Letters:

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108

Connaught’s folly

Sir,
With reference to the letter of Mr CF Johnson (Motor Sport, January 1988) in connection with the five-speed pre-selector gearbox/final-drive unit destined for the J5-Type 2.5-litre GP Connaught, the complete gearbox and parts for six other boxes ended up with Paul Emery of Asperilea Road, Fulham in the early Sixties. In about 1966 he passed the entire package over to me, and I put it all in my workshop loft for safe keeping. In the early Seventies Rodney Clarke had built himself a museum of Connaught Cars and sundry items in the basement of his Mercedes Dealership, Puttocks of Guildford, and he contacted me to ask me if he could have it all.

Before I handed the entire package over I went through all the parts and removed anything that was common with the Armstrong Siddeley preselector used in my ERA, which wasn’t a great deal. Rodney Clarke sent a man up to collect it all, and we loaded it all onto a trailer — it must have weighed two tons with all the pattern equipment as well, and he had not gone two miles when the trailer collapsed in a great heap just outside Witney!

After Rodney Clarke’s death, the collection was broken up and sold, but the one thing that didn’t find a buyer anywhere was this whole package of gearbox plus parts. Ultimately, Puttock’s management scrapped the whole lot except for the complete gearbox, and this I managed to purchase from Clarke’s son about three years ago.

Mr Johnson does have one thing wrong, in that the gearbox has provision for manual and electrical selection of gears and not hydraulic as he suggests, but otherwise he is correct in what he says. However, I do take the view that the whole idea was a folly from the first. For a start it was most enormously heavy and unfortunately most of that weight ended up behind the rear axle line. Secondly, it was extremely complex and took me about eight hours to strip, compared with about two-and-ahalf hours for a normal pre-selector. Third, it would have been prohibitively expensive to make and overhaul in those days before sponsorship arrived. Fourth, there was no provision for changing gear ratios — only the final drive ratio. There was no limited-slip differential fitted.

Finally, when I stripped this box out to examine it, it had obviously been on test and fourth-speed gear-train had seized up — probably a bad omen for the future, and it was probably fortunate that it was never used. This engineering masterpiece/nightmare/white elephant, call it what you will, now sits on a stand in the corner of my workshop to remind me to keep things on racing cars simple. Anybody have a use for it?

Bill Morris, Leafield, Oxford