RUMBLINGS, October 1944
Quite what form motor-racing in this country will take after Germany has surrendered or been vanquished is not very clear, and depends on so Utopia ? many factors as to be virtually un predictable. But, with the end of hostilities now really near at hand, there is every reason to consider all suggestions and. possibilities. For this reason the views of Alec Francis, who had much to do with the old J.R.D.C., are of interest, even if, in our view, optimistic in the extreme. Francis’s idea is one which aims at offering regular racing to more enthusiasts than could afford to participate before the lights went out all over Europe in 1939. He points out that few suitable racing cars have been produced since 1930, and foresees, to start with, a shortage of cars. Rebuilding .a production car is an expensive business if a really fast car, reliable throughout a long race, is required. Francis thinks that support from manufacturers may as well be forgotten, and adds that the advertising value of racing is finished. Basing his reasoning on the high cost of racing, he suggests proper organisation to be essential. A car run in only a few races, even if it escapes a major blowup, is likely to cost its owner £250 a year for its” keep.” The scheme, then, is to spend this money, not on a privately-operated racing stable, but to support a central controlling body, which would not only organise races for various groups of drivers around the country, but which would design and build, as it were, a” utility” racing car. Francis has in mind a standard racing engine which could be assembled in various sizes, such as 500-cc. 4-cylinder, 750-c.c. 6-cylinder, or 1,100-c.c. 8-cylinder, and installed in various forms of chassis. Each group, under the aegis of the controlling body, would, in its own workshops, undertake to assemble cars for its members. Given 1,000 enthusiastic amateurs, ten groups of 100 enthusiasts each could be formed. If each driving member paid an entry fee of £25 and a subscription of £100 a year, each group would have an income of 112,500 a year to play with, of which Francis suggests that £5,000 could be devoted to building clubrooms, workshops and meeting labour and material charges, while the balance of £7,500 could be paid to the controlling body. This would give the central organisation, an income of £75,000 per year for the production of chassis and engine components, in a fully-equipped workshop manned by a skilled staff. This, it is considered, would result in 200 sets of component parts a year, enabling each group to operate 20 cars, which number wouldincrease season by season. Putting down 60 per cent. to 70 per cent, of the cost of a racing car as attributable to hand fitting and assembly, a car normally costing £500 could, with this semi-mass production and assembly by members, be produced for about £200. Francis considers that with such ample funds and so many well-matched, reliable cars, racing could not fail to prosper, and successful meetings ensue at Donington, Brooklands and the Crystal Palace. This scheme has a little in common with Laurence Pomeroy’s suggested one-make racing, but, as with his plot, we cannot see
quite eye to eye. The crux of the whole thing, apart from whether such stereotyped racing would appeal sufficiently to British spectating and competing enthusiasts, is financial. Would 1,000 people be forthcoming who would give £2 a week in return for working on the cars, remembering that they would have to find, in addition, £250 for a car and presumably meet some running costs if they desired to drive ? Francis certainly “has something” when you balance this outlay against that of buying a £700 car and gambling on a minimum of £4 a week operating expenses, to race occasionally, probably against continual stiff opposition. And, admittedly, before the war there must have existed, if not 1,000, at any rate many hundreds of people anxious to race, and to ask them 12 approximately a week to do so sounds very reasonable. However, when you pare down this number by excluding those who spent more like £15 a week on racing, those who only wish to drive and not to work, those who want to work, but voluntarily on an individual car, and those who only want to drive if they can drive an individual car, your 1,000 enthusiasts in ten strong groups could well become two or three hundred enthusiasts with only forty cars in all, or one car per five members. If this is the case we are back at the stage where organisers have to be approached to put on special races for one-make cars—and, as we have said before, they are likely to judge such events of insufficient interest to the gate to merit much encouragement. Against this, of course, Francis’s proposed cars should be able to compete successfully with existing cars, and they would be far more spectacular than 500-c.c. cyclecars or unblown 750s. And with a balance of a mere 15,000 in the central pool much could be accomplished in the way of hiring circuits, etc. Personally, while we have had quite enough of State control in this war, it seems this communal racing scheme is worth consideration. What do you think ? While any suggestion that motor-racing is especially dangerous is to be deprecated, it is certainly not a soft pastime, and there is much in the Philosophy philosophy expounded by the late Lt.-Comdr. Robert Peverell Hitehens, D.S.O., D.S.C., R.N.V.R., to commend it, at the present time and age. In his excellent book, “We Fought Them in Gunboats” (Michael Joseph) he expresses the following opinion : “Searching back into those early days I wondered why I had needlessly sought discomfort and danger in that lit tle boat. It was clear to me that I had been groping unknowingly towards a philosophy that was now deeply embedded. Security, life without risk ; it was all wrong. In seeking for these humanity was following a false god. Life was inherently insecure. Why fight the inevitable? Why not outface it and dare the worst ? That was at bottom the philosophy I had developed, through lonely days in small boats, and later at the wheel of a racing car. The advantages had soon become apparent. Living an ordinary secure life ashore in peace
time, I had found that small things often loomed large, out of proportion. Little annoyances assumed the aspect of real grievances, fleeting, unworthy pleasures ranked high with the real treasures of life. True values were getting mixed. I may have been specially prone to this ; certain it is that I often found myself in a rage over a minor inconvenience., or unduly cast down because I had been deprived of some trifling amusement. I had found that the most decisive way to clear the head, to regain proper values and humility, was to experience a real whiff of danger. Some may use religion, some music, others drink ; for me danger. It is unforgettably effective. To feel real, instant fear of death ; to contemplate the infinite, not from the security of a comfortable armchair, but as something imminent, pressing, that may engulf you now or before to-morrow’s sun has set. That gives you to think. Values sort themselves out as if by magic. Petty anger, pride, worthless ambitions take a nasty knock. That this point of view, the necessity for living dangerously, is fairly generally appreciated, is shown by the popularity of dangerous sports. Sailing, hunting, big game shooting, motor racing, all bear witness to this philosophy. Each can be made dangerous and, in my opinion, the value of a sport can be measured in direct ratio to the danger involved.” Hitchens used, of course, to prepare and race his Aston-Martin at Le Mans, and he owned for a time the ex-Zborowski 16-valve Bamford and Martin Aston, which he drove in an M,C.C. ” Exeter ” trial, only to break the back axle ; he refers to his racing more than once in his book. In this war he did a very great deal to get the motor gunboats established, and he won the D.S.O., the D.S.C. and two bars, an.d was thrice mentioned in despatches. A stray enemy shell killed him on April 13th, 1943. Men of his calibre, so often regarded as headstrong and foolish in peacetime, are those who prove their quality unquestionably in war. Let backroom personnel for ever remember this. In these days of keen price competition, few sportscar manufacturers care to embark on the expense of making their own gearboxes, and they At the Touch often buy one of the proprietary
of a Switch brands. These excellent appliances have to appeal to as wide a market as possible, and are therefore seldom ideally suited to the sports car.
Clearly, the ideal would be a proprietary box in which the ratios could be altered to suit varying requirements. This may sound a rather unattainable ideal, but a means of securing it has been devised by Dr. J. R. Edisbury and Cecil Clutton, working in collaboration, and they have covered their design by a provisional patent. The scheme arose from an article in MOTOR SPORT on gear ratios, by Clutton, in which he extolled the Cotal gearbox, but regretted the very wide ratios which it supplies. This article was followed by one from Edisbury, explaining why the normal Cotal inevitably suffered from this disability. Clutton and Edisbury then got in touch and concluded that if a variant of the Cotal were to be constructed with three trains of gears instead of the Cotal’s two, a wide
variety of ratios (eight all told) would at once become available, according to the manner in which the box was wired up electrically. Other designers have produced multi-ratio boxes in the past, but they have riot met with success ; there is no doubt that the public is not prepared to operate gearboxes with more than four forward ratios. In the Clutton-Edisbury device the gear-shift is similar to the normal Cotal visible gate, providing only four forward ratios, but in addition, there is also a threeway switch by means of which the spacing of the ratios may be varied, and it is this switch that is really the
subject of the provisional patent. What the switch does, in effect, is to alter the wiring up of the electromagnets which bring the epicyclic trains into action. It is not, therefore, to be confused with the twin gearbox idea, as is found on many vehicles from Jeeps to Jensens. In these cases all the ratios are shifted up or down, but the spacing of the ratios remains the same. In a typical Clutton-Edisbury design the three-way switch gives a choice of the following sets of ratios :— Close : 1, 1.3, 1.7, 2.2 to 1 Normal : 1, 1.3, 2.0, 3.4 to 1 Wide : 1, 1.7, 2.6, 4.45 to 1
For use when fitting to existing cars with a rather low axle ratio, a variant is available; which provides practically the same set of eight ratios with an overdrive of 0.77 to 1 in place of the 2.2-to-1 reduction.
Closer or wider “fundamental spacings” are possible, a matter of changing the number of gear teeth, but the above, based on a 30 per cent, drop from top to 3rd and 3rd to 2nd is probably the most useful. Such a box would clearly meet the demands of a wide and varied range of manufacturers, and would have a special appeal to the enthusiast. A make such as the H.R.G., for example, is sold to people who want to use it for reliability trials, others who intend to participate in road racing, and others who just want a fast tourer. There are even those versatile bodies who use the same car for all three. Let us see what ratios they will have available, at a touch of the finger, for each purpose, using the standard H.R.G. axle-ratio of 4 to L Racing : 4, 5.2, 6.8, 8.8 to 1 Touring : 4, 5.2, 8.0, 13.6 to 1 Trials : 4, 6.8, 10.4, 17.8 to 1
For each purpose it would be hard to devise a more ideal set of ratios, yet all are instantly available from the same gearbox.
While the inventors consider that their device is most suited for application in conjunction with the Cotal form of electric operation, it is nevertheless applicable to other forms of variable gear, whether normal spur pinions or internal gears, chains, epicyclic trains, frictional devices and whatnot. Equally, the three-way selector switch may be electric, pneumatic, hydraulic, mechanical, etc., either operating singly or in combination.
It certainly seems that Clutton and Edisbury have got hold of something which should have a very strong appeal to anyone setting out to buy a proprietary gearbox, and to sporting drivers in particular.
The number of their provisional patent is 16186/44.