Letters from readers
Just home on leave, so I took the opportunity of securing a copy of MOTOR SPORT and noticed your paragraph in "Rumblings" re the demand for hosts. If anybody cares to drop me a line I would be extremely pleased. We might even arrange a meeting somewhere over suitable refreshment.
As you can see, I am now stationed in the lovely old trials country, and my particular job is driving a cross-country wheeled vehicle, with a remarkable turn of speed, and in its way it gives you all the thrills of the old trials days; unfortunately I am not in the position to be able to give you any technical details, which are quite unique!
After the war it is my hope (finances permitting) to build a trials car embodying its main features.
By then I should be quite well acquainted with some of its extremely peculiar and thrilling, or should I say unorthodox, habits.
Although I could write considerably more, unfortunately my leave is not so long, and I have much to do. At the moment I am in Bristol and have already had the luck to meet one or two C.A.P.A. enthusiasts, so my cup is full. May I congratulate you on continuing your paper. I might mention that we as a regiment have more than our fair share of enthusiasts. So one comes across MOTOR SPORT in the most amazing places.
I am, Yours etc.,
PETER G. WITZEL.
3rd C.L. Yeomanry,
[That's the spirit!—Ed.]
* * * * *
I was interested to see a letter in November issue from Mr. Hutton-Stott about a 1912 Lanchester.
I saw some time ago a photograph of a group of cars belonging to him noticed that one of them was a 1930 straight-eight Lanchester. I ran an identical model till Christmas, 1939, when I laid it up and I should be very interested to hear Mr. Hutton-Stott's experience with his, if he could find time to write.
With congratulations for carrying on I he paper so well.
I am, Yours etc.,
W. STUART BEST.
* * * * *
As I have just started a week's leave from professional driving in the Army and I am divorced from my motor car until later on, I feel I must write you a letter about sports-car motoring in wartime as one who is in the novel position of only having been a car owner since the war started. This was because I thought if I do not have a car of my own now, I may never possess one, and I honestly mean it when I say that your decision to carry on MOTOR SPORT for the duration has done more towards keeping up my morale than anything else.
My first car, which I bought at the end of November, 1939, was a 1925 four-push-rod Samson of the type known as VAL 3. I bought it from a couple of friends for £3, and I think it must have been the last car of its type on the road for it was extremely unreliable and lacked hood, screen, and all other weather equipment. It was a blue two-seater sports with a pointed tail, and whilst on close inspection it looked dilapidated, it had quite an inspiring appearance from a distance. My friends had found it lying in small pieces in a garage where I believe they spent some time searching for "the four missing push-rods!"
Due to the unusual design of valve operation considerable difficulty was experienced in getting all four cylinders to function properly. Clearances had to be adjusted every 50 miles, and in itself this was largely a matter of guesswork as it was almost impossible to get a feeler gauge in. As far as I remember clearances were: exhaust 8 and inlet 20—very bizarre! One cylinder, I think it was number four, used to work with extraordinary verve and aplomb, in fact, it was really the mainstay of the whole engine, and could always be depended upon to keep going when the rest had stopped. The others used to more or less come in when they felt like it, and on these occasions we exceeded 50 m.p.h. The previous owners got over 60 m.p.h. out of it. Before going out, I always had to squirt a mixture of paraffin and oil on the cone clutch otherwise it was much too fierce. I always drove the car with a floorboard or two out so that I could see what the not-too-reliable clutch was doing and the fact that as a member of the London Scottish Regiment I invariably drove in a kilt, re-assured passengers who were nervous about draughts.
The one real spot of bother I had with the car happened one day last January when the magneto seized at East Finchley. After enquiring at about half-a-dozen local garages and breakers' yards. we discovered that it had picked a very sensible place to pack up, for we were right by the factory which manufactures fibre vernier coupling inserts, a tremendous slice of luck, for you know how difficult it is to get hold of the right size of insert. We took the mag. off and a local garage proprietor unseized it for us, and then we put it back and got the car going just as it was getting dark. The thread had gone on the bolt on the metal strap holding the magneto on its platform, and in spite of the help of paper packing between the strap and the magneto we didn't expect it would last very long. By this time the black-out had descended upon us and as we had no lights we made a typical "enthusiast's return home" by trolley-bus and train. As I had to report back for duty that night, next day my father and my sister-in-law-to-be sportingly towed the "Sammy" across London to home.
One day last February, my brother was poking about in the yard of Scotias, the Tooting breakers, when, lying on its side amidst the scrappery, he found a complete 1925 Anzani Frazer-Nash, one of those perfect old cars with a polished aluminium bath-back body. The outcome of this was that the 'Nash was bought in part exchange for "Sammy" and £7. I hate letting an old car go to the breakers, but it was a case of the Samson perishing or 'Nash, and it is obvious that the 'Nash was the worthier car. I could hardly believe that I was now actually a 'Nash owner, one of those fortunate people who own something which is the real thing.
The engine, which had been fitted to the car in 1936, was found to be in excellent condition, but new king pins and bushes were required, and the dogs which were worn, needed building up as sometimes the gears wouldn't stay in. There were a few other small things to be done as well as the car had been lying in the open since it was driven into the breakers in September, 1939. At a minimum of expense these things were completed, and for this I have to thank my brother, in fact, had it not been for him the 'Nash would not be what it is to-day. It has typical 'Nash performance, and is a real wizard car.
You may remember that earlier in the year Mr. Gordon Woods, of Epsom, wrote to you hoping to hear from other 'Nash owners. Whilst I was away from home we wrote to each other regularly and last time I was on leave we met with our two respective cars, though by this time he had sold his Anzani-engined car and was running his new T.T. Replica, ex-Alpine Trial car. It was through him that I met Mr. John Clarke, and great was my joy when I found that this famous 'Nash exponent is an ex-owner of my car, and actually built the present front axle with its front wheel brakes. From him I learned a lot about its past history, and found that it had been completely overhauled by the owner in 1936. Had it not been for MOTOR SPORT I would never have discovered these things, which is just another example of how valuable the paper is.
And now a word or two about driving Army vehicles, and transport driving from the enthusiast's point of view.
A lot of the fun in transport work comes in driving impressed vehicles which are sometimes in poor condition. Memories stand out of a 3-ton Morris brick lorry on which racing changes were practised until the throttle stuck wide open through somebody jamming his rifle in the exposed carburetter and breaking the throttle connection. This was repaired with string. There was the Renault van with the M.G. exhaust note and no brakes, the Morris which ran a big end, and the little two-cylinder Jowett van which boiled every 5 miles and in which I drove the padre, who sat beside me on a petrol can. We had a Bedford lorry with servo brakes which pulled up wonderfully from 30 m.p.h. to 5 m.p.h. and then went on and on and on. . . . I also remember a remarkable run in two Fordson "Thames" vans, in which the driver of the other van was an ex-"Lambda" Lancia, 3-litre Bentley and Voisin owner, whose father had introduced Roland-Pilains to this country.
Finally, to end this already far too long letter, I must just mention the other cars in the family. Besides the 'Nash, only my brother's Lancia "Augusta" is taxed. His Balilla Fiat, for which a Marshall blower was recently bought, was taxed up to the beginning of this month. We have still got my father's 12/50 Alvis, and the 1935 Le Mans winning Lagonda is still in pieces after its accident, until we have the wherewithal to repair it. The latest addition is a 1930 Aston-Martin open sports, which was picked up very cheaply with a hole in the crankcase, and it is hoped something will be done about that in the winter evenings. My brother in the R.A.F. is more permanently settled than I am in the Army, and so has more opportunity for working on cars. Incidentally, previous to the Lagonda, a sort of crowning achievement, he had never owned anything not vintage, his cars including Austin Seven, "Lambda" Lancia (various), f.w.d. Alvis, Silver Eagle Alvis, Lea-Francis, 4½-litre Bentley, etc.
I must apologise for the length of this letter, but I believe you like to get news of motoring which is going on in wartime, and if letters such as this encourage you to carry on then this one has achieved its purpose.
I am, Yours etc.,
PETER M. A. HULL,
[Enthusiasm such as Mr. Hull displays is as common as it is encouraging.—Ed.]
* * * * *
For the past several years l have received your magazine from my friend Mr. France K. Peachey in Manchester, and enjoy it greatly. Even during the present conditions I have not missed a: single copy. We thank you people for carrying on as you have.
I noted with interest in a recent issue an article about the "Termites" or Model Midget Race Cars; they are, indeed, fascinating, and have developed here into far more than a mere toy, the present speed record being 72.5 m.p.h., and an unofficial speed of 75.1 m.p.h. for the mile having been recorded. I am enclosing several pictures of the cars and our track here, and will also attempt to describe the building of the track. I wish right here to take exception to your writer's statement that the cars are all alike; they are quite different in performance and appearance. Quite a number are home built, as it is possible to buy only such essential parts as drive gears, axles, motor parts, electrical equipment, and wheels of various types, and then build your own chassis and body. Of the stock designs, I have four cars. They are very good replicas of (1) a Fontenac Ford dirt track car; (2) a Miller straight-eight of 1930; (3) a "Doodlebug" or Midget Racer; (4) a Duesenberg Indianapolis car. Some of the new models are true replicas of the Maserati cars and some just American dirt track cars. Incidentally, the kits range from $15.00 to $45.00 for the good ones, or about three to seven pounds in your money; the motors are also very reasonable, the record holders at present being the Cyclone motors which sell for $16.00, then they range up to $60.00 for stock motors. You pay as high as $125.00 for specially built motors, and $75.00 for all-ball-bearing cars. But just for sport and speeds in the 60 m.p.h. class the cost is not great.
The official track is 105' in diameter (thus using a 52' 6" steel aircraft cable for a tether), the pavement of which must be very smooth and about 4' wide, as the cars run at full length of the cable when in speed and need only the width of the tread to run on, but in starting they weave some, and must have more room. Of course, the infield must be level and free from all obstructions, a good grass preferred, for when the cars "run in," as they sometimes do, and turn over they are not damaged as they are on an asphalt area. The concrete tracks can be built reasonably by using stone rubble, or old brickbats, for foundation, then topping it with about 2" of good concrete, trowled very smooth—a reinforcing mesh, possibly wire fencing, in the base coat is recommended, as then it is not necessary to put in expansion joints (because the cars jump wildly whenever they hit an uneven place, the expansion joints are not used much in the tracks). The pylon, or centre post, is located in the exact centre of the circle and should be anchored very securely in concrete, the post being either a steel shaft (we use motor car axles) or a 2½" iron pipe, the bearing for the spindle being an old ball-bearing of a size to fit snugly over the axle. The spinner arm is clumped tightly around this and the steel cable fastened with an eye and thimble (Note—do not use a tight joint at either end as the whipping action of the cars soon causes breakage at this point); at the track end of the tether a strong but small-sized snap-hook is fastened in the same free-playing manner. The entire outfit should be strong enough to stand a 60 lb. straight pull, as that is the equivalent to the pull of a car weighing 7 lbs. at 60 m.p.h. Right here, I would like to say that some kind of a "crash fence" or a retaining wall on the outer edge is advisable for the protection of spectators, as there have been several cases of the cars coming loose and injuring people standing close to the track; personally, I do not care to be hit by a 7 lb. piece of metal travelling 60 m.p.h. either. Accidents do happen and the cars get off once in a while.
While the 105' track makes one-sixteenth of a mile to the lap, and the cars are run on a quarter, half and 1 mile basis, the laps are easily figured out; many tracks are half size (one-thirty-second of a mile). Ormond Raceway is one-thirty-second. They are not as fast for actual speeds, but appear much faster to the spectators, as the cars get around more often. The location should be as far from residential property as possible, preferably at an aerodrome or industrial location; inside Brooklands would be fine for a track. The noise of the little motors is very penetrating and is disturbing for fully a mile away; we are within half a mile of a church and must not run the motors at all during services.
Now about portable equipment; an old steel motor wheel with the rear hub intact, and an old tyre fitted, makes a good anchor for speeds up to 45 m.p.h., using a piece of the drive axle stuck into the hub for a mast, and the same bearing arrangement as before. Any dance floor, skating rink, airport apron or smooth hard-surfaced area becomes a racing field. When using a line as short as 15’, or a 30’ circle, the wheels have to be "cut" very sharply on the cars and they drag badly but such a line is used only when giving exhibition runs in limited spare and not for competition.
It is impractical to give the cost of the tracks, but they vary front $25.00 to $300.00 for the flat cement raceways, up to $1,500.00 for the elaborate four-lane steel rail tracks they build out in California and race four cars at one time. The actual material cost us $25 but we used refuse, brickbats, etc., and did all the work ourselves, including the mixing the cement and the finishing of the surface.
Enclosed are it few pictures of the track, some of the cars, and a sketch of the layout. I would be mighty glad to hear from some of your readers about Model Midgets, and model race-car building in general. I have over 300 showcase models of race-cars including many of the famous European cars, an extensive clipping collection, and thirty or more books, by such men as Sir Malcolm Campbell, S. C. H. Davis, Prince Chula, and others. Many of the books I saw reviewed or mentioned in your magazine.
With best wishes to you and hoping you will find this useful.
I am, Yours etc.,
LAWSON G. DIGGETT.
Ormond Model Midget Raceway,
P.O. Box 104.
[Now what about starting in on model car racing in this country of curtailed motoring? The illustrations referred to appear on pages 257 and 258.--Ed.]
* * * * *
Congratulations on continuing the publication of MOTOR SPORT under such abnormal conditions, and the best of luck for the future. With reference to the G.P. Sunbeam which came to Northern Ireland and which was mentioned in your October issue by T. A. S. 0. Mathieson, and again in your November issue by Arthur L. Fee, this car was raced by the late Trevor McCalla in the Bray (Co. Wicklow) "Round the Houses" in 1934. Also in the County Down Trophy, I believe in 1935, which it won from scratch, doing the record lap at just over 70 m.p.h. This car was a supercharged six-cylinder, and it once belonged to Jack Dunfee. It is now in the possession of Mr. Jack Barbour, who was a great friend of the late Trevor McCalla. It is reported that Mr. Barbour intends to fit a 2.6-litre M.G. engine in place of the old G.P. unit and to use it as a sports-car. Consequently there is very little hope of this car leaving Northern Ireland.
I would be interested to hear from any reader who has successfully cut down the petrol consumption of a J2 M.G. Midget. Also if there are any enthusiasts in the Services stationed around Belfast, they would be made welcome if they care to call at my address for an evening.
I am, Yours etc.,
16, Prince Edward Park,
[Please write direct.—Ed.]
* * * * *
I can add a few more economy cars to your list :—
No. of Cyls.
No of Gears
I see Mr. Clutton's article in the August issue has aroused much ire. I agree with your contributor of "Picking up Sam's Gauntlet" that nothing is good from Britain until it is history. But surely the Rover 14 cannot be compared with the Lancia "Aprilia." Certainly the Rover is better in finish and equipment, but its performance is not in the same class as the Lancia.
Rover saloon : 14.9 h.p. (15 h.p. rating) : price £330; m.p.h. 70; m.p.g. 24; Lancia "Aprilia " saloon : 12.9 h.p. (13 h.p. rating) : price £355; m.p.h. 82 ; m.p.g. 30. So the bill is not much less. I note that your contributor wonders why there are not many 9 h.p. H.R.G.s on the road. The answer is because it costs £100 more than the admirable Morgan "4/4" and £70 more than the M.G. Type T, the latter two of which are nearly, if not quite, as good. Then again, everybody seems to sneer at the S.S. In defence of that excellent car I would like to point out that the S.S. 3½-litre saloon can beat a 4¼-litre Bentley saloon (even with the overdrive) on all acceleration figures, and also equal it on maximum speed. The finish is nearly as good as that of the Bentley and definitely it looks as smart. It is excellent value at £445, less than one-third the cost of a Bentley. And why is the Type 328 B.M.W. always given preference to the S.S. 100? We know the S.S. 100 has a 25 h.p. engine whilst the B.M.W. has only a 17 h.p. engine, but the S.S. is as good as the B.M.W. on petrol consumption and is far more flexible on top gear. Incidentally, the S.S. saloons are full five-seaters. If the S.S. cost £1,000 or so, it would be hailed as a masterpiece of automobile design. Lastly, the finest value, to my mind, is the 33 h.p. Mercury V8 (95 m.p.h., £390, 22 m.p.g., 0-50 m.p.h. in 9 secs., six-seater); the finish is as good as the B.M.W. and fitted with, say, L.M.B. suspension, it should have quite excellent road-holding and cornering properties.
I am, Yours etc., DAVID L. GANDHI
[We included the Constantinesco in our Economy Car list and the Gnome was the same as the Nomad. The Rover Eight actually came in the 9 h.p. category, likewise the Senechal, and the flat-twin, ex-Stellite Wolseley was a very early Post-1918 car. So far as the S.S. is concerned, Mr. Lyons should be blushing.—Ed.]