Simanaitis Says

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YESTERDAY WE BEGAN discussing Laurence “Pom” Pomeroy’s analyses of his father L.H.P.’s design for the 1914 G.P. Vauxhall, a car replete with innovative features. Today in Part 2 we offer Pom’s analyses of the car’s engine and a brief look at its racing history.

This and the following images from Classic Cars Profile Nos. 1–24.

My primary source is Classic Cars Profile Nos. 1-24, general editor Anthony Harding, Profile Publications, 1966; Pom’s article 1914 G.P. Vauxhall being Num. 21 of the series.

Brought Near to Melting Point. L.H.C. claimed, and his son concurred, that engine problems of the era included crude cam designs overstressing valve springs, excessive thermal loading on exhaust valve steels, and, particularly, engine bearing pressures rising with the square of engine speed.

Pom observed, “So stepping up crankshaft speed by say 30 per cent raised the PV factor to 90 per cent and should oil temperatures exceed 120º F, the white metal bearings of the time were dangerously near melting-point.” 

Cross-section of L.H.P.’s GP Vauxhall engine design. Noteworthy are its double-overhead-cam valve actuation, the crankcase’s cowl ducting at right, and the crankshaft’s counterbalances.

Pom wrote, “Pomeroy made a three-pronged attack on this basic problem.” The engine’s very deep sump of sheet copper offered good thermal conductivity. Two marine-type cowls delivered cooling air to the crankcase. 

And, as Pom observed, “The loads on the main bearings were substantially reduced by the employment, for the first time on a racing car engine, of counter balance weights that reduced the load on the centre main bearing of a four cylinder engine by as much as two-thirds and entirely eliminated the horizontal loads normally resisted on the dividing line of a split bearing.”

The Vauxhall’s individual balance weights were riveted in place, in lieu of a more costly approach of incorporating them into the crank’s forging and machining.

“In its 3.3-litre form for the T.T. races,” Pom noted, “the Vauxhall engine gave 90 b.h.p. at 3600 rpm and was designed for 4500 rpm capability, both far above anything hitherto suggested.” 

The 1914 R.A.C. Tourist Trophy. Vauxhall showed up with a trio of hastily prepared cars for the Isle of Man event, with nothing but problems to follow. L.H.P.’s striving for light weight had been excessive: Two of the cars had to add ballast to meet regulated minimums. One threw a connecting rod through its crankcase only 24 hours before the start. A crankshaft failed four miles after the start. Another cast aside one of its riveted balance weights.

A splash board was rigged to protect the driver from errant rocks being thrown up.

By Yacht with a Bag of Gold. Back at the Luton works, L.H.P. and his colleagues struggled to prepare for the French Grand Prix, less than a month away. 

Pom wrote, “The connecting rods were a key problem. The finest steel of the day came from B.N.D. whose works were in Liège, and immediately after returning home L.H.P. went to see the local manager of the London County, Westminster, and Parrs Bank, and left for Liège carrying with him a bag of gold (in sovereigns) together with blueprints showing revised contours in red.”

Pom continued, “Crossing the channel in a colleague’s motor yacht and travelling in an age without passports, he went straight to B.N.D. who hand-forged some sixteen rods in three days, and were paid in sovereigns. L.H.P. then returned by yacht to England, and after day and night work the G.P. cars left Luton for Lyon on Wednesday, 1st July.”

The French Grand Prix was on July 4, 1914; on June 28 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had been assassinated in Sarajevo.  

The 1914 French Grand Prix. Some 300,000 spectators lined the 37.6-km (23.4-mile) road circuit south of Lyon and witnessed Mercedes dominating Peugeot, Sunbeam, Delage, Fiat, and others. After 20 laps in a little more than seven hours, the Mercedes team finished first, second, and third.

American Ralph DePalma’s G.P. Vauxhall at Lyon.

The highest classified Vauxhall, driven by American Ralph DePalma, DNFed with a failed gearbox after seven laps. William Watson’s Vauxhall DNFed after two laps with faulty carburetion. John Hancock’s DNF occurred even sooner with engine trouble.

“The Press,” Pom noted, “was rightly critical of these poor performances of cars which had promised so well, made by a Company which had honourably represented England on the Continent, and in the breaking of World Records during the preceding three years.” 

Pom’s Coda. World War I intervened and the Vauxhalls were stored for the duration. “This might well have been the end of the story,” Pom noted. “However, in 1921 the Works decided to run two of them at Brooklands and in hill climbs and this made it possible for them to redeem their reputation…. To sum up: during 1921 the 7-year-old Vauxhalls had given [Ernest] Swain three firsts, four seconds, and a third, and [Matt] Park one first and a third, with two seconds.” 

Pom concluded by offering details of a factory spare car running as late as 1938-1939, though “nothing physical remains of this bold engineering exercise. But this may not be important.” War was again to intercede. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021 

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