Veteran - Edwardian - Vintage, September 1976

A section devoted to old-car matters

“Romulus” and Replicas

Dear D.S.J.,

I note that you do not share my enjoyment at seeing “Romulus” racing again. I follow your reasoning, up to a point. This is a unique case of a car, until this year, always driven by Bira and which is still in the possession of the family who owned it from new. You agree it is right and proper that it should he made to run again and that its place is not in a museum. So what then? Bira might have demonstrated it, although I doubt whether the full Silverstone circuit would have been made available for this purpose. After that, what? No longer eligible for International races, and Bira obviously not enamoured of travelling to England to exercise it in VSCC races over the Club circuit that you find so shaming for this historic car, isn’t it better for Bill to do this, rather than let “Romulus” sink back into oblivion? He has already won a (minor) race with it. How, anyway, was he to resist persuasion from the charming daughter of the late Prince Chula, who entered the car for pre-war races?

It is sad, but the time has to come when great motor cars no longer have important races to compete in and whose original famous drivers are no longer here to race them. Even granting that “Romulus” is a special case, does the old car really feel any more degraded than many other fine old and historic competition cars that are now run in VSCC competitions? You say at least “Romulus” is real—perhaps it doesn’t feel as undignified when being raced by Bill Morris as some other once-famous racing cars which are no longer decently original, including a certain single-seater AC that was once the fastest 1 1/2-litre car in the World but now appears in minor events propelled by an 1,100 c.c. engine of another make and vintage . . However, I see that our readers have been taking part in this discussion, so enough has been said.

I think you may have misunderstood me in the matter of replicas. These days they fall into so many categories As you know, I can’t stand replicas of Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, Cord, Duesenhurg, SS100, Mercedes-Benz or any other vintage cars when made from modern components, and I especially abhor Ford 8-powered plastic Edwardians. Like you, I have been disappointed to find what at first appears to be an historic car made from odd parts and devoid of any history. I suppose here we are thinking of two Austin 7s, a sidevalve AC, a V12 Lagonda, a Delage and suchlike, although they do not necessarily masquerade as the real thing and if someone is making a replica they presumably try to make it as much like the car being copied as possible. This sort of replica becomes irritating when the original car is still in existence; I cannot see the point of making an imitation Le Mans Bentley, for instance, when examples of the genuine Le Mans team-cars exist . .

What I was excusing was the building of replicas of a given type of car. For instance, we have had an Austin 20, a Chrysler, and a Hotchkiss running at VSCC meetings, looking something like sports-type cars of their period. I am sure you regard these as perfectly horrid! But they would be even more dreary endowed with home-made closed or tourer bodywork and if they were discovered as chassis devoid of original bodywork, isn’t it better that they were made to nap, are raced in fact, than that they should have been returned to the scrap-heap?

Yours, W. B.

Another Mystery

In recent times Motor Sport has come upon some unexpected items relating to those aero-engined hybrids that, both for racing and road use, were a fascinating product of what we now term the early vintage years. The fate of these cars, remarkable as they were and therefore unlikely, one would have thought, to have passed into oblivion without comment, has by no means been established in every instance. The famous post-1918 V12 350-h.p. Sunbeam is in the NMM at Beaulieu, the Napier-Railton is being rebuilt, the great Fiat “Mephistopheles” has gone into retirement in Turin, and David Fitzpatrick still occasionally exercises his Maybach-Metallorgique. Chitty-Bang-Bang II and the Scarisbrick Benz-Mercedes have found their way to America. The Higham Special “Babs” has earned undying fame by having been dug up from under Pendine and run again by Owen Wyn-Owen. These giant motor cars are safely accounted for, and we know that Chitty-Bang-Bang 1 was broken up long before World War Two.

But others, such as the Wolseley-Viper,the Isotta-Maybach, clues to whose postracing whereabouts petered out in Farnham, the ill-fated Sunbeam-Napier and the shaft-driven Mercedes Chitty III have all gone missing. More recently we tried to Sort-out the tangle surrounding the origins and fate of the late Marquis of Donegall’s Hall-Scottpowered motor car, which presented the kind of problems only Sherlock Holmes. whose admirer Lord Donegan was, could properly solve. Now another problem of the same sort presents itself.

A member of the VSCC, hearing of someone who knew the fate of yet another of these great aero-engined hybrids, quite properly passed the information on to that Club and, aware of my interest in the subject, Peter Hull kindly Sent the letter on to me. Investigation proved that the car concerned was a chain-drive Mercedes endowed with a veeeight (or it could have been a V12) aertiengine, that was scrapped sonic time in the mid-1920s. The son of the scrap-iron-and-metal merchant who broke up this monster has very obligingly pieced together what he remembers about it. His father was asked to clear out all the unfinished parts and scrap steel front two motor manufacturers in London who were then in financial difficuIties and had closed down, namely the Eric-Campbell Co. in Mount Pleasant, Southall, and Sizaire-Berwick at Park Royal, Acton. In the final clear-up at the former factors the big Mercedes was found under a lean-to. It is remembered as a complete chassis, devoid of bodywork, with pointed radiator, wire wheels, r.h. steering and outside brake and gear levers, into which had been installed a vee-eight (or V12) aero-engine. The unusual feature remembered is that a big exhaust pipe emerged from between the cylinder banks and passed either through or over the scuttle, to emerge past the driver’s left leg.

The person who supplied this information is the metal-merchant’s son and as he steered the old vehicle when it was towed away to be broken-up, sitting on a box lashed to the chassiS, it is likely that his memory is correct. He •says they would probably have driven the car away had not both magnetos been missing: these he remembers as having been mounted low down on platforms at the front of the engine, one each side, just behind the radiator, so presumably they were driven by a cross-shaft. The exact date when this salvage was done isn’t remembered, but the towing vehicle was a 1926 Chevrolet truck, and as a fleet of Model-T Ford trucks had been used up to 1926, after which a change had been made to Chevrolets, and as the Eric-Campbell Co. went into liquidation in January 1926, it must have been around 1926/7. Four miles from where it was found, the old Mere. was broken-up.

Which car could it have been? It might simply have been a hybrid intended for road motoring, and never completed. But wait! In 1921, when Chitty I was successfully into its first racing season, the Cooper brothers, Major E. S. (“Shugger”) C. Cooper and Jack Hartshorne Cooper, who were part of Count Zborowski’s wild crew, had concocted an aero-engined racer of their own. It was known to be a Mercedes into which they had installed a V8 Clerget aviation engine. Why they used what was presumably a side-valve engine is open to conjecture. But I suggest that although a great many Government-surplus aero-engines were available at this time, the really big ones may not have been so easy to obtain, and as the Count had already collared a 23-litre Maybach and an 18.8-litre Benz for his two Chittys, the choice may not have been great. Anyone associated with the Zborowski entourage, however, would have had the doctrine that “there’s no substitute for litres” firmly drilled into them! So a really big engine would be essential and perhaps Wigglesworth, another of the publicity-loving Chitty crew who apparently kept aeroplanes down at Bekesbourne, had the Clerget engine conveniently available—as well, maybe, as the aeroplane half-axle with which Chitty was started-up. Anyway, the Isotta-Maybach later did well enough with a s.v. Maybach.

So into a Mercedes chassis the Coopers put this 140 x 160 mm. (19,704-c.c.) Clerget. They had the Cooper-Clerget ready for the 1921 Whitsun Brooklands Meeting. It was painted black like Chitty and should have gone off from the same mark as that car in the 9th Lightning Short Handicap. Alas, in practice the car crashed and Hartshorne Cooper was killed. Very little was said at the time and the car was never heard of again.

Could this be the car which was broken-up in London in about 1926? Why should it turn up at the Eric-Campbell premises? Well, Countess Zhorowski, wife of Chitty’s creator, had a smart little 10-h.p. Eric Campbell and sometimes drove to Brooklands in it. Zborowski was at least a customer. So it is possible that, after the Cooper-Clerget calamity, the damaged car would he taken to the Southall factory, rather than all the way hack to Canterbury. It is not known how badly the accident had damaged it—the body may have suffered most; or when found in London restoration work to the chassis may have been complete. At one time I thought Hartshorne-Cooper had used his 1908 GP Mercedes as the basis of his bigger car. But I have since been told, by someone close to these activities, that in fact, a longer-wheelbase 35-h.p Mercedes chassis was employed, which might well have had a vee-radiator.

Indeed, there is reason to believe that the front axle from the 1908 GP Mercedes was pressed into service for the Higham Special, to Parry Thomas’ later disgust, which to some extent puts that chassis out of count for the Cooper hybrid. No doubt, to obtain a high gear ratio, and emulating Zborowski, a chain-drive Mercedes would have been used.

More conclusive proof that we at last have discovered the end of this ill-fated Cooper-Clerget requires more knowledge of the wartime V8 Clerget aero-engine, than I possess— for that matter, about the only photograph of a between-wars Brooklands’ outer-circuit car that I have never seen is one of this Cooper-Clerget. But it seems possible that on this vec engine the camshaft was central and that the exhaust ports may therefore have been on the inside of the vee, contrary to o.h.v. practice, but found on some early V8s. This no doubt made installation in an aeroplane somewhat fraught, and would certainly explain why the exhaust outlet-pipe on the racing car had to be taken out over the top or through the side of the scuttle. Perhaps one of our erudite readers will be able to shed sonic light on how the porting of these Clerget engines was arranged, and where their magnetos were mounted? Which will either advance my theory or destroy it, that we have now learned the fate of another of the old-engined racing cars of the 1920s.—W.B.

A Look Back at VSCC Silverstone

There is little point in reporting fully the second 1976 VSCC Silverstone race meeting, because it was held on July 24th and by the time these words appear the same Club’s Cadwell Park meeting should be over. But the Hawthorn Memorial Trophy Meeting had 176 entries and a big crowd turned up to watch it, so the recession is having no adverse effect on vintage motor racing.

It would have been appropriate had a Cooper-Bristol won the 15-lap Hawthorn Trophy Race. Four were entered but only the very rapid Simon Phillips’ car started. It was unable to contend with Corner’s impeccably-driven 250F Maserati or the sister car driven by the Hon. Patrick Lindsay. But Phillips was third, close up on Lindsay, and he won the Robert Ashley Memorial Trophy for the Group-A cars, of which Cottam’s Connaught was 4th, Lockhart’s 3-litre Rover Special 5th.

The 7-lap Boulogne Trophy Race sprung a surprise. It appeared to lie between Corner’s Bugatti, Kain’s Bugatti, and Footitt’s Cognac. In fact, Corner was in trouble, with 1,000 revs, missing, and he soon pulled in on lap two. It was Kain in his Type 35B who gained a useful lead, followed by Schellenberg in the 8-litre Barnato-Hassan, using its “Sahara” engine with tight new bearings, and Footitt. After four laps Morley, in the 24litre Bentley-Napier, whom we had expected to be circumspect, was pressing Schellenberg hard and a lap later he was in second place. The slim little AC-engined Cognac was right up the big car’s tail, however, until it shed No. 1 rod and possibly other vital innards, retiring in clouds of smoke. (The AC engine in the Semmanca Special also blew up.) Morley then set about demolishing the leading Bugatti, which he did on superior acceleration, taking the “Lion” engine to 3,100 m.p.h., instead of to its permitted 2,400 r.p.m. He was using 7.00 x 19 rear tyres this time, which made all the difference. But Peter is to be congratulated, for he is still afflicted by the injuries received in his 1975 Oulton Park shunt, and the big car is not easy to handle. It lapped at 77.39 m.p.h. taking the whole of the Club circuit in top gear and Peter said the gaps-closed on him with noticeable rapidity—one felt that had John Cobb somehow materialised Morley would have willingly shaken him by the hand, thinking of the equally unstoppable Napier-Railton in those 500-miles races . .. I think Peter was encouraged to over-rev the “Lion” because when he enquired of Napier’s what the safe revs, should be, the story is that they replied that actually they had never blown one up! Kain was second, in a photo-sort-of-finish with Hine’s very fast Bentley.

It was nice to see Bill Morris win the 15-lap Pre-War Allcomers’ Race in the ERA “Romulus”, for all Jenks’ disquiet. Lindsay followed it home in his ERA “Remus” at a discreet distance, and March’s ERA was third. “Jenks” had the only Fox & Nicholl car, Robbie Hewitt’s 4 1/2-litre Team Lagonda, in the 8-lap handicap of that title, Blight not producing any Talbots. But it was a Mk. VI blown Bentley Special that won, from a much more appropriate four-seater vintage 4 1/2-litre Bentley and the Monza Alfa Romeo. Mrs. Wood is to be commended for a hard try to hold off Harvey Hine’s very quick and well-driven 3/4 1/2-litre Bentley at the end, in her 4 1/2-litre low-chassis Invicta. There were various short races, scratch as well as handicap, although I would have thought the former rather depressing for those out of the running on the opening laps and I wonder why the VSCC does not stick to the good old Brooklands face-saver of handicaps only? The winners are given below. A very good drive into second place was made by the comparative novice, Mrs. E. M. NickaIls, in her husband’s 1934 Lagonda Rapier; one day we may even get that all-girls VSCC handicap! Corner made fastest lap of the afternoon in his 250F Maserati but Cameron Millar’s 8CTF Maserati was out of luck, calling for water on the start-line and never really getting into the Allcomers’ race, push as his helpers did. But the Maserati Club put on a notable Maserati Parade during this hot afternoon, to commemorate 50 years of these always exciting motor cars. The Driver of the Meeting Award was presented to Bob Smith for his determined win in a second race, in his Frazer Nash. It was nice to see John Llewellyn’s son competing, in a British Salmson. Alas, we were not permitted the pleasure of seeing the Bleriot-Whippet mix it with the other light cars, The Meadows-GN of Malyan, once a Martyr, ran away with the last scratch race. No. 1 racing Alvis overtook a l 1/2-litre BMW on the inside going into Woodcote in the first race. Scott drove the ex-Neve 30/98 Vauxhall and indulged in a dual with Quartermaine’s much older 30/98, which the latter won. It was inspiring to see Bob Smith changing down a cog and snaking as he approached Woodcote. Michael Ware was out in the NMM Coupe de L’Auto Sunbeam, and Neve’s Humber and the Straker-Squire were the other Edwardians present. As well as St. John’s Type 51 Bugatti, Martin Dean ran his black Type 51. The Hispano-Suiza of Harley ran again hut the Multi-Union continues to be a non-starter.