After writing an article on a subject which should be, or could be, comprehensive, one is apt to wake up screaming in the night, as omissions are remembered. But last month’s light-hearted discourse on some of the so-called sports cars of the vintage period that were more sporting in appearance and name than in ability and performance wasn’t in that category. However, over the Christmas holiday break I was able to reflect on whether I had been more unfair to some of the cars I mentioned than to others, and to check up generally.
It is not now my intention to include additional “bogus” models but there are two I suppose I should have included. Having referred to the sporting-bodied Fiat 501 I might have mentioned that there was also an alleged sports-version of the later overhead-camshaft 990 c.c. Fiat 509. It hardly deserved the description given to this pointed-tail two-seater, recollecting how the one driven by Eric Longden in the 1926 Junior Car Club’s 200 Mile Race showed up (or didn’t show up) before ending its tour with gearbox failure. Perhaps that is unfair, because it was up against racing Amilcars and Salmsons (and 23 laps in arrears of them!) and consultation of Michael Sedgwick’s book on Fiat shows that some of these sports-model 509s gave as much as 30 b.h.p., or 10 b.h.p. more than the original model, and that many later-to-become-famous Italian racing drivers gained important class-wins with them — but to Italians the urge to race is ever-present and they manage to make the most insignificant of motor-cars hum along. Which is what the Fiat 509S did, but a 6. to 1 axle ratio restricted its speed to a screaming 57 m.p.h., according to Michael, which rather made a mockery of its wire wheels, flared mudguards and a vee-windscreen . . .
The other car I might have mentioned was the twin-cam edition of the tiny 7/17 h.p. Peugeot. I suppose it can be said that the French have as much flair for speed as the Italians. At any rate, even the minute Peugeot Quad appeared as a Grand Sport model and by 1926 you could have a 5 c.v. Peugeot voiturette de sport with quite a long “GP” tail and flared front mudwings, which Rene Ballau illustrates in his great book on this great make. But I can find no evidence that its 720 c.c. engine was tuned in any way. I had to turn to another splendid book on Peugeot, that by Pierrre Dumont, to find any reference to the twin-cam Type 172, and then only a brief one. (Both these magnificent histories are available front Albion Scott Ltd.) It seems that Lurani had a 746 c.c. version in 1925 that gave 20 b.h.p. at 5.600 r.p.m. and would march at nearly 70 m.p.h. and a 7/17 h.p. Peugeot with the twin-cam engine, said to poke out 40 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., was due to come to Brooklands that year. As it never showed up, the English had no means of assessing its pace.
Another elusive sporting light-car that could hare been said to be in the “bogus” category by those who bought one, mistakenly expecting a sparkling performance, was the 11.4 h.p. skiff-bodied Citroën. So elusive, indeed, was it that it has been largely forgotten. I wanted to use a photograph of it with last month’s article. But even Citroën’s PR Department at Slough has apparently never heard of it, because they sent us pictures of the 5cv two-seater and it was only by much last-minute skullduggery at the printer’s that I was able to get the incorrect pictures changed, for one of a boat-bodied 8.3 h.p. Renault which seems uneven more improbable motor car. However, I knew I wasn’t dreaming-up the former and I have since refreshed my memory of it by consulting that big anonymous “Citroën 1919-1930” history-book (Citroën Cars Ltd.) which describes, and illustrates with a large coloured drawing, this skiff-version of the Type B2 as a “Caddy-Sport”, saying that it was lightened and souped-up, and that it won a number of rallies and competitions. It seems to have appeared in 1922, not in 1924, and what I had overlooked is that it had vertical push-rod-and-rocker-operated overhead valves, whereas the B2 normally had a dull side-valve engine. However, as this is quoted as increasing the power-output by a mere two b.h.p. and the maximum speed of the “Caddy” is given as only 56 mph., my previous opinion of its category remains unchanged, even though the beret-wearing boys and cloche-hatted girls could wind-up their Citroën “Skiffs” to slightly over a dozen m.p.h. quicker than the all-out progression of their parents’ touring B2s.
After that I felt I had to look up the little boat-bodied Renault in Toutes Les Renault, edited by Jean-Pierre Delville (Albion Scott again, of course), and there, on page 234 of this comprehensive and enormous publication, were four pictures of this “Torpedo-Skiff” version of the pretentiously-sporting smallest Renault. In one of them two girls, just as I have previously described, are apparently “enjoying” a wet Concours d’Elegance somewhere in France. But in this case there is no reference to any souping-up — of the cars, I mean.
As for the sports Morris Cowley, it was rightly included as looking faster than, in fact, it was. Jarman and Barraclough, in their standard work, “The Bullnose Morris” (Macdonald, 1965) say of it that the chassis differed but slightly from standard and that although the engine was described as being “specially-tuned”, this was a delightfully vague term. They confirm that the only tuning items the Sports Cowley could boast of were aluminium pistons, a “free exhaust”, meaning an enlarged exhaust-pipe, the standard Bullnose possessing a notably small-bore one, and an axle-ratio of 4.4-to-1 instead of 4.75-to-1. In serious production only from 1921 to 1922, this £398 10/- aluminium-clothed Morris, having the 1,548 c.c. Hotchkiss engine, came outside the 1-1/2-litre competition category. This did not prevent Billie Cooper from doing well in his, in contemporary MCC reliability trials, and as he used to be an official at Brooklands, this Morris forms a background to some of the photographs taken at the Track at this time.
I wrote last month of the sports-bodied flat-twin 7 h.p. Jowett, evolved by the versatile J.J. Hall for long-duration record-bids but adopted and adapted by the Bradford factory as a catalogue model. In addition to the “official” sports Jowett, there was a rather similar, but I guess heavier, Jackson-Jowett sports model, produced by a firm of that name in Croydon, about which some of the experts in the enthusiastic Jowett CC can no doubt enlighten us.
In discussing the very first factory-produced sports Austin 7, that surfaced in 1924 and cost £15 (later £10) more than a Chummy but for which you got a stove-enamel Kingfisher-blue paint job and an electric starter, I gave its top speed as approximately 55 m.p.h. and suggested that this was only about 5 m.p.h. quicker than the contemporary Chummy Austin 7. I have been unable to find road-test confirmation of this, but I may have been optimistic, because 50 m.p.h. was the best speed a member of the staff of The Light Car & Cyclecar claimed for his 1924 sports model. As to how this compares with the maximum you could have got from a good, but untuned, Chummy Austin 7 (leaving out such 70 m.p.h. confections as “Mr. Flea” and “Mrs. Flea”, as raced by the inimitable George Chaplin), The Autocar, in its first three test of the Chummy, ignored the baby’s top speed. By 1929, when the engine had acquired an additional 2-1/2 b.h.p., it got 51 m.p.h. from a coil-ignition tourer. So I think that my estimate of around five-m.p.h. between the 1924 sports two-seater and a Chummy is about right. Consulting Austin-expert R. J. Wyatt on the matter, he quotes 40 to 50 m.p.h. for the 1924 Chummy and while not committing himself (in his excellent David & Charles book “The Austin Seven”) in respect of the sports model, says of it that “. . . fun though it was, it was quite useless for competitive racing”. You required the 75 to 80 m.p.h. of the Gordon England Super Sports Austin 7 to compete effectively, which Austin model proved the little thing could GO, when properly tuned. . .
I gave the overhead-carnshaft Wolseley Ten credit for being appreciably quicker in sports-guise than its very pedestrian un-tuned brothers. Unfortunately, as Brooklands Track was under repair, neither The Autocar nor The Light Car & Cyclecar quoted a maximum-speed figure when testing the 1923 Brooklands Speed Model Wolseley (price, remember, £695). However, the former gave 70 m.p.h. as being possible and the latter journal said that 60 m.p.h. “was easily accomplished on more than one occasion”. So I continue to rate this Wolseley as non-“bogus”.
Although it came out some five years later, the Singer Junior Porlock sports two-seater was less impressive. But far less-expensive, for it cost only £140 in 1928/29. Its top speed was a mere 56 m.p.h. and in middle gear it took 10.2 sec. to get from 10-to-30 m.p.h., whereas the MG Midget was able to do 64 m.p.h. and 10-to-30 m.p.h. in seven seconds in its middle speed. But the 1929 MG cost £175.
Incidentally, both these 850-c.c.-class baby sports cart could do 10 to 30 m.p.h. in top gear in 15 sec., but whereas the MG pulled a 4.89-to-1 axle ratio, the Singer had the advantage here of a 5.25-to-1 top gear. It is amusing that on the sports Singer Junior, side-curtains were offered as an extra, at 45/- (£2.25) a set, in case sporting youth was offended by such “cissy” equipment. The Singer’s slight fierceness of exhaust and its boat-backed green-and-grey body, said The Autocar, was “so much valued by the enthusiast”. The tester had been given a car in which the brakes needed adjustment (they then stopped the Singer in 27 feet from 25 m.p.h., whereas the MG Midget pulled up from that cautious speed in three feet less.) It is also interesting, I think, that the lamps of the Singer were described as being “adequate”, which is probably why larger ones were used on the Singer Junior that later in the year made 100 ascents and descents of Porlock hill, some of these in darkness, a stunt which gave the car its eventual type-name. These very pedestrian performances from some of the vintage sports cars would be depressing were we not banging on about the more “bogus” ones. Perhaps that 1924 sports Austin 7 wasn’t too bad after all — in acceleration, anyway, because it was claimed to do 30 m.p.h. from a standing start in 12 sec. and get to 40 m.p.h. in 20 sec. on second gear, and it was some 100 c.c. smaller, remember, than the other two, which had side-valves to their o.h.-camshaft engines, and had appeared much earlier. By way of comparison, we may revert to that Brooklands Speed Model Wolseley Ten, developed by baronet-to-be Capt. A. G. Miller and made, as the Rolls-Royce now is, under the Vickers’ umbrella. This Wolseley dated back to even earlier than the first sports Austin 7. It had a 1,100 cc. engine with the Hispano-Suiza-inspired o.h.c. valve-gear. It could get from rest to 30 m.p.h. through the gears in 8.6 sec., and I now see that a speed guarantee was offered with it, of 65 m.p.h. over the Brooklands’ mile. It appears to have been a true small sports car, The Light Car & Cyclecar tester observing of it in 1923 that “Give almost any type of driver a car which has no windscreen and a fairly free exhaust, and it is safe to assume that he will immediately be misled with regard to the potentialities of that car in the matter of speed. Fierce draught on the face and a raucous boom from an open tail-pipe quickly cause one to think that the speedometer is pessimistic, and it was, therefore, with rather a critical mind that we took over . . .” The report went on to denounce the Wolseley’s complete lack of weather protection, and mentioned that the mudguards and running boards were quickly detachable, so that it could be stripped for competition work with a minimum of trouble. As I have said, non-“bogus”. . .
To get things in perspective, I would add that the 1930 Singer Junior saloon was 11 m.p.h. slower than the Singer sports model of two years earlier, and its 10 to 30 m.p.h. time was slower in middle gear by for seconds than that of the Porlock model. Which is what sold even these sports cars, in that day and age. I remarked last month that even supercharging the side-valve Triumph Super Seven didn’t give much to those who bought one. That odd offering was only able to do 67 to 68 m.p.h. and its 0-to-30 m.p.h. times were 8 sec. in middle gear, 14.2 sec. in top, for a 1930 price of £250. By then the £185 MG Midget could achieve 63 to 64 m.p.h. over a timed 1/4-mile on the Track, and its comparative acceleration times were 7.8 sec. and 14.6 sec. The Triumph’s Cozette blower was clearly wasted, even if its three-bearing crankshaft and hydraulic brakes encouraged such experiments. As the engine of the production blown Super Seven was not linered-down like those that were raced, a comparison with the saloon is possible. It was approximately 14 m.p.h. slower, its equivalent acceleration figures were 2.2 sec. inferior in both cases, but it cost £60 10/- less. As an aside, having got embroiled in these figures, at least those Lockheed brakes helped the blown Triumph, which could stop in 38 feet from 30 m.p.h., whereas the MG sailed on for another nine feet, using its cable-applied anchors. The little Triumph saloon, which was three-quarters of a cwt. lighter than the sports version, did even better, coming to rest in an impressive 32 feet. Incidentally, was this the beginning of comparative road-tests? The Autocar rather unkindly put their figures for the supercharged Triumph Super Seven and the MG Midget in the same issue!
This is where I feel we should leave this rather sorry subject, for it is apparent that there were very few real sports-cars available from 1920 to 1930, except to remark, after having quoted last time the views of someone who was not impressed by the “Chain Gang” Frazer Nash in vintage times, that in 1930 a Meadows-engined Super Sports model tested by The Autocar had clocked 77, m.p.h. on Brooklands, shot through those 0-to-30 m.p.h. tests in 6.4 and 10.8 sec., respectively, using the second and third speeds of the chain-transmission, doing this in 4.2 cec. on bottom sprocket. But then as now, you paid for performance — the ‘Nash cost £445. But even so the “Chain Gangsters” seem to have had the last word. For in that year (1930) you could have bought a 1927 Fast Tourer model, in shining aluminium, from the Falcon Works at Isleworth for £170, and it would have been good for just over 66 m.p.h. and would have done 0-30 in 5 sec. in bottom, or in 7.8 sec. in middle-dog of the 3-speed chain tranmission. What matter that its oil thirst was 500 m.p.g.? — W.B.
WB Rumblings, December 2005
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