Ulmann on V12s

In spite of having been chastised by us for his cracks at British accomplishments, notably W. O. Bentley’s engines, Alec Ulmann of New York remains one of our staunchest readers. He says generously that he gets a lift from reading the gems of previously unknown pieces of historical information we print in MOTOR SPORT and that he has an obsession with “nothing new under the sun”. This time it was Anthony Heal’s article on the two big V12-engined racing Sunbeams that caused Alec to write to us.

As a prelude to his differences of opinion with Mr Heal, Mr Ulmann veers off into an account of his association with Igor Sikorski, whose giant four-engined aeroplane made its inaugural flight in 1913. It seems that among the engines used for this project were first the four-cylinder 100 hp Argus and then, when the outbreak of war made these German engines unavailable, Sikorski turned to various engine combinations, using 12-cylinder Renault, nine-pot water-cooled Salmson radials, six-in-line Russo-Baltiques which Alec says were copied from the successful 1913 Kaiserpries Benz cars, Beardmore sixes made under Austro-Daimler licence, and various Sunbeam aero-engines.

Mr Ulmann was told that Coatalen of Sunbeam’s was persuaded to embark on aero-engine manufacture by the Royal Navy, who wanted motors for their seaplanes. He gives the sequence as 150 hp vee-eight Crusader, the improved 155 hp Nubian not going into production. But for their project the Russians apparently got hold of some 160 hp vee-eight Sunbeam Zulu engines, shipped via Archangel when the sea wasn’t frozen over. Alec says the first Crusaders and Zulus had one magneto each but that later two magnetos were used, and produces an illustration to prove this. Ulmann describes a Sunbeam Crusader aero-engine as a 90-degree vee-eight side-valve with three main bearings and the con-rods side by side on the crankpins. Interesting as all this is, being about eight-cylinder engines I am not clear quite how it bears on Mr Ulmann’s argument that Packard with their Twin-Six car, may not necessarily have been influenced by seeing the racing V12 Sunbeam “Toodles” on American tracks, as Mr Heal implies, this being the cornerstone of the Ulmann argument.

The engine in that racing car was a 225 hp Sunbeam Mohawk, which Alec says was contemporary with the Crusader, adding that no Mohawks were shipped to the Russians but he believes that crates containing new ohc Amazon 1 engines arrived there too late to be of any use to Sikorski for his giant bombers, as by then the Russian war effort had collapsed. So what has all this got to do with the pouring of cold water on the theory that the Packard Twin-Six motor car stemmed from Col Vincent’s look at “Toodles” after that V12 Sunbeam had come to America? Not much, except that Ulmann is saying there were V12 engines about before 1915/16 when “Toodles” raced at Indianapolis and Sheepshead Bay. Based on something Ulmann wrote for the Bulb Horn, his argument goes that Col Jesse Vincent of Packard got to making the Twin-Six in order to go one better than McCall White, who had given Cadillac a vee-eight in 1914, copied from the De Dion Bouton vee-eight car of 1910/11. He points out that, unlike other American car companies, Packard’s were working on V12 aero-engines by the beginning of 1915 or earlier, implying that Vincent knew of such designs before he saw the Sunbeam racing car. However, Alec weakens his argument by noting that although Vincent adopted a 60-degree cylinder angle for his production Packard Twin-Six as Coatalen had done for the Sunbeam Mohawk motor, he used only three main bearings, which Alec calls “a total absurdity”. He also says the Twin-Six had a single venturi carburetter, compared to four carburetters on the racing Sunbeam, “not exactly a good breathing arrangement on a 12-cylinder configuration”, although in 1915 one would hardly have expected multiple carbs on a touring car.

That is about the extent of Ulmann’s counter to Heal’s theory, but in pointing to the fact that more V12 cars than the Sunbeam were known by 1915 he produces one very interesting one. This was a car built, according to Motor Age, in 1908 for the use of George Schebler, of the well-known carburetter company. This had a 45-degree, V12-cylinder, push-rod and rocker ohv engine of 3¼ in x 5 in bore and stroke, ignition being by a six-cylinder Mea magneto converted to a 12-contact distributor. Whereas the vee-eight De Dion used forked con-rods and the aforesaid Sunbeam and Packard V12 engines side-by-side rods (necessitating off-set cylinder blocks), the V12 Schebler had auxiliary rods yoked to master rods. And, on the “nothing new” theme, this Schebler normally ran on only six cylinders, reserving all 12 for bad going, like pulling through mud or tackling a sand pit, a variation on recent experiments in cutting out some of an engine’s cylinders for improved fuel economy. This was accomplished by using two Schebler carburetters and cutting one out when running on six, rather as Parry Thomas apparently later used a single or multiple carburetters at will, on one of his Leyland Eights. By 1915 this early V12 had covered some 30,000 miles over Indiana roads but of whether Vincent saw it there is no evidence…

Mr Ulmann gives some interesting items about the Packard Twin-Six in his Bulb Horn discourse. He says that by July 1915 Packard ran an AAA-observed timed run with a standard Twin-Six tourer picked from the production-line and using the normal axle-ratio, at Chicago’s board track. Driven by Ralph de Palma, it was clocked to do 72.7 mph. This was followed by a souped-up Twin-Six with racing body, which Vincent drove for a couple of laps of the Sheepshead Bay track in November 1915, getting a top speed of 102.26 mph, although we are not told who did the timing. But with the Twin-Six so well established by these dates, it does seem that if Col Vincent took his inspiration from the Sunbeam “Toodles” he must have worked very fast… For good measure, Ulmann adds details of Packard’s aero-engined racing cars, the first of which, with 45-degree ohc 905 cu in V12 engine, driven at Sheepshead by W. Radar in November 1917, is said to have done 130.43 mph, depriving the Blitzen Benz of the LSR. But as the FIA did not recognise USA records, this was unofficial. (I am quoting from Ulmann’s article in Bulb Horn. He omits to say that in 1919 de Palma was timed at 149.875 mph over a one-way mile in the V12 Packard 905, said to have used a production Twin-six chassis modified to accept the aero-type engine, which apparently had an electric starter. In the opinion of Cyril Posthumus, the LSR authority, this was undoubtedly the fastest car of its time, although not holding the LSR officially.)

Ulmann says he believes de Palma tried to get Packard to build a racing car to the post-war 2-litre formula, without success. The engine used in the 130 mph Packard racing car was closely related to the V12 Liberty aero-engine, with one of which Parry Thomas left the LSR at 171.02 mph, using a much cruder chassis than that of the Packard record-breaker, using a Liberty engine similar to that in the Packard 905 but of 27 litres, against the 10 litres of the Packard, but in a far cruder chassis.

In 1917, when plans were being laid for the Leyland Eight luxury car, a V12 engine was intended, but Thomas decided instead on a straight-eight…

The real grumble Ulmann has with Heal is the statement that the war robbed the Sunbeam Motor Car Co of being the first in the world to market a V12 car and that after Packard had copied the record-breaking Sunbeam of 1913 it was compelled to more than double its factory, increased its capital two-fold, and paid a 50% dividend on that increased capital in 1916. Ulmann maintains that, innovative though it was, the Packard Twin-Six “was marginal and of little importance to the Packard balance sheet in the 1914-1918 period, the big profits and dividends coming from the sale of thousands of 3-ton and 5-ton Packard trucks to the Allied Military Forces and the US Army, and from the Liberty aero-engine programme.”

However, Mr Heal cannot be taken to task, because he was only quoting what Louis Coatalen had said at Sunbeam’s 1916 AGM. In that address Coatalen was certainly bitter about the fact that, but for the war, Sunbeam’s would have manufactured a V12 car, based on their successful racing car, which he described as “something quite new in cars” and that after American study of that particular car “a motor manufacturing firm of perhaps the highest reputation in that continent” (he wouldn’t actually name who) standardised such a car. Coatalen sounded genuine enough in these beliefs, whatever Mr Ulmann may say about Packard having other V12s to look at and their own aero-engines of this type in hand some two years after the debut of “Toodles V”. Of course Coatalen might have been using this argument to woo the hardheaded Sunbeam shareholders into continued racing after the war, in which case, Alec has a point. WB