[The Scuderia idea is likely to appeal particularly to younger readers who cannot achieve much when working on their own. So we have pleasure in including a description, by J. Heywood Statham, of a ” Scuderia ” he and his friends operated.—Edd
MY brother and 1 were both fortunate in having our zest for speed and fast motor cars in some measure satisfied at an early age. My father owned, many years before my brother and I were old enough to hold driving-licences, Such cars as Alfa-Romeo, ” 30/98 ” Vauxhall, Talbert and Sunbeam, so it must be admitted that We were brought up in the right atmosphere from a motoring point of view.
The first recollection I have of motoring sport is a visit to Brooklands in the year 1925, when the high spot of the meeting was the driving by Parry Thomas at the wheel of the ill-fated Thomas ” Baits.” I have attended many meetings since then, but I have never seen a more awe-inspiring spectacle than that great white car rushing along the top of the members’ banking, passing car after car with the off-side wheels not more than an inch or .so from the edge of the Track. That day also stands out in my mind as I recall that, on driving away from the Track, my father was involved in a ” dice ” with Major C. G. Coe, whom he knew and who was also driving a ” 30/98 ” Vauxhall. Although we held him until somewhere near the Staines Reservoir, he managed, by greater speed and driving. to leave us, but then very sportingly pulled up some miles ahead to congratulate my father On the great effort he had made. It was With great regret that we witnessed, a short time later, his terrific crash when driving at another meeting at Brookhinds. Many readers will probably remember the incident more clearly than I do myself, as I was, I think, only about 11 years old at the time, but from what I remember Major Coe was travelling very fast down the Railway Straight in close company with a red Fiat, when, to the amazed spectators on the Members’ lull, the car seemed to leap high into the air, turning over and over before it finally came to rest. That both the driver and mechanic could escape—as they did—with only slight injuries seemed incredible. I have smee seen this crash described as one of the most sensational in motor-racing, and to a speed-mad boy of 11 years of age it was certainly a sight never to be fbrgotten.
Exciting ears and journeys with my father at the wheel took place in the years after those early Brooklands days. My brother and I experienced our first 100 m.p.h. crammed in the tool compartment of the tail of a blown Alfa-Romeo, Which thy father ran for a time. My mother was asleep in the passenger’s seat, Which speaks volumes for the fine roadholding of these early Alfas. It was only the fact that my brother, who was then Of tender years, was unable to get his breath and was nearly suffocating at that Wed, that prevented even greater efforts. What my mother might have said and felt had she awakened at thr,t moment may have been the reason we slowed to a More normal road speed after passing the three figure mark Despite many fast runs we had in Alfa-Romeos, no car before or since has
given the same pleasure that the ” 30/98 ” Vauxhall (registration No. F() 9) gave us for many years. TI is car for some reason, despite the fact that it had a polished aluminium body with red wings, I always considered at that time a touring car (how unappreciative are the young !), and it took us all over the British Isles for many years without the slightest trouble. I do not remember her being able to exceed 70 m.p.h. by very touch, even when she was pressed, but this may lie because of the heavy cargo she always carried, made up of both personnel and luggage. My father did once drive solo from I farrow to Mansfield (a distance or 149 miles) in ten minutes under the three hours, so what speed the car could reach she must have been able to hold. The brakes were the most worrying feature, as on most ears of that marque, while on that particular model starting from cold in the winter often necessitated cooking the plugs on the gas stove arid also the dangerous practice a swinging the car and pressing the self-starter at the same time. if arty reader has come across her at any time I should be glad to hear of her condition. and any information that he may have available. When at. last the day eame for me to try my own hand at the wheel of a car the rates deemed that the car should be none than a l’aleott, a few examples of N’ilich Were still seen oh the roadti up to the out breai of the present: war,
went in search of one only last month. Ed. The machine in question hint no front brakes and ” hair’s-breadth ” steering— this latter 14c,t did not, however, prevent me Cron-, all but demolishing a large shed in the yard where my first driving lesson took place. Being eventually considered safe to handle a car. I made every effort to drive any that I could persuade the rather anxious owner to loan me. After the Caltott I had some epic drives in a ()Witt—a monument of a car, With pressed-steel wheels and an exhaust. not unlike a Hoover, but great fun. A Beam %vas another car on whirl] I hat several enjoyable runs at this time, so my early motoring had a definite vintage flavour ! At last my father, worried by the constant entreaties of my 1,rotlier and myself, brought home the inevitable bull nosed 1 1.9 Morris Cowley, with Hotchkiss engine, He presented us with the car (I think he had paid 50..for it.) with the remark that we could do ” damn well what we liked with it “—a proviso which opened up all sorts of interesting ideas on conversion, etc. We, had already had some experience with a similar model, as a friend had a 4-seater example on which we had tried our hands at a little ” tuning.” The said ” tuning ” had consisted of lapping the head to the block until it was possible to pick up the latter by lifting the head alone (without the
valve grinding paste wiped off !—critics). The head was put back, using Seccotine in the position that one usually finds a
gasket, and then the engine run without any water in the radiator on pure benzol.
The life was, as can be imagined, short, but not so mitch from engine failure as because, on the first run, the enthusiast at the wheel WaS so amazed that he could reach 45 m.p.h. in such a short space of time that he tried to do ” a Brauchitsch ” round the curves by the Elstree Reservoir and at once overturned into the ditch, luckily with no injury to himself. The car was well and truly written off, a breaker giving 2;’.6 for the remains.
It was decided that the best method of conversion for the newly-acquired Morris would be, as all amateur car builders at first imagine, to whip the body off, lower the steering, make a new body with a tank on the back with a real big filler cap–and boy ! you’ve got a real sports job. I won’t enlarge on the Unhappy results that emerged from this first sad effort, but we had learnt much I)” the time it was possible to make the car run again under its own power. We had come to know intimately the judder of a breast-drill in the stomach ; that people don’t like the noise or sheet metal beating at 10 o’clock in the morning ; that if you lower a radiator you’ll never swing a car on the handle again (but, old chap, you can always use the starter— like fun you (gm !) ; that petrol Won’t rttn uphill, and that air can go out. as well as in to a pressure-fed tank ; items that enthusiasts and ” special ” builders know all too well. The finished article looked horrible. In order to get tlw car as low as possible, besides flattening the springs and underslinging the frame, we had lowered the scuttle to the same level as the radiator, with the result that one got the optical illusion that the radiator was higher than the scuttle. outelime of this first attempt was that when we weighed up all the points in its favour against the disadvantages we found the only thing we had gained towards owning a ” sporting motor-car ” was experience. it was thereforee decided to see it it was possible to acquire a car on which In st of the converSion work had been carried out and try to turn it into a more serviveable road car, in which it might he possible to attend sporting events at some distance from our home, with a chance of returning again the same week. Searching in various mews and garages. an Austin was unearthed on the premises of G. S. Griffiths. It had been yerv well hwered atilt fitted With quite a rcspeetable boily. This we bought, giving the Morris in part exchange. This Austin was a great little car, but needed plenty of attention, so we decided to rebuild her completely. After the chassis had been reassembled and painted, and worn parts renewed, it. Wati deeided, although against all forms of better judgment and conscience, to strip the engine and really try to obtain some power from it, even if it meant. sacrilleing reliability. The block was rebored and tubular connecting rods and ligitt-alloy pistons were obtained. The connecting rods we had machined down round the outside of the big ends, managing to get k It it:1 I of SiX OUneeS off the four. Hours were spent polishing the connecting rods and inside of the crankcase. We had the head machined and then lapped it on to the block, this latter part of the engine being placed on the dressingtable in my bedroom, where it became the rule to spend whatever spare time we had swinging it with an eternal figure-ofeight motion. The head was then copperized and more lapping took place. The flywheel we had machined down as far as was possible while still retaining the clutch, and, with grim determination, it was decided to sacrifice the last hope of ever having a self-starter by having all the teeth machined off the starter ring. The ports were polished an the tops filed off the valve guides, new double valve springs fitta, and all the more normal methods of tuning carried out. We then felt we had strained a standard Austin Seven engine to its limit if we were to get any mileage from the machine at all. Finally, she was ready for the road, painted cream and looking most impressive. By now we were more or less au fait with m hat is done and what is not done by the true enthusiast to his car, but we had permitted ourselves a little “artists’ licence” by beating and fitting a head cowl. Eventually, one Sunday morning, a group of cheerful enthusiasts pushed against a 10 to 1 compression-ratio for their dear lives in order to start the engine. There had never been any hope of swinging the car because, as usual, the former owner had the radiator so lowered that it was impossible to get anywhere near the end of the crankshaft with such an implement as a starting handle. Amazingly enough, the car went at once with a roar that shook the surrounding
countryside. We had fitted a large Derrington silencer and a 2″ copper exhaust-pipe, but this equipment seemed to increase the note more than silence the engine. After some adjustment to the timing, I engaged bottom, let out the clutch, let it in and—both half shafts broke. New half shafts were soon obtained, but it was necessary to take the whole back axle down to fit them, as a broken end could not be removed. After this the engine refused to start, and it dawned on us that the crown wheel and pinion had been mated the wrong way round. This was easily proved, as when reverse gear was engaged and the car given a slight push forward the engine ran happily ; we had evolved the prototype of the modern Italian tank, as we had one very low forward speed and three in reverse !
When all these troubles had been overcome, however, we found we had an extremely fast little Austin, considering so much of it was standard. The maximum speed was 72 m.p.h., timed over a mile on the Aylesbury to Bicester road, but this could only be held for a few minutes as overheating then became a serious factor. A steady 60 m.p.h. could be held for long periods, however, without the engine suffering unduly, which was surprising considering all the unkind things that had been done to it. We had many miles of extremely enjoyable motoring in that car, visiting Brook lands, Donington, Shelsley Walsh, Dancer’s End and many other venues,
without serious trouble. After a while, however, we began to tire of pushing in order to start ; this was very trying in heavy traffic such as round Trafalgar Square and in Oxford Street, if we were unlucky enough to stall the engine. We had also more of less exhausted the supply of half-shafts from breakers’ yards within a considerable radius of our home, while night driving with only torches fastened with handkerchiefs to the wings was not an experience to be indulged in as a regular pastime. Finally, after a slight disagreement with the local police over exhaust note and brakes, we sold the car to a local “doodle bug” driver, who converted her into a very successful midget-car before the existing formula for such machines was introduced.
About this time the half-mile track was opened at Greenford by Spike Rhiando, and after several visits it was decided to start building a car with which we could compete in some of the events held at this “dirt bowl.” However, before our plans had progressed very far, racing finished at that track, never to be resumed. Many readers will no doubt remember the hectic events and many interesting cars which ran in some of the events held there. The star performers to my mind were Mazengarb (Lea Francis) and Lear (G.N.). How these two drivers ever survived the hectic smashes in which they were involved I shall never understand. Through the safety fence, into the ditch, back on to the track again—all seemed to be in the afternoon’s sport. Although our plans had not progressed far in regard to producing a “Special,” we decided to form a ” Scuderia ” with other enthusiastic friends, who were either the owners of cars or in the throes of “Special “-building. These friends could be divided into two schools : the threewheeler adherents and those favouring Austin conversions. In the first group there was Ronnie Wise, who had two Morgans : an old-type ” Aero ” sports with an air-cooled J.A.P. engine, and a fairly late ” Family ” model in which was fitted a J.A.P. twin which had been removed from a 1935 Aero Morgan. This engine and chassis combined gave him a very fast motor with plenty of accom modation. Douglas Pratt and Ian Hamilton, besides owning an Aero Sports Morgan, were then building a most terrifying three-wheeler. This machine had a G.N. front axle and a tubular frame, with the rear end of a Morgan connected to it. The engine, a singlecylinder 500-c.c. Rudge, was placed behind the driver in order to get more weight over the rear wheel. This was especially necessary, as the machine was only a single-seater and therefore it would not be possible to carry a passenger who could throw his weight about in the car in the approved manner in order to obtain wheel adhesion at the start of sprint events. It was a pity that this car never reached a starting line, as it was in many respects the answer to Kenneth Neve’s question : “Why not Class I ? ” The weight was less than that of most motorcycle combinations and much easier to handle. Cooling the engine was a problem, and the task of providing sufficient braking on the rear wheel was never really
solved. Ian Hamilton, however, after the machine had undergone its first tests, returned to his old love—motor-cyclesand therefore sold the ” Special ” ; I have never heard of it since. The Austin adherents who formed the other half of the ” Seuderia ” consisted of Jim Stiff, who, besides the sprint Austin he was constructing, owned a Fiat ” 500 ” ; ” Puggy ” Venning, who owned a ” Chummy ” Austin Seven and a Scott motor-cycle (on which he had lavished many hours tuning and polishing).
My brother and I completed the ” Scuderia.” We then owned a Gordon England Austin Seven, which we were using as hack car, its chief duty being to fetch parts from breakers’ yards, etc., for the “Special “.we were building for sprint events. I will not go into lengthy constructional details of this latter car, as it comes outside the scope of this article. It was the machine, however, which we later entered and ran at Dancer’s End and Markyate speed trials under the name Statham-Austin-Special. The” Scuderia ” made some most enjoyable trips with ” Specials ” in tow to speed events. Pratt’s Morgan was extremely flexible and a great tribute to its designers. Although ten years old, it would tow the ” Special ” the distance from Harrow to Dancer’s End, then without any alteration except the removal of lamps make fastest time of its class. The journey back home completed, it would be ready for the usual daily runs to its owner’s office in the City.
The next car my brother and I purchased was an M.G. Magna, fitted with an extremely pleasing non standard 2-seater body. I have never been able to find out the actual series of this car, although I have seen two others on the road at various times. The chassis was normal except that it was fitted with low-pressure tyres and the engine sported a Scintilla ” Vertex ” magneto. The tail of the car contained a cunningly concealed rumble seat which was designed to take one person, but which on more than one occasion seated two when a friend was hard put to find a lift to Donington or Shelsley. Third gear performance was interesting, but the car always seemed undergeared on top, as a speedometer reading of between 74-76 was about the best that could be produced. The sixcylinder engine ran very sweetly and never gave any trouble except that it was inclined to overheat in traffic and on long hills. Although the road-holding was characteristically M.G., the lowpressure tyres made the steering very heavy, with the most vicious back-lash imaginable. This made it rather a tiring car to drive on long runs, but it was otherwise a very useful and pleasing car. On one occasion my brother made two stately runs up Dancer’s End in around 39 secs., when we were unable to prepare any other car in time for the event. The next addition to the ” Scuderia ” was a “Grand Sports” Amilear, with which Pratt replaced his Morgan. This car came in for plenty of attention, finally being rebuilt completely. A great deal of time was spent in polishing the brake drums, springs, etc., which, although it
did not improve the performance, added greatly to the car’s appearance. This may have encouraged the dealer to whom it was eventually sold to advertise the car as “formerly owned by a genuine enthusiast,” which was some slight reward for the hours of hard work ! I, personally, have always been surprised at the criticisms I have seen levelled at these ears in various motoring journals. This particular example was a beautiful little car to handle. Not fast by modern standards, she could draw away from most ears of her size on twisting stretches of road where road-holding and steering were more important than speed.
While still running the M.G. Magna I heard of an Alta for sale, the owner of which I understood might consider a deal in which the M.G. might be taken in part exchange. Investigation showed that the car was one of the early 9-h.p. Alias— No. 16 to be exact. It was not in very good condition, but we were not particularly concerned in that respect as, after all, an Alta is an Alta. The car, however, proved to be something of a disappointment, as we found it had been through the hands of sonic really dull mechanics in its time, and had also been rather badly caned. The vertical driving shafts and skew gear to the twin overhead camshafts were badly worn and the whole engine seemed to have more oil on the outside of the crankcase than could ever be kept inside it. Undaunted, and encouraged by advice from the Alta Company, we managed to get new gears machined and to cure many of the other troubles which we kept discovering. Our main difficulty was that
attempts had been made at various times to screw up nuts so tightly in order to prevent oil leaks that most of the studs had been pulled right Out of the alley castings, only to be replaced with sizes large enough to have held together the Sydney Bridge.
While the Alta was receiving attention, Pratt sold the Amilcar and bought a. very well-preserved ” Bmoklands “Riley Nine, which, as usual, he scion had in perfect running order and which he used every day for business. Victor Gillow had been a former owner of this particular car, and whoever had had it since then was far more conscientious than the former owners of the Alta. Right up to the outbreak of war the only trouble Pratt had with the car was a broken valve stein, which was easily replaced. This despite the fact that the car was, naturally, several years old and was used every day, and for several trips a week between London and Portsmouth.
AS with most other enthusiasts, our motoring activities were curtailed when the present hostilities commenced. The Alta was reassembled, my brother taking it with him to camp on returning from his first leave. Pratt laid up the Riley ; the other members of the Seuderia ” doing likewise with their respective ears when they joined the Forces. Despite the war, however, it has been found possible to pursue. our Motoring activities in –Scane small measure. My brother was fortunate in finding other
enthusiasts in his Unit and they were able to obtain a barn near their camp in which it was possible to keep and work on their cars.
Some short while ago, after finding the Alta rather ia responsibility, as it still required a great deal of attention to get it running properly, my brother sold the car to ‘Testy, late Secretary of the Cambridge Automobile Club, taking his Austin “Special “in part exchange. Jesty is still running the Alta, appearing with it at the Chessington Rally. My brother also bought an ” Ulster ” Austin Seven, the engine of which required considerable attention. As he had not the facilities available for rebuilding this engine, he put the engine from the ex-Jesty Austin into the ” Ulster,” so providing himself with a very servi.l!able little car. The rest of the ” Setalcria ” are now oversees, but I am still motoring myself, using an Austin Big Seven, which I find an ideal car for the job. I am now performing. It gets me to and from some of the most inaccessible parts of the country without any trouble, often loaded down with great weights of a ” hush-hush ” nature. I have also bought a .12-Type M.G. Midget, which I am rebuilding and attempting to restore to its original condition. For this work I Miss my home garage, for though its tools and equipment are not elaborate, it is surprising the various parts and materials that collect over a period of years when “messing about ” with cars. In conclusion, I may say that MOTOR SPORT is still read (from the date on the cover to the information that Gordon &
Gotch are its Agents in Australasia on the last page) by all enthusiasts of my acquaintance wherever present conditions find them. May I say, on behalf of them all, ” Thanks for carrying on.”