Last month the Comet, this month the Hermon. They had much in common. Both were optimistic designs by small concerns, and neither car ever actually went into production. But whereas it seems as if the producers of the Comet had intended to manufacture their own engine, or at least some of its major components, the people behind the Hermon project apparently realised the impossibility of so doing. Instead, they elected to use the excellent 1.5-litre twin-cam fourcylinder engine of the smaller British Salmsons.
With the camshafts driven by a vertical shaft and bevel and skew gears, each camshaft having its own damper formed of a rectangular cam and spring, the valves operated by bucket tappets and the crankshaft balanced, this was a very good unit. In the best vintage tradition, it retained a cylinder block separate from the light-alloy crankcase.
The Hermon was announced early in 1936. It was the project of a Mr G Manley, who had a close association with the Girling brake company. He proposed to build Hermon sports cars at the Boundary Garage in Sevenoaks Road, in Orpington. Indeed, Manley designed the chassis into which the British Salmson engine and gearbox was installed. I wonder whether the Anglo-French company first went to see whether it approved of the car, as I believe the Ford Motor Company used to do in the case of things like Buckler Specials for instance, when asked if they could supply proprietary power-units for small output projects?
A supply of engines was presumably available from the British Salmson premises at the Raynes Park fork, close to the Kingston bypass.
The engine for the prototype Hermon was somewhat modified to suit the chassis, the inlet ports being altered to enable twin SU carburettors to be used, and the exhaust system allowed to project on the nearside, with racing in mind. Otherwise, the British Salmson specification was retained, giving a four-speed gearbox with synchromesh on second and third. Naturally, Mr Manley used the latest Girling brakes and endowed the Hermon with Girling independent front suspension. This embodied rather ugly pressed steel channel-section lower wishbones, pivoted at the centre, and a similar cross-member above. From the latter's upper face sprouted brackets, carrying the upper suspension-links. A large hole had to be made in this cross-member to accommodate the British Salmson's dynamometer. Huge coil springs were mounted on the wishbones and operated on the top suspension links. It may have looked rather clumsy, but it served Riley for one of their two-litre racing cars.
The stub axles moved up and down in such a way that the castor-angle, not the track, varied and there were torque-stays on both sides. Friction shock-absorbers backed up the damping of the coil springs, and the steering tie-rod was a two-piece affair, with an extra link to the drop-arm. All the bushes in this i f s layout were Silenblocs, to obviate having to lubricate them. The chassis frame was in conventional style, but its side-members were boxed for their entire length and the main cross-members were straight tubes. An open propeller shaft took the drive to the back axle, which was suspended on half-elliptic leaf springs. Cooling of the engine was by thermosyphon, but later it was the intention to add a pump.
The first Hermon was destined for racing, but thereafter it was to have gone into production as a lightweight sports car, costing around £600, if not a little less. In the meantime the prototype was readied for competition, being entered for the 1936 Brooklands Whit-Monday Meeting. It is possible to visualise the keen anticipation with which the yellow two-seater was prepared at that Orpington garage. FW Oxley was to drive it in the First Whitsun Short Handicap on the outer circuit. Ever cautious over newcomers, the handicappers set it to leave the startline at the 55s mark, in the company of Freddie Thatcher's well-known 1287cc MG. The 69x98mm (1470cc) Hermon and the MG had to make up quite a lot on the Abbott-Nash of Peter Almack and Sandiford's Singer Nine.
The Abbott-Nash soon petered out, but Oxley's opening lap was completed at 75.69 mph, whereas the experienced Thatcher, who ran a pub on the outskirts of Esher, accomplished his standing-start lap at 81.57. After that there was no comparison, the smaller-engined car lapping at 93.97 mph to the Hermon's 84.99. Anyway, the Appleton Special won, from Mrs Briggs' Riley Nine and Charles Follett's 2.7-litre Alvis. The Hermon was paired with the MG again for the First Whitsun Long Handicap. but although it was faster than before (laps at 77.57, 86.62 and 85.57mph) it was again slower than the MG. The race went to Clive Windsor-Richards in his blue 30/98 Vauxhall, with Billy Cotton's MG second and Earl Howe third from scratch in his Type 59 3.3-litre Bugatti, which lapped at 138.34mph.
Oxley had another go at the August races, nominating AB Lavy as his driver, and the Hermon's lap-speed improved again, to 90.55mph. In the Second August Long Handicap, Lavy was rewarded with third place, from a limit position start, behind the winning Bugatti of Kelway and Leitch's Bugatti. This performance was then repeated in the Third Mountain Handicap, even if the victorious Amilcar Six of HTH Clayton wiped out the Hermon's 20s starting advantage and Mrs Eccles in the Rapier Special overcame her 31s deficit.
At the autumn Brooklands meeting Lavy went even quicker, lapping at 91.38 mph, but again failing to net a place. After that the Hermon was raced no more, although it was found by someone in the 1950s.
So what happened?
The Hermon's 91.38 mph lap was proof of its capable performance. It compares well with the 78 mph lap which I got from a road equipped Meadows HRG a year later, even if the Hermon was stripped for racing. It would have had to compete, of course, with many similar cars, such as the Batten Special V8 of the Beckenham Motor Company at £375, the Buckler, the LMR Epoch, the smaller Vale Special, the HRG and other cars from small companies aimed directly at the enthusiast. Why did it fail? Could finance have run out? Could British Salmson and/or Girling have been against supplying the engine or suspension? Or did the only car built blow up, resulting in evaporated effort?
I doubt we shall ever know.