By E. K. H. KARSLAKE.
While in other countries cars are frequently called either by fancy names or by initials, it is noticeable that almost all French cars are called after the man who started to build them. On the other hand, it is curious to note that at the present time there is one exception to this rule in the form of a car which has lost original name in its native France while still retaining it in England ; for while it is still known as the Darracq in England, the car has only to cross the channel to become a Talbot. Its name, in fact, has varied from time to time ; but it has been consistent in demonstrating that a good car by any other than its original name can run as fast.
In the early days of this century, M. Darracq had already begun to make cars, and it was not long before he saw that the road to fame lay through racing. In 1902 the French Government, desirous of proving that home-grown alcohol was an efficient substitute for petrol, decided to do so by organising a long-distance race for cars running exclusively on the former fuel. The course chosen was 572 miles in length round the Nord province, starting from Champigny and going by St. Quentin to Arras, where a stop was made for the night ; and the next day returning by Boulogne, Dieppe and Rouen to St. Germain.
There were forty-six starters in the race, which included a team of Darracqs, and all the best-known French manufacturers were represented. At the start of the race Maurice Farman took the lead on one of the Panhards, but the man who soon captured second place was Marcelin on one of the Darracqs ; and when the first day’s racing was finished at Arras, he was still there. The text day he held his position well, but just before the finish he was overhauled by Charles Jarrott on another Panhard, and lost second place by no more than ten seconds. The defeat, however, was something of a victory, for while the winning Panhards were both 40 h.p. machines running in the 1,000 kilo. class, the Darracq was in the smaller 650 kilo. division, which it won conclusively.
M. Darracq, in fact, was at this time one of the few people who believed in the future of the light racing car, but while his preference was ultimately to be justified, it kept him for the moment from prominence in the big races. In 1905, however, the French eliminating race for the Gordon Bennet Cup team was held over the Auvergne circuit ; and for it seven manufacturers entered teams of three cars, among them being three light racing Darracqs. The cars were indeed hardly ” light” racers to modem ideas, as they had 4-cylinder engines of 150 x 140 mins. bore and stroke (9,880 c.c.), but their weight was considerably below that of their rivals, as they only weighed some 15 cwt. In spite of this, however, the Darracqs soon showed themselves to be among the fastest cars on the course, and in the end Wagner’s machine only missed third place and a place in the French team for the cup by a few seconds ; while the three cars all finished the course, only one other team achieving a like honour.
As a result of this narrow defeat, M. Darracq challenged the winner of the cup to a private race with Wagner’s 80 h.p. Darracq ; this, however, could not be arranged, but a month later he had his revenge. In 1905 the third Circuit des Ardennes Race was run over the famous Belgian course, the distance being 370 miles. For this race a team of 80 h.p. Darracqs were entered, and on one of them Victor Héméry succeeded in getting home first, having averaged 62 m.p.h., which was a record for the race.
From Belgium the scene was moved to Italy, where in 1905 the second Florio Cup race was run over a circuit near Brescia ; and in it Wagner and Héméry started on their Darracqs. In the early part of the race Héméry got into the lead, but finally he had to be content with fourth place, while Wagner finished eighth.
At this time, however, M. Darracq had no intention of confining his attentions to Europe, and after the race the team was shipped to America and entered for the second Vanderbilt Cup race, which was run over the Florida course of 283 miles. Héméry, after the Circuit des Ardennes, seemed to have acquired a habit of victory, and once more he seized first place in one of the most important races of the year, averaging 61.6 m.p.h. The race took place in October, and in February, 1906, a race was held in Cuba over a 218 miles course. The Darracqs were entered for this event also, and once more came home in their accustomed place ; this time, however, the winner was Demogeot, who averaged 59.9 m.p.h. The great event of the 1906 season was of course the French Grand Prix, which was run at le Mans. Three Darracqs were entered for it, and had Héméry, Wagner and Hanriot as their drivers. The cars were of a nominal 125 h.p., and had 4-cylinder engines of 180 x 150 mms. bore and stroke (15,270 c.c.), with low-tension magnetos ; while transmission was by a 3-speed gear box and a propeller shaft. In the race, however, they were not fortunate, for although the cars had been tested for 5,000 miles, they all three were put out by broken valves, Héméry being the only member of the team to complete the first of the two days’ racing, occupying tenth place.
Once more, however, the Darracqs were to prove more successful abroad than at home, and in 1906 a team was again entered for the Vanderbilt Cup, and again the winner was a Darracq, this time driven by Louis Wagner who averaged 61.3 m.p.h. For the Grand Prix in 1907, the old 1,000 kilo. weight limit was abolished and instead the competing cars were limited to a fuel consumption of 30 litres to 100 kilometres. The race was run at Dieppe, and concurrently with it was run the Coupe de la Commission Sportive, which was for cars limited to a consumption of 15 litres, to 100 kilometres. In the Grand Prix, Darracq entered three cars of the same type as had run the year before, with Hanriot, Rigal and Caillois as their drivers ; while two light cars driven by Demogeot and de Laughe were entered for the Coupe de la Commission Sportive.
There were 37 starters in the Grand Prix, but of these the Darracqs were almost always among the leaders. Hanriot went out on the seventh of the ten laps, but Caillois forced his way into fifth place and remained there till the finish, while his team-mate, Rigal, was sixth. In the Coupe de la Commission Sportive, however, de Laughe got the lead in the early stages and finally finished first, with Demogeot on the other Darracq third.
In 1905, the Darracq company constructed five racing cars of a distinctly novel type. These machines had 8-cylinders arranged in a Vee, and a 2-speed gearbox in the rear axle. One of these cars with an engine of 170 x 150 bore and stroke (27,240 c.c.) set out in the year 1905 to attack the kilometre record, with Héméry as its driver. The record actually belonged to Darracq at the time, for in 1904 Baras on a 100 h.p. Darracq had captured it at Ostend with a speed of 104.53 m.p.h. Héméry, however, with his big 200 h.p. machine, was determined to better it, and on the last day but one of 1905 he set up the average of 109.65 m.p.h.
Another of these Vee-eight engined machines with a bore and stroke of 160 x 149 mms. (24,176 c.c.) was acquired by Sir Algernon Lee Guinness and brought to England. With this car he succeeded on Saltburn sands in 1908 in covering a kilometre in one direction at 121.6 m.p.h., a truly remarkable speed to accomplish twenty years ago.
The year 1908 also gave another opportunity for Darracq enterprise, when the Russian Government organised a straightaway race from St. Petersburg to Moscow. In this Demogeot, the winner of the Cuban race in 1906, started on a Darracq, and after a magnificent race over the Russian roads, finished second.
While these activities were engaging Darracq on the Continent, however, the cars were not absent from British racing. In 1905, the R.A.C. organised its first Tourist’s Trophy race over the Isle of Man course for cars with touring bodies and with a fuel consumption limit of 22.54 m.p.g., which was supposed to be equal to 25m.p.g. on ordinary roads. For this event two Darracq cars were entered with 2-cylinder engines developing 10 h.p. at 800 r.p.m., 3-speed gearboxes, and shaft drive. The cars were driven by Sir Algernon Lee Guinness and A. Rawlinson, but neither of them succeeded in figuring very prominently in the race, as they were forced to retire on the first and second lap respectively.
The next year the race was run again on a fuel limit, this time of 25 m.p.g., and again two Darracqs started in it. This time, however, they had 4-cylinder engines of 90 x 120 mms. bore and stroke (3,044 c.c.), developing 15 h.p. at 1,500 r.p.rn., and four-speed gearboxes. Lee Guinness again drove one of the cars, and the other was now entrusted to S. Girling, and this time, after a magnificent race, Guinness succeeded in finishing third. In 1907 two Darracqs again returned to the charge, this time with the brothers Algernon and Kenelm Lee Guinness as their drivers. The latter was not lucky, however, for when he had worked into sixth place on the second round an axle-shaft broke and a back wheel came off. Algernon, however, after getting into seventh place on the first round, was sixth by the third, second on the fifth, and finally took the lead on the last round ; and then only 2½ miles from the finish, his Darracq ran out of petrol and the race was lost when it seemed to be absolutely within his grasp.
In 1908 the rules for the race were entirely altered, and both limitations as to body-work and fuel consumption were done away with. Instead, the bore of 4-cylinder engines was limited to 4 inches, and it has been known ever since as the Four-Inch race. For this event three Darracqs were entered with engines of 100 x 160 mms., only two other makes daring to employ a longer stroke, and push-rod operated overhead valves. Algernon Lee Guinness again drove one of the cars, A. Rawlinson returned to the team, and the third car was driven by A. E. George. On the first lap, Rawlinson turned over at Ramsey, but nothing daunted he continued the race, while George got into first place and Guinness ran fourth. On the second lap Guinness moved up to third place, while George retained his position. By the sixth lap the two Darracqs were in the lead, but before the last lap began Guinness had dropped back to third. George, however, was still first, and then on the last lap his car caught fire, and by the time he had extinguished the flames he was only able to finish third, while Guinness was second ; and thus once more Fate overtook the Darracqs in the Tourist Trophy when victory seemed certain.
[This article will be continued in our next issue, when the history of this Marque in the post-war period wilt be given up to the present day.]