FORTY YEARS ON • • •
/T is longer ago now than I altogether care to remember that I originally posed the question in these columns : “Where are the veterans ? ” and, in particular, where do old racing ears go ? The answer, it seemed, was, in the majority of cases, via the hands of unsympathetic owners to the scrap heap. They are not, one could have confidently assumed, carefully nurtured for forty years, and then returned to the scene of their former exploits. Very confidently, as a matter of fact, because, I regret to say, it is so long since I originally asked this question, that forty years before that date there were no racing cars in existence. And at that time even the oldest that did exist were accorded very little honour in
motoring circles. .
I could hardly have foreseen, therefore, that one day a friend of mine would ask me, in all seriousness, whether I would care to accompany him to the Grand Prix in a Grand Prix racing car forty years old. But this happened. Cagno’s 1908 Grand Prix Itala was going to the 1948 Grand Prix ; its present owners, Sam Clutton and Bob Ewen, were going to take it. Mrs. Ewen was going too, but since this historic car now carries a four-seater body, there was room for me too. And there was, besides, a supporting caste, for Peter Hampton’s 1918 Bhgatti racing car “Black Bess” was also to essay the journey to Rheims, and so was Laurence Pomeroy’s 1914 “Prince Henry” Vauxhall. As distinguished a trio of cars, one might say, as one would light upon in a hurry.
Would I go ? How long I dallied, letting I cannot wait upon I would, is longer than it should have been. I ought to have lost the chance of a lifetime, but sometimes fate is not so unkind, and I went. “I hope at any rate that you get as far as Dover,” someone said to me just before we started ; my chances of getting as far as Rheims were not, apparently, rated very high. But we got as far as Dover, at least, and with very little trouble. The Itala has been described in MOTOR SPORT before, and it is many years since I first went in it ; but familiarity breeds less than no contempt for the manner of its going. With luggage for the party of four, to say nothing of Sam’s umbrella, strapped securely on the running board, fitted expressly for the purpose, and with the rear passengers appropriately goggled against the rush of its passage, we must have made a stirring sight as we roared along the roads of Surrey and Kent. But England, one could not but reflect, hardly provided ideal conditions for 12 litres of rear-braked motor car. The surge of its second or third speed, as the driver changed down to pass something, was terrific, but just as the great car was getting into its stride in top, there was always another corner, allot her obstruction. On the long, straight roads of
France, though, this was surely going to be a magic motor car. fit to transport one back to a more heroic age. At Dover we fell in with the Vauxhall and the Bugat ti. We dined and we em barked upon the train ferry three motor cars with an aggregate age of more than
by KENT KARSLAKE
: ? Forty years on, growing older and older, Still sound in wind though your story is long, Still full of poke, though betrayed by your solder —What is one piston to those that are
strong ? Give us French plains or French hills to beleaguer, The wind in our faces, with rain or with sun, Speed for the fearless and revs, for the eager
Twenty and thirty and forty years an. [With apologies to Harrow School.] a I
a century and an aggregate maximum speed of more than twice as many miles an hour. I do not think that the DoverDunkirk crossing is ideal, except that it fits in well with the time-table of busy men. There never seem to be as many berths as there are passengers ; or, indeed, as there are passengers who have been promised berths ; you can be disembarked at four o’clock in the morning, but unless you are so flush of English coupons that you can go aboard with a full petrol tank, you are disembarked into an unfriendly world where all the filling stations are shut. And if you decide to try to sleep on until seven, you find that the early departings, to say nothing of the train, make quite a little noise. However, you can have eggs and bacon for breakfast, and if you don’t sleep too much, you can have as many breakfasts as you like, starting from the moment when you go aboard.
However, even Channel crossings do not last for ever. Seven o’clock came, the three veterans were driven on to terra firma, and, after an expeditious parley with the Customs, we were launched upon the roads of France. For me, this was my first taste for nine long years of that motoring freedom which can be savoured only on the Continent. I found myself taking great gulps of French air as we threaded our way out of the docks, and headily reflecting that no difference of kind separated us now from those who scoured France in the heroic days of the town-to-town races. My hosts had most hospitably, if rashly, invited me to take the wheel of the Itala before ever we had reached Dover, but, remembering that pious hope which had been expressed on our departure, I had declined. Now, however, the great moment had arrived, and, with mingled joy and apprehension, I settled myself in the driving seat. Before we were clear of Dunkirk the apprehension had vanished, the joy had swelled a thousandfold. There can have been few cars that look so imposing but that are, in reality, so tractable, as the 12-litre Rata. Fresh from the somewhat exiguous wheel of my 1914 850-c.c. Peugeot, I was tempted to regard this giant racer as a piece of cake. And its vintage, I strove hard to remember, was the same as that of my late-lamented 1,500-c.c. SizaireNaudin, which was a veritable rodeo turn compared with this. Here was steering of
thoroughbred precision ; a gear-change which, if it was more he-man than a Cotal, was smooth, positive and utterly lacking in vices ; and, above all, a surge of restrained power beneath the right toe which tried to intoxicate one into throwing back the head and greeting the leaden skies of this typically 1948 July morning with wild bursts of Homeric laughter.
We set off from Dunkirk in convoy, led by Pathfinder Pomeroy, in the Prince Henry “—” &est un veritable torpedo,” remarked the local cognoscenti—with ” Black Bess,” who might have proved fickle, at least in less able hands than those of Peter Hampton, coming next, and the Itala, as the fleetest of the trio, in the rear. In our impatience to reach Rheims and the races, we had routed ourselves by Cassel, Arras, Cambrai and St. Quentin, an unfortunate decision as it proved. If you have the firmness, even when going east, to leave Dunkirk westwards by Calais and Boulogne, you can do so on a fine road all the way. But if you strike south-east, you come upon the industrial north and its attendant pave. Whoever christened pave execrable found, without any doubt, le mot juste. Sometimes a stretch of concrete flattered only to deceive, came to an abrupt end and deposited us again on the uneven sets, where our gallant veterans plunged and. wallowed or shook like an aspen. At last the greatest of enthusiasts for highpressure tyres could understand the raison d’elre of balloons.
We had intended to stop for more food in Arras, but we were behind schedule and we pressed on. All our Channel-steamer breakfasts seemed far behind as all our yesterdays, but the Pathfinder was determined to make Rheims for luncheon, and inexorably he led us on. Sam was driving now, and to me had fallen the scarcely onerous duties of mechanic, which consisted of no more than giving a few desultory pushes, every few minutes, to the pressure pump which serves to lift the petrol from the tank. Gradually, however, it dawned upon me that my duties were becoming less intermittent. Bob, ensconced in the back seat, was instructed to reach over to the petrol filler cap and see that it was tight. He reported that it was ; and still the pressure continued to fade. We stopped, at last, to investigate and found a sorry state of affairs. The shaking of the pave had broken one of the bolts holding the petrol tank, and fuel was running from the resultant leak in a steady trickle. There was obviously no point in our all missing our lunelies, and feeling rather like the captain who stays with the sinking ship, we bade the Vauxhall and Bugatti push on for Rile ims. The delay, however, was a short one, the broken bolt was replaced, and once more we took the road. But time was no longer on our side. The leak in the tank remained, and the question as to whether our fuel supply would suffice to take us to our destination depended not so much on distance as on speed. How long would it take us to cover 50 kilometres? The pave was behind us now, and N 44, broad and straight, beckoned us onwards across the plain of Champagne. Quickly the great car got into its stride, the gear-lever lunged forward into top, the rev.-counter flickered upwards to 1,000, and at 1,000 r.p.m., just ponder it, these 12 litres give 60 m.p.h. And the needle did not stop there—it went on up to 1,200, 1,400, 1,400 plus, for mile after mile, as at 85 m.p.h. the red Itala hurtled across the plains. The black shape of the Bugatti loomed up ahead, was beside us, dropped back as if its mile a minute were a crawl, the roar of the Vauxhall’s exhaust sounded like a buzzing against the beat of our 8-litre cylinders as we went by, and the wounded Itala was in the lead. No longer was the office of mechanic such a sinecure as hitherto. To push the pressure up to 2 kilogrammes and wait for it to drop back to 1, at which point the engine began to starve, was no longer sound policy, for it meant that petrol was being forced out of the hole in the tank. The needle, therefore, must be kept just above that magic 1 kilogramme, and the pump handle worked steadily, but unceasingly. I was inevitably reminded of Charles Jarrott’s description of his drive on the De Dietrich
in Paris-Madrid. ” . . . I slackened down a little while Bianchi slaved at the lubricating pump and poured oil into the base chamber.” Well, at least I was not expected to pour oil into the base chamber at 80 m.p.h. !
Rheims loomed up at last on the horizon and still the petrol held. But where was our hotel ? Feverishly pumping still with one hand, I got the place at last in the “Guide Michelin” with the other. We swooped right, down the boulevard, circumnavigated the controlling agent left, into an avenue, with cars parked all down its centre, and, as we swung round the end of them, the engine gave a despairing splutter and died. With no longer a drop of petrol in the tank, we coasted to the door of our hotel and lunch. What we ate for it is no business of anybody’s but the crew’s! To mend the petrol tank proved to be short work for a French garage, but in the course of that afternoon and evening the owners came to the conclusion that the Itala’s engine had developed an unbecoming noise. The cause of it was diagnosed as a little-end, and it was decided that next day the assistance of the garage should be’, called in for its repair. Now unfortunately, because I possess a certain ungrammatical fluency when in my cups, the impression has been gained by certain people4hat I can speak French, with the rdult that I quickly found myself in the role of interpreter. But what was a little-end ? Well, I thought, bielle is a connecting rod, I have heard of something called a tete de bielle, and that, surely, must be a little end. On this assumption, I addressed the foreman, who replied that he would dismount the crankcase, which the French call carter, pronounced ” cartere,” because, so they tell me themselves, they believe it to be an English word. At this I remonstrated, suggesting that it seemed to me to be a very round-about way, seeing that the cylinders were detachable, of coming at the tete de bielle. The foreman looked puzzled for a moment, and then a great
light illumined his countenance. He went away and fetched a connecting rod. ” Voilci, monsieur,” he remarked on his return, pointing to the big-end, ” la tete de bielle ; et voila,” pointing to the little-end, “le pied de bielle. Ce n’est pas logiqu,e, mais c’est mecanique.”
Well, that’s what comes of employing ignorant interpreters. But why, I wonder, do French connecting rods stand on their heads ? The answer, I suppose, is that they used to lie horizontally in steam engines, and while they were in that position it was at least arguable as to which end was the head and which the foot.
In any case the two back cylinders were removed, instead of the crankcase, and their removal revealed a sorry sight. Number 4 piston had earlier been welded by a special process, but the repair had not held; there was a gaping hole in the top of the piston and not only the ” pied ” but the .” tete de bielle” also had suffered from the resultant fire in the carter. However, working after hours on a Saturday afternoon, while across the garage the Italian mechanics checked and checked again each item of the Grand Prix Alfa Romeo’s machinery, the foreman re-welded the piston, and before night fell the Itala’s engine had been reassembled. But it was clear from the condition of the bearings that there could be no holding 1,500 r.p.m. on the homeward journey.
By the more blase spectators, the Grand Prix on the following day was voted a rather tame affair. But it is a point of view which I must admit that I do not share. As, seated in the Vauxhall, we threaded our way among the throng of hooting Frenchmen towards the grandstand, with the rapidly-filling car park spread out beneath us, the mind inevitably went back to that other July day, in 1914, the year in which our present mount was born, when the Grand Prix was at Lyons, and the concourse of motor cars which carried the spectators to witness it was greater, or so men said, than any that had ever been gathered together in one place before. And what if the race was to be a walk-over for Alfa-Romeo, and if the Alfa-Romeos were not quite as fast as the German cars of before the war —it takes an expert eye to detect the few miles an hour that separate the Alfas from the Mercedes. On the road, Villoresi’s Maserati, while it was going, could press the Alfettes hard enough to make those cars look as if they were racing. We watched the start of the race from just beyond the first acute corner in the village of Gueux, and I, for one, shall not soon forget the sight as the snarling pack burst into view. Would you rather have seen Szisz on his Renault, Nazzaro on his F.I.A.T.s, Lautenschlager on his Mercedes, Boillot on his Peugeots, Segrave on his Sunbeam, Benoist on his Delages, some of the Bugattis or the German cars of the thirties ? Perhaps. But to the eye of faith, Wimille on his Alfette was as historic a sight as any of them, and forty years on, if there is anyone left who cares, his car may look as historic as our 1908 Itala looks today. The next day, Pomeroy and I, having business to transact in Paris, left early for the capital in the Vauxhall, leaving the Itala and the Bugatti to take a more direct, but better-surfaced, route than that used on the outward journey, to Dunkirk. If travelling in the Itala is a progress of high adventure, motoring in the Vauxhall is—motoring ; and if anyone who is antipathetic to the Edwardian concept wishes to be cured of his disorder, I recommend him to undergo a course of “Prince Henry.” Not once in the 100 miles from Rheims to Paris, nor yet in the 200 miles from Paris to Dunkirk did that amazing engine miss a beat; at a mile a minute it sounded ‘ as if it were barely trying, while the car seemed to sit as tight upon the road
on corners as it did on the straight. As the long avenues of trees dropped back behind us and the high French clouds drifted across the wide hedge-less fields, we felt that this was really motoring. Towards dinner time, and according to plan, we fell in with a 1948 straight eight Daimler, and together we repaired to a little hostelry, carefully selected beforehand. It stands at the end of a winding by-road by the side of a river, and mine host understands la bonne cuisine. This was to be our last dinner in France, and without doubt we did it justice. Perhaps I need only confess that before we left I was not only un grammatically fluent, but sufficiently fluent to sully the proprietor’s Visitors’ Book with an extemporary poem in villainous French. Time, as time does on such occasions, passed swiftly ; and when at last we noticed that it was
growing dark outside, we realised that we had 70 miles still to do and, if we were to be at the boat at the stipulated time, we had half an hour in which to do them. “Prince Henry” still has his original electric headlamps, and I would be among the first to admit that since 1914 there have been advances in the design and mounting of headlamps. Pomeroy, in any case, decided that he would rather have the bright lights (and, incidentally, the front wheel brakes) of the Daimler
behind him, and so we set off in the lead. Before ever we had wound our way along the lane to the ” nationale ” I knew that we were going to lose no time. For the first 10 miles or so all went well ; but the Vauxhall’s lights, though adequate for illuminating the road, are not well placed for shining on sign-posts. Suffice it to say that in a nameless village we took the wrong turning. It would be tedious. if possibly instructive, to describe what happened next. But the upshot
of it was that first the Daimler, then the Vauxhall, left that village, each convinced that the other was ahead, and each doing all it knew to overtake its companion. Needless to say, we were not successful. The summer night was over and about us now, the hour was late and the prospect of a departing steamer beckoned us on, faster, faster. The driver drove like one inspired, and as we roared through the night, the Dunkirk lighthouse on our port bow seemed to wink at the great full moon on our starboard quarter. I verily believe that in the years that are to come there will be a tale to be told in the villages of the rorth of France, as the old folk and the children gather
round the fire, of how on a July night long ago, a white and phantom car, belonging to another age, roared through the darkness, with the ghost of Jehu at the wheel, and—who knows ?—the devil at his side !
We made it somehow. The docks of Dunkirk are hard enough to traverse in daylight, the ferry-boat almost impossible to find, but we made it somehow. And as we swing left over the last bridge before our goal, we saw straight ahead a sight that raised a cheer which froze in horror on our lips. It was the great outline of the Itala, but instead of being on its native road—or what does duty for a road in the docks of Dunkirk— the Itala had taken to the railway tracks, and was struggling there as if in agony.
The Itala, as the Vauxhall had lost the Daimler, had lost the Bentley that was to light it on its way, and with nothing to guide it but two side-lamps lit from a torch battery, it had blundered in this dockland wilderness into the domain of an oncoming, but fortunately observant, train. We were almost too late to help, and by the time the great car had been got back on to the road, it had demolished its undertray and, what was far worse, chawed up its reverse-and-first-speed pinion. As for the Vauxhall, in that mad rush across the north of France, it had discarded its spare wheel, without ever the driver or the passenger noticing.
Only ,” Black Bess,” suspected at the start of fickleness, was already garaged demurely on the boat.
It is not for me to say that it was worth it. I have not lost a scarcely replaceable spare wheel, nor yet a firstspeed pinion less than a fortnight before Prescott. But still I think that when these things have been forgotten, even by the sufferers, those of us who Each our dotage will stoutly maintain that Paris-Madrid was run in 1948. • ….., ••••••••••.•••.•••••.•••.•••••
• ….., ••••••••••.•••.•••••.•••.••••• The Trials “Star”
We are glad to announce that the British Trials Drivers Association has revived the Trials “Star.” as MOTOR SPORT suggested it should. The Star will be awarded at the end of this year for the best aggregate performance put up by a B.T.D.A. member in specified trials. There is no entry fee, but entries must be in the hands of the B.T.D.A. (Sec., D. S. Flather, Standard Steel Works, Tinsley, Sheffield), before an entrant’s first nominated event. Those wishing to compete for the ” Star ” nominate eight events from the trials approved for this purpose by the B.T.D.A., and they are judged on their six best performances in these eight events. Marking is as follows : one mark for every starter, less one mark for each competitor placed above the B.T.D.A.
claimant in the order of merit, or marks based on the percentage of competitors, divided by two, who do not qualify far 1st, 2nd, or 3rd class awards, depending on the form of trial concerned. Competitors are, of course, quite free to compete in events which they have not nominated, nor need they necessarily compete in all eight events if they have done sufficiently well in fewer events to top the marks-list. The list of this season’s approved events commenced with the Y.S.C.C. 4/44 Trial on June 27th and the M.C.C. Devon Trial on July 31st. We give below the list of remaining trials approved by the B.T.D.A. for the 1948 “Star,” because it is an admirable pointer for those wishing to spectate on their meagre standard ration, as to which are our premier trials. The ” Star ” is to be contested afresh in 1949.
4th. L.A.C. Davis Trophy Trial.
12th. M.G. C.C. Cookshoot Trial.
19th. L. and C. Lakeland Trial. 9th. Bristol M.C. and L.C.C. Roy Fedden
Trophy Trial. 10th. Maidstone and Mid-Kent M.C. Bossom
Trophy Trial. 17th. West Hants and Dorset C.C. Knott
23rd. M.C.C. Sporting Trial.
24th. S. and H. High Speed Trial.
30/31st. R.A.C. Zonal Trials.
8th. S.U.N.B.A.C. Vesey Cup Trial. 13th. Harrow C.C. Cottingham Memorial
21st. Kentish Border C.C. Sporting Trial.
4th. N.W.L. Gloucester Trial.
31st. M.C.C. Exeter Trial.
Sept. Sept. Sept. Oct.
Nov. Dec. Dec.