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'So what is that funny old car, then?' enquires a passer-by at the pub.
‘Is it an Austin Seven or something?’ Members of the hyperenthusiastic Frazer Nash Car Club would be horrified to have one of their rare competition machines sullied with such an association. But you can understand the mistake, because the Frazer Nash is diminutive, with spindly wire wheels, the front set at positive camber giving it a wonky look. Driven by Luke Roberts, a 23-year-old mechanical engineering student, the 'Nash's nature changes completely as soon as the engine is fired up. The loud bark indicates that this is no frail, asthmatic contraption but a damn fast and furious competition sports car.
This Frazer Nash Chain Gang is a bit of a special because, in place of the usual 1.5-liter 4ED Meadows, a later BMW 328 straight-six is strapped into the chassis, race tuned to deliver 145bhp in a vintage car that weighs just 768kg with half-a-tank of fuel.
Young Luke is clearly enamoured with his 'Nash and drives it as if his pants are on fire. For the photos he hurls the car sideways at every opportunity and holds the power slide right through the corners. Some younger members of today's entourage are startled and begin to look anew at the vintage contraption. Of course, big power in a lightweight vehicle is what sports cars are all about. But this 'Nash has the advantage of its chain drive. Most gearboxes lose about 30% of flywheel power, but not so chain drive, which loses a mere 5%.
Luke whips the quick-release flooring out of the cockpit to expose the chains. It looks incredibly Heath Robinson but has proved very effective since 1925, when Frazer Nash was formed. Born out of the GN light car company, Frazer Nash persisted with this transmission with great sporting effect, allowing lightning-fast gearchanges. So what is the chain gang 'Nash actually like to drive?
You clamber into the tight cockpit and bucket seat, which affords you a great view through the aero screen down the long, louvred bonnet. The floor is raw wood, with a foot brace to keep you in the seat during brisk cornering. The large Brooklands sprung wheel is mounted high and various instruments are scattered across the wooden dashboard.
The 2-liter six-cylinder engine with three Solex carburettors responds instantly to the sensitive throttle pedal. It is alive, with virtually no discernible flywheel effect. Now for that gearbox. The lever is outside the cockpit on your right, with the shift pattern the mirror image of what we are used to. Luke advises letting the clutch up a tad to allow the gear to mesh with a clunk. Once engaged, the 'Nash leaps off the mark. Second ratio is straight back down, third is towards you and up, fourth straight back. Once you get used to the shifter the gears swap with alacrity. Luke doesn't bother with the clutch, but I am not that brave.
Given its head the 'Nash takes off like a dog with a bone. God it is fast! It is vintage fast, which makes the speed seem greater because the small screens do little to prevent the wind blast and the whole vehicle fizzes, shakes, rattles and rasps. Let the engine revs crest four thou', the power really comes on and it sings up to six thou' like no vintage car should.
No wonder everyone loves these 'Nash Chain Gangs. This example is a total blast to drive. Vintage, certainly, but with pin-sharp steering, surprisingly effective rod brakes working the large finned front drums, a powerful engine and chuckable chassis, this pure sports car is a revelation – and never mind the chain oil getting everywhere!
‘It helps if you enjoy maintenance and coping with the odd breakdown,' admits Winston Teague, registrar of the Frazer Nash Car Club. ‘But the cars are hard driven – they have to be, to make them corner properly with the solid rear axle – and that is the reason they can be unreliable. That said, out of 85 Nashes that went to Italy on the Nash Raid in 2009, only two had to be recovered home.'
The appeal of owning a Nash Chain Gang is that it opens the door to a sub-culture that's quite unlike any other. ‘Ownership is all about the Club and the people in it,' continues Teague. ‘To them, life without a Frazer Nash is quite unacceptable. From that point of view, owning a poor example of a Nash is preferable to not having one at all.'
Unfortunately, the price of entry to that world has risen dramatically in recent years. In Octane Issue 25, July 2005, we suggested that a ‘built-up' car – one using at least three major original components – would start at £30,000-35,000; you could effectively double that figure now, and double it again for an exceptionally original TT Rep. That said, some original Anzani-engined cars have changed hands for less than built-up cars recently: deals are so below-the-radar that anomalies do occur.
Moral? Join the club and talk to Winston if you're looking to buy a Nash: www.frazernash.co.uk.
Engine: 1971cc BMW straight-six, OHV, triple Solex carburettors Power: 145bhp @ 5500rpm Torque: 130lb ft @ 4000rpm Transmission: Four-speed manual, chain drive with dog clutches, bevel gears, rear-wheel drive Suspension: Front: beam axle, quarter-elliptics. Rear: live axle, quarter-elliptics Brakes: Front finned drums, rear drums, rod-operated Weight 768kg Performance: Top speed - 115mph; 0-60mph - 9.0sec (approx)