The famous road and track driver relates some of his exciting experiences at the wheel of the world’s fastest cyclecar.
Kim’s engine started life at the old Hendon works of the G.N. Company in far-off 1913. Even as a puppy, it gave great promise—you see it had a pedigree behind it ! But it was not until after the war, when its compression and timing had grown up and it had outgrown the indiscretions of puppyhood, that it attained to its full bark—and bite.
In 1919—we had learnt a few more things about high speed efficiency by then—tuning started to produce such excellent results, that I decided to buy Kim I. a revolution indicator. Several were tried, but they all went off the scale before giving useful information. Kim couldn’t stand the indignity of being ” clocked ” by them at all. Ultimately I obtained one reading to 5,000 revs. On my reading this with half open throttle, the engine was hastily stopped, and the cast iron flywheel changed for a steel one. This was finished just in time for the Sutton Bank Climb of 1919, and I started out by myself for York in the pouring rain.
On the way up I was anxious to compare the readings of speedometer and revolution indicator as a check, and on a nice smooth wet road I started trying the readings well up the scale. I. had just got to 3,000 revs, on the indicator—equals 60 of speedometer—when on glancing up suddenly, I saw to my horror a sharp turn to the right over a bridge ! No chance to pull up straight; so I on the brakes hard and waited for what I expected (and really deserved).
We slithered round, ran along backwards and sideways, and finally spun off the road on to the grass at the edge of the bend, where we stopped, still the right way up. I got out and inspected the car, expecting to find the tyres off and wheels buckled. To my surprise nothing was damaged at all, and I proceeded on my way resolving that a revolution indicator was a dangerous tempter. The skid on Sutton Bank corner the next day was so gentle by comparison that I have no memory of it except from a photograph which an enthusiast subsequently sent me.
The next outstanding memory associated with Kim that I have, was of the August Bank Holiday Brooklands Meeting in 1920, where, I believe, I was scratch man— at any rate, there was a fairly large field well away before my turn came to start. Since the reopening of the track, I had been very successful, as I had won every race in which I had finished, and the only one in which I had not finished was due to a broken piston. I was anxious to keep this up. Bedford on the Hillman had, however, been improving considerably, and I doubted if I could catch him; however, I determined to try, and jumped off the mark at the fall of the flag.
In the first lap I had overhauled a few of the speedy ones, and on reaching the hill on the high banking in the second lap I passed all the rest except the limit man, whom I knew I could catch, and Bedford, who was still some way ahead. His car, however, was heavy, and the hill slowed him more than I thought, so that on rounding the bend after the Members’ Bridge I found him right in front of me and fairly high on the banking.
An Historic Skid.
It was then raining slightly, and a few patches on the track had got rather slippery. I pushed Kim’s nose well up the bank so as to be in line to pass him, when to my surprise, Kim slid down the bank again immediately behind Bedford, so that I had the benefit of his slip stream. Feeling the force of the wind broken, Kim fairly leapt up from 83 or thereabouts to well over 90, at which speed I was soon overhauling Bedford, and as we were now nearly on to the railway straight a win seemed certain.
I steered out again to pass, but just at the same moment, Bedford turned out slightly, probably to avoid a wet patch. The extra turn proved just too much. With a terrific ” swish” Kim spun clean round and dashed at the fence backwards. I felt a quick succession of jars—and then stillness. The next I was conscious of was being upside down, still in the car, with, of course, the car on top of me; a broken steering wheel was in front of my eye and I was quite unable to move.
I then notice a slight ” hiss ” of water, or possibly petrol dripping on something hot! I then had a space in which to reflect upon the possible effects of fire in this position. Nothing happened, however, and soon the cheery face of Mr. S. G. Cummings appeared in the only piece of daylight I could see, and he, together with one of the Brooklands Police Inspectors, tipped the car over enough for me to wriggle out.
On examination I found my only damages were a broken collar bone, and a few cuts and bruises. Kim’s, however, were far more serious, in fact, that was the end of Kim I. Except, happily, for the engine, everything was badly bent or broken. The shock had even broken the aforesaid re-volution counter, and my own forehead had broken the steering wheel (I carried the marks of the binding cord over one eye for months). While I was in bed for the few days following, a new chassis and body were built up, and Kim’s engine was got in just in time for the September Meeting, which was Kim II. ‘s first public appearance. Here the revived Kim and I were again successful. I decided, after this, however, that I would use a longer wheelbase for track work, and reserve Kim for hill climbs.
A Narrow Shave.
The next incident of note, so far as I was concerned, occurred at Chatcombe or Kingsdown, I really forget which. On this occasion I was out to try and beat the motor-cycle record. I knew I was all right for the car record, barring accidents, I therefore did the fastest run up I could manage, I was travelling at 76 to 78 near the top when I saw that although the hill was clear up to the finish, a lot of ,spectators were right across the road just behind. They were all watching, however, so I did not ease up to any extent as I knew they would get out of the way as I came to them. This they did, but behind them a car was turning round in the road about 40 yards after the finish. Awkward moment ! No chance of stopping or even slowing to any extent.
Luckily the car was on the move, and its driver opened his throttle hard, so that I just managed to get by—a difficult enough matter, as I suppose I was still moving at about 6o, and the surface was crowned and slightly loose. However, Kim II. held the road nobly, and in due course pulled up still on the road and on four wheels. Another little incident was the one illustrated at the beginning of these notes. This occurred on Shelsley Walsh in 1922, and was merely an unlucky skid into the bank, due to the surface on the corner having loosened since I inspected it earlier in the Climb.
On this occasion the car cannot have tipped any more than shown in the photograph, and it came back on to its wheels quite comfortably. A quick glance assured me that the back wheel, though buckled, was still serviceable, and I carried on. Unfortunately a front tyre had also come off the rim all round except at the bolt valve, and the climb was continued with this alternately flapping the road and the steering rod, which, of course, limited the speed for the rest of the hill and spoilt the time.
That Significant “Crack.”
Speaking of Shelsley, funnily enough, another incident occurred in the year following this, although it did not actually happen until I was going back after the event. I was following some friends along a strange road when, finding the going very difficult on account of dust, I eased up slightly. After half a mile I realised that I was too far behind, so I accelerated to catch them up. I had just got into a thick cloud of dust when I found a dead right angle corner in front of me.
I could not pull up, so tried to turn, but skidded all four wheels on the dust and we slithered sideways into the grass bank, which was about nine inches high. As Kim II. was skidding sideways it could not mount the bank, and therefore tipped over and stopped completely upside down, with me half inside. I tried to wriggle out, but this only made Kim’s steering wheel, which was taking most of the weight, drop down another inch. I felt something crack inside me!
Fortunately my friends had had a little difficulty with the corner themselves, so waited to see me come round. As I did not appear, they came back, and helped me out. Except for the steering wheel, Kim was practically undamaged, and I was able to finish the journey home without further repairs. I did not find out for three days that the click I had felt was a rib ” gone,” but it soon joined up again all right.
The foregoing incidents have been picked from memory at random, and only cover a small proportion of the ” thrills ” which I have experienced.