Letters from readers, May 1943

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After reading of your instruction book scheme it occurred to me that there might be readers in Birmingham and district who would be interested but do not know that there are a number of instruction books in the Birmingham Technical Reference Library. They are mostly 1936-38 books, some earlier, and can, of course, only be read at the library and not taken away.

I mention the following as perhaps of particular interest to your readers:

A.C., Alvis (several models), Bentley 4.5-litre, Lagonda V12, Lancia “Augusta”, Mercedes-Benz 260D (Diesel), Riley (Nines and 6-cylinder), Rolls Royce, S.S.

Those interested in the technical side of motoring will also find a good selection of books in this library, though some, I fear, are a little out of date (1920-ish).

I am, Yours etc.,

J. H. Balleny.

Birmingham, 16.


As one of the staunch supporters, I was most interested in the notes you published in the February issue dealing with the Team Bentleys.

A glance at my notebook reveals the additional information which follows.

The 3-litre which Clement and Duff drove to win in 1924 at an average of 53.75 m.p.h. was still going strong some ten years later. The chassis mounted an enormous saloon body, and the ensemble bore the Registration No. XT 1606, and I am indeed glad to see that it has been discovered.

“Old No 7”, often referred to as “No. 3”, was registered as MK 5206. What a tragedy it is that this car, made immortal by S. C. H. Davis in Motor Racing, should have been crashed and discarded.

The finest of them all was undoubtedly No. 4 of the 1928 race.

As a 3-litre it crashed at Le Mans in 1927. The chassis was afterwards fitted with the first 4.5-litre engine to be raced; the 3-litre radiator was retained.

Le Mans 1928—known to some as “the battle of the cylinders” because of the straight eight Stutz opposition—was essayed by three team cars, all of 4.5-litres capacity; No. 2 Bentley was handled by Clement and Benjafield, No. 3 by Birkin and Chassagne, and the redoubtable No. 4 by Barnato and Rubin.

It will be recalled that Birkin’s disintegrated tyre and subsequent wheel collapse put his car well behind the field. The fact that this car eventually climbed up to finish fifth was in itself a wonderful achievement.

“No. 2”, which had occupied the lead for a time, suffered a succession of minor ailments and finally lost its water through a pipe crack; it had a new type radiator. As water could only be replaced after a definite number of laps, nothing could be done.

“No. 4”, the “No. 1” of the previous year’s race, increased speed and “gobbled” past the Stutz on the sixty-fourth lap. It won at an average speed of 69.11 m.p.h.

In 1929, “No. 4” entered, I think, the fray for the third time, still wearing her 3-litre radiator. Everyone will remember the magnificent run put up by Birkin and Barnato in the winning 6.5-litre Bentley, and how the Bentleys crossed the finishing line like a squadron of battleships in “line-ahead”. “No. 4” was registered as YH 3196 and Barnato’s Speed Model 6-cylinder, which won at an average of 73.62 m.p.h., ran on the road as M T 3464—it was, incidentally, the first British car to win the Rudge-Whitworth Cup.

I always felt that “No. 4” was worthy of a saga and wonder if this car has been preserved. Other Registration Nos. of interest are: 1928 race “No. 2” Y W 2557, ran as “No. 10” in 1929 race to finish third and in “Double Twelve” of the same year, as “No. 6 “—just beaten by Ramponi’s Alfa-Romeo. At Le Mans it suffered cooling system trouble again, but not seriously! “No. 3 “of the 1928 race – Y V 7283.

I am, Yours etc.,

H. Heath, Major, R.A.



This is just a short letter to say how glad I am that you are continuing publishing Motor Sport. I have always appreciated your journal, but when I hear from so many friends of mine in the Services how much they look forward to reading Motor Sport, it does make me realise— in spite of so many difficulties—the value of your continuing, particularly with a view to after-the-war motor racing.

I wish you had been able to attend the Brains Trust affair on Sunday last, as I think you would have found it very interesting. I feel that the “ball was set rolling ” in the right direction for after-the-war planning. I am dead keen that something should be done in a great endeavour to place motor racing on a very different footing to pre-war days.

I am, Yours etc.,

Raymond Mays.



Judging by the sports gossip and newsflashes in the motoring Press, it is evident that large lumps of energy and time, plus somewhat smaller quantities of solid cash, are being, and will in the future be spent, on the resuscitation and renovation of sundry sports and racing vehicles, with an eye to amateur competition in speed events after the war. Very heartening and infectious it all is, and tremendous fun for all concerned, as well the writer knows. But things being what they are, and cash being a commodity liable to be in somewhat short supply to the public at no distant date, just how many of these interesting embryos will come to maturity, one wonders? Many, based on unsuitable materials (“J. J. Snooks is anxious to obtain a “22/90″ Alfa engine to install in his lightened Baby Peugeot chassis”) will end as costly and unsatisfactory liabilities, whilst others, constructed on sounder and more promising foundations, will be found too complicated to maintain as even moderately successful racing machines by impecunious owners with limited spare time.

Let us take the case of the sailing man with modest means, who aspires to racing experience. Does he rush round the ship-breakers endeavouring to buy a second-hand “Velsheda”, or a part-worn “Blue Marlin”? With sound common sense he leaves the “J” class to those with purses long enough to enjoy it, makes a start with an inexpensive one-design dinghy, and gets lots of first-class racing and much valuable experience therefrom.

I would advocate some such scheme in motor racing; not a rigid “one-design” class, leaving no scope for individuality or development, but rather a “nursery” class, racing an essentially simple, well-constructed cycle-car of ultra-lightweight design; a single-seater, obviously, driven by a 500-c.c. motor-cycle engine operating by chain via a motor-cycle gearbox and incorporating independent suspension to the owner-designer’s taste. I imagine that 75 per cent. of the problems involved would concern road-holding, and I think the owners would gain vastly in valuable experience whilst overcoming them.

I do not know as yet (I fully intend to find out at the earliest opportunity) what safe minimum weight could be achieved, but I imagine that if 4 cwt. were aimed at, utilising a seasoned ash frame, suitably braced, and a really light body-shell to streamline the driver to some extent, a healthy 500-c.c. motor, in reasonably (as opposed to super) tuned condition, would produce a more reliable and satisfactory performance than that usually given by an elderly sports car of twice to three times the capacity, despite the pounds and stones of superfluous ironmongery hacked, drilled and filed away by its industrious owner. Such an engine could be stripped and re-assembled in half-a-day by its owner, working single-handed, though, in my opinion, its chief charm lies in the fact that this precaution would not be frequently necessary.

Before going further, let me avoid a charge of plagiarism by admitting that in this matter I am inspired by, and am quoting in place, no less an authority on rapid cycle-caring than John Bolster, who built the original Mary on the assumption that the really quick supercharged cars wouldn’t always be supercharging themselves properly, whereas a simple car with a good power-weight ratio and an engine not tuned to the borderline of expensive noises would be easy to maintain at maximum efficiency, and would be capable of taking an occasional place in sprint events. It is unnecessary to stress the success he achieved, but I think that in the end he would admit that by developing his machines to the pith degree he defeated his own object. But the wheel came full-circle, and at the outbreak of war he was planning a 500-c.c. machine whose simplicity would enable him to prepare and drive it in minor events in comfort, and with time to spare. I do not wish to advocate that several hundred “Bloody Marys” should be loosed on an already nerve-shattered world after the war. The proportion of amateur drivers with Mr. Bolster’s skill and ability must be small indeed. The cars I have in mind are less ambitious, and would not compete in the unlimited classes, but at most against the unblown 750s, or indeed in a 500-c.c. class of their own, provided that sufficient support was forthcoming. They would cost little more to run and maintain than a solo motor-cycle, they would be safer than many of the hybrids which have passed the scrutineers from time to time, being built solely with one purpose in view, and above all they would teach the impoverished but aspiring competitor to take a brisk walk before breaking into a run.

So what about it, Mr. Editor? May I hope to enter for the Motor Sport Cup of 194?, to be competed for on a decentralised basis at, say, Lewes, Prescott, Bristol and Wetherby?

I am, Yours etc..

G. H. W.


[The suggestion that attention should be given to a 500-c.c. class in post-war sprint events was made in this paper in the early days of the war. Considerable interest was shown, but we have yet to hear of “specials” of this sort which are well under way, and probably we shall not do so until the clubs give a decision on the subject. So we welcome this letter and would bring it to the notice of Leslie Wilson, Erie Giles and other secretaries of speed-trials organising clubs, no less than to the notice of amateur constructors. -Ed.]


The following verbal utterance is credited to a well-known authority, at least so it is reported by my secret agents: “Blowing a Bentley is like training an elephant to win the Grand National”. Having recently become owner of one of these “blower” cars, and always having been a Bentley enthusiast since very tender years, I cannot but take umbrage at such an observation.

I would like to point out that the aforementioned “elephant” very nearly won the “Grand National” in 1930 – namely when finishing 2nd in the Grand Prix at Pan. This and other outstanding performances at Le Mans, Brooklands and in Ireland stamp it as a very active “elephant”, and if a little more time could have been spent on the breeding and training. both of which, owing to financial reasons, had to be suspended (or rather abandoned). I am of the opinion that the “elephant” would have given quite a number of the accepted “racehorses” much food for thought.

It may be that there would have been some difficulty with the question of “jockeys”, because drivers of the stamp of “Tim” Birkin are very few and far between, and taking these “elephants” round a road circuit and competing against actual “racehorses” called for a skill above the ordinary.

However, I feel that the “elephant” could and still can hold its own against most other standard sports cars, both past and present.

I am,. Yours etc.,

C. J. L. Mertens.

Ruislip, Middx.


I have followed with interest the extremely instructive articles and correspondence both in Motor Sport and in what the House of Lords would term “another place’,’ upon suspension arid steering. But it seems to me that in both cases a very important consideration has been forgotten, viz., that the values of the various characteristics involved change with the use to which a car is put, and the purposes for which it is designed, To-day we see a distinct divergence between racing and touring practice in regard to the size and number of cylinders employed, because. for all except the idle rich, time and economy demand fewer and larger pots for road use. Similarly, in suspension matters, the time has come when the two types should be regarded separately, except where their needs are identical.

For racing purposes one cannot, I think, disagree with Mr. Clutton’s statement that a controlled four-winch skid is the best method of cornering. In considering the vehicle’s desirable features, however, we must not overlook the fact that every racing car, no matter what its basic qualities, is potentially an oversteerer, by virtue of the surplus power available to spin the rear wheels at any time, so that, to whatever extent the front wheels are sliding, the driver has it in his power to slide the tail to a greater or less degree, thus controlling the direction or travel. Mr. Clutton states that a well-balanced car is required, and I agree that this is necessary. but the final adjustment of balance rests with the skill of the driver rather than the designer. The surplus power available is is usually considerable, so that to permit the most rapid cornering, and liberal use of the accelerator, the front wheels should be encouraged to slide. I rather feel that Mercedes and Auto-Union may have had this in mind when fitting “parallel” or “vertical” i.f.s., thus matehing, so far as possible, the sliding powers of both ends of the car, reducingvpure rear-wheel skids, and minimising the tendency of the car to lose its line of travel under fierce aceeleration.

The tourer is a very different proposition, because, owing to its complete lack of surplus power, if it is basically an understeerer, it remains so under all circumstances. From personal observation I can agree with Mr. Lowrey that there is a tendency to understeer on the majority of modern touring cars. It is excellent to be able to use both hands to light one’s pipe on a rain-soaked straight road at sixty, but it is quite another matter when essaying a rapid corner to keep the hand-brake at the ready, and one eye estimating the available area to leeward. Therefore, racing practice is to be reversed for touring cars; the former require reduced front wheel adhesion to match the rear, while that of the latter should be increased for the snow purpose, and “vertical” and “parallel” i.f.s. systems should be carefully avoided for road use, their leaning qualities, combined with the roll of the higher octave of gravity, tend to make it lose its front end far too soon under cornering stress. Freedom from roll is equally desirable, but springing in general should never be more than “medium-soft”, because the comfort, if any, which is lost by the elimination of a “knees bend” softness at the front is more than made up by the ability to motor fast over rough ground, where softer springs would hammer at their stops.

To sum up my beliefs, a car should be so designed that under all circumstances it will slide its rear wheels first, but, the greater the proximity, also under all circumstances, of the back and front sliding points the better.

Motor Sport is to be congratulated on its occasional probes into the theoretical design of cars, and at present when the more physical joys of motoring are absent it can perform a very real service, not only by settling the “whys and wherefores” of the pre-war models, but by fixing now the essential bases for post-war vehicles. I should be grateful. therefore, if someone would throw a little more light on the problem by considering the effects of four-wheel drive. As I see it, this should increase the safe cornering speed enormously, even when sliding, but now a definite basic degree of oversteer is necessary, because use of the accelerator merely promotes a four-wheeled slide, and Mr. Clutton’s built-in balance is imperative, because the extent to which the driver can perfect it is very Iimited.

I am, Yours etc.,

Graham C. Dix.

Birmingham, 14.


Recently a member of the Royal Air Force asked for an article on the 3-litre Super-Sports Sunbeam; I hope you can find room to publish the following notes, which I think will be of interest:

Introduced in 1924 the 3-litre twin overhead cam Sunbeam sports was intended for the Grand Prix d’Endurance of that year. As is all too often the case in motor racing, insufficient time for development and preparation caused the entry to be scratched. A wise move in view of what can happen when machines are raced before really ready.

At this point I would mention that these notes are written while in, as Motor Sport so aptly terms it, “exile” therefore are largely from memory.

Although there is, naturally, a family resemblance, the sports 3-litre was not a scaled-up edition of the successful 2-litre Grand Prix racing machine, as is often inferred. The fixed head carries one exhaust and one inlet valve per cylinder, operated by twin o.h. cams, the inlet opening around 8 degrees b.t.d.c. and the exhaust. 45 degrees b.b.d.e. Twin Claudel-Hobson, type AZP, mounted on the off side. supplied the gas. The front of one camshaft provides the drive for the magneto, a position that makes adjustments very easy.

The crankcase has extensions either side to form trays and present a neat appearance under the bonnet. The four-speed right-hand-change gearbox gives ratios of’ 14, 9, 6 and 4 to 1, discounting the odd “points”; unit construction is employed.

The chassis, in spite of a wheelbase of’ 10′ 10″, is not unduly heavy for a car of 3 litres and carrying, if required, a full 4/5-seater four-door saloon; the chassis weight was some 25 cwt.

The suspension followed Sunbeam practice of the time in that the rears are cantilever, the fronts are the normal half-elliptic; both axles controlled by Hartford shockers. The writer has never seen a 2-seater body mounted on this chassis and should imagine that it would look pretty ghastly anyway. From almost every view the standard open 4-seater body makes a handsome motor car, the absence of running boards and the characteristic cycle-wings giving the car a distinctive appearance. Narrow, comparatively, the body carries at the rear twin vertically mounted spares and a neat undershield finishes off the job.

A single car ran in the 1925 Le Mans, driven by S. C. H. Davis and J. Chassagne, the latter already famous for his exploits with Sunbeam cars, including winning the R.A.C. Tourist Trophy in 1922 on an 8-cylinder 3-litre. Despite troubles with body, shockers and a rear axle damaged when driven off the road by another car the Sunbeam finished second, the first British car to finish and only 45 miles behind the winner, the 3.5-litre Lorraine.

In 1929 a number of supercharged cars were built, one of which was entered in the Irish Grand Prix and driven by M. Campbell. The Cozette supercharger was mounted on a cradle cast integral with the crankcase on the off side and driven by a short horizontal shaft from the timing case. Fuel was supplied by an A.C. mechanical pump mounted near, and driven from, the inlet camshaft. In this form the unit gave 140 b.h.p. at 3,800. with + 6 lbs. boost, and a road speed of 115 m.p.h. in full road trial. Chassis alterations were mainly concerned with larger brakes, operated by Dewandre vacuum servo.

During the actual race the car had bad luck, and trouble in one form or another caused Campbell to retire from the race. Later one of the blown cars was driven by B. O. Davis and Barker at Brooklands, and recorded 107 m.p.h. lap speed. Major H. O. D. Segrave at one time used an open 4-seater for personal transport and apparently shocked the U.S. speed cops no end by holding over 90 m.p.h. on the way to Daytona, where he drove the first “200 per” the 1,000 h.p. Sunbeam. A 3-litre covered the greatest distance in one of the Essex Car Club’s six hour races at the Track, but its racing successes are not many. For some reason the model was never pushed at all by the company. I have no hesitation in suggesting that had the machine received the same enthusiastic development as was lavished upon the Bentley, even greater would have been the British victories in sports-car racing and the prestige of the Sunbeam, the premier English racing marque.

I hope the member of the R.A.F. who recently asked for an article on the 3-litre will be interested in this collection of notes.

Incidentally, the writer would like to hear of a 4-seater suitable for re-building for post-war motoring.

Many thanks for keeping Motor Sport in print.

I am, Yours etc.,

H. Pratley.

London, E.18.


May I point out what appears to me to be an error in the excellent article on Racing Car Evolution which appears in the April issue.

It is stated that the 6-cylinder Amilcar was fitted with a Cozette blower; in actual fact the supercharger used on these incomparable little cars was a Roots, built by Amilcars for the job. I never had any trouble from these blowers, which is more than I can say for the Cozette.

I have had no experience of the 8-cylinder Salmson which your contributor mentions as having a Roots blower; the fast 4-cylinder cars of this make had Cozettes – why the change of type?

I am, Yours etc.,

Harold Biggs

Enfield, Middlesex.

[Possibly the troubles mentioned by our correspondent led Salmson to adopt a Roots blower for their straight-eight “1,100” – Ed.]