From the archives with... Doug Nye

Sydney's opera horse
Problems with a 4wd Ferguson trigger memories of bygone engineering complexity

Late on the Saturday night at Goodwood’s ‘72’ meeting, I was walking through the paddock when I happened upon a perplexed little group huddled over the fabulous four-wheel-drive Ferguson P99. Owner/driver Stuart Rolt explained that its Climax engine had subsided into silence on his first practice lap, and his little team had been struggling to revive it ever since. They had some signs of a spark – if a weak one – and they had fuel, but the one proved obstinately disinclined to ignite the other. The wonderful old Fergie – the last front-engined Formula 1 car ever to win a front-line motor race – was in deep trouble. Next day it got worse, as the revived old lady sheared a halfshaft – and three-wheel-drive is not ideal...

Now it’s odd how one’s mind works – at least, yours truly’s – but thinking about 4WD cars in trouble in Sussex paddocks revived a buried memory of Brighton Speed Trials, from the same September day on which Aston Martin clinched its Sports Car World Championship title by winning the Goodwood TT (despite having burned down its pit). It concerns Syd Allard’s amazing twin-engined, four-wheel-drive sprint special.

Back in 1946, Allard had lost faith in his sprint special’s flat-head Ford V8 engine. He was attracted instead to a German ex-Wehrmacht air-cooled Steyr V8. It gave about 90 horsepower, which was more than the humble Ford V8 while also being 100lbs lighter. Its air-cooling would also save the extra weight and complication of a fluid-filled cooling system. He acquired four of the engines plus a spare crankcase and assorted spares.

The Steyr 60-degree V8 comprised a cast-iron crankcase with individual finned cylinder barrels, each bank supporting a light-alloy head with two pushrod-operated overhead valves per pot. Ignition was by a Scintilla Vertex magneto and induction via eight individual Amal carburettors.

Right through the 1950s, Allard ran the engines very successfully in his single-seat sprint and hill climb car. He enlarged the capacity progressively to 3.7 litres and pumped up output from 90bhp at 3600rpm to 180-plus at 5000. He was a fan of four-wheel drive and for 1959 installed two of his surviving Steyr V8s side by side in a (by Allard standards) lightweight chassis frame in butt-welded 14-gauge mild steel – actually from Allard Clipper three-wheeler frame stock. The engines were assembled upon dry-sump oil pans only two inches deep, which dropped their mass well down within the car. Near-solid front suspension was by transverse leafspring and double wishbones, with a Ford commercial forward differential unit mounted on the centreline and carrying a single Girling disc brake crosswise just behind.

There was no effective rear suspension, just an Allard diff unit bolted to the chassis frame with 12-inch diameter 1¾in-wide drum brakes upon its cheeks. Each outboard chassis member then carried a fabricated housing to accommodate fully floating hubs located laterally by a de Dion tube. Intrepid Syd was to sit just ahead and to the right of this rear diff, with a three-gallon fuel tank to his left, pressurised by a driver operated hand pump.

Ahead of the driver, each Steyr V8 engine drove through a Ford V8 three-speed gearbox. The right-hand unit’s first gear ratio matched that of second in the left-hand ’box. Each unit drove a short shaft into a case housing a series of sprockets. Final drive was then by chain to power the front and rear propshafts that were divided by a free-wheel device, allowing rear-wheel drive to over-ride that to the front.

Gearchanging involved two Ford Consul column levers mounted vertically, side-by-side, to the driver’s left. Off the line Syd would select first in both gearboxes, then as soon as possible change the left-hand ’box into second – matching bottom gear ratio in the right-hand ’box. Eight sprockets were mounted on the centreline propshaft, driven by four chains from each engine. Minimising the time each engine would be driving a different ratio to its sister, Allard’s next upchange sequence would be from second to top in the left-hand gearbox, then first to second in the right-hand ’box. Running a 2.8:1 top gear ratio, plus 6.00x16 front tyres and 7.00x16 rears, he calculated top speed at 5500rpm as 165mph…

This complex assembly stood only 30in tall, and open-wheel bodywork was envisaged, but I think not made. Allard also talked about acquiring a set of new American ‘slicker’ drag-racing tyres for this latest projectile.

His firm friend and long-time associate Tom Lush recalled, “It was taken to Silverstone on two occasions, but although making extremely rapid getaways it would not keep running and failed to produce even one complete lap!” He believed no attempt was made to start and run it at the Brighton Speed Trials, but there are accounts of it being towed vigorously on the A23 yet steadfastly refusing to light up.

Ultimately this costly and time-consuming project was abandoned, and it was left to Harry Ferguson Research to do the job properly – a few months later – as frontier-technology high-tech replaced austerity-era make-do and mend.

Clash of the teutons
How a duel between Mercedes drivers ended badly, although neither party was to blame

Watching the long-tail le mans cars hurtling around Goodwood, under escort by the Cottingham boys in their pair of wonderfully frenzied Ferrari F40 course cars was a great reminder of how enjoyable many of that era’s championship races really were.

Recalling that period with Jochen Mass raised the image of a huge wall of solid water being hurled into the Brands Hatch sky as his black Sauber-Mercedes careened into the rain-filled tyre barrier on the exit of Clearways in the early laps of the 1988 1000Kms.

Jochen said: “You can see it all as it happened on YouTube today. I was in second place, chasing Klaus Ludwig in the leading Porsche 962, with my Mercedes team-mate Mauro Baldi right on my tail. We came down into that last turn with a little C2-class Tiga up ahead. It moved left, Ludwig dived through on the inside and I was set up to follow when I think the C2 got a wheel on the grass and half-spun back into me. Its nose tucked under my left rear wheel, which spun me left-handed and fired me straight off into those tyres. It was a hell of an impact. We ended up back in the middle of the track, with bits everywhere, clouds of steam and smoke, the water from those tyres showering back down from the sky. A disaster, but at least nobody got hurt apart from my feelings…

“When I got back to the pits Peter Sauber thought I’d just written off his car through driving too hard to hold off Baldi. He had no idea I’d been hit by the guy I was trying to lap [American Steve Hynes]. His first words were, ‘Zo – did you think it entirely necessary to destroy my car like that?’ And it was a long time before he saw the video and realised it really hadn’t been my fault.”

Then the genial German laughed and added: “Mauro was a good guy and a good driver too, but as a good German I wasn’t about to be scared of any Italian.”

Tell it like it was, mate, tell it like it was…

Well done, faithful servant
How a treasured Sunbeam was given a fresh lease of life, thanks to 2000 man hours and wonderful dedication

It was twenty years ago that the National Motor Museum’s ex-Sir Malcolm Campbell 350hp Sunbeam was being warmed up, when as chief engineer Doug Hill recalls, “There was a brief clatter, and it just stopped.”

A rod and piston had punched a rectangular slot through the ancient crankcase. Happily, the four three-cylinder blocks escaped damage, but it still took some 2000 man hours to revive the 350hp just this spring, thanks to Doug’s and senior mechanic Ian Stanfield’s NMM team, with wonderful support from the Sunbeam Enthusiasts’ Club and volunteers.

The big Sunbeam is a one-off. Breton chief engineer Louis Coatalen built it to win Brooklands races and set new speed records. Upon its launch, Sunbeam emphasised that its 60-degree V12 was not merely a surplus aero engine, but tailor-made.

In fact the unit is a unique hybrid combining features of both Sunbeam’s 60-degree Manitou and 90-degree Arab V12s. Its cylinders are arranged with two alloy blocks in tandem on each bank, with sohc per bank driven by 16 gears from the crankshaft nose. To minimise length, Coatalen used an articulated con-rod system in which one ran on the crankshaft journal while its opposite partner ran in a journal on the master rod. This gave one cylinder bank a longer stroke than the other, 135mm against 142mm, displacing 18,322cc. Balance was ‘challenging’.

In 1921 at Brooklands, Jean Chassagne scored the big car’s first race win, and Kenelm Lee Guinness began setting records with it, including in 1922 the World Land Speed Record, at 133.75mph. Captain Campbell first drove it that year, then in 1925 raised the WLSR to 146.16mph, at Pendine. Back on the Welsh beach he and the 350hp Sunbeam later pushed the WLSR above 150mph for the first time – at 150.76mph – and in 1926 to 152-plus.

Campbell finally sold the big car to enthusiast Ralph Aspden, who ran it on the road occasionally. As late as 1936, ERA-driving band leader Billy Cotton clocked 121.5mph in it on Southport Sands. In wartime it was rescued by Harold Pratley, who eventually sold it to Lord Montagu in 1958.

Its big bang is attributed to old, jellied Castrol R having solidified in the oil galleries. A modern solvent had been recommended to flush out the system, but evidently the 1990s lubricant chemists hadn’t quite reckoned with the stickability of smelly old vegetable-based R. A glob blocking the crank’s internal oil gallery caused No5 main bearing to run dry, and seize – whereupon the old rod cried enough, its long job supremely well done…