Worthwhile Journey

Author

W.B.

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36

The article by Mr. F. E. Ellis. describing his rebuilt 16-valve twin o.h. camshaft Aston-Martin, which we published in Motor Sport for June, 1947, aroused considerabIe interest, particularly on the part a Lt.-Col. Clive Gallop, who was intimately concerned in the evolution and development of these cars for the late Count Zhorowski and who drove one or them in the French G.P. of 1922. Accordingly, Gallop decided that he must renew acquaintance with the car and, before “basic” ran low, arranged to leave his home at Leatherhead in the early hours of a September Sunday morning and journey up “A5,” Ellis leaving Stockport later, in order to meet somewhere about Tamworth. We accompanied Gallop on this expedition, and very worthwhile it proved.

On the way up he had much of absorbing interest to tell us about his earlier racing career. Before the Kaiser war, despite his people’s misgivings, he insisted on being apprenticed to the motor industry, and to a French concern at that. So he started with Peugeot, first at their eastern group of factories near Belfort and latter at Levallois, working the French week with Sunday, only, off, a subject of interest as their only English pupil. He was paid the minimum wage, for which he could be insured, as was compulsory in France, and was very thoroughly taught about automobiles. Much testing of the essentially-reliable touring Peugeots came his way and he was sometimes rewarded for meritorious work by the loan of a car on Sunday and later allowed to compete with virtually-standard cars in third-rate French hill-climbs. etc. He met the great M. Henri, who succeeded Michaux of Long-Stroke Fame — one recalls his single-cylinder, 100 by 250 mm. voturette nicknamed “The Sledgehammer.” The V-2 cylinder 80 by 280 mm. with the cylinders in one casting, the cylinder head of each cylinder being, in fact, the inlet valve, with two horizontal exhaust valves per cylinder, and the 65 by 260 mm. V-4 cylinder, which was generally similar to the twin, and came to know such great drivers as Georges and André Boillot, Jules Goux, Zucarelli, etc.

When war broke out Peugeot produced a V8 aero-engine based on two of the 4 1/2-litre 1914 G.P. racing engines on a common crankcase. In the meantime. M. Henri had joined Ballot, with subsequent results to motor-racing that are now well known. This move gave Marcel Gremillon — who had heen chief draughtsman, engines, for many years, understudying Henri, and gained a fine reputation — his chance and, although his 3-litre 5-valve-per-cylinder cars, which ran at Indianapolis in 1920, were a failure owing to overheating, he did most creditable work for Peugeot.

Gallop nearly joined the French Legion on the outbreak of war, but, advised by his parents to wait a few days, he was able to join up in this country when England came in. He eventually got into the R.F.C. as a pilot and after service overseas and a special course at the Hispano Works on their fanous aero engine was transferred to the Applied Design, Engines, branch of the Air Ministry, and was later sent over to France and Italy in a technical capacity to help in assessing allied engines towards the end of the war. There he came across the 16-cylinder, two parallel banks of eight Bugatti engine, the Liberty, which was to serve us so well in the DH9A aircraft and many other, sometimes fantastic, designs.

After the Armistice Gallop helped Birkin race his D.F.P. at Brooklands, and then teamed up with Zborowski in racing his “Chittys.” Mercédès, Benz and Ballot cars. Incidentally, Zborowski, whose father had lived at Melton Mowbray and whose mother was American, and who was educated at Eton and in the U.S.A., had tried repeatedly to join up, but was debarred by kidney trouble. It occurred to Gallop that Zborowski might derive considerable enjoyment from racing small as well as large cars. The only means of being able to compete in the 1921 200-Mile Race and the 1922 French Grand Prix seemed to be through the Aston-Martin concern, so Zborowski ordered two cars. The single o.h.c. 16-valve Robb engine evolved for the 1921 200-Mile Race being considered insufficient, Gallop went over to France and persuaded Marcel Gremillon to design a suitable unit which took the form of a scaled-down 3-litre 4-valve Peugeot on the Robb crankcase. Here I would say that in my recently-published book, “200-Mile Race,” I am in error in saying that Zborowski had a Peugeot-designed car in 1921, as this engine wai not evolved until 1922, in which year he also bought an Henri straight-eight Ballot. Ellis tells me that the Robb engine was put into one of the first four chassis to he built and had Sankey pressed-steel wheels and rear brakes only. Zborowski, with Gallop as his mechanic, finished 10th in the 1921 race, being held back because he started with tight bearings, which grew instead of freeing up, and became still tighter.

In the 1922 Grand Prix at Strasbourg the 1 1/2-litre Aston-Martins, although competing against 2-litre cars, ran very well, being able to corner particularly fast by reason of good road-holding and execllent braking. Gallop, heeding a theory of Boillot’s, had arranged the foot brake to operate on the front wheels only, and he had flown sets or Perrot brakes from France while the cars were being built, to emphasise his desire to have front brakes fitted. Magneto trouble finally put the cars out, although, as Ellis has explained, they did far better in subsequent races. The cam contours were also very hard on the valve springs of these engines, and Zborowski finished one race with 16 out or 32 of them broken, but, fortunately an inner or an outer on each valve and not two together. The magneto trouble in the Grand Prix was to have far-reaching results. Zborowski had been persuaded to change to Bosch magnetos before the race, and was naturally very cross when they failed. The Bosch people asked him to come to Stuttgart, where they proved conclusively and incredibly thoroughly that failure of the spring-drive had overloaded the magnetos and that the fault was not theirs. While at Stuttgart Zborowski caIled on the Mercédès people and out or this visit emerged an invitation to drive officially for Mercédès in 1924. During 1923 he was much occupied with taking five 2-litre straight-eight Bugattis to Indianapolis, these having the forerunner of the plain-bearing Type-30 engine, full of vibration periods, and very fine barrel-shape bodies evolved by the designer of the Spad aeroplane. Gallop laid on this visit with Ettore, four “wheels” being hired-out to defray expenses. All the cars subsequently retired, Zborowski’s after 41 laps. Before the race the British team were able to be of assistance to Sailer, Lautenschlager and Werner, from whom the Americans stood somewhat aloof, as they were members of an enemy race.

In 1924 Zborowski was killed at Monza through his Mercédès skidding on an oil patch and hitting a tree. This oil patch was left by a P2 Alfa-Romeo, which had a vent to the rear intended to disperse oil fumes, but which sent out oil on to the road due to the dry sump accumulating lubricant during a pitzstop and the scavenge pump therefore momentarily overfilling the oil tank. A most military-like court of enquiry into the accident was held by Mercédès, which Gallop was ordered to attend. He subsequently brought Zborowski’s body home for burial and a member of the Mercédès firm attended the funeral with a bronze wreath, having come from Germany to do so. Incidentally, Zborowski was wearing in that race the same cuff-links that were responsible for the death of his father in 1903 when his sleeve caught in the hand-throttle of his Mercédès in the La Turbie hill-climb and he crashed into the rock wall. On a happier note, Gallop, as he drove us north, was observed to have on the check socks he wore when he drove Ellis’ Aston-Martin in the 1922 Grand Prix, and which as a mascot he carefully kept for his races. In 1925, incidentally, Gallop drove a “Chain Gang” Frazer-Nash to victory in the Voitures Legeres G.P. at Boulogne.

All this interesting information was imparted to me as we drove up to meet Ellis. Stopping near Atherstone to put half-a-pint of oil into Gallop’s Morris, the music of vintage twin-camshaft machinery was heard and Mr. and Mrs. Ellis quickly came into sight in the historic car we had come to see. Repairing to Ashby-de-la-Zouch, after a mellowing lunch we were able to contemplate this 1922 Aston-Martin, which seemed so effectively to typify the lure of the early days that Gallop had fostered that morning.

One’s first impression, as always with an Henri school design, is how modern the engine looks, after twenty-five years. As those who studied Ellis’ article will remember, the Aston-Martin is still very largely in its original form, although the characteristic A.-M. tail has gone, and there are minor differences in the positions of external gear and brake levers, while the 4-branch inside exhaust system has yet to be replaced by an outside pipe — this was straight-through in 1922, of course. Under the bonnet Fedden’s drastic modifications are found, so that there is dry-sump lubrication with a dumb-iron oil tank possessed of two immense fillers, in place of wet-sump augmented by a bird-bath feed from a rectangular tank slung in rear of the sump proper. The valve-gear is now pressure-fed, with a tap to cut down the supply as required, whereas originally drip feeds were used. The big oil filler (which — ssh! — once contained a cone of lead when it was feared the car would be under-weight at a certain weighing-in!) is absent and two horizontal S.U. carburetters are used in place of the updraught Zenith on its T-shaped manifold. The cambox covers are ribbed, whereas in Zborowski’s day they were plain (and leaked a lot) while the minor controls take the form of s.v. levers in the steering-wheel centre instead of the Bowden controls seen in a contemporary photograph — although Gallop does not recall the latter. But these details apart, the car is in 1922 trim, and with its narrow radiator and extremely slim scuttle, is one of the more handsome vintage racing cars. Ellis has made a fine job of the engine and it throws out very little oil. Naturally, large section tyres are used, although two 710 by 90 mm spares were carried.

We went for a short ride in the car, and all the appeal is there — the crisp exhaust note and the impeccable handling despite a whippy frame and stiff springing, contributing to a satisfactory impression of secure joie de vivre. Ellis doesn’t overwind, not wishing to have a catastrophe with irreplaceable machinery, and we didn’t exceed about 60 m.p.h., 2,000 r.p.m., incidentally, equalling about 50. But the A.-M. does most creditable average speeds on long runs with astonishingly low consumption of fuel. The original and much-latticed H-section con.-rods are used. Another very interesting point emerged in conversation about the car, namely, that Gallop, feeling in those days that the engine was a very small one to have four valves per cylinder, arranged, before the Grand Prix, a water feed behind the near-side water jacket cover-plate that “stirred” the water in the lower portion of the block and with stand pipes that impinged on the exhaust-valve seats, as is considered ultra-modern practice. Ellis was for some time unaware of this refinement, but thinks that to it he owes the engine’s immunity from boiling, except in very prolonged traffic blocks, although Gallop says that subsequently it wasn’t really necessary for racing and that he has never had any qualms about overheating from engines which have large water-jacket inspection plates, so that casting flash can be cleared and the water spaces can be cleaned up, and kept clean throughout the life of the car. He had specifically asked Marcel Gremillon to embody the large jacket plates when the engine was laid out. This was all most interesting in view of the fact that a well-known authority on racing-car design has accused this particular engine of poor cooling of the exhaust valves. Ellis’ car normally runs at 80 degrees C. Before leaving the subject of this intriguing engine, it is nice to know that two others exist, one in Ellis’ own “Razor-Blade” AstonMartin and another in the ex-Tubbs long-chassis car, now owned by Hewland. Both are being restored to good order.

All too soon we had to bid goodbye to Ellis and his wife and set off on our southward journey. Gallop again regaled us with accounts of the good old days — of the beautiful Packard and Durant racing cars that he encountered at Indianapolis in 1923, the latter with straight-eight Miller engine and one carburetter per cylinder. Of Zborowski’s “Boulogne” Hispano-Suiza with its fabulous and very-perfect Kelner body; the spotlight was a landing lamp from a V1500 Handley-Page and used to illuminate as many as 17 telegraph poles along the Dover road. Of his associations with Bi kin’s “blower 4 1/2” Bentleys, for which Amherst Villiers designed the supercharger, crankshaft and con.-rods. In a very reasonable space of time we were back in Surrey, and one must not overlook Gallop’s Morris Eight saloon in an account of this interesting excursion. A 1947 model, it had covered a very fair mileage in its business life, with no more serious shortcomings than a noisy back-axle, cured by a replacement differential unit. It frequently showed over 60 m.p.h. on its speedometer when called upon to do so. It ran quietly, kept cool and handled well for a car of this type, while the Lockheed brakes were really excellent. A Tapley Performance Meter, in which Lt.-Col. Gallop is a firm believer, was an interesting fitting. This Morris was, in short, a very willing and satisfactory little car — and formed about as complete a contrast with the car it had taken us to see as you could possibly imagine.

W. B.