Several very successful amateur-built Specials have been recalled recently. Of these, the Freikaiserwagen must not be overlooked, as it was conspicuously effective both pre- and post-WWII.
The car was conceived by Dick Caesar, who had his own 2-litre AC/GN Special. Dick also ran those undercover CAPA races near Bristol for cars of “£5 A7 and GN” origin, without the RAC having to trouble themselves, as it didn’t know they were taking place…
For more ‘legal’ events he joined David Fry in building the Freikaiserwagen. Like several other Special sprint cars of its time it had a GN chassis but Morgan front suspension. However, it was unusual in having the engine behind the driver’s seat, its name being a bit of a joke as the new Auto Union GP cars were also rear-engined.
The more modest British ‘wagen used the water-cooled Anzani engine from the Morgan, a radiator from a Scott bike mounted above it. The Morgan’s cone clutch drove the GN countershaft and its four-ratio chain-and-dog transmission.
This promising Special was ready by 1936, and made its debut in the Bakewell hill-climb.
Development followed, David and his cousin Joe Fry now using a vee-twin air-cooled Blackburne engine prepared by none other than Robin Jackson and Eric Fernihough, giving about 70bhp. A streamlined, high-set petrol/oil tank sent air down onto the cylinders. This was ultra-beneficial, as evinced by a class win at Shelsley Walsh (42.58sec) and a time over Poole’s 680 yds of 23.53sec, best non-s/c time.
But home-fettlers are never satisfied, and so the Frys’ next ploy was to fit a chain-driven Marshall supercharger, SU-fed, Robin J sorting out the complications of force-feeding two 60-deg cylinders. A boost of some 12 lbs gave around 100bhp, sufficient to lift this 6.75cwt ‘wagen to some useful, if lurid, attainments.
During the 1938 season it made second-fastest time to Ian Connell’s 1.5-litre ERA at Syston Inter-Varsity speed trials when driven by David (26.39sec, 0.72sec slower than the ERA). Joe Fry, who was lighter, then made quickest time of any Special at Shelsley Walsh (41.52sec) beaten only by Mays’ ERA, Hadley’s A7, Fane’s Frazer Nash and Lord Howe’s ERA. So £15 prize money for the kitty. At Brighton in 1938, ‘DHC’ was third in class (65.24mph for the standing-start half-mile). MacLachIan’s s/c A7 and Stuart-Wilton’s s/c MG were faster; too much power on the wet course may have hampered Fry. At the Autumn Shelsley Walsh Meeting, both Frys were in action, Joe clocking 42.80sec before a bad misfire set in, and David 42.70sec and 41.93sec.
Some rebuilding was done for post-war resumption, with a Frazer Nash front-end, and a bit more poke. Results: second in class at Brighton (75.78mph), a win for Joe in the 2000cc non-s/c/1000cc s/c class at Poole (37.15sec), sixth-fastest time at Southsea, (the half-mile in 28.82sec) and a splendid climb at Shelsley Walsh (40.61sec).
Wanting still more from the Freikaiserwagen, David Fry used an Iota chassis of the kind Caesar had introduced, as Dick was now into 500cc racing. This light tubular steel chassis reverted to Morgan-type i.f.s. with swing-axle, rubber-suspended rear suspension. Into this went the Jackson-refreshed Blackburne unit, up to some 125bhp, with a c.r. of 7:1 for one cylinder, 7.5:1 for its twin, and now cowled-in and set in line with the chassis.
Overall weight was down to 570lbs and the early alarming lack of control had been improved with a ZF self-locking diff and some suspension setting-up. It was still very much a ‘Shelsley Special’, though, with chain-drive to a Norton gearbox and super-light brakeless rear wheels, just one brake on the diff, but bike front anchors on the non-detachable front wheels.
In 1948, this work produced spectacular results: a 41.45sec at Shelsley in practice; best Special (48.02sec) at Prescott, winning its class; second to Spike Rhiando’s Cooper 1100 at Bo’ness (38.86sec), the rear wheel angles a wonderful sight; a third-fastest at the next Prescott to Poore’s big Alfa and Gerard’s ERA; a tie with the same 3.8 Alfa at Bouley Bay (a new course record); a class record at Brighton (27.01sec for the kilo); a second in class to a Cooper 1000 at the next Prescott (52.74sec in the wet); second in class to Walker’s ERA at the autumn Shelsley (38.43sec, best Special time to date); a class win at Weston (23.01sec). Those still racing Specials may like to compare times.
Even more power was found by 1949, with two-stage supercharging, retaining the former Roots blower with another feeding this one at 1.5 times engine speed.
This work produced what every Special builder must dream about — a new Shelsley Walsh absolute record (37.35sec). As well as the usual spate of class wins, there was a FTD at Blandford (31.13sec, beating the 3.8 Alfa) and a Weston-super-Mare time of 21.13sec, crossing the finishing line at 130mph (6000rpm).
At the 1950 Shelsley Walsh climb, Joe rolled the ‘wagen. When a nurse asked if he needed smelling salts Joe relied, “Brandy and soda, please.”
This light, powerful car was very tricky to get off to a racing start and, alas, it got out of control at Blandford and Joe was killed.
Motor Sport had described his record runs thus: “The Freikaiserwagen’s acceleration, tyres nearly alight, has to be seen to be believed, and only just believed then! It brings exclamations of praise from even the most blasé pressmen.”
Alas, at his last appearance this supreme master of such driving was caught out.