The 2-litre sports Schneiders
This is rather complicated, because there were the Rochet-Schneiders produced at Le Havre and, in the Edwardian period, the Theophile-Schneiders made at Besancon. Both makes appeared at Brooklands, the former in pre-WWI times (best lap 48.40mph), the latter in 1921/22 (best lap 89.25mph). But I am thinking of the Theophile-Schneiders, acceptable sportscars by vintage standards, which were sold from London’s Long Acre, although the Rochet-Schneiders were still available, Donne & Willans (1909) Ltd in Hendon being the agents.
In 2-litre form, the TheophileSchneider was an attractive sportscar by the 1920s. MotorSport tested one in 1926, the then Editor Richard Twelvetrees finding as many trials hills as he could on the way to lecture to the Cambridge University MC, suggesting that he had the car for only a short time. It had done 16,000 miles, so they asked for minor faults to be excused. The roads were icy so 0-72mph took 34.4sec, with 52mph at 3000rpm in third gear, with a top pace of 75mph. The suspension gave a comfortable ride and the exhaust note was quiet up to 40mph but less so after that, as a young policeman pointed out in Baldock. The Perrot four-wheel brakes with Dewandre vacuum servo stopped the Schneider in 66 yards from 60mph, and the handbrake had additional shoes in the rear drums. Quick gearchanges could be made, although the leather-lined cone clutch stuck slightly.
An unusual feature was the four small levers protruding from the instrument panel, for throttle and ignition settings, mixture control, and for supplying oil to the valve gear. Fast driving of this handsome pointed-tail four-seater gave 28mpg. Twelvetrees thought the aluminium bonnet and scuttle contrasted poorly with the darker fabric-covered English-built body, but otherwise approved of this £580 sporting car.
The engine had a bore and stroke of 72x120mm (1594cc), with pushrod overhead valves, thermo-syphon cooling with fan, and a Zenith triple-diffuser carburettor. The four-speed gearbox had a right-hand lever. The wheelbase was 9ft 10in, track 4ft 5in, with 765×105 Michelin cord tyres on wire wheels. Suspension was by half-elliptic springs front and rear, and the chassis weight was 18cwt. There was a rev-counter to imply sporting intent.
MotorSport carried front-cover advertisments from Schneider Automobiles (Eng) Ltd in 1929, the year production was to end, with a large picture of a four-seater at speed, a man and a lady in front, another couple in the back, speed-streaks and off-the-ground wheels emphasising velocity! The standard 13/40hp model was augmented by 13/58hp Sports and 13/55hp Super Sports or Le Mans versions.
Our Editor in 1929 was Hubert Keogh, who tried the latter model. It had run only 1700 miles, steering was rather stiff, cornering at 70mph gave no roll, 0-70mph took 53.3sec, with speeds of 40mph in the 9.8:1 second gear, 57 in the 5.8:1 third speed, and 76 in the 4.8:1 top gear, the car being scarcely run in. It gave 24mpg and had a 12-gallon tank. The Le Mans price was down to 2533. It was aimed at sporting drivers, but the race pedigree of the make was not impressive. At Le Mans in 1926 two 2-litres were driven by the little-known Poirier and Fontaine, who retired, and by Tabourin and Lefranc, who were sixth, but in 1927 Poirier/Tabourin and Chanterelle/Schiltz retired.
Even those able to remember the scuttle-radiator side-valve 3-litre French GP cars of 1912 had but the seventh place of Croquet in the Coupe de L’Auto class to console them, the other Schneiders retiring. There was some joy in 1913 when Fernand Gabriel of the great 1903 Paris-Madrid victory returned to handle one of the 5½-litre sidevalve Schneiders, Champoiseau and Rene Thomas the other two; they were seventh and 10th (last but one), while Gabriel had carburettor problems after only three of the 29 laps.
The eve of war saw Gabriel, Champoiseau and Juvanon racing the 16-valve 4.4-litre four-cylinder frontal-radiator GP entries, with Champoiseau ninth, Gabriel and Juvanon out with engine defects.
However, the VSCC members have kept the racing name alive. In 1976 I drove the hybrid car, the pre-war engine and radiator of which Ted Wooley had found derelict after it had been used for driving a pump on a Kettering farm. It appeared likely to be from one of the 1913 GP cars. He then, through the typical French courtesy of the Mayor of Besancon, was put in touch with an 80-year-old ex-Schneider employee in France, who took him to see a Schneider chassis of about 1919 vintage. These parts he passed onto Humphrey Crowley-Milling, who let the late John Rowley have them.
Rowley assembled these into a meticulously engineered car of 1914 GP aspect, capable of cruising at 50mph at 1500rpm, with a top speed of 80mph at just over 2000rpm. (Full story in Motor Sport, January 1976). It is now owned by Roger Firth.
There is also the Hall-Scott aero-engined Schneider owned by Peter Baker, and about a half-dozen non-racing Schneiders among the VSCC membership.