In 1914, after the Mercédès one, two, three victory at Lyons, motor-racing and aeronautical circles discussed the question of which came first – the racing engine or the aero engine – and of what had become of the Grand Prix Mercédès left at the mercy of the Allies on the outbreak of war, until a first-class topical mystery developed. It was thought by some that the cars were designed to test a new aero engine, but this theory has of recent times apparently been proved false, because it is said that the 1914 Mercédès aircraft motors were, basically, of the same design as those built about three years earlier. There remains the question of whether one of the cars was really rushed to Derby for examination by Rolls-Royce engineers, resulting in the “Hawk” aero engine, built also by Straker-Squire. We had long known that something had been written on this intriguing subject when the mystery was topical, during the last war, by the late Geoffrey de Holden Stone, in The Aeroplane, which was, incidentally, then much more of a political newspaper than it is to-day, with Charles Grey retired. When Peter Clark wrote-up his 1914 G.P. Mercédès in the “Veteran Types” series (Motor Sport, October, 1940) he quite definitely stated that this was the car which was lent to Rolls-Royce, Ltd., “for technical purposes,” and he suggests that to it we owe the designs of the Rolls-Royce “Hawk,” the Straker-Squire Six car engine and the engine of the 3-litre Bentley. This made us all the more anxious to read what The Aeroplane had said on the subject, and last month the opportunity arose.
The article in question certainly proves that the “mystery” was being freely discussed during the last war and did not accrue afterwards, aided by legend. Unfortunately. however, it does not say where the car, that had been in England, went to on the declaration of war, and it falls into the apparent error of closely linking the six-cylinder Mercédès aero engine with a racing car engine, while, at the time when Holden Stone was writing, it was presumably too early for any tendency of the British to copy the Germans through the medium of a dissected racing car engine to be apparent, although he certainly hints strongly that such would happen. Although these references to the matter do not solve all aspects of the “Mercédès mystery,” they are of very considerable interest. Incidentally, Holden Stone, who also wrote some very fine verse, ran his article through most of 1915 and 1916, analysing in a style entirely his own the good and bad points of all the aero engines available to the allies and the enemy. He also gave delightfully worded dismantling and maintenance notes, which were no doubt of much value at a period when the production of official air publications was far less highly organised than it is now. Altogether, we regret that we are only able to devote a brief period of a busy day to his writings. Make way, then, for Geoffrey de Holden Stone, writing under the heading, “Aero Motors – In Kind and Construction,” in The Aeroplane, dated October 27th, 1915:
“Concerning the Mercédès – one of the chief troubles of an author by pennyworths is that he so seldom dare yield, for the sake of the book-to-be, to the constant temptation to be a journalist, and garnish his too-solid meat with the green herb of to-day’s news interest, which survives no to-morrow. Otherwise, I would dwell upon the hitherto agreeable mystery of the Mercédès aero Motor: done away with by some person or persons unknown. You may remember how some lucky ones beheld two-thirds of it before the war, in the chassis with which Lautenschlager, having sneaked into France for clandestine road practice, virtually stole the last Grand Prix. Then for a week or so, how it was displayed to the curious in Long Acre. And then, as Mr. Gordon Watney did not buy it – well, perhaps it disappeared with those Russians who came to London via Llantysiliogogoch to join the notable legions so ably led by Mr. Arthur Machen at the Battle of Mons. Or perhaps the Admiralty – who are great hands at getting hold of the most expensive cars tossed-up for it with the friends of Germany at the Foreign Office, who wanted a memento of a characteristic German triumph. You never know. Anyway, I don’t. I am only content to believe – just as I did in those Russian long-bowmen – that it is used in about four out of live of the Hun warplanes, in 6-cylinder form: although ever since the last Aero Show you could not buy a Benz or an Argus motor for any money. Yet, following the manner of journalism in its vogue for sheer surmise, I dare say we may yet see its counterpart numerously in British aeroplanes. That would be just the sort of thing our misrulers would love to attempt. Let us wait and see if I am right. At any rate – to rein down from fancy to the jog-trot of fact – in this Mercédès aero motor we have a 6-cylinder water-cooled motor with valves and camshaft, the cylinders being jacketed in pairs, and having a content of 120 mm. by 140 mm. as the respective bore and stroke measurements. One, that in the mass, displays no more originality of type than any other Teutonic engineering creation; and withal is as expensively built, as thoroughly uncommercial as to production, as any motor ever designed, albeit no worse in this regard than many others produced west of the Rhine. Yet one, that in detail, shows to a fair degree the thoroughness of treatment, if not wholly the clear conception of purpose, that have placed Germans where they are.”
The writer certainly linked the racing car with the aero engine, as witness this from The Aeroplane of November 1st, 1915: “Certainly it [the aero engine] has been tried high enough, for not only were its original Grand Prix editions subjected to the most heart-breaking stresses both before and during the race itself, but on at least one occasion it had remained aloft for 25 hours.” We believe that the “Hawk” had not happened when Holden Stone was writing, but of the British 125-h.p. Hall-Scott A5 aero engine he said: Differing from all [European designs] in detail treatment., it is perhaps nearest akin to the Mercedes because of its inclined valves in slightly widened cylinder heads, and its o.h. camshaft.” That the famous Benz aero engines were based on racing car designs, however, is quickly dispelled by Holden Stone who, writing of the 100-h.p. and 150-h.p. Benz, says: “One sees the marine idea demonstrated throughout the Benz design. Once accept that prevision, you will hardly escape it in any detail. But for the deepened crank chamber – permissibly so, as it not only remains accessible, and disposes accessory parts conveniently, but must balance the upper structure as much as possible – one sees nothing else than a marine engine lightened for racing, fashioned according to the German ideal of single function, trustworthiness and, for the rest, Germanised with all faithfulness of imitation.”
So, interesting as all this is, the “Mercédès mystery” remains unsolved, in part at any rate, after nearly 30 years. Incidentally, we have suggested in these pages that motor-racing gave a pointer to what was coming before both world wars. Holden Stone had another theory, observing that the Benz was an excellent design and that, had our politicians realised that after the 1913 Aero Show they could not be bought from Germany, they would have known what to expect! Well, whatever is the truth about the aero engines of 1914-18, the Rolls-Royce, Napier and Bristol aero motors which are winning the present war for us were not copied from any German source. Nor (alas) did we have a 1939 Grand Prix Mercédès to study when this war broke out.
Our “elder (?) statesman”
Gently chiding us for describing the Competitions Committee of the R.A.C. as composed of aged gentlemen, Capt. A.W. Phillips reminds us that some quite active persons used to sit on it and that undoubtedly when the war is over there will be additions. We refrain from attempting to average the ages of these committeemen, and we have pleasure in publishing the present constitution of this Committee, which goverited motoring sport in this country, yet whose composition was probably not very generally known. It comprises: L.A. Baddeley, G.H. Baillie, O.B.E., Dr. J.D. Benjafield, Capt., W. Bemrose, O. Bertram, A. Percy Bradley, Lt.-Col. T.B. Browne, O.B.E., E. Giles, Sir Algernon Guinness, Bart., the Rt. Hon. the Earl Howe, P.C., C.B.E., V.D., Lionel Martin, J.A. Masters, H.J. Morgan, Mervyn O’Gorman, C.B., A.K. Stevenson, Leslie Wilson.
“Dick Seaman – Racing Motorist” (Foulis) has proved so popular that it appears as a second edition, more compact than the first and containing some new matter. The Motor Sport Instruction Book Library grows apace and a full list will be found on page 193, while we hope to arrange public access to these books after the war. Recent additions include 1,100-c.c. Fiat “Balilla” and Lancia “Augusta” from Stuart Wilton.