From Brooklands to Brazil
THERE’S SOMETHING very vintage about the neighbouring Kingston-on-Thames firms of V. W. Derrington Ltd. and TDC Components (Kingston) Ltd.; the aura of glorious days at nearby Brooklands seems to pervade the premises and indeed one or two relics of activities at the Weybridge circuit may still be seen there, for the firm’s very existence owes much to Mr. Locke-King’s famous venture. Speed was the instigator of Brooklands and the two Kingston firms; Brooklands provided the place to achieve it and Derrington helped provide the means to achieve it, for in 1919 Vic Derrington originated and pioneered what is today the multi-millionpound tuning industry as a result of demands from Brooklands competitors.
Ironically Brooklands, the conceiving factor behind it all, was put to death in 1940, but the search for speed has continued and the Kingston firms have thrived with it. In pre-Second World War days Derrington equipment could be found on some of the fastest cars competing at Brooklands; in contemporary times equipment from Derrington’s or the company which Vic Derrington helped found, TDC Components, has been fitted to eight of the Formula One cars used to win the last nine World Championships.
Sadly Vic Derrington, Brooklands competitor, entrant and tuner and tuning industry pioneer, died last year at the age of seventythree, only six or seven years after he last drove competitively, but the tuning and accessory firm which bears his name lives on in the hands of his son Stuart (whose 84-year-old grandfather, on his mother’s side, continues to do the accounts) and TDC Components is controlled as it always has been by another of the three joint founders, Bill Terry and his wife Rosemary. Their firm is responsible for designing and manufacturing specialist exhaust systems for the majority of racing car manufacturers and some racing involved tuners and roll-over bars for McLaren.
The Derrington story began in 1919 when Vic started a motor-cycle business in New Malden, firstly repairing, then tuning the comparatively crude machines of the day, developing his skill on his own machines which he raced at Brooklands and subsequently finding a demand from racing customers. He soon extended his interests to cars, a move which proved profitable when protests from local residents in 1924 brought about regulations stipulating the fitment of silencers and fishtails to all vehicles competing at Brooklands; Derrington was quick off the mark to manufacture these compulsory items and by the time the circuit closed Derrington had captured 90% of the market for Brooklands-pattern silencers. Indeed, this marked the start of the accessory business both for Derrington and the world at large, a theme which he extended upon after moving to Kingston in 1929, when things like stoneguards, bonnet straps, filler caps and aeroscreens were added to his list. However, the real landmark in pioneering came in 1928 when Derrington first offered twin-carburetter conversion kits for popular road cars, surely the first man to do so.
Meanwhile Derrington continued to prepare and tune racing cars and actively participate at Brooklands in a wide variety of them, including Salmsons, Talbots, MGs and Wolseley Hornets. The full story of his Brooklands exploits is probably lost now, but in The History of Brooklands Motor Course, by MOTOR SPORT’S Editor, there are references to Derrington entering a team of Salmsons and a team of Wolseley Hornets. His Salmson team finished second in the Light Car Club Relay Race in July, 1932 at an average speed of 76.09 m.p.h., Noble and Dickson-Geertz driving two of the cars and Derrington the third, while he also contrived to handle one of his team of Wolseley Hornets in the same race. Five years earlier he was enjoying himself on three wheels, setting up records from 100 miles to three hours in a 750-c.c. Morgan shared with Hall, averaging 69.4 miles for 100 miles. The end of the record attempt was marked by a crash and a visit to Weybridge Cottage Hospital for the pair. One other notable Brooklands exploit was winning the first heat of the British Mountain Championship in 1936, this time in one of his by-then ageing supercharged twin-cam Salmsons, presumably the one which he owned until early last year.
Today’s offerings from V. W. Derrington Ltd., at 159-161 London Road, Kingston (01-546 5621/2) are a curious and unique mixture of old and new. Stuart Herrington intends to gradually change the lines and expand the business, but meanwhile the impression is that while the firm has kept up with the times, offering accessories and tuning equipment for the latest motor cars, it has steadfastly refused to forget the past inasmuch as virtually all the equipment sold for post-war cars (and even some pre-war) is still catalogued and available. At one end of the scale a brand-new anti-roll bar for the Cortina Mk. III marks the latest offering and at the other end one can still buy a grab handle for a pre-war MG at London Road. Even those aero-screens designed and made by Derrington for Brooklands remain available in the same materials: chromiumplated brass fittings, polished, die-cast alloy frame and laminated safety glass. What is even more remarkable in this day and age is the price: £4.50. The demand for them remains; Abingdon Spares, MG specialists in Australia, have just ordered 100 of them.
Vic Derrington was always an MG enthusiast, as I well remember from a visit I made to him a couple of years ago when he showed me his pristine M-type Midget with obvious pride (he also had another one in pieces) and disclosed an astonishing stock of brand-new T-type pans. The Old-MG enthusiast remains well catered for, particularly in the way of tuning for XPAG and XPEG engines, for which Laystall-Lucas cylinder heads continue to be offered. Derrington’s still manufacture alloy rocker covers for the XPAG, the only one to carry the octagon insignia with official factory approval, and alloy sideplates. Many MG spares are supplied to firms specialising in old MGs in this country and the United States.
Later BMC and British Leyland MGs attract equally specific attention, particularly the 1,500 to 1,800-c.c. B-series-engined ones—and therefore any other marque carrying the same unit—for the famous HRG-Derrington cross-flow alloy cylinder head is made specially for these. Quite a lot of development work has been conducted since Derrington took over manufacture of this head in the mid-60s and in its fastest Mk. V form it will lift the power of an MG-B engine with standard cam, compression ratio and 1 1/2-in. SUs by about 10 b.h.p., almost doubling the torque. Of course the full benefits are obtained with other commensurate modifications and outputs of over 150 b.h.p. have been obtained with suitably modified B-series engines using this head. Hidural valve guides are standard and a choice of compression ratios up to 12.5:1 can be supplied. The cost of the head is £100, on top of which special inlet manifolds are necessary, available for varying sizes of SUs and paired twinchoke Webers.
Other rather rare tuning facilities are available for four-cylinder Triumph TRs, including everything from cross-drilled cranks to racing suspension—everything in fact to convert a car to full-race specification Austin-Healey 3000s, particularly the triple45DCOE carburetter and manifold kit, and even the Austin-Healey 100-4, for which a tubular extractor manifold is offered for head modifications, reprofiled cams and double valve springs.
Steering wheels were another item for which Derrington became well-known before and after the War; the firm must now be one of the few sources for wood-rimmed wheels, their beautiful “Lightweight” model existing for vehicles like TRs, Austin-Healeys and XKs, while leather-rimmed “Lightweights” are sold to fit almost anything. Space dictates that mention can only be made of the foregoing more unusual items available from Derrington’s. In fact the firm must have one of the widest ranges of accessories and tuning equipment available for contemporary cars, including A- as well as B-series BMC engines, all Chrysler GB models right up to road or full-race 998-c.c. Imp units and Ford pushrods. The range is extended by a specialisation in Weber carburetters; kits including inlet manifolds are available for the majority of British and European cars, including triple DCOEs for Jaguars, six-cylinder Triumphs and the aforementioned Austin-Healeys. Suspension equipment is also far-reaching, anti-roll bars being a particularly popular line, manufactured at the nearby TDC Components. But that’s another story . . .
TPC Components lie around the corner from Derrington’s at 14a Clifton Road (01-546 0524), behind one of those insignificant and obscure, almost dilapidated, facades which so often hide gems of interest from the motoring enthusiast. Opening faded blue doors in the Victorian structure reveals passage-way paved with well-worn stone setts, Mr. Terry’s Rover 3-litre and beyond it to the left the first indication that this is no ordinary back-street establishment. Languishing there sadly, just as it has done since 1930 when it was laid up by Vic Derrington, is an ABC flat-twin, complete and original down to the last stitch in its admittedly rotting hood and the ideal subject for restoration. At which point I must forestall all those who are about to dash down to Kingston with cheque hooks in hand; this car is definitely not for sale, will be restored and its value is known! Even more hidden by miscellaneous steelwork is a pre-war Fiat 1100 for which a customer is already lined up. Opening a further door reveals the hive of real activity where six men are attacking assortments of various diameter 17-gauge mild-steel tubing with varying degrees of controlled brutality and heat and an exceptional amount of skill, as denoted by the finished products stacked alongside one drab, grey wall: described as exhaust systems, but really superb works, of sculpture which will fittingly bedeck the equally superb Formula cars of the bestknown racing car manufacturers.
In an office beyond a store for exhaust jigs at the top of an open wooden staircase Mr. and Mrs. Terry can be found in quiet seclusion, the pipe-smoking, close-to-retirement Mr. Terry perhaps working at his drawing board on a new exhaust system for Fittipaldi’s JPS and his wife Rosemary on the receiving end of a call from Southam, discussing Ralph Broad’s racing Capri requirements. All in a day’s work for this happy, unassuming couple.
Behind the contented countenance of Bill Terry lie memories of a life steeped in motoring history. His early working career was spent as an aircraft draughtsman at Fairevs, from where he moved to the coachbuilders Jarvis of Wimbledon as a designer (by coincidence, Mrs. Terry was able to draw my attention to Coys of Kensington’s illustrated advertisement in last month’s MOTOR SPORT showing a 1928 4 1/2-litre Bentley with Jarvis of Wimbledon boat-decked body, designed by Mr. Terry). During his period with Jarvis, Mr. Terry was loaned to KLG for one month to draw and build the body for a new Malcolm Campbell Bluebird prior to world record attempts at Pendine. Eventually his work achieved for him his own coachbuilding business, Abbey Coach works of North Acton, which built some classic bodies for MGs, including some of the works racing ones, and Aston Martins, among others before Mr. Terry sold the firm just before the War.
TDC Components was started by Mr. Terry in partnership with Vic Derrington and a man named Charters (hence the initials) who later went to Australia, selling his share in the business to Derrington. Currently half the company is owned by the Terrys and the other half by the Derrington estate, but Mr. and Mrs. Terry run the company, working in association with V. W. Derrington Ltd. to the extent where some orders are placed through Derrington’s and some—the majority—through WC.
Nowadays Mr. Terry’s Work is among even more elite circles, for his customers include Lotus, McLaren, Brabham (MRD), Surtees and BRM—indeed all the Formula One manufacturers except Tyrrell and March, who are themselves former customers. Among his other customers for F5000, F2, F3, F Ford and Super Vee are ORD, Chevron, Royale, Crossle and Lola.
Mr. Terry proudly recalls with a grimace some of the more difficult exhaust system exercises tackled by TDC, particularly the Weslake V12, the 1966 turbo-charged Lotus Indianapolis car and the Honda F1, for which Honda air-freighted a wooden mock-up engine all the way from Japan and then air-freighted it and exhausts back again. A recent difficult task was the system for Frank Gardner’s SCA Freight Camaro, which features 2 1/4-in. primary pipes and 4 1/2-in. tailpipes for which latter items special cold drawn steel had to be used and the pipes had subsequently to be flattened for ground clearance. A similar difficult task faces them with Ralph Broad’s Capri. However, it appears that the system for the Lola Formula Super Vee, currently being tackled, is proving more difficult than even the Weslake V12!
These more awkward prototype systems can take up to 100 hours to complete, and are, of course, extremely expensive. However, once the jigs have been made up, replicas can be made much more easily and cheaply.
The process for building a prototype system may be achieved in several ways: sometimes drawings are sent in by the customers, which Mr. Terry usually has to put into shape on his own drawing board, or Formula cars’ rear ends complete with engine may be delivered to Clifton Road, or even on occasions complete cars. For example, the narrow passage-way alongside the ABC was graced by nothing less than the World Champion’s JPS at the end of last season: Mr. Terry’s task was to design a new system to improve the aesthetics of the rear end rather than improve exhaust efficiency.
The work commences by making the flanges to fit the heads, from whence the system is shaped by bending wire half-clips around the frame and suspension items to achieve the correct shape and clearances. Jigs representing the appropriate rear ends are constructed for single-seaters and the tubes are bent to suit; a very condensed description of a time-consuming job.
Pipe bending is achieved by hand by blocking the end of a straight piece of pipe, filling it with silver-sand, tapping the pipe meanwhile to ensure that the sand settles consistently and then hammering a pine plug into the open end. The pipes are heated by a mixture of oxygen and natural gas and bent to the appropriate shape, though of course sharper bends have to be completed in two sections and skilfully welded together. What happens in this case is that a single pipe is bent as near as possible to the right shape, at which point it starts to go out of round, is cut in the centre of the bend, the cut ends are re-rounded and chamfered so that when welded together the curvature is correct and the weld, when filed down, is barely perceptible. I won’t go into details of the manufacture of the junction sections for multipipes to merge into one; next time you look at one in the paddock just think for a moment of the skill required to make them from straight tubing. Tuned lengths, by the way, are supplied by the engine builders. Prototype test bed units supplied to people like Cosworth, Brian Hart, Weslake and Blydenstein are sometimes supplied with extra sections to stick on to the ends of the tail pipes for them to find the ultimate tuned length by experimentation on the dynamometer.
Ordinary road cars don’t fall into the scheme of operations at Clifton Road, which is essentially a prototype and a specialist exhaust system manufacturing unit. However, E-Type and Austin-Healey 3000 and 100-4 manifolds are constructed there and of interest to vintage enthusiasts the firm continues to make manifolds for Austin Seven Ulsters for members of the Ulster Owners’ Club and down pipes for Riley 9s for the Riley Register. MG XPAG tubular manifolds also remain in production as do Lotus Elite.
It is refreshing to have old-established firms such as TDC Components and V. W. Derrington who have successfully kept up with contemporary demands without neglecting the older cars on which they built their foundations. Kingston indeed possesses two valuable assets to motoring and motor sport.—C.R.