A 1920 3-litre Indianapolis Ballot

Author

Bill Boddy

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The Editor investigates Humphrey Milling’s magnificently restored example.

The motor cars which Ernest Ballot used in races during the 1919 to 1921 seasons are among the classics ot their kind, representing at they do the ultimate-Henry, that is to say, that great designer’s combination of his revolutionary four-valve-per-cylinder, twin-overhead-camshaft, engine layout which he introduced to Peugeot in 1912, with devastating results, and his straight-eight theme adopted after the 1914/18 war following Henry’s study of some contemporary aero-engines, to ensure compact combustion spaces and lightweight. pistons.

Ernest Ballot had made his mark as the manufacturer of engines, used by some very well-known car manufacturers, prior to the First World War, and towards the end of the European conflagration, possibly aided by war-time aero engine profits, his mind turned to the making of Ballot motor-cars and of intrciducing them to the post-Armistice public through the medium of track and road racing.

He was sagacious enough to employ Ernest Henry to design these first Ballot racing cars: They were intended for the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race in America, due to be run on May 30th, 1919. Henry set to work to evolve a team of three 5-litre straight-eight Ballots. It is said that these were designed in the astonishingly short time of 101 days but I have never quite accepted this. It seems more likely that although M. Ballot did not put in an entry for the Indy marathon until Christmas Eve, leaving only just over four months for them to be shipped across the Atlantic from Paris, parts of the cars may have been produced during 1918. If we accept the popular story that they were designed by the indomitable Henry in 101 days, this means that these splendid racing cars came off the drawing board and were built and tested in a matter of about seven weeks. Leaving that as may be, the fact is that the Ballots not only got to Indianapolis but proved to be the fastest cars there, in practice. In the race troubles held them back, due to an attempt to raise the axle-ratios by changing to American wheels, which broke their spokes, and a pre-war Henry Peugeot won, although Rene Thomas Ballot set a record lap of 104.7 m.p.h. One of these Ballots went out to Sicily tor the 1919 Targa Florio race but back-axle trouble put it out and an aged 2 1/2-litre-Henry-inspired Peugeot took the honours. After this the International cubic capacity limit was changed to 3 litres, so Ballot had to be content with sending a 5-litre car to Brooklands, where the appearance of Jean Chassagne in 1920 caused much interest, especially as he lapped at 112.17 m.p.h. After this two or more of these big Indianapolis Ballots, of 4.8 litres capacity but one with its engine size increased to 5.1 litres, entertained the Brooklands’ spectators for many years, in the hands of such drivers as Count Louis Zborowski, Humphrey Cook, R. B. Howey, John Cobb, Clive Gallop and Jack Barclay, and much later Anthony Heal used one in VSCC events — but that is another story.

Having had a taste, If an unpalatable one, of motor-racing, Ernest Ballot decided to let Henry design him another team of cars, to race under the new 3-litre ruling. It is with one of these Ballots that this article is concerned. They followed the general design of the 1919 Ballots, but with a bore and stroke of 65 x 112 mm., giving a capacity of 2,973 C.C. The straight-eight engine had the expected tour-valves-per-cylinder, Inclined at 60 deg., in a cast-iron head integral with the cylinder block. The valves were, again as expected, operated by two overhead-camshafts, the cams bearing on steel inverted-bucket-type tappets on the valvestems, and the camshaft-drive being by a train of gears from the front of the crankshaft. The built-up crankshaft ran in five ball bearings, double races being used for the centre and NO 5 journals, and plain big-ends were used, of white-metal on floating bronze bushes. Lubrication was dry-sump, with a plunger-type scavenging pump, and oil was ted to the tank and returned it under pressure to the main bearings; the big-ends were oiled centrifugally. The camshafts also ran in ball-races and the inlet valves were larger than the exhaust valves. Aluminium pistons were employed.

This engine had its cylinder blocks paired and a Claudel-Hobson carburettor fed each tour cylinder block. Ignition was by two Marelli magnetos, driven from the rear of the camshafts, with the sparking-plugs set vertically in the head, one per cylinder. Not unexpectedly, the engine had much in common with the pre-war Henry Peugeot engines, not only in respect of its general layout but also in its auxiliary drives, etc. It was said to develop 107 b.h.p. at 3,800 r.p.m. on straight petrol, with a b.m.e.p. of 122 lb. This imposing power-unit was installed in a conventional chassis, with a wheelbase of 8′ 8 1/2″ and a track of 4′ 4 1/2″. The drive went through a cone clutch to a separate tour-speed gearbox, and by an open propeller shaft to the bevel-gear backaxle. A handsome streamlined 2-seater body was used, with provision for a spare wheel to be accommodated longitudinally in the hinged tail into which the staggered seat backs were moulded; this body had some similarity to those of the pre-war GP Peugeots but was noticeably lower. Of this 1920 straight-eight Ballot the late Laurence Pomeroy said: “In the year of its original construction it was undoubtedly the fastest car of its type in the World”. He quoted the maxima in the gears in its original form as 30, 60, 78 and 112 m.p.h,

History

A team of three, supplemented by a twin-Cam tour-cylinder 2-litre Ballot of the kind which, in single and twin oh. camshaft, four and eight cylinder guiae, was to form the Ballot production range, constituted Ballot’s first Grand Prix entry, at Le Mans in 1921. The debut of the 3-litre straight-eight Ballot was, however, in the 1920 Indianapolis 50-Mile race. Ralph de Palma’s Ballot led for 465 miles and lapped at 99.15 m.p.h. but it then caught tire and although it restarted, it ran short of tuel and finished fifth. Rene Thomas did better, his Ballot coming in second, behind Chevrolet’s winning Monroe, which also owed much to Ernest Henry. These Ballots were the lastest Cars again but Chassagne crashed, and Thomas left his spurt until too late.

After this, de Palma apparently used one of these Ballots to win the 251-mile Elgin road race at Illinois, at 79 m.p.h., in August 1920, and he seems also to have had it on the boards winning 50-mile race at the Beverly Hills-speedway at Los Angeles early in 1921, at 107.3 m.p.h.

At Indianapolis the following year a single Ballot, equipped now with front-wheel-brakes, competed, a sign perhaps that Grand Prix preparations were in hand. De Palma was again the experienced pilot; again both Ernests were due for a disappointment. Because, after lapping at 100.75 m.p.h., the Ballot, the fastest car on the track once more, and leading at 200 miles, at 93.6 m.p.h., broke a con-rod. A Frontenac took the winner’s flag. But there was still the French Grand Prix, with Ballot’s field of four. Car No. 1 was entrusted to de Palma, Car No. 2 to Chassagne, car NO. 3 to Wagner, and Jules Gotta had the 2-litre four-cylinder car. The front-wheel-brakes now thought necessary could be either of the Hispano-Suiza mechanical-servo type or applied unassisted through the hand lever. The brake drum size was 14″ front, 15″ rear, and operation was by cable.

Chassagne led to hall-distance, over a boulder strewn course, but on the 17th lap of this 30-lap race the petrol tank was holed by the prop-shaft and he was out. The American straight-eight, three-speed Duesenbergs, more powerful and perhaps more flexible than the Ballots, proved the surprise of the race, Murphy’s winning at 78.1 m.p.h. De Palma’s Ballot, which had Peter de Paola as riding mechanic, was second, at 73.6 m.p.h., a matter of 14 min, 59.2 sec. in arrears. The 2-litre Ballot of Goux was third, Louis Wagner’s 3-litre seventh. So it was another disillusionment for Ballot, who, however, declared after the race that de Palma’s car was fit to cover the 322 miles again immediately, whereas he doubted whether any of the Duesenbergs would even re-start. Which was. probably true!

Incidentally, the 3-litre Ballots had weighed out at 2,068 lb. (De Palma), 2,076 lb. (Chassagne), and 2,050 lb. (Wagner). They had no bothers with their Pirelli tyres but after de Palma had paused for petrol his engine would not re-start until the car was pushed in reverse and over three minutes were lost. It is said that the 2-litre Ballot that finished third had been entered only because a fourth straight-eight 3-litre Ballot had not been completed in time.

With the International Formula changing again for 1922, to a maximum of 2-litres, time had almost run out for the 3-litre Henry Ballots. However, at Brescia in the Italian Grand Prix of 1921, although the Fiats were taster, the 3-litre Ballots were more reliable, and Goux, replacing Wagner, won at 90.4 m.p.h. tor the 322 miles, followed home by Chassagne. Finally, at Indianapolis in 1922 the 3-litre rule stayed in force and a Ballot driven by Eddie Hearne was third. After which there was nothing more for these Ballots to do.

This story now comes closer home, because Capt. (later Sir) Malcolm Campbell acquired One of these 3-litre Ballots and brought it out at Brooklands Track during the 1923 season. Malcolm Campbell had been racing a wide variety of cars at Brooklands since before the war and he had come to realise that to get anywhere it was desirable to change tars with some frequency, in order to keep the handicappers guessing. In 1922 he had been racing another Henry design, in the form of a 1912 Grand Prix 7.6-litre Peugeot. Campbell was about to dispose of this aged warrior to Mrs. Menzies and so he required fresh blood in his stables for the 1923 season.

He now had the Ballot agency in London, based at his Albemarle Street Showrooms, So it must have seemed logical to acquire a couple Of racing cars of that make and to engage Leo Villa, who had been working in the Ballot factory in Paris to work on them and who ever after was to remain Campbell’s faithful racing mechanic and engineer. Campbell met the 3-litre Ballot at Folkestone and it was driven to his racing workshop at Povey Cross, Campbell’s estate near Horley, in Surrey. He must have remembered the Ballot Team Manager’s desire to increase the axle-ratios at Indianapolis in 1919, because Villa was set to work, with Manser, Campbell’s gardener, to raise the final-drive ratio. Incidentally, this Ballot was now taxed as a road car (XN 7845) and Villa has told how, when it was in London, he used to take it to slip over to his home in Kensington in the lunch-hour, without his master knowing….!

The Ballot made its debut in Campbell’s hands at the 1923 Whitsun BARC Meeting, painted saxe blue, with black wheels, and named, naturally, “Blue Bird”. It was due to start from the 21 sec. mark in the 34th 100 m.p.h. Short Handicap for the Brooklancis Gold Vase. But it popped and banged and failed to complete a lap. Or was Malcolm preserving his handicap? For in the 100-m.p.h. Long Handicap, from the same mark, it finished the race, although unplaced (71.95, 92.23 m.p.h.* -see Footnote, page 816). At the same Meeting Campbell was racing his 2-litre Ballot; called “Vanda” I wish I knew why. The 3-litre Ballot was brought out again for the 1923 August Meeting. More heavily handicapped in the 90 m.p.h. Short Handicap, the Ballot was again unplaced, but he was now going faster (84.92, 100.61).

Campbell had been hnding the car a difficult one to get away cleanly trom the start, with its fierce cone clutch and the Claudel-Hobsons all too apt to spit back and catch tire. But in the 90 m.p.h. Long Handicap at this August Bank Holiday Meeting he seems to have mastered it, for the Ballot left from “19 sec.”, giving an Austin 7 one min. 41 sec. start, and it won from Striven’s Austin 20 and this “limit” Austin 7, (87.9.4) 105.27) Villa saw about 3,700 r.p.m. on the tachometer, which seems about right with the raised axle-ratio, in view of Pomeroy’s estimate of a peak Speed of 3,800 r.p.m. Campbell won a £30 cup and gave Villa, who had had his first taste of 100 m.p.h., a fiver which seems very generous from this particular gentleman….

The car ran badly during the season at the first Essex MC Meeting and,was unplaced at the next.

In 1924 Campbell, knowing the handicap game and being involved with his 5-litre Sunbeam and the big V12 Sunbeam, did not use his Ballot much. But at the Whitson Meeting it was on the scratch mark in the 100 m.p.h. Short Handicap, which was too much for it (88.10, 102.69), in spite of the good getaway. The car should have run in the “Long” but racing was abandoned after Toop had been killed when Brocklebank’s Henry Peugeot which he was driving went over the top of the Byfleet banking. However, at the Summer Meeting the old car really went motoring. From the “39 sec.” mark in the 100 m.p.h. Long Handicap it won from Gallop’s Aston-Martin and the venerable Lorraine-Dietrich (87.53, 109.22). During 1925 Campbell had other fish to fry and in the later part of 1926 he was involved in land speed Record-breaking developments, although the aged Ballot did appear, now with yellow wheelt, at the Summer Meeting, but with no success in the “100 Long” (89.33, R). In the Lightning Long Handicap, the Ballot was still out of luck (87.68, 102.48), the winner being Howey’s 5-litre Ballot.

That winter Campbell advertised the Ballot for sale for £475, from his Povey Cross address, describing it as in perfect condition after a recent complete overhaul. He had used it for hill-climbs as well as tor Brooklands’ racing, as at Spread Eagle in 1924, for instance, where he made Lt.d. in a Sunbeam and had a Star to drive as well. So even by 1927 the Ballot was a viable racing car and just what Jack Dunfee decided he needed, as taster than his Salmsons, and which, as he had come into a legacy, he could afford. From then until 1932 the Ballot was such a popular and frequent performer at the l’rack that I came to regard it as more of a 13rooklands than an Indianapolis or Grand Prix car. Maintained by Thomson & Taylor, it gave Jack very good service indeed. In fact, it was such a regular performer that a blow-by-blow account of its continuing Brooklands’ career would take up too much space and might even be tedious to some, so I propose to tabulate its performance in the years 1927 to 1932.

Around 1933 the older cars were not very popular at Brooklands but Joan Richmond had come over from Australia and as she wanted to race at Brooklands she bought the now-ancient Ballot, but without any luck, as it threw a conrod, without, I think, being raced again. It was next acquired by Capt. Denis Shipwright, who had returned to Brooklands, where he had driven Armstrong Siddeley and SPA cars ten years earlier, and was now running a Racing Drivers’ School – there is nothing new under the sun! He rather messed the Ballot about and, I believe, painted it bright yellow! (If I remember correctly, Cecil Clutton referred to it as the “Shipwreck Special”). Then, the VSCC having been formed, Glutton took it over, in partnership with Watkins-Pitchford. He had found it languishing at Pembridge Motors, who had rigged up an extra pressure oil-pump from a Lagonda to aid the lubrication, driving this pump from the front of the near-side camshaft. Zenith carburetters had replaced the Claudel-Hobsons and, presumably to increase its speed at Brooklands in order to keep ahead of Mr. Ebblewhite, the handicapper, the Ballot’s compression-ratio was up to about 12 to 1 and the opening in the tail for the road-racing spare wheel had been fared over. The front axle was suspect and there was talk of fitting an Aston Martin radius arm. Nevertheless, in 1937 Glutton drove the Ballot in the VSCC Littlestone Speed Trials, where it was timed over the s.s, half-mile in 27.7 sec., crossing the finishing-line at over 100 m.p.h., which gave it third place in its class. Fortunately it survived the bombing during the war and in 1940 was acquired by M. C. Crowley-Milling. It has since been most beautifully restored by his cousin, Humphrey Milling, that connoisseur of good vintage cars he has an OE 30/98 Vauxhall in hand as well.

* *  *

Thus it came about that one Sunday, when most of the members of The Guild of Motoring Writers were whizzing round and round Donington in the most modern cars, I was on my way in the Rover 3500 to a village not far distant, to keep an appointment with this longlived and very successful Ballot, a racing car from another age, which I had so often seen in action on the Brooklands Motor Course.

Today

I arrived at Mr. Milling’s country house to find the Ballot standing in the courtyard beside his

*Footnote

Throughout, I have decided to quote lap speeds in this fashion; the first is the s.s. lap in m.p.h., the second the fastest; t.t. lap, irrespective of race length. (2) after this speed indicates that the same speed was maintained on more than one s.s. lap. R = retired. Ed.

Reliant Scimitar (the third of these cars he has run), and the classic and beautifully-balanced lines of the ancient racing car were immediately apparent — it is surely the most attractive of all the competition cars of its era? Between 1940 and 1971 M. C. Crowley-Milling restored the Ballot’s chassis frame but hadn’t done anything else, so his cousin acquired the car in pieces, with traces of blue, green and yellow paint evident on what was left of the bodywork. Its present condition is, therefore, a great tribute to his concern for authenticity, and the high standard he set throughout the work of reconstruction. That this was a major task will be appreciated when I say that the crankshaft and pistons were useless and that the camshafts were nowhere to be found. Thus new components had to be made before the car could be reassembled, the work being entrusted to Nigel Arnold-Forster (Basset Down Ltd.), who did a tremendous job, to Milling’s complete satisfaction. He was of “tremendous assistance” Humphrey says. The design a the replacement camshafts and of a new crankshaft was entrusted to the expert, Harry Mundy, of Jaguar fame. He produced a one-piece crankshaft, whereas the original had been a fourpiece shaft, tapered andkeyed together. The main bearings are now split-roller races, supplied by Cooper’s of Norfolk, and to suit the new crankshaft the firing-order had to be altered, from the former 1, 8, 3, 6, 4, 5, 2, 7. Humphrey Milling has one of the original ingenious big-ends in his workshop but these were probably a weak aspect of Henry’s design, limiting engine speed, and it was at first decided to use new large needle-roller big-ends. However, this would have entailed importing suitable assemblies from America, so the more simple expedient of using conventional white-metal big-ends was adopted, new con-rods being made.

The gearbox was in generally good shape but was rebuilt, and a new petrol tank was made after inspection of photographs sent over from America by Briggs Cunningham of his chassis, this tank being of complex shape to clear the vertical spare wheel, the back axle and the tail. The brake-shoes, of unlined cast-iron in vintage times, were given the benefit of Ferodo, and gradually the car, with its handsome tapered radiator carrying the EB-anchor badge, came together again, looking exactly as it must have done when it left the Paris factory 58 years ago. No mean task, especially as there had been nothing of the original body left behind the seats….

While Nigel Snowdon was letting his cameras loose on it, I looked round the car, discovering further details. The corded springs are half elliptic all round; shackled at the back, and they pass beneath the axles. Dual Type-506 Hartford friction shock-absorbers are used, front and back. The wheels are shod with 820 x 120 Dunlop tyres; incidentally, the 52 mm. Rudge hubs are unusual in being 3/4 ” longer than normal, a type used otherwise only on the TT Vauxhall, in Milling’s experience. The Ballot has no windscreen but there is a folded wire-mesh screen angled on the scuttle, before the driver. Two tie-rods brace the front dumb-irons, the front axle tieing an I-section beam, and the front brake -operation is both neat and ingenious. As the car was taxed to enable its latest owner to learn to drive it, as he puts it, very neat mudguards are now fitted and a brass bulb-horn is carried in the cockpit. The magnetos protrude into the cockpit as on a GP Bugatti, but tar less obviously. The Ballot is run on Newton 20/50 oil and 4-star petrol. Oil pressure is 30 lb./sq. in., temperature normally 120 Deg. F.

Unstrapping and opening the off-side of the bonnet reveals those low-set twin Zenith carburetters, feeding through lagged manifolds, and a big brass plate on the offside of the crankcase reading: “Type 3/LC, Moteurs Ballot, 37-39, Bd. Brune, PARIS, N.1006.” This confirms that this was the Malcolm Campbell car. There is also visible the very neatly-repaired patch on the crankcase which was there when Dunfee bought the car, and I am told other less-neat patches beneath testify to other mechanical disasters. The water pump, set low down at the front of the engine, is driven from the o/s timing gears and there is the usual four-branch water mandold above the engine. The aforesaid Lagonda oil-pump is still in service, driven from the near-side camshaft, and a little mechanical pressure-pump about two-thirds back along the o/s camshaft, thought to have aided oil circulation originally (but not shown on the Cresswell drawing of the car), now supplements the fuel-feed hand air-pump. The Brooklands’ exhaust system is retained, on the near-side.

Before we went out for an exhilarating drive in this magnificent racing Ballot, we naturally discussed which of the four 1920 Ballots this one it is known that the team of four 5-litre 1919 cars were numbered too 1-2-3-4. This numbering was continued for the 3-litre cars and of these Milling’s, as we have seen, is No. 1006. Briggs-Cunningham has an engineless chassis, ex-Lytle, In his collection, car No. 1007. “there is a much bodged-about car in the Schlumpf Collection, Which had been owned by Rodriguez-Vina in Spain. It is on modern-size tyres, and has an ugly dumb-iron apron, but has been converted from I.h.d. back to right-hand-drive. This is car No. 1008. So all but the first 3-litre, No. 1005, are accounted tor. Humphrey Milling is practically Certain that he has the Wagner car. There is confirmation in the evidence of Leo Villa, who says Campbell had the ex-Goux car; when Goux drove a 3-litre into first place at Brescia he was deputising for Wagner. However, Dunfee thought he had the de Palma car, because he attributed the patch on the crankcase to the conrod the American driver’s car shed at Indianapolis in 192.1, repaired with watchmaker’s precision, presumably by Ballot for the Grand Prix. One has to accept that this may have been a later repair. Kent Karslake, writing of this actual car in our “Veteran *types” series in 1937, thought it to be Chassagne’s, because certain chassis parts are stamped No. 2. The identity of team-cars has never been easy and the problem is encountered once more in trying to sort out these 3-litre Ballots.

However, bowing to the present owner’s research, I was happy to think that, as I climbed aboard for my ride, I was adopting the mantle of Louis Wagner, or at least that of his ridingmechanic. The Ballot’s engine broke into song after a short tow behind a Land Rover and ran very quietly, as a good straight-eight should. t discovered that the seats were intended for slim racing personnel and that my bulk made it necessary to sit sideways, right arm draped over the tail, which, shaped for the purpose, accepted it comfortably; one’s right hand found the

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