Matters of moment, June 1992
Adding fuel to the fire The fact that Grand Prix racing has been somewhat processional…
THE VAUXHALL-VILLIERS SOME TECHNICAL NOTES ON THE MOST POTENT SPRINT-CAR OF THE 1936 SEASON
Although a very large number of persons saw S. B. Cummings and the 3-litre Vauxhall-Villiers in action in sprint contests last year, few people seem to know much about the specification of this car, which has been, in fact, up to now very much a ” dark horse,” in spite of its extreme interest as representing a British designed and built car assembled regardless of cost for racing purposes.
Accordingly, we are indebted to Mr. Cummings for permission to disclose the following details, which he was only too glad to pass on to us in a recent interview.
Raymond Mays, when he commenced his racing career just after the war, with Hillman and Brescia Bugatti cars, was closely associated with the well-known automobile engineer, C. Amherst-Villiers, and, seeking greater achievements after capturing practically every course record of note with his two Bugattis, Mays collaborated with Villiers in the construction of two special cars for sprint work. These were the Vauxhall-Villiers, both of 3-litres capacity, one of which, with worm-drive axle, subsequently passed into the hands of David Brown, and later of Arthur Baron, and is now being rebuilt by Tim Carson, and the other, which was Mays’s personal car, is the car which Cummings has driven so successfully and sensationally of recent times. The T.T. Vauxhall was a very advanced piece of machinery when produced in 1922, and it will be recalled that Jack Barclay afterwards had some extremely successful seasons at Brooklands with a stable of these cars from 1925 to 1927, winning many races at average speeds in the neighbourhood of 100
realising a lap speed in the region of 118 m.p.h. When Mays and Villiers decided to go ahead with their plans in 1928, they used the T.T. Vauxhall as a basis for the new cars, and the car now owned by Cummings was originally the one raced by Humphrey Cook, with which he took the Kop Hill record in 1924. It must be emphasised that the engine in question was of extremely advanced design in 1922 and Villiers so modified it subsequently that a legend soon sprang up to the effect that the only Vauxhall component remaining was the basechamber. Of late years Cummings has carried out further modifications, so that the description that follows is, in effect, that of a modern car. A particularly significant point is that the Vauxhall-Villiers now develops as much power as the present Grand Prix cars, in spite of giving them considerably over a litre in swept volume. When Villiers was responsible for the car the power was given as 260 b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m. Since then Cummings has very considerably exceeded this output and there is every reason to suppose that the Vauxhall-Villiers unit gives a greater power output per litre than any existing car engine. We were shown the powercurves,. which have been accurately plotted every 600 r.p.m., so that power fluctuations at varying speeds are easily traced, but refrain from publishing them,
at the owner’s request. While the foregoing may seem dubious, applied to a 3-litre engine, supercharged to a not excessive pressure, and peaking at a speed which, while reasonably high for this size of racing engine, is again not sensational, it must be borne in mind that with a first-class design the actual combustion conditions, the control of heat-flow, and particularly the mechanical functioning of parts not designed with ultra-low weight the essential factor, are features in which the highest efficiency can be realised, with an important bearing on power delivered at the crankshaft, which should be taken into account when examining the claims for the Villiers.
that some horses are larger than others, and that his car must use the ones with big hairy legs. Mays and Villiers, aided by Peter Bethon, carried out the first work on the Vauxhall-Villiers during the spring of 1928, and the car made second fastest time at Shelsley, runner-up to Davenport’s G.N., and won the Southport 100-Mile Race. In 1929 the car ran only at Shelsley, making the fastest ascent, in 491 secs. at the first meeting, and setting up a new record of 451 secs. at the second meeting. For 1930 further modifications • were adopted. including a vast inter-cooler between engine and supercharger. A fallen tree caused Mays to miss his runs at the opening Shelsley
The Transitional Stage. R. Mays w
Some idea of the frictional losses experienced can be gleaned from the fact that tested on a rear-wheel roller-brake, the car was found to absorb 50 horsepower at maximum revs., through transmission losses alone, not taking into account tractive resistance or windpressure. Last year, at Brighton, the car was seen pitted against some of the later G.P. jobs and its performance, taking into consideration its weight of 28 cwt. against the 15 cwt. or less of G.P. cars, serves to qualify the. foregoing remarks. In actual fact, the highest possible figure was not realised at Brighton, because the Viitiers is a very tricky motor-car to handle, and braking at 140 m.p.h. at the end of his first run Cummings found that the twin rear tyres dragged unpleasantly. Consequently his second, and faster run was made with single rear covers, when it was impossible to use the maximum acceleration in getting away, and under which circumstances the driver cut out sonic 150 yards from the finish. To requests for explanations of this comparison between the performances of Grand Prix cars and the Villiers, Cummings just says
th the VauxhallV illiers at Southport.
Meeting, but the ‘Villiers made fastest time at the second meeting i n 46f secs. At the first 1931 meeting this figure was reduced to 45.0 secs., and the car did 46 see& in the wet at the second meeting. (At this stage the car was giving about 170 b.h.p. at 4,600 r.p.m.) Finally, in 1933, the Villiers made fastest time (44t secs.) at the first Shelsley Meeting, and clocked 42`f secs. at the Autumn meeting. Last year Cummings was successful at Southsea and Brighton, unofficially broke the Lewes course record, and made fastest time at Weatherby and second fastest time at Poole and Madresfield, after hectic runs. At the second Shelsley Meeting the Villiers turned completely round at the ” S ” on its first ascent, owing to Cummings being misled by wet leaves on a drying road, and then clocked 49.61 sees. on its second attempt. Some remarkable work was put in after the sensational crash at Weatherby on the Sunday preceding the Brighton Speed Trials. The Villiers, almost a total. wreck, was lifted by two cranes on to a hired lorry and work commenced as soon as it was back in London. Cumming.,
and his mechanics thereafter put in twenty-four hours a day until the following Saturday, when the car left for Brighton at midday and after a hectic tow was delivered at Brighton in time to establish fastest time of the day, in spite of being in many respects an unknown. .quantity and not, as we have explained, being fully extended.
Seeing the car in the workshop one realises what a massive motor the Villiers is, and what fine engineering there is beneath its bonnet. We can Well believe that it shows a very pronounced inclination to slew sideways in getting from the 3ine, and that, even on a 7.7 to 1 bottom gear, it will destroy its tyres if one is casual with clutch and throttle.
The four-cylinder 2,998 c.c. engine runs safely up to 6,1.00 r.p.m., but will exceed this speed for brief periods. The stroke is 132 m.m., so that at peak revs. .(6,000 r.p.m.) the piston-speed is very considerable. The cylinder block is aluminium alloy, with wet liners. The detachable bronze cylinder heads seat ‘directly on to the barrels and the block is separate from the deep alloy crankcase. The crankcase, sump and gearbox casing are heavily ribbed internally, and of generally modern conception. 1.11,, crankshaft runs in five roller-races and roller big-ends are used, the connecting-rods being of I section in 120 ton steel. The alloy pistons were made to Cummings’s own design by the Martlett Eng. Co. of Brooklands Track. The original pistons had a curious pent-shape crown following the shape of the cylinder heads, but the new pistons have domed crowns with concave tops. The cylinder heads are of pent-roof formation, each springs are exposed for cooling purposes, but the ingenious cam gear is enclosed by four cam cases, each held down by eight
studs. The timing gear is enclosed in casings and there is a bracing piece between the cam cases at the rear of the block. The very big heavily-ribbed VilliersRoots supercharger is mounted vertically behind the radiator and driven by bevelgears from the nose of the crankshaft. Three Zenith 40-choke carburetters with rapid-flow needles are bolted one above the other to the intake port on the off
Lubrication is by a single piston-type pump, driven trom the crankshaft, which feeds valve-gear, cylinders, big-ends and main bearings, the auxiliary feeds being
having four valves per cylinder, and provision for three plugs, set vertically in line with the crankshaft. The Valves are operated by two o.h. camshafts running directly above them, driven from a train of gears from the front of the crankshaft. The valve stems and
in the form of external piping from a junction on the crankcase. The lubricant is contained in the sump, hut the con-rods run clear of the oil. The crankpins have lubricant-retaining arrangements in conformity with highly advanced aero-engine practice.
side of the Casing, an arrangement which not only ensures that fuel starvation at maximum throttle openings is obviated, but which also provides the best possible distribution of mixture within the blower. On the opposite side the outlet port is set at right angles to a large blow-off valve. The delivery pipe, which is plain and now devoid of inter-cooling, is connected to the outlet port by a length of hose and at the opposite end to the manifolds, another blow-off Valve being accommodated between flange-joints at the centre. The manifolds are of moderate bore and unribbed. They are set one within the other on the same plane, the inner one feeding cylinders Nos. 2 and 3, the outer one the end cylinders.
The blow-off valves employ very strong spring. The supercharge pressure is varied by alteration of the drive ratio, and we are asked not to disclose the boost now employed. Actually, a pressure up to 82 lb. per sq. in. is obtainable, but maximum power is achieved at a lower figure. The present compression ratio is approximately 8.5 to I. There is provision for three plugs per ,•-linder but only two are used, fired by two B.T.H. type P.E.4 polar inductor magnetos, driven One from the rear end of each camshaft. Water cooling is used, the pump being set beside the block on the rear side and driven from the timing gears by shaft. The return water pipe emerges from the centre of the head and is connected by a ” union and two long pipes to the radiator, which is a square-shape honeycomb bearing Villier’s own badge and a Humber cap mascot
The staggered eight-branch exhaust manifold feeds into a straight-through pipe on the near side, but a Brooklands silencer is available as considerable testing is done at Weybridge.
Dope fuel of Cummings’s own make-up is used, and with the addition of liquid ether the car starts up instantaneously. Incidentally, there has only been one major overhaul during the 1936 season.
The engine is mounted in the chassis at three points ; a bronze clamp behind the gearbox, and tubular members which bolt to four-stud flanges in the middle of the crankcase on each side. The gearbox gives four speeds and reverse, the ratios being varied to suit different venues. A typical sprint setting is : second 8.56, third 4.60 and top 3.75 to 1. Actually the Villiers will effectively pull ratios of 7.7, 5.3, 3.57 and 3.0 to 1. The clutch is a multi-disc type with eleven plates, the male plates being lined on each side with Ferodo. The female plates are steel. The drive passes via an open shaft to a bevel-driven rear axle, the half-shafts having both a taper and spline mounting. The clutch is engaged for a racing start at approximately 2,000 r.p.m. The chassis frame is of straightforward layout, with underslung half-elliptic suspension and a low build. Two single Hartford friction shock-absorbers per spring are used at the front, set ahead of the axle, and at the rear a pair of double Hartfords is used, accommodated behind
the axle. At Brighton the car ran without shock-absorbers. The rear fuel tank would hold about forty gallons. The braking system is hydraulic, believed to be of French manufacture. The shoes are actuated from pistons via a toggle mechanism with roller engagement, and are of self-energising type. The pedal operates on all wheels, and there is a safety hook-up from the rear shoe-toggles to the hand-lever, by way of heavy levers and the old Vauxhall external linkage. As the original master-cylinder was damaged, Cummings obtained an A.E.C. Green Line coach cylinder from Lockheeds, which serves instead. Ferodo lining is used and the brakes are now really useful. The steering-wheel boss bears the inscription ” Cam Gears,” but the reduction box is believed to be of Burman. make. The tyre-size is varied to suit different conditions, but the wire wheels are 19′ x 5.50″ and 6″ section tyres are used with single rear wheels. The facia carries a big Jaeger rev-counter before the driver, driven from the forward end of one of the camshafts, two thermometers, one of which is out of action, a blower-pressure gauge reading-15 lb. to +30 lb.,—a St. Christopher badge and three oil gauges. Usually no bulkhead is used to blank off the engine and the woodmounted pedals come uncomfortably close to the machinery. The accelerator is a small-roller pattern, centrally placed. The big hand-lever is outside the scuttle, and the short gear-lever inside on the
right, working in a visible gate. The seats are slightly staggered and there is no suggestion of streamlining. The weight is approximately 1 ton 8 cwt. The Villiers is a difficult car to handle, for, apart from a strong tendency to slew sideways in getting away, the wheelspin is excessive, and Cummings believes that the maximum performance has been reached with rear wheel drive. A clutch stop is fitted, but upward changes are difficult on account of layshaft spin. At Brooklands an average of over 100 m.p.h. has been obtained for a standing-start half-mile, but this entails entering the Byfleet Banking at over 160 m.p.h. and Cummings tells us that this is an experience that has decided him against seriously extending the car round the outercircuit. With due deference to stable secrets we may mention that the Villiers is faster in third gear, than are the majority of Brookla.nds cars on their highest ratios. Also that from practice times returned in the dry at Shelsley last year we very much want to see Cummings’s ascents next meeting. He anticipates running regularly at sprint meetings during 1937, but may possibly dispose of the car. Four-wheel drive has been contemplated, while another plan Cummings has in mind is that of installing the engine in a 4.9 Bugatti chassis and running it at very modest output. Certainly, in its existing form, the old Vauxhall-Villiers has little to fear in contemplation of amother season’s activity . MEMORIES—cantinued from page 45 Probably the cycle-cars of the early twenties represented the truest parallel
with the modern sports-car. Their roadworthiness was often doubtful, but their designers did not stint themselves in the matter of power-weight ratio, and many of them gave surprising satisfaction and a phenomenal measure of fun. Names now unhappily sunk into oblivion figured largely in competition barely fifteen years ago. Apart from the evergreen G.N., such enterprising vehicles as the A.V. Monocar, Tamplin, with its JAP engine and countless feet of beltdrive, Carden, notable for a twin twostroke motor mounted unsprung on the rear axle, Graham White, Black Prince and Douglas offered unlimited scope for the seeker after excitement. Open competition was beyond our slender purse, but much fun was to be had with local clubs. (The writer’s first sign of the great Fred Dixon was in a northern trial, performing astonishing feats with a Douglas combination.) Apart from trials, highly illegal speed events were held in isolated spots by one or two small clubs, unsa.uctified by official permits. The clubs and the venues must be nameless, but they gave many of us our first taste of real motoring. An old sixteen-valve Bugatti was borrowed on one of these occasions, and despite losing one plug on the line, it retained enough life to frighten us considerably, and the man at the finishing line not a little. We subsequently ascribed the uneven exhaust note to “valve-bounce at anything over 4,000, old. boy.” On another occasion, “fastest time of the evening” was made with an aged 30/90 Vauxhall, “borrowed,” in the absence of authority, and smuggled back after the stains of battle had been
laboriously removed. The feat was less meritorious than it might appear, the runner-up being an 8 h.p. A.V. Monocar, which the owner found no mean handful at anything approaching full bore, despite having taken up what appeared to be several feet of slack in the wire and bobbin steering arrangements before starting. Another regular competitor in these orgies was a wonderful T model Ford, with such a multiplicity of forward. speeds that it is doubtful if the owner could have stated his ratio with accuracy at any given moment.
It was all the greatest fun. Compared to present-day motoring, it was doubtless crude, slow and not very scientific, but it cannot have been wholly without virtue if it inspires some of us to look back with genuine pleasure and amusement, and to sigh a sigh occasionally for the days that are no more. G.H.D.
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