C.U.A.C. DINNER AND A BIRKIN BENTLEY
SAM CLUTTON REPORTS AN ABSORBING WEEK-END [We very much regret that owing to pressure on our space room could not be found for this article in the December issue.–Edd
TIIE combination of events appearing in the title was too great a tern ptation to be refused. The dinner had long figured in Our diary for November 29th, and the offer of a Bentley by Jimmie Ward, purveyor of interesting sports cars, clinched the fixture. Bunny Tubbs was ” cOvering ” the event for “The Motor,” and earnest calculations between all concerned indicated that the project was just possible from a petrolific point of view.
The Bentley has chassis No. KM 3077, and was sold to Sir Henry Birkin in May, 1928, with engine No. KM 3098. It is a Le Mans type 41-litre and Birkin raced it at Le Mans. He subsequently fitted engine No. HI+ :3192, taken from another Le Mims caw previously owned by Mr. Bernard Rubens, instead of No. KM 3096. The wheelbase is 10′ 10″ and the axle ratio 3.3 to 1. The ratios on the racing ears were practically, if not quite’ identical with those of the -” A ” and “D ” type boxes, and while I cannot quote exact figures, the overall ratios with this axle are about 3.3, 4.4, 55 and 8.8 to 1. The car as handed over to us appeared to be in original condition, except that electric petrol pumps had been added and a new bonnet fitted. The coachwork was the traditional racing .green, with the well-known skimpy racing mudguards, all in splendid condition and practically free from trace of rattle. The dashboard displayed the closely-packed medley of instruments and vast tumbler switches, without which no Birkin Bentley would be complete. The brakes can be taken up from the driving seat. Beneath the bonnet the engine has all the appearance of a standard 41-litre with 450 S.U. carburetters, but in actual fact the top and bottom ends of these engines varied a good deal from standard in unseen structural detail, and 4,000 r.p.m. was permitted as against the normal 3,500 r.p.m., while even 4,500 r.p.m. was not unheard of !
Report ran that on the last occasion it was run the Bentley had topped the century in the hands of Robert Arbuthnot, so it was confidently anticipated that a good time would be had by all, and my previous experience of the sister car, now owned by John Lander, certainly excited the liveliest anticipations. However, the various little ailments which tome upon a car long laid up prevented anything like the best performance being obtained, and a fault in the petrol feed caused the engine to begin fading out abca e 2,500 elan). while 2,800 r.p.m. proved Oa best speed which could be reached in top before starvation set in. This was equivalent to about 80 m.p.h., although the speedometer then
only showed a trifle over 70 m.p.h., suggesting that it was calibrated for a 3.78 to I axle ratio. ” Pool ” petrol enforced full use of the ignition control and careful conservative throttle openings at low r.p.m.
Once these temporary disadvantages were accepted, we set about enjoying the historic machine on the strength of such performance as was available, and revelled in what must surely be one of the most perfect gearboxes of all time. Even Bunny Tubbs, who had never driven a Bentley before, never thought of using the clutch from the I-hat moment, though, if ultra-rapid upward changes were desired, the formidable clutch-stop could be brought into play with powerful effect.
The 4k-litre Bentleys never seem to me to handle as well as the 3-litre ; the additional weight up front produces a tendency to under-steer. Under these circ umstances, very decisive movements of the steering wheel are necessary on entering a corner at high speed, but if this is done both open bends and roundabouts can be navigated at really high speeds, while the long wheelbase gives excellent natural directional stability, as well as genuine comfort.
“A,” ” D ” and racing Bentley gearboxes are apt to be exzessively noisy, but this one was commendably silent, and the refined hum of the gears, combined with that of the straight-cut bevel and crownwheel, sang a very pleasant but subdued song. A detour to call on friends delayed us unexpectedly, and the black-out found us at Bury St Edmunds with no headlamp masks or other provision for wartime night driving—and was the night dark ? An enterprising youth at a garage quickly rigged up a leg: I black-out for the side and tail lamps, and we set oat on a horrifying 26-mile run to our goal at Cambridge. Half standing up, in order to see over the (unfortunately fixed) windscreen–by the way, it was raining into the bargain—we sidled along the white line, swearing freely at suicidal pedal cyclists without tail lamps, and the engine rumbling contentedly at between 1,000 and 1,500 r.p.m. In this way we reached Cambridge in a remarkably short space of time and were soon being welcomed by Mark Ward, the new secretary of the C.U.A.C., in John Jesty’s old rooms in
Queen’s. The air hummed with the usual technicalities, though it was noticeable that motor-cycles now figured almost more prominently than cars as a topic for conversation. Later, moving over to the “Red Lion,” we sat down, between 40 and 50, to a really excellent dinner, at which, however, there were, regrettably, several important non-starters.
Michael May took the chair, and when dinner was over speeches wcre, by common consent, cut to a minimum, Michael May calling on the writer to propose the health of the Club, to which Mark Ward replied, bewailing a recent proctorial purge which had rendered the Club i ractically immobile I The assembly then split up into huddles and conversation continued until long past midnight. Apart from those already mentioned, there was present Denis Maguire, whom pressure of scholastic business has recently compelled to give up the e retaryship, and veteran member secretaries included Mike Pringle and John JestY, who is now with Rolls Royce. David McCormick had very qui( kly converted himself into a pilot officer since leaving
Cambridge. ll de, -Hampshire and Symonds were also prominent among the company, as well as George Foxlee and Dennis Clapham, whom V.S.C.C. members will remember as passionate ” 12/50 ” Alals exponents.
Next morning most of the party reassembled to admire the Bentia, McCormick’s very nicely specialised Austin Seven, Michael May’s ” International” Norton and Denis Maguire’s 350-c.c. o.h.v. New Imperial. Several people took rides on the Norton to the annoyance of the constabulary, and the ‘acceleration is quite something. Having recently ridden a 1,000-e.e. Arid l ” Square Four,” I was feeling fairly blaze about acceleration, but the Norton really !tightened me silly.
After lunch came the return journey, the Bentley now tightly packed with three additional passengers making for de Havillands. Bunny drove along at a steady 70 m.p.h., and as we grumbled about the lack of performance it strack me as a very fair compliment to the Bentley to be talking so disparagingly of a nearly 14-year-old car which was, nevertheless, cruising effortlessly at a speed which few modern cars can sustain for any distance. At one place we passed some prisoners of war, who displayed the liveliest appreciation of the car, jumping madly up and down—Italians, evidently
And so we returned home a little before black-out time, with a nicely calculated teacupful of petrol, just visible at the bottom of the 35-gallon tank. Thank you. Mr. Ward!
The C.U.A.C. are to be most warmly congratulated for carrying on under the very difficult conditions which now exist at Cambridge, and it is most earnestly to be hoped that they will continue, so as to enjoy the prosperity which will certainly be theirs when University life again returns to normal.