Forgotten slice of history

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Soon after the Bugatti OC was formed in 1929 I was signed up as a voluntary contributor for its magazine Bugantics. This gave me some wonderful rides with committee members such as Col GM Giles and his brother Eric, in Type 57 and 57 SC cars, about the fastest on the road, and lunches at rally rendezvous like the Lygon Arms at Broadway and the Welcome Hotel at Stratford-upon-Avon. It also introduced me to other BOC officials, of whom Mr J D Aylward, who had a Type 40 Bugatti, took me on some of his Sunday drives, one to Derby to see the then derelict 1913 Bugatti ‘Black Bess’, which Col Giles bought and meticulously restored.

Mr Aylward’s cars were serviced by a Mr Lambert, who built the Lambert Special. Does anyone remember it? Probably not. But I do, as in 1933 I committed a youthful gaffe in mis-recognising the make of its engine. Lambert had found what he thought was a Sunbeam racing engine, a four-cylinder 3-litre with a single overhead camshaft and four valves per cylinder. But I told him it could not be a racing engine because Sunbeam had twin cams for its multi-valve units.

Some years afterwards I discovered that Type OV Sunbeam engines had been introduced in 1922 for those who wished to ginger-up the pushrod 16/40 or 24/60hp devices. These single-oh-camshaft units, in 3-litre four-cylinder and 4.5-litre six-cylinder forms, had multi-valves operated by Y-shaped rockers. But OV power units were not for racing, so I was partially right!

Very few of these were made, so perhaps the one Lambert found in the mid-1920s had never been installed in a car. I wonder whether Coatalen had designed these OV power units in answer to the ohc 3-litre Bentley until his splendid twin-cam 3-litre sportscar was ready in 1924?

The Lambert Special was first registered in April 1926. The chassis was said to have been once owned by the Vici Carburettor Co which was contemplating engine production and required a test car. It incorporated French M&B parts and the side members were of M-section. The back axle was underslung, with front and rear suspension interconnected, the separate gearbox had a right-hand lever, and the steering tie-rod was ahead of the front axle.

Lambert put a narrow four-seater aluminium body and a specially made radiator on it, and the minor controls on the steering wheel came from the 1924 200-Mile-Race Alvis which Dunlop used for tyre testing. The spring steering wheel, Brooklands-type silencer with fishtail and the wheel discs I took to be later additions.

At first, Lambert said, the plugs oiled up, which was cured with new valve guides. The car was undergeared but would do some 75-80mph. I had encountered a slice of almost forgotten Sunbeam history. In 1990, Bill Morris, the ERA driver, imported a Sunbeam tourer from Australia which had a 3-litre OV engine and held a viewing party for what might well have been the only surviving example. Anthony Heal, the well-known Sunbeam historian, arrived to see this in his twin-cam 3-litre. It is good to know that Stuart Harper, the spectacularly fast Morgan three-wheeler racer, has it now and is restoring it.

When war broke out Lambert left the Hampstead Reboring Company and formed a partnership with H L Benn, whose 1924 Austin 7 Special had climbed Prescott in 62.8sec. They moved to North Wales.

Long after the war had ended I wondered whether they were still there. The first pedestrian we asked knew the names and directed us to the town stores, where its manager recalled the noisy Bugatti they had when they were practising at nearby Tyn-Y-Coed, but could tell me no more. It is just possible that the Lambert Special or its historic engine lie hidden somewhere in the remote wilds of Wales.