WB miscellany

From track to traffic

I have previously recalled the excitement which the reappearance of ancient giant ex-racing and similar cars created when they began to run at VSCC meetings from 1936 on. During WWI such cars were commandeered for military service. It was rumoured that General von Hindenberg's staff car was one of the huge Benz touring versions of the racing Blitzen Benz, and Capt Malcolm Campbell is said to have smuggled through Customs the 15-litre GP Lorraine-Dietrich which had been used for war service in France and which was later to have a very long and distinguished racing career at Brooklands in the post-war era. Other famous racing cars were also converted for civilian usage.

For example, the 14-litre chaindrive Fiat with which Louis Wagner finished second in the epic 1912 French Grand Prix at Dieppe was bought immediately afterwards by a Parisian enthusiast who had a pointed-tail three-seater body put on it and was using it into the 1920s as an enthralling tourer.

Another grand prix car used in this fashion was the 7-litre Delage which Albert Guyot drove into fifth place in the 1913 Amiens GP after being delayed when his mechanic fell out and he had to be replaced. This Delage then went to the USA for the Indianapolis 500. A minor problem stopped it when Guyot was leading; he finished third, losing a £1000 prize, but René Thomas won for Delage. The Guyot car came back to France, was given a lower axle ratio, a three-seater body and acetylene lamps, the high outside exhaust manifold necessitated by the unusual valve gear, and was for sale at the equivalent of some £1500; by 1920 someone had purchased it for double that. Tommy Hann raced one of these cars as 'Handy Andy' at Brooklands.

Another racing car turned tourer was the 1919 Indianapolis Sunbeam EL 995 owned by Gerald Herbert, the well-known Coventry personality, who ran it with a normal four-seater body but retaining its long external exhaust pipe. At 2500rpm, he said, it did 89mph.

R J Sully, designer of the HE car, used a 4.3-litre 1909 GP Germain in post-WWI days, with lowered seating in a two-seater body of his own devising. It had electric lighting but, like the aforesaid giant Fiat, retained detachable wheel rims. Mortimer Batten, the famous naturalist, was getting very good service from a 1914 TT Straker-Squire, with a four-seater body, long after the Armistice.

The little DFP raced by WO Bentley before WWI at speeds of up to nearly 90mph was afterwards turned into a very neat road-goer, equipped with gas lamps. At a post WWI War Department dump a badly wrecked 16/20 Sunbeam was rebuilt as a disc-wheeled tourer by the Reliant Motor Works in Barry.

Going back to ex-racing cars, the TT-winning Napier-inspired Hutton was given a very Edwardian-looking tourer body and used from 1919 to 1939 by a Mr C T Allen, until Francis Hutton-Stott returned it to racing trim after WWII, and the 1908 12-litre GP Itala which Cecil Clutton made so famous in VSCC events carried the touring coachwork which Vincents of Reading had put on it in 1911.

During the 1920s The Autocar's advertising man, Capt C A Wallace, was doing business journeys in one of the 1914 4.4-litre GP Piccard-Pictets, with a drophead four-seater body made by London Improved Motor Coachbuilders of Lupus Street, SW1. The huge exhaust pipe emerging from its scuttle was a reminder of dramatic racing at Lyon, and of Wallace's own appearance at the 1919 Southsea speed trials. Before the new body was planned he had a model made of the car in its racing form, by G Weguelin of Chertsey.

On the roads around Glasgow, in those faraway days, might be seen the 1914 4-1/2-litre Nagant with which Dragutin Esser had come sixth in that 468-mile Lyon race. It had the bolster tank and aeroscreens, and was almost unchanged except for mudguards, lamps and a Klaxon horn. It retained its geared-up 2.8:1 top ratio, on which its trilby-hatted owner got 10-12mpg.

One of the 1908 GP Italas was photographed in Cannes in 1920, with the racing body and bolster tank, but no mudguards, as was permissible in France, just headlamps and a bulb horn. Which of the three it was I do not know, but Clutton's car was always thought to be the one Alessandro Cagno had driven into 11th place and was presumably one of the two which were racing at Brooklands in 1909; as the Itala works bordered the track this makes sense. The second car was probably the one with which Henri Fournier had come home 20th in the GP. Giovanni Piacenza's Itala had retired with a damaged gearbox, so was perhaps left behind in France?


Why the Seabrook sank without trace

Prior to WWI, the Seabrook company had been selling American cars in Great Britain, but once the conflict was over, the firm decided to embark on making cars of its own. It started with what at the time was described as one of the most original chassis to be placed before the public. It was indeed that. The 1795cc four-cylinder engine had an aluminium cylinder block with cast-iron liners, the bores extending into the alloy crankcase. The head was also of aluminium, with bronze valve seats. The overhead camshaft was bevel-driven, the lower bevel driving the oil pump. The upper pair of camshaft-drive bevels turned a shaft driving the very high-set vertical magneto, which was therefore extremely accessible. Another bevel gear drove the pulley for the cooling fan and dynamo belt, the dynamo being hinged to provide belt adjustment.

The aluminium pistons had two rings each and the camshaft ran in bronze bearings. A two-bearing crankshaft was considered sufficient. Lubrication was conventional, with pressure feed to the main bearings and camshaft, oil returning down the camshaft driveshaft to scoops on the big ends. A Y-shaped inlet manifold was continuously water heated. Petrol feed was by vacuum from the rear-mounted tank, and cooling was thermosyphonic. The four-speed gearbox was in unit with the engine, with a cone clutch.

The gearbox shafts were above one another and ran in ball bearings, the layshaft on plain bushes, and thin oil was the specified lubricant, replenished through a large filler. The selector rods were on top of the gear shafts. The differential-less back axle and the transmission showed some American influence and were unusual in having a combination of open shaft and a short enclosed torque tube, as later seen on the Austin 7. The brakes used steel ribbons instead of rods.

The sporting appearance of the Seabrook, with its vee screen and low body-lines, was emphasised by the brake lever which, by pushing it sideways, could be used clear of the ratchet in true racing fashion. Cantilever springs were used at the back and both these and the front springs moved in fabric-lined slides in lieu of shackles. The steering, by worm-and-wheel, was lubricated by oil for the engine, with the filler on the steering box, which was bolted to the crankcase, and there was a dial-type level indicator. The disc wheels had 760x90 tyres, the wheelbase was 9ft, and the track a narrow 4ft. In 1920 the tax would have been £12 annually.

It sounded most exciting, and in 1920 prices were quoted as £765 for the sporting two-seater, with £10 extra for a dickey-seat model,

£795 for a four-seater. The chassis was displayed at the Olympia show, on stand 55, priced at £650. The first car was registered in London, the optimistic makers operating from Great Eastern Street, EC2.

Sadly, it was all too elaborate: at Olympia only a year on, the Seabrook had been transformed into a 1-1/2-litre 10/20 ohv light car of an entirely more conventional specification. Priced at £475, it was now a sporting two-seater.


Boxing Day Brands and Willment remembrances

I enjoyed reading Simon Taylor's recollections of those Boxing Day Brands Hatch races in last month's MS, having watched them when Graham Hill was Santa and there were long delays leaving down a narrow back road to the busy main road. In the same issue Gordon Cruickshank's Willment story reminded me that I once went to visit John Willment to collect a test car just after he had had the argument with a Clerk of the Course at a race meeting. As I waited, his burly mechanics surrounded me and asked whose side I was on. I was all for their boss — otherwise I wonder if I would have escaped intact!

A few print slips on my pages recently: I doubt whether the young bloods in their Edwardian Stutz Bearcats thought much about safety even if their parents did! The 'Safety Stutz' arrived post-war.

There were no 'places' in the MCC High Speed Trials; drivers could go as fast as they liked but awards were given for their target speeds. Shire Publications' list of its books was in its catalogue, not in Card's book, and it was Marker who won a 130mph Brooklands badge, Miss Allen a 120mph one. Plus there was a clanger of my own — it was Chris Jennings who married Margaret Allen.


Testing the value of your work

Monsieur Louis Delage had been making modest vehicles, including a nice light car, in his factory in the Paris suburb of Courbevoie by the Seine, and had met with success in racing before the devastating war broke over Europe in 1914. In spite of then turning his factory over to making munitions, from 1917 he had his engineers begin to design a vehicle capable of competing with the world's best. This was the very commendable 24hp Type CO, with a six-cylinder 80x150mm (4453 cc) side-valve engine.

In 1920 the CO2 followed, with overhead valves and a four-bearing balanced crankshaft with disc webs, two carburettors and dual ignition from an SEV magneto firing plugs on opposite sides of the combustion chambers. The engine was in unit with the multi-plate clutch and four-speed gearbox, and there was a transmission brake for parking and, an innovation, four-wheel brakes for stopping. It was acclaimed 'La Voiture qui vient', a boast to rival the Leyland Eight's appellation of 'The Lion of Olympia'. Its 42mm diameter valves had their lift raised from 9 to 11mm. The valves were operated by enclosed pushrods. A single Zenith carb was used and 88bhp was developed at 2380rpm. Fitted with Rudge Whitworth wheels and 880x120 tyres, and on a top gear ratio of 3:1, a top speed of at least 80mph was guaranteed for the model. Half-elliptic springs were used all round, and the wheelbase was 11ft 3in, as it was for the short-wheelbase CO. The chassis cost £1200, an open-bodied car £1600.

At the 1919 Olympia Show a CO chassis and a Millon-Guiet tourer were exhibited, the chassis priced at £1800. A prospective customer was enquiring about details and asking whether the four-wheel brakes remained reliable. A British buyer said that his Delage had, since early 1921, done some 3000 miles, mostly in France, and he praised the car on all counts, apart from a noisy gearbox. It is possible that there were those who distrusted the cars with the new-fangled aero-type overhead camshafts and preferred the Delage pushrod engine.

Louis Delage let W F Bradley, Continental Correspondent of The Autocar, try a Type CO. He did Paris to Nice in 15hr 55min, which beat the express train by 5hr 57min. Delage himself then took Bradley and a mechanic on a six-day circuit of France in 1920, the idea being to cover at least 500 miles a day. With spares the car was fully laden, but it accomplished the run, the total mileage being 3120, best in a day 626. In spite of the war-torn roads there was only one delay, when a leaf of a rear three-quarter elliptic spring broke. Bradley was very suitably impressed.

Delage's son Pierre also completed an eight-day circuit of Spain in a Type CO, over atrocious roads; oxen came to his rescue when he got bogged down in mud, which also seized the brakes, although Delage had provided intermediate supports for the rods, an example of the designers' thoroughness. I wonder whether any other top manufacturer has demonstrated his own cars as Delage did; auto engineers, of course, such as Georges Roesch with his Talbots, and WO Bentley when he was testing the prototype 3-1/2-litre Rolls-Bentleys. But these trials of the new Derby product were not the same as when WO was testing his Bentleys in the Cricldewood days.

Delage sales were handled here by the London and Parisien Motor Co from Davies Street off Oxford Street in London, and in Paris from the Champs Elysées. The CO2 model lasted until 1924/5, to be replaced by a range of equally impressive machinery, such as the 40/50, D6, the straight-eight D8s, etc, and the 14-40 DIS/DISS range.

Valve springs were still suspect in the 1930s so the D8s had separate rockers and springs to supplement the main springs. Similarly, when the Leyland Eight was being drawn up by JG Parry Thomas in 1917, he used leaf valve springs.

Great minds think alike.


Ignition sequence

I see from our companion magazine Classic & Sports Car that Geoff Read, when he was working for Thomson & Taylor at Brooklands, became interested in sparking plugs while he was carrying out the fingerburning task of changing those on the exhaust side of the Napier-Railton, and that he now has a most impressive collection.

I have something similar myself, based on the considerate readers of Motor Sport while I was its editor, giving me old plugs for my collection of what is now known generically as automobilia.

My collection grew and soon included Goodyear, Beru, Magowlaine LM, Magneto AV, Sphinx, Rajah, Benton, Platomac, Forward, Defiant, Apollo, Castle, Bluemels, Warrior, Plantine, Eyquem and others, in both 18mm and 14mm sizes, even to a 12mm plug said to be from a Thomas Special racing car, and another apparently needed to start up Concorde, apart from specimens of well-known makes: Champion, Bosch, Pacy, KLG, Lodge, AC, Lissen, NGK etc.

As the pile grew I approached Champion to see if they had any discarded display cases I might purchase. Their PRO was interested to see the plugs, which were delivered in a sack. In due course I was told they had sorted them out and cased them, with neat little labels to identify each one and neon tubes to light them up. I was most grateful.

Then, a snag! I received one day an embarrassed call to say that one of the directors had seen this and wanted it kept for in-house display. I murmured that the plugs were the property of Motor Sport's readers as well as of myself, to no avail. Gone? But no. A long time later I had another call, saying another director had discovered that the 3ft 6in x 2ft 6in chest-high cases took up space and wanted them removed, when the owner was traced. I hastily borrowed a Transit van from Ford's Press department — a legitimate act unlike things politicians apparently have to explain — and drove the cases home.


A parking penalty

When a magazine closes for press and a page has not been filled, prompt action is called for. I remember pacing the office while the typist took down my piece about light cars: A7 vs Peugeot, 7.5 Citroen, etc. which I had not previously considered suitable for a sporting journal.

On another occasion I was due to road-test a rare pillarless Bianchi saloon, but an employee not supposed to test cars had arrived early and taken it away. I heard that the illicit user had taken a girl into one of London's parks and forgotten that at sundown the gates were locked. So they spent the night there: perhaps that was intended. He brought the car back when it was overdue to be returned and assumed I would write about it.

"You drove it". I said. "you write about it". I was not surprised that his report appeared to have been culled from the catalogue and was delighted to see the car described as a pillowless saloon. It was that if the parking episode was true!


Reading material for the New Year

Sunbeam book wants for nothing:

Bruce Dowell's impressive new book Sunbeam — 1899-1935 (Landmark, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, £49.95 ISBN 1 84306 155 4) is a 303-page, 11 x 9in, extensively illustrated survey of the Wolverhampton cars from pre-Mabley days to the 1935 Dawn models. A marvellous browsing book, its 500 old black-and-white illustrations cover Sunbeams in country and in town, in the Moorfields factory and the London depot, the Royal cars, cars used by Segrave, the racing cars, post-racing cars, Monte Carlo entries, cars converted into commercial vehicles or tow-cars, those at Olympia shows, owned by celebrities, on postcards and adverts, in Japan, at weddings, even derelict ones awaiting restoration with clues as to where these may still be found, etc. A fascinating reminder of days which are long gone, to entertain those who like vintage cars. A stupendous achievement. STD Register members are I hear ordering it but it will give hours of enjoyment to non-Sunbeam owners, and prove valuable to historians.

However, it is more than that. Every one of the complex Sunbeam range of types is illustrated, with explanations of them, supported by a history of the company, chassis numbers and how allocated, production figures, and a list of the 92 coachbuilders who competed with Sunbeam's own bodywork shop. It is thus a significant addition to the history of this famous British make. I was honoured to be asked to write the Foreword.


Now for something completely...

Here, for a change, is something unusual, indirectly associated with motorsport: Transit — the 40-year story of Britain's best-loved van by the ever-industrious Graham Robson. Ford Transits have often been used as back-up vehicles in motor racing, and here is a well-illustrated and full story of how Transits emerged, and were developed and used. Why it began, the improved styling, the VE6 period, the 1990s changes, FWD, and the all-new Transit of 2000, makes an interesting tale, which should make Transit owners and drivers proud of this so popular commercial vehicle. Priced at £16.99, it seems good value; the ISBN number is 1 84425 1047.

Don't think there is no racing: Transit has a chapter on the race-engined Supervans 1,2 and 3, and on the RT, closing with a chapter on the 2002 Connect. I cannot fault the array of pictures, colour mostly, and you also get production figures and specification tables.

Never think of the subject as mundane; this book is full of enthusiasm for Ford's 'big boys' toy', which even elephants entered eagerly. The foreword is by boxer and long-time Transit supporter, Sir Henry Cooper, OBE.


Fast Lady: a triumph over adversity

Those readers with full libraries will know that books are available about almost all, if not all, the famous racing drivers. Until recently an omission was a study of the motoring career of Joy Rainey, who, although of restricted growth, never let this trouble her in taking part in all manner of competitive events, from kart and club racing to this year's London-Sydney Marathon in a 1970 Morris Minor— or of enjoying cars such as an E-type Jaguar, vintage 6C and 8C Alfa Romeos and a racing Morgan three-wheeler, etc.

This lady, not quite as tall as an E-type hard-top coupe, has now told her story in Fast Lady -- My Life in Motorsport (ISBN 184425 038 8, £17.99). She is well known at most of the race circuits and hillclimbs here, and helped the Brooklands clearers, among many other activities. It is so good that this book has been published; it should be an encouragement to others wrongly classed as disabled to participate in motor racing.

When I was doing an article about Panhard cars for Motor Sport, the Raineys, Joy and her father Murray, allowed me to drive two they then had. The cars were tightly parked in their garage, so I waited for them to be brought out, before I realised that the seats were too far from the pedals for either to do this. But if you read her book you will see that this was absolutely no deterrent to the enthusiastic Joy Rainey.


Performance and tradition --- but no MS

Here's a New Year treat for the many Morgan aficionados in the UK. Haynes is offering a new volume on the Malvern marque, titled Morgan — Performance plus Tradition.

Written by Jonathan Wood, its 168 large glossy pages detail the history of Morgan from the original three-wheeler to the current models, with a great back-up of pictures of the mechanicals, complete cars, and Morgans in their element, that is to say in competitions of many kinds. A real treat indeed!

However, perhaps Jonathan Wood doesn't deserve this, because Motor Sport isn't among the many publications listed in his bibliography. Bearing in mind the amount of editorial space that has been given to the Malvern make over the years, including our various experiences of road-testing and owning them, I am surprised.

I just happen to be in a good mood at the moment, Mr Wood. ISBN number is 1 85960 881 7, and the book is well priced at £19.99.


The VSCC's fixture list for 2005

The VSCC has published its 2005 fixture list. The following events are open to non-members and the public: Silverstone race meeting, April 23; Wiscombe Park hilIclimb, May 8; Oulton Park race meeting, May 28; Cadwell Park race meeting, June 12; Shelsley Walsh hillclimb, July 3; Harewood hillclimb, July 9; Elvington Sprint, July 10; Mallory Park race meeting, July 24; Prescott hillclimb, August 6-7; and Donington Park race meeting, September 3-4, the last being the historic cars, 'See Red' meeting with emphasis on 250F Maseratis and the Hall & Hall all-Maserati race. There are a great many other events to which the general public cannot be admitted due, the VSCC says, to safety requirements rather than being restrictive.