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Motor SportDecember 1931
On the Road with one of the Aston-Martin Team Cars.
The low built of the Aston-Martin gives wonderful stability on the road.
THE name of Aston-Martin has long been one which stands for quality in motoring, and even in these days of cut prices and superficial attractions, there are motorists who realise that A.1. quality is well worth paying for. It is for such as these that the Aston-Martin has always been intended, and the policy has ever been rigidly adhered to of building the car as well as it can possibly be done, and then settling the price. It is to be hoped that, the public's perception of what is good will eventually increase the firm's production, and so further reduce the price, but it will never be reduced by cheapening of materials, or by the omission of those many details which make the difference between the first-class and the merely serviceable.
In the case of a sports car which is not only fast but which is inherently safe, and therefore will be driven really hard under all conditions, the stresses with which it has to contend are out of all proportion to those encountered by its more touring brethren. For this reason it is only by taking part in the leading long distance road races of the year that faults can be eliminated, and real reliability maintained in the standard model over years of service.
Aston-Martin Ltd., fully realising the value of racing for years past, entered a team in this year's J.C.C. DoubleTwelve, one of the biggest car smashers ever held, the Le Mans 24 hour race, and the Ulster Tourist Trophy. Their fine record of finishes and class wins has shown to what extent Mr. Bertelli's racing and designing experience has benefited the car.
The regulations for the modern sports car race, although requiring the essentials of the car to be standard, allow just those alterations in the way of tuning for increased power, which test the whole car to the utmost and which provide the maker with valuable information which he can use in his standard products of the following season. Thus the car which we had for a few days recently, No. 26 in the Ulster T.T. and a sister car to that which won the 1,500 c.c. class in the hands of C. M. Harvey, was both a genuine racer and a standard model.
That is to say, it was in racing trim and tuned to give its maximum power without any of the usual considerations of flexibility and slow running required by the normal owner, and yet in its handling, roadworthiness, and general behaviour it is identical with any other Aston-Martin. which is sold to the public.
The engine was not, however, as harsh as one expects a racing unit to be, and in spite of a compression ratio of approximately 9 to 1, it behaved remarkably well at low speeds in top gear, provided the ignition control was intelligently handled. It may seem surprising that we should have ever attempted to drive a racing car at low speed on top gear at all, but it must be remembered that this type of car, with a regulation racing silencer only, is by no means quiet when revving, and it is therefore a great advantage to be able to rumble gently through populous areas without attracting attention.
Having filled up with a mixture of 75% Ethyl and 25% pure benzol we started up the motor and let it run for some time at a fast tickover to allow the cold lubricant to get into circulation. The engine is lubricated on the dry sump principle, and the oil is carried in a tank between the front dumbirons which holds some two gallons and which also acts as an oil cooler. The oil is circulated by a double gear type pump on the front offside of the engine, one portion of the pump forcing the oil to the various working parts while the other returns it from the sump to the tank.
This pump does not pick up its full quantity when the oil is cold, and we therefore get the rather unusual state of affairs of the oil pressure increasing as the oil gets warmed up.
Valve Gear Details.
The offside of the engine showing the twin carburettors and (right) the large brakes which in no way restrict the steering lock.
An interesting feature of the engine is the unique cylinder head in which the valves operate parallel to each other, but at an angle to the vertical, the top of the combustion chamber being sloped but not curved. The valves are operated by a single overhead camshaft driven by gears, the racers having a steel intermediate pinion in place of the usual Fabroil gear, with the result that a certain amount of whine, by no means unpleasant, is audible.
The gear box has a very well placed central change, and the gear ratios are 12.18 on 1st, 7.57 on 2nd, 5.56 on 3rd and 4.75 on top. Reverse is 11.4 to 1.
The underslung worm drive rear axle is driven by a shaft enclosed in a torque tube, the front universal joint being of the ball-bearing type, with supporting races on either side of it, thus entirely eliminating any chance of transmission vibration.
The liberal use of light alloys throughout the car has enabled the weight to be kept down to little over 17 cwt., without sacrificing any of the delightful feeling of strength and rigidity which is one of the great features of this chassis. Once the engine was warmed up, and we had had a gentle run round to see that all was well, we were able to see how the car performed on the open road.
The outstanding impression left in one's mind after a fast run over twisty roads and under sometimes slippery conditions, is a feeling of complete mastery over the car.
After a few minutes driving it ceased to be a mechanical contrivance operated by an ingenious collection of man-made mechanism, and became an entity with a character of its own, yet always entirely obedient to the driver's will.
The control is so balanced and yet so positive that evolutions can not only be achieved, but completed so easily and accurately that the driver is really surprised at what he can do, and which he knows would be extremely hazardous in many more ordinary vehicles.
In fact, the steering and cornering are such as to place the car among the select few of which one says, "That is a real motor car !"
Naturally, the road performance of such a car in racing trim depends entirely on full and frequent use of the gear box, and there is no denying the fact that perfect gear changing on this box requires a certain amount of practice, and inaccuracy in judging engine and road speeds produces some very unprofessional noises. On the other hand, all the characteristics of the gear box are good, as the position of the lever is perfect and the change very quick indeed, which is an important feature when racing. Also, once used to the car the gear change becomes quite certain, and like many of this type, becomes easier to operate the higher the speed at which it is used. Thus, in winding and hilly country, when keeping the engine really working hard, we found ourselves running up and down through the gears almost automatically.
An Aston-Martin feature—the downswept frame members at the rear.
The acceleration was delightful, and would have been even better with slight alteration to the carburettor setting, as the instruments had recently been changed and there was a considerable flat spot between 1,500 and 2,500 r.p.m., when accelerating hard. This, combined with the fact that such an engine is not intended to pull hard at low speeds, makes the acceleration figures for the usual "rolling start" tests of little value, as this type of driving would never be used. It is from 2,000 r.p.m. upwards that the real power is felt, and therefore the best getaway from a mere crawl involves judicious use of the clutch.
By this method the car will go from 10-30 m.p.h. in 3 3/5 seconds, while the much more usual speed of 60 m.p.h. is easily reached in 20 seconds on the gears. This gives the car very fine average speed capabilities, and though it is hardly fair to compare the performance of such a car with ordinary vehicles, a certain amount of quiet amusement can be obtained if any optimist in some pseudo-sports car tries to be clever. 60 m.p.h. is maintained with the throttle nearly shut and 70-75 m.p.h. seems to require little more. The accelerationat the higher end of the scale is excellent and the highest speed we attained was just over 4,600 r.p.m. on top gear, which works out at a little under 86 m.p.h.
This may not sound very fast to some people for a road racer, but it must be remembered that a real 86 m.p.h. is a very different thing from the maximum speed of some so-called "85 m.p.h." small cars and also that this speed was reached on short stretches of road under none too favourable conditions. There is consequently no comparison between an 85 m.p.h. car like this (they were doing 90 m.p.h. on the Newtownards straight in the Ulster) and a car which touches 85 on an optimistic speedometer after a mile or so downhill with the wind !
The normal maximum speed of the engine at which one changes up is 4,500 r.p.m. at which speed it is as smooth as anywhere in the range, and which gives speeds of 33, 53 and 71 m.p.h. on bottom, second, and third respectively.
These revs can, of course, be easily exceeded, as this engine gives 70 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m., but in normal use, or even normal racing, one would not do so.
After a couple of hundred miles on this car we were full of praise for many details which there is no room to record here, but no mention of this marque can ever be made without reference to its wonderful brakes, which are equalled on only two or three cars and surpassed on none.
The stopping distance of 43 ft. from 40 m.p.h. is astounding in itself, but the very positive feel and great power at all speeds cannot be expressed in mere figures. They are one of the many things which put this make in the front rank of definitely good cars.
The makers are Aston-Martin Ltd., of Feltham, Middlesex, and a visit to their works and an inspection of the chassis is time well spent.