A Sleeve-valve success

It is a remarkable factor in Automotive engineering that the piston and the poppet valve have survived virtually unchallenged into the new Millennium. Sleeve valves, rotary valves, the Imperia slide valve and the promising Wankel rotary engine have come and gone, while the seemingly crude sliding piston and stressed poppet valve have survived — a triumph of technology and metallurgy.

The sleeve-valve engine had a good try to oust the old methods, however, when the quiet little American Charles Yale Knight sold his double-sleeve valve to Daimler in 1909; they used the system until the mid-1930s before reverting to poppets. Snags were that in cold weather oil made the valves stiff, imposing extra load on the startermotor, and the greater clearances resulted in the legendary trail of blue smoke. Then the lugs actuating the sleeves might break off, and water trapped above the sleeves had to be syphoned off in winter.

The advantages of inaudible running outweighed the drawbacks for Daimler, Minerva, Willys Knight, Mors, Voisin, Panhard and others. Burt McCallum came out with a simpler single sleeve, adopted by Argyll and General Motors for the 25/70hp Vauxhall, etc, so for a time sleeves were in. The few appearances of sleeve-valved cars in racing may have made little impression, although the smokey Minervas in the 1914 TT were second, third and fifth, and a Piccard-Pictet sixth in the 1914 French GP. Peugeot did well with sleeve-valve Coppa Florio cars, and do not forget Eyston’s 130.73mph hour record in 1932 with the 8-litre Panhard. Whatever, by 1913 Argyll thought it time to establish their reliability and brought a racing edition from Glasgow to Brooklands to set Class D records (2048 to 2868cc).

Argyll designer M Perrot prepared a racing version of the four-cylinder 2614cc 15/30hp car with a single-seater body made in the Argyll works, modified valve ports and raised axle ratio. There were 820 mm Dunlop tyres and a single Zenith carburettor just behind the radiator, and cool air was scooped into the crankcase. Conscious that even single sleeve-valves were oil-thirsty, two oil tanks were fitted, and the Argyll 4WBs retained, for quickly killing speed. So, ready by May 1913, the racing Argyll, weighing just over 1 ton 6cwt, left for Surrey. Careful thought went into the record bids. Perrot himself was to show a white flag to the driver if no oil smoke showed, who then pumped more oil in to the engine, but if too much smoke was emitted a blue flag told him to turn off the supply — and you obeyed the designer!

At the depot a large squirt replenished the back axle with castor oil at each stop. The drivers were the experienced L G Homsted and W H Scott. So at 6.22 one morning the Argyll was away. Scott kept close to the intended 72mph, and after just over three hours Homsted took over. A fuel blockage was quickly cured, a tyre punctured, but on and on ran the car from distant Scotland for 14 hours at 72.59 mph, setting 26 new class records and breaking Edge’s Napier World Record. Later in May they raised their own record to 78.29mph, with World honours from 7 to 14 hours. Congratulations poured in, a nice touch being telegrams from the Duke of Argyll and C Y Knight of the rival sleeve-valve system.