The 1980 VSCC "Pomeroy"

Although the Pomeroy Memorial Trophy Contest run by the Vintage Sports Car Club is really a minor event, comparatively speaking, which the public is not charged to watch, at Silverstone where it is nowadays held, it is unique in being the only VSCC fixture at which modern cars are allowed to take-on the older machinery. As Peter Hull, the Club’s Secretary, wrote in 1964, “this makes it extremely interesting, so that it is invariably reported in the motor papers.” It still is, by Motor Sport. . . . 

The idea is to commemorate the indisputable fact that Laurence Pomeroy Senr., when he was Chief Engineer of the Vauxhall Motor Company, was responsible for two of the finest and most highly-respected fast touring cars of all time, namely the “Prince Henry” and the 30/98 Vauxhalls. After his son, Laurence Pomeroy Jnr., had been given, without any financial exchange, Mr. Badgery’s 1914 “Prince Henry” Vauxhall tourer, towards the close of WW2, that gentleman who was closely associated with the VSCC, felt some gesture should be made which would fittingly acknowledge Mr. Badgery’s generous gift to him. So he got Rex Hays to make a big scale-model of a 1914 Grand Prix Vauxhall, another car for which Pomeroy’s famous father, who died in 1941, had been responsible, and presented this to the VSCC, as the main prize in an appropriate annual competition. 

After much manipulation of Pomeroy Junr’s slide-rule, rules were devised which were intended to encourage the kind of motor car in which both the Pomeroys had been so interested, the high-speed touring car as distinct from the out-and-out sports car. A maximum engine size of 2¼-litres was specified, and a formula was computed in order to find the winner of the contest, which included a road-section, and tests to evaluate steering response, braking power, acceleration, speed, and even the comfort, dimension-wise, of the competing car’s body, while petrol-thirst was also measured. Of the last, Peter Hull has said that “. . . this proved very difficult to calculate and was dropped”. But in recent years it has been reinstated, although the road run has long been abandoned. In fact, the rules have changed down the years and have never perhaps quite maintained what the late Laurence Pomeroy Jnr. once achieved, as when a 1924 30/98 Vauxhall won outright the first event, held in 1952, the winning car being driven by Peter Binns.

However, the best thing is that the event continues. This year it brought in 65 entries, and if these did not embrace quite such exotic machinery as formerly, there was a splendidly varied field, from 1903 Mercedes to 1979 Rover SD1. “The Pomeroy” is essentially an event in which the performances recorded are more interesting than what one sees on the day, and I hope it will be possible to supplement the following random observations with a list of the times achieved in the standing-start, and flying, ¼-mile runs, from Woodcote corner up the modest incline of the Woodcote-Becketts straight. The event may have strayed somewhat from what Pom had in mind originally, with such “touring cars” as Moore’s Lancia Stratos HP with its prominent rear air-dam, and Dawson’s 1977, TVR Turbo taking part, and he might indeed have cast a severe monocled eye at competing vehicles that arrived on trailers, such as Stanley Mann’s 3-litre Bentley. But there were two 30/98 Vauxhall Wensums (Patrick Marsh’s and Peter Harris’) circulating together in one of the 40-minute High Speed Trials put in to test high-speed reliability, and plenty of other good vintage makes were to be seen. And above it all there was the inimitable sound of Roger Collings’ Sixty Mercedes lapping at a remarkably high and consistent speed, top gear being engaged half-way along the pits-straight. Its ancient 9-litre engine proved entirely reliable but afterwards, before he set off for his London flat in this venerable stripped “racer”, Roger had the grace to admit that the High Speed Trial was very tiring and to pay tribute to those who drove such cars in 300-mile road-races over the dusty, stone-strewn roads of long ago. . . .

In fact, I think only one car, an Alvis Speed-20, stopped during the 40-minute lappery, and that soon resumed. There were two of these stints, with the field divided, in the first of which Simon Phillips pressed-on fast in his 1938 328 BMW, and for a time Horton elected not to overtake H. G. Conway, both in Type 43 Bugattis. The passing, on any side that was available, by many of the drivers, was astonishing to behold, but no mishaps befell. For example, on one lap the veteran Mercedes was overtaken by two saloon cars, one on either side of it, although it was baulking no-one. It was all good clean fun though, with amusing improvised pit-signals to tell competitors how they were faring, such as a rolled golf umbrella at the slant, to slow Stretton’s Mille Miglia Frazer Nash. Ten bonus points were awarded to those who kept their hoods erect (the touring car thing) and David Marsh in his 1922 Morris-Oxford and King in a Talbot 105 both had the protection of erected windscreens as well. Donnelly’s Audi 5E elected to pass both the Conways on the right, after using the grass on the opposite side of the course on another lap, Chris Mann, driving his Targa Florio Alfa Romeo, studied his gauges (or the oil-gauge?), Liddell’s Straker-Squire had part of its distinctive radiator blanked off, although for once Silverstone was not cold, Baker’s AC Ace took Woodcote wide, and two Morgan Plus-Fours were circulating in close company. Some of the open cars had roll-protection bars, not usually seen at VSCC events, and of the hoods the best would have been that on Walton’s 1954 Frazer Nash, had he been allowed to use it. This splendidly-stark road-equipped competition car had been given by its owner a tiny hood, which, on the off-side of the car, covered the driver only! I would have thought it merited the 10 points for ingenuity, instead of being banned; but we live in a serious-minded age! Yet Rouse’s Alvis Speed-20 tourer was allowed to use a glove with fingers erect (four, as it happened!) secured by a Jubilee-clip, as its petrol-cap, although on the road this would be illegal, as metal caps are insisted on, in this “safety-always-first” world but perhaps it was an asbestos glove. . . . 

A. A. Barker’s Talbot, formerly a 105 saloon but now a neat open tourer, which had emitted puffs of smoke at each upward gear-change, was out for the first time, using a Talbot 110 engine imported from Australia and a gearbox from Johannesburg. Other interesting Paddock items were Conway struggling to erect the shrunken hood on his Type 43 Bugatti, which contrasted with the neat hood on Horton’s sister car, Colin Crabbe inserting himself into his delectable 1956 drum-retarded 300SL Mercedes-Benz gull-wing coupé, Tom Threlfall with the smart Ford Capri 3.0S that he normally uses as his tow-car, and the daffodils on the radiator of Collings’ Mercedes, turning it into a Y-registered DAF! That anything goes in the “Pomeroy” was emphasised by Elder driving a Rover 3500 Automatic, while Ridley used a bog-standard Rover 2600, which howled tyre-protests while cornering. Patrick Marsh had 6.50″ x 18″ tyres on the back wheels of his 30/98, and among the Ferrari contingent were Turner’s 1971 Dino 246GT, Winn’s of the same type but a year younger, Bowles’ glossy 365GTC with shopping-basket aboard, but Black’s Ferrari 308GTB was absent. Russ-Turner ran his two-seater blower-4½ Bentley Birkin Replica.

In the second High Speed Trial Robin Rew led the may in his 1968 Reliant Scimitar, Channon’s 1964 AC Cobra later going ahead. Mills (AC Ace) slowed to converse with friends in his “pit”, and Dawson’s TVR Turbo was impressive, hood down, windows up.

There had been an acceleration-cum-braking frolic before this, with the pundits discussing whether maximum pick-up or maximum stopping best paid off. The old Merc. found rear brakes no impediment, Collings “throwing the gear into neutral” in true professional style! Haye, out for the first time in a 1927 12/50 Alvis the rebuild of which had been completed only a few hours previously, was gentle. Many engines were stalled after braking, Shaw’s Frazer Nash Sebring needing a push-start away and the first reverse after overshooting the stop-line fell to Lees’ BMW 320i. Crowe got his 1954 Lancia Aurelia GT sideways and failed, Hurst’s Fiat Dino slid much too far, Colin Crabbe just too far, Threlfall used the cadence touch and Newman’s 3.8 Jaguar coupé never had a hope of stopping as required. Mrs. Bowles contrived to cope cleverly with some snatch of the anchors of her Jaguar XK120 however, Joseland did it very neatly in his Reliant Scimitar GT, the Rovers were gentlemanly and Rover-like, Gauntlett’s blown Derby-Bentley Special failed to stop in time amid clouds of rubber smoke, both Winn and Kettel, in an MG-B V8 GT, did it very properly, but Robin Rew only just anchored in time, to the cry of “Did I make it?”. Of course, such observations do not take any account of how late drivers left their braking, to get better acceleration times, Rhodes’ Morgan Plus-8 was deemed to have scored in spite of going half-a-wheel’s length over the final line. The TVR did it well, with locked front wheels, Needham’s Sunbeam Tiger slid much too far on protesting rubber, as did Fone’s AC Cobra, but Channon’s AC Cobra performed this test notably well.

Wondering whether “Pom’s” ideal fast tourers were appropriate to motoring in the English Midlands in March, I bought myself a small cup of tea which cost over 3/6d. I remember once being charged 1d. for a glass of water at Brooklands in a heat-wave, but they said it was for use of the glass.. . . After all the lappery at Silverstone had ended the car’s petrol tanks were carefully refilled, so that m.p.g. could be calculated, BP being the chosen fuel. Marsh was in something of a dilemma when his Morris elected to spew out the precious fluid after the high speed stuff. 

No results were available to meet this “stop-press” story but we hope to tell you below who owns the 1980 version of the ideal all-round fast touring car (last year it was Conway’s Type 43 Bogard and I don’t think anyone can quibble witb that) and to append those interesting ¼-mile times. W.B.