If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it is an interesting speculation to consider which racing-car design has been the most plagiarised. I would put the Henry Peugeots of before the First World War high on the list, if they do not win hands down.
Last month we made Editorial reference to a startling new theory advanced by Edward Eves of Autocar, whereby he couples Louis Verdet’s name with the design of the 1912 Grand Prix Peugeot engine, the first to use inclined multiple valves operated by twin overhead-camshafts, thereby setting a fashion that continues to the present time, instead of attributing this breakthrough entirely to Ernest Henry and his supporting team of three racing-drivers.
In a slightly revised form Henry used such an engine again in 1913, his 3-litre version being extremely successful, notably when used by the great Georges Boillot to win the Coupe de L’Auto race at Boulogne, with team-mate Goux in second place. It was then that the copying started. I have told in an exclusive Motor Sport article how Louis Coatalen of Sunbeam’s got hold of one of these Coupe de L’Auto Peugeots, stripped it down in secret in Wolverhampton, and copied it for his 3.3-litre 1914 TT Sunbeams, using the same configuration for his Grand Prix cars of that year and for aero-engine designs.
We know that when the Humber Company of Coventry entered motor racing, for the one and only time, they engaged F.T. Burgess to design their 1914 TT racers and he also copied Henry’s twin-cam Peugeot design, not only so far as the TT Humber engine was concerned, which was almost identical apart from a reversed cylinder block, but the chassis also. Proof of this came when C.G. Brocklebank had cause to replace the frame of one of these 1913 Coupe de L’Auto Peugeots he was racing at Brooklands after the war (it is dealt with in much detail in “The History of Brooklands Motor Course”, Grenville, 1980) and found that a 3-litre Bentley chassis lined up perfectly. Burgess had obviously used Peugeot drawings when laying-out the post-war Bentley chassis for W.O.
We know that others, too, copied Henry’s engines, such as Premier and Monroe in America, and the 1922 sixteen-valve Aston-Martins were a 1 1/2-litre link with his 1913 designs. Another case of a racing car being copied was that of the 1914 Grand Prix Mercedes, rushed to Derby soon after war broke out, so that Henry Royce could investigate its design; he used some of the German techniques in his Rolls-Royce Eagle aero-engine. Now Eves tells us, and I quote from his article in Autocar about the 3 1/2-litre Bentley, “His (Sir Henry Royce’s) preoccupation with performance is apparent in very early patents for overhead camshaft valve gear, the purchase of the twin-cam Peugeot that won the 1913 Coupe de L’Auto, and the twin-cam engine he proposed for the Goshawk prototype 20 h.p. model as early as 1920″. (My italics).
Now unless memory tricks me, this is the first I have heard of Royce buying the Boillot Peugeot, just as Eves dropped a bombshell among historians with his claim that Verdet vied with a Henry in designing these racing engines and that they used desmodromic valve gear to win the 1912 French Grand Prix. I imagine that profound Rolls-Royce researchers will be delving into Royce’s “Bible” (wherein the aforesaid 1914 GP Mercedes is mentioned, and other archives at Paulers Pury to see if this exciting piece of information can be enlarged upon.*
You see, I had often wondered whether the Peugeot Coatalen cribbed had returned to France or had stayed here to be purchased by Brocklebank. As this was supposed to have been the winner of the 1913 Coupe de L’Auto I suppose it is possible that Coatalen might have passed it on to Henry Royce when he had done with it. But I do wish Eves would quote his sources for the new historical data he has come up with. — W.B.
*For what it is worth, an article “Where Have All The Peugots Gone?” will be found in MOtor Sport for June and July 1968 (photostats available), although it does not mention Sir Henry Royce having one. – Ed.