ON A PEACEFUL PERIOD
NOW that this country is again at war, one may cast back over the intervening peaceful period and take stock of what has happened between November of 19/8 and September of 1939, in our world. As one could quite comfortably fill almost any desired ” Space ” in ” wielding the pen or tapping the keys on this subject. There is a strong temptation to set down various headings and to deal with progress and .development in technical matters, and the history of motoring sport in its several aspects, as a series
of separate article’s. This is a scheme which we shall quite possibly adopt in future issues, but just for the moment the writer, being isolated from all sources of reference, has every excuse for surveying, along no very definite lines, in one article, various happenings during the time period under review. Perhaps the most significant happening just after the armistice was the introduction of W.O. Bentley’s now
immortal 3-litre. Not that other cars of very advanced design were not introduced at about the same time ; they were. There was the famous Leyland Eight of Parry Thomas’s creation and weaning, and a most remarkable Seabrook, which was quite unlike later cars of this make, having, if I remember rightly, a 1i-litre o.h. camshaft all-alloy engine and divers other sensational items of specification. But it was the 3-litre15.9 h.p. Bentley which, a direct outcome of W.O.’s experience with war-time aero-motor design (he was responsible for the last of the ” rotaries ” in the BR1 and 13R2, etc.) showed that it was possible to make a commercial success of a car of such advanced technical layout, a market existng for such cars providing they were reliable, not too temperamental, and possessed of performance which justified their higher first cost and need of greater care in servicing over ordinary, mundane automobiles. Other cars of this kind followed. Lea Francis, Vulcan, Beverley-B arnes, Maudsley and others produced twin o.h. camshaft engines, and Lagonda did very well with the 2-litre, twin ” underhead ” camshaft car, which incidentally, owing to its curious inlet manifold formation, was particularly adaptable to supercharging. In 1925 Sunbeam found a reasonable market for the twin 0.k camshaft, dry-stunp 3-litre based directly on their Grand Prix racing cars, one of which, in 1923, won the only French G.P. ever to go to a British
car. The houses of Bugatti and AlfaRomeo have long sponsored racing-type designs, and produce models to-day which Can be traced back to the influence of W.O.’s venture of twenty years ago. A parallel, but rather different, line of attack was emplified at the same time as W.O. was busy arranging production of his 3-litre. I refer to the development by Laurence Pomeroy of the ” 30/98 ” Vauxhall. Here was a car which astound ed by its performance, yet which had a completely reliable, side -valve engine of perfectly straightforward design. The answer was, of course, high power-weight ratio. In 1928 the O.E. edition of the 30/98 Vauxhall replaced the side-valve model E, a push-rod o.h.v. engine of slightly smaller capacity being employed. But, once again, the general design was quite straightforward, apart from a special camshaft allowing abnormally small tappet clearances to obviate excessive valve-gear noises, and the ” 30/98″ achieved its great potency from the use of a big 4i-litre engine in a relatively
light chassis. Its gear-ratios were also very carefully chosen. It is certainly difficult to associate the essentially Old-school ” 30/98 ” with later high performance Americans and AngloAmerican developments of such cars, which the first black Railton tourer, driven by S. C. H. Davis in a Monte Carlo Rally, brought thoroughly into prominence, and which the present Allard, amongst others, so admirably portrays. But the principal—good
power weight ratio—is essentially the same. Reverting to more highly developed designs, we see the same thing in the small-car field. The little sixteen valve Bugatti started it and the Amilcar Six and later Salmsons carried the trend on, the SalinsOn being notable as a very lowpriced example of a design based on
racing practice. Recently cars like Alta, Rapier, British Salmson, FrazerNash and Aston-Martin have represented modern developments and only lately, have more sober designs, like the TB M.G. Midget from Abingdon, caught up to standards of performance realised from more complicated designs around 1925. Then (still dealing with high-performance, as distinct from utility-cars) we have seen semi-sporting types, of which the 14/40 Morris Garage (or, if you will, M.G.) was a good early example, produced in numbers, some successful, others not so sucessful, but leading, nevertheless, to Such useful modern high-performance stuff as cars in the Triumph Dolomite, 12/70 Alvis, and Rover catagory. Ordinary utility cars have improved iii speed, acceleration and general usefulness. Quite appreciably, for 45 m.p.h. was going some in 1920, but was slow cruising in 19:30. Vet another type development has been witnessed ; that of what is best termed the lux.ury-car field. High, cumbersome ” town carriages,” satisfactorily fast if they could achieve 60 m.p.h. underwent a change somewhere about the time the ” Big Six” Bentley was welcomed as a worthy offspring of the Bentley family— all the Bentley models had much in common with that original 8-litre, of course, until the short lived, Ricardohead 4-litre which came out just before the old company closed down. Later, Armstrong-Siddeley, never really associated, or wishing to be, with fast stuff, introduced the Siddeley Special, which could do 90 m.p.h. To-day, the 41-litre Bentley and V12 Lagonda, combine the qualities of luxury and speed vehicle, and, if you want to split hairs and follow my meaning, the former rather goes back along the 80/98 path, with its sober, but very efficient, push-rod engine, whereas, by my reasoning, the Lagonda comes more into the ” 3-litre Bentley family ” on account of a twin-camshaft, high speed engine, which is of comparatively specialised design. Carry the argument a little further and you see that since .about 1930 there has been an increasing tendency for design to converge and for specifications of all types to be, in general, neither all twin o.h.v. and generally complicated, nor yet very dull S.V. with flat, iron heads. There is a whole wealth of technical history in this gradual settling down of engine design. The question now arises as to what was the greatest contribution to progress in the period of automobile development under consideration. That is a very difficult one indeed I Perhaps the answer lies in tyres. Tyres of 1939 are vastly superior in divers ways to the tyres of 1914. They improved gradually, helped by racing and record breaking, and after the balloon episode (no reference to sausage barrages !) of around 1924, progressed notably in respect of immunity from punctures, long life and size standardization. Next, perhaps, would come brakes. While it is true that, like multi-cylinder engines, superchargers, downdraught carburetters, independent suspension, and other ” modern ” features, front wheel brakes Were known long before the 1914-18 war, they only became universal around 1923, generally reasonable about 1939 and practically foolproof from 1935 or so, onwards. In the early days of their general adoption various systems were exploited and adopted almost without number. Quite small makers of obscure light cars hastened to employ this latest contribution to safety at least by 1020. Even G.W:K., whose hollow hubs gave the impresssion of brake drums, had put real shoes into his front hubs by this date. Technicians had two golden years of argument as to what percentage of braking should be employed between front wheel and rear, of whether one should actuate by cable, rod or a combination of both, as to whether the inner brake should release, as H.E. did it, On a corner, and of how cables should be led, rods made to follow spring reactions and steering changes of angle ; and then the arguments could be begun all over again on the subject of adjustment, both at wheel and pedal extremities,
drum and shoe materials, and so on. Daimler even tried magnetic braking, Whitehead introduced a proprietory cable system and demonstrated it on an Essex, and Chenard Walker had front drums only, coupled with Hallot servo application. The Perrot rod and cable system remained extremely popular and lots of designers sang the praises of the Dewandre auxiliary, vacuum servo. We were all profoundly impressed when Rolls-Royce introduced their now famous mechanical servo and applied more braking to the back than to the front wheels. Gradually, the excitement died down, manufacturers began to employ systems of their own, Or their engineers’ Conception, and now we stop safely,
mostly in not more than 40 feet at 30 m.p.h. by the grace of Lockheed hydraulic, Girling direct action or Bendix selfwrapping shoe. brakes. Wasn’t it just the same with gearboxes ? The E.N.V. self-change box came along on the Armstrong-Siddeley and everyone wanted a car with a stumpy gear-lever, as every girl wanted a stumpy umbrella. Then Riley came out with constant mesh third On the four-speed box of their ” Nine,” which was easier to shift than a sliding third. Synchromesh followed, at first on third, then on third and second gear in all sorts and prices of cars, until it is now universal, and Alvis and Sunbeam-Talbot use it for all four ratios. But decent synchro-mesh did not push the ” P-anhard-box ” out before all manner of intervening ideas had flitted through the limelight, such as free wheels, electric control, free-wheeling, overdrives, etc., of which the Rover free wheel and Cotal electric shift remain
with us still. Comstantinesco, even brought out a converter which entirely eliminated the gearbox and tried to market it housed between the two -water-cooled cylinders of his 5 bp. car. But everyone voted it too complicated, -although you could reproduce the action in Meecano at the time. So today we universally have our ratios changed by ,.synchro-cones, albeit it is a far cry from beautiful boxes such as that on the modern Bentley, to certain early systems which worked slowly and stiffly and, as often as not, Seorned any encouragement in the way of double-declutching. The six-cylinder engine needed a lot of introducing to a public endeared to large capacity “fours,” although WolSeley and Austin ultimately got away with quite tiny six-potters. Once again, technicians were in their element. When it wasn’t a discussion on crankshaft vibration and firing-order it was argument over mixture distribution. The sixcylinder passenger car engine was a prethe-last-war development as witness S. F. Edge’s Napiers, but it was in the subsequent period of place that it was generally developed and accepted for
widespread use. On this question of mixture distribution, R. W. A. Brewer spent much of Peacetime asking the World to realise that petroleum supplies might one clay cease, and trying to conserve the world’s supplies by experimentation in hot-spotting of induction manifolds.
Over enthusiasm for his doctrine led to loss of power ; later, complicated thermostats and hot air supplies were used ; and the fun began all over again during the six-cylinder era. But at last we got it comparatively all correct and shipshape and nowadays downdraught carburation of ordinary engines causes no trouble and your most humble touring car has its cast-iron hot section let into an alloy manifold as a matter of course. Incidentally, Brewer is probably the only person who accepts the present fuel rationing without a murmur ! This recalls all those beautifully and technically upstage discussions on where the flame should be persuaded to go in combustion spaces. It was all very much in the 1918-39 period, even if before the day of alloy heads and copperisation. Ricardo had turbulence as his doctrine, Whattnough went all out for streamline flow and other people either took sides or preached theories falling between both these lines of approach. These
battles fought at the Society of Arts and in the pages of ” The Automobile Engineer ” led to Sports cars able to behave like little gentlemen on pump fuel, even No. 1, and to quite usefully high compression ratios passing unnoticed for side valve, utility car engines.
Supercharging was known before Germany went to war with. Britain the time before this, but it was after the Armistice that Merc6d.es showed how to apply it to production cars, Fiat :exploited it for modern G.P. racing and Austin, Alvis, Lea-Francis, Triumph, Bentley, ILE., and other British makers came along with forced induction for the sports car owner. Then the McEvoy-Pomeroy combination brought to this country the Zoller vane-type compressor, and thereafter makers of proprietory blowers started. a many cornered struggle • for success in a new field. Perhaps the time and money spent on supercharging has been of less value than that employed in other directions, at all events, there are fewer supercharged cars marketed to-day than was the case at the midway point of the period under discussion. Car prices have fallen almost as satisfactorily as car efficiency and value have
increased. The 10(,) car was a Morris achievement, after countless cyclecars and the four-cylinder Gillett and twocylinder, rear-engined Waverley had striven for success in this field.
Verily, much water has flowed since we last were at war. Now that the wheels of industry are clogged once again we must derive pride and pleasure from a consideration of the progress which we achieved during twenty year’s of peace.