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No 96: The Guy

Writing another in this series early in November, it seemed appropriate to deal with the Guy… Guy Motors Ltd was only one of many commercial vehicle manufacturers to include private cars in their repertoire. Albion, Dennis, Thorneycroft, Vulcan and others come to mind, and it was after the First World War that more joined in, seeking part of what was expected to be a lucrative market.

One recalls the wealthy dowager who wanted a good touring car after the Armistice but who refused to buy a Napier in case its tall radiator filler cap suggested she was riding in a taxi, who refused the latest sophisticated Leyland Eight for fear it would get around that she had purchased an ex-War Department truck, and who didn’t wish to ape Royalty in the blue haze of a Daimler nor appear ostentatious by acquiring a Rolls-Royce. In the end I imagine she was persuaded to try the new Lanchester Forty, which should have given every satisfaction, provided that she was slightly deaf and couldn’t hear the whine of the epicyclic geartrain when it was in neutral at some red carpet function!

But I digress. The Guy touring car was a postwar product of a company which had made commercial vehicles at a new factory at Fallings Park, Wolverhampton, since May 1914, under the admirable control of Mr Sydney S Guy, who had resigned his post as Sunbeam’s Works Manager for this very purpose, at the end of the previous year. During the 1914/18 war the new company made munitions, a 30cwt lorry and ABC ‘Wasp’ and ‘Dragonfly’ aero-engines under contract.

After the end of hostilities these well-made trucks enjoyed a good reputation and as a boy I used to study the advertisements for them, sturdy solid tyred open-cab jobs flying about the county roads, and think what a fine time their drivers must have had; but I wonder if they would have reciprocated this view!

Be that as it may, and good as Guy trucks were, the war had lost the firm pre-strife contacts and the flood of surplus vehicles thrown on the market by the Army Disposals Board was a further drag on sales. Perhaps it was this which partially influenced Sydney Guy in the production of the first Guy private car. He must also have realised that the engine of the Postwar Guy lorry was quite advanced enough to be used as the basis of an effective car power unit. Leyland, with Parry Thomas’s straight eight (the first British production car of this cylinder arrangement), Maudslay, with what was virtually a six-cylinder racing car concept, and Napier, all opted for very advanced ohc engines for their new private cars, but these presumably proved too expensive and there was a hasty return to commercial, vehicles or in Napier’s case, aero-engines. The same was to be true of Guy Motors’ offering. It was, in fact, the first British production vee-eight car, at a time when the celebrated Ford V8 was many years in the future and this cylinder configuration was used so far as most of the car-buying public were aware only by De Dion Bouton and Cadillac. But that was the type of engine Sydney Guy decided on, and which EDJ Buckney designed for him. It was of advanced concept, certainly, but more practical perhaps than the other cars which rival commercial vehicle makers were bringing out at about the same time.

A prototype (DA1342) was built, with what looks suspiciously like a 16/20hp Sunbeam radiator — remember, Mr Guy had worked at Sunbeam’s — perhaps to disguise this prototype tourer, which is said to have been unrecognised during a thorough 50,000 miles testing which apparently embraced thirty days in the wilds of North Wales — very wild in those days — obtaining fuel and oil consumption figures (and I suspect water consumption figures as well). One remembers how WO Bentley used a nondescript radiator on the first six-cylinder Bentley as a foil for prying eyes and cameras. After the new Guy V8 had been tested, the production cars had slightly pointed radiators, of individual appearance. The result was perhaps a rather ponderous, bath-like six-seater open car, but no worse than many other vintage tourers of that time.

In spite of the wartime munitions and aero-engine production at Fallings Park, and a V12 aeroplane engine, the Guy V8 car was announced just prior to the 1919 Olympia Show in London, all ready for the anticipated post-Armistice sales boom. Its appearance caused considerable interest. The cylinders, set at 90deg in two banks, had a bore and stroke of 72 x 125mm, giving a capacity of just over four litres, 4072cc to be exact, and a taxation rating of 25.74. The detachable cylinder heads were in pairs, easy to remove, and the water pipes were outside the casting, so that the gaskets had only to hold compression, not water as well.

The ingenious feature of the engine was the use of horizontal side-by-side valves, which with the head shape, gave much of the advantage of overhead valves without the complexity of operation and servicing complications arising from such valve-gear (see diagram). This unusual valve location meant that the valves could be operated by a central camshaft, running in six bearings and a mist of oil, via adjustable-ended bell-crank rockers carried on a single rocker shaft. The camshaft was driven by a Renold chain and the camshaft ran in three plain main bearings with an additional bearing for the timing sprocket. The white metal big ends were set side by side on each crankpin. The H-section con-rods had phosphor-bronze little ends and the pistons were of aluminium slipper-type.

Accessibility was the keynote of this Guy V8 engine. Large covers on the crankcase allowed the pistons and con-rods to be withdrawn upwards after the cylinder heads had been detached and the big ends released, for which purpose the nuts of the latter were above instead of below the journals. The paired heads were retained by six nuts and manifolding and water connections remained undisturbed after their removal; moreover, tapped holes allowed for the insertion of set-screws to act as grips for lifting the heads from the blocks. An interesting point was that the upper components were interchangeable from one side of the engine to the other.

Such easy dismantling made for reduced servicing costs, but the Guy V8 was a car in the chauffeur-driven category for most people and one wonders whether the average — and I say average — chauffeur expected to do more than reluctantly wash the car, mend punctures, wash out the carburettor and adjust the tappets of the cars they drove…? In the case of the Guy they were spared the onerous task of greasing or oiling up the chassis (which on a 40/50 Rolls-Royce involved filling 99 lubrication cups once a week!), because elaborate automatic lubrication was provided. This would have appealed to owner drivers and chauffeurs alike. The 14/45 Rover described in the November Motor Sport had such provision and Parry Thomas on his luxury Leyland Eight also had chassis lubrication plunger pumps actuated by the rear springs as they were deflected by road undulations.

On the Guy V8, designer Buckney used a plunger pump which was operated every time the steering wheel was turned on to full right lock. When that happened engine oil was supplied through steel or flexible pipes within the chassis side-members to the road-spring shackles and pins, the pedal bosses, the sub-frame spherical mountings, the clutch withdrawal spigot, the brake compensator, and the steering box, etc by wick feeds. The pump was operated by a cam on the steering arm. Much was made of this comprehensive automatic chassis lubricator, even to the extent that an oil can was deleted from the tool kit to emphasise its worth. In fact, the Guy owner still had to lubricate the brake rod casing, steering tie-rods, and the kingpins, but only about every six months, apart from checking engine, gearbox and back axle oil levels. Even the bearing of the belt-driven fan was supplied with oil mist from the crankcase and wicks took oil from steering rods to the ball joints. Grease was not any part of the Guy owner’s garage!

Thorough as this system was, one cannot help wondering whether hot engine oil pumped to the chassis made the Guy incontinent, to the detriment of the dowager’s gravel drive. And I like to think that if Sherlock Holmes had continued in practice as a consulting detective after he had disposed of the German spy Von Bork in 1914, for which purpose he had gone to America to study motor mechanics, we might have had the following dialogue from a case in the 1920s; “Come Watson, you know my methods,” (pocketing his magnifying glass), “I have ascertained that the villains turned right at the crossroads, and I know the kind of car they were using. Pray get out whatever it is you have replaced your wartime doctor’s Model T with, and we will go in pursuit.”

But back to the Guy V8, which is a worthwhile study of advanced postwar automobile engineering. Detachable plates closed in the space between the vee of the cylinders, near-vertical water off-takes served the thermo-syphon cooling system, and a cross-shaft driven by skew gears at the front of the engine drove the BLIC magneto on the offside and a CAV dynamo on the opposite side. The fully force-feed lubrication system had a filter that could be cleaned without draining the sump. The engine was carried in a flexibly mounted subframe, the radiator was flexibly mounted, and the drive went via a Ferodo-lined cone clutch to a four-speed and reverse gearbox, with speedometer drive. The drive was taken to the spiral-bevel rear axle by an open prop-shaft. The long half-elliptic springs were underslung at the back, the wire wheels were shod with 820 x 120 tyres and the wheelbase measured 10ft 10in. That there is nothing new under the sun is seen in the Guy’s fully adjustable-for-rake column, operating worm and wheel steering gear. The foot brake worked on the transmission, the rh lever, by the gear lever, the rear brakes. The back axle could be dismantled without jacking up the back wheels and petrol feed to the two Zenith carburettors was by Autovac, there was a reserve fuel tap, and the clutch stop was a tiny cone-brake. Many parts of this ingenious chassis were patented and the intention was that it would be inspected free every two years. That was the private car on which Sydney Guy, and his fellow directors TS Hooper, who was to own a fine V8 all-weather, and JA Jordan, hoped to have in production by May 1920.

In the meantime, at the 1919 Show a chassis, tourer and coupe were displayed and prices had been established at £1175 for the chassis and £1475 for the tourer. Interest was certainly aroused by the new car, in which not only was lubrication very thorough, as described, but extended to oiling of the rear springs, universal joint and wheel bearings from the back axle and the front universal joint from the gearbox. The Guy’s ride on bad roads was praised, the springs, which were devoid of dowels, being said not to deflect the axles by more than 1/32in out of track, while a more visible amenity was an aluminium instrument panel mounted on a light alloy and cast-iron support. The back of the panel was accessible from beneath the bonnet. If the Dowager had decided against a Guy V8 I suppose she might have looked instead at a V8 Cadillac, a Daimler 30 or a 25/50hp Sizaire-Berwick, which were in much the same price band in 1919. Or maybe at a 25hp Vauxhall, if the 30/98 was too sporting.

By 1920 rumours circulated that the project was doomed but the company denied this, claiming it had orders worth £2,250,000 and would separate the commercial vehicles from car production. By September the first batch of seven Guy V8s was ready. All kinds of bodies were being put on the chassis, the early appearance of which was to its advantage — for instance, the 1919 3-litre Bentley was only just appearing. One owner of a Guy V8 two-seater had little trouble in his first 5000 miles, apart from leaks from the original type water pump (apparently a later addition) and loss of lubricant from some of the chassis oiling points (“You see, my dear Watson”). He found the car not very fast, at 55/60 mph but got 30 mpg in hilly country and used Price’s heavy gas-engine oil in the sump and back axle. By the time of the 1921 Olympia Show engine internals had been slightly altered and disc wheels standardised, and fabric universal joints had replaced metal ones; the chassis price was down to £1095 a tourer costing £1395. It all looked most promising, for this advanced car with a side-valve engine with some of the advantages of overhead valves, including a central sparking plug, and the attraction of eight cylinders, but perhaps Guy Motors became too ambitious.

In 1921 they brought out a £475 12hp 1676cc long-stroke four-cylinder chassis. The tourer cost a whacking £660. Not satisfied with that, there was also a 15.9hp version and a 16.9 “Colonial” model. These models were dropped in 1923 in favour of a more conventional £395 2-litre four-cylinder with inclined side valves. It had pump and splash lubrication, which was claimed to give longer bearing life than pressure-feed, because impurities which passed the oil filter were not forced into the bearings! A tourer was listed at £495. The V8 soldiered on, the chassis price reduced to £875, a tourer to £1095 but in 1924 private cars were abandoned in favour of commercial vehicles.

One would have expected the honest Guy V8 to have fared better but according to Tony Guy, Sydney Guy’s nephew, only 140 or 150 were made, and today they can be regarded as defunct.

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