Archie was something of an eccentric 'mad inventor'. An instinctive and intuitive engineer who’d found himself employment at the Royal Enfield weapons factory at the end of WW2. In his spare time Archie had designed a Grand Prix car, as you do. Completely! Engine, gearbox, chassis, the lot. Read on!
But as is usual, there wasn’t enough money in the pot to convert his dream into reality. Not that he was poor, he was already racing an ancient Bentley at the time, but he decided he should build himself a hillclimber instead. The result was the AJB S2. Better known today as the AJB Special.
He’d acquired a pair of Austrian-made, 3.7-litre, air-cooled, V/8 Steyr tank engines, from army surplus. And mounted one of these, into a stiffened Jeep chassis. Complete with leaf-springs and four-wheel drive axles. Then tied the lot together with some very smart ideas in the transmission department. It was most effective. And according to Archie himself, had the capacity to seriously frighten.
Over the next few seasons, Archie fettled away at it and at the engine in particular. He fitted aluminium cylinder barrels of his own design. Raised the capacity and the compression, and, with a carburettor on each cylinder and alcohol fuel, he succeeded in raising its power output from the original 85bhp, up to an impressive 260bhp. This was comparable with a contemporary works Ferrari! And at 4425cc he’d actually built himself a proper Formula 1 engine. Not unaware of this, Archie decided to enter the AJB in a major non-championship Formula 1 race. The 1950 International Trophy at Silverstone. And the AJB would become the first four-wheel drive car to take the start of a Formula 1 event.
And here it is at Silverstone. Sharing the pits alongside the World Championship winning, works Alfa Romeo team. Unfortunately though, a crank-shaft bearing failed on the very first lap. Due, its owner always believed, to the chassis flexing and twisting the engine block.
That would be the AJB Special’s only Formula 1 appearance. But Archie continued to hillclimb the car, and for 1951 he finally got round to fitting the gearbox he’d designed for his original Grand Prix project. An ingeniously compact, multi-clutch device, operated by foot-pedals. But at the venerable Shelsley Walsh hillclimb that year, Archie had a massive shunt. And decided that that was enough of that.
The AJB Special was rebuilt and sold to the USA for four-wheel drive “research”. It passed through the hands of chassis-dynamics guru Bill Milliken (builder of the famous Camber-Car), who raced it as the Butterball Special. And as such, it lives on today in a museum dedicated to four-wheel drive, in Cliftonville, Wisconsin. Archie though. now turned his attention to his engine design.
Grand Prix racing for 1952 and 1953 would be for 2-Litre Formula 2 engines. And the AJB offering would be a water-cooled Flat-4 of a modular design, that allowed the capacity to be altered by simply changing the cylinder barrels. Building a 2-Litre version would therefore be no problem, and a suitable product was soon available.
Staffordshire Formula 3 driver Bill Aston was first to specify the engine. He was in the process of designing and building a pair of conventional front-engined, single-seater Formula 2 cars (which were basically a rip-off of the contemporary Cooper design). One for himself, and one for his pal Robin Montgomerie-Charrington (who’s only claim to motor-racing fame is that, not entirely surprisingly, nobody in the entire history of the Formula 1 World Championship ever entered a Grand Prix under a longer personal name!).
Branded the Aston-Butterworth, even though Aston was actually only a customer of Archie’s products, both of the cars would make appearances in Grand Prix events. But engine reliability was to prove a perennial problem. The unit’s designer bluntly declared this to be due to poorly planned engine installation, and in the end very little was achieved.
In 1952, the Wolverhampton based Kieft company also built an AJB powered, Formula 2 car. But this time with the engine in the back. The Kieft proved completely hopeless for circuit racing, but in the hands of works driver Michael Christie, it would become, like it’s predecessor the AJB Special, a very successful hillclimber.
During this time Archie had had a very serious enquiry from Jack Brabham, then still based in Australia, about his gearbox.
But he wasn’t able to pursue the matter because he was still fully occupied with the engine project. The gearbox would surface again a little later though, when Colin Chapman showed an interest. And it consequently became, for while, Archie’s principal engineering preoccupation.
But it could have been taken as read that these two highly opinionated individuals wouldn’t be able to stick each others company for very long. And the association with Chapman would end in inevitable, and not inconsiderable, acrimony.
Archie Butterworth’s next project would be a reprise of his engine design. Now in 1.5-litre form, and with a patented inlet valve design (they looked like miniature French-horns, pivoting on torsion bars), It came to the attention of Frank Nichols’ Elva concern (Elva got its name from the French “elle va”, ie “she goes”), who installed it in a sportscar for the talented Archie Scott-Brown to drive in British events during the 1957 season.
The Elva-AJB was rather odd looking (thanks to the domed bulges on the bonnet it was soon nicknamed Sabrina. In honour of a rather glamorous lady who enjoyed a certain popularity in some of the better “Gentleman’s” publications of the day), but proved very quick. Sadly though, and as always, the reliability of the engine let it down. Ironically though, it usually proved to be the conventionally configured exhaust valves, rather than Archie’s trick inlet valves, that caused the problem.
Frank Nichols eventually became disenchanted and canned the project. But Archie Butterworth meanwhile, had found a soulmate in the car’s rather interesting driver.
Archie Scott-Brown (shown here with Frank Nichols on the left, and Archie Butterworth on the right) was at least as extrovert as his older namesake. Having successfully pursued his chosen career despite the disadvantage of being born (thanks to the Rubella virus) with disproportionately short legs and a severely malformed right arm and hand (he’s actually an entire “Chaps” episode in his own right!). And from the Elva experience, had become a great enthusiast for the Butterworth style of engineering.
The two Archies had soon laid down plans for a season of AJB empowered Formula 2 racing together. And at the beginning of the 1958 season, a suitable Cooper chassis was acquired and an entry filed for a place in the Formula 2 class at that year’s Monaco Grand Prix. In the end though, the car wasn’t ready in time. So Archie Scott-Brown went off to drive a works Lister sportscar at Spa instead. Unfortunately, when he returned, it would be as the only passenger in the back of a long, black car. Driven at a considerably more sedate pace than he’d previously been accustomed to.
Teamed up with Archie Scott-Brown, Archie Butterworth had thought that he might finally realise his stillborn AJB Formula 1 ambitions. And was planning a brand new 2.5-Litre Flat-8 engine to compliment his, by now highly developed, AJB gearbox.
But with the demise of his comrade-at-arms, Archie completely lost heart in motor sport. And would from now on direct his fertile imagination and talent for invention (not to mention his enthusiasm for bothering the patents office) into other avenues of engineering.