Where Have All The Peugeots Gone?

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The Editor attempts to trace the fate of some of the most significant Grand Prix cars of all time

(Continued from the June issue)

Last month I wrote of those pre-1914 Peugeot racing cars evolved by racing drivers Georges Boillot, Jules Goux and Paul Zuccarelli, with the aid of draughtsman Ernest Henry, which, with their inclined o.h. valves operated by twin overhead camshafts, set a fashion in high-performance engine design that persists to this day. I went on to ask how is it that such revolutionary and now-historic cars have virtually disappeared?

Last month’s article, after sorting out the various Peugeots of this advanced technical form which were raced in Europe between 1912 and the outbreak of war, went on to discuss the fate of the team of three 7.6-litre cars which showed at Dieppe in 1912 that comparatively small engines could vanquish the traditional multi-litred giants, two of the Henry Peugeots filling the first two places in the Grand Prix that year. I then endeavoured to show that, whereas two of the victorious team vanished even before war engulfed Europe, the car driven into second place by Jules Goux came to Brooklands, won races and set up records there in 1913, and was acquired by Malcolm Campbell, who used it for racing and record-breaking between 1920 and 1923, this car then being bought by Mrs. Stewart Menzies, who ran it for another season, until it, too, vanished into limbo.

I set down what evidence I had been able to dig up to prove this; a further small link which suggests that Campbell’s and Goux’s Peugeot were one and the same is provided by that splendid model of the car, made to the order of Campbell, which is now in the Montagu Motor Museum at Beaulieu, and which was illustrated last month. For this model has miniature Derihon shock-absorbers of the kind used on Goux’s record-breaker in 1913, whereas the two cars which went to Indianapolis that year were fitted with Hartfords. (That Mrs. Menzies used Hartfords in 1923 does not necessarily cloud the issue, because by then the André-Hartford depot was operating inside the Track and they were popular on Brooklands cars.)

There remains one mysteryI have remarked previously that the path of a racing-car historian is strewn with pitfalls. It is this. If Campbell acquired Goux’s car, why did he discard the streamlining used for the 1913 record-breaking and racing at Brooklands when he resuscitated the car in 1920? This body, radiator cowl and undershield might have been destroyed during the war. But when Campbell had the Peugeot it retained the radiator stone-guard fitted at the time of the Grand Prix. It seems odd that he should have replaced this for use on Brooklands and as the tail he fitted over the bolster tank is definitely not the one fitted to Goux’s car in 1913 I now incline to the view that Peugeot may have built more than three of these cars and that the one driven by Goux at Brooklands in 1913 was not that which he used at Dieppe. If this theory is correct, my other surmises fall more neatly into place, i.e., Campbell got hold of Goux’s G.P. car and used it unaltered, even to the stone-guard protecting its enormous radiator. In 1923, to increase its speed, he, as we know, tuned the aged engine to burn Discol fuel and, I now suggest, at the same time fitted a new long tail. To facilitate selling the car he had a model or models constructed of it (he did the same thing later on with his 350 h.p. Sunbeam). This would explain why, when Mrs. Menzies bought it, the streamlined tail was in place.+ And although Campbell used the original shock-absorbers in 1920 either he, or the new owner, later went over to Hartfords. . . . Somewhere there may exist photographic evidence to prove or disprove my theories.

+I know that the Montagu Motor Museum states this tail was fitted for record attacks, but this could mean either that they have confused it with the tail on Goux’s 1913 Track car, or that Campbell put it on in 1920 for his record attack but for some reason discarded it later, to resume it in 1923.—W. B.

Meanwhile, enough of the 7.6-litre Peugeots, the first to display the soundness and great technical advance of the twin-cans multi-valve Henry layout and consequently now of enormous historical significance, but all of which have disappeared, the last known survivor apparently racing for the very last time in 1925—see remarks later in this article. What of the next in the line of these remarkable and successful Peugeots?

These were the 3-litre cars built for the 1913 Coupe de l’Auto to race, which were even more of a technical breakthrough than the 1912 G.P. Peugeots. They finished first and second in that race, and late in 1913 Goux broke records with one at Brooklands, fitted with a single-seater body, covering the f.s. ½-mile at 106.19 m.p.h.

Before going on to consider the dramatic future of these 1913 voiturettes, it is interesting to note that one of the unsuccessful 1912 Coupe de l’Auto Peugeots, which had the same engine layout as the G.P. Peugeots, had come to Brooklands that year, being entered, as were the other works cars which came to England, by H. Boissy. The driver was none other than the then unestablished André Boillot, Georges’ brother, who was apparently employed as a car demonstrator somewhere in London. What he thought of having to don a pink coat and wear a pale blue cap before starting in B.A.R.C. races must go unrecorded. But he certainly drove this Lion-Peugeot at the Track ten days before the Coupe de l’Auto was held, so presumably the factory had already decided to concentrate on the bigger G.P. cars, entering only Thomas for the 3-litre race. Boillot confined his Brooklands appearances to the 100-m.p.h. Handicaps, and as his best lap was at fractionally over 75 m.p.h., his performances were not striking. The car remained here until the middle of July, going rather more slowly at the next Brooklands meeting. Peugeot were running a full team in the Belgian G.P., but whether this car ran in this race or whether it was an additional car is problematical; in 1914 the Hon. R. W. Beckett was racing a 3-litre at Brooklands which was so pedestrian that I presume it was one of the 1912 cars, possibly Thomas’, which never re-crossed the Channel?

Reverting to the highly-effective 1913 Coupe de l’Auto Peugeots, W. F. Bradley has told us that one of them, presumably the winning car, was bought by Mon. Meaner, son of the Cadbury of France (but I do not think he made cocoa) and borrowed by Arthur Duray for the 1914 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. In this race it confirmed the superiority of these 3-litre Peugeots by finishing second at 80.99 m.p.h., ahead of many of the larger 1913 G.P. cars of various makes, including the Peugeots of Boillot and Goux, which admittedly experienced tyre trouble. Then, says Bradley, soon after Duray had been followed across America by an enthusiast who tried to buy the car but who was defeated when Menier refused 60,000 francs for it, the Peugeot’s owner was shot down in aerial combat (as, later, was Georges Boillot) and was reported missing, presumed killed. Meanwhile, the victorious Peugeot had returned to France but, under the tragic circumstances, it was sold to a dealer for a mere 5,000 francs. Menier eventually returned home, according to Bradley, only partially recovered from terrible injuries, to find his treasured racing car gone. It apparently stayed in Paris, where it was used very occasionally, a decade after its American success. (Don’t ask me why the wealthy chocolate heir didn’t buy it back.)

That seems to account for one of the team cars. Louis Coatalen bought another after the race, had it brought to England, and probed its construction in order to use it as a pattern for his 1914. T.T. Sunbeams, which, however, often described as an exact copy, on recent evidence from Australia seem to have differed from the Henry design in small but subtle details. (One presumes that Coatalen would not wish too much to be known about his crib or the Peugeot to compete too openly against his Sunbeams, so perhaps the dismantled car was never reassembled.) The third car went to America and was raced at Indianapolis by Babcock and Hughes, the latter competing right up to the 1919 race (or perhaps there were two of these cars in the States, Coatalen maybe having found a customer there for his?). On the other hand, in June, 1914, Gordon Watney had a 3-litre Peugeot at Brooklands, with a body of “dull aluminium”. He could have acquired this from the Sunbeam works or it could have been one of the 1912 Coupe de l’Auto cars. The former I cannot prove or deny; the latter seems to be put out of court by the fine showing of J. A. Toop, who lapped in this car at 99.61 m.p.h. and won the last outer-circuit race with it before the Track closed in 1914. This was possibly the single-seater which Goux had used there late in 1913. Incidentally, thanks to the valuable archives of the Montagu Motor Museum Library, I have discovered that the single-seater body used by Goux was built in Peugeot’s factory. It was described by The Autocar as “one of the finest pieces of work that has been seen on the Track”, axle, tie-rod, dumbirons, even the dumbiron tie-rod being streamlined. This was a true single-seater, so narrow that only the wiry Goux could get into it, and then only by deleting the brake pedal and using external levers to operate the brakes, that on the o/s the rear-wheel brakes, that on the n/s the transmission brake. Admittedly, the slight tail tended to break away and had to be strengthened by a supporting band and, the back end of this Coupe de l’Auto Peugeot proving too light, a small hole was cut in the tail, through which handfuls of Surrey clay were pushed inside and rammed into a solid mass with poles!

The position is complicated by the fact that C. L. E. Geach also ran a Peugeot of the same size at Brooklands in 1914. This went too fast to have been one of the 1912 cars and was not Watney’s Car sold to Geach, because both appeared on the same day, Watney’s still in dull aluminium, Geach’s dark blue. In this instance it looks as if the Peugeot Racing Department built more than the three cars which started in the 1913 Coupe de l’Auto, for subsequent history seems to account for two at Brooklands in 1914, Menier’s car sold in France, one sold to Coatalen, and one or two in America by 1914. However, if Bradley was wrong about Menier’s car returning to France (and he is not infallible, mentioning that during the war Georges Boillot was shot down by seven German Messerschmitts, whereas such fighters were not used in that conflict), that could be the one in America, and one of the Brooklands Peugeots could have been ex-Coatalen, bringing us back to the correct number.

We now go on to the 5.6-litre cars which finished first and second in the 1913 Grand Prix, in which three started. Unfortunately Zuccarelli had been killed testing one of the cars on the road before the race; whether this was rebuilt or was a spare car I do not know. Peugeot entered two of these cars for the 1914 Indianapolis 500-mile race, the drivers being Boillot and Goux. Although outclassed, due to faulty tyres, by the Duray 3-litre, Boillot’s car set up a new lap-record for the American track of 99.5 m.p.h., these G.P. Peugeots and Duray’s smaller privately-entered car being as smartly lined out, incidentally, as any Edwardian limousine. Boillot retired after one of the dubious tyres had damaged the chassis of his car, nearly causing an accident, but Goux finished fourth. W. F. Bradley says that after war broke out Peugeot set about finding customers in America for all their racing cars and that none of the 1913 cars was ever seen again. It is true, as students of American racing history will testify, that these cars, driven by Bob Burman and, I think, by Mulford, and the entire team of 1914 4½-litre G.P. Peugeots, the former linered-down to comply with later Indianapolis regulations, performed creditably there for many years. It may even be that all three of the 1913 team cars went to the States. But if they did Bradley is incorrect in saying none came back. Because after the Armistice C. G. Brocklebank raced one of them at Brooklands.

This keen amateur driver was convinced that he had bought the car with which Boillot won the 1911 Grand Prix and set the Indianapolis lap-record in 1914. This was not a claim Brocklebank made to publicise his car, but a statement which I have seen in the very detailed personal notes he made on it, so there is no reason for doubt. Moreover, on acquiring the Peugeot early in 1922 the new owner found the chassis twisted, as had happened to Boillot’s car at Indianapolis. To cope with this a 3-litre Bentley frame was purchased and the Peugeot’s cross-members adapted to it. This is extremely interesting, because we know that F. T. Burgess, who designed the 1914 T.T. Hurnbers, which, like the Sunbeams for this race, were close copies of the 1913 Peugeots, was employed by Bentley Motors Ltd. to lay out the chassis components of the prototype 3-litre Bentley. That a Bentley chassis was used when rebuilding this 1913 Peugeot shows how closely Burgess must have copied the Henry design, not only while working in Coventry but later at his drawing-board in Conduit Street.

I devoted much space to the Brocklebank Peugeot in my “History of Brooklands Motor Course” (Grenville, 1957—pages 128-131). Suffice it to say here that it gained five firsts, two seconds, and a third place out of 14 starts and that its fastest Brooklands lap was at 113.32 m.p.h., with the engine bored-out to 5,832 c.c. and a streamlined tail fitted. In 1924 Capt. Toop, who had returned to Weybridge after a long absence, expressed a desire to race again and took on this Peugeot at short notice. He went over the Byfleet banking in it during the Whitsun B.A.R.C. Meeting and was killed instantly. The car was described as having caught fire and been bent beyond recognition.

Now we come to a remarkable development in this attempt to discover the fate of these historic cars. Or, rather, two developments. The first concerns a letter which C. D. Wallbank wrote to The Autocar at the end of 1925, bearing on an article about the fate of old racing cars, written by W. F. Bradley, which had been published in that journal earlier that year—it has fascinated me ever since. Wallbank wrote asking if anyone could give him particulars about a car he had recently acquired, “the body and general layout being exactly as used” in the 1913 Grand Prix. He implied that the car was a Peugeot, saying he believed that the Peugeots in this race eventually made their way into this country and that, to the best of his knowledge, Capt. Toop had raced one at Brooklands in 1914, and Mr. Brocklebank and Mrs. Menzies after the war. Apart from the fact that he had ascribed to drivers who raced 3-litre and 7.6-litre cars these 1913 5.6-litre Peugeots, the joke is that Wallbank hadn’t got a Peugeot at all! It seems that when he bought this car in Folkestone the vendors, either out of ignorance or because they felt that plugging a successful make would expedite a sale, told him it was a Peugeot. The story goes that he drove it to Brooklands, still under the impression that he had a Peugeot, but Douglas Hawkes said it was a Humber, not a Peugeot, because its exhaust pipe was on the wrong side! What Wallbank had come upon was one of the 1914 T.T. Humbers, such as Kenneth Neve races today in V.S.C.C. events. Which is further proof of the close crib pulled off by Burgess when he designed these T.T. racers in 1913/14! (Wallbank took two years getting the Humber to go properly and building a home-made body for it, and after a further two years it won a Brooklands race, being met immediately afterwards by Burgess, who, so the tale goes, shook the driver’s hand with tears running down his cheeks, saying; “In all these years this is the first race one of my cars has ever won.” So maybe the Folkestone vendors had something when they advertised the car as a Peugeot!)

The other remarkable aspect of this research is a letter in reply to Wallbank’s, from a Mr. George Pemberton, saying that he was the “possessor of a 1913 Grand Prix Peugeot which swept the board at the Southport meeting in May last (the letter appeared in 1926) and also won the 10-mile sand race in 6 min. 4 sec”. This correspondent went on to say: “I have had this car entirely overhauled, and with luck I hope to achieve considerable success this coming competition season in the various speed events.” This produced a haggle about the time quoted by Mr. Pemberton for his Peugeot over 10 miles and was followed by a final note from Mr. Wallbank to say that Mr. Brocklebank had enlightened him and that his car was, in fact, a 1914 Tourist Trophy Humber. Remarkable!

It became essential to this study to know more about the Pemberton car. After much delving I discovered that an old Peugeot had indeed been raced at Southport in 1925, although in April, not May. It was described as “capable of some high speeds”. In fact, driven by “S. Walters”, it was reported to have had a very easy win in the 10-mile racing car event after the only other starter, Joyce’s AC., had dropped out. Hardly a case of sweeping the board, I would have thought! In the only report I have of this meeting the car is described as of 10,560 c.c. In fact, as a letter from Mr. Grant, of Barnet Instruments Ltd., in this month’s “Vintage Postbag” (see page 596) seems to prove that the Southport mystery car was, in fact, none other than Mrs. Menzies’ 1912 7.6-litre car, which was dealt with last month. I was delighted to receive Mr. Grant’s letter but at the same time disappointed because it seems to dispel any hope that the Menzies’ car still exists in some remote country-house garage.

Up to a point, the post-G.P. fate of the team of long-tailed 4½-litre Peugeots built for that dramatic race at Lyons in 1914 is easy to establish. Bradley says that “The Peugeot management never appeared to have realised the technical value of their racing cars, for no sooner had war been declared than they entered into negotiations for the sale of all their racing material to America. Cars, parts, tools, all crossed the Atlantic. . . .” And as war was declared almost immediately after Mercedes had trounced Peugeot at Lyons, it is not surprising that all three team cars went across the water. Historians of the calibre of Pomeroy and Court have used their subsequent races in the U.S.A. against other pre-1914 G.P. cars to measure the superiority or otherwise of the Henry cars. Here I need only emphasise that these 1914 G.P. Peugeots appeared in the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race right up to 1919, and very successfully at that. Indeed, Peugeot performances in this gruelling grind can be summarised as:—

1915: Dario Resta (4½-litre), 2nd, beaten by Ralph de Palma’s 1914 G.P. Mercedes. Bob Burman (4½-litre), 6th.

1916: Dario Rests (4½-litre), 1st, at 84:0 m.p.h. Mulford (4½-litre), 3rd.

1919: Wilcox (4½-litre), 1st, at 88.05 m.p.h. Goux (4½-litre), 3rd.

The third car of the 4½-litre G.P. team was driven in America by Aitken. Incidentally, in the 1919 race five Peugeots started, the non-finishers being Andre Boillot (in the Coupe de l’Auto car), Howard and Klein, and in 1920 four ran, with Boillot and Goux among the drivers. Floyd Clymer’s useful “Indianapolis Year Book” arrived as I was writing this, to facilitate sorting things out. But I confess I cannot explain why the cylinder dimensions of the more successful 4½-litre cars are quoted therein as being 3.6 x 6.7 in., 3.62 x 6.65 in., 3.62 x 6.67 in., and 3.65 x 7.1 in., over these three races.

However, there is not an atom of doubt about all three having gone to the States, and apparently all three stayed there.* (I wonder who got Georges Boillot’s car, which is generally thought to have been in such a sorry state after his gallant defeat by the Mercedes team?)

*Someone may write to ask, what about the 4½-litre Peugeot entered for the 1914 B.A.R.C. races by Geach? From its scratch starting position it might be thought to be one of the G.P. cars sent over for some pre-Lyons testing. But it was entered only for the slower races, in which it failed to start, and from its cylinder dimensions was presumably developed from the then-current 20,30 Peugeot catalogue model.—W.B.

One, maybe two, maybe all these cars fell into the hands of film props. people between the two World Wars, and I think I may have seen fleeting glimpses of them in early post-war motor racing comedies. Today, one of them survives in America beautifully restored by Lindley Bothwell. When he found it he must have felt much as Peter Clark and Philip Mann did when they discovered a 1914 G.P. Mercedes in England. This is the only remaining Henry Peugeot in running order, as far as I know. It now looks a little odd, because it wears outsize tyres; but this can be said of some of our restorations, such as that ex-Birkin 4½-litre Brooklands Bentley “single-seater” and the 350-h.p. V12 Sunbeam at Beaulieu. Moreover, it is a measure of Bothwell’s enthusiasm that in 1949 he entered his Peugeot for the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race and lapped at 103.24 m.p.h., although naturally he failed to qualify as a starter.

Finally, there were those 2½-litre Peugeots built for the 1914 Coupe de l’Auto race which never took place on account of the war. According to W. F. Bradley, in his book “Targa Florio”, one of these was bought by Mon. Reville, son of a French senator, for the equivalent of £4,000. He had to wait until the 1919 Targa Florio to get a race in it and then ran it into a wall. In this same race André Boillot made his name by winning under extreme conditions with the second of these cars, which had also performed well in the hands of the same driver in the 1919 Indianapolis race.+ What happened to the third I do not know. Boillot was helped in this almost impossible Sicilian race, in which even he averaged only 34.2 m.p.h., by front-wheel brakes, but these were on the car in 1914, and had been used by Peugeot for their G.P. cars of that year. I have often wondered whether the chassis of this 1914 Coupe de l’Auto car formed the basis of subsequent still-delightfully-stark road-racing Peugeots, which, with long bonnets and bolster tanks, looked very similar, even in sleeve-valve form, and which persisted right up to 1931.—W. B.

+It is said that this was the same car which had been used throughout the war by Georges Boillot and Charles Faroux, and that it had thus done 200,000 kilometres prior to the American race. It would surely have been more logical, if this is true, to have “rested” the car in America and given André Boillot the remaining “new” car for his epic Targa Florio drive?—W. B.

* * *

Postscript: The above observations are an attempt to answer the question posed by the title of the article, but do not claim to be conclusive. Since writing it I have come across a fascinating article in the May issue of the Rolls-Royce E.C. Bulletin by Comdr. Hugh Keller, in which he refers to collecting a 1914 G.P. Peugeot from Weybridge for Phil Paddon, circa 1925. In subsequent correspondence the author admits that he may have been wrong about the date of the Peugeot but that if was bought from Claude Tryon and sold to Viscount Ridley, who is thought to have retained it until the time of his death. So what Peugeot was this?

Then the Continental Correspondent returned from Monaco and said he has heard there is an Henry Peugeot at a collection of old cars in Bordeaux. So it is possible that others besides Lindley Bothwell’s survive; I shall be interested to hear what more knowledgeable historians have to tell me.—W. B.

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