X. -A DARRACO “FLYING FIFTEEN.
-A H. I bet she goes,” remarked t h e village garage mechanic, a man who served his apprenticeship underneath a very early Cannst adt Daimler. 1` They used to call these t h e ‘Flying Fifteen.”‘ The object of his remarks, although undoubtedly a ” flyer ” in its day hardly coincided with the modern idea
of a sports car. Behind a low brass honeycomb _radiator and a short bonnet rose an almost vertical steering column, and behind that again, and towering above it, a pair of imposing bucket seats surmounted by a somewhat ungainly hood. Behind the latter there was an equally abrupt fall only terminated by a shallow boot at about the level of the top of the wheel. Only, perhaps, the somewhat rakish angle of the front wings suggested the speed model of another era. Yet the 15 h.p. Darracq of 1904 was undoubtedly nothing other than a sports light car, the direct descendant of those light racers with which Edmond, Marcellin, Baras, Henri Farman, Gabriel and Hemety had surprised the world in Paris-Berlin, Paris-Vienna, Paris-Madrid and a score of other lesser contests. Be neath that short bonnet is a 4cylinder engine with a bore and stroke of 90 x 120 mm , the capacity being thus 3,044 c.c. All the valves are mechanically operated and are arranged side by side on the left hand side of the engine in an L-head. Mounted high up on the opposite side of the engine is a Simms-Bosch magneto, which gives a spark when rotated slowly by hand fat enough to arouse envy in the hearts of owaers of many more modern machines, and which is driven by a long chain from the front of the crank
shaft. In front of the radiator, and driven from the camshaft is a coil, with its dry battery on the dash board, one set of plugs being mounted in the centre of the cylinder heads, the other in the valve
pocket. A water pump driven by gearing from the front of the crankshaft takes care of the circulation, and mounted low down on the valve side of the engine, in an almost ideally inaccessible position is a Zenith carburettor of almost modern type.
At the rear of the crankshaft is a large leather cone clutch, and behind that again, after a short engine shaft a massive gear-box which looks as if it would do duty for a lorry, if the designer thought he could afford the weight. Apparently in the case of the Darracq, the designer decided to save this in the change speed mechanism, which consists of a most inadequate looking rod leading to the steering column, on which just underneath the wheel is mounted a horizontal gear-lever consisting of a piece of strip iron with a wooden handle on the end. This lever works on a quadrant with notches giving a vague indication of the position of the three forward speeds and reverse. Behind the gear-box is an open propellor shaft and a massive live rear axle. The chassis is of channel section, with the bottom flat portion
extended to form wide trays on either side of the car. Semielliptic springs all round provide for suspension, and the wooden wheels are shod with 815 x 105 mm. tyres. This delectable machine was discovered by a friend of mine some two years ago in a garage in Newbury, and on making enquiries he was informed that it had been
left there before the War, and had never since been taken away by its owner. From time to time, however, the latter inquired after its health, and after lengthy negotiations my friend finally acquired it. Investigation proved that little was wrong with the machine, and although it was then too late to enter it officially, the Darracq successfully followed the other veterans in the Brighton Run of 1930. In 1931 it was duly entered for the event, and after succeeding in making second fastest time to Brighton with an average of 25.45 m.p.h., successfully did the return journey to London that same afternoon.
Soon afterwards, the Darracq passed into my possession, and when the Veteran Car Club’s Rally at Bagshot was announced for 17th April, 1932, I determined to try out its paces in this event. The rules of the contest stipulated that entrants could start whence they liked, when they liked, and were to arrive at Bagshot for one o’clock luncheon on Sunday, 17th April. Three prizes were, however, offered for the cars which had come furthest to the Rally, due regard being paid to the relative ages of the machines. After some deliberation in which enthusiasm contended with practical considerations, we decided to make Exeter our starting point, and after minute calculations we worked out
that the route which we intended to follow gave a total distance of 155 miles to Bagshot. Actually it proved that this estimate erred on the conservative side, but at least we had the satisfaction of knowing that we had more than fulfilled our claims.
We had intended starting early on the morning of Saturday, the 16th, but unfortunately early rising cannot be numbered among the accomplishments of the crew. However, the Darracq started up like a lamb, and at a quarter past ten, duly armed with a certificate from Messrs. Gould Brothers stating that the motor had left their garage under its own power, we were under way.
Almost at once we were politely arrested by a member of the Constabulary who informed us that even the Darracq might not” filter” to the left in Exeter against the traffic lights. The next moment, however, he wished us “bon voyage” and we were started in earnest.
A leather cone clutch operated by a” piano “pedal is never the easiest thing to let in smoothly and it is none too simple to prevent the Darracq starting off in a series of jerks which at least delight the onlookers. A few yards on first, and one makes for second, the position of which is vaguely indicated by the notch on the quadrant. The fault in this respect, I should hasten to add, cannot be laid entirely at the door of M. Darracq. My friend, the previous owner of the car, had discovered on taking it over that the second speed pinion was so badly worn that he decided that it must be replaced. He therefore betook himself to a certain famous firm in Devonshire who deal with motor cars when their journeying days are over. There he found an old man, to whom with no sign of diffidence he said : “Have you any 1904 Darracq gear boxes ? ” The old man without evincing any surprise seated himself on a petrol tin and for some moments was lost in deep thought. “I remember where we put some shortly before the War,” he said at last, and crossing to the far corner of a shed where lay a pile of miscellaneous motor parts, he produced after a little burrowing,
a gear box which was almost exactly the fellow to that on the car. My friend bore it home in triumph and set about making a good gear box out of the best parts of the two ; but perhaps he didn’t get the second speed position quite right.
After gathering a little speed on second one essays the last change up ; with a clonk the top gear dogs go home, and one is really away. Just as we were leaving Exeter the first ominous drops of rain began to fall and before we were well clear of the town it was coining down quite hard. What was worse, too, was that a stiff wind was blowing directly in our faces and the rain stung till one could hardly see. We tried putting the hood up, but that was not a great success, for with the head wind blowing the Darracq lost so much speed that we quickly put it down again. Otherwise, even with the wind against us the old car would do her 35 m.p.h. on the flat with the best of them.
Some four miles out of Exeter we had our first stop to deal with a plug which had fused across the points and was causing the Darracq to run on three cylinders. A few more miles and that number 4 plug had struck work again, and the mechanician was cursing me for starting out with a dud collection of plugs. I explained that they were the pick of the six which I had discarded from a modern motor a short time previously, but nothing would placate him until we had stopped at Honiton and bought a plug of a brand for which he has a particular affection. A few miles further on that new plug oiled up ; comment would have been superfluous.
In the meantime, while all four cylinders could be induced to fire, the Darracq was going really well. Its performance on the hills was really the most remarkable feature. One soon discovered that second does not permit of very high speed, but this really does not matter, for even on quite long steep Devonshire hills one simply remains in top. To hear that old engine pulling is really a remarkable experience as one climbs at about 10 m.p.h. to the steady “plop, plop, plop” of the motor.
At first one can hardly believe that she is going to carry on, until at last one realises that the gradient is easing off, and the motor beginning slowly to pick up.
Descending the hill after passing the summit is no less exciting. Unfortunately somewhat hasty preparation of the car had not given us time to get the foot brake to work at all effectively, and although the hand-brake proved quite adequate to hold the car back, one’s right hand was not entirely free for its use owing to the Darracq’s propensity for jumping out of gear on the overrun. This in fact invariably happened if one did not hang on to the gear lever, and as a result of a setting for the slow-running which gave one a chance of getting into gear when at rest, jumping out of gear invariably resulted in the engine stopping unless one was mighty quick with the throttle pedal. In spite of these difficulties, however, and the wet and slippery roads, we managed to reach the bottom of the hills without experiencing the “deadly sideslip.”
A slight set back.
As the result of our plug troubles and the hilly nature of the road, it was a quarter to one before we drove into Crewkerne, having covered 38 miles in 2i hours. Then, when making a gear-change in the town, the strip iron gear lever calmly snapped inside its wooden handle. This gave the passenger ample scope for remarks about my ham-handedness and caused some slight concern when we discovered that the stub of the lever remaining in position did not give enough leverage to enable one to shift the gears. We decided to enlist the assistance of a garage which was presided over by a youth who quickly caused dissension among the crew, one view being that he was a half-wit and the other that he was merely a native of Somerset and consequently didn’t understand the language. However, at last the proprietor returned from his lunch, and with his assistance we succeeded in bolting on to the stub of the gear lever a very rough bar with a remarkably sharp end just where one had to catch hold of it. Then, wet and cold we repaired to get something to eat. It was a quarter past two before we finally left Crewkeme, but the rain had stopped for the moment and our spirits rose as the Darracq bowled along the road to Yeovil. Before long the rain started again, but otherwise our luck seemed to have turned. In an hour and a half we had covered as great a distance as we had done in the whole of the morning. Yeovil and Sherborne were left behind and before long we were climbing the long hill into Shaftesbury. We stopped occasionally for water, once for a fill up of oil, and set off across the wide plain of Salisbury. It was as cold, wet, grey an afternoon as you could wish, but as the Darracq, manfully pulling on top gear, breasted the hills of the “plain,” we felt that in spite of the weather the run was proving thoroughly worthwhile. On through Stockbridge and Basingstoke, and
at last, eight miles beyond the latter town at about 6.30 p.m., just as dusk was closing in on us, we reached home, wet and cold and thoroughly ready for dinner. The next morning the Darracq was wheeled out of its stable into the yard, and after a “shot ” or two in the compression taps, the engine once more rumbled into life. A fill up with fuel and water, and we set off again, still alas ! in the rain to cover the last 24 miles of our run to Bagshot. At a quarter past twelve we came in sight of the” Cricketers,” surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd which closed in on every side of us, and almost prevented our lurching backward progress into our place in the line of veterans outside the hotel. Until that moment we had no idea of how far the other competitors were coming to the rally and it was thus as a pleasant surprise
that we heard that we had actually covered the greatest distance, and that the Darracq was placed third in the competition.
In actual fact, we reflected as we drove home after lunch, there was little reason why we should not have started 310 miles from Bagshot instead of 155, for the Darracq felt quite capable of covering the whole distance again with ease. In fact in spite of its 28 years one may regard the car to-day as quite a practical runabout—a week later I chose it to go 17 miles to see a friend of mine, for it was a fine day and it was the only open car available. It is not so difficult or so strange to drive as are most of the older veterans, but still it is a great deal more amusing than many a modern car which will go twice as fast.
—E. K. H. K.