WB miscellany, March 2005

The impressive Lancia Kappa

Long before the outbreak of WWI, the reputation of Lancia cars was firmly established. Those who had an interest in the sporting side of motoring would have been able to buy a car made by a well-known racing driver, for Vincenzo Lancia, who came from a wealthy upper-class family, went as an apprentice to Fiat and rose to become its chief inspector and test driver, before he became one of Fiat’s racing team.

In 1906 he started his own company in Turin, which soon became highly respected for its products. Arthur Jeddere-Fisher used one of these, a 1913 Lancia Theta, with notable durability in vintage events. These gave good service as wartime staff cars during the 1914-18 war. With fixed-head side-valve engines of 110x130mm (4941cc) they were continued after the war, when they were known as the Kappa series.

As with other makers of quality cars, the performance was increased in 1921 by using overhead valves in a detachable cylinder head, operated by pushrods and rockers; the pushrods were very neatly enclosed within the block. This raised the power output to over 90bhp. The dynamo and starter were within the flywheel, the starter wired to give a quiet start. Having the pushrods sat within the block warmed them sufficiently, it was said, to prevent the tappet settings opening up.

A sporting rather than a sportscar version of the Kappa was available. This had a light Lancia-built tourer body, with two doors, one for the rear compartment, the other for the front seats, to accommodate two spare wheels, one on each running-board, thus improving weight distribution. To this end also, instead of a large boot, a flat trunk platform was provided at the back of the body. The wheelbase remained at 11ft, the track at 4ft 7in, and the 895×135 tyres were fitted to wire wheels. Brake and gear levers were central, the former with a narrow gate, and powerful rear wheel brakes sufficed. A 21-gallon petrol tank gave a range of 150 miles. There was automatic advance-and-retard for the magneto as well as the usual steering wheel control lever.

Suspension was by half-elliptic springs all round and an apron was fitted above the front dumb-irons. Gear ratios were 10.6, 7.0, 4.8 and 3.96 to 1, top gear direct, and the weight was 1 ton 15cwt 3qts. The sporting model Kappa displayed at Olympia in 1921 was priced £1550 after import duty, now called the ‘Speed’ model.

Vincenzo’s innovations resulted in an absolute sensation at the 1919 Paris Salon — and at Olympia — when he exhibited his 6-litre V12, its cylinders angled at 22deg within a single block, giving the outward appearance of a very neat 6cyl unit. Production costs withheld it from production, but it led to the many narrow-angled Lancia engines, from the Aprilia onwards until the flat-four Flavia finally broke this pattern in 1960.

The 1922 Di-Kappa was virtually the same as the previous one, but in 1923 the V8 2.6-litre Tri-Kappa joined the so-desirable Aprilia, with its independent front suspension and appealing appearance, at the London Show.

Back to the Kappas. Tests of the new sporting car were soon being requested by the motoring writers, but W L Stewart, who had raced Lancias at Brooklands before WWI and now sold them from the Curtis Automobile Company in Albemarle Street, London W1 , had only an early hard-used car to lend. At the Track it covered a mile at 67.8mph — although 80mph was claimed as the car’s top speed — and it ascended the Test Hill at a whisker under 17mph from a standing start, with three people aboard.

Among the great cars of the 1920s the Lancia Kappa undoubtedly had its place.


Tom, Dick and Eddie

It was fitting that Autocar recently had a feature about CT Delaney, who last year raced happily in his 1.5-litre Lea-Francis, which won the first Ulster TT in 1928, driven by Kaye Don. Tom Delaney is not only a nice person but is unique in racing at the age of 94. In spite of a crash at Silverstone he intends to race this season, in VSCC-type events: members of his family also compete.

He told Andrew Frankel, who wrote the story, that he is proud to have beaten Dick Seaman, who was to become a member of the famous Mercedes-Benz racing team.

This happened, not in 1932, but in 1933 at the closing Donington Meeting, as explained in The Motor Sport Book of Donington (Grenville, 1973). This contains reports of all the meetings from 1933 to 1939, some I think written by Tom Moore when he owned Motor Sport, along with my impressions of how the German Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union teams dominated so overwhelmingly the 1937 and 1938 GPs at the track: I wish that someone would republish it, as the pre-war A7 Club has The Motor Sport Book of the Austin Seven.

The scratch race in which Tom beat Dick was run in the rain: the Lea-Francis made a poor start with wheelspin but overtook Seaman’s supercharged 2-litre Bugatti, a present from his mother, and Tom finally overtook others to finish second, 14 sec behind Eddie Hall’s precisely driven blown MG Magnette.

Delaney also told Andrew he was proud of his showing in the 1931 Irish GP until the Lea retired. He was prominent at Brooklands from 1930 onwards. etc. What tales he must have to tell!


Scottish enterprise

William Beardmore — Transport is the Thing is not merely another contribution to motoring history, it is refreshingly different from other useful books of this kind. It is about Beardmore cars and the complex number of companies allied to the name, including Galloway, Arrol-Johnston and Arrol-Aster, and its author, Kenneth A Hurst, is the son of a manager of one of the many companies. He thus had experience of the Beardmore range of vehicles.

He is quite outspoken about the good and bad aspects of the various companies and the reasons why the many projects — cars, aircraft, taxis, aero-engines, and the Beardmore Precision and Dunelt motorcycles — failed or succeeded, including the battles between top personalities.

As one example, the real reason why HRH The Prince of Wales abandoned his 1919 West Country tour in a Victory-model Beardmore is told for the first time; and the qualities of different cars are also most interestingly discussed.

This adds much spice and fresh knowledge to this little book, which refers not only to the whole car range, with specification tables, but includes references to the sports Beardmore and the racing version with which Cyril Paul broke the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb record in 1924, and the TT cars, etc.

It is another essential history, helped into print by the Michael Sedgwick Memorial Trust Fund, so prospective authors need fear no stigma in submitting their mss to it.

It is excellent that this inside story of a great and famous Scottish engineering firm, founded by William Beardmore, who became a baronet in 1914 and Lord Invernairn by ’21, has been told is such an open way.

The ISBN is 1 901663 53 1, the publisher NMS Enterprises Ltd, National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh EHI 1JF, price £12.99.


More racers converted for the road

My recent recall of some of the more famous racing cars that were converted for road-going use was well received, so here is a bit more.

I mentioned the good services of H Mortimer Batten, FZS, a sort of motorised Bill Oddie, whom The Autocar allowed to contribute wildlife experiences to its pages, these being accepted as interesting to those who motored into the country in those calmer days. He used one of the 3.2-litre Straker-Squires which contested the 1914 TT. His was sixth on the two-day 600-mile event, driven by RS Witchel, after being delayed by having to follow the doctor’s car and having a broken petrol pipe replaced.

By 1924 Batten had been using the old car as an everyday family hack for 100,000 miles, after which remarkable mileage its transmission and brakes showed no noticeable wear. Its piston rings, valves and a clutch lining had to be replaced, but this cost a mere £27. The old machine would still out-accelerate many new sportscars and pull a healthy 72mph on the 3.5-to-1 top gear, with 20-25 mpg. I have an idea that Batten later had an Alvis; if so, who acquired that still extremely game Straker-Squire?

I mentioned a 1914 grand prix Nagant which a Scottish enthusiast had been using as normal transport at least into the mid-1920s. John Warburton, who edits the never-to-be-missed Bulletin published by the VSCC, reminds me that Tim Carson, the Club’s first secretary, had a grand prix Nagant, which, sadly, caught fire and was completely destroyed. I do not suppose Tim’s motor trading took him as far afield as Glasgow, so perhaps he had the other of these two Nagants.

It is a mystery why these Belgian machines appeared on British roads but never competed at Brooklands. The one exception was a Nagant-Hobson; but that surfaced rather earlier on, in 1908.

Austin built three racing cars and a spare for the 1908 French Grand Prix, putting tourer bodies on them afterwards. The problem of who drove which in the race was solved for me by ‘Sherlock Holmes’, who, disguised as a motor trader carrying trade plates, confused Dr Watson! (I wonder whether Motor Sport is thus responsible for the first-ever Holmes pastiche?)

With Holmesian observation, Malcolm Jeal, the VCC historian, has identified the racing Itala which we illustrated parked on the road in France as one of the three 1913 French Grand Prix cars. One of these rotary-valve 8-litre Italas was raced successfully equipped with a track body in 1914 at Brooklands by Robertson Shersby-Harvie; he was timed at 119.5mph over the half-mile. In 1918 the car was given a saloon body; does it still languish somewhere in the Scottish Highlands? Finally, Sulley’s Germain was a 5-litre 1907 GP car from Belgium, not 1909 as printed.

Old racing cars apart, some of the cars which were converted into ambulances, to serve in the war from which more than a million men failed to return, survived and were returned to civilian service after the 1918 Armistice.

One such example involves the Austins of the Lloyd’s Convoy, which had rescued the wounded at the fierce Battle of Verdun; one of these had a smart touring body put on it by the Surbiton Coach & Bodyworks in 1919.


The flight path of the Swallow

Barrie Price has done it again! Apart from running a Rolls-Royce/Bentley servicing business, buying the Lea-Francis company in 1962, and now making a sportscar of his own concept, he has written some outstanding books. A Bugatti one was followed by a Lea-Francis tome, one of the most informative of its kind, and he followed this with an intriguing work comparing other cars with R-R standards.

He has now given us the same kind of intriguing book, The Rise of Jaguar, from its Swallow Sidecars start. In 176 pages Barrie uses his engineering knowledge and his contacts with some of the personalities involved to provide previously unpublished information about Jaguar from 1928 to 1950.

The serious stuff is lightened by numerous good pictures: Standard SS and Jaguar drivers in various competition ventures, and previously unseen shots of personalities associated with Sir William Lyons during his highly successful career.

There are copies of letters exchanged between Rolls-Royce and Jaguar when R-R wanted to compare Jaguar’s 3.5-litre with what R-R referred to as the proposed Bentley B50, ending in R-R wrecking the power plant of a Jaguar at Brooklands. You will have to buy the book to see how the acrimony over this was or was not sorted out. (R-R was also interested in the low-priced Humber Snipe, and had a high opinion of an Oldsmobile.)

Before the Brooklands calamity, the best lap speeds had been 87mph for the Bentley, 84mph for the Jaguar.

Barrie’s last chapter contains his outspoken opinions after driving various SS/Jaguar cars; if VSCC folk see it they will be delighted that whereas he finds a great many horrors in an SS100 when worn out, “by comparison,” he says “a Bugatti, for instance, even when badly worn, continues to feel like the thoroughbred it is!”

Eight Appendices cover patent plans, technical data and finances; and they include SS1 to XK120 times recorded at Shelsley Walsh during 1933-52. The author tells us much about the Standard Motor Company’s relationship with SS and Jaguar affairs, and the AC link.

However many Jaguar books you have, this one is essential for a full understanding of how the company triumphed, even during the Depression years. It’s published by Veloce, ISBN 1 904788 27 0, and its price is £37.50.


Stealth tax for ‘off-road’ vehicles

Be warned’. The DVLA appears to be determined to proceed with its outrageous proposal to have a tax levied on cars which are not used on public roads. Another stealthy tax, which could start at £4.10 per vehicle, which once authorised, would apparently be set by the DVLA free from parliamentary budget scrutiny.

Moreover, it seems that although pre-1973 cars will continue to be free from road tax (less a concession to the very considerable employment the use of such cars ensures or to historical values than a means of reducing DVLA work on the frequent need for short-term licenses), a tax may be imposed for the issue of a ‘free’ licence and possibly a fee also for obtaining the equally essential SORN when a vehicle is taken out of usage. Before we lose some £155 million of our money to the taxman, we need to protest strongly, led by the FBHVC.


The Maudsley that never was

Maudslay of Park Side, Coventry, will be best remembered as makers of a wide range of commercial vehicles, coaches and buses during the period 1903-60, and for its trucks used in both World Wars. But here we are concerned with the cars it also manufactured.

As early as 1903 Maudslay used overhead-camshaft engines, usually associated with more expensive and faster cars. Moreover, it arranged the cylinder heads to hinge so that the valves were easily accessible for grinding-in and the pistons for decarbonising. This innovation was used from the beginning, when a range of three- and six-cylinder models of from 20hp upwards was produced, up to 1914, with a round radiator from 1905, like Hotchkiss, Delaunay-Belleville and other cars. Four-cylinder versions of numerous sizes were then offered, the 17hp with silent gearbox being known as the ‘Sweet Seventeen’. I was able to drive one of these 25/30hp 1910 Maudslays in 1974 when it was in the Coventry Museum.

After WWI Maudslay ceased to make cars until 1923, which is when the very advanced 15-80hp Maudslay was announced, creating a great deal of interest. The entire design was remarkable, the engine being described as almost like those of the racing machines then contesting GPs. It was a six-cylinder of 69 x 100mm (1991cc), with a built-up crank to enable roller bearings to be used; its big-ends were also of roller bearing-type. The detachable head had machined hemispherical combustion chambers with central sparking plugs. The inclined valves were operated by twin overhead camshafts driven from the back of the engine by eccentrics, as on the Leyland Eight, and later on the Big Six Bentley and the 1950s NSU Prinz, for their single OHC. The cams prodded the valves directly by steel plungers. Each camshaft had six roller bearings and a locating ball bearing. As in pre-war Maudslay engines it was possible to withdraw the pistons upwards after the big-ends had been detached, to do which there were large inspection apertures in the crankcase.

Lubrication was by a plunger pump, and the cooling system incorporated a thermostat. The distributor for the CAV coil ignition system was driven from the front of the inlet camshaft. The aluminium pistons had two narrow rings and a scraper ring each. The cast-iron block was not unduly heavy and the barrels were separate from its walls.

This impressive power unit was installed in a chassis of 10ft 3in wheelbase and 4ft 5in track, with half-elliptic springs underslung at the back, which had sliding attachments instead of normal shackles.

There was easy access to the single-plate clutch; the dynamotor for quiet starting and battery charging was within the flywheel, but accessible. Torque-tube transmission to a spiral-bevel back axle was used, and the Perrot four-wheel brakes featured large-diameter aluminium drums. Rudge-Whitworth wheels carried 33×4-1/2 Cord tyres. The internals of the fully-floating back axle, with aluminium casing, were very easy to dismantle, and the four-speed gearbox had hardened and ground teeth, centres and shafts, on roller bearings with locating ball bearings, and the layout made for easy gear-changing.

Heralded as likely to be the most talked-about car of the year, most people being expected to perceive its unusual distinction and engineers to appreciate the detail work on this 15-80hp Maudslay, crowds must have hastened to Stand 180 at the 1923 Olympia Show to see this wonderful new Coventry creation, its chassis price fixed at £825…

Yet that was the only appearance of this very advanced car, which was never heard of again.

A real mystery.


The ‘small’ family saloon

Roger Collings and his family have owned many vintage Bentleys and have won an impressive number of awards in them, especially with the 3 and 4-1/2 -litre cars. I have admired the skills of Roger’s son, Ben, at trials driving— telling his ‘bouncers’ when to apply their weight at a stop-and-restart, defeating wheelspin from almost a standstill, to resume a fast ascent for another non-stop climb. A spectacular sight indeed! Without putting such satisfactory competing behind him, Ben, now a family man, wanted his young daughter Felicity to be able to experience the fun of VSCC trialling from a very early age, which she could in a car with a closed body.

In March 2004 Ben found in Liverpool a 1925 3-litre with the original Park Ward saloon coachwork long gone, the car last on the road in ’54. He then commissioned Randal Stewart to build a body for it, as close as possible to the Gurney Nutting coupe fitted to Noel Van Raalte’s 100mph 3-litre in 1925. It was finished in time for the end of the 2004 season, the Welsh Trial in October, where the Blockley-shod car gave him a Third Class Award. On the Lakeland it gave him a Second, crawling up the dreaded Drumhouse section to conserve fuel with its Autovac-fed Smiths single carburettor, and with four-year-old Felicity in a child’s seat in the back next to her eight-year-old cousin.

Van Raalte, the first customer for a 3-litre chassis in September 1921, bought, in October 1925, a 100mph 3-litre with the low-line Gurney Nutting body that Ben has copied. This car still exists but the bodywork was removed in 1926 as Van Raalte could not fit his family into a 9ft-wheelbase saloon! Incidentally, saloon, coupe and all-weather coachwork featured on quite a large number of original 3-litre Bentleys sold between 1921 and ’29.

Ben hopes to do the Exmoor and Herefordshire trials with Felicity and her cousin, which he says “is like going up a section aboard a mobile playpen!”


BMW and Rolls-Royce Heritage

Two books, each a specialist work in its own way.

First, in what might possibly be the largest-ever pages, Motorbooks offer The Complete Book of BMW — Every Model Since 1950 by Tony Lewin (ISBN 0760310510, £35.00) for the delectation of owners when they are not driving or working on their cars. These 328 pages cover BMWs from the 501 to the present land 6 series, including disappointments like the 850 and Z1. The book is described as “the most definitive on the subject ever published in the English language, a masterwork” by Chris Willows, corporate communications director of BMW GB. Eberhard von Kuenheim, chairman of BMW from 1933 to 1970, contributes a special interview. What more need I say?

Next, I have a great respect for the books published by the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust: 35 to date in its historical series, six in the technical list. They cover, with a high standard of authority, a wide range of R-R subjects, including personalities, cars, aero-engines, gas-turbines, even the history of Armstrong Siddeley from 1896 to 1939. The latest 204-page title is The Rolls-Royce Meteor (tank engine), by a team of four trustworthy writers. It makes a break from cars. Do not be put off by the competitive price: these books are of excellent quality. This one sells to non-Trust members for £15 post-free, from R-R Heritage Trust, Rolls-Royce PLC, Moor Lane, PO Box 31, Derby LE24 8PJ.


Rain, steam and … speed?

Something different: the National Traction Engine Trust marked its 50th anniversary last year in great style, as I am reminded by the report in its winter journal Steaming, edited by Roger West.

This contained a breathtaking colour picture spread of the road run last September, with 105 steam road vehicles taking part, including a Stanley steam car. Three public road routes were used of nine, 18 and 28 miles, over suitably rural parts of Northamptonshire. It all went without any problems, and was greatly enjoyed by those who watched the participants go by.

Two of the traction engines had made a 120-mile out-and-back journey to be present. It was all so good-natured, even to the householder allowing water to be taken from his garden pool for a nearly empty boiler. Most impressive were engines towing appropriately historic loads, such as a Burrell pulling a multi-wheel trailer carrying an enormous Lancashire boiler, and a Fowler similarly engaged. Morris’s of Shrewsbury’s Sentinel had the correct trailer load, and a Sentinel Super had the trailer load properly sheeted down.

Two Fowlers towed living vans and a McLaren made light of a similar load. A single-cylinder Brown & May tractor also hauled a four-wheel trailer, and an Aveling had the job of towing a truck full of members of the Steam Apprentices Club, on its 25th Anniversary.

The engines were immaculate, the wet day less so. If I have counted correctly, Fowlers were the most popular (20) followed by Burrell (17) and Aveling & Porter (14).

I am unrepentant about including this in Motor Sport, because all were having fun and that is what it should be about, whether driving vintage cars or old traction engines. During the past three months the NTET has enrolled 66 new members who seem to agree with me. Membership Secretary: J R Cook, 74 Church Lane, Kirby-la-Thorpe, Sleaford, Lincs, NG34 9NU.


Battle lines widen in war against motorists

The war on road-users has become absurd: a driver apprehended for having an empty windscreen bottle and a lady for eating an apple while driving. The latter offence earned a £30 fine which she refused to pay, so it was increased to £60, and a helicopter and police car were employed to check the apple consumer’s route at a cost to us, the taxpayers, estimated at £10,000.

Unless the naughty washer-bottle culprit had caused an accident by having a dirty screen how could a charge be legal? With modern power steering especially, it is a fallacy that one-handed driving is necessarily dangerous, so eating an apple does not compare with using a mobile phone, which can perhaps cause a lack of driving concentration. In a sudden situation the golden fruit can be dropped immediately. If two hands were imperative to safe driving it would be impossible to change gear, sound the horn, adjust a visor or operate turn indicators or lamp beams without stopping.

If the police are to stop vehicles for empty washer bottles they might as well check wheel nuts, steering connections; in fact, do MoTs at the roadside, as criminals go by. It has become all too stupid, unless rare circumstances can prove otherwise: the banning of 4×4 off-road vehicles (and 4wd cars?), the prospect of tagged cars so that every movement of your car, its journey times etc, can be recorded, taxing cars not in road usage, etc. But which will go first, the hunt, 4x4s or you, Mr Blair?


Racy Surrey from Brooklands to Cobras

The Surrey Industrial Heritage Group has published Surrey and the Motor, by Graham Knowles. Not a picture-book of cars in remote villages and country lanes, but all about pioneer drivers and their cars in Surrey, and extending to roads and legislation, appropriate clubs, and Surrey companies making cars, from AC to Zenith, plus many component and commercial vehicle makers, from Abbott to Weymann. Brooklands gets 41 pages, largely compiled from my books and other sources, the slip-ups I noticed being that a tunnel, not a bridge, took cars to the Paddock grandstand, there is no mention of the Napier versus Fiat match race in 1908 , and worst of all Segrave won the 1924 San Sebastian GP in a Sunbeam, not a Talbot-Darracq.

There are ‘new’ photographs of ‘Ebby’ Ebblewhite, Louis Coatalen, Count Zborowski, and Kenelm Lee Guinness, from the Brooklands Museum. An AC makes for a fine colour front cover photograph, and most of Surrey’s cars are depicted. ISBN 0-9538122-3-5, price £10.95.