A Henry Laird Morgan
Morgan magic is hard to ignore. It was exerted by the fiercer of those three-wheelers from Malvern Link, current between the years 1910 to 1947, after which the Ford-engined models took over. Alas, I have left it too late to drive a hot Moggie fast round Brooklands, and would not have been brave enough, anyway. To my shame I have never restored the 1927 Family Morgan which languishes in the barn, so I cannot experience the pleasure of a drive in a Morgan of my own. Nevertheless, an idea for a spot of instant-Morganing worked, thanks to the co-operation of CE Allen, MBE, founder of the Vintage Motor Cycle Club and Curator of the nice little motorcycle museum at Stanford Hall, near Lutterworth.
“Titch” Allen owns, lucky man, the famous ex-Henry Laird racing and trials Morgan known as Yellow, which he found in a rather sad state in Southampton in the 1960s, a letter in Motorcycle Sport having located the whereabouts of this once well-known, very successful Morgan. Since then Titch has meticulously restored it, to sensible rather than museum condition, and has been able to reintroduce it to those people who were previously associated with it, including the late Barbara Laird, who passengered her husband so enthusiastically in all manner of competition events in Yellow’s hey-day and Dick Laird, who for old time’s sake was given a flip in it round the Donington Park circuit.
My ploy was to drive in the Ford Sierra to Stanford Hall, where Titch Allen would introduce me to Yellow. It is always a pleasure to visit this compact Stately Home set in truly beautiful, typically English, parkland with the river running through it. In the Museum you can see a selection of the more exciting motorcycles Dirt Track Scott, a replica of the Triumph on which Wicksteed first exceeded 100mph on a 500cc machine, the Meeten two-stoke Francis-Barnett that took long-distance Brooklands records, a curious bike with chain-drive to its front as well as its rear wheel, the Maurice Brierley Vincent Special supercharged sprint side-car outfit “Methmon”, a £100 Carden cyclecar with a twin-cylinder two-stroke engine buried in the boot and the Laird Morgan.
The Morgan was awaiting us on the neat gravel courtyard surrounding the stableblock of the Hall. Immaculate but not overrestored, with black racing roundels on each side of the upswept tail, it invited our investigation. I have called this a famous Morgan and Allen has described it in the aforesaid magazine as the most successful (competition) Morgan of all time. Justifiably, I think, when you add up the awards it gained in the very varied events in which it ran, and conquered. It was used at the Track for one-hour High Speed Trials, and was raced at Donington Park and at Brooklands. Yellow was also used for shopping, even for towing Laird’s other competition Morgan “Red”.
The breed is prone to change, experiment and the swopping of parts, and as Henry Laird was running two Morgans, the mechanical specification of Yellow is mixed and complicated. Yellow, also called Johnnie V, being Laird’s fifth Morgan, originally had a watercooled, 60-deg vee-twin JAP LTOWZ engine, later changed for the 1096cc watercooled 50-deg vee-twin Dog-Ear JAP LTOW engine that had powered Red, which was a 1929 Morgan, this engine having been previously in a 1926 Aero Morgan. Laird was closely associated with Michael McEvoy in promoting the German Zoller supercharger and for some events Yellow was blown, the Zoller being driven by chain from the flywheel-clutch. (The sprocket is still there and is mistaken by the uninitiated for a one-time dynamo-drive.) This blower, or compressor, was hung low down on the near-side, sucking from a TT carburettor.
This is the engine now in Yellow, sans the supercharger, but still giving around 40bhp. The link with Brooklands, where it was first run in an MCC High Speed Trial, was an added joy for me. The chassis is a 1931 Super Sports, evolved into the final development of this chassis, a C-type competition version, bought from Rowland Smith’s in Hampstead. (Red followed in 1933). In the 1930s the interchanges between Yellow and Red began.
The former Morgan can claim among its impressive list of success a 1st-Class Award in an MCC one-hour High Speed Trial at Brooklands, at 63.08mph, wins in the Colmore, Alan one-day and Llandudno trials and a gold in the Bavarian ISDT. The blower installation went on in 1934 and the engine swops followed, ending in 1936 when Red’s Dog-Ear JAP was installed, which was sometimes blown, sometimes not. From 1937 the blower on Yellow’s engine was abandoned, however, as the extra power it gave was useless after knobbly tyres had been banned in trials. Yet this Morgan went out in a blaze of glory, winning a gold medal in the 1937 ISDT.
It also qualified for the sidecars-only British Experts Trial, and it also took part in one-day sporting trials such as the Bayliss and Wye valley events, etc.
As for the body, it had been getting scruffier and scruffier, and Laird rolling it to avoid a collision with a modern car hadn’t improved it! So before the 1935 International Six Days’ Trial Morgan’s changed the beetle-back body for a new boat-tailed one, the spare wheel carried on the flat top of the tail, the paint primrose-yellow as before.
Henry Laird became Midland Editor of Motor Cycling and was not allowed to risk his neck in competitions. So Yellow went into storage. Then Laird, a Home Guard DR, was killed in a black-out accident, Barbara died, and so Yellow was sold.
It was this Morgan that awaited me at Stanford Hall on a blazing hot August day. The JAP engine with its push-rod-prodded oh valves is spotless, the engine bearers drilled, the magneto exposed. The raked-back windscreen was a Laird speciality. Plated exhaust-pipes run along the body sides and the brakes on all three wheels are now coupled, in deference to modern traffic conditions. For starting we eschewed the “run-and-bump” procedure and when winding on the off-side handle, to cries of “Exhaust valves lifted” and “Contact”, failed to evoke a response, we resorted to a push. That caused the JAP-twin to break into a throaty roar.
The cockpit of the doorless body is roomy, the dashboard contains only two dials, speedometer and ammeter, and on the far left the drip-feed oiler. Engine speed is controlled by a bowden lever on the right-hand side of the steering wheel; if this should catch in the driver’s coat while he is using full right lock, he will find himself on full throttle with a distinct possibility of the Morgan overturning.
There is also a possibly apocryphal story that whereas the GN cyclecar had proper yolk-ends and cotter-pins on its steering track-rod, HFS Morgan made do with just bending the rod over and securing it with split-pins. Be that as it may, when larger-section tyres and front brakes caused wheelwobble, this was cured by using spring-loaded taper-joints at the track-rod ends. And it worked, as Allen reminds us, if you didn’t oil them.
The two-speed-and-no-reverse chain transmission provides exciting pick up and very noticeable torque in the top speed. The post-vintage plate clutch is smooth compared to the older splineless cone. The short nose, the sight of a front wheel moving on its vertical ifs slider, even a glimpse of the valve rockers working, all this combines to convey the magic of what Morganing in the two-speeder days of the big JAPs was about. On private roads of the Stanford Hall estate, in the sunshine, I appreciated what I have missed by not having done some serious Morgan motoring in the past . . .
That over, as well as lunch at the Cave Arms, frequented by the estate staff, with CE Allen and his Assistant Curator, the next ploy was to set off in Titch’s Austin 7 Gould Ulster Replica to look for a speed-trials course, which we will come back to next month.
So my thanks to CE Allen for an enjoyable day, which ended with the Ford Sierra 4 x 4 getting me home to Wales via Bromsgrove and Bromyard in 2-1/2 hours. — WB
The news of the Brooklands Museum appears to be far from promising, judging by a recent news hand-out issued by the Director, Morag Barton. This was headed: “Brooklands Museum Faces Closure — Staff Cut by One Third”. Such a hand-out would hardly have been issued unless things are seriously astray, surely? The permanent staff has been reduced by five, to ten remaining, and apparently Mrs Barton has implied that she requires an additional £100,000 by this October, and really needs £250,000 if the intended arrangements are to be carried out, and that some £20m will be needed to finalise the long-term plans.
We hear that AFN has abandoned its plan to have an exhibition of Frazer Nash products in the former RR Jackson tuning shed in the Paddock, which was to have been one of the Museum attractions.
VSCC at Madresfield
It is almost impossible to report driving tests, at any rate, blow by blow. This was definitely the case at Madresfield Court on September 1st, when this pleasant venue, which has seen many interesting happenings, was again invested with vintagery. What little reporting ability one might lay claim to was seriously diminished by participation in the Roger and Judy Collings’ picnic, the heat, and the prolific entry, 73 in total would you believe?
This was the usual carefree VSCC occasion, and as crash helmets are not required for driving-tests, it was possible to admire the youth and beauty, the charm and femininity of the many lady competitors, in what is a welcome aspect of Women’s Lib. Thus Mrs Brewster was driving an A7 Nippy which sounded a trifle off-colour although, as they tell us of similarly sounding F1 racing cars, this may have been caused simply by an exhaust system abnormality. Mrs Daniels was enjoying herself in the brightly shining 1924 30/98 Vauxhall Velox, Miss Pilkington was of the A7 Ulster brigade, whereas Mrs Brewster was Nippy mounted. Judy Hogg was, as expected, rivalling Derek Edwards in the smart, if noisy, Ulster Aston Martin, Mrs Parkin was conducting a Swallow A7 Special, Miss Barwell and Miss E Fyan drove A7 Chummies and Mrs Bereton, Miss Lemon, Mrs Lemon, Anabel Jones and Miss Winder were also driving A7s, the last two girls respectively in Gordon England Cup Model and Speedy, and Miss Bennet and G Owen shared the Morris-JAP. So you see what mere man was up against!
It could be interpreted as impertinent for this indolent onlooker to comment on the happenings on the course. So may I just remark that David Marsh just failed to make the best use of his Brescia Bugatti’s centrifugal clutch in the Slow/Fast test, stalling the engine while crawling along, that the Showells’ fabric tourer 1929 4-1/2 litre Bentley managed two very usefully sedate performances, and that Burridge’s smart Riley Lynx was another car good at this crawling? One or two of the A7s delighted the spectators by flea-like jumps when minute throttle openings restricted their preference for brisk running.
Stammers’ very presentable Riley 9 tourer did well, and Lemon’s 30/98 was probably the slowest of its breed — but only in this test, I hasten to explain. Bullett’s ioe GN was another staller, causing him to alight and side-crank it by foot, Baker’s open Rolls-Royce Twenty had ‘railway carriage’ door handles as part of its 1927 make-up, as had Heath’s 1926 Austin Heavy 12/4, and yet another car to lose its prop. in the crawl was Brewster’s racing A7 hip-bath.
Stainton shared Miss Jones’ Cup Model A7 which she made jump up and down like a performing flea, M Walker in the yellow Ford-powered GN Special was obviously out for FTD in all the tests, J Walker was using his 1913 R-R Ghost, quickly advancing the sparks after the slow section of Test 1, Parkin had the screen of his Chummy open, to reduce drag, keep cool or see better, I know not, a lhd Model T Ford, a Model A Ford, a Trojan pursued by oily-smelling smoke, Ben Collings in the Brixia-Zust and the smart Marendaz Special added to the variety, but don’t ask me what a Marion is, because I don’t know!
Back to the girls, Sophie Walker was her usual fast self (in the motoring sense) in the Frazer Nash ‘Martyr’, and Miss Maeers was a confident conductor of the Alfonso Hispano Suiza. Roger Collings, while flying past on the Mercedes 60, lost his panama, so furious was the pace; it obviously wasn’t glued-on like those hats worn by film stars in their fast cars and boats, which just never dislodge themselves! Oldest Madresfieldian was Murray’s 1905 model Z De Dion Bouton and the Concours d’Etat was won by Singer’s 14/45 Talbot, from an Austin 12/4 and a 328 FN-BMW. — WB
The Frazer Nash Martyr
In last month’s VSCC Prescott report we inadvertently illustrated JP Bronson’s 2-1/2 litre Riley Special, the one with the enormous blower, instead of Mrs. Sophie Walker’s Frazer Nash Special. So to put matters right, we asked the lady about her car, which broke the long-standing vintage class record held by AG Smith’s Frazer Nash, with a climb in the creditable time of 48.41 seconds, in the 1100-1500cc sports-car class, on August 4th.
The car is, of course, Rupert Instone’s original Martyr built around 1933 using a 1921 GN chassis and a GN engine with the vertical overhead-valve conversion cylinder heads. Rupert soon replaced this engine with a vee-twin air-cooled JAP power-unit of 996cc, which in fact, came from one of the ill-fated Rover Scarab economy cars that never saw production. As with all such GN Specials, many mods were carried out and the Martyr may be remembered as that raucous car with the huge twin-megaphone exhausts, when supercharged with a Zoller compressor. In this guise it won its class at Shelsley Walsh in 1937 with a time of 45.73 seconds, driven by its creator, Rupert Instone. It then won its class again in 1939.
Other drivers had a go in it, including apparently the Riley exponent Percy Maclure, and after the war Instone continued to run it, until it was written-off at Prescott by Jack Whittingdale. Dr Lionel Stretton rebuilt it in 1967, using the original body and a GN engine borrowed from Basil Davenport. It then experienced a number of additional rebuilds while being swopped about between the Chain Gang exponents John Malyan and Dr Stretton. In Meadows-engined form the car has been used in sprints by Mrs Sophie Walker for the last four years. As this low-hung road-equipped Special seems to have puzzled even the established Frazer Nash archivists, we hope these notes will be of interest. To distinguish it from the original GN Martyr it is now known as the Frazer Nash Martyr. — WB
VSCC at Cadwell Park
This year’s August Bank Holiday VSCC meeting at Cadwell Park had a quite different feel to it. The traditional prime attraction, the Williams Monaco Trophy race, had already been run off elsewhere this year, and in the absence of a post-war allcomers event, the entire entry comprised cars built before 1940.
The eight lap Spero & Voiturette Trophies race started the day’s competitive activities, and saw Fletcher-Jones’s Lagonda chased hard by Hernandez’s Austin until the smaller car spun at The Mountain. Positions did not change however, Fletcher-Jones winning the Spero Trophy and Hernandez the Voiturette.
Andrew Smith led the five-lap Frazer Nash and GN event from the outset, but his Meadows engine couldn’t stand the strain of trying to stay ahead of Martin Stretton’s similarly-powered car, and expired. Stretton opened his account for the day with first place, comfortably clear of the GNs of John Giles (AC engine) and Mark Walker (Model A Ford). Walker’s brother Tom was among the withdrawals, bending the Hooker-engined Young Special against the barriers.
After Scaldwell’s Riley won the first four-lap handicap of the day, the fastest of the ‘Nashes were out again for the ten-lap vintage scratch, but so were the Bentleys, including Tim Llewellyn’s 8.4-litre car, making its first VSCC appearance of the year, and the Morgans of Dave Caroline and Stuart Harper.
Llewellyn streaked off into the distance, leaving Caroline to fend off the close trio of Stretton, Harper and Randall Stewart (Bentley 4-1/2). However, the Llewellyn Bentley lasted less than half the distance before throwing its fan-belt and stopping in consequence. Harper meanwhile worked his way to the front while Caroline slipped back with a misfire.
Harper carried on to win from Stewart and Stretton, who swapped places several times, with Caroline crawling to the line just in front of John Giles and Mark Walker, who had enjoyed another good tussle. Strangely for a Cadwell meeting there was only one Bugatti in the field, Terry Cardy’s 35B, and it didn’t last the distance. Adrian Watney (Riley Treen) then won a four-lap scratch race, after which Stretton reappeared for his third start of the day, the Super Sports having in the meantime been fitted with its road equipment, for the Melville & Geoghegan Trophies sports-car race over eight laps. Try as he might, Stretton’s driving could not overcome the sheer power of Barry Summerfield’s Avon-Bentley, but the bigger car obligingly abandoned with an electrical problem after five of the eight laps and Stretton took his second win of the day (and both trophies), this time by well over a minute from Roy Spiers (Alvis). Browning in another Alvis won his tussle with Riley drivers Rottenburg and Drewitt for third.
There was another Frazer Nash victory in the next event, a four-lap handicap, Blakeney-Edwards crossing the line clear of the rest.
Then it was the turn of the pre-war racing cars, for what would clearly be the fastest race of the day, particularly as Anthony Mayman seemed to have R4D going even better than ever.
Sure enough, he wasted no time in stamping his familiar authority on the race, knocking half a second off Martin Morris’s ten-year-old class lap-record as he went. After only two laps Mayman had an advantage of almost ten seconds, and doubled it by half-distance in the ten-lap race.
He then eased off to win by 20 seconds from Duncan Ricketts (ERA R1B) and John Ure (ERA R9B), who had been close together all race, pulling away from Chris Mayman (ERA AJM1). Club president Bruce Spollon (ERA R8C) had narrowly led this trio for a couple of laps, before slowing to a stop with carburettor trouble. After practice troubles rendered Paul Jaye’s Alta a non-starter, it was Robin Lodge’s ex-Colborne 4CM Maserati which was first non-ERA, finishing fifth, just ahead of Guy Smith’s single seater Norris Special Frazer Nash.
AJ Seber (Wolseley) won the final four-lap handicap, after which proceedings came to an end with a four-lap scratch. This was led from start to finish by Lodge, with Fellows taking a turn in ERA AJM1 and bringing it home second, as Barrie Gillies (Dixon Riley) held off Harper’s Morgan for third. — KHRC
A real lost cause
Meeting that fine 40/50hp Panhard Levassor last month and seeing a bedecked 1911 BSA in a local showroom, has reminded me of what a truly lost cause engines sans soupapes have become. If you think about it, which perhaps you don’t, before the poppet valve and its operation became sophisticated there was much going for sleeve valves. And in view of the unforeseeable trends in internal combustion affairs, this form of valve may one day return, to challenge the prevailing poppets.
It was the American Charles Y Knight who devised the successful double-sleeve-valve configuration and brought it across the Atlantic to sell its charms to the Daimler Company. After much bench and Brooklands testing they were convinced that the way to quiet motoring lay along this route. So the pioneer British motor manufacturer began to make cars with Silent Knight sleeve-valve engines, abandoning the normal valve which in those days, pre-1909, was clattery, and less free-breathing. The use of ported sleeves gave unobstructed inlet and exhaust openings which were desmodromic without complicated actuation, and a good combustion chamber shape. If the engineers got the timing of the ports opening and closing right, the breathing was superior to that of a normally-valved engine, especially at a time when valve bounce was one of the enemies of the poppets, which in that famous SCH Davis cartoon were seen being chased away by the young new sleeves.
Today the improvements in valve actuation and the good breathing effected by having four valves per cylinder have made sleeve valves a lost cause, and they would be less suited to the crankshaft speeds at which modern engines run. But that was not the case in the years prior to, and closely following, the First World War. Not surprising then, that apart from Daimler, for all its models (and they were many), BSA and Rover used the Knight system in England as did Willys-Knight, etc in America, Panhard Levassor, Peugeot, Voisin and Mors in France, Minerva in Belgium, Mercedes in Germany, and Piccard-Pictet in Switzerland, for all, or some, of their model ranges.
In engineering, as in life, every advantage has its opposite. In the case of the double-sleeve-valve engine it was lubrication difficulties. The part-rotating sleeves surrounding the pistons deflected the oil and if an excess of lubricant was used in an endeavour to overcome this shortcoming, they smoked. The Burt McCollum single-sleeve-valve engine, in which the sleeve reciprocated as well as part-rotated, was better in this respect and was adopted by Argyll, Arrol-Aster, Waverley, and Vauxhall for their 25/70hp model with Ricardo narrow-angle conical combustion chambers.
The first Daimler-Knight engines had cast-iron sleeves, the inner one 4mm thick, the outer one 3mm thick, on their 1910 22hp car. The practicability of the Knight engine was demonstrated early in 1909 by an RAC-observed test of two such engines, of 22 and 38hp, on the bench, over nearly 2000 miles on the Track at 41.88mph, and stripped down after the equivalent of some 10,000 road miles. The result won for Daimler the coveted Dewar Trophy and was a £200 challenge from Daimler’s to other makers, which was not taken up. The sleeves had conquered.
There remained the lubrication problem. By the 1920s this had been tackled by various means. Daimler used a complicated system whereby the oil-troughs into which the big ends dipped, and distributed lubricant to other parts of the engine, were connected to the throttle control and lowered as engine speed increased, and when the starter was used an extra supply of oil was delivered to the lower ends of the sleeves and the mixture control was also interconnected so that at idling speeds the upper ends of the sleeves were fed with additional oil. Overdone, this resulted in the haze of blue smoke which accompanied many Daimlers, but with correct adjustment this was obviated. The Panhard system was referred to last month.
Sleeve-valve engines were used for racing and record-breaking. There was Panhard’s World’s hour record at 133mph, and no doubt you remember Argyll’s 14-hour World’s record of 1913, and the smoking Minervas in the 1914 TT (they were second and third). Encouraged by racing and record-breaking needs, ci sleeves gave way to light steel sleeves, and the coating of these with white-metal. Daimler went over to these for their new 35hp model in 1923 and by using steel sleeves only 1/2mm thick Panhard Levassor reduced the weight of these components by two-thirds. Aluminium pistons in conjunction with such lightweight sleeves further increased the credibility of such engines but when Daimler supplied their great 9.4-litre cars for the use of HM King George V they decided on retaining ci pistons.
By then the efficiency and quietness of poppet valves was a fact of life, vide the 40/50hp Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, but engines sans soupapes were not out-done. In the aviation world the Bristol sleeve-valve engines, and those of Napier and Rolls-Royce, were later to become widely respected, there had been sleeve-valve Grand Prix cars (Piccard-Pictet in 1914, Voisin and Rolland-Pilain in 1923, Guyot in 1925), and Panhard, Peugeot and Voisin campaigned such cars in the so-called Touring Car races and in record-breaking, in the 1920s.
At that time sides were being taken by those for and against. A Mr. Green pointed out in 1924 that the sleeve-valve engine put its plug centrally, which was only possible with twin overhead camshafts when using poppet valves, that the ports opened and closed rapidly, unaffected by valve bounce, and that valve grinding and tappet adjustment, then a common chore, were eliminated. Daimler owners weighed in with more praise, a standard 35hp model being quoted after 50,000 miles as giving no anxiety apart from a clicking junk-ring, a slight tap from sleeves or pistons when cold, and a slight noise from the main bearings after 35,000 miles, only noticeable because the engine was so quiet! Oil thirst was 300-400 mpg, petrol 16mpg, Michelin tyres averaged 10,000 – 13,000 miles. Voisin and Minerva owners were equally satisfied. But the poppets won through in the end and by 1936 even Daimler were wooing them, having discarded sleeve valves. But the latter may return — who knows? — WB