The Rootes Group and Competition Motoring



An Interview with Norman Garrad, Competition and Sales Manager of Sunbeam Limited, about the Lessons Learned and the Successes Achieved in Competition Events, with Special Reference to the Arduous Alpine Rally.

It is particularly gratifying to find that four of Britain’s “Big Five” motor manufacturers enter cars for competitions and consider that to do so pays excellent dividends, both from the viewpoint of publicity and technical lessons learned.

B.M.C. have returned recently to this sphere of activity, with Austin, Morris and M.G. entries in rallies and an M.G. team at Le Mans. Ford takes ‘a prominent part with divers Dagenham models in rallies. Standard have Triumph TR2 entries in the leading rallies and sports-car races. Rootes, however, pioneered a return to competition work after the end of the second world war. For this reason, on the eve of this year’s Alpine Trial, or Alpine Rally as it is now designated, we journeyed to Ryton-on-Dunsmore, near Coventry, to talk with Norman Garrad, Competition and Sales Manager of Sunbeam Limited, about his firm’s interest in this form of motoring activity.

Norman Garrad served his apprenticeship — very thoroughly, for seven years — with the Arrol-Johnston Company, in what he would refer to as the “bow-and-arrow age.” In 1928 he drove a supercharged sleeve-valve Arrol-Aster in the first Ulster T.T., the other being handled by E. R. Hall. They were interesting cars technically but, says Garrad, “they hadn’t any brakes!” Becoming interested in the possibilities of diesel engines in the commercial-vehicle field Gorrad went to Crossley’s, and while there drove a Crossley saloon in a Monte Carlo Rally. Later he drove Talbot cars in trials and other events, eventually joining that concern.

At that period Georges Roesch was the designer and presiding genius at Talbot’s and under his guidance the firm re-entered the field of competition motoring in 1930 and gained notable successes in racing. In 1931, besides further racing laurels, a team of Talbots finished 1, 2, 3 in their class in the Alpine Trial, the “105” model gaining a coveted Coupe des Glaciers. 1932 saw a repetition of this success, the team of “105″ Vanden Plas tourers winning a Coupe des Alpes, the first British team to do so since 1914 and the first occasion on which a British team completed this strenuous International Alpine trial without loss of a mark. Garrad drove car No. 9. In 1933 Talbot rested on their laurels in this event, but in 1934 a team of three “105s” repeated the 1932 performance, finishing again sans loss of a single mark (a performance equalled only by four German teams and the Triumph team), the drivers being Tommy Wisdom/Mrs. Wisdom; H. Eaton/B. B. Higgins: W. M. Couper/G. Day.

Incidentally, Higgins was a works mechanic and Day was Talbot’s chief tester, and to this day Garrad makes a practice of having works personnel in the team; in 1934 the Talbots covered 3400 miles Dover-Dover at 1,700 m.p.g. of oil and 18 m.p.g. of petrol and were capable of reaching 4,850 r.p.m., or just over 100 m.p.h. in top gear.

When the Rootes Group bought up the Talbot Company just before World War II all competition motoring was considered taboo. However, when Garrad was demobbed he felt strongly that the then-current side-valve Sunbeam-Talbot, as manufactured at Ryton-onDunmore, required strenuous testing on the Continent. The engineering section were sceptical, seeing in Garrad’s requests merely a desire to try to break up their cars. But in 1947 Garrad persuaded them to let him “cover” the Alpine Rally for the Rootes Group paper Modern Motoring and Travel at the wheel of a s.v. Sunbeam-Talbot saloon. He took with him Douglas Horton and, as a representative of the Press, was able to follow the competing cars.

He found the 2-litre Sunbeam-Talbot of those days exceedingly dangerous to drive fast down the mountain passes, because of serious brake-fade. The shock-absorbers lasted only about 2 ½ hours, fuel vapourised in the pipe-lines, the gear-ratios proved unsuitable for Alpine work, third gear in particular being too low, the steering swivel-pins tightened up alarmingly, tyres gave trouble and power fell off badly at high altitude. All these matters Norman Garrad on his return was able to refer to a perhaps rather too complaisant engineering department.

All along, Bernard Winter, the Engineering Director, had listened sympathetically to Garrad’s proposals and now he plunged enthusiastically into the task of rectifying faults which prolonged Alpine motoring had been found to reveal.

The brake-lining manufacturers were consulted and research proceeded through a range of Mintex linings to the present satisfactory Mintex M20, after different brake drums and increased diameter brakes had effected only a partial cure. The petrol pipes were re-routed to avoid heat, the gearbox was redesigned to provide better-spaced ratios, the settings of the Luvax, and of the Armstrong shock-absorbers now fitted, were carefully experimented with, and when the provision of greasers failed to obviate the stiff steering, new anti-friction materials were introduced for the steering-pivots. Stromberg coped ably with problems of carburation at high altitude. In other words, thanks to Norman Garrad the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 emerged as a car capable of upholding the prestige in the Alpine Rally and similar events established before the war by the London-built Roesch Talbot cars.

In 1948 Murray Frame took a Coupe des Alpes in the Alpine, but Garrad and Horton damaged the sump of their car so seriously on a road obstruction that the crankshaft played noisy tunes on it! They only just got the car home before the oil found a way out and this episode led to stronger sumps on production Sunbeam-Talbots and sump-protectors on all subsequent competition entries!

In 1949 a team of o.h.v. Sunbeam-Talbot 90 saloons was entered for the “Alpine” and although Citroën took the only Coupe des Alpes, Garrad, Douglas Clease and the late Peter Monkhouse netted the Team Prize, a performance Rootes repeated in 1950 with a team of the new o.h.v. Mark II cars, driven by Murray Frame, George Hartwell and Garrad.

In 1951 came the advent of the enlarged 2,267-c.c. Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Mark IIA car, which in the absence of Garrad in the United States was handled by Leslie Johnson and Frame. A “Coupe” escaped them on this occasion. The following year a much-improved Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Mark IIA was ready, for many lessons had been learned as a result of “Alpine” participation. For example, oil surge in the sump (first met on the old Talbot 105s) had been dealt with by using a larger intake to the oil-pump and re-arranged sump baffles, tyres had improved, with Dunlop 90 and Fort covers available, and Lucas had co-operated nobly in obviating dynamo and starter-motor failures caused by overheating due to lack of ventilation and breakage of mounting brackets. Garrad now brought Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorn into the team and, with Frame, they won three Coupes des Alpes in 1952, and took the Manufacturers’ Team Prize. Moss had already driven for Rootes in the Monte Carlo Rally. The aforementioned practice of having works personnel in the cars was followed during this period, John Cutts going with Stirling, “Chips” Chipperton with Hawthorn, and John Pearman as Murray Frame’s co-driver.

Garrad’s long experience of the Monte Carlo and Alpine Rallies was obviously invaluable, and he looked after all the details of preparation and organisation, and knew countless useful dodges which assisted his drivers, while matters such as correct grouping of instruments, cold-air ventilation of vital engine components, seats giving proper support, etc., were a foregone conclusion before ever the team cars sailed. Oil leaks past axle oil-seals had been overcome, to the benefit of the brakes, and much better lighting equipment was available, the Lucas “Flamethrower” fog lamps having been developed largely due to requests by Rootes for such lamps.

Besides Moss and Hawthorn, Garrad now added Sheila van Damm to his team. A W.A.A.F. driver during the war and an amateur pilot, Sheila was persuaded by the publicity manager of the Windmill Theatre, which her father owns, to compete in a rally. Through T. R. Mulcaster, Editor of Modern Motoring and Travel, he approached Garrad and introduced Sheila at the 1951 Motor Show. Impressed more by Sheila’s sincerity than by possible publicity, Garrad offered her a car for the 1952 Daily Express Rally. He noticed that, try as he might, Tommy Wisdom failed to shake off Sheila and her sister on the run, London to Harrogate, and throughout the Rally. Driving almost the entire distance single-handed Miss van Damm finished third in the ladies class, although no one had bothered to give her any tuition for the special tests. Thus she gained her place in the Rootes’ works teams, and after many try-outs with them and advice generously given by Stirling Moss and Peter Collins she went on the 1953 Monte Carlo Rally in a Hillman Minx with”Bill” Wisdom and Mrs. Fotheringham-Parker. Failure to understand the jacking system cost them the Ladies’ Award, but Sheila again demonstrated her keenness, straining herself by attempting to lift the car.

Norman Garrad, no doubt largely as a result of his visit to the U.S.A., had persuaded Rootes, to introduce a fast open car. The result was the Sunbeam Alpine.

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The idea behind the Sunbeam Alpine was to offer a strong, attractive-looking open roadster incorporating those engine and chassis improvements suggested by experience in competition events with the Sunbeam-Talbot saloons, which had resulted in Rootes being awarded the Dewar Trophy by the R.A.C. in 1952 for the most meritorious performance of the year.

The engine was given a revised cylinder head, the compression-ratio being raised from 6.45 to 1 to 7.42 to 1, the power output being increased from 70 b.h.p. at 4,000 r.p.m. to 80 b.h.p, at 4,200 r.p.m. A single Stromberg DAA36 downdraught carburetter was adopted, the ports cleaned up, a Burgess straight-through silencer used, located in the air-stream outside the chassis frame side-members, and a Lucas high-voltage sports-coil employed in conjunction with manual ignition control. Close-ratio gears, a stronger (8 ft. 1 ½ in. wheelbase) chassis frame, deeper radiator block and stiffer coil springs for the i.f.s. were other features incorporated in the Alpine cars, together with a ¾ in. din. instead of a 9/16 in. dia. anti-roll bar and harder settings for the R-type Armstrong shock-absorbers.

In production form last year’s Sunbeam Alpine proved capable of 95/96 m.p.h. A Sunbeam Alpine Special with 8.0 to 1 compression-ratio and specially faired-in body was taken to Jabbeke in 1953 and achieved a speed of over 120 m.p.h. in the hands of Sheila van Damm, after which Leslie Johnson averaged 111.2 m.p.h. for an hour at Montlhèry, his firm of E.R.A. Ltd. having done much of the development work, under the direction of David Hodkin. (See Motor Sport, May, 1953, page 232.)

It is interesting that, in developing the Alpine, tests (made initially by the simple expedient of holding a feather-duster on a broomstick over the bonnet!) showed that bonnet-top louvres possess little value as hot-air extractors and doors in the bonnet sides are far more effective. Incidentally, the front wing formation of the Sunbeam makes the installation of cold-air ducts especially easy and good use is made of these for the Alpine and Mark III saloon cars, supplemented by half-moon-shaped scoops behind the radiator grille of the Alpine.

A further example of development is the adoption for the Sunbeam Mark III of the 7.42 to 1 compression-ratio head evolved for the Alpine, which results in the excellent claimed maximum speed of nearly 94/95 m.p.h. from this £840 saloon, which now develops 77 b.h.p. at 4,100 r.p.m.

Reverting to the Alpine Rally, Moss, Collins, Frame, Johnson, the American Fitch (who was enormously impressed by the height of the Alps!) and Sheila van Damm took a team of six open Sunbeam Alpines through the 1953 “Alpine.” Although they lost the Team Prize to Jaguar, four of the cars won Coupes des Alpes (Collins and Johnson retired) and on her first appearance in this now very fast and strenuous trial Sheila won the Ladies’ Prize. Rootes naturally fielded a team of Sunbeam Alpines again last year and although the Team Prize was lost to Triumph, whom Garrad had advised in a friendly manner, Moss won a Gold Cup for three successive victories, in spite of trouble with the linkage of the steering-column gearchange.

For next month’s “Alpine” Norman Garrad is preparing six Sunbeam Alpines, for he quite expects he may “lose” two of these during this hectic trial. We were able to visit the Competition Section, located in a quiet corner of the old Humber works at Stoke, where four of these cars were being prepared under the care of J. Ashworth, Foreman of the Competition Department, and his next-in-command, G. Spencer. The cars, bearing consecutive registration numbers, impress by being close to standard specification — they even have quite small cast-iron brake drums with normal finning. Special seats, giving better support and saving about 40 lb., are fitted, the ignition coil is mounted horizontally on the near side directly in a cold-air duct, with a spare coil beside it, and twin Zenith petrol-filters are fitted. The instrument panels are devoid of rev.-counters. Tests at Monza and in the Tulip Rally have decided Garrad to use Shell Multigrade oil; previous rallies have been run on Shell X-100 oil and Shell petrol. Experimental Dunlop tyres and a larger fuel tank placed just behind the seat in the capacious boot, to obviate a re-fuel at a vital part of the schedule, are other 1955 improvements and bonnet straps will be used. The engines, with the 8.0 to 1 compression-ratio of the Alpine Special, develop 90 b.h.p. and overdrive will be available to the drivers in all the gears. Lucas spread-beam headlamps will have stoneguards which can be swivelled away from the lamps at night.

The drivers for this year’s “Alpine” cars will be Stirling Moss with John Cutts, Sheila van Damm with Anne Hall, Peter Harper with David Humphrey, G. Murray Frame with John Pearman, Jimmy Ray (who has formerly driven a TR2 Triumph) with Peter Reese (usually in a Ford), and Raymond Baxter, the B.B.C. commentator, with Leonard Miller. As usual, Norman Garrad will go along to “father” the boys and girls and attend to the myriad of details needing experienced attention. Moss, for example, will fly out after the French G.P. in order to rest before the Rally and will then fly to England for the British G.P. at Aintree.

Sheila van Damm will be determined to defend her Women’s European Championship which she leads with 29 points (having finished first in the Monte Carlo Rally, first in the R.A.C. Rally, and second in the Tulip Rally to Greta Molander’s Saab) from Nancy Mitchell (Daimler) who has 24 points (third in the Monte Carlo Rally, third in the R.A.C. Rally, and third in the Tulip Rally) and Greta Molander who has 15 points (sixth in the Monte Carlo Rally, non-competitor in the R.A.C. Rally, and first in the Tulip Rally).

It is clear that the great Rootes Organisation regards competition work as very good publicity and an essential means of developing its range of production cars. Norman Garrad rates the Sunbeam victory (Malling and Fadum in a Mark III) in this year’s Monte Carlo Rally as worth many orders, probably in the region of 200 to 300 cars.

Apart from Sunbeam, Hillman and Humber cars are also entered and in 1952 the o.h.v. Humber Super Snipe made a high-speed run through fifteen countries in five days in the hands of Moss, Johnson, Cutts and Humphrey. In the same year a Super Snipe, driven by Hinchcliffe and Walshaw, established a new London-Cape Town record of 13 days, 9 hr. 6 min. Previous to this, earlier in 1452, Hinchcliffe and Bulman set the London-Cape Town record at 21 days, 19 hr. 45 min. with a Hillman Minx.

Successes in competition events are conveyed to the workers in the Rootes’ factories by special bulletins, and lectures and film-shows about them are given — that Coventry is competition-conscious was brought home to us during the short drive from Ryton-onDunmore to Stoke, for the Jaguar advertisements on the hoardings had stuck across them JAGUAR WINS AGAIN AT LE MANS, and this was the Monday after that race!

Although the Rootes Group does not contemplate entering its products for races, it did show its appreciation of Stirling Moss by presenting him with a seven-ton Commer racing-workshop, for which he was given a free choice of tools with which to equip it. Rootes also have their Equipe Sunbeam Alpine Commer three-ton van attached to the Competition Department, which attends the major rallies in which their cars are entered.

Clearly, Norman Garrad believes, with his Directors, that “the rally car of today is tomorrow’s production saloon” and the drivers he appoints with care born of long experience of the game will tell you that with this slogan he couples the firm motto, “No Excuses!” — W. B.