Runs, more or less non-stop, of long distance or duration, have always been an admirable means of proving the durability and reliability (not quite the same thing) of a particular motor vehicle, and all along the ages there have been people, both men and women, sufficiently keen, or well paid, or both, to match their endurance to that of the machine.
On the road, or more accurately away from artificial circuits, there have been many great Marathons, both old and rather more recent. The 1907 Peking-Paris race, which it was hoped to emulate this year, involved a route of more than 8,000 miles, covered in 80 days by the victorious Itala, and the following year’s New York-Paris race was a matter of over 13,000 miles, and occupied 218 days.
In much more recent times we have had the two World Marathons, the respective routes of which covered 10,000 miles in 1968 and 16,000 miles in 1970, and the recently much-publicised Paris-Dakar desert rally of three weeks’ duration. There are events such as the current Coast-to-Coast “Cannonball Run” in America, involving 2,800 competitive miles, nor must we forget, in an age of under-200-mile, 1½-hour Formula One races, that as early as 1899 the distance of the year’s major motor race was a prodigious 1,350 miles, or that cars in the 1912 French Grand Prix were required to run for 956 miles. These days, of course, winning at Le Mans involves packing 3,000 or so miles into the double-round of the clock.
However, the true endurance-run is perhaps better expressed as a contest of one vehicle against the clock, even at times involving one driver only, and it is such runs on which the following thoughts dwell. That leaves out the epic, pioneer, trans-Continental expeditions, often taking months, even more than a year, and involving alarming hazards and unbelievable hardships and stamina en route, about which some very good fairly recent books are available.
The greatest endurance-run of all was surely the one undertaken by the indomitable Mon. Francois Lecot, who drove 400,000 kilometres (248,400 miles) in a year in a traction avant Citroen, in 1935/36. Lecot set himself a target of 119 hours per week, and his run, which was successfully accomplished, required eight ACF official-observers, working in relays. (I believe he only stopped on Christmas Day.) The FWD Citroen saloon averaged around 23½ m.p.g. of petrol and consumed some 70 tyres. Lecot was 58 years of age at the time and, remembering how hard Motor Sport had to drive a BMW 3.0 CSL on modern autoroutes in 1972 to cover 3,789 miles in four days, my bewildered admiration for the enthusiastic and determined Frenchman knows no bounds.
Turning to endurance-runs on closed tracks, the advent of which encouraged such projects, the first at Brooklands was the 24-hour run in 1907 by S. F. Edge on a 60 h.p. six-cylinder Napier, before any racing had taken place over the virgin concrete. Cocking-a-snoot at the experts who said a man’s heart would not stand up to the continual buffeting, Edge drove without relief, except for brief rests while the Napier was being refuelled, and was afterwards able to drive himself to the “White Lion” at Cobham, which he had made his headquarters. He covered a distance of just less than 1,581 miles, at an average speed of almost 66 m.p.h., inclusive of the depot-stops, during which 44 Dunlop tyres had to be changed, aided by having them on Rudge-Whitworth detachable wheels. Edge had arranged to have them cooled by a stream of water projected across the Track, before the rains came, a ploy used much later, without success, by Parry Thomas. This World record for the continuous 24-hour run wasn’t beaten until 1924, when a 2-litre AC managed 81.27 m.p.h. for 1,949.3 miles and only required six new tyres, to Edge’s 44. But that was done in France, where the Montlhéry Autodrome was free from noise problems, no the 1907 continuous 24-hour run remains a British record to this day — if anyone wants to try to better it…
It might be thought that the 24-hour record was the toughest proposition in the records-book, leaving aside the Land Speed Record. But when I discussed this with the late Capt. G. E. T. Eyston. OBE, the inveterate “record-man”, he told me that he considered the hour-record by far the most difficult, in his day at least. Whereas pit-stops were possible over a period of 24 hours or 48 hours, after which time lost might be recovered, this wasn’t possible in the case of the “hour”, and tyres were a problem after the speed had risen above 100 m.p.h., nor could the engine be spared by throttling it back after the record had been taken to over 120 m.p.h. When Eyston captured this coveted honour with the single-seater 8-litre Panhard-Levassor at 130 m.p.h. at Montlhéry track, he went into training, so punishing was the task of holding the big car on the very steep bankings, although he was normally a very fit and strong man. Later, on a very cold day, on Dunlop tyres and Castrol oil, he took this record to 133.01 m.p.h. When the hour-record was held at below 110 m.p.h. Parry Thomas only contrived is break it by using quick-lift jacks operated by his efficient pit-staff at both ends of the Leyland-Thomas, when a change of the Rapson tyres at half-distance was thought prudent (this taking only 25 to 30 sec.!) and he did not raise the record to over 110 m.p.h. until his Dunlop tyres were able to complete the run non-stop, as there was no time for a depot-stop from that speed upwards. When little Percy Lambert, who gave his life trying to go even faster, put the World’s hour-record to over 100 m.p.h. for the first time at Brooklands in 1913, with the wonderful side-valve 25 h.p. Talbot, he had certainly set a tough target!
If, however, the 24-hour record was not such a tense high-speed dash, testing car, tyres and driver to the extreme, as the “hour,” it could be very difficult. When Renault, with their tandem-seated 45 h.p. saloon (of which there is a replica in the Cléres Museum), sought to put it at over 100 m.p.h for the first time, they met several snags. First, no-one would ride in the cramped space behind the driver, who therefore had to watch the state of the tyres himself. Then, after some twelve hours, the cylinder head of the 9-litre engine developed a leak, stopping the first attempt. The car weighed well over two tons, so its tyres had to be changed every hour, by a team of 14 trained mechanics, using four jacks. This could be done in 52 sec. at best, including refuelling, but it was estimated that each depot-stop cost three minutes, because of slowing, stopping, and accelerating, so the Renault had to hurry. It was fortunately good for a Montlhéry lap-speed of nearly 119 m.p.h., and in July 1926 the World’s 24-hour record was established for the first time at over the “ton”, actually at 107.49 m.p.h. including all the stops. But it had been a close-run thing, for the supply of Michelin tyres ran out and it is said that some Dunlops had to be borrowed to conclude the run, an embarrassing position for the Publicity Department of the great French tyre manufacturer! The distance covered, 3,589 miles, was equal to the straight-line journey from London to Baghdad, which the air-lines were then trying to open up.
It was the arrival of race-tracks in Britain, France, Italy and America that made endurance runs of this kind possible. Most of them were attacks on World’s or International Class-records, Properly recognised by the AIACR (now the FISA), but if these were beyond reach it was always possible to devise lesser runs and have them officially observed at National Club level, so that their authenticity was substantiated. In addition, there were the trans-continent “blinds”, such as the coast-to-coast run by “Cannonball” Baker in a supercharged Graham in 1933, when he averaged over 52 m.p.h. for 53½ hours, giving his name to the aforementioned Cannonball Baker Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Dash, in which a Jaguar XJ-S averaged around 87 m.p.h. in 1979, (a 4½-litre Bentley held the “record” in vintage times) unofficial record dashes across Australia, etc. Incidentally, Stanley Sedgwick, of the Bentley DC, covered the Cannonball Route-80 USA journey last year, in an Oldsmobile Cutlass saloon, the average speed, excluding the night stops, being 56.5 m.p.h. and he was booked once for speeding. Mr. Sedgwick has done a number of single-driver endurance-runs, which are described in his delightful book “Motoring My Way” (Batsford, 1976). Such runs parallel the famous John O’Groats-to-Land’s End or reverse, epic, which was an enormous challenge, from the earliest days, for cyclists, motorcyclists and car drivers, and can still be an adventure in a vintage Austin 7. Even a fast time from London to John O’Groats, which we at Motor Sport used to have a stab at, starting with my pre-war run in 15¼ hours in a 4½-litre Bentley drop-head coupe, used to be fun in the days before the 60 m.p.h. speed-limit on ordinary roads.
Space restrictions preclude mentioning all the more outstanding of these endurance runs and lots of these are in the record-books, because after World War One the AIACR recognised records of 2,000 miles and over. There was really no restriction on these and the most fabulous performance was again by a Citroen. Yacco Oil used to sponsor record-runs, by Ford (one with an all-woman crew), Austin and Citroen cars. The Citroens “Rosalie” and “Petit Rosalie” took off at Montlhéry and the 1,463 c.c. model went on and on in 1933, with relays of drivers. It was a bit inconvenient when the course was wanted for the French Grand Prix! But the Citroen was displayed on a special dais while this happened, and went on afterwards, to break more and more World’s records, finally stopping after 133 days! It had by then dime 185,353 miles, 1,740 yards, at 58.07 m.p.h. It seems that there were seven different “Rosalie” record breaking Citroens, including a 2.6-litre six which did 64.65 m.p.h. for 54 days, and 1.7-litre and 2-litre four-cylinder versions.
There were so many endurance feats along the years, either as record-bids, officially-observe-runs, or stunts like driving up and down a hill (the Rover Company won the coveted RAC Dewar Trophy for this, at BwIch-y-Groes, with their then-new 14/45 h.p. model, the Singer Junior Pollock sports model took its name from such ascents and descents of the notorious Somerset hill, and I have done some stints up and down BwIch myself, in a 2c.v. Citroen) and I also vaguely remember small Fords going rotund and rotund Goodwood, with Graham Hill as one of the drivers showing me how to take the corners…
One of the more enthusiastic endurance runners was Violet Cord, (now Mrs. Hindmarsh, an enthusiastic member of the Brooklands Society). First she led a team of drivers in a successful flattening of records of up to 15,000 miles at Monza in 1926, with an Invicta (car, not steam-roller), delayed when one driver fell asleep and damaged the car. She then did a 5,000-mile run at over 70 m.p.h. at Brooklands, troublefree in her 2½-litre Invicta, winning for the car’s makers the Dewar Trophy in 1926. A World tour in a 3-litre Invicta tourer covering 10,266 miles in five months was observed for her by the RAC in 1927, and in 1929, joined by her sister Evelyn, 30,000 miles were covered round and round Brooklands in a 4½-litre Invicta at 61.57 m.p.h. and 18.47 m.p.g., oil-consumption being 894 m.p.g. plus two sump changes. The speed included five hours stationary, for servicing, and again Invictas took the Dewar Trophy.
To show that she hadn’t tired of motoring, Miss Cordery spent some of 1930 driving an Invicta to Monte Carlo and back in third gear, from London to John O’Groats and back in second gear, doing London-Edinburgh-London in bottom gear, concluding with 11 circuits of the RAC’s London “traffic-route” in top cog. I thought I was fond of driving, but…! She was apparently persuaded from trying a 25-mile run round Brooklands in reverse…
The Bruces also indulged in endurance, in aeroplanes as well as in cars. The Hon. Victor Bruce and his wife got records of up to 15,000 stiles at Montlhéry in 1927 with an AC Six, in spite of the car sliding on the snow-covered track and overturning. Even in those days it was possible to fly out J. A. Joyce as spare driver, and as he was unfamiliar with the Paris track he practised with an AC saloon. The run wat later celebrated at the Hotel Cecil in London, four days before Christmas. Another rather droll endurance feat the Bruces organised was that of motoring a 7 b.p. Jowett saloon towing a 100-gallon petrol hawser from Bradford, where these cars were made, to the Paris track, where it averaged 38, m.p.h. for 72 hours non-stop (2,772 miles), refuelled from its own petrol-trailer, after which they took the outfit back to Yorkshire, receiving a Mayoral welcome.
A fresh facet of long-duration record-breaking was introduced by George Eyston when he net off in a 1930 Singer saloon with the bonnet sealed, to prove that the engine had received no oil or plug-changes; I gather it came to an end when the prop.-shaft fell out, but not before 24 hours had been accomplished at 50.7 m.p.h. Not to be outdone in these matters, back in December 1927 Deeley, having had some sort of an argument with his wife about it, drove a little Singer Junior 2-seater at Montlhéry for six days and nights, in very bad weather conditions, and after 98 min. for refuelling stops, had averaged 39.39 m.p.h. overall for no less than 5,671 miles.
That shows what could be done by determined, indefatigable people in very modest motor cars. As far as the ore-hone, 12-hour and 24-hour World’s records were concerned, however, these had been lifted far beyond the reach of ordinary mortals before the outbreak of World War Two. For instance, they then stood respectively at 177.05 m.p.h., 168.99 m.p.h., and 253.1 m.p.h., held by Ab. Jenkins’ 25.3-litre Mormon-Meteor, running at the Utah Salt Flats. But at Indianapolis stock-car records were very much the norm and I expect American readers can recall some endurance runs of note with these? In 1949, our Alan Hess organised a 7 days and nights but there with an Austin A90, with S.C.H. Davis the Team Manager. 11,875 miles were covered at 71.68 m.p.h., beating the 1928 Stock Car records held bv a Studebaker President.
At Packard’s Proving-Ground a production Packard Eight saloon was run for 15,432 miles at 87.23 m.p.h. overall (88.76 m.p.h. running-time speed), its reliable progress being teletyped to the Packard stand at the 1935 New York Show. Ingenuity has been applied to such demonstrations of motor-endurance, as when a Packard Eight crossed America in 1925, the 3,965 miles being done non-stop by using trolley-jacks, for changing its tyres without the need for the car to come to rest, rather as with the Series II Morris Minor that was able to do 10,000 miles in just over nine days at Goodwood circuit in 1952, without its engine or its road wheels ceasing to turn, as servicing was accomplished by driving it onto a Morris-Oxford mobile-platform; somehow engine oil and wheels were changed without stopping the machinery, which could also be greased and generally serviced while still in motion. The Minor averaged 45.75 m.p.h. and 42.75 m.p.g. of fuel but wore out an off-side front-tyre in 2,500 miles, on this clockwise circuit. A crib of the American publicity, obviously. Another facet of endurance running were those day-and-night tests of new-model prototypes, run by relays olfactory test-drivers, whom I used to regard with envy, such as 50,000 miles in England and on the Continent to get the bugs out of the prototype straight-eight Hillman, to give but one example.
Then there were the London—Cape Town records, Slegh and Jopling doing the 10,300 miles in 24 days, 2 hrs. 50 mins, in an Austin A70 Hampshire saloon in 1949, breaking Symons’ 18/85 Wolseley time set in 1938139 by 7 days, 19 hrs. 10 miss. The A70 managed 2,400 miles in three consecutive days and averaged 62 m.p.h. for the final two hours. And there was the Round the World in three weeks — for a 2/6d. bet — performance by Hess and his crew in 1950, aided by a KLM DL4 Skymaster when the Austin A40 Sports returned 29 m.p.h. of petrol and over 5,000 m.p.g. of oil, on one set of Dunlop tyres and Champion plugs, averaging 441 miles a day for the 9,263 miles.
I have only touched on a few endurance runs, and they can still be fun! — W.B.