LIFE STORY OF A DELAGE
LIFE STORY OF A DELAGE
CECIL CLUTTON explains what it is like to own and drive a twenty-seven year old 10+litre racing car in modern times
IN 1940, when we were getting ready to be invaded, I had one of my rare attacks of sanity and bought. Iwo motor-cars at very cheap prices. One was my type 49 Bugatti which has served Me well for eonabints1 leisiness and pleasure motoring until the present time ; and the other was the 19.2,3, Vt2. 10,68.8-e.c.loge, together will] an
enormous quantity of very rusty spares, including a spare erankeA.,e with a hole through it and tive-sistks of a spare crankshaft. One imagined that the remaining, sixth of the latter had expended itself in making the hole through the former. A certain amount of preliminary
work was done on the car, but when I went. off in early 1942 to drive an aeroplane it was put into a barn where a small boy subsequently thought it would be nice to collect some hay and put a light to it. This consumed one tyre, ruined the radiator block and dried all the protective oil and grease on the engine ‘which thereupon proceeded to get very rusty again. In the meantime, Peter Vaughan had
joined me in joint. ownership of the tar and when I returned to civilian life in 1946, my first concern was to visit the Deluge, which presented an exceedingly discouraging spectacle. Peter being still busy in Germany the
subsequent negotiations fell entirely upon me and I arranged with Alan Southon to undertake its restoration, which was to involve taking the entire machine to pieces and then putting it together again. With a project of such uneertain
Magnitude before us, and very definite Views about the elasticity Ed my overdraft, I arranged with Atari to render a monthly account which was duly met and I cannot be sufficiently glad that this was done. By setting a monthly maximum expenditure. the speed with which the work advanced could be regulated according to one’s fluctuating finances, and Alan was able to fit it. in between any urgent jobs that came in. In this way the work was started in
January 1947, and jogged gently along ; only one major snag arose, and also two minor ones which still remain to be overcome. The major snag consisted of the dis covery that the housing for the centre main bearing hd four large rallial cracks ; the dowel pin of the bearing cage had broken free so that ice cage could rotate ; and the whole of the crankcase WILti 3 mass of flair-cracks. While it would probal ay have been safe to put the. thing together noire or less as it was having, regard to tlw very
limited full throttle work to which the car was likely. to be subjected in future, it seemed far preferable to use the spare crankcase if possible, since it was in much better condition, apart from the hole which developed in the Gold Star %Vitamin Meeting of 1931, when living driven by John Cobb on a lower-thanusual back axle ratio. The plating of the hole did not present insuperable problems (Alan made a really lovely job of it), but the damage to one of the main oil. pipes which was cast into the crankcase presented serious difficulty. The flattened section was cut out and a • new length installed, but this involved some very tricky round-the-corner drilling and we were held up for quite a long time getting Lice right sort of mechanical ferret. Ilnwever, eventually it was done and the building up of the engine could progress. The chassis had in the meant hue been completed, rio difficult ies being encountered. ‘I’lw when had te be rebuilt to take a tyre size in 4,Urrellt, production and I selected 19 in. by 7 in. as being the. largest racing tyre builEEps produce. I took the same size all round with the idea that they could be swopped over when the back ones wore down, but in this I evidently made a mistake, as-the extra weight and gyroscopic action of these big covers on the front, wheels have adversely affected the cornering, ability of the car, although this is still extremely creditable, especially for stall a large machine. on t lie engine, a new radiator core had lwen +btaineil am! the two six-cylinder inagia•tos overhauled. Otherwise, practically no outside aid was necessary, and the groat bulk of the work lay in sheer
• iminhours. In this connection, I cannot pay sufficient, tribute to the care and patience bestowed upon the car by Alan Southon, and with the most minor exceptions, inevitable with the unknown quantities experienced on a job of this type and complexity, nothing he did has bad to be redone layer on. Only one major mistake was made, for which he and I must accept joint responsibility, Of which more shortly.
blindly, in July, 1949, after twenty months of steady Work, the Deluge was ready for test and Silverstone was duly hired… As everything was still rather tentative we towed it up there in preference to driving. The disappointment ..was intense— the engine completely refused to run on anything approaching twelve cylinders, and the extreme maximum speed was 91) m.p.h. Carburation was suspected and as the cat was due to appear at the aliaage Meeting the week following, Douglas ihill Offered to house it while Alan made an interim visit and amended the jet-settings to an extent which made him hopeful that the cure had been found. However, when Iit
arr.ve(, :or practice I Concluded that his optimism was unfounded and rather than make a first, outing at half-cock I non-started. At this juncture I must also say how enormously kind and helpful Douglas has been whenever we have been near Silverstone and his very fine equipment has often been at the disposal of the Deluge. Still reluctant to pull the whole engine apart Alan again attacked the whomLion and in November I made further tests on an aerodrome with a particularly
exciting pen-track near Hartley Wintney. As a dense fog limited visibility to the width of the runway the tests* were not devoid of interest. I coaxed the car up to 100 m.p.h. -in third (2,800 r.p.m.), but it was still impossible to keep twelve cylinders for long and we had to admit defeat.
The cause of the trouble undoubtedly lay in not having fitted new piston rings, and this was duly remedied during the winter of ’49, after which oiling troubles have entirely disappeared. The car was also fitted with quickly-detachable wings to Alan’s design, and they have displayed no desire to come adrift at the highest speed I have attained with them on, which is about 115 m.p.h. The car was also taxed for the road, and as it had never been registered before, this was effected at a remarkably soothing cost.
In the meantime, Peter Vaughan had returned from Germany only to be posted immediately to Malaya—a really crushing disaster. He accordingly asked me to try and find a suitable person to take over his share and I could hardly believe my luck when my great friend Forrest Lyeett expressed his willingness to do this, which accordingly came about, to my great joy.
The braking was one. of the minor snags we hoped to have dealt with during the winter, since although it is not at all bad, it is not at all equal to the performance, and great restraint is necessary at all times. The operation is by Perrotshaft, and cable running round a lot of compensating nonsense. The gearbox has provision for driving a mechanical servo such as Delage fitted to their contemporary 40-50, but when one of these instruments was run to earth we were dismayed to find that it was of quite a different pattern and could not be fitted. By this time it was too late to seek alternative remedies and
performance during 1950 has suffered accordingly.
The first time out for 1950 was the V.S.C.C. Silverstone meting in April, and I duly arrived at the Phoenix on the day previous, to drive the Delage up to Silverstone. Alarm was delayed by urgent business, so I had to go ahead, unattended. I asked where the tools were, but Alan was very offhand on the subject and said what would I be wanting tools for anyway? Suitably chastened, but still somewhat doubting, I accordingly departed ; but Alan’s confidence was fully justified, because we reached Silverstope without having lost the prop, or .even a plug.
In the half-mile sprint the Date went off like a rocket and comfortably won its class in 26 seconds, being second only for f.t.d. to the amazing Norris-Special, which recorded 25 seconds.
The engine now suddenly started to overheat and the oil-tank to overflow. A blown gasket was suspected, but we nevertheless decided to run in the I ree-lap scratch race for vintage and historic racing ears. I thought I had a chance in this race if I could get ahead at the start, but, starting in the back line, I was badly baulked and never got near the leaders. The overheating persisting we scratched from the final handicap, drained the radiator, and towed home. It wasP now that we discovered the second minor snag. The cylinders are thin forged steel barrels on to which the steel water jackets are welded. The draining take-off stupidly does not provide for getting the lowest inch of water out of each jacket and as a result the outside of the barrels has become partially corroded. What we imagined was a blown gasket was in fact a particularly thin patch which had gone completely through, allowing the water to get into the cylinder, with the result
that, although it was only a pin-hole the stump was completely full of water.
A whole cylinder was found from among the spares, but this winter it is intended to raise the bottom of the Water jackets so that complete drainage is secured and weld a strengthening band round the corroded portions.
The next outing was our June Silverstone and as we were desperately short of meridians for practising on Friday night, I took this job on and deferred practice till Saturday. After Friday’s practice I took Douglas Hall’s brother Peter (who, curiously, was one of my flying instructors in my Tiger Moth stage during the war) for a ride and a most alarming hanging suddenly set in. So we got home at a tickover, and on raising the bonnet were horrified to see the newlyfitted cylinder bobbing happily up and down, apparently held on only by its water unions. So we hurriedly towed back to Bieester where we were staying With Sir Clive Edwards. Clive also has a very useful workshop and thither we repaired for a very late session, !hiding that a thread had stripped, 1 itILS causing the failure. To extract, tin stud from the crankcase involved removing three cylinders and making a new stud, the thread being some peculiar metric pattern. Clive thereupon presented me with a hideous collection of gear wheels front his thread-cutting machine, told me the ratio required, and said he must go and see if the kettle was boiling. With great trepidation I selected what I hoped would produce the right answer and anxiously watched the thread emerge, but mercifully it was the right pitch, and reassembly was put in hand. The errant cylinder had also broken its induction manifold (there are four, each feeding three cylinders) and this was patched up with bostic and adhesive tape. This was regarded with some pessimism since bostic is soluble in petrol—but it gave no trouble and even survived the drive back to Hartley VVintney afterwards.
Next morning I had to go early to the course to do a running commentary with Bunny Tubbs, which is in itself a pretty luirrassing undertaking’ because Bunny’s brain revs at least twice as fast as mine and I am usually two or more gambits behind him On this occasion at least half my mind was on the Delage and great was my relief when I got news of its arrival, though too late for practice (which, having run at the previous meeting, I was not required by the regulations to do). This meant that 1 did not know how the brakes were working. They weren’t. It having, therefore, become apparent on my first lap that I should not be able to follow the prescribed course at Corpse Corner I early decided to go and weave off some speed around the straw bales and, duly regaining the course, thereafter adjusted may technique to such limited retardation as was available. This meant that I could not overtake any car of at all comparable speed within 500 yards of a corner, and in my two races this precluded my using anything like the full performance of the car. Even so, it put in a lap at 74 111,1).15. My last outing this year was to take Part in the exhibition run by historic racing cars at the Doily Express meeting
at Silverstone and this passed off without incident. Lycett and I were very keen that the Delage should run against his 8-litre at Brighton, but as I was unable to be there Alan Southon drove the Delage. The Bentley gained three or or four lengths at the start, but otherwise the Delage held its own better than I should have expected, and crossed the line at about 118 m.p.h., only 80 yards behind.
Although this first season with the car has not been outstandingly successful, it can nevertheless be regarded as satisfactory. It has shown that the restoration was mechanically successful and that the car is still really fast and inherently reliable. Also that it is a perfectly feasible road ‘car ; a great joy to drive ; and that, despite the heavy front tyres, it corners much better than could be expected of such a large, rather high car.
Incidentally, it has a novel system for starting, the starting handle being geared down 63 to 1, while taking off from the same train of gears is a geared up starting magneto which feeds a shower of sparks through the main distributors. This arrangement, coupled with. a Ki-gass, gives certain starting, even from ‘cold. Unfortunately, the engaging dog is faultily designed (perhaps intentionally as a safety factor in ease of backfiring) and to remedy this is part of this winter’s programme. The other items are the water jacket job, detailed attention to slow-running carburation, and conversion of the brakes to non-compensated rod application and more suitable linings.
With these, this very great and historic car should be quite an effective road racing and sprint car and also a thoroughly practicable one for occasional use on the road.
Finally, here are a few technical details and notes of its past history.
The engine has twelve separate cylinders measuring 90 by 140. The compression ratio is 7 to 1 and the best fuel seems to be any decent straight petrol plus 10 per cent. benzole.
The connecting rods are tubular, mounted two to a journal, side by side.
The big-ends are plain metal and the main bearings are ball, lubrication being by dry sump.
The overhead valves and rocker gear are operated by push rods and the whole mechanism is hilly exposed. The heads are east-iron. There seem originally to have been two alternative systems of carburation. One, which still exists, consists of two long copper manifolds fed by a huge, double-choke, up-draught Zenith. The other comprised four Zenith downdraughts, presumably very much like
the Robin Jackson installation now on the car, in which each Zenith downdraught feeds three cylinders.
There was originally a choice of seven axle ratios ranging from 1.95 to 8.86 to 1. The only one surviving and now fitted is 2.18 to 1. Something a trifle lower (about 2.4) would better suit present-day requirements, since although the car is doing about 107 m.p.h. at 3,000 r.p.m. in third, the acceleration in top above 100 m.p.h. is not tremendous. With the present axle ratio the overall ratios are 2.18, 2.73, 4.02 and 6.75 to I. The
clutch is multiplate and no stop is fitted, but apart from a very short pause changing up from bottom to second, the changes are instantaneous, and when changing down it is quite difficult to avoid over revving.
The machine was built in 1928, apparently primarily for sprint hill-climbs, and in that year, driven by Rem?. Thomas, it gained the Gallon Record at 72.5 m.p.h. Subsequently, in 1928-24 it had many such successes and in 1924, still driven by Rene Thomas, it captured the world’s land speed record at 143.24 m.p.h. Incidentally, on the narrow, not very smooth road at Arpajon this must have been quite a dice.
What happened to it for the next five years I do not know, but at Easter 1929 it appeared at Brooklands, driven by John Cobb, and had its first win there at the Whitsun meeting, when it lapped at 182.11 m.p.h. This was a new lap record which, however, was equalled by Kaye Don in the same race.
In 1929 Cobb had three wins and one second ; in 1980, two firsts and one second ; in 1931, one first and five seconds (it was in the Whitsun Gold Star race that a low axle ratio was fitted and Cobb accidentally did an extra lap, so that a rod came through the crank ease as mentioned earlier. The engine was rebuilt with the present four carburetter system, although the Aulocor, of September 28th, 1928, plainly refers to the existence of a four carburetter lay-out at that date). In 1982 there was one first, one second and one third and a new Class A lap record of 183.88 m.p.h. was set up at the Guy’s Gala meeting. In 1988 the car was taken over by Oliver Bertram who gained one first and three seconds ; 1934 was a bad year, yielding only one second and two thirds, but for its swan song year in 1985 the old hero bagged two firsts and a third, and at its last win put in a lap at 186.45 m.p.h. In the same year Mrs. Petre lapped in it at 134.75 m.p.h. which stood for a time as the lady’s record. She needed a special seat and pedal extensions and part of the ironmongery still remains in the car and will so continue
as a tribute to a very grand effort indeed. In 1981 Cobb covered a standing start lap at 115.29 m.p.h. which stood until he beat it in 1988 in the Napier Railton at 120.59 m.p.h. The car also still holds British Class A records from 5 to 200 kilometres, 10 tit., 500 miles, and one hour (112.18 m.p.h.). It is curious that it never seems to have held the Brook
lands flying lap record, although on several occasions it was quite fast enough to have done so. In 1985, despite a beautiful new Robin Jackson front axle the Delage was told it would no longer be acceptable
at Brooklands and so ended its long and glorious connection with the track.
During its time there it was cared for by Robin Jackson, who has been most generous in patting his knowledge of the car at our disposal. Subsequent to Brooklands it lingered on there for a time as a practice mount
for aspiring aces who belonged to the J.R.D.C. I believe it had a throttle stop, but much could be done by anyone prepared to press hard enough on the pedal.
Later it was acquired by Gerald Sumner who had some sprint successes, including f.t.d. at the V.S.C.C. Littlestone Speed Trials in 1937. It was subsequently much neglected and was in a sorry state at the time I came by it in 1940.
I am extremely glad to have been in some measure responsible for saving this very grand car from a mouldering death. I should be more happy about its competition future if I felt that I was capable of handling it in a manner worthy of the great drivers who have done so before me. * * * [For the benefit of new readers it may be stated that further details of this and other Brooklands cars will be found in “The Story of Brooklands,” by W. Boddy. Vol. I 1906-1924, Vol. II 1925-1982, Vol. III 1988-1940. Grenville Publishing Co., 12s. 6d. per vol.)