Racing and Touring
An Englishman who was taught to drive by Charles Rolls of the RollsRoyce, who owned his first ear in 1898, and who built his first car, a “Simplex,” in 1901, JOHN E. MUTTON was one of the pioneer motorists in Europe. In road races Mr. Hutton hit sixty miles an hour years before Barney Oldfield, and he has driven more than “a million miles without causing bodily damage to any human being.”This is the second of his two nostalgic articles.
by JOHN E. HUTTON
I ENTERED my first automobile race in 1901, the course being from Nice to Salon and back through the tortuous Estcrel mountains. My car was a 4-cylinder 12 h.p. Panhard with tube ignition and chain drive. A vast concourse turned out, and at the start we were pelted with flowers. Going up the mountain I assumed the lead, but taking care on the downward steep descent, with its infinite number of hairpin bends, I was overtaken by another racer — driving, I thought, much too fast for safety in view of the fact that the road was not clear of other traffic and our brakes were none too good.
Sure enough, in another half mile, I came round a corner to find the road blocked by an overturned car and two men lying in the road, one of whom was adorned with a scarlet garment wound about his middle. Seizing the end, I pulled and the man rolled over and over, groaning horribly, as I unwound the material, which 1 spread across the road just above the corner where the accident happened. This improvised red flag saved a grisly mess since cars would certainly have piled up against mine and the wreck. With the help of other drivers we got the overturned car removed to one side and, bundling the loudly complaining driver and mechanic into the back of my car, took them to a hospital. Although I actually finished second in this race, the French disqualified me because I had “left the course to take the casualties to the hospital — which I felt was a little hard.
My next race was from Nice to Monte Carlo over the precipitous La Turbie. It was here I saw the first death in my racing career. The car in front of me took the opening hairpin bend too fast and crashed into the rock. Strangely enough, I was to see this driver’s son killed at Brooklands, some twenty years later, on one of my visits to that track.
The speeds were at first very low—around 45 m.p.h.—but the utterly inadequate brakes gave the drivers plenty of thrill. During the Monte Carlo race I had a lot of trouble with ignition and used all my available matches trying to get the burner to light, which it did at last.
In 1903 I was engaged for the Paris-Madrid race — which was to end prematurely in a disastrous shambles of drivers and spectators who crowded the road in dense throngs, not realizing the greatly increased speed of the cars of that year. In order to avoid plowing into the onlookers blocking the road, the drivers were forced to drive to the side, crashing into trees and telegraph poles. One of the famous Renault brothers was killed, and others whose names I cannot recall were killed or terribly injured. *
I had bespoken one of six 60 h.p. Mercedes cars, three of which were reserved for crack German drivers. When I wenl to the Mercedes works to pick up my car, the last to be delivered, the works superintendent came to me with this ominous warning: “Mr. Hutton, we have delivered five of these cars; there have been five drivers killed; please be careful!" I soon discovered the need for this caution. In their acceleration and speed these remarkable cars, which, in accordance with the rules, weighed with racing body under 1000 kilos, were so far in advance of anything hit herto constructed as to demand caution by the driver. We still did not have frontwheel brakes, and the time required to reduce the top speed of 80 m.p.h. to zero entailed formidable risks.
I won numerous races, hill-climbs, and competitions in this same car in the Irish motor-racing carnival that year; and in Phoenix Park, Dublin, I was officially timed to cover a measured mile at the speed of 80½ m.p.h. — which was, I believe, a record up to that hour. So highly were these Mercedes cars prized that. I sold the racer, after I had finished with it, for $14,000.
It would only be boring to relate the innumerable races and competitions in which I took part subsequently in various makes of cars and with diverse success. I accumulated such an array of silver “ pots” and trophies as to become embarrassed with their upkeep. The sulphur-laden atmosphere of London tarnished them rapidly, and they required hours of attention daily. I tried having them lacquered, to no avail, as a “London Particular" peasoup fog instantly undid all the care bestowed upon them. One day I loaded the lot, with the exception of two or three small table pieces, and delivered them to a bullion dealer who gave me some $4000 for them, representing about 25 per cent of the shop value.
The cash prizes were something else again: in my best year I was fortunate enough to win over $18,000. The famous Brooklands motor-racing track was opened in 1906 and on the opening day, driving my old 135 h.p. Mercedes, I had the luck to win the most valuable race ever staged there, a cash prize of £1200 ($5000) and a $1000 gold cup.
During this race an amusing incident happened. On my second lap, while running at over 100 miles per hour, I saw something suddenly fly past my head and it was only when I noticed the overhead valve tappets dancing like crazy crickets on my engine I realized that I had lost the engine hood — the strap holding it having broken. As we came round on the third lap there in the center of the track were my hood and one of the attendants who had gone out to collect it. I have seen fear exhibited many times hut never have I seen a man so scared as he was when he viewed a dozen monsters approaching him at over 140 feet per second. Mercifully, his terror immobilized him: had he tried to get off the track before the cars passed, there would have been a ghastly smash as the cars tried to avoid him and each ot her.
In the following year I had made for me two special cars which carried my name. They were designed for the “four-inch” class in which the four cylinders must, not have a diameter exceeding four inches but had no limit on length of stroke. One of my cars had an eight-inch stroke, the other a nineinch. These cars were a tremendes success, winning the coveted “four-inch race” on the tortuous and dangerous Isle of INI an mountain course, and numerous other competitions, with the greatest case. At Brooklands, with one of these cats, I set up a world record for the class, which stood unt hdlenged for ten years. Incidentally, in those days we had no protection in front of the driver, and the wind pressure on the head and chest was terrific.
One race on that track stands out in my memory. The finish of the course was along a straightaway at right angles to the track, and i! a driver did not instantly brake as he passed the finishing line, he was liable to run up the excessively steep hank at the top of the circuit, which had a gradient of nearly one in one. Just before I was due to race, a young man finishing in the previous race failed to brake in time and ran up the steep grade, where his car turned turtle. He was instantly killed.
After the interval, the hell rang for my race, and just as I was about to leave the paddock a friend drew my attention to a fracture of my wooden rear wheel, and begged me not to start. Feeling that 1 should be accused of cowardice because of the previous accident, and aware that much of the crowd had bet on me, I preferred to face the risk rather than the (undeserved) ignominy. When running I let the car steer itself on the banks, only guiding it in the straight, so as to minimize any lateral stress on the defective wheel. I won the race but was thoroughly scared throughout the course!
My last race at Brooklands in 1907 nearly proved my undoing. It was 100 miles and I was driving my little special at a steady 98 m.p.h. when I was overtaken by a 135 h.p. Mercedes on one of the high banks. Just as he came abreast of me I saw that the driver was in difficulties, and in an instant his car crashed sidelong across t he track, missing me by inches as I steered uphill and behind him. The last I saw was two men, with arms and legs spread out like starfish, high over the telephone wires, and the huge car engine projected into the midst of a crowd of spectators. (Fort unately none of them was harmed.) The mechanic was killed; the driver, who subsequently recovered, was quite unable to explain the reason for the accident. That was a grueling race. In every direction, as I went round the track, I saw cars upside down and burning.
WHEN considering the skill and daring of the racing car drivers one must pay homage to the fortitude of the racing mechanics who accompanied them. They had nerves of steel. It is one thing to drive a racing car and quite another to he driven in a race. Once, and only once, I was fool enough to be driven by a French racing driver, Bablot, during a practice run round a course we were both to race over the following week. Never had I been so terrified! The driver had a padded seat, but the wretched mechanic sat on the floor hoards hanging on for grim death. As we approached corners, I was sure the driver had forgotten his brakes. While one has to carry a mechanic on road races to help change wheels and for other car service, I never carried one at Brooklands or in short sprint races and hill-climbs, because I considered it unreasonable to risk another man’s life if his presence was not essential.
My own road racing career was limited in extent since the cost of road racing, with all the elaborate organization required, could only be faced by a very wealthy man or with the hacking of a manufacturer or oil company.
I ought to explain that when I raced, it was mainly for the purpose of advertising the cars in which, for some years, I dealt. Mercedes, Panhard, Bcrliet, and the special “Hutton” were my principal mounts, and at no time did I ever race as a professional driver for a manufacturer, nor was I ever subsidized by one. I was only an amateur.
The great Continental car makers had their regular paid professional drivers, and in addition to those already mentioned I recall Mors, Peugeot, Napier, Darraoq, Delage, Benz, and Renault. After my day, we produced a. fine lot of ultra-high-speed drivers: the Guimness brothers, Segrave, Sir Malcolm Campbell—who still holds the world record of 141 miles per hour for a motor-driven boat and John Cobb, who holds the world record for cars at the incredible speed of .‘169 miles per hour.
Those of you who drive around in your luxurious and speedy sedans owe us pioneers a debt of gratitude! For we did all the dirty work. There was a great deal of criticism on racing cars at the time, but it must be remembered that the rapid evolution of the touring car was directly attributable to the experience and research put into the design of racing cars. Without 1 he incentive of racing, the design of touring cars would have stagnated. Frontwheel brakes, detachable wheels, higher engine compression — these were a few of the direct results of racing research.
CHARLES ROLLS, whose name is borne by the RollsRoyce car, was unfortunately killed at Bournemouth when flying one of the earliest “string-bag” planes. He was a very keen and wealthy young engineer who enlisted the services of a crane manufacturer, Royce, to build a car. He was fortunate in his choice, for Royce not only was a first-class engineer but was impelled by the conviction that nothing but the very best should leave his works: a motto which was to gain for his motor the preeminent position in which his products stood and which has persisted to the present day.
I knew Rolls well and as he had the peculiarity of working only late at night, I spent many hours after dark at his father’s house in London scheming business deals. It seems a tragedy he did not live long enough to see the full development of his initiative. The Rolls-Royce car was always sold at a very high price and I fear many were bought by the desire of the purchaser to compete with his neighbors. It became the style to describe such a customer as ”a man with Rolls-Royce ideas and a Ford income.”
Bentley cars, which also bore the name of the designer, created a considerable stir by the very fine performance they made in racing, and at one time they were the pre-eminent British racing car. The Rolls-Royce company bought up the concern, and the Rolls-Bentley, which costs around $25,000 in England, is today one of the most sought-after high-speed touring cars. This affords one example of the racing car of yesterday becoming the tourer of today.
Of the European makes one must not neglect the Italian Fiat and Lancia cars. Developed by the ordeal of high speed on ihe mountainous roads of Italy and on the flatter roads of France, these line touring cars were produced in considerable volume.
Some of the earlier British cars had horizontal engines which, il I recollect aright, included Wolseley and W ilson-Filcher. A horizontal engine with opposed pistons was, I think, built inlo the French Gobron-Brillie (called in England ihe “GobblingBilly”). One came to England to race and nearly asphyxiated everyone by ihe pungency of its exhaust, since alcohol was used for fuel.
I he first American cars I recall seeing in England were steamers, Stanley and White. There were also European steamers, the Serpollet and the English Roots & \ enables. It used to be fun to watch the driver of these steam cars at the start of hill-climbs or sprint races. The corpulent driver of the White was an amusing character and we would watch him getting up steam while his pressure gauge needle circumnavigated ihe dial. What pressure it generated I never knew, but at the signal to start, ihe car either emitted an ominous crack and remained stationary or sped off like a rocket, decelerating as the pressure returned to normal.
The advent of the Ford in England excited little more than amusement until the full impact of its implication was appreciated. It was, I feel sure, the Ford which gave Morris ihe incentive to build cars for the masses. This was followed later by Austin who produced the tiny 10 h.p. car which I could never get into and which earned the unkind sobriquet of the “bus-drivers’ spittoon.”
Owing to the motorcar tax being calculated upon the horsepower of the engine, based upon the R.A.C. (Royal Automobile Club) formula, and in some respects to the relatively high cost of gasoline, English cars were developed on very different lines from the American. The former were fitted with high-speed engines, very economical on fuel, of moderate power quite sufficient for British touring.
On the other hand, the British makers developed individual design not only in the mechanism hut particularly in the bodies, so that anyone with the slightest knowledge could accurately define the maker — which, to the uninitiated, is not so easy amid the regimentation of American design.
There is, and has always been, a brisk demand for custom-made bodies (at fabulous cost) by such ancient eoaehbuilders ns Barker, Hooper, and Thrupp and Maberley. Naturally, the mass-produccd-car manufacturers make their own bodies.
The most elaborate car I ever sold was a 40 h.p. Mercedes fitted with a body made by one of the famous London coachbuilders to the order of a wellknown New York lawyer, who told me he wanted the most expensive car I could produce. I enlisted the services of cabinetmakers, plumbers, and others, to install a basin, drawers and closet for clothes, and goodness knows what besides. The buyer was delighted and, after signing his check, instructed my secretary to send cables to ten acquaintances bearing the laconic message: “I have just purchased a $40,000 automobile”! As he presumably had to pay another $20,000 for packing, freight, and duty 1 felt he had got what he wanted.
Among the costly cars, besides Rolls-Royce may be mentioned the French-made Hispano-Suiza and the American Locomobile and Duesenberg, each oi which cost several thousand dollars.
The Daimler has for decades been the choice of the British Royal House; and if you would see what cars looked like some thirty years ago, view those from the Royal Household, which perpetuate the original design..
The early influence of French pioneer work in connection with cars is shown by French nomenclature still in use. Such words as garage, chassis, chauffeur, and automobile are evidence of this. The same may be said of aeroplane terms.
OF ALL the pleasures derivable from a. car, there is none which excels that of the tour. In America and Canada today the congestion on the road at holiday time and the need for following a schedule to ensure accommodation at previously reserved sleeping quarters make touring a matter of strict routine. Touring in Europe some forty years ago was a happy-go-lucky jaunt with leisure to pause and enjoy natural or architectural beauty. The roads were never congested—indeed one might drive many miles without meeting another vehicle. Further, one never had to bother about meals or night accommodation, for at the humblest little inn one might depend upon a wholesome attractive meal washed down with vin du pays at most reasonable prices.
The rule of the road in Britain is “Keep to the left” while that in most of Europe is ” Keep to the right ” I never found any difficulty in the sudden transition when I crossed the Channel into France; in half an hour one automatically observed the rule.
After France my favorite touring country was Switzerland, where the roads are mostly mountainous and the scenery is magnificent. Some of the mountain passes, rising at times to 8000 feet elevation, were rather frightening, particularly those where the mail van had the right of road next the towering wall of rock. All other traffic, on hearing the mail van’s signal, had to keep to the precipice side, which was often the wrong side, and you hoped no other vehicle would be heading for you as you rounded a blind corner.
If you wish to enjoy motoring in Switzerland at its best, cross one of the passes from France or Italy immediately after the roads are cleared of snow and be entranced by the lovely spring flowers awakened from their winter sleep. Children offer you armfuls of lilies of the valley, daffodils, narcissi, and the like, against the magnificent background of the snow-clad Alps.
In contrast to Switzerland the heat, dust, dirt, and poverty, coupled with human and other impedimenta on the road, made driving in India more a burden than a pleasure. I spent some days at Xew Delhi exploring the surrounding country in a magnificent “Silver Ghost” placed at my disposal by the Rolls-Royce company.
My “bearer” — without whom nobody travels — was a character. His reply to my daily question as to what there was for breakfast was invariably “Fish” no matter what subsequently was served.
In exasperation I told him to name the food correctly. Next morning, in reply to my query, he replied, “Fish, Sahib, but the fish is sausages.”
Cars today have the power and speed of our racers, and I venture to say’ that it is solely due to the superb brakes and tires that novices, hardly qualified to drive a perambulator, are able to control, at least in some degree, these powerful engines put into their hands. As it is, the deaths and injuries caused by motors arc shocking and are mostly avoidable. Because I have driven, in many countries, over a million miles without causing bodily damage to any human being, I may perhaps be permitted to offer to the novice a few words of advice.
Remember you are controlling a deadly weapon, capable of great acceleration and far too high a speed for most roads. Speed in itself means nothing: speed in relation to the roads and the traffic which is or is expected on them means everything. It may be quite safe to drive at 100 m.p.h. on the great motor roads of Germany and Italy specially constructed so that no side traffic can suddenly appear without warning. Twenty m.p.h. may be dangerous under conditions of traffic where an instantaneous stop may be suddenly necessary. It is far safer to start your journey sufficiently early to enable you to “make haste slowly" than to take foolish risks by driving dangerously to make up for delay due to a late start. It is better to be sure than sorry. At 60 m.p.h. you are covering 88 feet per second.
To dash up to anolher vehicle and bring up the car all standing, as is the practice of New Aork taxi drivers, is foolish and unnecessary — and it adds considerably to the upkeep of the machine. “Cutting in” when the traffic is dense, or when another car is approaching, is asking for trouble, and is the cause of much ill feeling. Be patient and considerate of others, and constantly be on your guard against the fools, who exist in incredible numbers on the road, and who in their idiotic vanity commit every breach of common sense and decency, and violate Iraffic rules under the misconception of being smart. To drive wisely is to drive well.