Sideslips

Author

Baladeur

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53

by “Baladeur”

If it were not for the fact that these articles all have the same name, I should be tempted to entitle this one “Talk and Reaction”; because a piece of decidedly conversational writing in the May number of Motor Sport has led to the most disastrous reactions — not, for once, from my more erudite readers, but from my own conscience. For I have, I fear, been most grievously misleading about no less a subject than the Hotchkiss drive.

The occasion, it may be remembered, was a discussion of a correspondence in the columns of the Autocar, during 1924, in which Mr. W. O. Bentley and Mr. Louis Coatalen were the chief protagonists, on the subject of the worth or worthlessness of special racing cars. In the course of it, Mr. Coatalen had remarked that “Mr. Bentley, as a historian, may remember that I was personally associated with the introduction of the method of taking the thrust and the torque of the back axle through the rear springs . . ”

And I quoted Mr. H. R. Pope, who intervened in the argument about a month later, as saying, “as regards taking the drive through the back spring, if Mr. Bentley or Mr. Coatalen had been at Brescia in 1905 they would have seen a team of three live-axle cars of 100-h.p. which were so designed. . .”

So far, so good; but unfortunately I went on to the comment, “so there was no need for Mr. Coatalen to think that he had invented the ‘Hotchkiss drive’ ‘through the back spring’ — nor Hotchkiss to think so either, for that matter, as the French firm, it seems, did not adopt it until 1906 It ought, it appears, to be called Itala drive’ . . ” For this statement I relied on another of Mr. Pope’s letters, published some two and a half years later, in November, 1926. The occasion this time was a correspondence which the Autocar headed “The Hotchkiss Drive,” carried on on that basis of false logic so beloved of correspondents in the motor papers, in which Protagonist says that A is better than B, and Antagonist replies that B is very good — A and B in this case being drive by torque tube and the “Hotchkiss drive” respectively. Once again Mr. Pope intervened with some words of wisdom, and, in view of the trouble which I got myself into in consequence, I think that I had better quote the relevant parts of this letter in full:

“In fairness to Itala may I be allowed to remind you that in 1905 at the Brescia Circuit three of these cars had live axles and open propeller-shafts?

” . . . It was a year later that I saw the first Hotchkiss car in Paris, and it is rather curious that the selling agent was the famous racing man, the late Henri Fournier, who was the Itala Company’s representative in France.

“The Italas we had in the 1913 Grand Prix race at Amiens had open propeller-shafts and no torque rods. They were big cars giving over 100 h.p., and I drove mine many thousands of miles on bad roads without having the slightest trouble.”

I ought, I suppose, to have been put on my guard by the phrase “it was a year later (i.e., in 1906) that I saw the first Hotchkiss car in Paris,” because undoubtedly so keen an observer as Mr. Pope had had an opportunity of seeing it a great deal earlier. To go back to the beginning, there was once, it seems, an American called Mr. Hotchkiss, who arrived in France in 1869 or 1870, and offered Napoleon III to make him a “mitrailleuse” which would blow the Prussians to pieces. Even this did not prevent the Prussians winning the war, but for all that Mr. Hotchkiss settled down in France and carried on making his fire-arms at St. Denis. When the motor car came along, the famous ordnance works were in great demand for the manufacture of parts for such firms as Panhard et Levassor and De Dietrich, its speciality, as was not perhaps unnatural in a gun-maker, being “the boring of long holes of small diameter,” a practice much in vogue among the constructors of early racing cars. By 1903, however, the firm was tired of making parts for other people and decided to build a 50-h.p. car on their own. “When this car had been half constructed,” reported the Autocar in 1904, “and before it was on the road, the Hotchkiss company received a visit from the enterprising firm of Paris-Automobile, managed by Mr. Henry Foamier. . . and so struck was this firm with the design and workmanship that they arranged to purchase the whole production of the Hotchkiss works.”

Now this bears out well enough Mr. Pope’s statement that “the selling agent was . . .the late Henri Fournier,” and, moreover, according again to the Autocar of 1904, “the Hotchkiss company, after careful consideration, decided to adopt the principle of the live axle instead of the chain drive.” But as their first car thus equipped was shown at the Paris Salon at the end of 1903, and as the first Itala appeared, unless I am much mistaken, in 1904, if the common predilection of the two makes for shaft drive owed anything to the Henri Fournier connection, it seems that it must have been Itala that borrowed from Hotchkiss, rather than vice versa.

But in any case this first Hotchkiss did not take the drive “through the back spring,” even if it did have a live axle. “The Hotchkiss car,” reported The Automotor Journal in January, 1904, “follows more or less on the usual live-axle lines of construction . . . the live rear axle is tied to the frame by radius rods passing from it to each side of the frame . . . ” And what is more, the firm was not even, at this stage, irrevocably wedded to the live axle. This device, which was regarded at this period as really more suitable for voiturettes, might be used with impunity on a touring car such as that which was shown at the Paris Salon of 1903, but when it was decided to build a team of 100-h.p. racing cars for the Eliminating Trials held in the Argonne in May, 1904, in order to select the French team for the Gordon Bennett race, Hotchkiss decided to rely on the time-honoured chain drive. The three cars, which were designed by M. Terrasse, were driven by Henri Fournier’s brother Achille, Amblard and Baron Pierre de Crawhez, but in spite of a wind-cutting bonnet, with the radiator hung well down below it, the cars were not very successful, and none of them finished — which, perhaps, was hardly surprising, at a first attempt.

In view of all this, it seemed to me that what Mr. Pope must have meant by his incursion into the “Hotchkiss drive” controversy was that it was in 1906 that he saw the first Hotchkiss car so fitted in Paris, whereas Itala had used it at Brescia in 1905. It was, therefore, with some surprise that I came across an article in The Automotor Journal of April 28th, 1900, about “the new Hotchkiss models,” which stated that “the general design remains much the same as when we described these cars in March and April last year [i.e., 1905] . . . radius rods and torque rods for tying the axle to the frame are still dispensed with, the side-springs being used as before to transmit the drive through their front hinges.

Now I flatter myself that a less careful historian would have concluded from this statement not only that this 1906 Hotchkiss, which was doubtless the one to which Mr. Pope referred, employed the Hotchkiss drive, which it clearly did, but also that this feature already characterised the car in the spring of 1905; in which case there was no significance in Mr. Pope’s having first seen it in 1906. But before jumping to any such conclusion, I thought it would be prudent to have a look at The Automotor Journal’s description of the Hotchkiss car in “March and April” 1905, and on doing so, I received another shock.

“The frame,” I read in the issue of March 25th, 1905, “is carried by semi-elliptic springs at the front and rear. The rear springs lie outside the frame, and while their front ends are hinged, their rear ends are carried by shackles from very long dumb-irons, as shown in Fig. 4. It will be noticed also that the short radius rods are hinged to the dumb-irons, instead of being carried forwards and fixed to the side members of the frame. These radius rods also form torque rods, and, in addition, act as anchors for the expanding brakes on the rear wheels.”

So that whereas in April, 1906, the Hotchkiss car did use the Hotchkiss drive, here we apparently have it in March, 1905, with radius rods, torque rods and all the other paraphernalia typical of not using the springs for extraneous functions. Did this mean, therefore, that between these two dates Hotchkiss had been anticipated by Itala, as apparently suggested by Mr. Pope?

Before trying to solve this problem, however, I soon found myself suspicious about the 1905 Hotchkiss. In the first place its springs, as shown in the illustration and described in the text, were “hinged” at their front ends, which looked as if they were meant to take the drive. Secondly, since torque is the tendency of the back axle to rotate backwards instead of driving the car forwards, the rods described and illustrated, running backwards from the top of the axle casing to the dumb-irons, could only have resisted this torque in compression, for which they were obviously much too flimsy. Just as I was getting thoroughly confused about the whole matter, I fortunately came across the following passage in The Automotor Journal of December 17th, 1904, where the writer was describing features of mechanical interest seen at the Paris Salon.

“There is still quite as much diversity of opinion concerning the arrangement of radius rods and torque rods on cars of the live-axle type, for some of them are fitted with separate rods for performing the two different functions, while on other cars — including the Hotchkiss — the springs are alone relied upon; on the latter, at any rate, however, it is usual to fit anchor rods between the brake mechanism and the frame for relieving the springs of the torsional strains which would otherwise be imposed upon them.”

So that was that. The writer of 1905 was obviously under a complete mis-apprehension as to the function of the little radius rods he saw, which were only designed to take braking torque, the Hotchkiss car used the Hotchkiss drive by the end of 1904, and, as far as priority in the matter is concerned, what the Itala did at Brescia in September, 1905, was a matter of no moment whatsoever.

But it is of some interest on its own account, because later Italas undoubtedly used torque rods, and if we have Mr. Pope’s testimony for it that they dispensed with them in 1905, then it would appear that for some reason they found the Hotchkiss drive unsatisfactory after trying it.

But, and this is where I fell into the original trap, if one reads Mr. Pope’s letters of 1924 and 1926 carefully, it will be seen that he did not testify anything of the sort. The 1905 Italas, he said in 192 “had live axles and open propeller-shafts.” “As regards taking the drive through the back spring,” he said in 1924, the 1905 Italas “were so designed.” But although on both occasions he appeared to be writing about the “Hotchkiss drive,” this consists neither in having a live axle and open propeller-shaft, nor in taking the drive through the back spring, but in combining with all these things the taking of the torque through the back springs. On this last point Mr. Pope is silent, as far as 1905 is concerned; his statement that “the Italas we had in the 1918 Grand Prix at Amiens had open propeller-shafts and no torque rods” is entirely irrelevant to the events of 1905.

But even if Mr. Pope did not succeed in saying so, did he intend to assert that the 1905 Coppa Florio Itala used the “Hotchkiss drive”? Can we, in fact, establish whether it did so or not? One can, I think, get pretty close to it, in a negative sense, because the car was shown at the Paris Salon of 1905 and the Autocar, immediately after mentioning the fact, says of the 24-45 h.p. Itala on the same stand that “the back axle is admirably stayed by a long splayed torque truss.” Here, surely, was the golden opportunity to note its absence on the racer. Unfortunately, no one seems to have taken the opportunity to give a detailed description of the latter, but I have in front of me as I write quite a good photograph. From this it is tolerably clear that the front end of the back spring is attached to a shackle, from which it might appear that not even the thrust was taken by the springs. But fortunately, the 1908 Grand Prix Itala is still with us in the flesh, and in this case the front end of the spring is also shackled, while the back end is hinged; instead of pushing the car along via the front half of the spring, in fact, the axle pulls it along through the back half. Unfortunately in the photograph of the 1905 racer I cannot see what happens to the back end of the spring, because a burly Italian mechanic is standing just in front of it. I am afraid it is much too late to ask him to move; he is probably dead by now. However, as Mr. Pope says that “as regards taking the drive through the back spring . . . the 1905 Italas were so designed,” I think we can take it that, in this respect, matters were arranged as in 1908. In the latter year, however, the springs were not required to take the driving torque, which was looked after “admirably,” no doubt, “by a long splayed torque truss”; and, unless I am very much mistaken, I can see the bottom part of this admirable device, quite plainly, in the 1905 racer. “In fairness to Hotchkiss,” therefore, I must conclude that if Henri Fournier told anybody about the “Hotchkiss drive,” he told Itala about it in 1918 and not Hotchkiss in 1906.

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