A serious situation
Sir I recently sent my driving licence to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre in…
IT IS extraordinary, but whenever I mentioned to friends or colleagues that I’d been to see Archie Butterworth, their faces would break into a pleasurable smile and they’d demand to know what he was up to. It is extraordinary because, in cold terms, Archie’s involvement with motor racing did not amount to a great deal. His driving career was short and mainly involved dub sprints and hill climbs. His inventions were admirable but never seemed to get off the ground. The real point is, however, that the man’s style, courage and ingenuity were such that, over a quarter of a century later, he is still remembered with enormous respect and affection. There is no doubt that Archie Butterworth will always have a place in the history of post-war British motor racing. He was born of Anglo-Irish parents in Co Waterford in 1912 and is now supposed to be in retirement. Being a true engineer, he continues to work, for engineers are like painters — they never really stop. His family moved to England in 1919 and an interest in engineering, with him for as long as he can recall, was honed during a Jesuit education at Mount St Mary’s College. On leaving school, he went to study for a degree at University College, London, but it was the time of the Depression and, being the youngest son, he left to join the Army, serving in the Irish Guards before transferring to the RASC-MT as a driving instructor. It was during this time that he built his first car, S (for “sprint”) 1, a single-seater dirt track racer intended for a category which was then enjoying a vogue. Before he was able to race it, however, he was posted to Egypt and there he spent much of his time with one of the new special units which were given no name. He frequently went deep into the desert alone, first taking the precaution of learning chunks of the Koran against encountering
hostile tribesmen. Whenever possible, he busied himself in his unit’s engineering workshops.
We begin to see some of the threads of his life which make him such a fascinating character: the individuality, independence, deep love of engineering and, alas, the hand of fate which interposed as soon as SI was complete.
Demobbed from the Army in 1937, and with no formal qualifications, he worked for a while on the production line at Ford and then in the tool room at Saunders-Roe. His shop steward discovered his lack of a proper apprenticeship and, to prevent trouble, he was transferred upwards to tool design where qualifications were not apparently necessary. From Saunders-Roe he moved to Pyrene, the fire extinguisher people, and then on to Fairey Aviation. His mind was always filled with the thought of engines and everywhere he went, his lathe and tool kit went with him. When he married his charming wife, Barbara, in 1939, the lathe occupied a corner of the room they started married life in. He was in a protected occupation when war broke out but he insisted on re-joining his old unit on the grounds that he’d spent seven years of soldiering without seeing action and he was blowed if he wasn’t going to take the chance when it came his way. His beloved Brough Superior Black Alpine motor cycle was eventually sold but soon he was in the saddle as a despatch rider, this time on a 500 cc competition AJS which he somehow managed to divert his way. Serving in France during the “Phoney War” he became aware of the superiority of the enemy’s infantry weapons and so, creating a makeshift drawing board, he set about designing a medium range light machine gun. He was possibly the only soldier evacuated at Dunkirk who carried a tube of drawings with him — and there cannot have been many who took out of
France something with the potential to help us to get back there.
The authorities were impressed by design and he was transferred to the small arms design department at Enfield. The gun was built as a prototype but never put into action for the department was preparing the Sten gun and international politics meant that nothing was to be allowed to overshadow the project. When Archie says that his design was superior, the tendency is to believe him for the man is no patently without side and he has represented his country in competition shooting.
He stayed with various departments as an armaments designer until 1950, when beset up Butterworth Engineering, and was responsible for some important devices for improving the accuracy of tank artillery. In the meantime he had acquired a 41/2-litre Bentley tourer which he raced at the first CUAC Gransden Lodge meeting in 1946. The Bentley did not remain in standard form for long, the compression ratio was raised, three carburetters were fitted etc. It was raced, sprinted and climbed with reasonable success, the most outstanding result being third in the Ulster Trophy race. He was elected a member of the BRDC as a result of the 1947 season.
Then in August 1947 he was at the &but of Sidney Allard’s [Correct spelling: Sydney Allard] 3.7-litre Steyr-engined special at Prescott. The Steyr was a V8 air-cooled unit from Austria, mainly used in half-track vehicles, with an exciting exhaust note and a fair amount of power. Allard was both successful and spectacular in his car and the sight and sound of it fired Archie’s imagination. Enquiries revealed that two Steyr engines, complete with transmission, were lying about at Chobham. He was able to buy the lot for a termer! So he set about designing and building S2 which more popularly became known as the “A.J.B. Special”. S2 was not, in fact, the car Archie had
wanted to build for on his drawing board was the design for a Grand Prix car, no less. Materials and money were in short supply at the time and so GPI was set aside and S2 became not only an end in itself but also an experimental project to test certain ideas. The Grand Prix car was to have a Butterworth engine of 4,425 cc producing an estimated 350 bhp at 5,500 rpm with a maximum torque of 370 lb/ft at 3,700 rpm. The Steyr, similar in specification, was in line with Archie’s thinking. This was to be mounted in an independently sprung frame, with stressed tankage, with a wheelbase of 8 ft in and a track of 4 ft 11/4 in. With a dry weight of 111/2 cwt this would gave given a power weight ratio of 600 bhp per ton. Four of the design features were patented, the differential, torsion bar suspension and four-wheel drive. The valve gear (the Butterworth swing valve of which more anon) and the five-speed gearbox with twin-pedal changing which, as we will see, were successfully built. Inboard hydraulic disc brakes were specified for all four wheels — and this was in 1947. The chassis frame was eventually made and is still owned by Archie. We will never know, of course, whether the car would have worked or given the performance hoped for. We do know, however, that those parts of it which were built and tested in other cars did perform to expectation. The incredible thing is, though, that the man sat down in his spare time to design a Grand Prix car intended to lor prperaie’tdagagirot not but designed a complete car which was radical in many areas. That is breathtaking audacity. S2 was built in six months for £300, being finished in the small hours before the 1948 Brighton Speed Trials vvhere it finished third in class, still without any bodywork or handbrake — Archie held the rear wheels With hands on the tyres. By the end of that Year it had won its first sprint and its specification was as follows. The cast iron cylinder barrels of the Steyr had been
discarded and in their place were fitted aluminium barrels, with iron liners, built by Allis. Capacity had been increased to 4,425 cc (bore and stroke being 87.5 mm x 92 mm — the Grand Prix engine may have had “square” 89 min x 89 mm dimensions) and the compression ratio was 14:1, the car running on an alcohol. mixture. Hepolite made the new pistons and Butterworth the camshaft, the Steyr cylinder heads were retained, but larger inlet valves fitted, and later Archie patented a system for cooling the valves with engine oil.
Eight Amal carburetters were used and the throttle wires and plates, which gave off a distinctive noise as they vibrated in the air, led to the installation being dubbed “The Chicago Piano”. The engine transmitted its 260 bhp (with 320 lb/ft torque at 2,500 rpm) initially through a Steyr three-speed box. It once touched 185 mph at Silverstone. The Steyr in standard form, incidentally, gave 85 bhp while Sidney Allard had 140 bhp from his when he won the 1949 Hill Climb Champioriship.
The chassis was rudimentary, a fully boxed frame using some jeep side members, with Jeep fwd transmission and quarter elliptical springs all round (after its first runs, some of the leaves were removed to soften the ride). The dry weight was 13 cwt. Archie recalls it as “A terribly dangerous little car, not very good on right-handers for the driver sat on the left. It spent three years trying to kill me and very nearly succeeded at Shelsley Walsh.”
It was not long before the car and driver began to capture the public’s imagination. They never achieved the pinnacles of success which Allard did with his special, but in the days when racing was still struggling to find its feet again, and when sprints and hill climbs occupied an important, main-stream, place in the sport Butterworth and S2 became immensely popular crowd pleasers. The brute force of the car and the cheery bravery of the driver were an irresistible combination. When Archie cornered on two wheels, you saw the underside of the car. There was a remarkable time of twelve seconds for the standing quarter at Gosport (including a hump-backed bridge). The record at Blandford hill climb which remained fortes years before being taken by the great Tony Marsh. There were the outright wins in the Brighton Speed Trials in 1949 and 1951 (thecae did not compete in 1950 following a broken engine on its Fl debut). The only car which could beat Archie and S2 over the kilometre was Raymond Mays and his two-litre s/c ERA. Archie Butterworth may have been the first constructor to drive in a Formula One race in a car built with his own two hands (I deliberately draw the distinction between Formula One and Grands Prix), certainly he must have been the first to have driven a 4wd Fl car of his own making. It was in the
1950 International Trophy at Silverstone but, unfortunately, on finishing the first lap a new aluminium crankcase flexed and the main bearings went.
It all came to an end late in 1951 at Shelsley Walsh. By that time the car had changed in three respects. First it had a roll bar fitted, and must have been one of the first cars in Britain to no have been. After all, at the time, the wearing of crash helmets was not yet mandatory. The Butterworth fivespeed gearbox had replaced the Steyr unit. This had two clutch pedals, by depressing one the gearbox changed up, instantly, and depressing the other caused it to change down, and automatically ‘,finned the throttle to synchronise the revs exactly. The third modification was the use of a swing mde front suspension (still with fwd but with coil springs and radius rods). The car performed well on smooth surfaces but was lethal over ripples — Shelsley had ripples. During a practice run, when driving hard past the crossing, the back end suddenly felt as though “someone had thrown it away”. The car slewed like a motorcycle’s “speed wobble” but hit a bank which straightened it and Archie continued. “Next day, Barbara had had a premonition of disaster. The first part of the climb felt like the best one I’d ever done, then beyond the crossing the car began to weave uncontrollably before hitting a gully. The back end of the car went up and I came out. There’s a photograph of me hanging over it like a barrage balloon on a wartime coaster.”
Archie and the car came down to earth together and, ironically, some of his injuries were caused by being hit by the roll bar. His rib cage was smashed and a lung punctured. It was generally agreed he’d been lucky to survive. The crash effectively ended his racing career though, later, he took part in a few events with his road-going Jaguar Mk VII.
The car was sold to the American Four-Wheel Drive Corporation, which had connections with the 4wd Miller cars. Their interest was largely in the gearbox which was only five inches long and which worked on the principle of a sliding mainshaft. The car was raced in America by Bill Millikin of the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, Buffalo, Michigan, who extensively modified the chassis and ran it in research prgrammes. The car, cutely renamed “Butterball”, may be seen today in the FWD museum in Cliftonville, Wisconsin. Apart from the obvious discomfort of his injuries, the Shelsley crash affected Archie in other ways. His company was little over a year old and he had a new engine on the stocks. He had been discussing with John Cooper the possibility of using this engine for F2 in 1953 in place of the Bristol unit. Once it seemed that Archie would be out of action for a long time, these negotiations petered out. The 1952 Ajll engine was, in fact, an interim model to be run to prove the bottom
end before fitting it with the swing valve head. It was a horizonally-opposed air-cooled flat four of 1,986 cc (87.5×82 mm) (readers will recall that the World Championships of 1952 & 3 were run to the two-litre F2 regulations) and was bolted together entirely without the use of gaskets. The three-bearing, four-throw crankshaft was made from 60 ton nitrided steel, the con rods were of RR56 alloy. The nearside cylinders were staggered forwards by 21/4 inches and the camshafts were located in the top of the crankshaft operating short pushrods to the poppet valves in modified Steyr heads. In its interim form, the engine gave 125/130 bhp while weighing only around 180 lbs. Parts for six were laid down, two were sold, two to Bill Aston, vvho fitted them into two modified Cooper frames
which he then called AstonButtervvorths. “The real name should have been Cooper-AJB,” says Archie. One went to a privateer, R. R. C, Palmer, and there may have been another private buyer of whom Archie cannot recall, and one went to Kieft.
The Aston-Butterworths, driven by Bill Aston and Robin MontgomerieCharrington, were perhaps the lightest cars in F2 and showed a fair turn of speed, initially on the pace with the Cooper-Bristols. The development of the cars was possibly, however, beyond the resources of two enthusiastic amateurs with a limited budget. “Aston was employing three fuel pumps and still had fuel feed problems,” says Archie witheringly, “you can’t win against that level of competence.” The development of the “real” AJB engine continued as a side show to Archie’s bread and butter work. He is the holder of over 60 British and foreign patents and his work has ranged front armaments to a current project which is an advanced computer program. via such things as solving a problem which was holding up a large irrigation scheme in India. The idea of the Butterworth swing valve is
to use it an the inlet port where it pivots into the cylinder allowing uninterrupted gas flow. In shape it resembled the head of a French horn. Each swing valve was located on its individual shaft. It was operated by a short pushrod from the camshaft located above the crankshaft. Conventional springs were out of the question due to the swing valve’s shape seat the end of each shaft on which it was placed, were three thin torsion bars pivoting round a central torsion shaft. When the valve was opened, these twisted but when the pushrod went down, they reverted to their original shape, closing the valve. The exhaust valves were conventional, sodium-filled affairs mounted high in each cylinder but, again, using torsion springing.
It will be seen from this description that fitting the system to more than two cylinders in a bank would be difficult but the flat four was an ideal engine. A proposed three-litre flat eight, which Archie thinks would give 600 bhp, would use desmodronic valve gear. This project, incidentally, is still alive so far as Archie is concerned and he would dearly like to make a flat twin to prove its viability. Finance is the problem.
The shape of the swing valve went through a number of stages, tested on a 500 cc single-cylinder unit which, on its first run; gave better than 50 bhp. In 1957 a 11/2-litre engine was complete and fitted into an Elva Mk IV, raced by Archie Seats-Brown. With its two bulbous covers over the carburetters, jutting proud of the bonnet, the car was quickly nick-named “Sabrina” after an enormously gifted dumb blonde of the day, and it proved to be very quick but unreliable. Contemporary reports had it giving 148 bhp, an incredible figure at the time, and credited the car with a toP speed of 165 mph. In race after race it suffered valve allure but the irony is that the swing valves worked properly while the conventional exhaust valves failed. Archie traced this to a manufacturing flaw, none of his doing, and after he had rigged up an oil cooling system
the car won a minor race.
Plans were then put into operation to run Scott-Brown in Grands Prix with a 2.4-litre engine. A Cooper chassis was bought, and modified behind the driver, and an entry made for the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix. It was to have been Scott-Brown’s first race on the Continent but when it became clear that the car would not be completed in time, he raced instead in a sports car event at Spa on the same day. He was killed when his Lister-Jaguar crashed.
The tragedy knocked the stuffing out of the little team and work was suspended, Archie owning the Cooper chassis still. At the same time, it seemed likely that the financial future of Butterworth Engineering might be secured by the development of another novel idea, the “Sidler”. This is an ingenious device which will allow a car to be easily parked in a space only a few inches greater than its length, or else turned around through 360 degrees on its own axis.
I have seen a film of the device in action and can report that it is a clever and elegant idea. The driver pulls a lever and two arms drop from under the car raising the rear wheels fractionally above the ground and bringing them into contact with two elliptical plates. If bottom gear is engaged, the rear wheels rotate against the plates which move to the left, taking the car with them. To move to the right, you engage reverse. In production, it would cost about £300 per car and several times Archie has been close to seeing it put into production, but something has always arisen to prevent it. That has been the story of Archie’s life. SI was built but not raced because he was posted overseas. S2’s crash robbed him of a chance to fully develop as a driver. The foot-operated gearbox was ordered by Jack Brabham but pressure of work prevented it being built and Sir Jack’s money was returned. Chapman, however, took up the design its the ’50s and insisted on some unnecessary modifications which ruined its performance. Eventually, Archie’s solicitors
had to insist that Chapman dissociated the name “Butterworth” from his version and Lotus dropped it. Had Chapman used the original design and, in particular, the original lubrication system, it might have been a breakthrough. After all, the has was capable of handling 260 bhp of AJB / Steyr power and did so for some years in the hands of Bill Millikin.
The Lotus episode was a blow to Archie’s credibility. Chapman, of course, continued to search for the perfect gearchange (remember the electronic clutch on the 76?) but without success. There instill time to be gained at any circuit by eliminating the time when a car is in neutral while gears are being changed up.
The Shelsley accident delayed the production of the first AJB engine and so ruined any chance he had of persuading John Cooper to try one in the close season before making his commitment to the Bristol engine. The poorly financed AstonButtenvorths did not enhance his reputation and a fault in manufacture by a leading valve maker gave the swing valve engine an unjustifiably bad name. Archie Scott’ Brown’s tragic death finished any hope of salvaging the reputation of the AJB engine. Recently, however, someone bought one of the swing valve engines, together with spares, and it is apparently to be seen in Historic events. We may shortly be able to see the motor in action and, possibly, assess it more clearly. Anyone who has met Archie will be infected by the man’s enthusiasm, so here’s one person who will be hoping that his ideas will be vindicated even this late in the day.
Butterworth’s direct involvement with the sport ended in 1958 and he drifted away from it, for he is a man who needs to be involved.
A rude sprint special, a gearbox and a handful of engines may not amount to much in world terms, but Archie Butterworth is surely worth at least a footnote in motor racing history. He’s made of the right stuff, is Archie. — M.L.
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