Fiftieth anniversaries

The RAC Tourist Trophy

Exactly why the figure of 100 should mean so much to British people is difficult to understand, especially as we have only recently accepted the decimal system of counting in multiples of ten. It could be our long association with cricket and the fact that every Englishman starts life orientated to cricket, even if he doesn’t follow it through in later years. Though why 100 runs were considered a cricketing achievement, and not 120 runs is another mystery. With cricket starting before motoring it was not surprising that the figure 100, or century, was considered important so that 100 m.p.h. was everyone’s aim at first and then averages of 100 m.p.h. and so on. The first 100 m.p.h. lap of Silverstone was a landmark in British motor racing history, though other European countries did not really understand what we were talking about, for 100 m.p.h. in metric figures is 160.934 k.p.h., a completely meaningless figure to the French, Germans or Italians.

When someone averaged 100 m.p.h. for the duration of the Le Mans 24-hour race the British got excited and celebrated, while the French looked on blankly. Their target had been 100 k.p.h., many years before, and their next one was 200 k.p.h. The. British converted this to 124.27 m.p.h., and looked equally puzzled. Nonetheless, the figure 100 is accepted by everyone as a landmark, Whether it be 100 kilometres, 100 miles or 100 years, so that at 50 you are halfway to your target figure. On the matter of the human life-span it is cause for celebration when you reach the age of 50, as it is halfway to the century which would be nice to reach, and these days a lot of people do just that. At one time a man was considered normal if he lived for “three score years and ten”, which would have made 35 years of age the time for celebrating the halfway mark. At 50 it is nice to think that you have reached the halfway mark, and if the second 50 are as satisfactory as the first 50 you can contemplate dying happily. I remember looking forward to the halfway point and planning all sorts of celebrations, having been to some nice parties with older friends when they reached the halfway point. Somehow my plans went wrong, for I was in the middle of a dice with a German racing driver down the Frankfurt-Darmstadt Autobahn at well over 100 mph., he in a tweaked-up Jaguar saloon (with Daimler grille) and me in a 4.7-litre E-type coupe, when I realised it was my birthday and the halfway point I had been looking forward to reaching!

Accepting that the figure 100 is important, it follows that 50 must be half as important, but nevertheless justification for a celebration. Also 25 is a good excuse for a party, as rnust be 75 (I must try and remember that birthday). There is nothing to stop anyone having a party or celebration at any time, but, it is so much nicer to tie it in with a twenty-fifth, or fiftieth anniversary, and in motoring and racing circles there seems to be a fiftieth anniversary of something or other every year, and this year is no exception.

The RAC Tourist Trophy race was started in 1905 and has led a chequered career, changing venue and form over the years, passing various landmarks. It started in the Isle of Man and was held on and off until the 1914-18 war. In 1922 it was revived in the Isle of Man, but failed miserably. In 1928 it received a new lease of life when the motorcycle enthusiasts of N. Ireland assisted the RAC to run a brand new event on a 13.6-mile road circuit just east of Belfast. For catalogued sports cars the rate proved to be a huge success and caught the imagination of racing drivers and manufacturers from all over Europe. Each year it went from strength to strength until the 1936 race, in which a bad accident involving spectators put an end to the Ards circuit. The RAC moved the event from Ulster and in 1937 and 1938 ran it on the lengthened Donington Park circuit, but it was no longer the “real” TT. War put a stop to the 1939 event and it was not until 1950 that the RAC revived the race, this time on a new circuit in N. Ireland at Dundrod, to the west of Belfast. It was held each year until 1955 when bad accidents and the death of three drivers caused the RAC to withdraw once more. The Tourist Trophy reappeared in 1958 as a circuit-race at Goodwood and then fluctuated from there to Oulton Park and Silverstone, ending up as a saloon car race.

In most enthusiasts minds, and certainly those in N. Ireland, the “real” Tourist Trophy races were those held between 1928-1936 on the natural road circuit at Ards. The Dundrod races, while being first-class, were not in the same league, they were really RAC Sports Car Races, so it is not surprising that the year 1978 is highly significant to the racing enthusiasts of Ulster and in particular the members of the Ulster Vintage Car Club, led by the Lord Dunleath. August 18th 1978 will be exactly 50 years to the day, of the running of the first Ulster Tourist Trophy, in which there were 44 entries, the race being won by Kaye Don with a 1 1/2-litre Lea-Francis.

As already mentioned in Motor Sport, Golden Jubilee Celebrations are planned for the week in August encompassing the 18th, which this year is on a Friday. On Saturday, August 12th, the Ulster Grand Prix for motorcycles is being held on the Dundrod circuit, and it is planned to start TT week with a visit there. Anyone who arrives in a genuine TT car from 1950-55, e.g., C-type Jaguar, D-type Jaguar, Aston Martin DB3, Maserati 300S. etc., will be encouraged to do a couple of demonstration laps of the Dundrod circuit after the Friday evening motorcycle practice. However, the real purpose of this Irish “Jolly” is to celebrate the TT on the Ards circuit and during the week there will be various activities ranging from civic functions, through visits to historic places both motoring history and civil history, to a run on a steam-train on the normal Ulster railway system, to the main part of the celebrations. There will be demonstration laps of the full 13.6-mile Ards circuit, which runs from Dundonald east to Newtownards, then south-west to Comber and north-west to Dundonald, forming a triangular circuit that was the equal of such classics as Pescara, Spa, Berne and Dieppe at the time. The Ulster Constabulary are giving the whole affair their blessing, and while they cannot promise to close the roads that form the circuit, they have indicated that they could close most of the roads that lead onto the circuit, which should provide a pretty clear run. Any car that competed in the Ards races between 1928-36 will be given pride of place, naturally, and as the Lord Dunleath owns one of the 4 1/2-litre Lagondas that ran in 1936 it will be appreciated that this “demonstration run at representative speed” is in the hands of the right person. Other cars that are similar to actual TT cars will be welcome, as for example 4 1/2-litre Lagondas that did not compete in the races, but they will not join in the main demonstration, being allowed some laps of the circuit afterwards, as will any other Vintage, Veteran or Edwardian cars that care to join in.

Among actual TT cars that are known to still exist are Lagondas, Aston Martins, Rileys, Alfa Romeos, MGs, Singers, Delahayes, Frazer Nashes, Talbots, Alta, and Bentley so that something like 40 genuine cars could be assembled if owners were to take them out of their “safe deposits” and use them, while at least a dozen replica TT cars, like K3 MG, NE-Magnette, Talbot, Delahaye etc. could follow on. Although many of the drivers who took part in those 1928-36 races, and mechanics, for they were carried during the race up to 1934, are still alive and well, like S.C.H. Davis, Kaye Don, Eddie Hall, Robin Jackson, Cyril Paul, Arthur Dobson, Prince Bira, the Evans brothers and Charlie Dodson, a journey to Northern Ireland is probably not feasible for some of them, but those of us who can take the cars they drove will be honouring their exploits on the magnificent Ards circuit, which was road racing at its best.

A recent visit to Belfast and a lap of the circuit with the Lord Dunleath in his TT Lagonda showed that at least 10 out of the 13.6 miles are unaltered and the villages of Comber and Newtownards are unchanged, though the outskirts have spread somewhat. On the fast stretch after Newtownards the Lagonda was up in the eighties, and again on the run into Dundonald. Where the start used to be, a dual-carriageway has been built and there is a lot of industrial development, but a commemorative building was constructed in the form of a row of three pits on the site of the original ones. This was done in 1971 with the support of local Industries and enthusiasts and the interest was so overwhelming that it sparked off the fiftieth anniversary celebrations. Everyone is enthusiastic about the forthcoming week-long “Jolly”, from the police, the Tourist Board, the shipping lines, the hoteliers and not least the little old lady who still runs the pub in Comber, right on the edge of the circuit, and who saw Caracciola, Birkin, Nuvolari, Hall, Dixon et al, braking hard past her front door and aiming for the narrow right-hand turn past the butcher’s shop (which is still there, naturally).

This is a fiftieth anniversary with some meaning to it, especially if you like the racing/sports cars of the late twenties and thirties, and believe like I do that there was only one series of “real” Tourist Trophy races. Those held on the Ards circuit from 1928-36. The first time I went to the Dundrod circuit in the fifties I was very impressed for it had a character like Oulton Park (before It was emancipated), only ten times as big and ten times as spectacular and challenging, I thought it was terrific until I took timee off and drove round the Ards circuit.

Then I appreciated what true road racing was all about.

As mentioned already in Motor Sport the Lord Dunleath is chairman of the organising committee and his address was given last month. Further information can be obtained from Michael Wylie, 22, Ballyhenry Drive, Glengormley, Northern Ireland, who will no doubt be following the TT cars at a more sedate speed in his 16.9 h.p. Sunbeam.


The Things They Say. . .

As motoring fanatics, it is permissible for us to think highly of the motor-car and suggest that many of the better ones possess “character.” That this opinion is not held only by the biased comes out in an article written by A. L. Rouse, for Blackwood’s Magazine. As a Fellow of All Soul’s College, Oxford, from 1925 to 1974, and a well-known biographer and poet, one might not expect Mr. Rouse to be particularly sympathetic or orientated towards cars. But in his article about the poems of Sir John Betjeman I was surprised and delighted to come on the following passage:Bet jeman wrote, he is saying, poems about many things, including motor-cars and he continues, “Motor-cars I have never known one more dilapidated, or more full of character, than the one in which John took me across Shakespeare’s Cotswolds to introduce me to Cheltenham.”

In this same issue of Blackwood’s, as well as a fine account of flying the North Pole route from Heathrow to Tokyo, in a Japan Airways’ Boeing 747 by that best of modern travel writers, Leslie Gardner, there is the following passage by Gerald Pawle:”If the time should come when, almost universally, white flannels are exchanged for track suits of many colours; the synthetic pitches, prepared in the laboratories, are delivered each evening to floodlit arenas surfaced with plastic grass; and computerised robots take the place of umpires and scorers then the image of Broad Halfpenny Down will fade away under the arc-lights, and the ghosts of John Nyren, Beldham and Silver Billy will return to the village green…” Mr. Pawle is recalling his days as a cricket-writer. But his sentiments have much in common with those of our Continental Correspondent, who sees the day when drivers of racing cars may be replaced by electronic “black-boxes” and who decries the change that has come over Grand Prix racing, the passing of the characters, and the removal of once-famous circuits like Spa and the Nurburgring from Formula One. – W.B.

GP stand sales

Additional stand seating has already sold out for the British GP at Brands Hatch on July 16th. Some 16,000 seats under cover have been erected, the largest number ever offered at a British motor race. Some 1,440 places will be kept at a stand erected on the Brabham Straight terrace: they will be sold only on race day on a “first-come, first-served” basis.

Miniatures News

Auto replicas of Poole have a kit for making up a 1:43rd-scale model of a Park-Wardbodied 1936 Derby-Bentley d/h., No. 23 in their metal-kit series. A 1933 1:24-scale TT Replica Frazer Nash and a 1955 1:43-scale Morgan Plus-4 coupe should now be available from this source and Auto Replicas can supply finished models of AC Cobra, Morgan Plus-4 and Plus-8, Triumph TR6, etc., and of the Type 23 Tank-bodied GP Bugatti, the last-named one of their economy-kits. -W.B.

The latest historic-car releases from Grand Prix Models of Radlett are a blue 1939 GP Lago-Talbot (No. 62 in their Classic Cars series), a most interesting addition to the pre-war model racing scene, and a flat-twelve Cisitalia-Porsche 360 model, as this rare racing-car looked in 1953 (No. 64). W.B.