Cars I Have Owned - continued

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By Cecil Clutton

For the first part of this article, see Motor Sport for January 1941. At that time, the cars I had owned were as follows.

Like all properly brought up young men I had started my motoring life with a Morris Cowley; unfortunately just too late to have a bull’s nose. This was followed by an 8/18 Humber and then one of those curious, 1923, shaft-driven Frazer Nashes. It had an Anzani engine and a beastly three-speed gearbox, and the damage it sustained when it fell over while going round a corner left me with no compunction about scrapping it (after all, it had nearly scrapped me in the process). Today I suppose it would be a “collector’s piece.” Then came a proper ‘Nash, E type 30/98, 2LTs Ballot and Red Label Bentley. In the racing line, the Itala arrived in June 1936 and there was the 1921 G.P. Ballot, now owned by Michael Crowley Milling. The camshafts of this car mysteriously disappeared from where I had laid it up for the war, before going flying.

During the war I bought a T49 Bugatti saloon, the 1923 Worldspeed-record, V12, 10½-litre Delage, and a 1925 SS-too Brough bicycle; still, I believe, the oldest SS-too running. The end of the war therefore found me with this trio and, of course, the Itala.

The Bugatti at once went into service as my maid-of-all-work and although it had 750,000 miles to its credit it did valiant work although naturally, with such a mileage behind it, it needed a lot of maintenance. The last single o.h.c. model to be introduced (3.3-litre), its long narrow chassis, and rather tall, young saloon, plus, no doubt, rather worn shackle pins, gave it a very abrupt over-steer, and, like a good many vintage cars, the only way of getting it round a corner was to break away the front wheels by a sharp twitch of the steering before the back half of the car found out what was going on. I suspect this was how the early aces first developed the four-wheel drift, which, of course, can only be used effectively if there is enough power to steer by the back wheels after the front ones have been unstuck. I think that Nuvolari alone had such a sense of balance that he could four-wheel drift without this excess of power.

In this article, it seems convenient to follow through with the road cars and then come back to racing. I’m afraid I have been rather lazy about keeping notes since the war, and I cannot absolutely guarantee all the dates. Some time after 1950, in my family business of Chartered Surveyors, we started having partners’ cars owned by the firm, and within the price-limit which we set ourselves I had no hesitation at that time in settling for a 6-cylinder f.w.d. Citroen. This really was a splendid battleship of a car, housing five people in comfort. The tough 3-litre engine produced, if I remember right, 78 b.h.p. and had an effective limit of 4,000 r.p.m., which gave the car its maximum of 8o m.p.h. This was quite enough in the early ‘fifties, with a cruising speed of 70. It would do 90 down a long slope but this made the bearings melt. Unlike the “Light 15,” the 6-cylinder had a really useful middle gear (top 3.9, and 5.4) which gave 6o m.p.h. and pulled away powerfully from very low speeds. There was then an emergency bottom which almost trebled the revs and made for a very tricky change from and to bottom. Front braking judder seemed to be a chronic ailment with this model and when I unwisely fitted the Michelin “X” tyres, then becoming fashionable, it made this tendency a great deal worse, and the steering intolerably heavy.

The Citroen relieved me from the necessity of having a daily-breader of my own, and as my finances were being pretty far-stretched by the Delage I was not unduly sorry to part with the Bugatti, which I had never regarded as a particularly good car. By 1955 the parking problem in London was already becoming fairly acute. I cast longing eyes at many useful slots into which the Citroen could not be fitted, because of its considerable length and rather poor lock. It had given me some splendid motoring, and could be forced round corners jolly fast provided you kept pressing on the small pedal, come what might. You did have to be careful going downhill, when the weight transference, coupled with an already hefty front-end-weight-preponderance, could easily turn it into an unguided missile.

Anyway, everything pointed to a Porsche, although I had always inveighed against rear-independent suspension; and still do. My Porsche was the cooking 1500, with the modest output of 56 b.h.p.; maximum 5,000 r.p.m.; maximum cruising 4,500. It certainly cured the parking problem and had many other outstanding qualities. Despite its low b.h.p., the combination of light weight, low frontal area, and good streamlining gave it a more than adequate performance for the mid-fifties. I once saw the too m.p.h., but its effective maximum was a little over 90 with cruising what you liked, provided the oil temperature gauge didn’t reach a little red mark. The streamlining made considerable demands on the brakes which really weren’t very good. A curious feature of the Porsche, which would never have occurred to me, was that with such a low driving position, night driving was absolute hell, because you were in even the dipped beam of oncoming traffic. Conversely, very few fogs come right down to floor level, and when most motorists had their heads in the fog, the Porsche driver was in the clear and could continue at almost unabated speed. In most ways, it was a really wonderful car and beautifully made, but there is no denying that, at that stage in its design, it was a dramatic over-steerer. Until I realised its limitations, I went backwards almost as much as forwards (to be accurate, sideways, as. once it had got sideways, the roll splayed out On the outside rear wheel which spragged into the road, so that one seldom span completely). Even hard braking from high speed generally produced a series of broadsides. In an attempt to cure this I fitted Michelin “X”’s at the back, and this was pretty .effective, even to the extent of producing understeer on two or three unrehearsed occasions. But in the end, despite the many splendid qualities of the Porsche, I decided that it was undermining my cornering morale. Also, the performance which was more than adequate in 1955 was being effectively challenged by 1960, and the coming of parking meters greatly minimised the merits of small size.

Before passing on, it is only fair to mention that A.F.N.’s recently lent me a modern Porsche “70” for a weekend, and this has enormously superior cornering to my old 1500. On a really twisty road it would be very hard to beat, because it has just the right amount of over-steer to get you out of trouble, whereas the 1500 had quite enough to be sure of getting you into it. I know there was a lot of talk about “wischening” which (as far as I could see) was German for flailing your arms around while going round a corner. In effect, this was merely the old business of keeping the front end broken away at least as much as the back; or of chopping up the side-slips and corrections into manageably small helpings. But in the end result, one just cornered rather slowly. The “70″ certainly got over all or most of this trouble, though I still sweet that once you start to slide, weight distribution is the most deciding factor. I also retain an old-fashioned conviction that the driven wheels should remain vertical to the road. Evidently Rovers think so too, and the superb handling of their 2000 makes me think I am not far wrong either (could easily be my next car, given another 30b.h.p.).

Having decided that my Porsche days were coming to an end, I thought I had better have one really fast road car before getting senile and, again within the price-limit, the answer was obviously a Jaguar XK150, which duly arrived in August 1960. I knew it would be fast; but I didn’t expect it to be a particularly good car in other ways; I couldn’t have been more wrong. After four years’ experience I am convinced that the XK150 will go down as one of the great cars of motoring history.

Not that there weren’t some preliminary shortcomings, which I suspect are of a kind likely to apply to any car as cheap as a jaguar. To begin with, it took some pretty acid correspondence up to a fairly high level before I could get any sense out of the London area after-sales service. Then every single instrument failed except the ammeter and the fuel gauge and the latter tells such frantic lies as to be little more than the most general indication of how much fuel there is in the tank, which isn’t enough anyway. At about 10,000 miles the shock-absorbers were quite worn out and replacement by Konis transformed the handling of the car, and after a further 40,000 miles they have only had to be taken up once. At about 15,000 miles the back springs began breaking; they had always been much too flexible and wound up alarmingly on a rapid take-off. jaguars rather grudgingly admitted that there were some things called “competition back springs ” and these, with the Konis, and the splendid, standard, rack-and-pinion steering, have given the XK a very high level of vintage ride and handling, plus the merits of disc braking.

The Jaguar gearbox seems to come in for a good deal of criticism. It is often difficult to get into gear from rest; it is difficult to change gear on (by vintage standards), has very half-hearted syncromesh, and cannot be hurried. But at any rate it has almost perfectly chosen ratios.

I had almost the lowest form of tune (two carburetters and 8:1 c.r.) which is alleged to produce 210 b.h.p. On this, the car will potter through London traffic all day without a plug even fluffing; pull away from 7 or 800 r.p.m. in top if you ask it; and then go straight up to over 120 m.p.h. and cruise there as long as you want. 5,500 r.p.m. are permitted, but certainly on the lowtune engine there is no merit in using so many and in fact I have never once been over 5,000 r.p.m.; as this gives too m.p.h. in top and 130 in overdrive (allowing for tyre-spread over too m.p.h.) this is really about good enough. Acceleration from 0-100 m.p.h. takes about 30 seconds. Everything has to be right to see 5,600 in overdrive, but you can always rely on 4,700, and I usually keep to 4,500 as the maximum for motorway cruising, which is about 116 m.p.h. Dunlop Road Speed tyres give excellent wear and general performance. Cornering is extremely good, if not up to racing standards, so that if one slightly overcooks a really fast corner the whole thing seems to get a bit flabby; but perhaps this is only because I have rather limited experience of cornering in the “ton-up” bracket.

While cruising near 120 is perfectly easy, one must confess that fuel and oil then disappear at a quite alarming rate.

I have no hesitation in preferring the XK150 to the E. type and I certainly prefer the handling characteristics of the XK. Also, it seemed madness to omit an overdrive from the E type, most. Of which are aggressively low geared as a result. I have only once been passed by an E type, which was on M1, whereupon it (apparently) blew up right in front of me and the driver quickly changed his air of superiority to one of acute embarrassment.

In short, I can’t at the moment think of anything I would exchange for the XK, regardless of price. Incidentally, I should tremendously like a “C” or “D” type for modern fun motoring. “D” type really is a superlative machine.

One car has kept leading to another, but now back to vintage motoring.

The departure of the T49 left me without a vintage road car (actually even it was p.v.t.) but in 1952 I decided I needed one to solace myself after a tremendous accident in the Delage (see later) and bought a very early (1920) 30/98 Vauxhall. It in pieces, with two front axles; one the standard, unbraked and one with enormous brakes, off a Star. Unfortunately I opted for the latter, which was altogether too much for the flimsy Vauxhall chassis, which it endowed with a formidable understeer. This prevented the car from being as enjoyable as it was potentially, and after three years I sold it to Lord Montagu for his museum. In September this year he invited me to drive it to the remarkable rally at Luton of “Pomeroy” Vauxhalls, and I had really forgotten a splendid car the “E” type is. The tremendous top gear performance from about 25-65 m.p.h. (roughly 800-2,000 r.p.m.) is quite fascinating, and placed it absolutely in a class of its own the early ‘twenties, especially from only 4½-litres. I found that from 0-60 m.p.h. took 17 seconds without exceeding 2,300 r.p.m. in the gears (the engine was designed to peak at 2,600).

In the meantime I had been feeling the Bugatti itch again so acquired a 1928 T44, with a very pretty two-seater Corsica body which had replaced the original saloon in 1934. This type (single o.h.c 3-litre, straight eight) probably gave about 85 b.h.p. and was specifically described by Bugatti as a tourer. All the same, it would see off any standard 3-litre Bentley or Sunbeam, was immensely flexible, reasonably smooth and silent, and had good brakes if you pressed hard enough. As an all-round vintage car the 44 would be hard to beat, and mine twice brought me close to winning the Lycett Trophy of the V.S.C.C. But it never revved quite as freely as I think it should have done, and while it cruised comfortably at 70 (3,500 r.p.m.) it simply would not exceed 80 m.p.h., which isn’t fast enough to be really amusing at Silverstone. It was also rather long for driving tests, although it collected quite a few such awards.

In about 1958 I found increasingly that there were business occasions when I wished I had something more commodious and vertical than the Porsche; and my elderly mother understandably hated getting in and out of it. (Incidentally, she continued to drive her Austin heavy 12/4 up to her death at the age of 79.) I happened at this juncture to see Jack Lemon Burton’s T46 (1934, single o.h.c., 5.3-litre). It had been vaguely for sale for two years, but the very moment I decided I wanted it more than anything else some beastly American had paid a deposit on it. I decided it must be rescued from this fate and made Jack’s life such a telephonic misery for the next fortnight that he eventually gave in. This car has a large saloon body by the little-known firm of Lancefield, but it was a pretty good effort on their part and has distinguished lines. It is fitted up with all p.v.t. cons such as looking glasses in the back and a couple of bottles, one of which had some very questionable looking pills in it when I bought the car (I’m sure they pre-dated Jack’s ownership).

The T46 has far exceeded my expectations in every way and I can quite understand why it was Ettore’s favourite model. It is really a scaled-down Royale, which puts the design date, in effect, back to about 1925 although the 46 was not actually introduced until 1930. It continued in production until 1939 (I imagine the last one was built about 1935 or ’36 but I believe there were still four unsold chassis at the outbreak of war). Considering the weight (37 cwt.) and the steering-box ratio (2¾ turns from lock to lock) the steering is wonderfully light. It is also perfectly responsive and accurate and, of course, has no play at all. The engine has no vibration and will pull evenly and strongly from a walking speed in top (probably 150 or 200 r.p.m.). Despite this, the power curve shows no signs of falling off, right up to 3,500 r.p.m., which I regard as the sensible limit for this 80 x 130 engine, although I have seen 4,000 mentioned. I imagine maximum power output is about 140 b.h.p. With such a useful power curve three speeds are ample, and they are kept in a tiny box on the back axle. Obviously, this is about the worst possible place to put a gearbox and I am sure Bugatti did it for no better reason than to get as far as possible from the noise. In effect, in such a big car, the extra unsprung weight seems no disadvantage. The ratios are 3.91, 5.45 and 9.8 which, as always in a Bugatti, are perfectly chosen. Top gives 23½ m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. and, on this, 75 seems a perfectly happy cruising speed and once, under great stress, I put 75 motorway miles into an hour. I have never tried for maximum but 90 should come up fairly easily. This type has two shortcomings. The very long prop.-shaft is extremely difficult to maintain in balance, but this can be done if Hardy-Spicer universal joints are fitted. The other is that the brakes, while both powerful and anti-fade, are somewhat unpredictable at the moment of first application, while the compensation arrangements are getting their priorities sorted out. The engine gives no trouble at all, which is just as well, seeing that the crankshaft has to be removed before the valves can be reground. As it is, after 30,000 miles not even the tappets of mine have had to be adjusted. Fuel consumption is between 15 and 16 m.p.g. almost regardless of speed or traffic. All in all, this car gives me as much pleasure as any I have ever had and I hope I shall never have to get rid of it. I certainly think it is in almost every way superior to a Phantom II with which it is contemporary and, presumably, comparable.

The arrival of the 46 made the 44 rather supernumerary and I thought I wanted something faster, and vintage, as a pair to the 46. A 43 (blown, roller bearing, 2.3-litre) seemed the obvious requisite and I eventually secured one like the 30/98, in pieces. The T44 was then bought by Guy Griffiths. The T43 had been picked apart into the smallest imaginable pieces in preparation for a really super rebuild which, as so often in such cases, had never happened. However, Robert Patrick, delving back into his Papworth memories said all the bits were there and I could buy it, which I accordingly did, and he started to fix it. Hugh Conway got the crank re-rollered in Belfast and after endless delays it was finally ready for the road. From the start, it has given endless ignition and/or carburation troubles from which we are only emerging after more than a year of frustrating experiment. In the intervals, the 43 has given every indication of being a splendid car, and with performance up to scratch (100 m.p.h.) I feel pretty confident that by next season it will come up to Laurence Pomeroy’s verdict as the best standard vintage sports car. The engine is. of course, the same as the T35 grand prix cars, but with the smaller and more reliable valves I imagine the power output is only around 115 b.h.p. 5,5oo r.p.m. was permitted, but failures have been known and I intend to keep to 4,700 (actually, at the moment, it is the top-end performance that is missing and there is no point in going even as high). The car has all the thrill of a vintage era GP engine, Bugatti road-holding and cornering and superb brakes. In the latter connection, I found that the GP type aluminium wheels were a mass of cracks, so I replaced them by a set of T49 cast-aluminium bolt-on wheels which are, I think, equally handsome, very strong, and give very powerful brakes.

Despite all the trials and tribulations to date, I don’t at all regret the T43 and am looking forward to getting a lot of fun out of it in 1965.

All through the post-war period the Brough had been in fitful use, including a tour of the Lake District soon after the war. But it gave a lot of trouble, especially as to the gearbox, until I was lucky enough to pick up one of the heavyweight, 3-speed close-ratio Sturmey boxes, which give roughly 50, 75 and 100 m.p.h. at 5,000 r.p.m. There is nothing quite like the thrill of a big V-twin and the acceleration of the Brough is really formidable. Last year I rode it to Rugby for a Brough rally, attended by George Brough himself (he arrived in an E type Jaguar). It rained all the way there and on the M1 (luckily at only about 60 m.p.h.) the engine seized up (to which it was always prone) and in the series of ensuing slides I have no idea why I didn’t fall off. It rained all the time there and all the way back, and, as seems to happen to most Broughs in heavy rain, it ran mostly on one cylinder. When I got home I was quite exhausted so that when I got off I wasn’t strong enough to support the 400 lb. of Brough and it fell on top of me, where I had to remain until someone came and picked it off me. So I decided that ray bicycling days were over and the Brough has gone on indefinite loan to “Tich” Allen, who is smaller than me, and can’t be much younger, and wheels a Brough about like a push-bike.

I should really like a vintage aircraft, but running an aeroplane is so expensive that I count myself very privileged to have been elected to the famous Tiger Club, where I can spend what little time I can devote to flying in a Tiger Moth, which has all the merits and characteristics of a very good vintage motor car (but of course, cars don’t handle so well in the inverted position).

Finally, my post-war racing, first in the Delage and throughout, of course, in the Itala.

I bought the Delage with a load of spares in 194o, and after the war Alan Southon put it together with great thoroughness and skill. He also fitted it with quickly detachable wings for road use, as I always drove it to meetings, more than once attaining over 130 m.p.h. (3,200 r.p.m.) between Oxford and Bicester, on the way from Hartley Whitney to Silverstone. As is well known, the Delage took the World speed record in 1923 at 143 m.p.h. I used the next lower axle ratio to the record gearing, giving 40 m.p.h. per 1,000 in top. It would not run happily below 1,200 r.p.m. so traffic driving was rather a problem and being single-handed, as generally was, one Could not afford to let the engine stop. The brakes (although of large diameter and I fitted Agin drums) were really terrible, and at Silverstone one had to start braking 400 yards before Woodcote. Having regard to this, a lap time of 1 min. 21 secs. shows what a tremendously fast car the Delage is. Cornering speeds were about the same as the Itala. In 1951. I won the vintage class of the Seaman ‘Trophy race, but at the vintage Meeting at Silverstone in July 1952, while changing into top after Becket’s, at 100 m.p.h., there was a sudden woof and we were very much on fire—subsequent investigation showed that one of the separate cylinders had broken loose and sheared the petrol supply pipe. The flames in the cockpit drove me very quickly to sit on the back of the car, so there we were, at 100 m.p.h., in neutral, with no means of stopping (the handbrake was useless anyway) and burning brightly. I contemplated putting the car into the outfield and rolling it, but from my remote position I had not the strength; also my bands were already in a bit of a mess. So I continued brooding on the matter and came to the conclusion that the best thing would be to drive head on into the Woodcote ditch which, I calculated, would stop the car and catapult me into cooler air, and so it turned out, and not a moment too soon, either. I was in hospital for two months and my hands have never really recovered from their roasting. Jack Williamson now has the Delage and if he ever finishes rebuilding it, I must say I have always longed to drive it up Shelsley (hint). Curiously enough, the car was not desperately damaged and the main problem is, as it was in my day, the almost-rusted-through cylinder walls, which are very thin turned steel barrels with welded-on water jackets.

The Delage is a really wonderful car and I hugely enjoyed my two seasons of racing with it. With improved braking it would still be a formidable contestant in the vintage field.

The Itala had already made its mark before the war and surely no racing car can ever have given more noble service over such a long life. It won its first award for me at the vintage Bramshill speed trials in July 1936. To pick out two outstanding pre-war performances, on April loth 1938 it was present at the opening of Prescott Hill. Craig made f.t.d. on a blown 4.9 Bugatti, Ronnie Symondson was second with his 57S Bugatti with 57.83 sec. and the Itala was third, with 59.03, ahead of some very formidable machinery and drivers—I simply can’t imagine why we were all so slow, as it was a fine day, unless it was that no-one had been up the hill before and there was no practice. Of all the people running on that historic day, hardly anyone is still competing and only Ronnie Symondson and I are still competing on the same cars (but Tom Rolt still has, And uses daily, the .same 12/50 Alvis). The Itala was awarded the prize for the “most meritorious performance.”

I entered for the May Shelsley meeting in 1938 and this was the first time the modern general public had seen a big Edwardian in action. It caused quite a stir and. I think, was the beginning of the public enthusiasm for such cars. I clocked 50.98 sec. which I have never been able to equal since the war. This shows what a bad thing it is to have a rev.-counter; before the war I just went on in a gear until it didn’t seem to get any faster. Now I treat 1,650 r.p.m. as the normal maximum.

In 1954 Bob Ewen, with whom I shared the car, most unhappily died, and his share was taken over by Jack Williamson and now that Jack seems to have given up racing himself (what a sight he and his Bentley used to be, thundering down to and round Woodcote at impossible speeds) I hope his son Johnty will take an increasing share in driving the Itala.

Subsequently, its performances are ton recent to need recording, but I had long had a firm conviction that, if everything was absolutely right, it should be possible to get up the old course at Prescott (which the V.S.C.C. continues to use at its meeting) in under 55 sec. This, however, I never succeeded in doing in over 10 years of concentrated effort, so that by 1962, with the combined age of car and driver already totalling 105, it began to look as though we never should. So when, on August 19th, at the vintage meeting, the course was perfect and the car on top of its form, I decided it was then if ever. Clutch in at 800 r.p.m., bash through to and just past the commentator’s hut, under the bridge and start braking just past the apple tree. ‘Toe and heel into bottom for orchard and to hell with the rev.-counter up to Pardon (nearly 2,000 r.p.m. but don’t tell Jack), check spin, back into and, pump up pressure; resist the temptation to brake until well past the half-way hut, and give a sharp twitch on the steering wheel to bring the back round and break away the front wheels. With luck this sets the car up to go through the eases in one continuous sweep without any embarrassing broadsides and corrections. Then up to the semi-circle, slow to 1,200 r.p.m. (30 m.p.h.; sure I could do this bit faster if I was braver) and 1,650 over the finish line, still in and. And it was 54.85 sec,, my ambition achieved and a new Edwardian record. It is extraordinary how slowly one goes at Prescott, as at no point is the Itala doing more than 45 m.p.h. I think the 10½-litre Fiat, or “Vieux Charles III” or a 1914 GP Mercedes could take this Edwardian record from us, and no doubt someone eventually will, but I think he will have to try fairly hard.

Postscript:

For the benefit of new readers of Motor Sport, the Itala was built for the 1908 Grand Prix, in which it finished 11th. It came to Brooklands in 1910 and had a best lap speed of 101.8 m.p.h. The present light touring body was fitted in 1911 and limits the maximum speed to 90 m.p.h. The engine has 4 cylinders, 155 x 160, giving a capacity of 12 litres. The pistons are cast iron; valves inlet over exhaust; low-tension magneto ignition. Top gear ratio is 1.65 to 1, giving a speed of 60 m.p.h. at 1,000 r.p.m.

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