One Hundred Miles per Hour for an Hour
Recounted by the Editor
Percy Lambert’s 1913 World’s Hour Record with the 25-h.p. side-valve Talbot.
On February 15th, in the year 1913, the late Percy Lambert set up, at Brooklands, a new World’s Hour Record of 103 miles, 1,470 yards. This record run ranks as a great. British achievement because this was the first time that 100 miles per hour had ever been maintained for the hour run. From that aspect alone the event is worth recounting in some detail, and when one considers that Lambert used a side-valve car of 4 1/2-1itres capacity built 23 long years ago, and that he beat the previous holder of the “World’s Hour,” a 59.6-h.p. Lorraine-Dietrich, by over 6 m.p.h. with his 25-h.p. car, this record attempt assumes its correct perspective.
In 1912 a 25-h.p. Talbot had excelled itself at Weybridge by taking seven class records and recording a speed as high as 113 m.p.h., when other cars of this rating could only boast of 87 m.p.h. The racing Talbot was evolved from Clement Talbot’s production model, which, as a refined touring car with L-head, 101.5 x 140-mm., 4,531-c.c. engine developing a claimed 554-h.p., was much in demand by connoisseurs, amongst whom could be numbered Lord Tweedmouth and the Dowager Duchess of Argyle. Lord Shrewsbury’s Talbots, indeed, had earned an enviable reputation both on the road and in Competition.
In 1913 it became known that 100 m.p.h. was likely to be exceeded for the Hour run and Talbots set about preparing to attain this great distinction. A car was developed, based on the touring 25-h.p. It had its front and rear dumb-irons encased in fairings, the rear axle faired both along the tubes and round the final-drive casing, and the front axle similarly treated. A very narrow single-seater body was fitted, nevertheless not unduly cramping the driver, although the frontal area was only about 8 1/2 sq. ft.
The exhaust pipe protruded through an opening on the near side of the scuttle and the bonnet contained a ventilating door of considerable proportions, sundry bulges (to clear engine protrusions and the massive Talbot radiator mountings), and a scoop to feed cool air to the driver. Rear-wheel brakes appear to have been dispensed with, the only apparent means of retarding the car being a transmission foot-brake. In consequence, no brake lever had to be accommodated and the gear-lever was set inside the body. The engine was exactly the same size as the touring-car unit, but gave 105 b.h.p. at 2,500 r.p.m., and a m.e.p. of 121. The complete car weighed 22 1/2 cwt. and pulled the usual outer-circuit high top gear ratio (2.4 to 1) in conjunction with 880 x 120 tyres.
On February 8th, 1913, the Talbot was taken to Brooklands to try to beat the 50-mile record held by Christiaens’ 9-litre G.P. Excelsior, at 102.36 m.p.h. In spite of the handicap of a 4 1/2-litre engine and side valves, the Talbot clocked 29 mm. 10 1/2 sec., to better the Belgian car by .47 m.p.h. All was set for the attempt to exceed 100 m.p.h. for the full hour.
On February 15th the car received a last-minute check at the Ladbroke Grove works, the stocky figure of Lambert, wearing overalls and an imposing helmet with rolled-up car flaps, entered the cock pit, and, sans wings or screen and unsilenced, the narrow silver Talbdt drove out of the gates into London’s traffic.
To the awe of pavement users, it went rapidly through Kingston-on-Thames and along the Cobham “Fairmile,” to the Track.
Under the critical gaze of a concourse of well-wishers, Lambert drove out of the Paddock on to the Railway Straight, where the wheels were changed for others shod with new tyres, the artillerys at the rear being replaced by disc wheels. Tyre changes had, of course, been carefully rehearsed before the attempt, as trouble in this direction was anticipated, in spite of a wet track.
This job completed, the engine was given a preliminary run to get it really warm again, the photographers moved off to the timing strip, Major Lindsay Lloyd entered the timing box, and Lambert was ready to commence his historic undertaking.
The “Hour” stood then to the credit of Hemery and the 15-litre o.h.v. Lorraine-Dietrich, at 97.59 m.p.h., and everyone present knew that Talbots hoped not only to break the record, but to average about 105 m.p.h. for the full 60 minutes.
Well over two dozen spectators’ cars were parked at the top of the finishing straight to watch the attempt, and a cinematograph camera was used to record the outstanding incidents.
The flag fell, someone else behind the car also signalled that the run had commenced, and Lambert moved off, to a standing lap in 1 min. 54.17 sec., or 87.24 m.p.h.. The car must have got into its stride very early, for lap two was to the tune of 103.94 m.p.h.; lap three was done at 104.66 and lap four at 105.10 m.p.h.
The Talbot ran very steadily, about 18 feet from the outer edge of the Track, well outside the 50-ft. line from which official measurements were made. Signalled as to his progress, Lambert clocked 103.56 for lap five, went up to 104.12 on lap six and 104.57 on lap seven, and dropped a little, to 103.97, on lap nine.
After ten laps the Talbot annexed the Class F (26-h.p.) Brooklands local record for that distance, although the last of those laps was the second slowest flying lap so far. Somewhat faster next round, the Talbot then slowed to about 103.5 m.p.h. for a couple of rounds and then, on lap 14, did its best speed to date, 105.20 m.p.h. The next round was only .01 m.p.h. slower, then Lambert eased up, next went right up to 105.77 and then continued at nicely over 105 until he broke his own 50-mile record, at 103.30 m.p.h.
The Press and the public were now agog, for this was a rousing speed at half-distance. And the Palmer tyres were holding … ! Lord Shrewsbury doubtless held his breath, while his chauffeur smiled broadly at all and sundry.
Lap 20 saw the Talbot clock 106.42 m.p.h., which subsequently proved to be the fastest lap of the run. Thereafter Lambert always bettered 104 and strove to exceed 105, except for an easy lap 23 (he had 38 to do), at 103.54. Realising that success was within reach and still mindful of the tyres, on lap 32 he slowed right down to 101.64 m.p.h., then notched up again to 102.01, 103.09, 103.71, 102.81 — pulling out 104.89 on lap 37, when the World’s 100 mile record went into the bag at 103.76 m.p.h.
One lap to go, and little Percy Lambert would be the first man to exceed the century for 60 minutes — and they were 60 decidedly long minutes in 1913! He did not ease up, but kept the throttle well open, doing his last lap at 104.72 m.p.h. The flag waved beside the timing strip, and the job was done. A normal side-valve British car of modest size had succeeded where Continental special racing cars had failed. Moreover, the Palmer ribbed tyres had not only held out, but looked quite sound at the conclusion of the run. And the Talbot had maintained 2,500 r.p.m. for lap after lap without the slightest falter.
Lambert brought the car to rest beside the railway embankment and, smiling broadly, climbed out — hero, not only of the hour, but — of the “Hour”! The Talbot personnel had held on high behind the car before the start boards bearing the numbers 1, 0 and 5, indicating they hoped the car would achieve 105 m.p.h. When Major Lloyd announced the official speed there was great rejoicing, for, running well out from the 50-ft. line, Lambert was credited with a speed of 103.84 m.p.h., showing his actual speed to have been practically as forecast.
Lambert’s 37 flying laps did not vary by more than 2.2 sec. from the average lap time. Major Lloyd gave out the new records and, with a grubby and embarrassed Lambert on his left, the Earl of Shrewsbury and Talbot, K.C.V.O., standing bareheaded outside the timing box, thanked all those who had made the achievement possible. A great occasion with a sincere and simple ending.
The Talbot received a very good Press, the Financial Times, for example, remarking, “Prodigious! Further proof is hardly needed now that Great Britain builds the fastest car in the world.” Talbots themselves issued an excellent book commemorating the performance, well illustrated with photographs, and many “stills” from the film of the run. They included shots of the car being driven down to Brooklands and drew attention to its stability at speed with a picture showing all four wheels on the track as the car left the Home Banking. They also emphasised that the interior temperature of the cylinders must have reached approx. 2,000°F. (“an extreme test for the engine cooling system”), and that for 8,600 consecutive cycles 80 charges of petrol were drawn in, compressed, fired, expanded and swept out every second of time, while at 105 m.p.h. each piston did 5 1/2-in. each way over 80 times a second, which was compared with the beat of a wasp’s wings, computed at 100 per second. The very presentation of this publicity matter reminds us how long ago this record was achieved. Incidentally, twelve years afterwards, the World’s Hour record only stood at 115.42 m.p.h.
It is interesting that the record-breaking Talbot weighed 3/4-cwt. more than the standard chassis, and used tyres of the same size as the standard models. Whether any of the lessons that the run taught were applied to the production cars, or not, is a matter for conjecture, but the 25-h.p. Talbot chassis of 1914 certainly differed from the 1912 chassis in having no transmission brake, shorter radius arms locating the rear axle and repositioned cross-members, etc.
There is a legend that after celebrating his success Lambert took the car out again and crashed fatally behind the Hill, seen by only one witness, a soldier, who could not explain what happened. This is quite without foundation. Actually, later in 1913, Goux, with one of the 7.6-litre twin-o.h.c. G.P. Peugeots, took Lambert’s Hour record at 106.22 m.p.h., while first Goux, and then Chassagne, with s.v. (but 9-litre aero-engined) Sunbeam, captured his 50-mile record, the latter to the tune of 108.38 m.p.h. Lambert therefore brought the Talbot out again on October 27th, 1913, and proceeded to re-take the 50-miles, at 110.96 m.p.h., but he did not continue for the “Hour.” It seems likely that in trying for the longer distance he met his end.
Be that as it may, Percy Lambert’s name lives, as it deserves to do, as that of the first man to do a 100-m.p.h. “Hour,” and a spoked wheel tops this driver’s grave in Brompton Cemetery. It was a fine achievement and an all-British one. Those were great days. Alas, without Brooklands, nothing of this order will ever happen again.