19/6/1912 - 12/2/2005
Record updated 10-Feb-23
Butterworth was an unconvential but genius inventor who built his first post-war racing car using the engine from a German halftrack.
Archie was an instinctive engineer, born in Co Waterford, Ireland. He moved with his family to England in 1919 and, on leaving school, he joined the Army, serving in the Irish Guards. During this time he built his first car, a dirt track racer, a category that was enjoying some popularity at the time. However before he could race it he was posted to Egypt.
Demobbed in 1937 with no formal qualifications, he worked for a time on the production line at Ford and then in the tool room at Saunders-Roe. His shop steward discovered his lack of a proper apprenticeship and he was transferred upwards to tool design where qualifications were not apparently necessary.
With the outbreak of war, although in a reserved occupation, he rejoined his old unit as a despatch rider. When he reported to collect his motor cycle, he had already switched round all the labels so as to secure the best one for himself, a 500c competition AJS.
During the retreat toward Dunkirk, Archie did not think much of the strafing his group were getting from enemy planes. He got himself up on a ridge over which the planes had to pass as they came out of the valley below. Armed only with a German Luger, he shot one of them down.
At the end of WWII he was employment at the Royal Enfield weapons factory. In his spare time Archie had designed a complete Grand Prix car, engine, gearbox, chassis, the lot. But as is often the case, there wasn't enough money in the pot to convert his dream into reality.
Not that he was exactly poor. He had acquired a somewhat ancient 4½ litre Bentley tourer which he modified extensively. He raced it with considerable success and was elected to the British Racing Driver Club.
Without the budget to build a Grand Prix car, Archie decided to build himself a hillclimber instead. The result was the AJB S2. Better known as the AJB Special. He had been impressed with the début of Sydney Allard's 3.7 litre Steyr-engined special car. The Steyr was a V8 air-cooled unit from Austria mainly used in half-tracks. It had an exciting exhaust note and a fair amount of power, both of which fired Archie's imagination. When he discovered that there were two engines complete with transmissions lying around at Chobham, he bought the lot for a tenner.
He proceded to mounted one of the engines, along with it's gearbox, into a stiffened Jeep chassis, complete with leaf-springs and 4WD axles, and tied the lot together with some very clever ideas in the transmission.
Thus he raced his own Steyr-engined AJB chassis successfully in straight-line sprints and in hill climbs. At first it had no brakes and he held the rear wheels with his hands on the tyres. The throttle wires gave off a distinctive noise as they vibrated in the air which led to the installation being dubbed "The Chicago Piano".
Archie was better at designing engines and transmissions than he was chassis and, over the next few seasons, Archie fettled away at the engine. 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 raised it's power output from the original 85bhp to 260bhp. This was comparable with a contemporary works Ferrari! And at 4425cc he now had himself a Formula 1 engine.
Not unaware of this, Archie entered the AJB in a major non-championship F1 race, the 1950 International Trophy. And the AJB became the worlds first 4WD F1 car to start a race. However the chassis was a problem and with the driver on the left it did not like turning right. Unfortunately in the race the AJB suffered a crank-shaft bearing failure on the first lap, which was due, it's owner believed, to the chassis flexing and twisting the engine block.
But at a time when racing was still struggling to find its feet again, the brute force of the car and the cheery bravery of the driver were an irresistible combination that captured the public's imagination and he became a firm favourite with the crowds. When Archie cornered on two wheels, you saw the underside of the car, as can be seen in photographs of the time.
The 1950 International Trophy would be the AJB Special's only F1 race, but Archie continued to hillclimb the car, and for 1951 he finally got round to fitting the gearbox he'd designed for his Grand Prix project. An ingeniously compact, multi-clutch device, operated by foot-pedals, one pedal changed up, the other changed down. But at Shelsley Walsh, Archie had a massive shunt, and decide that that was enough. Archie said that it was a terribly dangerous little car that had spent three years trying to kill him!
The AJB Special was rebuilt and sold to the USA for 4WD research. It passed through the hands of chassis-dynamics guru Bill Milliken (later the builder of the "Camber-Car"), who raced it as "The Butterball Special", and it lives on today in a 4WD Museum in Cliftonville, Wisconsin.
With his driving career at an end, Archie now turned his attention to engine design. Grand Prix racing for 1952 and 1953 would be for 2-Litre Formula 2 engines. The AJB was a water-cooled Flat-4 of a modular nature, that could allow the capacity to be altered by changing the cylinder barrels. It featured revolutionary swing inlet valves to allow uninterrupted flow of fuel into the cylinders compared to conventional poppet valves.
Building a 2-Litre version would be no problem, and a suitable project was soon on offer. F3 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 cars, one for himself and one for his friend Robin Montgomerie-Charrington. Named the Aston-Butterworth, even though Aston was only a customer of Archie's, both cars were to appear in World Championship races.
With two very prominent bonnet bulges with gave a passing resemblance to a well endowed starlet of the time, the cars were nicknamed 'Sabrina's AJB'. However reliability was to prove a perennial problem. Archie bluntly declared this to be due to a poorly designed engine installation. On one occasion, when well placed, it was refuelled from the wrong churn.
In the end Bill Aston and Archie participated in 4 Grands Prix. The first car, NB-41, was raced in April, 1952 in the Lavant Cup at Goodwood, finishing eighth with Aston at the wheel. In May a second car was made available for Robert Montgomerie-Charrington. He drove it at Chimay in June, where he finished third. A week later the cars were at Monza for the GP dell'Autodromo in which Montgomerie-Charrington finished 12th. One car was raced at Spa in the Belgium GP and it appeared again a few days later at Reims in the Grand Prix de la Marne.
In 1952, the Wolverhampton based Kieft company built a rear-engined AJB powered F2 car. This proved completely hopeless for circuit racing, but in the hands of works driver Michael Christie, it became very successful in hillclimbs.
Aston continued to appear in races throughout the 1953 season but there was never enough money to develop the program properly and when the new F1 regulations came in in 1954 the story of Aston-Butterworth came to an end.
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 now fully occupied by the engine project. The gearbox would surface again later when Colin Chapman showed an interest, and it now became Archie's principal preoccupation. But it was inevitable that these two highly opinionated characters would never get on, and the association was to end in considerable acrimony.
Archie Butterworth's next motor racing project would be a reprise of his engine design. Now in 1.5-litre form, and with a patented inlet valve system (they looked like miniature French-horns, pivoting on torsion bars), It came to the attention of Frank Nichols' Elva concern (Elva got it's 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 sportscar events during the 1957 season. It was very quick, but as always it's reliability let it down. Ironically it was the conventional exhaust valve system that usually caused the problem. The Elva management eventually became disenchanted, but Archie Butterworth had found a soulmate in the car's driver. Archie Scott-Brown, worthy of a "Chaps" story in his own right, was at least as unusual as his namesake, and had become a great enthusiast for Butterworth's designs.
'The Archies' laid down plans for a season of AJB powered Formula 2 racing, and at the beginning of 1958 a Cooper chassis was acquired, and an entry filed for the Formula 2 class in the Monaco GP. 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. Sadly in the race he lost control of the car on a piece of damp track while dicing with Masten Gregory. He crashed into a field at the same spot which claimed Dick Seaman's Mercedes in 1939, the car burst into flames and the luckless Scot passed away the following day from his injuries.
Teamed with Archie Scott-Brown, Archie Butterworth had thought that he may finally realise his AJB Grand Prix project and was planning a purpose designed 2.5-Litre Flat-8 engine, to compliment his highly developed AJB sequential gearbox. But with the demise of his comrade, he completely lost interest in motor sport, and from then on put all his energy into other engineering outlets for his fertile imagination and enthusiastic patent application abilities.
Archie Butterworth was also the Founder of the British Sporting Rifle Club.
historicracing.com with input from John Kynoch and Ricardo Davilla