The SCAT history on the previous pages in this issue recounts how two 1100-c.c. Newtons were entered for the 1923 200 Mile Race at Brooklands but non-started. Nevertheless, one of these cars still exists (an even rarer possession than the 2LS Ballot which I described last month) restored by Geoff Hare, the well-known owner of two immaculate Frazer Nash “Chain-Gang” cars. It is almost certainly the only racing Newton in this country, and presumably in the world, and it will be very interesting to see it at next year’s VSCC meetings.
A long time ago, always keen to see an ex-Brooklands racing car, I went to Kenton to look at Eric Benfield’s 1924 200 Mile Race Alvis, then being restored and now a regular performer in immaculate order (but understandably with a replica body, although you wouldn’t know if you hadn’t been told) at VSCC races and speed-trials. “Do you want to see another 200 Mile Race car?” asked Eric. And he sent me just down the road, to look at this 1923 Newton, which Nick Sloan, seeking spares for his 1925 S150 Newton-Ceirano, had discovered around 1964 in a shed in Manchester following the death of Henry Longden Oilier, owner of the car since 1927. This is the car which Geoff Hare has now restored so competently, a strikingly attractive little car which looks like a cross between a GP Fiat or Sunbeam from this age of motor racing. Its history is compelling.
Much interest was shown in the two Newtons before the “200”, in which they would have been up against the works Salmsons, the Morgans, an ABC and Gordon England’s 747-c.c. Austin 7, etc. Whether or not they would have been too new to beat the winning 1100-c.c.-class average speed of 82.73 mph by Robert Buerno’s Salmson (or the 76.84 mph of the second-place A7) we shall never know. In fact, one wonders whether both racing Newtons or only the car for Noel Newton to drive got to England from Italy (some time prior to the race the Brooklands’ bookie “Long Tom” was offering odds of 20-to1 against Newton and Longden’s Eric-Longden, 25-to-1 against Pellegatti’s Newton and a Derby and one of the slower Morgans, whereas Buerno was at 5-to1). The non-starting Newton, probably the car for the English driver, was shown at Olympia in 1923, the body apparently somewhat hastily finished, together with a longer touring chassis. This exhibit was resumed at the 1924 London Show, where a coupé was also shown, probably a closed version of the 1923 long chassis, to promote the idea of this advanced twin-cam 1100 as a road-car — it had a taller radiator than the competition version — and the coupé also went to that year’s Scottish Show. By 1925 Newton & Bennett had taken the UK agency for Ceirano, so the opportunity was taken to re-christen the racer to Newton-Ceirano.
In 1926 Sydney Cummings acquired the remaining racing car, perhaps by way of trading from his premises at 101 Fulham Road, London, or maybe with a view to his daughter Ivy Leonora Cummings racing it; I can find no record that she ever did although her name is on the first of the existing log-books. She seems to have passed it on to Arthur Cecil Wells. In 1927 it was to have been taken in part-exchange for a new Riley by S H Newsome & Co of Coventry. (Coincidentally, Newsome had been a school-friend of Noel Newton.)
But the customer neither collected his new car nor came back for the old one, which then became the property of Henry Longden Oilier of Manchester, who in 1929 is recorded as driving it very unsuccessfully at Southport sand-races. Around the time that Sloan unearthed the racer, Alvis 12/50 exponent Julian Berrisford acquired from VSCC member Gordon Brown in Hove a complete engine and gearbox, thought to be from the coupé. These had before the war been through the hands of noted old-car exponent Marcus Chambers. In due course Julian passed his acquisitions to Geoff Hare.
Hare, the fifth registered owner, has a quite beautiful little vintage racing car, which he has meticulously rebuilt, having purchased it in 1965 for £140. Technically it is very much in the idiom of the Grand Prix cars of the 1920s. It was the work of Olivo Pellegatti, who, born in Ficaldo in 1897, was only 25 or 26 when the project was started. As far as can be ascertained, Pellegatti went to Milan in 1919 with his brothers Odo and !do to form a business at Porto Garabaldi, making civilian vehicles by converting wartime Muletti. After this he was financed by Mazotto to design a quality car in the style of the Tipo 519 Fiat, but although many orders were said to have been taken there was no cash to equip a plant to build the car. Around this time he also designed and built a six-cylinder twin-cam two-litre racing car for an Italian-American, and it was the sight of Pellegatti racing this car at Cremona that impressed Noel Newton sufficiently to commission the 1100-c.c. Newton. Pellegatti was involved with prototype design and machining work for customers including Isotta Fraschini, Hanomag, Singer, Skoda and Laros outboard motors. By 1934 he had founded IMI Bearings and had drawn for OM an advanced twin-cam car with all-round independent suspension and which could have FWD or RWD at will, but it was stillborn. Before the war he went to the USA to develop multi-cylinder outboard motorboat engines for the Johnson Company, before retiring back to Italy in the 1960s.
The four-cylinder engine of the intended 200 Mile Race car has a bore and stroke of 60.35 x 95.7mm (1085-c.c.) and would run willingly up to 6,000 rpm, giving a power output which Newton stated to be a highly respectable 62 bhp. Two o h-valves per cylinder inclined at 45 deg were operated by the twin o h-camshafts, using a train of gears at the front of the engine, from which the water and oil-pumps were driven.
The two-piece crankshaft was joined by a kind of dog-clutch and double-taper bolt at its centre and ran in three ballraces. A plain-bearing crankshaft has been substituted because of the impossibility of balancing the built-up crank. This and other changes have been made to other old cars and while I do not like this, Hare has justification with the Newton because, never having been raced seriously, it is virtually a prototype, which Pellegatti might well have modified himself had he developed it.
Originally there were five oil-pumps, two pressure, three scavenger, and the white metal big ends were fed by centrifugal-fling from the crank-webs, but to meet the needs of the revised bearings only two pumps.are now needed for the dry-sump lubrication system, the capacity of both suitably increased. The replica oil tank fills the scuttle and possesses 39 cooling tubes. It holds 1-1/2 gallons as against the 4-1/2-gallon 200-mile race original. The new oil-pumps are in tandem, with the water pump above them; there is no cooling fan. The tubular con-rods have also been replaced, with conventional H-section rods. Both Claudel-Hobson and Zenith triple-diffuser carburettors are shown in the 1923 Newton-Bennett Motor Show brochure, but the car now has 36mm Zeniths on the o/s of the engine feeding into small two-branch manifolds set very close to the cylinder block, so requiring no hot-spot. They appear too large for a 1100-c.c. engine until one is told that they are suitably choked. Feed is by air-pressure from a cylindrical tank in the car’s tail, holding about 10 or 12 gallons. Hare runs the engine on leaded pump petrol and Castrol oil. A bonnet-side “power-bulge” covers the carburettor air inlets.
Ignition is by coil, the Marelli distributor driven from the rear of the o/s camshaft (since seen on modern power units!). An interesting point is that a second distributor, yet to be rebuilt, incorporates the coil unit. On the n/s a conventional four-branch exhaust manifold feeds into a long exhaust-pipe. This creates a fine noise but a Brooklands “can” will be made for it before next season. The compression-ratio is 7.9 to 1 using a new set of Martlett pistons which came with the spare engine.
The whole power-unit is beautifully made and proportioned, like the rest of this Newton. A water-jacket plate bears the name “Newton Manchester” but many of the engine parts, such as the timing and other gears, are stamped “I-F” and so were presumably made in the lsotta Fraschini factory, along with the many magnesium castings. The Rudge hub caps bear the same illustrious initials and the front shock-absorbers, mounted inboard of the dumb-irons, are Italian Hartfords. The engine is three-point-mounted in conjunction with the cone clutch and four-speed plus reverse gearbox. The central gear-lever has a normal gate-pattern, except that reverse is through first gear. The brakes have narrow drums with magnesium back-plates and shoes. Both clutch and brakes were originally cast-iron lined, but now use Ferodo. The front shoes are expanded by rods which run within the king-pins to the cams; the rods are pulled via rocking levers by chains with axle-mounted sprockets and then back to the gearbox-mounted crossshaft. This is another car in which — it was built in 1923 remember — the front brakes were applied by the hand lever, separately from the rear pedal-operated brakes. And the small accelerator pedal is between the other pedals.
The front axle is another impressive piece of work, the ends upswept. The body has staggered seats and a sharply pointed tail. Formerly blue, Geoff has had it repainted Alfa Rosso dark red, appropriate for an Italian car. The dash once had instruments by Ripault, but these were smashed or missing, so it now carries six Smiths dials — a tachometer reading to 6,000 rpm, a matching clock, and smaller ones for oil-pressure (60 lb/sq in), oil temperature, water temperature and fuel-feed air pressure, from the hand-pump. The low-hung chassis has half-elliptic springs all round, underslung at the back, the front springs each having six damping clips. Wire wheels carry the correct size 710 x 90 Dunlop herringbone tyres. Rather unexpectedly there are a dynamo and a starter (fitted perhaps for the Motor Show?), mounted one on either side of the gearbox, the dynamo on the o/s being driven rather faster than an engine-driven one. The battery lives in the tail behind the petrol tank and once had a flap through which it could be quickly accessed. The small, handsome radiator is badgeless but one was shown in the publicity leaflet, perhaps intended for the coupé.
Geoff Hare has been assisted in the restoration by Reg Nice, who needs no introduction to Ulster A7 enthusiasts and who did much of the mechanical work and body preparation. The late James Cole repaired the body and made new bonnet and undertrays, Bill May rebuilt the engine, and Peter Gibson made the superb replica oil tank and much finishing detail work. Mick Comber took the photographs at the car’s well-attended 70th birthday “fire-up” party. Its owner agrees with me that much of the fun of vintage car ownership is trying to trace the history of your vehicle, and he has amassed some splendid period pictures already. . . So a very rare racing car should next year make the first serious appearance in speed events of its career. Geoff says he will try speed-trials at first, graduating to VSCC races if all holds up. Let’s wish him good luck. W B