Veteran - Classic

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The 2-litre Marlborough Grand Sport

The 2-litre Marlborough Grand Sport was an interesting car that never really happened. By which I mean that good intentions went unrewarded and it seems likely that only one was built The man behind it was T. B Andre, well-known for his friction shock-absorbers which were essential equipment tor almost all test cars of the 1920s. He had a definite interest in motor racing, indeed, was the donor of the fine Andre Gold Cup tor the winner of the ambitious JCC 200 Mile Race for cars of up to 1.500 cc, at Brooklands.

For many years Andre had been the British concessionaire for the Marlborough. a series of not particularly distinguished French small cars made by Mallicet et Blin, at Aubervilliers on the Seine. MAB were suppliers of components to the French automobile industry, but made a single-cylinder car of their own in 1906 and this was followed by large cars, for which T. B. Andre, from his premises in London. took on the agency from 1909. The cyclecar boom of 1912 overcame MAB, who abandoned their big cars for a series of small ones, using various engines, including British Anzani and CIME power-units. It was with these that Andre entered for the 1921 200 Mile Race, failing to start, but in which two others driven by W. L Harris and G R Martin finished the course. Sir Francis Samuelson, Bt had gained his motor-racing baptism with a Marlborough in the 1913 Amiens Cyclecar GP Lady Samuelson going as his mechanic as part of her honeymoon, and, Andre raced his Marlboroughs in Brooklands handicap races after the war.

For the 1923 200 Mile Race J. G. Parry Thomas had two Marlborough-Thomas cars, using MAB components for the chassis but his own advanced ohc engine. No doubt when he had wanted a small car to use as well as his very successful big Leyland-Thomas he had found it expedient to make use of Marlborough components perhaps with the connivance of Andre, who now had premises at Brooklands, in the one-time Handysyde hangars, not far from Thomas own works. Be that as it may, Andre clearly hoped there might be a commercial future for these Marlborough-Thomas cars and at the Olympia Show of 1923 he exhibited one, turned from racing car into a low-hung barrel-section, two-seater sports-car by the addition of flared mudguards. With an overhead camshaft 1,493 cc engine of Thomas design, with his clever valve-gear using two eccentrics to drive the camshaft and leaf valve springs, and torsion-bar suspension, this was an exciting offering. But the unusual appearance and a price of £675 seem to have been against it. In 1924 Andre raced a Marlborough Anzani single-seater. “The Submarine”, driven by F A Longman and Tommy Hann. Its nickname derived from the high-sided steamlined body.

That was the background against which they tried to launch the 2-litre Marlborough Grand Sport. Tommy Hann (see MOTOR SPORT March 1980 and September 1981) had been appointed manager of Andre’s Brooklands’ shock-absorber fitting depot and tuning sheds and himself raced two curious Hann Specials, based on pre-1914 Deluge and Lanchester chassis. I am confident that it was Hann’s rather than Parry Thomas influence that directed Andre in the Grand Sport venture. The idea was to use Marlborough chassis components, with the unusual inverted-U-shaped side-members, and a six-cylinder Coventry-Climax engine. Much play was made of it being the only car to be built in entirety at Brooklands, which was no doubt correct in the context of production cars. although ABC once had a depot there. It was also said that this would facilitate development and testing, and that a speed of 75 mph would be part of the guarantee, (In 1922 a speed of 60 mph was guaranteed for the little Anzani-powered Roadspeed Marlborough).

It was late in 1924 before a bare chassis of the new two-litre Marlborough was built up, and this was all that T B Andre & Co Ltd, of 5 Dering Street, London. W1 could exhibit an Stand No 217 at the 1924 Olympia Show It was apparent that the specification embraced a 65 x 100 mm (1,991 cc) six-cylinder engine with pushrod overhead valves. Coventry-Climax had introduced an overhead-camshaft version of this engine, with the camshaft prodding directly on the valves, a year earlier, but this was apparently too late, or perhaps too expensive, to be used for the new Marlborough. The RAC hp rating was 15,7, the crankshaft ran in four white metal bearings and had a Lanchester-type vibration damper at the front cooling was by pump, the sump was ribbed, and ignition was by magneto, driven from helical gears at the front of the crankshaft, and positioned transversely, its distributor facing the offside and the ht leads being taken into a conduit along the nearside of the engine. The same gears drove water pump and dynamo, situated along the nearside of the cylinder block behind the front engine bearer the name Marlborough was in large letters along the block. Lubrication was by trough and dippers, fed by a submerged pump.

In unit with the engine there was a four-speed-and-reverse gearbox with rh lever, with ball-bearing shafts and nickel-chrome gears. The propshaft used Hardy-Spicer and sliding-Joint universals, the clutch being of single-plate type Marlborough, or rather Andre, was particularly proud of the front axle, the forging being especially strong to resist brake torque and hardened steel being used for the pivotpins, which worked in phosphor-bronze bushes. The hubs ran on two annular ball-races and the nickel-steel slub-axles were detachable.

This was a time when front-wheel brakes were as much in the news as is 4WD and antilock braking today and on this Marlborough Grand Sport these were of complicated pattern, with an odd rack-and-pinion operation, no doubt designed to obviate the inner wheel being retarded inadvertently on full steering lock. Suspension was by half-elliptic springs and the wire wheels were retained each by lour studs, with the centres fitting over the brake drums in Unic fashion. Steering was by irreversible worm-and-sector in a cast-steel casing with adjustable ball thrust bearings and the steering-joints were of hardened steel case hardened and ground. The back axle had spiral-bevel gears of special steel, case hardened arid ground with bevel differential gears, in a two-piece steel casing. There was a 10-gallon petrol tank, supplying a Zenith carburetter.

Thus the intended two-litre Marlborough of 1924 It had a wheelbase of 9 ft. a 4 ft 2 in track and ran on 765 x 105 beaded-edge tyres. A handsome radiator was set well back behind the front axle, necessitating an extended starting handle, and inclined, and the long bonnet was in two sections, with a top panel extending over the scuttle, as on the HE. By the time of the Show the lone chassis had been registered MS 1325. This was a Stirlingshire registration, but whether it had been specially obtained to indicate “Marlborough Sport” or was a fake for the Show, I know not. The car was modestly priced at £400 for the chassis and the intention was to offer a two-seater for £500. It all sounded promising but nothing more was heard of the venture and had a reader not sent me a photograph of a Marlborough Grand Sport on the road I would have assumed that only the one chassis was made. This one was photographed at Beaminsler Dorset, where the Hann brothers had a garage, so Presumably it was the only complete car of its kind, unless anyone out there knows better? – W.B.