RACING CARS YOU COULD BUY
The Editor Recalls Some Ready-to-Race Makes of the Vintage Years
IN THE vintage years there were some pleasing racing cars you could actually buy from the more enlightened manufacturers, as distinct from having to build your own. These cars were far removed from mere sports-models, whether in exciting forms like 30/98s, Bentleys and Hispano-Suizas or the sporting “grey-porridge” consisting of standard chassis turned, in their makers’ opinion, into sports cars merely by giving them a pointed tail and garish paintwork — a subject for a future outpouring, perhaps. Meanwhile, let us let down our back hair and think in terms of racing cars you could bay—as you still can in fact, with the difference that you scarcely use the modern ones on the road, after the addition of sketchy road-equipment (strip mudguards, bulb horn, luggage-grid above the GP tail and maybe a couple of bicycle lam, tied on somewhere), as you could, and they did, with a Type 35B or Type 51 Bugatti.
Indeed, one thinks first of Bugatti in this “catalogued-racers” context. From early post-war times Ettore not only raced the motor cars he built at Molsheim but sold racing Bugattis to his more adventurous and sporting customers. Although there were plenty of so-called “touring” Brescia models in the Bugatti catalogue of 1923/4 that B. S. Marshall Ltd., himself a racing driver, distributed to his customers, including a £600 two-door, four-seater saloon (they called it a coupe, to be “painted to purchaser’s specification or delivered in burnished aluminium”, surely a bird-catcher if ever there was one?); listed also was the Standard Sports Model Brescia, illustrated in racing trim, except foes bulb-horn attached to the external brake-lever. The passenger or riding mechanic had to swivel round to operate the tyre-pump placed behind the driver’s unupholstered bucket-seat, in order to maintain pressure in the 7-gallon bolster fuel-tank. This delectable pure racer, it was explained, differed from the standard Brescia chassis only in respect of a ball-bearing crankshaft, slightly larger valves (there were 16 of them, remember, beneath that overhead camshaft and the “banana” tappets), a one-millimetre increase in the cylinder been (69 x 100 nun. 1,496 c.c.), enlarged Bugatti shock-absorbers, improved steering, a special cast-aluminium instrument board and grease-gun chassis lubrication (the twin magnetos were only mentioned elsewhere, as an afterthought). The prim was originally £525 in chassis form but B. S. Marshall was selling them for £385 by 1924. Ettore pointed out to prospective buyers that as this Brenda ModOi differed so little from the touring cars he made, every competition success “is a standard car success, without doubt or equivocation”. He (or Marshall) went on to say that “it was by no means unknown for a well-tuned and well-driven touring model chassis to excel, in a given competition, the performance of a less ably-prepared or less luckily-driven
sports model, as has several times happened in British club-competitions during the past season.” Having uttered which (and I like the acknowledgement to Lady-Luck), over 400 fuses, seconds and thirds were claimed for the 1922/3 seasons and the little catalogue was liberally illustrated with pictures of Raymond Mays, “the Amateur Owner-driver”, making f.t.d. and the hill-record at Shelsley Walsh (of course, they couldn’t spell “Shelsley” correctly), a Bugatti in the wet IoM TI’, in which they finished third, fourth and sixth in the 11/2-litre class, the only intact voiturette-seam to finish the course, another photographed during the 1922 JCC 200 Mile Race, in which these cars came in fifth and sixth out of the eight finishers of the 17 starters, it was emphasised, and Cushman finished second to the victorious Alvis in the 1923 “200”, at over 91 m.p.h. At this time the first announcement about the exciting eight-cylinder Bugattis was included in the Brescia catalogue, the 2-litre to be made in three lengths of wheelbase. Within the next few years the exciting, ready-to-race Grand Prix Bugattis, not only the Types 35 and 35B but the 1½-litre Type 37 and its supercharged brother the 37A, etc., were well established throughout Europe and in Great Britain. It was hardly surprising that English enthusiasts welcomed these par-tang racing cars. They were well suited to handicap racing at Brooklands and although, as B. G. M. Le Champion had pointed out, it was possible by 1924 to buy afro-war Grand Prix car for around £180 and race it at the Track for an all-in cost of about £4.00 a week, some people set their sights rather higher. In this context, it is interesting that up to the summer of 1930 far more Bugattis had been timed by A. V. Ebblewhite to have lapped Brooklands during a race at 100 m.p.h. or over (37 in fact) than any other make. The avid acceptance of the Bugatti in this country led to Ettore Bugatti Automobiles Ltd. opening showrooms in Albemarle Street, off Piccadilly, in London’s fashionable West End, while retaining their Service Depot at 1-3, Bretton Road, among the Unic and other taxicabs and Marendaz Specials, and to the Bugatti DC Ming formed. In connection with this, there is a nice tale of how, when an affluent lady came to Brixton to see Col. Sorel, who managed Ettore’s affairs in this country, about buying a new car (maybe the exchange-rate was favourable) he put her into his
5-litre Bugatti for the journey to the showrooms to inspect alternative body styles, first telling his chauffeur to be sure to lose the lady’s Roll-Royce Phantom, likewise chauffeur-driven, on the way. In 1927, when Bugatti’s West End premises were opened, the Grand Prix Type 37 sold here for £550, the Type 35A for £675, and the Type 35 GP model for £1,100, ready to race. Amusingly, the Type 37 came with a dynamo and two small headlamps, its only concession to legality on the highway. To buy these you went to Sussex Place, 910 Hyde Park, to negotiate with Malcolm Campbell (London) Ltd. The maximum speeds were quoted as 95 m.p.h. 105 m.p.h. and 118
respectively. The lovely noises and engineering were a bonus. . . However, enough should be known about these delectable Bugattis by MOTOR SPORT’s readers for me to tom now to other catalogued racing cars. These Bugattis, being intended for road-racing, were two-seaters, but in 1924 AC Cars Ltd., of Thames Dittos, advertised that they could supply a single-seater 11/2-litre racing car for £1,000. It was a replica of the AC with its light-alloy,
wet-liner, overhead-camshaft four-cylinder engine with which J. A. Joyce had set up some of the top light-car records at Brooklands some years before, and had also performed so well in speed-trials and speed hill-climbs. It came with the same unconventional back-axle-cum-gearbox with the exposed driveshafts and was certainly a racing car pure and simple. I do not think many people bought them, because by then the 2-litre six-cylinder AC was beginning to overshadow the smaller car. The actual Joyce AC is owned today by Robbie Hewitt but I do not know how many times she has driven it. Another example of a racer you could buy, given the lolly, though this one was comparatively
inexpensive, was the E. C. Gordon England “Brooklands Super Sports” model. It was a streamlined two-seater guaranteed to do 75 m.p.h., with a tuned engine and properly faired-io front axle and other protuberances. Although it was often seen with road equipment, with which indeed it it was supplied, for the price of £265 at a time when an Austin 7 Chummy Tourer cost £149, it was intended to be used as a stripped racing-car. You will remember that the Junior Car Club was so impressed by the manner in which Gordon England’s own Austin Seven had finished second to a 1,100 c.c. twin-cam Salmson in their Brooklands 200 Mile Race in 1923 that they included a 750 c.c. class in subsequent races in the series.
Most of the entries were these “as-you-couldbuy” Gordon England “Brooklands” models with their nvo staggered seats, though they were sometimes disguised to some extent with their owners’ ideas of radiator cowls and other alterations to the outward appearance. It is to the great credit of these catalogued racing Austin Sevens that when the Brooklands authorities held a special 81/2-mile outer-circuit scratch race for them in 1925, running as they were intended to, devoid of road-clobber, all but one of those competing exceeded 75 m.p.h. on its best flying-lap, the fastest doing 76.97 m.p.h. Which wasn’t bad for a 7471/2 c.c. car you could purchase so cheaply.
When J. P. Dingle, a director of Maintenance Ltd. of Hammersmith (a firm that claimed to make these Austin 7s go even quicker than Gordon England himself, if such were possible), ran a “Brooklands” Super Sports model in the Surbiton MC’s fuel-economy race at the Track in 1927, he was obliged to retain its long aluminium mudguards and even a furled hood. That did not prevent the little car from winning at 52.11 m.p.h. for the 150 miles of the artificial road course, and returning 37 m.p.g. under these strenuous conditions.
They were popular all over the World, one winning a race in Singapore, another in Bavaria, while Harry Ferguson used one to open a speed-trial course in Belfast. Few if any original ones have survived, alas. A comprehensive accotmt of these G.E. Super Sports or “Brooklands” Austin 7s will be found in the issue of October 1968.
Parallel with Gordon England’s engaging little racing Austin was the rather later to emerge low-built “Brooklands” or Super-Sports model Riley Nine, although this had perhaps a greater bias towards road and sports car racing usage. I covered that version of the popular Riley 9 pretty fully in MOTOR SPORT for March 1978.
I believe that the first FWD Alvin was intended to sell as a racing car for £1,000 but I doubt if it graced any of the Coventry company’s literature. In France you were more likely to find racing cars you could buy “off the shelf”. For instance, the D’Yrsan three-wheeler was offered with a shell racing body for £165 in 1924 from agents at Knightsbridge, said to give 70 m.p.h. and 50 m.p.g., and there was a streamlined Special Racing model, claimed to do 85 m.p.h., for which a price was quoted on application. Then BNC — and if you don’t know what the initials stand for then I am too polite to tell you — were offering a blown 1,088 c.c. Montlhery racing two-seater in 1928, with a guaranteed speed in k.p.h. equivalent to 1031/2 m.p.h.; we are into the speed guarantee thing again so I will add that from the non-supercharged Menu-model BNC you were promised 75 m.p.h. At about this time, Jarvis & Sons of
Wimbledon announced the diminutive singlecylinder Jappic racing cycle-car, designed in fact by J. A. Prestwich, so obviously powered by a JAP engine, of 344 c.c., aircooled. Although very small, and weighing only 4 cwt., the proportions were like those of bigger racing cars. so only its slue excited the press cameramen. who, as serious accidents were rare at Hi…lands, had to find something at which to aim their lenses. Able to lap Brooklands at over 68 m.p.h., this tiny racer was “in the picture” in more than one Bank Holiday handicap race. I mention it here because the intention had been to make others and sell them for £150 each, but I do not think more than the prototype was built. It was eventually given a 500 c.c. motorcycle engine, went to the Hawkes — Mrs. Stewart Equips) at Montlhery as the H.S., and perished in the fire that broke out in their under-banking workshops.
Perhaps with the idea of following in Ettore Bugatti’s path, hut in the 1,100 c.c. class, the Amitear Company had produced their beautiful little watch-like twin-cam six-cylinder supercharged racing two-seater by 1924/25. This was a proper racing-car tdealt with in the article 1 wrote about it in MOTOR SPORT for May 19781 far beyond the reach, or understanding, of most xl those who enthused over their four-cylinder Grand Sport side-valve Amilcars and pitted them against the twin-cam Grand Prix Salmsons of the day. Boon & Porter listed a blown Grand Sport Amilcar, suitable for “track or road” in 1927. about which someone will perhaps enlighten me. but the Amite& Six was something different. details of which these agents supplied only on application. It was a Grand Prix car in miniature and although it was seen in sportscar races, the equipment that Vernon Balls, the noted Amilcar racing driver and dealer, had 10 make up M a hurry when Tr and similar entries were declared suggests that it was not intended for such use. I suppose one might throw in for good measure KRC, La Perle and Hortsmann cars.
At a later date, Maserati would supply racing cars to private customers, and I seem to recall the first 2,-litre OP cars being listed at the equivalent of £2,500, but I am open to correction.
Rut this takes castor of the vintage years W.B.
“Oh Dear” Department
I HOPE this department is not going to expand, but there were some errors last month that must be corrected. On page 1313, the early races were held over unguarded roads, not over “ungraded” ones, which implies there were no gradients, and Sammy Davis, from whom I was quoting, was writing in 1932, nut on that year’s racing, and the present-day drivers listed were remembered during this year. On page 1314 I referred to the Trojan as a two-cylinder two-stroke car, whereas it had four cylinders, although each pair of cylinders shared a common combustion chamber and sparking-plug; I am glad to make this correction before the error was pointed out to me! On page 1315. the late Hutton-Stott was never known as “Francois”, and we apologise for make-up errors at the end of page 1363 in the BMW 635CSi road-test report, which ntake a nonsense of A.H.’s writing here. On page 1373, the Christian name of Harald Penrose was altered to the more usual Harold, and a word omitted from my MG Metro road-test report may have dulled the impression I wanted to give, that on this car the old “kangaroo” take-off of the Mini has been almost eliminated. For Alfa Romeo “Mona.” on page 1383 read “Monza”, although Alfa Romeo may, of course. wish to keep this name in mind for future new models! W.B.
stand No. 67c., New Hall, Clympia.