L. G. McKENZIE, THE FRIEND OF SO MANY BENTLEY AND ROLLS-ROYCE OWNERS, RECALLS SOME INTERESTING EXPERIENCES
IT has been suggested that after thirty-five years of experience in the motor car industry, a short article on some of the unusual cars I have had to do with might interest readers of MOTOR SPORT. Frankly, I am more at home fiddling with internal combustion engines than writing about them.
My first attempt at improving performance was on my father’s steam threshing engine, in the year 1904 at his farm in Oxfordshire. The safety valve blew off merrily at 95 lbs. per square inch, and the r.p.m. were 80 at full throttle. The pressure gauge read up to 130 lbs., and I failed to understand why the hand should never be allowed to go beyond 95, as I had been informed that the boiler had been tested for 300 lbs. hydraulic pressure recently. Examination of the release valve adjustment showed that it was not meant to be tampered with. However, I found that three old horse shoes hung on the end of the bar had a wonderful effect. The pressure gauge hand nearly reached 130 lbs., r,p.m. went up to 95. Unfortunately this gross case of over revving showed up unbalanced forces in an expensive threshing machine with disastrous results.
Further meddling with father’s engine was strictly taboo, so I proceeded with great difficulty to build a steam engine of my own. Unfortunately, though I did not know it at the time, much of the material I used was un-suited for this purpose, resulting on test in a shattering explosion, convincing me that something was wrong. It also convinced father, who happened to be passing at the time, and whose temper and dignity were not improved by the force of the blast. In addition to shattered windows and dislodged slates, it was alleged that I had been the cause of entirely deranging the egg-laying mechanism of some sixty fowls, and a dozen ducks, and that a pen of calves in the process of being fatted went on strike for many weeks. For this and many other misdeeds, father decided to get me apprenticed to motor engineering as the best way of getting rid of an intolerable nuisance.
So I came to London, starting my career in one of the largest works at that time, under a wonderful engineer from the Clyde, named Duncan, who was one of the late S. F. Edge’s principal mechanics when he won the Gordon Bennett Race. This man’s technical knowledge was really amazing at that time, and I am indebted to him for most of the knowledge I acquired of early motor cars.
The first car I drove was a 10/12 h.p. Daimler, much like the first car King Edward VII had. It had just been converted from tube ignition to trembler coil, and went well except that the friction driven water pump slipped when oil got on the flywheel, and caused overheating. As there was a large water tank at the rear, one just got out and pushed the water pump harder against the flywheel for two or three minutes, and all was well for a time. The first car of real interest that I worked on was a 15 h.p. two-cylinder Gobron Brillie, with two pistons per cylinder, an explosion taking place between them, sending one down and the other up. The carburetter was unorthodox and incorporated an attempt at metering fuel injection into the induction pipe. This was a very good car at that time, but was very hard to wind in the morning.
In 1906, a Frenchman brought to the works a magnificent 24 h.p. Lorraine Deitrich, which was fitted with an excellent air bottle, plus compression self-starter—the first self-starter I had seen, and it would have put to shame many of the much later starters of this type.
My work embraced many makes of Continental cars, most of which are now entirely forgotten.
Later, having advanced in knowledge, my superiors considered me fit to send to the North of England, to investigate a terrible noise in the engine of a customer’s 12/14 h.p. horizontal engined Wolseley car. Having traced the noise to a camshaft timing wheel of the laminated type, the laminations of which had been separated, it was necessary to remove the engine from the chassis to dismantle the timing case of this engine, and while waiting for a new wheel to arrive, I was approached by a local motorist who said he had a Wolseley car which would not go, and that I must know a lot about Wolseleys (which I did not, or I should not have been sent from London to repair the one I was working on). Would I come round to his place and see what was the matter? So I went and to my amazement found his car to be one of the famous Gordon Bennett Wolseley “Beetles,” beautifully kept with original body. It was only suffering from ignition troubles, which I was able to rectify, and the prospect of a test run on a real racing car was most exciting.
The engine had four enormous cylinders, horizontally opposed, the crankshaft being across the chassis just under the dashboard, with a flywheel and cone clutch, about the size of a 4½-litreBentley, at each end. Two silent chains transmitted the drive to the combined gearbox and diff. housing situated amidship. The bonnet was very low, with a grilled tube radiator running right round. The dashboard was fully occupied by a long row of drip feed lubricators which one had to unscrew several turns each in the morning to let the cold oil through, and later screw them up again when the oil got warm, and too much passed through.
I had probably the most thrilling run in my life on this car, with the very small section tyres pumped to about 100 lbs., and no shock-absorbers. The roads were bad, and the acceleration and speed were to me terrific. I have never been troubled with nerves, but during the course of a good run I just did not have the courage to engage fourth speed. The car at times was probably touching 65 m.p.h. on third. Of course there was no rev. indicator or speedometer in those days, and after we returned the owner admitted that although he had had this car for some time, he had never used top gear; I could well understand why!
Some years later, to gain experience, I did a round of the car manufacturers. Wolseleys for a short time (who were now making vertical engines), then on to Daimlers just as the “Silent Knight” engine was adopted, and from there to the Rolls-Royce Works, recently moved to Derby. There we had as a repair shop hack No. 1 Rolls-Royce, a two-cylinder, 10/12 h.p. car with a flat topped radiator and bonnet almost exactly like the very early Swift cars. It was surprisingly silent and free from vibration for a two-cylinder. It was unfortunately broken up about 1914.
By far the most interesting cars I worked on were the “White Knave” and the “Silver Rogue”; both had been specially built for the famous Scottish Trials of 1908, and won the Class easily, making fastest times in all but one of the timed hill climbs. The engine had very large overhead inlet valves which made a lot of clatter, and both cars were capable of about 83 m.p.h. with the large five-seater regulation bodies, and it was many years afterwards before this performance was exceeded. These were real sports-cars and it is a great pity they have disappeared.
It was about 1912 before Messrs. Rolls-Royce produced anything in the sporting line again. These new ears were known as the London to Edinburgh type, on which for the first time tapered bonnets appeared. The compression was higher, and the carburetter was larger, with slighter higher valve lift than the standard “Ghost,” but they were just as silent. The third one of these I drove into second place in the class in the 1913 Scottish hill climb, although handicapped by having only three speeds. This was corrected in the famous Austrian Alpine cars of 1914, which had four speeds, but were otherwise the same.
Then came the war of 1914, and it was not until 1922 that I had anything further to do with sports cars. From then until 1925 I had quite a lot to do with the early Salmsons, which had wonderful engines, particularly the “Grand Sports” model with twin overhead camshafts, which was very fast. Unfortunately the engine rapidly tore to pieces everything behind the flywheel, which was of insufficient strength for the power developed.
In 1925, I was taken by the then managing director of Bentley Motors on No. 1 3-litre Bentley (it occurs to me that probably very few of your readers have had the privilege of driving both No. 1 Rolls-Royce and No. 1 Bentley, as I have!) This led to me becoming an enthusiast for the Bentley car, and ever since I have had much to do with tuning all models of this make from the 3-litre to the 8-litre, and I still do such work on these fine cars and on a number of the new Rolls-Bentleys.