Leyland Eight Brakes

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In our recent reference to the fate of the racing Leyland-Thomas No 2 during the war, we questioned whether the front-wheel brakes fitted to it after its racing days in the hands of its creator J G Parry Thomas were of his design or of a proprietary make. In some quarters where the history and specification of the great Leyland Eight and Leyland Thomas cars is of more than passing interest, it is thought that these cars originally and during Thomas’s lifetime, never had 4WB.

This can be refuted, because Thomas himself, in an article he wrote for the 1924 BARC Year Book stated: “The original Leyland Eight was provided with brakes on the rear axle only (they were applied via a Dewandre vaccum-servo, Thomas pioneering the use of such assistance on this heavy car — WB) but any future models will be equipped with four-wheel-brakes and wire wheels”. This article was probably written in 1923, just before Parry Thomas left Leyland Motors to concentrate on racing his Leyland Thomas cars at Brooklands — where they did not require 4WB — and become the most successful racing driver there in the years to 1926.

Chassis drawings incorporating the Thomas front brakes still exist, and there is proof that they were made, because in 1970 Owen Wyn-Owen was able to obtain from Leyland’s a front hub complete with brake drum, no doubt from the stock of spares which Sir Henry Spurrier, then MD of Leyland Motors, acquired in 1954 when he purchased the Leyland Eight car built up by Thomson & Taylor Ltd at Brooklands soon after Thomas had been killed in “Babs” at Pendine. This Leyland 8 had been owned previously by the Hon David Tennent, Sir Lionel Phillips, and Dick and John Marshall, This is the only surviving Leyland 8, now to be seen in the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon. It seems likely that, as the car was built up by T & Ts in 1927/29 when they had various chassis and parts available, they would have fitted this car with Thomasdesigned 4WB. Certainly Leyland’s had produced not only detailed drawings of this front-brake assembly but had prepared a numbered spares-list. It is interesting that Parry Thomas did not use the conventional two-shoes per drum layout but instead opted for a continuous expanding band inside the drum, as exerting its pressure on far more of the drum’s surface-area.

Whether these brakes were in fact, fitted to the Gaydon car, or to Leyland Thomas Nos 1 and 2 after they had ceased to be raced by Thomas, we may never know, but it seems very likely that one or more of the decidedly limited production-run of Leyland 8 cars were so equipped.

I have been told that the Gaydon Leyland 8 has Sunbeam FWB, which would be possible, because long before 1927 Sunbeam’s had been fitting 4WB, culminating from 1931 in their very powerful hydraulic system. I wrote asking about this to the Curator of the Heritage Motor Centre and Bentley brakes were suggested!

In 1977, however, Stanley Sears told me that when he and his mother found the 2WBs insufficient for the heavy Leyland 8s they had owned, in spite of the vacuum-servo, Parry Thomas, in what I think must have been early 1923, provided them with 4WBs, thought to have been done by using Hispano Suiza front-axles, although he was not, of course, able to use the H-S gearbox servo. Which suggests that at this time Leyland’s had yet to produce their own front brakes, or had none to spare… Could it have been this that prompted Thomas to write as he did in the aforesaid 1924 Year Book? Has anyone, perhaps one of the Leyland apprentices who overhauled the T & T car for Sir Henry Spurrier in the 1950s anything to add?

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