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Yet another car story

Updated on June 6, 2011

I have been told that anyone who would spend 5 years rebuilding an automobile is unwell or at the very least obsessed. I'm philosophical about it myself and don't feel too put out, as I consider that a reasonable look around the world today should be all that is required to confirm that I have many companions.

The car I spent so much time on helping to restore was a Grand Prix car that belonged to my dear friend and mentor who also had a Cottin & Desgouttes limousine, and a beautiful Auburn coupe that I worked on with him as well many years into the Ballot project. An artist friend was given the job of painting the fully restored Auburn and did a beautiful job in coffee and cream.

Ron was a long term family friend, who admired my father's mechanical skills and called on him for technical advice. We often drove together to my fathers place for some part or to find a solution to an engineering problem that we could not solve ourselves.

Ron had great business skills, and gave me invaluable advice when my businesses started to make real money. Part of that advice was to take more time away from my businesses and help him with his cars. I became smarter about my business, trained good managers and staff, then it was off to play with one of Ron's toys.

These days I am more lay back, leaving the hard work to younger men who don't mind being jammed in a chassis for an hour fitting a gearbox coupling!

5 litre Ballot motor during rebuild.
5 litre Ballot motor during rebuild.

The 5 liter Ballot.

The 1919 five litre straight eight Ballot motor is resplendent with twin overhead camshafts, 32 valves, and dry sump with two four cylinder in-line blocks. The crankshaft is together on a 4 degree taper. The huge plates on the side of the engine are inspection covers.

It took almost 5 years to rebuild, starting with just a few engine parts. When the car was in my garage it had a side valve Ford V8 in it and was finished in red undercoat The motor has it's own sub frame which bolts inside the chassis.

It was a labour of love working on the motor as the 5 litre car is of great historic significance and only 5 were ever built.

The first track test we did was to take the Ballot to the Tarrengower hill climb and send it over the top with Ron at the wheel. My father and I both had doubts about the stopping power of the Ballot, as the drum brakes were fitted to withstand the heat generated in a Grand Prix race, and were as hard as hell.

The Ballot fired up producing a massive cloud of oil smoke. We had fitted a fairly large 6 cylinder GM Holden oil pump to scavenge the oil from the dry sump oiling system, but it was not enough to stop the motor from building up oil that got flung around frantically by the oil slinger rings on the crankshaft.

Ron gave the old Ballot a fair bit of throttle off the line, and the massive torque produced by the grand prix motor sent the old girl through the gulley and on to "the wall" at a good speed. As he climbed the wall you could here the big straight eight making full use of it's thirty two valves to keep the engine pulling like a freight train all the way up the very steep track.

At the top the car was really moving, and when it came to stopping, well it was a cold day, the brakes were only touched once when entering the hairpin at the bottom of the hill climb so they simply did not work despite Ron wrapping his arms around the steering column and standing on the brake pedal with both feet!

When Ron finally stopped the Ballot, it had bits of tree still jammed in the chassis and suspension, but was still intact fortunately.

We were all very excited to have the Ballot running and on the track where it could be enjoyed by so many car enthusiasts, but still had a lot of work to do improving the brakes and sorting the oiling system.

The final decision was that we would leave the motor with excess oil to protect it from bottom end seizure resulting in rebuilding the motor by hand again, and re-casting, machining a new crank.

No one was prepared to risk lowering the oil flow to the top end of the motor supplying those 32 valves and two rows of camshaft bearings, and we were also reluctant to reduce flow to the sump where the oil slingers on the crankshaft were the only source of oil to the big end and main bearings, so the last time I saw the car running it was still trailing smoke.

It would be an enormous loss to blow a motor like that, and it made cowards of brave men.

This story is dedicated to my father and Ron, both are now gone and I miss them.

See the link below to view Photos of the 5 litre Ballot


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    • AEvans profile image


      6 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      Five years to rebuild an engine is amazing! So many more to read. I had never heard of a 5 litre ballot until now. :)

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thank you wilderness, I have a bit of experience with early stationary engines, as my dad collected them. I love them as well, but have no space for a collection in the city.

      The 5 litre Ballot was a wonderful piece of engineering and I enjoyed seeing it completed.

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 

      6 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      A great story, Earnest, and one that makes me wish I could get involved in older cars. I loved the link to the Grand Prix as well - it was fascinating.

      I like examining the old engines at the fair each year - old, old one lunger gas engines putting along and just getting a firing stroke every 5 or 10 revolutions or so as they run small water pumps or other ag gear. They're not in the same class as that old 5 liter though.

      An interesting read - thank you.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      I think that I just will! Folks looking for a lot of technical info might be disappointed in my articles about cars - but I can tell you the engines and horsepower/torque, etc. I can look up the rest, and tell the stories. . . .

      If I dream about something like that - It must be important to me, and I can hope to make it entertaining. My problem seems to be that when I decide to type about a subject - my fingers just separate from my brain and make things political.


      Oh well, the show must go on!

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thank you Wesman. It is a common thing for me to dream about cars. I even invent new oil pump or gearbox designs in my sleep, so I know what you mean by dreaming about cars!

      Go for it, I love to read anything about cars.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      WOW!!! Only five made????? Sir, that's got to be about the most obscure vehicle that I've heard of.

      When I clicked the link at bottom - I was amazed at the type of car you'd been discussing.

      I'm not an auto mechanic AT ALL - but you might have inspired me to tell a tale or two now about the cars I've loved in my life. In fact, I wonder why I haven't thought of it before.

      I dream a lot of nights about the vehicles that were my pride and joy in the past.

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thanks John!

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Great hub

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Melbourne Australia


      The Ballot would have been a handful on those tires I reckon!

    • CASE1WORKER profile image


      7 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      just going over to the french grand prix-

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I added a link so you can see the Ballot racing in the 1921 French Grand Prix.

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Hello my friend hello! I am very pleased you like old things, I am getting old myself! This car was very special for many reasons. An important part of motoring history.

    • eddiecarrara profile image

      Eddie Carrara 

      7 years ago from New Hampshire

      Yep, they don't make'em like that anymore. Nice story earnestshub, I could almost see the car climbing the hill with blue smoke pumping from the tail pipe.

    • diogenes profile image


      7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Ozzie: Great story about a great car from the days when machines had an individuality you could fall in love with.

      That is some motor! Jeez, did you mention the HP., I'll have to read again.

      I love the bit about the brakes failing; it's a wonder the driver's heart didn't either! bob

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      7 years ago from London, UK

      I enjoyed reading this story because I love an old cars or anythign old. I think they have a heart in it from the men who built it.


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