VII. A 1914 TOURIST TROPHY H UMI3ER, WITH 3-LITRE TWINCAMSHAFT ENGINE
TILB name of Humber is not one that one usually associates with racing cars, and I should not be surprised to hear that there are a good many present-day followers of the sport who would be unaware That anything in the way of a real Humber racer had ever existed. The War, however, may well have been responsible for this firm not having figured prominently in latter day speed events ; for on the eve of the outbreak of hostilities the Humber company was apparently preparing to add the construction of racing cars to their seasoned policy of producing high-grade touring machines.
The event towards which the new policy of the firm was directed was in fact the 1914 Tourist Trophy race in the Isle of Man, and for it a team of three cars were built. Designed by Mr. F. T. Burgess, these cars had 4-cylinder engines, with a bore and stroke of 82 x 156 ram., giving a capacity of 3,295 c.c., there being four overhead valves per cylinder operated by two overhead camshafts, and the camshaft being driven by a train of pinions. These engines developed some 100 h.p. at 3,200 r.p.m., and were mounted in the chassis on a horseshoe-shaped sub-frame. The flywheel was ribbed externally, until it looks almost like a transmission brake, in order to cool the leather cone clutch, which transmitted power through a clutch-shaft with two sliding universal joints to the gearbox. The latter was made extremely short, its overall length being barely 9 inches, and the gear shafts were, therefore, extremely stiff. Behind it was mounted a large transmission brake with a convenient hand-wheel adjustment which projected through the fl6orboards, and an open propeller shaft with two universal joints transmitted power to the back axle. Suspension was by felliptic springs all round and the cars were fitted with detachable wire wheels. Three of these cars started in the race, their drivers being Burgess, their designer, Tuck and Wright. But like so large a proportion of the starters in that gruelling two-day race, they were not destined to be fortunate, and the outbreak of war coming but a few months afterwards, they were not given another chance to show their paces. I was, therefore, particularly interested
when I heard that1Humber II, which had been driven in the race by Wright, was still running and was to be found in the neighbourhood of Basingstoke. The present owner having kindly consented to let me have a run on the car and record my impressions in MOTOR SPORT, I set off convinced that I was going to spend a highly interesting afternoon.
A Brooklands Performer.
Arrived at the appointed meeting place we found the car ready and waiting for us, conveniently placed at the top of a slope with a stick passed through the steering wheel and in front of the hand brake to hold it on. Since the war the T.T. Humber has been a Brooklands car, and until about two years ago it was to be seen at the track where I believe it lapped at 96 m.p.h. During its time there its outward appearance was changed to a certain extent, a sloping tail having been built over the original bolster petrol tank, considerably larger tyres fitted, and the car given a distinctly B rooklands appearance by the regulation silencer and fish-tail. Internally, also, some modifications have been made, among the more important being that the cylinders have apparently been bored out to increase the diameter by 1 millimetre, making the capacity now 3,381 c.c., while presumably, new pistons have also been fitted. The present owner also has discarded the one large carburettor and rather long branched induction pipe, which was supposed to be heated by the cooling water, owing to the fact that the latter refused to get hot enough satisfactorily to fulfil this function, in spite of part of the radiator being blanked off. His redesigned induction system consists of two carburettors bolted direct up to two short pipes leading each to a pair of cylinders, and the arrangement certainly seems successful.
The general appearance of the car gives one a very pleasant thrill, and an impression that its designer meant business. The car is fairly high judged by modern standards, which gives it a most attractive air of shortness and compactness, and it is interesting to note how much bigger generally it looks compared to a present day racer of approximately similar engine capacity.
All the levers and controls have a most solid appearance, and one feels that here is something like a motor car. “It’s all push starting with this motor,” remarked the owner, but having collected an assistant, he and I only had to push the Humber a few yards down the convenient slope mentioned before, when the engine, in spite of being cold, fired and soonwas running evenly. Removing ourselves from the close proximity of the fish tail which was now barking cheerfully, we scrambled into the passenger’s seat and just had time to
adjust our goggles before first speed was in and the car shot away. Our duties consisted only in operating the hand pump for the petrol tank pressure and in watching the gauge.
The two carburettors, in spite of their short induction pipes, spat a little as we started, but soon settled down to supplying a mixture with which the engine seemed satisfied. We traversed a rather narrow winding drive, which gave us opportunities to notice the correct style of pre-war cornering, and then we got out onto the open road, and were soon accelerating away. The gear change is rather unusual as one pushes the lever forward from first to second speed, and then comes back, through the gate and forward again for third, which suggests that the change from top to second was one which had frequently to be made on the Isle of Man course. In the years just before the War, at the time when this car was built, there was a great deal of argument as to whether the racing cars of the day would ever influence the touring car, as overhead valves operated by overhead camshafts were so noisy that their use would never be tolerated by ordinary motorists. The futility of this argument is obvious to anyone who has ever tried to detect any valve gear noise in a modern overhead camshaft touring engine, even of the type fitted to quite moderate priced cars, as long as it is in sound condition :
but certainly at fairly high engine speeds, the 1914 T.T. Humber does make a fairly loud mechanical noise from its valve gear. The noise, however, which might be rather trying in an everyday touring car is distinctly attractive in what one feels is a real racing car, getting as one does the full benefit of the type with no rubbish
such as windscreens and with a good deal ‘of one’s person projecting above the level of the scuttle. , While the car does not give one that feeling of being) glued to the road and goinground corners ” as if on rails,” which one
gets from the modern low-built speed car, the impression one receives is definitely that the weight is well distributed and that when she skids she will do so in a thoroughly lady-like and controllable manner. Presumably at Brooklands, she was fitted with a set of Hartfords instead of the old pre-war shock absorbers, and the suspension is distinctly good if stiff enough to throw one about a bit on rough roads and make one glad of a pneumatic cushion.
The car’s maximum speed is supposed to be in the neighbourhood of 100 m.p.h. at which speed the engine is doing a modest 3,000 r.p.m., but during the course of our run we did not get an opportunity to let the car all out. Nevertheless we were able to indulge in several bursts of satisfactorily high speed which were made possible by the fact that the brakes, although only operating on the back wheels, are extremely powerful,. and indeed a good deal better than many four-wheel braking systems, at any rate on dry roads.
When travelling quickly it is amusing to look backwards and listen to the beat of the engine heard from the large fish-tail, and feel as one does with a stub-tailed car that one is right at the back of the machine. The Humber is, in fact, about as typical of a pre-war racer as any that one is likely to find, and to those who like a_ 4-cylinder engine of about the 3-litre size, it is a distinctly pleasant type. —E. K . H. K.