” ALPHONSE I I .”
SOME of the readers of MOTOR SPORT who are of fairly long standing may remember an effusion which once appeared in these pages entitled “Alphonse.” For the benefit of those who do not, however, I may remark that the screed in question disclosed various curious details of the later life history of a Hispano-Suiza car which
first saw the light of day in 1912, and I would add that since the appearance of the said chronicle, various people have expressed a desire to be instructed of the yet later history of the afore-mentioned Alphonse, who, reading between the lines, they suspected of approaching the end of his allotted span. In this suspicion they were, I may as well admit at once, remarkably justified. The former chronicles of Alphonse ended in their descriptions of that noble automobile in the Spring of 1928, and during the following summer the motor beto of distinct
gan senile decay. The steering, once the joy of Zucarelli and others, tended to take on that character of approximateness typical of certain Transatlantic cars, and although I must admit that gradual acclimatisation made me fail to notice its imperfections, I found a growing reluctance on the part of my friends and acquaintances to accompany me on automobile expeditions. Then again the clutch, which knowledgible people are apt to describe as the Achilles heel of the HispanoSuiza, began to assume a certain fierceness which made it impossible for anyone who had not given the matter some years of careful and practical study, to move the car off at all. The universal joints also had somewhat overstepped the limits of universality originally assigned to them by their designer, and gave a considerable freedom of movement in a rotary direction to the engine relative to the back-axle, which I may add could ascribe its origin more to London than to Bois-Colombes, being more Baximar than Hispano-Suiza. Lastly, Alphonse’s consumption of spring leaves finally decided the village garage that its 1910 Renault laudaulet must be taken off the road in order to meet the demands on its suspension system made by its younger compatriot. In short, while Alphonse’s engine still pulsated with life and power, his chassis was dead. In these circumstances there were only two alternatives, either to transfer Alphonse’s engine to another chassis, a probably costly, and almost certainly unsatisfactory proceeding, or to transfer it to some other sphere of operations—to
wit a boat. At any rate I finally decided upon the latter plan, and set about putting it into operation. With a view to constructing the most inspiring motor boat possible, I spent the greater part of the following winter looking around for a motorless hydroplane hull, but in spite of a protracted search, which led me into innumerable boat-yards on the lower Thames and Southampton Water, I signally failed to find anyone who was prepared to sell me a hull of this type for the entirely inadequate sum I was prepared to offer. In these circumstances I decided that I should have to fall back on a displacement boat, and finally in the neighbourhood of Southampton I came upon a hull, innocent of engine, but equipped with bearers, a reverse gear of imposing proportions and adequate propeller shafting. This boat had, I suspect, originally been a launch attached to some magnificent yacht,
and at any rate it possessed quite pleasing lines, and was notably well built.
In the meantime Alphonse’s engine had with some difficulty been removed from the chassis, largely with the help of a certain old salt, who bore a striking resemblance to the best type of pirate (not the swash-buckling captain type, but the somewhat grimy inferior), and who displayed considerable skill in wielding a particularly primitive and immoral brand of adjustable spanner. The engine was then dismantled, the excellent condition of the cylinders, pistons and bearings after sixteen years’ service duly noticed, reassembled and installed in the launch. After considerable disagreement with the best marine engineering opinion, the original petrol tank with pressure feed from the engine was used, and encouraged by this same type of authority it was decided to risk salt-water cooling, and the conversion in fact took place without grave difficulty.
The installation had taken place with the boat lying on the mud, and upon its completion, I being at the time unavoidably in London, the launch of the good ship Alphonse was decidgd upon. The nautical experts of the little port thereupon assembled upon the strand. I am afraid no one broke a champagne, or even a beer, bottle over him, and Alphonse was launched. Possibly, however, owing to the above-mentioned omission, but more probably owing to the fact that all the seams had
opened as a result of the sun while the boat was lying on the mud, a fact which seems entirely to have escaped the attention of the said nautical experts, Alphonse, no sooner was fairly launched, than he immediately sank. Consternation among the sea-faring gentry, and even more with the owner ! Alphonse, however, was raised from the bed of the ocean, luckily only about a foot deep at this point and at low tide, but of course the adventure had not done Robert Bosch much good, and there was more delay while everything was dried up again. Finally, however, the engine worked all right, the seams were adequately swelled, and Alphonse’s second launch took place successfully amidst considerable popular rejoicing.
Early tests disclosed the fact that Alphonse in his new guise was capable of going encouragingly well, but there was at first some considerable trouble with the clutches of the reverse gear, which displayed a most tiresome tendency to slip if the engine was accelerated at all sharply. However various adjustments of the clutches finally succeeded in getting over this difficulty, and Alphonse became a most satisfactory motor boat.
The chief trouble with a displacement boat and a great deal of power, is that the bows tend to lift out of the
water at speed, especially if there are a fair number of passengers, most of whom are sitting in the stern. With a hydroplane this is all to the good, as the boat goes nicely back on to its step and planes properly ; but with a V-bottomed boat the result is merely to bury the stern in the water and set up vast cavitation behind it. With two passengers, one of whom is in the bows, Alphonse goes really well, and is capable of about 18 to 20 m.p.h. But as a rule an expedition in Alphonse attracts a fairly large number of passengers, as notably when we collected some people off a yacht and came home from the middle of Southampton Water with a fairly choppy sea, eleven people on board, and the stern nearly under water. Two of these people had to be landed to catch a train (unfortunate individuals), with the result that we went badly aground ; as, however, we were most of us in bathing costumes, it was not much trouble to leap overboard and get Alphonse afloat again.
The new Alphonse in fact has become a most useful and amusing motor boat, just as the old one was a most attractive sports car. And remembering what immoral devices are most marine engines, I most definitely suggest to anyone who is deciding that the days of their old car as such are numbered, to consider the attractions of metamorphosing it into a boat. Alphonse at least still lives !—E.