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  •   Guy Baker reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    Brooklands turns back the clock.

    The world’s oldest motor racing circuit is about to be restored to some of its former glory. David Burgess-Wise unravels just how significant that will be. Photographs & Images courtesy of #Brooklands Museum.

    NO MORE HANGAR STRAIGHT!

    No, not a redevelopment at #Silverstone but a major re-engineering of the #Brooklands-Museum , where a confirmed grant of £4.681 million from the #Heritage Lottery Fund will see the last survivor of four #1940 Bellman hangars (erected on the requisitioned Brooklands racetrack - the world's oldest purpose-built motor racing circuit - to meet wartime aircraft production needs) shifted sideways from its present location in the middle of the Finishing Straight to a new location alongside the track. That will at last leave the iconic vista up the straight to the steep rise of the Members' Banking uninterrupted for the first time in 75 years.

    The relocated hangar will be restored as part of the new 'Aircraft Factory and Flight Shed Exhibition' that will not only house many of the museum's collection of pre- and post-1945 aircraft but also create an authentic aircraft factory environment. This will showcase manufacturing techniques from the 'stick-and-string' pioneering era to the modern age, encouraging visitors to apply their own inventiveness and give them hands- on experience of working with materials. 'It will be a kind of "mini apprenticeship",' museum director Allan Winn told me. 'Visitors will don work coats and clock on in the factory and try their skills in building aeroplanes.

    We want to get people inspired by what has been done here and make them want to get involved in engineering.'
    The museum has already raised more than £1.6 million in match funding for the project and is now fundraising for the remaining £370,000. The overall cost of the project will be around £7 million, making this the largest endeavour the museum has ever undertaken.

    Comments Allan Winn: 'This is a project that particularly attracted the Lottery Fund, because it's not - only dynamic, involving moving vehicles and aircraft, but it engages the public in a way that a stately home, which is static, cannot. The chief executive of the fund hadn't seen Brooklands before she came here for the announcement of the grant, so I took her for a tour of the site in the #Birkin/Holder #1929 Double-Twelve 4 1/2-litre #Bentley . She was captivated.'

    Explaining the fund's rationale for the grant, Stuart McLeod, who heads Heritage Lottery Fund South-East, commented: 'The Brooklands site has played such an important role in the country's history - today's glitzy Grands Prix and state-of-the-art airliners can all be traced back to innovation that took place here - and the Heritage Lottery Fund's investment in this remarkable site will help the museum create a unique experience for visitors by helping them understand the pivotal role the UK has played in the field of engineering.'

    A key part of the project is the restoration of the track's Finishing Straight to its pre-1939 appearance, allowing it to be brought fully back into use for motoring and aviation activities. Not only will cars be seen in action on the restored straight, but the Museum's active aircraft, such as its Sopwith Camel and Hawker Hurricane, will be taxied in front of the new 'Aircraft Factory and Flight Shed' complex. Vanished features such as the giant lap scoring board in front of the Edwardian Clubhouse will be recreated: 'We're planning to visit Taunton Racecourse, where a similar lap scorer survives, to study its complex mechanism,' says Allan Winn. 'There'll also be a viewscope machine alongside the track so that when the visitors click the button they will be able to see racing cars speeding past.'

    'Key to the project is to restore the track’s Finishing Straight to its pre-1939 appearance’

    As well as witnessing pre-war cars in action, visitors will be able to learn how to drive them; soapbox racing - another feature of the pre-1940 Brooklands scene - will return to the Finishing Straight. Its surface, badly deteriorated after so many years of idleness, will be repaired to an authentic appearance. This will be ensured by employing a special concrete mix, approved by English Heritage, which matches the old surface.

    Authenticity of appearance is particularly important at Brooklands, because the track - laid amazingly quickly by hand and barrow by an army of 2000 navvies between September #1906 and June #1907 - represented the first significant use of concrete as a road surface in Britain. Some 200,000 tons of concrete were used to make the track but it was only six inches thick, laid direct onto the earth, which meant that the track surface not only settled and became notoriously bumpy over time but also needed almost constant repair during its racing lifetime.

    Brooklands was the brainchild of wealthy landowner Hugh Locke King, who - in an age when British motorists were hamstrung by a nationwide blanket speed limit of 20mph - realised that the country was being left behind in the new world of international motor sport. Believing that 'England should no longer lie behind the rest of the world, but take her place in the very forefront and reassert herself as the Arbiter of Sport', he decided to finance the building of a closed speed circuit where, able to go as fast as they liked, British racing drivers could practise their skills and the country's motor industry develop new models to compete against their Continental rivals. It would be the world's first track of its kind, and was built on his Brooklands estate in Weybridge, a site that 'nature seemed to have formed for the purpose'.

    Locke King had planned to build a conventional tarmac track round the edge of the property at an estimated cost of £22,000, but his consulting engineer, Colonel HCL Holden of the #Royal-Engineers , persuaded him that 'for the safety of cars travelling at highest speed' it was essential to have a banked oval track with 30ft-high curves to allow cars to run at 100mph without steering effort. He claimed that this would be 'naturally safe' at 120mph and 'reasonably safe at higher speeds with the driver counteracting centrifugal force with his steering'.

    Though Holden had designed the world's first four- cylinder motorbike in #1897 , his experience in building racetracks was nil. His well-intentioned advice would cause a near sevenfold increase in the building cost to a crippling £150,000 (equivalent to around £8.7 million today) and almost break Locke King.

    The new track took its lead from horse racing: drivers wore racing silks like jockeys, cars were assembled in the paddock, and the oval circuit was transected by a finishing straight in front of the clubhouse. This had a major disadvantage, for spectators who had been watching the racing on the outer circuit from the members' enclosure had to run down the hill to see the finish...

    The convention of a finishing straight also cost crack racing driver (and champion rollerskater) Dario Resta the Montagu Cup race and a purse of 1400 gold sovereigns at the opening meeting in 1907, for the man who operated the red disc signal to tell him to turn into the finishing straight at the end of the race left it too late. Resta - overtaking another car in his 135hp Mercedes - missed seeing it, and did one lap too many.

    Brakes were uncertain in those early days, so the straight incorporated a noticeable upgrade at its top end to help cars pull up before they reached the banking and crossed the path of cars still racing on the Outer Circuit. This didn't always work, as Keith Davies, veteran of the 1907 Opening Meeting, told me when I interviewed him at his Grosvenor Square fiat in #1966 .

    'I remember that somebody put his foot by mistake on the accelerator instead of the brake at the finish of a race, went straight forward onto the periphery of the track, and went over the trees and somersaulted to his death. He didn't stop at the finishing line; he just continued on, hit the track, and it was rather like how Diavolo the Great used to do his loop-the-loop - the man shot into the air and finished up where you could expect.'

    Between #1907 and 1939 the banked and bumpy Brooklands circuit was the focus of British motor racing; it was only in the 1930s that it faced rivalry from new tracks at Donington and the Crystal Palace. But there was a cuckoo in the Brooklands nest in the shape of the aircraft industry, which had found a home in the centre of the track almost as soon as it had opened, for the towering bankings shielded primitive aircraft from the force of the wind. Indeed, in 1908 AV Roe had managed to leave the ground on the Brooklands Finishing Straight in a biplane of his own design, the first powered - if not particularly controlled - heavier-than-air flight in Britain.

    Vickers built an aircraft factory alongside the track, and Sop with - which later became Hawker - assembled and test-flew its aircraft at Brooklands, so it was natural that, when war was declared in #1939 , Brooklands was requisitioned for all-out military production of aeroplanes. Hangars were erected on the racetrack to augment the production of aircraft for the RAF, with the Bellman hangar on the Finishing Straight carrying out final assembly work on Wellington bombers.

    Though the requisition of both the racetrack and the Bellman hangar was meant to last only until the end of hostilities, the post-war Labour Government reneged on the arrangement. Racing was never resumed and the entire estate remained a closed aircraft production facility, developing many significant aircraft right up to its pivotal role in the development and production of Concorde. Those who wanted to 'Bring Back Brooklands' were only allowed limited access to the site at the annual Reunion meetings until the museum was opened in #1991 on the 30 acres surrounding the clubhouse.

    The track - largely intact, but with holes punched though the bankings at either end of its central runway to allow heavy aircraft to take off in safety - became a dumping ground for discarded jigs and pallets with shrubs growing though its cracks, which is how I saw it when I first trespassed on the Members' Banking as a teenager around #1960 , having scrambled up the back of the bank with a friend after we'd parked his Bullnose Morris at its foot.

    There was even a hangar on the banking, snuggled under the bridge that afforded a privileged route into the trackside enclosure for the private cars of members of the Brooklands Automobile Racing Club. That, happily is long gone, the Members' Bridge has been recreated, and the surviving hangar on the Finishing Straight was Grade 2 Listed in #1999 as a rare surviving example of the taller type of Bellman; it notably retains its original corrugated-iron sheet cladding.

    However, the Bellman hangar was designed for quick assembly during wartime; a stable internal environment wasn't a pressing need in its specification. Unrestored, that flaw leaves the often fragile structures of the historic aircraft inside it vulnerable to the elements. Its relocation and refurbishment will enable that problem to be addressed. The adjoining 'Flight Shed' will not only house the museum's active aircraft, but will incorporate new workshops where museum volunteers will learn and practise aircraft restoration skills, enabling these vital techniques to be handed down to a new generation. Importantly, there will also be a purpose-built storage area where Brooklands' internationally significant archives will be maintained in a controlled environment.

    Building on the work done years ago by the track clearers of the Brooklands Society, who first undertook the task of removing the undergrowth from the banking, the Brooklands Museum has done sterling work in maintaining the section of the historic track that lies within its site, which regularly plays host to the activities of car clubs. This latest project, which will at last reveal the Finishing Straight in its pre-1939 state, opens what Allan Winn terms 'the most significant chapter in Brooklands' rich and varied history since the museum was founded'.

    FOR MORE DETAILS visit brooklandsmuseum. Com
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  •   Stephen Prior reacted to this post about 4 years ago

    Genesis-made suspensions - plus Genesis-modified bodywork - plus Genesis-assembled #Chevy-V8 / #GM-V8 engine and Ford GT40-style #ZF-5DS-25 transaxle, all made the first test hack more McLaren than Ultima, but when someone said "It's got to have a name" it was Bruce who - gazing out of the window and noticing the road name 'Albert Drive' on the board opposite - suggested "'Albert'! Let's call it 'Albert, so McLaren Cars' first-born twin was christened.

    / #Ultima-Mk3 / #McLaren-Albert-Prototype / #1991 / #McLaren-Ultima-Mk3 / #McLaren-Ultima / #Ultima-Mk3-McLaren-Albert-Prototype / #Ultima / #ZF-5DS / #ZF / #Genesis / #McLaren

    Mark Roberts not only designed an ' #Albert-V8 ' badge for him, he also kept his hand in as an illustrator by producing a detailed cutaway of the beast.

    "And it was a beast too", Bruce recalled, "Short wheelbase, massive power, enough torque to pull your house down... but it was useful".

    'Albert's creation had served to equip the Genesis prototype shop and to get it up and running, a well-oiled functioning entity. This experience paid off in the speed with which the first true prototype #McLaren #McLaren-F1 - chassis XP1 - would come together two years hence.

    'Albert' helped the Genesis team evaluate many proposed features for the new car. Peter Stevens: "We needed to prove the centreline driving position - might it be unacceptable for some unforeseen reason once we got the chance to try it on the road? We fitted 'Albert' with a swinging steering column, and swing-seat, pedals and gearchange to match. We were all paranoid about the press seeing a centre-drive hack leaving our workshop and putting two and two together.

    "For the same reason, when we tested split nose radiators we fed them air from one central nose intake, for fear of giving part of the game away. It was highly entertaining when one specialist magazine ran a photo of ‘Albert’ and claimed a world exclusive 'first photo of McLaren's new supercar'. But what was even better was when the same claim was made for another published photo — of Vem Schuppan's road-going Porsche 962."

    Gordon: "At around that same time there was a lot of talk about #TAG-McLaren having bought Lydden Hill race track in Kent for its new tailor-made company HQ. Word was that an agency photographer was camped out there for months through the winter hoping to snatch first pictures of our new car on test. He'd have needed a long lens, and a filter - our nearest testing was 60-70 miles away, with 'Albert'! One bitter day someone suggested sending him a hot meal and a thermos".

    'Albert' would normally be driven in conventionally offset right-hand drive mode to the test tracks at Chobham or Millbrook, the 'swing-trick' would then take place there, in as secure circumstances as the industry offers. Centre-drive worked well, its promise self-evident.

    The same could not be said of carbon brakes, alternative sets being fitted and tested, and re-tested, but continually they flopped. Superb in sustained hard applications from high speed, they fell below acceptable working temperatures so rapidly in "normal" motoring that pedal pressure demands, lack of bite, numb feel…
    • “Albert” under construction at Genesis with the original swing-seat mechanism under development to provide centreline test driving in private -“Albert” under construction at Genesis with the original swing-seat mechanism under development to provide centreline test driving in private - converting to conventional right-hand drive on the public road between workshop and lest venue.  More ...
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  •   John Leighton reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    Ross Brawn’s #Wilson-Pilcher . The #Formula-1 legend and his unlikely mount. Day Off Ross Brawn’s Wilson-Pilcher.

    WILSON, PILCHER

    He’s the technical genius behind nine Formula 1 Drivers’ Championships. So why is #Ross-Brawn ’s passion now driving the unique London-to-Brighton #1904 Wilson-Pilcher ? Words Glen Waddington. Photography Andy Morgan.

    We meet early-morning on a chilly Thursday in winter, Ross Brawn alert yet laidback, friendly without being over-effusive. He comes across as a focussed yet straightforward man, the kind of persona you might expect of someone with his career and reputation, albeit disarmingly down-to-Earth. He hops into the passenger seat of my car and directs me to where he keeps his collection, a few minutes' drive from his house.

    It's an unassuming, anonymous industrial unit that photographer Andy and I are invited into, with the promise of coffee to warm our insides. Within are arrayed a number of cars, the stars of Brawn's personal collection. 'I tend to collect cars built by the manufacturers I've been associated with,' he smiles, before asking us to guess what's what under the covers. Without wanting to give away too much, we spy the outlines of #Ferraris-288GTO and F40 - 'great on a track, if you like that sort of thing, but too fast for the road' - plus #Jaguar-E-types and a #Mercedes-Benz-300SL Gullwing, all reminders of time spent dominating Formula 1 at Ferrari (six consecutive championships with Michael Schumacher from 1999 to 2004), his period at Jaguar (he was lead designer on the #Jaguar-XJR-14 , which won the #1991 World Sportscar Championship), and the #Mercedes-Benz buy-out of his own Brawn GP outfit after winning the manufacturers' title (and Jenson Button's Drivers' Championship victory) in #2009 .

    There are others too, including an #AC-Ace (the rare Ruddspeed-engined one, of which he seems particularly proud) and a 289 Cobra. Yet while most of the collection spans a not-unexpected era (from the 1950s to the 1980s, on the whole), there's one car in here that breaks with that convention. Massively. And it's the one that gets Brawn smiling more than any other, no matter what's lurking under those covers. It's the 1904 Wilson-Pilcher in which he completed the Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run last year - when it was 1.1 centuries old.

    'We're blase about transport these days,' says Brawn. 'When this car was new, people had to adjust from riding a horse one day to jumping on and driving this the next.'

    Even by 1904 standards the Wilson-Pilcher is unusual, and this one is believed to be the sole survivor. If you read the badge on its nose you'll discover it's actually an Armstrong-Whitworth, built at the company's Elswick works in north-east England to Wilson-Pilcher patents. Of which there were many. A flat-four engine, for a start, 'certainly the earliest I can think of', according to Nigel Parrott, who recommissioned the car for Brawn and has worked with London-Brighton entrants for some 30 years. There's also a four-speed semi-automatic transmission, achieved by two epicyclic gearpacks and a pair of crown wheels (one forward, one reverse) in the aluminium-cased live rear axle. It should come, therefore, as no surprise that the Wilson pre-selector gearbox popular in luxury cars of the 1930s was designed by the very same man. Furthermore, the engine is separated from the main chassis by a subframe, attached laterally by coil springs to the main structure.

    'It's extraordinarily smooth for such an old car,' says Brawn.
    'Walter Wilson [its designer] clearly got his head around the needs of the day,' Parrott tells me later, 'and discovered that motorists wanted less vibration and an easier drive.'

    We'll find out more about that shortly. First some history. Walter Gordon Wilson founded the company in Westminster where, according to his grandson, he built perhaps the first 50 to 60 examples of his car, beginning in #1900 , and established 25 engineering patents in doing so. While his great friend Percy Pilcher was not involved in the car company, Wilson honoured him posthumously: #Pilcher had died in a gliding accident in late #1899 at Stanford Hall in Leicestershire. #Wilson had designed an engine for the flying machine but a last-minute fault meant the aircraft had to fly without it. Had matters turned out less tragically, the pair could have beaten the Wright brothers as the pioneers of powered flight by three years.

    At the #1904-Crystal-Palace-Motor-Show , Wilson displayed a flat-six- engined car - 'which must have been a monster!' says Parrott - but, though he was clearly a design and engineering genius, his prowess as a businessman was less assured. Already short of capital, in late 1903 Wilson had been persuaded by Sir WG Armstrong-Whitworth (of the armaments and shipbuilding conglomerate) to sell his business. That's why this car was badged as such and built in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It is believed that 100 Wilson-Pilchers were manufactured there, re-designated as Armstrong-Whitworths, of which this one - registered BB 96 - is chassis number 52.

    Henry Wilson is The Grandson of Walter Gordon. 'My father gave it to me when I was 21,' he tells me. 'I drove it on the Veteran Car Club Centenary Run in the 1990s and we made it - just. It drove my daughter to her wedding too. We had lots of work done by Patrick Blakeney-Edwards but we could make little use of it and it cost a fortune to keep up.' The family, worried it would leave the UK, reluctantly decided to sell the car at the Bonhams auction ahead of the #2012 London-Brighton Run.

    If 150 or so Wilson-Pilchers were built, how come only this one survives? The answer is that it lived at the factory, close to the family. 'It was bodied as a fire tender and kept at the Elswick works. Apprentices there restored it during the 1950s and presented it to my father who, at the time, was the managing director of Self Changing Gears.' That's the company that grew out of the Wilson pre-selector business, and was based in Coventry.

    'The Wilson-Pilcher sat in the foyer of the office block; the building was by Sir Hugh Casson, so it was quite an impressive sight. And it remained there until my father resigned soon after the take-over by Leyland.'

    Yes, the Wilson transmission concern became a casualty of the Leyland empire. 'My father left to set up his own consultancy and the car went with him. It lived first at Stanford Hall, then at the Bovingdon Tank Museum.' Wilson had perfected the design of the first British Army tank; in MkV form it featured his transmission and could therefore be operated by one driver instead of four. For his wartime work, Wilson was appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in #1917 .

    'From there it went to the Coventry Transport Museum, where it remained until it was restored by the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust's volunteers from 2006 to 2011 at the Derby works.' Walter Wilson had been a personal friend of Charles Rolls.

    'I remember him as a great character; not an easy man but extremely talented,' says Henry. 'And the car was really quick when it got going.'

    That's a Story In Itself. Ross Brawn climbs on board to retard the ignition timing via a lever on the steering column. Meanwhile, his mechanic Darren Glass busies himself by ensuring that the pressurised lubrication system is operating and that fuel is able to make its way to the carburettor. Then it's a swing of the crankhandle and 2.7 litres of 1904 fiat-four erupt into life with a pall of smoke from the exhaust... and very little other drama. In fact, the engine is mechanically very quiet, all the vocals instead arriving as a high-frequency phutt-phutt-phutt from the rear end of the car.

    Brawn's delight is palpable as he invites me to clamber on board, and so I join him, to perch on a bench that's mounted directly above the fuel tank. 'My wife Jean sat there for the London-Brighton. I was surprised at how enthusiastic she was and she smiled all the way through, despite terrible rain and hail. She'd have had to pay a fortune at a beautician's for a facial to match what the weather managed that day! I thought she'd have hated it but she loved it. I didn't mention about the fuel tank though…

    It takes a moment to engage drive as there's still a bit of work to be done on the epicyclic transmission, which has a tendency to slip, but up with the clutch pedal and we're away, without any hesitation or snatching. None of that ear-rending transmission whine you so often suffer with cars of this era, either, and the lack of roughness from that isolated fiat-four is nothing short of astonishing. With refinement of this level, London to Brighton would surely be a breeze.

    Well, not quite - though it's hardly the car's fault. 'Driving it is a very different pleasure from what you experience even with an older sports car,' says Ross, slipping the lever (no clutch pedal required once you've set off, remember) effortlessly into the next ratio. 'What you really have to remember is how much you need to anticipate traffic; you have to be assertive...' (Right now, we're in the middle of the road, passing parked cars and facing down a white van that's coming towards us. We win.) 'Most of the time your hands are full, so it's fortunate there aren't many gauges to look at. You have to be aware that other road users don't know how much distance you need to stop or how much of the road you need to manage a corner. They don't mean to get in the way, but they do.'

    We're purring along now, Ross measuring his accelerative success through the village by whether he can turn out from his storage facility and gain sufficient pace to make the 30mph warning sign glow. We manage it. Shortly after, we also demonstrate what was said about space for corners; another driver slows to take a look (and who wouldn't) and his car takes up the very patch of road we need to make the turn: time for a rapid exfoliation by a holly bush.

    By the standards of its day, this is an easy car to handle, and - despite the intense cold of being exposed to winter weather with zero protection - it's comfortable, with a soft, bumbling, slightly lurchy ride. Yet the steering is always heavy, and the brakes don't offer stopping power so much as gentle attenuation. There's also what Ross describes as a pronounced castor shimmy through the steering wheel, which seems to be set off by the particular frequency of undulations on this road. It's the only real dynamic demerit the car suffers from.

    There were reports of a Wilson-Pilcher being driven 270 miles from London to Newcastle in June #1903 , averaging 42.5mph and returning 20mpg, all the while proving remarkable for its absence of vibration and smooth running. This is a car that has always impressed. Except, perhaps, when Brawn first bought it. He immediately presented it to Nigel Parrott.

    'Those #Rolls-Royce apprentices hadn't been able to get it to work properly,' he says. (Indeed, Henry Wilson had told me that they only got to the end of the Centenary Run by blowing into the tank to pressurise the fuel system!) 'We stripped the valves out and checked the timing, which was out by a full 45° - that meant there was only half an induction stroke; the timing marks turned out to be wrong and heaven knows who put them there. Things get changed over time.'

    With that done plus myriad other details, Nigel found power and could get the car running without resort to bump-starting. Then he simply had to make it driveable. 'We stripped the top off the gearbox: there were no details or drawings available on how to set it up. It's a work of art. We had to get our heads round how it worked but we got it functioning properly. Then it was just a case of tightening the wheels and relining the brakes, then showing Ross how to operate it - which he picked up very quickly. He made good time on the London- Brighton; the thing certainly gets a move on.'

    Which ought to suit Ross Brawn. Or so you'd think. Ironically, 'I'm not into competition driving,' says the Formula 1 legend. 'This has opened up an interest in older cars.' And just how does it pique that interest? 'I like to look at the solutions that were applied. That's what fascinates, seeing how Wilson achieved his objectives. A cam-driven inlet system is clearly better, but looking at the requirements of the engine and its atmospheric set-up, well, why not? Engineers of that era were empirical. They worked on intuition, experience. They didn't have great knowledge of materials and calculations but they had a feel for strength. Nothing here is over-engineered or crude. It's all been resolved within the limitations of the day.'

    His favourite aspect? 'It's the product of one man; themes run through the whole car, rather like a single philosophy runs through a Formula 1 car. There's a quality of engineering that flows through it in a consistent way. The more I look, the more appreciative I become of how advanced it was for its day.'
    The Wilson-Pilcher is more than 110 years old. And still counting.

    THANKS TO Ross Brawn, Henry Wilson, and Nigel Parrott of NP Veteran Engineering Ltd, tel: 1435 813811. The 2015 Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run is on Sunday 1 November 2015, the first car leaving at 6.54am from Serpentine Road, Hyde Park. Entries open on Monday 30 March, veterancarrun. co. uk. The EFG International Concours d’Elegance will be held the day before, from 10.30 am to kpm at the Regent Street Motor Show in London.

    Car 1904 #Wilson-Pilcher-12/16HP-Phaeton

    ENGINE 2715cc flat-four, atmospheric inlet valves, cam-driven exhaust valves, fixed-jet carburettor with adjustable air controls
    POWER 12/16hp RAC fiscal rating, max 900rpm
    TRANSMISSION Four-speed epicyclic, rear-wheel drive
    STEERING Worm and quadrant
    SUSPENSION
    Front: beam axle, elliptical leaf springs.
    Rear: live axle, centre-pivot tie rods, elliptical leaf springs.
    BRAKES Rear drums, rod-operated
    PERFORMANCE Top speed 55mph (est)

    Above and right Noweatherprotection and only an oil pressure gauge to see from the bench seat; new rear bodywork was fashioned from aluminium in the 1950s and restored 2006-11; original front wings are wooden.

    'The engine is mechanically quiet, the vocals arriving as a phutt-phutt-phutt from the rear’

    Left and above Ross Brawn shows writer Glen Waddington around the car before setting off for a drive. Note the vaned flywheel that acts as a cooling fan, and suspension tie rods pivoted from the gearbox.
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  •   Greg MacLeman reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    STEPHEN BAYLEY THE AESTHETE

    The word ‘carburettor’ is now almost extinct in everyday life. Thus it joins ‘amarulence’ (bitterness) and ‘sinapistic’ (containing mustard) in a treasury of neglect. It occurred to me that I scarcely knew what a carburettor is. Or I should say ‘was’. They belong to the past, just like real chauffeurs whose original job, from the French for ‘heat’, was to warm-up primitive engines.

    The #carburettor predates the automobile and, according to the Oxford English Dictionary was first used in #1866 , exactly 20 years before Benz’s #Motorwagen patent. A carburettor was an apparatus for passing hydrogen, coal gas or air over a liquid hydrocarbon so as to produce what the lexicologists delightfully described as ‘illuminating power’.
    There is a wonderful poetic vocabulary associated with illuminating power, now fading into memory. Downdraught, butterfly valves, float-chamber, choke, throttle jets, flooding and backfire. I specially remember flooding. Although I was completely ignorant of Bernoulli’s Principle - the one that says ‘in flowing air, speed and pressure work inversely’, and which governs carburettor design - I spent hours under the bonnet of my old #MG trying to balance its erratic twin SUs.

    This is why I am feeling nostalgic. Carburettors evoke an age when you could look at an engine and read its function. My MG’s A-series was like a child’s diagram of the laws of physics. You could see that air came in one side, got mixed with fuel on its way into the cylinder head where, by way of a controlled explosion, it produced that illuminating power whose residue escaped as smelly hot gas out of the other side. It was elemental, even primal, and very satisfying, aesthetically speaking.

    Carburettors spoke a visual language all of their own. The pleasant, rounded domes of the classic #SU seemed to suggest English correctness, even a slight primness since they disguised some of its functions. Altogether more feral was the Amal sidedraught carburettor used on JAP-engined Cooper Formula 3 cars and Triumph Bonneville bikes. It seemed erotically assertive: a mechanical proposition with sexual suggestion. Visually it said raw power. You could almost hear it hiss.

    Or look at a vast four-barrel Holley carburettor, as gross as a piece of military equipment, the sort you might find on a US muscle car with a Muncie four-on-the-floor and lake pipes painted matt white. How could such gigantic apparatus be anything other than American? A Holley says four-hundred-cubic-inch gurgling, molecule-bashing V8.

    But most evocative of all is a Ferrari V12 with its martial row of six pairs of glittering downdraught Webers. Their arrogant air trumpets strut themselves and suck-in the atmosphere like the most rampant gigolo. Such a display (and it is a display) of seductive, proud, ridiculous excess could only be from Emilia- Romagna, just as an SU could only be from Birmingham.

    In #1991 #Ferrari organised an exhibition in Florence’s Belvedere, with its greatest cars in vast Plexiglass boxes, floodlit against a renaissance backdrop. The exhibition catalogue had gravure illustrations of the greatest Ferrari engines. Whenever I am quizzed about my fascination with cars and asked how I reconcile it with a strict training in academic art history, I reach for a gravure illustration of the #1967 #Dino 206SP’s 65° V6 and its three pairs of #Weber 40DCN/4 carburettors to make my point. I really do not know anything more beautiful.

    No-one makes a car with a carburettor today. Ford supplied the last Crown Victoria Police Cruiser (a personal favourite) fitted with a carburettor to the NYPD in 1991. The very last car with a carburettor was, and no surprises here, a 2006 Lada. Meanwhile, Weber ended production in Italy in 1992 and Holley went bust in 2008.

    Today we have fuel injection. Its advantages have long been known: in the Second World War, #Rolls-Royce Merlin engines withcarburettors suffered fuelstarvation in extreme manoeuvres, while the injected #BMW and #Daimler engines of the Luftwaffe maintained fuel flow even pulling out of steep dives. Of course, fuel injection is technically superior; mandatory catalytic converters require its precision and on-board diagnostics demand systems with microchip-powered reporting ability. You don’t get that sort of thing from imprecise, messy and temperamental carburettors. That’s why they are so wonderful.

    AMAL’S SIDE-DRAUGHT CARBURETTOR SEEMED EROTICALLY ASSERTIVE: A MECHANICAL PROPOSITION WITH SEXUAL SUGGESTION

    STEPHEN BAYLEY

    Author, critic, consultant, broadcaster, debater and curator Stephen co-created the Boilerhouse Project at London's V&A, was chief executive of The Design Museum, and fell out with Peter Mandelson when he told him the Millennium Dome ‘could turn out to be crap'.
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  • If you’re like me, the noise a car makes is important. If it’s a racing car, all the more so. This was brought home to me in March when I attended the FIA Formula E Miami ePrix meeting as a guest of the British Consulate. While the syntactically challenged title might be a mouthful, I was intrigued to return to the street circuit venue for the first time since I won the Miami Grand Prix 30 years ago in a #Porsche-962 I shared with the car’s owner, the much-missed Al Holbert.

    While there was a definite buzz among the capacity crowd, the same cannot be said of the 200 or so invitees who, like me, viewed the race for electric single-seaters from a large boat. I was ostensibly there for Brit Week (an event to highlight the creative input Brits make in the US), and gave a speech about how I was intrigued to see what the fuss was all about: is this the jumping off point? Will batteries kill off the combustion engine trackside? That sort of thing.

    Of course, this being me, I made the mistake of voicing an honest opinion. I have followed motor sport for more than 60 years; 51 of them as a driver. Historically, what I loved about Formula 1 was that you could differentiate between, say, a #Matra-V12 and a #Cosworth-DFV-V8 just from the pitlane. It was the same when I was doing Group C: you couldn’t mistake the noise made by a 962’s six-pot for, say, a 12-cylinder Jaguar. And the sound of the quad-rotor Mazda that droned around the clock to victory at Le Mans in #1991 was enough to make your ears bleed wherever you were on the circuit.

    During the speech I said something along the lines of how exciting this new scheme is but, for me, a gentle thrum could not possibly compare with the sense of drama you would get from a Ferrari F1 engine screaming its nuts off at 16,000rpm or more. About 70% of the audience began clapping on hearing this, and I reckon the remainder had no idea what motor sport is all about or who the hell I was.

    I should, however, point out that I am interested in Formula E in as much as I am always interested in what is going on in motor racing. I try to keep abreast of things. But - and it’s an important but - I am not enthralled by technology. I have read elsewhere that Formula E cars are not silent, and I was fully expecting to hear all sorts of whooshes and so on. That alone was never going to press my buttons, but I wanted to give the category the benefit of the doubt. The problem was, a Cuban band got its groove on and they completely drowned out the sound of the cars. I didn’t know the race had actually started until the crowd opposite went crazy as the cars threaded the needle at the first corner for the first time. After that it was all a bit, well, dull. I have the greatest respect for the drivers-there are some good, solid professionals in the series - but the cars? Hmm, not for me, thank you.

    I was still pondering the future a week later as I arrived in the past, or at least a close approximation to it. The 73rd Goodwood Members’ Meeting was something else. I really enjoyed it, not least because it was a much more informal affair than the Festival of Speed and Revival events. I was enraptured by the sounds and smells of the '50s Grand Prix cars and, even blindfolded, I swear I would be able to differentiate between marques. And the giddying aroma of Castrol R gets me every time. This was the polar opposite of Formula E in that my senses felt heightened just walking through the paddocks as throttles were flexed and cars were warmed up. I didn’t feel that way in Miami.

    While I was in West Sussex, I had expected to be reunited with an ex-works Rothmans Porsche from the factory museum but, for whatever reason, that didn’t happen, so I went out in a later short-tail 962 during the Group С demonstrations. I enjoyed that, as much as I ever enjoy being on a track and not racing. That said, I was less than impressed with the driving standards among some of the non-professionals: there were a couple of idiotic Nissan drivers who ignored the safety briefing completely and drove as though they were on qualifying laps. I chewed them out subsequently, which isn’t something I would normally do, but they just shrugged and smiled as if to say ‘It wasn’t me’.

    I later went out in the Harrods #McLaren-F1 in which I finished third at Le Mans in #1995 alongside Andy Wallace and my son Justin. And you know what? The sound of its V12 rearing up on the over-run made my spine tingle. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there, somewhere.

    ‘THE SOUND OF THE QUAD-ROTOR MAZDA THAT DRONED AROUND THE CLOCK AT LE MANS WAS ENOUGH TO MAKE YOUR EARS BLEED’
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