TESTING A THOROUGHBRED
We find an Ulster Aston-Martin as good as new after five hundred miles of racing on the Ards circuit
The Ulster-model Aston-Martin is almost a unique type of car. It is one of the very few built and equipped for roadracing, with an engine guaranteed to propel it at 100 miles an hour, a streamlined two-seater body conforming to A.I.
regulations, racing in moving with the wheels and stayed to withstand the buffeting of 24-hour races, and lastly a reputation for sustained speed which makes it one of the most respected of British cars in foreign racing circles.
It has long been our ambition to drive one of these intriguing little cars, but as may be imagined, not ‘a great number of them are produced, and no sooner is one built and run in than it finds its way into the hands Of some fortunate private owner who employs it forthwith for fast touring or racing. Just after the Le Mans race, in which an Ulster model distinguished itself by winning the Rudge Cup, our importunities were rewarded ; we could try a team car after the conclusion of the T.T. The latter event saw the team prize once again with the Feltham firm, so we set off for the works in high anticipation. Very sleek and workmanlike the three cars looked, with their gauze screens folded flat on the scuttle, their enormous brakes and their outside exhaust systems, now fitted with Brooklands silencers and fishtails. The car we were allotted was the one driven at Ulster by Rose-Richards. It had been slower than the other two by reason of a piston fitted ,a short time before the race, but the Aston-Martin people considered that it should be fairly well run in after the five hundred miles of practising and the race itself
The first thing which strikes the driver of the Ulster model is the care which has been given to obtain a perfect driving position. The steering wheel is well into the lap, the elbows rest lightly against the padded side of the body and the seat, the remote-control gear-lever is there on dropping the left hand a few inches below the wheel. The driver sits well down inside the body but can see both the wings, and the seat-back is curved and padded SO as to afford ample support for the back and to prevent any swaying even on the most hectic of corners. A car which gives confidence from the start.
With Brooklands so near we could not resist the chance of trying the car’s acceleration and maximum speed. Thirtymile limits abound on the way there, but the car made no bones about trickling along at 1,500 r.p.m. on top gear if required, using the standard racing plugs, but as the mixture was purposely made rather rich for maximum acceleration from low • seeds. as might have been expected, they tended to soot with prolonged idling. The gear ratios are very close, but just flicking the gears J11 at 2,000 r.p.m. gives a surge forward which promises a really stirring performance when the throttle is wide open. T1,e shock-absorbers were set at racing tension, but the suspension was mon, comfortable than that of a good many sports-cars sports-tourers. Altogether the car was as pleasant to
drive as the ordinary, sports model, which goes to show that in one case at least the T.T. is developing the right type of car.
Down at the track a strong wind was blowing on the Railway Straight, and prevented us from reaching speeds higher than 95 m.p.h., and the part where high
est speeds were actually attained was up the slope of the Home Banking, where the revs, rose to 5,300 r.p.m. and occasionally 5,500 or 105 m.p.h. Half a day at racing speeds had evidently not resulted in much loss of tune, and a subsequent test on a level bye-pass road showed a speed of 101 m.p.h., which is 5,300 r.p.m. on the back-axle ratio fitted. The acceleration figures are interesting as a comparison, though they are obviously not quite so good as they would have been if the car had just been tuned, while the acceleration up to about 25 m.p.h. suffered owing to the high bottom gear fitted. On the other hand once on the move the car fairly rushes away, and the maxima on the indirects, 77, 61, and 49 m.p.h. at 5,000 r.p.m., are of the greatest value on winding roads. 5,500 can be
used if required, but the power at low speeds makes it seldom necessary. The brakes still worked perfectly though not adjusted since the beginning of the T.T. Usingthe long hand-lever in conjunction with the pedal, the car could be brought to rest in 59 ft. from 40 m.p.h. and with a little adjustment would prob Illy have regained the exceptional
;ures of the standard car. Not too bad after 500 miles of road-racing.
Having settled these matters to our satisfaction, we set out to enjoy ourselves on the .great open spaces of Salisbury Plain, and gaining the Basingstoke road, were soon humming over Hartford Bridge flats into the teeth of a strong southwest wind at a steady 80 m.p.h. The car runs surprisingly quietly in spite of only carrying Brooklands silencing equipment, and at 70 to 80 m.p.h., glides along like an aeroplane without the slightest effort on the driver’s part, a snarl from the straight-bevel back axle being the only thing which reminds him that he is not driving a touring car in which cOmfort is the first consideration.
We had scarcely sampled the joys of the Aston when we had to slow down again, finding (hat on that day Hampshire as a county for fast motorists was definitely poor. First we found the roods were blocked with fallen trees, and then we encountered what must have been a large proportion of the mechanised units of the British Army, and after dropping rapidly down hill and nearly impinging on a five-ton tank answering to the name of Daisy, which was the forerunner of many others, we decided it would be wise to leave the neighbourhood.
A fast and satisfying cross-country run brought us to another test-route, 39 miles in length, which we covered without exceeding 80 m.p.h. in 39 minutes, and when one mentions that there are two small towns with 30 m.p.h. limits on the route, and that the Aston was painted red and still bore its racing numbers, which made it necessary to observe the law rather carefully, one obtains some idea of the capabilities of the car.
Returning ever the same route next day after a rainstorm, and taking every precaution when the roads were wet and slippery 41 minutes was recorded, so little need be said about the Aston’s capabilities on wet roads. The oil temperature never rose above 65 degrees, and had we not been bucking into a gale of wind which made it a little difficult to hold the car flat out, we should have had no hesitation in driving the car with foot on the floorboard for the entire distance. In spite of their small size the mudguards are quite effective, and the driver sits so well down in the car that a light rain-coat was ample protection from cold and wet. The sixteen-gallon petrol tank is carried in front of the rear axle, and so the balance of the car is not affected even with a full load of fuel. As may be imagined, driving a car like ” No. 18 ” is a really exhilarating
-experience. The surge of power as you • run up in the gears to reach a cruising speed of 70 to 80 m.p.h. must be tried to be appreciated, and associated with this is the feeling of absolute control which the steering, the brakes and the lowslung chassis give to the driver. Coming up to a corner, the foot caresses the brake pedal, a touch of the accelerator and the car is roaring away in third, picking up speed in an amazingly short time, or an equally swift drop into second can be made if the corner is a sharp One. The gear-change at low speeds is instantaneous and as fast as the lever can be moved when changing up at full revs. The short lever can be transferred from notch to notch with finger and thumb
if one cares to do so, or gently dropped in with the hand round the large rubber knob.
Road-racing is the surest method of finding out weaknesses in steering-layout, and years of participation at home and abroad are reflected in the Aston-Martin’s safety at speed. The steering is light and perfectly smooth, yet there was no need to grip the wheel, and we actually ran for some distance ” hands off ” On a smooth road at over 100 m.p.h. The car goes round corners without conscious effort, in the same way as a motor-cycle, and corners on which we previously thought ourselves fast at 70 m.p.h. could be negotiated
• safely at something like the ninety mark.
The more we drove the car, in fact, the more enthusiastic we became, and at the end of the two days we really felt that with a car like that to drive we could even ourselves put up quite a easonable show in a road race, even though we were not yet quite fit to challenge Nuvolari on his own ground. With lashings of power and a chassis which goes where the driver wants, no competent person could go far wrong.
For all its high performance, the Ulster car still remains ” sports ” and not “racing “; the chassis is in fact identical with that of the Le Mans 2-4 seater model, and the engine differs only in respect of the higher compression, 9.5 to I in the case of the car under review, the special gear ratios fitted for use at Ulster and the fact that larger carburetters are fitted. On a mixture of 50 per cent. straight petrol and 50 per cent. benzol the engine runs without a tremor to over 5,000 r.p.m., while the ignition lever very seldom needs to be touched. Another good point, whether the car is intended for road use or racing, is that it starts readily whether hot or cold.
Five minutes of ” running-up ” at 1,500 r.p.m. suffices to get the oil running freely, while with the dry-sump system of lubrication there are none of those odd tanks, pipes and taps which make the cockpit of many competition cars look like the engine-room of a submarine. Separate switches are used for each of the lamps, the petrol pumps, one of which draws from a reserve supply of two gallons, the dynamo and the ignition, but these are neatly combined on a single panel. The oil pressure gauge and the water and oil thermometers are grouped under the driver’s eye, and the latter instrument showed the lubricant as being normally at about 60 degrees, with only a slight rise in temperature however hard the car was driven.
The important side of the rev-counter showing the speeds from four to six thousand r.p.m. was obscured by one of the spokes of the steering wheel, but could have been brought into view by turning the instrument upside down. The driving position as has been said could scarcely have been bettered. The pedals were well spaced and the accelera tor was fitted with an organ-flap pedal which could be depressed with the heel
while using the. toe on the brake pedal. The features of the engine and chassis are so well known that a brief resume is ‘all that is required here. The 4-cylinder engine has the crankcase and the cylinder-block cast in one, and a detachable cylinder head with hemi spherical combustion chambers. The valves are actuated by rockers from a
single overhead camshaft chain driven from the front end of the engine. Each valve has three concentric springs and the rocker clearance is adjusted by rotating the fulcrums, which are eccentric. Magneto ignition is used, and the two enormous S.U. carburetters are supplied by means of electric pumps from the 16
gallon tank. The petrol consumption works out at about 20 m.p.g., so the car is eminently suitable for long-distance touring or racing.
The dynamo is driven off the front end of the crankshaft. Headlamps are fitted ) as standard equipment, but had been removed for the Ulster race.
Dry-sump lubrication system is one of the great features of the Aston-Martin. Nearly three gallons of oil are contained in a tank fitted between the front dumbirons and an external pressure pump
forces a supply through an edge-type pressure to all moving parts, and another pump 50 per cent. bigger scavenges the oil from the base chamber and returns it to the tank. The fully balanced Nitralloy crank shaft runs in three white metal main bearings, and plain bearings are also
used for the big ends. The connecting rods are machined from duralumin diestampings. The power is transmitted from the engine through a single-plate clutch. The gear-box is mounted in unit with the engine, and as in the case of the Le Mans Mark II, straight pinions are used throughout. The open propellor shaft has two universal joints, and a spiral bevel back-axle is standard, but when special racing ratios are fitted, straight-tooth
pinions are usually used since they are cheaper to manufacture.
The chassis is unswept in front and underslung at the rear. The road springs are half-elliptic, with solid eyes and the front ones are stiffened by special clips and rebound leaves.
The front axle is particularly sturdy, with circular section ends where the breaking torque has to be resisted. Friction shock-absorbers are used on both axles and those in front are mounted transversely in order to increase the leverage.
The brakes are of orthodox type, working in ribbed steel drums as large as that of the road wheels, and are actuated by means of enclosed cables. The simple wing-nut adjustment allows them to be taken up in a few seconds. The streamlined two-seater racing body is panelled in aluminium and conforms with the International Regulations in respect of body width, mudguard size and
Sc, forth. The mechanic’s seat is set slightly behind that of the driver, so as to afford the latter full elbow room.
As may be imagined, on a car of this type luggage is not catered for. Behind the seats the 15-gallon petrol tank with its two large fillers is carried, and behind that again a hinged casing which encloses the batteries and the spare wheel, which is carried in a flat position. The panelling is extremely well carried out and the ” Ulster ” is as handsome in appearance as it is striking on the road.
It was with the greatest regret that we returned ” No. 18 ” to Feltham. After going about the country in a variety of cars in which sporting performance is more or less subordinated to weather protection and other mundane considerations it is a great joy to take the wheel once again of a car which exists only to satisfy the owner’s desire for speed and hard driving. Long may such cars continue to be built.