Veteran - Edwardian - Vintage, February 1977

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A section devoted to old-car matters

Some Rolls-Royce conundrums

The accompanying picture shows a Rolls-Royce which presents a number of conundrums, even, I suggest, to hardened historians. It is a car which Mr. A. D. Sanderson raced at Brooklands during the 1923 season. It seems that this driver first appeared at the Track with a Rolls-Royce in 1921, when he was successful in winning a standing-start kilometre sprint at the Surbiton & Dist. MCC Meeting, running in the racingcar class; his Rolls-Royce covered the distance in 43 sec. It also finished first that day in the Winners’ Handicap, at this predominantly motorcycle event. The car was a tourer, with a roomy but narrow mahogany body, so that the hand-brake was situated outside this door-less shell, although full running-boards carrying tool-trays and a tool-box were fitted and a spare wheel would have been recessed into the ois front mudguard, had it not been removed for the racing, for which purpose the car was equipped with two outsize windscreens of the aero-type. The hood was either concealed or absent, and the Reg. No., should the car still exist, was PB 7508.

Prior to this, Sanderson had driven the car at the BARC Summer Meeting and had done even better, winning the 75-m.p.h. Short Handicap from a Mors driven by no less a rival than Malcolm Campbell, and Oates’ little Lagonda. The Rolls had lapped at 83.42 m.p.h. on that occasion. It came out again for the “75 Long”, improving its lap-speed to 86.17 m.p.h. and, although re-handicapped by 41 sec. on account of its previous victory, it came home in third place, behind the winning Marlborough of T. B. Andre and Eldridge’s scratch Isotta-Fraschini. The s.s. lap had been accomplished at 72.28 m.p.h. So this was a very quick Silver Ghost, at a time when this famous R-R model was silent and reliable but not noticeably anxious to exceed about 70 m.p.h. in normal guide. (I know a “London-Edinburgh” R-R covered a i-mile at 101 m.p.h. in 1911, but it was a fully-streamlined car.)

Promoted to the 100-m.p.h. races at the 1921 August Bank Holiday Brooklands Meeting, Sanderson found his Rolls-Royce on the limit-start in his first race; he was slower away than previously, however, and although he increased his lap-speed to 83.7 m.p.h., was unplaced. Then, in a 90-m.p.h. Handicap he was slower than before and retired. In the “100 Long”, though, he pulled out almost as good a s.s. lap as he had at the Summer Meeting, but again retired, without completing a flying lap. Maybe he was conserving his true form from the eagle-eyes of the handicapping two-some of Ebblewhite and Dutton. Because in the “90 Long” the Rolls-Royce equalled the s.s. lap of its short race and, although not as fast as previously, managed to finish the race.

That seems to have completed Sanderson’s ambitions for 1921. By the 1923 season he was back, with the car seen in our illustration. Assuming it to be the same Rolls-Royce, it now had a crude aluminium two-seater body, a cowled radiator, and an exhaust-pipe running along its n/s flanks. Although the owner was prepared to spend £15 in entry fees at the Whitsun BARC Meeting the car apparently gave trouble, and missed two of its races. But by August it was back on form; indeed, it lapped at 87.38 m.p.h. This did not earn it a place but it must have been doing well over 90 m.p.h., only to drop out of its next engagement. After which Mr. Sanderson and his remarkable Rolls-Royce had presumably had enough, as they are not encountered again.

Now as to the conundrums relating to this R-R. First, remark its engine dimensions. It is well known that the original Silver Ghost or 40/50-11.p. Rolls-Royce had a bore and stroke of 114 x 114 mm., the stroke being increased, after 1909, to 121 mm., with the bore unchanged. This gave respective capacities of 7,036 c.c. and 7,428 c.c. Now Mr. Sanderson repeatedly gave the engine size of his racing Royce as 114 x 119 mm. I have more than once commented on the fact that some Brooklands entrants were apt to be casual when filling-up their entry forms, either because they had no idea of the size of the engines in their racing cars, or had forgotten the vital dimensions and didn’t take official forms very seriously. This, however, hardly fits the case we are considering, because, apart from a Silver Ghost’s dimensions being well known to most people—in 1922 Gerald Summers raced a R-R at the Track which he correctly declared as of 114 x 121 mm.— Sanderson had declared the engine capacity of his car as 7,288 c.c., suggesting that he had done some sums before completing his many entry forms. Did this car, then, have a nonstandard engine? There would surely be no point in reducing the size of a standard R-R engine, apart from which this would have required a new crankshaft? It might have been more easily possible to increase the crank-throws of a pre-1910 engine by 2 1/2 mm.; but there is no reason to believe that this was anything but a 1920 car, at all events as first delivered. Its chassis number was declared on BARC entry forms as 141EE. I have in my possession a letter written to me in 1947 by Mr. W. E. Holmes, of Rolls-Royce Limited’s Factory Sales Department, stating that this number refers to a standard 114 x 121 mm. 1920 Silver Ghost. Here, however, comes an interesting item. Mr. Sanderson declared the engine number of his car to be 141EE also; Rolls-Royce quote it as M53 for car No. 141EE. Does this suggest that the original engine was no longer in the car, by 1921? That is the first conundrum! Incidentally, the car was registered in Surrey, which does not suggest that it emanated from the R-R experimental department, then at Derby.

Of course, these dimensional discrepancies might lust possibly he attributed to Sanderson’s bad hand-writing, if we can bring ourselves to believe chat anyone able to race a 40/50 Rolls-Royce in 1921 would have been without a typewriter, or a secretary. I suppose his 114 x 121, 7,428 could have been misconstrued as 114 x 119, 7,288, especially as the correct bore and stroke dimensions of Mr. Summers’ R-R aforesaid are followed in the BARC programme by a capacity of 7,410 c.c.! (I am prepared to accept the evidence of handwriting experts that this might have been the case.) But improbable, my dear Watson, in view of the fact that whereas Summers probably filled in but one entry form, Sanderson must have completed quite a number. Surely, if Rolls-Royce Ltd. hadn’t noticed the discrepancy, the BARC would have done?

The other conundrums this R-R poses concern its appearance. Why the odd radiator cowl? If this was done at the behest of R-R Ltd., who may not have liked a car of theirs being publicly raced, how many spectators did it fool? Anyway, the race-card disclosed the make, unlike the case of the 40/50-h.p. Napier many years later which was forced to run, by way of disguise it was said, under the name of Auto-Speed-Special, although the makers had not made cars for some years. If the idea was to force more cooling air through the Royce’s honeycomb, one would expect to find a tapering type of cowling. If it was concocted to cause the engine to run warmer, surely a blanking-off plate behind the honeycomb would have been a neater and less-elaborate solution?

Then look at the hand-brake lever! Unless the pieture distorts things, how did the driver reach it? It looks as if the steering-column of the 1920 car was drastically lowered when the new two-seater body was made. This was a popular way at Brooklands of sitting the driver lower, on a standard chassis. But it meant that, unless the pedals were moved back, they became inaccessible, unless built-up with wood-blocks or the like. This is probably what was done on Mr. Sanderson’s car. But he seems to have found it impossible to do anything about changing the original location of the hand-brake—perhaps he only used it for parking, releasing it before taking his seat, and vice versa? And what of the gearlever? But unless the radiator was lowered, or a shallower one used, say from a 1909 R-R, there seems to be nothing gained by lowering the driving position. More conundrums! Any solutions?—W.B.

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