Slivers of history

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I have received from the archives of the Rolls-Royce EC, through the thoughtful General Secretary, Peter Baines, some fascinating slivers of motor racing history. The story of how Sir Henry Royce investigated one of the 1914 GP Mercedes cars during WWI when designing the R-R Eagle aero-engine is well known, although with loose ends that may never be tied up. It is also known that Louis Coatalen obtained one of the advanced 1913 Coupe de L’Auto Peugeots and copied it closely when designing the Sunbeams for the 1914 loM TT, with victorious results, a story I scooped for MOTOR SPORT in November 1977. It is less well-known, but confirmed by the R-R Heritage Trust from the correspondence which Royce had with his engineering staff (previously highly secret and known as the “R-R Bible”), that Royce also looked at one of the same victorious Ernest Henry twin-cam 16-valve three-litre Peugeots that had been of so much interest to Coatalen. This presents the perennial problem which usually surrounds team cars, as to which car this was, when and where. . .

A photograph from the R-R Archives shows a Peugeot with racing number 8, almost certainly the car with which Georges Boillot won the 1913 Coupe de L’Auto race after Henry had refined still further his epochal twin-cam, multi-oh-valve engine which had taken the same driver to victory in the 1912 French GP, at 68.4 mph, with the 7.6-litre Peugeot. (Henry followed this and other successes by giving Boillot a 5.6-litre version with which to win the 1913 French GP at 72.2 mph, before the 4 1/2-litre Peugeots were rather dramatically defeated by the single-cam Mercedes at Lyons on the eve of war all of which, you may say, is history. . .)

The present conundrum relates to Royce and one of the three-litre Henry Peugeots. Some years ago the R-R historian C W Morton identified the driver in the archive picture of the car as Jim Bullamore, Royce’s first personal driver, who had been one of six R-R drivers lent for the 1911 Delhi Durbar. His passenger has not been identified but it has been suggested that his cloth cap relates to a Britisher.

The Peugeot was supposed to have been purchased in 1913, for Royce to examine, as he did that 1914 GP Mercedes. The latter was towed from London to Derby, if popular legend is reliable, but the problem with the Peugeot is whether Royce had it brought to the R-R factory or whether he was wintering at Le Canadel (for the sake of his failing health) and received it there. One problem is that the background to the parked Peugeot shows a typically English brick wall, but French-style gratings. Two erudite historians who tackled this were Michael Sedgwick and William Court, and Michael pointed out that such gratings were imported here from France, by Taskers of Andover for instance, so the location could well have been in England, although no-one could pin-point an R-R Derby factory location.

So did Royce send his driver to France to collect the car, and was it driven from the Peugeot racing shop to Le Canadel or to Derby? Another photograph in the R-R files shows a Peugeot on the road, thought to be close to Hyines near Le Canadel (out atlases), but the car is well over the left side of the road, whereas the French drive on the right. . . Also, the front mudguard is not fitted as in the static picture. The car has a number plate reading, as far as can be seen, 1132 W1. But although Royce’s villa at Le Canadel was used before WW1, Anthony Bird, another highly-respected R-R historian, says that during the war years Royce worked from St Margaret’s Bay in Kent, and consultation of that magnificent book, Peugeot — sous le signe du lion by Pierre Dumont, shows that racing Peugeots did have French number plates ending in “W1” (which no one has attributed to R-R), and that the L3 cars raced sans a front mudguard. So in my view the car Royce collared seems likely to have been driven to Derby. This in the face of a caption on the reverse of the second photograph saying, in Bullamore’s own hand, that it is of him at Le Canadel in December 1914 and he should have known! Whatever, Morton says this 1913 Peugeot was sold off by R-R in October 1914 to Charles Jarrott for £712, presumably on a no-profit basis, after which the winning Coupe de L’Auto Peugeot disappeared. Court, going in the face of something I propounded in MOTOR SPORT (and why not?) and reverting to which car Coatalen cribbed, suggested that it was bought by L Geach who raced Sunbeams (he ran a three-litre Peugeot at the 1914 Brooklands Summer Meeting, lapping at 95.05 mph) and then went to America (Duray’s was second in the 1914 Indy “500”, at over 80 mph).

Coming back to the 1914 GP Mercedes, Lt Col Stubbs (who used to send us pictures of his meticulous car models, notably the 1903 GB Mercedes he built, to help fill war-time issues of MOTOR SPORT) has sent me recently some more slivers of history. The problem of how many team cars are built for a race, and where they go afterwards, is always complicated — as with the aforesaid Peugeots, of which four were built for the 1913 Coupe de L’Auto race, and the puzzle of the 1914 IT Numbers etc. The 1914 Mercedes team which dominated the French GP at Lyons on the eve of war, beating the previously invincible Peugeots is no exception but I have tried to unravel that one, and have no energy to return to it! Except that John Stubbs now offers some extra evidence. He remembers that Lautenschlager’s winning car had a box behind the mechanic’s seat for sandwiches and a bottle of beer!

He also contributes a very interesting point new to me, namely that around 1923, at the time when Count Zborowski was disposing of this Mercedes, it was apparently owned for a while by the brothers Tate, of the Tate & Lyle sugar-refiners, and brought to Line Bros, in Holland Park, because it had an oil leak. What throws all other evidence is that as late as 1963 Ernest Line says the Tates were the first private owners and had bought the car from the Mercedes depot in London. This may, of course, imply that Zborowski was regarded by then as a professional racing driver by Line, but if not, were two such cars here at that time? Anyway, Ernest Line recalled that the crankcase of the Mercedes was cracked, so he personally dismantled the engine, obtained a new bottom-half crankcase from Germany at a cost of 84million marks (say £60), than re-assembled the engine, but made no alterations. The Tates took the car to France, he says, and Ernest Line did not see it again until Tony Townshend was restoring it for Philip Mann. So which car was this and how does it slot into the previously published sequences of the history of those 1914 GP Mercedes?

Incidentally, John Stubbs and his wife used to spend hours in soggy cellars trying to save DMG drawings long before the idea of the splendid Stuttgart Museum took root. He was able to obtain accurate dimensions for his model of the GB car, which was started in 1934/35, rebuilt in Germany in 1938/39, followed him all over the Middle East in its box for some 12 years, and finished in 1990, after the non-scale Meccano final-drive chain had been replaced with some 6mm roller-chain from a crashed Fokker’s control-run, during the war. . .

Some more slivers, now, about Christian Lautenschlager, who won both the 1908 and 1914 French GPs for Mercedes. He was born in 1877 in Magstadt, and apprenticed, aged 14, to a locksmith in Stuttgart. He married, and in 1899 went to Mercedes as a mechanic, became a tester of finished cars, and first raced for them in 1906. Before the 1908 GP he watched his Mercedes being built and trained hard to keep fit. He did not race after that victory until 1913, teamed with Pilette, Salzer and Elskamp in the GP de France at Le Mans. After his great win at Lyons in 1914 he drove occasionally after the war, until the 1924 Targa Florio; his pre-war win had made him rich enough to build his own house – every Wurttemberger’s dream.

In that dramatic 1914 Grand Prix, a little known item Lautenschlager’s tachometer broke, a tricky matter because the engines could easily be over-revved. After using all he had to pass Boillot’s 4WB-ed Peugeot along the downhill stretch of the Lyons Course to Givors, in order to out-pace the better-braked Peugeot that gained into the corners, Lautenschlager felt a tiny vibration through the steering wheel which at once warned him that the engine had been run too fast, rather as Stirling Moss recognised a tremor in the V16 BRM engine (Nye’s book again) that other drivers didn’t and so he was able to nurse it on to the great 1, 2, 3 Mercedes victory. It is said that after the race Lautenschlager’s bleeding and bruised hands had to be bandaged, after a drive lasting more than 7 1/4 hours, with none of the aids to gearchanging etc provided for today’s GP drivers and with rear-wheel brakes operated by lever as well as pedal. Has anyone photographic evidence of this? W B

Heatwave Prescott

Perfect summer conditions prevailed for the VSCC’s Prescott hill-climb on August 7. An entry of nearly 245 (60 over-subscribed) with added jazz band and bicycle races kept a big crowd enthralled from 11am to 5pm. In the paddock Conway checked his plugs by the time-honoured “wet finger” method, Collings changed the sprockets on his 19-litre Mercedes-Maybach, Thomas cleared oil from the Wolseley’s undertray (61.03s), this 200-Mile Race Replica on twin SUs, not s/c as published, and Hare ran the 1923 racing Newton (65.14s) which we described in January’s issue. John Blake produced a splendid replica of the spidery 1921 200-Mile Race Salmson, said to have its original engine and gearbox (67.23s), and a very interesting car was Miss Hucke’s exZborowski Indy Bugatti single-seater (69.26s).

1920s Brooklands was well represented, as the Halford (53.49s) and Benfield’s 1924 Alvis (52.98s) ran, as did Neil Murray’s ex-Zborowski B&M Special A-M (55.39s), and Bell had the ex-Edwards/Humphrey Cook 1925 A-M (58.27s), which laid a smokescreen. The Edwardians (22 entries) always excite; Ben Collings drove the Zust, with a replacement engine from Australia (65.65s), Brydon his 9.7-litre 1910 CGV with typical low-slung radiator (65.52s), Barry Clarke a 1913 Talbot with very “period” tail (65.53s), and from France came Potheral’s Bedelia cyclecar with the maker’s ioe vee-twin engine, which, although it never reached the first right-hand corner, earned applause. Mark Walker’s 8.3-litre aero-engined Monarch was the winner here — 50.90s. Collings aero-powered monster took 56.67s. The 1908 GP Panhard was second (54.01s), winning the Clutton Trophy, the 1908 GP Itala third (55.73s). But the President’s Talbot won on handicap. The 1902 GB Napier ascended in 84.75s. Contrastingly, an immaculate 1939 FWD Citroen roadster took 60.06s. Rare too was 1 Barker’s 1927 Arab (60.84s).

To more serious stuff: FTD was made by Donald Day’s ERA R14B (41.38s), from Spollon’s R8C (41.73s), and Freddie Giles broke the vintage class record in the AC/GN (42.50s). Best Bugatti: Marshall’s 2.3, in 48.56s. W B

Class winners (R = new record):

Sports cars: Class 1: T Rides (Riley), 50.48s; Vintage: M Eyre (A7), 51.10s. Class 2: J Mowatt (Morgan), 45.52s; Vintage: S Roberts (Frazer Nash), 48.01s. Class 3: G Spollon (Riley), 45.64s; Vintage: C Rogers (Frazer Nash), 48.27s. Class 4: J Bronson (Riley), 44.72s, R; Vintage: R Buxton (GN/Ford), 51.60s. Edwardians: M Walker (Monarch), 50.90s; Handicap: B Clarke (Talbot). Racing cars: Class 6: Dr Gray (Hardy sp1). 43.82s; Vintage: D Lake (Amilcar-Riley), 47.79s. Class 7: D Ricketts (ERA R 1 B), 42.03s, R; Vintage; R Smith (Frazer Nash). 45.99s; Class 8: D Day (ERA R14B), 41.38s, R; Vintage: F Giles (AC/GN), 42.50s. R; Class 9: G Smith (FN/Alvis), 41.83s. R; Vintage: J Ghosh (Vauxhall-Villiers), 48.62s. Class 10: M Milligan (1953 Connaught), 44.14s.