[In this rather unusual article, which we have had to pare down considerably on account of space limitations, Graham C. Dix writes, as an ordinary, observant motorist, on his hopes and aims for the future. In fact, a “Design for Living,” by someone whose life is very closely bound up with motoring. Whether or not readers agree with the views expressed, they will sympathise with the author’s plea for a statement of what is expected of the Motor Industry after the war by ordinary enthusiastic drivers. – Ed.]
Memories of Brooklands! “Bira,” Dobson, the Barnato-Hassan: yes, they are memories; but best of all was the sun glinting on the polished metal body of the Railton before Cobb took it to Utah. Break the Land Speed Record? Of course it would! This was a car; not the usual mammoth lorry with which we had previously broken records by brute strength. The Railton gave a little more speed with much less power and weight. Let us now design engines worthy of the rest of the car.
There was the never-to-be-forgotten trip to the Donington Grand Prix of 1938. Our Riley Sixteen seemed to hold its own with all save Frazer-Nashes, etc. Breakfast at the “Warwick Arms” was followed by an early arrival at the course to visit the paddock before watching the start. Enough has already been written about the race itself and about the German cars. There is no need for me to reiterate, but I must mention two things which impressed me very forcibly. First, in the hectic scramble for the first Redgate corner, Nuvolari was away in front. Secondly, the incident later when a quantity of oil was dropped on the track between Holly Wood and Hairpin, where I happened to be standing. The German cars were taking this section in a long, controlled slide. If I remember correctly, Only three cars encountered the patch before the warning flag was put out. They were Hasse, Seaman and Nuvolari, in that order. Hasse’s Auto-Union immediately got out of control, its tail ripping up several yards of fencing and demolishing a hut. Seaman skidded on to the verge and came to a stop, stalling his engine and losing a minute in restarting. Nuvolari came along fast. He was in third place, I believe. His tail slewed out sideways on to the grass, but he kept complete control, driving along the verge until he had straightened out and wiped any oil from his tyres, and meanwhile he found time to employ one hand in shaking a fist in anger at all and sundry. In my opinion, their reaction to these unforeseen conditions does prove beyond all doubt the relative skill of these three drivers.
Visits to Prescott have been rewarded by seeing Abecassis, Fane, Wimille and Mays break the record, in spite of the climb’s short existence prior to the war. Trials have been but poorly represented in the West, and my chief memories are of an Allard “Special” with all four wheels off the ground as it came to the level road at the top of Nailsworth Ladder after an extremely fast climb.
While dealing with sport, perhaps a word or two on the allied subject of photography will not be amiss. Photographs are an aid to driving, and they do help enormously in providing evidence of the performance of cars under cornering and braking stresses, etc. Most professional photographers use either giant plate cameras or miniature focal-plane cameras of the Contax or Leica type. Both these are very expensive and complicated to operate. They are wonderful instruments and in certain circumstances the amount involved is no doubt justified, but for ordinary purposes I would like to point out that such expense and complexity are unjustified. My camera is a Zeiss “Ikon,” taking pictures 1 3/4″ x 2 1/2″, with an f3.5 lens and a Compur shutter capable of taking up to 1/500 sec. This shutter being of the ordinary type does not cause the distortion which so frequently spoils photographs taken by focal-plane cameras. These points, when taken in conjunction with a Kodak Super XX film, give perfect results for any vehicle speed and in any light. In addition, it will focus down to 3 1/2 ft., which is useful when recording engine details, etc. This camera cost me £7 10s. about four years ago second-hand. A suitable Leica in similar condition would have cost at least £30. Is it worth it?
I append here some of my findings after many years of car ownership and observation. These may be dangerously generalised, but conformation to the laws I hereafter lay down has at least given me good value for my money in cars which have been about the cheapest on the market.
I have found that it pays in the long run to restrict engine speed, whatever the bore and stroke, to 3,500 r.p.m. steady cruising speed and not to run on the intermediate ratios up to more than this under normal conditions. This gives a much better petrol consumption and prolongs the life of the mass-produced engine considerably, while it has little appreciable effect upon the time taken for journeys. In the case of my Vauxhall Ten it would allow an average of 36 m.p.h., including all stops for petrol, while to have driven all out would not have raised the figure by more than a mile or so per hour, on account of the comparatively low top speed. It is cruising speed which counts, not a series of flat-out bursts which the engine cannot hold.
In the popular car class I have frequently noticed a deterioration in coachwork finish after a year or so’s use. Perhaps my practice is worth recording in that, although it is contrary to the advice of all those who should know, whenever I have sold one of my cars the buyers have all commented on the excellent condition of the body. I never clean a car more than is absolutely necessary. On taking one over I give it a thorough wash, followed by a generous application of Simonize wax polish. After that perhaps two washes during the summer and autumn, then I let the body hibernate until spring is well advanced, when with the arrival of fine days it has the clean up of the year. My theory is that the wax protects the cellulose and one good layer of mud protects the wax. Then the severest, weather can do no harm, because it will not be able to penetrate all these defences. Care should be taken in removing the mud, because in the course of time it becomes very hard, and if it is not taken off by first softening it with water, it will scratch the surface.
On both my Wolseley Wasp and the Vauxhall Ten I did over 30,000 miles. On each of these cars the brakes were taken up for wear in the linings at about 16,000 miles. Without further attention, both cars would easily lock their rear wheels when I sold them. While this may have been achieved to some extent by early training on a Bullnose Morris, I attribute it chiefly to the fact that both were hydraulic systems. I have driven cars equipped with every type of brake mechanism and have no hesitation in saying that the hydraulic method is by far and away the best and the only really satisfactory one. With other types one gets unequal application, snatching, slackness of control, frequent need of adjustment, or some other fault. I have never heard of the old bogey of fluid leakage actually happening, either on private cars over a long and rough usage, or in the case of the many racing marques fitted with them. Perhaps their chief advantage is that the lines can be tucked away under the chassis, while other movements need accessibility for adjustment and greasing, and necessarily reduce the ground clearance considerably.
It did not take me long as a motorist to discover some of the shortcomings attached to the cars I owned. Visits to Prescott showed me that other people dislike the same things as much in racing as in ordinary life. The “Specials” saw there, including the Freikaiserwagen, the Becke Powerplus, etc., and one of the Bolster “Specials” at Brooklands, gave me fresh heart, and I set about obtaining an elementary knowledge of automobile construction. I did not want to acquire too much, however, or I might fall into the same pits as other designers who are supposed to be so good at their work that they are actually paid for it. Accordingly I read Motor Sport and various books published by people who know cars and use them properly, and Maurice Platt’s “Elements of Automobile Engineering” as well as other works on the internal combustion engine. etc. As a result I arrived at a point when I started to evolve two designs: one for competition events of all kinds and the other for the road. Owing to the very small prospect of being able to enter for races for some time, the competition design did not progress very far. On the other hand, that of the road motor is almost completed. Construction proper cannot start until the end of the war, but it is hoped to try out some of the ideas in an experimental chassis built from scrapyard relics. This at least will provide some fun and may yield some valuable experience. I do not propose to describe this car, as in principle it will follow the tenets laid down hereafter for post-war cars in general. In looking around the scrapyards for suitable parts I have discovered many interesting cars and parts of cars. One friend told me that during the last year he has seen a complete G.N. in a garage, disused, but otherwise in fair condition. But – he could not remember where the garage was! To the writer, G.N.s are only legends, but if only half of them are true would it not be a vintage car with a vengeance, and wartime economy to boot!
All thoughts of the “Special” were temporarily abandoned. The chase was on. Every one, motoring and non-motoring alike, was instructed to find it, spurred on by promises of untold rewards. The search has been very thorough, but, so far, in vain. Doubts are beginning to assail. Was it blitzed? We are still looking, but a little less animatedly. There is no further clue at all. Garages and breakers flatly refuse to believe that there is still one in existence. [There is actually a touring G.N. very visible to prying eyes from a certain busy London thoroughfare. – Ed.] Then I found a 350-c.c. Douglas flat-twin solo. which I bought complete for 5′- and took home on the luggage boot of the Vauxhall. After complete stripping and rebuilding, it is taking the place of my D.K.W. for short journeys, at a total cost to myself of 17/6. When I took off the cylinder heads I found wads of oily paper wrapped round the valve stems and projecting into the combustion space. There was a 9-h.p. Alta 2-seater being tuned in a shed attached to a breaker’s yard. In the same yard was a 3-litre Bentley with front axle, steering and magnetos missing. A couple of Salmsons have come to light, as well as an Amilcar with leaking head, while a Vernon Derby was receiving attention in a filling station. Rumours of a White steam car led to the certain knowledge that it had been broken up a year or two ago. A friend’s uncle used to build a few steam cars in a small town near here about the beginning of the century; he built his factory right, at the bottom of a steep slope so that he could demonstrate the vehicle’s ability to pull from cold. Even in those days it only required a short time to obtain a sufficient head of steam to operate fully.
Motor-cars should be divided into two main types to meet the two main needs of their owners. Those cars which are to be entered for competitions involve rather different considerations from ordinary road motors, whether the latter be of the sports or family type. In short, racing cars need the absolute maximum performance no matter what the cost, combined with a minimum of reliability, which can be restricted to, say, 560 miles. Road cars, on the other hand, are governed by their economy of operation. The family man wants the most seats with the least power: the commercial traveller the greatest carrying capacity with the smallest engine; the sports enthusiast the greatest speed and accessibility, still using the smallest engine. By the term “smallest engine,” I mean that engine which will be most economical to operate, taking into account the type of car and the requirements of the driver.
In the racing field I can find little fault with the latest European designs. Maximum performance means high engine speed, and that means lots of little cylinders. This performance can only be utilised if there be adequate wheel adhesion, and in this respect there is room for investigation of four-wheel drive.
I hesitate to mention my opinion that, even in racing-car design, we are several years behind the Continent, with the exception of M.G.’s early efforts at torsion springing and Austin’s high speed engine. In the voiturette class we were achieving results in spite of, and not because of, our cars. There were signs that when the other countries got down to this type seriously we should again be outclassed. Yes, I know it costs money; money which we had not got. But there is still room for individual effort and I am looking forward to seeing Parnell’s Challenger back up this statement.
I have often wondered why, with our knowledge of superchargers and heat-flow problems generally, we have not taken the study and furtherance of two-strokes and rotary valves in hand. For racing cars here are two methods which, taken singly or together, would immediately increase power output. Or do the engine designers like setting themselves tricky problems, such as creating hot spots around the valves, then introducing sodium-cooled stems and alcohol fuel with no other object than to cool them down?
With road cars the principal considerations are price, extreme economy, and reliability of operation. Although they have to cover a multitude of needs there is no reason why they should differ in basic principles, if those principles be sound ones. There are far too many bad cars on the market to-day. After the war let us forget all about them and make fewer models, but better ones. I am not going to put forward a detailed design, but rather a few notes upon which a design may be based. Let us take the engine first. The needs are cheapness of manufacture, good power output, economy of operation and reliability. All these needs are covered if we adopt the two-stroke type and combine it with the use of large cylinders. The simpler castings and the few moving and machined parts make for cheap production, as do fewer and larger cylinders. The smooth running of the two-stroke would easily permit two cylinders to be used up to 1,100-1,200 c.c., “fours” up to 2-2 1/2-litres, “sixes” and “eights” following in step. Two-strokes develop power well down in the speed curve, thus making for fewer gear changes and higher top gears. The latter would in turn give a higher cruising speed, which is one of the features most lacking in present-day small cars.
It is within the realm of possibility that the use of these units would also reduce the weight slightly. The low engine speed, combined with petrol lubrication, would continue to give 70,000 to 80,000 miles without a rebore, and the simplicity of the unit would very largely cut maintenance costs. Turning now to the remainder of the car, the centre of gravity would be lowered by the general use of front-wheel drive, which would also promote safety in icy weather in the hands of inexpert people. Weight would be saved in the chassis by its construction on the cantilever principle from welded tubes and the body would be formed by covering these with sheet metal. For the greater part these panels could be spot-welded to the tubes, but at any place where accessibility was required they could be secured by bolts. Money saved upon the reduced engine cost could partly be employed in the use of independent suspension and the remainder spent upon further use of light alloys. Independent suspension need not cost much more than conventional springing to manufacture, provided that the system chosen lends itself to quantity production. Thus the ordinary car. Bigger engines and bigger chassis would then give most motorists all they would want. Sports cars would require smaller, and consequently lighter, chassis and bodies, and, if preferred, a larger engine unit than standard could be installed. For those who could afford the additional expense, rotary valves and low-pressure superchargers come into view. There would then be no difficulty in getting 45 b.h.p. per litre before any real tuning was indulged in. Combined with light construction and a high gear ratio such a sports car would show its heels to anything at present factory built. Acceleration and road-holding could be improved if the power warranted it by the use of four-wheel drive. Thus should I like to see our cars after this war…. You may say, “What a lot of rot! I don’t want anything like that!” Well, if you don’t, say so. Tell other readers what you do want. It pays to stop and think, so that we may present a concerted list of what we want incorporated in post-war designs to our manufacturers. Have you had a car in the past upon which you had no criticism to offer? American car companies have been giving the public something new each year, very often simply to keep up a fashion, much in the same way as in ladies’ clothes. The 1942 American cars offered an automatic gear change which Laurence Pomeroy has shown to change gear 18 times in a two-mile journey, compared with a normal box with fluid flywheel making no changes at all. Is this Progress? Some attempt has been made at streamlining, but the result is an increase in weight and ungainly bulk, which they have attempted to disguise by making a front-end like the jewellery counter of a 10-cent store. Do the Americans want this unnecessary mechanical complexity and exterior gaudiness? I doubt very much whether they do, but they don’t say what they do want, and so their current fashion leaves them no choice…. I want a motor-car, not a cuddle box with automatic window winders and square yards of chromium plate. I want quality of design rather than floodlit tool racks and twin tone horns. Say what you want and let us together see that we get something at least bearing a resemblance to our hopes! In the 1920’s we had Sunbeam, Vauxhall, Bentley and Lea-Francis to show the world. In the 1930’s we had Alfa-Romeo, Mercédès, Lancia and B.M.W. shown us. Our flag, which had been held high since motors were first made, was thrown away and another strange one put up in its place. Let us remember the glory of the 1920’s and together retake our former and rightful position. If I have aroused some enthusiasm and thought with regard to our post-war plans, then I shall not have written in vain and this space would not have been better employed in valuable and minute descriptions and paeans of praise on some vintage machine. Let our pleasure and knowledge not be of an entirely negative character through continuing to suffer our modern cars in silence, falling back on the vintage types. After this war let us help the Industry to make us better cars by co-operating with them, telling them what we want and making sure that we get it.