ASTON MARTIN Memories
British Racing "Green" Part-1
By Michael R. Green
Copyright MG-May 2005
Note to the reader: This is the beginning of a multi-part story, which covers the some of Aston’s glorious racing history from the 1950’s, and those who played key rolls at David Brown Aston Martin. My family began their long association with the marquee in 1949 when my mother, then Doreen Sherwood, joined Aston’s as a secretary, and would go on to work in the Racing Department under John Wyer. As you’ll see in the story, my father, Richard Green joined in 1952, and it was here that he and Doreen met. It should be noted, that my mother’s two brothers also worked at the Feltham works, one in the drawing office, the other a panel beater. For many years our family revolved around Aston Martin’s, even when Richard and Doreen emigrated to California in 1956 they would continue a close association with Aston’s, Richard taking care of Joe Lubin’s cars to name one. Richard would again join A-M in the late 1950’s, this time as Resident Engineer for Aston Martin, based in San Lorenzo, CA. I too knew only Aston’s, having come home from the hospital in a MkIII Notchback! I hope what I have put together here will be of interest, and bring the reader back for more in later issues.
In mid 2004 I began a new section on my web site, that of Aston Martin’s, and I soon forwarded the link www.offroadexperience.com/wcb (then click on Aston Martin) to the AMOC. So thereafter I received an e-mail from the editor of the US Section magazine, Don Rose, asking for a story relating to the photos on my site. I quickly agreed to the task, but a busy life saw me miss deadline number one, number two, and nearly number three!
I wasn’t quite sure where to begin. I’d made a number of half hearted attempts to get the ball rolling, but something always stood in the way, this time it would be a week of late nights getting the MkIII ready for the Hillsborough Concours d’Elegance (Hillsborough, California), scheduled for May 1st, 2005, where the feature marquees would be Aston Martin and Bentley. I finished the car mid-day on Saturday, and after a run to the gas station, stopped my Mum & Dad’s to show them their car. With a cup of tea in hand, and everyone seated in the same room, I thought, "now is the time to get some story notes." No sooner did I open my mouth, than Dad vanished into the other room. Instead of reinventing the wheel, so to speak, he handed me a stack of Vintage Sports Car magazines from 1982 and ’83 that contained a number stories written by himself (Dickey Green) about his days with Aston’s. With hurdle number one completed, my second hurdle was an opening text. More questions for Dad… then we remembered an article written many years ago, so off to the den we went to locate it. Alas we found MotorSport, December 1954. With the great Fangio on the cover in the W196, there on page-680 we found the heading, "THE RACING MECHANICS" The above opening text is re-printed from MotorSport, and the following story is from Richard Green’s own hand in 1982, and edited by Earl Kelton (former owner of DB3S/113). My thanks to the AMOC for printing this material. Michael Green May 2005.
From MotorSport Magazine;
Dickey Green, as he is invariably known to everyone within minutes of meeting him, is still of the younger generation of racing mechanics. His appearance was, perhaps, best described by a waitress at a North London café’, who, after he had departed to the nether regions of that edifice, came up to the present writer with an awed expression on her face and said, "Excuse me, sir, but is your friend Danny Kaye?" The mistake was excusable, because the likeness is quite striking if you pause to think about it. Dickey comes from London stock, and has all the loveable attributes that go with such extraction. He must have loved motor cars and motor-cycles since he was a small boy, but, as for so many others, the war chopped off his career as a draftsman in the Patent Office, and a spell in North Africa with tanks (as the driver of a Valentine in the 46th RTR) and several years in the prison camps of Italy and Germany (where he finally escaped in April’45) did nothing to further his ambitions in the motor racing direction. But, after that experience was over, with youth and enthusiasm on his side, he got a job with a small tuning establishment under Marcus Chambers, and started in earnest towards the chosen path. There wasn’t much motor racing in those early post-war days, but he helped Marcus with the little single seater Austin and the 1908 Hutton in the hill-climbs, the latter car doing so much to foster his interest….
My Years with ASTON MARTIN
By Richard Green
The year was 1936, and the place was London. At precisely nine o’clock each morning a city gentleman with a bowler hat drove down High Holborn and parked in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. His mode of transport fascinated me, for it was far removed from the normal Austin or Morris, or even the more infrequent Daimler or Rolls Royce on saw in that year; instead, his car was a very bright red Aston Martin Ulster, and it displayed both RAC and BRDC badges. During the lunch hour (Patent Office), when the weather was fine, my colleague and I would take our sandwiches to the grass of Lincoln’s Inn Fields and admire the Ulster; and I, in that early time, had no idea that twelve years later I would begin a close association with the Marque that would continue for the rest of my life.
In August 1946 I was demobbed from the Army and returned to my pre-war job at the Patent Office as a draftsman, that lasted a month. I joined North-Downs Engineering with Marcus Chambers in September, and some two years later I was the Technical Representative for Wade Engineering, manufacturers of superchargers ranging in capacity from ½ to 20 litres. This period coincided with the 1-1/2 litre (supercharged) or 4-1/2 litre (unsupercharged) Grand Prix Formula, and since a number of highly competitive cars used our products – the ERAs of Ansell and Harrison, the Gordinis, and Parnell’s 4CLT/48 Maserati s, to name a few – I was always available at the various Grand Prix meetings to offer such assistance as was required. I was also a BRM member at the time (no, not the car – the British Racing Mechanics’ Club), so I was no stranger to the scene.
The Tourist Trophy Race, run on the Dundrod Circuit of 1951, saw the introduction of the Aston Martin DB3. Driven by Lance Macklin, the car led for most of the race, only to retire finally with a broken exhaust system and low oil pressure. Powered by a 2.6 litre engine, the DB3 was in great need of more power and Aston Martin was considering supercharging as the most viable alternative. Discussions with (Professor) Eberan von Eberhorst and John Wyer determined that this was to be no bolt-on, belt-driven installation; rather, it was to be a chain-driven system, and this called for a special timing case and certain modifications being made to the cylinder block. As Technical Representative, it was my responsibility to insure the installation was correct, and that the end result was to the customer’s complete satisfaction. Since, in this case, the customers was Aston Martin-Lagonda, Ltd., I naturally spent many, many hours with team mechanic, the late Jack Sopp, to perfect the installation. During this period, Wade’s overall policy was directed toward the industrial applications such as the drying of Technicolor film and the blasting of ships’ bottoms by a system know as "Vacublast" – not really too interesting when compared with working on Parnell’s Maserati. One late evening, John Wyer suggested that since I spent so much time with the Aston Martin works, we should make the relationship permanent – a suggestion I accepted with alacrity!
My acquaintance with John Wyer began in 1947 through my membership in the MSCC. Once of the first cars I worked on after leaving the Army was P.T.C. Clark’s HRG; the same car that had competed at LeMans in 1938. Subsequently, and for no reason I was ever able or discern, John exchanged his 3.3 litre, straight-eight Bugatti for Clark’s HRG.
I joined the Experimental Department of Aston Martin (there was no Racing Department at this time) in the midst of their preparation of the lightweight DB2’s, XMC76 and XMC77, for the 1952 running of the Mille Miglia. When this program was completed, all efforts were aimed at preparing the new DB3’s for the May 10th Silverstone meeting. The weekend following Silverstone Meet saw the introduction to the team of World Champion motorcyclist Geoff Duke. He and Reg Parnell raced the two Mille Miglia DB2’s against the Mercedes Benz 200-SLs at Bern, and gave an excellent account of themselves when one considers that the cars were built up from production models.
The next tow events resulted in a splitting of our forces; three DB3’s (now fitted with the new 2.9 litre engine) were driven from Feltham to Monaco for the race around the famous streets, while Percy Kamish and I took DB3/1 to the Isle of Man for the British Empire Trophy Race. The result of the Monaco effort was highly unsatisfactory. The modification from 2.6 to 2.9 litres had been accomplished by off-setting the bores and the connecting rods at the wristpin end, and all engines failed during the race. Parnell’s was the first to go; he slid on his own oil and caused a spectacular crash that ultimately involved a Gordini, and Allard, and Moss’ C-type Jaguar. At the Isle of Man, however, Duke made the fastest lap with the 2.6 litre-engined prototype car that had already covered considerable test mileage at Montlhery during the early part of the year. Geoff led for most of the race, but eventually retired with a broken crankshaft.
Our resources were stretched almost to their breaking point; we had three destroyed engines at Monaco (Parnell’s car had to be shipped to Paris for repairs), one car at Feltham with a broken crankshaft, and LeMans just twelve days away! We got to work. The company’s DeHaviland Done delivered two standard engines to Monaco, and these enabled the cars to be driven to LeMans where they were fitted with 2.6 litre race engines for the twenty-four hours. Jack Sopp and I spent the next week rebuilding DB3/1, and completed our task at 5:10 PM on the Saturday afternoon. Our departure date was set for Monday – destination, France!
By Monday morning, Charlie Burchett and his team had converted the car to a very attractive coupe which we hoped would have a lower drag coefficient than the open cars, thereby offsetting our relative lack of power. Jack and I set sail for France, and completed our journey by ripping off the rear undertray as we passed through the gates of our final destination, La Domaine de Beauchamps. More work!
Each year had its own minor adventures, and 1952 was no exception. At La Domaine, the mechanics’ quarters were converted stables that still retained the usual split stable doors. We had no showers other than a car-wash brush on the end of a garden hose that was slung over the stable door. Somewhere in the archives is a photograph showing Fred Lown in the act of showering, the cameraman being none other that David Brown himself. John King and shared a room in 1952, and one day he left a bright yellow shirt lying on the bed. As it happened, the shirt was eaten by a cow that had wandered through when no one was about. John’s only comment was, "She probably thought it was a bloody Buttercup!" Every morning, we were attacked by a vicious cockerel. One early day, however, Eric Hind made a surprise attack on this monster, grabbed it by one leg, swung it through a large arc and about 40 RPM, and, on the fifth circuit, sailed it over a ten-foot hedge. For the remainder of our stay, our chicken friend viewed anybody in green coveralls with well-deserved suspicion!
Late Wednesday afternoon, I departed from Beauchamps for Paris in David Brown’s Land Rover with the engine to be installed in DB3/3 tucked securely in the rear compartment. With the new engine installed, the car was driven back to LeMans by our French distributor, Marcel Blondeau, and took the place if the DB3 Pat Griffith had wrecked during the night practice. In the event itself, two cars went out with final drive problems. The Collins/Macklin car lasted the longest, but retired shortly after the twentieth hour while lying behind two 300-SL Mercedes. There was talk at that time about receiving a bad batch of hypoid gears from Salisbury, but those of us in the shop could never understand the reason behind Salisbury’s assembly specification that called for a tremendous pre-load on the taper roller races. We always felt that this, coupled with the excessive heat transference to the differential by our use of inboard brakes, was the key to the problem.
The next meeting was the International Road Race in Jersey (the Channel Islands). After revising the pre-load figures on the final drive, we managed and third and a forth place with Parnell and Abecassis as drivers. This was followed by a minor event at Boreham which was won by Parnell, and during which Abecassis retired with fuel filter problems – our first and last time we used fuel filters.
In preparation for the Nine-Hour Race at Goodwood, we carried out a test program aimed at solving our continuing problem of excessive lubricant temperatures at the differential. Thermocouples and thermometers were installed in the differentials of two cars, and Abecassis and Parnell completed some thirty laps of the Silverstone circuit as fast as possible without using the brakes. Bill James and I were the passengers, and we took the temperature readings as we accelerated out of Woodcote corner; this was difficult to do, since only the driver had any protection. After lunch, we repeated the program; this time, however, it was done faster – in anger – and involved heavy use of the brakes. After four laps, I left my lunch on Hanger Straight, but the increase in the temperature caused by heat transference certainly proved John Wyer’s contention that we should move the brakes to outboard. Thus, the sacrifice was worth it!
And so to the Nine Hour Race at Goodwood, organized by "News of the World", and documented many times by better pens than mine. Here, we experienced our first major fire; it consumed DB3/3, and resulted in John Wyer, Jack Sopp, and Fred Lown all receiving fairly serious burns. I’m still not certain in my own mind that the cause of the spilt fuel has ever been accurately described; however, we all knew that the ignition was generated by the failure of an oil seal in the differential, just by the inboard brakes! For this race, DB3/3 had been fitted with the new 3-litre engine – the connecting rods now offset at the big end rather than the wrist-pin end, which obviously should have been done in the first place.
After the retirement of DB3/3, the Collins/Griffith car (DB3/5) went on to win. Even this did not occur without trauma, for in the last hour number two exhaust valve broke, and this resulted in a drop of 600 RPM. Furthermore, the fabricated exhaust manifold cracked, and we could see the flames coming from hood on the over-run at the end of Levant Straight. On the last pit stop, John King poured water into the cockpit and over Peter Collins (remember, this is at 11:00 PM), simply telling him to press on – which he did! At the conclusion of the race, the celebrations, prize-giving, and so forth, John and I went to return the car to the hotel’s garage. We couldn’t have moved more than twenty yards when the engine dead completely. Investigating, we found the coil laying in the undertray – the coil bracket had fractured!
Our racing manager was hospitalized, but not idle; his plans included a prolonged test to next year’s cars with revised 3-litre engines, modified hypoids, etc., etc., etc. Bill James, Fred Lown, John King, and I were charged with building these cars, and my notebook dated November 3, 1952, shows these cars having the following specification:
DB3/4, Engine # DP101/7 Engine: 2.9L Goodwood Spec.
Main Bearings: GPD 98/1
Rod Bearings: RD3523 Copper Lead
Pistons: A72004 8.25:1 C/R
Block: Cast Iron Modified
Carburettors: Weber 36 DCF/5
Exhaust Manifold: Cast
Drive Plate: 5071
Lining: Mintex 19
Rear Ratio: 9/34 Four Star Diff
Brake Linings: Mintex M.14
Wheel Cylinders: 1-1/8" dia.
Rear Torsion Bar: 56138/56310
DB3/5, Engine # DP101/8 Engine: 2.9L Goodwood Spec.
Main Bearings: 4143
Rod Bearings: 071537
Pistons: A72004 8.25:1 C/R
Block: Cast Iron, Standard
Carburettors: Weber 35 DCO/1
Exhaust Manifold: Fabricated
Drive Plate: 5071
Lining: Reybestos 41
Rear Ratio: 9/34 Four Star Diff
Brake Linings: Mintex M.20
Wheel Cylinder: 1" dia.
Rear Torsion Bar: C71963/71937
December saw us off to Monza for testing, with Bill James and I in the transporter, and Jack Sopp and John King in the Lagonda prototype – this known as the "Red Monster" – as escort. Our departure date coincided with what Londoners, in 1952, called the Five Day Fog (some 2500 people died during this period). Our normal five-hour journey from Feltham to Dover took almost twelve hours on this occasion; in fact, the fog also blanketed part of France, and we did not escape this miserable condition until we were approaching Chateau Thierry. John Wyer and his assistant, Brian Clayton, with drivers Abecassis, Collins, and Griffith, attempted the journey to Monza in the DeHaviland Dove; but, because of the adverse weather, they completed it by train! At last, however, they arrived. The first two days’ tests were conducted in fairly good weather; but then the fog came, and this was followed by snow! We cleared the track by lapping in the Lagonda, and found that the lap times for the DB3 were not much slower than they would have been under ordinary wet conditions. Homeward bound for Christmas, we felt enough had been accomplished to set out 1953 specifications with some confidence – and so we ended our 1952 season.
Join us next time for the 1953 season with the Works Aston’s.