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Richard Scaldwell’s Sensational JAP V8-Powered GN Cycle Car

Editors note: In the age-old British tradition of building specials from available components Richard Scaldwell put together this remarkable GN Cycle Car over fifteen years ago. It has been a crowd-pleaser at VSCC and other events ever since. The GN was the forerunner of the well-known Frazer Nash. Most of the photos in this post are courtesy of Stefan Marjoram, who took these images on a journey from England to France this past summer. Also on the trip was the 1905 Darracq 200 HP Land Speed Record Car of Mark Walker covered here earlier, and Duncan Pittaway’s Curtiss OX5 V8-powered Monarch.

  • Richard Scaldwell's  JAP V8-Powered GN Cycle Car
  • JAP V8-powered GN Cycle Car – 200 HP 1905 Darracq – 1913 Monarch.

By Richard Scaldwell:  My GN JAP is constructed around the rebuilt remains of what was originally a belt drive pre-World War I GN V-twin using only original parts and technology which were available in period. Now upgraded to four-speed dog clutch-shifted chain drive like the post war cars; it does however retain a wooden chassis, GN clutch and tiny rear wheel brakes.

What many people find to be the most amazing part of the car is the air cooled V8 JAP engine. It was built towards the end of 1908 as JAP decided to build a range of engines aimed at the budding aeroplane industry. The firm already had a very good knowledge of building engines for motorcycles and industry. John A. Prestwich’s keen interest in early flight made this a perfectly reasonable next step, and both V8 and V4 engines were constructed.

  • Richard Scaldwell's  JAP V8-Powered GN Cycle Car
  •         1908 JAP 305 c.i. (5 litre) V8.

The engine in the GN is one of four known surviving overhead valve JAP V8 engines and is in fact the prototype V8 which was re-acquired by the factory at some point to be kept on display along with a small collection of their most innovative and interesting projects. This collection of engines was still on display after the demise of JAP and their acquisition by Villiers Engineering, and subsequently fell into private hands after the closure of that manufacturer.

As for the others, the Shuttleworth collection has an overhead valve V8, which powered the famous Willows Dirigible airship on its 1910 flight from Bristol to London. The London Science Museum has the JAP monoplane with its side-valve V8 and a partially sectioned overhead valve V8. The Belfast Aero Museum has one in a replica of the first Fergusson flying machine.

Richard Scaldwell's  JAP V8-Powered GN Cycle Car

The car as it exists today still runs tiny 400 x 19 inch wheels and tires, but weighs only 1039 pounds (470Kg) complete, so with the lazy 305 c.i. (5 litre) low-compression engine running quite happily up to 2500 rpm with the high gearing, the performance is quite remarkable.

We have regularly used the car for road trips to the south of France, but have also raced and hill climbed with great success; 37 seconds at Shelsley Walsh is quick by any standards! But the great thing about this car, and one of the greatest pleasures, is the ability to drive to and from events and still be very competitive.

Richard Scaldwell's  JAP V8-Powered GN Cycle Car

Although the original multi-jet JAP carburetor has now been changed to a twin-choke Zenith made for an early Curtiss V8, the engine is almost entirely original and is an extraordinary work of engineering of the period. The original flat-plane crank is one piece and drilled right through the journals and runs in five babbitt (white metal) main bearing shells. The side-by-side one piece rods (more like a racing motorcycle or a GP Bugatti) are assembled by threading them along the crank. Next the big end ball bearings are pressed through the opposite rod into split-ball races which are machined and pinned onto the journals.

The attention to detail and weight saving of the crankshaft present an amazing work of industrial art, but it also makes it extremely delicate and spindly, seeming as much like a beautiful flute as a crank shaft. As it is now well over 100 years old, I have elected to admire it on my library shelf. It has been replaced with a new crank, so as to ensure the safe preservation of the engine in its current competitive life.


Driving the car is of course, like any good GN, an experience to be savored, more like a powerful motorcycle than a car. It is extremely responsive to the throttle and all cornering is conducted sideways because of the solid rear axle, drifting beautifully as it was designed to do. It looks a handful but is really a delightful predictable pussycat!

When I first put the car together in the late 1990s it still had its open auxiliary exhaust ports drilled in the cylinder barrels, so the complete chaos of oil, smoke and flame was quite hilarious. Many period flying magazines had letters from young pilots acclaiming the marvelous engine, but bemoaning the impossibility of flying for more than about 20 minutes. By that time, the oil soaking they received in the propellor wash forced them to descend and mop themselves down! To address the problem and pass modern pre-race inspection, small copper bands now close the drilled barrels and a nice period JAP oil pump is used to run a dry sump lubrication system.


One of the main reasons why the engine is so lovely to look at is the fact that everything, you’d expect to be inside, is actually outside on display. The camshaft is completely exposed (in the vee) with its lever type followers and pushrods. The cam, the rockers and the timing gears are oiled with an oil can before running and seem to be surviving amazingly well. No discernible wear is showing after the many thousands of miles exposed to the road dirt and rain. A quick oil squirt is always entertaining to the inevitable audience that the car attracts…… I like to allow my beautiful wife to do this while I watch the amazement on the faces around!

I made the body loosely based on the first few GN racers which Ron and Archie Nash built in their youth. It has the flavor and feel of these cars, but you can’t tell exactly which one! It certainly captures the excitement of the great cycle cars of the period.


For those of you who have asked, you can watch a short video of Richard running the car up the Prescott Hill Climb during the 2010 La Vie en Bleu event below. The video is courtesy of razorlight.

49 responses to “Richard Scaldwell’s Sensational JAP V8-Powered GN Cycle Car

  1. Vintage racing done right. I’m certain this car is not for the socially shy. Who wouldn’t jockey for camera position as one examines the many mechanical marvels affixed to that quant wooden chassis?

    Thanx for posting! I just wish I could take it for a short cruise around my small hometown. I doubt I could go far with that stream of 40wt dripping from my widely grinning teeth.

  2. Have loved this car for a while, thank you for the informative article highlighting a lot of details I have not had the pleasure of learning about before!

    Does anyone know by chance, what species of wood was used in the rails?

  3. Unbelievable ! All that “primitive” mechanical beauty and it goes ! I have trouble changing spark plugs as I get older and guys like this ….well, as I said, unbelievable. Thanks for the astonished, happy, looking time I got this morning !

  4. That car is just wonderful! I assume some artificial patina was added to certain areas, and it is perfect. I dream of building something like that someday. The late David Thirlby wrote several good books on GN’s and Frazer Nash’s, which you can still find.

    • Richard is a master at it and had this to say about the surface finishes: “The patination and feel of the Jap is not an attempt to fool anyone that it’s the “Real” thing, but it’s what I think the real thing should look like and feel like; just like a well worn antique”.

  5. First of all, it isn’t John A. Prestwich it is James . Second , If you examine the individual Air cooled cylinders, you will see MORE than a similarity to the 500c.c. J.A.P. engine cylinder setup used on earlier J. A P. Motorcycles. THIS SAME SINGLE cylinder setup is utilized on Flat Track Racers with a very light frame (such as the Jackson ROTRAX ) which has been famous for winning races for decades, Another cofiguration of this single and a light frame is used in Scandinavian ICE RACING. A V-TWIN version (same cylinder setup) is used on the CLASSIC MORGAN THREE WHEELER , with a similar chain sprokets/dog clutches shifting setup. Now, of course all one has to do is apply aero engine lightness , to a a multiple cylinder crankcase ,a correct camshaft, crankshaft, INlet carburetion and a quality eight cylinder MAGNETO and you have a Lot of horsepwer available; One JAP cylinder on racing alcohol renders at least 40 H.P. , so IF your “slip-stick ” is handy and by setting the C & D scales, you get at least 40 X 8 = 320 H.P. , more or less. A formidible opponent!!! My statement is simplified ,but Leo Goosen used a Slide Rule , “if you get my drift” Find a picture of an early JAP single and you will see 1/8th of this V-8 engine!!! I used to “Mechanic ” for “55X”, Dick Aurandt, at Ascot Park , —and I also worked for Jerry Fairchild , when younger, So I can attest to the amazing H.P. & torque of JAP engines and their “CLONES”. Many early Motorcycle manufacturers selected the J.A.P. engine. A very early-on design that was good from the “Get Go”!

      • Despite the fact that I’ve owned two SS 100 Brough Superior motorcycles with J.A.P. engines, I’ve always thought the founder of that company’s name was “James,” too. It’s strange how once a misconception takes hold in a person’s mind it’s not readily dispelled. Thanks for this most interesting and informative post and for the correct given name of Mr. Prestwich; it’s something I’ll not forget!

  6. I acquired an ohv V-twin JAP engine in the early 1980’s which has barrels clearly off the same drawing board as this V-8, sparce finning and beehive valve springs. It had previously been in a motorcycle called “The Shorts Jap” which was built, and/or owned by one Edwin Everett who was someting of a special builder. He died not so long ago and I have been in touch with his daughter. All this probably in Kent, UK, it came as a box of bits, “Found in a Kentish barn”.and Shorts had a factory on the Medway. The bike had no gearbox, belt drive and Triumph type forks with a horizontal spring. I have his drawing of the machine.
    I got the engine running using later parts, I think it dates from 1908, and it is very impressive. The bottom end is like a traditional JAP twin of the era with twin camshafts and miraculous lubrication, barrels like stovepipes with only 5 fins, bore and stroke 85mm. I ran it for several year on a 2-speeder Morgan, the mechanical noise was frightening, fuel consumption low and performance remarkable. It would haul a fairly light Morgan over Newlands pass in the English Lake District in top gear. If you went out at night the barrels glowed red on long climbes. A bit of methanol in the fuel helped. Its currently resting because the inlet manifold castings are crumbling and there are repeated cracks between the valve seats. There is no removable cylinder head, you have to grope up the bore to grind in the valves like some Bentleys.

  7. I Love this car! Add the fact that it’s not just driven, but RACED, makes it 1000 times cooler. I’d seen pictures of the car before, but did not know the details. Thanks for sharing the pics and video.

  8. Hi Gentlemen. Thanks a lot for the article, I found out some new references. Being a modeler by ages, from a whyle I’m playing with the idea of to scratchbuild a 1/12model of this masterwork. May someone help me with sizes comparisons? Only idea I got of the size of the caris that it run 19 inch rims, but it looks me that it would be bigger that the 3 mtrs I got resizing the car starting by the rim’s size.Any idea? The V twin size also may be a starting poit to achieve a decent size comparison. Thanks a lot for any further dimensional info that I’ll use to start to design my model, regards from Italy!

  9. We are going to fly a replica Harry Ferguson Monoplane in Northern Ireland. It doesn’t look right with a Rotax on the front and really needs a V8 JAP for authenticity. Having identified Richard’s fine example and seen the one at the Old Warden Hangars from the airship I can realistically only get my head around either finding the other 2 that are believed to exist or we have to start fabrication.
    Is anyone is interested in either of these options or possibly proposing any other solutions. We can guarantee BBC coverage if required!


    Northern Ireland

    • Hi Charlie,
      have a word with your esteemed Ernie C about my recent discussion with him about JAP V-8’s.There is one in the works and a rep for your exhibit is fondly to be encouraged.This project is intensively active.
      Brian, Scotland

  10. Charlie,
    Cams classic aero engines and aircraft parts, Blenheim, New Zealand could probably be interested in making one or more of these engines, as they have successfully made Gnome rotaries…….

  11. Hello Richard, I am President of a small oldtimer club and we are always looking for really old and absolutely cool vehicles and when I saw your GN JAP for the first time, I knew at once: this is the holy grail – the ultimate veteran vehicle With cool factor 1000 (if 100 is the maximum). Perfect – I dream about it. Absolutely impressive is how the thing drives – sensational! Maximum respect and absolute congratulations on this vehicle.

    • Wolf,
      You are absolutely correct on every point.
      As an Oz school boy in the early 1960s we would have labelled this creation as “SHIT HOT”. There was no better acclaim then and I think that still stands.
      In your Deutsche parlance … “Scheisse Heiss”.
      I think there should be two bottles of Richard Scaldwell’s blood held by the Brooklands Museum. One on display alongside a scratch built model of the machine, and one held in reserve in the human equivalent of the international seed bank.
      How good … how good …

  12. The J.A.P. race car intrigues me in the fact that in the early 20th century, everything was mechanical ( not computer controlled) as well as all those race cars. The patina on that car is beautiful. There is a gentleman here in the States who still drives an old Indy racer called “The Black Beast,” I would imagine you’re aware of that car. He gives people rides in it, there videos of it.
    Anyway the reason I’m writing you is that while I was on Pinterest, I came across a rendering of a motorcycle by a Russian fellow, Mikhail Smolyanov. The motorcycle is called “ARX-4 Steampunk.”I have the feeling his rendering my have been inspired by that car, quite remarkable, definitely worth a look. Mr Godfrey and Mr Nash would have been flattered. Please let me know what you think.

    • Upon closer inspection, I noticed the numeral 27 painted on the gas tank, turns out that same number is on the ARX-4 motorcycle, so I’d say the inspiration question is answered.

  13. I would love to make a scale model of this car for my grandson. Can you tell me the actual dimensions i.e. wheelbase, track width, body width and length and height in US? Thanks,

  14. Truly an amazing car. I am awstruck at the quality of workmanship and all this ,,,,, before the Advent of CNC MILLING, Computer aided drawing etc, plus the fact that they took a really good bike engine and added to it to make an even better racing engine.My problem is-+++ I was born 50 to 60 years too late to enjoy the heyday of that racing Era.Thankyou for sharing.

  15. Fascinating? I am researching also the whereabouts of the V4 J.A.P. engines, more-or-less contemporary with those V8s. I know about the one in the National Australian Museum but is there still one in Wolverhampton or at Cosford? I fon’t know how many were made (period 1908-1910)

  16. Where would one get A published book on this car or a collection of these classic one of a kinds? I would love to have a good read when ever
    I wanted

  17. Specials by John Bolster has a pretty good collection of these early racers with photos. I found my copy on e-bay, I’m sure its out of print.
    G.T. Foulis & Co. LTD 1949.

  18. I have had the good fortune to have seen this wonderful car at Shelsley Walsh a couple of times.
    It is the most facinating car.
    When you wander about at Shelsley Walsh, you can get up close to some truly wonderful machines but I dont think anything compares really.
    Anyway, as usual, I’m rabbitting on.
    My reason for looking at this site in the first place is for inspiration. I am making a CycleKar and looking for a car to base it on.
    I was thinking of the 1906, 70hp Grand Prix Renault or 1908 Grand Prix Itala then I saw this site and wham, found it!
    An earlier post is from a chap called Rhys Nolan, then living in New Zealand but now living here, in the Midlands. He is seriously into cars, having raced and restored one or another all his life.
    He is now into CyleKars and he organised a get-together of a few similarly minded chaps (I’m one of course).
    Shapecraft in Hinkley could make the bodywork, but making a wooden replica V12 Jap is a little daunting.
    Still, we all love a challenge eh?

  19. jac. van der pijl.

    Indeed one of the best cars i have ever seen.

    the pictures are amazing. wonder there are any of those made on poster format and were to buy.
    Must be very nice to hang them in your living or study room.

    Who can tell me. liketo buy.

  20. 1000 smiles per gallon ! I was a draftsman/designer on the Saturn 5
    for three years and it was totally boring by comparison. I see I’m not
    alone in my obsession with this exceptional machine. Thanks …

  21. Excuse me. Do you know what kind of metal the body is made of? I’d like to replicate something similar. Please and thank you.

  22. Hi, absolutely love this car. I know that it’s been restored and the body is relatively newish but I want to build a scale model of it. I am simply trying to find any information regarding Richards restoration, photos, dimensions etc that would be really helpful. If anyone can help that would be great.
    Keep up the great work with this web resource. Most fascinating and very enjoyable reading.

  23. Oh my God. What a find. I stumbled into this website while conducting a search of cars that ran in Cuba during the 50’s and during the Havana Speed Week events. Story to tell but I will focus on this article. WHAT A CAR!!!!! It’s a Swiss watch!!! What a blend of 13th (wink) and nascent 20th century technology!!! I love this stuff. This piece was thoroughly enjoyable to read and fantasize on. It would have been even more complete had you shown us a photo of the original crankshaft. I’m old enough now to appreciate all of the tiny morsels life has to offer. This was certainly one.

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful icon. May she run many more races and thrill others as it has me.
    Angel Sanchez-Figueras

  24. Hi folks!
    I would like to ask if there are any technical plans available, or blue prints of this racing cyclecar! I’m a skilled static modeller from Greece and I m going to build an accurate model of the particular GN machine in 1/24 scale. I need the plans to work on the project. Pics help a lot, but are not enough for building it in scale! Any help will be appreciated! Thank u in advance!

  25. Hi! I have a very old (1910 ish) photograph of a man on a single cylinder Indian that I think you would perhaps like to see. I’d love to learn more about it as well!

  26. Hi there,
    I am looking for some expert metal work – to create some bespoke metal disc. Could I possibly get a number to speak to the relevant person about the details. A little complex on an email. Hoe to speak soon and look forward to an email !!

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