If six is good, eight is better
AT THE END 01 WI IAT WE NOW CALL THE VINTAGE YEARS,
52.5% of cars on the home market had six-cylinder engines, the once-universal four-cylinder down to 26.5%. But, following racing car precedents, for those who saw their cars as status symbols — the longer the bonnet, the greater the assumed prestige — the straight-eight was in its element and at least 45 makers had adopted it. This trend kept designers busy, because not only was there the problem of feeding a long row of cylinders, but the crankshaft’s length brought torsional vibration prob
lems. There was also a choice of four different crankthrow arrangements and eight firing orders.
Some luxury-car makers, like Rolls-Royce and Daimler, went from six to V12 engines, although the latter came to the straight-eight later. The first British car of this kind was the Leyland Eight, too complex to be a commerdal success but wonderful at Brooklands. Many comparatively cheap US makes had these desirable smooth power units and Hillman and Wolseley decided to compete. At the 1928 Olympia Show, Hillman exhibited its 2618cc five-bearing push-rod OHV four-speed eightin-line. Rootes, the distributors, supplied one to HM Government in Uganda and one to the Earl of Clarendon. There was more publicity when Segrave had a drophead coupe at Daytona in 1929 when he broke the LSR.The 1929 four-door coupe was priced at 1,385. An updraught dual carburettor fed a divided inlet manifold, the inner part supplying the four inner cylinders, the outer part the end
pairs. The straight exhaust manifold had an off-take at each end. Although smooth, the engine had a vibration period just below the top speed of 65mph, the indirect gears were noisy, and fuel thirst heavy at 19mpg. Improvements were made, the 1930 70mph Vortic saloon having a central gearlever, a ‘silent third’ gear, and a rear exhaust off-take, to avoid roasting the occupants’ feet. But continual big-end failures were a serious problem, and production lasted only about two full years. Wolseley also had a go at a straight-eight, at first with the 4011cc 32/80hp model, then with a low-priced 2706cc version, at £595 for a tourer, £605 as a saloon. They used two blocks of
their ohc four, with the vertical camshaft drive between them, and a divided inlet manifold with a small horizontal SU carburettor. This Wolseley had a run of about three years, but there had been teething problems. These cars are a facet of history, aimed at giving a sense of smoothrunning superiority to families whose next-door neighbours
usually motored behind fewer cylinders.
But as time went by and those concours d’elegance in Cannes and Deauville, with beautiful girls in frocks costing nearly as much as the cars, faded away, there was less call for the long bonnets needed to house a large in-line eight. As roads became congested, compact cars were more suitable. The eight then came full-circle, or more correctly, emerged as the veeeight, the problem now being where to hang the carburettors and exhaust pipes.