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 Russell SS 100

D A Russell's SS100 photos courtesy of Shirley Russell

The 1942 Christmas issue of the Aeromodeller carried an illustrated description of D A Russell’s replica of his own 2-½-litre two-seater SS100. Russell being a scale fan and the SS100, of which he owned three during his lifetime, being his favourite car, it followed that he should use it as the prototype for his own model car.

SS Cars was originally set up as Swallow Sidecars in 1922 by William (Bill) Lyons and William Walmsley. The company changed its name to SS Cars in 1933 and to the name it is still known by, Jaguar, in 1935. The SS100 was produced at Coventry from 1936 to 1940 and cost £395 in 1937. The 2.5 litre version was capable of 95mph with the windscreen lowered.


Painting by Norman Giles of DAR driving his own SS100. Courtesy of Edwin Russell

Russell’s smaller version was built following the launch in Aeromodeller of the competition for model racing cars. Mr Galeota’s car plans had also been published around the same time and sparked a lot of dissatisfied muttering from among the aero modelling enthusiasts about cars in 'their' magazine. Russell did publish a separate magazine called ‘Model Cars’ in 1946 but up till then the odd article on tethered cars continued to appear in the Aeromodeller.

Russell’s SS100 is a very large model as the scale was determined by the size of wheels that could be obtained. Being wartime the only tyres that were commercially available were ‘ashtray’ advertising tyres produced by various companies. Russell used a set from The India Tyre and Rubber Company that measured 5 ¼ inches in diameter. Comparing these with the full sized ones, a scale of 1 in 5 was arrived at. This gave an overall finished length of 29 ½ inches, width 7 ¼ inches, wheel base 19 inches and track 9 ¾ inches. A very large model.

Right: D A Russell running the car at Eaton Bray

The description of the model in Dec 1942 gave a great deal of detail about the design and construction, although the drive-train and back axle were extensively reworked before the plans were published.  The chassis followed the design of the original, being upswept over the front axle and tied with x bracing. The side members were of birch and three-ply as was the cross bracing. This was then glued and nailed together. In his build notes Russell, or DAR as he came to be known, commented that this gave a light but very strong frame that was capable of withstanding considerable strain. ‘When assembled, and being supported at each end the chassis will bear the weight of a child standing in the centre’. In 1947 he observed that ‘this construction has withstood several seasons of high-speed running and although a chassis of this type will flex to a certain extent, this flexure is a characteristic of the prototype and is allowed for in the design of transmission and universal joints’.

The back axle was silver steel rod mounted in ball races. These ball races being enclosed in soft India rubber contained in sheet metal casings, secured by bolts to the chassis mainframe. At this stage the gearbox was a simple open metal frame with two equal bevel gears. Unlike most later cars and the SS in its later form there was a simple spur-gear reduction from the engine to drive-shaft which was attached to the chassis member just behind the fly wheel. This had a ratio of 1.35:1. Both gearbox and reduction unit were built by Aeromodeller staff member Stan Rushbrooke.

There are two front axles to allow the wheels to be inclined at the correct chamber. The outer ends of the front axles were also carried in ball races, which could be moved backwards, and forwards underneath the dumb-irons to allow the front wheels to swivel slightly for round the pole running.  In total the car had 15 ball races fitted, twin pairs in the back axle, four in the bevel gear box, three in the reduction gear box and four carrying the front axles, designed to keep the ‘internal’ friction to a minimum. Half-elliptic springing as on the original, was claimed to work well making the car steady at speed. The spring although giving a realistic appearance was not quite what it seemed. The master leaf was the spring while the secondary leaves were false, being constructed of plywood.

In June 43 DAR stated that the car was fitted with a 10cc Dennymite engine, yet all the contemporary photos show a Brown Junior. A later article confirms that it was ‘a faithful Brown Junior that had seen considerable flying service before being installed in the SS’. This in turn was replaced by an Ohlsson 60 running on petrol. Transmission was via a centrifugal clutch designed and made for DAR by Bob Curwen, who also made the back axle casing. DAR stated that the centrifugal clutch allowed the engine to be run ‘free’ at speeds of up to 1500rpm, but provided a solid drive from 2000 rpm upwards.

The body of the car was built by W.A. Dean of the Aeromodeller from balsa mounted on a 1/8th ply base, strengthened appropriately with ply and birch strips. The bonnet of 1/16th ply was a work of art with each of the 246 louvres being individually shaped and glued into position by another Aeromodeller staff member, 16 year old B. Alder.

The weight of the car, at just over 12lb, has the drive, as in the original, being through the rear wheels. Just behind which the battery is mounted, in the position occupied by the petrol tank in the full-size car, providing plenty of weight on to the driving wheels.  DAR went on to say that he had been running the car on a grass lawn and had obtained speeds of around 40mph.  He later planned to change the gear ratio to approximately 1.35 to 1 at which the car should do 60mph, with an engine speed of 5000rpm. One suspects that this is theoretical as no cars were achieving that sort of speed at the time, especially not one as heavy as the SS.

The car appeared and ran for some time with a set of plain disc wheels, machined from scrap aluminium pulleys before these were replaced by scale, spoked versions. The scale wheels were built-up from wire spokes mounted on aluminium discs and rims to which the tyres were then added. In a later description the wheels are referred to as ‘centre locking Rudge wheels’, although this was not quite true. It was explained that the secret to the realistic- looking wheel was the fact that the spokes carried no load at all as they were dummies. The brake drum that can be seen through the spokes is utilized as the actual load-carrying wheel disc. The brass hub and spokes are added afterwards, and give every appearance of reality’.  DAR called this making a ‘fine compromise’.

A scale steering wheel, seats and an instrument panel with all the dials marked to scale, completed the build. DAR hoped to have a scale driver and mechanic sitting in the car but that never came about. The bodywork was finished in light ‘crystal’ green as were the wheel spokes, while the chassis was painted black all over. The interior and seats were covered with thin red leather.

The SS was one of the seven early cars that was publicised by Russell and the Drysdale Press in the ‘Model Race Cars’ book published in 1945. Plans for the car were available at 18/6, which were the most expensive of the seven. By the time ‘Model Cars’ magazine was published in 1946, the SS had undergone several modifications including the fitting of the Ohlsson motor. A new beam front axle with full Ackermann steering and adjustable track rod was fitted to allow the steering to be adjusted for different sized tracks. With all these alterations the speed had increased by around 10mph and over 50mph had been achieved in this form. In issue # 2 of ‘Model Cars’ in Nov 46 the SS features as the model of the month with a full description and a double page cutaway drawing by Laurie Bagley.

There is evidence that the car was run regularly and certainly appeared at the early Eaton Bray meetings. 1947 seems to be the last year that it was run in competition where it featured in all the major events at Eaton Bray, often being run by E Wonnacott. It’s speed varied between 42 and 45 mph.

In the 1947 running of the Russell Trophy that combined scale points and speed it came 2nd only to Gerry Buck’s 2A but was not officially placed being Russell’s own car. Again it was run by Mr. Wonnacott, who is seen holding the car here, and in other photos published in various Drysdale publications.

Whether Russell’s magnificent SS survived is not known although there have been other models made from his plan. The latest being a superb example from Gary Maslin who set himself the task of building all seven of the pioneer cars featured in the Drysdale plans list. Having already completed the Galeota, the Russell SS100 can also be crossed off that list. Gary has very generously shared the ups and downs he encountered during the build.