Smart or grubby? Your choice

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Two very different enthusiasts’ cars of the early post-vintage period were the AC Bertelli four-cylinder Le Mans Aston Martin and the six-cylinder Blackburne Frazer Nash.

Both sold for £595 in 1933, both could give very high performance for 1.5-litre cars, but they possessed very different characteristics. The Aston Martin was for the driver who liked to remain smart while enjoying fast driving and indulging in competition; the ‘Nash was more for those who did not mind getting grubby when a broken chain had to be replaced.

The performance factors were not far apart. The Aston Martin was capable of a timed 84.91mph over the Brooklands half-mile with the screen down, nearly 7mph being lost with it raised. The Frazer Nash would do 87.38mph, screen up, although aero screens were provided. In the gears the AM would produce 30, 48-to-50 and 68-to-70mph at 5000rpm, tyre size 4.50×21. The ‘Nash had closer and lower ratios to its chains and dogs, giving speeds of 42, 70 and 88mph, with 4.50×19 tyres.

When it came to acceleration the 19cwt AM was willing to go from 0-to-50mph in 18.2sec and to 60mph in 24.6sec, and it could be persuaded to get up the 1-in-5 Brooklands’ Test Hill at 18.76mph from a standing start. In traffic it would get its driver from 30 to 50mph in 14.8sec, or in 11.8sec if he or she dropped into third gear, and you could stop from 30mph in 28 feet. The fuel thirst of the AM would be around 27mpg, the tank holding 19 gallons.

The 18.5-cwt Frazer Nash would reward its owner with 0-to-50mph in 12.6sec or to 60 in 16.0sec, with a 30 to 50 pick-up in 6.6sec in second cog, 14.6sec in high speed, and a Test Hill climb at 21.44mph. The twin-cam 1667cc Blackburne engine gave about 24mpg, the tank taking 13 gallons. Petrol was damned inexpensive in 1933, so why begrudge the engine a little benzole? Using the external racing-type handbrake and the pedal a pace of 30mph could be converted into zero mph in 27 feet.

Bertelli had his own 69x99mm (1493cc) ohc engine with its unusual valve layout and dry-sump lubrication system, whereas the ‘bought out’ 57x98mm Blackburne Six was used for this latest Frazer Nash, so maybe a better profit was possible on sales of the latter car. The FN used a handpump for fuel-feed but had racing-type tank fillers; the gear lever was external. The six-cylinder power unit must have been the smoother of the two, although there was a hint, possibly apocryphal, that before this new power unit was available HJ Aldington would take potential customers out in the faster four-cylinder Meadows-powered ‘Nash and not open the bonnet! I did once try to interview HJ Hatch, the Blackburne designer, but he said he could only give me “10min under the clock on Waterloo Station while awaiting his home-bound train”, which I regarded as inadequate.

The AM had a central accelerator pedal, a legacy of vintage days, perhaps to facilitate double-declutching. The ‘Nash’s was normal, perhaps because chain-drive gave rapid and inaudible ratio shifts without this technique. However, it seems surprising that the straight-eight Packard, the Citroen 12, all the varied Morris range, and the 4.5-litre Lagonda, etc still had this central accelerator pedal layout as late as 1933, confusing for those used to the more modem arrangement.

So two very different sportscars, each irresistible in its own way. It was said of the AM that it had a peculiar appeal, not easy to analyse, but due chiefly to a combination of remarkably good qualities. Of the Frazer Nash it was suggested that it was the kind of car which, for a driver who would look upon it as something far above a mere means of transport, was wonderfully satisfactory to handle.

Faced with selecting the Bertelli Aston Martin or the Blackburne Frazer Nash I suppose you paid your money, having taken your choice.

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