[ANOTHER ARTICLE IN THIS POPULAR SERIES, THIS TIME BY JOHN OGLE, WHO IS USUALLY ASSOCIATED WITH HIS APPEARANCES IN SPRINT EVENTS WITH A BRESCIA BUGATTI. HE HAS OWNED OTHER INTERESTING CARS, AS HIS REMINISCENCES SHOW. HE IS NOW ENGAGED ON AERO-ENGINE RESEARCH WORK AT THE ROYAL AIRCRAFT ESTABLISHMENT.—ED.]
IN 1932 I forsook the rigours of two wheels and became the proud owner of a new three-speed super-sports Morgan (PJ 4051). We had one most spectacular blow-up, when one of the pots blew off going up Reigate Hill. A piston and gudgeon pin shot past my head and I was drenched with scalding water. The trouble was found to be due to a faulty cylinder casting and the engine was promptly replaced free of charge by J.A.P.
After this one lapse from grace many thousands of trouble-free miles were covered. The maximum speed was 78 m.p.h. and 0-60 m.p.h. took 17 secs. without any special tuning. Having by now been well bitten by the speed bug I entered for my first speed trial, the Sunbeam M.C.C. Gatwick speed trials, where we won the class.
The Morgan was next entered for the same club’s Yeovil night trial. My chief recollections are the appalling weather and the disappointment of my passenger—who slept until the breakfast stop—at not seeing the dawn rise. Apparently this had been his life’s ambition! A somewhat disconcerting episode occurred on one particularly nasty hill. We were going flat out in bottom and on aiming to a sharp bend saw everyone scurrying for shelter. On rounding the corner in a slither of mud and flying stones we were confronted by a stone ledge about a foot high. It was much too late to slow down and take it in the approved style, so I yelled to my passenger to hang on and waited for the bump; and what a bump it was! It seemed a hell of a long time till we landed! When we did, the car came down so heavily that both silencers were knocked off and we proceeded to the top of the hill making a noise like a real racer.
Soon I had that inevitable urge to change my mount, so the Morgan was traded in for my first car, a Frazer-Nash (PH 3870), albeit a Frazer-Nash with a difference, for it boasted an ultra streamlined saloon body a la certain record breakers of the period. I believe that only two such cars were built. Mine purported to be a 1928 model and had the famous s.v. Anzani engine. One interesting point was a special radiator shaped to blend with the bodywork. The car ran very well, the maximum speed being about 75 m.p.h. The one great snag was the reverberating noise of the chains, the body acting as a good soundbox.
It was now the spring of 1933 and an open car seemed to be indicated. The Frazer-Nash was swapped for what appeared to me a very desirable motor car—a 750 c.c. supercharged Ratier (GP 7847), which Samuelson drove in the 200 Mile Race of about 1927. This was definitely one of the mistakes of my life. It originally saw the light of day in 1927 in Paris and was made by the firm of variable-pitch airscrew fame. The engine was of clean design with overhead camshaft, fixed head, roller-bearing crankshaft, tubular con-rods and dual coil ignition. The blower was a No. 6 Cozette. The chassis and body were incredibly large and heavy for such a small engine. The rear suspension was unusual, reversed quarter-elliptic springs being used and arranged at an angle of about 60° to the rear axle, the rear ends of the springs being held in a single triangular casting. In spite of its good looks and interesting design, the performance was melancholic. The car was quite the noisiest it has ever been my misfortune to hear. One was always certain to attract every cop for miles around on the rare occasions on which it could be persuaded to leave the garage. Another endearing habit was its love of catching fire. This always happened on starting, but one soon became used to leaping out and doing one’s stuff with the Pyrene.
Becoming somewhat exasperated at my complete lack of success in making the Ratier motor in a reasonable way, I decided to get in touch with its previous owners, who might know the answers. After some intensive searching I managed to find some of the unlucky gentlemen who had had it during the previous two years, but my worst fears were realised when I discovered that the aforesaid owners between them had barely covered 500 miles. Being too bad a salesman to unload it on some other poor mutt, I decided to end its career there and then. The body, chassis and blower were sold separately and the engine was scrapped as the block was warped and the crank shaft needed re-rollering.
As all this was a serious financial setback, I was without a car until the spring of 1934, when I purchased a really beautiful 1926 modified Brescia Bugatti (YP 8506) from the late L. G. Bachelier. The car had been completely rebuilt and fitted with a new body finished in Nile blue, with the dashboard of polished mahogany and, as the catalogues put it, all bright parts were chromium plated. In fact, one might say that the car had that typically “Bach” finish. The engine was standard except that a Full Brescia block with the two plugs per cylinder was fitted. In point of fact only one set of plugs was used, as no extra performance could be obtained by using both. An old B.T.H. aero magneto was fitted on the scuttle, this and the dynamo being driven by chain and belt, respectively, from the rear of the camshaft. The “gas works” consisted of a triple diffuser twin Zenith, having the remarkable feature of adjustable main jets.
Warned by friends that I was letting myself in for a packet of trouble, it was with some misgivings that I drove the Bugatti away from Wimbledon. However, before many miles had been covered I was completely captivated; never had I got such a kick out of driving. The gear change was a joy and could be made just as fast as one could move the lever. The rather clattering noise of the sixteen valves at low speeds merged with the whine of the gearbox into one glorious shriek as the throttle pedal touched the floor. The performance, although good, was not exceptional, the maximum speed being 78 m.p.h., while the standing quarter mile took 22 secs. and the standing half mile 36 secs. The car was used for a daily journey from Reigate to London and was found to be very reliable—Brescia owners please note that no trouble was experienced with plugs oiling up, the plugs being Champion No. 17. The petrol consumption, measured over 3,000 miles, was 20 m.p.g.
However, one cannot allow a Bugatti to suffer the indignities of pure hack work for very long so I entered it for the B.O.C. speed trials at Lewes. The original carburetter was very tricky to tune so a standard single Zenith was fitted, complete with water-jacketed induction pipe. This improved matters somewhat, although there was rather a bad flat spot if the throttle was snapped open. The car decided to behave very well on the day and won the 1½-litre touring class and the Brescia Challenge Cup, in the rather leisurely time of 32 secs.
I was now feeling rather on top of the world and decided to enter for the Brighton Speed Trials. Here my pride received rather a nasty jolt. The cars were run in pairs and my companion turned out to be Casswell on a T.T. Frazer-Nash. The Frazer-Nash left me at the start, and in my anxiety to catch up I completely bungled the change from bottom to second, much to the commentator’s amusement.
About this time I met Arthur Baron, who was then experimenting with a blown Brescia engine in a G.P. Bugatti chassis. Ways and means were discussed of making my car a bit more potent for 1935. On stripping down the engine, it was found that the cylinder bores had worn about 8 thous. at the top. The block was therefore rebored and some special pistons were obtained from Martlett’s, having an increased height of 7 mm. above the gudgeon pin, thus raising the compression ratio from 6 to 1 to 8.5 to 1. The big end bearings were found to be cracked and were replaced, using Hoyt racing metal.
The carburation had never really been satisfactory with either the single or dual Zeniths, so two 35 mm. type MOH–D Solex carburetters were bought secondhand and fitted to two new induction pipes welded from sheet steel. The most satisfactory choke and jet sizes were: choke No. 26, main jet 130 with 44 correction and 65 pilot jet. Trouble had been experienced with the drive for the magneto and dynamo shearing, so the magneto was removed and replaced by a Bosch type ZF. 4, fitted in the Standard position and driven from the front of the crankshaft. The dynamo was also removed from the scuttle to a position alongside the propeller shaft, from which it was driven by a Vee belt. This completed the modifications to produce, as Mr. Cummings would say, “horses with hairier legs.”
On assembly the pistons were found to be much too tight, the engine pulling up when warm. Martlett’s immediately replaced the set without charge for one with larger clearances, there now being 20 thous. at the top of the piston, 14 thous. at the first ring, 8 thous. at the middle and 6 thous. at the skirt. This set proved to be extremely satisfactory. After running in, the car was taken out to the Dorking By-pass to see what she would do. I frightened both myself and Baron, as we reached 92 m.p.h. on the downhill section to the roundabout at the south end of the By-pass and, the brakes being decidedly vintage, we nearly ran out of road. After another 500 miles the engine was stripped and reassembled with three 1 mm. compression plates under the block, reducing the compression ratio to 7 to 1, making the car more suitable for use on pump fuel. The acceleration was unaffected by this change, although the maximum speed was slightly reduced.
The first event to be entered was the Kent and Sussex Lewes speed trials. We had some trouble in getting off the mark due to a fierce clutch, but this was improved by liberally dosing it with oil and paraffin. The results were very disappointing since, in spite of the work done on the engine, we failed to improve on the time recorded the previous year, although on that occasion no passenger was carried. It was obvious that the car was too heavy to get off the mark quickly on its high bottom gear of 10 to 1, and that some drastic lightening was called for. However, the next event, the B.O.C. Chalfont Hill Climb, being only a week ahead allowed no time for alterations. This was an exciting course, loose gravel surface and sharp bends rather favouring the Bugatti, which easily won its class.
During the next few weeks the car underwent a most drastic slimming process. The body was regretfully removed and a light two-seater was made up from 22 gauge aluminium. In no place did the body overlap the frame, thus necessitating staggering the seats about six inches. It finished abruptly in front of the back axle and the spare wheel was carried almost horizontally over the axle. A Morris rear windshield was converted for use as a windscreen. The old scuttle was cut off low down and was replaced by an aluminium scuttle and dashboard taken from Houldsworth’s crashed G.P. Bugatti. The radiator was lowered about three inches giving a very rakish appearance. The car now weighed 13 cwt. fully equipped, a saving of 2 cwt.
Unfortunately it was not possible to finish the body completely in time for the next Lewes Speed Trials with the result that it was transferred to the racing class. However, it was some compensation to record a time of 27 secs., an improvement of 5 secs. over the previous best time and a good augury for the future. The finishing line was crossed at about 70 m.p.h. in third, about 10 m.p.h. faster than the year before.
The next event was the B.O.C. hill climb at Joel Park, Northwood, and was chiefly remembered for the sweltering heat and the lack of liquid refreshment. The course, which was laid out on a building estate, had three sharp and rather slippery corners. There was one agonising moment when on approaching a corner my feet were suddenly covered with hot water, with the result that my right foot kept slipping off the brake pedal. We got round somehow, although at quite unpremeditated velocity. The water was found to be coming from the water jacket, which had cracked along the whole length of the block. The running of the car was in no way impaired, in fact, we went rather faster than intended and were second in the class, being beaten by Whitehead’s blown Alta.
Since the car was now running so well, no further alterations were carried out. It was a good year with something doing most week-ends. The only trouble experienced was with clutch plates breaking, but this was successfully overcome. Events which stand out in my memory are the Wetherby speed trials, where I won the sports and handicap classes after an exhilarating run up from London, the B.O.C. Lewes speed trials, where I won the Brescia Cup again, and the Brighton speed trials, where I was third in my class after making a shocking start. Incidentally, when I was up in Yorkshire, I met an enthusiast who offered to buy the original body. Delivering it entailed an epic run in Baron’s Lancia Lambda saloon with the body strapped securely to the roof!
At the end of the year I got married so the car was offered for sale. However, no one wanted to buy it, and as I still had it a year later, the dust sheets were removed and I drove it down to Lewes, where it won the sports class and once again the Brescia Cup. Three days later it was sold. This was not the end of an honourable career as later it came into the hands of Bob Pattenden and won the Brescia Cup for the fourth time!
Due to business and family ties, my motoring now took on a more sober flavour and for six months I ran a Morris Eight saloon. Next, in a wild moment, I fell for a “36/220” blown Mercédès (YX 8166) fitted with a coupe body. I had always looked upon the Mercédès as being among the élite of sports-cars, but I was rather disillusioned. True, there is a fascination in its very size and the fact that the engine is only turning over at about 2,000 r.p.m. at 70 m.p.h., but one rather felt that one was driving a superior kind of lorry. One of its more pleasing features was the really magnificent whine of the blower. I have often wondered if one would be instantly jailed in these days of sirens if one put in the blower! Running a car of this size called for frenzied financial calculations every time one thought of taking it out, so to prevent complete insolvency I swapped it for a 1932 3-litre Lagonda saloon, which I still have.
This is a very pleasant motor of its type. It has a maximum speed of 85 m.p.h., yet does 20 m.p.g, This model is fitted with a Maybach gearbox. A normal gear lever selects a high or a low set of ratios. Two levers on the steering column preselect the gear required according to their relative positions. The actual gear change is effected by releasing the throttle, thus operating a servo mechanism. One is therefore provided with a gearbox giving eight forward and four reverse speeds, but it takes a brave man to get into top on reverse! Due to the never-ending demands of the tax collector the Lagonda is now laid up and we must wait until Hitler and his gang are behind lock and bar before once again savouring the joys of the open road.
[Mr. Ogle quotes registration munbz.rs in the hope that anyone who has come across his old cars will write to him-letters will be forwarded.—Ed.]