Rumblings, September 1946
Extra Special Special
The Dowson Lightweight, which dominates the up-to-750-c.c. racing class at present-day sprint events, is such a beautifully made and designed “special” and motors so well that lots of people have asked us what it is all about. Well, it actually appeared way back in 1937 and was designed by Alec Issigonis — it is pleasing that he shares the driving of it with its owner, J. M. P. Dowson. To reduce weight to a minimum, Issigonis made his body and chassis in one, the side members thereof consisting of deep sandwiches of 5-ply wood entirely sealed within a 28-gauge aluminium outer casing. The bulkheads, tubular cross-members, engine, seat pan, and differential casing all serve as structural members to stiffen the car as a whole. In its 1937 form the entire car turned the scales at 587 lb., dry, equal to a weight/power ratio of 9.6 lb. per h.p., or 9 lb. per h.p. with a driver aboard! Weight was literally pared down wherever possible, a special steering wheel being evolved which weighed a mere 3 lb., cloth upholstery being used as being lighter than leather, and the power unit weighing 252 lb. of the 587. To cut down unsprung weight as much as possible, if not proportionately, cast-electron wheel centres were used, with integral hubs and pressed-in steel brake liners. Special duralumin rims, drilled with lightening holes, on these fixed wheels, carry 5.25 in. by 16 in. tyres. Suspension is independent all round and, as is well known, employs strands of rubber. At the back swinging half-axles are used, the differential unit being carried on the frame-cum-body structure. These half-axles are tubular, with the drive shafts within, and they are located by drilled, sheet-metal radius arms, one on each side, which are attached to the brake back plates and run forward to anchorages on the side members. Triangulated structures protrude from the side members and rubber cord is merely passed over these and over the swinging half-axles, to provide springing. At the front streamlined “spots ” protruding on each side form stress-bearing members taking bending and braking torsion, the swinging arms that carry the steering pivots being attached to these members. These “spats” also enclosed the steering links, independent steering being provided for each wheel, and, on the off side, the S.U. carburetter and air intake. A 16-gauge molybdenum steel tube unites the front suspension units and looks after compression loads. The engine is a “works” s.v. Austin Seven unit, with multi-stud head. From the gearbox the drive goes to the final drive unit via a pair of straight-tooth reduction gears, as on the 1940 Alta, this reducing the propeller-shaft line by about 3 in. The Lightweight has a wheelbase of 7 ft. 2 in., and a track of 4 ft. 2 in. As originally planned, a boost of 22 lb./sq. in. was used, the plot being to intercool the ingoing charge with ice and to carry the fuel in a 2-gallon tank over the forward-mounted supercharger. In its present form, however, a Type 4 Zoller compressor is mounted further back and driven by dual chains, the 45° downdraught S.U. carburetter being beneath the bonnet and not outboard, as formerly. The Lightweight is certainly one of the finest amateur-built “specials” ever, and it has scored notable successes. We predict there will be plenty more — watch it at Prescott this month.
Americans that Go
Allard has shown what a very excellent sports car can be evolved from a Ford — if you know how. Lots of enthusiasts have pondered on whether they could get hold of some old American car, tear the body off, and make a sports car out of it. Certainly the thing would go, but decent handling qualities being at least as important as sheer performance, it wouldn’t be as easy as all that, not by a long chalk. But bags of acceleration and easy speed from virtually unburstable engines able to hold their initial tune for years, are factors not to be lightly dismissed. We believe Marcus Chambers is quite keen on the idea of an American-base sports car, and would have dome something about it had not taxation and petrol rationing made his Austin Seven programme more practicable. Let us consider, by way of prolonging the theme, some of the American sports-racing cars of the past. In the 1929 Ards T.T., for instance, two Model-A Fords competed. We do not profess to know how non-standard they were, but certainly they carried absolutely ordinary touring bodies, and they even had their bumpers in place — presumably with the scrutineer’s full sanction. They hardly needed these for clearing a passage through the field, for they did not have much speed, but, driven by Masterson and Wright, they were still running when the race ended. One recalls odd Chryslers in Irish races, Studebakers in the “Double-Twelve” and Stutz at Le Mans, while in later T.T. races the Ford V8, in fairly normal guise, appeared – it was one of these Fords which first made Sydney Allard put on his thinking cap. The Studebaker which ran in the 1929 “Double-Twelve” was a 5 1/2-litre straight-eight, which averaged over 70 m.p.h. for the 24-hour run. On the road it could do 91 m.p.h. in top, and would go up to 60 m.p.h. on its 2nd speed of a 3-speed box. It pulled a 3.47-to-1 top gear, weighed 34 cwt., and had a 30-gallon fuel tank. It was a big car, with 10 ft. 5 in. wheelbase, but acceleration was in the order of 10-30 m.p.h. in 4.8 sec. in 1st, and 10.4 sec. in top gear. The car was perfectly docile and gave some 15 m.p.g., driven briskly as a road car. Rather more specialised was the 1929 T.T. Stutz, a 5 1/4-litre straight-eight, with a driver-controlled supercharger that blew into the carburetter when required to do so. With 4-speed box and Servo brakes this was quite a car. It pulled a 4.0-to-1 top and 5.07-to-1 3rd gear, and could go from 10-30 m.p.h. in its 13.97-to-1 bottom gear in under 3 sec. Maximum speed was a genuine 100 m.p.h. All of which rather makes you think, does it not?
Passing through Chobham the other day we called at Continental Cars, Ltd., and the afternoon passed very pleasantly. Founded two years ago by Rodney Clarke, who had grown tired of his “pub,” and by Leonard Potter, who was equally tired of running a chemical works, this firm specialises mainly in Bugatti cars. At the time of our visit the stock, most impressively, comprised a Type 46 5-litre with a yery large 2-seater roadster body, a Type 57 “Ventoux” coupé, another “Ventoux” coupé with hydraulic brakes, a 1939 Type 57, with Perspex-roofed saloon body, the Type 57 coupé which was at the 1938 Show, a Type 50 drophead coupé, and a Type 43 4-seater. These cars were in varying stages of completion, because Continental Cars have a good look around any car they get in before disposing of it. In this connection they are fortunate in having the services of Louis Giron, who used to be with Bugatti at Molsheim. Apart from the Bugattis aforementioned, one’s eye is immediately attracted, as the saying goes, by two of the most imposing road cars you could wish to see anywhere. We refer to the road-equipped Grand Prix Bugattis, one the ex-Hindes’ 3.8-litre car, the other Rodney’s “3.3.” The former has brief wings supported on liberally-drilled members, an impulse-aero-type starter on the near side, to use which it is necessary to remove the spare wheel from the body, and a dynamo driven by whittle belt. Rodney’s car, on the other hand, has streamlined wings on stays which are cunningly attached to the chassis without the need for any fresh drilling of the side members, and a very neat electric starter layout in the cockpit, evolved by Giron from a Type 55 unit and turning the flywheel in the ordinary manner. The dynamo on Rodney’s car will be positively driven, from the near side of the engine, while, by cutting the fuel tank in half, he has contrived to obtain a little luggage space in the tail. These cars are about the most potent road vehicles imaginable, and we look forward to hearing how they perform. We believe the Hindes’ car is for sale and that Rodney will retain the other. Then there was the Type 57S.C. “Electron” coupé, sold to Oliver and about to be shipped to him in America. There was also a Type 55 chassis, which would be sold to someone willing to assemble the engine. The non-Bugatti cars in stock numbered an engineless Squire, a 1-litre “Gran Turismo” Alfa-Romeo drophead foursome, a curious Lancia “Augusta” cum Wanderer-engined “Special,” the ex-Gunter Type 500K Mercédès-Benz once owned by Potter as his personal car, a Le Mans 6-cylinder Lagonda, and a V12 Atalanta. Naturally, Clarke and Potter change their personal cars fairly frequently — who wouldn’t, in their position? At the time of writing Rodney has a Type 57 Bugatti saloon — the road-equipped “3.3” G.P. Bugatti, and “Black Bess,” the 1910 Bugatti he drove at Prescott and Shelsley, while his wife uses the single-cam “3.3” Bugatti tourer “Poppy.” And Rodney’s mother has just-taken delivery of her first Bugatti, a very beautiful 4.9-litre fixed-head coupé. Leonard has a 3 1/2-litre S.S. 100 2-seater, a 3 1/2-litre Bentley coupé de ville, and his Allard, while he has a new “Competition”-model Allard 2-seater on order and has just acquired a “2.3” single-cam G.P. Bugatti similar to that excellent car which Giron uses as some folk use a Morris Eight! The Allard is the ex-Hutchison car, with V8 Mercury engine and hydraulic brakes. Interesting features are an extra-deep radiator, with a 6-blade fan centralised by using a special countershaft in the drive and its mountings held by the front engine holding-down bolts, lightened flywheel, heavily copperised heads, Scintilla Vertex magneto, Telecontrols front and back, and increased steering lock. 7.50 in. by 16 in. tyres are used at the rear, 6.00 in. by 16 in. at the front. The Bentley was a blitzed Gurney Nutting sedanca, now converted to a razor-edge coupé de ville foursome with large rear trunk. Its specialities include oil/electric carriage parking lamps, cocktail cabinets, electrically-operated rear blind, spatted rear wheels, etc.
A trip being “on” to collect yet another Type 57S.C. Bugatti coupé, we went along as spare driver. First, we sampled Leonard’s Allard, a car that takes a deal of getting used to, we imagine, with its light steering and large rear tyres. For one divorced for some time from fast cars, the acceleration in bottom gear is immense, and to acquire 2nd is quite a relief! The performance on all ratios is pretty shattering, but there is no fuss at all, just that Allard beat from the exhausts and instant response to the throttle. Next, we tried the 57S.C. Bugatti, being instantly impressed by the sense of spaciousness within the low coupé body, by reason of the big side windows, immense expanse of sloping windscreen, and the instrument panel far in front of one, several feet of steering column growing from it as only Ettore could contrive.
There is a fair amount of noise from the engine, particularly from the straight-tooth rear axle, and at times from the blower, not forgetting a protesting spit from the blow-off valve if one opened up from too low r.p.m. This car was geared 26 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. in top, but over 3,000 r.p.m. it really came alive. The constant-mesh, dog-engaged gears need skill or force to shift them, but it pays to use the box. The width of the car is offset by the front-wheel spats not only being visible, but in full view from the driving seat. From the start one felt at home in this Bugatti — one couldn’t say the same of the Allard. We didn’t go above 3,000 r.p.m. in the gears, or greatly exceed 65 m.p.h., during our short spell at the wheel, but later Potter demonstrated how really to wind the car up, including 100 m.p.h. on a road infested with faintly-moving family boxes, the brakes being sufficiently effective under fairly heavy pedal pressure to make that sort of thing seem commonplace. After which, to crawl along in top gear at 500 r.p.m., in a blown car on “Pool” petrol, with no snatching or protest, is pretty staggering — and the ignition control remained in the mid-way position throughout. Yes, we like the 57S.C. Finally, a short flip in the ex-Biggs 4-seater Allard, the engine as beautifully finished as the special body. The top-gear acceleration is most useful on winding roads and the engine is impressively smooth, the performance again immense, but the car was temporarily spoiled by indecisive steering. That concluded an absorbing afternoon at an establishment which has a magnetic attraction for Bugatti enthusiasts.
The photographs in the centre-page spreads in the July and August issues of Motor Sport were, with one exception, the work of Guy Griffiths, who will in future be doing much of our photography. Apart from published pictures, Griffiths has a large number of shots taken at recent meetings, and he can supply prints privately. His telephone number is Emberbrook 4092, and his address 11, Newlands Avenue, Thames Ditton.