Rumblings, July 1940

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Old Masters

IT is possible to withdraw behind the yellow doors of a certain garage in Chelsea and to forget for as long as one is able to spare the troubles and tribulations of this mad, destructive world. I was privileged to visit the Clutton-Short collection of motor-cars., the other evening, and I am going to risk incensing the non-vintage reader by touching on some of the absorbing things I saw and learned while so doing. Let us recover our breath on seeing so many fine cars beneath one roof and repair to the right hand far corner of this fascinating shop. Here stood the 4½-litre 1914 Opel, recently bought in Clacton, said to be the actual car handled at Brooklands immediately after the last war by Segrave. Short particularly wanted this car, and he is carefully rebuilding it. The body, which looks very like that on the car in her Brooklands form, has given considerable trouble, but something like a decent surface is now showing up, preliminary to painting. The radiator is very like that of Mavrogordato’s Opel, and is a remarkable example of hand-built craftsmanship. The valve gear operating the sixteen o.h. valves is worthy of prolonged study, and the engine is very like that of a back-to-front Bentley. It is carried on an angle sub-frame and drives to a separate gearbox set well back in the frame, via a clutch which seems to retreat largely into the box itself. The chassis side-members are horrifically casual, and the front wheels carry very thin section, high-pressure tyres. It appears that Segrave fitted very long rear springs to replace the original, and these are still in place.

Beside this Opel was the 1920 3-litre ex-Dunfee straight-eight Ballot, as described in MOTOR SPORT of July, 1937. It still exceeds 100 m.p.h. comfortably in half-a-mile of motoring, in spite of being difficult to take off quickly on account of a small clutch and high gear-ratios. The tail is not the original, but it is possible to see the well in the bottom panel in which the spare wheel sat throughout the 1921 French G.P.

A newcomer beside the Ballot turns out to be a 1913 T.T. Sunbeam, in use until fairly recently, as the ungainly, very wide wooden two-seater sports-body suggests. The engine has that remarkable o.h. cam gear of the type, with camshaft right above the inclined valves, and exposed stems and tappets. The single carburetter feeds through a liberally water-heated manifold on the off-side. In the opposite corner to the Opel stood a low chassis 4½-litre Invicta, the actual car which won the Alpine Trial some years ago. Beside it was a very imposing blower 4½-litre Bentley, with the body stripped from the chassis with a view to making it into a sprint car, a job of work which may be completed some day. It had as a companion another blower 4½-litre, carrying a black touring body, but the engine was being stripped to provide pieces for the reassembly of an engine for Robertson-Rodgers’s single-seater ex-Birkin Bentley. Both these cars had the huge Villiers-Roots superchargers with the twin carburetters on the off-side, the unribbed casings suggesting 1930 vintage. When you observe the mounting of this big supercharger in a chassis from which the radiator has been removed, it seems surprising that chassis flexion does not worry the drive, but the special chassis frame used for the blower cars is quite adequate in this respect. Short is certainly a Bentley enthusiast and his own car is a beautifully turned-out blower 4½-litre tourer, with the later, higher-boost ribbed blower. A very nice O.E. “30/98” Vauxhall stood beside the Bentleys, so it was hardly surprising that John Bolster was soon wrapped up in argument with Sam Clutton over the respective merits and demerits of the two marques. To Sam’s retort that the “30/98” that goes so very well is usually tuned, Bolster observed that while lots of people did start pushing up the compression-ratio of these cars some years ago—his own car and Ronnie Hughes’s had identical increases and, to-day, Heal employs a very considerable increase— actually Beaver got quite as good a performance with the original low ratio. It is essential to change the exhaust valves if the ratio is raised to any extent. Definitely John Bolster is a “30/98” fan, and he still regrets ever having sold his car—he sold it to E. G. M. Wilkes, who unfortunately elected to take delivery on the night of the experimental black-out. The Bentley which was leading him home was stopped on account of the immense quantity of light it was displaying just when Wilkes was planning to come past in his new possession at a truly great velocity. The result was that he arrived backwards, and proceeded to spin round a lot of times in the midst of the police persons, before vanishing backwards along the grass verge to the spot where the accident ultimately happened . . . Bolster does not show any particular keenness for the Bentley, but admits that he was charmed with the 8-litre in its day, and recalls riding along a bad road in great comfort at 100 m.p.h. on the back seat of one of these cars. His present love is a modern Delage, and in his Austin Seven van (c’est la guerre!) he had the rear axle, now fitted with Girling brakes, with drums in R.R. alloy, made up by Maestro McKenzie, who will eventually rebuild the whole car. Outside the garage stood Short’s sober 14/40 Delage, a short run in which revealed great life and beautiful steering. Let us go in again and continue our look around . . . Sam’s 3-litre Bentley coupe, doing nearly 90 m.p.h. and using no oil, when laid up, was there, and there was the truly immense 1911 Daimler landaulette with six-cylinder, sleeve-valve engine of 57 h.p. The lines look quite reasonably post-the-last-one, as a new body was fitted in 1924. The maximum speed is about 60 m.p.h., and it goes almost everywhere in top gear. The fuel consumption up from Woking, where it had been stored, to its new home, was in the region of 5 m.p.g. The sight of the famous Birkin single-seater Bentley, standing amongst this collection of older cars, in the red finish as it was last raced, and now sans engine, gives rise to a rather throaty feeling. She is really a very big car, but looks quite compact. The body, cockpit offset quite appreciably to the off-side, is a beautiful piece of work, and the interior seems a mystery of fuel lines, taps, and glass-topped filters. The wheel comes extremely near to the driver’s cushion, and entry to the seat of government is further obstructed by a protruding lever, so that even Sam without his trousers had much difficulty in getting in or out; Birkin must have had some very nasty moments in getting on to the tail on the occasion when the car lit up in practice at Brooklands. I was interested to learn that the chassis frame is of standard width, and to note the frictional and fluid shock-absorbers on the rear axle, which signify a real attempt to render the Bentley decently stable. The engine from this car is now installed in Robertson-Rodgers’s short-chassis blower four-seater, which fuel rationing has temporarily sent to bed. A considerable saving in weight has recently been effected to the four-seater without recourse to expensive replacements of major parts in light materials. Everything about the car has been rendered extra spick and span, and some fifty hours have been put in on the blower alone.

Sam’s E-type s.v. “30/98” Vauxhall is a grand car, and will soon be all polish, the caps above the valves and the big data plate on the engine side of the facia particularly lending themselves to such treatment. “Floretta,” the 1908 12-litre Itala, was put away in a corner. She was driven up from Brooklands recently on “Pool,” after Pomeroy of “The Motor” had got her along the standing quarter-mile in 20 secs., and over the flying quarter-mile at 85 m.p.h. with full equipment in place.

The 1923 V12 Delage, now jointly owned by Short and Clutton, stood on the other flank of the s.v. Vauxhall. It took the Land Speed Record in 1924 at 143.31 m.p.h., and was afterwards raced very successfully at Brooklands by Cobb and Bertram. Photographs of the car in 1923 form show that it had front brakes from the commencement, though it is difficult to decide whether two persons were wedged into a single-place body, or whether it was then a two-seater. When it came to this country it had a mottled aluminium single-seater body, but now carries the very narrow two-seater put on by the J.R.D.C. The radiator is now, of course, uncowled and looks so large as to discount the early reports that it is from a standard 12 h.p. Delage. In spite of its capacity of 10½-litres and stroke of 140 mm., the engine runs regularly up to 3,200 r.p.m. The separate cylinders have detachable heads and live in a remarkable single-piece alloy V-block casting, of which there is a spare.

There are also spare camshafts, crankshaft, axles, etc. The original single carburetter, which fed the twelve cylinders through two six-branch manifolds, has to be seen to be believed. Two carburetters per block were fitted in 1931 and these are retained. The valves are vertical in the flat-topped heads, and operated by push-rods and rockers, the inlet rockers being quite short. The engine is usually described as a 350 h.p. unit, but it seems more likely that it develops between 250-300 h.p. Even so, Gerald Sumner, keeping his foot down beyond the line at Littlestone, achieved 148 m.p.h., an awe-inspiring speed at this venue, where a stiff breeze blows off the sea across the course. It is interesting that the front axle is unfaired, although fairing is very evident in the case of the steeply upswept axle beam of the single-seater Bentley—this tendency to streamline the axle for track work is accentuated in the case of the 1912 Lorraine “Vieux Charles,” whose streamline axle section contrasts with the immense expanse of flat-fronted radiator and entire absence of streamlined tail. The Delage has a radiator sitting appreciably ahead of the axle, which was unusual in racing-cars of this period. The new owners will use the car in sprint events after the war.

Having now made the complete round of this unique and so very fascinating stable, it seemed reasonable to repair to a Public-House, of which there is a convenient one only a stone’s throw away. Very shortly we were joined by Laurence Pomeroy, Junr., Technical Editor of “The Motor,” who came in “Herman,” his two-stroke D.K.W. The talk for the next two hours was mostly of cars—I wish some of our leading manufacturers had been present, for, while they would doubtless have had us all locked up, better cars could hardly fail to materialise in future . . . ! Not all the discussion was critical, however, and one gathered that Pomeroy especially likes the V12 Lagonda, on which he and Gordon Wilkins have done some very rapid journeys, while he spoke very highly of the all streamlined 1,100 c.c. Fiat, the V12 Atalanta, and the V12 Allard-Special, and confessed to thinking the 327 B.M.W. with 328 engine one of the finest cars be has ever driven. After much bitter, John Bolster still praised the “30/98” Vauxhall, and Sam was inclined to voice the merits of the modern Bugatti, which Pomeroy admitted had the finest steering and road-holding and quickest gear-change of any. John raised the interesting point that brakes play a very important part in his motoring, hence his Girling axles, and he definitely intended his four-engined “Mary” to be all-brakes, only something got the upper hand, and she became rather a lot of engine. He said that nine months of motoring in tractors, vans, and his wife’s Fiat “Mouse,” made 90 m.p.h. in his mother’s Delage seem very fast indeed, but Sam, who now runs nothing at all, said he hadn’t noticed this effect. Some good stories were then told and as they had nothing to do with motoring at all, except for the beginning of Richard Bolster’s celebrations on becoming a Fighter Pilot, we will leave them out. However, it might be said that the designation”30/98″ is rather a joke in itself, as Laurence Pomeroy, Senr., merely wished to have a thrust at the “38/90” Mercedes, which may amuse those juniors who every so often ponder over the possibility of the “98” representing the b.h.p. of the original E-type, or the likelihood of it standing for the bore of what was, you recall, a 98 x150 mm. engine.  

Odd Spots

Congratulations to Acting Ft. Lieut. Richard Bickford on his winning the D.F.C. Bickford is a saxophone player of great ability and numbered many of our leading racing men amongst his friends. He flew with Seaman to Monaco in a D.H. “Moth” and joined the Auxiliary Air Force about five years ago. He was a Lancia enthusiast and ran an open “Lambda.”

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R. J. Chetwynd-Stapleton has a Thomas-Special with Hooker-Thomas engine, which appears to be a Marlborough-Thomas with new two-seater body.

 *   *   *   *   *S. H. Allard now has a small son.

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The June/July issue of the I.A.E. Journal contains papers on the Quench Ageing of Steel and Exhaust Gas Analysis.

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Arnott has fitted several supercharger installations since the war began. notably to Delage and rear-engined Mercedes-Benz cars.

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There is a Straker-Squire tourer still in use in London, of about 1924 vintage. These cars had 80 x130 mm. six-cylinder engines with separate cylinders, and o.h.c, valve gear.

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Any reader who has owned a large number of different cars and has kept a careful record of same, is invited to contribute to the “Cars I Have Owned” series.

 

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