[IN THIS INFORMATIVE ARTICLE CECIL CLUTTON EXPLAINS THE APPEAL OF THE VINTAGE SPORTS-CAR AND GOES ON TO GIVE VALUABLE DATA RELATING TO SOME OF THE MORE FAMOUS SPORTS AND FAST TOURING CARS OF THE PERIOD 1920-1930. WE ARE OFTEN CHIDED FOR PUTTING IN SO MANY REFERENCES TO EDWARDIAN AND VINTAGE MOTORS, BUT THE VINTAGE S.C.C., FOR OWNERS OF PRE-1931 CARS. HAD A TREMENDOUS FOLLOWING WHEN WAR BROKE OUT—SOME 500 ENTHUSIASTS CANNOT BE WRONG.—ED.]
A SHORT time ago an effusion from this pen entitled “Driving the Edwardians,” burst upon your startled vision through the medium of these pages. Now, the Editor has asked me to throw a few words together under the inscription you see above. Had he not waited till the paper was practically due to go to press I could have suggested several people capable of doing the job much better; but as there is no time for prevarication I must do my best.
Five years ago, a vintage sports-car was the normal mount for the not-so-rich enthusiast, but now, the youngest vintage car is ten years old, and any sports-car over ten years old, having led a normal life, is due for a major overhaul. And so it is that numbers of these machines are going off the road, and there must be a large number of younger enthusiasts who are hardly acquainted with the type.
Before talking about individual makes, it would perhaps be as well to define the appeal of vintage sports-cars as a whole.
Performance was arrived at by the combination of a relatively large, not-too-high efficiency engine with a good power-weight ratio. This gave that essential of comfortable touring—a high cruising speed at low revs. Modern sports-cars, despite their excessive weight, are frequently capable of an amazingly high maximum, but the low axle ratios now current make them so fearfully busy, that their cruising speed is seldom equal to that of similar vintage machines.
Controllability was studied by means of careful weight distribution, putting the engine well back in the chassis, and extremely positive, fairly high-geared steering.
After 1930, the salesman took charge of the motor business and put the designer in the background. The salesman decreed that he must have larger bodies on a smaller wheel-base; a steering gear that could be worked with one finger at 10 m.p.h.; and suspension that smoothed out all shocks at the lowest speeds. All this killed the vintage car, though it is quite in keeping with the trend of all modern commerce; namely, that it isn’t what you make—it’s the way you sell it that counts.
It is, of course, true that this has finally produced the modern types of independent suspension which are at once soft and safe; but that is a thing that can hardly be accounted to the virtue of the sales department.
The real enthusiast does his own maintenance, if he has time, and in any case, he likes to know that he can get at anything that needs attention on the road without first having to remove most of the coachwork. The vintage designer laid great stress on simplicity and accessibility; nothing unnecessary to achieve results was permitted to clutter up the machinery. The true connoisseur will always have a loathing of frills and shams; his pride of ownership rests in the fine workmanship and mechanical finish under the bonnet, rather than in bright cellulose, strips of chromium, imitation overhead valve covers, and a white swimming hat.
From the personal point of view, there is an endless fund of pleasure to be derived from that sense of being all in one piece with the machinery—everything depends upon the driver. He must understand the correct use of the spark, and, very likely, mixture control. The best performance will only be obtained by an intelligent use of the crash-type gearbox, manipulated through a stiff, reasonably short gear lever. All the time, too, the driver is listening to the engine note, which, when driving hard, frequently has something important to say, that would be quite drowned by Radio Luxembourg, braying forth the merits of the latest vegetable laxative. How different all this from the average cheap modern sports-car (so-called), with its wireless set, automatic clutch and spark control, fool-proof gears, spongy steering and an engine smothered up (both visually and audibly) to the utmost possible extent. No driver is ever the worse for being able to change gear properly, and most of us can name the famous young racing driver who has never once raced on a crash-type box without breaking it.
At long last, we are again approaching an era of sensible design, and the designer has once more triumphed over the tyranny of the salesman by producing machines which at once conform to the requirements of his sales-patter and those of the connoisseur-enthusiast. It is not difficult to name the Vintage cars of to-morrow—all logical developments of vintage motoring, but having overcome the deficiencies that were then inherent and unavoidable. Such names as Bugatti, Rolls-Bentley, H.R.G., Lancia Aprilia, and Delage D.6.70 come at once to mind, and there are other worthy examples.
In short, the vintage enthusiast is not a queer person who takes no interest in a car till it is practically falling to pieces; he merely insists on fine workmanship, good performance and controllability as prime essentials, set before all other considerations; and as few of us can afford these things in a new car, we get them where we can. Most vintage cars can now be bought for less than £100, and for the expenditure of a further £100 on a comprehensive overhaul you can go motoring with every confidence in reaching your destination without mechanical misadventure, and of passing most cars of similar capacity on the way.
There are four vintage cars that stick out a mile in my own mind. They are the side-valve (E-type)30/98 Vauxhall, 3-litre short-chassis Bentley, Anzani-engined Frazer-Nash and “12-50” Alvis.
The 30/98 comes first on the scene; it was the first British car to hold its own with the great Continental makes and practically the only creditable English sports-car of the immediately post-1918 period. It is always said to have been designed to attack the Shelsley record in 1918, which it did in the hands of Higginson, to the powerful tune of 55 seconds— a wonderful achievement, remembering the state of the course at that time— a mass of dust and loose stones. As sold, it had a light four-seater aluminium body and domed aluminium wings which, with the well-known Vauxhall radiator, conspired to an appearance which was at once dignified and dashing. The price in 1921 was about £1,675.
The engine dimensions were 98 x150, giving a capacity of 4,526 c.c. An unbalanced crankshaft ran in five bearings and was connected to the very light, Ricardo-designed aluminium “slipper” pistons by stout steel rods. The cylinder block and head was all in one casting and fitted with valve-caps. Despite its great size it could be carried by one person of normal strength.
The engine and gearbox were all carried in that excellent device, the sub-frame.
The clutch was a really superb example of the multi-plate variety (I forget the exact number of plates—thirty-five or thereabouts) and drove through the very silent gearbox to the straight cut (and, also, marvellously silent) crown wheel and pinion, giving a final ratio of 3 to 1. Torque reaction was taken through a torque arm. The overall gear ratios were about 3, 4½, 7 and 11, and these, with peak revs. of 3,000 and 32 inch wheels, gave maxima of 27, 40 and 60 on the indirect gears. Actually, owing to the excellent power offered at low revs, there was little advantage to be gained in exceeding 15, 30 and 45, and the big engine would pull away smoothly from 10 m.p.h. in top gear. Whether the engine ever developed the alleged 98 b.h.p. I don’t know. There is, after all, no reason why it shouldn’t, since it represents only a fraction over 7 b.h.p. per 1,000 r.p.m. per litre. [Or did the figure refer to the cylinder bore? The s.v. is sometimes credited with about 90 horses, the o.h.v. engine with 112 b.h.p. in early form.—Ed.] What is certain is that its magnificent performance was greatly assisted by the splendid camshaft, designed by Mr. Pomeroy, Senior. It ran at the phenomenal clearance of about 48 thousandths, and most people kept a worn penny of the right thickness for adjusting the tappets.
The electrics (including a dynamo and starter) were, in the manner of their day, quite frankly afterthoughts, but the engine was not difficult to start by hand. As also was fashionable, the brakes (handle for the back wheels; pedal for the transmission) were quite negligible. The handle had an immense travel but little effect, and the foot brake either broke the transmission or locked everything up solid. 820 x126 tyres offer little resistance to skidding, though things were not so bad on the waterbound macadam road surfaces of the early ’20s.
Driving these cars provided a thrill, and demanded a technique all its own. To begin with, the car had a most outstanding personality, that indefinable quality that makes or mars a car for the enthusiast, and which frequently chains him for years to a machine of the most overwhelming unreliability. The big engine has a quite unmistakable exhaust note, and though it is far from unobtrusive, it runs entirely smoothly throughout its range of 3,000 r.p.m., in the sense that there is no trace of any “period.” I imagine that something closely approaching full power is developed by 2,000 r.p.m., and the performance tails off badly higher up. This suggests that a light boost of, say, 3 lbs. would have interesting results. Still, power low down is the most useful for touring, and up to about 60, a 30/98 has few masters. The gearbox and clutch, too, help enormously. The clutch can be let in with a bang at about 1,500 r.p.m. or more, and almost at once a straight-through change to second can be effected with the throttle left fully open. The gate prevents a racing change from second to third, but using the clutch stop it can be effected quite smartly. Third to top is done in the same way as first to second.
Clearly, these methods are not for everyday use, as in the end they tend to wear out the machinery; but they are invaluable for the occasional “tear-up.” Normal upward changes, without the clutch, demand a wait in neutral of around 5 seconds. There is no actual cruising speed, but the sluggish acceleration at over 65 makes that a customary figure and represents about 2,000 r.p.m. The weight distribution is splendid and the road-holding on reasonably smooth roads leaves little to be desired. Unfortunately, the cars were not supplied with shock-absorbers as standard, and if you fit them and button them up fairly tight they either break their brackets or tear holes in the chassis. This is one of the worst snags about the car, as damping is really necessary at the back, since otherwise one is apt to find violent wheelspin setting in at about 70 m.p.h.! In front, strangely enough, it doesn’t matter so much, since the very light axle assembly follows the contours of the road much more easily than the heavy modern f.w.b. axle. The light axle also makes the steering wonderfully accurate, aided by the high ratio of about 1¼ turns from lock to lock. I doubt whether half-a-dozen serviceable side-valve 30/98’s still exist, and I recently acquired a very sound example to ensure that at least one should be preserved as a memorial to their fame.
The useful maximum was around 75-80, but I have exceeded 90 on an E. type.
Some of the personality of the E-type was lost with the introduction of the 0.E.-type in 1924, though the performance higher up was improved. These engines had a stroke of 140 only, duralumin rods which were not entirely satisfactory, and duralumin push-rods which would have made splendid stair-rods, had they been a little longer, but are quite unequal to their intended use— at least, when the compression had been raised. The crankshafts remained unbalanced till 1927, but the revs. were put up to 3,300, and the axle ratio down to 3.3. Front brakes operated by cable and the famous “Kidney box” in front of the radiator came in 1925, but a host of excellent reasons prevented them from working for any length of time, and most people later substituted D.M.S., Delage or Bentley front axles. It was then as well to strengthen the chassis in front. In standard form the 0.E. is not a desperately exciting motor, but it is capable of being “dealt with” to a much greater extent than the E-type, and such cars as Anthony Heal’s, Clive Windsor-Richards’s and Ronny Hughes’s machines [also Alan May’s.—Ed.] perform in a really big way. In 1927 came the last model, with a magnificent balanced crank, still in five bearings, and capable of turning over at 3,500 r.p.m. They also had stupendous brake drums with hydraulic operation of a highly complex nature; but an even greater host of reasons than before prevented these from working on practically any occasion whatever.
Not the least endearing feature of the 30/98 is a large tray of copper gauze, covering the whole area of the sump and lying immediately below the crankshaft. This is held in by four nuts at the front of the crankcase, and it is at intervals pulled out, just like an ordinary drawer. One then picks up any metal objects on the tray between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand, throws them lightly over the left shoulder, replaces the tray, and continues motoring. On the other hand, if any piece is too large to be picked up between the thumb and forefinger it is as well to pull the engine apart and find where it came from. As against this, the 30/98 engine will continue to run perfectly satisfactorily even when in the last stages of decay.
In the opinion of John Bolster, who ran one for many years, the road-holding of the O.E. can be made practically second to none if the weight distribution is minutely studied, and any overhanging weight at the back entirely avoided.
It is frequently done to compare the 30/98 with the 4½-litre Bentley, but it must be remembered that the manufacture of 30/98s had almost entirely ceased by the time the first 4½s reached the market. Nor do I think the 4½-litre a very attractive car in standard form. The engine is very woolly and the gear ratios widely spaced in the normal C-type box. The relatively rare Le Mans type 4½ is quite a different vehicle. The whole feeling is much more taut and alive, both as to the engine, steering and general performance. The close ratio, D type box, too, is a joy for ever. In round figures (throughout this article I am writing almost entirely from memory, and subject to detail correction) the ratios are 3.53, 4.8, 5.9 and 9.5 to 1, and with big wheels and over 3,500 r.p.m. available, very high maxima of about 40, 65 and 80 are available on the indirect gears. On the hotted-up cars a maximum of 95 was not unusual. Only yesterday I was driving a superior edition of this type—one of the ex-Birkin “DoubleTwelve” machines. The slightly special engine will run up to 4,000 r.p.m. with miraculous smoothness and a more satisfying car for the open country could hardly be devised. When in good trim it will do 104 m.p.h., but at the moment nothing has been touched for 30,000 miles, which has included London pottering, flat out driving and standing in the open in all weathers. Yet the performance seems hardly to have dropped by 5 per cent. and only a few rattles betray the life it has led.
These cars are in all ways a big edition of the short-chassis 3-litre Bentley which attained an almost overwhelming popularity in this country and is typical of the very best of English sports-car design of the ’20s. Even to-day they are difficult to beat over a distance and make an absolutely reliable everyday hack.
The specification of course is well known. The engine dimensions are 80×149, giving the modest Treasury rating of 16 h.p. An overhead camshaft, shaft driven from the front end, prods four valves per cylinder, and two 45º S.U.s are bolted straight on to the block. Twin magnetos are provided, and, while one can manage on one if the other packs up, the engine will then pink like the bell on a fire-engine.
A cone clutch leads to the A-type gearbox, giving the same ratios as the D-type, and the axle ratio was variously 3.53 or 3.78 to 1. The back axle was the weakest part of the machine and to be treated with respect. The accessories were really designed with the car, and 100 per cent. reliable, as also were the brakes. The engine ran up to 3,500 r.p.m., and the earlier ones generally had two vibration periods; one belonging to the camshaft, at 2,000 r.p.m. and the other belonging to the crankshaft at about 2,800 r.p.m. The latter can be rather terrifying on some cars, though fortunately the engine is flexibly mounted. In 1926, an improved camshaft (running at 19 thou. clearance instead of 5 thou.) and a heavier crankshaft (all models have five bearings) made for much smoother running. The weight distribution is as good as may be, and it is difficult to think of any British car, in standard form, that has better road-holding.
Desperately slow off the mark, they wind themselves up in an astonishing way, and at over 35 they still take some passing, while, with industrious use of the gearbox, really creditable averages can be put up. Rapid upward changes are not good for the back axle, and in any case, the clutch stop requires constant tinkering to be kept 100 per cent. Personally, I hardly ever use the clutch on a Bentley, as the gears go in like butter. Toe-and-heel changes are not practicable owing to the pedal layout, but by doing without the clutch, the right foot can be used solely for braking and the left foot moved over to the accelerator pedal, to make the necessary adjustment in the speed of the engine before engaging the lower gear. The standard steering ratio is very quick, and also kicks a good deal. If fat tyres are fitted it also becomes very heavy, and in several cases a 4½-litre type steering box has been fitted. This takes about 2¼ turns from lock to lock, which I regard as ideal for normal touring, though I consider 2½ turns to be the maximum.
I must confess that, from about 1924 onwards, I think the 3-litre Bentley really had the 30/98 “taped.” It was not as fast, but it was much mote of a designed car, and more practicable for the everyday use of an ordinary motorist. With the possible exception of the universal joints (which it is as well to replace by Hardy Spicers) and the back axle, the whole machine is a marvel of reliability and can easily run for 30,000 miles and more without attention. Even by modern standards, too, it is a very handsome car.
In the smaller capacity classes, the 2-litre Lagonda was, in performance and general character, a small edition of the Bentley, and enjoyed considerable popularity; it was not, however, a very exciting motor and did not, to my mind, compare with the 12/50 or Silver Eagle Alvis, both of which were immoderately reliable, and thoroughly practicable as everyday runabouts. In standard form they were not outrageously fast, but they performed in a perfectly charming way, and their capacity for staying in one piece, coupled with excellent road-holding, brings astonishing averages within their reach.
At the same time, both types were capable of very high tuning, as both Anthony Powys-Lybbe and Michael May have shown. In my very humble opinion these two are among the finest British drivers of this decade, though they have never had mounts that brought big successes within their reach. Many people must have regretted the day when Powys-Lybbe gave up racing.
Of more definitely sporting calibre was the Frazer-Nash, first introduced on the market in 1924, with the famous side valve Anzani engine. This astonishing 1½-litre power unit weighed, I believe, only 166 pounds and produced about 45 b.h.p. at only 3,600 r.p.m., which, if memory serves, was the limit of the ordinary engine, though special jobs ran to 4,000 and over. The engine was not very susceptible to tuning, and I believe none ever got more than 55 b.h.p. unblown. A few blown ones were produced, and beyond the fact that they almost invariably cracked the bottom flange of the cylinder block they were very successful, exceeding 100 m.p.h. in the Nash chassis. In ordinary touring form they produced a wonderful lot of power at low revs. and I once, for amusement, let my Nash climb the whole of the not inconsiderable gradient of St. James’s Street in top gear at a tick-over of less than 400 r.p.m. Owing to this feature, and the very light weight of the complete car—about 13 cwt.—three speeds were quite adequate for all purposes. The ordinary ratios were 4.1, 6.2 and 10.1 to 1, giving maxima of about 30, 50 and 70, and a cruising speed of 60 at 3,000 r.p.m. Some were sent out with ratios as high as 3.5, 5.4 and 10.1 to 1, but the engine was not really equal to it.
The Frazer-Nash system of transmission is well known, and what a wonderful system it is, for a light car of moderate horsepower. There is nothing quite like the change on a ‘Nash—that quick snick with a flick to the throttle and slight easing of the clutch. The steering, too, is immensely positive, and a ratio requiring turn from lock to lock was considered quite low. As the brakes were really good from 1925 onwards the early ‘Nashes were very formidable cars and probably had no widely produced rival in the 1½- litre class. Their price, moreover, was exceedingly moderate by standards then prevailing. The acceleration was really formidable, and a 1924 model which I owned in 1934 would do 0-50 in 12 seconds with two up; 0-30 took about 4 seconds.
Quarter elliptic springs and radius rods were fitted all round, and in front (as with the H.R.G.) the front radius rods were also the shock-absorbers, besides taking most of the braking torque. The shock-absorber arm was fixed to the axle with a stupid little wooden bush which at intervals disintegrated and fell on to the road. This produced very startling effects on the steering when next the brakes were applied. The chassis was very light and slightly braced, and when driving over trials country one could feel the whole bedstead weaving about under the seat in a most unsettling manner. Incidentally, I once got the ‘Nash up Jenkins Chapel on the 10.1 bottom gear, carrying quite a heavy passenger; a feat of which I have always been rather proud.
The gear change was a little unusual, as bottom and second were both forward. Since reverse was opposite bottom, and there was no reverse catch, any mis-judgment was very wearing on the toothed wheels of reverse. On the other hand, the arrangement had a lot to commend it in tests of the come-and-go variety.
The Anzani engine was rough and dirty, and somewhat agricultural in appearance, but the cars themselves were as handsome as they were lovable. Considering their light weight, too, they were wonderfully reliable, and many of them covered over 100,000 miles before they began to want much attention.
Chain breakages were extremely rare unless the most brutal methods were consistently employed. Around 1930 came the Meadows-engined job, slightly heavier, and carrying four speeds. Customary ratios for touring were 3.8, 4.8, 7 and 11.75, giving maxima of about 35, 60, and 88 in third or top. For racing or hurrying, however, the admirable spacing of 4.1, 5.4, 7 and 10 was usual. Later on, more and more weight came to be added, and though this was to some extent counteracted by more power output, the performance in unblown form was never materially improved after 1930.
It is now rather the fashion to suggest that ‘Nashes do not really hold the road; but in reply, I suggest that no one who used to watch Fane or Aldington and others on the Mountain Circuit, and Roy Cutler at the present day, can seriously maintain it. I do not say that they corner quite like a modern sports-car, but with an energetic driver, they can be fought round a corner at a speed which few are likely to surpass. The solid axle, too, makes their braking on wet roads second to none, though, on the other hand, it is apt to generate front wheel skids when cornering under power. These, however, can be corrected by a touch on the hand brake, which works on the rear brakes only.
The French made one or two light sports-cars such as Amilcar and Salmson, but except for Bugatti, their small sports-cars have never greatly impressed me. Bugatti, however, provided almost the only serious challenge to Frazer-Nashes in the 1½-litre class, with the Brescia (type 23) and touring 1½-litre (type 40) models. These both had four cylinders and plain bearings, and the latter, especially, gave very stalwart service, having a maximum of about 70 m.p.h. The axle ratio was rather low (4.5 or 4.66 according to choice) as against 3.75 of the earlier Brescia, which was first produced in 1923. The type 40 appeared in 1926.
I am purposely not concerning myself here with semi-racing cars, or very large cars of over 25 h.p., but the other two really tourable Bugattis of the vintage era were the type 44, produced in 1927, and the type 49, which first appeared in 1930.
Both, of course, were straight eights. The type 44 was a 3-litre, single o.h.c., and was capable of 80 m.p.h. at 4,000 r.p.m., at which speed it could even be cruised for quite long periods. The earlier models were rather rough, subject to plug trouble, and had rather a crude system of jet lubrication. The later models, however, entirely overcame all these troubles, and had a sound system of pressure feed lubrication. They were exceptionally reliable, wonderful starters, and extremely flexible. They will pull away really well from about 10-12 m.p.h. in top, while if the excellent gearbox (ratios 4.17, 5.37, 7.51 and 11.6 to .1) be used, the performance is very pronounced indeed. Many of these cars carried quite large, and generally repellently hideous saloons, and are among the most comfortable cars I know.
The type 49 was really a sort of bridge between the type 44 and current, double cam, type 57, series.
Like the 44, it had a single camshaft, but ignition was by twin coils, firing 16 plugs all in a row, which look extremely peculiar. The gear ratios were the same as the 44, and the maximum was about 90 m.p.h. Extraordinary flexibility was again a feature of this model and both it and the 44 were exceptionally economical on petrol. The type 49 has outstandingly powerful brakes.
There is, of course, no need to dwell on Bugatti steering and road-holding. From Black Bess up to the 57SC there has never been anything on the market to touch it.
In the even smaller classes come the early 850 c.c. M.G.s, Austin Sevens and Riley Nines. They were, however, mere premonitions of things to come, and not truly characteristic of the vintage period. Thoroughly outstanding as they were, I do not therefore propose to touch upon them in this already overlong article.
Not strictly sports-cars, yet owned by many enthusiasts because of their pleasing personality and good all-round performance, come a series of fast touring cars—mainly of Continental parentage. An exception, however, was the range of Sunbeams available during the ’20s; especially the 16 h.p. six-cylinder model, which has a performance, that is typically Sunbeam, combining all the essential characteristics of a sports-car with complete reliability and the very utmost refinement. To ride in a Sunbeam at once produces a feeling of well-being and general superiority; a car in which to go motoring in a beret or a top hat with equal propriety.
Genuinely sporting was the double camshaft, six-cylinder, 3-litre. This still possessed the typical Sunbeam balance and general refinement, but in good order it would approach 90 m.p.h. 4,000 r.p.m. was the engine limit and, as also seemed a Sunbeam characteristic, there was a fair gap between top and third, the lower three ratios being rather close together. The revs, rose very quickly, and one had to be very careful not to outrun the constable.
A serious trouble to which these cars seem to have been subject was cracked cylinder blocks, and in the wet they also went in for front wheel skidding in a large way. In fact, Toby, brother of Michael May, and perhaps his equal in steersmanship, who at one time ran a 3-litre Sunbeam, used to put his smooth tyres on the front, and good ones on the back, on the principle that, on a wet road, one had more control over the direction of the car by skilful acceleration with the back wheels, than by anything you might do to the steering handle.
From abroad, the outstanding makers of fast tourers were Ballot, Delage and Lancia. The Lancia Lambda appeared in eight series, of which only the short chassis 5th can really be considered a sports-car. The rest mostly have a tremendous wheelbase and carry endless, box-like saloons. The narrow V engine (all in one block) is not, by nature, smooth, but it plugs along on its high ratio at an excellent cruising speed, and as the cornering and braking are second to none, a Lambda can cover the ground as well as most; it is, moreover, extremely comfortable. For sporting use, the wide gap between top and third is inconvenient, though third and second are very close. The normal rev. limit is about 3,000, but the engines are capable of a lot of hotting, when the revs. may be put as high as 5,000, and the gap between top and third no longer becomes such a menace. The system of front suspension is too well known to call for comment, and it continues to-day (together with the characteristic but not unpleasing kick of the steering wheel) in that triumphant machine, the Lancia Aprilia.
Incidentally, the Lancia instruction book contains some very eccentric reading. The following (quoting from memory) is a cheerful example: ” Do not accost a naked flame to the inferior of the battery of accumulators or it will ignits with a loud noise.” There is also a riotous passage about dismantling the “anterior suspension,” but the double entendre is so painfully obvious and so excessively improper that I hesitate to reproduce it between the chaste covers of MOTOR SPORT!
An almost equally humorous instruction book is that of the Delage. Among other delightful passages is one in which the mysteries of gear changing are expounded. In changing upwards through the indirect gears the driver is advised “to pause a moment at neutral position before to throw gears in.” Between third and top, however, there is no such prudery, and he is incited to “pull frankly the lever towards driver.”
The Delage is another splendid fast tourer of no very outstanding performance. The two best-known models are the D.I.S.S. 2-litre, four-cylinder, and the D.M.S. 3-litre, six-cylinder. Given time, the D.I.S.S. would wind itself up to 75 m.p.h. and a good D.M.S. might be good for 85, as well as accelerating quite a good deal. General excellence of design and workmanship, good brakes and road-holding again completed a very pleasant and serviceable vehicle. If these two models had a fault, it was a tendency on the part of the push-rods not to push the valves quite in the manner expected of them.
Even more outstanding of the “battleship class” to my mind was the 2-litre, type 2 LTS Ballot. There were, indeed, rather more sporting models, but the characteristic 2 LTS generally carried a monumental saloon Weymann body. The engine had four cylinders, measuring 70×130, giving a swept capacity of just under 2-litres and a Treasury rating of 14 h.p. It was a most massive unit with a single overhead camshaft which was subject to the only weakness in the whole design. In the middle of the camshaft was one cam with four bobbles on it, and a rocker was kept in contact with it by two massive coil springs in tension. The whole outfit operated as a camshaft damper, but the springs were subject to breakage, after which the vibration was nobody’s business. The camshaft, incidentally, was driven by a shaft at the front end. In justice to the makers, however, it should be added that, once you got a pair of springs that would stay put at all, they probably ran for a very long time without further trouble.
The engine was very smooth and silent, and ran up to 4,000 r.p.m., when, I believe, it developed 60 b.h.p. The axle ratio was as low as about 4.7, but in conjunction with the standard 32-inch wheels, the cruising speed could be kept as high as 64 m.p.h., equal to 3,200 r.p.m. The effective maximum was 75 m.p.h. and about 50 m.p.h. in third, the ratios being widely spaced and the change extremely slow, especially between second and third. One could, in point of fact, do snap changes from third to top, but after a time the clutch plate would tend to buckle under such treatment.
The brakes were servo assisted, and with the possible exception of Hispano Suiza I doubt whether they had any rival when first introduced. The servo mechanism was a terrific bag of tricks, but once satisfactorily adjusted, you could well forget all about the brakes for many thousands of miles. The electrics, too, were very reliable, and the charging equipment was of the permanent voltage variety, capable of fantastic amperage in moments of stress, for which reason, doubtless, no ammeter was fitted. Nor was there any oil pressure gauge.
The body was of majestic proportions, and the depth of upholstery and comfort of the seats is exceeded by few domestic chairs. The riding of the car, too, was very comfortable and the road-holding and cornering of a high order, despite the fact that shock-absorbers were not generally supplied as standard. The great width and rigidity of the chassis was doubtless responsible for this. The radiator must have been one of the first examples of chromium-plating, and the false shell. It is exceptionally handsome, even by modern standards, and was largely responsible for the distinguished appearance of the tout ensemble.
Where strength was needed, everything was of the most massive proportions, yet the chassis only weighed a ton, and the whole outfit with saloon scaled less than 30 cwt., though it looked every ounce of 2 tons.
Considering the date of design (around 1924-5) and the relative size of engine and car I do not think the performance and reliability of the 2-litre Ballot can be too highly praised, and provide yet another example of the far greater utility of good b.h.p. at moderate revs., rather than a tremendous output at such high crankshaft speeds that the engine is in imminent danger of disintegration.
Many excellent cars remain unsung— such names as Austro-Daimler and Mercedes instantly come to mind; nor has anything been said of the vast horde of terribly bad cars that were fobbed off on the public during the ’20s; but I hope that enough has been said to cover every important aspect of the vintage sports-car, considered in the light of development during the last ten years.
During those ten years, much has been gained and much has been lost, so far as the enthusiast is concerned; but even allowing for a comprehensive overhaul, the better vintage cars are still capable of giving unrivalled value for money in the shape of fast motoring, reliability, and discriminating pride of possession.
In brief, October 2008
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