[ln the following article, at our request, John Bolster tells how “Bloody Mary,” one of the most sensational sprint specials of recent times, was developed from twin-engined to four-engined form. As usual, John writes with extreme modesty, chiefly of his set-backs, and it is only fair to say that the 4-litre “Mary” is a very remarkable machine; the weight distribution and the independent, torsional front suspension having occasioned much thought and ingenuity.—Ed.]
“BLOODY MARY 1″ appeared at her first speed event in 1929, and year after year, with gradual improvement and development, she ran in nearly all the sprint events in the country. Eventually, she became a very reliable little car, and I had some very good luck with her, making a large number of “fastest times,” and several course records. However, she was unsuitable for Brooklands racing, and I got a little tired of being confined almost entirely to sprint motoring, so work was started on the present “Mary,” the 4-litre, four-engined machine. [The car originated as a wood-framed, chain-driven single J.A.P.-engined racing cyclecar, involving G.N. and Bleriot-Whippet bits and was even licensed for road use. It appeared in twin J.A.P.-engined form before being largely rebuilt, as recounted hereafter, to take four 1,000 c.c. V-twin J.A.P. engines.—Ed.]
Had I known what this job entailed, I would never have attempted it, as, except for the engines, every single part of the car was specially designed and built, no orthodox car parts being suitable for this unusual layout. At one time it seemed as though it would never be finished, and it was only because my friend, Taffy Jones, who owns a small garage, worked frequently till after midnight on the car, that it was ever completed.
At last the car was almost finished, and I foolishly entered it for the first Shelsley in 1938. To get it ready entailed working night after night till the small hours, but at last, more dead than alive, we arrived at Shelsley with our completely untried car. The sensation of allowing 200 h.p. to play with 11 cwts. of car for the first time, will never be forgotten, but alas, our machinery was found to have the father and mother of all vibration periods, and on our first practice run the vibration was so severe that the engines and various other important bits were literally torn out of the chassis. One could have had quite a bad crash without doing so much damage! We worked practically all night, greatly helped by Mr. McKenzie, but the first run on the actual day was even more disastrous, so we took our lovely new car home in a deplorable state.
With a bare fortnight to the Lewes meeting, things looked bad, but we stripped the car completely to bits and, on the assumption that an ounce of rubber is worth a ton of theory, that useful material was applied to strategic points. The usual all night work took place, and the car was finally finished late on the morning of the meeting, some of the assembly actually taking place in the paddock. At last the time for the “unlimited racing” class approached, and with great trepidation we started our engines, finding to our unutterable relief that the vibration trouble was cured. The first run, however, presented us with a much worse problem, for it was found that the car skidded about wildly at speed, and took very little interest in what the driver did with the steering wheel. On the second run, by engaging top gear in the first ten yards and opening the throttle with the greatest care, fastest time of the day was secured, though it was obvious that something was very far wrong with the road-holding.
To cure the uncontrollability, we fitted higher geared steering, and tried the car out at the Prescott hillclimb. Though still inclined to wave its tail about, the car was much better, and won the “fastest unblown” prize, in spite of some sideways motoring. After more detail alterations, we went to Bristol for the Backwell hillclimb, which course seemed to suit the car, and a new record for the hill resulted.
The second Shelsley was the next event, and that most tricky hill, with its myriad bumps and changes of camber, showed up “Mary’s” road-holding at its worst, the sensation being similar to driving on ice. This was maddening, as the car was going splendidly, and I was silly enough to yield to the immoral temptation to keep the throttle fully open on the final straight, while the machine became more and more un-steady. The inevitable happened, and the finishing line was crossed fully broadside, the subsequent motoring o’er banks and braes luckily breaking nothing. The result of all this was that the climb took exactly 42 seconds, which the older “Mary” could do with exactly half the horsepower.
Something drastic had to be done, so we decided to alter the weight distribution and also the rate of the rear suspension. We got this done in time for the final Brooklands meeting, and it was immediately apparent that the car was now beautifully steady on the Campbell Circuit. In the actual race, the drive to one of the magnetos failed, and we finished a bad last. That concluded our season, so we sent the poor old engines back to J.A.P.’s for a winter overhaul.
The first event of 1939 was another Brooklands fixture, and I decided to have a crack at the Mountain circuit this time. In practice, the car went like a flash, and held the track splendidly, though work on the brakes necessitated the usual last minute struggle. In the actual race, the gear lever came away in my hand, so that was that. As it was only a few days to the Crystal Palace event of the Vintage and Frazer-Nash Clubs, the car was rapidly prepared, and went extremely well in the 15 lap race, though by the end of the race there were no brakes left, which ruined any chance of a place.
New drums were immediately designed and put in hand, and I lengthened the wheelbase two inches to give myself a bit more room, the car then being taken down to Lewes for the speed trials. After a few preliminary bothers, we got her going really well, but just as the finishing line was approaching at a most satisfactory speed, there was a most indecent noise, and the air became filled with machinery. Two cross members had broken, with catastrophic results, and as the car had been entered for the forthcoming Crystal Palace meeting, it seemed impossible to repair it in time. The fact that we had motored quickly enough to win the cup for the fastest invited club member was a very slight consolation.
Then began the most hectic work imaginable, and such things as sleeping and shaving were seldom attempted. Somehow we got over our troubles in time for the practice day, whereupon I proceeded to indulge in a shocking accident. We got two or three hours’ sleep before the race, and brought the car to the line in one piece, though we had to use the wrong sized back wheels owing to the proper ones being spoilt in the crash. The very slow corners of the Palace circuit do not suit this car at all well, but she finished the heat, though slowing latterly through one magneto coming adrift, and got into the Final. We mended this, and had some fun in the Final, but the front shock-absorbers passed out completely, rendering the car very spectacular when braking, so I retired in case of getting in anybody’s way. We then found that one of the crankcases was cracked, and the orgy of overwork, necessary to get ready in time for Shelsley, was quite indescribable.
At Shelsley the car was slowed by an irritating and mysterious misfire, but it won the prize for the fastest “Special.” Then I realised that I was spending far too much money on racing; and my wife pointed out that not only had I got so thin that my clothes were dropping off, but that she’d also like to see something of me occasionally. “Mary” was therefore put away for a few months, though she would have made her comeback by now if Adolf hadn’t misbehaved. As soon as he’s been dealt with, though, the next job is to persuade “Mary” to corner faster, and I have already started on the drawings for the necessary modifications. Of course, the impecunious amateur’s “Special” can never hope to beat the “real racers,” but with any luck “Bloody Mary II” may develop into a reasonably satisfactory motor-car.