Vauxhall's own description was "the 30-98 hp Vauxhall-Velox sporting car". It became one of Britain's best-known sports cars and "affectionately known as the last of the Edwardians or boastfully decreed as the first and perhaps the best British sports car, . . ."
It is a mistake to compare a 30-98 with a Bentley.
Its first 100 years will be celebrated in May 2013.
The first 30-98 was constructed at the behest of car dealer and motor sport competitor, Joseph Higginson—inventor of the Autovac fuel lifter—who won the Shelsley Walsh hill-climb motoring competition on 7th June 1913 in his new Vauxhall, setting a hill record in the process, having in previous weeks made fastest time of the day at Waddington Pike and Aston Clinton. 30-98s made a further public appearance as a team of three entries in the Grand Prix de l'Automobile Club de France on 4 July 1914 led by Ralph DePalma.
However they were not racing machines but fast touring cars. The exhaust made a tranquillising rumble, there was no howl, no shriek, no wail. But there was the quiet satisfaction, if stripped for action, the car could lap Brooklands at 100mph, the makers guaranteed that. Some owners had to watch their car be given the test to be reassured.
The 30-98s used the Prince Henry chassis, they were distinguished by having flat rather than V-shaped radiators. Laurence Pomeroy took the Prince Henry L-head side-valve engine, bored it out 3 mm, then cold-stretched the crankshaft throws 5 mm using a steam power hammer to lengthen the stroke. The camshaft was given a new chain drive at the front of the engine, high lift cams and new tappet clearances. The Prince Henry chassis was slightly modified and the whole given a narrow alloy four-seater body, a pair of alloy wings (front mudguards) and no doors.
Before war intervened only 13 30-98s were made (for selected drivers, the last in 1915 for Percy Kidner a joint managing director) Several of these went to Australia, where one was used by the Vauxhall importer Boyd Edkins to break the Sydney to Melbourne and Brisbane to Sydney records. Actual production began in 1919.
The 30-98 name is believed to have been coined because the car had an output of 30 bhp (22 kW) at 1,000 rpm and 98 bhp (73 kW) at 3,000 rpm but another explanation is that it had an RAC horsepower rating of 30 and a cylinder bore of 98 mm though perhaps the most likely of all is that there was then a popular but heavier slower Mercedes 38/90. However it was found, the name 30-98 looked and sounded so well.
The Vauxhall-built Velox four-seater tourer body was the standard coachwork. Though it was light and its appearance elegant, slim and low-sided the lightness meant little comfort in the back seats and the sides were so low "rear passengers might have been warned that they were travelling at their own risk". The 1920 catalogue included a Vauxhall Velox featherweight coupé to seat two in the interior and with chauffeur's dicky seat. Electric lamp in roof, V-shaped windscreen.
There was a mid-twenties fashion for car bodies styled on the lines of motorboats. A factory-built boat-tailed open two or three-seater with flared wings called the Wensum was introduced in 1926 at extra cost. The third seat really was "for decoration". Works driver, by then works manager, A J Hancock kept a fast motorboat on the River Wensum which has a popular yachting stretch near Norwich.
These bodies were not built on the same production line as the Velox.
A chassis was available for customers who wanted their own special bodies.
The engine was a development of the four-cylinder monobloc fixed cylinder head, push rod operated, L-head side-valve engine of the Prince Henry but enlarged to 4,525 cc by increasing the stroke from 140 to 150 mm. The new crankshaft ran in five bearings with pressure fed lubrication. A single Zenith carburettor was fitted. The engine's power output was 90 bhp (67 kW) at 3,000 rpm.
- Production quantity: 274.
In November 1922 it was announced the engine was updated, fitted with overhead valves and detachable cylinder head and renamed OE. The stroke was returned to its original length which gave a slightly smaller capacity of 4,224 cc but power output was up nearly 30% from the original to 115 bhp (86 kW) at 3,300 rpm. Low speed torque was also improved. The car and its wheelbase were lengthened four inches and widened three inches making more room for passengers and more comfortable seating.
The engine was carried in a separate subframe on the ladder type chassis with semi-elliptic leaf springs, a live rear axle of orthodox design and shock-absorbers front and rear. A four-speed gearbox with right hand change was fitted driving the rear wheels through a 3.08:1 straight cut bevel rear axle. Steering is by worm and complete wheel.
For 1923 with the OE engine the straight cut back axle gear was replaced by a spiral bevel with a higher 3.3:1 reduction ratio. The chassis and wheelbase were lengthened four inches and the chassis was also strengthened as well as being widened three inches. Rear axle torque was now taken through a banjo-shaped member.
On 30-98s braking was a mechanical system with the pedal operating a transmission brake. The brakes on the rear wheels were controlled by a large lever (handbrake). Front wheel brakes became available in late 1923, at first operated by Bowden double-cable but hydraulically from 1926.
The transmission brake—given a slight lead when front brakes were fitted—in a drum behind the gearbox might have been adequate but it was usually full of oil that had leaked from the rear bearing. Then pressure on the pedal just produced a bad smell. A driver with the necessary skills—good hands and an understanding of the effects of the handbrake—could corner fast. Handbrake turns were available in wet weather. "In an emergency, however, braking was a waste of time, the driver must steer, change gear, jump out or pray—perhaps in that order."
With the OE the three brake drums were switched to steel-lined aluminium drums well ribbed for cooling and linings were ferodo. In 1923 a year after the OE's introduction mechanically operated front brakes were added and linked to the pedal which still operated the transmission brake. In 1927 they were replaced by a notoriously temperamental hydraulic system from the pedal to the transmission and, again, just the front wheels.
Road test opinions
"A power of acceleration, amazingly swift and smooth, yet perfectly controlled . . . the thrilling characteristics of a racer in a machine tamed to behave in mannerly fashion . . . the engine which gives 100 brake horse power on the bench and which will propel the car at over 80 miles an hour on the level can be throttled down until the vehicle is is running smoothly at 12-15 miles an hour." "It is certainly the greediest motor of the touring type that I have driven. I do not mean in petrol but in a straining desire to be allowed to go ever faster."
(OE) " . . . A rapid double-clutch at 50 or even over can be made without a sound, and away she romps with a slight bark of joy on third". . . "The price of the 30-98, so demurely described in the catalogue as a fast touring car, is £1,220.