Vintage Postbag, November 1965

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Kent Karslake Discusses the 1914 French G.P.
Sir,
The very kind references in your October issue to my book •• The French Grand Prix 1906-1914 ” tempt me, first, to show that I am still alive, and, secondly, to stick my neck out by entering into controversies which in recent years have been discussed by those wielding far more erudite pens than mine.

And first, may I put in a word for my publishers ? You say it is a pity that the publication of my book coincided with Motor Racing Publications’ cardboard-cover, spiral-binding era. Perhaps it was; but in 1949 it was a courageous gesture for a small firm with limited capital to attempt to publish any sort of motor-racing history, even in the most primitive format. It thus blazed a trail which has since been followed by more ” establishment ” publishers, but which, I think, they would hardly have dared embark upon then. Even Gerald Rose’s classic work, which you also refer to, was originally published, in 1909, in a limited edition by the R.A.C. The courage shown then by Motor Racing Publications was, I suggest, of the same order as that which attended birth of MOTOR SPORT (I should say The Brooklands Gazette) and which, if I may say so, Sir, inspired you to allow me, during the thirties, to write articles in your paper on matters of motor-racing history, at a period when, your newer readers must take it from Me, motor-racing history was not considered a proper study for enthusiasts.

None of this, so far as I know, is controversial. Where I should like to enter the lists is with regard to the fate of Georges Boillot’s Peugeot in the 1914 Grand Prix. When writing my book I decided, as stated in your article ” Race Reporting,” in favour of the version of the story according to which the Car was eliminated by back axle failure. In doing so, I relied entirely on contemporary reporting and admittedly, because of the almost immediately subsequent outbreak of war, considered contemporary accounts are meagre. But, having had some experience of the reliability of eye-witness accounts retailed after a longish period of years, I should have regarded any verbal evidence I might have been able to collect in 1949 with extreme caution.

I am, nevertheless, quite prepared to believe that contemporary accounts of the cause of the Peugeot’s failure were erroneous.. What, however, seems to me to be exceedingly curious is that, in recent years, a legend has grown up to the effect the attempt to ascribe the Peugeot’s demise to back axle failure represents a French plot to disguise the real cause of the debacle, which was the breakage of a valve; as if, in some way, a broken back axle represented an honourable, and a broken valve a disgraceful, end. In my view, exactly the opposite case can be argued with much greater validity, if indeed it can be held that either cause of failure is more ” honourable” than the other.

The whole history of the 1914 Grand Prix is, of course, charged with emotion. It was won by a German team on the very eve of a war between Germany and France in which Boillot, the French champion, was killed in aerial combat and thus denied for ever the chance of seeking his revenge. Moreover, at least with the benefit of hindsight, the tactics of the Mercedes team were held to smack more of war than of motor racing, from which the last element of sport seemed thereby to have been eliminated. But all these emotional reactions are irrelevant to the technical aspects of the race, and therefore irrelevant to the technical cause of the Peugeot’s failure. Technically; the race was between a car of obsolete design in the shape of the Mercedes, with a single overhead camshaft engine, such as had been used particularly by Italian designers for years, and rear-wheel brakes; and a car of up-to-date design in the shape of the Peugeot, with its twin over-head camshaft Henry engine and four-wheel brakes. Of these two features, the four-wheel brakes were, I submit, much the more important. In spite of attempts during recent years to denigrate Henry, even to the extent of miss-spelling his name, he was of course a precursor of the future as far at racing engines are concerned and, moreover, Peugeot had used his design for several years with so much success that their racing cars had proved practically unbeatable. If, therefore, Boillot’s car did ” break a valve in the twin-cam engine ” on this occasion, such a failure would have had little or no technical significance, since the viability of the twin-cam engine had been amply proved in previous races. The cars which used four-wheel brakes in the 1914 Grand Prix, on the other hand, were the first serious racing. cars which had ever done so. This was something really new, genuinely receiving its baptism of fire, and the novelty on which Boillot primarily relied in order to show that the German cars were outmoded. We know that in this respect he had at least to some extent over-called his hand; there is ample evidence. as you quote. Mr. Mathieson as saying, that towards the end of the race the Peugeot’s brakes were no better, if indeed as good, than those on Mercedes.

I was not aware of the further fact, which you say is recorded by Mr. Mathieson, that, by the time Boillot’s car failed, its steering column had broken away from its mounting. This breakage suggests chassis flexure, which may well have been due to forces set up by the front brakes. Chassis flexure, in turn, could obviously account for the failure of the back axle. I cannot, of course, for a moment say that this was so; but I do suggest that miscalculations with regard to the front brakes could more logically be blamed for the breakage of the back axle than for the breakage of a valve. If, therefore, as I submit, the main technical effort by Peugeot in 1914 was to demonstrate the virtue of front brakes, then the failure of a valve would, have been a more ” honourable,” that is to say a more irrelevant, end to the effort, than the failure of a back axle; and in consequence, while it is probably impossible, at this distance of time, to establish what actually did happen, I can see no reason to ascribe contemporary evidence that the back axle failed to a French plot designed to hide the ugly truth.
London, W.14. KENT KARSLAKE.

How the Wensum Got its Name
Sir,
Reading your very interesting article ” Cars in Books ” on pages 891 and 892 of October’s MOTOR SPORT, you ask if the River Wensum (where Boulton & Paul’s works are) has anything to do with 30/98 bodywork.

Looking in ” Vintage Cars,” by Barron and Tubbs (published by B. T. Batsford), it depicts a 1924 Vauxhall 30/98 Wensum, on page 46.

The text describes how during the 1920’s when ” boat-deck” bodies were in fashion. Vauxhall’s great Brooklands driver,. A. Hancock, kept a fast boat on the Wensum at Norwich. The Vauxhall 30/98 with mahogany decking was very handsome and was named after that river.

Thank you for an interesting, informative and Colourful magazine.
Norwich. Anthony Fothergill

That Mayback Mystery
Sir;
I read your ” Maybach Mystery” with great interest. You may have unwittingly hit on a solution.

Quote : “The mystery hinges on whether it was possible to get another valve in each cylinder of an AZ Maybach, or whether there was an interim 30-valve version. . . .”

In July I went on to Friedrichshafen with La Met. after the Munich Rally, mainly in search of a replacement copy of the Instruction Book photostat, inadvertently lost, given to me by Maybach in 1957. Herr Direktor Bothner told me that these engines were given type designations of the nearest and furthest letters of the alphabet, beginning with the AZ model.

I have seen pictures and diagrams of this and the CX (long-stroke) model, but should there not also have been a BY model ? Might that have been your ” interim 30-valve version ” ?
Norfolk. Douglas FitzPatrick.

Early Race Reports
Sir,
I have just finished reading my copy of MOTOR SPORT. I thought I might add to your discussion of the old racing reports. First, one thing I noticed was that. Mr. Mathieson’s lap times for 1906-7-8 agree exactly with those in Mr. Rose’s book—presumably from the same source.

Secondly, I attended the French G.P. this year, and stayed in Pontgibaud (as did your Continental Correspondent), Where there was a control in the 1905 Gordon Bennett. This place has certainly not changed a great deal, judging from buildings there and a photograph in Lord Montagu’s book. The bridge is more permanent now but the houses in the background are still there (a filling station has been built on the corner before the bridge, which is now even more acute).

I also drove round the majority of the circuit–the surface in places being about the same as in 1905! The only other place I have seen photos of is Rochefort, which also looks exactly the same although some of the retaining wall has disappeared!

Mr. Bradley, in his “Memories 1903-21,” gives the reason for Boillot’s retirement as collapsed rear axle—two of each opinion now! Also he mentions the oversize F,I.A.T. engines and explains why

Mr. Mathieson also describes an incident at Eu on the fourth lap in 1908 between Hemery and Pierron; there is a good photo of this on page 286 of Mr. Rose’s book.

I hope someone can sort out the muddle over Boillot’s retirement; its nearly as bad as the Classic example, quoted in Motor Sport of Lewis-Evans’ retirement in the 1957. Italian GP
Reigate. Simon Moore.

Ash for Cars
Sir,
For years I have been reading about the use of seasoned ash as the framing for coachbuilt cars. I do not recall that quality wooden furniture is necessarily made of ash, but the references to ash in cars always left me with the impression that of the woods that could be built into cars, ash was the best.

I was able recently to saw up and split for firewood a good-sized white ash tree that had fallen across a private right-of-,way, in the country. This was extremely easy to do. The ash was straightgrained, almost totally devoid of knots, and the shock of even a moderate axe blow caused splits to form. The ash was far easier to saw and split than a comparable trunk of pine that had seasoned longer. (I’ve never heard of even cheap car bodies being framed in pine!)

When I discovered that the natives of that part of the country who made a business of sawing and splitting wood for fires all regarded ash as the best firewood, a horrid suspicion stole over me. I suspect that all this admiration for ash is based solely on the ease with which it can be worked. If compressive strength, tensile strength, Young’s modulus, or resistance to dry rot or termites formed the main criteria, would other woods be selected over ash ?

I should certainly like to hear what you and your readers consider to be the best wood if ease of forming is not the prime concern. Apart from trim, did any of the major coachbuilders favour other woods ?

Torrance, California, W. J. FRANKS.
[For facias and interior fittings, walnut, sycamore, beechwood, mahogany or ash. For frames, including complete cyclecar chassis and strengthening inserts in racing-car frames, ash. For the frames of coachbuilt bodies, now alas almost extinct, we wonder if craftsmen from Mulliner/Hooper or similar companies will care to comment ?—Ed.]

Error
Sir,
I should like to point out an error which appears to have crept into your account of the Bentley D.C. at Silverstone (October issue).

In the second 5-lap Handicap it was in fact J. Nutter’s 6.5-litre which dead-heated with Padgett’s 6.5-litre for third place.

May I take this opportunity to put its a plea for requiring respectable size sidelamps at all times, in preference to the use of dipped headlamps in well-lit built-up areas.

Thank you for a worthwhile magazine.
Northwood Green. Tom Pasmore.

Morgan 3-Wheeler
Sir,
With reference to your article. ” The Vintage Years of the Morgan 3,wheeler,”—July issue. I would like to point out that the caption under the small photo of E. B. Ware’s 1922 SV,. Morgan-J.A.P., page 598, is in error.

The passenger/mechanic was my late father, A. H. Church, and not Mr. Allchin as printed.

Mr. Allchin, I agree, was with E. B. Ware when he crashed in the 1924 J.C.C. 200-Mile Race at Brooklands, my father being unable to race with E.B.W. on that occasion due to domestic circumstances.
Cheshunt. G. C. Church