The Lanchesters

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Last April, at our request, John Bolster contributed some notes on Rolls-Royce cars, and this led W. Stuart Best to request similar notes on the Lanchesters. Accordingly, we invited him to write them himself, and his contribution follows — these days, not only the sports car, but any car which possesses individuality or is the antithesis of the mass-produced product, is of interest to the enthusiast; and the older Lanchesters certainly qualify in these respects.—Ed.

The 40-h.p. Lanchester was presented at the 1919 Motor Show as a declared rival to Rolls-Royce. It had a 6-cylinder o.h.v. engine of 6,178 c.c.Treasury rating 38.4 — an 11-ft. 9-in. wheelbase, and a track of 4 ft. 10 in., 3-speed epicyclic gearbox with a top gear ratio of 3.8 to 1, worm final drive, full cantilever suspension at rear and semi-elliptics in front. Something over 1,000 were put on the road in the next 10 years. An open tourer was tested by The Autocar in 1922. Seating seven and weighing 42 cwt., it averaged 77 m.p.h. over the mile at Brooklands, climbed the Test Hill at 17.92 m.p.h., and accelerated from 10 to 30 on second in 8 2/5 secs. At a speed of 28-30 m.p.h., with the same carburetter setting, it gave 15.4 m.p.g. There was a long wheelbase chassis of12-ft. 6-in, carrying a lot of coachwork. K. S. Ranjitsinji had several of these cars, and our present King had two “forties.”

In 1924 a 21-h.p. model was introduced (nine experimental models having been built and tested in 1923). Soon afterwards the engine was slightly enlarged to 3,227 c.c., giving a 23-h.p. rating. The wheelbase was 10 ft. 9 in., and an alternative wheelbase of 11 ft. 1 in. was introduced, which finally supplanted the shorter. This model had the same suspension and worm final drive as the “40,” but an orthodox 4-speed “crash” gearbox with a top gear ratio of 4.75 to 1. They were fine cars, giving a maximum of 65 m.p.h., with heavy closed coachwork. They were generally grossly overbodied. I bought a 1924 tourer in 1929 which had evidently done a pretty good mileage. Though unprovided with occasional seats there was plenty of room for them, and, in fact, I used to put a fold-up chair to carry a seventh passenger (the front seat was of the bench type and would take three with a mild squeeze). She did 17 m.p.g. (20 m.p.g. on flat roads like Cambridge-London) and 60 m.p.h. It was a beautifully suave and quiet engine, which would tour happily at 50 m.p.h., though its more usual gait was 40-45 m.p.h.; with good suspension and rather over-light steering. The only troubles were a mysterious loss of power (traced to a leak in the suction of windscreen wiper) and a faulty magneto.

The Straight Eight was introduced in 1928, when a fabric saloon was entered for the Southport Rally and won the Southport Cup in the Concours d’Elegance. It had the same bore and stroke as the “21,” with a capacity of 4,436 c.c., and a Treasury rating of 31 h.p. It had an 11-ft. 10 1/2-in. wheelbase, still with the cantilever rear suspension, and worm final drive. Top was 4.375 to 1. The engine developed 90 b.h.p. at 3,000 r.p.m. and ran up to 3,400 r.p.m. It was of wonderfully clean design, beautifully (hand) finished. The crankshaft was supported by no less than 10 bearings. The o.h.c. was, even to the complete mechanical tyro like myself, a thing of beauty. With saloon coachwork it did nearly 80 m.p.h. on top, and 55 m.p.h. on third. I was told that a supercharged 100-m.p.h. version was being designed, when the firm was sold to B.S.A.

The “40” had, I should think, much the same performance as the “Phantom I” Rolls-Royce; the “21” was definitely faster than the 20-h.p. Rolls-Royce. Judged from the kerbside, the “40” and “21” models varied greatly in mechanical silence, ranging from extremely quiet to rather noisy, and this, I think, also applied to the Straight Eight; my own was very quiet. When it passed one at 30 or 40 m.p.h. one could hear only the tyres. I was able to compare it with a 1930 and a 1934 “Phantom II,” the second being much quieter than the first. I judged that the Rolls-Royce was much quieter on the intermediates than the Lanchester, and more silent in top up to about 20 m.p.h., after which there was nothing in it (judging each car from the front seat).

My 7-seater “Windover Sedanca” weighed no less than 45 cwt. (chassis weight, 26 cwt.) and maximum speed was 73 m.p.h. It was quite happy at 50 to 55 m.p.h. on third, and in top cruised indefinitely at 60 m.p.h. Steering and roadholding were good for the type of car, steering a bit on the light side at speed and heavy at very low speeds, and skidding almost unknown.

Durability and reliability were outstanding qualities of all three models. Judging from the state of the engine of my Straight light at 60,000 miles, it would not have needed a rebore before 100,000 miles. The fitting of extra scraper rings at the former mileage considerably improved oil consumption over the previous best, bringing it up to 900 m.p.g.

Turning to maintenance, only the most routine matters are within my competence to discuss. I generally used 9 gallons of Power to 3 gallons of National Benzole, and always used Duckharn’s Adcol N.P.3 (winter as well as summer), on which the car ran cooler than any other brand (incidentally, slight overheating of the front compartment was due, I believe, to my fitting a radiator stone guard). The radiator, however, with its characteristic round inspection window, needed replenishing only at very long intervals.

Dual coil and magneto ignition was a great advantage, as the car could, of course, be run without the battery. The running was better on the dual ignition than on either separately.

Individual brake adjustment on each wheel took time and trouble, but was well worth it. The combination of power and smoothness was remarkable. There was servo assistance, the absence of which, when the engine was turned off, could be dangerous if one was careless. The wide orifices for oiling back axle and gearbox were provided, as was the sump, with hinged lids which screwed down and were very accessible, as were most, though not quite all, the greasing nipples. Allowing the petrol to get low in the 16-gallon petrol tank led to trouble with the Autovac. A cycle pump saved the lungs here.

These disjointed notes have made no attempt to describe the strong fascination which it gave to travel in the driver’s seat, or on his left, or even, in a different way, the back seat of one of these cars. The satisfaction it gave one to sit behind the Straight Eight engine was very real, and never palled.

Finally, for readers of Motor Sport, one ought to recall.that two “Forties” were adapted for racing. They were successful in the, hands of Parry Thomas and others, and held the British 12-hour record for a number of years. Motor Sport published a full description in 1925. Also, I remember there was a boat-tailed open Sports “21,” and two Straight Eights with light, sporting coachwork were turned out, one open and one closed. I tried the saloon, and though only 78 m.p.h. was claimed for it, it ran up to 70 m.p.h. in a short distance and had much brisker acceleration, naturally, than my heavy “Sedanca.” [It is debatable whether two racing “Forties” or only one were built, but certainly Parry Thomas got extremely good results from a car which did not differ so very greatly from the standard chassis — this Lanchester lapped Brooklands at nearly 110 m.p.h., took the British 12-Hour Record at 95.66 m.p.h., and covered thousands of miles at high speed testing Rapson tyres. Alas, some years ago it was sold to an Eastbourne breaker for £5 and smashed up, despite my efforts to save it this ignominious end. — Ed.}