THE EVOLUTION OF THE SPORTS CAR-1908-1938
By Cecil Glutton
AT various periods sports cars have had very varying characteristics, and I doubt if it is possible to define a sports car in greater detail than by saying that it has better performance than other cars of the same power or engine capacity. ” Performance ” is made up of speed and acceleration on the one hand, and braking and handling on the other. A sports car may come about in two ways. It may be a debuted version of an existing racing car (or it may even be designed ab initio on semi-racing lines) or it may be a souped-up edition of an existing touring model.
It might, perhaps, be worth while to glance back and examine the sources which have influenced the evolution of the sports car down the years, and how the various problems, which have arisen from time to time, have been solved.
It has always been possible to obtain speed by employing a high b.h.p./weight ratio, and in the early years of the century this was attained by using very large, light, inefficient engines in flimsy chassis, with practically no coachwork. This type of approach reached its height at the end of the 1,000 kilo. racing formula which operated between 1902 and 1906— the 1906 G.P. Panhard weighed only the specified ton, and had an engine of 18i ,litres. But these were not sports cars, and they never could have been turned into road cars for regular use. They were too extravagant and unreliable.
Class racing goes back into the last century, and one might expect to find the germ of the sports car in the early voitures legeres and voiturett,e classes. But I doubt if this is the case. Very little attempt seems to have been made to get more power per unit of engine capacity ; the racers were just scaled-down editions of the big cars.
The early (1905-1908) T.T. races might have been expected to produce sports cars, but the entries seem, in fact, to have been very meagre efforts, and the regulations were not exactly inspired.
I am inclined to think that the modern sports car has its roots in 1908, and in tracing its history on very broad lines I propose to regard 5-litres as the maximum size to be considered. There have, of course, been very fine and real sports cars of greater size—” Boulogne” HispanoSuiza, 61and 8-litre Bentleys, ” Phantom IL” Continental Rolls-Royce, and S.S. Mercedes’ for example—but, as has been remarked before, it has always been possible to get speed by using a large engine, and I think that class competitiveness is an essential of the sports car.
The year 1908 saw two important events : the R.A.C. 2,000-Mile Trial, and the Voiturette class of the Grand Prix, and it seems that they aroused designers to build high-efficiency engines as nothing previous had done. The R.A.C. trial was divided into very numerous horse-power classes (as opposed to the weight classes, which had been predominant, if not universal, in previous such events). Instead of seeing how large an engine they could get into a chassis of the specified weight, designers had to discover how many b.h.p. they could squeeze out of each rated horsepower. Around 1908, 8 b.h.p. per litre
was a very useful figure, and 10 was an outside figure for the G.P. cars, even when fitted with inclined overhead valves.
So it was not a little startling when an almost entirely unknown youth designed a 3-litre car developing 42 b.h.p. from a perfectly ordinary side-valve engine, and swept the board with it. This was, of course, the late Laurence Pomeroy, and the car a Vauxhall. Pomeroy had worked on the basis that b.h.p. is not so much a function of engine size as of engine speed, and his otherwise very normal engine had a top speed of 2,500 r.p.m. Within a very short time after the trial it had been developed to give over 17 b.h.p. per litre, or twice the normal figure at that date. The Vauxhall’s theatrical success is apt to overshadow its rivals, but several other
• AUTHOR’S NOTE
In November last the Midland Motor Enthusiasts’ Club unwisely invited me to make a speech at them. I did, roughly tracing the evolution of the sports car from 1908-38, at almost interminable length, and with a maximum of incoherence. The Editor has since asked me to put the same material together in an article for ” Motor Sport.” I have done this—being, by now, too well trained to disobey—with some diffidence and doubt, partly because I am writing it while on Service, and away from all works of reference, and partly because I have already covered a good deal of the ground in two articles quite early in the war, entitled ” The Appeal of the Vintage Sports Car ” and “The Vintage-Modern Axis.”
However, whereas those articles were more a consideration of as many individual cars as possible, this present effort tries to go a little deeper, by looking more for the sources of influence which have caused the sports car to evolve In the way it has. Thus, while individual makes are necessarily mentioned fairly frequently, this is mainly done to drive home or exemplify some particular point, and only as an undercurrent to the main theme.
I hope, therefore, that the insufferable amount of print which is now to appear under this title may not be entirely a work of supererogation.
manufacturers entered not dissimilar cars, among which the Talbot was little, if at all, inferior to the Vauxhall. In fact—almost overnight, as it seems —the sports car had arrived. Although
a 3-litre car was then considered very small, we now look upon 8 to 5 litres as a large car, and I think the modern large sports car may be traced directly from the 1908 R.A.C. trial. The medium-sized modern sports car, of 11 to 3 litres, has no very well-defined beginnings, and it hardly becomes prominent until the 1920s. The important 11-litre class can, I think, be traced back to the 1908 G.P. Voiturette race. This laid down that contestants might equip themselves with motors of 1 cylinder of 100-mm. bore ; 2 cylinders of 78-mm. bore ; or 4 cylinders of 62-mm. bore. Now, at a time when few people envisaged crankshaft speeds of more than 2,000 r.p.m., it was obvious that to get the most from a limited bore it was necessary to employ a long stroke. And, as even the most enthusiastic did not contem plate a bore/stroke ratio of more than 3 to 1, it was evident that the single cylinder engine possessed considerable advantages, so far as the formula was concerned. To get the most from a 4-cylinder 62 mm.-bore engine called for more r.p.m. than anyone cared to think about ; so monstrosities like the 21-litre, 100 x 300-mm. Corre-la-Lieorne appeared, while the 11-litre, single-cylinder SizaireNaudin was undoubtedly the most success
ful production voiturette of its time. But this was obviously a dead end, and had it not been for more enterprising spirits, the birth of the modern light car would have been put off till a later date. But, fortunately, several more adventurous
people tried their hand at the 62-mm. engine. Strokes varied, but 62 x 100 mm., giving only 1,200 c.c., was usual. Most unfortunately there seems to be very little available information about these important pioneer efforts. They were not very successful, and none of them seems to have been put into production. But Ettore Bugatti marked and digested, and in 1910 he startled the world
by putting his Type 13 on the market. The 4-cylinder, 65 x 100, 1,327-c.c., oh.c. engine ran up to 3,000 r.p.m., and while the power output is not known, it was enough to motor the car along at 60 m.p.h. and to come home second in the rather abortive 1910 formule libre Grand Prix. As has been said before, the Type 13 Bugatti may be regarded as the parent
of the high-efficiency modern light sports car, even more surely than its larger brother can be fathered upon the 2000, Mile Trial ears. Owing to the peculiar no-man’s-land between 11 and 3 litres (of which, however,
mOre anon) it will be convenient, having established the fons et origo, to trace the large sports car and the light car separately. We will look at the 3-5-litre category first.
As soon as cars of the Vauxhall type had established their superiority over the relatively unwieldy giants it is amazing that the latter continued to be made. The Vauxhall was, advisedly, a very simple design and it proved its longevity by persisting, in enlarged form, until the 1922 E type “30/08 ” ‘and, as its close relation, the OE “30/98,” until 1928. It was advisedly simple because the type was intended for regular production, and it achieved even greater fame as the 1910 4-litre (95 x 140) “Prince Henry ” model of undying fame. Undoubtedly related
to its rival the Talbot, was the 41-litre s.v. Talbot, on which Lambert first exceeded 100 miles in the hour in 1913. The “Prince Henry” trials did much to foster this type of car, and the regula tions for the 1911 Coupe de Voitures Legeres were also a step in the right direction. They demanded a minimum weight of 800 kilos. (16 cwt.) and a 3-litre engine of 4 or 6 cylinders, with a bore/ stroke ratio of not more than 2/1, which definitely precluded freaks in the way of egregious strokes and flimsy construction. This race was followed by the important Coupe de l’Auto races which formed such an important step in racing-car development. At first they evoked cars not very unlike the “Prince Henry” Vauxhall, and the ” Alfonzo ” Hispano-Suiza was
an outstanding newcomer. Finally marketed as a 3.6 litre (80 x 180 ” T ” head), this Ifispano had a tremendous success, and it would not be far from the truth to say that it and the “Prince Henry” Vauxhall are easily the foremost production sports cars of the pre-1914 era.
All this time performance had been obtained from engines of perfectly ordinary touring pattern, except for the one fact that they were capable of relatively high crankshaft speeds. But the value of a scientifically designed head had been known since the 1905, inclined0.h.v. Grand Prix Fiats ; so it seems remarkable that additional performance and reliability for sports cars was not sought by this means. The solid reason seems to be that, at that time, there was no great advantage to be gained by the more complicated construction. This was shown in the 1913 Coupe de l’Auto, in which Peugeot ran a 3-litre edition of the 7f-litre job which so effectively drove the giants from the field in the previous year’s Grand Prix. This Coupe de l’Auto car was a 4-cylinder, 3-litre, 2: 1 bore/ stroke (78 x 156) with double overhead camshafts. It was claimed to give out 90 b.h.p., which was certainly a most creditable figure, but only slightly (if at all) in advance of the competing Vauxhall and the Sunbeam, which had by now entered the sports car field with such notable success, both still having the old side-valve engines. At the general crankshaft speed of around 3,000 r.p.m. these outputs are really remarkable, being equal to some 130 b.m.e.p. But whereas they represented the utmost development of the s.v. unit they marked only the beginnings of the more high-efficiency designs.
So in the next year’s Grand Prix the o.h.c. engine, with inclined valves, reigned supreme. But having regard to the amazingly high outputs of about 30 b.h.p. per litre in the 1913 Coupe de l’Auto, the very general 25 b.h.p. per litre in the 1914 G.P. seems inferior, by comparison (unless the 1913 claims were exaggerated).
So it is, perhaps, not very remarkable that Vauxhall and Sunbeam were content and successful in continuing to offer only the old s.v. engine to their sporting clients, and in 1913 the “Prince Henry” was stretched into the “80/98 ” (98 x 150, 4f litre)—intended as a Sheisley freak, but destined to become one of the most famous, fastest, long-lived and best-loved sports cars of all time. The exceptional bad luck of Pomeroy’s splendid 1914 G.P. cars is well known, and it is an ironical thought that had a ” 30/98 ” team been entered instead, they might have made a very respectable showing at greatly diminished expense. Once again (and not for the last time) Bugatti was very early on the scene with a high-efficiency production car of the type similar to “Black Bess.” This 5-litre (100 x 160) o.h.c. engine was phenomenally advanced for a production car, and it first appeared in the “Prince Henry “trials of 1910. Except as regards its chain drive it was in every way a pointer to the type of large sports car which was to hold the field throughout the 1920s. Incidentally, ” Black Bess” bears a quite startling resemblance to the 1910 G.P. Fiat. The G.P. Fiats of 190510 were very modern designs, and it only required to reduce their enormous size, and Speed up the crankshaft, to have all the makings of a 1925 sports car. Bugatti once more showed his sagacity by being the first person to do this. How many of these cars were sold I do not know ;
probably not a very large number. Another make of whose doings among early sports cars one would like to know more is the Austro-Daimler. As early as 1910 it appears that the youthful Porsche was designing for them, and in that year he produced a very racy machine of around 5 litres, with inclined valves, for the “Prince Henry” trial. A 1912
car of very similar design existed in England. within the last 15 years, and if the type did, in fact, go into regular production it, too, would be an important landmark in sports-car evolution. It is probable that research (unfortunately impossible when one is in the R.A.F., away from all reference works, and reliant solely upon a very third-rate memory) would reveal other useful Continental examples, but in general, the great foreign marques seem to have shown very little enterprise in connection with the true sports car of less than 5-litres capacity ; Vauxhall and ” Hisso ” are definitely the pioneers. Too little credit has been given to pre-1914 Ameri can sports cars. Mercers, in particular, made numerous very rakish and comely ” roadsters ” with woolly ” T ” and ” L ” head engines of around 4k-litre capacity, and there were other excellent makes
besides, such as the National. This kind of car was not much seen in Europe after 1910, but these American cars are very much in the true tradition and still arouse great interest among U.S. enthusiasts.
So comes the 1914-18 war and we find ourselves in the early 1920s with very little development to show since the promising beginnings back in 1908. The stage of 1920 was clearly set for great developments. Not once had racing car design risen to a regular sforzando in 1913 and 1.914, but the war had seen many designers busy at work on aero engines, so that they were thinking in terms of light alloys and multi-cylinders. But their experience was not to bear full
fruit for some time to come ; the 19208 were the golden age of the large 4-cylinder, long-stroke, medium-efficiency sports car ; the traditional vintage type. At the beginning of the decade one must refer to two epic cars, one looking back, and giving all that was best of the Edwardian era ; the other setting a standard for all future design. The first is the E type “30/98” Vauxhall. A perfectly normal side-valve engine, with a maximum or 3,000 r.p.m., was arranged
(largely by its cam design) to give exceptional power at low speeds, and producing about 98 b.h.p. at its peak of 2,500 r.p.m. It was exceedingly flexible and did the bulk of its work on its 3 : 1 top gear. Very little could be done to improve its performance. The engine was mounted in a sub-frame, so that the skimpy chassis was almost entirely unbraced ; but fairly stiff springs, in conjunction with low unsprung weight, gave very
reasonable roadholding. The low unsprung weight was ensured by beaded. edge tyres (820 x 120) and very skimpy rear-wheel brakes only. Electrics, though present, were frankly an after thought. With a slim but comfortable open 4-seater aluminium body the car
Was capable of 85 m.p.h. in full touring trim, and cruised well into the 708. Excellent acceleration was available without gear changing, and braking was largely nominal, though no worse than its contemporaries. It was a remarkable feat that the E type, in full touring trim weighed only 22 cwt., and to this it undoubtedly owed much of its charm.
And even when the ” 30/98 ” developed front-wheel brakes and overhead valve in 1923-24, it still remained in essence an Edwardian until its demise in 1928 ; the last, and a magnificent, monument to a past age.
In sharp contrast is the 1921 37.2-h.p. Hispano-Suiza. Admittedly outside our ” syllabus,” it was an epoch-making event. The 6-cylinder engine was largely constructed of aluminium, and had an efficient head and overhead camshaft. The chassis was stiff by existing standards, as was necessary in view of the revolutionary braking arrangements. Largediameter drums, with servo-operated shoes, appeared on each wheel, and retardation was practically up to modern standards. Electries were designed with the car. Although fairly slow revving, the power output was respectable and the engine was so highly flexible throughout its range that only three speeds were provided. It is true to say that this 1921 design has never become out of date nor been surpassed, and in the matter of smooth performance, comfort, braking, roadholding and light engine construction it set the pace for all other manufacturers. It is only fair to state that Delage was not far behindhand with a somewhat similar 40/50-h.p. model which, if more could be ascertained about it, might also be proved to deserve a high place in motoring history. In conformity with Delage production practice the 6-cylinder engine had push-rod operated valves.
The 1913-14 racing car had the makings of a very promising sports car ; especially the German machines. The Henri School was rather more specialised, with its ball main bearings, gear-driven double o.h.c. and peculiar lubrication. But the 1914 G.P. Merced, for example, had only one camshaft, shaft driven, and operating four inclined valves per cylinder. The crankshaft was entirely a plain bearing affair. The Henri type of machine was very noisy mechanically, but the Mercedes was commendably silent.
So when W. 0. Bentley decided to go into production on his own account he called in Burgess, who had designed the 1914 T.T. Humber, to do the technical designing. The very beautiful Htunber had fairly closely followed the Henri fashion, but for the new Bentley, Burgess conformed more to the German fashion, the actual details of the design being too well known to repeat. Very shortly, the I3entley appeared with a full-scale outfit of brakes, and the vintage sports car par excellence had arrived. In standard ” red-label ” form the 3 litre probably developed around 84 b.h.p. at 3,500 r.p.m., equivalent to some 28 b.h.p. per litre and 104 b.m.e.p., the piston speed being the high one of 3,500 f.p.m. On the standard 8.78: 1 axle ratio this gave a cruising speed of 65 m.p.h. at 2,500 r.p.m. The power low down was rather poor, necessitating free use of the close-ratio gearbox ; this was in strong contrast to the performance
of the “30/98,” and was the penalty paid for the rather higher efficiency of the engine. The chassis weighed 23/ cwt.
The brakes greatly increased the unsprung weight all round and this was one of the major problems which the vintage designers had to face. With the somewhat flimsy, lightly-braced chassis then fashionable, the heavy new axles were rather apt to behave like the tail that wags the dog. But rather than face up to stiffening the dog, designers preferred arbitrarily to limit the oscillation of the tail. This they did by shortening and stiffening the sbrings, and draping them with copious shock-absorbers. They also stiffened the chassis to a very small extent ; but owing to the quelling of the proper suspension the chassis had to absorb a large proportion of the road shocks, and it became very difficult to produce a body which did not rapidly disintegrate. It also became necessary to provide the engine with a three-point or flexible mounting.
It was a brutal arrangement, but it did provide good roadholding, and though the Bentley has very well-informed critics, I continue to maintain that its roadholding and cornering were excellent. In addition, the Bentley was able to run immense ‘distances between overhauls, and to withstand any amount of hard driving without complaint and without requiring endless minor attention. I think it is no exaggeration to say that the Bentley dominated the 1925-30 period, and the great Continental houses produced nothing to approach it. Now adays, the tendency is to keep the revs. up and piston speed down. With the Bentley this was reversed, and the emphasis was on low r.p.m. The arrangement was not conducive to high specific output, but it gave a very pleasant type of performance and was certainly conducive to exceptional longevity. [The ” 24/90 ” Straker-Squire Six, in much smaller construction, bore an even closer resemblance to 1914 G.P. Mercedes practice, and merits mention. Its 80 x 180 engine (4-litre) gave 80 b.h.p. at about 2,500 r.p.m., and the 4-seater weighed 25 cwt., doing 85 m.p.h. on a 3.65 top gear.—En.] Despite its more advanced design it was natural that the Bentley should be unable to cope with the 50 per cent. larger “30/08,” so about the time when the ” 30/98 ” faded out of the picture, the 4f-litre Bentley came in. It aimed to combine the characteristics of the ” 30/98 ” and the 3-litre Bentley ; and although the standard 4f was not a car of any great character, it certainly achieved this aim with considerable success. The standard engine developed 115 b.h.p. at 3,500 r.p.m. (251 per litre and 95 b.m.e.p.). Owing to its shorter stroke compared with the 3-litre (140 instead of 149) and its 8.53 axle, its comfortable cruising rate was up to 75 m.p.h. And the engine was capable of very considerable development without tiresome results ; which was not true of either the 3-litre or the “30/98.” It was undoubtedly a very good car. It is often done to compare it with the” 30/98,”
but this is a silly thing to do. Despite their superficial similarity they are fundamentally different in outlook; and, anyway, the ” 30/98 ” had practically gone out of production before the first 44-litre Bentley was sold over the counter.
So much for the absolute epitome of the large vintage sports car—the 3and 4f-litre Bentleys and the E and OE ” 30/98s.” They were the ultimate development of the best of Edwardian touring and racing practice. Had the abortive H-type Vauxhall gone into production it would almost certainly have surpassed them all, being, as it was, a direct development of the inspired double o.h.e. G.P. car. But the directors most mistakenly turned it down. In the meantime, the Continent was producing few, if any, genuine large sports cars, though there were one of two very pleasant, fairly high performance, large, 4-cylinder sleeve-valve jobs, around the 4-litre mark, such as the Voisin and Peugeot, and one should, perhaps, mention Lorraine-Dietrich, Delage, Chenard Walcker, “22/90 “Alfa-Romeo, and one or two others who turned out respectable
machinery. America had dropped right out of the picture except, perhaps, for the large Stutz. In a moment we shall have to go back and see what has been happening to the 14-litre jobs, but first of all we must consider a newcomer on the scene, in the early 1920s. This is the fast tourer of around 2-litre capacity ; it is a very important event, because it was the one type to survive the vintage era and
become the normal sports car of to-day. There were quite a lot of people who hankered after the general characteristics of the true sports car, but either they could not afford to run the real thing, or else they required more accommodation, or both. In the Edwardian era this would have meant that they would have had to go without, but the new progress in specific output gave them a very respectable compromise. Now that 30 b.h.p. per litre was a perfectly practicable proposition without having to resort to rough, unreliable and intractable power units, it was possible to make a 2-litre car with quite a commodious body which had excellent braking and roadholding, a high cruising speed and, in fact, all the characteristics of the real sports job except rapid acceleration.
Examples are so numerous that one hesitates to quote them ; names such as Delage, Ballot, Lancia, 0.M., Diatto, Ansaldo, Schneider, Lagonda, Alvis, all spring to mind in this class, some having more performance than others, according to overall weight. Probably the D.I.S.S. Delage and 2LTS Ballot are the outstanding examples, while such jobs as the SD and SE 3-carburetter “Silver Eagle ” Alvis very definitely move up into the genuine sports class, a very fine car indeed. The 2-litre A.C., introduced in 1921, was a notable exponent of weight saving, and its highly efficient o.h.c. engine (capable of 80 b.h.p. unblown as finally developed) employed a very high proportion of light alloy. Unfortunately, the ever-obstinate Edge insisted on endowing it with a hopeless 3-speed gearbox on the back axle. The Lancia “Lambda,” again introduced in 1921, was the first i.f.s. job to go into large-scale production (although, of course, Sizaire-Naudin and Morgan had the idea much earlier), and set a standard of roadholding, combined with comfort, which was not to be rivalled for perhaps 15 years.
The bulk of these 2-litre jobs had fairly long-stroke engines (120 mm. would be an average figure) and few, if any, of them could safely exceed the 4,000 r.p.m. mark at most. Most of them were geared at about 20 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. so that they could cruise comfortably at 60 m.p.h. They were, in fact, an exceedingly good sort of car, and it is no wonder that they catered for a large and enthusiastic public which has continued until the present time.
Going back to 1910, we left Bugatti introducing the modern small highefficiency sports car in the shape of his 1,327-e.c. Type 13. This continued, practically unchallenged, until the last war, being joined by the slightly larger (1,453-c.c.) 16-valve Type 22 in 1914.
But people at Brooklands were beginning to find that they could attain as much as 100 m.p.h. on 11-litre cars, provided they were very careful about frontal area and wind cutting generally. The streamline shape of to-day was undreamt of, but back in 1910 the Pomeroy-Vauxhall faction had been doing pioneer work with excellent results, rapidly followed by others. These Brooklands small cars usually employed quite ordinary s.v. engines, and it is really remarkable to consider the speeds they attained. Such makes as Hillman, Horstmann, A.C. and s.v. Aston-Martin come to mind, but from
1924 onwards the Anzani-Frazer-Nash was the unquestionable pick of the bunch, one of the outstanding cars of all time. From our point of view the whole business can be boiled down to one thing—the 11-litre Anzani engine. Weighing around 166 lb. it was capable, at best, of putting out 40-47 b.h.p. and had excellent lowspeed torque besides. It was in every way a perfectly normal 69 x 100 sidevalve engine with three main bearings, a detachable head and single carburetter with porting cored through the block, like the E type “30/98.” While not conducive to the highest efficiency, this arrangement has the considerable merit of providing a very stable mixture. Maximum speed varied up to 4,500 r.p.m. according to the type of rod fitted. It was an altogether outstanding power unit and was the favourite among manufacturers employing proprietary engines.
These Brooklands achievements led enterprising manufacturers to adapt the cars for normal production and they marketed cars weighing not more than 12 cwt. with light narrow bodies, but with some pretence at what we now include in complete touring equipment. This gave performance in the order of 15 seconds for 0-60 m.p.h. Both from a performance and equipment point of view this represented a vast improvement on any previous attempts to get high performance from a light car.
In the meantime, Bugatti had advanced (in 1923) to the famous Type 23, “Brescia.” In “Full Brescia ” form, this was to all intents and purposes a scaled-down racing car, and very much a matter for the enthusiast. The English type of sports car, owing to the flexible Anzani engine, mostly had only three gears, but the ” Brescia ” had four very close ratios upon which it was quite difficult to obtain peak revs, in third, let alone top.
And so we find the same state of affairs as existed in the large-car class in 1913, when the new, high-efficiency, o.h.c. Peugeots met the old style of sports car, and showed only a slight advantage. The same thing happened when the Bentley and “30/98 ” crossed swords in the middle 20s. Here, again, we have the high-efficiency Bugatti engine meeting the simple side-valve, and showing only a very slight advantage.
But, again, the Anzani engine had reached the end of its tether (I believe that no artifice known to man has been able to coax more than 55 b.h.p. from an unblown Anzani), while the ” Brescia ” engine was only at the beginning of its potentialities. The ” Brescia ” is, I believe, capable of putting out as much as 70 b.h.p. unblown, after proper attention. The Bugatti high-efficiency cult was followed in the racing field by TalbotDarracq, o.h.c. Aston-Martin and A.C. So people begin to turn their attention to the potentially high-efficiency engine. But as soon as they got a little more performance they tended to offer their public a little more comfort, and when the public had got a little more comfort they demanded greater smoothness and reliability from the engine. And finally came the additional burden of fat tyres and front-wheel brakes. So light-car performance improved but little from 1924 onwards, and we shortly find ourselves arriving at such admirable compromises as the Meadows-engined Frazer
Nash, ” 12/50 ” Alvis, Type 40 Bugatti and o.h.c. Aston-Martin. The latter could give 80 b.h.p. with a 9 : 1 c/r and timazMgly smooth performance. It was a pity the car was so heavy. The other three were offering around 50-55 b.h.p. (but somehow it was rather a. better sort of 50 b.h.p. than the Anzani’s 47 1), and total weight was up to 15 or 16 cwt. Maximum speeds varied from 70 m.p.h. up to 87 for the best ‘Nashes. Comfort, equipment and braking were up to very respectable standards. For the superenthusiast there were the fastest ‘Nashes and the Type 37 Bugatti, formidable cars indeed even by present-day standards. So by 1927 the 11-litre vintage car had reached its peak of development, and it continued with little change until the end of the vintage era. The Continent, again, offered little serious competition, but as engine output improved the same sequence of events took place with, first, the 1,100-c.c., and lastly the 750-c.c. class. In the ” 1,100 ” category the French appeared with several rather spidery but rapid vehicles, of which the o.h.c. Sahnson achieved the greatest popularity in this country. Better still was the Riley Nine in its various stages of development up to the ” Brooklands ” model. In the “750” class we had it our own way with the Austin Seven, and with the M.G. “Midget “—first the M-type and then the very exciting ” Montlhery ” model—a most desirable property.
We have now dealt with all three categories of the traditional 4-cylinder vintage sports car—the light car, the large car and the medium-sized fast tourer. Both in the light and the large classes the English were unquestionably on top of the world ; among the fast tourers, the honours are more equally divided between us, the French and the Italians. In 1930-31 everything went mad, and the vintage tradition disappeared as suddenly as though the earth had swallowed it up. But before going on to the next stage, we must see how its seeds had been sown and had slowly matured throughout the 1920s.
What we have to look for is the beginning of the modern, really high-output, high-revving, multi-cylinder engine.
In 1913 M. Bugatti had experimentally stuck together two Type 13 engines in line astern, so achieving a small (2,650c.c.) straight-eight. During the war he worked on the straight-eight aero engine, and with him worked M. Henri, already famous for his revolutionarily successful Peugeots. Like Handel, Bugatti has always been a big enough man to exploit other people’s ideas—it was, if anything, a compliment to them. But this time the trick was played on him. In 1919 M. Henri went to the new Ballot firm, and here be produced the Bugatti straight-eight arrangement, but in conjunction with his own high-efficiency, double o.h.c. head. (In passing, it was a strange coincidence that two men with such strangely distorted ideas on lubrication should have worked together !) His 1919 5-litre, straighteight Indianapolis Ballot has been the undoubted parent of all subsequent racing-car design, up to the present day. It is .certainly a most inspiring and desirable machine. The Alfa-Romeo shows unmistakeable signs of its paxen
tage, while in America, Miller took immediate note and set about building similar engines, culminating in the 1925 straighteight *litre masterpiece with which Lockhart achieved such miracles. Here an amusing thing happened, because one of these engines came Bugatti’s way, and he thought how nice it was, and decided to build one like it, culminating in the earlier twin-o.h.c. racing engines and the production Type 51. And so the circle of cribbing came round again to its originator, with interest. This is, of course, conjectural, but I think it must be fairly accurate.
Anyway, reverting to the production sports car, there was no very immediate reaction to all this business. The 1921 2-litre A.C. has already been mentioned as an outstanding engine, but I suggest that the first conscious move towards the multi-cylinder short-stroke engine was the Type 30 Bugatti, introduced in 1923. It was the first of the long line of straight-eights—the 35, 43, 44, 46, 49, 51, 54, 55, 57 and all their sub-variants-to come from Molsheim. It was a 2-litre, 60’x 88 with single o.h.c. operating three valves per cylinder. The big-end bearings were plain, and there were only three ball-bearing mains. This sounds very shocking, but actually, with such a small bore and stroke, and such a very stiff shaft there was nothing against such a small number of bearings. The snag lay with the rather flimsy rods and inadequate lubrication. It was this which limited the speed to about 3,800 r.p.m. (giving a piston speed of only 2,250 f.p.m. !) To prove this, Laurence Pomeroy, junior, had a rather special model which he not infrequently took up to 6,000 r.p.m. ; after an astronomical mileage the chassis completely wore out but the engine, still full of life, was moved into a motor-boat ! But the full advantage of this kind of engine was not reaelied till 1926, when the public were able to buy the immortal Type 43, running up to over 5,000 r.p.m. and capable, when blown, of some 110 or 115 m.p.h. This was the first really high-output engine to be readily available to the public. It was, admittedly, pretty racy, but in 1927 came the first all-plain-bearing straight-eight, in the shape of the 3-litre Type 44 (69 X 100). This was a really smooth and silent engine and (apart from the inevitable big-end bother on the early cars) completely reliable. The superb 5-litre (Type 46) was a diminutive of the “Royale,” and the (as I think, best of all) Type 49 was a cross between 44 and 46, appearing first in 1931. These three—the 44, 46 and 49—comprise the three plain-bearing, single-cam, straight-eight touring Bugattis. All 8-cylinder Bugattis, incidentally, have had first-rate low-speed torque. In addition to this revolution in engine design, Bugatti also tackled the subject of roadholding. He really got down to stiffening the chassis, both by deepening the side members, and by a rigidly 4-point-mounted engine, set well back in the frame. He also fixed the axle most securely to the springs by passing the latter throngh the axle (an arrangement probably first seen in the 1914 G.P. Vauxhall). All this, and the famous reversed I-elliptic rear springs, produced an excellence of roadholding that has become legendary, while in point of corn
fort the touring models gave points to nearly all corners, but, until the Types 46 and 49, Bugatti braking was somewhat negligible.
An important move towards the highefficiency engine in the larger class was the 1925 3-litre, 6-cylinder twin o.h.c. Sunbeam, which bore marked evidence of its relationship to the highly successful 1923-4-5 2-litre G.P. car. The specific output was not, admittedly, very high, but it was produced with a truly silklike smoothness, and gave a good 90 m.p.h. Unfortunately, the manufacturers did not push it as they might, nor endow it with as good a chassis as it deserved, or else it is pretty certain that this splendid machine would have ousted the Bentley from its high place. Not unlike in style and performance were the very straightforward Roesch-designed Talbots, the 75, 90 and 105. Mercedes were the pioneers of touringear supercharging, and had one on the market in 1921. It was of some 2f-litre ************••••••••••.************** • • : The series of articles on • • : “THE OUTER CIRCUIT ‘ 200s ‘ ” : : will be continued in our next issue : • • •••••••••••••••••••…….**********•
capacity and, like most non-racing Mercedes, was not a particularly good or fast car. Still, one must give credit for their pioneer work ; but the line of supercharger development carried out by Bugatti was of far more lasting importance.
The small 6-cylinder and the rare 8cylinder Arnilcars were useful developments about which it would be nice to know more.
We now pass on to the troubled years from 1930-35, but before doing so it would, perhaps, be as well to sum up briefly the outstanding characteristics of the basic type of vintage sports car, as finally developed around 1927.
Engine.—Mostly long-stroke 4-cylinder jobs. Worked at high b.rn.e.p., but the fairly low permissible r.p.m. cut down specific output to around 28 b.h.p. per litre for a large car, and about 35 for the 11 litres. They needed close-ratio gearboxes to get the best out of them. Their outstanding good quality was a high cruising speed at low r.p.m.
Chassis.—Of flimsy construction, inimical to good roadholding. Good roadholding was, nevertheless, obtained by dint of reducing the operation of the springs to a minimum and keeping as much dead weight off the axles as possible. For this purpose, weight was concentrated towards the centre of the car. This did allow a reasonable amount of spring movement without resultant pitching and plunging, and in the heavier cars, where the ratio of sprung to unsprung weight was favourable, a very good standard of comfort was also achieved. The stiff springs also enabled brake torque reaction to be withstood successfully (outstanding was the Frazer-Nash with its positivelylocated front axle). The concentration of the weight in the centre of the car made it very quick to deflect from the line of travel, and to give the driver control over this tendency, high-geared steering was prevalent. Bodies.—Little or no attempt was made
at streamlining, but frontal area was kept to a minimum. Weight was also reduced in every way possible (including the use of fabric-covered bodies) which gave the vintage car its splendid low and medium speed acceleration, seldom equalled today.
Generally, it will be seen that it was a school of self-imposed limitations, which provided a very satisfactory, if unscientific result, but permitted of no concessions nor compromises. It was also incapable of further development beyond the point which it had reached by about 1927.
After 1930 came a financial slump, and the number of people able to pay for a specialist job diminished. At the same time, American influence began to be a serious factor in English automobile design, and the sales department began to obtain a sinister ascendancy over the designer. The salesman demanded more body space for a given size of car, more supple springing, greater top-gear flexibility (he never could change gear himself) and finger-light steering at all speeds. He got it.
Springs became softer and the engine was pushed forwards, over the top of the front axle. So, whenever the front wheels met a bump the whole front of the car seemed to go over on its elbows, while vigorous application of the brakes sent the car darting from ditch to ditch like a frightened rabbit. Gear ratios were lowered (but strokes were not much reduced) so that flexibility was obtained at the expense of cruising speed. Light steering was attained by means of excessively low-geared operation, which rapidly developed play and the most alarming uncertainty of action. Flexible engine mountings deprived the chassis of its most valuable stiffener.
It was all very depressing, though a few stalwarts managed to fend off the rot—notably Aston-Martin and FrazerNash (for a time), Bugatti and AlfaRomeo.
As will be seen, it was a very long time since sports-car design had received any considerable influence from racing. This was probably due to the exceptionally complicated and :,igh-efficiency Grand Prix machines from 1923-27, after which very little further progress took place until the incredible advance shown by the re-appearance of the Germans in 1934. So far as engines were concerned they showed that fairly high output per litre was compatible with very smooth and flexible performance, thus confirming the trend of the more advanced among vintage manufacturers. So far as chassis were concerned, their effect was even more electrifying. They showed, for the first time, that superlative roadholding-better than ever before dreamed of—was compatible with, and even demanded, unheard of spring flexibility. The problem of springing has been so phily put by Reid Railton that his exact words have always stuck in my mind. He said : “The greater the ratio between sprung and unsprung weight the better, and the greater this ratio the more flexible the springs that will give the optimum conditions of safety. The greater this optimum flexibility, the worse the surface that can be traversed in safety, and the worse the surface and the grefer the amplitude of vertical movement, the greater the absorption energy
which must be allowed for in the damping mechanism.”
Ile might have added that the more flexible the springs, the stiffer must be the chassis, if all sorts of conflicting periodieities are not to get moving around ; also that the more flexible the springs the lower must be the centre of gravity if the car is to be reasonably stiff in roll (this, of course, is where all American cars fail so catastrophically).
Let us see how designers took note of the new German precedent to produce a new type of sports car, overcoming the difficulties which had been besetting them in the early 30s.
Chassis.—Starting with the German G.P. machines, designers fulfilled these requirements by very stiff chassis. Unsprung weight they reduced in every way possible, but particularly by discarding the semi-elliptic spring and the front-axle beam in favour of an independent front layout. The bouncing tendency of the wheels was looked after by large-absorption-capacity hydraulic shock-absorbers, as opposed to the old, very stiff friction variety (albeit, right up to the war, very few hydraulic absorbers had anything like the efficiency and durability they should have done. With the advance of design under war conditions it seems likely that, before long, suspension units will be a sort of pneumatic-hydraulic shockabsorber, the spring itself entirely disappearing). Now that the road wheels moved freely, and closely followed the road surface without bumping everything else up and down with them, there was no longer any great objection to a forward engine mounting, and this new redistribution of weight towards the extremities made the cars slow to alter direction, so that there was no longer the need for the very high-geared steering of earlier times.
Engine.—This has branched out in two directions. A much refined edition of the long-stroke engine has grown up, giving excellent low-speed power. A very high overdrive looks after effortless cruising. This may be semi-automatically engaged, as done by the Americans, or assisted by some easy-change mechanism, such as the self-change preselector, synchromesh, or the electric Cotal box. The Mark V Bentley is undoubtedly the outstanding example of this class of car.
In some makes a definitely vintage type of engine has persisted, fairly rough and inflexible, and of fairly long stroke. The French 4-litre Darracq and the 31litre ” Competition ” Delahaye are the outstanding examples of this school. Furthermore, although adopting frontend independent suspension and a stiff chassis, the old-fashioned leaf spring is retained, and the amplitude of spring movement is not great. The Darracq and Delahaye may be counted as the last surviving cars in the real vintage tradition. One must not, however, forget the H.R.G., which is pure vintage, and has proved the continuing appeal which that kind of car holds by the successful reception with which it has met. Both as to chassis and engine, Bugatti has struck out his own line as usual. Neither typically vintage nor modem, his 57C and 57SC must be counted among the most successful, if not as absolutely the most successful high-performance cars of the present day. A few cars have followed up the logical
line of engine development—the shortstroke, multi-cylinder job, both blown and unblown. Outstanding are the V12 Lagonda, Lancia ” Aprilia ” and Fiat range. It is strange that both the super-. efficient modern supercharged cars—the 57 Bugatti and the 2.9-litre Alfa—should have the rather long stroke of 100 mm. Nothing more than 85, or 90 mm. at most, can count as short stroke, while it seems to have been established that the ideal bore-stroke ratio should not exceed 1 to 1.25. The short-stroke engine is content with low b.m.e.p., but comfortably surpasses the long-stroke engine on output per litre by virtue of the high speed which it can attain and sustain without risk or effort, by dint of its short stroke. Equally, it develops its power very much more smoothly and silently than the long-stroke engine, which gave off its power in large lumps, rather widely spaced. So far as supercharging is concerned, the indication seems to be that it is only worth while if laid on at a considerable pressure, otherwise it hardly compensates for the added complication and cost, and for driving itself around, especially at cruising speeds. The shortstroke engine generally demands fairly close-ratio gearboxes, but this is now looked after by the various easy-change devices.
Bodies.—Advances in streamlining have shown that ample body space can be provided, not only without loss of efficiency, but actually with greater efficiency than the old narrow vintage style of coachwork. This, of course, has put an emphasis on the saloon body., and body weights have gone up. This has an adverse effect on acceleration up to about 50 m.p.h., but the increased use of light metals, multi-ply or plastics, will probably catch up on this snag before long. The effect of a fully streamlined body on high-speed cruising and acceleration, and on running costs, is phenomenal. The only sacrifice it calls for is somewhat limited headroom.
Unquestionably the first modern sports car, in every sense of the word, was the B.M.W., which was in successful operation almost as soon as the 1934 German G.P. machines, and in the view of many people the Type 328 remains the outstanding sports car of the present day. Perhaps even more outstanding are the streamlined 1,100 and 1,500 c.c. Fiats which were coming on the market when the war started. An excellent example, too, is the Lancia ” Aprilia ” although, as with the 2.9-litre Alfa and the 540 Mercedes, the rear independent suspension proved to produce more ills than it cured. The De Dion layout certainly seems to be the coming thing, for the back end. These machines are in the tradition of fast tourers, rather than out-and-out sports machines, of which I am afraid we shall see less and less in the future.
The old, medium-sized, fast tourer of the vintage era has, of course, survived, and perhaps the best example of all is the D,670 Delage, a worthy successor to the D,I.S.S. Its fairly lazy, short-stroke, 2.7-litre, 6-cylinder engine (80 x 90.5) develops 83 b./1,p. at 4,000 r.p.m. piston speed of only 2,400 f.p.m. at a road speed in top gear of about 78 m.p.h.) which it seems able to keep up almost indefinitely and in complete silence. With ample body space it affords superb
steering stability and roadholding, in conjunction with luxurious comfort. The engine is highly flexible, but free use of the gears is also encouraged by the delightful Cotal gearbox. It is certainly one of the outstanding cars of the present day, while the bored-out 3-carburetter, 3-litre edition must be exceedingly potent. Even the single-carburetter D.6.70 has a maximum of nearly 90 m.p.h. with only a semi-streamlined body. This is really a very fine achievement. Other good examples of advanced design are the light 15 Citroen and Types 320 and 327 B.M.W. England has some effective fast tourers, though not of outstanding modern layout. The Rover is, however, in my opinion, one of the outstanding cars of the present day, both as to comfort, finish, performance, smoothness, roadholding, cornering and, above all, value for money. Like the Bugatti, it is a wonderful example of what can be done with a conventional chassis layout and non-independent springing. On every head, it can hold its own with any homeproduced or foreign machines up to twice the price, and with considerably larger engines. It and the Delage are certainly in a class by themselves. While I think it is clear that, with
the present state of knowledge, it is possible to produce really practicable road cars capable of between 130 and 150 m.p.h., there are so many factors militating against the use of such a high performance that I am afraid that we shall see increasingly little specialised sports cars, at present mainly represented by Bugatti and Alfa-Romeo. Engines such as the ” 1,100 ” Fiat, and the V12 Lagonda show that 40 b.h.p. per litre is compatible with quite straightforward methods of construction, smooth operation,. durability and economical running. Such outputs, in conjunction with utility streamlining, indicate that 85-90 m.p.h.. are within the reach of the 1-litre car, and 115-120 m.p.h. within the scope of the 3-litre. When performance of this style is available from a type of car compatible with fairly mass production, appealing to a large public, it seems that there is increasingly little call for the expensive specialist job. The fact is sad, but a fact I am afraid it is. Something closely related to the Fiat, Lancia, Citroen, B.M.W. and Delage is, I firmly believe, the sports cat of the future. Superior chassis design and streamlining are the characteristics likely to pick the sports car out from its fellows ; high engine efficiency is no longer likely to be the outstanding factor. When speaking of these up-to-date
designs, one must also add that too many so-called sports cars continue to wallow in the slough of 1930-35 despond, and it is curious that when vintage and modern cars are being compared, it is so often this retrograde class of car that is cited in support of modern superiority. They are, of course, entirely contemptible. Now that modern and vintage charac teristics have been so closely compared, it might, perhaps, be in place to try to draw up an unbiassed resume of their respective merits. I suggest that the position might be summed up as follows : (1) the best modern sports cars are better than anything of the vintage era ; (2) the best of the vintage era is still able Continued on page 124k
to hold its own, on performance, with all but the best of modern cars. It is only in comfort and silence that it is outclassed.
As an aside, although the ordinary run of vintage cars are now surpassed in all tangible assets, this does not diminish their appeal to a large and discriminating body of motorists ; but their preference for the type must now be recognised as resting solely on what can be described as sentimental grounds. And one hopes that these people will preserve an adequate selection of good vintage cars for posterity.
In conclusion, how strangely the wheel has turned full circle. Early racing ears, of the 1904-1910 era, combined admirable roadholding with an extraordinarily comfortable ride. They achieved this, despite flimsy chassis, by dint of very low unsprung weight. With heavy modern brakes, tyres and axles, things got more and more difficult and uncomfortable until the modern school of stiff chassis and i.f.s. has put us back to the beginning again, plus modern advantages, especially as to good brakes. Then, in the search for power, engines became increasingly rough and inflexible. Now, again, the multi-cylinder, short
stroke, high-revving racing engine has shown us that a much simplified edition, suitable for production, can still give a very respectable output, compatible with smoothness and flexibility. The old chain drive gave equal traction on both wheels, and very low unsprung weight for the back wheels. We only have to await the general adoption of the De Dion axle to reintroduce this further old-time advantage.
All along the line our sources of influence have come from the field of racing and competition, but the great turning points have been, the racers of 1913-14 and 1934.