Rumblings, March 1961

Sprung on Rubber
The B.M.C. minicars are the most advanced British cars in large-scale production and one of their outstanding features is all-round-independent suspension using rubber in compression and shear as the springing medium, which loads the shock absorbers very lightly and gives roll-free cornering in conjunction with a very high standard of comfort in such small vehicles. How this suspension was developed is an interesting story, which we gleaned when visiting the historic and hilly town of Bradford-on-Avon last month.

It is here that Moulton Developments Ltd., formed in 1956 as a B.M.C. Associate Company whose rubber suspension units are made by Dunlop in a special factory at Coventry, is housed at The Hall. This fine house was restored by Mr. Alex E. Moulton’s great-grandfather, Stephen Moulton, in 1848 and was chosen to represent the Renaissance House in the English Pavilion at the Paris Exhibition of 1900.

Bradford-on-Avon had been a flourishing wool town but when the wool trade moved north to be in closer proximity to coal supplies this Wiltshire town faced poverty. Stephen Moulton, while visiting this part of the country, saw the house and adjacent mill and bought it in the early 1840s. He used the mill-house as a rubber mill and the great concern which later became Spencer-Moulton was born, restoring the town’s wealth. It supplied rubber capes for soldiers in the Crimean War, rubber suspension for certain railway locomotives, and buffers and draw-bars for trains. Subsequently the family rubber business made tyres; it has since been absorbed by Avon. Not unnaturally, therefore, Alex Moulton was interested in rubber and steam from an early age. While at Marlborough he built a steam car consisting of a G.N. chassis powered by a two cylinder 2½ in. X 3½ in. Locomobile engine fed from a flash-type boiler heated with a Calor-gas Simpson burner, this fearsome light car being tried out in the grounds of The Hall. Leaving school, he worked under the great Doble at Sentinels at Shrewsbury before studying engineering at Cambridge. Leaving Cambridge, Moulton went to the Bristol Aeroplane Co. on the aero-engine side under Sir Roy Fedden but in 1946 commenced his own researches into rubber suspension for vehicles.

By 1955 a Morris Minor was fitted all round with rubber suspension, in conjunction with the B.M.C. Project Engineer Jack Daniels, and a 1,000-mile test at M.I.R.A. proved satisfactory. At this time Alec Issigonis was satisfied with his torsion-bar springing of the Minor but he had met Moulton at a Silverstone Speed Trial when the latter was acting as mechanic for Leonard Taylor’s Stanley steam car and when Issigonis went to Alvis to design a revolutionary all-independently-sprung (but still-born) V8 car for them, Moulton rubber suspension units were used. Moulton was also responsible for the “Flexitor” rubber suspension for the Austin Gypsy.

When Issigonis returned to B.M.C. and was asked to turn out the ADO 15 small-car project in a very short space of time he co-operated with Moulton Developments Ltd. in using their ingenious suspension units.

Down at Bradford-on-Avon continuous tests take place of these 5-in. units aimed at evaluating improved materials, including a full investigation into the properties of synthetic rubber. These test-rigs are made in the company’s workshops and so simple yet effective are they that we felt compelled to inquire whether Moulton played in his youth with Meccano! Where the loose-boxes used to be eight of these weighted, out-of-balance resonance rigs, each one driven by a 1-h.p. motor, were making constant-load tests of ADO15 suspension units, and in a near-by workshop three 10-hp. rigs were subjecting these units to constant-deflection tests. It is significant that some of these rigs have been operating since April 1959, in some cases by day only, so that the rubber units rest at night as with a car in its garage, but that one rig has run continuously, having made to date over 30-million reversals, a test far more stringent than is ever visualised for steel springs!

In the grounds of The Hall an architect-designed drawing office of wood and stone blends with the surroundings. Here all manner of fascinating projects, from bicycles to buffers, are being developed, including more advanced rubber suspension units for future B.M.C. cars. Incidentally, Moulton is also responsible for the universal couplings in the front-drive mechanism of the B.M.C. minicars.

The foregoing concerns business but it so happened that on the day of our visit a Ferrari 250 Pininfarina 2+2 coupé was brought to The Hall for Moulton to try and we were able to go out with him and discover how unobtrusively this fine car, with a 3-litre V12 240-b.h.p. engine that revs willingly to 7,000 r.p.m., exceeds 100 m.p.h. on ordinary English roads. Mechanical and wind noise is low, the Dunlop disc brakes and excellent road-holding give entire reassurance. A cruising speed, in the Laycock overdrive, of 140 m.p.h. on M1 is claimed. This beautiful Ferrari (list price £6,326) is going to replace Alex Moulton’s present 1957 Lancia Aurelia G.T., which has run 63,000 miles without requiring more than routine servicing, the head never having been lifted.

This exhilarating run in February sunshine in the Ferrari got us talking cars(!) and we discovered that Moulton has been staunch to Lancia since owning an Aprilia. He has done some quarter-million Lancia miles, having replaced the Aprilia with a B12 Aurelia and this with a B20 Aurelia, and he still considers the Aprilia to be one of the World’s finest cars technically and the last-series Aurelia G.T. the most beautiful car ever made. But the Flaminia does not appeal so much and consequently Alex Moulton will, in future, travel by Ferrari.

His everyday transport, however, will continue to be looked after by his Morris Mini-Minor, which has been undersealed inside and out and given the full Interior Silent Travel treatment, has slightly softer-than-standard shock-absorber settings, a gear-lever extension and the first degree of Downton engine-tune. His mother is also a satisfied B.M.C.-owner, with her Wolseley 1500.

Alex Moulton remembers starting his motoring career with an Austin Seven “75” Sports two-seater and he has also owned a Morgan 4/4 and one of the first XK Jaguars. To him many of the present-day motor-racing fraternity owe the fun they get from flinging their “minibrics” round corners.

Ambitious Renault
Renault have department at opened a new garden showroom and spares their Acton, London, plant, the latter of 33,000 sq. ft. area stocking over 12,000 Dauphine parts, which can be sent out to agents via a telephone/tape-recorder for taking orders at night, this 24-hour service providing a by-return service.

This Month’s Best Story?
A motorist saw his doctor about an internal disorder. “You must give up horse-riding,” he was told. But the patient had never been on a horse in his life — he did, however, drive an H.R.G. . . . !

750 M.G. Brands Hatch Practice Day 
On March 26th experienced instructors will be at Brands Hatch to help novice 750 M.C. drivers learn trackcraft without the cut-and-thrust of actual racing, while builders of new 750 and 1172 Formula cars will likewise be able to get the feel of the circuit — a sound idea.

“Look at Life” 
J. Arthur Rank’s “Look at Life” team of cameramen, producers, directors, etc., recently took a look at rallying. The rally covered was the R.A.C. Rally of last November and a very good job they made of it. The ten-minute film in good colour is called “Against the Clock.” This may depict some hairy motoring but, in fact, the filming and Raymond Baxter’s commentary get over to the audience that successful international rallyists rely more on consistency than on noisy “blood-and-thunder” type motoring. The film is centred round the Rank-entered Humber Super Snipe, from which most of the filming was done, although other competitors were filmed, especially at Brands Hatch on the last test.

As a finish shot the winners are seen rising out of the stage at the Hippodrome in their Saab prior to the prize-giving. Two shots which will amuse most people interested in motoring sport are of the Competitions Committee of the R.A.C. The first shows this august body seated round a table at normal speed. The second shot is of the same table and the same committee, but the film is obviously speeded up to try and give the impression of frenzied activity — in fact, all through the film the organisers are shown as knowing exactly what is going on at any particular moment, which any journalist who tried to find out details of the progress of the Rally knows to be laughable. The film is well done and the team is to be congratulated on the speed at which they got it into circulation. — M. J. T.

Bodyshell Concours
Super Accessories of Southlands Road, Bromley, Kent, who specialise in the sale of glass fibre bodyshells are holding a Concours d’Elegance for glass fibre-bodied cars on Sunday, May 14th, the only stipulation being that the body must have been purchased through Super Accessories. Entry is free and forms can be obtained from Super Accessories. A prize of £50 will be awarded to the best Ford-based special and £50 for the best Austin-based car. Other cash prizes will be awarded down to fourth place. The Concours will be held at Biggin Hill Aerodrome and spectators will be admitted free of charge. Camping can be arranged for long distance travellers.

Speed Events  
With the racing season not far away the first sprints and speed trials are already being held. The Surrey Sporting Motor Club will be at Brands Hatch for a speed trial on March 5th starting at 12 noon, and at the same venue on the following Sunday the South Eastern Centre of the M.G. Car Club will be holding their speed trial commencing at 1 p.m. On Saturday, March 18th the Hagley & D.L.C.C. will be at Wellesbourne Airfield near Stratford-on-Avon for a spring meeting commencing at 1 p.m.

Of race meetings the B.A.R.C. will have Members’ Meetings at Goodwood on March 11th and Oulton Park on March 18th, both commencing at 1.30 p.m. The first big meeting of the season will be at Snetterton on March 25th, when the Snetterton M.R.C. will hold the Lombank Trophy meeting, at which the first InterContinental race will be held. Most of the entrants will use 2½-litre cars and “works” teams are entered from Cooper, Lotus, Yeoman Credit, U.D.T.-Laystall, while in the Formula Junior race the new rear-engined Lola will be in opposition to the Lotus and Gemini entries. Racing commences at 1.30 p.m.

Lowestoft Doesn’t Like Us!  
If a report appearing in the Eastern Daily News of February 9th is correct Mr. Norman Wigg, Deputy Mayor of Lowestoft, doesn’t like motorists. He is reported as saying, at a meeting of Lowestoft Town Council: “There are all sorts of criminals in this world today — there are murderers, there are wife beaters and child beaters and robbers of all kinds, but the worst malefactor of all is the motorist. The police are going to patrol parts of the town and lock up, probably for the rest of the summer, any motorist who dares to park his car. You have been warned.”

It looks like war. And in war it sometimes pays not to advance! When you know you are not wanted it is, indeed, better to stay away.