Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Douglas Hawkes at Indianapolis 

We are back after a week in Indianapolis and today we share the story of an obscure British racer who participated in two Indianapolis 500-mile races four years apart.

Part one – 1922

On April 28 1922, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway received an overseas cable from Wallace Douglas Hawkes with his formal entry for the 10th International 500-mile sweepstakes scheduled for May 30.  Hawkes who was an  engineer at the Bentley Motors Limited North London factory entered a 1922 3-liter Bentley, the first and only entry of the marque in the Indianapolis  ‘500.’  

At the time Bentley Motors was still a very young company as the first Bentley rolling chassis was delivered in September 1921.  Prior to the outbreak of World War One in August 1914, the founder of the company, Walter Owen “WO” Bentley and his brother Horace Millner Bentley sold the French-built DFP  (Doriot, Flandrin & Parant) automobile from their showroom in London.

When hostilities in Europe ended that business, WO Bentley felt his knowledge of engine technology could help the war effort - he suggested the use of aluminum pistons in aircraft engines. Bentley’s experience dated to 1912, after D.F.P. introduced side-valve engines for their 2-liter 4-cylinder 15-horsepower cars, ‘W O’ raced a DFP he built with aluminum alloy pistons on the famed Brooklands oval track. Convinced of their viability, the DFP factory used used aluminum pistons in the 1914 6-cylinder 40-horsepower production cars.

Lieutenant Bentley was assigned to the experimental department at Rolls-Royce and later Humber Limited where he designed the Bentley Radial 1 (BR1) nine-cylinder 150 horsepower radial engine with aluminum pistons a derivative of the Clerget design.  This engine originally known as the AR1 (Admiralty Radial 1) was used in the Sopwith Camel fighter plane later made famous by the Peanuts cartoon character ‘Snoopy.’  Later ‘W O’ designed a more powerful, nine-cylinder 230-horsepower engine, the BR2 which was used in the Sopwith Snipe and Salmander fighter planes.  WO founded Bentley Motors in early 1919 with the money he had earned from his two aircraft engine designs.

The 3 liter (183 cubic inch) 4-cylinder engine used in the first Bentley automobile borrowed many design features from a pre-war Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft  (DMG) (translated as Daimler Motors Corporation)  engine.  The 4 ½ liter DMG M93654 four-cylinder engine used in the Mercedes 1914 Grand Prix cars featured a bevel-gear driven single overhead camshaft with a four-valve hemispherical cylinder head design. The engine used individual steel cylinders, steel connecting rods, and steel crankshaft with an aluminum crankcase. The long-stroke engine with two spark plugs per cylinder produced 105 horsepower at 3000 revolutions per minute (RPM).  
Lautenschlager at speed during the 1914 French GP
Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
in the Center for Digital Studies at the IUPUI University Library

DMG built six cars powered by the M93654 engine and five were entered in the 1914 French Grand Prix. In a shocking result, Mercedes cars swept the podium, led by Christian Lautenschlager who would later compete with a Mercedes in the 1923 Indianapolis 500-mile race. Frenchman Louis Wagner who would appear in the 1919 Liberty ‘500’ finished second in the French Grand Prix while Otto Salzer finished third in the car later driven by Ralph DePalma to victory in the 1915 Indianapolis ‘500.’

The sixth Mercedes Grand Prix car was later placed on display in the central London showroom of Daimler Motor Company Limited, also known as British Mercedes Motor Limited. The car was still on display on August 4 1914 when the United Kingdom of Great Britain declared war on The German Empire. The car was confiscated by the British government in early 1915 reportedly at the suggestion of W.O. Bentley and was dismantled at Rolls-Royce under Bentley’s supervision.  With the knowledge he gained, “WO” later “reverse engineered” the M93654 technology for the new Bentley 3-liter engine.

The long-stroke Bentley engine used two spark plugs per cylinder, and pent-roof hemispherical 4-valve combustion chambers.  The Bentley 3-liter engine was one of the first production car engines to feature dry-sump lubrication a shaft-driven overhead camshaft and when fitted with twin SU carburetors produced 70 horsepower.

The entrant and driver of the 1922 Indianapolis ‘500’ entry Bentley, Wallace Douglas Hawkes described in the United States newspapers as “a London Engineer.”  Hawkes was born on September 11 1893 and started racing as an amateur in 1914 with small displacement sports cars principally at the Brooklands course. Like many others, Hawkes’ racing career was interrupted by World War One during which he served as a Captain in the Royal Air Force.  After the war “little Doug” Hawkes, so-called because of his slight build, resumed racing and was fairly successful.
1922 Bentley IndyCar
author photos

The machine Hawkes entered for the 1922 International 500-mile Sweepstakes was simply a Bentley production car minus the fenders, windshield and headlights with a new streamlined aluminum tail section behind the cockpit.  The 108-inch wheelbase chassis utilized a front beam axle, semi-elliptical leaf spring suspension, rear live axle and four-wheel drum brakes. Instead of English brand tires, the car was fitted with wire wheels designed to accept the typical straight-sided Firestone tires. The American press was so unfamiliar with the marque that it was frequently misspelled “Bently.”

Hawkes accompanied by Bentley factory mechanics Leonard Ford and Herbert. S. “Bertie” Browning (both formers aviators) sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Liverpool to New York on the White Star Lines HMS Cedric and arrived in Indianapolis on May 19.  Browning who had received his pilot’s wings two weeks after the end of World War was nominated as the Bentley’s riding mechanic.

After the British visitors spent their first day spent looking over the track and facilities, the Indianapolis Star newspaper reported the following day that a search of local railroad yards “had not turned up the Bentley as yet.” The car was located the following day which provided Hawkes ample time to become familiar with the nearly 2-ton car’s handling on the big, flat 2-1/2 brick oval. Hawkes qualified on the first day of time trials, Thursday May 25 as the silver #22 Bentley completed its four-lap ten-mile timed run with an average speed of 81.9 miles per hour (MPH), just a few ticks above the Speedway’s 80 MPH minimum.    

Though Hawkes, Browning and the Bentley started the ‘500’ from 19th position on the inside of the seventh row, it was the slowest car of the 26 cars that qualified for the starting field, over 18 MPH slower than pole-sitter Jimmy Murphy’s Miller-powered Duesenberg hybrid. In 1922, the Speedway was faced with a short starting field, so qualifying was extended beyond the originally scheduled three days. Two cars, Howdy Wilcox and Art Klein qualified on Monday May 28 and three more cars were allowed the opportunity to make timed runs on the eve of the race.

None of last three cars qualified. William Gardner’s Benz broke down in warmups, and the rotary valve engine in Frank Davidson’s rotary valve D’Wehr Special blew up during his run.  Tommy Mulligan the designated relief driver of the #18 Frontenac-Ford crashed while warming up before qualifying.  After qualifying closed, Automobile Association of America (AAA) contest board officials huddled and announced that since the #18 car had shown speed in excess of the 80 MPH minimum in practice run it could start the race.

The #18 Frontenac-Ford one of two cars entered by the Chevrolet brothers was powered by a four-cylinder Model T Ford engine fitted with a Frontenac “R” cylinder head which used one intake port and three exhaust ports, a racing carburetor and exhaust manifold.  After repairs, the car’s original driver Jack Curtner from Greenville Ohio tagged the back of the field in 27th place to race “for official standing only” and was not eligible for prize money. The prize money would have been a moot point to the Chevrolet brothers anyway, as their primary interest was the promotion of their speed parts through participation in the biggest race in the world. 

The cover of the 1922 Indianapolis 500 Official Program
Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
in the Center for Digital Studies at the IUPUI University Library

During the 1922 Decoration Day 500-mile race, the speed of Hawkes’ Bentley proved no match for the speed of the pure racing machines, but at least it was steady. Hawkes and Browning made only one pit stop for gasoline and oil on lap 154. In their post-race report, the Indianapolis Star reported that during the stop Hawkes asked his crew for a stick of chewing gum, then “bathed his face with cold water and resumed the race.” 

The Bentley completed the full 500 mile distance more than one and twenty-three minutes after the winner, Jimmy Murphy, with an elapsed time of six hours and 40 minutes, and average of 74.95 MPH. The Automotive Journal commented in its June 1922 race report that “the pluck of Hawkes won the admiration of the crowd. Outclassed by many miles in speed the British machine nevertheless showed remarkable endurance” and finished thirteenth.    

The day following the ‘500,’ Hawkes, Browning and Leonard Ford departed Indianapolis for their long trip home to England. Hawkes and Browning arrived home in time to drive a Bentley 3-liter car to a fifth place finish in the 1922 Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy race held June 20 on the Isle of Man. Bentley 3-liter cars proved successful at the Circuit de la Sarthe as it won the 1924 and 1924 24 hour endurance races.

Two years later Wallace Douglas Hawkes returned to race on the bricks of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in another unique entry, the Eldridge Special. We will share the details in the next installment of the Hawkes story. 

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