Dorcas, an innovative ‘Special’ hill climb car from the
thirties, fitted with BSAFWD transmission and drive, built and raced by the Glegg brothers

Note:  this article and ‘photo originally appeared in the June
2003 issue of ‘Front Wheels’ The official bulletin of the BSAFWD club


Gordon Glegg is airborne at the top of the old
Brooklands test hill, Eric Fernihough clicks the watch


The Glegg brothers, Gordon and Donald, were most enthusiastic specialists of the ‘try again’ school, for whenever their most cherished theories were disproved, to the accompaniment of the thunder of rending metal, they just swept up the bits they could find and had another go. Usually, they arrived at Shelsley heavy eyed from lack of sleep, and still working on an incomplete vehicle, and after their first practice run were apt to walk up the hill demanding “Anybody seen a universal joint, a couple of gears and a length of chain?” Dorcas I was an Austin based special, which has no great claim to fame, except for an incident at a hill-climb at Chalfont, where Gordon posted a friend on a corner with his camera, with instructions to secure a good action picture. On approaching this corner our hero found that his throttle would not shut, so baled out before the inevitable accident.
The trusting friend was run over a hundredth of a second after he had clicked the shutter; happily they both came out, that is to say the photograph came out of the camera and the friend eventually came out of hospital. Dorcas II was that unusual thing, a front-driven special. The front drive was obtained from a BSA three-wheeler, and consisted of a three speed gearbox, a worm drive and a differential which carried a single brake. The front wheels were independently sprung, each one having four transverse quarter-elliptic springs and exposed driving shafts were connected to the wheel hubs via a couple of universal joints. A sturdy double dropped frame ran back to the reversed quarter-elliptic springs of an old Brescia Bugatti, which carried the Bugatti wheels and brakes on a tubular ‘dead’ axle. The power unit was a 981 cc JAP engine which had been prepared by Eric Fernihough, and its considerably augmented power output was sufficient to break most of the vital parts of the BSA transmission fairly regularly.
The car was usually run with twin front wheels, which naturally put a great load on the transmission and gave the machine a unique appearance. After racing in this form in 1932 and 1933, the Gleggs designed a four-wheel drive layout that used more, and longer, chains than even I have ever seen before. The theory of the thing was that, when the front wheels slipped more than 5 per cent, a pair of ratchet free-wheels would take up the drive to the rear wheels, which normally acted as ‘passengers’. That was the theory,but in practice the sudden take-up of the ratchets resulted in a shower of chains in Worcestershire.
Not one whit dismayed, Gordon and Donald set to to build up a completely new car. This had four-wheel drive too, but there were no chains, an all-shaft-and-gear lay-out having been evolved. The straight channel chassis frame was suspended by coil springs, all four wheels articulating independently on swing axles. After they had suitably developed this layout, Gordon Glegg was successful in breaking the old ‘cyciecar’ (1100 cc.) record for the Brooklands test hill, previously held by Frazer-Nash in ‘Kim’. Finally, Fernihough built a special JAP engine of some 1200 cc. capacity, and with this motor installed, Dorcas won the unsupercharged section of the 11/2 litre class at Shelsley in 1938. The time was 46.88 seconds.
In case any of my less enlightened readers have missed the significance of the name ‘Dorcas’, I would mention that she was a Biblical lady who was ‘full of good works’. This article and photograph are taken from a book called ‘Specials’ by John Bolster. I know nothing else about this book, but Amazon list it as published in October 1971 by Foulis. The ISBN number is 0854291334. My thanks to Tony Henderson for sending this copy of the extract from the book. ( footnote by our magazine editor, Peter Nicholls).


Dorcas ll (no 13) at Shelsey Walsh, 1932

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