Posted by: Mike Clark
We were invited by the Bugatti owners Club to form the lunchtime entertainment at a round of the British Hillclimb Championship at Prescott Hill last weekend so Jeff and Steve Theobald and I took our cars along. We were joined by Bill Rich and Rachel, Bill doing the commentary over the pa, by Alun Griffiths with Norma, my chums John Maddison and Chris Busk, John Tilley and Francoise.
This was a great thing for me as I have been going to Prescott for at least 50 years with the Vintage Sports Car Club but for reasons of insurance have never been able to try the Stanley on the hill. However our insurers have recently agreed to extend the all important boiler insurance to untimed parade laps at motor sport venues.
It was specially interesting for me as we think that this is the first time a steamer has been on Prescott since the Anglo-American Vintage Car Rally of 1954 where Paul Tusek drove a 1906 Model H like mine and did 72 seconds on the short course. The appearance of Tusek's car in the UK was the thing which sparked my interest in steam cars and a desire to own a Model H, an interest which took over 45 years to mature.
So for the first time we were able to have a go at the hill, untimed of course, but with plenty of opportunity to play and find out how best to do it. Over the weekend we had 14 runs which were enough to show that the Stanley is plenty fast enough to frighten the driver!
With a steamer you have to pump feedwater into the boiler at the steam is used up and are provided with two engine driven pumps to do this, each with a by-pass valve used when pumping is not needed. As the car goes 1.25 miles to each gallon of water and the pumps feed 1 gallon per mile apiece they add a huge amount to the energy needed from the burner as well as the mechanical energy needed just to get the water into the boiler against 600psi of pressure. The trick on a hill therefore is to avoid pumping on the way up and to pump when coming down. It also helps to make sure the boiler water level is good and high as this increases the reserve of energy, and to have the engine thoroughly hot before starting.
I found I could do one run without pumping, a second using one pump and a third using both. I then had to steam down the road a couple of miles to raise the boiler level again and since by then the engine was really well warmed and the burner truly hot the car was ready for a real flier. On runs where it was hot and no pumping was needed it maintained boiler pressure most of the way up, just dropping a bit after Pardon hairpin and even automatically cutting the burner out at 600psi halfway through the Semicircle at the top of the course. With two pumps on or a coldish engine the boiler pressure drops to 450psi and only recovers after the finish line but in truth it goes fast enough even at 450psi because the full 600psi never gets through to the cylinders. All this with a passenger along for the ride with a tankful of 20 odd gallons of water and with cautious driving. Could do better if he tried as they say!
Many thanks to Ian Patton and the BOC for inviting us for a superb weekend.