Since returning to England I have been surprised to find that few people here believe that “hot-rods” actually do the speeds claimed.
Contrary to popular belief, these cars would clock still higher speeds under European road-test conditions. The dry lakes in California are at about 3,000 ft altitude and 120 deg F, shade-temperature, and both cut power output. The surface is rough and dusty and often only 1 to 11/2 miles wind-up is available before the traps, not much for 150-180-mph cars.
We clocked a number of sports cars at El Mirage. The TC MGs in standard trim clocked 77-80 mph, 31/2-litre Mark IV Jaguars 84-86 mph. At the same time my own car, with an absolutely standard 100-bhp Ford V8, clocked over 102. As you know, both the MG and Jaguar can better these figures on good roads at sea-level. I am doubtful if a standard XK, using any axle ratio, would exceed 115 mph through the traps.
[At recent Daytona Beach Speed Trials a Mk VII Jaguar clocked 100.9 mph and a Jaguar XK120 did 119.8 mph on a soft surface with high wind, fastest of all sports cars.–Ed]
Many of the “hot-rods” possess shortcomings, but nobody who has driven one has ever suggested that they lack performance. The 0-60 mph in 10 sec, attained by a few of the best European sports cars is considered very poor for a Ford roadster. My own car, with an absolutely stock engine, would do that.
Only three sports cars are available in the world with a performance equal to the average “hot-rod”, the 4.1-litre Ferrari, the XKC Jaguar and the American-engined Allards. It was always my job to take out visiting manufacturers to show them the sort of performance we wanted. I would usually chug around the block in top gear to show it was just the car for grandma’s shopping, and then go completely round the block sideways with the tyres smoking. Few of them, however, came out with new models that really performed.
The MG, for instance, would be a nice car with a light, short-stroke, 2-litre, four-cylinder engine. They would be quieter, smoother and more economical than with the current 11/4-litre engine and would go about 100 mph. Those MGs fitted with 22-hp Ford V8s of 100-plus bhp were very nice and weighed no more.
There is a lot of hampering tradition about sports cars, heavy long-stroke engines whose engineering deficiencies are hidden under much ribbed aluminium, oversized sumps, unnecessary instrumentation, stoneguards, etc; so much heavy wood in the body that a low axle ratio has to be used, and skinny tyres that feel as if they should corner but wont.
A bad feature I found with many “hot-rods” was their weight distribution, some being somewhat nose-heavy, a bad feature with 200 bhp per ton. This comes from their adherence to stock roadster bodies to satisfy a competition requirement, making it difficult to move the engine back.
Unfortunately there is little fraternisation between the ”hot-rod” adherents and the foreign car drivers.
A few cars around Los Angeles, as mine, are really American sports cars rather than “hot-rods.” They have three .different origins—”hot-rod,” old Indianapolis and dirt-track cars–and modern independently sprung components. Mostly they try to combine the performance of a “hot-rod” with the feel of an European sports car. Enclosed is a picture of one, the Cannon car [reproduced.—Ed]. The chassis is about 1935 Dodge with knee action. A 5-in diameter cross-member is fitted above the chassis and clutch, the pedals hanging from it. A Ford cross-member is fitted to carry the Ford back axle. Engine and gearbox are V8. The tube around the nose is to save parking damage. It is perhaps not generally realised that most independent suspensions which give such horrible results on stock cars, work very well on a low, light special, as the springs are relatively stiffer and there is no roll to upset their geometry. However, independent suspension is not essential on the smooth roads and circuits of California.
It is perhaps not appreciated by the armchair “hot-rod” critics that these potent cars are built up by the hundred, but if the boys in California waited for ohv engines and fancy suspensions they, like most of their critics, would have some utopian car on the drawing-board and would be driving a car incapable of even 100 mph.
In conclusion, for the impecunious enthusiasts, I would suggest they try the 23-hp Model A or B Ford. They can easily be lowered to about 30 in, and with a set-back A or T radiator look pretty good (somewhat like an HRG). In side-valve form they go at about 110 mph with extremely good acceleration. If Ford hydraulic brakes are hard to get here the mechanical brakes are easily converted to the floatinig-shoe-type like Girling, with a great increase in performance.
I am, Yours, etc,
PF Payne, Southsea.
[We would be pleased to have a Model A or B Ford capable of 70 or 80, let alone 100 mph, So hope Mr. Payne will tell us more—remembering that special “hot rod” components are not made in England. A 2-litre engine would obviously increase the performance of’ the TD MG but why expect 100 mph? The Morgan Plus Four has a 2-litre engine but does not reach this speed.-Ed]
I was very interested in the write-up on PF Payne’s “Hot-Rod” in the January issue.
Like yourself, I have had little respect for the very scientific pastime of taking the largest motor one can find and mounting it in the smallest and lightest frame that will take the strain ; it tends to remain one of the early racing cars fitted with 10-litre engines.
I would not for one moment deny that it is great fun and a cheap way of getting good performance, but I prefer the well-tuned small engine. Mr. Payne is troubled by the lack of scientific knowledge shown by our mechanics and states a few examples ; if they are the type of things that trouble him possibly I can help.
The roller-dynamometer, jet-flow-meter and cleaning ; most of the big car and carburetter firms use these things and would be willing to help.
The exhaust gas analysis should provide little trouble, most of the petroleum people, eg Shell, would be only too pleased to help, but in this case I would be glad to do an analysis for him myself as I am a chemist and have studied that type of work.
As for the other points, it is far too easy to blind oneself with figures that mean nothing as in rpm/vacuum, ignition-advance curves, they can be obtained for most types and makes of engine, but to be of any use they should be plotted for each engine and then they are dependent upon temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity and fuel used.
As a chemist having been soaked in science for years I am one of the first to admit that at times it is better to throw away the slide-rule and log tables and use common sense. I find that is the case with British mechanics.
I am, Yours, etc..
CA Harrop, Bebington.
I found Mr RH Johnson’s article most interesting, particularly as I was with Daimler-Benz AG in Germany when these cars were produced.
There is just one point worth mentioning : the slipping clutch was incorporated in the fan to overcome drive-gear chatter at low rpm, and, for the same reason, the vertical drive-shaft is of flexible construction.
This “chatter” will make its appearance if the clutch friction discs become too dry (due to dust) or the spring tension is, for some reason, excessive.
I am, Yours, etc.
WD Coustoi, Harrogate
I have just read with great interest the fascinating article on the 38/250 Mercedes-Benz. At the conclusion it mentions that a few of these have been converted to diesel, and this led me to wonder if it would be possible to design and make a suitable diesel head to fit to the existing block.
The crankshaft and the general construction of the engine seem to be as robust as those of a modern light highspeed diesel, such as the Perkins or American Cummins.
The Merc, pistons would have to be replaced by toroidal-cavity type, and the fuel-pump could be driven from the mag.-drive.
The blower could be retained and the engagement mechanism coupled up to give optimum pump rack travel when blowing. As the diesel would rev at a much lower speed, say 2000 rpm, even allowing for the considerable pressures inherent in this type, I don’t think that the bearings would suffer if suitably metalled, and a bhp figure of 100-105 could be expected.
The point of this scheme would be to keep the character of the car as far as possible, to alleviate the great weight of commercial conversions with regard to cost, it is difficult to believe that even with a “one off” head, a new Bosch pump and injectors. etc, the price would work out as much as that of a new Perkins p6 or Gardner unit.
I think that 190 mph, and 35-40 mpg should be reasonably expected.
Let’s hear from the experts then whether or not the idea is any good.
I am, Yours, etc..
ES Corke, Ealing.
I was most interested in reading RH Johnson’s excellent article on “The 38/250 Supercharged Super-Sports Mercedes-Benz” but certain statements concerning the racing history of this car rather caught my eye.
Firstly, the car in which S Thistlethwaite won the Daily Dispatch Trophy at Southport on May 18th, 1929, was Model S. In the same year Caracciola was third and not second at Monaco, Williams and Bouriano in Bugattis being first and second. In the Monza GP Momberger was first in the third heat and third in the final, beating a Maserati in an eight-cylinder car : the 16-cylinder Maserati not being introduced until 1931.
In 1930, Caracciola did not compete in the Monaco GP and did not win the Mille Miglia, although he did win the Over-6-litre Class, taking 17 hr 20 min, as against the 16 hr 18 min 59 sec taken by Nuvolari-Guidotti in the winning Alfa-Romeo. The Caracciola-Werner Mercedes was, in fact, sixth in the general classification.
I can find no trace of Caracciola winning a race at Avus in the year 1930, and although the figures given for the TT this year may be correct, the first three places were, of course, filled by the Alfa-Romeos, driven by Nuvolari, Campari and Varzi. The 1931 Avus race was won by R Caracciola, with Brauchitsch third. Brauchitsch’s record at Avus in 1932 was for 200 kilometres and not miles, and I can find no trace of Caracciola driving a Model SSK in the 1935 Mille Miglia.
Mr Johnson mentions a number of relatively minor events such as the Argentine Races, but omits the Caracciola, Stuck and Brauchitsch triumphs for Mercedes-Benz at Kesselberg, Klausen, Freiburg, Mont Ventottx and Semmering.
I am, Yours, etc.,
GC Monkhouse, Pinner.
My congratulations to RH Johnson on his truly magnificent Mercedes article. At the same time, I must take him up on two points. Firstly, the caption to the photograph of the Model SSKL on page 74 is surely wrong or, if it is not wrong then Le Mans 1930 was not the only occasion on which Bentley beat Mercedes ! Secondly, his account of his drive to Salisbury with my Bentley in company is correct in essentials, but I must protest that the “terrier 3-litre” was not shaken off—not by any means. I hereby attest that we kept station with him until we reached Salisbury, where we stopped at the railway station. I wasn’t even trying to pass him as the road was too twisty.
Incidentally, following a 38/250 has its moments. People will keep wandering into the road with their backs to you to gaze at the Mercedes’ tail–which is how the small boy got killed in the Paris-Berlin.
Before the war I knew a man called Michael Scott who lived at Locking, near Weston super Mare, and had two examples—both painted red : the impact on a small village can be imagined. One was a 38/250 coupe and the other a very short stark two-seater that looked like an SSK, but was apparently a rare bird—a kirtrz version of the 36/220. It was faster than the other car—I think Scott said 115 mph. He took me out in her one day and she certainly could go. We reached 100 incredibly easily, and it felt like 45. I do hope she has not gone to America.
I am. Yours, etc,
WA Taylor, Banwell.
I feel that Mr AE Marsh’s criticism of the Morgan car is most unfair.
While I regret I am at a loss to understand the trouble with the scuttle, I hazard a guess that Mr. Marsh was unlucky in taking delivery of a car which had a bulkhead manfactured shortly after the War, when seasoned timber was difficult to obtain. So far my sympathy is for him.
When, however, he talks of an incurable howl in the axle, this is ridiculous. I am sure Morgans would have been only too glad to demonstrate, since the car was still tinder guarantee. Again, he writes of rebound springs breaking as if this were a major disaster instead of a drilling repair which, had he been enthusiastic, he could have done himself in a couple of hours.
Next we are told that a cold engine would never keep going, so it appears our critic frantically hangs onto the starter until the battery is flat, then, doubtless in a ruffled state, out comes to the handle, which, we assume, is none too carefully inserted, damaging the radiator slats. The process is then to wind and slip until all the dogs are gone. Oh dear, Mr Marsh, why did you not rectify the cause of your engine stalling ? How can you expect Morgan’s to sympathise.
Regarding the hand-brake, the mistake made by many is to use this as though it would bend. It should be pulled hard and the button field down when released ; it will not fly off if this is done. Tappets make an awful lot of’ noise if not properly set, and in view of your remarks, in which you claim you failed to give attention to an engine which continued to stall, how can we assume these received a check over ? Clutch withdrawal has remained unchanged on the 4/4 for a number of years and I have yet to hear of Meccano-trouble on this model. Reverse and first gear are straight cut and so do emit a little noise, but this is a Sports-car, Mr Marsh. While I regret, your synchromesh never worked, mine is perfect, but then I never use it, which only goes to show how unfair this world is.
We learn that roadholding was “an alarming experience.” Goodness, have you ever thought how many “specials” have been constructed using the Morgan system of front suspension, These boys must have had spirit, Mr Marsh, especially at Prescott and Shelsley. Since you quote an extract from the Autocar, I would like to do the same : it. is in fact from the same article :
“The roll-free cornering and positive gear-change were ever a delight . . . the ride was rather on the hard side but softer than on the earlier cars.” Please note that last line, in view of your remarks regarding the ride, for in the same journal it is written when testing a 1937 4/4 some years ago :—
“One felt at home in the Morgan, linked with the definiteness of its steering and the stability for cornering that comes from its exceptionally low build and ifs.”
I am, Yours. etc..
“morgan enthusiast”, Flixton.
Your correspondent AE Marsh wrote a very interesting; letter on his Morgan coupe.
With some of his complaints I quite agree, and I hope the people at Malvern have ironed them out on the Plus Four. The hand-brake is somewhat unfaithful and the gearbox noisy. But, if this were placed directly behind the engine said noise would be swamped by the noise of the engine, as is the usual pattern of gearbox moutiting.
No doubt many makes of car have “silent” gearboxes only by virtue or their close proximity to a roaring engine. Whereas the Morgan cog-box is a mere two feet from Mr Marsh’s left ear !
As for roadholding, my 4/4 two-seater has never “alarmed” me on a fast corner, and, if I may quote Mr Boddy, “clings to the road like a leech”.
Finally in gratitude for a few minutes adjustment on the excellant Solex carburetter my engine has never shown any hesitation to keep going when cold.
Perhaps Mr Marsh would have been happier with a nice stolid, placid, unexciting family saloon.
I am, Yours, etc.,
IG Harris, Melksham.
In your last issue you had the audacity to print a letter from a raving lunatic. For that is the only way to describe a person (if he can be described as that) who is able to find fault with the post-war Morgan 4/4.
I am the happy and proud possessor of a 1930 4/4, and my one regret is that it is not a Plus Four.
I have not had a spot of trouble since purchasing her, and I don’t wear kid gloves either. I will treat all remarks regarding paint work, brakes, rear axle, etc, with the contempt that they deserve, for I just don’t believe them. However, a possible explanation of the gearbox is that Mr Marsh does not appreciate the purpose of a clutch. I have handled most makes of cars, including a Daimler, and have yet to use a sweeter gearbox.
I am, Yours, etc.,
A Dempster, Bromley.
News from Germany
You may be interested to have news of motoring activity amongst the British community in Germany. . There have, of course, been active clubs in various parts of the British Zone and in Berlin for some years. The youngest club is that of which I have the honour to be Chairman, the British Motoring Club, Rhineland. This club was founded some eighteen months ago, but has only recently really begun to “get going.” We now have a membership approaching 230, drawn mostly from the staff of the United Kingdom High Commissioner’s headquarters at Wahnerheide (near Bonn/Cologne), but including also members of the forces, press correspondents, business-men and members of the Commonwealth and allied delegations.
The Club’s first “public appearance” was an interesting and successful Winter Trial, held Jan 20th. This was in the nature of a “return” with the Duesseldorf Club whose enthusiastic Chairman, Harold Wolseley, has been the prime mover in motor sport in Germany in recent years. Having organised about a dozen trials for the members of the various clubs of which he has been a leading member, he was at long last able to enter his Jaguar XK120, and took second prize in his class.
If the Club can at any time be of assistance to you or any members of your staff who pass through this district, we shall be delighted to do whatever we can for you.
I am, Yours, etc,
GE Bell, Chairman. Wahnerheide.
My late father’s first car was a 1906, 10-12-hp Humber. On one memorable occasion it failed to climb, Buickhaw Brow, Yorkshire, between Settle and Clapham, and he had perforce to reverse into Settle, and he and his passengers, of which I was by far the junior, had to sleep the night at a hotel. I imagine the hotels in Settle would profit adequately by non-hill climbers of that era ! The photograph is of a 1914 or 1910 Clement-Bayard, this car had the simplest gear-change, as its motor-cycle hand-change—reverse, neutral, three forward speeds—engaged in notches, not gate-change.
A later car owned was a 1918 Spyker, advertised in a lavish catalogue at that time as the “Dutch Royal Family car”— it could go ! It had four cylinders, and my uncle owned one which had two plugs per cylinder. Lagonda’s brought this idea out as a revolutionary move about 1936-37.
Incidentally, my father and uncle always bought similar cars, therefore orders were placed “two-off” with the agents of those days.
The Spykers both had “cut-outs,” I remember, operated by a lever under the dashboard. Unfortunately I have no photographs of the Spyker. A saloon body was fitted to our Spyker about 1918-19.
These nostalgic memories are all wrong–one should look ahead, not back. I would not like to compete with “Baladeur” !
I have, incidentally, spent a fairly energetic summer reviving a 1901 Slinger motor-cycle—three wheels in line, watercooled single-cylinder de Dion Bouton. A one-off job–wrapped in patents in its day–it goes.
I am, Yours, etc,
James P Smith, Oakworth.
I read the article by JJ Hall with interest. I wonder if there are any of the Jowett sports cars he refers to in existence ? An average speed of 58-54 miles per hour is very creditable for a 7-hp two-cylinder. I always thought that detachable cylinder heads (on Jowetts) were a 1936 innovation. If so, its performance is even more striking, as I cannot visualise a more difficult task than the fitting of three new gaskets on a non-detachable cylinder head.
I am, Yours, etc,
JC Hawn. Shelf.
[We think all the genuine vintage sports Jowetts, including the Jackson Jowetts, have disappeared. Detachable heads were devised for Hall’s car and afterwards fitted as standard. (See Motor Sport, April, 1941.)–Ed.]
Readers' letters, November 1983, November 1983
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