From the archives -- Leon Duray

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That Man Again!

Last month’s piece, “Writing Bugatti History”, told of how, in 1929, Leon Duray took two FWD Miller 91s to Europe and did a deal on them with Ettore Bugatti. As I said, he is not to be confused with the Belgian racing driver Arthur Duray, who was born in New York and later took on French nationality, and who drove Gobron-Brillés at LSR pace from 1903 and was still racing touring-cars for Voisin, Excelsior, Aries and Amilcar in the 1920s.

Leon Duray was much more in the American mould: his real name was George Stewart. American speed claims were not always believed on this side of the Atlantic, but Duray’s bravery was never in doubt and his 1927 Culver City speed of 124.7 mph for 250 miles and his absolute closed-circuit record of 148.17 mph at the Packard test track in 1928 were legends in the USA. Duray’s mechanic, Dick Doyle, was said to have made a tyre change in eight seconds during the former run.

Duray was very much the showman, dressing all in black when driving the glossy black Miller 91 he had bought from Harry Miller for 15,000 dollars for the 1927 racing season and calling himself The Black Devil. Legend has it that he rigged up an artificial supercharging gimmick to intimidate his rivals but still beat them after they demanded the removal of what they really thought was forced induction. On his European visit in 1929 he sailed over with three Packard Cable Millers, a 1926 reardrive, and 1928 and 1929 FWD cars. It seems that he went to Arpajon to try the rear wheel-drive Miller over this narrow road-course, after the 1-1/2-litre class ss kilo record, perhaps in a speed-trial meeting, then on to the near-by steeply-banked Montlhèry Track with one of the FWD Packard Cable Specials, where he broke several records at speeds of up to 139 mph.

Duray had also shipped over one of the new revolutionary FWD Cords, so this excursion to Europe had an overtone of Cord advertising, showing cars which were pulled instead of being pushed along in a favourable light. Indeed, Miller had helped design the L29 Cord and Duray had close associations with it, so the connection between promoting this new American production car in Europe and racing FWD Millers is obvious.

From France Duray went to Italy, to race in the Monza GP, run by Commandatore Florio, who was newly in control of the famous circuit. The race, with the real Italian GP temporarily in abeyance, consisted of three 62-mile heats, respectively for cars of 1-1/2, 3 and over 3-litres, the three fastest cars in each heat to run in the 62-mile Final. The course was Monza’s inner ring, calling for some braking and gear-changing. Duray must have thought his chances good, the course somewhat like the American tracks and the FWD Millers good on the four curves. In practice he was much faster than the other 1-1/2-litre cars. Moreover, Duray was America’s fastest track driver, l’Asso Americano in WF Bradley’s opinion. However, his Packard Cable Miller retired, leaving Arcangeli’s aged Talbot and Nuvolari’s sister Talbot second, Ruggeri’s Maserati third, in the first heat.

Drama now entered into things, if WF Bradley is to be believed. Duray came out for the over-1-1/2-litre-to-3-litre heat, with the other FWD Miller. According to Bradley, the other drivers are said to have protested that he couldn’t run, because his engine was of only 1-1/2-litres. Duray then apparently announced that his engine had been bored-out to 1505cc. Some of the other drivers were sceptical and demanded that the engine be stripped and measured. To this Duray agreed, if the engines of all the Italian cars be likewise measured! Bradley says that Duray pointed out that he could have his engine stripped down in two hours, whereas some of the Italian engines would need two days for such dismantling and reassembly. The protest then evaporated! True or not, the anecdote is typical of what might have been expected of Duray.

It was all an unnecessary alarm, because this second Packard Cable Special also expired, leaving Brilli Peri to win in an Alfa Romeo, from Borzacchini (Maserati) and Varzi (Alfa Romeo). To complete the story, the over 3-litres heat was an unexpectedly very close finish, with a supercharged Mercedes-Benz just vanquishing Maserati’s 4-litre 16-cylinder Maserati, and the final was won by Varzi’s P2 Alfa Romeo, at 117 mph, from Nuvolari’s Talbot, an unusual make for the maestro to drive, and Momberger’s 38/250hp Mercedes-Benz.

Retired the Packard Cables had, but according to WF Bradley, Ettore Bugatti was waiting nevertheless to do the famous deal with Duray as he came in during the second heat of that Monza race — I wonder whether the appearance of the impressive and advanced Cord, a car which might well have appealed to him, had turned Ettore’s to FWD? — WB

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