Bill Boddy

Twin peak revs

An instrumental query over some early racing car dashboards

I have been rereading Rex Hays’ book Vanishing Litres (MacGibbon & Kee, 1956), and one item puzzles me. The maker of those excellent model racing cars, for which his book contains 31 scale drawings, states in his history of grand prix racing that as drivers might over-rev racing engines with dire results, the rev counters were duplicated in front of the riding mechanic so that to avoid this they could give their driver a tap on the  leg before an engine was wrecked. 

It seems that Hays is relating this duplication of the minor dials also to the 1924 GP Sunbeams. As he says he was lucky enough to have ridden with Segrave in the Sunbeam and also with Boillot in the Peugeot, he should know. However, I do not recall Anthony Heal referring to this duplication of dials in his racing Sunbeam ‘bible’ or seeing it anywhere else, and it was not on the 1922 GP Sunbeam I drove.

The GP Sunbeam which Jenks bought and left to Dr R C Howard, who took it to Canada and used to write to me about a meticulous restoration, also never mentioned this. Is my memory at fault?

VSCC Welsh Trial and Goodwood Sprint

In October the VSCC ran its very successful well-supported Welsh trial, with 146 entries, of whom seven retired.

Due to ties, only the Smatcher Trophy, for best climb up this section, was awarded to David Price in a Gordon England A7. First-class awards went to David Dye (A7), Richard Holgate (A7), Geraint Owen (Morris-JAP Special) and Brian Emerson (Ford A), Roy Newton (Ford A), Ben Collings (3-litre Bentley) and Craig Collings (3/4½-litre Bentley).

On October 21 the VSCC held a sprint at Goodwood, in which FTD at 110sec went to James Baxter’s 1934 single-seater ’Nash. Fastest vintage car was the 1928 Frazer Nash of Jonathon Cobb (115.4sec); best pre-war time was 113sec by Robert Cobden’s 1937 Riley Special. Quickest Edwardian was Nicholas Pellett’s 1914 TT Sunbeam, in 155.9sec; the aero-power Austin-Hall Scott made 148.7sec. David Biggins was there in an interesting 1912-13 Targa Florio Nazzaro.

Questions, questions

Here are some conundrums which I cannot answer, but perhaps our erudite readers can. The Spyker company used to claim that its cars had dust-proof bonnets, a good feature on the roads of the time. To this end they put the radiator behind the engine, Renault-style. But presumably very effective undershields were needed, with perhaps the crankcase sides extended to ensure full dust prevention. Maybe someone has a pre-1915 Spyker and can tell us?

What of Bugatti’s reversed quarter-elliptic suspension? It gave a longer spring-base, but was this of much importance? Maybe Ettore wanted better spring anchorage than that of side-member brackets and was thus able to attach the rear of those reversed springs to a rear chassis cross-member. Did Panhard-Levassor pay royalties to Bugatti for using this system on its smallest car in the vintage years? Also, some early Bugatti light cars had double half-elliptic front springs on both sides (left). Was this so as to be able to proceed if one spring broke, or give stiffer springing?

I passed this query to the Bugatti Trust, whose historian Richard Day tells me that in 1911 Bugatti took out a patent for “twin sets of leaf springs for motor vehicles”. Bugatti’s application claimed that this meant each spring carried half the load, making installation cheaper, neater, shallower and lighter. Both springs hung on the same pin at each end, with one end round and the other elliptical; he claimed this gave a secondary advantage of being able to provide slightly different rates on each spring. But why?

Badge of honour

I suppose I am old-fashionable and terribly out of date, but I find it remarkable that replica rally plates are available for those who might want to attach them to their Minis. Very realistic, these plates will make you look as if you took part in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally or drove your Mini Cooper in the 1963 Coupe des Alpes.

I suppose it would be possible for those displaying bogus rally plates to trace who competed in the respective events with those competition numbers and be tempted to pretend they were those individuals.

Fool I may seem, but I have the same view about replica 120 and 130mph Brooklands badges. Surely only the original badges should remain, being personal to those to whom they were awarded or their relatives, if such pre-war badges still exist? I can just about accept that collectors may want to buy reproductions of the ordinary BARC members’ badges, a different one for every year from 1907 to 1939.

History repeating

An old name in F1

I wonder how many who watched Albers and Monteiro driving the renamed Spyker cars from the Chinese GP on were aware that another Spyker car existed in Amsterdam from 1900 to 1925, and that Frits Spyker made the first four-wheel-drive car, with an 8.7-litre engine driving the wheels by shafts. It may have been intended for the 1903 Gordon Bennett race but never made the circuits. It later came to England and was, I believe, exhibited at the Crystal Palace before WW1.

The production Spykers were notable for dust-sealed bonnets and unusual body styling. After WW1 the 3.3-litre 13/30hp was a respected car, as was the 5.6-litre 30/40 six-cylinder model with Maybach engine of which Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands bought two in 1921. Another was used in 1922 by S F Edge to set a Double-12 Hour record at Brooklands at 74.27mph. And now you can purchase a two-seater Spyker road car for £185,000. 

Steam survivor

Many years ago when driving on the Embankment I saw a stationary Foden steam tractor. Having attended the first-ever race between traction engines I had become keen on them, so I stopped to snap this Foden. Its driver told me they were changing to petrol trucks and that this one would be sold or scrapped. At that time we had a charlady whose husband had just retired from driving a steam-roller, so I decided I must have this Foden, as I had a driver who would instruct me. But my wife was not so keen…

However, I am pleased to know that this Foden has survived. Owned by Camross, coal merchants, when I saw the vehicle, it was found by Peter van Houten’s father in 1956 and after a long restoration it is now in pristine order. Peter is a regular rally competitor, always steaming on the road, not taking it by trailer, usually averaging 13mph, with a top pace of 30mph. 

A comprehensive history

Austin Seven history has been told in a wide variety of books, including the Pre-War A7 Club’s reprint of the Motor Sport one which includes Charles Mitchem’s account of trying to be the first 750cc entrant to finish the Le Mans 24 Hour race.

But when I thought there were no more to come I received an enormous manuscript describing A7 competition achievements in events of every kind all over the world. All I knew was that an anonymous ‘CC’ had written this tour de force of 370 pages.

I later discovered that the author was a Ms Canning Brown, who took some 36 years to write the book, staying for a week in a town, such as Southport for example, to obtain past newspaper reports of the local racing there. Her interest in these little machines began when, as a girl, she drove an aunt’s Chummy into a haystack, which resulted in a painful punishment at a time when such reasonable response was permitted. 

‘CC’ soon had Austin Sevens of her own. Her book Austin Competition History – the cars and those who drove them 1922 to 1939 is published by Twincam Limited of Petworth (ISBN 0955407400). It is a formidable work, for which I was asked to write the Foreword. The cost is a very reasonable £35, with a deluxe edition signed by the author at £75, postage and packing extra.

The events covered are in chronological order, and there are many splendid photographs, some of them seen before but so well reproduced that new features show up. 

If any disappointment arises it is that some leading events get less space than the majority, and a few minor errors have crept in. 

‘CC’s family knew Chris Staniland and she spent time at Brooklands gaining information for this amazing account of racing A7s of every kind. Dedicated exponents of Sir Herbert Austin’s baby, so often modified for racing, will no doubt spend absorbing hours in the company of ‘CC’s astonishing recall.