Simanaitis Says

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JOINING THE CHAIN GANG

“CAPTAIN” ARCHIE Frazer-Nash had a short involvement with cars bearing his name, chronologically the G.N. and Frazer Nash, sans hyphen. However, under other guidance, the chain-drive Frazer Nash sports car became one of the eccentric classics of its era. Post-World War II cars acquitted themselves well at venues such as Le Mans, the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio. And the company name Frazer Nash still exists. Today, I’ll concentrate on the Chain Gang, Frazer Nash cars built between 1924 and 1939.

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1924 Frazer Nash 1 1/2-Litre Super Sports. Image from Bonhams. This car sold for £66,460 ($103,908) in December 2012.

The G.N. cyclecar company founded by Archie Frazer-Nash and H.R. Godfrey in 1911 was in dire straits in 1922, Archie setting out with his own company, Frazer Nash. He retained the G.N.’s simple, robust chain drive, but aimed higher than rudimentary cyclecar attributes. The name Super Sports is indicative of Archie’s aspirations.

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Archie and one of his cars tops the test hill of the Brooklands Circuit in 1925.

Archie sure had fun with his cars, though his car business acumen might not have been up to his driving skills. After barely five years, his company went into receivership in 1927 and reemerged as AFN Limited. By 1929, AFN was acquired by H.J. “Aldy” Aldington. He and his brothers brought the chain-drive Frazer Nash to new heights.

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Judy Portman and her Anzani-engine Fraser Nash at the Brooklands Double Twelve, 2008.

The 350 Frazer Nash sports cars built between 1924 and 1939 had a multiplicity of model names, among them Tourer, Super Sports, Boulogne, Ulster, Nürburg, Exeter, Colmore, Shelsey and TT Replica. Not that any two of a particular model left the works in identical form.

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This 1935 Colmore is Blackburne-powered.

Engines were all outsourced from Anzani, Meadows, Gough and Blackburne. These first three were four-bangers of 1 1/2-liter displacement; the Blackburne was a double-overhead-camshaft six-cylinder displacing 1660 cc.

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This particular Frazer Nash has four forward speeds; the reverse chain, not visible.

Their chain drivetrain was a common theme, originally with three forward speeds, later with four. A gearshift residing to the right of the cockpit controlled multiple bell-cranks that separately (one hoped) engaged dog-clutches on a shaft coming out of a bevel drive, all sans differential. Properly lubricated with liberally applied oil, the chain drive was strong and, what’s more, extremely adaptable. A simple swap of driven sprocket brought about a desired optimization of gear ratio.

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Judy Portman’s Frazer Nash storms up the Brooklands Circuit test hill, 1-in-4 at its steepest, in fine style.

Other members of the Chain Gang, as such Frazer Nash enthusiasts are known, include my Copperstate 1000 friend Ned Curtis, rest his soul, and his son Alex. I recall fondly following Ned’s “Captain Archie” 1935 Colmore Frazer Nash, a fine mist of oil ensuring that all was well with its chain drive. Alex continues to race Captain Archie at venues such as the Monterey Historics.

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Alex Curtis and Captain Archie negotiate Turn 3 of Laguna Seca, Monterey Historics, 2008.

Like many sports cars of the 1930s, and Morgans today, come to think of it, the Frazer Nash relied on a rock-hard suspension and limber chassis for its exemplary road-holding. What’s more, its lack of differential provided another quirk, the car’s prowess in power-on oversteer. “Frazer Nashes never go round corners,” it was noted, “they merely change direction.”

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Captain Archie, the Curtis Frazer Nash, makes a friend at the Monterey Historics, 2008.

I do not know the charming young lady admiring the Curtis Frazer Nash at the Monterey Historics. Given I took the photograph in 2008, she’s likely driving now. And I like to imagine she remembers thinking how neat it would be to join the Chain Gang. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015

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