Jane's Benz!

In January we published a picture of Mr FT Jane, a founder of Jane’s All The World’s Ships, and various other publications, surrounded by a crowd at Portsmouth Docks in what appeared to be a 90hp Mercedes. A reader has since sent us the story Mr Jane himself wrote about the incident, from which it is clear that his car was a Benz.

In fact, it was the 1907 8-litre Benz which finished second in that year’s Coppa Florio race, driven by Hemery, ahead of Hanriot’s sister-car. Following this race the car was sent to London and found its way to GH Cox & Co of Southsea, from whom Fred Jane bought it in June 1909. By a remarkable coincidence, in the lock-ups flanking it were Captain Vassil’s Isotta-Fraschini, which had won that Coppa Florio, and Mr Thornton’s 120hp Itala which had also beaten the Benz at the same venue.

Registered BK 97, this 52.1hp racing Benz had a short-stroke four-cylinder engine of 145mm x 120mm, with overhead inlet-valves immediately above the 3in-diameter side-by-side exhaust valves. These inlet valves were mechanically actuated, but should the valve-gear fail they would continue to function, under suction and additional return springs.

Petrol was fed to a very simple carburettor by pressure from the exhaust of number-four cylinder, consumption being anything from 5-15 mpg with approximately 100 mpg of Price’s Motorine-C oil. Ignition was by an inaccessible Bosch magneto, driven by the water-pump shaft.

Mrs Jane acted as the car’s mecanicienne, even changing tyres when necessary. The short-stroke engine made the Benz very good at hill-climbing and the typically-Benz cone-clutch was reliable and so smooth that the old trick of shutting a watch-glass without breaking it was within its capabilities. Gearbox and differential showed no wear after five years running.

The owner estimated speeds in the gears as about 30, 50, 70 and 90 mph, but only extended the car in second. He remarked that Benz staked its reputation on road racing, which was “a very different thing from track racing” – which will please certain of our readers! Non-skid tyres lasted less than 500 miles, but plain Dunlops would do 6000 miles.

The incident we illustrated occurred in 1910 when Mr Jane challenged the opposition on behalf of the Conservative election candidate, Lord Charles Beresford, and an almighty fight broke out; the Union Jack-bedecked Benz was badly damaged and had to be rescued by the police. Later it was damaged further, as Jane drove it around Portsmouth until election night. It was then rebuilt, the back mudguards never being replaced but flat front ones being fitted, which were useful as luggage platforms or as benches while working on the engine.

By 1912 Mr Jane had owned some 20 cars, the Benz’s predecessor having been used to kidnap Victor Grayson on the eve of a speech he was to deliver to a Labour Congress. Jane was also contesting a case involving the Benz’s exhaust cut-out, this being situated between its two silencers.

He must have been quite a man!