Monthly Archives: January 2011


Last Charge


Thundering Herd

Another chapter closes, the FIA GT Championship ran between 1997 and 2009. I was at Hockenheim to witness the birth of this Brave New World back in the last century, so I thought that a visit to Zolder to pay respects to the final round was appropriate.

The duel was between Maserati and Corvette with the Italian SuperCar coming out on top.

Next stop would the FIA GT1 World Championship, same result though.

John Brooks, January 2011

Vanity Fair?


On the Goodwood Lawn

The glossy publication Vanity Fair describes its raison d’être as “From world affairs to entertainment, business to fashion, crime to society, Vanity Fair is a cultural catalyst that drives the popular dialogue globally.”

Out for The Count

Pretty pretentious stuff and a definite candidate for Pseuds’ Corner, so perhaps not the place to look for something that would appeal to this site.

High Hats and Arrowed Collars, White Spats and Lots of Dollars

Well that’s another of my theories that bites the dust. I found this engaging piece about the fabulous car collection of Ralph Lauren. Sixty odd classics that are all in working order.

Radiating Power

We are indeed fortunate that Mr. Lauren shares his treasure with us peons at shows like the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Back in 2008 the unique 1930 Mercedes-Benz SSK “Count Trossi” Roadster joined the others in the Cartier “Style et Luxe” exhibition.

Those of you interested in the above work of art can see more on UCP, HERE.

Meanwhile take a few minutes and go over to Vanity Fair to marvel at the whole collection.

John Brooks. January 2011

Invicta S-Type


Those of you who enjoyed David Blumlein’s excellent piece on the Armstrong Siddeley Special will relish Wouter’s latest post on The UltimateCarPage.

It features the Invicta S-Type, a very civilised and very fast car, second British overall winner of the Monte Carlo Rally (Donald Healey in 1931 after the Hon. Victor Bruce took his AC 2 litre to victory in 1926).

Arguably one of the best examples is up for auction soon.

The full article can be seen HERE

John Brooks, January 2011

30’s Elegance

The Road Less Travelled


A week ago I was on my way home from The Emirates where I had been covering the Dubai 24 Hours.

The Dubai circuit is quite restricted in terms of access as there is 12 foot debris fencing around most of the track. This makes panning and any kind of motion shot difficult.

Flat in Sixth

So this image of the BMW Z4 is pleasing, the cars in the background are on their way down the E311 or Emirates Road which used to have the reputation of being something of a racetrack itself.

More from Dubai this week.

John Brooks, January 2011

Armstrong Siddeley Special


One of the best things about blogging is the ability to draw on the wisdom and expertise of others. In, what is hoped to be part of an on-going series of pieces, my good friend David Blumlein will bring his knowledge to the blog to share with us all. In a recent visit to Brooklands a particular car caught his eye, here is why he thinks it is both rare and interesting..

Rare and Interesting

Armstrong Siddeley Special

To a car lover a trip to the historic site of Brooklands on New Year’s Day is most rewarding. It needs dry weather and this year there was gathered a massive selection of older and very interesting machines, all carefully tended by their proud owners. One can always rely on there being some which one has never seen before and my eye fell on an Armstrong Siddeley Special, a model that I cannot recall ever having encountered before – plenty of Armstrong Siddeleys in my youth but never one of the rare Specials. The name Armstrong Siddeley will not mean much to the modern car enthusiast, the marque having ceased car production in the early Sixties, but in its day it was of sufficiently good quality to attract royal patronage, the cars having a reputation of being well engineered gentlemen’s carriages.

The inspiration behind them was one John Davenport Siddeley, later to be ennobled as Lord Kenilworth. At the turn of the twentieth century he had started his business by importing Peugeot cars to which he gradually added his own bodywork while re-naming the cars as Siddeleys. His designs caught the eye of Vickers Sons & Maxim who offered him a post he could not refuse. As Vickers owned Wolseley at the time the cars became known as Wolseley-Siddeleys but by 1909 he had moved to the Deasy Company in Parkside, Coventry. Here he re-organised the company so efficiently that he soon became the Managing Director. By 1912 this company had changed its name to Siddeley-Deasy and a year later the firm started to make its own engines. At this time the London-based Burlington Carriage Company was acquired, their activities being moved to Parkside. Siddeley-Deasys were characterised by their scuttle-mounted radiators and a fine example can be seen in the Coventry Transport Museum.

The onset of war gave Siddeley’s entrepreneurial spirit scope to expand the whole business: production included lorries, other vehicles and, most significantly for the company’s future, aero engines. Very soon these were being made for the R.A.F. (as it became) but the designs were considered unsatisfactory and Siddeley’s engineers turned their attention to creating much better motors, the Puma becoming the first in a long line of aero engines the company was to turn out in the succeeding decades. With the advent of peace the company was taken over by the Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth & Co. engineering firm at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in May 1919 which had been making cars such as the Wilson-Pilcher prior to marketing cars under their own name; the combined firms adopted the new identity of Armstrong Siddeley Motors Ltd., based in Parkside.

However, before considering the subject of this article in more detail we must note two significant developments that came about. First, Armstrong Siddeley began car manufacturing by producing a large 5-litre 30 hp model. Siddeley’s son, Ernest, had paid a visit to America to study their motor industry’s progress and developments and returned to Coventry very impressed by the Marmon 34 which had been introduced in 1916. It is thought that one of these American machines was secretly imported to Coventry where it was carefully studied. Suffice to say here that the new Armstrong Siddeley 30 had certain significant features in common with the Marmon, including a six-cylinder O.H.V. engine, a 3-speed gearbox with central change (unusual at the time) and much use of aluminium, experience of which had been gained by both companies in the production of aero  engines. The 30 was sufficiently impressive to receive an order from the Duke of York (the future George VI) and one of these staid heavy carriages was stripped by its owner and driven to a race victory at Brooklands in 1921!

The second point to note resulted from John Siddeley’s meeting with Walter Gordon Wilson who had already gained a reputation as an outstanding engineer. He it was who designed the advanced Wilson-Pilcher car, a beautiful example of which was one of the highlights of the 2009 N.E.C. Classic Car Show. He had also had a hand in the design of the original army tank but it was for his ingenious epicyclic gearbox – what we came to know as the pre-selector gearbox – that he is lastingly remembered in the annals of motoring history. Siddeley and Wilson formed Improved Gears in 1928 and they set up a design and development facility in Parkside, the company later becoming Self-Changing Gears Ltd. which was to go on to supply other manufacturers as well as some racing car constructors. Armstrong Siddeley became the first manufacturer to offer this advanced transmission as standard on its range of cars (1928).

In its first decade Armstrong Siddeley offered various models smaller than the 30 which continued in production until 1932. Worthy of mention is the fact that the 20hp car was thrown into the demanding Alpine Trial in 1932 where it did not disgrace itself although one never thought of Armstrong Siddeleys as sporting cars.

1933 Armstrong Siddeley Special with a Hooper Limousine Body

It was at the 1932 Olympia Show that John Siddeley sprung a surprise, for on the company stand was a chassis of what we can think of as the spiritual successor to the 30 – the new Armstrong Siddeley Special. This car continued to use a large capacity engine, 4968 cc, and overhead valves but its real interest centres around the use that was made in the engine of the newly developed alloy, hiduminium. This material was the result of collaboration between Rolls Royce and a Siddeley subsidiary, High Duty Alloys, and it was developed because Rolls Royce was initially having problems of durability with the V-12 engines it was building for the Schneider Trophy racing seaplanes. Hiduminium was therefore used for the crankcase, cylinder block and pistons of what became the Rolls Royce “R” aero engine, the “R” standing for “Racing”. History records how Mitchell’s Supermarine S.6 equipped with this improved engine went on to win the Trophy for Britain but motor car lovers will know that Reid Railton, who worked for Thompson and Taylor at Brooklands, decided to re-engine Sir Malcolm Campbell’s updated “Bluebird” with this Rolls Royce “R” motor which brought new Land Speed records at Daytona in March 1935 (276.2mph) and at Bonneville in September that year with Campbell being the first to top the 300 mph mark with 301.129.

1933 Armstrong Siddeley Special Engine

In the Siddeley Special the crankcase and cylinder block used the RR50 alloy and the pistons the RR53 just the same as in this famous aero engine. The car’s specification was otherwise fairly conventional for the period: a channel section chassis with semi-elliptic springs all round, worm and nut steering, cable-operated Bendix brakes but of course a four-speed Wilson pre-selector gearbox. Chassis came in 12 ft Long form and 11ft Short and at the Olympia Show in 1933 there was a beautiful Hooper limousine on the long chassis and a Burlington-bodied Sports Saloon on the shorter one. These cars could obtain 90 mph in top, 70 mph in third gear and reach 60 mph in 18.2 secs which was certainly impressive for a 38 cwt car in the mid-Thirties!

They were indeed “special” because only 253 were built and one possible explanation for their rarity is that the precious alloy in their engines was commandeered for the war effort. Among the lucky owners was Sir Malcolm Campbell who bought a Sports Tourer with a 4-light Burlington body, almost certainly finished in his favourite “Campbell blue”. And the company even considered entering a Special for the 1933 Le Mans 24 Hours but the idea was turned down as it was feared that failure would undermine the company’s image.

Words and images by David Blumlein

When We Were Kings


A step too far……..

The expression legendary has been thoroughly debased by application to people and things that are nothing of the sort. However amongst the Pyrite are to be found nuggets of the Real Stuff.

Porsche 956/117 is such a car, taking back to back victories at the 1984-85 Vingt Quatre Heures du Mans as well as 12 other wins in its three season career. A third win at La Sarthe in 1986 seemed on the cards till the engine expired during the night. Following the fatal accident of Jo Gartner, the race had been run under a safety car for several hours  and this was believed at the time to have caused the problem.

Legend can be appropriately and deservedly applied to this Champion.

John Brooks, January 2011



As someone who fancies himself when it comes to dealing out the rough stuff I am regularly put back in my place by the automotive commentary site

Peter De Lorenzo spares no one, not even himself, in pursuit of The Bare-Knuckled, Unvarnished, High Octane Truth. His commitment to telling it how he sees it is absolute and at Kamikaze levels. I doubt he gets many invites these days in Detroit.

This week he takes GM CEO, Dan Akerson, to task, actually he flays him alive. I will bet that some poor sod in the GM PR department will sleep with the fishes as a result of the impotent rage that this commentary will engender in The Boss.

De Lorenzo also articulates concisely just what is so wrong about the very idea of the Ferrari FF. I can only add that it should have been called the Ferrari FFS.

Go right away and read this wisdom, you will not be disappointed.

John Brooks, January 2011

Charles Zwolsman Snr. RIP


News reaches me of the passing of sometime sportscar racer and entrant, Charles Zwolsman.

Zwolsman, was found dead in a Dutch prison cell, serving a three year sentence, the result of his long career as a drug smuggler. He was perhaps best known in the sport for his 1992 Sportscar World Championship campaign.

A really wet Le Mans

His team, Euro Racing, ran two Lola T92/10 Judds without much success that year. Persistent transmission issues meant that Zwolsman saw the Chequered Flag only once during the season. That was at Le Mans, when during the race he switched over from #3 to #4, replacing Hideshi Matsuda.

The Lola, a Graham Humphreys’ design,  showed much promise but development was stalled by a lack of budget. This was especially apparent when compared with the seemingly limitless funds available to Peugeot and Toyota.

Ford Chicane

Zwolsman is also credited by insiders for being the catalyst that rescued the career of Heinz Harald Frentzen. Frentzen was a late addition to the squad at Le Mans, having considered retirement after being dropped by the Mercedes Young Drivers programme. He took advantage of this opportunity to record the fastest lap during the Warm Up and and then proceeded to post some amazing times during the very wet race. Remember that the Group C cars at that time were running the same 3.5 litre V10 engines as Formula One. The German’s performance at La Sarthe led to a string of offers to drive in Japan and eventually to his Grand Prix seat.

In the past few years Zwolsman managed the career of his son, Charles Jnr.,  who raced F3, Champ car and the 2009 Le Mans Series in the Kolles Audi R10 TDI.

John Brooks, January 2011