Rumblings

• Wine.— Last month we referred to the interest the Cordon Rouge champagne people take in the JCB Championship, with their welcome awards of their famous wine. Gonzales Byass (UK) Ltd., 91, Park Street, London, W1Y 4AX, are similarly minded, perhaps because their Sales Director, Mr. R. J. Stevens, has been associated with motor racing since the Brooklands days of 1935. They provide additional sponsorship of the Rothmans European Championship, by putting up the Charles Heidsieck Trophy to be awarded on a points basis for the best practice performances in this season's Rothmans Formula 5000 races. Top scorer at the end of the year will get the Trophy, named after the second largest selling champagne in the UK. Apart from the Trophy points awarded for the best three starting-grid positions in each race, in all races held in England and Ireland the driver making fastest time in practice receives a case of Charles Heidsieck champagne and his mechanics a bottle of this famous wine.

So it is to be hoped that in racing circles much Cordon Rouge and Charles Heidsieck will be drunk. If the former suggests a Raymond Mays' Bugatti, the latter is sold by a firm with a name redolent of motor racing and the champagne comes from Reims, where the Sport is not unknown. ...

• Sunbeams.— Our recent article "Sorting Out the Sunbeams" has not revealed why the 1924 GP car owned by D.S.J. was re-registered, re-bodied and given a Rolls-Royce engine. But more than one reader remembers this hybrid and the discourse has brought an interesting letter from the Manager of the Queenstown Motor Museum of New Zealand (which has the usual car and aeroplane exhibits, including an ex-Reg Parnell Maserati 4CLT/48) about other racing Sunbeams:—

"In the last three years I have worked on two early racing Sunbeams," writes Brian Middlemass. "The first for Mr. R. B. Shand of Fairlie, which was a complete rebuild of the engine and transmission, plus spare engine for his 1922 TT straight-8 3-litre Sunbeam, which is the car with which Chassagne won this event, although as I had a total of virtually three complete engines from which to draw my spares the better engine has three different engine numbers scattered round its internals. This car was imported into NZ by Mathew Wills some time prior to 1925 and it seems likely that it was accompanied by a sister car although I have not been able to positively verify this as yet. The car was never very successful and I don't believe it ever won any major events in NZ. It was generally known for being most unreliable and certainly broke down in quite a number of races, normally while trying to stay with the 1914 TT car of the same make.

"Having worked on quite a number of relatively difficult motors such as Maseratis, Minervas, etc., I am not normally too worried by internal complications, but I must say that the 8-cylinder Sunbeam is the most awkward motor I have as yet rebuilt. Making up and screw cutting new bronze valve seat inserts at four valves per cylinder thread into the alloy blocks at the end of a blind bore of 65 mm. diameter is no easy task, especially when you have to do two engines, a total of 64 inserts to say nothing of trying to get the original heavily peaned and worn ones out.

"Sixteen new pistons were cast locally and two of the bores had to be sleeved with new steel liners which also had to be specially made. The three crankshafts we had were all cracked around the oil holes in the main bearings and I feel this was undoubtedly caused by the fact that Sunbeams did not bother to radius the oil holes on either the big-ends or the main bearings, which even in 1922 must have been a bit of an oversight. Also, of course, the 3 ft. 6 in. long crankshaft would not have helped with torsional vibrations and stresses.

"The overhead camshafts, bearings, followers, lobes etc. were in very bad shape and I feel this was caused by lack of lubrications, probably by the failure of drivers in the past to look after the drip feeds, which was the only method ot oiling. This again is unusual in that the rest of the engine is pressure-fed at about 60 psi. from the dry-sump system. I have modified this department by extending the oil pumps and pressure feeding the overhead gear, at the same time increasing the size of the four drain pipes.

"Setting the tappets is a sod of a job as there is no way to get in to measure the clearance without making up a special, cam-cover to hold the cam bearings in place. I finally did this operation by various subtractions and additions based on 3 depth and 2 thickness micrometer readings. Jaguar adjusting pads help here; the clearance is 0.015 in. inlet 0.017 in. exhaust. Incidentally, some of the original works papers that came with the car show the piston clearance as 0.018 thou., which makes me wonder if Sunbeams knew much about heat treating alloys. I have reduced the clearance with our home grown pistons to 0.004 thou., which is still fairly generous.

"After all this tortuous work it was rather gratifying to find that the motor runs very, very quietly and smoothly with no apparent teething troubles. At the moment the car is having the body-work tidied up and replaced where necessary as, like the rest of the car, it had suffered from 20 years' lack of use. Later this year the car should be fully operational and I believe that Mr. Shand and his son intend to use it for touring and some vintage racing events.

"Finally, on the 1921 car one intriguing thing I did find was that 1954 Sunbeam-Talbot 90 valves fit virtually straight in, although I must say that the local Rootes Group dealer was rather upset when I asked for 64 of these items!

"The second Sunbeam is a 1914 TT car raced by Resta (I0M2), Car No. 15. This car is unusual in that it has completely different valve gear and differs in the oil pumps to that of Sear's similar car, also several of the minor internals such as flywheel nut, clutch, etc. are stamped "GP". Mr. Andrew Anderson who owns this car has several interesting theories on the pre-1920 history of this car. I am in the process of rebuilding the mechanical side of it which has been quite interesting. The car was originally imported to NZ and raced by C. W. F. Hamilton, whose exploits in a 4-1/2-litre Bentley at Brooklands you reported on in Motor Sport last year. Hamilton was very successful with this car, winning the NZ cup in 1925 with it. Mr. Hamilton is still quite active and I had a visit from him quite recently. He did have quite it few spares with the car which, although he had long sold the car, he rediscovered in a barn on his sheep station. The bits and pieces included a brand new set of timing gears still in their greased wrappings marked 10M and a new 2.85 to 1 crown wheel and pinion stamped GP. The engine of the 1914 car was rather sad as it had suffered a major blow-up in 1948. One rod was broken and the crankcase badly holed, as well as a crankpin scored. A rod had let go in 1925 which had resulted in a second hole on the opposite side of the crankcase, which had been fitted with a riveted copper patch.

"The block is very interesting, as it had had a small bit knocked out of the bottom of it, and it was possible to see the thickness of the cast iron walls, and really Ford's (America) thinwall-casting technique, so much publicised several years ago, would not compare to the beautifully thin casting of the Sunbeam. This block is still a problem as it will not weld and it is as hard as the hobs of hell and will not drill at all, so metal locking is ruled out.

"At the moment the bottom half of the motor is ready for assembly, complete with a brand new con-rod, and I am just waiting for the block to be bored so that I can fit a set of pistons which are nearly identical with the originals (2-1/2-litre Riley, 1950). The original pistons had a strut cast on the lower side of the crown in the centre, which supported the piston by bearing on the gudgeon through a slot in the little-end."

• Selling Plate.— So the Selling Plate race, a type of auction well known at Brooklands before the First World War, has been revived. Yes, really. For at Thruxton on Easter Monday the BARC had just such a race for twenty identical Vauxhall Firenza Sports SL saloons, which were put up for sale after the event, some of the new owners driving them home up the M3—we suspect they were Vauxhall dealers or Luton personnel. Still, this was in the best tradition of the Selling Plate race. It is interesting that the RAC apparently permitted the drivers strange to these cars to race them after merely the three warming-up laps, grid positions being drawn from a hat.

The Firenzas were said to be all bog-standard, and were on Goodyear G800 tyres. It was close racing, with Frank Gardner winning from Colin Vandervell, Richard Scott, and Gerry Marshall. We do not know how the auction was arranged at Thruxton but at Brooklands we believe they put the successful cars in a wire-walled enclosure on the Finishing straight side of the Paddock. It was still there in the 1930s, when the present editor of Motor Sport organised a small but pioneer exhibition of historic racing cars – 1903 GB Napier, 1903 replica Paris-Madrid de Dietrich, 1912 GP Lorraine-Dietrich, and Chitty-Bang-Bang 1— for the long-since defunct paper Brooklands—Track & Air. Clerk of the Course Percy Bradley remembered this disused enclosure and allowed it to house these then little-known ancients . . . . .

• Motor Sport's 1.5-million readership.— Underlining the astronomical price rise of high-class pre-war cars, Kennedy, Hudd and Torrey tell us they have completed a survey of the market in vintage automobiles which was commissioned by Christopher Renwick. They used Motor Sport small advertisements in doing this because, they say, we are "the principal vehicle of general market information about pre-war, vintage and high-performance automobiles," and because "an independent survey by Jicnars estimates its readership in 1972 at 1.5-million". This makes us feel good inside and is why "over the period examined all the major dealers in London and the provinces consistently took out display advertisements .." The results of this survey should make dealers and speculators in such cars feel equally good.