Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

1935 A-Class Motorhome

I was researching something when I stumbled over the video below, which runs for 6:32 minutes. It’s a fairly decent follow-up to my last post, since it gets across the concept of how exaggerating one capability in a product is generally made at the sacrifice of others. It was sponsored by Chevrolet in 1935, so of course the final conclusion of the lesson is that you can have the maximum of safety, power, etc. in perfect balance in a new Chevrolet sedan. Surprise! There are tons of these promotional ancestors of the infomercial around, and I assume that the sponsors paid theaters money for playing them in the lengthy mix of film shorts prior to the main feature. All you get in theaters today is a reminder to turn your cellphone off or shut your yapper, a few previews, and the movie. Then the lights come up as a discreet reminder to get the hell out.

I think this short is worth a gander because it shows little slices of this and that in 1935, but mainly because in the middle somewhere are some impressive seconds of what appears to be a bus converted into a motorhome. Unlike today’s over-upholstered faux Ritz, this interior seems to be built like a Chris Craft boat. Personally, I find it more physically inviting, if less comfortable on the tush over long periods.

Incidentally, of the two land speed cars shown right after the RV, the second clip was shot at Daytona Beach in March, where Sir Malcolm Campbell attained 277 MPH with his Campbell-Railton Blue Bird. The car’s supercharged 36.7-liter Rolls Royce Merlin V-12 aircraft engine made enough power (rated at 2,300 HP) to require four tires in back, otherwise two simply broke traction and spun even at top speed. The sand at Daytona was uneven enough to break traction at that speed even with that rubber, and the beach was becoming too short for those speeds, at 10 miles. So they headed for the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in September, where Campbell broke the 300 MPH barrier, the first man to do so. From what I gather, he capped his career with that run and retired.

The debut of the last and fastest of the Blue Bird land speed cars. Look at the scale of that thing!

The debut of the last and fastest of the Blue Bird piston engine land speed cars. Look at the scale of that thing!

That retirement is what we used to call a shrewd move. You need to make one run and then a return run within something like 30 minutes in order for your run to count. The average of the two runs is your official speed. I’ve been to the Salt Flats – they certainly aren’t billiard table smooth, and are not all that good for traction. Campbell’s car ended the first run with three rear tires shredded and the fourth on fire, indicating that the rear wheels were still spinning faster than the car was rolling. Time ticking away, they managed to prep for the return run. Naturally, the shredding then repeated on the way back, and once past the timer, the car went into an uncontrolled slide at the end of the run. But the car was otherwise intact, and Sir Campbell climbed out of the cockpit as the fastest man on earth.

An autographed photo print from the 1935 run at Bonneville.

An autographed photo print from the 1935 run at Bonneville.

Also a very notable accomplishment is that Campbell was one of the few land speed record holders of that time to die of natural causes (in 1948, age 63). Most others, big and small, bought the farm in their attempts to go faster. The Blue Bird was once located in the Daytona Speedway Museum, which was apparently revamped and renamed twice and then closed because it cost as much to build as two casinos, sans sufficient paying customers. Beats me where the car is now. Replicas are reputed to be in the Lakeland Motor Museum, England, and the Alabama Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in Talladega, Alabama.

Just for perspective, the first recognized land speed record was established in France in 1898, at a blistering 39 MPH in an electric horseless carriage. But don’t laugh. I’ll wager that it used a steering tiller instead of a steering wheel and, given the chassis dynamics of the time, it had to be a serious handful, too. The steam-powered Stanley Rocket topped 127 MPH by 1906.

The 1906 Stanley Rocket recordholder.

The 1906 Stanley Rocket recordholder.

By 1939, Britisher John Cobb hit 370 in his Railton Special and returned to top 394 after the war, in 1947. In 1964, Malcolm’s son Donald Campbell used a 4,000 HP gas turbine to drive the wheels to 403 MPH. After that point, it took jet engines on massive coaster cars to go any faster. My point? Don’t get too uppity as you snarl around in your new Toyota. Chances are, a car built in 1906 (or 1909 for gas-powered) could pass you at full throttle. I once had a Mazda RX-8 coupe that could manage 149 MPH, but I notice that Malcolm topped that in 1925, in this:

A 1925 V-12 Sunbeam special.

A 1920 V-12 Sunbeam special, heavily massaged.

P.S.: Our much-vaunted technological prowess ain’t all that sparkly. That hotted-up Stanley Steamer in 1906? It was hotted up again for a 1907 attempt by Fred Marriott, and was going an estimated 140-150 MPH when it hit a rut and launched, breaking in half when it sailed back down. Fred was not killed, but the incident cured him of any further attempts. The body shape had been newly revamped into more of an upside-down V-hull skiff at both ends for less drag, but I suspect that those aerodynamics didn’t help the reaction to the rut, plus they had not yet applied a weather vane “center of pressure” concept. Makes me think of things that are performing on the razor’s edge just fine until something occurs that destabilizes the delicate balance, then all hell breaks loose. Worthy of note is that Marriott’s 1906 record was not broken for steam-powered vehicles until over 100 years later. It took a Brit, Charles Burnett III, in a 25-foot long, 6,000-pound carbon fiber, aluminum and steel teakettle until 2009 to reach just short of 140 MPH. That’s less than a 13 MPH edge, with 12 boilers, carbon fiber, and computer-aided design and analysis for aerodynamics and strength. Think about it. What do you suppose the new, current record holder would cost in 1906 dollars, compared to the Rocket? Maybe it’s best not to think about it.

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2 thoughts on “1935 A-Class Motorhome

  1. Rod Duell on said:

    Doug, you do a great service for ageing nerds and car freaks with posts like this one. As with your former blog, the archives of which I’ve almost completed, it’s great to read the work of a knowledgeable enthusiast. Happy memories come flooding back of eager multiple readings of Popular Mechanics and Road & Track as a young teenager. You ‘da Man!

    • Thanks, Rod. I’m sure that readers who are expecting this blog to be single-topic get disappointed on a regular basis, but I prefer to cover at least some of the range of what interests me. And sometimes, something in one post will spark thoughts of something else, as you discovered (yet again) in this post. Thus the frequent wandering topics. It’s a far cry from something for everyone, but its topic diversity also breaks the cardinal blog rule of sticking to just one subject in order to build readership and popularity. I have nothing in particular to gain by doing that, as I’d rather have 5 people who can often relate to what I’m trying to express, than 1,447 Facebook-style Friends hoping that I’ll convince them that mobile living will solve all their problems – and being a gearhead can be one of them! As for you, I’m glad this one stirred up some fond memories for you, and that I could feed your addiction a little!

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