The Battle of Small Cars - 60 minutes Flat Out

A decent debate could be centred around which of the records, in the days when racing drivers and record breaking were largely synonymous, was the most difficult to achieve. To run for 24 hours involved the night spell. To keep going at a successful speed-pitch even for one round of the clock called for a high degree of mechanical reliability, although with time in hand repairs were permissible and drivers could be changed, so in both these bids for a fresh accolade the need for physical stamina was great, but not oppressive.

When it came to the Hour Record, it was in some aspects more intense. A car had to be held at virtually maximum revs for the full sixty minutes and in the faster cars a driver had to concentrate hard and not let up. Capt George Eyston told me that when he got the World's hour record to over 130 mph in 1933 with the 8-litre sleeve-valve Panhard-Levassor, he had trained beforehand in anticipation of the strength needed to hold the car, which had zero steering castor-return action, round the steep Montlhery bankings. With the big-engined cars gearing could be high, to conserve stress on the power unit, But tackling "the hour" in a car of, say, 3 litres or under meant that to get the requisite speed the revs had to be near their maximum for what to the stressed components must have seemed like near-eternity.

However, this did not dissuade the weekly journal The Cyclecar from taking over, in 1912, a handsome Cup which its associate magazine Motor Cycling had put up for the rider who set the best speed (or distance) on a 60-minute record attempt. The jolly little paper, soon to become The Light Car & Cyclecar to combat Iliffe's The Light Car, had been introduced to foster the cyclecar movement, under the guidance of Edmund Dangerfield of Temple Press Ltd, and in later times it was edited by F J Findon, who introduced BBC commentaries from Shelsley Walsh. The first issue had sold out 80,000 copies at the 1912 Motor Cycle Show, where examples of the new economical, low-cost cyclecars were exhibited, and a further 20,000 had to be hastily printed to meet the demand,

To earn The Cyclecar Cup for the fastest one-hour run, contestants had to be timed at Brooklands Track by approved time-keepers and observed by the BARC officials, so that a successful attempt, if it exceeded an existing class time, would count as a National or International record. The donors intended to quote, to the nearest yard, the full distance covered by a competitor in the standing-start hour run. They said that this could be ascertained by the timekeeper noting the exact place the competing vehicle had reached as his watch indicated that the 60 minutes were exactly up; I hardly think the industrious A V Ebblewhite would have wished to comply, and that distances must have been calculated against the laps run at an established average speed. The runs were under Auto Cycle Union jurisdiction, the Brooklands' Clerk-of-the course, Major (later Colonel) Lindsay-Lloyd had to be notified, and the total cost to a contender was £6 16/6d. The Cup was the work of Vaughan's of Birmingham — where is it now?

So the scene was set for this Battle of the Small Cars. The first to go, and so make claim to the Cup, was W Ward, in a Bedelia cyclecar, who set a speed of 43.59mph in May 1912, on a trouble-free run. This was noticed by J T Wood, one of the GWK directors, who had the interests of the company's successful friction-drive, rear-engined twin-cylinder small cars to consider. He went to Weybridge just over a month later with his GWK. Held back by mis-firing, he just nudged the Bedelia out of it, with a speed of 44.93mph. This required a quick response from the exponent of the odd French cyclecar, and Ward returned with a streamlined body on his belt-drive machine. At the first attempt the silencer set fire to the floorboards, but on the next, in spite of the ignition lever jamming in the partially-retarded position, he achieved a pace for the hour of 45.15mph. Or as the instigators put it, 45 miles, 278 yards.

The contest was a close-run thing. Quickly Bedelia exponent A F Jones was at the ready. He added 226 yards to the record (45.29mph) but was probably more intent on full-scale record breaking in his car's class, as he established 50 and 100 mile and two-hour figures on his day out, steering from the back seat, the front one faired over. It was still only September 1912, and that same month, only a week later, Wood and a GWK were out again, doing 47.79mph in his watercooled small car. The contest had caught on, no doubt encouraged by the Press coverage, and six weeks on, at the last BMCRC race meeting of the season, H F S Morgan decided it was time for a three-wheeler to show what it could do. He was a great advocate of his own cyclecars, and his was a good "do" — 55.19mph for the hour's circulation, with an 8hp vee-twin engine. That stirred Mr Wood to some more Brooklands lappery in a GWK, which came out at 56.04mph.

However, H F S had set his sights on the first light-car (or cyclecar) "60 miles-in-60 minutes", and in that November he arrived at the Track from Malvern Link with a stark pointed-prow singleseater Morgan, accompanied by his father, the Vicar of Stoke Lacy, in top hat and full clerical attire, and crackled round and round to achieve an average speed of 59.64mph, or as it was worked out. 59 miles, 1120 yards. Close-run in another sense — just 650 yards short of his personal target. . . But a great run for that kind of cyclecar over 82 years ago, (fastest lap, 62mph) accomplished with a short-stroke 90-bore pushrod ohv 1082cc JAP air-cooled engine. Incidentally the Morgan's first onslaught had been in the course of the BMCRC's one-hour race, from which Wood's GWK was long-delayed, with water shorting the ignition. Incidentally, when war broke out in 1914 the car was sent off to the Front and used by a Belgian Army Officer for the duration. It came back eventually to the Maidenhead factory, and had survived quite well, although Wood said it had lost most of its pace...

The Morgan's fine performance in 1912 seems to have quietened ambitions for a time. Until in May 1913, when B Hayward put in a good show for the "big car in miniature" by setting a speed of 62 miles 1136 yards in a Singer, and then improving on this to 72 miles, 976 yards that September. So the Singer had the distinction of being the first light-car to officially exceed 60 miles in 60 minutes. I believe Haywood drove the racing single-seater Singer for the attempts. But in standard form the 1096 cc Singer 10 with Edwardian-like side-valve engine and three speed-and-reverse 'box in its back-axle was a nice little car, which Lionel Martin of later Aston Martin fame was tuning for greater speed at this time. I used to see one of these two-seater Singer Tens at a South London garage standing beside an overhead-camshaft Wolseley Ten and used to wonder which was the more practical light-car.

After the war had ended and Brooklands was tout to re-open, the ACU, the RAC and the BARC decided to lift the light-car class limit from 1400cc to 1500cc, and the BARC stipulated a weight limit of from 900 to 1300lb for record attempts. The cost had risen to ten guineas. The Light Car & Cyclecar followed suit but without the weight stipulation. Perhaps the Coventry manufacturers still remembered that a Singer had upheld them in the pre-war struggle for The Cup. Anyway, in September 1920 George Bedford in the Hillman he raced so successfully at the Track was timed to cover 78 miles, 1280 yards, so scooping up the honours for his Coventry firm. Interest in The Cup continued. W H Oates beat the Hillman in a Lagonda light-car with those inlet-valve-rockers in line with its crankshaft, but only a few days afterwards out came the genial H Kensington-Moir, who, with a side-valve, two-seater Aston-Martin, strongly impressed the experts by covering 86 miles, 373 yards.

This outstanding run was improved upon by Major Henry Segrave and the sixteen-valve Talbot-Darracq during the 1922 JCC 200 Mile Race at Brooklands, but as no entry had been made to the magazine, the Cup remained with Moir and Aston-Martin. Until, that is, AC took a hand in the contest. The Thames Ditton Company had been steadily working up to achieving the first 100mph with a 1 1/2-litre car. In 1921, at first the half-mile, then a kilometre, was achieved at over "the ton”; then by May 1922 a mile had been achieved at over 100mph. Thus encouraged, as late as November 1921 Kaye Don, in the course of a normal record bid, got the AC to last for the hour, at 94.70mph, which The Light Car & Cycle car quoted as 94 miles, 1227 yards. As a matter of fact, the AC continued for two hours, the 100-mile class-record falling to it at 91.87mph. Kensington Moir should have held The Cup for a year but he sportingly handed it over to S F Edge, the AC's entrant.

By now the AC Company had got the bit well and truly between its teeth. The hope of 100-in the-hour in the Light Car class looked to be in its grasp. And so it was... On November 24th, 1922 J A Joyce, in the 11cwt single-seater AC with 16-valve engine with chain-driven overhead camshaft using a Weller blade-tensioner, set the hour record to 101.35mph. Nine years previously the absolute hour record for cars of unlimited engine size had stood at only 2.45mph faster, to the credit of little Percy Lambert in the side-valve 4 1/2-litre Talbot, who was sadly killed in trying to regain it from Goux's 1912 GP 7.6-litre Peugeot.

In practice on the Wednesday before the record attempt the AC had cracked its cylinder head, so it was taken back to the works and a new one of a different material was fitted. On the Friday afternoon, when the air was slightly damp and there was no mist or wind, AC's racing driver, Joyce, went for it. Not many people were at the Track to see the little silver AC accomplish its historic feat; some of the pundits thought that without dry-sump lubrication tie engine would refuse to maintain the 4,200rpm Joyce had mainly decided to hold it at. But the amazing AC went well, covering the half-mile early on at 108.4mph, and taking the class mile record at 104.86mph, and the ten miles at 103.79mph. Joyce was then able to throttle back a fraction, and he took the 100-mile record before the hour target came up, with 101 miles, 696 yards accomplished. or an average speed of 101.39mph. He had noticed a slight change in contour of the tyre treads as the AC ran on, but the Dunlops never failed him.

Nor did the Castrol oil. KLG sparkingplugs, Shell petrol, the twin Claudel Hobson carburettors or the dual Delco-Remy coil-ignition.

The underbonnet sight was truly exciting. Above the 69 x 100mm (1496cc) engine was a supplementary water header-tank, and behind it a transversely-mounted small oil tank for feeding the sump. The compression-ratio was around 5:1, the valve lift 3/8in. The slim radiator was slightly faired in and the oil and water pumps were external, ahead of the cylinder block, connected by big exposed gear wheels. The intakes of the two carburettors protruded from the bonnet on the near-side. The body was designed by Harry Hawker, who drove this AC previously. The car was running splendidly at the end of the hour, when it did its fastest lap, at 104.85mph.

After this fine effort by AC the magazine decided that this Cup should be awarded for all such hour runs and the contest merged with normal record bids, which are outlined in my book, The History of Brooklands Motor Course. Two fast records deserve mention here, that of J G Parry Thomas in his "flat-iron" straight-eight Thomas Special with its single overhead camshaft and valves closed with leaf springs, who put the 1 1/2-litre hour record to 112.77mph in 1926, and that of the inveterate record-breaker Capt George Eyston, who in a 1 1/2-litre GP Bugatti, raised this to 115.56mph the following year.

In time, of course, this record went rather beyond the average racing driver. By 1933 at Montlhery the Class-F hour speed stood at nearly 120mph, by Veryon's Bugatti and ten years after Eyston's run the World's hour record was up to more than 177mph. . . But it was fascinating in those earlier days. WB