Rumblings, May 1971

200-m.p.h. Sunbeam.—A rare occasion arose recently, for the Montagu Motor Museum is having the 1927 Sunbeam 200-mph. record breaker refurbished at George Gray (Emsworth) Ltd. near Portsmouth and the opportunity was taken to inspect this twin-engined monster with all the body panels removed, some of them for the first time since 1927. The mass of machinery amidst which Segrave sat when he took the record at over 203 m.p.h. is awe-inspiring to see even today, so that it is no wonder that he wrote “I stood and stared at the monster rather as a child would have done. Racing cars I had seen and driven by the dozen, but this was something more gigantic than any yet dreamed of. It fascinated me. The thought that I was to drive it, control it, unleash all its potentialities, was, one must admit, a little unnerving. It is the only time I can honestly say when I have stood in front of a car and doubted human ability to control it”. He controlled it at a fastest one-way run on Daytona Beach of 207.507 m.p.h. and an average of 203.792 m.p.h. for the two-way flying mile, on March 29th, 1927.

In a vast channel-section chassis frame, some fourteen inches deep, are mounted two V12 Matabele Sunbeam aero engines, one in front of the driver and one behind him, each of 27 1/2 litres capacity. The front engine is reversed from the aero engine position, with the four magnetos at the front and the power take-off shaft at the rear. The back engine is mounted as in an aircraft, with the four magnetos at the very rear of the car and the take-off at the front. The V12-cylinder engines have four valves and two sparking plugs per cylinder and four overhead camshafts, with two large carburetters mounted in the vee of the engine and the exhaust ports on the outside. The front engine has exhaust manifolds running into tail pipes appearing through each side of the car, and the rear engine has vertical exhaust stub pipes. Each engine is mounted on a channel iron sub-frame, which is mounted on cross-members on the main chassis.

The direction of rotation of the rear engine has been reversed and the two engines are coupled together by a large propellor shaft running along the centre of the cockpit, the aeroplane reduction gears being blanked off and the drive taken directly from the crankshaft. The engine coupling shaft from the rear engine passes through a transfer box, and then via a large clutch to the front engine. In the transfer box the drive is stepped to the left of the car and a shaft runs back, through a smaller clutch, to the gearbox which is in one with a differential unit and cross-shaft mounted rigidly on the chassis. At each end of the cross-shaft is a vast sprocket transmitting the power rearwards to the rear wheels by chains. The rear hubs are mounted on a dropped tubular axle that runs under the rear engine about half-way along its length, the hubs running freely on this dropped tube, which is mounted on the half-elliptic rear springs.

The front engine is cooled by an inclined radiator mounted ahead of it and the rear engine has two radiators virtually in the cockpit, with air ducts feeding them from openings in each side of the car. The front axle is an orthodox beam on half-elliptic springs and the four-wheel brakes are cable operated by coupled foot-pedal and hand-lever, much of the mechanism being similar to the 1924 Grand Prix Sunbeams. Behind the rear engine is a Grand Prix Sunbeam fuel tank with a fuel shut-off valve coupled by rods and levers to a knob alongside the driver’s left shoulder, the driver sitting on the right of the prop-shaft, the gear lever being cranked over towards him from the gearbox. The handbrake is on the right and the pendant accelerator pedal operates the two carburetters of the front engine and the two of the rear engine through a wondrous system of bell-cranks, levers and rods.

Even more ingenious is the advance-and-retard mechanism for the, eight magnetos. With those of the front engine up by the radiator and those of the rear engine way down the back by the fuel tank, each set being on a cradle across the width of the engine and driven from the timing gears, the linkages are a designer’s nightmare and all eight are controlled by a small lever in a quadrant on the instrument panel. The rods connecting the carburetters of the two engines and the magnetos run side-by-side through the cockpit, alongside the fuel shut-off control knob. With the engines being coupled together positively there is only one rev-counter on the instrument panel, the engines running at about 2,200 r.p.m., each developing 435 b.h.p.

A normal Grand Prix Sunbeam type steering gear is used and the clutch pedal operates the clutch between the transfer box and the gearbox. The clutch behind the front engine is a positive in-or-out affair operated by a long hand lever which is reached through a panel on the top of the bodywork. Having started the rear engine, the driver kept it running while a mechanic operated the hand clutch which engaged the front engine, the driver then having control of the coupled engines through the foot clutch. The noise of these two aeroplane engines must have been most impressive and looking into the cockpit one can only admire the bravery of Henry O’Neal de Hane Segrave, later to become Sir Henry Segrave.

Depanoto.—Anyone travelling to Le Mans from Paris will almost certainly use the N23, in which ease they will pass through the small town of Nogent-le-Rotrou, and as you enter the town the narrow road passes between a garage and a large white house. The garage is normal enough and so is the house, from the outside, but inside the three-storey house it is another matter. From basement to roof it is packed with old car parts, ranging from the very beginning of motoring to 1941, with everything laid out in racks like a supermarket.

The premises belong to the Boutet family and J. P. Boutet and his son run a remarkable breakers yard for Veteran, Vintage and PVT cars, with a membership scheme whereby a fee of £7 brings you a vast catalogue of the contents of the house, with regular additional news sheets, and permits you free access to rummage about and look for obscure bits, or bits that could be modified or improvised. They also run a very comprehensive photostat service of old manuals, instruction books and advertising material, etc.

In 1911 Marcel Boutet owned the garage on the right-hand side of the N23 and was agent for Corre la Licorne, Delage and Clement-Bayard cars, and lived with his family in the house opposite. When father Boutet died he left the house and garage to his sons, and while J.P. developed the breaking business in the garden and it subsequently took over the whole house, his brother lost interest in the garage business and sold his part of the property. Today Depanoto thrives on the sale of old car parts to collectors and renovators all over the world, and Boutet’s long association with the motor trade affords him opportunities to unearth rare and valuable parts all over France. For anyone interested in joining the spares scheme the address is Depanoto & Cie, 28 Nogent-le-Rotrou, France.

The Alfa Romeo Montreal.—It was very appropriate that the day after Alfa Romeo won the BOAC 1,000-kilometre race at Brands Hatch, with the Tipo 33-3, a new production Alfa Romeo was announced in Italy using a V8 engine developed directly from the 3-litre sports/racing car. This was the Montreal coupé, so named because it first appeared at the World Exhibition in Montreal four years ago. Then it was a one-off “idea car”, today it is a production reality, already being built at the rate of five a day and soon to rise to more than 15 a day. The basic car is a step up from the 1750 GTV, having similar coil spring and wishbone i.f.s. and live rear axle located by radius arms and central A-bracket, and sprung on coil springs with a limited-slip differential. The heart of the Montreal is the V8 engine and the 5-speed and reverse gearbox, the engine being a 90 deg. vee with two overhead camshafts to each bank of cylinders, identical in layout to the engine used in the Tipo 33-3, except for smaller bores reducing the capacity to 2,539 cc., bore and stroke being 80 x. 64.5 mm. Italian Spica fuel-injection is used into the ports and 200 b.h.p. (DIN) is developed at 6,500 r.p.m., while lubrication is on the dry-sump principle. The 5-speed gearbox has a normal H-pattern for the four lower gears with fifth gear over to the right and forward, the ratios being very close, fully synchronized and able to be changed incredibly quickly with the short central gear-lever. Disc brakes are used on all four wheels, and 195/70 VR14 Michelin X tyres, mounted on alloy wheels, give very impressive road-clinging qualities even on wet surfaces. Although the suspension is relatively soft and the car rolls quite a lot under hard cornering, it maintains a very constant understeer characteristic with no feeling at all of wanting to “plough” straight on.

The Montreal was introduced at the Balocco proving ground that Alfa Romeo built a few years ago, just to the west of Milan, and a demonstration run on the test track, out on the open country roads and on the Milan-Turin Autostrada with Consalvo Sanesi at the wheel was sufficient to illustrate that this was a car in the true Alfa Romeo tradition. The engine was incredibly smooth and quiet at all r.p.m. and wound up to 6,500 r.p.m. in fifth gear (approximately 130 m.p.h.), while the handling, steering and braking coped adequately with all conditions. Sanesi used to drive in the 159 Alfa Romeo team and later with the Disco Volantes, and when you say Sanesi you say Alfa Romeo, and vice-versa, so that it was with justifiable pride that he demonstrated this latest Alfa Romeo sports coupé to its fullest extent.

The body design is by Nuccio Bertone and is a short, compact coupé with a small space behind the seats. The glass panel in the sloping tail hinges up for access to the luggage compartment concealed under a hinged deck, while the spare wheel is buried in the tail, and one would pray not to get a puncture on a dark, wet night. There are movable grilles over the headlamps, lowered by engine vacuum, and apart from tidying up the “daylight” styling, they keep the headlights clean. The bonnet is very short, with the V8 engine sitting amidships between the front wheels, and with a wheelbase of only 7 ft. 8 1/2 in. the car has quite a long nose, which keeps the proportions fairly nicely balanced.

Price for the Montreal has not yet been fixed exactly but it will probably be in the order of £5,000 in Great Britain by the time everyone has had their cut, including a large slice to the Government.