Veteran Edwardian Vintage, February 1979

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A section devoted to old-car matters

100 mph from 750 c.c.

As I have pointed out in the review of the book “Morgan Sweeps The Board” by Dr. J. D. Alderson and D. M. Rushton (see page 164) a rather interesting situation arises when we come to think in terms of which was the first car – well, vehicles if you like – to officially exceed 100 m.p.h. with an engine of not more than 750 c.c. capacity. Had this question been put to a knowledgeable Motoring-Quiz panel before the publication of the excellent book just referred to, I would be prepared to guess that the answer would have been – MG.

This would be quite correct IF the question had been differently phrased, to ask which 750c.c. four-wheeled car was the first to officially better 100 m.p.h. – the magic “ton” – in Class H. It would have shown that whoever was first out with his or her answer had read of the rather dramatic battle between Austin and MG to achieve this particular record-breaking landmark.

By 1930 the popular 747-c.c. Austin Seven was getting a little old for high-speed work, because its side-valve engine imposed limits to its top speed. But by making good use of supercharging the Austin Motor Co. was hopeful, nevertheless, of an Austin Seven being first to reach 100 m.p.h. in Class H. Cecil Kimber was equally determined that his MG Midget should be the first to set this target. At this time the blown Ulster Austins were still meeting the newer MG Midgets in the long-distance sports-car races, apart from which, at the beginning of the 1930 racing season, 16 Class H records were held by Austin, the remaining eight records in this class being those of de Rovin and Grazide. The fastest record speed in this class (then known as International Class H records but which, for some obscure reason no doubt associated with the modern obsession with top-publicity, would now be called World Class H records, whereas in 1930 only unlimited speeds irrespective of a car’s engine capacity were World’s figures) was 98.57 m.p.h. by Veratier’s Gradzide, over the flying-start 5-kilos, at Montlhery Track, and the quickest of the Austin records stood at 83.93 m.p.h. by Arthur Waite, at Brooklands, with his standing-start 50-kilo record. Late in 1930, however, after he had won the BRDC 500 Mile Race at Brooklands with the Earl of March (now the Duke of Richmond and Gordon), in a stripped supercharged Ulster Austin 7, S. C. H. Davis used the car for record-breaking and after a successful onslaught on long-distance and long-duration records at the Weybridge Track he came out again with a 4-speed single-seater Austin 7 and broke short-distance records, the Class H f.s. kilo record being set to 89.08 m.p.h.

Thus encouraged Austin gave Sir Malcolm Campbell a rather ordinary car to take him to Daytona Beach in America when he went out to run his “Bluebird” for a LSR attack. The f.s. mile was covered by Campbell at 94.03 m.p.h., with the Austin. The battle to be the first 100 m.p.h. four-wheeler was hotting up!

Cecil Kimber was aware of this, and that the Austin Motor Company’s Racing Division was preparing a very special blown side-valve car with off-set propeller-shaft, streamlined rather like Sir Henry Segrave’s 231 m.p.h. “Golden Arrow” LSR car. So he persuaded Capt. George Fyston to stop playing about with a Ratier and a short-stroke Riley Nine and to concentrate on 750 c.c. record-breaking with an MG. Eystop’s partner, Ernest Eldridge, thought a year would be lost in trying to better the Austin’s performance unless a supercharged engine was used, in spite of the MG engine having an overhead-camshaft against the Austin’s side-valves, to which Sir Herbert Austin was tied at that time for publicity purposes, as his production engines were of this kind.

Eyston was responsible for the Powerplus supercharger, so one of these was adapted to an M-type MG engine, installed in a special single-seater record car, EX120. Eyston took the class mile-record to 94.03 m.p.h. but, using another engine etc., could not at first make the MG exceed a timed speed of 97.07 m.p.h. But after the radiator had been crudely cowled he went out again, at Montlhery Track, and in a nasty cross-wind, was successful in achieving Kimber’s hoped-for target, because the four short-distance records had been broken, the fastest of them the f.s. 5-kilo record at 103.13 m.p.h. The date was February 16th, 1931….

As Wilson McComb has said in his book “The Story of the MG Sports Car”, a great celebration took place at Abingdon, where the MGs were made, a nice gesture being invitations sent to the Austin drivers. One of these drivers was called Chaplin and this got around to be Charlie Chaplin, so the streets were crowded in consequence…. It mattered not that Austin, with their special racer, soon broke the MG’s slower Class H f.s. kilo and mile records, at Brooklands, also at over 100 m.p.h. or that later the Viscount Ridley set the International Class H f.s mile record to 105.42 m.p.h., also at Brooklands (so that this was also a British class record), with his twin-cam Ridley Special. What Cecil Kimber had been after was the honour of having the first 750-c.c. car to exceed 100 m.p.h….

All well and good, until we read in that Morgan history that Gwenda Stewart had done 100.65 m.p.h. on August 31st 1930, at Montlhery, in a Class J Morgan 3-wheeler, that is to say one with an engine not exceeding 750 c.c. The joint authors, in the aforesaid Morgan book, explain that Mrs. Stewart and her engineer, Douglas Hawkes, had taken their two-seater 731 c.c. Morgan to Arpajon, a public road near Paris closed for record-breaking, and had covered the f.s. kilo at 99.11 m.p.h. on a drive rendered hectic by the camber of the road. Not satisfied, although she had courageously achieved 115.66 m.p.h. in her 1,096 c.c. Morgan single-seater, the pair returned to Montlhery and with the small engine in the single-seater Morgan (built for them by the Morgan Company at Malvern), Gwenda was timed at 100.64 m.p.h. for the flying 5-kilos. So a 750-c.c. cyclecar, never mind a car, had reached the magic “ton” in the 750-c.c. class, 5½ months before Eyston’s 100 m.p.h. -plus in the MG!

I have not checked whether the Morgan’s record was official, but I have no reason to think otherwise. It is listed at the back of the Alderson/Rushton book with others in Class J and it was timed over the 5-kilos used frequently at Montlhery, as this distance had been for the MG’s quickest record in February 1931. A little confusion is caused because the authors have listed Mrs. Stewart’s record as done in the “with passenger” class, but this was a distinction dropped by 1930, I think. They also quote the engine-size in the text of their book as 731 c.c. and in the table as 741 c.c. and between text and table the speed of the record varies, but only by 0.01 of a m.p.h. There is some confusion, anyway, between engines of 728, 731 and 741 c.c. quoted as being used by the Stewart/Hawkes equipe at this time, in their record-breaking Morgan. I feel certain, however, that their over-100 m.p.h. speed of 1930 was officially timed….

The reason that it passed unnoticed as motoring writers and journalists proclaimed the Great Austin/MG 750-c.c. battle to first exceed 100 m.p.h. is because cyclecar records were the concern of the Auto-Cycle Union, car records in this country of the Royal Automobile Club. Anyway, it didn’t matter a damn to Lord Austin or Cecil Kimber, because they were concerned only with publicising four-wheeled cars. But I am sorry that Mrs. Stewart and her future husband do not seem to have been invited to the Abingdon celebration party….

Because you see, their Morgan 100 m.p.h. record is pretty significant, technically, even allowing for the lower drag(?) of the three-wheeler. Whereas the Austin was using a 15 lb/sq. in. boost and the MG was probably supercharged at an even higher boost for their 100-m.p.h. bids, it seems that the Morgan had an engine devoid of this helpful supercharge…. So it seems to have been a normally-aspirated vee-twin against a blown four-cylinder 54 x 81 mm. (743 c.c.) MG, running at engine speeds of 6,500 to 7,000 r.p.m., which rather diminishes Wilson McComb’s description of the latter’s performance as an “impact that can hardly be imagined nowadays … it was tremendous.” Aside from the variations in its quoted capacity, what I think it must have been was a 74 x 85 mm. 731 c.c. vee-twin JAP of the kind that G. E. Tottey is said to have built up for himself during the winter of 1924, out of five different JAP engines available to him at the JAP works at Tottenham, and which he used to good effect in his Omega three-wheeler when setting class-records in 1926. Others to use this excellent JAP engine were J. J. Hall in his Morgan, Teddy Prestwich of JAP’s having fitted it himself, Robin Jackson for his Morgan record-breaking three-wheeler, Kaye Don, who had a water-cooled version tuned by Bert Le Vack in the four-wheeled Avon-JAP racing cyclecar, and Harold Beart, for his very special Morgan three-wheeler, later raced with this engine by Cecil Jay.

Thus does one come upon interesting facets, when delving into the motoring past. – W. B.

V-E-V Miscellany. – An MG Magnette NA, rebuilt to NE specification, which went to Germany some ten years ago, is believed to be the car that Freddie Thatcher raced at Brooklands and the present owner would like information about it. Edward Eves has bought the ex-Ken Roberts side-valve Anzani Super Sports Frazer Nash. The ex-Forrest Lycett 1913 Alfonso Hispano Suiza, used after WW2 by the Editor of Motor Sport, is said to be running well in Germany. In this year’s MCC Exeter trial, postponed because of snow until January 26th/27th, vintage cars were fairly prolific. Tom Threlfall entered again with his Model-A Ford saloon and Sue Halkyard’s Austin 7 Chummy, a J2 MG Midget, two Singer Le Mans, an MG PA “Cream Cracker”, a 1934 Austin 10/4, Ellison’s 1938 Riley 12/4, an Austin Nippy, an Austin Big Seven, a 1933 J2 MG, and several other pre-war MG Midgets, were among the entries, including an MG TA “Cream Cracker”. The MCC Land’s End Trial will take place on April 13th/14th. Magazine. No. 1978C of the Austin Seven Club’s Association contained a long article about the Austin Sevens raced by the late E. C. Gordon England. Congratulations to S. C. H. Davis, who was 92 last January. A retired chauffeur, aged 90, who used to drive John Boot, the second Lord Trent, is recalled in Boots News as having been in charge of Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Daimler, Packard and Renault 45 cars, etc. The Mercedes-Benz Club Gazette has suggested that Count Zborowski’s Chitty-Bang-Bang 1 was buried in the Sahara desert and has associated this with W. Boddy’s “History of Brooklands Motor Course”, which is ridiculous. We regret to have to report the death of C. M. Simpson, for many years Chief Engineer of the Daimler Co. and responsible for many of its ‘bus chassis in later times.

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