” SIDESLIPS “
THE deadly sideslip” was, as everyone will admit, the bugbear of the early motorist, and I have even come across a writer of the nineteenth century who gave a counsel of despair on the subject and fatalistically remarked that if a sideslip did occur there was absolutely nothing that the automobilist could do but await the inevitable accident.
Of course, we all think ourselves much wiser nowadays ; we call the thing skidding, and bus drivers have a special place to do it in on purpose. However, in journalism the danger still exists with all its old terrors, and nothing is easier than to find the thread of one’s discourse sideslipping badly and charging off in quite the opposite direction to that in which one thought one was going. I intend to adopt a fatalistic attitude and see what happens.
I suppose that one day some enterprising person will write a biography of M. Bugatti. In the meantime, however, very few people seem to know much about the early history of ” le patron ” of Molsheim, and until recently I must confess that the first thing I knew about him was that he entered a car in the Grand Prix de France in 1911 which was so small that there was no room to fix a spare wheel on it, and so light that it was too light for the light car class. However, of late I have apparently learnt some more. Everyone who has read Charles Jarrott’s ” Ten Years of Motors and Motor
Racing” (and who is so foolish as not to have ?) must remember the account of the author’s adventures with his De Dion Bouton tricycle in the Paris-Bordeaux Race of 1899. But the De pions were not the only tricycles in that race, for at the start much interest was aroused by ” a Signor Bugatti of Milan who rode an Italian built tricycle of exceptionally interesting design.” Unfortunately, I have not yet come across a detailed description of the tricycle, which, in common with most others of its kind, did not reach Bordeaux. The gentleman from Milan, however, if he retired from the race, did not retire from history.
The De Dietrich. In its earlier the which
In its earlier days the company which made the De Dietrich car acquired quite a habit of getting other people to make them their designs. They started off by using that evolved by Atnedee Bailee, Junior, of le Mans—a rather fearsome affair with a horizontal engine, long belts and a propellor shaft to each back wheel. Then that was abandoned in favour of something more conventional, which owed its origin to MM. Turcat et Wry, the famous engineers of Marseilles. Finally, about 1902 I think, one comes across the 24 h.p. De Dietrich designed by one Bugatti, who can be none other than the great Ettore. The engine of this machine was of an ingenuity for those days worthy of its creator’s later efforts. It had four cylinders of 114 x 130 mm. bore and stroke, and cast in pairs. Round each pair was arranged a cylindrical aluminium
casing, which gave the engine the appearance of an enormous twin-cylinder. Both exhaust and inlet valves were mechanically operated, and both were in the head. There were two camshafts, one on each side of the crankcase, and they operated pushrods which came up inside the aluminium casing and attacked the valves through incredibly short rockers. The engine speed was variable by a centrifugal governor-controlled throttle from 250 to 1,400 r.p.m. Unfortunately, I have not yet come across a description of the complete car, but I have discovered a photograph of M. Bugatti on his 24 h.p. De Dietrich competing in the Austrian Semmering hill-climb of 1902. The machine has a rather long chassis, of which the engine takes up considerably less than half. A square petrol tank is mounted about opposite the driving chain sprockets ; behind that comes the steering column ; and right at the back of all, behind the axle, sits M. Bugatti, The space between the engine and petrol tank is filled up with shapeless objects, which may represent ballast, but which look exactly like suit cases, as if M. Bugatti had brought everybody else’s luggage to the climb
In those days, of course, the De Dietrich car was made at Luneville in French Lorraine. Later the works were moved to Argenteuil, near Paris, whereupon the car became known as the LorraineDietrich, or even the Lorraine, to show, I suppose, that that was no longer where
it was made. However, the connection with De Dietrich at least seems to explain how Ettore Bugatti came to leave his Italy and how he got to Eastern France. Thus, when he started to build cars himself, Bugatti set up his works not far away, at Molsheitn., some 15 miles from Strasbourg, which was then in German territory. It was just the chance of the rearrangement of frontiers after the War that caused this Italian engineer who started to make cars in Germany to be responsible for the majority of the French victories in the great races of recent years.
This is a curious circumstance, for without Bugatti, France would make a poor showing in racing for the country which really evolved the modern automobile. It is, in fact, a remarkable thing that even French racing cars have to go abroad for many of their accessories. Rudge-Whitworth wheels, although now made in France, are one example, sparking plugs are another. Incidentally, has anyone ever come across a good modern French plug ? I remember that some years ago there used to exist a wonderful French affair which closely resembled a large, bright yellow Easter egg, and which did occasionally spark. Whereby hangs one, if not two, tales.
Boots and pedals.
Once upon a time I was an amateur soldier. How, amateur can be gathered from the fact that instead of being shod in regulation army manner, I wore a pair of boots which had been built for climbing in the Alps, and each of which carried about half a ton of nails with good claws round the edges. It so transpired that my duties one day included driving a superior officer for some distance in a little Mathis car, with a 760 c.c. engine, and other dimensions to match. For instance, the pedals were evidently intended for use exclusively by Japanese ladies, and were set as close together as possible. Now, with my big boots, one foot easily covered all three ; fortunately, the throttle, which was in the middle,
stuck up a bit above the others and so was useable, but if I wanted to use the brakes, which were not much good at the best of times, I had first to open the throttle fully before I could simultaneously brake and declutch. In the course of our run we came to a cross-roads on to which I sallied cautiously in third, to find another car bearing down on us at high speed. To brake was difficult, to accelerate was the only alternative, and I stamped on the throttle ; but the Mathis was fitted with those lovely Easter egg sparking plugs, and instead of leaping nimbly out of danger she gave a series of car-splitting splutters and faded out. You should have seen that very superior officer’s face as the other car drew up a few inches from his side of the Mathis !
“It’s the candles !”
After that, of course, I got to know those sparking plugs pretty well, and got quite used to their periodical incandescent splutter. Some time afterwards a party of us were motoring across France in a 3-litre Cottin et Desgouttes with a fine turn of speed. The driver, a Frenchman, was a man who meant business, and was putting that car along the white dusty roads in a thoroughly satisfying manner. Suddenly, however, the steady roar of the engine was interrupted by a violent staccato splutter. The Cottin was using Easter eggs ! “It is the candles,” I roared into the driver’s car, nodding wisely ; in reply he gave me a contemptuous look, and with his foot still firmly on the floor answered, “Non, non, Monsieur, —c’est l’air I” I am still wondering what he meant. Actually, I suppose the driver of that Cottin et Desgouttes had no idea of what was wrong with it, and was simply illustrating the Frenchman’s determination not to be at a loss for the answer to a question. The difference in national characteristics is, I think, always remarkably displayed if one stops a car to ask someone the way. As everyone who has ever tried this experiment knows, in England the most obvious rustic who has
patently inhabited the cottage which one has just passed, all his life will, if asked the way to the next village, invariably reply that he is a stranger in these parts. Not so the Frenchman. Like his English counterpart, he has no idea of the way anywhere, but if you ask him which is the road to Blankville, he immediately answers with enormous excitement,” C’est tout droit, Monsieur, tout, tout, droit ; ou pent filer la-bas.” Simply, I suppose because it is easier to say that it is straight on and that one can go all out, and he simply cannot resist the temptation to say something.
The other day a party of us were at Exeter with a motley collection of cars, which, however, included a racing Hispano-Suiza and a Frazer-Nash. The driver of the latter was determined to see whether he could keep up with the Hispano, but owing to some delay at the start, he did not get out of the town until a minute or so after the other car. The Nash, however, soon got going to good purpose along the Honiton road, but after travelling for about half an hour, the driver became somewhat disappointed that he had seen no sign of the Hispano. It occurred to him that possibly the latter had taken the wrong road, and he decided to ask the next person he saw whether he had seen his quarry. A mile or so further on he came upon a tramp, and pulled up.
Asked and answered.
“Have you,” he asked, mastering his impatience as best he could while the seconds ticked by, “seen a large, grey, open, 2-seater Hispano-Suiza motor car going in the same direction as I am ? “
The tramp scratched his head meditatively, spat, and replied that he hadn’t.
This was odd, but perhaps, thought the driver, this tramp has only just embarked on the main road from a side turning.
“How long,” he asked, a little impatiently, ” have you been on the road ? “
The tramp scratched his head again. “Since nineteen ‘undred and eight” came the final reply.—K.
Matters Of Moment, September 1959
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