and ignition apparatus; it was all so unlike anything seen in later times. Nothing much like it has been encountered by me since, apart from a brief encounter with a 1903 Gordon Bennett Napier before it went to America and a chance to examine a Shuttleworth 1902 de Dietrich with replica racing body.

Then, one brilliantly sunny November morning with the threat of petrol rationing on the placards, I found myself leaving London in an Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV, bound for Sussex and Bill Lake’s charming farmhouse. There we came upon his 1902 Paris-Vienna Mors, looking absolutely immaculate, for all the world as if it had just been released from the factory of the Societe d’Electrical et d’Automobiles Mors in Paris for its initial trial run, Immediately one was transported back to the beginning of the century, to the days of Fournier, Edge, Jarrott, Jenatzy, de Caters, Vanderbilt, in a way that was quite uncanny.

To appreciate the full significance of this early racing-car which Lake has so painstakingly and creditably re-created, the background story must be studied. The first Mors, a twin-cylinder vehicle, appeared in 1896 and was soon followed by a fourcylinder model. So Mors was one of the pioneer automobiles. The company had been well-known long before this for extensive electrical-products production. M. Emile Mors decided to go in for motor racing within a year of getting into production with his cars. He drove a 5 h.p. Mors in the Paris-Dieppe race and from almost that day the Mors challenge to Panhard-Levassor began, although it was some time before it troubled the better-known maker in Lavallois. The year 1899 found Mors abandoning the Benz pattern of motor-car for one of Panhard layout. Racing versions, in which I believe Brasier had a hand, were soon challenging Panhard with a vengeance, for after some good opening sallies Levegh’s Mors vanquished Giradot’s Panhard-Levassor in the Paris-Toulouse-Paris race of 1900. Then, the following year, Henri Fournier won the Paris-Bordeaux and Paris-Berlin for Mors and although Panhard had the upper hand again in 1902, Mors returned to full fame in 1903, by reason of Gabriel’s epic drive in the Paris-Madrid, which he led when all was stopped by horrified authority at Bordeaux. His streamlined 60 h.p. Mors averaged an incredible 65.3 m.p.h. for this disastrous journey, which was a nightmare for many but not for Mors. If that was to be their swan-song, they had nevertheless engraved their name indelibly in the annals of motor racing.

Mors did get into the French team for the 1904 Gordon Bennett race but had retired from the game by 1905. There was a revival of intent by 1908, Mors entering the French GP at the last moment with three 12.8-litre cars, of which two stayed the distance. After this there was financial readjustment which probably accounted for the end of Mors in racing. The Company continued to make high-grade touring cars under M. Citroën’s guidance, which in 1912 tentatively used the Knight-double-sleeve-valve engine and by 1914 had adopted this American type of valve for all models.

It seems that Mors intended to make a return to racing, in the voiturette category, in 1914, but that the war stopped this, as well as most other peaceful pursuits. Afterwards Mors continued the sleeve-valve addiction. But whereas Panhard-Levassor, Peugeot and Voisin contrived to extract quite a useful amount of power from such engines, Mors seemed content to tread the path of simples, souples, silencieuses. This may or may not have had a hand in its ultimate demise in 1925. Production must have been disrupted, however, when the ambitious M. Citroën took over the original Paris factory in 1919 for the purpose of mass-producing cars bearing his name. There was a brief flicker in 1955, when the make which had won the Paris-Madrid turned to making scooters, one of which we illustrated at the time. But otherwise the automotive aspect of Mors was as dead as the meaning sometimes ascribed to its name.

However, it is with Mors in racing that we are here concerned, very much inspired by Lake’s example. The Mors used to win the Paris-Toulouse race in 1900 had been a 24 h.p. of 119 x 165 mm. bore and stroke. The following year the first of the Sixty Mors appeared, with four-cylinder engines of 130 x 190 mm. For 1902 the maximum weight limit of 1,000 kg., plus 7 kg. extra allowance if a magneto was used, was introduced and for this Mors evolved the 140 x 150 mm. 60 h.p, racing-cars, one of which type Lake found in America and praise-worthily had shipped back to this country a return of a famous racing car, if not to the land of its birth, at all events to Europe . . . Jubilations I say . . .!

How this came about is interesting. There was relatively little time for manufacturers to build new cars for the Paris-Vienna race but Mors apparently fielded six of the new Sixties, which was a very fine effort, although supassed by the entry of thirteen Mors in the heavy class of the 1903 Paris-Madrid, for which there was more time to prepare.

The drivers of the 140 x 150 mm. 60s were Baron de Caters who finished 9th at 30.9 m.p.h. for the 615½ miles, Vanderbilt who retired after Belfort, and Fournier, Gabriel, Foxhall-Keene and the Hon. C. S. Rolls, all of whom also dropped out. These placings are for the Heavy Category and Mors failed to live up to their reputation of 1901, for the astonishing new 70 h.p. Panhard-Levassor of Henri Farman won this at 38.4 m.p.h., from Count Zborowski’s Sixty Mercedes, which was chased home by five more Panhards, two 70s and a trio of 40s, after which Edge’s Gordon Bennettwinning Napier led de Caters home. But even the victorious Panhard had been beaten overall, by Marcel Ranault’s astonishing 16 h.p. Renault in the Light Car Class, which averaged 38.9 m.p.h. and beat four 24 h.p. Darracqs to first place.

The new Mors were very fast, however, Fournier’s averaging no less than 71 m.p.h. to Provins, which left the officials’ express train “as if it was standing still”, to quote one report, and covering the 87½ miles to Troyes in 80 minutes, after which a gear shaft broke near Chaumont. Rolls went out at a level crossing very early in the race, having crashed into a tree and written off the car. Foxhall-Keene crashed at about the same spot.

After the race the American millionaire Vanderbilt is thought to have bought one of the 60 h.p. cars and taken it to America. But not before, some five weeks after the race, he had used it to break the Land Speed Record, raising this to 76.02 m.p.h. at Ablis. He thus gained the honour for a petrol car, after the LSR had been held by electric cars and then by a Serpollet steamer since 1898. De Caters, in presumably the Lake car, had previously tied with the Serpollet, with a speed of 75.06 m.p.h. This must have inspired Mors to enter this field themselves, for Fournier’s Paris-Vienna car was given a lowered steering-column, what there was of a road-racing body was removed, the petrol tank was mounted on the .scuttle, smaller sprockets were used, the radiator was lowered, and, very intriguing for 1902, two carburetters were fitted. In November all was ready and, at Dourdan, Fournier did 76.6 m.p.h. Before the year was out however, according to Cyril Posthumus, Augieres, who was apparently a wealthy Paris merchant whom Mors no doubt wished to please, was allowed to borrow the Fournier car and with it, at the same venue, took the LSR to 77.13 m.p.h.

Rolls bought the Fournier Paris-Vienna car, which then had various different bodies fitted, ending up as a touring car and being lost by fire in 1904 while in the service of Lord Manchester. Bill Lake’s car does not have the LSR modifications, but could be the de Caters, Gabriel or Keene’s car. The latter probably stayed in France and evidence points to Lake’s being the Mors raced by de Caters, in the Paris-Vienna. There is a most interesting story to the effect that, in the fateful 1903 Paris-Madrid race, the 1902 60s carried ignition parts in bags inscribed with the numbers of the competing 70s, so that, if they were seen to be in trouble, spares could be thrown out to them! It would be interesting to know whether the 60s did indeed assist any of the other Mors drivers to restart after ignition maladies had brought them to a halt.

It could probably be established if the Lake car was indeed used in the Paris-Madrid if someone can be found who can recall the series of numbers that were stamped on various parts of the cars on scrutineering. His car has the stamp AC-XC on several parts and perhaps our more mature readers can help?

Be that as it may, in the autumn of 1903 the car now owned by Mr. Lake was converted into a tourer and registered at Rouen for road use with the French Reg. No. 670-Z. Around 1920 the car was bought by Bendix, the washing-machine millionaire, and shipped to America. It seems that he had a collection of high-powered cars but that his main interest was to dismantle them, after which he would lose interest in them. It is said that when he sent his mechanic to France to supervise the shipping of the old racer this man was told at the Mors factory that, far from being a touring car, they remembered it having been driven in the Paris-Vienna race some 18 years earlier by de Caters.

When Bendix died Bill Lake lost little time in arranging for the Mors to be sent to him in England. All he could do was to ask that the dismantled parts be mock-assembled, to facilitate transport. This was done, as seen in an accompanying picture, and when the Mors arrived at Southampton Mr. Lake was delighted to discover that whatever else the late owner had neglected, a truly magnificent set of new wooden wheels, exactly copying the original, had been made for the car, the old ones obviously having been too far-gone for the car to be moved about on them in America. The rest, however, was in a sorry state.

Described as “just a runner”, it is doubtful whether the Mors was ever run in America. At all events, it arrived with some -three feet broken off the crankcase, one piston holed hut repaired with a bronze patch(!), most of the rest of the engine and chassis in the same state, and the remnants of the touring body clinging to the delapidated frame. Surprisingly, the rear tyres, which arc 920 x 120s, were usable but Mr. Lake badly needs a replacement pair. As this is a size Dunlop cannot supply he would be very grateful for any suggestions. Almost everything else had to be fabricated or rebuilt, before the breathtaking car we saw before us was again complete.

It is a monumental accomplishment, resulting in as near as possible an authentic example of what must be about the only remaining veteran racing car in original and running condition, certainly in this country, if not in the whole of Europe. Bill Lake acknowledges the good services during the rebuild of Paul Foulkes-Halbard who acted as adviser and progress-chaser, Graham Presley who did the heavy engineering, Dan Bassett who did so much to get the car running, by way of timing and inlet-valve adjustment, Dunlop who supplied new 875 x 105 tyres for the front wheels, and many others.

Now as I have said, she is as resplendent as the day she left the factory over 70 years ago. The engine has the exhaust valves on the n/s and the automatic inlet valves in the cylinder heads. The cylinders are monobloc with wet liners and cast aluminium water jackets. A Mors carburetter on the o/s feeds through a splendid copper manifold, the riser of which branches into four separate pipes. There is a long drop exhaust pipe for each of the four exhaust ports, feeding the usual expansion-box. Ignition is by a Mors lowtension magneto devoid of advance-and-retard, which supplies current to the internal makes-and-breaks within the cylinders, actuated by push-rods on the fl/s. At the front of the aluminium crankcase there is a train of exposed, mangle-like timing gears. New gears had to be made and their generous dimensions remind one of the cost and extent of the rebuild which has been undertaken. From these gears a water pump is driven on the o/s (it is now a pump adapted from one intended for farm machinery) which raises the water up through the block and heads from where gravity draws it from an elaborate copper water-gallery joining the two heads to the tank. A bypass pipe allows some water to drain to the tank via a water jacket round the carburetter. When the touring body was fitted in 1903 the gilled-tubed radiator was replaced by a later Mors radiator and bonnet, so new ones had to be made, the radiator being slung low below the coalscuttle-type bonnet.

Lubrication is by exhaust-pressurised dripfeeds. Steel pistons and round-section, tapering con.-rods are used and the cooling system incorporates a rear-mounted water tank, under the shallow “streamlined” tail of the body which is such a period item, typical of the days of the open-road races. The tank filler-cap has a central steam-vent, so that any escaping water vapour blows away behind and underneath the car.

So there you have a truly primitive but powerful engine, with automatic inlet valves, l.t. Ignition and exhaust-pressure oiling. Yet Mors were advanced for those days, in the use of dash-pot type shock absorbers (missing on the Lake car but to be manufactured later, It is hoped), and a direct-drive top gear (and the boat streamlined bodies of the 1903 “Dauphin” racers).

The chassis is of wood with steel flitch plates, and the steel axles and springs have never seen paint. The drive goes through a cone clutch which is lined with leather mounted on rubber. This is to the original specification—indeed, no relining seems ever to have been required, certainly not since the 1914/18 war. The direct-top gear, to reduce drag, is achieved by arranging the first three speeds with the usual sliding pinions on the primary shaft, this and the layshaft being coupled to bevels on either side of the differential, so that there are two crownwheels-and-pinions. A dog clutch locks the top speed bevel to its shaft to give the direct drive, as shown in an accompanying drawing —another piece of pioneering. Final drive is by side chains, for which new sprockets had to be fabricated.

The exhaust system employs the original 1902 expansion-box and the original piping, except for two sections which had to be renewed, a significant example of veteran longivity. Control of the car is effected by both foot accelerator and hand-throttle, the clutch closing the latter when it is withdrawn. A push-on hand brake operates the back brakes, the pedal the transmission brake, these being of external-contracting type. Incidentally, the foot accelerator was used in 1902, but a veteran precaution was an ignition “kill-switch” on the steering column. The gear-lever has a notched quadrant and reverse is engaged by a smaller, inboard lever. For audible warning of approach there is a backwards-facing bulb-horn; this was originally mounted on the steering wheel but until a suitably-abbreviated one is obtainable this would inconveniently obstruct the driver.

The Mors does not deign to wear mudguards and the riding mechanic sits on the step. While this is both exciting and in keeping with the car’s age, in many cases a second bucket seat was provided, the mechanician only descending to the step when wind-drag had to be drastically reduced for a serious effort, or before jumping down from the car. Originally, the Mors mechanic was given a simple strap to prevent him from falling off, another piece of pioneering! The body was made after very careful study of photographs, on which the entire rebuild was meticulously based, and Bill Lake brushpainted and varnished it himself, in dark blue, and then hand-lined it. This historic heirloom was known as a Type-Z Mors. Its chassis number is Z30003, which seems to make it the third of the six 1902 Sixty racing cars built.

Although the promise shown by Mors in 1901 was lacking in 1902, they fully made up for this by their 1, 2 finish in the 1903 Paris-Madrid. But this was with the 145 x 175 mm. 70 h.p., which do not here concern us. However, if Mors had copied Panhard, they had done so very effectively. Not only did the 40 h.p. Mors win ParisBerlin in 1901 but Fournier also won Paris-Bordeaux, beating the Panhard-Levassor rivals on both occasions, albeit the latter were rated as of 40 h.p. to Mors’ 60 h.p. However, the impact of Mors and Fournier was considerable. The erudite writer “Baladeur” whose very readable “Sideslips” used to grace the pages of MOTOR SPORT, once reflected on what kind of cars he would have bought if he had been ban before his time and had a free choice. In this context he wrote that after the 1901 and 1902 Mors victories “any spoilt millionaire must have begun to think that he no longer wined the best make of car (Panhard)”, and that seeing a fine new Sixty Mors at the Paris Salon in 1902 built for the Hon. C. S. Rolls, “If my money had talked loud enough, the Hon. C. S. Rolls would no doubt have induced the Mors Company to build almost as fine a More for me”. In other words, the Sixty Mors was the Car of the Year in 1902, before the impact of the 1903 Sixty Mercedes.

So that dedicated enthusiast Bill Lake has every reason to feel proud of his car. Apart from its uniqueness, as a veteran racing-car, these Mors proved to be very fast for their day, not only as road-racers but in their ability to do nearly 80 m.p.h. when fullyextended. His car was shown at Penshurst in unfinished touring guise last year and was taken in racing trim on the 1973 Brighton Run, which it completed, although not going very well towards the end. To “tune” four automatic inlet valves and the carburetter with its tortuous inlet manifolding is a difficult assignment.

On the occasion when I was introduced to the old racer she had a fit of the sulks, the clutch slipping and the engine never firing on all four, after a tow-start behind a Ford Transit and much warming up of the inlet riser. But from my seat on the step, when for a short burst she began to fire more evenly and swept up to some 60 m.p.h downhill, the occupants of a Police car in a lay-by preferring to keep their eyes averted, there came a gleaning of what Fournier must have felt like as he aimed for the distant sky-line, Bordeaux, Berlin or Vienna his goal. As each massive cylinder fired with a deep voice the torque thrust at the chassis and the Mors gathered itself up for its next premeditated burst of speed. To those who encounter it, it is truly a monster from another age, an age when races went on for many hundreds of miles over unknown, flintstrewn, dust-hung roads, with no helpful support-vans or first-aid helicopters to minister to the stricken. On this occasion we were not exactly stricken, just down on power. The owner ascribed this to a weak inlet valve soring. I wondered, though, if that story about Mors’ concern over ignition trouble in the Paris-Madrid is true, whether our problems, and the loss of performance during the Brighton Run, might be blamed on the 1.t. igniters, remembering how Roger Collings had cleaned those on his Sixty Mercedes while the rest of his crew took refreshments on our “Gordon Bennett Day” outing last year? But I predict that soon Bill Lake will get all the machinery of this ancient giant functioning properly and then he, and his fortunate friends, well be some of the very few living mortals to know just what it is like to drive a 9-litre veteran racing car in anger . . . especially if it glimpses a Panhard in its way! Indeed, few mortals can remain, if any, who worked on or drove such cars .

Meanwhile, having just completed this enormous rebuild to such a high degree of perfection, is Mr. Lake resting on his laurels, riding or playing golf? Not on your life! He is now well-advanced with his rebuild of a 1908 Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce tourer. He already has in one of the motorhouses which blend with his beautiful Sussex home the immaculate ex.-Tom Rose “Bobtail” 4½ Bentley which made history by losing a Brooklands “Double-Twelve” by a timekeeper’s whisker, among other accomplishments. You can add to these a Barker coupede-Ville Phantom Rolls-Royce with especially nice lines, used for Continental holidays, and a bull-nose Morris tourer, etc. He is also about to finish a racing-bodied, singlecylinder, four-stroke, chain-drive child’s car, for the education and edification of his young son. He is, in addition, itching to get on with a big 1906 poppet-valved Minerva touring-car which once belonged to the Guinness family and which, surprisingly for its year, has twin carburetters. This he bought unseen, on the good advice of a friend. “But”, he says “I think my wife will divorce me unless I let-up for a while”. Probably not, for she is the sister of the person wrom whom he bought his first Bentley. For modern motoring, such as it is, this 100% enthusiast keeps a BMW 2500.—W.B.

Opposite page, top left and top right: The controls and dashboard arrangement of Lake’s 1902 Mors. The other colour-photograph shows the gilled-tube radiator, the exposed timing gears of the 9.2-litre engine, the steering arm, driving chain, gearbox and heavy controls. At the bottom are the off and nearside views of the engine, showing the Mors carburetter, the separate cylinders, low tension ignition apparatus and the automatic inlet vales.