Vintage postbag, June 1983

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Valves in veterans 

Sir,

I was most interested to read Kent Karslake’s letter in your February issue apropos the disposition of the valves in the 1902 Renault Paris-Vienna cars and the ensuing Model K touring car. It all started when K.K., who I respect as one of the most able motoring historians writing in the English language, wrote and questioned whether I was right in suggesting, in Autocar, that the Paris-Vienna cars had side-valves, that is side-by-side valves, because if so this would make it the first car to race with this valve arrangement. At the time I was able to point out to him something he had not spotted, namely the discrepancy between the appendix and the text in Rose’s “Record of Motor Racing” where he records, “In the case of the winning Renault, the engine was of 16-24 h.p., 100 mm. bore and 120 mm. stroke cylinders, cast in pairs, mechanically operated inlet valves. . . .”

Hugh Rose was an engineer, a very observant one, and he would have recognised the Renault valve arrangement at once. Add to this the story I was once told that Rose did not compile the appendix of his book, relying on manufacturers for the data, and you have further evidence to help along Karslake’s supposition — I don’t think he would want it to be more than that, despite Bill Boddy’s remarks in your April issue — that the Paris-Vienna cars could have had mechanically-operated inlet valves.

My experience with the Renault Press Office was the same as your own, namely that the only photograph they had of the Paris-Vienna car, which now resides in their Pub Museum in the Champs Élysées, was of the exterior. In these circumstances the only solution is to go and see for oneself, which I duly did. I can report that the engine has atmospheric inlet valves and appears to be contemporary with the chassis. Furthermore, through the good offices of the Renault Press department, who tend to be overworked rather than unhelpful, I was able to make the acquaintance of the estimable M. Gilbert Hatry who heads a newly-formed Renault historical section at Boulogne-Billancourt. He was good enough to show me a copy of the deposition made by Renault Frères to the French Bureau des Mines for the Paris-Vienna cars. This document, a legal requirement at the time for any new French model, gives a technical description of the hardware and includes external drawings of the engine. These show it as having atmospheric inlet valves. 

But I still wanted to see a contemporary photograph of the engine. A search through a vast archive in the Renault cellars failed to produce one, nor did personal visits to the historical section of the Automobile Club de France and a day-long search through the files of the Agence Violet. This missing picture is the evidence we need. If it is forthcoming, and publication of this letter might just cause this to happen, we shall know whether or not a Renault was the first car to win a major race — the ACF count the Paris-Vienna as their 1902 Grand Prix — with admission controlled by mechanically operated inlet valves. It was almost certainly the first car to achieve this feat with internal expanding brakes.

Edward Eves
Long Itchington 

* * * 

Historic Aston Martin 

Sir, 

On page 264 of your March issue you show a front view of a Mk. II 1½-litre Aston Martin. 

BMW 399 was not just another Mk. II, it was the first Mk. II we made and had quite an interesting subsequent history. 

I well remember taking it on its first “running in” journey to the North and after it was properly loosened up it became a demonstration and test car.

Subsequently it was taken over by Bertelli and became known in the works as “the Blue Car”. Various things were tried out on it including the original 2-litre engine, with valves the same side as the 1½-litre’s. I suppose it was then getting about 95 b.h.p. and was a very fast car. It could certainly keep up with my 4/4-litre Bentley as Bertelli and I proved several times. 

Dick Anthony of Winter Garden Garages was so impressed he persuaded us to fit a similar engine in his competition Mk. II with which he did very well. 

I wonder where BME 399 is now?

R. G. Sutherland 
Berwick-upon-Tweed 

* * * 

It was a Buckingham 

Sir, 

I can confirm that the photograph shown on page 394 of the April Motor Sport is definitely a Buckingham and I can tell you of its fate. 

My late uncle, Frank Searle, who farmed with my grandfather in Windlesham for many years, acquired this car in 1926 / ’27 as a non-runner and despite his efforts he was unable to get it to run properly. It was pushed into the rick yard where it stood for two years. One day, in joking manner, he told me, a mere 13-year-old, that if I could get it to run I could have it. After much persuasion, my father, who at the time had a garage in Bagshot, agreed that he would look at the car and he did succeed in getting it to run reasonably well, without resorting to a major overhaul. For some four weeks I drove it around the fields of the farm, but on trying to drive it over a bank the chassis broke and once again it was pushed into the rick yard, where it remained until it was broken up shortly before World War 2.

It was powered by what I considered to be a massive twin-cylinder engine, and the starting handle was located in front of the rear offside wheel. The only satisfactory way of starting it was to bring it up to compression, switch on, and give the handle a smart snatch up. Swinging was highly dangerous and to be avoided at all times.

Roy Grove 
Sunningdale 

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