"THE HARKER SPECIAL"
The Harker brothers, Edmund and Ronnie, joined Rolls-Royce as premium apprentices in the 1920s and as a reward for undertaking to abstain from smoking or riding motorcycles until there were 21, their father bought them an Austin 7 Super Sports in 1929. It appears that this restriction was not extended to alcohol or female company !It is interesting that the car was purchased through Rolls-Royce in order to obtain a trade discount of some 30 %. In a short time the supercharged side-valve car was entered in competitions with Edmund winning his class at the September 1929 Shelsey Walsh hill climb. From then until July 1931 the Austin was a regular competitor at Shelsey, being a regular winner in the up-to-850 cc class, and at Brooklands where Edmund set Class H records beating the works Austin team in the process. In 1930 Edmund conceived the idea of producing a VB which would be shoe-horned into what was essentially the Austin 7 chassis. Two Austin 7 blocks with aluminium heads were mounted on a common crankcase to form a 20-degree V8, the unusual feature being the retention of the two cranshafts which were geared to the clutch-shaft. The crankshafts were timed to give even firing intervals. Put together by British Engines of Newcastle upon Tyne, this most innovative design did become the subject of a patent.
The offside crankshaft drove an Amherst Villiers supercharger, drawing from an SU carburator which was the largest produced by the company up to that time. In this form with 17 lb/sq. in boost the engine developed 120 bhp, which in a 10 cwt car produced a useful power-to-weight ratio, and, as the Light Car magazine recorded, an acceleration of 10 seconds from 29 to 72.5 mph.
The car was used to normal transport including the delivery run from Newcastle to Derby. In fact the car clocked up some 1200 miles of normal road use demonstrating its tractability and reliability. It was about this time that Edmund left Rolls-Royce to concentrate on motor sport, whilst Ronnie transferred to the Aero Division for a distinguished career that included the position of test pilot and later, instigating the fitment of the Merlin into the Mustang.
In July 1932 the Austin crashed at Shelsey Walsh and Edmund was hospitalised. He realised that the car needed a better chassis and purchased an old French Lombard sports car for £70. The suspension, gearbox casing and rear axle from this car were titled to a new chassis designed by Edmund and manufactured by Rubery Owen. The front axle was manufactured by Bean Industries. An interesting departure from normal practice was the use of larger-diameter brake drums on the rear wheels than on the front ; 16- and 13-inch-diameter respectively. In August 1933 a third place was achieved at Brooklands behind a Type 37 Bugatti and a Frazer Nash. However, the extra weight of the new chassis, coupled with cylinder head gasket failures, led to radical engine modifications at the end of 1933 in order to increase power and improve reliability. Edmund obtained two racing type MG J4 ohv cylinder heads from his friend Cecil Kimber, these being married to specially-produced cylinder blocks. Those readers who have had exprience of pre-war ohv MGs will recall the 'oil-cooled' dynamo drive to the overhead camshaft, a problem which was addressed by the Keith Eames modification which, in the author's experience, was a total success. Edmund substituted long, exposed duplex chains, which relied on the occasional smear of grease for lubrication. In 1934 the best performance came at the Brooklands Whitsun meeting when, in a handicap race, Edmund beat no less a luminary than Sir Malcolm Campbell in his V12 4.5-litre Sunbeam.
At the end of the 1934 season Edmund decided that the car would not remain competitive in the 1500 cc class (the arrival of the ERAs ?) and reduced the engine capacity to 1100 cc. This was achieved by reducing the stroke to 55.25 mm, which with a bore of 56 mm produced virtually unheard of in those days, an over square engine. The supercharger was changed to a Zoller-type driven at half engine speed, delivering 30 lb/sq.in boost and drawing sustenance through two large-bore, downdraught SUs. With a 6.5 to 1 compression ratio, running on methanol fuel, the engine delivered 160 bhp on a testbed at 7000 rpm and was good to 8000 rpm. The only competition record of the car in this form was an 'unplaced', due to fuel-feed problems at the Easter 1936 Brooklands meeting.
With the outbreak of World War 2 the car was laid up and Edmund rejoined Rolls-Royce, initially with Calvert in the Aero Service Department in Derby, then to Barnoldswick with Stanley Hooker, and then back to Derby with Adrian Lombard.
After the war Edmund restored the car for road use. The supercharger boost was reduced to 20 lb/sq. in which, together with a 5.5 to 1 compression ratio, made the engine amenable to the dreaded Pool petrol. The other ingenious way of coping with the required change in airfuel ratio between methanol and petrol was to delete the float chamber on one SU carburator such that it acted simply as an air valve Mudguards, sidelights and a bulb horn completed the transformation to a usable, if spartan, means of transport as seen in the photograph. Edmund used the car for the daily run to the office and for more extensive excursions, including a tour of Scotland. He put the car into storage in 1973 where it remained until his death in 1986. Subsequently Richard Leeson carried out an extensive three-year restoration and the car now appears in Vintage Sports Car Club meetings as one of the few pre-war 'specials' still in its original guise.
Hopefully, this article will have jogged some memories of this remarkable man and his machine.
(Christian Lauffs from an original article by Peter Sherrard)