WB miscellany, January 2005
Stutz Black Hawk: USA
Among the inexpensive lookalike American cars which flooded the market in the 1920s were the vastly superior makes: Cadillac, Packard and Lincoln, and the more sporting ones such as Duesenberg and Stutz.
The ‘Safety’ Stutz had broached America’s sporting youth’s desires in Edwardian times with the fast and spartan Bearcat roadster, made at Indianapolis along with Stutz racing cars, and challenged by the Mercer Raceabout. The post-war ‘Safety’ Stutzes were designed by C R G Grenter and Paul Bastian and were oddly named ‘Vertical Eights’. The ‘Safety’ aspect of the title was a publicity ploy to draw attention to the low build and other modern factors of these production models, which came with a year’s free passenger insurance.
They were impressive cars, and the pioneer racing driver Colonel Warwick Wright was selling them in this country from his premises in London’s fashionable Bond Street.
By the late 1920s the Stutz had a straight-eight nine-bearing engine of 82x114mm (4883 cc) with its overhead valves operated directly by the overhead camshaft. There was dual ignition from plugs on opposite sides of the combustion chambers. The chain drives for the camshaft and auxiliaries had automatic tensioning. A double-choke exhaust-jacketed carburettor was fed by a single float chamber; it was supplied by Autovac from a 16 gal rear tank, and heat to it had a dashboard adjustment. The radiator’s shutters were controlled thermostatically. The quiet and smooth-running engine developed 115bhp at 3450rpm.
The gearbox and disc clutch were in-unit with the engine and there were four forward speeds, top being a direct drive, the lower ratios 14.83, 8.45 and 5.35:1, with 32 x 6.50 tyres. Early cars had a ‘Noback’ device, to stop the car rolling backwards when in neutral or reverse gear, but this was later deleted. Braking was by a hand transmission band and Lockheed hydraulic brakes for the four wheels, with a vacuum servo variable to four settings by the driver.
Transmission was via an open propshaft to an underslung worm back axle. Chassis lubrication was centralised, with a feed to the clutch withdrawal, and the starter engaged silently as its switch was pressed. The wheelbase was 12ft 2in on the saloon, 10ft 11in on the sporting Stutz, which was sold here in 1928, fitted with a comfortable Weymann saloon body, for £1295, with Zeiss headlamps; 90mph was claimed for it and it would certainly do 80mph.
The engine had been enlarged to 5275cc in twin-cam form by 1929, and it is the Black Hawk Stutz with which we are concerned, as raced in both engine sizes; the name recalled the legendary Bearcat.
Warwick Wright saw the advantage of racing, and for the 1929 TT named his entries ‘Splendid Stutz’. In 1927 Gordon Watney drove his stripped black 4.8-litre four-seater at Brooklands to a win and a later lap of 97.08mph. As another publicity move it was said that with its normal silencer this Stutz was quieter than with the Brooklands ‘can’.
Fred Moskovics, since 1922 the President of Stutz, entered a lone Stutz for Le Mans in 1928 to take on the might of Bentley. Entrusted to Brisson and Bloch, who had both done so well there for Lorraine, it led until dawn when the Bentleys had various troubles, and finished second at 68.78mph, eight miles behind the 4-I/2-litre Bentley of Barnato and Birkin.
For the 1929 enduro three DV32 5.3-litre Stutzes started; only one finished, fifth, after Bentley’s 1-2-3-4. Bentley had now scored four wins at Le Mans, but in ’28 Chryslers had been third and fourth, and in ’29 sixth and seventh. Otherwise, in the pre-war events, with five Bentley wins, the American Duesenberg, Du Pont, Overland and Willys Knight entries never lasted the 24 hours.
In 1928 Moskovics laid a 25,000 dollar wager with Weymann that a standard Stutz could beat an 8-litre Hispano-Suiza in a 24-hour race at Indianapolis, but after 19 hours the American car stopped with valve trouble. Nearer home, Warwick Wright put two 4.8 Stutzes in for the 1928 Ards TT, with Watney and Anderson as drivers; one non-started but Watney’s was third in class behind the Bentleys. In the ’29 TT he put Watney in a supercharged 5.3 Stutz, but it caught fire.
These TT cars were extremely impressive, able to do over 100mph road-rigged. They were fitted with a low-pressure blower, mounted between the front dumb-irons, that blew air through the carburettor in Mercedes fashion rather than sucking, and was brought into use with a lever, via a disc clutch. It increased acceleration between 20-40mph from 6.4 to 4.8sec, between 30-50mph from 12.4 to 9.8sec, and in bottom gear 10-30mph took three seconds. The racing gear ratios were 15.97, 7.95, 5.07 and 4.0:1.
In spite of the financial crash in the USA, Stutz sales were said to be up by 25 per cent, but only six cars were made in 1934 and the firm was taken over by Auburn in ’36.
The twins from Bristol
Finding a long-lost book entitled Light Cars and Cyclecars of 1916 (Temple Press, 6d.) reminded me of how surprised I have been that so few people will accept that Douglas, the well-known Bristol motorcycle makers, also made cars. The bikes I knew from seeing a relative ride from Oxford, where he was studying law in the early 1920s, to his parents’ house on the South Wales coast, on an ex-War Department Douglas. Later I saw dirt-track Douglases in cinder-sliding action and discovered a London motorcycle dealer who had a few new ones for sale as late as the 1930s.
The Douglas light car arrived in 1913 and was soon very popular at Brooklands. The little book says it sold for £184 with hood, screen, dynamo and tool kit, and boasted a water-cooled flat-twin engine of 1070cc, conventional transmission, and 700 x 80mm tyres. The last one I saw was in a post-WWII trial. The post-war two-seater managed 40mph and cost £500.
At the Track, reopened in 1920, Capt Vivian Harvie and Miss Addis-Price raced a Douglas car with the post-war 1223cc engine. It had two Claudel-Hobson carburettors, aluminium pistons, lightened conrods, advanced ignition, a 3.75 instead of a 4.6:1 axle ratio, and thin oil in place of grease in axle and gearbox, which increased top speed from 40 to over 70mph. It also had Houdaille shockabsorbers, 760 x 90 Palmer Cord tyres and a pump and small tank on the steering column feeding oil to one cylinder. It won an Essex MC race and was third in another, finishing on one cylinder, the other perhaps over lubricated. A brass strip in its centre tried to improve the look of the bulbous radiator.
In 1921 Capt J Lane, Edward Sawers, S L Bailey and L E Mather (in a car belonging to Miss Addis-Price) raced Douglases. Miss Price had designed a smart body for her car, which Mather could get up to 3600rpm on a 4:1 axle ratio. The engine gave 31bhp at 3250rpm and the 10cwt car ran on 710 x 80 tyres.
Lane and Harvie in Bond Street were the London Douglas agents and entered Bailie in the fastest of these little cars (best lap 78.06mph) which gave him a victory and a third place. In these BARC handicaps Sawers took two second places and a third (best lap 70.35mph) on an Essex MC day, while Mather took three seconds and a third, with a best lap of 70.64 mph.
When the old aeroplane hangars at Brooklands were demolished a Douglas, possibly one of the racers, was among the cars hidden there for 14 years. I wanted it but had nowhere to keep it.
Putting a damper on Morgan motoring
Have you ever suffered from the wobbles? While driving, I mean. I have. A high-chassis 4-1/2-litre Invicta on which someone had fitted a shooting brake body during WWII had wheel-wobble so badly that it became difficult to see out and I had to back off.
Our little 1922 Talbot-Darracq has had it so badly recently that a garage couldn’t cure it. But it has a steering damper consisting of a cut-down André shock-absorber between tie-rod and chassis, which was probably fitted before the 1935 RAC Rally in which the little T-D did better than some 40 current cars. l am hoping that the shimmying will be resolved by renewal of the friction discs, hopefully obtainable from the firm which supplies vintage-style Andrés.
More modern cars have had the wobbles, too. My second Motor Sport company car was a new 1951 Plus-Four Morgan. If it hit a pothole front-wheel shimmy became so bad that both legs and hands on the steering wheel couldn’t quell it. Driving along the Embankment in London’s rush hour, in the outside lane, I saw a protruding manhole cover ahead. I wasn’t able to change lanes, and the wobble began. It was opposite Scotland Yard, before which I had just noticed five smart policemen on immaculate motorcycles. One of them now swung across the road and stopped me. I sat low, so he towered over me. “It’s home-made, is it?” he said. I was furious and told him it was an almost-new car from the Morgan Motor Company at Malvern Link. He was unimpressed and told me I mustn’t drive it any more. “Just to the first garage and leave it there.”
I drove it home to Hampshire.
Morgan’s solution had been to put bronze damper rings round the IFS uprights and anchor these with wide flat metal strips to the chassis side-members. These strips had to rise and fall with the front wheels, so soon broke.
Morganic innovation was to have two strips each side held together with bolts so that it was not necessary to have to dismantle the entire suspension uprights when a damper strip broke. You just rejoined one inner strip to the other one. They still broke, of course, but replacement saved time or repair bills.
My previous Morgan, which was a Standard-engined 4/4, did not shimmy. I presume that this was because it had lighter wheels and tyres, which would apply also to Morgan three-wheelers.
Never mind, I always enjoyed my Morgan motoring.
The MCC trial that wasn’t cricket
In the August edition of Motor Sport I described the High Speed Trials which the Junior Car Club held at Brooklands from 1925, unique in that they used some of the Track’s entrance roads and took competitors down the steep Test Hill. Not to be outdone, the Motor Cycle Club organised its own High Speed Trials from September 1925, but using just the Outer Circuit; it is unlikely that the BARC would want two meetings a year involving the disruptive closing of the circuit’s entrance roads.
Anyway, the MCC’s event was popular because, although for 10/- (50p) you could take your car round the Track on non-race days, to run it for an hour competitively must have been more fun.
E Hillery’s Frazer Nash was not allowed to start because it didn’t comply with the new silencer rules, but out of 60 entries, 56 started.
Very bunched, they got away round the steep banking, four of them saloons, including Cecil Kimber’s Morris Oxford. H J Aldington’s Frazer Nash led on the first lap, ahead of Leon Cushman’s Crossley and E P Paxman’s Frazer Nash — any relation of the TV personality? It was not a race, but to gain a ‘gold’ 1100cc cars had to do 37 miles in the hour, 1500cc cars 40 and the big stuff 45, the full distance being 37 laps, 102.57 miles. To assist the lapscorers, drivers, grouped in dozens, wore white, red, blue, yellow and green jumpers. Drivers only were supposedly to work on the cars, but the marshals were lenient.
After only two laps the Windsor was out with a failed big-end, and a lap later a Riley had a broken valve cotter and a Salmson ran a big-end, such was the severity of Brooklands. Many were in works cars, but one felt sorry for private owners whose cars developed expensive blow-ups. The retirements included a Lea-Francis with magneto trouble, a Riley which had sheared its cam drive, and Gather’s Morris Oxford with a run big-end.
Tatlow’s Lea-Francis was lapping at 60mph and it finished in first place. J Pollitter’s Alfa Romeo was the next to finish. A Vauxhall and the Crossley had required wheel changes, but it was really quite easy, with 54 ‘golds’ and a bronze medal being won.
The MCC had been formed long before the JCC but had taken in cars quite early, and it now had a similar High Speed Trial for bikes, sidecar outfits and three-wheelers. Entries for these events were prolific, so not always fully listed. When someone told me that his Hispano-Suiza had had a race at Brooklands against a Morgan I disbelieved him, until I saw it had been in one of these High Speed Trials, a fierce affair, the Hispano’s engine running-on long after it had been switched off. Never think someone a liar without the full facts!
These HSTs proved so popular that it wasn’t long before the MCC was staging four, two for the bikers, the others for car drivers. Racing drivers were not aloof from joining in — the Hon Brian Lewis with his GP Bugatti, Baker aboard his fast Minerva held down to gold medal pace, Count Lurani who, in 1928, had come over specially with an Alfa Romeo, Humphrey Symons with one of the many new Riley 9s, and ‘Morris Cowley’ Crickmay in a 3-litre Bentley.
Mike Couper in the famous Talbot 105 and Baker-Carr with his 4-1/2-litre Bentley did one of these events in 1935, the latter managing 101.13mph for 18 laps, after which he was flagged in for a dangerous tyre and retired wrathfully; Couper averaged 99.61mph.
Providing trophies was gradually becoming costly for the MCC, as 61 ‘golds’ were awarded, 15 to Austin 7s, while an Austin 12/4 saloon achieved ‘silver’ status. This was in spite of the top qualification speeds being bumped up to 41.5mph for 850cc cars, 52.57 for 1100s, 55.34 for 1600s (up from 1500cc) and 60.87 for the bigger cars.
Eventually a few of the drivers began to try for fastest time, ignoring the original purpose of these trials, which was only to maintain the stated average. In 1936 H J Aldington’s TT BMW 328 had done 98.52 miles in the hour, prompting the MCC Chairman L A Baddeley to award a trophy in 1937 for the first driver to achieve 100mph or more. In pouring rain Elgood’s 4-1/2-litre Bentley managed 98mph, and Sir Lionel Phillips’ Leyland Eight achieved 97.8, recording a fastest lap of 100.61mph. Mike Couper’s Talbot 105 blew its head-gasket.
In fine weather in 1938 Elgood won the trophy convincingly, the Bentley timed at 110.34mph. The Leyland Eight clocked 106.71mph, Wooding’s Talbot 95 103.22mph. So drivers of slower cars had the exhilaration, or sheer fright, of being lapped by these all-out optimists, before WWII brought these happy days to an end.
Four four-by-four Fords
Having had such good service from four 4WD Ford Sierras I want to give credit to Mr Harry Ferguson and ex-racing driver Major Tony Rolt for the indestructible transmission systems on these cars. As ice on my house drive defeated every sort of FWD or RWD car, 4WD was essential when getting out and in. I reluctantly gave up Rovers, BMWs and an Alfa Romeo, etc for these Fords. They would restart on black ice and ascend the steep gradient, whereas whatever driving tactic I had used with the other cars, rushing down a steep hill to enter the drive for example, all failed. The Sierras not only proved to have remarkable traction but their ABS braking really worked wonderfully, even when applied on black ice.
Driving home in the first of these Sierras, a V6 edition, I wondered what might happen if the chain in the transmission broke at 70mph and I expected that the viscous couplings would eventually leak. Never have any of these fears materialised.
My present 2-litre, four-cylinder twin-cam Sierra EXi XR is 14 years old and well into the 100,000-mileage bracket but never has the 4WD system given me any problems. So thank you Messrs Ferguson and Rolt, the two engineers involved.