“The Earthquake” — The Chronicle of a Competition Austin 7 Chummy.
BACK in Nov/Dec 1956 I was delighted to have been able to persuade Charles Metchim to write for MOTOR SPORT an account of how he raced a rather intriguing Chummy A7 that was called “The Earthquake” and, indeed, how he made a courageous attempt to be the first Le Mans entrant to finish the celebrated 24-hour race with a 750 cc class car. (Photocopies of the article are available.) There is therefore no need to go into detail about the Le Mans bid here — Metchim’s excellent article was also published in the 1972 “MOTOR SPORT Book of the Austin 7” (now oop, but try the specialist book-sellers) — but because it so exactly captures the atmosphere of pre-war amateur competition motoring, I think a few extra items about how “The Earthquake” fared in other fields may not come amiss, especially as so many A7s are still used for much the same purpose today. This I am able to do thanks to the generosity of John Bevington (whose fancies lie more with MGs but whose father helped with the Le Mans ventures) in lending me the photograph albums and records meticulously kept by Metchim. The A7 with which we are concerned began as a 1929 single-seater in which the prototype Ulster engine, which had the pressure-fed crank, with the notorious “oil bottle”, was installed for testing, by racing it at Brooklands in the hands of J. D. Barnes (best lap: 71.35 mph), after which a modified Chummy body was put on the chassis so that the car would comply with the regulations for the first JCC “Double-Twelve” (Reg No PG 3935). The scuttle was opened out to take a nine-gallon fuel tank with external filler, the standard five-gallon tank and the battery being placed in the cut-down back compartment, the doors were cut-away, and an external exhaust system ran high along the n/s of the somewhat insulted body. The chassis had normal Chummy suspension, concealed at the front by a fairing. In the JCC marathon this mis-shapes but fascinating Chummy A7, painted bright orange, finished 22nd, having done 1,141.9 miles at 47.58 mph, which was all a 41/2-litre Invicta could achieve. It then ran in the BARC Six-Hour Race, doing even better, for it was seventh overall and first in the 750 cc class, at 50.72 mph. The Barnes brothers, F.S. and J.D., then disposed of it, to the young enthusiast, C. H. Metchim, at an asking price of £175. Metchim’s father disliked cars, but his son, perhaps because the family house was in West Byfleet, close to Brooklands,
developed a burning desire to drive in road races. He began with the nearest thing that was possible, the 1929 JCC High Speed Trial at Brooklands, over the part track, part road circuit, which descended the Test Hill (as a no-passing area!) with a Boyd-Carpenter A7 Special borrowed from Uncle Bevington, who went as mechanic, and entered by Metchim’s father, who had relented. After five laps a big-end bolt came out, bending one con-rod and breaking another; the car was towed to the BC depot in Kilburn behind a flat-radiator 14/40 MG two-seater.
But the bug had bitten, and “The Earthquake” was driven in a JCC half-day trial, the day after it had been acquired, but inexperience and a 13-stone passenger, Frank Gill, contributed to no award being won. Here it is amusing to look back to famous names who ran in JCC events in those days. In the 1929 event, for instance, MG Midgets had been driven by the Earl of March, “Bentley-Boy” Callingham, C. G. H. Dunham, Crickm., of Morris Cowley fame, and H. D. Parker, etc, while Issigonis, E. Martin, later a Riley exponent, and J. Pares who became manager of BSA, used A7s, the last-named a Swallow model, Ken Hutchison his aluminium-bodied Frazer Nash, etc. Even baby saloons ran, like Calcott-Reilly’s Triumph Super Seven, and Chaplin ran his outwardly-normal 87 Chummy, even to a furled hood . . . (See MOTOR SPORT June, 1946.) Incidentally, in 1929 Metchim and a friend had driven an old 11.9 hp 4-cylinder AC for a holiday tour of France, Germany, and Belgium. At this time “The Earthquake” wore its big racing number discs and carried the inscription “Six Hours” on its bonnet. “The Earthquake’s” next competition appearance was the 1930 JCC half-day trial. Incidentally the great scrutineer, Hugh P. McConnell, conducted the re-start test on Ranmore Common. It was now going reallY well, doing Hurtwood Hill at 5,200 rpm M first gear. Gill went as passenger, before returning to Belfast, and they got a First Class Award. Non-competing cars joirUng in and colliding at Ranmore caused bad congestion and complaints were made to the Police by householders trapped by the delays, and it is said that the JCC henceforth abandoned daylight trials in the Home Counties. The JCC Brooklands Meets g produced equally good results. The queer-looking orange Chummy had Or
csor amnek sahnaxf e week ebevefro. h r the dLands bk’rigas’ Trial, having to be vvithdrawn, and it then broke the replacement one. Run-in .fter, reassembly the day before the JCC evrret only 58 mph was attained. Smaller iets can needed but unobtainable, until a geuderI!.. who heard what was wrong voluntered t.t!: he had some at his home in WcYbri_2: which were hastily obtained–, carefree days of amateur racing’ .him seemed to do the trick, and 5400.
worked up to his intended 60 mph average and held it, until the let choked in the road-section, where any car that stopped was disqualified. Amends were made in the (Cc Night Trial, with Hugh Hunter navigating, only taking the slow hill-climb at sPeed precluding a higher award! For some .-aY sidelamps only had to be used, in deference to a non-functioning dynamo. Metefiim’s father then rode as passenger in the Chummy on the JCC Salisbury-Devon Trial but after failing on Doverhay, which °My five climbed, an impossible hill for a non-blown A7, they lost the route in ..,._t°11ential rain, and when oil pressure PPed to 10 lb decided to retire. Fifteen ”nutes later the oil-gauge registered m.thal, so they hastened to regain the route. c._.ut at LYninouth, climbed at 5,300 rpm in tr, the marshals had gone, so although —Y finished they were posted as having Metchim departed from his “road race” ideals by running “The Earthquake” in the MCC High Speed Trial, round the Brooklands’ outer-circuit in September 1931. In spite of slowing two laps from the end when the oil-pressure fell due to a low sump level which the external reserve oil tank only partially restored, 57.18 mph was averaged for the hour, best of the A7s, with the speedometer going to 72 mph. After which Metchim, having been reassured by F. S. Barnes that the SUNBAC trials were not chassis-breaking events and would be suitable for a car with a 4.9 axle-ratio, paid his 621/2p membership-fee and entered for the 1931 Colmore Cup Trial, teaming up at the last minute with Hunter’s Riley 9 and Simpson’s M-type MG. At the start his mechanic, Ted Linden, who was to run his pit at Le Mans, had the magneto off three times to try to cure misfiring, so that they started too late for an award. Later the
magneto slipped and the lamps, which had to be working at the finish, gave trouble, which was cured by the luckless Linden. Metchim was annoyed at being inadvertently baulked by a Wolseley Hornet on Stanway, but was out of it, anyway.
In the 1931 JCC Half-Day Trial there was disaster with the overhauled car in the brake-test, but it was fast up the hills, gaining a Second Class Award. Among the runners were D. G. Evans and K. W. Bear in Bugattis and K. D. Evans in an Alfa Romeo, Anthony’s Senechal took the Premier Award. The Vesey Cup Trial followed, Mitchim teaming up with the Rileys of Hunter and Appleton, although the A7 was still misfiring, traced later to a minute water-leak round an exhaust manifold stud. No award was obtained, delay occurring when a careless marshal let throw go up Castle Hill before it was clear, so that, in avoiding some motorcycles, “The Earthquake” was thrown by the ruts into a tree stump, which buckled a wheel and crushed the front fairing, number-plate and shock-absorber (fortunately the six badges were now carried on a cross-bar and not on the apron as formerly!). The hill was climbed fast on the second attempt, but time time had been lost.
The JCC High-Speed Trial came mood again, run over a new track circuit, and although not a race Mitchim indulged in hectic duels with a Montlhery MG Midget, a Salmson, and the A7 “Slippery Ann”. He had to take on water (68 sec) but got a silver cup. In the Test Hill event, ascending at 5,000 rpm in 13.6 sec he was fourth overall, beaten only by a 30/98 and two Frazer Mashes, tying with a Riley 9 and beating two D12 MG Midgets. Very pleasing! This encouraged a three-A7 entry by Metchim’s father for the Brighton & Hove MC’s Brooklands High Speed Trial. Set speeds were so low as to make this monotonous, “The Earthquake” taking a silver cup in spite of being slowed by camshaft trouble and too high an axle-ratio. Of the “mates”, one A7 was a reserve, not called, the other, a completely standard one, also took a silver cup, and both returned to Somerset immediately afterwards. For the 1932 renamed Colmore Trial “The Earthquake” was fitted with the two Zenith triple-diffuser carburetters used by Barnes in 1929, giving an extra 700 rpm. Only the inability to restart on the snow of Stanway on standard tyres, and poor anchorage in the tests lost Metchim a First Class Award. He got a “Second”, along with the two Rileys of their “Badger” team. After which the car can be said to have opened the season at Brooldands, as No 1 in the JCC’s Opening Rally of 1932. Tuned by Zenith’s, it was in fine form, but handicapped the same as a blown 1,100, so only a “Third” was netted. A 4.9 instead of the 5.3 axle-ratio was in use. Modifications making the engine run 70 degrees cooler were
completed prior to the Land’s End, and a Premier Award was gained, one of only 10 out of 48 starters in the 850 cc class. Although nearly baulked Metchim made the first clean climb of Beggar’s Roost in two hours, going over the hump at the top at 4,000 rpm — Scroggs in his famous Trojan was also clean here. The 1932 JCC High Speed Trial was done on the twin carburetters and a 4.4 axle-ratio, and with new-type fixed tappets, adjustment being made with shims or grinding. This took poor Linden two days, a loose cylinder block hampering progress. In practice the car lapped in 3 mm 15 sec, 29 sec below the stipulated schedule. Starting in heavy rain, a Special Award was easily obtained, “The Earthquake” approaching the Vickers sheds at 70 mph and Metchim lifting-off at the “N” of “Brooklands”, while the top corner was taken at some 50 mph. The Test Hill event was just as good, only Ivan Wallet’s Silver Eagle Alvis being faster — 11.2 sec to 12.8 sec, so that with the 4.9 axle-ratio the A7 might have made ftd, as it could climb 0.8s quicker with that and the single Soles. The 1932 LCC outer-circuit Relay Race now loomed. Metchim intended to form a team of his A7, as finisher, with the Rileys of Appleton and Hunter starting before him. However, Appleton’s car dropped a cylinder-liner into its sump, wrecking the engine and Hunter overturned his Riley, making extensive repairs necessary. Appleton substituted a 11/2-litre Bugatti but taking part in his first Mountain race, the camshaft ran dry in two laps. More camshaft trouble made the Bugatti an unlikely finisher but to avoid non-starting Macdonald lent Hunter the 1928 Riley he had bought for trials work. So the pit-staff were assembled, including Richard Bickford, Bobbie Appleton and Platt. The Bugatti went as A car of the team and lapped at 96 mph, six mph slower than intended. After 26 of its 30 laps coil trouble intervened and the sash was handed to Metchim by the driver running to the pit. “The Earthquake” had been stripped of mudguards, lamps, screen, dynamo and self-starter, given a tank on the mechanic’s seat for pumping more water into the radiator, which was unoccupied in this race, and provided with a rear tonneau cover and recellulosed. With the 4.4 axle-ratio it was able to do 76 mph at only 4,300 rpm. It had a no-trouble run, best lap at 70.02 mph, apart from the water tank breaking away and oil-pressure falling to 10 lb/sq in. They were seventh when Hunter started, the Riley with oversize back tyres to save the engine. It proved very quick, having to be slowed from a 74 mph lap. With 13 laps remaining the team was fourth, with a prospect of finishing second to the winning Hutchens’ Wolseley Hornet team, but the track-rod of the Riley was then seen to be trailing on the Track. Mistaking the “Come-In” signal for a “Faster” one Hunter did another lap at well over 70, but there was no option but to retire. (As the Bugatti could lap at 98 mph when going properly, they could well have won.)
Having joined the Berkhamsted & DMCC, Metchim then entered for the little speed hill-climb at Dancer’s End, near Tring. After an exciting tunas passenger to Appleton when the Bugatti set the course record to 27.8 sec, the A7 tied for first place in both the 850 cc and 1,100 cc sports-car classes with Goodson’s A7, in spite of the latter somehow contriving to run sans a passenger, which the rules forbade, and “The Earthquake” being on touring plugs, as the racing ones had oiled-up and there were no spares. The chap who tied had ridden on one run as Metchim’s passenger, wily fellow, and a rainstorm prevented the tie being run off. Now came the great adventure of Le Mans, but MOTOR SPORT having “scooped” Piletchim’s own story of this, I need not cover it here, except to say that they retired when the steering drop-arm broke after 16 hours, due to hitting the branches of a fallen tree after an Alfa Romeo had crashed. The engine, running at 3,500 rpm, gave no trouble. The French loved the little car, naming it Le Petit Sabot. Two Oldham batteries were among the Le Mans mods, the car being prepared by the Barnes garage in Stourbridge.
That about concludes this chronicle of a Chummy A7. It was run at Donington in 1933, using a 5.6 mde-ratio. It joroved unable to cope with the ohc fotTr-speed MGs, but had gained a First Class Award at Aston Clinton speed trials, and ran at Dancer’s End, later that year, hampered by a 4.4 axle-ratio and weak valve springs. For the 1934 Le Mans race the A7 was rebuilt to full Ulster specification, although it was not quite standard as it had the later crankcase, in the hope of fitting a Scintilla Vertex magneto. Advised that the drive-gears would not stand this, they had to rely on a coil, which failed after 20 hours’ racing! The old nine-gallon fuel tank was put in the Ulster’s tail, with the five-gallon one in the scuttle. The full story appears in Metchim’s MOTOR SPORT story. . . .
As for the owner of “The Earthquake”, he was invited to drive in the 1934 Land’s End Bellevue Garage J2 MG team, with Kenneth and Denis Evans, with Doreen Evans as his navigator. Not used to the MG’s hanging pedals his foot slipped from the accelerator and he failed on Darracott, but with D. G. Evans he had scored a “silver” in this trial in 1932, in “The Earthquake”. He went with Hugh Hunter on the 1954 RAC Rally, their 328 BMW, finishing fifth out of 205 starters and Metchim was a non-finisher in the Coronation Safari Rally of 1954, with Manussis, in his Mk VII Jaguar, vvhich broke its back axle, and 18th with Perrins in a two-stroke DKW on the 1956 Safari Rally. Finally, “The Earthquake” had a fullystocked cockpit with oil-pump lever, clock, wiper-motor, lap-counter, dashlamp, temp. gauge, speedometer below steering-column, oil-gauge, rev-counter, electric horn-button, bulb horn and choke.
Rebuilt as Le Sabot II for the 1934 Le Mans race, it ran with the 4.4 axle-ratio, which made it difficult to get off the mark on the 11 to 1 bottom gear when laden with 14 gallons of petrol and a gallon of oil, etc, although it could do 40 and 60 mph in the lower gears. Metchim also drove Leslie Dyball’s blown P-type MG at Dancer’s End in 1935 but it was slower than “The Earthquake”. — W.B.