Vintage Postbag, June 1981
Maybach Engined Special
I enclose a photo of the Maybach engine in the special that Stan Jones raced in Australia some thirty years ago, reference the article “Fathers, Sons & Brothers” and the letter from Mr. J.E.B. Little in the April Motor Sport. This shows it in its supercharged form but it ran originally on six Amal motorcycle carburetters and later in life on three very large SU carburetters. The engine was a German military unit fitted to half-track troop carriers used in the Middle-East during the 1939/45 war. Some of these vehicles found their way to Australia after the war and eventually finished up in scrap yards. Charlie Dean, who built the Maybach Special, acquired three of these engines and they were very rugged, well built and receptive to tuning.
The bore and stroke of this 6-cylinder unit was 90 x 100 mm., giving a capacity of 3.8-litres and on a 6.5 to 1 compression ratio it gave a constant 100 b.h.p. at 3,800 r.p.m. with a peak of 112 b.h.p. The hemispherical combustion chamber and the overhead camshaft which operated the inclined valves through roller followers and rather heavy curved rockers allowed a bit of tuning development, as did the separate inlet and exhaust ports to each cylinder. A later engine used in the Maybach Special was of 4.2-litres.
Dean built a tubular chassis with heavily modified Studebaker i.f.s. and a Lancia rear axle, while a Fiat 525 gearbox was adapted to the Maybach engine. Stan Jones took the car over from Charlie Dean. The full story of the Maybach Special in all its various forms can be found in John Blanden’s book “Historic Racing Cars in Australia”.
G. H. Books
With reference to your VSCC April Silverstone report, it is not quite correct to say that the Prewar Allcomers’ Scratch Race for the Haggar Trophy set a precedent for the VSCC by being a sponsored race, for 18 years ago the first race for the Merrydown Trophy, presented by the Merrydown Wine Co, was held at our April Silverstone meeting, and then was run annually on four occasions until 1966.
The only precedent seems to be the move from Wine into Trousers — both equally essential to our members!
Peter Hull, Secretary, VSCC
Humber Racing History
As you so rightly say in your May issue, imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, and Peugeots 2 o.h.c. design may well be one of the most copied, but I cannot accept without a comment that Burgess’ 1914 copy, in the form of the team of Humbers for the TT of that year, was, as you say, Humber & Co’s “one and only” venture into motor racing.
Humber and Co. had entered for all the Isle of Man TT races prior to 1914, and whereas it is true that the bulk of their entries smacked more of touring practice than of racing, one must, surely, make honourable exception for the two Beeston-Humber o.h.c. entries for the 1908 “Four-Inch” race. For the 1905 TT Humber entries were exactly to catalogue specification; the 1906 Beeston-Humber entry was similar to the catalogued 16/20 but had minor modifications, whereas the 20 h.p. Coventry Humber bore no relation to the catalogued 10/12 h.p. at all — rather was it closer to the 15 h.p. Coventry Humber that was not catalogued until 1907. (An early example, perhaps, of a production car being developed from a “racing” car?) For 1907, both Humber TT cars were entered as 16/20s, though the Beeston-built 16/20 had been dropped from the catalogued models after 1906, while a Coventry-built car of this size had never yet been built. The Beeston TT car was presumably a modified 16/20, but again, engine and chassis dimensions had been altered. The Coventry entry resembled the largest of catalogued Coventry cars, but the engine was considerably enlarged, being of 124 mm. x 121 mm. as against 94 mm. x 112.5 mm.
For 1908, Humbers fielded one Coventry racer, designed by G.W.A. Brown, who also drove it (unsuccessfully) in the race, but the two Beeston-Humber entries were totally different from anything that had previously emanated from either Beeston or Coventry under the Humber label, with single overhead camshaft engines, the camshaft driven by skew gears and vertical shaft, and with their radiators mounted behind the engine in Renault fashion, the engine itself protected by a wiremesh “meatsafe”. With their sketchy bodies, consisting of no more than two seats and a large bolster petrol tank astern of them, and with four massive exhaust pipes merging into an expansion box on the near side of the car, and Humber’s own design of centre-lock wire wheels, their appearance was much more that of the contemporary racing car than that of its touring counterpart. From photographs and drawings in my possession I would attribute much, if not all, of their design to Theodore James Biggs, who, after a varied career in the cycle and motor industries, had joined Humber Ltd. in 1906 at Beeston. Significantly, he went with that other stout supporter of competitive motoring, T.C. Pullinger, from Humber to Arrol-Johnston in Paisley in 1909. Significantly, because Arrol-Johnson then produced a whole series of radiator-behind-engine cars, including those entered for the 1911 Coupe de L’Auto. Although these 1911 Coupe de L’Auto cars were side-valvers, the firm was reported in the motoring press of the time as having an overhead-camshaft design under consideration. Biggs again?
Neither of the o.h.c. TT cars did well, both retiring, but they were appreciably faster than Brown’s Coventry car, “The Manxman”. Three o.h.c. Bceston cars were built, the “prototype” going over to the Island as spare car. The two race entrants were subsequently converted into fast road cars by private individuals, one featuring in The Autocar of December 3rd 1910, the other being portrayed in the issue of April 13th 1912 of the same periodical.
Whether Burgess used Peugeot drawings when laying out the post-war Bentley chassis or not is an interesting point. [See W.B.’s “Correction” on page 790 — Ed.] What is certain is that Bentley Motors had one of the Burgess-designed Humber cars in the works for some time, a fact that has ample corroboration from a number of sources.
In conclusion, I only wish that someone would “come clean” on the details of exactly how Burgess got sight of his Peugeot in order to make a Humber of it, in the same way that your splendid article gave us the details of Coatalen’s “industrial espionage” up in Wolverhampton! Coatalen himself would scarcely have let a rival in on his plans, one would think.
Tenbury Wells, Worcs
Early Euro-American Cars
Dr. Ellam (May 1981 issue) asks who invented the Anglo-American sports hybrid. The answer in the true sense has to be Railton, the first cars with the 4,010 c.c. Essex Terraplane 8 engine (not the famed 254 Hudson, which came later) being on sale in the summer of 1933. The straight-8 Brough Superior came out in May 1935, the Lammas-Graham in September, 1936, and the Jensen was announced a month or so later, though in fact quite-extensively modified sports editions of the Model-40 Ford V8 had been offered by the West Bromwich firm since 1934.
The earlier Euro-Americans — one thinks of things like the straight-eight Audi and the Delaunay-Belleville 8 — were not in any sense sporting, and were a means of getting a straight-8 in the range without a tooling bill calculated to send anxious shareholders up the wall. A case could, however, be made out for the f.w.d. Buccialis, some of which used Continental motors — the legendary Double-Huit 16-cylinder, indeed, was made up from a pair of Continental blocks — but was it a sports car?
In the 1920s, incidentally, there were quite a few specials with sporting connotations based on the Model-T Ford, some of which were produced commercially. How about the Maiflower in Britain, the Montier in France, and the DeWandre and Speedsport in Belgium? The Montier had quite a distinguished competition career in events like the Circuit des Routes Pavees, and Montier was still playing around with Ford V8s as late as 1933-4.
Henry or Verdet?
I was most interested to read your comments on my article on the 1912 Grand Prix Peugeot in Autocar of March 14th. You will already have seen the follow-up story in the April 11th issue of Autocar in which I explain that the drawing was simply a worked up illustration from a rough pencil sketch to make a heading. However I was misled, I think, in believing that the valve operation was desmodromic. My authority for that was Paul Yvelin, the Peugeot executive who had access to all the surviving Peugeot files, for the purpose of writing “Cinquante Ans de Course Automobiles” which is a history of Peugeot competition activities. There is a great deal of new material in this and since he got everything about the dimensions, valve angles and valve drives on the 1912, 1913 and 1914 cars right I assumed that when he referred to the valve gear of the 1912 and 1913 Grand Prix cars — not the Coupe de L’Auto cars please note — as having “commande desmodromique” I believed him rather than the Cresswell drawings in “The Grand Prix Car”. The reason for this was that I knew that these drawings were made thirty years after the event at a time when there were certain Teutonic obstacles to getting at the Peugeot files. However I was satisfied that I could be wrong when I researched further and found reproductions of photographs of the engine which indicated that there was no positive connection between the tappets and the valve stems and therefore desmodromy was impossible. I would agree with you, however, that there is a degree of desmodromy in the tappet in that it is positively pulled back to relieve the valve of inertia loads. To be truly desmodromic however, the tappet would need to be under control of the camshaft through 360 deg. You will also find a scale drawing of what the engine could have looked like, but not necessarily did look like, in Autocar of April 11th. This is lacking in that the inlet and exhaust valves could be much closer thereby reducing the bore overlap.
I was most intrigued to find the mention of Louis Verdet in Yvelin’s book because, to me, the Charlatan legend has always been too much like a fairy tale. Robert Peugeot was too much of a hard-headed business man to pin the hopes of the reformed Peugeot company on a group of men, however gifted, with no tangible design experience. He sent them to Verdet, who had designed some of the most successful Peugeot racers and some outstanding aero engines. We do not know who designed the Peugeot racing engines, Henry’s name has been repeated so frequently that we have come to believe that he was responsible, but the basis for this folklore is pune journalistic conjecture. W.F. Bradley, who was there and in on the act maintained that he was only a draughtsman. The Motor, in their description of the winning engine in 1912, gave the name of the designer as M. Vaselot which could be a misprint for Verdet but not for Henry. Please be sure that I am carrying no special brief for Verdet, but his existence does open up a number of blind alleys in the Henry story and as responsible historians it is up to us to find out more rather than tearing at each other’s hair.
Ted Eves, Editorial Consultant, Autocar
[In saying that “W.F. Bradley,” who was an on the act, maintained that he (Henry) was only a “draughtsman” Mr. Eves was telling us only half a story. In his hook on the Targa Florio race, Mr. Bradley refers to Ernest Henry as the “Swiss Engineer” and in the Autocar after the war he makes much of Henry being the great engineer responsible for the all-conquering Peugeot racing cars of 1912 to 1914. Bradley was a delightful motoring journalist but as an historian I have found him to be unreliable.
Robert Peugeot may have been hard-headed but he wasn’t in trusting the entire output of Peugeot to the so called “Charlatons”, only his racing car reputation. And, didn’t Paul Zuccarelli have designing abilities?
I agree whole-heartedly that “as responsible historians it is up to us to find out more” but is it responsible to quote W.F. Bradley out of context? An engineer can be a draughtsman, but a draughtsman is not necessarily an engineer. But at least we have laid the desmodromic red herring! As for misprints, I have suffered from them in my time and still do, and I agree “Vaselot” for “Verdet”, is not impossible. Curious, though, that Motor never enlarged on this information, nor imparted it to Laurence Pomeroy. Now we shall have to wait to see what Griffith Borgeson uncovers. — Ed.]
As anyone interested in the Land’s End Trial must be a reader of Motor Sport, may we use your columns to thank those marshals and spectators who lifted the Vauxhall off us so swiftly after our contretemps at Bluehills Mine. Damage to all concerned was very much less than it might have been and the old girl brought us home at her usual rousing pace.
Brian and Carl Gray, Ted Roberts
Your article on Stafford East’s three GNs was most interesting, as the history of cars of this age is now becoming difficult to authenticate.
As you know, Basil Davenport modelled the body of Spider on Kim, so that they have a passing resemblance, although Spider was developed to a very high state of tune and became a most successful sprint car, winning at least 114 firsts between 1924 and 1931, thus just beating Kim’s 112. I have checked the 114 from Basil Davenport’s collection of results and press cuttings, which are very thorough up to 1927, but less so beyond then, so there may be other successes which by that time Basil could not be bothered to record.
Mention of the Indian rope trick with the clutch brings to mind the story told by Ralph Wilde of taking Basil Davenport up Shelsley in Ralph’s Vitesse GN. Halfway up the hill the clutch started to slip so Ralph went to put his foot behind the clutch pedal to pull upwards and assist the clutch spring. Basil’s foot was already there! If Basil thought the clutch spring not strong enough, he would tie several lengths of elastic to the clutch pedal and bring them out through a hole in the body side and tie a spanner on the end to hold them tight.
The Akela GNs are fascinating vehicles, and although the parts are there to be able to reconstruct five cars, the number considered to be the total production, all the cars were butchered unmercifully in their middle age and used as the basis for cheap specials. It is only in their old age that they are being converted back into their original form.
Stafford East’s car is ex-Ivy Cummins, chassis No. 3094 or 3096, always considered as the spare car for the 1922 200-mile race and sold to Ivy Cummins afterwards. She converted it to a single seater and used it extensively in sprints, letting G.M. Le Champion drive it on occasions. She sold it to Lance Mucklow (ELF not ERF as in your report) in late 1925 and he used it most successfully until 1929 when he sold it to W.H. Hylton. Lance Mucklow’s brother was Professor Graham Mucklow of Birrningham University and he was responsible for many tuning improvements on this car as well as Basil Davenport’s Spider. Mucklow kept his engine the original 84 x 98 (1,087 c.c.) in order to ensure winning the 1,100 c.c. class as Spider was gaining the honours from 1,500 c.c. upwards. After Hylton the car was raced by Prestwich in 1933 and then its movements are uncertain until Basil Davenport acquired it from J.W. Ecroyd in the early 50s. To the best of my knowledge this car was never registered.
You mention H.B. Showell as an Akela owner. He had my car, chassis No. 3093, which was the Godfrey car which finished 3rd in the 1922 200-mile race. Godfrey sold it to Nigel Asprey in 1926 who registered it PE 9074 (originally it was IT 354 which has now been restored to it) and raced it with his brother K.M. Asprey at various sprints and hillclimbs. Asprey sold the car to Donald Bird of the custard family, who used the car in 1928 and I think enlarged the engine from its original 84 x 98 to 89 x 120 (1,493 c.c.).
In 1929 Bird sold the car to Hugh Showell, who threw away the two-seater body, as by then it was rather tatty and made it into a single-seater. He had the spectacular accident at Shelsley in September 1929 when he left the road at the S bend, knocked down a photographer, breaking his leg, and finishing in the bushes below the road. It was then rebuilt with a large supercharger and chain-driven cams into a very spartan single-seater, but I have no record of it having ever finished an event in this form. In 1931, Showell dismantled the car when he returned to his father’s Norfolk farm and eventually gave the pieces to Basil Davenport after the war.
I helped Basil to rebuild the car to its 200-mile race form, though still with 1,493 c.c. engine, and he and I raced it in the 60s until we stripped the cam drive gears. When rebuilt we put the plungers of the oil pumps below the floor level, and not above as can be seen on Stafford’s car, as Basil felt that they would not have submitted the passengering mechanic to such a potential personal hazard in the event of an accident.
I bought the car from Basil three years ago and am now rebuilding it again, bringing the engine back to its original 84 x 98 form. One interesting point is that the chassis frame is stamped 3090A, despite the log book quoting 3093.
Bill Craddock has the Pickett car, chassis No. 3092, and this was also made into a blown single-seater when raced by K.M G. Anderson in 1932. Anderson sold it to Nigel Orlebar who sold the engine to Craddock who recreated the 200-mile race car. This car is registered XL 6458, and is probably the one raced by A.P. Dempster at Brooklands.
Bill Craddock also owns the T drive engine used by Nash in his race winning 1921 car, registered IT 327— the number Stafford now has on Kim and a number Nash used on several cars over the years. This is engine No. 309.
The fifth Akela is the one originally sold to Capt. Trubie Moore in 1923, registered U7884, chassis No. not known for certain but could be 3095, and used by Moore in several north country events. It was raced by H. R. Humphreys in 1927 and L. Cole in 1928 before being bought by Jack Moor who made it the basis for Wasp. Jack, also known as “Moses”, altered the bore and stroke and used Norton barrels I believe to achieve a capacity just over 1,500 c.c. so that he could compete in the 2-litre class. At that time Geoff Sharp had GNAT in the 1,000 c.c. class, Basil Davenport had Spider in the 1,500 c.c., so Jack had to go up a class to enable Wasp to win anything. This car disappeared after the war, but a GN chassis with Morgan front suspension and an Akela engine was found in Hertford a few years ago and we like to think this engine is the ex-Wasp one.
If we all live long enough, one day we may see the original team plus the two extra cars in being again.
* * *
I think it only right that you should know that I have had several letters regarding the GN article, all of them complimentary to you, so why they came to me I don’t know. It appears that the real enthusiast still enjoys reading about real motor cars and cyclecars. Thank you for being so kind about me.
Chesham Bois, Bucks,
E.A. Stafford East