Letters from Readers, October 1945

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Sir, Your tribute to the late Robert Benoist in Motor Sport of August will bring feelings of deep regret and sorrow to all those whose memory of motor racing, goes back over the past 25 years and who saw his skilful driving in those long gone years.

Robert Benoist first came to notice of British racegoers in the year 1922 when he won the 1,100-c.c. class of the second 200-Mile Race on a French Salmson at 81.88 m.p.h., and during the race completed several laps at just under 90 m.p.h. — a very high speed for a 1,100-c.c. car in those days — on Brooklands track.

His next win was the Grand Prix des Voiturettes, and here he averaged 61.3 m.p.h. on the hard Le Mans circuit.

Among the more important victories that he managed to secure in 1923 were the Grand Prix de Boulogne, 1,100c.c. class, Benoist bringing his Salmson home first in 4 hrs. 26 min. 47 sec., and only a few minutes behind Segrave on the Talbot, beating all other 1,500-c.c. cars. Next, a 24-hour event, the Bol d’Or, which he secured at an average of 46 m.p.h. over the difficult course in the Forest of St. Germaine, his team mates coming second and third, all on Salmson cars. Following was the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, where his skilful driving of the Salmson resulted in another first place. The scene now changed to Le Mans, and in the Grand Prix des Voiturettes Benoist once again finished first, at 65.5 m.p.h., and covered one lap at the very high average of 70.4 m.p.h. If any proof of his superb skill were needed, surely this provided it, bearing in mind the cars of that day.

In the 200-Mile Race, after putting in some very fast laps, he had trouble with a leaking cylinder jacket and came in third, behind his team mate, Bueno. At the end of this wonderful season the Salmson racing team was broken up and Benoist left to join the Delage camp but Salmson continued to uphold his fine tradition and kept the flag of victory flying.

We next saw Robert Benoist at the wheel of the beautiful 12-cylinder Delage, and very soon his great ability was apparent here. The first of these cars had run in the 1923 French Grand Prix, but did not stay out the full course, and for 1924 Louis Delage built three cars of similar type for the year’s racing, and they started in the Grand Prix, with Benoist, Divo and Réné Thomas driving. The race was won by Campari on the faster Alfa-Romeo, but Divo came in second and Benoist third. For 1925 Delage ran supercharged cars, and in the French Grand Prix, at Montlhèry, Benoist came in first, with Wagner second, thus gaining for Delage the third French Grand Prix ever won by a French manufacturer. The Spanish G.P. was also claimed by Delage, Divo, Benoist and Thomas, finishing first, second and third. In 1926 the limit of 1,500 c.c. was set for Grand Prix races, and Delage built new racers with eight cylinders of 55.8 by 76 mm. bore and stroke, and three cars started in the European Grand Prix on the Lasarte course, San Sebastian, but though the Delages were the faster cars, the drivers suffered so greatly from the heat and fumes that they could only obtain second and fifth places, which were taken by Bourlier and Senechal, and Benoist and Morel.

The British G.P. of 1926 will be remembered by many of the older readers of Motor Sport. The Delage team, still troubled with the exhaust system and suffering intensely from the terrific heat, put up a magnificent fight with the new Talbot cars and finished first and third; Benoist’s cur coming in third.

The year 1927 saw the culminating victory for Robert Benoist, since he won every Grand Prix race for which Delage entered, these being in the order named: G.P. de l’Ouverture, Montlhèry; French G.P., Montlhèry; Spanish G.P., San Sebastian; European G.P., Monza; and the British G.P., Brooklands. Benoist thus gained for Delage his second French Grand Prix, an honour only once before obtained by a French manufacturer, when Georges Boillot twice won this event for Peugeot.

As you have already stated in the August Motor Sport, Benoist later went to the firm of Bugatti, and one of his last big victories was the Le Mans Race of 1937, which he won in company with Wimille.

Robert Benoist was a superb and finished driver, as all who witnessed his work in England, and still more on the Continent, will agree; his skill and cool judgment at the wheel brought success to every firm for whom he raced; he was a good sportsman of the very highest order and, above all, a very gallant Frenchman, who laid down his life in the greatest cause of all, that of freedom for the whole world.

I am, Yours, etc.,
W. L. Jennings.
Thorpe Bay.

Sir, Following on the remarks in the August Motor Sport re Eugene Bjornstadt’s E.R.A., you might perhaps find the following information about it interesting.

In April of this year, while staying with a friend, I noticed a grey E.R.A. with red wheels in the window of H. W. Motors, Ltd., Walton-on-Thames. Consequently, I lost no time in making an inspection. According to Mr. J. B. Heath, one of the manager-directors of H. W. Motors, who showed her to me, she was completed in June, 1934, and was reputed to give 160 b.h.p. at 7,000 r.p.m. Her number is R1A. The car’s first race was in the British Empire Trophy in June, when, driven by Mays and Cook, the car did not achieve any success.

The following August Mays won a Mountain Handicap in it. Then in September he took the 1 1/2 litre standing start kilo and mile records, respectively, at 83.35 and 96.08 m.p.h.

In June, 1935, Mays made the name of E.R.A. something to be reckoned with on the Continent by winning the Eifelrennen 1,500-c.c. Race. Previous to this, in May, the car was driven by Mays at Shelsley Walsh, where — according to the information given me by Mr. Heath — it achieved the second f.t.d. Surely, however, this is wrong, for if my memory serves me aright, Mays broke the record on that occasion? Mays is then supposed to have raced her in the Nuffield Trophy in July, but, according to my records, Fairfield’s car was the only E.R.A. in that race.

Early in 1936 the car was bought by a Frenchman, and at the end of the year by Major Cotten. In October the car appeared in the Vanderbilt Cup Race in America, driven by Brian Lewis and F. E. Clifford.

At the beginning of 1937, Bjornstadt bought the car and raced it in April in the Turin and Naples 1,500-c.c. Races, achieving first and third places, respectively. He then took it to Finland, finishing third in the Finnish G.P. W. E. Humphreys bought it at the end of 1937 and proceeded to spend over £900 on it. He then sold it — in 1942, I believe — to H. W. Motors, who are — or were — offering it for sale at £1,850.

That, as far as I can ascertain, is the racing history of the first E.R.A. ever to be built by a very gallant firm.

I am, Yours, etc.,
R. J. R. Lewis.
Weston-super-Mare.

[R1A was certainly the first E.R.A., and the above history seems substantially correct. The car made second fastest time at Shelsley Walsh in May, 1935, clocking 39.8 sec., Mays also driving a 2-litre E.R.A., which made f.t.d. in 39.6 sec. Fairfield’s 1,100-c.c. E.R.A. was the only one in the 1935 Nuffield Trophy, which it won at 63.67 m.p.h. Seaman’s E.R.A. was entered, but ran a big-end in practice. — Ed]

Sir,

Re August issue, page 170, I think paragraph headed “Resume Racing” contains a slight error. The July 14th races, at which I was present, were held in the grounds of Bangor Castle by the Ards Motor Cycle Club. The Ards car race circuit was not used. Races were again held on same circuit on August 11th, when the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Sir Basil Brooke, was present. I wasn’t able to attend this event, but I am told that the Prime Minister drove round the course in a Mercédès-Benz, and addressed the crowd, etc.

It looks as though the Government here is not “anti-racing.”

Incidentally, the Ards car race circuit is in good order. I was on it last Sunday and it is a magnificent road. Looks even better that in pre-war days; but, of course, this is an illusion, as I do not think it has been altered.

I am, Yours, etc.,
William B. McNeill.
Dungannon, Co. Tyrone.

Sir,

Various people have written their wartime motoring experiences for Motor Sport, and, although I have not motored very much during the last five years, there have been some bright spots, both in Service motoring and on leave, culminating in one of those all too rare and too brief parties in something really exciting — a Type 57 Bugatti.

For my own motoring at present I have a 1936 Austin Seven — saloon willy nilly — but in very good condition and promising to go quite well when I have the time, and enough gold, to dive inside it.

Kind and very trusting friends have lent me other cars at odd times, including a delightful 2-litre Mercédès “Taxi,” with partition, which was “owned” for a short time by the group captain commanding my wing. With a 2-litre side-valve motor, quite a large body and i.f.s. and i.r.s., the little Mercédès performed in an unobtrusive but, nevertheless, surprising fashion for a machine of such staid appearance, while the whole feel of the car was decidedly thoroughbred.

For a short time I drove an Opel “Olympia,” which did quite a bit of cross-country work in pursuit of four-legged game after the close season began for the Boche.

Of its sort, and at the price, I think the Opel is a remarkable piece of machinery. It has a number of points in its favour and, in my opinion, would repay close study by the manufacturers of some of the peculiar small cars that are lapped up by the unsuspecting great British public.

Apart from these, and one or two others, I’ve had drives in any other Service vehicles I could lay hands on, from an assortment of Jeeps and V.8 Fordsons to a captured Renault baby tank which had been used by the Hun for aerodrome defence.

Then one day quite recently, making my way by air to Brussels with several other people, I arrived at an airfield in Holland, where we were to pick up a very gay and gallant young Dutch pilot who used to be on my wing. He arrived a few minutes later in a really lovely Type 57 Bugatti, with a drophead coupé body of unknown make. He had only acquired the Bugatti the day before and was so much in love with it that he decided to drive the 190 odd miles to Brussels in spite of the fact that he would be late for an important engagement. That settled me too — I leaped aboard, and aeroplanes were forgotten!

We set off with a very businesslike exhaust note, the usual Bugatti noises from the machinery and a glorious faint whiff of warm “R.”

This motor was the “plain” unblown 57, with a single big vertical Stromberg carburetter. It was in grand condition and had done only a small “kilometreage.”

We drove through Enschede, Hengelo, Zutphen, Arnhem, Nijmegen, Eindhoven and Louvain to Brussels. The Dutch roads are excellent, it was a fine summer afternoon and, although there was a lot of traffic about, the Bugatti’s performance was more than equal to the occasion. Using the gearbox it was brilliant, but even in top gear the acceleration was such that one could wander up behind a convoy and, as soon as the road was clear, a flick of the wrist and a little throttle would swing her into position and away with lots of urge to spare.

As we left Nijmegen the Dutchman said, “Would you like to drive?” So from there to Eindhoven I did something I have only dreamed about for the last five years and drove a real motor-car. There was something about the “feel” of that Bugatti that made me almost burst with joie de vivre; beautiful high-geared steering, with no “lost motion,” a lovely gearbox, grand brakes and a perfect forward view of that lovely little radiator filler-cap, two big lamps and both wings — what a joy after peering past an enormous acreage of tin at the road somewhere “out in front” in the average cheap modern horror.

At Eindhoven we had tea with some charming Dutch people, refuelled and topped up the radiator, as one of the water pump glands was leaking slightly, and then we passed on towards Brussels at a rate of knots. After the frontier, the Dutchman very sportingly let me drive again, to my great joy.

The Belgian roads were not so good, there was a good deal of rather unpleasant pavé, and we decided that the tyre pressures were a bit high (the Telecontrol shock-absorbers were slacked right off), but as we had no pressure gauge we decided to leave them, choose the speed at which the Bugatti did not hop about too wildly, and stick to that rather than shake it, and ourselves, to pieces by going too quickly.

Eventually we got to Brussels in quite good time, having cruised at anything between 70 and 95 m.p.h. for long stretches, with obviously “more to come” if it was wanted.

We arrived rather dusty, but in tremendously good form, to find a really good party going already, so, having tucked the Bugatti into a garage, we waded in too!

The Dutchman returned five days later to Eindhoven and asked me to go with him, saying: “Now you have gone solo, you can fly it all the way.” Alas, for the exigencies of Service, I had to return to my own station by air, leaving him to do the journey alone. I shall remember that drive for a long time.

I am, Yours, etc.,
R.A.F. Peter Coleby (F/O.)

Sir,

I am afraid that I cannot help Mr. Anthony Phelps, who asks wherein lies the fascination of the small-engined car I think it is one of those likes or dislikes that are born in one.

I must, however, correct the mistaken impression as to the reliability of the Austin “Nippy” which I now see can be read into my article which appeared in April, and which is added to by the quotation by Mr. Phelps of remarks that are certainly not mine.

The complete loss of big-ends is not, as one might imagine, a weekly occurrence, but happened to me only once. In some “Nippys” failure of one big-end has been followed by the failure of more within a short space of time, but this is due to the inability of the average garage mechanic to realise quite how far odd bits of white metal can travel inside an engine, together with failure to heed the warning given by a rising oil pressure reading. Trouble in this direction can be avoided by keeping a watchful eye on the oil pressure gauge, which indicates by a rise the partial or complete blockage of the oil jets. The “immediate action” is then to remove the plugs over the jets and to poke a piece of wire through them — a five-minute job, required about once per fortnight on the average, sometimes more frequently.

The main bearings only work loose on the crankshaft after some 30,000 miles, and the trouble can then be completely cured by building them up slightly oversize so that the races are a rather tighter fit than normal, so that it is not a serious defect.

I wrote that it paid to grind-in the valves lightly every 1,000 miles, not that it was advisable.

My “Nippy” let me down twice in six years, admittedly on three occasions with little use, once the time when the afore-mentioned big-ends departed and the other when a front brake camshaft seized overnight, locking the brake on (which is why I do not like oil-less bushes). Providing that the oil pressure gauge is watched and the oil jets are cleared, the “Nippy” will run on like any other Austin Seven without any attention at all, but with a falling-off of performance that is only to be expected. Perhaps the best testimony to the “Nippy’s” reliability is that I am considering supercharging it, an idea which I certainly should not entertain were its unblown reliability in question.

Its performance also approximates fairly closely to that of the “12/40” Lea-Francis, that was its predecessor, and to that of a “12/50” Alvis that a friend of mine used to have.

I am, Yours, etc.,
J. S. Moon (Capt.).
S.E.A.C.

Sir,

May I offer my heartiest congratulations to my old friend, Capt. John Moon, on his masterly article on the Jeep, appearing in your September issue.

You may be interested to know a few more obvious differences between the Ford Motor Company’s early G.P. type and the later G.P.W.

The early G.P. type Jeep had “Ford” embossed in the well-known Ford script on the rear of the body, it also had normal side-plated shackles instead of the threaded “U” type on the G.P.W. The earliest G.P.s had small vane-type shock absorbers, instead of the now well-known piston pattern, and, as far as I can remember, the transfer case was offset to the near (English) side. G’P.W.s have the transfer case and drives on the off (English) side.

An obvious difference between the Ford G.P.W. Jeep and the Willys M.B. is the front cross-member. This is tubular in the M.B. and box-section in the Ford G.P.W.

I notice that your contributor in “Cars I Have Owned” mentions that, when changing down on his “Montlhèry” M.G. Midget, the exhaust note caused hikers to part “like the Sea of Galilee”; can he, by any chance, have meant the Red Sea, which parted miraculously to allow the passage of the Israelites, only to overwhelm their pursuers, Pharaoh and his Egyptians, when they attempted to follow?

I am, Yours, etc.,
Harold Biggs.
Enfield.

Sir,

I write to refute the adverse amusing comments of Mr. John Bolster on the D.K.W. car. Not for nothing this car known in its country of origin the little wonder.

To take his letter point by point:

(1) Shoddy, poverty-stricken contraption. The interior finish is undoubtedly plain, but I am puzzled at this criticism. Does Mr. Bolster want flower vases and ash-trays? Or do these remarks apply to the impregnated ply-wood fabric-covered bodywork only? The strength and lightness of this are unequalled by other methods of construction. Does Mr. Bolster frown on the Mosquito? Beauty, I know, lies in the eye of the beholder, but, in my opinion, the car is by no means un-attractive in appearance.

(2) Makes a noise like a worn-out motor mower. My D.K.W. certainly makes an odd bang and pop or two when first started from cold and occasionally four strokes, but is definitely at least as quiet as its contemporaries when on the move. Engineers riding in it have praised its quietness and smoothness, and were amazed to learn that the engine was a 2-cylinder and 2-stroke, which ran without messiness or beastliness and with very little attention.

(3) The springing and steering are both first-class. For confirmation refer to the Motor Sport or other motor papers’ road test reports. Mr. Bolster’s judgement must be warped. The brakes, I agree, require a bit of tinkering to reasonable braking.

(4) Heath Robinson electrical system. The car has a robust, compact and enclosed combined dyno-start and ignition unit, with two sets of coils, condensers and contact breaker points. This, in my experience, is very efficient and after 30,000 miles still absolutely trouble free. The breaker points, I admit are not accessible, but can be worked on after the removal of a wheel in a good light and with reasonable comfort by using a petrol tin or something similar as a seat. I am curious to learn how a man who has constructed some of most awful contrivances on four wheels with snaking chains and exhaust pipes running riot in all directions, has the sheer nerve to refer to the properly designed D.K.W. as a Heath Robinson affair.

Mr. Bolster is sarcastic about the car being foreign. Does he not himself run a large Delage, and perhaps other foreign cars, too? No one I imagine is so silly as to make any such sweeping statement that all foreign cars are perfect and British cars are not. My point is that although British car manufacturers could almost certainly build much better cars than those that come from the Continent, in practice they don’t! Whether this is the fault of the manufacturer or his customer, I don’t know.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Charles M Dunn (Lt.).
R.A.