Michael May’s Stable
BEING exiled in a part of the country which, in peace time, was not without motoring associations, it seemed a good idea to pursue some of them as a means of off-setting war-boredom and so, while passing through Ripley one Sunday afternoon, it occurred to us to drop in on Michael May, whom we found busy amongst his well-known Alvis cars. Michael started motoring with an “8/18” Talbot and followed this up with a “10/23” Talbot, a Ceirano and a side-valve Aston-Martin, before becoming Alvis-minded, with “Silver Eagles” and a “12/50” interspersed among his well-known cars of this make. How effectively he has modified them and handled them is evident from the display of B.A.R.C. “honour-plaques” which occupy one wall of his coach-house.
The Alvis with which May has done so well in all kinds of races, in sprints and in trials, has also been his ordinary four-seater touring car. It started life as one of the “Double-Twelve” green Alvises, being, we believe, the car with which the Hon. Victor and Mrs. Bruce finished 13th in the 1930 race, at 67.54 m.p.h. In 1937 the Alvis, a 1,991 c.c. six-cylinder “Silver Eagle,” was second in an Easter Mountain Handicap, second in its class at Shelsley Walsh, and first in the 3-litre classes at Littlestone and Poole. It won the First Whitsun Short Handicap at 94.72 m.p.h., a Campbell circuit handicap at 61.27 m.p.h., and it class at the Vintage S.C.C. Croydon speed trials. Its best Brooklands lap was at 99.61 m.p.h. During the winter of 1937-38 the engine, and that of the fabric four-seater previously owned by Powys-Lybbe, were exchanged, and in this latter chassis it is still in use in what is now the everyday tourer. Indeed, Michael was at work on this car when we visited him. The fabric body has weathered remarkably well and the triple-S.U.-carburetted engine has little objection to “Pool,” on which it returns 24 m.p.g. at 40 m.p.h. averages. The car nowadays hurries about the country on vital war service.
Having shown us the outstanding features of this car, which is identical to the “12/50” chassis with those improvements found in later examples of that model, May brought out the racer—which, incidentally, he used for trials such as the Exeter, Gloucester and Inter-‘varsity and for shooting expeditions to Scotland, apart from speed work. He recalled one run, in particular, when over 500 miles were covered in a day at an overall average of 40 m.p.h., including all stops, the cruising speed being an easy 75 m.p.h. All of which was done with the 2-litre engine. To overcome weaknesses in anchorage (the original brakes were pretty useless after one lap of the Mountain circuit) new brakes were made up and Lockheed actuation substituted for cable. Two master cylinders are used, located within the offside frame side member, one operating the front brakes and the other the rear set of shoes. Radiator and body have been dropped appreciably, inside and outside the side members, respectively, and of the original “Double-Twelve” body only the scuttle and door now remain, the back half having been replaced bit by bit as it fell to pieces. However, the coachwork is still essentially the original style four-seater. Just before the war aluminium undershields were used and a streamline tail fairing was bolted on around the back panel. The seat of government is a small bucket chair rather far from the cord-bound, small spring-spoke wheel and the screen is humble Austin Seven, suitably built-up. The many drillings in the wide lower flanges of the typically Alvis side members testify to the experiments carried out in engine type and positioning. The present unit, which is 2,511 c.c. “Silver Eagle,” is set well back in the frame. Special metal universals look after the drive between engine and gearbox and there is a cunningly-devised clutch-stop working on the standard Alvis principle. Suspension and axles are standard, although a number of leaves has been taken from the rear springs. The engine, with its three big S.Us., was only run up to the normal maximum of 4,500 r.p.m., yet it contrived to develop 120 b.h.p. on dope, the compression-ratio being 9.3 to 1 raced and rather lower toured. The 2½-litre would lap Brooklands at about 108 m.p.h. and gave 16 m.p.g. on petrol/benzole in road trim, although the racing fuel-consumption was only 7 m.p.g. The extremely fine performance was achieved without any very drastic hotting-up, most of the alterations only being made to ensure greater reliability at prolonged high speed. The lubrication system was converted to dry sump, a special external oil-pump being constructed, driven from the camshaft via a coupling which will shear easily should the pump seize-up. The car turns the scales at 18 cwt., stripped for racing. Its performance, however, is well known to belie its avoirdupois and touring appearance. During the 1938 season the Alvis took a second and two third places in B.A.R.C. races and in winning the Phoenix Park race, which circuit it has lapped at 91 m.p.h., it averaged 88 m.p.h. for the 75 miles. Yet its owner says he would have no hesitation in running it on “Pool” should the occasion arise. Certainly, Michael May is an Alvis enthusiast although he occasionally drove a works H.R.G. and Tuson’s 1,100 c.c. Fiat. He is emphatic that the old three-carburetter “Silver Eagle” tourers will beat any Sports 3-litre Bentley in existence, although giving away nearly a litre.
Opening yet another shed. May showed us his faithful old “12/50” Alvis fabric saloon, and recalled that in 1934 he took a Special Award in the J.C.C. High Speed Trial with a very moderate 1926 example of this model. Any “12/50” is, he says, absolutely reliable in standard form and the small port cars can always be made to give their 30 m.p.g. and 60-65 m.p.h. Incidentally, his brother still runs his “Silver Eagle” long-chassis tourer, which used to be well known in competition eight or nine years ago.
Just at present, Michael May does most of his motoring on a very beautiful “International” 500 c.c. Norton—on fine days, that is. He delights to point out that this motor-cycle, successor to his push-rod Norton, will do close on a speedometer 90 m.p.h., sits distinctly difficult corners at 75 m.p.h., and according to the makers develops 56 b.h.p.-per-litre, without greatly disliking “Pool,” generally making sports cars look silly. I rather think it has put his all-aluminium pedal-bicycle very much in the background! A comprehensive store-room of Alvis parts and a lathe-equipped workshop indicate the care and toil that have gone into making his cars what they are. The stable is completed, apart from numerous pairs of skis, by his mother’s 3-litre Hotchkiss fabric saloon, with its big luggage-trunk, neat push-rod o.h.v. engine and roomy, flat-floored interior, which was in use up to December, 1939, another 3-litre Hotchkiss for spares, Mrs. May’s present mount, in the form of an early coil-ignition Austin Seven “Chummy” and—the B.P. Special. This last-named is a “Surbaisse Grand Sport” Amilcar chassis into which has been installed a three-carburetter A.C. Six engine. May designed a new central cross-member for the frame, which was skilfully made up by the local blacksmith, and a “12/40” Alvis gearbox is used, specially mounted so that the late type rubber mountings could be employed. The intention was to fit a Fiat multi-plate clutch and to find a differential for the back axle in order to obviate the need for buying one half-shaft per two trials. With an early three-seater Frazer-Nash body and beaded-edge balloon tyres, it has run in many such events and it now becomes available to anyone who cares to make an offer for it and who would give it a little exercise.
This visit brought back in full appreciation of what a great game the preparation of a car for racing is—or was. Michael May experienced it in full measure, being one of the most skilful amateur drivers in the country, as anyone who has studied his technique, notably his mastery of front-wheel-sliding, will agree. Apart from covering a very big annual road mileage at habitually rousing averages, he took a particular interest in events organized by the ‘Varsity clubs and that select body, the Vintage S.C.C., elected him a vice-president at the end of 1937. He told us that his racing days are over and will not be resumed after the war, but we sincerely hope that this is merely a passing depression and that, his present preoccupation of aircraft accessory manufacture concluded, he will return to the pastime he formerly followed so ardently and successfully. He has, you will be pleased to know, offered to embark on a fuller description of the development of the “green Alvis” from his own pen. which we hope to publish quite soon. Meanwhile, if you see Michael’s Norton in the mirror, pull over. . . .
A Bold Statement
Much of the interesting, but frequently misdirected argument that takes place about the relative merit of rival makes, not to mention the discussion which goes on as to which out of American, vintage, touring or modern sports-type cars is the best wear for sportsmen, could be abbreviated or avoided altogether if only speedometers told universally true tales of speed capabilities. Is it too much to hope that those who have been helping us to victory by devoting specialist knowledge to research and adjustment of delicate aircraft instruments, will be let loose after the war on the humble car speedometer? There is no need to emphasize in these pages the unfortunate discrepancies which timed tests reveal in the recordings of speedometers—false readings are almost universal, on expensive and inexpensive cars alike; nor is there any consistency of error which those seeking to correct such false-readings can bear in mind. Speed may no longer be the major criterion by which cars are judged, but speedometer inaccuracy masks poor performance in general, and makes accurate recording of acceleration figures virtually impossible for the ordinary user. Consequently, the warmest praise is due to R. G. Sutherland, Managing Director of Aston-Martin, Ltd., for showing in some detail, in his letter published in “The Autocar” of May 2nd, how even keen car owners can be hopelessly misled by “speedometer flatter.” No less is Mr. Sutherland to be praised for his bold statement that on some of the 1931 “International” Aston-Martins the speedometer is accurately 10 per cent. high and that the 2-litre Aston-Martin, other than the “Speed Model,” has a speedometer which in some cases reads about 5 m.p.h. fast at the car’s true maximum of 85-90 m.p.h. Would that all manufacturers either fit speedometers of similar honesty or else, like Le Patron, dispense with this instrument altogether.