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Peter Giddings Racing


Nash and Godfrey hated cogs
Built a car with chains and dogs
Would it work I wonder if
It was fitted with a diff?

This clever little rhyme, written by some English wag many years ago, describes a unique car and system of drive that thousands of American enthusiasts had the opportunity of seeing in action for the first time at last year’s Monterey Historic Automobile Races. The AC engined Frazer Nash referred to took a second place in Race Two, and was aptly described as an unbelievable, sinfully fast beast!

This special owned by John Sebert, although only recently put together, is very much in the spirit of the "one off" Frazer Nash and GNs of the '30s; and probably more racing and hill climb specials have been based on this gear box-less, differential-less configuration than any other.

Archie Frazer Nash and Ron Godfrey, the creators of the GN, the forerunner of the Frazer Hash, first met in 1905, when studying for their Mechanical Engineering Degrees in London, England. They were both building cycle car specials at the time, including one utilizing a Locomobile two cylinder steam engine.

After finishing their apprenticeships, Frazer Nash and Godfrey decided to go into the car manufacturing business and established a manufacturing plant, for want of a better description, in the old stables behind the home belonging to Frazer Nash’s parents.

The machine shop equipment was basic to say the least. Nevertheless, with the exception of the engines (J.A.P. and Peugeot), magnetos (Bosch), and a few other minor items, everything else was manufactured on the premises.

A milling machine was not part of their complement of tools. Thus everything that could not be formed from flat sheet or cast had to be made in the round. Thus, the round front and rear axles were born out of necessity.

In intriguing parallel to a later venture by one Ferdinand Porsche, who, of course, also designed another "peoples" car, air cooled engines were initially employed for simplicity and cost saving.

Late GN's and early Frazer Nash's featured three forward speeds and one reverse and four forward and a reverse in the later Frazer Nash's.

As can be seen in the illustration, the drive consists of a differential-less round steel bar for the rear axle, on to which are affixed three or four chain sprocket drives of various diameters to afford the various gear ratios required. The engagement of these sprocket gears is by a pair of double dogs.

On the later Frazer Nash's an ingenious interlocking device on the dog clutches prevent the two gears from being engaged at the same time, although chain snap was by no means unknown. I am reminded for example, of an occasion when my first gear chain snapped, right under the nose of a young English constable who, instead of immediately getting out his little book in order to write a citation, first ran into the street to pick up the black, slithering snake of chain. The resultant oil/graphite stains on the constable's immaculate uniform did not help my case!

The drive from the engine to the countershaft is through a single plate clutch to a solid propshaft, terminating in a star type universal joint in front of the bevel box. This right angled drive box is supported in outrigger extensions and placed three-quarters way back in the chassis. Sprocket gears of appropriate ratio on the bevel box counter shaft are connected by heavy duty chain to those on the back axle.

By 1922 the GN company was on its knees. Automotive fashions and needs had changed and both Godfrey and Frazer Nash decided to resign. Godfrey founded H.R. Godfrey (GN Spares and Repairs)and his business included a contract to maintain the Cherry Blossom Boot Polish Company's representatives' GNs.

Frazer Nash formed Frazer Nash Ltd. and bought from the old GN company all of their chain drive parts and chassis.

Thus, the Frazer Nash had arrived and Frazer Nash was to produce a substantial number of cars and enjoy many years of successful competition. Indeed, "Chain Gang" Frazer Nash's in Australia, the U.S.A. and England continue to astound new generations of enthusiasts with their vivid performance. Wheel spin is virtually unknown in the differential-less Frazer Nash and a special technique has to be learned in order to slide the car through bends. Typically, bends are approached at very high speed indeed, most of the slowing down being effected by the scrubbing off speed "dirt track" style technique that has to be utilized.

In the early '60s, I raced several Frazer Nash specials, regularly beating out the sports racing cars of the day - much to everyone’s annoyance.

My "Union Special" Frazer Nash, featured Amilcar brakes and GN straight cut bevel box gears with power also coming from the venerable AC 6 cylinder engine (weighing a mere 350 pounds), the car having an all up weight of only ten hundredweight.

While AC engines were never fitted to any specials or production cars by Frazer Nash himself, it was certainly a popular engine to fit in the late '30s and '40s, and even to this day.

First designed in 1921, and still being produced in 1955, lots of speed accessories can still be found for the AC engine which in its final form was putting out in excess of 110 b.h.p. When looking at the effective power to weight ratio of a typical AC engined Frazer Nash special, one begins to understand why they run so impressively.

Frazer Nash himself died in 1965 - a great man who had enjoyed a very full and varied life. On one of my visits to his home in Kingston, England, Frazer Nash discussed his experiments in 1915 as a technical officer working for the war office. One of the problems that he worked on was the firing of bullets through an airplane's rotating propeller blades. Frazer Nash decided that a phased hydraulic pulse was the answer. However, as he recounted with great glee, changes in temperature affected the operation. Thus, his principle was not accepted by the government. Hopefully, the splintering of all of those propeller blades that took place during his experiments, happened to stationary, on the ground engines, rather than with airplanes in flight!

Of all of the cars that I have raced and owned over the years, the Frazer Nash is the one I hold most dear. Consider the advantages: simple and easy to work on; inexpensive to purchase (my first GN chassis was found in the backyard of a pub in Putney, London, England and was purchased for the princely sum of $55, and for another $95 built, in the living room of my home, into a very effective hill climb special); almost infinitely adjustable gear ratios effected simply by sliding off each individual sprocket and substituting it with one of a different number of teeth; superior road holding; no wheel spin and fierce acceleration.

Frazer Nash would doubtless be very proud today to see specials bearing his name regularly beating out far more sophisticated Bugattis, Alfa Romeos and the like.