DRIVING THE EDWARDIANS
CECIL CLUTTON, WHO IS AMONGST THE FOREMOST EXPONENTS OF THE EDWARDIAN CULT, HAS WRITTEN THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE. HE APOLOGISES THAT IT WAS VERY HURRIEDLY COMPLETED, BUT WE FEEL THAT THE INFORMATION HE IMPARTS ON A SPECIALIST SUBJECT WILL BE OF VERY CONSIDERABLE INTEREST. WED.
IF motor rating is dead for the moment, we can at least still amuse ourselves by talking about it. In the last year or two Edwardian motoring has been coming increasingly to the fore. From arousing mild amusement, the performance of the faster cars has come to earn genuine respect, and there is no doubt that the spectacle of these apparently cumbersome monsters going up Shelsley or round the Crystal Palace at speeds Which few modern production cars—even of the supersports variety—can equal, has undoubtedly caught the fancy of a large majority
of the race-going public. For this, one cannot sufficiently praise t he foresight of Leslie Wilson, Harry Ed wards, and the Bugatti ( )wners’ Clul), while the ” central body,” for this type of maehine, and which started the Edwardian Cult as long ago as 1035 is, of course, the Vintage Sports Car Club.
But what is the appeal of these cars to their owners, who are in most cases younger than their prized machines ? Undoubtedly those which most catch the fancy, are the big racing cars, with fourcylinder engines of 10-litres or over. The savage thrill of these vast, -crude engines must be felt to be believed. Every explosion can be separately felt when travelling in top gear at 60 m.p.h. and their tremendous acceleration is, of a ” brute force ” variety which can hardly fail to stir the imagination as lunch as the rising whine. of the small modern racing car. Most marked is this on the biggest of all—John Morris’s 1914. 21.4litre Benz. Even on the lower gears one senses that each impulse has perceptibly hastened the rate of travel, and as the engine is giving of its best at 600 r.p.m. there is a separate kick-in-the-back With each explosion. Despite its poor brakes, cone clutch and many weak components this big car is remarkably tractable in traffic, and the first time I drove it was in the suburbs of Birmingham, John Morris having brought it through the
thickest of the town centre. Perhaps not the least attraction of the car is that if you make any serious mistake you are more than likely to break something vital, and so fragile is the transmission that gear changing is ordinarily done without the clutch, to save the jerk of re-engaging the clutch if the revs. have not been perfectly judged ! The top revs, are put at 1600, hut 1750 have been obtained, in second, at Lewes, My own impression was that little advantage is gained by exceeding 1300 in the gears.
The best speed that circumstances permitted me to attain was roughly 85, m.p.h.—about 1100 r.p.m., but the speed was still rising quickly, and I can readily believe John Morris’s statement that 100 is quite frequently exceeded on the road. The top speed should be nearly 130, and I think the best lap speed in Brookland days was around 120 m.p.h.
Long open curves find the long chassis in its element and the Benz will hold on without a trace of fore or aft skid, at speeds when many of the modern little flat-irons Would be becoming excessively vague in their sense of direction. Sharp corners, however, are not at all to her choice, and at Shelsley she is by no means in her element ; though if she was going really well I do not think a time of 48 seconds would be at all out of the question.
Starting on this car is quite easily effected by two people, one to pull over the starting handle on half ‘compression, and the other to wind, the impulse magneto on the dash. Staggering in its performances at Shelsley and Prescott is Heal’s 1910, 10-litre Fiat. In performance, it is quite unlike any other big Edwardian I know, and gives none of the ” gas-engine” feeling of the Benz. It is, in fact, considerably higher revving than most, and despite the long stroke of 190 it runs up to 2,000 r.p.m. Even then, it seems willing for more, if one had greater trust in the integrity of a cast iron ilywheel as
wide as the chassis ! A very small, multi-plate clutch and wide-spaced ratios add to the difficulties of driving the car, and it ” floats ” through its corners in a most peculiar way that has taken Anthony two years to master and which led Me seriously astray the only time I drove it, at Prescott. His present performances on the car, have undoubtedly voii hini a very considerable and just fame as a sprint driver
of high skill. The Fiat is now hardly practicable as a road car. It has no means of starting, except by pushing, and there are several other technical difficulties. Probably its only considerable run in recent years was one from High ‘Wycombe to Prescott.
Most familar to the writer is, naturally, the 1908, 12-litre Itala which he shares with Peter Robertson-Rodger. Road-holding is certainly the strongest feature of the big Edwardians, and in none is it better than the Itala. This is really remarkable when one considers the unpromising materials :—flimsy, uubraced chassis, strcoigly cambered springs, high centre of gravity and narrow tyres. Undoubtedly a strong asset is the light front axle assembly, permitted by the lack of front wheel brakes, and an almost
perfect weight distribution. There is not the least tendency to over or under steer, and the car can be put round sharp corners or long bends in a steady fourwheel slide, at speeds which might seem quite unwise to an unaccustomed passenger. The steering ratio on these cars is usually about one turn from lock to Jock, and this is, of course, an untold advantage on a twisty course. Furthermore, owing to the narrow tyres, and superior workmanship, the effort required is by no means serious. Like the Fiat, the Itala has a very faney multi-plate clutch (seventy-two plates !) but it has never given any trouble, and getaways can be made by dropping the dutch in with a bang at over 1000 r.p.m. As the bottom gear is high, this is a great advantage, the ratios being 5.3, 2.8, 2.3 and 1.8 to 1. Upward or downward changes can be made as fast as the lever can be moved, with a single declutch and without any attempt to adapt the speed of the engine, yet the gear wheels are entirely unmarked. There is no instrument to indicate the engine or road speed, and one can only conclude that the time to change up has arrived when the car ceases to accelerate on the _gear which happens to be engaged
at the time. Fortunately, the engine will not go faster than it cares about— somewhere around 1600 r.p.m.—and will apparently go on indefinitely at that. Shelsley is just too steep to permit the use of third, while peak revs, in second are reached at the Kennel. The distance from there until the esse seems interminable, but nothing has ever shown a disposition to come to pieces.
The Itala is a perfect road car, easily swung on half compression if you have the way of it, miming smoothly down to 30 m.p.h. in top, and doing 13 m.p.g. if driven with moderation. She is also exceedingly comfortable. To bring her to Concert pitch attention need only be given to the low .tension ignition, to make sure that the timing of each cylinder. is exactly even. The later, just pre-war machines, have quite a different appeal, and are basically similar to the post-war 30/98 and 41-litre Bentley. The 1914, 41-litre G.P. cars, are, indeed, as advanced in almost every respect as the 41-litre Bentley and a great deal more so than the 30/98. Single
overhead camshafts, four inclined valves per cylinder, and dual ignition -were the order of the (lay; the cars weighed 20 cwt. in racing form and the engines peaked at something like 3000 r.p.m., giving a top speed of 120 m.p.h. on the prevalent top gear ratio of 2.5 to 1.
Being designed as racing cars these machines could afford to be far less cumbersome than the Bentley, while the workmanship is naturally of an incredibly high order, such as would be out of the question on a production machine. They are, too, remarkably tractable, and Mavrogordato’s famous Opel will pull smoothly at less than 300 r.p.m. in top. The Opel, is in fact, one of the most thrilling cars anyone could hope to go in and the only serious limitation to its performance is the difficulty of braking with so little weight behind. This does not affect the roadholding, however, which is of a truly exceptional order. As is well known, the car is Mavro’s normal touring machine.
Very similar in design is the contemporary G.P. Mercedes (Mercs. finished in the first three places) of which Arid, wife of Peter Clark, has just acquired the example lately owned by Major Veal. This is now being brought back to G.P. condition, but I had an opportunity of driving it for several miles just before this work was put in hand. Sadly in need of attention though it then was, one could still sense the thoroughbred in every detail and the steering and gearbox were sheer perfection ; the car may in fact, be described as an idealised 4f-litre Bentley or 30/98 Vauxhall, and quite as practicable for everyday use. The Edwardian attempts at voiturette racers are more humorous than exciting ; not least, the once supreme Sizaire Naudin. This surprising machine includes in its specification independent suspension of advanced layout ; a single cylinder, lf-litre engine with dual ignition and dual inlet valves—one automatic
and the other fitted with a variable cam that is the only means of altering the engine speed ; three speed gearbox on the back axle, the gears being changed by moving the propeller shaft about so as to engage with different sets of pinions in the back axle housing ; and many other strange and unendearing features. To drive, it would be hard to imagine anything more difficult. The clutch is on the right, the foot-brake on the left, and the only accelerator on a huge quadrant on the steering wheel, that moves round with it. The gear change is of the quadrant variety, far estranged from the driver, and getting away on the slightest slope calls for incredible delicacy of touch if the engine is not to
be stalled. Should this occur, as it almost inevitably will, the brakes do not work going backwards. Still, here was a car which swept the light car class in its day, could exceed
50 m.p.h. and cruise at 40. Probably the only current example to-day is that now belonging to John Seth-Smith, and lately owned by Kent Karslake. Other people obtain endless pleasure from the ordinary Edwardian touring
car. The coachwork, great comfort, fine mechanical finish and a wonderfully effortless performance combine to make a really serviceable touring car that derives its appeal from characteristics that are as real as they are unobtainable from any post-war machine except, perhaps, the Phantom I Rolls-Royce.
The large pre-war Daimlers combine the above mentioned features with a degree of silence which is quite fantastic. Their culminating achievement was the 1910 and onwards, 57 h.p. six-cylinder sleeve-valve car, but from a driving point of view the 1908, four-cylinder, 45 h.p. car belonging to John Bradshaw is far superior. But it is not only the big, super-luxury touring ears that can appeal to a modern
driver, and among the smaller ears I suppose that none is better known than the 1910, 16 h.p. Fafnir belonging to. the writer’s father, Col. Clutton. Despite long periods of ill-health he has nevertheless used this car for over twelve years as his regular conveyance and I can only think of two occasions during that period when it has given trouble on the road, this despite a total mileage of over 250,000 miles after which the original engine bearings and the cylinder bores and pistons are still perfect. Indeed, for anyone not in a hurry it. is difficult to think of a pleasanter wayof getting about. A restful 1500 r.p.m. gives a cruising speed of 40 m.p.h., and. the acceleration is about equal to an old-type Austin 12-4. The beautiful gearbox helps the performance, but equally, the car can do most of its running on top, pulling smoothly at 12*
m.p.h. or less. Roadholding is well ahead of the performance, starting is 100 per cent., you can get in and out of the car, and drive it with a top-hat on, petrol consumption is 23 m.p.g. under all conditions and oil consumption 600 m.p.g., Brakes are well up to ordinary requirements.
What more, in fact, could a leisurely minded, mechanically fastidious,but somewhat impoverished motorist require ?’
Other machines, such as the little two-cylinder Renault or the 16 h.p. type Alfonso Hispano Suiza come between the different, types of vehicle mentioned in this article, and given the initial necessity that one must have some taste for the antique it can truly be said that here is a field of motoring in which every kind of taste can be met, and a very great amount of pleasure derived for an extremely small outlay. It can certainly be anticipated that after this tedious war we shall see a further pronounced advance in this already popular cult of Edwardian Motoring.