Monday, 13 September 2010 00:14

Walker, Mark

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Text and Photography by Carol Corliss                                        Walker Runs True to Form  
   Above: Mark discussing an engineering problem with Mike Costin  
  Last year I was invited to take a look at Mark Walker’s latest project, a massive undertaking by anyone’s standards.  One of the great engineers of our age, Mike Costin, came along having heard of the enterprise and been intrigued,  We were not disappointed.  A lively discussion on the merits of various options and decisions took place during the visit, this was truly educational and much valuable insight gained.   This is the story at that time and I am delighted to postscript it with a report of its debut appearance in the feature race of the day at Silverstone for the recent VSCC Spring Start meeting on April 24th and again  in August at Prescott. April 2009 In this leafy, tranquil corner of Leicestershire, birdsong is occasionally interrupted by the odd vehicle driving down the lane, little else disturbs the peace of this rural scene.  However, very soon a different song will issue from the vicinity.  The V8. 25.4 litre Darracq engine will be coaxed into life to issue c250 b.h.p.  This car was built specifically to attempt the World Land Speed Record and on December 30th 1905 it clocked 109.65 mph in the South of France. It was immediately shipped to the Florida Speed Week where the Darracq was the first petrol engined vehicle to achieve 2 miles per minute.   Alexandre Darracq founded the Company at Suresne, Paris in 1896, producing fine automobiles and later forming partnerships with Opel in Germany and ALFA (Later to be Alfa Romeo) in Italy to produce his cars under licence.  His attention turned to the sporting element eventually and record breaking was an essential part of this at that time.   The history of this car is not hard to follow.  In June1906, following its life with Darracq, Algy Guinness purchased the vehicle and entered events such as sprints.  In 1909 he ran at Saltburn Sands. The car remained with Guinness until his death in 1954 after which, Gerald Firkin purchased it from his estate.  At this point the whole story goes on hold for many years, since the vehicle was in effect mothballed.  This car is unique in its design and bears little relationship to any other cars that the Company produced at this time.   In December 2006, Mark purchased the 1905 World Landspeed breaking Darracq at auction. Mark is well known within Vintage circles as a spirited driver of demon machines such as the 1908 modified Riley engined GN, known as “Thunderbug”, this 4.5 litre engine on the flimsy chassis is indecently fast as his equally fearsome Parker GN, now in the hands of another owner.  Slightly more sedate, but hairy nevertheless, are his outings in the 1908 Grand Prix Panhard.  A multitude of VSCC tankards and trophies line the ledges in his workshop to testify to his successful performances in these cars.
 Above: The radiator has been reconstructed
to pattern
 Above: Mark Walker perches on the chassis of
the partially completed Darracq
 Above:The rear axle layout.  It is a two speed
rear axle
  Many parts had been lost over time and it has been difficult to ascertain the original design of certain major components. This is where modern technology has been of great assistance.  Mark is one of the rare breed of excellent engineers who embrace modern science as a means of achieving their quest for the original design. Luckily, the car was much photographed at the time and much has been gleaned from the well detailed pictures taken over a hundred years ago.   Using a combination of Autocad, Illustrator and Photoshop, Mark has been able to calculate the layout and dimensions of many of the missing components in the car.  Being a talented engineer, he has been then able to manufacture these in his well equipped workshop.  The rear axle is a good example of this situation.  This was not complete and it was known that the car did not have a gearbox but operated with a two speed rear axle with constant mesh and no differential arrangement. This was by means of two crown wheels and pinions, one operating 1 – 1 and the other at 2 – 1 ratios.  A dog ring is positioned between which is operated by a stirrup pivot which in turn is operated by lever from the driving seat.   Considering the size of the 8 pistons, which Mark has made to the original design, the enormous flywheel and clutch arrangement are essential. These are original and now back in position. Of course, careful consideration has been made on the use of some of the original parts, metal fatigue was bound to be a factor after more than a century and this car will definitely be driven in earnest.   The badge on the huge vee fronted radiator of the car may well fool the unknowing, it does not declare itself to be a Darracq but is of the radiator manufacturer Grouvelle & Arquembourg.  This in itself had to be researched and the badge re-made to its original design.  The attention to detail on the rest of the car is meticulous even to the original oilers which are of a very obscure design and were obtained in Germany after much tracking down.   The wheels have caused more than a little head scratching.  With the amount of power being transmitted, the very real possibility is that a normal rim and spoke arrangement might well result in the spokes being torn out of the hub or rims, not an attractive thought when howling along on full throttle.  Special steel is being used for the spokes to ensure otherwise.   One cannot help but be impressed by the skill and ingenuity applied to this formidable project carried out by one of the great enthusiasts on the scene today.     April 2010 The newly emerged Darracq had a magnetic attraction for competitors and spectators alike in the paddock.   It sounded wonderful and according to Mark was performing very much up to expectations.  However, he drove with a sensible respect for his machine on this his first outing.   Race two saw him in a mixed field of competitors and although not a front runner he finished in a respectable position.  I look forward to seeing it in sprints and hillclimbs where he will be a formidable competitor.  
    Above: A crowd of admirers surround the Darracq in the Prescott Paddock. Mark is the one in the hat

    August 2010 The car has fulfilled its promise at  VSCC Prescott Hillclimb Mark emphatically saw off all opposition by taking the Edwardian class and at the same time no prisoners!  His first climb of the 880 yard course on Sunday morning in a time of 47.96 seconds saw him the previous record made in 2003 of 51.76 seconds. (see Youtube video ).   The car is a great tribute to vision, ingenuity and perseverance.  Well done Mark.

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