Where Have All The Peugeots Gone?

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The Editor attempts to trace the fate of some of the most significant Grand Prix cars of all time

Those who know their motor racing history will not dispute the fact that the most significant Grand Prix cars technically were the Peugeots which were evolved by racing drivers Georges Boillot, Jules Goux, and Zuccarelli and the Swiss draughtsman Ernest Henry for the 1912 French G.P. and subsequent pre-First World War road races. Peugeot is again in the forefront of great technical and competition achievement with the victory in this year’s extremely arduous Coronation Safari Rally of a fuel-injection 404 KF2 saloon.

Fifty-six years ago the old-established House of Peugeot was equally high in esteem after winning the French G.P. Just as increased sales of all Peugeot models will stem from the 1968 Rally success, so in 1912 it can be presumed that Peugeot, not yet challenged by Citroën, but with the great Renault reputation to compete with, reaped the benefit of winning the greatest motor race of the year, as Renault themselves had done seven years earlier.

The story of how a separate racing department was set up, under the control of the gentlemen aforementioned, to build a Peugeot racing team has oft been told in recent times. So I do not need to reiterate, except to recall that the first cars to appear as the outcome of this efficient set-up were those built for the 1912 Dieppe G.P The reason they were the most significant road-racing cars of all time lies in the advanced engine Henry had conceived for them. This had four inclined o.h. valves per cylinder operated by twin overhead camshafts driven from a vertical shaft and gears at the front of the engine. The late Laurence Pomeroy said this was the first time all these features had been combined and that Peugeot claimed a patent. It is common knowledge that from this 1912 110 x 200 mm. (7,603 c.c.) 4-cylinder power unit, which developed 130 b.h.p. at 2,200 r.p.m., stemmed not only the subsequent Peugeot 1913 G.P. and Coupe de l’Auto and 1914 G.P. cars, but that these revolutionary engines were copied by Louis Coatalen for his 1914 3.3-litre T.T. Sunbeam and by Premier and others in America, that the engines of the 1914 T.T. Humbers closely resembled the 1913 Peugeot and that after the war the racing straight-eight Ballots, Sunbeams and the invincible Talbot-Darracqs were follow-ups of Henry’s brilliant conception of how a high-output racing engine should be built. Indeed, twin o.h. camshaft valve gear persists to this day as the most sophisticated poppet-valve layout there is and is still used for high-performance cars like Alfa Romeo, Jaguar and Aston-Martin, Fiat, Ford Lotus-Cortina, etc., and remains the accepted method of arranging and actuating the valves on many modern racing engines, and most of those built in between times.

The Peugeot was particularly successful in 1912 as representing what in those days was a comparatively small car capable of vanquishing the last of the remaining giant racers. In the Grand Prix Georges Boillot’s bolster-tank blue Peugeot won the two-day, 995-mile race at 68.45 m.p.h., in which Wagner’s 14-litre chain-drive Fiat was second and Rigal’s side-valve Coupe de l’Auto Sunbeam third. Although broken petrol pipes delayed the giant Fiats, the race was unquestionably a triumph for the new high-speed small but efficient twin-cam multi-inclined-valve engine of the Peugeots, the winning car lapping at 75 m.p.h.

This success, and the subsequent hollow victory by Goux in the 1912 G.P. de la Sarthe, inspired the Peugeot racing team to build 100 x 180 mm. (5,655 c.c.) 4-cylinder cars for the 1913 French G.P., these cars finishing first and second in the hands of Boillot and Goux, at a winning speed of 72.2 m.p.h. Even more outstanding were the 3-litre Peugeots prepared for the 1913 Coupe de l’Auto race, which naturally retained the now-classic Henry layout for their 78 x 156 mm. (2,980 c.c.) 4-cylinder engines, but had the sixteen valves inclined at an angle of 60º instead of 45º and the camshafts driven by a train of spur gears at the front of the engine. Giving 90 b.h.p. at 2,900 r.p.m. and running at the unheard of piston speed of 3,000 ft./min., two of these Peugeots ran home first and second, Boillot winning from Goux at 63.15 m.p.h., with a third Peugeot fifth. Incidentally, these highly-efficient cars had a forerunner in the small-car section of the 1912 French G.P., a Peugeot also of 78 x 156 mm., but with 45º valves. It retired but subsequently one of these cars won the 1912. G.P. de France at 66.43 m.p.h., driven by Zuccarelli.

Peugeot built a team of 92 x 169 mm. (4,494 c.c.) 4-cylinder cars to the established Henry formula for the 1914 French G.P., in which they were vanquished by the single-o.h.c. Mercedes cars, and the saga of the Henry Peugeots is completed by recording that a 2½-litre version was prepared for the abandoned 1914 Coupe de l’Auto race and won the 1919 Targa Florio.

It is not my intention to refer in detail to these cars and the races in which they ran, much as my appetite has been whetted by reading again about the many dramatic and interesting aspects thereof. The purpose of this study is to ask why, in view of their enormous technical significance and unquestionable racing success, almost all of these pre-1914 Peugeot racing cars have disappeared? And to endeavour, not very conclusively I fear, to establish something of their later history. It is sufficient to preface what follows with a tabulated record of the cars in the races for which they were built:—

Race and Cars – Driver and Team No. – Racing Numbers – Result

1912 French G.P. – Goux (1), Boillot (11), Zuccarelli (111) – 13, 22, 45 – Disqualified., First., Retired.

110 x 200 mm. (7,602 c.c.)

1912 Coupe de l’Auto – Thomas – 47 – Retired.

78 x 156 mm. (2, 980 c.c.)

1913 French G.P. – Boillot (1), Goux (11), Delpierre (111) – 8, 14, 19 – First., Second., Overturned, retired.

110 x 180 mm. (5, 655 c.c.)

1913 Coupe de l’Auto – Boillot, Goux, Rigal – 8, 19, 26 – First., Second., Fifth.

78 x 156 mm. (2,980 c.c.)

1914 French G.P. – Boillot (1), Goux (11), Rigal (111) – 5, 19, 32 – Retired., Fourth., Seventh

92 x 169 mm. (4,494 c.c.)

1914 Coupe de l’Auto – Race abandoned due to outbreak of war.

75 x 120 mm. (2,652 c.c.)

Before we consider what happened to the victorious 1912 G.P. car, it should be stated that H. Boissy, of Peugeot Frères entered a Coupe de l’Auto Peugeot for Andre Boillot to drive at Brooklands, that depository both for lost causes and famous racing cars that would otherwise have earned early retirement. It first ran on June 15th and as this was ten days before the Coupe de l’Auto that year I incline to the view that Peugeot was using up one of the cars which they didn’t run in the French race because, their daring experiment of making an efficient small engine that would run at high r.p.m. having opened up a fresh vista, they preferred to concentrate on winning the G.P. and started only one 3-litre car in the smaller category.

After having indeed won the Grand Prix, Peugeot sent one of the 7.6-litre cars over to Brooklands in pursuit of records, where it was equally successful. They sent Jules Goux to drive it. First he competed at the 1913 Brooklands Easter Meeting, where he won the 100-mph. Short Handicap and finished second in both the “100 Long” and the Sprint Handicap. His best lap was at 105.97 m.p.h. Twenty-eight days later Goux went for World’s records, putting the coveted one-hour figure to 106.22 m.p.h., in spite of a stop to change wheels. Over the half-mile, the Peugeot, which for its Brooklands appearances had been given a radiator cowl and a streamlined tail, although still a two-seater (it is, I think, wrongly described as a single-seater in “The Grand Prix Car”) was timed at 108.56 m.p.h. It lapped subsequently at 109.2 m.p.h. If the English spectators did not appreciate that the car they were watching was destined to become historic, they must at least have been thrilled to see the type of car which had won the previous year’s French G.P. in action . . .

After making this great impression at Brooklands, Goux sailed for America to compete in the 1913 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. Now this race was for cars not exceeding an engine capacity of 450 cu. in. As they stood, the G.P. Peugeots exceeded 460 cu. in. So the engines of the two cars entered had to be reduced in size. If Motor Age for June 5th, 1913 is correct, this was done rather inconsistently, or else the officials who measured the engines worked a trifle haphazardly, because the Peugeot to be driven by Goux is quoted as of 4.25 x 17,87 in. (448.13 cu. in.) and that to be driven by Zuccarelli as 4.26 x 7.88 in. (447.92 cu. in.). The race took place 48 days after Goux (who did not at first discover the correct way across the Fork or how to negotiate the Byfleet banking) had taken his final batch of records as Brooklands. In that time he had to cross the Atlantic (no Boeing 707s then!) and qualify. It seems logical to suggest that two cars were being prepared for Indianapolis while Goux was at Brooklands. He won the American race convincingly, at 75.92 m.p.h., using Firestone tyres on French Rudge-Whitworth wheels, Bosch plugs and Magneto and Owl castor oil. He took home some £9,000 in prize and bonus money. Zuccarelli was less fortunate, retiring with bearing failure after a very short distance, which Charles Faroux obscurely referred to as caused by a back-fire. It is interesting that the advanced construction of the Peugeot engines was still very apparent, Faroux stating that “for certain reasons I am unable to give you the pattern of the Peugeot motor which is designed along very extreme and unique lines as will be noted when it is understood that the intake valves and exhaust valves are open at the same time”. Thereby, one would have thought, revealing to curious Americans one secret of Henry’s engine which could not be seen by peering under the Peugeot’s bonnet! Faroux said that Goux kept down to a speed of 1,700 r.p.m. at Indianapolis, getting about 10 m.p.g. of fuel and approx. 60 m.p.g. of oil. But he quoted the engine as giving 162 b.h.p. at 2,250 r.p.m. and said that already the cars had started in eleven contests and had never been defeated.

What was the subsequent history of these successful G.P. cars? As the Indianapolis race was confined to 300 cu. in. cars in 1914 the 1912 Peugeots couldn’t run there and it seems likely that the two sent over in 1913 returned to the factory, perhaps to end their days competing in small French hill-climbs and races; the late Clive Gallop told me that when he was apprenticed to Peugeot after the war he was encouraged to borrow a car and run it in some minor event every weekend.

If we assume that each driver of the Peugeot team retained his own car, we may take it that the Peugeot which was beset by broken fuel-pipes in the Grand Prix was the one sent over for Goux to drive at Brooklands. It would be logical to send a car not too highly stressed in that race to attempt long-distance records and as Goux had been disqualified for taking on petrol away from his department on the first day of the arduous Dieppe G.P., his car was presumably in quite good mechanical fettle at this time. Meanwhile, the winning car and Zuccarelli’s, which had given trouble and retired from the G.P., could be rebuilt at leisure with slightly smaller engines for Indianapolis. The car sent to Brooklands was chassis 1.76, using engine No. 2, which suggests it was Peugeot II.

There is further evidence that points in this direction. Apart from the fact that Goux’s record bid finally came to an end when the carburetter caught fire and no replacement was available, which is an improbable situation for a car destined for the important Indianapolis race, Sir Malcolm Campbell was in the habit of having splendid models made, by the Roger brothers of Slough, of the cars he raced. One of these has found its way into the Montagu Motor Museum and is captioned as the Peugeot driven by Goux in the 1912 French G.P., afterwards acquired by Campbell. It is shown with a shapely pointed tail (but no radiator cowl) and it is stated that this tail was added for record breaking. It seems likely that the car had either returned to France or remained in this country during the war and thus came to Campbell’s notice.

At Indianapolis both cars looked exactly as they had in the Grand Prix, except that spare wheels were not carried on the sides. So the streamlined car presumably was not one of these. I admit I am not sure whether the tail shown on the model was put on by Campbell or was the one on the car when Goux took records with it. It looks somewhat more pointed and to have been grafted on to the road-racing cockpit, whereas Goux’s car had higher sides and so used a straight exhaust pipe, whereas the man-sized outside copper exhaust pipe of the model follows the shape of those on the car when in G.P. form. But Campbell used the Peugeot to take 40-h.p. and Class G records at the Track in October, 1920, and the tail may well have been put on for this purpose; the Peugeot was quicker than before the war, covering the half-mile at just over 109 m.p.h. For racing Campbell ran the car in bolster-tank form. He used it to good purpose during the first post-Armistice Brooklands season, winning the Summer 100-mph. Short Handicap at 89.5 m.p.h., an Essex Lightning Long Handicap at 95 m.p.h. and finishing third in the August 100-mph. Long Handicap. But on occasions the carburetter used to catch fire—just as Goux’s had done in 1913, which you may accept or reject as an additional pointer that this was one and the same car. I never set too much store by engine sizes on the B.A.R.C. entry forms of those days, but it could be significant that Campbell always declared the car as 110 x 200 mm. and not of the reduced dimensions of the Indianapolis cars . . .

The situation which could wreck this theory is that Peugeot built spare cars as well as the three that competed in the Grand Prix, and I admit that W. F. Bradley, writing in 1925, said that one of the team cars was sold to a Russian Prince, another was bought by a Parisian sportsman who was still racing it occasionally, and that the Duc de. Montpensier acquired the third car. This does not allow for the Goux/Campbell car, which might thus be assumed to have been a spare car, except that Faroux, writing much nearer the birth of these cars, said that the Peugeot factory constructed in 1912 three identical cars. Nor can I overlook the fact that Bradley wrote, in the same article, that all the 1913 G.P. Peugeots “went to America and seem to have disappeared”, whereas for some years one had been racing at Brooklands and, indeed, crashed there the previous year. There is one item, however, which still casts some doubt as to whether more than three 1912 cars were built, namely, that Boillot undoubtedly used one for hill-climbs like Mont Ventoux during that year, and that, when Goux and Zuccarelli returned triumphantly from America in 1913, he met them at Le Havre, according to Bradley, and, driving his racing car, beat the express train in which they were travelling to Paris. Perhaps some more dedicated historian will check on those hillclimbs to see if they happened prior to the Grand Prix at the end of June; however, as to Boillot’s road-burning racing car, this could have been a Coupe de l’Auto car being readied for that race or the Goux 1912 G.P. Peugeot between its record sorties and its subsequent sale to Campbell. Incidentally, at this period Goux was very much the No. 1 driver, Boillot concerning himself with engineering, although very soon the role changed and one source says that Peugeot missed the Le Mans race of 1913 because the now well-established Georges had strained an arm and they didn’t dare let Goux start without him!

The 1920 Brooklands car, which I am going to assume to have been the ex-Goux Peugeot, was dark blue with black wheels, which not only suited its nationality but Campbell’s habit of calling his cars “Blue Bird”. Its owner did not race it again until 1922. It had now reverted to a bolster tank, which proves nothing, as anything can happen to a pointed tail in two years! It gained a second place on its second appearance, lapping at 103.11 m.p.h., but was otherwise unplaced at the main Brooklands meetings that year. Campbell, apparently using alcohol fuel, won the 1923 Easter 100-mph. Short Handicap in it, at 92¼ m.p.h., lapping at 101.43 m.p.h. and later offered it for sale, at £500.

I remember as a schoolboy about this time reading in a daily paper how a Major Menzies had remonstrated with a ‘bus driver who, applying his brakes too harshly in Piccadilly, caused some of the lady passengers to be flung on the floor. The gallant Major was described, as is the way when Fleet Street journalists get hold of a story, as “the husband of a famous woman racing driver”. Mrs. Olive Stewart-Menzies was hardly a famous racing driver, but she had fun driving her 7.6-litre Peugeot, almost certainly the ex-Campbell car, at the smaller Brooklands meetings, during 1923 and 1924, without, I think, winning any prizes. In 1924 she drove it at Shelsley-Walsh, climbing, with a passenger, in 66 sec. in spite of finding the old car so heavy to steer that she was unable to change gear at the appropriate moments, causing the engine to labour and misfire. She also drove a 17/50 Itala. Incidentally, on this occasion the old Peugeot wore a radiator cowl; could this have been the one used when Goux drove his record attempts eleven years earlier, and handed over by Campbell when he sold the car? It also seems to have reverted to the pointed tail, as on the aforesaid model.

In those days, although twin-o.h. camshafts operating valves inclined to create hemispherical combustion chambers, were by then universal for racing engines, motor-racing history was not the avid study it is today and I do not suppose Mrs. Menzies or anyone else regarded the old Peugeot as anything other than an amusing car to use for a spot of amateur competition work. That it was the original version of the revolutionary and widely-copied Henry design which was such a great technical breakthrough in 1912 was almost certainly unheeded.

As far as I can ascertain, the Shelsley-Walsh performance was the last appearance of this historic racing car, of which none has survived. Unless, of course, somewhere, in some remote garage, Mrs. Menzies’ car is resting where it was finally put to sleep in the mid-nineteen-twenties . . .

(To be continued.)