On Gregor Grant's Book



(“British Sports Cars,” by Gregor Grant Foulis & Co., 8s. 6d.)

Amongst the spate of new motoring books which we have had recently or which are promised in the next few months, a title which stands out is “British Sports Cars,” by Gregor Grant. A book on the high-performance cars which have graced our roads and delighted enthusiasts down the years has been long overdue and now Grant’s comprehensive work is in our hands. He gives descriptions of 96 different makes, from 1900 onwards, together with chapters on monocars, “specials,” three-wheelers and accessories, together with a list of modern manufacturers and a personalities index, in a book of 202 pages, including quite a useful bunch of advertisements at the end.

The production is up to Foulis’ usual standard and the illustrations are, in the main, excellent, although a few “maker’s handouts” are found amongst them. The frontispiece is really worthwhile, comprising a chassis-drawing of a Meadows’ Frazer-Nash backed by a fine photograph of a 1 1/2-litre “Ulster” Aston-Martin. One could, however, have wished for more historical pictures in a book of this kind — there is a small snap of the first four-cylinder Frazer-Nash, and a photograph of a 1921 racing A.C., but otherwise nothing very original, except for thumb-nail sketches of some of the odder light cars. The dust-jacket shows a typical trials car, and -what is possibly a modern Frazer-Nash participating in a fictitious race-of-the-aerodynamics.

Grant has much of interest to tell us about such classic British sports cars as A.C., Allard, Alta, Alvis, Aston-Martin, Bentley, Frazer-Nash, H.R.G., Lagonda, Singer, Talbot and the like. He also covers such rare devices as Ariel, Barnard, Baughan, Bleriot-Whippet, Buckingham, Carrow, Douglas, Hariscot, Junior Sports, Stanhope and others — so that the omission of Arab, Beardmore 2-litre, twin o.h.c. straight-eight Beverley-Barnes, Hadfield-Bean, Jackson-Jowett, the very advanced twin o.h.c. Maudslay, Star, Windsor, Reynard and Moveo, etc., is all the more obvious. However, the book contains such a vast wealth of information that these omissions can be forgiven and, indeed, so interesting did I find Gregor Grant’s accounts that I hope he will forgive me for reviewing them in some detail.

It is most interesting to know that the author recently had a run in an A.B.C. with 95,000 miles to its credit and only one re-bore, and he gives us a very adequate picture of what these sporting cars were like, although I feel that the petrol filler on the dummy radiator and the very-nice-to-use vertical-gate gear change might have been mentioned. The A.C. also comes in for a generous description, from its earliest days, as do Allard and Alvis, although there is rather a suggestion that Harvey won the 1923 200-Mile Race with a sports “duck’s-back” “12/ 50” Alvis, whereas, of course, his car was rather special in various ways. Incidentally, the first straight-eight f.w.d. Alvis appeared in 1926, not 1927. The origin of the Aston-Martin is confirmed as a small Isotta-Fraschini chassis endowed by Lionel Martin in 1913 with a 1,400-c.c. Coventry-Simplex s.v. engine, and there is intriguing reference to special extractor exhaust porting for the 2-litre Aston-Martin engine. All models of the Atalanta are dealt with, but no reference is made to the firm’s early employment of the unusual 3-valve-per-cylinder head, or supercharging through the carburetter with control by clutch. The Austin Seven gets about three pages, but the author seems to have become confused between the production “Ulster” Seven and the T.T. racing model, although I have been at some pains to make the differences clear in Motor Sport. Grant states that many people appear to think that the “downswept front axle and inverted springs” of their 1930 sports models stamp them as genuine “Ulster” which this form of suspension, with single spring of course, most certainly did. The cars he describes as coming later and being “real Ulster” were, in fact, the works T.T. cars.

Naturally, Bentley gets about as much space as anything in the book and pretty obviously the admirable article which the B.D.C. wrote for Motor Sport last February has provided the author with much of his data. Grant’s account is certainly worth having between the covers of a book, but, if I may say so, I think it a trifle misleading to imply that one or two 8 litres were made in sports form, coupling these with Mr. Lycett’s, as Forrest Lycett’s car is rather special, whereas those open 8 litres turned out by the manufacturers were touring rather than sports cars. The 4 litre is not mentioned. The author recalls covering the timed 1/2 mile at Brooklands at 87 m.p.h. in a standard four-seater British Salmson and that is the finest praise he could bestow on this make, for I seem to remember going only one mile per hour faster in a 2-seater Meadows-H.R.G.

Crossley evolution is sketched from the R.F.C./R.A.F. staff car days, but a rather unfortunate omission is the “20/70 “, which in 1925 offered 75 m.p.h. from a side-valve engine in spite of pulling a top gear of the “30/98 “order. Whether the Crouch quite qualifies as one of the “fine hand-built” old motor cars I leave to my older readers, but I can amplify Grant’s remark, anent the Douglas light car, that “a racing car was also constructed,” with the information that at least three of these water-cooled, flat-twins were racing at Weybridge in 1921.

The author gives us some most useful “gen” under the heading of Frazer-Nash, telling us a lot about the original four-cylinder model. He says the engine was a D.F.P., but omits to tell us whether it was manufactured over here as the Powerplus, so that where the latter fits in with Frazer-Nash history remains a mystery. There seems to be a bit of confusion, also, about dogs and gears. It is rather a pity, too, that the later models are not identified one from another, and that, as no reference is made to the Gough engine, the inference is that the twin-blower “Shelsley” cars had either a Meadows or Blackburn unit. Incidentally, the Meadows-engined-“T.T. Replica” Frazer-Nash now owned by Charles Bulmer, Secretary of the Hants and Berks M.C., and before that by Jenkinson, is captioned beneath its photograph as a six-cylinder car, while, even more confusing, the text tells us that “PD 1578” was the very first Frazer-Nash with D.F.P. engine, but its picture-caption says that it is an Anzani-engined car.

Another rather misleading statement is that which cites John Bolster’s “Bloody Mary” as an example of the type of “special” based on the G.N. chassis — actually, there are two “Marys” and even the original one has a wooden frame, a gearbox, and single-chain final drive, although its springs may well be G.N. The G.N. “Mowgli” racing engine is described as “having four valves in the head operated by an exposed chain.”

Davenport and Moor (spelt Moore) are quoted as still using “Mowgli” engines but this was actually a one-off job, eventually acquired by Davenport. Davenport has vastly modified it and it is now of 2 litres capacity, while E. J. Moor uses 2-valve Norton heads on what was an “Akela” engine.

The author’s excuse for introducing the G.W.K. to his book is because it beat some “heavies” at Brooklands in 1912. I should have thought a more convincing reason would be that in a car of this make Wood (he was the “W” of G.W.K.) thrice broke the cyclecar hour record at Brooklands, for which Temple Press Ltd. offered a cup. At the distinct risk of being rated unduly critical, I also feel that the classic G.W.K. friction transmission deserves better than: “At the end of the prop.-shaft there was a friction disc, which engaged with a similar disc on the rear axle, in such a way that it could slide across it. Any gear from top to bottom could be obtained.”

The Gwynnes, Eight and Ten, I am glad to see get adequate mention, although Gregor Grant is luckier than I, if he really sees examples of the latter “in daily use.” The H.E. is another famous make which the author describes in worthwhile detail, although I think he will make AIan Southon blush when he remarks that one of the older H.E.s still appearing in V.S.C.C. events “is capable of giving many moderns a run for their money.” I suppose it depends on what moderns, but certainly Southon has never professed his car to be particularly rapid, even amongst vintage types.

Under the heading of Hillman the author rightly pays tribute to the “Speed Model” of the early twenties, although describing it as not especially outstanding. But be has overlooked the Hillman “Husky” when he says one has to go from the “Speed Model’ to the middle-thirties before the name Hillman again appears “on the bonnet of a sports car” (i.e., the Aero-Minx). The “Husky” may not have been an out-and-out sports model but it is as deserving of mention as many cars in the book and it would have been nice to have included it. With the statement, “Possibly, actual road-racing might have helped to steady the front end a bit more when cornering at high speed, as weight distribution would have been considerably improved as a result,” Grant is not afraid to point to a weakness of the Jaguar, which he otherwise rightly praises as a very good car. The 350-c.c. Jappic gets a section to itself, although only one was built; it is credited with taking world’s records, but actually, of course, it confined its record-breaking activities to International Class J. The author says he cannot think of another make produced solely for attacking records, a line of thought difficult to follow. I would cite the H.P. 3-wheeler as but one (obscure) example. Lagonda gets a very reasonably detailed history, but the impression given is that the famous 2 litre had a single o.h.camshaft engine, whereas actually it had two camshafts rather curiously located high up on the cylinder block and actuating the valves via bell-crank rockers in such a way that the head could be removed without disturbing these camshafts. The six-cylinder 2-litre is referred to, but is not specifically called the “16/80” as it was more usually known, and a picture of this car can therefore be confused with the older 2 litre.

When it comes to Lea-Francis I must take issue with the author over one matter. He recalls Tatlow’s meritorious performance in the 1924 Six Days’ Trial, in a 10-h.p. Lea-Francis, but says this car was “by no means a sports car.” Now, in a reminiscent article which he wrote for me early in the war and which I published in Motor Sport in June, 1940, the late F. L. M. Harris says of his desire (subsequently realised) to own one of these cars “I wanted the 10-h.p. chummy-bodied R.A.C.-trial model, with the two-port 1,496-c.c. Meadows engine. What a machine! It looked like a sober barouche, but could crack at about 80. It climbed Porlock in second gear with a bellowing exhaust, and was one of the best cars for Alpine work I ever owned.” If that isn’t a sports car I do not know what is, although I can well imagine how difficult it must have been to handle, with its very light chassis and 1/4-elliptic suspension. The rest of the Lea-Francis paragraph deals interestingly with the classic “Hyper” model, but unfortunately this is said to have a Roots-type Cozette supercharger, whereas the Cozette was a vane-type compressor. Some people would have wished the “14/40” six-cylinder to be tacked on.

I am very glad that over a page is devoted to Parry Thomas’ Leyland Eight, although there seems to be some confusion about its valve gear, for Grant states that the valves were actually operated through the medium of small cantilever springs, an arrangement made possible by employing a single cam to operate both inlet and exhaust valves. This is not strictly accurate, as rockers actuated the valves in the normal way, each pair of valves being returned by a leaf spring. By using the same timing for inlet as for exhaust valves Thomas was able to use a singIe cam per pair of valves, which did enable the valves to be in-line laterally and not staggered, this admittedly facilitating the use of a single leaf spring to close them. Incidentally, I think the engine size of the production cars was 89 by 146 mm., not 89 by 140 mm., as given. Valve gear is again in confusion when the Marlborough-Tliomas is dealt with, for it is stated that this car had its valves “operated positively by eccentrics and had cantilever valve springs.” Actually the valve gear was the same as that of the Leyland Eight; if the valves had been positively operated, as in the Vagova engine, for instance, no valve springs would have been needed. Again, I may be wrong, but I thought that the straight-eight Marendaz-Special was listed as having o.h. exhaust and side inlet valves, not i.o.e. — but I very much doubt whether any of these straight-eights went into production. M.G. is comprehensively covered and a most interesting story it is. The “18/80”. Mk. III “Tiger” is given as never getting into production and as being more a racing than a sports car, but I believe one car and an engine exist to this day; it was built for races like the “Double Twelve,” of course.

Morgan history is also given in considerable detail, but again the error is made of saying that Beart’s 3-wheeler took World’s instead of Class, records in 1924. Another car of illustrious memory which this book brings to mind is the old o.h.c. Rhode, although I am not sure whether an engine which had its valve rockers pivoted on common or garden cotter pins quite deserves to be termed a “beautiful little unit.” Equally interesting are the accounts of Riley, Singer and Rolls-Royce, although the latter’s 101 m.p.h. at Brooklands in 1911 is not mentioned. Grant has not overlooked the Supercharged version of the old worm-drive Standard Nine as we near the end of his book, although the mind rather boggles at such a car.

Straker-Squire is included, although the interesting resemblance of the engine of the “20/25” (better known as the “24/90”) to the 1914 G.P. Mercédès is not mentioned. The author has taken the twin o.h.c. 3-litre as the major Sunbeam sports model, but I cannot resist pointing out that a slip of the pen has endowed this great car with twenty-four camshafts. Vulcan is included on the strength of the 1922 Howard-engined car (not the later twin o.h.c. “14/40” “Six”), but I cannot really believe that its sleeve valves were operated by an overhead camshaft.

There are a few other issues I feel I must raise with the author. Surely the Brough-Superior had a vane-type and not a Roots supercharger, while it seems a little odd to say that the Ford Motor Co., Ltd. never marketed a sports car, for their open “Ten” was as much a sports car as Grant’s Carrows and Hariscots. Of Ford drivers, it was Howard, not Harold Koppenhagen who drove one of the “Jabberwocks.” It is not made clear that, although H.R.G. certainly adopted the Singer o.h.c. engine before the war, they did so for both 1 1/2-litre and 1,100-c.c. cars, although only one Singer-engined 1 1/2-litre was made prior to the war. A serious error is that which credits the Le Mans V12 Lagondas with “nearly pulling off the famous 24-hour race in 1938,” whereas they did not run until 1939 and then only experimentally, finishing 3rd and 4th. The author also observes that two of these cars are still in existence, but omits to say only two were built. Later he credits the Triangle Skinner Special with appearances in trials and says the Carlmark-J.A.P. had no front suspension, whereas it was rear springing that this car lacked in its early form. In a photograph of the Squire attention is drawn to the “ribbed oil cooler and front-mounted supercharger,” but the latter is actually the dynamotor, as the blower was behind the radiator on the Squire. An example of the loose-wording which sometimes mars the captions is that which endows the Healey with “helically-sprung i.f.s.,” whereas we all know it is the car, not the i.f.s., which is sprung.

Gregor Grant has certainly put a wealth of information into “British Sports Cars,” and, in spite of my careful upbringing on Fletchers, Stone& Cox, Doyle’s and countless hundreds of small advertisements in the motor journals down the years, he has produced a number of makes that are new to me. How true it is that every day we learn something new about motor cars. Lots of newcomers to the Sport are going to find valuable facts and figures in Grant’s book, and the older hands will be glad to have, at last, the story of 96 makes of sports car between two covers on the book-shelf. One of the most interesting features is Grant’s reference to vintage sports cars he has come upon, still in use. Apart from the A.B.C. aforementioned, he refers to a sports Calthorpe still capable of over 60 m.p.h. in 1945, a 1921 Palladium in daily use by a farmer in 1946, and a Warren-Lambert discovered in almost original condition in Nottingham in 1936. More optimistic, I feel, is his suggestion that Gwynne “Tens” and “40/50” Napiers are still on the road in any numbers today. His 3-wheeler chapter touches on eleven of the three dozen or so tricars which were on the British market at one time or another, while that on monocars covers the Carden-A .V.-Tamplin and that Stott-engined coupé built by the late Humphrey Symons, about all or which more information could have been profitably imparted.

If some of the foregoing review stems critical I hope Gregor Grant will forgive me; he has done an admirable job in trying to tell us about all the British sports cars in one volume (even if he hasn’t it any easier of solution the inevitable query: What is a sports car?) and it is only because I have found the subject of such enthralling interest that I have taken the liberty of somewhat enlarging on it.