Rumblings, July 1943

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Aston lore

The article by F. W. Ellis on the pre-Bertelli Aston-Martins, which we published in the May issue, has brought forth some additional very interesting facts, by no less an authoritative motoring historian than Laurence Pomeroy himself. It seems that the side-valve Aston-Martin engine and also the rare single o.h.c. 16-valve engine were both designed by a Mr. Watson, who had formerly evolved engines for a well-known proprietary-engine concern. The latter unit had vertical valves set in a very poor shape of head and it is reputed to have developed less power than the s.v. job. Zborowski tried it in the 1921 200 Mile Race, but Kensington Moir’s s.v. was more rapid. This led Clive Gallop to persuade Zborowski to contact Henri and ask him to design a new cylinder block and head assembly that would mate with Watson’s bottom-end and camshaft drive. Henri saw that what was virtually one of the 3-litre Ballot cylinder blocks would be the very thing, and he sportingly sold the idea to Count Zborowski for the modest sum of £50. Thus was born the sixteen-valve Aston engine, which Bamford and Martin used in many of their famous racing cars, including “Razor Blade.” The immortal “Bunny,” the s.v. Aston which made history as the first 1 1/2-litre car to establish world’s records, was given one of these twin o.h.c. engines in 1923 and sold to the Hon. Brian Lewis. However, Lord Essenden, while quite prepared to buy a racing car for his son, did not consider an Aston-Martin of sufficient worth for his son’s use, so the car was taken back by Bamford and Martin, and, still with the 16-valve engine, ran in the 1924 200 Mile Race, driven by E. R. Hall, and was also driven in hill-climbs by Holford . The o.h.c. 8-valve engine shown at Olympia in 1925 was the work of the Hon. Geoffrey Benson and was used in a specially-bodied car by H. W. Cook in the 1925 200 Mile Race, for which it was given a Roots blower in front of the radiator. A mechanic unfortunately forgot to adjust the brakes before the race and, coming down to the barrel-hairpin, Cook lost control and slid across the track into the railings on the very first lap. Incidentally, Benson later experimented with a Zoller supercharger on one of the 16-valve engines, it is believed with some success. To-day, apart from Ellis, Grosscurth is making quite a corner in the Bamford and Martin cars, and has just added a spare s.v. engine to his collection, for spares. One wonders where all the older cars have gone and, for that matter, where are the earlier Bertelli-type Aston-Martins of 1927-30? – they were well in production between these dates, but of recent times we only recall one Aston-Martin of this vintage coming on the market. By the way, Pomeroy reminds us that there was actually an Aston-Martin before the 1914-18 war, the very first car of the breed having 3/4-elliptic rear suspension. Not that that car is likely to come to light.

A regular veteran?

Although we are quite aware that some people think that we overdo vintage and veteran topics in Motor Sport – a matter we will endeavour to rectify in the future or, at least, contrive to strike a reasonable balance – we make no excuse for presenting in this issue an account of a collection of veteran cars in South Africa. In this country, where all kinds of motoring enthusiasm takes such a genuine and complete form, lots of folk are saving veteran cars for postwar runs and rallies. Which leads one to wonder whether anyone will decide to use a veteran or Edwardian tourer regularly as serious transport over an appreciable period – remembering that the late Col. Clutton did so with his 1909 Fafnir for very many years. Put into 100 per cent. mechanical condition and shod with modern tyres, the better pre-1914 touring cars of medium horse-power could give excellent service and not so very low point-to-point averages, at all events in the less congested parts of the country. Cars such as Shakespeare’s Mors and Enfield-Alldays, now stored in a garage in Surrey, and Peter Hampton’s recently acquired 1911 Sunbeam Sixteen, come to mind as eminently suitable vehicles, not to mention Hutton-Stott’s truly remarkable 60 m.p.h. 1912 Lanchester. Dare one ponder on whether an “Alfonso” Hispano in really nice order might not prove a thorn in the flesh of certain 3-litre Bentleys and other similar marques…?

Far flung

Motor Sport continues to reach the far-flung parts of our Empire in spite of the Nazis. An airgraph from E. Chalenor Barson informs us that he is busy in Capetown these days, driving in the 1st Cape Armoured Car Commando in any spare moments he has. He uses a 1934 Riley Nine nowadays, and when he wrote in May there was still a petrol ration worth 200 miles a month to run it on. He read with interest the account of Keith Salmon’s specials, and is sending us details of his eleventh Barson Special. He requests that any enthusiasts passing through or stationed in Capetown will contact him either at Nugget Polish Co. or at “Beulah,” Welteveden Avenue, Rondebosch, Capetown (‘phone 64526). He would particularly like to hear from Clutton, John Clarke, Waddy, Joan Richmond, Bolster, FitzPatrick, Harry Fowler and Ted Batten, and concludes: “Special regards to my friends of the Vintage S.C.C. and Frazer-Nash C.C., to yourself and to your journal.” The last Barson Special we can remember had a Talbot frame, Lancia front-end, 2-litre Lagonda engine and independent rear suspension.

Then L/AC. Harold G. Hinchliffe,. R.A.F., and a friend (whose address in Aden we have) seek Lea-Francis lore about both “Hyper” and 2-litre models, and also wish to hear from people who have turned a 3-wheeler Morgan into a 4-wheeler (let’s hope for a petrol tax!) or who have supercharged an o.h.v. “11/45 ” J.A.P. engine. They used to know well the “30/98 ” Vauxhall now owned by Major Heath, and remark that the garage from which it came had a fine 3-litre Bentley coupé for sale at the same time – which May still be there. And from the Middle East comes a request from an airman for details of all Riley models. It keeps you busy!

Flying

So many books about flying in this war have already been published that many people, seeing reviews of additional accounts of a fighter pilot’s life, will either decide that this is too much, or else will buy the book without enthusiasm just to complete a growing collection of such works. Either way, they would be mistaken about “Combat Report,” by Hector Bolitho, which B. T. Batsford, Ltd., have just published at 8s. 6d. This is, perhaps, the most human and delightfully-written book of its kind yet published. It is so intensely of flying, not only in combat but before the war with things like Avro “Avian” and D.H. “Hornet Moth” light aircraft, and yet it unfolds perfectly the life of “John,” a young man of the R.A.F., in his prime at 25. The number of famous personalities introduced by their Christian names as friends and acquaintances of the fighter pilot around whom the book is written is astounding, and, from our world, the late Bernard Rubin, John’s brother-in-law. This is a book all too difficult to review. Bolitho “gets it over” by simple, very sincere writing. It is, in spite of the number of such books read already, so very well worth reading. On the subject of motoring personalities and flying, Kay Petre is claiming to have made a faster journey than any other woman, referring to a Press flight in a D.H. “Mosquito.” This has called forth in The Aeroplane a chiding from Winifred Crossley, who reminds Mrs. Petre that women of A.T.A. frequently fly Mosquitos, often in bad weather…

A really rapid Bentley

At Whitsun we had the pleasure of calling on A. C. Clark, secretary of the Bentley Drivers’ Club, and of learning that that club is still enrolling occasional new members and hopes to stage another social at a date not too far distant. Mr. Clark reminded us that the Kent and Sussex L.C.C. has been wound up, and when we expressed concern for the future of the Lewes course, he was able to say that Bentley Drivers’ Club might take it over and continue these successful speed trials. Mr. Clark does only very limited motoring now, using one of his S.S. cars, of which he has three, for A.R.P. work; gardening otherwise occupies all his leisure moments. He has, also, a 4 1/2-litre Bentley and his special “Speed Six,” carefully stored, awaiting the day. The latter car was devised in conjunction with McKenzie and is a Bentley of very great performance, which was used before the war for fast Continental journeys, last running in France in 1938. Like many really fast cars, it is very simply bodied, the two-door 2-seater shell being the owner’s own handiwork. It is constructed of dural and aluminium, with a floor of dural-covered plywood, and is extremely light. Clark even made the leather-upholstered bucket seats behind which is ample luggage space. It is to his credit that no screen disfigures the scuttle, as he always drives without one, in helmet and goggles. The chassis is the standard 11 ft. wheelbase production, with the springs flattened to lower it quite 3 ins. The radiator has also been cut down and lowered, and given a high-efficiency cooling element. The engine has special rods and pistons and the compression ratio is the highest considered practical with the 6.1/2-litre unit; while there are three S.U. carburetters. Fuel feed is by twin Autopulse. The car is still further lowered, as the 21 in. wheels have been replaced by 19 in., which are considered the best compromise for general duties, although 18 in. wheels give somewhat better results for sprints. The rear axle ratio is 3 to 1. The head resistance is kept down by using small Trippe head-lamps, and the car carries only B.A.R.C., V.C.C.. R.A.C. and Kent and Sussex L.C.C. badges; brake and gear lever are external. Before the war Clark used the car as his daily means of going to and from London, and mentioned that on returning from town he would often turn in at the gates of Brookiands Track and enjoy a few fast laps. He is yet another who hopes that the Outer Circuit will one day be restored and given back to us.