When Lanchester raced
When I was a boy it was said that the aristocracy bought big Daimlers, following the Royal Family’s lead, but war profiteers were more likely to have Rolls-Royces, and that among luxury cars Napiers were scorned as being likely to be mistaken for taxis. And of the advanced Leyland 8, it was whispered “But, my dear, they make lorries…”
True or false, only Lanchester raced after WWI at all seriously, among top luxury makes, if one excepts the Leyland 8 which scarcely got into serious production, but would become a top Brooklands contender.
It began when the long-established Birmingham company built a racing version of its fine ohc six-cylinder 6.1-litre model. Named Winnie Praps Praps’, it made its track debut in 1921, driven by CA Bird of the custard family. It had a standard chassis, slightly tuned engine, and a two-seater body. Prepared by test driver AW Bird, no relation, George Lanchester himself went to the Track to try it Heavily handicapped, and hampered by its three-speed epicyclic gear-box, it made a slow start in the Autumn handicap. Lanchester complained to the BARC of the handicapping, to be told that a new car was difficult to assess but that he should be pleased to have lapped at 96.71mph with a standard car!
S F Edge of Napier and AC fame then used it for an attempt to better his ‘Double 12-hour” Spyker record, now with a single-seater body. Engine revs were too high but Lanchester’s had no tools that would cut a different worm for the back axle, and fitting bigger tyres promoted severe wheel-wobble. Class records of up to 500 miles were broken, but then a steering connection failed. Edge had started racing in 1899, so was too wise to brake, and eventually the Lanchester pulled up safely. Lionel Rapson, inventor of many car gadgets, got Lanchester’s to build him a similar car for tyre-testing, on a standard 40hp chassis, the cantilever back springs producing an odd gambolling gait The engine had a Zenith carburettor at each end of the manifold, c.r. raised from 4.8 to 5.5:1, the valve timing changed, and two separate exhaust manifolds. An angular single-seater body was used and the steering box was mounted on the gearbox, to centralise the driving position. Weight was 38 cwt, the cost £3000. Arthur Bird again prepared the car and Parry Thomas agreed to race it. He won the first race in which he drove it and was third at the next outing.The Lanchester was also used for record breaking, class figures up to 600 miles being taken. Rapson and Duller then joined Thomas for a 15-hour stint, goining 30 World’s Records. Rapson had offered £10 for each record broken, and so had to pay Thomas some £200 and the ex-jockey about £100.1 blush to tell F1 followers that changing all four wheels in 34.4sec was regarded as excellent!
This long, lean battleship-grey Lanchester gave Thomas two wins in 1925 and two more in 1926, with a best-ever lap of 109.94mph. It was out of its element at Shelsley Walsh, when driven there by A J W Millership in 1923. Thomas’ fatal accident at Pendine in March 1927 in ‘Ribs’ ended the Lanchester’s appearances, as Rapson was not a racing driver; but in the early 1930s I used to see it forlorn in Great Portland Street, awaiting a buyer who never came. With the war, it was broken up in a Sussex breaker’s yard.