GREAT RACING MARQUES ROLLAND-P1LAIN.
By E. K. H. KA RSLAKE.
THOUGH many Rolland-Pilains are not perhaps seen in England, it is well known in France as a make of car which, while not having a very large production, makes an especial appeal to connoiseurs of motoring, which is still typical of some of the older French makes. The Rolland-Pilain has not had a succession of victories such as has fallen to the big European racing firms ; but the story of its activities is typical of the way in which a firm of this type has learnt to attain excellence in its standard productions in the hard school of racing.
In 1908 the Grand Prix des Voiturettes was held at Dieppe and run in conjunction with the French Grand Prix. The rules for the race limited the bore of the cylinders to 100 rams for single, 78 mms. for two, and 62 rnms for four-cylinder engines. At that time these regulations placed the small four in a state of considerable inferiority, as it was not then considered practical politics to build an engine with cylinder bores of less than about 75 mms., owing to the frictional resistance experienced with a very small bore. In spite of this, however, Kg. Rolland and. Pilain were already certain of the ultimate future of the small four, and so decided to build their cars for the race with this number of cylinders. As, however, these little engines were capable of some 2,000 r.p.m., everyone was convinced that the limit of engine speed had been reached ; and RollandPilain decided to seek for extra power by employing the highest stroke-bore ratio in the race. Their engines, therefore, had a bore and stroke of 62 x 115 mms. (1,390 c.c.), and, as an advanced feature, high tension magnetos. Transmission was by a cone clutch, a fourspeed gearbox with direct drive on third, and a propellor shaft.
Three cars were entered for the race, and were driven by M. Pilain himself, Mamier and Simon. It was soon seen that in the matter of speed none of the multicylinder engines could live with the singles, but Pilain himself finished, his car being one of the very few small fours which did so, while Marnier and Simon were still running when the race was called off.
For the next three years, Rolland-Pilain continued to build 4-cylinder voiturettes, but the rules for the small car race continued to penalise the small four, and they therefore did not take part. In 1911, however, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest organised a race over the le Mans circuit called the Grand Prix de France, which was for racing cars with no limitations. Rolland-Pilain had now begun to build large cars, and they therefore entered three specially built machines with 4-cylinder engines of 110 x 160 mms. bore and stroke. These engines had four inclined overhead valves per cylinder, operated by an overhead camshaft driven by a vertical shaft at the front of the engine, while the cars had chain drive and, as something of a novelty, streamlined tails.
Two of these cars were driven by Gabriel and Victor Rigal, while the third had Fauquet, an amateur, at the wheel. The curious thing about this race, however, was that out of fourteen competitors only one completed the full course. The Rolland-Pilains had especially bad luck. Their front axles had been obtained from an outside firm, and during the race they all proved defective. Fauquet got his car into second place on the first circuit, and then on the second lap his front axle broke and his car overturned into the ditch, fortunately without injury to the driver. Two days later the same fate overtook Rigal, who was running fourth, and thus Gabriel was left alone of the Rolland-Pilain team. The latter was held back by magneto trouble, but when the roads were re-opened to traffic he was still running, and was placed third in the general classification and second in the 110 x 200 mm. class.
In 1912, the Automobile Club de France revived its Grand Prix, which had not been held since 1908, and a great two-day race was held on the Dieppe circuit. Rolland-Pilain decided to enter for it, and two cars were prepared of the same design as those of the year before, but with the stroke incleased to 165 mms., making the capacity 6274 c.c. The two cars were entrusted to Albert Guyot and Auford, and at once excited comment as the only French cars with streamline tails. Guyot, however, fell out on the first day, leaving Auford to carry the firm’s colours alone. He, however, although held back by magneto trouble on the second day, finished the race and secured ninth place. It may be remembered that these two cars afterwards came to Brooklands and were well known at the track in. pre-war days. In 1922 Rolland-Pilain decided to return to the Grand Prix, which was now for 2-litre cars. The new racing cars which they built for it had straight-engines of 59.2 x 90 mms. bore and stroke, with two overhead valves per cylinder, which were both opened and closed positively. The crankshafts were built up of thirteen parts in order to allow their being carried in ball bearings, while roller bearings were used for the big ends, and lubrication was on the dry sump principle. Four carburettors were fitted, each feeding two cylinders and drawing their air from the crank-case, while the cars had battery ignition. The chassis passed wider the rear axle, and four-speed gear-box, Hotchkiss drive and hydraulic front-wheel brakes completed the specification. Three cars were entered for the race at Strasbourg and were entrusted to the three veteran drivers, Albert Guyot, Victor Hemery and Louis Wagner. Once more it was to be proved, however, that ppsitive valve closing, while correct in theory, in practice is a little too efficient. After the first two laps Guyot’s car, which was in third place, broke its crankshaft and had to be withdrawn, and was quickly followed by Hemery, whose car broke a connecting rod, while Wagner suffered a broken
piston. The race, incidentally, was one to destruction, for after eighteen starters, only three finished.
The next year, however, Rolland-Pilain returned to the charge in the Grand Prix, which was run at Tours, which is the native town of the firm. Three cars were entered, of which two were modified versions of the cars which had run at Strasbourg. The positive valve closing mechanism was discarded in favour of the more conventional valve spring, while new domed-head magnesium pistons were fitted, and magneto ignition substituted for the coil type. The third car had a 6-cylinder cuff-valve engine with a bore and stroke of 64.8 x 100 turns., built under Schmidt patents and designed by M. Henry, the famous designer of Peugeot and Ballet racing cars. The two eight-cylinder cars had Albert Guyot and Victor Winery as their drivers, as in 1922, while the cuff-valve machine was entrusted to another veteran in the form of Jules Goux. The latter car, however, did not survive the practice period, and so the two straight-eights were left to start alone. Hemery was forced to retire in the early stages of the race, but Guyot got into fourth place, first of the French cars, and on him the hopes of that country were placed. For 29 of the 35 laps of the race he heldfhis position, and then he too had to retire.
It was not long, however, before Rolland-Pilain got their revenge. The two eight-cylinder cars were entered for the Spanish Grand Prix on the San Sebastian circuit, which was run a month later, and Guyot and Hemery were appointed as their drivers. The latter, however, was taken ill before the race, and had to hand his car over to his mechanic, Delalaude. The two cars, however, took the lead at the outset, and finally came home first and second, Guyot, the winner, averaging 58 m.p.h. for 277 miles, which was a record for the old San Sebastian course. By this performance he gained both the King’s Cup and the Regularity Cup. The last important race of the year was the European Grand Prix at Monza, and for this two Rolland-Pilains were entered, with Guyot and Delalaude as their drivers. After a few laps the latter fell out with a broken big-end roller bearing, but Guyot continued and was run ing well at half distance, when an unfortunate event
occurred. The driver burnt his leg on the exhaust pipe, and so came into the pits and turned his car over to Delalaude. The jury, however, decided that a change of drivers was against the regulations, and so the car had to be withdrawn. This was the last appearance of the straight-eight Rolland-Pilain, but it is interesting to observe that this model has now been standardised and is sold to the public incorporating the lessons which have been learnt from these races.
In the meantime, however, the Tours firm had begun to turn its attention to touring car races. In 1923 the first Grand Prix d’Endurance was run at le Mans, and for it Rolland-Pilain entered four of their 4-cylinder 2-litre cars of 73 x 120 mms bore and stroke, with de Marguanatz and Delalaude, Sire and “‘Guignard, Prouzet and Pichen, and Robin and Marnier as their teams of drivers. These cars did not approach the larger machines in speed, but they all finished the race and qualified for the Rudge-Whitworth Cup.
The next year two of the cars started, and this time Guignard drove with Delalaude, while Sire was joined by Tremel. This year the cars were rather faster, and Delalaude and Guignard finished sixth, with the other Rolland-Pilain ninth. The race in 1925 was the final for the Triennial Rudge-Whitwoith Cup, and in it two Rolland-Pilains again started, Delalaude driving with Chalamel, and Sire with de Marguenatz. Both cars again finished, and Sire and de Marguenatz’s covered eighth greatest distance in the 24 hours, which gave it second place in the final of the Rudge-Whitworth Cup.
Once more in 1926 Rolland-Pilain took part in the race, this time with three cars driven by Delalaude and Sire, Chalamel and. Strender, and Nezelov and Lassele. Of these cars two finished the race, and Chalamel and Stremler repeated the Rolland-Pilain performance of the year before by covering eighth greatest distance.
One is perhaps in danger of being accused of tediousness by continually stressing the desirability of more French cars taking part in this race nowadays ; but it must be admitted that this is a consummation to be devoutly hoped for, and among French cars, few would make a more welcome appearance than the RollandPilain.
BOOK REVIEWS, May 1962, May 1962
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