Matters of moment, April 1977
What can one say about young Tom Pryce, the Welsh driver who was killed so unnecessarily during the recent South African Grand Prix at Kyalami? Words won’t bring back this promising member of the Shadow team, who went directly into Formula One from Formula Three.
He was a man very much after our own heart, who lost his life in another freak accident, one that underlines the obvious fact that motor-racing is a very hazardous sport. Our full sympathy goes out to Pryce’s wife, Nella, his parents, all his Shadow team-mates and those who admired more characteristics of the 27-year-old Welshman than his forceful driving. Hunt has already emphasised that from this accident must come more thoughtful marshalling of motor races. We can be thankful that for years our British Motor Racing Marshals’ Club has seen the need for training those who perform vital functions at race meetings to be efficient and to understand the dangers involved, both to drivers and officials.
It is ironical that Pryce met his death from head injuries fifty years and two days to the date of the unhappy accident to another great Welsh driver, J.G. Parry Thomas, who also died from head injuries, at Pendine, as some of us had remembered. The sad 1977 factor is that Pryce died through no fault of his own, whereas Thomas was a victim of a legitimate motor-racing risk; both drivers were travelling at around 170 m.p.h. when the end came. Both drivers left their native land to live near the racing tracks they favoured, Pryce in Kent and Thomas in Surrey.
The return of “Babs” to Pendine sands last month has put this historic speed-venue in the news again, TV and otherwise. Although the beach is best remembered for the LSR bids of Malcolm Campbell and Parry Thomas, the latter being successful on two occasions in 1926 with “Babs” and Campbell first using Pendine when his 350 h.p. V12 Sunbeam, which lives these days in the NMM at Beaulieu, became too fast for Brooklands, the sands were the scene of motorcycle racing some years earlier. Campbell took the then-aged Sunbeam to 146 m.p.h. on Pendine sands in 1924, where car speed-trials were then held, and to over 150 m.p.h. there in 1925. Parry Thomas left the record at 171 m.p.h. in 1926 and must have been nudging 180 m.p.h. at the time of the tragic accident in 1927, by which time Campbell had been to Pendine with the first of his Napier Lion-engined “Bluebirds” and set the LSR to not far short of 175 m.p.h. After that he found Pendine too restricted and went over the Atlantic to Daytona.
But the Welsh sands were used for other record bids. Capt. G.E.T. Eyston took the MG Midget EX 127 there in 1932, aiming for 120 m.p.h., and managed over 118 m.p.h. He also went there in 1934 with his Ricardo diesel-powered record-car, “Flying Spray” to set c.i. class records. Forest; tried for the British LSR there in 1927 with Djelmo but it crashed much as “Babs” had done. In the summer of 1933 the Mollisons, unable to take-off from Croydon in their heavily-fuelled DH Dragon biplane “Wayfarer” on their trans-Atlantic bid, used 1,000 yards of the Pendine beach to get away. Attempts on the absolute motorcycle record have also been made at Pendine, and after a tuned SS100 Brough-Superior had won the Welsh TT there a production version was named “Pendine” and George Brough called his Nottingham house by this name. So there is ample scope for a Pendine Speed Museum. Could “Babs” achieve today the speeds she did when driven by Thomas? Her restorer (I had better not say owner) Owen Wyn-Owen thinks it could but he would first have to refit the highlift camshafts and h.c. pistons used by Thomas. Curiously, these pistons have no provision for oil-scraper rings. Presumably Thomas reckoned to keep the engine running fast enough, once it had started, to prevent the plugs from oiling-up.