Veteran - Classic

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Bill Boddy

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The13/55 hp Th.Schneider

Among the good, but neglected, sports-cars of the mid-Vintage period must be included the 2-litre Th. Schneider. Theophile Schneider was one of the founders of the pioneering French motor manufacturer, Rochet-Schneider, which, operating from the great industrial city of Lyons, got in on the act as early as 1894, with rather primitive vehicles which did not seem quite able to decide whether to follow the Benz or the Peugeot path. From this stemmed later Rochet-Schneiders that first of all took on the established PanhardLevassor layout and then adopted the best of the advanced Mercedes techniques. That established the make as dependable, quite fast cars of rugged quality.

However, notwithstanding the reputation of the Rochet-Schneider, by about 1910 Theophile broke away, having decided to make cars of his own, ignoring the fact that the Rochet Company had sold its designs to Naqant, FN, Florentia and Martini in the formative years of the Motor Industry. He set up shop at Besancon in the Jura mountains, in the clockmaking part of France, and concentrated on conventional four-cylinder and six-cylinder cars of well-built form, distinguised by their scuttle-mounted radiators which, however, lacked the grace of those on the Renault; several manufacturers used this behind-engine location for the cooler, with varying ideas of protecting a delicate part of the car in the event of a frontal contact, keeping dust off the engine, perhaps of simplifying the bonnet construction, and maybe, of warming the front-seat occupants during cold weather drives.

There was nothing particularly sporting about the Th. Schneider until 1922, when a new model was announced. This was such a breakthrough that I suspect a fresh designer had been appointed, probably M. Cote. So far as this country was concerned, the celebrated ex-racing driver L. G. (“Cupid”) Hornsted took or. the agency, at premises in South Molton Street, London W1, although prior to the war Th. Schneider had had a depot close to Paddington Station, shut during hostilities.

The Schneiders which Hornsted had for sale were 10 hp and 15 hp Fours and a 20 hp Six, the latter with its cylinder blocks in pairs, a separate carburetter feeding each block, and the engine beautifully finished, each aluminium casting highly polished and then engine-turned, to give the mottled aspect usually reserved for special motor-show chassis. To enhance the neat appearance, instead of a normal valve cover giving access to the valve sterns and valve springs of the side-valve power-unit, a shallow cover was fitted, for tappet-adjustment only.

Of these three rather delectable Schneiders, it was the smaller four-cylinder chassis that was to develop into an even more desirable sports-tourer. For 1924 this had a bore and stroke of 72 x 140 mm. (2,280 cc) and it cost £400 as a chassis. The radiator had come forward on the post-war Schneiders and had a slight one which, in conjunction with wire wheels beneath flowing mudguards, gave these cars a pleasing Parisienne air. For some time not much was heard of the smaller model (although the ancient make of Rochet-Schneider was exhibited at the Olympia show) but by 1925 it had acquired push-rod-operated overhead valves, giving a useful increase in performance. Early in 1926 Th. Schneider Automobiles (ENG.) Ltd. had taken premises in motor-orientated Long Acre and seemed more interested in promoting the latest 9.5 hp side-valve light-car than the sporting model.

However, for those who sought it out, the 13/55 hp Th. Schneider was an interesting car now, in 1926, with an engine of 72 x 120 mm (1,954 cc), available in both side-valve and ohv forms. The latter chassis sold for £440 in this country, or for £580 equipped with a handsome sports-tourer body, and a saloon was available for £675. 1 he specification embraced magneto ignition, a North-East starter a 12-gallon rear-mounted petrol tank, thermo-syphonic cooling, a cone clutch, a four-forward-speeds unit gearbox with a central gear lever and an open prop-shaft taking the drive to a spiral-bevel back axle. The Th. Scheider was sprung on half-elliptic springs front and back and it had a wheelbase of 9′ 101″, a track of 4′ 5″, and 9′. ground clearance, the tyre size being, at that time, 880 x 120. The unladen weight was declared at 17 1/2 cwt.

Two of these sporting Th.Schneiders were entered for the 1926 Le Mans 24-hour race, to be driven by Tabourin/Lefranc and Poirier/Fontaine, their class opposition coming from the Italian OMs and the Rolland-Pilains, Georges Irats, and a Bignan. No match for two of the OMs, the first-named Schneider managed sixth place, but the other retired. This was considered good enough for a repeat entry in 1927, the drivers nominated as Poirier/Tambourin and Chanterelle/Schiltz. The former’s car achieved a niche in motorracing history, but not as intended, because it skidded at White House when being driven by Tambourin, left the road, bounced back again, and caused the multiple pile-up from which “Old No. 7” 3-litre Bentley emerged covered in dirt and glory, to win in the care of Dr. Benjafield and Sammy Davis. The other Schneider also had to retire.

These cars were beginning to become known about in this country and one owner who had toured Devon and Cornwall in his 13/55 hp sports-model spoke of getting 65 mph without fully extending the engine, and 25 mpg, with a very low oil consumption, very satisfactory road-holding and springing and an ability to tackle main road hills on top gear, with a very useful third gear on which steeper gradients could be taken at speed. Another owner, of an early 1927 model, was able to get 42 mph in 2nd, 56 mph in 3rd, and 73 mph in top gear, and apart from decarbonising it, nothing had needed attention in 27,000 miles, but oil thirst which had been 1,500 mpg up to 15,000 miles had fallen to 750 mpg. The Long Acre agents had been most helpful. But still this make was not seen at the London Show, and was a fairly rare car to most enthusiasts.

Nevertheless, by 1929 one of the smart Le Mans four-seater 13/55 hp Schneiders came along for the Press to try and it proved able to do its 20, 40, 60 and 70 mph in the gears, the ratios of which were 16.8, 9.8, 6.8 and 4.810 1. Now on 15 x 50 tyres and with cutaway front doors, rear-mounted spare wheel, and vee windscreen with openable panels, the laden weight was 26 cwt. This sportinglooking car still cost £535. when a 2 litre Lagonda sold for £695, and it was a possible “poor man’s Bentley”, able to accelerate from 10 10 30 mph in seven seconds, or in 14.8 seconds using top gear alone. The advance retard and hand-throttle levers were on the dash. as was the mixture control, there was a foot-starter button, and in typical French style, the brake lever resembled the knobbed gear lever, the latter having an invisible gate, with reverse difficult to find, as it was through 1st. then over to the right, The test-car had an exhaust fan tail, a means of feeding extra oil to the valve gear, and was described as having a fairly noisy engine and gears. The body was by Corsica and the annual tax was £13 By late 1929 the Pr ice was down to £535, or £595 for the saloon.

Ever willing to support lost causes (and perhaps in those days influenced by advertising support, Schneider taking the front cover in 1926) Motor Sport took out more than one Th. Schneider on test. In 1925, Richard Twelvetrees had driven a tourer with some 18,000 miles to its credit, taking it up to Cambridge to deliver a lecture to the Cambridge University AC and being pinched by a young policeman at Baldock for a noisy exhaust! The car (Reg. No. XX 5415) was able to reach 52 mph (3,600 rpm) in 2nd gear and it was clocked from to 72 mph in 34.4 seconds. Then, in 1929, Hubert H. S. Keogh was provided with the latest 13/55 hp Schneider by P. J. Smith, who represented this car in Britain, the specification covering Dewandre vacuum-servo braking. a Rene Thomas flexible steering wheel, Tecalemit lubrication, Hartford duplex shockabsorbers, and Rudge wheels with Michelin tyres. After trying this Le Mans tourer up Jack Straw’s Castle hill in Hampstead Keogh opened it out along the Barnet By-Pass, getting up to 76 mph in a cross wind, the car (Reg. No UL 4749) still stiff, as it had run only 1,700 miles. It did to 70 mph in 53.6 seconds and this car had a plate clutch and its gears were quiet. It proved possible to put 45 miles into the hour and, driven like this, the petrol consumption was 24 mpg. As on other Schneiders, the steering was a bit heavy at certain speeds and it was felt that the need to use clever to lubricate the valve-gear every 20 miles or so, was a nuisance, and difficult at speed. Then in 1929, we sampled a two-year-old Schneider saloon, a 65 mph car with 5,000 miles to its credit.

These cars were not only of attractive appearance but the use of chromium plating of the bright parts and the fitting as standard of radiator and headlamps stone-guards was notable. The saloon model was further enhanced by hide upholstery and it is amusing that after the Schneider seaplane race Of 1929 the Long Acre concessionaires staged a special Speed Display of Th Schneider cars, “with the famous Air Race still fresh in the public mind.”

The Le Mans model Th Schneider is a rare car, although known to the VSCC, but it is one that deserves robe remembered, although it was coming to its end by 1928, and although listed up 10 1931, was by then moribund. — W.B.

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