GREAT RACING MARQUES.
By E. K. H.
Karslake. THE ownership of cars of some particular make by the king of its country of origin, always
gives them a great national prestige. In Belgium this is the case with the Excelsior, and it is this marque which has nearly always been the representative of its country in the great international races. In 1911 the French Grand Prix des Voiturettes was held at Boulogne, and was for cars of three litres capacity. For this race Excelsior entered three machines, with Riviere, the veteran Duray and de :Woelmont as their drivers, and for the first time for many years the yellow racing colour of Belgium was carried in a big race. During the race, however, Duray turned over on a corner, and his car was put
hors de combat, while Riviere fell out with mechanical trouble. This left only de Woelmont out of the Excelsior team, but he continued steadily and finally finished twelfth.
After this debut, Riviere started again later in the year in the Grand Prix de France organised by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest on one of the Boulogne Excelsiors. This was a free-for-all race, and in those days a 3-litre car stood little chance in an unlimited event. The race also is famous in history in that out of fourteen starters, only one car finished; the Excelsior, therefore, was one of the many which dropped out, its withdrawal being due to a breakage in the timing gear. The next year the Automobile Club de France revived its Grand Prix, which had been in abeyance ever since 1908, and Excelsior decided to enter for it. The race was a free-for-all event and the cars which were entered for it varied in their capacity from two to fifteen litres. With one exception, however, they were all 4-cylinder machines, and this single exception was the Excelsior. Thus to the Belgian firm belongs the honour of introducing the multi-cylinder engine to modern motor racing. The Excelsior engine had a bore and stroke of 110 x 160 giving a capacity of 9,136 c.c., and was therefore one of the largest in the race. Only one car could be prepared in time, and this was entrusted to Christiaeus. This single car, however, which had to com
pete against teams from all the other entrants proved one of the surprises of the race, for Christiaeus, having kept up well with the leaders throughout, finally finished third in the Grand Prix proper, and sixth in the general classification which included the Grand Prix des Voiturettes and which created 47 starters. By this performance the Excelsior had beaten all the French cars in the race with the exception of one of the then invincible Peugeots, and had definitely made its name in the racing world. In the early summer of 1913 an interesting event was held in the form of a competition to set up a record from Brussels to St. Petersburg. For this event Christiaeus set off on a standard 30 h.p. 6-cylinder
Excelsior with a racing body, and leaving Brussels at 5 p.m. on May 21 st, he arrived in St. Petersburg at 7 a.m. on the 24th. Allowing for stops, the nett cunning time was 37 hours, which gives an average of over 50 m.p.h., accomplished in spite of the atrocious state of the roads in Russia. This proved to be the fastest time achieved in the competition, and secured the Brussels-St. Petersburg record for Excelsior. In 1913 the Grand Prix at Amiens was run on a fuel consumption basis, and the Excelsiors which were entered for it, while their manufacturers remained true to the six-cylinder principle, had the bore of their engines decreased to 90 mms. while the stroke remained 160 mms., thus giving a capacity of 6,106 c.c. Two cars were entered and were driven by Christiaeus and Hornsted. Unfortunately, however, it was found that the cutting down of the fuel supply had been rather overdone, with the result that, al
though the rules allowed a consumption of 14 m.p.g., the Excelsiors averaged 16 m.p.g. and had enough fuel left at the end of the race to carry them on for another 130 miles. While not among the leaders, therefore, both Excelsiors succeeded in finishing, only one other team securing a like honour.
Later on in the year the Automobile Club de l’Ouest again organised its Grand Prix, and for it the two Excelsiors which had run at Amiens were entered, with Christiaeus and Hornsted again as their drivers. With no fuel limit it was soon seen that the Excelsiors were among the fastest cars in the race, but Christiaeus, having completed the first lap in second place, dropped out with broken timing gears, to be quickly followed by his team-mate Hornsted.
The next year Christiaeus took his Excelsior over to America to run in the-Indianapolis race which was that year limited to cars of 450 cubic inch (7-5 litres) capacity. The car soon showed itself among the Fastest, but by half way through the race Christiaeus, who was unused to track racing, was so fatigued that he could hardly continue. He stuck to it however, and in spite of this disadvantage, finished sixth. After the war, Excelsior began to make a big sixcylinder car with a bore and stroke of 90 x 140 mms. (5,344 c.c.) and an overhead camshaft. This model was extremely fast and it was therefore decided to enter it for touring car races. In 1923 was held the first Grand Prix d’ndurance at Le Mans, and for it, therefore, two of these Excelsiors were entered with Dils and Caerels and Lecurenil and Flaud as their teams of drivers. During the night, the second Excelsior went of the road and got stuck in the sand
barrier, which caused a delay of two hours before it could be got going again. In spite of this, however, it managed to finish in ninth place, while the other Excelsior was sixth.
The next important French race for touring cars of the year was the Georges Boillet Cup at Boulogne. For this event two Excelsiors were entered, with Duray and Charlier as their drivers.. As they had the largest engines in the race, however, they had to concede a very substantial handicap to some of the smaller cars. When once they were allowed to start, however, Duray began to let his car go and set up the fastest lap of the day at 71-14 m :p.h. But the handicap could not be overcome in spite of this fast running, and in the end Charlier finished in fifi h place, with Duray seventh.
The last touring car race of note in the French season is the Circuit des Routes Payees, and for this event in 1925 one of the Excelsiors was entered and had Charlier at the wheel. He was, however, considerably handicapped by the fact that the day before the race, the car had hit a lorry, and although hasty repairs had been carried out he had to stop frequently to attend to them. Twice during the race he broke the lap record, finally setting it up at 58.7 m.p.h., but owing to his stops, he had to be content with third place, although the winner only averaged 53.2 m.p.h. In 1926, however, Excelsior returned to the charge in this race which is probably the most severe test of the whole chassis of a car which could be devised. This year they entered two cars, with CaereIs and Pisart as their drivers, and as they had not either of them tried conclusions with lorries this time, they at once took the lead. Towards the end of the race, however, Pisart began to drop back, but CaereIs finally finished first, averaging 55.6 m.p.h., while his team-mate was fifth at 51.6 m.p.h
In the meantime, however, the Belgian 24-hour Grand Prix had been claiming the attention of the manufacturers of the Excelsior. In 1925 one car had started but had not finished the race; now in 1926 a car was again entered with DiIs and CaereIs as its drivers. The race soon resolved itself into a duel between the Excelsior and Peugeot driven by Boillot and Riga!, which ended in the Excelsior finishing a close second to the French car. Thus the Excelsior had come very near to victory and success was not long delayed. In 1927 two cars were again entered for the Belgian Grand Prix, which was run under the most terrible conditions. The two Excelsiors took the lead on the first lap, and thereafter were never headed, going on to score a runaway
victory by finishing first and second. The winning car, driven by CaereIs and Senechal covered 1,368 miles in the 24 hours, and thus averaged 57 m.p.h. on the difficult Spa circuit. By this performance it won the Henri Matthys Cup and the special prize offered by the R.A.C. of Belgium, and scored a notable win for Excelsior.
Thus in these days of touring car races, the great Belgian marque has shown that it did not fail to profit by its experience gained in the Grands Prix of prewar days, and the builders of the first modern sixcylinder racing cars are still among the leaders in the large sports car class.