No. 2.—CHAIN GANG DAYS
SERVICE in the “Chain Gang,” to those uninitiates whose only knowledge of such would be that gained at the local cinema, would seem a most undesirable occupation. But in that other “Chain Gang,” so well known to the motor sportsman, it can be much sought after.
My sentence started early in 1931, and during the following two seasons I should imagine the Frazer-Nash was more successful in general sporting events than any other make.
I am quite prepared to expect some irate statistician immediately to deny this, but I do not intend to delve into statistics, nor to describe the evolution and tuning of this, the fiercest of sports-cars; that has already been done in these columns by one more qualified than I.
My many memories of this period of “hard labour ” are all of the most pleasant; it would be hard to find another firm where staff, employees, and owner-drivers were more whole-heartedly enthusiastic about the car. Even the humblest employee probably knew the past history of every vehicle that came in for service!
Individual cars stand out plainly in my recollections, and, incidentally, as each car was built to the purchaser’s requirements, this is not difficult to understand.
The prototype “Interceptor” was an amazing car. Small, with a short two-seater black fabric body, green wings, and with the s.v. 1,496 c.c. Anzani unit, it appeared to be driven by all manner of pressmen and competition drivers, and always gave a good account of itself. Particularly did it make a phenomenal ascent of Fingle in the 1931 Exeter Trial, in the hands of Inderwick. Another potent piece of machinery was always referred to as “ex Bowes,” naming a former owner who actually entered the car in the Monaco Grand Prix! It was s.v. Anzani engined, and had the three-seater rounded tail body popular in previous years, completely under-shielded, finished in black and green, and altogether very desirable.
On reference to my notebook I find evidence of the versatility of this particular car. For instance, blown with a No. 9 Cozette, it ran at Wembley and Lea Bridge Dirt Tracks; it was prepared for the Colmore Trial early in February ’32, again with No. 9 blower and 40 mm. Solex, but was ultimately run in the event unblown, shod with Dunlop straked Army-pattern tyres. After this event the blower went back, but using a Cozette carburetter, it was driven by Fane in the Inter-Varsity Speed Trials at Hexton on the 20th February, and at the O.U.A.C. event on the 27th February. Later it ran at the opening J.C.C. Meeting on the 12th March, when disruption of the clutch neatly severed the exhaust pipe. Such was its life! It would be impossible to note here the detail work which took place between these different events, but nothing fundamental was altered.
The three 1931 “Double-Twelve” cars, in whose construction I was privileged to assist, were also interesting to the enthusiast. In general, chassis and body construction they were the same, having short chassis with wide F.W.B. axle, aluminium under-shields, 14 gallon fuel tanks, three-speed axle assemblies, flattened and wedged springs, and all the usual locking devices and flexible pipe lines necessary for this arduous event. Extremely light fabric two-seater bodies were constructed and fitted in an incredibly short time by Compton’s. The car which was of the greatest interest to readers of MOTOR SPORT at the time was the blown Anzani, driven by Moore and Braidwood. Of the other two cars, one had a plain-bearing, and the other a roller-bearing, Meadows engine, both prepared in accordance with the current Meadows racing practice. The roller-bearing Meadows job was geared 4.1 and the others 3.8 to 1, and. they were all three fitted with a simple type of chain oiling device.
Their performance in this race will be known to all followers of the sport, and each had considerable success in various events at later dates. I note particularly that the plain-bearing Meadows car won a Mountain Handicap in May ’31 at 61.4, and in June an Outer Circuit Handicap at 88. More versatility!
The “Double-Twelve” cars were rebuilt for the Ulster Race in 1931, the Anzani model being unsupercharged. The chassis modifications were again the same for the three—heavier blades to the shock-absorbers (the fronts, of course, act as radius arms); special wing stays; bronze off side bevel shaft bearing housings, and the rear axle diameter increased by ⅛” to 1⅝”; 12″ brakes; special rear axle radius plates; also steel double brake levers replaced the standard malleable. Outside exhaust manifolds were used and the roller-bearing Meadows converted to plain, with steel flywheels replacing the standard cast iron.
All three cars were fitted with a really scientific chain oiling system fed from a dash tank by hand pump through drillings at the base of the sprocket teeth. One of the Meadows engined cars was later fitted with a roller-bearing, pump cooled, dry sump 1,496 c.c. Anzani with No. 9. Cozette blower, and run in the 1931 Mountain Championship. In early 1932 it collected a first in the 1,500 c.c. Sports Class at the O.U.A.C. Speed Trials. In June that year we find it again fitted with a Meadows engine; this gives some idea of the interest attached to working on these cars.
In the L.C.C. Relay Race of 1931, an amateur team of Frazer-Nash cars was that comprised of Conan Doyle, Mummery and Bellamy. The first named drove the “Slug,” that very special job built for Capt. Frazer-Nash himself in the early days, with o.h.c. inclined valve engine and blown by Cozette, outstanding features being an additional radius member from the bevel cross shaft inside the bevel box to the centre of the live axle, exceptionally strong axle radius plates, and the universal-less prop. shaft common also to the “Terror.” The other two team cars were elderly “Boulogne” models, unblown, with Anzani engines and the peculiar high Bugatti-type body with a third seat (?) in the tail. They completed 66 laps!
In my humble opinion, the prettiest ever made, if such an adjective is applicable to sports-cars, was the original “Ulster” Frazer-Nash, a photograph of which appeared in MOTOR SPORT at the time, with a eulogistic paragraph. Extremely low and underslung, with flattened springs, the cross members went under the chassis section with the bevel box mounted on top. Twelve inch brakes with aluminium finned drums and a vee fronted radiator were used. The power unit was a No. 9 Cozette-blown, roller-bearing s.v. Anzani, and a beautifully built body, with rounded down-swept tail, in scarlet and white, was constructed at the works itself, using a most ingenious fold-flat screen in which the centre pivots of the frame slid in arched guides to bring the screen down flat on the scuttle. In June ’32 this car was prepared for the Nurburg Race in which it was driven by Eric Siday, the violinist of wireless fame. The current chain-oiled bevel box assembly was installed, with 1⅝” axle and the modifications thereby necessary; troubles occurred in the race which curtailed its performance. It was actually, I believe, the last time in which a. blown Anzani was used for a longish event, due to the fact that the compactness of the water-cooling spaces precluded high power outputs being maintained over a long period; invariably cracks would develop across the bridge between the valve ports or between the valve ports and cylinder bore.
In addition to car details, odd jobs stand out clearly. The tremendous rush to change gear ratios on Hutchison’s blue fabric four-seater one Friday afternoon before a J.C.C. High Speed Trial; the frantic conversion of Inderwick’s lubrication system from dry sump to wet sump on a certain Saturday morning, which so suddenly became a Saturday afternoon. The crowded inside of a car on return from the coachbuilders when delivery was due almost immediately and everyone was trying to do their particular jobs at the same time, occasioning unusual contortions and language as one happened to drill through a body member into someone’s anatomy!
To return to cars of interest, R. G. J. Nash’s “Terror,” at that time the most successful sprint motor in existence, appeared at the works for major chassis alterations, prior to the fitting of a new and more streamlined body. I note a fact regarding this car in passing, that, when testing at the Track, it turned a lap at 93, obviously on a low ratio and a very long way for the “Terror.” Unusual, too, was the single-seater chassis with centrally disposed steering box in which one of the few twin-carburetted s.v. Anzanis from an early 200 Mile Race Horstman was fitted. This, with a long-tailed green fabric body by Abbotts, was raced as the Abbott-Nash.
Early in 1932, a special blown Meadows-engined chassis, the “Nurburg” model, was put in hand for Fane. General stiffening up of chassis, and all 1931 racing practice was embodied, double sprockets were used on third and top gears, and multiplicity of details altered. The modifications to the Meadows engine necessitated by the increased performance and to enable a Powerplus blower to be driven from the forward end of the crank, were all designed at Falcon Works, as were the vital moving parts. It would be presumptuous for me to attempt to describe these details here, although I note that they occupy fully eight pages in my own data book. A sports body by Corsica with somewhat cubist lines graced this chassis, the car being finished in May and run out for trial. After further modifications it lapped at 108 and was entered for the Nurburg event. Unfortunately it was involved in a collision on the Continent as a consequence of which chassis trouble developed in the race itself, causing its retirement.
The two cars run in the Alpine Trial in 1932 were fine examples of preparation for a definite job. Both cars fundamentally embodied all the refinements learned from the previous season’s competitive events and were equipped with two port Meadows engines, but, as additional cooling was sought after, water impellers with fans were belted from the camshaft pulley, and larger radiators with steam valves used.
Otherwise, apart from different heads and steel flywheels, the engines were more or less standard production units. H. J. A.’s car had autopulse and pressure fuel feed, A. G. Gripper’s petrolift; the latter’s car also used upper cylinder oil fed to the inlet ports and an extra air valve. Electrical equipment was by Bosch. Their performance in one of the most exacting tests of the year will long be remembered, and to show versatility yet again, H. J. A.’s car finished second in the 1,500 c.c. class at Ulster and also completed 31 laps in the M.C.C. One Hour High Speed Trial.
Many other interesting cars come to mind—Com. Grogan ‘s beautiful black and chrome, short chassis car with racing Meadows engine, which once passed me on the open toad as fast as I’ve ever seen a car travelling in this country (I believe it later had a special blown Meadows installed, with a truly terrific performance). Baines’s fabric saloon, one of the only two closed Frazer-Nashes built; I remember thinking at the time it was sacrilege!
There was Hutchison’s red “T.T. Replica” with roller-bearing Meadows; Caswell’s “Replica,” so successful at Southport and the early Donington meetings, and hosts of others!
The enthusiasm with which special modifications were made up and tried out, and engines changed from one car to another, was amazing, and certainly the marque always seemed successful in whatever type of event it competed. This short account only gives an infinitesimal portion of the highly interesting jobs that were in hand during my service in those years when interest in motor sport seemed at its height, and club events always had a full entry list, due possibly to the fact that manufacturers were anxious to give owners of their Cars the performance they required. This was undeniably true of Messrs. A. F. N.
One fact which is as true to-day as it was then is that “No matter how old a Nash may be, it always goes like smoke!”
[The above article by H. L. Biggs is the second of what we hope is proving an interesting series. The next will deal with Biggs’s Alfa-Romeo associations, notably when he accompanied Count Lurani to his first British speed event. In passing, we must congratulate Mr. and Mrs. Biggs on the recent arrival of a son and heir. Incidentally, similar happy events are recorded in the Charles Martin and John Bolster families. Biggs is now an inspector to the L.C.C. and runs a Nuvolari-red Fiat 500.—Ed]