The Editor Goes For a Flip in Wing Commander Craddock’s Akela G.N.
Sooner or later, if you are a true-blue vintage enthusiast, you have a yen to associate with G.N.s. It was half-a-dozen years ago that I spent a week-end at Basil Davenport’s learning about, and driving one of, these fascinating vehicles. Too much time had passed without any such associations, so I persuaded Wing Cmdr. Craddock, one hot week-day morning in August, to let me have a flip in his 200-Mile Race replica Akela G.N.
Craddock was a motorcycle man in his youth, scorning cars as ponderous and sluggish, until he made the acquaintance of a G.N. with chain-driven o.h. camshafts owned by a fellow called Attenborough in Bournemouth. “This is as much fun as a motorcycle,” he thought, and bought it. From then on, there was only one make of car that mattered.
Craddock next bought a G.N. Vitesse, with push-rod-prodded vertical o.h. valves, from Hambling of Leeds, using it on the road from about 1930 onwards while searching for an Akela G.N.
The Akela G.N. made its debut in the 1921 J.C.C. 200-Mile Race at Brooklands, when Capt. A. Frazer-Nash entered a special G.N. with 84 x 98 mm. (1,086 c.c.) 4-valve vee-twin air-cooled engine with its overhead camshafts actuated by a vertical shaft between the cylinders driving a cross-shaft by means of bevel gears. This G.N. vanquished the Salmson opposition, winning the 1,100-c.c. class at 71.54 m.p.h., lapping at over 75 m.p.h., averaging 33 m.p.g. of petrol, but consuming 2½ gallons of oil.
Thus encouraged, G.N. built three cars for the 200-Mile Race of 1922, retaining the 4-valve 90° vee-twin engine, but operating the o.h. camshafts on two of the cars by vertical shafts running up in front of the cylinders, although Nash’s G.N. retained the 1921 T-shaft engine. In the race Nash broke a piston but replaced it by the track side and continued! Salmsons occupied the first two places in the 1,100-c.c. class, but behind them the G.N. team finished intact.
For 1923 Frazer-Nash entered his G.N. under his own name; victory again went to the Salmson. These 2-seater skiff-tail Akela G.N.s, however, were very prominent at Brooklands and elsewhere at this time, Pickett racing one in 200-Mile Races for a number of years, while these little cars ran at Brooklands on isolated occasions, in the hands of Ringwood, Le Champion and others, right down to 1930. After that Akela engines were to be found in the faster of the “Shelsley Specials”
As David Thirlby’s book about G.N. and Frazer Nash history is destined to appear this coming winter, I need not prolong the historical aspect of the Akela.
It was an exact replica of one of these 1922 G.N.s that Wing Cmdr. Craddock commenced to construct in about 1956. He had obtained a genuine Akela engine from Nigel Orlebar—an engine used originally in the car driven by Hawkins in the 1922 “200,” acquired subsequently by Cole, and put into the Anderson Special before falling into Orlebar’s hands. This engine had never “blown up,” apart from a broken rocker in the n/s cambox, and Craddock set about restoring it as closely as possible to its original specification. When E. J. Moor went over to Norton heads and camboxes on the Wasp, a G.N. replacement became available for the Craddock Akela,and Davenport’s original 9 mm.-lift (original: 7 mm.) cams were installed. The carburetter is a 40-mm. barrel Solex and ignition is by two 90° M.L. twin-spark magnetos, one firing the front pair of 18-mm. plugs, the other the rear pair, so that both cylinders will run on either magneto. New rings (1½ x 2 mm) were actually machined by Craddock to fit the narrow grooves of the Martlett pistons., new camshafts, camshaft drives and splines made up, using aero-engine auxiliary-drive splined shafts, and a new manifold, exhaust pipes, silencers fabricated, and the seats re-cut in the bronze heads and new valves and guides installed.
Deliberately, no attempt has been made to obtain non-original performance. Thus the compression-ratio remains around 6.75 to 1, and the body may be somewhat heavier than the original.
Craddock did practically all the work himself, in his own workshop, although Stafford-East turned the flywheel true on its shaft. The underfloor 11-gallon oil tank with its two plunger pumps feeding the valve gear and engine bearings, had to be fabricated, with the correct cut-away for the prop.-shaft. Some indication of Craddock’s determination to reproduce the original is seen in the car’s number-plate–XL 6458—which is the registration it wore when driven to Brooklands in 1922, in its beaded-edge 700 x 80 Dunlop tyres, and in the specially-cast fuel filler cap, using the oil tank-cap as a pattern, to reproduce the G.N. lettering on the hub.
The 4-speed chain-and-dog transmission has no reverse; the ratios are 9.9, 6.7, 4.36 and 3.2 to 1, using, respectively, 11 x 34, 11 x 23, 22 x 30 and 20 x 20 sprockets. Frazer Nash double-dogs are incorporated.
The body is a most creditable piece of homework, again being built by Craddock. He scorned cardboard templates, working in sheet metal from the word go. Many formers were scrapped before the correct shape was obtained. The front undershields were easy, but the rear undershield took much time. This body, of 20 s.w.g. annealed aluminium on ash formers (original believed to have been of deal), has been taken by Basil Davenport and Stafford-East as the prototype for their 200-Mile Race replica G.N.s. The fireproof bulkhead is a composite of aircraft ½-in. 7-ply and 1/8-in. 3-ply. The bonnet and magneto shield is based on that of Hawkins’ 1922 car, which was fourth in that year’s “200.”
Ron Godfrey assisted nobly with advice and diagrams of tanks and silencers. The chassis is that of Craddock’s original G.N., into which the engine was installed at Rottingdean in about 1956. After a move to Odiham in 1957, when the engine was first run, a rough body was quickly constructed. After another move to Craddock’s present home in Newbury in 1958 the car was entirely dismantled and re-assembly commenced in earnest. A new body was put in hand in 1959 and the G.N. made its debut at the Goodwood Jubilee Meeting of 1962 with the body unfinished, its first proper test being a run of seven or eight miles. It went well and gave no trouble. The body was completed with beading and undershields in time for the R.A.C. Jubilee at Woodcote Park in July last year, and again the G.N. ran with no trouble.
After a wet night the weather was perfect for my proposed flip, which Wing Cmdr. Craddock had arranged on private territory. It is typical of his thoroughness that not only was the G.N. gleaming spotlessly, its running gear immaculate, but he had insured it for 24 hours, and the 12 in. number disc which normally adorns the tail had been replaced by a very professional “On Tow” plaque.
This brief return to the motor racing of 1922 was enormous fun! The bark of the big vee-twin is formidable indeed, it is necessary to remove one’s shoes to operate the close-set pedals (a foot-brake has been added in deference to the present-day M.O.T. but was apparently dispensed with round Brooklands), and this Akela G.N. is certainly no sluggard!
It is run on 100-Octane petrol and Mobiloil D lubricant. The body is cramped for two adults but the car feels unexpectedly taut and changes of speed are easily effected, although there is scarcely any across-travel on the short, outside lever. Steering is naturally extremely direct, but accurate, and the outside ratchet-less hand-brake provides noticeable retardation from the 10-in, rear brake drums. The facia, of ½-in. 7 ply is simple in the extreme, merely carrying, from I. to r., a dual mag.-switch, hand pressure pump, a Sunbeam air-pressure gauge reading to 5 lb./sq. in., and a period Watford tachometer elaborately calibrated up to 4,000 r.p.m. Before one there is the tapering aluminium bonnet, behind the seats the cylindrical 5-gallon fuel tank sunk in the tail. The big twin silencers have outlets facing down and outwards, no doubt to obviate concrete dust being blown towards the chains, and tiny levers on each open cut-outs for use on the Track. The riding mechanic is kept busy attending to the two oil-pump handles which rise under his right buttock. Altogether, a splendid little car, of long, lean appearance, its lusty engine crackling its defiance of all Salmsons…
It is excellent that Ron Godfrey himself has been to see the car and has been photographed sitting in it. To his help and enthusiasm Wing Cmdr. Craddock pays warm tribute, together with his appreciation of the valuable advice he has had from those two great enthusiasts, basil davenport and Stafford East.–W. B.
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Discoveries. – We hear that a 1919 Wolseley sans radiator, and a 1929 Star are in danger of being broken up in Hampshire, while a circa 1928 Reo lorry is for disposal near Chester. A Chrysler 72, with a Chrysler 65 for spares, is offered free by a reader in Essex, while in the same county a derelict circa 1924 Armstrong Siddeley exists, converted into a farm truck. We also hear of two very decrepit old motorcycles, one a Levis, and a partially dismantled pre-war Riley, also a very sad Star. A whole batch of old cars is for sale at Vélines in the Dordogne, ranging from a 5-c.v. Citroën for 450 new francs to a 1914 Renault lorry at 3,000 n.f. A 1930 Morris Commercial and some old tyres are for disposal near Doncaster, and a Stutz with pick-up body in Cadnam, while we hear of two 10/23 Talbots and a Calthorpe light car which may be for sale, the latter found in the back of an old shop in South Wales. Letters can be forwarded.