Bill Boddy

Car and Man of the Century awards

Autocar, in conjunction with its 100th issue with Esso, had its readers (I do not know how many) and staff vote for the Car and Man of the Century. The result was the Mini and the late Enzo Ferrari. The awards were made to Dr Alex Moulton, who was responsible for the innovative rubber suspension of the late Sir Alec Issigonis’s little car, and to Enzo’s son Piero Lardi Ferrari, at the Natural History Museum, by Autocar’s Editor and Editor-in-Chief, both dressed up as pioneer motorists.

Perhaps one disappointed person will be Robert Cumberford who, in the aforesaid Anniversary issue, described the Issigonis as “. .not terribly innovative in a mechanical sense”, remarking that transverse front-drive engines had been used by DWK and Saab and that the wheel at-each-corner layout came directly from Citroen, although Cumberford did concede that “the rubber suspension was clever”. He overlooked such ingenious space-conserving items as the Mini’s special 10in Dunlop tyres, transmission gears in the engine sump, and the side-mounted radiator. Indeed, so innovative was the brilliant Issigonis baby, or “Minibric”, that I recall thinking during the Press launch what a task we writers would have in fully describing it. I had a Mini as my Motor Sport staff-car for some years and remember the early defects, like water on the floor, damp plugs until the engine was reversed, and the noise, reduced after proprietary sound-damping had been installed. But what a great little fun car, especially in Mini-Cooper form.

Cumberford has it that the fact “that all Britain would be listening with pleasure to working-class Liverpudlian lads singing had something to do with the the existence of the Mini”. I knew Issigonis quite well but never dared ask him if he listened to the Beatles! WB

Michelin’s 100 years

With the British Motor Industry’s centenary arriving next year the Michelin PR department, working not from Michelin House with its historic pictorial tiles, but from Watford, has been quick to remind us that 100 years ago, in 1895, the first car using pneumatic tyres was tested, following their invention by Robert W Thompson in 1842, which changed the transport world. Apparently in 1891 the brothers Michelin, André and Edouard, had demonstrated the viability of the detachable air-filled bicycle tyre, in the Paris-Brest-Paris race. André Michelin then went as a passenger on the 1894 Paris-Rouen race (actually a trial) and disliked the car’s ride on its solid steel/rubber tyres.

This led to Edouard developing pneumatic tyres for motorcar use. The initial tests are said to have been conducted on a Peugeot for which special wheels were made, and later three more test-cars were acquired. To publicise and further test their new pneumatic tyres, Michelin entered three cars for the first proper motor race, from Paris to Bordeaux and back, in 1895. The hand-out tells us that the company entered three cars, two of which developed trouble on their way to Paris from Clermont-Ferrand and the third steered so badly that it was named L’Eclair because it zig-zagged like a flash of lightning, so that the Michelin brothers felt they had to risk driving it themselves. It goes on to say that these are described as “Michelin-built”, but it seems more likely that what they had entered were Peugeots, of which one started, driven by André Michelin. The other two were non-starters, one of which may have been a Serpollet steam-car, as the narrow front track these possessed resulted in poor stability.

After this the 1995 Michelin hand-out gets wide of the mark, stating that 19 started and that L’Eclair came in last of the nine finishers, averaging 9 1/2mph. In fact the official results show 22 starters, and that while only nine finished, the last was a Bollée steamer, which took 90hrs 3min, an average for this truly difficult 732-mile race of 6mph. In contrast Michelin’s L’Eclair is quoted by the authorative recorder of early motor-racing history, Gerald Rose, as giving up the struggle at Orleans, as, owing to persistent tyre trouble, it could not reach Paris within the time limit of 100 hours. Against this, the hand-out says Michelin completed the route in the allotted 100 hours, in ninth place, at an average speed of 9 1/2mph.

It is true, however, that, as Michelin predicted, by 1905 all cars would be running on air-filled tyres; as this hand-out reminds us, by 1897 the average speed of the cars in the Paris-Trouville race had risen to 26mph (well, the winning Panhard averaged 25.2mph) but Gerald Rose does not disclose, as the hand-out believes, whether or not all the 16 finishers were on Michelin pneumatic tyres. . . The fact remains that in the subsequent years Michelin built up a marvellous reputation for their tyres, both for racing and touring, and the Company claims today to be the largest tyre manufacturer in the world. WB

Filton Sprint anniversary

We hear that a pleasant little party was organised by the Bristol Company MC to recall how it had held the first proper post-WW2 speed-trial on the Filton aerodrome taxiways (I 1/2 miles, on asphalt) on October 28, 1945. Then, 100 entries saw Bob Gerard (ERA R4A) make FTD, Issigonis (Lightweight Special) winning his class. At the anniversary Sir John Venables-Llewellyn drove ERA R4A and Chris Dowson the Lightweight, the runs of which were shortened by a hairline crack in its cylinder-block. Tony Crook, who had driven his 328 BMW in 1945, came this time in the prototype Bristol 400. Neil Eason-Gibson, whose father, just demobbed, managed to get there in time to assist Baillie-Hill with his HRG, also attended, as did Mark Garfitt in a T35 Bugatti.

British Aerospace allowed demonstration runs, but not on the 1945 course, as three Airbuses were parked thereon. WB