A 1911 60-h.p. Cottin et Desgouttes
Big Edwardian racing cars are comparatively few and far between and “new” ones have not appeared for some appreciable time.
Perhaps the most recent to attract favourable attention in V.C.C. and V.S.C.C. circles is J. E. Goddard’s beautifully rebuilt 1911 Cottin et Desgouttes. This fine example of chain-driven giant racing two-seater ran in the recent V.C.C. Dorking Trial and was raced at Brands Hatch on August Bank Holiday. I felt the time had come to learn rather more about this car and accordingly drove over one morning in October to the big shed at Bracknell in which Mr. Goddard keeps an impressive stable of motor cars. The Cottin et Desgouttes was standing with its owner awaiting us, in company with a 300SL Mercedes-Benz which had brought its enthusiastic owner to watch the enthralling dispatch of the Edwardian racing car on a trip up the road.
The firm which manufactured the car began motor-car construction at Lyons in 1904. They proceeded to build a wide range of models, and by 1911 were listing 10/12, 15, 22, 40 and 50-h.p. four-cylinder and 20 and 45-h.p. six-cylinder models.
The origin of Mr. Goddard’s car is lost in the mists of antiquity but the following year the old-established French company decided to introduce a “Sixty,” no doubt to appeal to the young road-burners of that Edwardian age. This car appears to have been acceptable, because it was continued up to the outbreak of war. It was a four-cylinder car, rated at 41.9-h.p. and its cylinder dimensions were 130 by 200 mm. Now Mr. Goddard tells me his engine measures 130 by 203 mm. so it seems likely that this car was either a prototype Sixty or one of a number of special racers, perhaps built to compete in the hill-climbs then prevalent in France, on which the largest production model was subsequently based.
It seems that the car was used in England by Lord Carbery, the pioneer sporting aviator, and as Lord Carbery took his pilot’s ticket at Villacoublay in 1912 and flew a Morane-Saulnier monoplane back to England before becoming a successful racing and record-breaking pilot at the controls of the Bristol Scout, it is logical to conclude that he had shipped across the Channel the suitably impressive French automobile he had probably used while learning to fly. (If I tell you that Lord Carbery raced a 40-h.p. Cottin et Desgouttes at Brooklands in 1911 and entered a 20/30-h.p. car of this make in 1913 you may consider it confuses the issue or you may decide that this confirms his addiction for this marque.) This Cottin et Desgouttes was apparently rebuilt in 1920 but eventually fell into disuse and was discovered by a Mr. Grace in poor condition at Woodbridge, Sussex, during the second World War. Anthony Heal took it under his wing and from Denham it passed into the care of its present owner, who towed it to Bracknell, where it was stripped and restored.
The engine is a most imposing power unit. The massive cylinders are in two pairs of two, a small brass plate on the front pair giving the engine number as G534. By my calculations the capacity is 10.6 litres. The valves are set along the near-side, being of normal side-valve layout, enclosed beneath neat covers. The timing gears are at the front and from them, on the off-side, a big period Bosch magneto is driven from the end of the gear train and between this drive and the crankcase is another drive for the fan pulley, which is set behind the timing case, an extension beyond it driving a big brass water-pump located along the middle of the engine, so that a water manifold can be taken conveniently to each of the great water jackets. The water pipes are of modest diameter; a two-branch off-take pipe takes the coolant back to the radiator. This radiator is a particularly handsome part of this handsome car. It is not massive, its size enabling the bonnet to be blended neatly with it. It has a wide-spaced, deep honeycomb, rebuilt by Serck, possessing a pleasing pattern effect when viewed head-on, the casing is highly polished and the blue-and-white circular badge incorporates, below the maker’s name, the words “Paris-Lyons,” which conjures up visions of the car making short work of the long journey along N.7 between the Gay City and the factory!
The connecting rods within the great cylinders are of H-section, some 21 in. long. The original pistons were cast-iron but these have been replaced by a set in aluminium-alloy intended for a Perkins diesel engine, saving some 3½ lb. on each one over the original and raising the compression-ratio. On the near-side a Zenith carburetter with three separate air intakes feeds into a big-bore two-branch copper inlet manifold. Above this a most impressive four-branch exhaust manifold is coupled by means of a circular flange of battleship proportions to an enormous external exhaust pipe which follows the curve of the original cast-iron pipe away to the back of the car. This exhaust system was presented to Mr. Goddard by Castons of London and is of copper throughout, 10 g. for the manifold and 14 g. for the tail pipe.
The chassis has fairly shallow side-members and ½-elliptic suspension front and back, the back springs being flat and rigged outside the chassis. The shock-absorbers are of Houdaille hydraulic pattern. The drive from the engine goes through a small Hele-Shaw clutch fitted behind a comparatively small flywheel over which there is a metal guard. The wheels on the car as it was found were beyond restoration and the body virtually scrap. Luckily someone was located who had four ex-Vauxhall Rudge-Whitworth splined wheels intended for a trailer and these were rebuilt, painted yellow, and shod with new Dunlop 880 by 120 tyres.
The body now consists of two shallow bucket seats set in front of a fine copper fuel tank, The latter came from one of Mr. Goddard’s boats but, somewhat modified by Serck, is absolutely in keeping with the character of the Cottin et Dettgouttes, and holds some 30 gallons. Fuel is fed by air pressure supplied either by a pump on the steering column or another air pump conveniently located for the passenger to operate. Originally it was by exhaust pressure. As the engine sump holds only about ¾- of-a-gallon of oil a spare supply of lubricant is carried in a neat copper tank under the steering column, with a glass tube oil-level sight.
The present body gives the car the starkest effect imaginable. There are no body sides of any kind and no scuttle behind the bonnet. Substantial flaired mudguards, a bulb horn and the spare wheel up behind complete the ensemble.
The dash slopes down to merge into a footboard, on which are mounted four period gauges. The two smaller ones indicate water pressure and air pressure and they are augmented by a fine Watford tachometer reading to 1,600 r.p.m., driven by belt from the clutch shaft, and a big oil-gauge showing 10-15 lb./sq. in. pressure. The only controls are a rotary magneto switch flanked by the name “Cottin et Desgouttes” and a ½-compression handle. The eye, however, is caught by four foot-pedals. There is a piano-type accelerator, two brake pedals of differing size, and the clutch pedal. One brake pedal operates in one countershaft brake-drum, the other in the drum on the opposite side of the shaft; it is usual to apply both together. The hand-brake lever works brakes on the back wheels.
From the foregoing it is evident that the car has final drive by the classic side chains. What is not apparent, until the accompanying picture is studied, is the remarkable gear-change arrangements, The gearbox itself provides only bottom and reverse speeds. The remaining three forward speeds are selected by meshing one of three sets of crown wheels and pinions, The final-drive is in unit with the gearbox, the chain countershafts emerging at right angles. The main crown wheel has teeth on each side and thus, depending on which bevel pinion is driving it, two different speeds are obtained, as the bevels are of differing diameters. The pinion not driving merely idles. Inside the large crown wheel is a smaller crown wheel, which can be driven from a pinion on a shaft inside the shaft carrying the pinion behind it, providing, on engagement, a third variation in speed. This ingenious final-drive arrangement provides a quiet, efficient direct drive in the three upper ratios.
After a short drive to Blackbushe Airfield in Mr. Goddard’s Michelin “X”-shod disc-braked D-type Jaguar (the car in which Hamilton and Rolt finished second at Le Mans in 1954 at a speed of 105½ m.p.h., but now converted, with full-width screen and different axle ratio, into a 140 m.p.h. road car) to fetch some parts for the Edwardian racer, we set about starting-up the latter. This is not a drudge, for after priming the compression-taps with a small can of petrol normally carried near the passenger’s feet, the big engine springs quickly to life when the starting-handle is briskly pulled up.
There breaks out that deep exhaust burble peculiar to big low-speed long-stroke engines. The clutch takes up the drive with notable smoothness, the faint rattle of the driving chains mingles with the rush of air, and you are motoring at a spirited 60 m.p.h. at exactly 1,000 r.p.m. in top gear. When he is not in a hurry Mr. Goddard frequently jogs along at 40 m.p.h., or a mere 300 r.p.m. above the engine’s idling speed! The gear lever, outside the brake lever on the right, in an imposing brass gate, carries a button which you depress to unlock each gear. The changes go in with extreme silkiness and facility and it is necessary only to remember to unlock and that third speed is obtained by going “round the corner” from second, first and top lying forward in the gate, and that a guard has to be lifted to obtain reverse.
The Cottin et Desgouttes hunched itself up and accelerated purposefully, while the hand-brake inspired confidence. The steering, however, is startlingly high-geared as well as very light: the control quadant turns somewhat disconcertingly with the small, thin-rimmed wheel on its long, brightly-polished, unsupported column. I had no opportunity to record any performance figures but Mr. Goddard told me he has had over 95 m.p.h., paced by a Jaguar with an accurate speedometer, along the Wrotham-Maidstone highway. The weight of the car is 24 cwt. (wet).
Altogether, the 60-h.p. Cottin et Desgouttes is a highly desirable property. We can expect to hear a lot more of it when its owner can spare time from his other delectable vehicles. These, apart from the D-type and an XK120 Jaguar, include a Type 57 Bugatti two-door saloon, one of the last built with cable brakes, now neatly endowed with four Morris Minor-size S.U. carburetters, a Rolls-Royce Phantom II coupe’ de ville (“bought,” explained Mr. Goddard, “because I have many God-children”) and a Burrell steam traction-engine. The Cottin et Desgouttes’ owner has motor cars in his blood, in spite of having crewed the “Mayflower” on its recent expedition. Before I left he showed me the 3-litre Bentley engine which, as an apprentice, he equipped with a Cozette vane-type compressor and Cozette carburetter, mounted on the valve cover and, with a 3-to-1 drive, blowing at 4 lb./sq. in., which transformed the Vanden Plas tourer it occupied and put its maximum up to some 95 m.p.h. — W. B.
Miscellany, December 2003
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