A brace of early road tests

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I remember two rather fascinating road test reports in The Autocar in 1920, when the roads were not just free from congestion, but almost devoid of traffic. The tests were of two sporting cars not yet in production — all the more exciting, because at that time such cars were a rarity. By the midand late-1920s, however, such cars were by then in production, so that 30/98 Vauxhalls and 3-litre Bentleys etc, were likely to be seen more often.

The New Year had barely dawned when Bentley No 1, BM 8287, with Harrison four-seater test body, was taken out for this press appraisal. It had no hood and only a casual windscreen. With “one or two of those little jabs at the throttle beloved by Brooldands drivers”, the Bentley was away.

When a long stretch of familiar road, quite deserted, was reached “the wind shrieked past the screen and the flanking trees were a blurred streak, as the roar of the exhaust rose to full song”, at over 70mph. Speed was the outstanding impression but the brakes, on the back wheels only, were noted as equally impressive. But praise was joined by criticism. The gears of the overhead camshaft-drive of the four-cylinder, 16-valve engine were noisy, as were those of the double oil-pump. Every so often the engine gave a penetrating grate, and much oil was sprayed over it from the breather pipes. But it was stated that these faults could be easily rectified granted that this was Bentley No 1.

Top gear coped down to lOmph, the road-holding and springing were praised and this sporting car “was endowed with all the features for town carriage work of the most docile type”.

It was S CH Davis who wrote this; I wonder how long it was before Davis was again spoken to by W Bentley?

The other test featured was of an experimental 4-litre Straker-Squire, registration MC 6108, with six separate cylinders, aero-engine style, an overhead camshaft and 12 valves. It also had a sketchy four-seater test body, with a low metal wind deflector in lieu of a glass windscreen.

The occupants went first in pouring rain to Selfridges to buy all-weather coats, with another stop to acquire sea-going equipment, and on wet seats they went via the Holyhead road to Dunchurch, where the night was spent at the Dun Cow Inn. Along that fine though undulating highway, “with ignition full forward and the mixture control at rich”, high speed was reached “without vibration or indecision”, in spite of the road surface being horrid in some parts. It was said that it would take a day or so before the beauty of control would be apparent, but the excellent steering, as on the Bentley, and the niceties of the minor controls were surprising. Indeed the “delightful steering” saved the day when Dunchurch Cutting’s slippery surface caused wild skids.

The car went next to Stratford-onAvon, to cover the Colmore Cup Trial. All hills were climbed easily, barring Saintbury, where the car got up, but to the accompaniment of loud explosions because a blocked fuel pipe was starving the carburettor.

Both cars were praised as very fast tourers but the Straker-Squire was criticised for whining camshaft-drive gears, oil escaping from the gearbox through the gear-lever shaft, and the gear lever twice jumping out of place.

The engine was described as being “a little terrifying when the bonnet was first opened, because there is so much of it, so many bolts and nuts, connection and control rods, as against the smooth power unit exteriors of most modem cars. But it was a works car, so subject to many experiments.”

I wonder what the designer, Roy Fedden, said about that!