THE VINTAGE IN INDIA
THE opinion has been expressed to me several times at home that over 100 miles of ordinary motoring (not the Great North Road), equally good time could be made with a well-tuned 20-h.p. Rolls-Royce as with a “Speed Model” 8-litre Bentley, and with considerably less fatigue to the driver. My personal experiences with a 1927 3-litre Bentley (chassis No. I3L 1607, at one time owned by Sir Malcolm Campbell) in the U.K. leads me to doubt this opinion as to time, but leaves me in no doubt whatever as to the fatigue side of the matter. Weighing a mere 10 stone, I used to find that 100 miles driving in the Bentley over ordinary roads, with normal traffic, at an average speed of, say, 37 m.p.h., left me at the end of the trip hardly as “fresh as paint.” For speed no 20 or 20/25 Rolls-Royce could hold this car, and on many a run, notably one from Winchester to Oxford in one hour dead late on the night of the Naval Review, 1937, I cannot imagine a pursuit by one of them. As a matter of interest, 13L 1607, when well warmed up to 85° C., would attain 92 m.p.h. on the A.T. speedometer at just over 8,600 r.p.m. (slight valve bounce at this speed), which was probably a genuine 88, and would accelerate from rest to 50 m.p.h. in 13 sec. as timed by a Longines chronometer over four runs ; this acceleration test was made with only one change, i.e., from first to second gear. This car was kept in perfect tune by Bentley Motors (1931), Ltd., and had only covered 46,000 miles at the time of purchase. Petrol consumption was 22 m.p.g. when driven quietly, and anything from 18-16 when hustled, particularly with the hood up. So much for my initial experiences with this splendid type of sporting car ; the real purpose of this article is a comparison of the Bentley and ” Twenty ” Rolls-Royce in the East. In March, 1941, I discovered a 1924 “Speed Model” Bentley (chassis No. 448) in Poona, but owing to having on the previous day purchased by wire to Delhi a 1935 Lancia ” Dilambda “sports tourer, fun& did not permit of buying and maintaining a second car. However, in due A 1926 3-litre ” Speed Model ” Bentley and a 1925 20-h.p. Rolls-Royce compared over going which is, to-day, more familiar to many of our readers than
was the case before the war.—Ed.
course No. 443 was purchased by a friend of mine for about £30, and though the bodywork was rough, mechanically the car was in very sound order. Its big snag was the old-type wheels fitted with 820 by 120 tyres for which, search as we might, and did, we were never able to find the much-needed spares. This car was driven to Delhi by two friends, the time taken being two and a half days. I was to have been the third driver for this interesting trip but, unfortunately, was removed to hospital with paratyphoid a few days before we were due to start. The journey of 800-odd miles was accomplished with only one puncture, much to the surprise of the crew, and in good running time. The old car averaged 18 m.p.g. throughout and went over the Western Ghats in great style and without any signs of overheating. No. 448 is still running daily in Delhi, although I do not like to think of the present state of the tyres ! • October, 1941, saw me in possession of a 1925 20-h.p. Rolls-Royce (chassis No. GPK 71), fitted with a light barrel-sided 4-seater touring body by Barkers. This car had the 4-speed, right-hand change gearbox and servo-operated 4-wheel brakes, also 20-in, stainless steel wheels fitted with 6.50-in. by 20-in. tyres. Being stationed in Quetta at the time, the dar had to make the journey of some 650 miles from Lahore—this journey was via Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Loralai, and was without incident, i.e., without any mechanical trouble and without being shot at by tribesmen (the section Rakhni-Loralai, through the Sulaiman mountains, is only open to traffic twice a week and all vehicles have to go in convoy with an escort provided by the
nearest armoured regiment). I shall for long remember my first drive in this car (which, incidentally, began at midnight) seated behind the famous R.R. mascot and the astonishingly smooth engine. The late start was due to having worked all day on the car with an excellent R.R. mechanic from Delhi. It had been laid up for years, and time was getting short and there was little left of the five days’ leave which I had snatched in order to travel to the Punjab to inspect and to acquire it. Evidently I had pressed the poor mechanic beyond his “peak revs.,” for he developed a high fever and I had to leave him on Ferozepore railway station to find his way back to Delhi as best he could.
At this time there was in Quetta a 1927-28 4i-litre Bentley fitted with an open Van den Plas fabric body, owned by a friend of mine who had brought the car out from England some years previously. This was probably one of the first “4s” to be produced, but it had done only a moderate mileage and had been very carefully driven and maintained. I had the pleasure of several short runs in this car, which handled superbly and proved surprisingly flexible. For this country the “44 ” has many advantages over the 3-litre, due to its longer wheelbase, greater weight, and less harsh suspension, which factors make it a much more comfortable car on the roads out here, in addition to the very necessary extra body space. I ant not advocating that the 4i-1itre is a better-balanced car on wet roads, etc., than the 3-litre, as I believe the contrary to be the case, nor am I stating that the springing of either type is idealsfor this country—far from it, as, except when heavily laden, both suspensions are much too harsh. It might here be added that fabric bodies are not a great success in India as in the hot climate they soon tend to become shabby ; however, regular cleaning with engine oil helps them to retain their appearance and condition. Quetta also held two other Bentleys, a 1931 4i-litre open car, mechanically in very good order and with a terrific performance, but with the coachwork in a very untidy state ; and a 1922 3-litre (chassis No. 62) which had covered goodness knows how many thousands of miles. This latter car had the Smith multiple-jet carburetter and the original old-fashioned wheels with high-pressure tyres. On a short visit to Quetta in August, 1944, I had hoped to find old No. 62 still there and to be able to get some spares off it for my present 3-litre, but, unluckily, I was too late, as it had been sold for scrap after ending its road career in 1943. To return to the old Rolls-Royce : it performed very well in Quetta despite the altitude of 5,500 feet above sea level, but I was never able to adjust its complicated carburetter to give as good a performance as (quad be obtained in the plains. However, it used to pull up the bill past the Staff College at 50 m.p.h., which is a very fair speed, and slightly dangerous, too, considering there are two roundabouts to be negotiated. Minor trouble was experienced with the platinum
points and with the condenser, both of which items were renewed as the result of a wire to Delhi. A new battery was also obtained to bring the car up to scratch for long-distance travelling. Unfortunately, the magneto was missing, having been sent to England for repairs before the war, and I was never able to trace it in spite of the kindly help of Messrs. Rolls-Royce, Ltd., Derby. I am a great believer in magneto ignition over the coil type, since in a country where the life of one’s battery is very short-18 months at the best—it is wiser not to have to be dependent’ on even the best battery. Dual ignition, magneto and coil, or else twin magnetos, is the ideal arrangement.
My stay at Quetta concluded at the end of January, 1942, and the Army desired my presence elsewhere, so off we set for Delhi ; I made for this city as, not knowing my future destination, I considered it the best place to leave the car, there being located the R.R. agents and service station, who could look after it for me. We (I was travelling in company with some friends who had a 1935 straight-eight Pontiac saloon) drove from Quetta down the ” hill ” to Sibi, thence to Multan by rail as no proper road existed in those days. At Multan we detrained the cars. From Multan to Lahore there is a magnificent metalled road on which one can travel at a mile a minute all the way. However, as GPK 71 was not of the ” 40/50 ” type, this was beyond our capabilities ; nevertheless, the old car did very well to average over 42 m.p.h. for this section of the trip. The car was very heavily laden, with my servant, myself, and more than 3 cwt. of luggage—in fact, my kit was stacked in the rear compartment to a height of about 7 ft. The Barker body had the spare wheel at the rear and there was no grid, but by removing the back seat and taking advantage of the flat floor, an amazing 4mount of kit could be stowed away. I preceded the Pontiac, which was even more heavily loaded, set the hand throttle for 48 m.p.h., which was the R.R.’s best cruising gait, and merely sat and steered. The Pontiac, whose springs were on the weak side through much use, could not maintain this pace and fell back a few miles astern. For this journey my car averaged 20 m.p.g., which exceeded my expectations. At Lahore one joins the Grand Trunk road which links Bombay to Peshawar in the North-West Frontier Province, via Delhi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, a distance of some 1,400 miles. I do not know the Bombay–Delhi section, but that from Delhi to Peshawar provides very good going, although towns such as Jiillundur and Ludhiana might be more effectively by-passed. On this occasion the final stage (Lahore–Delhi) of my journey was the greatest distance to date that I had driven “solo “—the speedometer “trip ” registered 327 miles when I eventually arrived at the Cecil Hotel two hours after nightfall. There is little of interest about a journey such as this as the scenery be comes very monotonous, the countryside being quite flat to the horizon, and except for bullock carts and a few ‘buses there is very little traffic. After the first 100 miles, with no one to talk to, driving even the most exciting car would become rather tedious, especially with the glare of the
sun and the clouds of dust that rise whenever one meets a vehicle travelling in the opposite direction. Most of the trunk road was then really only one-car wide, with the result that when meeting
or overtaking, one vehicle at least had to move over on to the unmetalled sides. To reduce WC glare the screen of my car had been fitted with blue safety glass, which was a great boon, and if I were staying on in India I would go to considerable lengths to get hold of some similar glass.
Much to the credit of GPK 71 this long day’s driving did not fatigue me unduly, although admittedly I was not displeased when I saw the lights of Delhi ahead of me. The front seat, which was in one piece and well upholstered, provided a first-class driving position, with a good view of both’ wings, and made one feel well in control of everything. The very light brakes and steering, combined with the excellent suspension, rendered this car quite the most comfortable and pleasant to handle of the old timers that I have driven. For the journey under discussion the Rolls-Royce averaged 37 m.p.h. and just under 22 m.p.g. of petrol, which, I think, will be judged a creditable performance, in view of the subsequent “discoveries” made within the ” works,” and referred to below. This trip brought to light the existence of slackness in both the main and the big-end bearings, so that at 88 m.p.h. there was a pronounced engine “period.” However, above and below this speed the engine retained its smoothness. This factor decided We question of whether a thorough overhaul was necessary, so after a quick look at the state of my bank balance—not very impressive when one is a lieutenant in the Indian Army !— the car was handed over to the Delhi agents to make as good a job as they could of the engine for 150. The dismantling process revealed several ” interesting” defects, notably the condition of (a) the valves, which, if ground any further, would have fallen through the cylinderhead, and (b) the bearing caps, which appeared to have been packed with tinfoil. The condition of the pistons and bores showed that these were good for a considerable extra mileage. Work carried out included fitting a complete new
set of both inlet and exhaust valves, de-. carbonising, the fitting of new main and big-end bearings, with consequent retrueing of the crankshaft journals, new plugs, overhaul of timing mechanism and of the dynamo and other minor adjustments. The clutch, except for adjustments to the withdrawal mechanism, the gearbox, universal joints, differential, wheel bearings, etc., all proved to be in good shape’ but the opportunity was taken of relining the brakes. As luck would have it, owing to the exigencies of the Service, I was not to benefit from this overhaul for, except for a brief 10 days’ leave in the winter of 1942, I never had a chance to use the car again. Nine hundred miles separated me from it, and after 15 months of this, I advertised it and a purchaser was not long in coming forward ; I think he found a really good old motor all ready for him. I parted with GPK 71 with much regret, and if circumstances ever brought me near its present location, I would gladly buy it back again. My short experience of it during my winter leave showed that the engine had taken on a new lease of life, although, with new bearings, it had naturally to be driven quietly for the first 500 miles. In addition to the mechanical work carried out, the coachwork was tidied up and a new tonneau cover and hood bag fitted ; the paintwork, which was primrose and of many years’ service, needed very little touching up. In July, 1943, I invested part of the proceeds of the sale of the R.R. in another of the old, and even bolder, cars of the middle 1920’s, this being a 1926 3-litre “Speed Model” Bentley (chassis No., DE 1208), fitted with the standard Vanden-Plas open fabric body. I had had my eyes on this car since late 1941, and I knew that it had a good history and had been well cared for by its previous owners. In fact, in 1938 its enthusiastic owner had put it into trim for the overland journey from India to England, and I have on the car’s file a letter from Bentley Motors, Ltd., showing their interest in the projected trip. Since early 1940 the log book showed the car as having, covered 7,500 miles only, although it had been laid up for over a year when I purchased it. A purchase, I may say, condi-. tional on my reselling it to the owner if
he returned to India from the U.K. and I desired to part with it. Owing to the very limited amount of petrol available (a basic ration of four gallons per month), which allowed only occasional use of the car, it was decided to dismantle the engine and to have a look inside it. Some I.E.M.E. friends, who had a little spare time, offered their very kind and much appreciated help and knowledge ; and so we set to, wearing the minimum of clothing as the weather was hot, the day temperature never falling below 1000 F. in the shade. We were lucky in having the car’s original instruction manual. and also a detailed decarbonising instruction from the makers to assist us. First of all, after the usual preliminaries such as disconnecting the dynamo drive and removing the radiator, off came the cylinder block—there is no such luxury as a detachable head on the 3-litre engine !—and this operation allowed us to inspect the crankshaft, pistons and cylinder walls. All these parts were in good condition, particularly the main, bigand little-end bearings, which showed no signs of wear—they had probably been renewed in a previous overhaul. Next the top half of the engine came in for inspection. We removed the valves and guides, also the rocker gear but not the camshaft ; we also took off the water jacket cover plates, but found no great quantity of ” foreign ” matter inside. The state of the valves was the worst feature, and was responsible for the engine having compression a lot below par. However, we gave them the last grinding-in that they will ever get and rerlaced them with their original guides in which they were too slack a fit. As spares are unobtainable in India, a cable was sent to England requesting a new set of both these parts if such could be located in war-time. This done, we assembled the engine, having, of course, also decarbonised it and checked over what parts we could, and transferred our attentions to the valve and ignition timings, both of whch we had found not to be in accord with the makers’ stipulated settings. For anyone interested, these are as follows :— Valve timing : Taken on No. 1 cylinder. Inlet valve opens at 100 before t.d.c., and exhaust valve closes at 100 after t.d.c. ; 100 according to our calculations repre
sented 3i teeth on the flywheel periphery.
Ignition liming: Both magnetos to fire at 450 before t.d.c. when fully advanced. The o.s. magneto should be set first, and n.s. one synchronised with it.
Tappet clearances when hot are 0.019 in. for both inlet and exhaust valves, but these are different for some of the earlier-series engines.
The remainder of the car was checked over with the exception of the rear axle, and all parts were found to be thoroughly serviceable bar the magnetos, whose best days had been ended by the period of storage in the damp climate of Karachi. I have had the latter remagnetised, but not with 100 per cent. success. On the road the car performs well, although with the worn state of the valves it obviously cannot give of its best, but in any case I very seldom drive it at more than 50 m.p.h., as in the hot climate the engine tends to overheat. However, it will attain 45 and 55 m.p.h. in second and third gears, respectively, and the highest speed so far on top has been 75 m.p.h. The province of Sind, in which the car has been used, has, with one exception, very inferior roads, and it is probably the most unsuitable part of India for a car of this type. The main road, Karachi-Rohri, is the only metalled highway, all the minor roads being unmetalled and covered with layers of the finest sort of dust which, as will be appreciated, does not tend to produce an ideal mixture to go through the intakes of the twin S.U.s. If one were using the car extensively under these conditions some sort of improvised oil bath air-filter would be essential, but such a device is not easy to fit owing to the very narrow space between the carburetters and the side of the bonnet. The simplest solution to this problem would be to redesign the induction manifold and carburetter positions somewhat on the lines of the system adopted for the 25-h.p. Wolseley. The only long trip that I have done so far in the Bentley is that from Hyderabad to Karachi, a distance of 120 miles, with an average of one Irish bridge per mile, which is probably a conservative estimate. However, there is almost no traffic on this section, so again it is a matter only of steering the car, there being no gradients which the car will not ascend in top gear. This run provided an interesting compari
son between ancient and modern types of suspension for following astern of me was our Staff Captain driving the Brigade Commander’s 1941 Ford de luxe staff car. We were travelling at a consistent speed of 45 m.p.h., and although the Bentley went over the Irish bridges without slackening of pace, the Ford lost 100 yards every time we encountered one of them. Its transverse suspension sets up an unpleasant ” oscillation ” if taken over such a bridge too fast, whereas the Bentley, well laden, with its hard semielliptics, rides over it very comfortably. My remarks earlier on about the harshness of the suspension for this country of both the 3and 4i-litre ears is not modified by this last statement. I have somewhat improved the riding of my car by fitting 6.0-in. by 21-in. oversize tyres in place of the 5.25-in. by 21-in., as I was very lucky in finding an almost new set of the former size on a derelict 1925 Hudson. The Hyderabad-Karachi trip was accomplished at an average speed of 38 m.p.h. and 20 m.p.g. of petrol.
The future is, again, most uncertain, and it is very likely that I shall be separated by many miles from my old car, but it is my present intention to store it until better times come and then to ship it home to England for stripping down and reconditioning. I am normally rather sceptical about such undertakings, but in this ease I consider that the chassis and coachwork of DE 1208 are in sufkciently good order to warrant some expenditure. I say this not without some sentimentality, for I feel it will be a sad day indeed when one can no longer see an old-type Bentley wearing its original appearance.
In conclusion, I find it very hard to say which of the two motor cars I enjoyed owning the most, so I give as my opinion that for reasonably short journeys on main roads the Bentley was the more fun, whereas for long-distance travelling over varied conditions of road surface the Rolls-Royce was undoubtedly the more suitable and pleasant car. The Bentley could be improved by softer springing and better engine ventilation, and the Rolls-Royce, if fitted with a rather higher rear axle ratio which it has ample power to pull in a flat country like India, and also a clutch stop, could give a better road performance.
C. A. H. (Major).
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