a chat with e.w. hancock



A CHAT WITH E. W. (BILL) HANCOCK — About the origin of the 30/98 designation, the Vauxhall “Griffin,” etc.

I AM “F EMPTED to call these notes “Hall-I lour with Hancock” but Mr. E. W. Hancock, OBE, CEng. FIMcch.E, Hon. FlProd.E, generously gave tee far more time than that when I called on him to talk about the Vauxhall in particular and the Motor Industry of the old days in general. Bill Hancock has seen it all. He was sent to serve a four-year apprenticeship with the Vauxhall and West Hydraulic Engineering Company at Luton at a time when it occupied considerable premises there, with the Vauxhall Motor Co., in what looked like a shed further down the valley, although both works were in Kempton Road. For his last year of his apprenticeship it was decided to put Mr. Hancock into the drawing office but as none existed at West Hydraulic’s he was sent to that at Vauxhall’s, under the great Laurence Pomeroy, where his brilliant brother, A. J. Hancock was later Works Manager.

Ernest Hancock rose to be planning Department manager of the Vauxhall Company. and recalled the great amount of racing and record-breaking his brother did at Brooklands in Vauxhall cars. Before the First World War much of the engineering in the Industry as a whole was done “by guess and by God,” involving hand fitting parts before accurate measurement allowed inter-changeability. Laurence Pomeroy was a great mathematician, said Mr. Hancock, and very ingenious but whilst he was an excellent engine-designer, many of the early Vauxhall chassis were the result of trial and error. But Vauxhall’s prospered, under such personnel as the Chief Engineer, L. H. Pomeroy, A. J. Hancock the Works Manager, who also drove the racing cars, Alf Rositter the chief draughtsman, Joe Martinet who designed the jigs and tools, Harry Varley (who is still alive) the leading draughtsman, J. Hobblyn the metallurgist, Tommy Holton the Buyer, Ernie Swain, Foreman of the Running-shed, Bertic Gibbs the Toolroom foreman, Reg Pearson (now Sir Reginald) who was Superintendent of the machine-shop. Of his fellow apprentices, Bill Hancock remembers Don Burgess who later joined the Army and G. F. (John) Tipler who joined the Navy, he himself going into the RNAS. All three Vauxhall apprentices joined up again after the war, and Tipler rose to Assistant Buyer after the General Motors’ take-over, Burgess became Works Manager at Commer Cars, at Luton. Thinking back to those days, Bill Hancock recalls the day he was caught by Laurence Pomeroy playing “the banjo” on his T-square in the old Vauxhall drawing-office in 1913. . . .

Bill Hancock spoke first of the 30/98, and explained something which has been troubling so many of us. namely how this great sporting motor-car got those numbers. Various theories have been put forward, such as the “98” was the developed horse-power, while Laurence Pomeroy, Jnr., used to tell us that it was all a joke on his famous father’s part, when he introduced it to poke fun at Mercedes, who had a 38,90 h.p. model at the time. Mr. Hancock told me that there is no mystery: the “98” derives from the bore of the engine, namely 98 met. It is well-known that when Mr. Higginson wanted a faster car than his old Iii Buie: with which to compete at Shelsley Walsh he approached Mr. Pomeroy for a Li kir, k and effective solution. The 25 h.p. Vauxhall was then

Pomeroy. It would seem more logical to have used the RAC-rated h.p. which was 25 for the first figure, but it has to he remembered that this rating had only come into taxation useage in 1911 and previously only the bore had been taken into account, making the 95 rem-bore D-Type a 25 h.p. engine and the 98 mm-bore E-Type a 30 h.p. rated engine. Incidentally, this boring-out process reclaimed the expensive cylinder blocks aforesaid, that would otherwise have been scrap. Another theory is that the “30” related to the developed horsepower of the E-Type side-valve Vauxhall 98-bore engine at 1,000 r.p.m. After all, the D-Type 25 h.p., 4-litre. Vauxhall engine gave 50 b.h.p. at 2,000 r.p.m., which seems to more or less tie-in. Isn’t it more likely that as the prototype car was built for Shelsley Walsh Pomeroy used the Midland AC’s Formula rating of the time, which for his engine was 29.6. Incidentally, although present-day 3098 followers would dispute that the OE engine is less powerful than the production E-Type, when Humphrey Cook had a 30/98, for which Mr. Bill

at the height of its fame. It had a bore of 95 nun. in a cylinder block of some complexity, entice one with the cylinder head, which caused casting problems, no that many porous bores in the cylinder of the casting occurred, and the blocks had to he scrapped and were lying about the works. Pomeroy was thus able to experiment to see how much of the 25 h.p cylinder block could be bored-out. Three millimeters was found to be the limit. He used a 25 h.p. Vauxhall engine bored out by that amount io 98 mm. in a Prince Henry chassis. The stroke was also increased, from 140 mm. to 150 mm., not as is generally supposed by drop-hammering a 15 h.p. crankshaft, but by making a new one with the necessary longer crank-throws. With aluminium instead of cast-iron pistons, there was Higginson’s 30/98, which immediately broke the Shelsley Walsh record, lowering it to 55,2 sec. in 1913. I know that this does not explain the “30” pan of the designation of the new Vauxhall, which was to be put into production and achieve such great fame for the Lutonian Company and Mr.

Hancock designed two bodies, one for roadwork, the other for racing. both quickly inter changeable, he also wanted an OE engine but soon found that his early original-type E-Tvpe engine gave greater speed. On the subject of Vauxhall bodywork, the beautiful dourless Wensum boathody followed closely the shape of A. J. Hancock’s yacht, of the same name, the leading makes of car at Brooklands before the We spoke of the rivalry at Brooklands between especially its stern section, “The Wensum” sailed on the River Crouch; these bodies we’re

made in Vauxhall’s own body-building shop. war, such as the races and record-breaking attempts which Vauxhall, Sunbeam and Star engaged in. This reminded Mr. Hancock of a ditty of the time:— “Twinkle, twinkle, little Star, How we wonder where you are, Far behind the Vauxhall car”! At Vauxhall’s Mr. Kidner was keen on racing and A. J. Hancock was one of his leading drivers. “A. J.” was extremely methodical in everything he did as an apprentice, from he would don them next morning, to working on folding his clothes at night in the order in which the awe and driving them. He took part in many twig-distance record bids, and drove the Vauxhall which was the first car of 20 h.p. rating to *daily exceed 100 m.p.h., which it did Sr Brooklands at the third attempt, after they had decided on the drastic expedient of draining the all from the engine, back-axle and gearbox, to reduce drag to a minimum. He was in the Vauxhall that crashed during 1914 I.o.M. Tr. When /vir. Pomeroy left for America, obsessed With making a success of an all-aluminium car, Working at Pierce-Arrow’s, the quiet C. E. King 1.4 called in to replace him, and give the E-type 30i98 Vauxhall and the 25 h.p. Vauxhall Push-rod-operated overhead valves. He was keen Painting and hung some abstract work in his I…, recall, Mr. Hancock. After the war Pomeroy returned “full of aluminium” hut never got his alloy-block sleeve valve engine to work ,,, w9 II, when he was Chief Engineer of the Daiml er `4.htP4ny. It either seized up when it was cold or used too much oil when-it was hot, throwing out enormous clouds of smoke. Mr. Hancock was very much in on this, as he had gone to -my Daimler” as Works Manager, under the exa.11ent “boss” Percy Martin, who gave him complete

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control of the works. So there he met Pomeroy, again they arranged adjacent offices. with a communicating door and were careful to put their respective secretaries at opposite ends of these offices, so that they could conspire and sometimes row, in secret! Fred Lanchester, who was a Consultant to Daimlers. was a true engineer, greatly respected. Mr. Hancock recalls how he knew that engines counted very much for chassis stiffness and therefore acceptable handling, in the days prior to ribber engine secants. When these wire introduced for the new I.anchester Eighteen he had 2″ wood laths, five feet apart, laid on a road t in the Radford factory, to show the awful things would happen to the steering and the entire front-end, when the car was driven over them at 30 m.p.h Mir. Hancock had the sad duty of closing clown the Lanchester Company, after Daimler-BSA had absorbed it, the purpose being to introduce a poppet-valve engine to C. H. Pomeroy’s design, the former Daimler’s. since 1909, have had sleeve-valves. When reverting to the old Vauxhall days, Mr. Hancock agreed about the poor front wheel brakes on 30/98s. in fact he said “They didn’t have any brakes.” Near to the time of the General Motors’ take-over Harry Ricardo. who had been responsible, with King. for the complex 1922 3-thre TT Vauxhalls, worked on the sleeve-valve 25,70 h.p. Vauxhall, “but it was no good anyway.” In 1926, before the

take-over. Percy Kidncr was Managing Director. Beecher looked after Vauxhall sales, Leslie Walton was Chairman and Managing Director, and J. Hobblyn was the metallurgy expert. Harry

Varley had left to join W. 0. Bentley in 1919 in producing the new 3-litre. “taking many 3098 secrets with him, we always thought.” It was Varley, Mr. Hancock told me, who was responsible for the now well-known Vauxhall Griffin insignia, when he won the prize put up by L. H. Pomeroy in 1915/16 for a new badge to replace the former circular blue and white Vauxhall badge, contrary to some complicated journalistic stories that this Griffin donors from the heraldic crest of Folk le Breant of Vauxhall Gardens.

While at Vauxhall’s Bill Hancock had done all the planning for the original Wilson pre-selector gearbox they were intending to use. Sc when, at Daimler’s he was introduced to Mr. Wilson this gentleman was delighted to know that Hancock was already familiar with this gearbox. Its defect was that the bottom-gear band was used as the clutch as the clutch made the gearbox too heavy and uncommercial. This is where Percy Martin and Pomeroy were so clever, with their placing ad” a sinclair-coupling, or fluid-flywheel, between the Wilson gearbox and the engine Percy Martin took out a Master-Patent Mr any fluid-flywheel coupled to any pre-selector gearbox, hence Daimler’s control of this type of transmission. The first car Vauxhall made for GM with American approval was the R-type 20/60 of 20 RAC h.p., with its 60 whore six-cylinder engine, but it was too heavy, too expensive and lacked both performance and “character” in Mr. Hancock’s view. It took a Chevrolet-type engine to set it up, which led on to Bedford commercial vehicles. In 1926 Mr. Hancock went to the USA to look at production mthods. He discovered that General Motors gauged factories on the basis of output per square-foot of floor area per month, using this yardstick for all their works, even in Warsaw. By this measurement of efficiency their Chevrolet works at Tar,town came out top and all GM factories were based on this. As a Production consultant to Alfa Romeo (after his rethement from Routes) Bill Hancock was able to use the General Motors method of measurement of good standards and he applied this to their new factory north of Milan where they planned to produce in high volume production, and he saved them considerable expense saving large areas of new building space and the consequent saving of cost and time. It was he who in 1926 had the task of buying machine-tools in America, Germany and England for the setting up of the plant installed at Luton for making the new 20/60 h.p. Vauxhall. He found American salesmen by far the best to deal with, because they understood their products. The new Vawchall venture was mu a success, but was saved by Sir Charles Bartlett, who was able to wear an EnglishiAmerican “hat” as expedient and who came from Hendon to ably

re-organise Luton, ably assisted by Reg Pearson (later Sir Reginald) who was Works Director and who master-minded a successful Industrial-relation procedure which kept the “workers” happy and at work. Bill Hancock was made Assistant Production Manager for GM Europe but found he was really a detective checlthlg other branches’ methods, so he resigned and was appointed Works Manager of Dannler in 1928. After leaving Daimler he went to Humber as Works Manager leaving them to take up the post cif Works General Manager at Rube, Owen at their main works at Darlaston, then being invited back to Humber by the Rooms brothers to take the post of Director and General Manager (Mrs. Hancock still runs an Imp He retired at 65, but continued to work as a private engineering consultant until five years ago. Mr. Htmcock is now 85 and amuses himself by snit doing consulting work and writing letters to the Press, like the one we published in the July MOTOR SPORT about the Lanchester harmonic crankshaft balancer. It is good to know that he has written his memories for posthumous publication and that he has compiled a life-story .of his brother, A. J., who disliked illness and hospitah being somewhat of a spartan in his outlook on life. He was a victim of illness, however, in the end, dying aged 54, of a brain infection resulting from an old motor-mcing injury’. — W.B.