Sideslips

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Baladeur

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by “Baladeur”

I had it in mind to write this month upon an astonishing variety of topics, from the technicalities of “infra-charging” (the opposite, that is, to supercharging) to the influence upon steering gears of the extent of Napoleon’s conquests. But before I can embark upon any such dissertation it is clear, from what the Editor tells me, that I must give some explanation of what “Baladeur” means — the significance of the word, of course, not of its user’s writings. (I have done all this before, as a matter of fact, but it was a long time ago, when Motor Sport was a mere stripling compared to its present self.)

Well, according to my French dictionary, the normal translation of “baladeur” is “a stroller, a saunterer,” which might be considered an apt enough name for the perpetrator of “Sideslips.” if only it was more in keeping with his readers’ habits on the road. But persevere a moment with the dictionary: it adds, “gear for changing speeds.” A “baladeur” is, in fact, a selector rod, and its choice as a nom de plume was imposed upon its user (who is not, truth to tell, as selective as all that in his subject matter) by that remarkable French production which used to appear year after year ever since the early days of motoring (which may do so still, for all I know about French affairs these days) and which was called “Le Catalogue des Catalogues” — or, more familiarly, “the Dogalogue.”

Now the “Dogalogue,” as well as giving the specification of all the year’s French cars, and of such foreign ones as came to its notice, used to give certain particulars of older models; and the particulars chosen for each were its horse-power; number of cylinders; bore and stroke; number of speeds; and number of “baladeurs.” At first the inclusion of this last item in so concise a specification astonished me considerably, until I realised that the “Dogalogue” was obviously conservative in such matters and that its interest in “baladeurs” clearly dated from the time of the transition from the quadrant to the gate change. Having owned three cars which relied on the former arrangement I can appreciate to the full the benefits of one or more extra “baladeurs” and the consequent avoidance of a too perfect change resulting in the teeth of one pinion being pushed straight through those of the other with which it was meant to engage. Indeed there is in my possession an unfortunate photograph of Baladeur himself, taken by some untimely Pressman and showing him at the Vintage S.C.C. Speed Trials at Bramshill, peering anxiously over the side of his bolide as he seeks to put in the second speed!

One has only got to put forward a claim for the invention of the motor-car itself or any of its component parts for the assertion to be hotly contested. For all that, in this matter of the multiple “baladeur,” I am going to put in a word for Vinot et Deguingand, a marque which faded out, I believe, about twenty years ago, after a Vinot had run third in the Tourist Trophy race of 1905. The car, I suggest, which first possessed this unusual feature was, however, shown by them at the Paris Salon in January, 1901. “The only novel feature about the car,” said the Autocar reporter who attended the Show, “is the change-speed gear, which is composed of two trains of loose wheels operating on the fixed wheels and working by different movements of the band-lever. The lever moves in two guides — an upper and a lower one — and each movement acts upon one or other of two rods connecting with the sliding shafts. The advantage claimed for this arrangement is that the driver has not to graduate the movement of the lever, but pushes it backwards and forwards as far as it will go in the segment for each speed and reversing. This arrangement is said to be specially valuable at night time, when the driver is not able to see or feel the notches in which he puts the lever.” His inability to see in the dark is readily understandable; and as for feeling, well, one assumes, I suppose, that at night time he would be driving after dinner.

Quite apart from the question of “baladeurs,” however, the whole business of gear-changing was obviously a terrible bugbear to the early motorist, although I am inclined to think that he did not know when he was well off, for quite some of the nastiest gearboxes of all time, in my opinion, were fitted to the pre-synchromesh, high-speed engined cars of the 1920’s. On the other hand, quite the nicest I have ever known intimately was possessed by my 1912 3-speed “Alfonso” Hispano-Suiza. The Achilles heel of that car was its inadequatesized multi-plate clutch, which had such difficulty in moving the car off on its high bottom gear that it was in a chronic state of semi-seizure and was best not used for gear-changing, a situation which made the decided “clonk” with which the speeds engaged all the more satisfying. But the early motorist did have to contend with an almost constant-speed engine, which could not be allowed to “race” and which was apt to deliver next best thing to no power at all if it didn’t. His need, in these circumstances, for expert advice is amply shown by a small sample from my library of motoring books.

The purchaser of “Motors and Motor Driving,” published in the Badminton Library in 1902, had, indeed, no less a pair of experts than S. F. Edge and Charles Jarrott to instruct him. “In changing speeds,” they warn him, ” there are various things to he avoided, and the learner will very quickly realise that it is most difficult, if not well-nigh impossible, to change speed without withdrawing the clutch.” There were heretics, however, even in expert circles. R. J. Mccredy, the editor of the Motor News, for instance, writing in “The Motor Book,” published in 1903, expressed quite the contrary opinion. “When changing from the high to the low,” he remarks, “any experts hold that it is necessary to operate the clutch pedal. We have not found that so, in moderately powered cars at all events. As a rule if the gear lever is moved steadily into the notch, the teeth will mesh without a sound.”

One can imagine, on the contrary, the shrieks of protest that could be elicited by a “steady movement” on these lines from, say, a “moderately powered” car such as an Austin Seven of twenty years ago!

By 1904, however, Mr. Archibald Ford, the Principal of the Liverpool School of Motoring, had decided that all this business of “changing from the high to the low” was greatly overdone anyway. In “The Darracq and its Management” he has just been describing how to change up and how the clutch should be engaged gently after the process. “If you raise the foot abruptly,” he explains, “the car will go forward with a jerk, and the gearshafts will commence knocking. To prevent this the foot is raised quickly but gradually, so that the clutch slips somewhat in the flywheel. This eases matters a good deal, until the car has obtained sufficient momentum for such ‘easing’ to be for the time being dispensed with. When, however, an up-gradient is encountered, not sufficiently steep to necessitate recourse to the second gear, ‘easing’ must again be requisitioned to enable the car to run easily and without knocking. The art of ‘persuading’ or ‘easing’ having once been thoroughly mastered, some really stiff hills can very easily be negotiated on the high speed.”

There is, as the I.C.I. advertisement says, “Nothing Like Leather”; but really what some of those early leather cone clutches must have endured in their time is almost past imagining. By 1907 Max Pemberton, in “The Amateur Motorist,” is suitably scathing — but with a curious reservation. “Another practice,” he declares, “against which a protest cannot be too soon recorded is that of clutch-slipping. If a car will not mount a hill upon a certain speed without slipping the clutch, that speed should instantly be changed. With the latest metal-to-metal clutches it is true that advocates of slipping have a better cause, but my own experience goes to show that clutch-slipping is a mistake at any time and under any circumstances; and that the man who indulges overmuch in it is not and never will be a great driver.”

And yet I have owned one of those very 1904 Darracqs on the “management” of which Archibald Ford advises, after it had passed through the hands of Heaven knows how many drivers, great or small, who were doubtless thorough masters of the “art of persuading,” and its leather clutch never gave me a moment’s trouble; whereas, as I have already mentioned, the metal-to-metal clutch of my “Alfonso,” which was even later than anything Max Pemberton had ever seen in 1907, could not be slipped enough for the car to be coaxed away from a standstill without its plates buckling every way until the poor clutch really did not know whether it was in or out! But if the Liverpool School of Motoring taught its pupils how to avoid changing clown, earlier pundits had practically forbidden the novice to do much in the way of changing up. Let us return for a moment to Messrs. Edge and Jarrott, who have just given the budding automobilist a careful description of what to push and pull in order to get a 1902 car of the Panhard type under way. “Keep on the low and second speeds until you feel thoroughly at home and confident that the car will do that which you mechanically direct it to do,” they adjure him. “Remember that with a motor car the driver controls the vehicle . . . (!)

“Third Speed. — The third speed may now be used, and you obtain this under exactly the same circumstances and in exactly the same way as set out in the explanation of changing from the first to the second speed. It will be well if some long runs be taken at this stage, no speed higher than third being attempted.”

This self-denying ordinance over top, moreover, was not confined to the mere tyro. In the Autocar of October 25th, 1902, Mr. Bernard B. Redwood, pictured, in a magnificent fur coat, on a 16-h.p. De Dietrich with Dr. Boverton Redwood, in an equally magnificent fur coat, described a “somewhat extended trial” of the car which he had been enabled to make by the courtesy of the Burlington Carriage Co. “We made our way slowly through the London traffic in a northerly direction,” he says, ” . . . the village of Finchley was soon left astern and the delights of a full-powered car began to be experienced. All hills were climbed on the third speed at fully the legal limit. . . The run was continued through Hatfield and St. Albans, thence back to town. . . The top speed was used once on a deserted road.”

Of course the idea of going all the way from London to St. Albans and back with only a furtive sprint on the top speed on a deserted road would not have suited Mr. Archibald Ford at all. “So we are now travelling merrily along on the second gear,” he remarks, having just described the ticklish process of getting it engaged. “We must remember, however, that the engine is working faster on the second gear than on the top gear. . . and as each explosion means combustion of petrol, besides heat and noise, the faster the engine works, so much noisier and hotter it becomes, and so much more petrol it consumes than if it were on the highest gear, when the motor would be working with less rapidity. It therefore behoves us to get on to the top gear as soon as possible.”

Three years later, however, Max Pemberton was stoutly declaring himself to be one of the old school. “Nowadays,” he complains, “a silly doctrine of ‘everywhere on top speed’ is preached by manufacturers and mad chauffeurs, and is doing infinite mischief to many cars.” But to write like this in 1907 was to play the part of Canute; as early as 1902 manufacturers, driven to it, possibly, by “mad chauffeurs,” were at least experimenting with the “all-on-top” car. At the Paris Salon of that year MM. Charron, Girardot et Voigt ;showed a 40-h.p. straight-eight C.G.V. chassis which the Autocar characterised as “specially interesting because entirely new and involving a principle which we believe no one has attempted to apply up to the present moment.” It was, added the reporter, “apparently the outcome of the mechanical inlet valve, since the makers argue that if they can get a complete range of speed up to 1,600 revolutions they are able, with eight cylinders, to propel a vehicle at any speed without the intervention of change-speed gearing. The clutchshaft, in fact, gears direct on the countershaft without intermediate gearing of any kind.”

I am inclined to doubt, actually, whether the 40-h.p. C.G.V. which incidentally had the crank throws set at 45°, was ever found to be a practical proposition, and I should be much interested to hear if any reader has actually tried one on the road. The Autocar report of the 1902 Salon remarks, rather cryptically, that “the eight-cylinder chassis is shown incomplete, with only the cylinders fitted”; and even in “The Automobile,” based on Lavergne’s “Manuel Theorique et Pratique de l’Automobile sur Route,” and revised in 1903, Paul N. Hasluck says, “the C.G.V. 40-h.p. eight-cylinder motor employs two carburetters and by its use it is hoped to dispense with change-speed gear . . .”

Such “hopes,” however, were at least more or less realised by the Sheffield Simplex which was introduced in about 1907. This car had a 6-cylinder engine of 114 x 114 mm. bore and stroke (the same dimensions, that is, as he contemporary 40-50-h.p. Rolls-Royce), geared to do 40 m.p.h. at 1,200 r.pan. (as against 43 m.p.h. at the same engine speed in the ease of the Rolls-Royce) and having, to quote Mr. Hasluck’s 1909 volume, “no regular gearbox, although to facilitate the climbing of extra severe gradients, there is a little gear fitted close to tht live-axle differential and giving two forward speeds and a reverse. This gear is to be regarded as a standby to be used exceptionally and not normally.”

The Shellield-Simplex certainly worked, but whether one really started on top or actually used the “standby” is a matter on which I should like more information. And apart from this, I doubt whether even Mr. Archibald Ford would have seen much point in it, since in 1903 Mr. D. M. Weigel had been able to advertise the fact that he had driven a perfectly normal 24-80-h.p. 4-speed Talbot with six passengers aboard, from London to Scarborough and back, without changing down from top (the amount of “easing” resorted to not being stated). But still, the 40-h.p. C.G.V. of 1902 and the 45-h.p. Sheffield Simplex of 1907 were, I suppose, the parents of the light large-engined American car of modern times.

A friend of mine, who is a motorist of some considerable experience, obtained a commission, during the Hitler war, in the R.A.F. That was before the days of austerity, which later reduced him to a bicycle, and he found that, in order to travel upon his official occasions, he was provided with a motor car. Not being accustomed to service habits, however, he was somewhat. surprised to find that he was not allowed to drive the thing himself, but had to entrust its conduct to a member or the W.A.A.F. who was characterised as a “motor driver.” Resigning himself to the passenger’s seat, therefore, he told his chauffeuse where he wanted to go, and received his second surprise when she started off in third. The car, not being over-engined, complained somewhat at this treatment and reiterated its complaints with increased vehemence when, almost immediately, its driver put it into top. It did not actually stall, however, and my friend received his third surprise when, just as it was beginning to pick up, its fair conductress changed down again to third and then, at a very suitable speed, up once more into top.

Thereafter all went merrily until, at a signpostless fork they realised too late that they had taken the wrong road. “I am afraid,” said my friend, “that we shall have, to reverse.” A maidenly blush suffused his companion’s countenance. “But,” she said, indicating the gear-lever, “I don’t know where to put, this thing for that.”

At last a great light dawned upon my friend, who had been puzzling throughout the journey on her unconventional use of the “thing” when starting. His “motor driver” clearly understood the motions required by M. Levassor for the operation of his sliding-pinion gearbox; alas! she had not gone a step further and become acquainted with the multiple “baladeur” !

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