MOTOR RACING IN 1911
The Real Days
” The real days of racing are over.” That is a remark which is frequently made to-day, and as a matter of fact it has been made at not infrequent intervals ever since racing started. They said it in 1903, after Paris-Madrid, when there were to be no more town-to-town races ; in 1905 when the race for the Gordon Bennett Cup was run for the last time ; in 1908 when its successor, the French Grand Prix, was abandoned ; in 1925 when this same race deserted the road for the track ; and in the late nineteentwenties, when the building of special racing-cars had virtually ceased.
They were saying it freely in 1911 ; and to the contemporary critic there must have seemed to be a lot of truth in it. For three years there had been no Grand Prix; the Tourist Trophy had been abandoned for an equal period ; and none of the big makers were showing the slightest interest in building racing-cars.
Yet how wrong they were The very next year, in 1912, was to be run the greatest Grand Prix that had ever been, and when the war broke in 1914, the Grand Prix, the Tourist Trophy and the Voiturette Races had reached the zenith of their careers.
But in 1911 there was little sign of all this. Only the Grand Prix des Voiturettes showed a really healthy entry list and Voiturettes were still of small account among the admirers of the monsters of the past. What were Peugeot, HispanoSuiza, Delage and Sizaire-Naudin to those who thought in terms of Renault, Lorraine-Dietrich, Fiat and Merckles ?
Not that these Voiturettes were such small cars by the standards of to-day. The 1911 race which was run at Boulogne a few days after King George V was crowned, was indeed for 3-litre cars. The organisers, moreover, shocked by the monstrous V-twins with extravagant strokes produced by the limited bore, unlimited stroke regulations, decreed that only four-cylinder engines would be admitted. Moreover, not content with abandoning the bore limit in favour of a maximum capacity rule, they ordained that the stroke-bore ratio must not exceed two to one.
It must have been a bitter blow for the House of Peugeot, for it was this marque which had pre-eminently carried the old rules to their logical conclusion. Having won the race in 1909 with a singlecylinder engine with a bore and stroke of 100 x250 m.m., Peugeot had gone one better in 1910 with a V-twin of 80 x 280 m.m., the driver having to peer round the side of it. Now they had to make the best of the new rules, and to show their disapproval of them built a four-cylinder engine with the cylinders arranged in a V, and worked out the bore and stroke to give the maximum permitted ratio with dimen.MOMS of 78 x 156 in.m. Overhead valves were used as before, but their interest By BALADEUR
still being centred on engines, they employed final drive by side-chains, although, having possibly lost the race the year before through using fixed wheels, they had gone over to Rudge-Whitworths. Hispano-Suiza, the winner of the race the year before, was not present at the starting line. Marc Birkigt, presented with the problem of a limited cylinder capacity, had decided that the most important thing to do was to fill that capacity with gas. Even at 2,000 to 3,000 r.p.m. he realised that cylinders were not getting amply filled, and the most fruitful way to get more power from a mere three litres was obviously to put engine speeds up still further. He thereupon designed an engine with four working cylinders and two others which were to be employed on pumping the
mixture to their brethren. It was rather a complicated business and on 25th June, 1911, Marc Birkigt was wise enough to realise that his engine was not ready. How the House of Fiat must have wished that it had realised the same thing in time when it introduced supercharging to Grand Prix racing in 1923!
A New Team of Racers
To make up for this abstention, however, there was the very welcome return of another former victor of the race. In 1908 Louis Delage had won it with a car driven by Guyot and fitted with a single-cylinder De Dion Boutou motor of 100 x 150 ni.m. bore and stroke. In 1909 and 1910 he had rested on his laurels, but now he returned with a most up-to-date team of racers. The fourcylinder engines had a bore and stroke of 80 x 149 m.m. (Bentley Boys please note). The valves were arranged horizontally, operated by rockers, and Delage thus early had got onto his idea of five speeds with direct drive on the fourth. A propeller shaft, too, for Louis Delage had never had much to do with sidechains Great Britain was much better represented than usual in a French race. An event for the super racing cars of the day has always rather repelled manufacturers in this country ; but give them a Voiturette race before the War, or a “touring car” race since it, and they will flock to it. Sunbeam in this year 1911 was putting out a feeler which was to result in the firm’s grand slam victory of 1912. For the present the firm was content to run an almost standard chassis with a four-cylinder side-valve engine of 80 x 148 m.m. bore and stroke, and a curious attempt at a streamline body, sloping sharply downwards fore and aft of the cock-pit. There was a rather similar Vauxhall, its bore also 80 nun., but the stroke I think rather shorter than the Sunbeam’s, and a fierce V radiator. The Calthorpes (alas the
name has faded from the motoring world), of which there were three, also had a sharply pointed radiator and were I think rather more “special.” Their designer had fixed on the round figure of 150 m.m. for the stroke and so had had to put up with an untidy bore of 79.5 m.ui. in order to keep within the limit. Reminiscent of larger and earlier cars, the third of the four speeds gave direct drive. The remaining British representatives were a team of practically standard 15.9 h.p. Arrol-Johnstons, with Sankey wheels and Renault-type bonnets, a team which was to distinguish itself in the race.
The rest of the field consisted of some Grgories, Cotes, F.I.F. and Auyons, a team of Excelsiors from Belgium and a Mathis, driven by its maker to represent Germany, or at least Alsace.
The race was over a course about thirty-two miles long, which had to be covered twelve times, giving a total distance of 387 miles. Boillot on the Peugeot took the lead at the start, but it is interesting to note that at the end of the first lap Burgess on one of the Calthorpes was lying second. On, the second round however, Bablot with the first Delage had come up into second place and the Peugeot —Delage duel was on. Half-way through the race Bablot had taken the lead, but when they started on their last lap Boillet was only a minute and a half behind him The excitement was intense. but try as he might even the great Georges Boillot could not catch the leader, and Louis Delage won the Coupe des Voiturettes for the second time. Boillot and his Peugeot were to have many compensations before the last overwhelming disappointment of 1914. Delage, however, confirmed his victory by taking
third and fourth places as well. The English cars did not do badly, Burgess with the Calthorpe which had started so well gaining sixth place, while the Arrol-Johnston team finished complete.
The Grand Prix de France
In this year 1911 the Automobile Club de France again decided against organising its Grand Prix. But the enterprising Automobile Club de l’Ouest, which later was to be responsible for the 24-hour races at Le Mans, organised a race which it called the Grand Prix de France. There was nothing really wrong in that, because the great event has always been the Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France ; but motoring historians have fallen over each other into the pitfall for all that. The race of course was run at Le Mans, its date being July 23rd. The distance was very similar to that of the Voiturette race, the length of the course being about 33* miles and the number of laps a dozen to give a total distance of 402 miles. The race was open to all comers, but French manufacturers were still hanging back from rupporting anything in the way of a race for big cars. Only one firm indeed built special cars for it and that was Rolland-Pilain of Touss, destined to be a faithful supporter of the Grand Prix proper in later years. With a free field to choose from the firm had decided upon a four-cylinder engine with the cylinders cast in pairs, and a bore and stroke of 110 x160 man. giving a capacity of 6,082 c.c. The four valves per cylinder were operated by an overhead camshaft, driven by a vertical shaft, at the front of the engine, and in spite of these modernities and a streamlined tail, their final drive was by side
chains. Gabriel, the winner of ParisMadrid in 1903, was engaged to drive one of them. Rigal, who had also handled a Mars in that epic event, was entrusted with another while Fanquet, an amateur, was at the wheel of the third.
The forerunner of the Brescia
The participants of the Coupe des Voiturettes race were well represented. There was the team of three two-stroke Cotes, two driven by De Vere and Oilier as before, the third now handled by Leduc ; one of the Alcyons, with Barria.ux at the wheel, and Rivierre’s Ex
celsior. But the rest of the field was rather a scratch collection. There seems to be a joke in Alsace, which consists of running a very small car in a race intended for bigger ones. Monsieur Mathis kept this up until 1921 when he ran a 1,500 c.c. car in the Grand Prix race for 3-litre machines. Ten years before it was Ettore Bugatti who was !playing the same act. For this Grand Prix de France he entered a car with a four-cylinder engine of 65 x 110 tn.m. bore and stroke (1,456 c.c.)—a sort of forerunner of the Brescia. He had kept the weight down to six cwt., and everyone regarded it as a toy car. Unfortunately in his efforts he had omitted to make any provision for carrying a spare wheel, with the result that the wretched mechanic had to hug it throughout the race. The car was driven by one Friedrich,
whose fame in Bugatti’s racing department was to grow in post-war days.
The rest of the drivers had collected old racing-caro or modern touring chassis for the occasion. Auray, who must have had one of the longest racing careers on record, for he too drove in the ParisMadrid race, and he was still racing only a few years ago, was there with a LorraineDietrich built for the 1906 Grand Prix. I suppose a 1932 racing-car does not sound very old now, but there had been great strides in design between 1906 and and 1911. While Peugeot was cramped by a stroke-bore ratio of 2 to 1, the old Lorraine-Dietrich had a bore of 190 and a stroke of only 160 rn.m. Its capacity of 21,346 c.c. must have given Friedrich something of a David and Goliath feeling.
Maurice Fournier, a younger brother of that Henri, who had won the Paris-Berlin race of 1901 had collected a Corre-La Licorne, which had been built for the 1907 Grand Prix. A year younger than the Lorraine-Dietrich, it was also by comparison a pygmy, for it had a square engine of 150 x150 mm. bore and stroke (10,603 c.c.). One year younger again was a survivor of the 1908 Grand Prix in the shape of a Porthos. This musketeer was sufficiently unconventional to have a six-cylinder engine. The cylinders were cast in pairs, and this was also a square engine, its dimensions being 125 x125 tri.m., giving a capacity of 9,204 c.c. This car was driven by Anthony who was afterwards to become a manufacturer.
A most extraordinary Race
Finally there was Deydier on a touring Cottin et Desgouttes and Hetnery, the sailor who had won fame on his light Darracq in the town-to-town races, finishing fourth of the class in ParisMadrid, and who was still taking part in Grand Prix racing after the War. In this race he drove a touring Fiat chassis which had been intended ;or a limousine body and fitted accordin,4Iy with extraheavy springs and an almost vertical
steering column. Its intended purchaser, however, the proprietor of a big Paris café, had refused to take it on account of late delivery, and here it was, suddenly a racing-car.
Such was the motley collection which was sent off at minute intervals, nearly twenty-six years ago. It was to prove a most extraordinary race. From the first trouble was the order of the day. De Vere’s Cote did not finish the first round, which was led by the Cottin et Desgouttes, which forthwith broke its steering gear, and disappeared. The second round also accounted for another Cote as well as the Porthos, which cracked a cylinder. More serious, the Rolland-Pilains developed a defect in their front axles, Rigal and Fauguet’s both breaking. More serious still Maurice Fournier’s Corre La Licorne was stricken with the same trouble, the car overturned and both the driver and his mechanic killed.
Such was Racing
Still the race went on under the blazing sun of a record hot summer Continual tyre troubles slowed down the competitors. Auray was leading with the veteran monster Lorraine-Dietrich, behind him came Hemery with the Fiat which had nearly been a limousine. The Alcyon and the Excelsior dropped out, and then the Lorraine-Dietrich broke its aged differential and the race was ‘Vinery’s. He finished at half past three, having averaged 564m.p.h. Half an hour later the roads were reopened to traffic and
nobody else had finished. Far behind Friedrich scuttled round in the Baby Bugatti, Gabriel laboured with magneto troubles on his Rolland Pilain (and perhaps kept a wary eye on his front axle) and Leduc’s Cote limped on. Only Henaery finished the race.
Such was racing in 1911. Perhaps it seems more glam rous in retrospect than it did at the time. Who can tell with what romance they may sun ound the events of 1937 in the year 1963?