WB miscellany, November 2005

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Return of the cyclecar?

Motor Sport  used to investigate some forgotten makes, when I was able to offer more data about such cars than had appeared in the weekly motor papers. One forgotten make we did not explain was the Galba. It made its appearance in France in 1929 as a trim-looking little car with a vertical 180-degree twin-cylinder two-stroke engine, with a blower to feed mixture to the cylinders at the front of the engine, behind the combined dynamo/starter unit.

In unit with the engine was a cone clutch, fabric-lined, and a two-speed gearbox using a separate pinion for reverse. Torque-tube transmission was used, with suspension by transverse front leaf spring and quarter-elliptic back springs. The spiral-bevel back axle had no differential. Four-wheel brakes were used, with fixed cycle-type mudguards and wire wheels. The wheelbase was 7ft 4in, the track a narrow 3ft 4in, the tyre size 26x3in. The two-seater, with 48mph/48mpg claimed, was to sell here for a modest £75.

The Galba looked familiar, and research showed me that it resembled the Deguingand. The Galba had a 564cc engine, the Deguingand one of 735cc, also a two-stroke vertical twin. Both were the product of Monsieur Marcel Violet, one of the kings of the cyclecar. He had driven his Violet-Bogey in the cyclecar GP at Amiens in July 1913, but his claim to fame came in the cyclecar race at Le Mans that August, when he finished second in a Violet to a Rontiex. In the 278-mile cyclecar bash at Boulogne in 1921 two GNs beat him, but the dedicated Frenchman had proved the worth of his designs the year before, when he won the important, well-supported Le Mans contest at 47.17mph, beating the Ruby, Noel, Elfe and GN entries, with Antoine Mourre finishing in another Violet-Major.

He then took third place in the 1921 Boulogne race in a Weler, with which car he had a close association. At Le Mans Violet, who entered a Major under an assumed name, was second in a Major-engined Weler, unable to perform as impressively as André Lombard in a Salmson, which was hardly a cyclecar. Another Weler finished fourth driven by ‘Sabipa’ (Charavel) who later drove Bugattis. Another Major was a poor sixth, driven by Viale and entered as a Mourre, such was the complexity then of the French cyclecar world.

By 1925 Violet was back, having completed a link with the Sima Company in Paris, for which Violet provided his Sima-Violet racing cyclecars at a time when proper light cars had become the norm. With twin-cylinder two-stroke engines, but now of the horizontally-opposed type, in the nose of the smart little beasts for maximum air-cooling, Marcel won the 750cc class at Montlhéry, with the 500cc division taken by Michel Dore’s Sima-Violet. In 1926 in the Alsace GP Maurice Benoist (not Robert who was soon winning many races for Salmson) drove a 750cc and Stanton a 500cc Sima-Violet, and at Miramas Jack Enders won the 500cc section, with Stanton second. For the important GP de la Marne at Reims, Violet in his lone Sima-Violet won his class, at 55.76mph for the full 198 miles.

There were other not disgraceful appearances of these now outdated cyclecars, which remained in racing up to 1927; Marcel’s Deguingand placed first of the 750cc cars at Boulogne ahead of a Sima-Violet, one of which appeared again in 1931.

If the prevailing petrol predicament escalates we may well see a big demand for small cars, followed by frantic experiments to find effective alternatives to fossil fuel and, finally, a return to pedals…

***

The original ‘Nash TT replica

I had not realised that among the incredible variety and number of cars assembled at the Goodwood Revival was one with a creditable record of racing at Brooklands. It is the first Frazer Nash TT Replica of all, built in 1932 and distinguishable by its single door. The owner is RT (Robert) Beebee, whose father rebuilt it before handing it over to his son in 1993.

Roy Eccles ran it at Brooklands with satisfactory results. James Justice entered him for the 1932 Whitsun Meeting, presumably because he had not yet joined the BARC, ambitiously for a ‘Mountain’ Handicap, but the ‘Nash retired on the first lap. It had recovered by Easter 1933, taking a first place in the Junior ‘Mountain’ handicap, and in August was unplaced in an Outer Circuit race, with a lap at 90.88mph. He was second in the senior race over this circuit in spite of a heavy handicap. In the LCC Relay race Eccles was part of the three Frazer Nashes team which finished sixth.

These successes continued in 1934 with a third in a ‘Mountain’ race, victory in an outer-circuit handicap with a 92.74mph lap, good for a 1496cc Meadows-Nash, and first in a one-lap sprint. R W Wright raced the car in 1938-39, with a third place in March 1939. I hope someone can fill in the missing record of Frazer Nash 2049, MV 2013.

***

Whatever happened to the badge bar?

Shire Books of Princes Risborough have a new volume of Peter W Card’s Motor Car Mascots and Badges, with full colour pictures (ISBN: 7478 0629 2). There have been past full-scale books on both, but this is a good guide, priced at only £5.99, as Album 2005.

However, it is surprising that the Mercedes-Benz triple-pointed star is ignored, and I would have liked some reference to the early china Bean mascot. The author, as an auctioneer, deals in badges and rightly wonders whether the owner of the Lagonda LG 45 joined all of the 23 clubs whose badges his car displays — but as it was ethical to return a badge if you ceased membership, this is a moot point. Fake badges are warned against. Many versions of BARC and the Brooklands Aero Club badges are shown, including the 120 and 130mph ones.

As Card rightly states, badge carrying belonged more to the vintage period, so I cannot understand why Shire, which has albums about different periods of motoring, has apparently withdrawn its Vintage Car title.

***

200hp Darracq V8

It seems that efforts are now being made to run the engine of the 1905 200hp Darracq, after some carburetion problems have been solved.  Gerald Firkin’s impressive recreation using the original engine appeared at the Goodwood Festival of Speed as a static display, but it will be wonderful to finally hear the roar from the stub exhausts of the 25.5-litre overhead-valve V8.

***

French marque bounces back

Not exactly a forgotten make, the Georges-Irat is nevertheless not generally remembered. Which made the loan of one by Guy Dockerton in 1940, when the war had made it very difficult for motor-writers to obtain test cars, very welcome.

The French manufacturer, which operated from successive factories located by the river Seine in Paris, had made quality cars of many sizes and did not restrict itself to engine manufacture only until 1946.

The car loaned to me was their recently introduced 1.5-litre FWD model that followed their run of 1100cc Ruby-engined sportscars. This was very opportune because the only proper road tests I was able to do that year, in this war-devastated time, were of the 2.5-litre Daimler saloon and a Ford Anglia, plus a used-car appraisal of a long-chassis MkII Aston Martin, after Motor Sport  had published up to this time more than 144 such road test reports of new cars since 1924.

This Georges-Irat was the type that came from the Levallois-Perret factory of the company founded by Georges Irat. It was equipped with a 73x100mm (1911cc) Citroën engine and three-speed gearbox driving the front wheels and all-independent rubber suspension. Cars such as the vintage-period de Levard and Harris-Leon-Laisne, the Duncan Dragonfly, the abandoned Rover Scarab and the stillborn V8 Alvis TA350 also had rubber instead of steel suspension. On the Irat it consisted of thick strands of rubber cord. The ride was excellent, though there was some fore-and-aft pitching, so having a car on rubber was regarded as a good thing. There was no damping of any kind; radius arms located the wheels.

Had a world war not intervened Dockerton Motors had intended to sell this car from Guy’s Notting Hill, London, premises for under £300. The three-on-one-seat car was to have been driven at Le Mans by Peter Clark. It was the only one then in this country.

Although the war was by this time well advanced I was surprised that I was allowed with a special pass to try the car’s performance on a part of Brooklands Track. Three-up in the LHD car, and with screen erect, it covered the flying quartermile at 75mph, and did the same distance from a standing start in some 22 seconds. The weight was 18cwt. The gear lever protruding from the dash worked well, but the electrics were six volt. The Citroën engine had the normal single downdraught Solex carburettor. It was an interesting experience.

***

Alec Issigonis — an awkward genius

To augment my brief review of Alec Issigonis by Jonathan Wood, this very entertaining book telling so much of Alec’s uniquely difficult character, I am reminded that in Motor Sport  we gave much enthusiastic coverage to the Mini, which I dubbed the `Minibrick’; one of my test reports I headed ‘Riding on Rubber for 10,000 Miles’. We also made appreciative comments on the Morris 1000, and earlier we had reported on Issigonis’s Lightweight Special, etc. The book is not only revealing but contains data on production methods of the BMC and later companies, Mini design, and how Ford responded.

Jonathan obviously makes much of the rubber suspension which was a feature of the Mini, but omits any reference to the rubber-sprung Georges-Irat (see preceding article). But apart from this full account of the life of a genius who made the Mini to his undeflected ideals, the book provides data on dates of Morris and Ford model runs, numbers sold, etc, and how finance was lost by Morris but not by Ford.

All of which I found of enormous interest and value. So I will forgive Mr Wood the error of saying Chitty-Bang-Bang 1 was stored in the André shed at Brooklands before it was broken up; the André business had faded by 1925 whereas Chitty was not destroyed until some six years later, and this mistake was not featured in my books, as Wood imagines. I have one of the drive sprockets from Chitty 1, but when offered its 23-litre engine, then lying in a builders’ yard, I had sadly to refuse, having no means of collecting it, apart from my landlady being likely to object to it taking residency in my bedroom.

***

Sunbeams on the sands once more

To remember the fact that in 1925 Capt Malcolm Campbell raised the LSR to over 150mph on Pendine Sands, the STD Register, which caters for Coatalen Sunbeam, Roesch Talbot and period Darracq cars, had the Welsh sands closed for a short time so that 16 members’ cars could parade thereon, led by John Carter’s 1903 Sunbeam. The record-breaking 350hp Sunbeam, alas no longer a runner, was brought from the National Motor Museum on the Sunday and exhibited beside the 170mph Thomas Special ‘Babs’ in the Pendine motor museum.

The Campbell Sunbeam is a most impressive car with its 18.3-litre V12 engine and long streamlined tail. It was also on show at the VSCC Prescott hillclimb, and the STD Register is hoping next year to commemorate Segrave’s 152mph LSR on Southport sands in a supercharged 4-litre V12 Sunbeam, with support already given by the council.

The Register Secretary is Mrs Gill Brett, 9 Hallett’s Close, Stubbington, Fareham, Hants P014 2LS: members get a newsletter and a quarterly magazine.

***

Top-shelf motoring

Writing Leonard Setright’s obituary reminded me of when I had gone for the interview about writing for Mayfair magazine. It was at the Heathrow Hilton. The car park entrance was difficult to spot but after several circuits I found it. The interviewer arrived very late, explaining that he could not find either hotel or car park, adding “But that would be no problem for you, a sophisticated person!”. During our interview I remarked on what a wonderful job the man had meeting all those girls. “Oh, no,” he corrected me. “I never see them. I just select the pictures.” He would receive some colour shots of a certain car and ask me to provide the accompanying text. The other day I decided to keep my motoring pages of the magazine and was reminded of how pretty (if that is the correct word) revealing, and in my opinion disgusting, these magazines were, apart from the car pages.

***

Working for Mr Royce

The history of Rolls-Royce is of interest to so many who do not own one of these cars that the latest of the R-R Heritage Trust publications, to R-R standard in spite of the highly competitive pricing, cannot but be readily announced. It is No 36 in the series, 50 years with RollsRoyce reminiscences by Donald Lyre, CEng, MIME, AFRAS. Starting as an apprentice draughtsman aged 14 in 1920, Mr Lyle worked with most of the celebrated staff who served Sir Henry Royce for 50 years. His story of how it worked out, and the great people he met, including working for Royce himself, is fascinating, and the 150 shining pages have 78 illustrations of these people, their houses, Royce’s included, with interior shots, and of course cars and aircraft, even the Royce memorial window in Westminster Abbey, etc.

Incorporating many of the author’s own sketches, this little book forms a unique record. £12 to non-members, ISBN 1872922 30,  R-R Heritage Trust, PO Box 31, Derby DB24 8BJ.

***

A flying visit by Benz

I had an exciting day recently when Ben Collings came to show me the Blitzen Benz recreation which he built for Richard Crump. The lucky owner has had much enjoyable, trouble-free driving in it for considerable distances over Kentish roads, the same locality over which in the 1920s Lou Zborowski drove similarly powerful motor cars such as the Chittys and Higham Special.

Crump’s car was described in Motor Sport  in the April 2003 issue. The impressive 18.8-litre engine reaches its peak revs at 1400rpm, and 100mph equals 1000rpm. This means that for law-abiding motorway cruising the engine is merely idling. My daughter had a stirring ride around the lanes in the Benz, which for her should endorse forever the view that “there’s nothing like litres”, especially when compared with the Austin 7s with which she competes in VSCC events!

Ben had been servicing the Benz, which entailed all-round oiling and driving chain adjustment. He nonchalantly cranks the enormous engine, helped by a decompression device, and it obligingly responds. Acceleration, exhaust note and all the rest of it seemed to intrigue passing travellers in their civilised modern wind-proof automobiles…

Ben has also restored and put back to original form the four-seater body on the 1913 200hp Benz raced at Brooklands by Sir Alastair Miller and damaged somewhat when John Morris overturned it at the Crystal Palace before the war. It belongs to George Wingard and has returned to America.

***

Moth rep takes flight

At three VSCC meetings this year Julian Taylor has run what, while a replica, is a very correct representation of the Wolseley Ten two-seater which Alastair Miller drove in the 1922 JCC 200-mile Race.

Miller had persuaded Wolseley to make racing cars, and the two single-seater ‘Moths’, also based on the very pedestrian Ten, performed astonishingly well, so much so that Woolf Barnato drove one; Miller’s lapped at over 88mph. Even the aluminium-bodied sports version, costing a lofty £610, did only 55mph, although the small-production Brooklands speed model was guaranteed to lap at 70.

Miller must have paid expert attention to the tuning to get such results. As late as 1930 he won the Founder’s Gold Cup race, with a lap of 83.28mph. I told the full story of these Moths in Motor Sport  in 1968.

Long after the original cars disappeared, John End produced a fine reproduction Moth, and his friend Colin Thomas a 200-mile replica. It is the latter which has reappeared.

***

Alfa Romeo TF achievements

I was interested to know from Richard Heseltine’s article that the Alfa Romeo which Agostino Lanfranchi raced at Brooklands had a genuine Targa Florio chassis and was not simply a tuned 22-90 sportscar.

Its achievements differ slightly from those in my Brooklands book, taken from the official BARC records. The car did not win two 100mph handicaps at the 1925 Whitsun races, which were to the credit of Philip Rampon’s aged 10-litre Fiat and Jack Barclays 1922 TT Vauxhall.

The Alfa’s best race lap was 94.33mph, in 1926. It is so pleasing to know that this historic racing car is still running well.