Royce and That Racing Peugeot

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In the May issue I made reference to Edward Eves of Autocar, telling the story of Henry Royce buying the winning 1913 3-litre Coupe de L’Auto Peugeot, in an article he wrote about the origins and development of the Derby-built Bentley cars. I wondered at the time whether Eves had confused this with Louis Coatalen acquiring and copying the engine of this Peugeot, as recounted in Motor Sport for November 1977.

Before suggesting this, I had asked the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club if they had anything on this in their extensive Paulerspury headquarters, and the Club Secretary, Lt.-Col. Eric Barrass, kindly put a request for further information in the Club’s Bulletin. Meanwhile, the Editor of Autocar wrote to me, defending his Editorial Consultant by enclosing a copy of an R-R EC publication “The Rolls-Royce Alpine Compendium”, published in 1973, which vindicates Eves’ statement. It all goes to show how frail is the human memory, as I have a copy of this book in my library and so, I presume, does the R-R EC. . . .

In it there is a photograph of the Peugeot occupied by two cloth-capped men, the one at the wheel being captioned as “Jimmy Bullamore, Royce’s first personal driver”. I must confess that, had this not been so, I would have been inclined to wonder whether the photograph might have been taken in France before the race, as the racing no. 8 is so clear and clean. However, one notes that the car is fitted with front mudguards, consistent with a long road journey.

The picture-caption says that Royce purchased the Peugeot in 1913, so that its highly-efficient engine could be studied, and that afterwards it was sold off by Rolls-Royce Ltd. in October 1914 to Charles Jarrott for £712 at a nil profit and was never seen again. I assume that this information came from those personal, secret memos Henry Royce used to issue to his engineers — the legendary R-R “bible” — and, if so, there seems no doubt as to its correctness; so my apologies to Eves, for doubting him. The story in this “Compendium” does refer, incorrectly, to the Peugeot engine being the “brainchild of Marc Birkigt of Hispano Suiza” and says it had a hemispherical head, whereas the four-valves-per-cylinder were in a pent-roof head. It also quotes a reliable 110 h.p. “with superb smoothness” from the 1913 3-litre Peugeot engine, whereas 90 b.h.p. is nearer the mark.

However, it is Royce’s purchase of this Peugeot which is so interesting. The sequence could be that, although it is known that Coatalen had a look at this victorious Peugeot in secrecy at Wolverhampton, not wanting his copy of it as a Sunbeam to be known, he may in fact have bought the car, for Peugeot were known to sell-off their discarded racing cars quickly. The Boulogne race in which these 3-litre cars finished 1st and 2nd was on September 21st, 1913. They beat a Sunbeam, which would have made Coatalen keener to copy them. On October 9th, Goux was at Brooklands breaking records with one of these cars, and Chassagne, who is supposed to have driven the Peugeot to Wolverhampton, was there driving for Sunbeam. The TT Sunbeams were being tested in May 1914, for the race on July 10th/11th, and twin-cam Sunbeams ran in the Lyons GP on July 4th, 1914, so some quick work must have been done. It can be surmised perhaps that Chassagne took the Peugeot to Coatalen early in October 1913.

Around that time Mon. Menier, son of the French chocolate manufacturer, is said by W.F. Bradley to have bought the second of these successful 3-litre Peugeots. He lent it to Arthur Duray for the 1914 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, in which it astonished everyone by finishing 2nd, ahead of Goon’s 1913 GP Peugeot. W.F. Bradley says that Menier was followed across America by someone eager to buy his car but that his offer of 60,000 francs was refused. Menier was shot down in aerial combat during the war and went missing for three years, believed dead. When he finally returned to France, badly injured, it was to find that his beloved Peugeot had been sold to a dealer for a mere 5,000 francs, according to Bradley. Elsewhere, though, Bradley says that within an hour of its return to France a con-rod had broken. It was supposed to be still in Paris in 1925. That car was never claimed as Boillot’s winning Peugeot, so was no doubt the car in which Goon finished 2nd.

It seems possible that after Coatalen had finished with the Boillot car, knowing that Rolls-Royce Ltd. were unlikely to build racing cars, he did a deal with them and delivered the car to Derby. R-R are said to have disposed of it in October 1914 to Jarrott. “who was doing good business in Rolls-Royce cars”. This may tie-in with Hugh Keller’s recollection of Phil Paddon, another R-R dealer, collecting such a Peugeot around this time. The only fly in the historical ointment is that Watney and Geach were racing Coupe de L’Auto Peugeots at Brooklands in the summer of 1914; but these were probably 1912 Lion-Peugeots, that also had the Henry twin-cam multi-valve engines, which historians tend to overlook. (Disturbing thought — could Coatalen have copied a 1912 engine?) As for Bullamore, in his splendid book on the Rolls-Royce Twenty John Fasal tells us that he was one of the R-R mechanics who had accompanied the Rolls-Royce cars to the 1911 Delhi Durbar and that, as a test-superintendent at Derby, he had taken one of the experimental 20 h.p. cars to France in 1922.

By October 1914 Royce would have finished his look at the Peugeot, which, however, as Eves suggests, may have influenced him in using twin o.h.-camshafts for his Gothawk car-engine after the war. In August 1914 Royce would have been more interested, presumably, in studying the 1914 GP Mercedes that had been taken to Derby and on which he based the cylinder, water-jacket and single overhead camshaft construction of his new aero-engine.* It seems true that this Peugeot afterwards vanished, because although one of the 1912 7.6-litre GP Peugeots (Malcolm Campbell and Mrs. Menzies) and a 1913 5.6-litre GP Peugeot (Brocklebank and Toop) were raced at Brooklands after the war, no Coupe de L’Auto Peugeot was raced there after the Armistice.

I bow to Brian Demaus as well as to Edward Eves; when I referred to the 1914 TT Humbers as the only racing cars of that make I should have said the last of the line, copied, of course, from a Coupe de L’Auto Peugeot. Incidentally, one wonders if its maker’s name was left off those Humbers deliberately, maybe as some kind of insurance against possible copyright action or embarrassment, and whether the same ploy was used in the case of any of the other Henry-Peugeot cribs? — W.B.

*This was the Rolls-Royce “Eagle” which came out in 1915, the name presumably implying strong flight, the forerunner of “bird” names for the subsequent types of R-R aero-engines. But how ironical if Royce had thought of the Prussian Eagle when adopting it! – Ed.

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