THE THIRD BRAINS TRUST •
McCullough as Question Master Donald
THE Motoring Brains Trust at the ” Rembrandt ” on April 16th, for which Rivers-Fletcher was mainly responsible, gained vastly by having Donald McCullough, the B.B.C. Question Master, as its question.master on this occasion. McCullough’s particular brand of wit, his understanding of the Sport, and his undisguised appreciation of the 3-litre Bentley, combined to make him the ideal question master at a gathering of this nature. One sample of his wit— in introducing the “brains,” he referred to Rolls-Royce, Ltd., as a concern which had come into prominence after joining with Bentley. The first question was, “What is a sports car ? ” Scott-Moncrieff thought any car which gave pleasure as distinct from purely transport ; Laurence Pomeroy suggested “a car which is slower than a streamlined saloon and faster than a standard saloon ” ; and Peter Monkhouse emphasised that chromium plate often distinguishes the British sports car from its touring counterpart. D. Bastow, B.Sc., A .M.I.A.E., of Rolls-Royce, Ltd., thought in terms of fast tourers or sports cars for trials, rallies, etc., as a far more usual type than the sports car ; and Clutton said a car giving some return for the exercise of skill in handling it. This led Pomeroy to venture “a car driven for pleasure derived from performance.” Clutton then retorted that other things besides performance matter a great deal ; the early Twenty Rolls being a most pleasurable car, although it “hardly goes at. all.” McCullough here terminated the answers with the comment : “We don’t want to lose the whole crowd (of listeners). The simple answer is, of course, a 3-litre I” Question No. 2: “Where lies the dividing line between cars like the M.G. and a normal saloon ? ” Scott-Moncrieff thought the sports car needed skilful driving to reveal its performance and wasn’t just a car with a zo-zo exhaust. (McCullough : “If you can change gear it’s not a sports car! “) This question rather faded out, and then we had : ” Why shouldn’t a sports car have a good steering lock for town use ? ” Monkhouse said that B.M.W., Bugatti and Alfa-Romeo have, but some sports cars developed from touring cars may offend. Pomeroy reminded us that ordinary suspension reduces lock, whereas i.f.s., if of the right type, improves it, and Scott-Moncrieff wound up by recalling the 3-litre Sunbeam as having a fair right lock but needing to go right-handed to
get round left-hand corners. Next question: “How do insurance companies determine what is a sports car and why do they take a poor view of them ? ” Clutton remarked that his mother said that any car you can’t Walk through from one side to the other without stooping must be a sports car [shades of Fafnir], and he said that the “30/98 ” Vauxhall always went by as a fast tourer even when so old as to be unsafe. Next question : ” Why does a Jeep, with ordinary axles, high c. of g. and hard tyres, hold down so well ? ” Monkhouse cited its i.f.s., but was told it has normal springing. Clutton was “quite terrified at speed ” in one, but Moncrieff said even with an inebriated driver they give great confidence, “like Aldy’s things.” Sam said yes, but don’t they eventually take complete charge ? and Pomeroy drily remarked that some cars are so dangerous as to kill all the evidence. Anthony Heal then asked what kind of concern will build sports cars after the war. (McCullough : “And what will they cost ? “) Pomeroy expected a much bigger market than before the war, bearing in mind the large numbers of mechanically-trained ex-Service men who will find ” civvy street” very dull. Bastow said that quantity production would offset high price, and Aldington wanted to see a good tourer produced first and a sporting edition evolved from it. The specialist market was a restricted one, of expensive cars. Moncrieff disagreed with Pomeroy, considering that expensive sports cars would be quite unable to compete with 100-m.p.h. Buicks after the war—he emphasised the great strides in roadholding technique recently made by American designers. Clutton here asked, “Why have sports cars at all ? ” Comfort, silence, performance and roadholding were now achieved in one design by use of high r.p.in., short stroke and i.f.s. Monkhouse thought the specialist market would survive, selling some 500 cars a year, and asked Aldy’s view. Aldington said that the Frazer-Nash market had become too
limited, so he had introduced the B.M.W. as a modern version of the ‘Nash. [But, at the time, he disliked the Press referring to the Frazer-Nash-B.M.W. as a modern edition of the ‘Nash, emphasising that it was a separate entity.] Pomeroy thought the future lay in cars like the 10-h.p. Simca Fiat, and he expected to see increased spending power. Bastow then raised the point that if only synthetic rubber is available, fast cars will be impossible, as the tyres will not stand up. This brought out one of the most interesting answers of the meeting, Aldington telling us that for three years he had raced B.M.W. motor-cycles on synthetic tyres with no ill results. Germany, likewise, used it for m/e. T.T. racing before the war.
A lady then wanted to know why we don’t sell our sports cars on the Continent, although Continental sports cars are popular here. Monkhouse said probably because we never tried to—we did sell many M.G.s. Aldington said because British cars did not give satisfaction, which is why he imported the B.M.W. He saw no reason why we shouldn’t make sports cars suitable for export. Moncrieff said people on the Continent still think that we are the finest engineers in the world, but economic conditions prevent them buying our cars. There was little free currency—Rumania sold oil, it is true, but Greece only olive oil, and the smaller countries spent what they had on war materials. Clutton remarked that it was true up to a point to say that the English didn’t build sports cars, and Pomeroy said that directors of our factories were apt to regard a 10-mile jaunt as a sound test, and 50 m.p.h. as rushing along like an express train, whereas on the Continent 100 m.p.h. for 100 miles was more the order (recalling his own drive on a V12 Lagonda in Germany). Douglas Tubbs then wanted to know how fast a sports car should go. Pomeroy thought the cruising speed should equal the maximum of an ordinary car, i.e., a 25 per cent. margin of maximum speed— cruising 85, flat-out 95-100 m.p.h. Monkhouse said 140 m.p.h. [he had attended in his Type 51 G.P. Bugatti in the course of business journeys], and Clutton referred to engine output, reminding us that 70 b.h.p. per litre was about the highest achievement to date, by Alfa-Romeo and Bugatti, but he felt that, with higher boost, some 130-140 m.p.h. should be possible with reliability. Aldington said this was wishful thinking, and Sought a continuous 100 m.p.h. in safety. Monkhouse said the public could not measure acceleration on a clock, and so always asked, “1-low fast will it go ? ” [the Wattle-club ?]. Thus 90 m.p.h. down the by-pass on the speedometer usually leaves them satisfied. ‘Moncrieff observed that he and Lyeett played a game of seeing how fast they could go from A to B, observing the 30 m.p.h. limits. It is average speed that counts in the end, and touring cars are catching up on sports cars on this score. Next question : “have sales managers had a bad influence on sports car design ? ” Monkhouse thought partly, otherwise one wonders why certain cars sell at all. Then someone wanted to know why i.r.s. hadn’t been developed like i.f.s. Bastow felt it had been attempted, and aban
doned, by people who didn’t know what they wanted to do or how to do it—true, also, of some i.f.s. Moncrieff said when he was at Untertuckheim he was told that Daimler-Benz needed their best brains for other things [we now know for what !], otherwise they would have developed independent rear suspension, as there is definitely something in it.
Shortt then asked whether the oldschool Bentley set a standard by which all sports ears are judged ? (McCullough : ” Definitely, yes “). Clutton said probably it had lived longest in public .esteem, though it never won races by going fast, but by never breaking down. Aldington had liked the ” 30/98 ” Vauxhall, but had had no use for the 3-litre Bentley. Bastow said the ” 30/98 ” had probably lived longer than the Bentley, which caused Pomeroy to add that it was designed for a 58 sec. run but had been known to function for far longer periods Monkhouse thought perhaps the older cars could still hold their own, due to backward development. .110 iierie ft said he had had ” 39/98s ” and AlcreMesBenz, and had never liked the Bentley, but you do love a Bentley as a real engineer’s car.
Next question : “Why are modern cars so difficult to maintain, and will enclosure make things worse in future ? ” Pomeroy said the bad Spots Of old cars were certainly perpetual running sores, and specialised cars of the future would need special service. A 41-litre Bentley was easy to maintain, but a Fordson tractor was still easier—moderns would do 20,00 trouble-free miles and then need a depot overhaul. Clutton challenged this statement, citing the RollsBentley as a car holding its tune over longer periods probably better than any other. Bastow observed that old ears had to be accessible, whereas moderns need not be.
George Monkhouse [he uses a 4i-litre Bentley] then wanted the Brains Trust to tell him why the modern sports car has such inadequate luggage space. Pomeroy said there is no basic reason, just bad design, and Moncrieff, at the risk of upsetting the Bentley boys, said cars built up to a price must look pretty. His ideal was an S.S.K. Mercedes able to accommodate a man, a girl and two suitcases. (McCullough ” He is taking his mind off the technical side ! “) A lady now queried whether an upright driving position was preferable to the horizontal. onkhouse [remeii ibering. his drive ?] said Bugatti is excellent except for the pedal well, and he favoured a position verging on the horizontal, while Clutton recalled that his Bugatti very nearly halved the fatigue factor as compared with his Bentley, largely due to light pedal action. Bastow thought that if you want to feel you are going fast you sit low, but if you go fast you prefer to be more upright. Large bonnets are trying in fog, etc. MonerieIT said Ferrari spent a few guineas on getting an orthopwdie surgeon to design the Alfa-Romeo driving position, and did British concerns make a practice of doing this ? Aldington got very technical, saying that the top half of the human frame should tend to lean forward from the waist upwards, and Pomeroy said, alter the seat position as boost pressure rises ! Peter Clark
then asked whether spares exist with which to button up old cars such as the Bentley and, if not, whether it wouldn’t be better to smash up all such well-worn vintage cars to avoid bodging up ? He drew a comparison with the commercial world, where a new Bedford could be . bought for 2460 but bodged-up ones sold for 2,750, so that the M. of S. encouraged the scrapping of old lorries before new ones were bought. Moncrieff remarked that in old ears all parts are renewable (look to Bentley shackle-pins as well as at the paint), and he felt such cars should be restored, because manufacturers are unlikely to tool-up to produce 1,000 specialised sports cars a year after the war, i.e., 200 a year from each factory. Aldington said he thought selling 200 ears a year, renewable every three years, a reasonable prospect. Monkhouse said there is no Point in smashing up old cars, because plenty of folk crave real sports cars, so let the others have their Bentleys ! Clutton -thought the vintage car now merely a sentimental cult, albeit a very, very pleasing one. A question about the relative use of achieving high speed in various capacity classes on record runs resulted in the Brains Trust very largely debunking ears like the 369-m.p.h. Railton, and Monkhouse said surely the Railton was merely built to go very fast, not to prove anything, and, incidentally, it happened to look something like a motor-car. [But it is a fine engineering achievement nevertheless, and did Dunlops learn nothing from this record attempt?]
McCullough then put a question of his own : ” What are we learning from this war that is likely to benefit motor-cars ? ” Pomeroy said that, put in rather a low key, there was the improved fatigue qualities of metals. Bastow cited development of light alloys, certain forms of drive and supercharging. MonerieIT said supercharging had reached fantastic pressures. He would like to see a diesel-engine class at all future events because these engines, clumsy before the war, now make a lot of sense. Clutton called-up i.f.s., and Monkhouse disc brakes. Bastow remarked that war has released the money needed for research and has developed, hut not introduced, light alloys, new brake linings, etc. R. A. ‘VVaddy now asked why interest in sports ears was so evident on the Continent and so lax here, where we have such a dense motoring population. Pomeroy said this is not a fact. Barring Italy, there was more interest here than in France or Germany in the sports-type car, Germans only wanted to watch G.P. racing, and thought 65 m.p.h. fast enough from their own cars unless they bought an S.S.K. Little cream sports cars were in less demand there. Moncrieff said the French Bol d’Or race was an exception, the entrants working on their cars in backyards for a year beforehand, and the ears going quite fast without accidents. Julian Fall now queried whether the progress made in air conditioning would lead to open cars going out of production. Bastow said yes, if you only wanted to go fast, but open cars would always be wanted for enjoyment. Monkhouse, calling America the home of the saloon, said even there you found plenty of drophead coupes and 2-seaters. Pomeroy said you cannot really enjoy motoring with fewer than 11 cars and, of these, one should be open. Monerieff saw the future composed of transparent plastic eggs, greatly liked by the future generation—but he does not like transparent plastic eggs ! Someone now asked why there is so much prejudice against forced induction and 2-stroke engines. Pomeroy said the low power of the 2-stroke barred it for sports cars, and supercharging was entirely a matter of price and what was wanted. Big unblown engines were cheaper than small supercharged ones and not necessarily heavier. Monkhouse said the present tax basis encouraged supercharging. The next question was,” Why do Germans build better sports cars than the English ?” Aldington excused the lady who asked this by saying that one or two good cars from any country can give that country a false national prestige. B.M.W. had given glory to Germany she may not really deserve. Pomeroy here said surely two Austrians designed the first B.M.W., so AldingtOn told us the truth—the B.M.W. was actually developed from our Austin Seven and, incidentally, wasn’t regarded as a sports car in Germany. Monerieff said Mercedes ceased sports-car production in the thirties. Their Types 500 and 540 were not liked by him as sports cars, but they were like a Lincoln product or a General Motors of eight years later. Adler rather “missed the bus.” Aldington found the S.S.K. a very over rated motor-car, and a prestige model— the Rolls-Bentley was a far better car. (McCullough : “Very satisfactory—no good German sports cars—B.M.W. merely a glorified Austin Seven ! “) A query as to the future of engines like the Cross rotary-valve led Monkhouse to say that the Aspin engine was quite fantastic in single-cylinder form, but running up to 14,000 r.p.m., hardly practical. As a 41-litre 6-cylinder lorry engine running at 2.800 r.p.m. it is very promising. Pomeroy thought rotary valves had developed too slowly and could not now compete with other developments in i.e. engine design. Then, “What bodywork will attract the ladies most ? ” Moncrieff said that, speaking from his bachelor days, a body in which they will not get too badly wet, which looks fast, and which looks different. Here the lady sitting beside Klernantaski said that Louis had remarked in an undertone, “One with a horizontal driving position.” [Do you always use a 2-seater, Klem Mrs. Peter Clark wanted to know why speed was always allied to discomfort, which led Aldington to cite racing suspension, and to remark that the racing B.M.W. motor-cycle is most comfortable and Miss Patten to give her Le Mans Peugeot a puff. In reply to a question re the future of the h.p. tax, Moncrieff quoted, from the Daily Worker “Motoring is a form of social affectation,” and said the Government is very unlikely to listen
to us while the masses dislike us. Aidington wanted a tax on engine capacity. The Trust concluded on a technical note, with questions and answers anent aerodynamic form, over versus under-steer, 90-octane fuel, i.e. turbines and jet propulsion. And so to bed !
Apart from the Brains Trust it was all a most excellent show. At lunch F. J. Findon was in the chair, and George Monkhouse replied for the guests. Lord Howe was unable to attend, and” Bira’s ” aeroplane was held up by had weather, but Raymond Mays was at the lunch’. McCullough paid a very nice tribute to the motoring enthusiast: rather a social embarrassment in peace-time but so necessary if a great country is to remain pre-eminent; so many of whom have already laid down their lives. The Aston-Martin ” Atom ” was on view outside the ” Rembrandt,” the Monkhouse Type 51 I3ugatti was garaged nearby, and going home was enlivened when the Lancia ” Aprilia, ” carrying Aldington became skittish in the wet, and that disgusting Editorial ” 12/50 ” Alvis was arrested at Hyde Park Corner by a policeman who had quite forgotten that a Road Fund licence is carried on the near side. Our thanks to RiversFletcher. There is to be another gathering in September, after the summer season.