Veteran to classic miscellany (II), July 1991

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A Unique Model-T

It is rather exceptional these days to have a visit from the owner of a pre-war racing car the history of which is undisputed, because it has remained in the possession of one family all its life. When the car also has a flavour of Brooklands about it, the pleasure from my viewpoint is further enhanced. The car I am referring to is a racing Model-T Ford which Nigel Bradshaw brought to show me after he had run it at Colerne and was on his way to West Wales.

This rather unique Model-T Ford was built by Bradshaw’s grandfather around a 1917 Trafford Park chassis and very little has been altered since. This Ford Special with its decidedly racing appearance and considerable performance was laid up around 1925 and not brought out again until 1962, by the present Mr Bradshaw.

To lower the chassis the axles were inverted and the rear-axle was mounted on short arms to enable this conversion to be effected, which has increased the wheelbase by about 2-1/2 inches. The left-hand drive steering is retained, with a normal steering-box but transverse drag-link. The body, with its slim pointed tail, is very narrow. The two-speed epicyclic transmission is normal Ford Model-T, but there is a Thornton Powerlock limited slip differential, the axle ratio being 3.0 to 1, the halfshafts of the heavier commercial vehicle size. Hartford friction shock absorbers are fitted, transversely mounted at the front.

The engine is very interesting, being probably one of only two remaining examples of Craig Hunt “Speedway” overhead camshaft, 16-valve, twin-plug conversions, certainly, I would say, the only one in this country. These racing conversions were developed and sold for dirt-track and oval circuit racing in America by the Craig Hunt Speedway Engineering Company of Indianapolis. The camshaft is driven by an exposed small-diameter vertical shaft and spiral-bevel gears at the front of the engine and to enable one cam to operate a pair of valves the exposed rockers are bridged at the valve-stem ends. The valves are inclined and the head is cross-flow, the impressive copper inlet manifold being on the off-side, the large-bore four-branch exhaust manifold with streamlined nose-cone and external exhaust pipe on the near-side. The cam cover has the “Speedway” script writ large upon it. There is, of course, no gear-lever, the gear changes on a Model-T being effected by pedals, but outside the body there is a long brake lever.

Originally the carburettor was a triple-diffuser Zenith, which is now on Roger Collings’ 1903 Sixty Mercedes, a less-complicated Zenith having been substituted, pending finding the correct Winfield carburettor. The Bosch twin-spark magneto is driven from the timing gear train and is mounted on the off-side. The crankshaft is balanced with bolted-on weights and is pressure fed. The con-rods are standard Model-T, lightened to wafer-thinness; the flywheel has been likewise drastically lightened and much reduced in diameter.

Alloy pistons are now fitted. The side-valve camshaft remains operative in the crankcase but only for the purpose of driving the oil-feed pump from its rear end. The engine is mounted further forward in the chassis than on a normal Model-T and the radiator is from a Wolseley Ten. The Dayton wire wheels are shod with 33 x 3-1/2 tyres and Bradshaw has fitted contracting “Rocky Mountain” brakes over the normal Ford expanding drum brakes on the back wheels, to very reassuring effect.

The whole car has the unmistakable lines of an exciting vintage racing car and a run in it convinced me that there is very ample performance. The doorless body may well be another Craig Hunt product. It has a full length undertray and an aero-screen for the driver. One later modification is a neat little door in the bonnet for expeditious carburettor flooding. For road use Bradshaw has fitted cycle-type mudguards. The polished wood dashboard carries, from left to right, a 100 mph Watford speedometer, a matching Watford tachometer reading to “40”, ie 4000 rpm, a brass oil-gauge or indicator, an air pressure gauge from a Sunbeam for the fuel-feed from the petrol tank in the tail, maintained by a big hand-pump beside it, and on the extreme right-hand side, a domestic period tumbler ignition switch. On the floor, on the passenger’s side, is a Klaxon horn. At Brooklands the body was aluminium, the wheels red, but when the present owner first used it, it was white, then it was painted blue, but is now white again.

As to performance, at Colerne Bradshaw allowed himself the luxury of 2500 rpm, which gave a speed through the time trap of 70 mph, against a headwind which the Frazer Nash drivers said was dropping their top speed by some 15 mph. The makers of the conversion apparently claimed 70 bhp at 3000 rpm from the 2.9-litre engine. Before the carburettor change, fuel-thirst was some 10 mpg, which has been improved to around 22 mpg. So here is a most interesting Ford, which has been in the Bradshaw family for three generations.

Its Brooklands association? Well, at the 1924 Easter Meeting it was entered by E Bradshaw for G Thomas to drive in the 75 mph Short and Long Handicaps. Whether it was driven, trucked or railed from Lancashire to Weybridge isn’t known; it may not have been road registered at this time. Unfortunately it had a disappointing Bank Holiday because it failed to start in the first race and did not cover a full lap in its second engagement. How it would have run had it been more reliable is a matter for speculation, but the handicappers had put it on the same limit-mark as Malcolm Campbell’s Star, which won the 75-Short, with a lap at 79.3 mph, and Whale’s fast single-seater Calthorpe. The Ford does not appear to have gone to Brooklands again, although Model-T Fords were not unknown there, for apart from those raced before WWI in special Model-T races, one of which was watched by Henry Ford himself, two of them lapped at over 70 mph in 1922, and in 1925 Alfred Moss’s 8-valve Fronty-Ford Speed-Sport won a 75 mph Short Handicap race, with a lap at 85.13 mph.

Back to Bradshaw’s car, it did much better on its home ground, for example beating three Bentleys and a Horstman at the 1924 Lancashire AC’s flying-kilometre speed-trials run in conjunction with Morecambe Carnival. Prior to that, it is thought to have done well at the Blackpool Promenade speed-trials, one newspaper claiming, perhaps optimistically, that the Ford was doing 102 mph over the line. At the 1923 speed-trials at Blackpool the Ford’s time over the ss 1/2-mile was 38.8 seconds and it was praised for its excellent acceleration, but it was disqualified from the class for standard sports cars not exceeding £1200. By the time the VSCC was formed in 1934 the Bradshaw family were well into Vintage and Edwardian motoring with this Ford, a 30/98 Vauxhall, the celebrated 1908 chain-drive 9-1/4-litre Daimler, a Siddeley-Decoy, and a share with Peter Wike in the famous 21.7-litre Fiat “Mephistopheles” etc.

That the Ford is still in use with the same family after 74 years is unique and its visit to my house, with a trip up and down the drive, quite an occasion! — WB

***

Victor Gauntlett, having purchased the Brooklands lap-record holding Napier-Railton from the late Bob Roberts a short time ago, has this famous car up for auction early this month. We are told that it will appear at the Brooklands Society Reunion at the Track on June 30th.

***

As part of the 70th anniversary of the Austin Seven, the North Herts Centre of the 750 Motor Club is organizing a demonstration run for pre-war Austin Sevens which will take place from August 15-29. The aim is to drive through Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Lichtenstein, Switzerland and France in 14 days, one country for each decade of the Austin Seven’s history. Further information can be gained from Phil Brough, 24 Oaktree Garth, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire AL7 3UX

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