Sideslips by "Baladeur"

A correspondent in South Africa, who not only lived through the Augustan Age of motoring but also actually remembers what happened during it, unfolded to me not long ago a fascinating tale of the origin of the name ENV and of the events which link up with the history of these, to me at any rate, hitherto cryptic initials. “I’d bet,” he says, “someday someone solemnly writes that ENV stands for three blokes who invented the first spiral bevel or some such tale !” In fact, as you have doubtless guessed, it stands for nothing of the sort, and this, according to my correspondent, is the true history of the matter.

In the Paris of 1907 there lived a Captain Ifah Williams, who, like many of his contemporaries who had hitherto been amateurs of the automobile, became greatly interested in flying. In Williams’ case, this interest took the practical form of suggesting that what was urgently needed for aeronautical purposes was a light, powerful engine, and, thus inspired, he proceeded to design one. It took the form of a 60/80-hp V8, with electrolytically deposited copper. water jackets, like those used on the famous 70-hp Panhard et Levassor racing car of 1902. This engine he at first named the “En V”; but later, perhaps when he came to talking about it to English friends whose French was not equal to the translation of this difficult phrase, he renamed it the “ENV.” The engine was a success, and with the financial support of various friends, including Major Laycock, of Messrs WS Laycock, Ltd., whose heavy engineering works were at Millhouses near Sheffield, Williams proceeded to its manufacture in a small factory in the suburbs of Paris, next door to that operated by F Charron, famous racing driver of the early days who had since turned manufacturer. Here in the next few years he made a number of aero engines and he even installed one of them in a car. “More to amuse himself than anything else,” writes my correspondent, “he got a lot of chassis parts from Charron and made a chassis to take the 60/80-hp V8 ENV engine. It was a nice car, for Ifah kept it light, and with such a light high-power engine it had a superb top speed performance.” If it really disposed of anything like 80 hp, I can well believe it ; and if it has survived into this latter age, I wish someone would put me in touch with it !

A factory was acquired at Willesden so that the ENV engine could be made in England, and then in 1911, just when everything seemed to be going swimmingly, Ifah Williams died. Robbed of his enthusiasm, the financial sponsors of the venture quickly lost faith in it. Rotary, rather than V, aero engines seemed to them to be the power units of the future, and eventually they turned the ENV company over to making spiral bevels, which had recently been developed in America. As a curious postscript to the story, however, the link which had been forged by ENV between Laycocks and Charron was not completely broken, and in 1919 it was announced that a car to be called a Charron-Laycock would be manufactured at Millhouses. It was, as far as I remember, a rather dull little car; and I think it would have been more interesting if its sponsors had decided to manufacture the 60/80-hp V8 of before the war.

At any rate that is the story of how a company making spiral bevels came to be called after an engine with its cylinders arranged “in a V”; and consideration of this cylinder arrangement leads one into some rather curious historical byways. The main highway, I suppose, takes one to Gottlieb Daimler’s narrow V-twin engine of 1889 which was fitted to the Panhard and Peugeot cars that took part in the Paris-Rouen Trials of 1894. This was in many ways a complicated and ingenious engine, which combined the use of the four-stroke cycle with crankcase compression, but it would not seem that it was these features which suggested the arrangement of the two cylinders in a V, because, first, Daimler had already used them in an earlier engine with a single cylinder, and, secondly, the patent specification covering the V twin provided, as alternatives, for “a double cylinder side-by-side engine, with one double parallel-legged connecting-rod, the big end of which was the width of the whole distance across the rods where they entered the two cylinders,” and also for an opposed piston “flat-twin,” with the cranks at 180 degrees. The attraction of the V-twin with its cylinders at an angle of only about 13 degrees, however, resided, I imagine, in its relative lightness. As in the side-lay-side two-cylinder, the big ends of both connecting-rods were on the same crankpin, and in this case the inordinate length of the big end was avoided. The engine was so arranged, moreover, that induction was going on in one cylinder while the other was firing so that, for a-given number of revolutions, one would get twice as many power strokes as in a single-cylinder engine. There was, however, no greater measure of balance, and it is perhaps significant that Levasaor’s first major modification to the Daimler engine was to replace it by the Phenix, with two vertical cylinders and the cranks at 180 degrees, so that while one cylinder was firing the other was compressing, and while the second was firing the first was exhausting.

In the meantime, during the ‘nineties, Daimler had had an imitator in the shape of M Tenting, who, as M Louis Lockert is careful to point out, “though the name savours of German or English origin, belongs to a family that has been French for generations past.” His great-great-grandfather had in fact come to France from the Grand Duchy of Baden in the eighteenth century, and this latest representative of the faniily built his first horseless carriage early in 1891. This machine had a single-cylinder engine, but, in his second effort, Tenting decided to use two cylinders, arranged in a rather narrow V, the angle between them, however, being more obtuse than in Daimler’s engine, and measuring, I should say from the rather inadequate drawing in front of me, about 30 degrees. In contrast to the Daimler engine, moreover, in which the cylinders were nearly vertical, Tenting’s cylinders were arranged at an acute angle to the horizontal, but, as in the Daimler engine, both connecting-rods were on the same crankpin, the only exception to this practice that I have come across in early V engines, in fact, being the Papillon, in which the two connecting-rods are said to have been mounted on two distinct cranks at about 36 degrees to each other—an arrangement which I should have thought might have produced some rather curious results. One advantage of the Tenting engine was said to be that it could “act either with gasoline, refined petroleum or lamp petroleum;” but unfortunately I am not acquainted with the exact nature of these fuels in the context of the ‘nineties, and on the only occasion, as far as I can trace, when the Tenting made an appearance in public competition, which was in the Paris-Marseilles-Paris race of 1896, it retired on the first stage to Auxerre, and one is thus left wondering not only as to what exactly were the various fuels it could use, but how well it “acted” on any or them

Be this as it may, in the Tenting, according to M Lockert, “there is nothing . . . which has been borrowed from foreign inventors ; this car is exclusively and entirely French.” Any resemblance between its engine and Daimler’s was doubtless, therefore, purely coincidental ; but if one takes a longish stride forward into the future, to the two-cylinder racing Lion-Peugeot of 1909, one cannot but wonder whether some sort of subconscious folk-memory of Daimler’s design helped to inspire this highly successful racing voiturette.

This machine, and its successor of 1910, have been described in some detail by Kent Karslake in his Racing Voiturettes, but the chief point which is of interest in the present context is that these long-stroke engines resembled the long-stroke Daimler engine of the nineteenth century in having the two cylinders arranged across the chassis in a narrow V, the included angle between them; which in the case of the Daimler engine is said to have been “about 15 degrees,” amounting in the Lion-Peugeot to 16 degrees. Not content with a V-twin of 80 by 280 mm, moreover, their designer, M Michaux, supplemented it in 1910 with a V-four, of 65 by 260 mm, which was in fact a pair of V-twins in tandem with the dimensions slightly altered ; and is V-four of similar design, but with the bore and stroke modified to 78 by 158 mm to suit new regulations, was used in the 1911 Coupe de l’Auto.

In 1912, however, the design of Peugeot racing engines underwent a fundamental change, in favour of vertical cylinder arrangement and inclined overhead valves operated by two overhead camshafts. The changeover from a V to a vertical engine merely repeated the change which had been made by Levessor when he designed the vertical Phenix engine to take the place of the Daimler V-twin in 1895; but the new valve arrangement on the 1912 Peugeot, which was then entirely novel but which has been used on practically every racing engine ever since, has usually been associated with the name of E Henry. Recently, however, an attempt has been made to belittle the contribution in the matter of this Swiss designer and to give the lion’s share of the credit to the Peugeot drivers, Georges Boillot and Paul Zuccarelli. This is not a matter on which I feel for a moment competent to adjudicate, but it is at least permissible to remark that the new valve arrangement would have been, to say the least of it, awkward with a narrow V engine (unless, perhaps, the design had incorporated three camshafts instead of two), and it thus seems a fair deduction that whoever was responsible for the direct-operated inclined overhead valves, was also responsible for the abandonment of the V engine in favour of a vertical cylinder arrangement.

It seems to have been an axiom of Peugeot policy at this time to prevent any influence from the racing department percolating through to the production side, and although the design of the 1912 racing engine soon set a fashion for all other racing engines, it is not a fashion that has ever been adopted for the engines of Peugeot touring cars. As a result, perhaps, the latter have been somewhat neglected by the students of racing engine design. It is, however, of interest to note that in 1913, a year, that is, after the success of the vertical racing engine had been established, there was introduced to the market a new 12-hp Lion-Peugeot, which, according to the Autocar, “owes its inception to the inventive genius of Boillot.” The novel engine of this car, however, so far from being a vertical design with two overhead camshafts, comprised four cylinders, with a bore and stroke of 65 by 130 mm, arranged as two V-twins with an included angle between the cylinders of 20 degrees. It was in fact a slightly “wider” version of the V racing engine of 1910 and 1911, with, incidentally, the same bore as that used in 1910 and the same stroke-bore ratio as that used in 1911. Instead of a combination of horizontal and overhead valves as in the V racing designs, however, it had vertical side valves at the front and back of the engine, operated by two transverse camshafts, driven through skew-gears from two longitudinal half-time shafts one on each side of the crankcase.

The bore of this engine was shortly afterwards increased to 68 mm, but the production of the 12-hp Lion-Peugeot does not appear to have been resumed after the war, possibly because the death of Georges Boillot in an aerial battle removed the prime instigator in the affair. Curiously enough, however, his work on the narrow V engine was taken up by another famous racing driver turned designer, and in 1922 there appeared what was to become one of the most famous models of all time in the shape of the Lancia Lambda. As in the case of the Lion-Peugeot, the engine of this car had four cylinders arranged at an angle of 20 degrees, and the dimensions of 75 by 120 mm, were much as one might have expected if the 68 by 130 mm Lion-Peugeot, had continued to be developed while the long-stroke era was receding into the background. Unlike the Peugeot, which had its pairs of cylinders opposite each other and two connecting-rods on the same crankthrow, however, the Lancia engine had its cylinders staggered and a four-throw crankshaft, and instead of front and rear side valves, it had vertical overhead valves operated by an overhead camshaft. This basic design has been adhered to by Vincenzo Lancia and his heirs ever since ; and it thus appears that when Emile Levassor designed his vertical engine, he did not relegate Daimler’s narrow V arrangement to quite so obscure a limbo as has perhaps been sometimes supposed.