TWO LAGO -SPECIAL DARRACQS
AFTER the first B.A.R.C. Members’ Meeting at Goodwood, Major Gale, by reason of winning a scratch race at 77.2 m.p.h. and finishing second in a handicap, was leading on points for the Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial Trophy, so the time seemed opportune to discuss with him the Darracq which he drove on this occasion and which he raced pretty consistently in club events last year. Accordingly, we called on him at the Pippbrook Garage, Dorking, where the car is effectively stabled and prepared.
This Darracq is no stranger to most of our readers, who link it at once with the exploits of Leslie Johnson in his post-B.M.W. days. Built in 1937, this Lago-Special Darracq, or Talbot as we should call it nowadays, commenced its career worthily indeed, winning the French G.P. that year in Chiron’s hands at 82.47 m.p.h. (these cars were 1, 2, 3) and coming to England for the Donington T.T., which it won for Comotti at 68.7 m.p.h., ahead of Begue’s sister car. Such a car was too good to miss, or so thought A. C. Lace, who now acquired it.
In 1939, Ian Connell, a director of the late Monaco Engineering Co., bought the Darracq, and its English racing career began in earnest.
At the very first race of the Brooklands Opening Meeting that fatal year the Darracq came in first at 111.49 m.p.h. lapping at 117.74 m.p.h. Then, re-handicapped four seconds, Connell managed second place in the First Mountain Handicap, lapping at 70.43 m.p.h. and, retaining his re-handicap, came home second in the following Mountain race, by dint of two laps this time at. 70.43 m.p.h.
Such success was bound to carry penalty at Brooklands and at Easter two Campbell Circuit laps at 65.92 m.p.h. availed Connell nothing. But in the Second Easter Outer Circuit Handicap he brought the Darracq in first, lapping at 122.67 m.p.h., and averaging 116.83 m.p.h. In his Mountain race the lap-speed rose to 73.13 m.p.h. but a place escaped him. So we come to the famous Invitation Road Car Race at the Whitsun Meeting intended to settle the “fastest road car ” controversy. The Darracq finished third in the Campbell Circuit race (best lap 66.68 m.p.h.) and second to Dobson’s Delahaye in the Mountain Race, lapping at 73.13 m.p.h.-note the consistency with earlier races. The final placing was second. “Ebby” couldn’t fail to notice such speeds and Connell found himself on scratch in the outer circuit race and unplaced in spite of lapping at 125.45 m.p.h. Similarly, Ian was unplaccd at the fateful August races, but nevertheless, as often happened at Brooklands, the Darracq made some of its most glorious runs, getting round the Mountain at 73.13 m.p.h., lapping the Campbell Circuit at 68.24 m.p.h., and (save the mark!) the outer circuit, naturally stripped of road clobber, at 129.30 m.p.h. During 1939, too, the Darracq set the Shelsley Walsh sports car record to 48.76 sec., a figure which still stands.
Came the war, and, in 1946, Leslie Johnson became the Darracq’s owner. He ran the car in numerous Continental races, including seventh at Spa in 1947 at. 78.05 m.p.h., finished sixth at Jersey at 79.4 m.p.h. minus Lop gear, broke the course record at Bo’ness in 40.5 sec., and experienced a fire in the I.O.M., after which the French blue paint was replaced with a coat of British green. (The Darracq always was, and still is, very inflammable if the plugs soot-up or the mixture is upset in any way. The remedy is to switch off and turn the engine on the starter to suck in the flames, and Gale has found that it is safer to start up with the throttles in tick-over position.) Johnson also beat the Shelsley Walsh sports car record (42.21 sec.) but as no sports car classes were recognised at this meeting all to no avail. In December, 1947, Guy Gale, the present owner, took over.
He first ran the car in competition at Luton Hoo, finishing second in the unlimited racing car class to Denis Poore’s “3.8” G.P. Alfa-Romeo. At Jersey that year trouble intervened and Monaco were asked to strip and overhaul this formidable car.
It was off the road for a year, but Gale has since run it in 25 club events and gained 21 awards. Space precludes a list of these imposing successes but this record, with the lead in the Brooklands Trophy contest, speaks for itself. In 1949, incidentally, the Darracq took the unblown, unlimited sports car record for the Brighton kilometre in 30.48 sec., beating Sydney Allard’s Allard. Last year at Brighton Sydney “turned the table,” using his Cadillac-Allard, but the Darracq clocked 30.0 sec, and—example of behind the-scenes-things of which the public never hears—lost a rocker arm nut and misfired on its first run and suffered similar trouble on its second run because suspecting the condenser before discovering the missing unit, Gale had a new one fitted, which, perversely, duly packed up. Guy admits also to a not too brilliant start.
This distressing shortage of paper lets me out of a detailed description of the Darracq and in any case most Motor Sport readers will recall that it has in six-cylinder, 90 by 104.5 mm., 3,996-c.c. engine with inclined o.h. valves operated by push-rods arranged in a similar chinning disposition to those found on B.M.W., Bristol, Frazer-Nash and other cars that have “downstairs” camshafts but efficient hemispherical heads. This valve layout involves a broad, imposing-looking valve cover with central huile tiller and sunk plugs. The drive goes via a Wilson gearbox with quadrant preselector, bottom gear bands constituting the clutch, to a straight-tooth back axle and suspension, is half-elliptic at the back, and transverse leaf spring and wishbone i.f.s. Three pump-type Stromberg downdraught carburetters feed the engine, fuel being supplied by both S.U. electric and S.E.V. camshaft-driven pumps. The fuel tank holds 45 gallons, Johnson having had a 10-gallon auxiliary tank put in behind the seats and connected to the original tank. Cooling is by pump, sans fan, and ignition by a Bosch distributor and Delco-Remy ribbed-coil a spare-coil being permanently mounted. The dry sump lubrication system incorporates a 3 3/4-gallon oil tank set across the chassis by the pedals, but no cooling element. The engine is a massive unit, safe maximum speed being 4,500 r.p.m., which wheelspin sometimes lifts to 5,000—safe so far!
On taking over the car Gale found the Bendix cable brakes powerful but a bit inconsistent, so the Lockheed conversion was fitted, entailing slight modification of the aforesaid oil tank so that the brake cylinder would clear it. Bearing out the contention that modern cars win on brakes, the Goodwood lap speed of the Darracq rose by 9 m.p.h. after this mod.! And these are not 2LS brakes, although the shoes are some 2 in. wide and the friction area therefore considerable. Indeed, Gale reaches 117 m.p.h. along the straight into Woodcote and still leaves his braking until the yellow “turn-coming” board !
When Johnson was driving the Darracq, virtually as a racing car, the compression ratio was 11 to 1, dope fuel being used. This Gale reduced to 9.25 to to 1 and, when the alloy head cracked, substituted a cast-iron head giving a compression ratio of 8.9 to 1, which is perfeetly satisfactory on 50/50 petrol-benzole. I-section conrods and Martlet pistons are used.
In “Johnson trim,” with 6.00 by 19 tyres, a 3.15 to 1 axle ratio was used, equivalent to 130 m.p.h. at 4,500 r.p.m. On “dope” acceleration from 0-60 m.p.h. in 9.3 sec., and 100 m.p.h., stripped, in 19 sec. was claimed, and with two up, road equipped, 0-100 m.p.h. occupied 22 sec.—which, again. speaks for itself!
In its present form a 3.45 to 1 axle ratio is employed, with 6.00 by 18 Dunlop tyres, 1,000 r.p.m. in top gear being equal to 26 m.p.h. or 117 m.p.h. at peak revs. of 4,500. For sprints in the order of 1/4 of a mile Gale substitutes 16-in. tyres.
When he took the car over it used to boil if held too long on the starting grid, but this has been entirely cured by an extra core in the radiator, so that instead of running habitually at 100 degrees C., the radiator now needs blanking off. As to plugs, Lodge H1P give every satisfaction on the road, as do Lodge 18-49s for racing. The Darracq is, of course, properly equipped as a sports car, its dynamo driven by the water pump belt. It is, indeed, a very economical road car, surprisingly so remembering its 117 m.p.h. maximum speed. Gale regularly gets 18 m.p.g., which drops to about 12 m.p.g. in races, so that he reckons to drive from Dorking to Goodwood, practice, race, and come home, all at an average m.p.g. of 15. He always uses Esso fuel and oil. Oil pressure is 6 kg. per sq. cm, and never flags.
The Darracq in road trim with spare wheel weighs 21 cwt.. It is one of the more intriguing road cars and only the filthy weather prevailing at the time of our visit precluded experience of its easy 100 m.p.h. running, splendid stability and vivid acceleration. It has proved to be very reliable and after two seasons’ hard racing no wear could he observed in the M.C.P. Super White Metal (supplied by Mining and Chemical Products, Ltd.), with which main and big-end bearings are lined.
Reluctantly leaving this exciting car in its garage in deference to the drizzle, by way of compensation we essayed a short drive in Bob Walker’s road-back and Continental touring vehicle, a strikingly beatitiful Lago-Special Darracq Figoni coupe. This car was on the stand at the 1937 Motor Show in London and is thus a 1938 model. It follows very.closely the specification of Gale’s catr but two horizontal Zenith carburetters are used. The same conversion from Bendix to Lockheed braking has been made and the original Wilson gearbox replaced by a Cotal electric. It is thought by Walker that about a dozen of these Lego Specials were made and that they resemble the cars which Talbot ran at Le Mans in 1939. His particular example was owned first by a lady in France. The Germans found it in Nice when they invaded and ripped out the leather and stole the tyres, etc. University Motors eventually got hold of the car and offered it for sale at £5,000. Walker eventually bought it in 1947 for £3,500.
The Wilson box needing replacements and having metric parts as it was Talbot built, the aforesaid Cotal, costing some £200, was installed, a surprisingly simple job. This overcame the former very heavy clutch action, as the clutch is now not only very light but used only for “take off.” The coupe is lower geared than the “racer,” doing 24 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. in top gear, on 6.00 by 18 rear tyres, 5.00 by 18 being used in front, which has improved the steering. The car is also heavier, turning the scales at about 29 1/2 cwt. Yet, before the Cotal box was fitted, a s.s. kilometre was covered in 33 sec. The compression ratio is .approximately 9 to I and “Pool” is burnt as a matter of course, the consumption averaging 14-15 m.p.g. The engine has the same broad valve cover, six massive separate exhaust pipes and a belt-driven pump and fan to help the cooling.
Only a photograph can do justice to the lines of this Figoni coupe. Inside the car you find gloriously comfortable seats, with soft-padded centre armrest. The driver reclines at his job, but not in a sloppy manner as in many modern cars, and the small, wood-rimmed steering wheel is well away from the dash, as on a racing car, and is low set, the top of its rim below the scuttle, so that even a dwarf wouldn’t be peering through its spokes. The helmet front wings are visible on each side, for aiming the long bonnet. Behind the seats is a really deep luggage shelf, and the roof of this coupe cunningly slides down and back when sun and air are deemed to be desirable. Driving is as fascinating as anything I have tried. A small central lever selects neutral, forward or reverse, after manipulation of which all other changes are lightning affairs of forefinger and thumb on the minute Cotal lever in its gate to the left of the steering wheel—incidentally the old Wilson quadrant remains on the right. Upward changes go through, clutchless, as quickly as you can make them, downward ones call for normal adjustment of revs., but are also made clutchlessly. I hadn’t quite got the hang of revving-up and produced some clonks from the transmission, but even so it seems impossible to muff a change and Walker made them impeccably, so that this Darracq could be driven on the box alone, disregarding its powerful brakes. Steering, complemented by roil-free cornering. was as accurate as you will find, and stability emphasised when Walker nonchalantly accelerated up to 3,000 r.p.m. in third round a curving bend off the most slippery sort imaginable. There is a good deal of engine noise of that hard, purposeful kind when accelerating, but as this pick-up is the kind that sends Ford Tens and Morris Minors rushing backwards as you, who cares? In any case, the excellent, very compact Cresta radio still contrives to fill the car with speech and music. The engine revs. rise at once in response to the accelerator, racer fashion, and road-holding and steering are impeccably Continental. Walker uses the car for European touring. The Cotal box has been in for three years with no trace of trouble. The maximum speed is estimated to be 118 m.p.h. under good conditions, with 112 on tap at less favourable times. Honest, Walker says an X.K. 120 Jaguar will leave him; but we know which car we would prefer.
I gather that in France the Talbot Darracq is considered to be considerably in advance of the Delahaye and Deluge whose specifications are notably similar. Certainly in Major Gale’s two-seater and R. R. C. Walker’s coupe Lago-Specials the Pippbrook Garage can claim is justifiably to have in its care two outstanding motor cars.