Theory and Practice
by the Continental Correspondent
The beginning of October saw the opening of the 40th Paris Salon and from the French buyer’s point of view the whole show took on a much more practical air than in the past, there being cars on view that were in production and on sale, rather than the usual French collection of oddities and absurdities that have dominated past Salons. Freaks and oddities there were, and always will be, for that is half the fun of preparing a show stand, but the general atmosphere was more staid and gave an impression of a serious automobile industry.
Being more concerned with sporting vehicles a tour was made of those stands that cater for the minority, but it was all rather depressing and the outlook had to be adjusted to one in between Gran Turismo and sporting motoring. Then there was plenty to interest. To be seen, but not to have, were some interesting exhibits such as the Le Mans-winning Jaguar, still in the dusty and dirty condition in which it finished, in contrast to a clean and polished DB3(S) Aston Martin, whose only claim to racing activities was a board containing a list of the successes.
The Lancia stand contained the works 2,500-c.c. Gran Turismo car which Claes and Trasenter used to win the gruelling Liege-Rome-Liege Rally, that too being in the condition in which it finished, with rough paintwork, torn upholstery and covered in dust and dirt. It was interesting to compare this car with the production version alongside, for the works competition model used a normal central gear-lever, as opposed to the production steering-column contraption, had “shaped” racing seats, no floor coverings, extra instruments, a small electric fan on the dash and cooling slots in the roof. No bumpers were used, a vast array of lamps covered the front, no hub covers were fitted and the wheels were drilled with small holes into which protruded small tubes that sprouted radially from the front brake drums, giving a centrifugal action to the air in the drum, while the car was painted a dull blue and cream, no effort having been wasted on spit-and-polish.
Panhards were showing one of their aeroplane-type Le Mans cars and Deutsch and Bonnet had a very clean D.B. Le Mans car on show, while Gordini had a small stand containing a Formula II car with 2,500-c.c. six-cylinder engine, advertised as a 1954 Formula car, together with the second 3-litre eight-cylinder sports car that he has built. This second one was fitted with the normal type of Gordini all-enveloping body, but unlike the prototype it had normal right-hand steering in place of the central driving position. As soon as the Show spell finished this car was due to leave for the Pan-American Mexico race, together with the prototype 3-litre.
Turning the thoughts to competition motoring outside works cars there was little on show. Ferrari and Pegaso had vehicles with luxury coachwork, Jaguars had only a drophead XK120, Aston Martin a DB2, so it left only Porsche, Nardi-Danese, and D.B. The German firm showed a delightful open two-seater competition car based on the factory Nurburgring cars, fitted with the latest o.h.c. engine; this follows the normal Porsche flat-four layout, but has twin camshafts to each bank of cylinders, the camshafts being driven by bevels and shafts. A large double-choke downdraught carburetter is used for each bank and a distributor is driven off the end of each inlet camshaft, supplying sparks for two plugs per cylinder, while engine and gearbox are in front of the rear axle, the chassis and suspension being normal Porsche. Knock-off hubs are fitted, using pressed steel wheels, and a large fuel tank is carried in the nose and the all-enveloping body is fitted with ball attachments to take quick-lift jacks. A power output of 110 b.h.p is claimed and a speed of 225 k.p.h. (140 m.p.h.), on which we will not waste comment except to remind readers that the Le Mans works coupes were timed at 125 m.p.h.
Nardi-Danese had a single car on show, a pretty little two-seater on their multi-tube chassis, fitted with a tuned American Crosley Hot-Spot engine, the whole car giving the impression of being ready for 750-c.c. racing. D.B. had a standard competition coupe model on view, of the type that is used regularly by French national drivers in sports-car events. Removing the mind from competition work, we viewed the sports cars for purely sporting motoring and rated in this category the Austin-Healey 100, unchanged from last year, the beautiful finish of the bodywork contrasting strongly with the cast-iron brake drums daubed with aluminium paint that could be seen behind the nice wire knock-off wheels. The little TD M.G. still keeps its “sporty” look and the Singer Roadster, with left-hand drive, looked just what the name described. In this category and coming as rather a surprise was the new plastic-bodied Chevrolet Corvette, whose two-seater body had a sleek line and functional appearance, and as it was claimed to be in quantity production is likely to appeal to the Americans as being better than Austins or Nash Healeys, Allards and the like.
Looking every inch an English sports car was the Triumph TR2, with its slab-sided body, clumsy-looking windscreen and nicer looking lengthened tail, bearing proudly the price of £555. By being an open two-seater and having a good performance, the Sunbeam-Talbot Alpine model was tolerated. The next group of cars we studied were those that can be included under the heading Gran Turismo, a classification that is fast becoming more interesting than the sports group. To justify putting a car in the Gran Turismo group it should be of distinctly sports-car specification, which is to say having an outstanding performance for its engine capacity, which in turn insists on light weight, must be handleable so that it could be thrashed over a Swiss mountain pass or along the Mille Miglia route without fatigue or danger, and at the same time could be used for mild touring or high-speed touring. Cars in this category are rapidly taking the place of the old idea of a sports car and in most cases can out-perform the equivalent in sports cars, so this group was studied with interest. Outstanding, of course, is the car that started the idea, the Lancia Aurelia Gran Turismo with 2,500-c.c. narrow-angle V6 engine, all-round independent suspension and over 110 m.p.h. on hand, with highly praised roadholding qualities. The Aurelia G.T. is now in quite high production and the cream version shown was most desirable. Also from Italy was the 1,900C Alfa-Romeo on the “Sprint” chassis, a lighter and shorter version of the large-scale production 1,900 model, with four-cylinder twin-o.h.c. engine. Two models were displayed, both being two-seater coupes, with large luggage space behind the seats that could be used for an occasional passenger. One body was by Farina and the other by Carozzeria Touring, both models having chromium-plated wire wheels with knock-off hubs as standard. In direct opposition and coming from England were an equally impressive pair, the well-proven Aston Martin DB2 and the new Bristol 404, a resplendent white model being on show, the air intake for the radiator looking particularly efficient, while the neat body was definitely Gran Turismo. These four makes would probably show up about equal on all-round performance and collectively formed the most interesting group of cars from the Motor Sport angle. Fitting into this group, but still of unknown quantity was the touring-bodied Pegaso, a neat green coupe, while Ghia exhibited an 8V Fiat bodied by them with a slinky coupe that would be more at home on the sea-front than coming sideways down a dusty mountain road. There were quite a number of this type of vehicle present, the Farina and Vignale-bodied Ferraris, the former on a 4½-litre America chassis and the latter on a 3-litre Europe chassis, both looking more equipped for Concours d’Elegance than anything else and looking hardly capable of 110 m.p.h., while a touring-bodied Pegaso coupe in red and black and two Saoutchik two-seaters on the same chassis would have looked out of place outside the Salon.
Finally, with an eye on high performance, was a group that could be termed “for high-speed luxury motoring,” in which pride of place could be shared by the Continental Bentley and the Coupe 300S Mercedes-Benz, though the 235 Delahaye with Henri Chapron coupe body, and the Graber-bodied two-seater Talbot-Lago were impressive, the 19-in. Rudge wheels of these two cars looking decidedly “vintage.”
By way of an interlude we studied the “comic turns,” and there were plenty of competitors for pride of place. The nice-looking Studebaker, “the American car with European lines” designed by Raymond Loewey, had imitation wire wheels (to give it that European look), while a hideous-looking saloon Borgward 1,800 was also fitted with imitation wire wheels which gave it no sort of look at all.
The Buick Skylark, a vast open roadster, had genuine wire wheels of the Magna five-stud type, but with dummy knock-off hubs, as had the opulent Ghia-bodied Chrysler V8, while the neat French Comete, based on Ford V8 Vedette components, had its simple disc wheels covered by imitation wire spokes, and the 8V Fiat had its genuine Rudge wheels covered up with chromium discs, just to complicate matters.
To complete the visit to the Salon were the experimental group, to which honours went to the Ford X100, a fantasy of a motor car that is so vast that only America could contain it, and is so full of complicated machinery that it is truly a travelling test-bed for ideas, and the main object would appear to be to show what the Ford Company can do if given a completely free hand where price, economy, practicability and usability are of no importance. Technically interesting were the Dutch Joymobile, a chassis fitted with 1,800-c.c. Deletyrez diesel engine that drives a pump that passes fluid through two turbines coupled to the rear wheels, and the French Symmetrique which has a Citroen engine driving a generator that provides current for electric motors mounted on each of the four wheels, the unsprung weight being enormous, but the idea ingenious.
Thirty-minutes drive from the Salon takes one to Montlhery and there some serious motoring was being done by Bristols and Coopers, though there was not a Cooper-Bristol to be seen anywhere. The Filton firm had one of their Type 450 cars present and Coopers a Mk. VII fitted with an all-enveloping body and a variety of Norton engines to hand. Monday saw Bristols do a few tests to decide on the axle ratio for their records, and Coopers did some final carburation tests in the morning before doing the officially timed runs in the afternoon. John Cooper himself was to drive the car for the records, and it is a great credit to this little firm that they used a perfectly standard Mk. VII chassis on which to build the framework that carried the beautifully streamlined body, with discs on the front wheels and completely covered-in rear wheels. An extra universal joint in the steering column allowed the wheel to be near horizontal and the driver to adopt a reclining position, while the standard of panel beating and the perspex cockpit cover were of a high order. Fitted with a 499-c.c. Manx Norton engine belonging to F. L. Beart, who was in attendance to do the final engine tuning of jet sizes and plugs, etc., John Cooper set off with a standing start to attempt all the International Class I records from 50 kms. to 200 miles.
Running on Shell alcohol fuel and 60 S.A.E. Shell X100 oil, the car ran steadily at over 110 m.p.h., taking the 50 kms., the 50 miles, the 100 kms. and the 100 miles records in its stride. The one-hour record fell and then the driver showed signs of distress but it was not possible for onlookers to see what was wrong and as the lap speeds remained fairly consistent everyone sat and waited. The 200 kms. record fell and soon after that the car came in for an emergency pit stop as it was about to run out of fuel. The tank was topped up at speed and the car was soon off again, to complete the 200 miles and set a new record, making a total of six records at one attempt. When John Cooper came to rest he revealed that he was soaked in alcohol fuel right up to the waist, due to the fuel tank in the nose of the car having split, which supplied the answer to the fuel shortage.
It says much for the driver’s courage that he continued for over 100 miles bathed in a spray of highly inflammable liquid that also stings the flesh and freezes the skin, so that it was with great relief that Cooper changed into dry clothes.
When it was mentioned that “so-and-so” had welded that tank, John’s comment was that he’d “kick his —” when he got home. With very little fuss or bother the Cooper Car Company, thanks to the managing director, J. N. Cooper, had set up six new International class records, and it was most refreshing to see a small private enterprise succeed so effectively, and how nice that the owner of the firm knew the worker who had welded the faulty tank and was in a position to reprimand him effectively, unlike “Big Business,” where a director could probably only find a worker after hours of inquiry through various channels and then the answer would only be No. 276485.
The next day it was Bristol’s turn to have a go and their aim was the 200-mile record in Class E, 1,500-2,000 c.c., held by Crook with a Frazer-Nash at just over 120 m.p.h. The Type 450 was virtually the same as run at Le Mans and Reims, being the car that Macklin had driven (though the firm has now built five 450 models), except that the front of the body had been nicely smoothed out, the sides had been brought in a bit and the rear of the back mudguards had been made to flow nicely into the tail fins, giving the car an altogether much sleeker look than before. Using the racing Bristol engine, with coil distributor driven off the front timing case in place of long vertical shaft from the centre of the camshaft, and running on a Shell fuel only slightly better than French Super as bought at the pumps, J. E. G. Fairman set off from a standing start and drove the car absolutely flat-out for 200 miles round the rather bumpy concrete banked track. Running at a consistent 5,700 r.p.m. his time for the 200 miles was 1 hr. 35 min. 20 sec., which gave a speed of 202.57 k.p.h. (125.87 m.p.h.) for the full distance, comfortably setting up a new record.
Walking round the track during this run, some idea was gained of the incredible battering that a chassis has to withstand at these speeds, and driving round later on at 100 m.p.h. made one appreciative of the concentration and skill that must be needed to lap at nearly 130 m.p.h., for the roughness and hardness of the concrete do not allow a hands-off ride at even 100 m.p.h. When the run was finished and the record in the bag, a close observance and a probing finger could not find a trace of oil on the outside of the Bristol power unit, which says a great deal for the skill of the fitters, for the engine had run for more than 1½ hours on full throttle at 5,700 r.p.m. Apart from being pleased for Bristol, Fairman was satisfied from the feeling of having had his foot “glued to the floorboards” for longer than ever before in his life.
After the Bristol had finished its high-speed motoring the Cooper-Beart equipe re-appeared, this time with a 350-c.c. Manx Norton engine in the little streamlined car.
Again John Cooper was at the wheel and, after a few test laps, he was all set to attack the Class J records from 50 kms. to 200 miles, it not being possible to attempt any of the records below 50 kms. as they all require a two-way run and Montlhery does not permit of that. With no effort at all the 350-c.c. engine was propelling the Cooper round at well over the 100-m.p.h. mark, and with satisfying regularity the records fell one by one. The fastest laps were put in at nearly 110 m.p.h., and the French timekeepers felt sure that Beart must have made a mistake and fitted a 600-c.c. Norton engine instead of a 350-c.c.
The car was going at such a pace that Beart himself began to wonder, but when all was finished the head was removed and the French official measured the bore and stroke and proclaimed the engine a 348 c.c., and everyone was very impressed. Throughout the 200 miles the car never gave the slightest trouble and Cooper had a very good ride, except for some bad blisters at the base of his spine due to lying too far down in the seat and making contact with a cross-member, but he said that the position kept his crash-hat below the head-cowling and gave him another 200 r.p.m. so it was well worth while being uncomfortable. Weather conditions at Montlhery were perfect all this time, though towards the end of the run Cooper was troubled by the setting sun which cast one of the bankings into complete shadow, and though he could see nothing at all as he went onto the banking at 110 m.p.h. he did not reduce speed by so much as a second.
The Bristol engine had been sealed by the French officials and the car put away for the night, and on the next day, Wednesday, it came out again, this time to attack records up to six hours.
Lance Macklin was to co-drive with Fairman, taking spells of driving of 1½ hours each and this time there would not be any need to drive absolutely flat-out as the speeds aimed at were lower. After the car had been warmed three practice pit-stops were made as tyres would probably suffer and wheels would have to be changed, as well as fuel having to be taken on and drivers changed.
By mid-morning these “dummy runs” had been completed and all was set, with Macklin taking the first spell of driving. The car got away sounding perfect and was soon humming round the top of the banking, lapping at just under 120 m.p.h., and all was going well until three-quarters of an hour had passed when it was seen that the bonnet was trying to lift, as one of the catches had broken. As the bonnet hinged at the rear this was a bit worrying but the mechanics who fitted the safety straps had absolute confidence in their work and were quite convinced that there was no danger of them tearing away. At the end of 1½ hours Macklin stopped and Fairman took over, the car being stationary for a bare 30 seconds while they changed and a quick eye was given to the straps.
Fairman had only covered a few laps when the second bonnet catch broke and the whole bonnet was putting a great strain on the two retaining straps, so it was deemed wise to bring him in and effect a repair. The car stopped and in a very slick and efficient manner two holes were punched, one in the bonnet and the other in the nose cowling and a strong length of wire was threaded into place and the bonnet clamped down tightly. This occupied less than 60 seconds and Fairman was once more back on his bumpy way round the very top of the banking. The car had ample speed in hand for the records they were aiming for and the 500 kms. and 3-hour record fell with ease. A few laps after the three hours Fairman was given the signal to come in and, stopping perfectly on the marked place from 130 m.p.h., the car was up on the quick-lift jacks, the Dunlop men deemed only the rear tyres needed changing, the wheels were off, new ones on and the car let down, by which time Selby had refuelled the tank on the off side of the body, the oil had been checked, the windscreen cleaned, an efficient eye cast underneath at the suspension and transmission and Fairman clambered out, Macklin in, and the car was away again, having been stationary for 1 min. 32 sec.
A point of interest concerns the attachment of the wheels, the Type 450 having the chassis based on the G-type E.R.A. of last year, where each wheel is held by five studs and nuts. The Bristol team evolved a cross-shaped tubular spanner that contained each wheel nut in the stem of the spanner after it had been removed, so that when all five had been removed the nuts were pushed up the tubular stem against a spring and held in place by a spring-loaded clamp that allowed each one back down the tube as it was screwed back onto its stud, so that the time to remove a wheel was reduced by an enormous amount compared with starting the nuts by hand after having picked them up off the ground as one normally does with bolt-on wheels. Further, it prevented any possibility of a nut being mislaid. Macklin did his 1½ hours with no trouble at all, going round like a sewing machine, and then he stopped and handed over to Fairman, who completed the six hours with absolute regularity.
The car had taken the 500 kms., the 500 miles, 1,000 kms., the 3-hour and the 6-hour records with ease and once again the view under the bonnet was a joy to see, and this time there was just the merest trace of oil around the rev.-counter drive flange, otherwise it was impossible to tell the engine had been run at all. It says much for the Bristol engine that it never missed a beat throughout all the record running and, having finished, put in a lap at 45.2 sec. (126.11 m.p.h.), which was equal to the fastest lap the car could do when first tried out. When all was finished, Macklin took each of the mechanics round for a flying lap, for this was still a fully equipped two-seater sports/racing coupe, to let them get an idea of the hammering that the chassis and body has to stand at 130 m.p.h., apart from making them appreciate that the driver does not have an easy time in a record attempt. The car was checked and measured by the officials and found correct, at 1,971 c.c., and it was a very happy and satisfied Bristol team that left Montlhery after their first attempts at record runs. Apart from the bonnet catches that broke and one spotlamp that split its bracket, the car stood up perfectly to the 7½ hours’ battering and the total of nearly 600 laps of the track.
While all this had been going on the Cooper team had not been resting for Beart had fitted a 596-c.c. engine to the car, Brandon had tested it and as it did not seem to go well enough, the 500-c.c. engine was converted to a 530-c.c. by fitting a barrel and piston of 82-mm. bore. On Thursday morning Cooper was out again, now with the 530-c.c. engine, to attack records in Class II (500-750 c.c.), and in another non-stop run he took the 200 kms. record. When they were about to pack up and return to England they heard that Piero Taruffi had booked the track to attack Class I records, whereupon Cooper decided he ought to have another go as he was certain that he could improve on the 500-c.c. records he had set up on Monday.
Out came the 530-c.c. motor and in went the 500-c.c. one and John was off again, this time quite early in the morning and, though the early-morning sun became troublesome, on the opposite banking this time, he kept his foot hard down all the way and put all the records way over 110 m.p.h., which he felt would be plenty for the Italians to think about. With 14 records to his credit, John Cooper and his men finally packed everything into the van and returned to England, well satisfied with their outing to the piste de vitesse.