Wheel deal at Le Mans

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Keith Howard’s Technofile series is most interesting and informative. It is correct that, by 1913, detachable wire wheels were universal in grands prix, and were in general use before that, although in 1913 Fiat and Sunbeam preferred artillery wheels. But remember that when SF Edge wanted to run Napiers with Rudge quickly-detachable wheels in the 1908 GP, the AC de France would not allow them, presumably on the grounds that they would give an unfair advantage at the many wheel-changes the 477-mile Dieppe race might impose.

This raised the old cry that the French were unsporting and framed rules to suit their own cars. Fuelled as ever by Edge, the motor papers were full of letters for and against, although it was unlikely Edge could have readied his cars in time for the race. The Rudge Whitworth wheel was introduced in France by Emile Coquille, and when the renowned motoring writer Charles Faroux and George Durand suggested that a race through the night would be a good test of touring cars, he offered the AC de Palest 100,000 francs to run such a contest. Thus was born the famous Le Mans 24 Hours. Although it was natural to regard the winner as the driver and car covering the greatest distance, the intention had been a two-year high-speed qualifying trial, those overcoming that test to compete for the Rudge Whitworth Triennial Cup in the third year.

The Triennial prize had been altered in 1925 to a twoyearly Cup. Chris Draper, author of the fascinating little book The Salrnson Story, is therefore justified in thinking it was not Bentley but Salmson that won Le Mans in 1927, Benjafield and Davis simply being awarded the ACO Cup for greatest distance but not the outright award. Were Rudge Whitworth wheels insisted on for these victories?

Anyway, it was nice to read of the Rudge wheel, the eared hub-nuts for which are the symbol of a good sports or racing car. Keith wonders why such wheels are not still used. I suppose the high machining costs might be a factor, and possibly the wear on the splines. I remember hearing how askance Forrest Lycett was after his 1914 Alfonso Hispano-Suiza punctured at a pre-war VS CC Litdestone speed trial. Scores of rusty razor blades fell out when the offending wheel was removed, having been used to disguise stripped splines — after which he gave me the car.

On wheels in general, to thread a heavy wheel onto its studs is a chore. I have often wondered why the clever A7 system was never copied, of bigger holes to receive the studs, easing the task, after which the wheel is flicked into position and the nuts fitted and tightened. Does an Austin patent guard this simple solution?