Veteran Edwardian Vintage
A SECTION DEVOTED TO OLD-CAR MATTERS
The 1904 Napier L48
WE HAVE referred from time to time to the giant Napier “Samson” which Alan (“Bob”) Chamberlain has recreated in Australia, where it shares his fully-equipped workshops in Melbourne with his two 1910 Prince Henry Benz racing-cars, a 1913 Buckingham cyclecar to remind him of his youth — he is now 74 — a 1914 Cadillac, and a supercharged opposed-piston space-frame racing car he designed and built with his brother in the 1930s. Alan Chamberlain made his name of course as designer of the Chamberlain Champion tractor, two of which competed in the Redex and Mobilgas Round-Australia Trials in the l950s, covering more than 30,000 miles during the three events.
The big Napier is likely to set a problem, perhaps a precedent, if it comes to England, as although some of the engine of “Samson” is original, and the rebuild of it no greater than happens to other historic power-units in the course of time, the rest of the great car has been built within the last four years, as the original chassis had entirely vanished. So can it legitimately be run in VCC, VSCC and other historic-car events, Or isis tO0 MIICh of a replica OT re-creation for this to be permitted? The crux of the matter is, perhaps, that this is not a case of using an original, if resuscitated, engine in another chassis, but of re-making, from the original thawings, a new one which to all intents and purposes, save for very minor safety factors, is the same as in 1904, and we can think of others running in VSCC and Historic events where this applies.
Whatever the outcome, even to see the meticulously re-created Napier L48 demonstrated here will be very satisfactory and exciting. Bob Chamberlain hopes to have it here next June or July. He had wanted to use it in the VCC Veteran Car Brighton Run, but having had it explained to him that this is a road event not entirely suitable for such a car, he began to think in terms of VSCC and other speed-events. The Napier would be fine at Shelsley Walsh, and, if it is here long enough, the Brighton Speed Trials.
The engine of L48 was run teethe first time in 67 years last August, as reported in MOTOR SPORT, and “Samson” was driven for the first time since the reconstruction four weeks later on the Sandown track, prior to the Castro! 400 Meeting, where it was to be demonstrated over the 3.1 km. circuit. Briefly, the career of the Napier L48 is as follows. Intended for the Gordon Bennett race, it was used successfully for sprint competitions in 1904. In 1905 Earp won his class with it at the Brighton Speed Trials, setting a new British one-kilometre record of 971/4 m.p.h. It gained
many other successes, including doing 105.34 m.p.h. over the mile, but at Daytona in 1906 Earp was vanquished by the 200 h.p. veceight-cylinder Darracq and a Stanley steamer. At Brooklands in 1907, when the Biblical nickname was bestowed on L48, it lost its famous Match Race against Felice N3/2411.0.5 Fiat “Mephistopheles” after lapping at 113 m.p.h., but set a 90 h.p. Class half-mile record of no less than 119.34 m.p.h. driven by Newton, the engine size having been enlarged to over 20 litres. The old car, the design of which dates back to February 1903, was retired in 1908. The engine was later sold to the Cornwall brothers in Australia, who used it in their speed-boat “Nautilus”, which achieved Championship status at Victoria in 1912 and 1913. It gained further victories in 1914 at Sydney and in 1915 at Melbourne, after which the boat’s owners left for the European war. Bob Chamberlain acquired the old six-cylinder engine, now in poor condition, from the Cornwall family, and also the boat, which he gave to the National Trust in Australia, where it is being restored.
We hope to see the re-born Napier here next year, after which, on its way back to Australia, it may be taken to America. Meanwhile, I append the owner’s impressions after his first drive in the car. — W.B. “Samson II” is a true replica of the car in its form as raced on Brooklands track in early 1908 and using the original 61/4″ x 5″ engine. We got enough original drawings from various places, including the South Kensington Science Museum, and as well were able to get good photographs of the original parts with all important dimensions. Every part had to be made new as the original car was a “one off” built down to the old weight limit of 1,000 kg. and did not incorporate any standard pans. We had rode as Napier did with the original built in 1903-04 using
castings made with the aid of special pattterns and machining many parts from hand forgings. It runs very well and has tremendous torque. I pulled the valves out of the rear tubes on the second trial me because the wheels rotated in the 880 120 beaded-edge tyres, even though they were inflated to 62 psi. We are not using security bolts but will fit one of our other sets of wheels with straight-sided tyres for high speed running. Steering is quite neutral with no feed-back at all to the steering-wheel but it is heavy and the car has to be steered into and out of the corners — typical of the very early cars. However, it runs straight with no tendency to wander and feels safe. It must have been a handful for Frank Newton on Brooklands. The clutch engages smoothly, but firmly — much better than expected — but the gear-change is not easy even though I’ve had lots of experience driving cars of early types. — Bob Chamberlain
ONCE upon a time, many years ago, Rodney Walkerley, who was to become the well-known Sports Editor of The Motor, slaved for us. One of his first jobs was road-testing motorcycles, which were meant to be sporting machines. Oct all toe often he seems to have been landed with dull little jobs, all powered with the magneto-flywheel. two-stroke 172 c.c. Villiers engine. It occurred to we that there must have been some differences between these low-cost vintage motorcycles and that it might be fun to look into it.
Notto put too fine a point on it, it wasn’t Rodney, but the presiding Editor himself, L. A. Hutchings, who rode out on the first of these little tiddlers, in 1927. It was a 1920 Model-9 Francis-Barnett, the ,so-called Super-SPV: Model. It cost then a mere £38 10, (C39.5M’ proclaimed it top of its price-clam, but worth £50.
It is a reflection on how road-tests were conducted in those days, that the F-B arrived by train at Euston Station, and had to be unwrapped and its control-levers swivelled round on the ‘bars before it could be ridden away. That showed the tool-kit in a box beneath the tank to be simple but adequate but the tool-roll difficult to extract. The tank was supposed to have been drained before the rail journey but there was enough petrol to get to a garage. Hutchings was wearing clean flannel trousers (“Oxford bags”, I bet) but the excellent leg-shields (detachable in three minutes) persuaded him they would remain clean. But in the photographs hr has changed irito plus-fours. . . .
The curse of the two-stroke soon intruded. Twice during the early days of the test the engine seized-up and although it immediately became quite free, it wouldn’t restart. Not, that is, until it had been dismantled. Its pistol-rings had fused over on the induction side. However, half-an-hour’s toil had the thing back together with new rings. It appears that the Villiers needed running-in, as after a spell with “Mixtrol” in the fuel to supplement the normal lubricant and less use of wide throttle openings, no fresh seizures occurred. We really flogged test machines in those days. L.A.H. did several laps of Brooklands flat-out on the F-B, with lamps, legshields and his 11 stones in place, at over 50 m.p.h., endorsing the maker’s claim of 55 r.p.m. He then had a go at a grass-track meeting, doing 22 miles flat-out in the bottom and second gears, winning the 250 c.c. class and coming in founh out of 14 starters in the up-to-500 c.c. nine-mile “Grand Prix”.
This little motorcycle was equpped with rear belt-rim brakes but they were smooth and powerful and the balloon tyres aided adhesion; the Bowden-wire hand-brake was easy to adjust but the crude arrangements for the foot-brake were obstructed by the frame and flywheelmagneto. The nice action of the Villiers. levers for the variable-jet carburetter, the riding position, the good steering, with or without the damper, and the strong triangulated frame were highly Praised, but the sparking-plug was inaccessible. I Said we tested hard, in those days. This is confirmed by the F-B being run into from behind by a car, used for “long jumps’. and crashed on a grass-track, the rider breaking his collar-beer) Presumably what was left was returned to Coventry by train. . Rodney W. got his turn later in 1927, on a Model-A 172 c.c. Baker, using the same kind of engine. He had been against two-strokes until convinced of what a fine job Villiers had made of theirs. The Super-Opens engine powered the Baker, which R. S. Inglis, the London agent, handed over for appraisal. Leaving London in the dusk, Walken, was impressed with the very easY-to-change three-speed Albion gearbox (bottom gear, 19 to 1) and the illumination Provided by the flywheel lighting, which was adequate for 40 m.p.h. and extraordinarily brilliant when running in the lower gears. The quiet purr of the engine atoll to 40 m.p.h., the comfort of the large saddle and 25″ x 3” tyres, and the handiness of the machine with its stiff bolted-up duplex frame, were all highly praised. Over a trials course where R.L.W. tried out all dte test bikes, the Baker was defeated only three times by gravity on the “Colonial” part and its rider was able to stand over it, not sit down with it, every time. The course was ridden in 20 min. kss than on a racing 500 in the dry, at an average of 24 m.p.h. for the 30 miles, and the engine never stopped throughout. Speed was like that of the P-B but oddly fuel consumption wasn’t
tested, the maker’s claim of 150 m.p.g. being accepted. The brakes were up to their work, but the fuel-tank oil sight-feed was difficult to see. The Baker was available in either light buff or black cellulose enamel and sold in 1928 for £37. Before the year was out, Rodney found himself testing a de luxe Model D25 Coventry-Eagle, its 172 c.c. Villiers engine within a novel pressed-steel frame. It was otherwise very much the pudding as before, except for 26″ x 2./2″ tyres on 26″ wheels. He asses another Terry saddle and used an Albion gearbox with ratios of 6, 11, and 19 to 1. This, like the F-B, had been sent down by train but it started at once and the 6′ 3″ rider found it comfortable in spite of fixed foot-rests. The gear lever had long movements but could be persuaded to move, as on the F-B, by foot, from top to middle gear, although intended to be a hand lever. The C-E cruised at 35 m.p.h. but was deemed too low geared for sporting occasions and its foot-rests were too low-set but it steered nicely, hands-off if desired. The new Villiers pressure lubrication obviated seizures or pre-ignition from a soiled plug. The thing could probably do over 50 m.p.h. for short periods, said R.L.W., but a tinkling in the cylinder made him ease back to 35 to 40 m.p.h.
There was the advantage of front and rear brakes. internal-expanding in 6″ drums, but the foot-rests turned round and round in the frame and made the foot-brake inoperative on the trials course. As on the F-B, the tool-kit was inaccessible. Again, no m.p.g. check was made, “you just pour in a half-gallon every fortnight or so” but it seemed to hoover 100 m.p.g. The price, with electric lighting, in 1928 was £37 10/(07.50).
We tested one more 172 c.c. machine, the improved-appearance Francis-Barnett, which someone got astride late in 1929. The new parallel-action or conventional front fork was superior to the old rocking-action fork, top speed was up to about 55 m.p.h., the new fork had improved the mad-holding, the gear lever was now on the tank, not on the box, and the new brakes were powerful but not fierce. Testers in those days did not write much; the only criticisms concerned a difficult light-switch, a non-standard headlamp bulb, and a foot-brake which needed bending outwards. The 1929 price was £36. Having made you maybe a tiny his nostalgic if only over the low prices of these Villiers-engined bicycles, I must say I have always found the little machines fascinating. At Brooklands a the vintage years we went to BMCRC Meetings tube thrilled by the big vec-twins, the Broughs, Coventry-Eagles and the Zeniths, etc., but I could not help taking an interest in seeing how the little fellows fared. Around 1930/31 I recall Jimmy Grose (his brother Gus was a gold-star holder) taking his 175 c.c. Excelsior-Villiers to the Track, on race and practice days, in the dearly Chevrolet van used by Grose & Sons of Euston Road, its aged drivers not at all pleased to be taken off the routine of parcels-delivery in the London area. And I remember how, WO frequently afterwards, there would be interviews with a Villiers’ rep., Jimmy holding out for his inspection a piston with the deflector-crown eaten away — the compression-ratio used, in spite of dope fuel, having been too much for it. . .
Insignificant that machine may have been. But, with its lack of mudguards, pad over the rear wheel, high-set foot-rests, its Brooklands exhaust system, and the smell of special fuel and oil that it exuded, it was, to me, the very essence of what the Weybridge Motor Course was all about.
W . B.
Shame On You, British Telecom!
LAST Autumn a one-nme Welsh Spa re-opened its medicinal baths and to publicise the occasion a Victorian Week was held in this County Town. It had been hoped to include veteran cars and steam traction-engines among the various attractions and parades. But for various reasons, such as she lateness in the year, the need to tax and insure such vehicles for a one-day, brief parade, as this was on a public road, the lack of any financial inducement, and the clash with other fixtures, etc. these were thin on the ground, although a 1901 Progress Voiturette was used to open the show, and a non-runner, unrestored 1911 BSA tourer was exhibited by one garage, this having once been the town’s taxi. Unfortunately, the enormous and historic gas-engine that used to pump water to the baths was removed from the town to a museum some time ago—it would have been a welcome attraction on this occasion.
This seems little excuse for a vehicle we spotted outside the main Post Office. Admittedly it was labelled a replica of a 1910 Post Office van (but the local papers naturally ignored that) and it did add a bit of gaiety to the scene. But later, when this bogus Dennis, with its front-wheel-brakes and modernIsize tyres, was seen being driven along a busy main road through the town preceded by a man dressed as a Victorian postman, blowing a railway whistle and waving a red-flag we felt sickened.
A great many photographs were being taken of it by visitors to the town and these will perpetrate a gross distortion of history, because front-wheel-brakes did not come into general use until 1924 and not on commercial vehicles until into the 1930s, while the Red Flag Act had been repealed before 1895.
Surely British Telecom, with the vast profits it has been making, could have done better than that? Is it too much to hope that Busby will now ring up the Promotion Department and tell the ill-informed bright-boys who run it that early Post Office vehicles are well documented and that with plenty of our money at their disposal they should be able to come up with a decently restored, authentic pre-1914 vehicle, which should not be preceded by a whistling postman craned duster, even if it has only the (again authentic) rear-wheel-brakes, when used to promote Telecom interests. — W.B.
WEN Miscellany. — Another Club that is going remarkably strong is the Ford Sidevalve DC, which has 1,600 members. Its current magazine contains a great deal of information on these cars and many pictures of those at this year’s Stanford Hall Rally but also news from Sweden and Canada, etc., an article on present-day Ford trials specials, etc. It has allocated reference letters for all the types it caters for and this has used up all but one of the letters of the alphabet) As readable as ever, the Morris Register’s journal for the autumn contains as the leading piece an article on alternative fuels in war-time, she gas-bagged and gas-producer supplied vehicles starting with a 1916 Morris-Cowley but including a 1924 Maxwell with 1930 Plymouth touring body. A Vale Special, Reg. No. JN 3698, in good external condition for its age, was bought recently in Michigan by someone in Alpine, NJ, who wrote to the maker’s for a catalogue (which he still has) in the early 1930s after reading the MOTOR SPORT road-test at the time. Information about
the car is requested. W.B.
Club News, May 1945
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