Tag Archives: Revs Institute
Editors note: This is the first in a series in which we will show you some of the outstanding automobiles in the Collier Collection at the Revs Institute. They are located in Naples, Florida, and just recently opened the collection to the public. In the series, you will get a first hand look at what can be seen during a visit to the world class facility.
Ettore Bugatti is said to have encouraged Delahaye to enter the luxury car field, advice he may have regretted. The Parisian automaker heretofore known for dependable, if lackluster, sedans proceeded to challenge Le Patron and other top-market European makers by producing some of the most glamorous cars on the Continent in the mid to late thirties.
A considerable assist was provided by Joseph Figoni, France’s most daring body designer, and Ovidio Falaschi, an Italian businessman who loved spectacular automobiles. Joining the coachbuilders was Figoni’s friend, and noted racing illustrator, Geo Ham, who provided valuable kibitzing in the realization of a new design theme in which wheel-enveloping fenders became the automobile’s dominant factor, while the passenger space became an unobtrusive capsule in between. Aerodynamics was the purported justification of the design, but sheer sensuality, which sold more cars than science among Europe’s elite, was a prominent motivation.
This new idea was first seen in a Delahaye roadster that Aly Khan bought off the floor of the 1936 Paris Salon and reached further development the following year in the car you see here: the most talked-about automobile at the 1937 Salon. Built on Delahaye’s short competition chassis, this special roadster has aluminum coachwork and a leather interior by Hermes. Most significant are four features that were patented by Figoni & Falaschi: the front fender design, the ultralight tubular seat, the disappearing soft top, and the windscreen that recedes into the body via a system Figoni devised using a track with a counter-balanced cable system.
At the end of 1937, following the show season, the roadster was sold to a private customer who preferred remaining anonymous. The following year the customer brought the car back to Figoni & Falaschi. Bumpers were added front and rear, obviously useful protection in traffic. A new radiator grille was also installed eliminating the cyclops light that had been incorporated into its base, perhaps the only aspect of the show car that had not been a good idea for actual road use.
The 100th anniversary celebration of the spectacular Mercedes one-two-three finish, the first in Grand Prix history that occurred at the 1914 Grand Prix de Lyon, was held recently on May 1-4, 2014. The original race was 20 laps of a 23.3 mile circuit through Lyon and the nearby French countryside and was the final big race before World War I started shortly thereafter. The historical retrospective that brought the three Mercedes cars back together was a three day event.
The video above is a behind the scenes look (part foreign language, but still well work watching) of the running of the cars by the Mercedes-Benz Museum, on a lap of the original race circuit in the recent event. Included in it are Le Mans winning race driver Jochen Mass, who drove the car from the Mercedes-Benz Museum; Eddie Berrisford, who restored the Collier Collection car and describes many of the features of the racers; George Wingard, who speaks about his race-winning car. Video by Johannes Schlörb.
At the Revs Institute (scroll down) you can learn a great deal more about the Collier Collection Car in an interesting account written by Eddie Berrisford, about how it was determined which one of the six team cars it was during its recent restoration. You can also view more photos of the Collier Car and the story of the race here. At the bottom of this post, you also can watch footage of the original race via Ville de Brignais.
A 4.9 litre Ballot outside the factory in Paris, France
With the Indianapolis 500 weekend upon us, we are very pleased to be able to present excerpts from a fine article about the historic 1919 Ballot team racing cars originally written by noted English automotive journalist David Burgess-Wise for the Revs Institute and the Collier Collection. In it, he recounts the tale of how Ernest Ballot and Ernest Henry pulled off the near miraculous feat of producing a team of three race ready cars from initial design to finished product in the incredibly short time of 102 days. He then goes on to give us an accounting of the trials and tribulations that the team encountered after arriving at Indianapolis and on through to the finish of the 1919 race.
From David Burgess-Wise’s article…
“Ernest Ballot… had the reputation of being daring, quick at decisions, enterprising, and René Thomas laid the scheme before him,” recalled W.F. Bradley (a period automotive journalist), though he failed to mention that to make his decision, Ballot would have needed to consult with the board that effectively controlled policy at the company that bore his name. A 1911 buyout by a group headed by automotive entrepreneur Adolphe Clément had left Ernest Ballot no more than a senior employee holding a tiny handful of shares. That approval must have been forthcoming, for, added Bradley, “Twenty-four hours later Ernest Ballot announced that he was prepared to build four racing cars for Indianapolis. But the end of the war was not in sight; the scheme must be kept secret; and no structural work could begin until peace had been declared.”
Left to right- Driver Albert Guyot, Maurice Ballot, and Driver Rene Thomas. Photo credit: flicker user Glen H.
“ Henry was very likely the only designer capable of bringing off the feat for, declared his one-time assistant at Ballot, Fernand Marie Vadier, the Swiss was “an engineer who could design every bit of a thoroughbred vehicle from its starting crank to its rear spring shackles”. He needed to be, for time was short: the Armistice was not declared until 11 November 1918, the Indianapolis Motor Sweepstakes were to take place at the end of May 1919 and the latest date that the cars could leave Paris was 26 April. Legend has it that Ballot announced his intention of entering the race on Christmas Eve 1918, though it’s likely that work had been going on in secret before that. Whatever the truth of the matter, there were less than 18 weeks in which to have a full team of cars ready to race.”
“Miraculously, recalled Bradley, “one hundred and three days later the first car had been completed and had gone through its road tests. The others followed within a week. Immense difficulties had been overcome. On two occasions crankshaft forgings had been scrapped after machining had begun. Several makes of magnetos had been tested for 50 consecutive hours at maximum pressure and engine speed and the two best makes had been reserved.”
The photo and thumbnails (below) show the original article written by W.F. Bradley that appeared in the May 15, 1919, Automotive Industries. In it he gives the cars specifications and tells the tale of the incredible 102 day adventure of building four of them.
“Rather than send the cars to Le Havre by rail, Ballot decided to have them taken there by truck, with an expert mechanic following in a car. Team leader Thomas had chosen his drivers carefully from the old guard of racing. They were: Louis Wagner, Albert Guyot and Paul Bablot.”
“With such drivers and what he was convinced must be the finest cars in the world, Ernest Ballot was confident of success. But harsh reality intruded as soon as the cars were tested on the bricks of Indianapolis: early practice revealed that their final drive ratio was too high. That was the fault of Henry, who ,though he had never been to Indianapolis, had overruled Thomas’s advice based on personal experience of the track in what was probably an attempt to reduce the stresses on the relatively untried engines. But the team had no alternative axle sets and there was no time to have new gears cut; all they could do was change the French Rudge-Whitworth wheels for smaller American wheels to give a lower effective gearing.”
The dohc 4-valve per cylinder 5 litre Ballot straight-eight engine, with a 2.9″ x 5.5″ bore and stoke (880 x 120 mm). It featured an 4-piece built-up crankshaft with ball bearing mains.
“It appears that Jean Chassagne, who had been nominated, along with Dario Resta, to drive one of the 4.9 liter Sunbeams that had been entered for the 500, but were mysteriously been withdrawn by Louis Coatalen before they could be scrutineered, lent Ballot larger Sunbeam wheels which had enabled them to lap 3 seconds quicker. Consequently, the American wheels had been ordered and with the change made, Thomas turned in a record qualifying speed of 104.70 m.p.h., making the Ballots definitely the fastest cars on the track.”
“But the American wheels proved defective. Wagner had a wheel break at the hub on lap 44 and his car, chassis #1004 , jumped the interior wall of the track, fortunately without injury to the driver. He then took over Ballot #1002 driven by Guyot, whose hands had been blistered red raw by the pounding of the Brickyard surface.”
One of the teams cars in Paris, France, before being sent to Indianapolis for the race
“Then Chassagne who, with his Brooklands experience had replaced road racer Bablot, had a wheel of Ballot #1003 collapse on lap 64, while avoiding the ailing Duesenberg of Arthur Thurman. The Ballot left the track on the outer edge and landed on its right side, throwing out its occupants, fortunately without serious injury to Chassagne or his mechanic Romigliere. Realizing that the American wheels were weak, the drivers of the two remaining Ballots moderated their speeds and made frequent stops to check their wheels, with the Guyot/Wagner car coming home fourth and Thomas tenth.”
“When the telegrams bearing the dismal news were delivered to Ballot, waiting in his office back in Paris, he was stunned, and sat in silence for several minutes before crumpling up the telegrams and tossing them aside. ‘C’est ma poisse! (It’s my bad luck)’, he growled.”
An article about the car in the The Motor magazine dated April 17, 1940, when it was owned by enthusiast Anthony Heal.
Post Script: The car has survived to this day in America. It first came to these shores when it was bought by early collector D. Cameron Peck of Chicago in 1949 from Anthony Heal in England, looking much as it did in the photo (above) in an article in The Motor dated April 17, 1940. Briggs Cunningham bought the car in 1952 when Peck dispersed his collection and had the lone surviving car restored and the body from the hood back rebuilt to the 1919 Indianapolis configuration as seen (below).
The car remained in the Cunningham Collection until the early 1980′s when it and many of the cars were acquired by Miles Collier and added to his fine collection of racing and touring cars in Naples, Florida. It has been exercised regularly in vintage events around the world for the last 25 plus years and your writer was fortunate to have been given a memorable ride in it by Eddie Berrisford a couple of years ago after one of them.
Today, detailed research is being conducted by The Collier Collection, the Revs Institute, noted restorer Eddie Berrisford from the U.K. and others in preparation for a restoration after years of pain-staking research. The car will soon be re-restored to as raced condition at Indianapolis in 1919.
You can learn more here about; The Revs Institute and David Burgess-Wise. Many photos can be seen of the 1919 Ballot at the Goodwood Festival of Speed with both Scott George, CEO of The Collier Collection and Eddie Berrisford behind the wheel. You can also see 100s of pages of pre war racing photos here on The Old Motor (just scroll down).