Napier Gordon Bennett 40 HP, 1902
First British car to win a big international race, in the hands of S. F. Edge, this Napier was a powerful lightweight, simple in design but somewhat crudely made.
For instance, the chassis frame was of wood, reinforced by steel flitch-plates. Yet it had two outstanding distinctions lacking in the Mercedes - shaft drive to a live axle with enclosed bevel-and-pinion, and a monobloc casting in aluminium for its four cylinders.
Although the inlet valves were opened by atmospheric pressure, each cylinder contained a cage of four. Bore and stroke were both 5 in. (127 mm) and the swept volume 6,436 cc. The quadrant-change gearbox provided three speeds.
Mercedes 70 HP, 1908
Introduced in 1906, this was the first production Mercedes to have six cylinders, the bore and stroke being 120 x 140 mm (9.5 litres). The cylinders were cast in pairs, with non-detachable T-heads, side valves being operated by individual camshafts for inlet and exhaust. It delivered about 70 bhp.
A scroll clutch transmitted the drive to a four-speed gearbox and live axle. Backed by a successful competition schedule, the make had become accepted already as a world standard in automobile engineering.
The gargantuan example illustrated was equipped as a road-going equivalent of a luxurious Pullman express for long-distance touring; like an engine-driver, however, the paid chauffeur had to brave the natural elements.
Renault 50 HP, 1908
Antecedent of the famous 45, this first six-cylinder Renault had a 9.5-litre (120 x 140 mm) engine with side valves in an L-head, placed ahead of the radiator in the style that remained Renault practice for many years thereafter. Obvious advantages were that the engine was very accessible and kept clean.
An innovation was compressed-air starting, with a camshaft-driven pump and steel reservoir. It had a leather-faced cone clutch, three-speed gearbox with difficult quadrant change and a live axle.
The 13 ft wheelbase was then the longest of any production car; this body, a triple phaeton, left the third row uncovered in rough weather - the servants' quarters, presumably. Detachable rims on "fixed" wheels were still most common.
Rolls-Royce 40/50 HP Silver Ghost, 1908–1909
Todays Rolls-Royce is scarcely quieter or smoother-running than the great Silver Ghost of 1906-1925. Near-silence and high power output were incompatible in 1906, so the original 7-litre (114 x 114 mm) engine developed only 48 bhp at 1200 rpm.
But in 1908 the stroke was increased to 121 mm, the swept volume to 7.4 litres. The astonishing proportion of Silver Ghosts that have survived, and the current demand for them, are proof of supreme quality of manufacture and of road behaviour.
The technical specification was quite orthodox - indeed, cynics have even described the RR as a "triumph of development over design". Early models had an overdrive fourth gear which was later abandoned because one could hear it. This cabrio-landaulet body, its panels resplendent with ornate mouldings, is by Barker, for many years among the finest British coachbuilders.
Mercer Raceabout, 1913
At a time when most American sporting two-seaters tended to be brutish and clumsy, the Mercer was renowned for excellent road-holding and a special delicacy of control. It had the usual side-valve T-head four-cylinder engine (111 x 127 mm, 4.9 litres) developing about 60 bhp at 2,000 rpm and a four-speed transmission and live axle.
Mechanical detail work and materials were top quality, and the monocle windshield supported on the steering column outer tube was a dainty affectation. Top speed was around 75 mph. Designer was Finlay Robertson Porter.
Vauxhall Prince Henry, 1913–1914
The first Vauxhall Prince Henry (built for the Prince Henry Tour in 1910) was a 3-litre, but in 1913 the bore and stroke were increased from 90 x 120 mm to 95 x 140 (3,969 cc).
For its day this simple, long-stroke four-cylinder engine with side valves gave extraordinary power - 75 bhp at only 2,500 rpm; this endowed it with not only a high maximum - about 75 mph - but also a long stride.
Surviving examples can still cruise along all day at 60-65 mph; moreover, superb steering and stability put it among the most rewarding of all Edwardian touring cars. Designer L.H. Pomeroy gave it a Hele-Shaw multi-plate clutch, a splendid four- speed gearbox, and a bevel-drive axle with open propeller shaft and a long torque arm.
The simple, lightweight body included a polished aluminium bonnet behind a vee-radiator, both with the once-familiar horizontal flutes; Rudge Whitworth wire-spoked wheels with centre-lock hubs completed the ensemble.
Panhard & Levassor Sport, 1914
Commissioned for the Chevalier Ren de Knyff, a P&L director, this nautical-looking "skiff" body was the work of the "carrossier" Labourdette. It seems almost unimaginable that it was made half a century ago, and the grace and harmony of the whole are beyond argument. The carvel-built hull was partly decked and fastened by copper rivets.
The 25 hp (British RAC rating) four-cylinder engine had bore and stroke of 100 x 140 mm (4,400 cc) and double-sleeve valves on the Knight principle. There was a four-speed gearbox, and the live rear axle was attached by three-quarter-elliptic springs.
Packard Twin Six, 1916
Designer Jesse Vincent's response to Kettering's vee-eight Cadillac of 1914 was the Packard Twin Six introduced the following year - the world's first real production car with 12 cylinders. The 6.9-litre side valve narrow angle engine had two banks cylinders inclined at 60 deg.
It developed about 75 bhp - rather more than the contemporary Rolls-Royce. The footbrake incidentally, operated contracting shoes around the same rear-wheel drums within which were expanding shoes controlled by the hand-brake lever.
A dry, multi-disc clutch transmitted the drive to a three-speed gearbox, and spiral bevel final drive. Electric starting and lighting were provided. In 1923 the Twin Six was dropped, and the vee-type engine's special bene compactness and rigidity were overlooked until 1932, when the company introduced a new vee-12.
Elizalde 50/60 HP, 1921
In its report of the Paris Salon of 1921, "The Autocar" called the great Elizalde Type 48 "the largest touring car ever produced" and added: The bonnet covering a huge eight-cylinder engine is so high that ordinary persons cannot see over it - fact!"
Presumably this is the very car that Pierre Dumont has run to earth. I have discovered only these further facts about this giant - that its engine had a bore and stroke of 90 x 160 mm (7,970 cc) and that in 1924 (when cars had become much cheaper than in 1921) it cost 60,000 pesetas. The Barcelona factory ceased production in 1930.
Cadillac Series 63 Vee-Eight, 1923
A pioneer American make dating from 1903, Cadillac established their name with a simple, reliable single-cylinder car. In 1912 the company pioneered the fitting as standard of electric engine starting and lighting, and two years later introduced their first vee-eight. A silky-smooth 5.2-litre side-valve unit, it developed about 76.5 bhp at 2,400 rpm and was little changed until 1926.
But with the Series 63 came a two-plane crankshaft with 90 deg. throws (hitherto single-plane) and power increase to 83 bhp. This car was the work of Charles Kettering. The American body stylist, it seems, had not yet made his mark.
Alfa Romeo P2 Grand Prix, 1924
One of the greatest racing cars of all time, the P2 was designed by engineer Romeo, and Vittorio Jano. The latter joined Alfa Romeo in September 1923, finished the project in January 1924, and the car won its first race five months later. Its career continued six years.
The straight-eight engine (61 x 85 mm, 1,987 cc) had two cylinder blocks with twin overhead camshafts and two opposed valves per cylinder. Compression ratio was 6 to 1, and a Roots supercharger blew at about 10 psi (0.75 kg/cm2
The crankshaft was carried in 10 roller bearings, and transmission was through a multi-plate dry clutch, four-speed gearbox and torque tube axle. Power output progressed from 140 to 165 bhp at 5,500 rpm, and the machine’s potential maximum speed from about 125 to 140 mph.
Panhard 40/50 HP, 1924
French coachbuilder Henri Labourdette, who before the war had introduced the carvel-built skiff body, produced this exotic masterpiece on a big Panhard chassis for the Paris Salon of 1924.
He called it a skiff-cab. To enter the little house at the back you had first to fold the windscreen forward on the hinged decking, then to raise it before opening the door. Inside it was trimmed with Scotch tartan plaid.
This, the biggest of the Panhard range, had a powerful straight-eight engine (85 x 140 mm, 6,355 cc) with double sleeves, built under licence from the American Knight. For transmission it had a four speed box and propeller shaft enclosed in a torque tube.
Lancia Lambda, 1926
In 1922 Vincenzo Lancia long-jumped into the future with a brave project that should have shaken his competitors to the core. It didn't - but fortunately for them the public is always slow to react to novelty.
His Lambda had a composite frame structure which also supported the body panels; independent front suspension by enclosed coil springs; a narrow-angle vee-four engine with single overhead camshaft; a remote-control gear-change; and detachable hardtop.
Engine size progressed from 2.1 to 2.5 litres, and a three-speed gearbox was soon replaced by a four-speed one. The last two series (8th and 9th) had separate chassis frames, and the type remained in production until 1931. Lambdas are still treasured for their roadholding, steering and brakes. This is a 7th series.
Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Spinto, 1927
For sheer visual magnificence Italy's lsotta-Fraschini of the between-wars era were unexcelled, this great chassis inspiring some of the most elegant coachwork ever seen. Customers ranged from the Pope to heavyweight boxers and film stars. Yet for all the extravagance of engineering perfection in construction it was never a very good car dynamically.
Until the 8B arrived in 1934 the big straight-eight engine, designed by Cattaneo, was always short of power, and by repute the Isotta was as heavy as a lorry to handle. Initially - from 1919 to 1924 - the engine was just under 6 litres, but with the Tipo BA of 1925 this grew to 7,372 cc (95 x 130 mm), the output thereby rising from 80 to 120 bhp at 2,400 rpm.
The short-chassis Tipo Spinto shown above, with two carburettors, gave 135 bhp at 2,600 rpm, and the later 8Bs perhaps 160. A straightforward pushrod overhead valve unit with a nine-bearing crankshaft, it drove through a multi-plate clutch, three-speed gearbox with very widely spaced ratios, and torque tube axle.
lsotta-Fraschini were among the pioneers of four-wheel brakes. Castagna of Milan fashioned this dashing sports two-seater.
Minerva 32 HP, 1927
When one recalls such names as Metallurgique, Excelsior, Minerva and Imperia, it is sad that no Belgian makes have survived.
Minerva began by manufacturing bicycles and motor-cycles. Cars followed in 1904, and from 1908 until World War II they staunchly retained the Knight-type double sleeve valve engine.
Beautifully made machines, they were fitting foundations for such elegant bodies as this phaeton by Hibbard and Darrin The engine in this case would have been a 90 x 140 mm (5.4-litre) six, very smooth and quiet.
Mercedes Benz SS 38/250 HP, 1928
Mechanically the 38/250 was the work of Dr Ferdinand Porsche, its immediate predecessor being the 36/220 of 1927. But the engine size was increased from 6.8 to just over 7 litres (100 x 150 mm, 7,069 cc). The six-cylinder engine had a single overhead camshaft and, in the Mercedes-Benz tradition already well-established, a clutch-operated Roots-type blower.
This was engaged by pressing the accelerator to the floor-boards, and was not supposed to be used continuously. Without it, maximum power was about 140 bhp, and with it some 200 bhp at 3,200 rpm. Higher figures often quoted seem highly imaginative.
Top speed would be 110-115 mph in this form. Real he-man cars in looks and character, the 36/220 and 38/250 had considerable success in competition, and will forever be coupled with the memory of that great German ace Rudolf Caracciola. The type was also raced by the British drivers Lord Howe and Sir Malcolm Campbell.
This striking convertible by Hibbard and Darrin, emphasising the length of engine room required for great power in those days, is as perfectly matched to the chassis and balanced in line and proportion as any modern work.
Minerva 40 HP, 1930
With their Knight double-sleeve valve engines, Minervas were jealous of their reputation for quiet running and mechanical refinement the Belgian equivalent of the British Daimler. For this reason both makes were favourites for the undertaking business between the wars.
But in 1930 Minerva brought out a huge and heavy car with straight-eight Knight-type engine of 6,616 cc (90 x 130 mm) with a comparatively high performance. Power output was said to be 150 bhp. It had a four-speed gearbox and very long cantilever rear springs. This splendid boatdecked touring body had vee-screens for separate front and rear cockpits.
Packard Model 734 Speedster, 1930
Now a rare collectors piece, the 734 had a guaranteed top speed of 100 mph. Its engine was a tuned version of the familiar 6.2-litre straight-eight, reputedly delivering about 145 bhp at 3,200 rpm, and a wide-ratio four-speed gearbox was featured, at a time when three speeds were almost universal in the USA.
This car was made for one year only. The sporting boat-tailed body, common in Europe at that time, becomes it well.
Bucciali Vee-16, 1931
Schoolboys of the early 30s used to draw cars like this on the backs of exercise books. Although the make was exhibited at the Paris Show year after year, it never seemed to reach the production stage; yet the author has a 1932 Bucciali catalogue written in English.
This splendid example shown in 1932 was probably never completed and run. Only a mock-up chassis, also exhibited there, survives. The specification was fascinating: two American Lycoming straight-eight cylinder blocks mounted in a narrow vee on a common crankcase formed the 7.5-litre sixteen-cylinder engine; there was front-wheel drive with the gearbox beneath two radiators, these being in series with fans between and behind them; all-independent suspension and huge light-alloy wheels with cast-in brake drums were other highlights.
Auburn Speedster, 1936
There was a bit of engineers E. L. Cord, Fred and Augie Duesenberg, Harry Stutz and body stylist Gordon Buehrig in the racy Auburn Speedster. It sold astonishingly cheaply in relation to its specification and performance, and naturally appealed mostly to playboys, stage stars and "nouveau-riche" extroverts.
The vee-12 engine was a simple side-valve job by Lycoming (79.3 x 107.9 mm, 6,395 cc) developing 160 bhp. A three-speed gearbox was supplemented by a dual-ratio Columbia axle. The Speedster was more familiar in its alternative guise with a 4.6-litre side-valve straight-eight engine boosted by a centrifugal supercharger.
Either type was good for 100 mph or more - which one imagines was sufficient for its road-holding qualities.
Duesenberg SJ Supercharged Roadster, 1936
With its 6.9-litre straight-eight engine boosted to 8 psi by a centrifugal blower to give 320 bhp, the short-chassis Duesenberg SJ was said to reach 100 mph from rest in 17 sec, to run to 104 mph in middle gear and rocket up to 130 mph or so in top.
Of the 478 chassis completed in the nine years 1929-37, only about three dozen were SJs. This 125 in. wheelbase version -- 17½ in shorter than standard -- was very rare.
Although these cars were not used in competition, a special SJ built for and driven by Ab Jenkins of Utah, put 152.14 miles into an hour and averaged 135.47 for 24 hours in 1935.
The history of the Duesenberg is closely linked with those of the Auburn and Cord cars, E. L. Cord having bought Duesenberg in 1928; the three makes went out of business simultaneously in 1937.
While the Model J engine was designed by Fred Duesenberg, assisted by his younger brother August, it was entirely manufactured for them by the Lycoming Company.
Packard Type 180 V8, 1939
One of the USAs pioneer manufacturers, Packard produced the worlds first luxury car to be powered by a vee-12 engine, the astonishing Twin Six of 1915-1923.
This sporting "coupe de ville by Darrin was the apogee of their range at the outbreak of World War II. It had a very refined side-valve vee-eight engine of 5.3 litres developing some 130 bhp.
Source: berkofinepaintings.com; Ronald Barker, Douglas B. Tubbs "In the age of motoring" (1971)