Rumblings, September 1942
It is really rather astonishing how Bamford and Martin-type Aston-Martins have been coming to light recently and changing hands. Ever since Mr. Ellis of Stockport wrote to say he was hoping to acquire Johnson-Ferguson’s 2-seater side-valve car to keep his other two side-valvers company news of these cars has continued to come in. Grosscurth bought a s.v. clover-leaf in London and recently found another near his home town of Maidenhead, and Farmer saved it Powerplus-supercharged Anzani-engined example from destruction and has it stripped down in Farnborough – it will very likely turn out to be one of the two 1922 Strasbourg G.P. cars. Then someone has taken the remains of “Razor Blade,” the sixteen-valve track car, off Breen’s hands. Now my friend Bunny Tubbs has come upon a sixteen-valve Aston-Martin chassis and, floating a limited company with Marcus Chambers, has bought it for use after the war – as Anthony Heal says, we may expect to read of Aston-Martin shares in the Stock Exchange news in future. Bunny’s car was first registered in 1929 (UL1945) and he would be grateful for its history. It seems likely that it was raced, apparently constituting G.P. engine and axles mated to an s.v.-type frame, and if this is the case, it defeats the Editor’s pessimism last month that no more ex-racing machinery remained to be discovered. The car is in very good trim and sounds as if it might be one of the 1922 200 Mile Race cars for two of these used the sixteen-valve engines in the 1921 chassis, although, if this is the case, the Rudge wheels and front brakes have been added subsequently. it only remains to find the most famous of all the side-valves, “Bunny,” and to receive news regarding the car which Lambert rebuilt for Forbes, and of yet another side-valve, a 4-seater, which “E.R.A.” Green’s brother used to run, and a vintage Aston club might almost be mooted. With Mr. and Mrs. Lionel Martin as joint presidents, of course.
Fane’s death, victim of a flying accident, is terrible news, of the sort which we have to endure these days. Fane had reached the rank of Flight-Lieutenant in the R.A.F. and was killed flying on active service. Tall, very handsome, addicted to loud sports jackets and fantastic hats, yet quiet in speech. Fane and his tall, athletic wife belonged so evidently to modern motor-racing meetings. And he was a very fine driver indeed, rated higher, on the German B.M.W. Company’s authority, than Seaman himself. Commencing his racing career while still at Cambridge, Fane never handled a real racing car of Grand Prix calibre. His fame is the more richly deserved. As A.F.P. Agabeg he ran a twin-cam G.P. Salmson at Brooklands in the nineteen-thirties, winning the Easter, 1931, Mountain Racing Handicap, during which race he lapped the Mountain course at 61.94 m.p.h. Later he joined up with the Aldington brothers and competed outstandingly in Alpine trials, the T.T. and other important events with Frazer-Nash and B.M.W. cars. At Brooklands in 1935 he opened this new period of his motoring career by winning the Whitsun Senior Short Handicap with a Frazer-Nash, lapping at nearly 106 m.p.h. The following year he took a Frazer-Nash round Brooklands at over 120 m.p.h. and finished third in the Tourist Trophy Race with a B.M.W. At Shelsley Walsh hill climb he was at his very best. In 1935 he established fastest sports car time with a Frazer-Nash in 45.6 secs. and in 1937 took the record for the course in 38.77 sees., driving the twin-blower “Shelsley” Frazer-Nash single-seater. With a German B.M.W. he also broke the sports car record for the difficult Grossglockner hill climb. Verily, the motor-racing world is paying very dearly in the crushing of the Nazi regime.
I have been thinking recently that a whole lot still remains to be written about cornering qualities and the “feel” of different cars when they are violently changing direction. When I have reason to feel not displeased with the manner in which my present car has swept through an open S-bend or rounded a fast curve, I try to picture how other types would behave and feel under the same circumstances. My car has vintage stiffness about its construction, but a certain neglect of the independent front suspension has rendered the action of the front springing somewhat supple, as one expects of a modern i.f.s. car. The steering is reasonably light at speed, and without the springiness characteristic of old school types, yet it is high-geared. The central, stubby gear lever is very light to operate if an upward or downward change is elected during the swervery. Now I don’t suppose the car corners as fast as a Bugatti or an Alfa-Romeo and it certainly doesn’t feel so satisfactory. A modern saloon would doubtless be as rapid through a given corner, but would howl its rear tyres more and roll a great deal, inducing more movement of lower-geared, but silk-smooth, steering. A car of old-school Bentley type would probably make less tyre noise, if it made any at all, and would not dip down at the front, but, in trying to substitute it for my own car at such times, the mind’s eye pictures the need for more muscular effort and less casualness of judgment. Are these impressions incorrect or are they hopelessly out of focus? I enjoy certain sorts of corners in my present car because it goes about the job easily without calling for especial skill and attention. But can it really corner as fast as the Bentley-type with ultra-stiff suspension all round and steering that translates front wheel movement inch by inch? Is the softly-sprung modern only as safe at such speeds given a skilful driver, or does the “feel” imparted make it seem unstable to the sports car driver, when there is no just cause for apprehension? If we come to a conclusion on these troublesome issues and then assume a sharp shower of rain, do said conclusions hold firm or does a fresh set of conditions, car-to-car, prevail? In conducting road-test reports I have always found cornering qualities amongst the most difficult of all the handling characteristics to report. I like the feel of the old-type sports car and must admit to having some contempt for the suppleness of cars like the Mark V Bentley and V12 Lagonda, which results in dipping of the front end, a sliding tail and tyre protest when cornering really fast. Yet, looking at – but not driving, mark you – a closed 8-litre Bentley the other day I wondered if this class of car really is safer, more satisfying, or even as fast, as modern equivalents over narrow, twisting roads. Of the difference in handling “feel” there is no question. But remembering how Rolls Bentleys and Lagondas hold their 70 m.p.h. everywhere, round bends and over narrow going, cruising at 80 and 90 m.p.h., dropping back, and then rapidly regaining the higher gaits as the foot is again crammed down on the accelerator, and especially recalling how fiercely they tackled bends and corners at such speeds, one is – left wondering. If you can come to a satisfactory decision on these debatable points you are a better man than I. Again, can we be dogmatic about tyre protest? Will a car which corners well with low-pressure tyres howl its boots before a car which corners badly on old high-pressure tyres, and which will make the greater noise? Does excessive roll which results in protest at low speeds necessarily imply slower cornering than rigid suspension which results in tyre screech and slide at higher speeds? Condensed thus, these queries may seem hopelessly unscientific, but I believe they are worth closer consideration than they have yet been given, and better-handling cars might well come into being if manufacturers could be induced thus to pass some idle moments. One point seems fairly obvious. In a road car pleasant “feel” is more important to most drivers than actual speed in cornerability, but in a racing car the opposite holds good, albeit a car able to corner faster than its rival is usually, but not necessarily, better to control. On the other hand, in a long race, such as one of the early Grands Prix or a modern Monaco, small irritations might quite well result in accelerated driver-fatigue and loss of speed from this cause, heavy brake operation and a restricted cockpit being points now in mind, apart from the less definable aspects which we group under the heading of “feel.”
To see just how empty the ban on “basic motoring” has rendered our roads we spent some time one Sunday last month taking a census on a main road out of London which, in peace time, used to pass, we understand, something like 200 cars every five minutes. The result is of some interest, if only as showing the percentage of human to mechanically propelled vehicles on our roads. Even so, it must be admitted that there is still sufficient of motor interest out and about to enable a young enthusiast to take a quite effective makes-census, especially if motor bicycles are included – incidentally, this used to be a popular hobby at one time and the weekly motoring Press published readers’ findings. We included only vehicles which actually passed us, and judging by the number which turned off at the junction where we were parked, the actual flow on this road would seem to be around 350 an hour. On a week-day the figure would doubtless be considerably greater.
Census taken on London-Oxford road at Denham (A40) on sunday afternoon, August 9th
Cyclists (132 per hour) –
Men … 61%
Women … 38%
Tandems … 1%
Motor vehicles (100 per hour) –
Solo motor-cycles … 30% (60% of motor-cyclists carried pillion passengers).
Civilian cars 20% (Average size: 14.4 h.p.)
Motor-cycle combinations … 12%
Local omnibuses … 12%
British Forces vehicles … 8%
Civilian lorries … 6% (66% of civilian lorries carrying “hitch-hikers”)
Allied Forces vehicles … 6% (All U.S. Army: two cars, one “peep”)
Long-distance coaches … 4% (Journeys of approximately 100 miles)
Tricycles … 2%
Makes of cars and lorries (Service and civilian) –
Ford … 15%
Austin, Bedford, Humber, Packard, Rover, Standard … each 10%
Daimler, Dennis., Morris, Rolls Royce, Willys … each 5%
Makes of motor-cycles or three-wheelers (solos and combinations) –
B.S.A … 28%
Norton … 23%
Matchless … 14%
A.J.S., Brough, James, P.&M., Triumph, Velocette, Vincent-H.R.D. … each 5%