ON A VISIT TO TWO OF LONDON’S SPORTS-CAR FACTORIES
MANUFACTURERS of mass-produced cars are grouped round the big industrial centres of the Midlands, such as Coventry and Birmingham, while one very highly esteemed British Sports-car is built at Derby. But around the outskirts of London are to be found quite a number of firms producing some of our best sports-cars. Recently r visited Some of these factories to get some idea of how British sportscar production is going, in an age when the manufacturer of war-materials looms large in engineering production. I have in each instance come away with a very good opinion of our sports motor cars and cheered by the fact that quality productions are still availablefrom British
factories. I hope my briefly recorded impressions of what I saw on what had to be flying visits to sOme of London’s sports-car factories will show people that we can lead the world when it comes to quality motor-car construction, a matter Width I hope will get home not only to our English readers, but to those exiled about our great Empire, those over on the Continent and to enthusiasts in the U.S.A. ; indeed to people in all those countries where MOTOR SPORT has a substantial, regular circulation.
I went first of all to the wOrks of British Salmson Aero Engines, Ltd., which, as all Londoners must know, is situated Off the Merton spur of the notorious Kingston By-Pass road. This concern commenced to manufacture a British version of the famous French SalmsOn in 1933. The present range of cars comprises the 12 h.p. and 14 h.p. four-cylinders and the 2i-litre 20 h.p. six-cylinder sports model. The fourcylinder engines are in big-quantity production in France, and the designs were unmodified when production was commenced in this country, but the Six, although based to a large extent on the original engine, is the work of the British designs staff. The British-$almson engineers aim to provide really highclass cars of exceptional performance. The engines are all twin 0.h. camshaft units, as was that of the famous 1,100 c.c. Salmson beloved of true enthusiasts a dozen or so years ago. The camshafts operate the inclined valves via pistontappets, and the drive is by vertical shaft and beautifully machined skew gears. The camshafts are of case-hardened nickel steel, running in phosphorbronze bearings, and each one has a fourload central balancing cam to ensure smooth functioning. Other high-lights of British-Salmson specification that are appreciated when examining the cars in course of construction include the grouped chassis lubricators ; the twopiece aluminium crankcase with heavilyribbed main bearings, of 45 ton steel, White-metal lined ; the statically and dynamically balanced crankshaft ; the very accessible ignition distributor, which can be replaced by a magneto, if so desired ; the crankshaft-driven dynamo ; the battery-master switch ; alloy scuttle and separate instrument-panel ; fourwheel jacking and ” real ” radiator, etc. ‘I he high finish of engine and components
cannot fail to be appreciated in this era of tin-pressings. I was shown round the works. They lie back from the road, approached by tidy gravel-drives and are a series of singlestorey buildings. At the front the offices, waiting-rooms, etc., run the full length of the building and behind, at a lower level, open out the machine-shop foundries, stores, test-room, service department and so forth. All machining is done on the premises. The main machine-shop has the milling, drilling and other machine tobls well spaced, with drive by individual overhead belts, so that operatives can get at their jobs easily and inspectors and transporters move about freely. I was impressed at the quietness Of this big
shop, in which some fifty tools must have been in operation. It was possible to converse without shouting. And let
me say here and now that the BritishSalmson works are spotlessly clean, airy and noticeably free from fumes. The different departments are divided by sliding doors and the car-engine assembly room is naturally lit by windows in the roof. Originally mud’ of the work comprised the production of BritishSalmson radial aero-engines, for installation in the popular B.A. ” Swallow ” low-wing monoplane (nee Klemn), amongst others. Today there is less demand for small aero-motors, and the factory is kept at full capacity producing parts for various aircraft companies. Parts for aero engines and aeroplanes are turned out in quantity to extremely rigid and exacting specifications. The interesting thing is that the cars are built in batches so far as the major components are concerned, the ” fours ” in batches Of fifty and the ” sixes ” in batches of twelve at a time. Consequently, when a given batch is completed, the workers are transferred to aero-motor and aeroplane work, which cannot fail to reflect on the car chassis in point of skill and pride of workmanship, apart from providing a welcome change of routine. I saw carengine cylinder-heads, crankcases, flywheels, and valve-gear components in store, but production is so arranged that assembly is practically a continuous operation. The 14 h.p. model is the chief line, and although introduced less than two years ago, some thirty-five to forty are now in owners’ hands. The ” six ” is built to special order. Production varies from about three to six cars a week. Every facility is extended to owners and prospective owners to go round the works and during my visit I saw about half-a-dozen complete fourcylinder and two six-cylinder chassis. In inspecting them one particularly notes the sturdy box-section frame construction, the use of enclosed propellershafts, independent suspension by transverse leaf spring on the 14 h.p. and 20 h.p. cars, and the employment of substantial gaitered quarter-elliptic rear springs, even for the “six.” A single carburetter is found satisfactory on the fours, with twin instruments on the ” six.” Cylinder blocks are not specially hardened, but a minimum mileage of 40,000 is claimed before re-boring is necessary, with very low oil consumption. The 12 and 14 h.p. cars do 70 m.p.h. comfortably in closed form and the sports ” six ” exceeds 90 m.p.h. Engines are motored round electrically for six hours after assembly and then run at varying speeds on the brake for six to eight hours. The completed chassis does some 300 miles on the road before going to Putney for its bodywork, after which a further 150 miles or so is done on test. Every sixcylinder power-unit is put on the bench, and test readings are observed, before it leaves the works. I was told that they found very little demand for open bodywork and now concentrate on drop-head coupes and saloons on the smaller chassis. A saloon body was introduced for the ” six ” two years ago. Remembering the trials-type two-seater body on this chassis to have been replaced at the last show by a smart two-seater with spare wheel enclosed in the tail, I enquired if the former type were obsolete. I was told that as the 2i-litre is built to special order it is still possible to specify the body with slab-fuel tank and provision for carrying two comp.shod spare wheels, if desired. The ” six ” was not designed as an ultra-fast car, but rather as a really sturdy quality sports car able to exceed 90 m.p.h. and with an efficient engine providing excellent acceleration in spite of the solidity Of construction. The yellow two-seater with which W. C. N. Norton gained many competition successes is now used as a demonstrator. I was informed that the twincamshaft head is expensive to produce, but not complicated as to assembly, and they consider it justifies itself in point of power-output. Amongst the wellestablished components and materials used at the British-Salmson works are Solex carburetters, Rudge wire wheels, Lucas lighting and starting equipment, Plytnax fireproof facias, Luvax shockabsorbers, Jordan artillery wheels, Smith’s ” Jackal!” jacks, Ashby steering wheels, Lockheed brakes, Triplex safety-glass, S.U. carburetters on the 2k-litre, and Dunlop tyres. Tackled about really small aero-motors, I was informed that even a 3-litre, properly designed and ;built, would involve some 1,40,000 before production commenced and that there were insufficient suitable baby aeroplanes to justify it, while his. company was not interested in complete aeroplane con
‘struction. I left with the happy impression that, as we once before observed in MOTOR SPORT, British-Salmson cars are assembled with precise accuracy by men accustomed to the unlfurried construction of aeroplane engines—which probably explains the maker’s ability to offer a two years’ guarantee . . . The A.C. works, which I visited just before Christmas, are situated at Thames Ditton, in Surrey, facing a cluster of shops in a narrow village street. They look much more imposing than formerly, because a very modern showroom has been constructed recently beside the offices, and its windows front onto the street. Six immaculate A.C.s stood on the polished wood floor when I paid my visit, each one •displayed to perfection by diffused lighting from eighteen roundglobed lamps hanging from the ceiling. Thus prospective purchasers of an A.C. are enabled to inspect the range of models in leisure and comfort, while combining study of • the finished product with a tour of the works in which the cars are produced. I had the good fortune to be conducted round by ..Mr. D. P. Scutts, whom I have previously associated with in M.C.C. trials. The A.C. works consist of a single building with the different departments grouped round three sides of a square, and one has the impression that doubling the output would in no manner of means result in congestion or cramping of space. The workers, numbering about one hundred, engaged in car construction, reflect pride in good workmanship, such as is associated with a limited quantity production like the A.C. The A.C. Company originated in 1909 and established itself by selling the curious little A.C. Sociable tricar, of which many readers will have heard and some even encountered on the road. At Thames Ditton they proudly preserve one of these cyclecars, and at times even take it out for an airing. Driver and passenger sit together in a sort of coalscuttle in the front, steering is by crosstiller, and a single-cylinder air-cooled engine drives the single rear wheel through a Change-speed hub, like that on those tradesmen’s runabouts still used by the Dunlop Rubber Co. Ltd., for London deliveries, these being supplied by the A.C. Company. After the War S. P. Edge took the Company in hand and thereafter it has prospered exceedingly, though that pioneer sportsman and great business man has long relinquished the helm. Those early post-war days were historic ones for A.C., much record-breaking being indulged in, including the first 100 miles in the hour by a 1,500 c.c. car. They even listed a racing single-seater in 1924, priced at E.,1,000, as we described in the first volume of “The Brooklands Gazette.” In. the ‘engine department I was introduced to ” Jock” Watts, who has been with the Company since the beginning. He told me that the existing 2-litre six-cylinder engine was evolved towards the close of the War and put into production in 1921, having a skew-gear-driven o.h, camshaft and single carburetter. In those times it gave about 45 b.h.p. ; to-day it is made in three types giving 60, 70 and 80 b.h.p., respectively. The original alloy construction with wet cylinder liners is retained, but a new crankshaft is used, the camshaft is driven by duplex chain, the liners are now a shrunk-fit with modified base-sealings and the compression ratio has gone up from 4 to 1 toas much as 7.5 to 1 on the 16-80 unit. Actually, ratios of 6, 6.5 and 7 were used. on the three types, until recently, but another half-ratio is now permissible all round, without spoiling an A..C.’s inherent silkiness. The sports unit also has a special head with different valves, but uses the same camshaft ; a special camshaft is available but results in less smooth running low down. Triple S.T.T. carburetters are used on the modern. engine and when I jokingly said to Mr. Scutts that Robert Brewer had long ago proved a single instrument adequate, he silenced me by saying that they obtain just the same fuel consumption as with a single carburetter, and that old cars in for servicing display no synchronisation troubles, but that snap acceleration from 20 to 30 m.p.h. or so and ease of starting is vastly improved by using
triple instruments. Actually, a single Stromberg can be fitted if preferred. An Arnott vane-type compressor is now listed as an extra and fitted at the works, and with it much improved performance is. possible with a fuel consumption of 19 m.p.g., and no alterations of importance are involved. Indeed, a demonstration assembly was fitted in the course of a Saturday morning’s work. Every A.C. engine goes on the testbench and is run in under power from the start. First it is run at 1,000 r.p.m., then at 2,000 r.p.m. and is then gradually stepped up to its maximum, full readings being taken before it goes into a chassis. This testing period occupies twelve hours and is equivalent to 500 miles running-in. The completed chassis then does forty miles or so on the road before receiving its body and Mr. Scutts finally drives a similar distance during a final checkover. Two Heenan and Fronde dynamometers are used, set side by side in an open shop, a tribute to the silence of A.C. engines. Inspection of chassis in course Of construction reveals that the has those features one has come to expect of high-quality hand-built cars. Ordinary channel side members are
used, tied by a very rigid cross-bracing and underslung at the rear, and equipment includes built-in jacks, telecontrol shock-absorbers all round, and automatic chassis lubrication. The engines are very carefully assembled and have five plain main-bearings, inclined o.h. valves, and a sump capacity of 11 gallons. Camshaft covers are highly polished and a patented exhaust silencing system is incorporated in the manifolding, which is obscure as to function but which works extremely well in practice. The first part of the shop on the right-hand side is given over to servicing, and particularly thorough reconditioning of elderly A.C.s is a speciality. Beyond is the chassis assembly section and beyond that the engine and test-bed sections, no dividing walls being used, so that freedom of movement is facilitated between operatives in different departments. The works are notably clean and orderly, but, I thought, rather dimly lighted. Against the farther wall, as it were, is the bodybuilding shop, and I was interested to learn that all body building is completed on the premises, except for the panelbeating, which is done by outside specialists. The bodies are hand-built of seasoned ash framing with screwed joints, which is panelled in 18 gauge aluminium. I was most interested to learn that a speciality is made of building to clients’ individual designs or incorporating any desired detail modifications, so that very few A.C.s are exactly the same, in spite of which delivery is completed within three to four weeks and steady flow production is maintained. As proof of this I was shown a fixed-head coupe with an 18/80 engine, and an 18/80 sports two-seater with a non-standard screen. And I was told that a Sedanca de Ville body had quite recently left the works to the order of a lady client. The 16/80 sports two-seater, unlike the car we tested last July, now has a chassis level fuel tank and a smart tail, with ample space for side-screen storage and for luggage, covered by a metal cover, which is so much more practical than a fabric covering. After my recent attack on the slimestorming influence this bodywork change
cheered me not a little I The A.C. people find a definite demand for open cars but, like other makers of exclusive quality cars, they claim to meet it thoroughly satisfactorily by offering good drophead coupe bodies. I was told that about 55 per cent. of their total output consists of Foursome dropheads, about 15 per cent. Twosome dropheads, and that the remaining 30 per cent. is spread over fixed head coupes, saloons, four-seaters, and the 80 to 90 m.p.h. 16/80 competition two-seater. These bodies can be finished in any combination of colours and, some clients, I was assured, crave curious blends. American readers will be interested to know that open-bodied A.C. models are in demand for export to the U.S.A. Continuing round the shop one comes to the machine-shop or section, as it is unenclosed. Here considerable work is now devoted to the manufacture of aircraft parts, such as bomb-racks, etc., for the Bristol and Fairey concerns. But in direct contrast to British-Salmson’s method, those employees so engaged do no car work. Outside the range of machine tools are stored partly completed cars. Then comes the paintshop, which naturally is a shop, and can accommodate three or four cars at a time. Bodies are spray-painted, likewise wings and chassis parts, but they are not stove-dried. The head painter told me a lot of interesting things about the grooming of
assembled A.C.s. Something over a dozen different coats are applied, the number of final coats depending on the particular colour, and I can quite believe that the resultant finish is equivalent to that of specialist coachbuilders who make the coachwork that graces Rolls-Royce and other aristrocratic chassis. It takes four days to paint an A.C. and the job is done again if it does not pass Mr. Scutts’s strict scrutiny. Beyond the paintshop is the final adjusting and checking shop, entered through sliding doors. Here I saw a fixed-head coupe, a sports 18/80 two-seater and a saloon in the final stages of completion. One engine had Scintilla Vertex magneto ignition, which the purchaser had specified
in place of the standard coil system. In thus examining cars in course of construction one notices all manner of points which escape attention at other times. For instance, the wire-mesh antisplash stone-guards under the wings, and the ingenious hammock-seat on the fixed head coupe, which normally rolls up beneath the opening rear window, but can be let down to accommodate two persons, making the coupe a six-seater, or accommodating four occupants under cover. So we arrived back at the offices, where tea was brought to me from the canteen which A.C.s maintain for the con venience of their employees. It was interesting to reflect that although the present A.C. engine dates back in its fundamentals to 1918, the chassis has entirely changed since the days when every A.C. had quarter-elliptic suspension and the gearbox as part of the rear axle—cause of prolific letters from S. F. Edge to the motoring papers. To-day half-elliptic springing is used and the gearbox, with synchro-mesh on second, third and top and remote control, is in unit with the engine and optional ratios are available. Amongst the well known components and materials used by the A.C. Company as standard equipment or approved extras are S.U. carburetters and fuel pumps, Andre shock-absorbers, Hardy -Spicer propeller-shafts, D .W. S. jacks, Lucas electrical equipment, Dunlop and Goodyear tyres, Phillips radio, Lucas and Notex fog-lamps, Comercroft wheel discs, Wilson pre-selector gearboxes, and Arnott superchargers. Although the marque has a handsome list of competition successes to its credit the works themselves do not enter cars, leaving the field clear to private owners, many of whom make use of the A.C. service department in
preparing their cars. Prospective purchasers are always made. welcome at the works. A.C. have several clever slogans in their existing catalogue, but, examining my immediate reactions to the visit to this old-established British sports-car factory, I felt the most appropriate one to be : “Tailor-made at the Savile Row of IVIotordom—A.C. Cars, Thames Ditton .