One Man's Pom

It is not often that cars ranging in age from the Edwardian period through to the present day, in character from the highly specialised sports racing machine to the family car or in construction from the home built special to the mass produced, have the chance to compete against each other on theoretically equal terms. But that is just what happens at the VSCCs “Pomeroy Memorial Trophy Competition”, Pom for short, where the only common factor between the competing cars is an engine capacity of over 1950 c.c., although even this is not a hard and fast rule as an exemption is made to allow pre-1931 cars of over 1495 c.c. to enter. Supercharged or turbocharged car are deemed to have their capacity increased by one third.

The history behind the Pom is long and complicated, having its roots in the pre-war years when Laurence Pomeroy Junior and Sam Clutton conjured with the idea of a handicap formula to compare the relative merits of touring cars from different periods. Their schemes were put into abeyance during the hostilities, but a plan was published in 1946, outlining a composite competition for the trophy which had been presented to the Club in memory of Laurence Pomeroy Senior who had died early in 1941. Fuel restrictions made it impossible to run the event straight away, and the first few recipients of the very fine model 1914 Vauxhall racing car, perhaps Pomeroy Senior’s greatest design, were chosen on merit. However, by 1952, the fuel problems were coming to an end, and the first Pom was run partly at Silverstone and partly on the roads of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire over a weekend in March of that year. The winner, appropriately enough, was a 30/98 Vauxhall, driven by Peter Binns.

Over the years, the format of the event has been evolving into the competition as it is today, a one-day meeting, taking place entirely at Silverstone, comprising tests designed to measure steering/handling, braking, acceleration, top speed and reliability. Many of the cars which enter nowadays hardly rank as “touring cars”, but all must be road registered and taxed. The handicap formulae have evolved with the event, but it would take a full article to explain the details: it is sufficient to say that each car is handicapped in proportion to the engine capacity and the year of manufacture and in inverse proportion to the size of the passenger compartment. We thought it would be both instructive and entertaining to see how the staff 3-litre Capri would do, despite the knowledge that all the elements in the handicap formula would tell against it.

Preparation of the car (which has now done 10,000 miles of trouble free motoring since the viscous coupling in the fan was replaced at its first service) was very simple. Apart from checking the car over very carefully, there was only the small matter of rigging a return spring to operate directly on the throttle spindle before presenting it for scrutineering at a very wet Silverstone. This hurdle over, headlamps taped and numbers in position, there was time to observe some of the opposition.

Most noticeable car by far was Adrian Liddell’s Straker Squire which just scrapes into the Edwardian period, being accepted as of 1918 manufacture. As reported last month, Adrian has repainted the car in the Zebra stripes it wore when racing at Brooklands in Kensington Moir’s hands in the early 1920s – the story goes that Kensington Moir’s fiancée knitted him a pair of socks with black and white stripes and a red heel and he decided to paint the car to match. Adrian has replaced the radiator cowl, had undertrays to the original pattern made, and ensured that the stripes are exactly as they were, ending at the tail in a red roundel. The only other Edwardian entry was Nigel Arnold-Forster’s chain-drive Bugatti which was having an oil pipe repaired – this had broken on the journey up to Silverstone, and unfortunately the repair delayed Nigel so much that he was unable to take part in the first two tests. At the other end of the scale, there were no more than three cars from the 1980s – the Capri, Barry Price’s Lea-Francis tourer, built round a Jaguar engine, and an Elford Mazda Turbo, similar to the one described in the November 1980 issue of Motor Sport but on this occasion fitted with Pirelli P7 tyres and driven by Wyn Percy – yes, the 1980 winner of the RAC Group 1 Championship. In between? Examples of Bentley, Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, Frazer Nash, BMW, Jaguar, Ferrari, AC, Alvis, Fiat, Morgan, Porsche and others.

The first test took place on the club straight, using wide concrete verges on each side, and was in the form of an elongated and exaggerated slalom. It is designed to be a measure of a car’s handling and road-holding, and is timed. Fastest, by a long margin, at 20.87 seconds was Percy in the Elford Mazda, using his considerable experience to take every advantage from the P7 tyres. His run was noticeably faster than anyone else, and the P7’s appeared to keep the car glued to the slippery concrete round the bollards at speeds where other vehicles would have spun like tops. Only one other competitor got below 22 seconds, and that was Robin Rew in his turbocharged AC 3000 ME. There were plenty in the 22 second bracket, including Rex Kettell’s Porsche 924, which somehow contrived to spin along the finishing straight, damaging the timing gear. Chris Mann was using Stephen Griswold’s Monza Alfa Romeo, recently back on the road after a long sojourn in a museum, and was complaining of a misfire, thought to have been caused by filth in the fuel system – despite this, he managed a very creditable 23.77 seconds, but fastest pre-war time went to Roddy Macpherson in his 328 BMW with 23.13 sec. The Capri managed 23.76 seconds, almost exactly the same time as David Bowles’ XK 120 Jaguar and rather faster than John Murch’s AC Cobra, although nowhere near Paul Channon’s rather hot version of this make which managed 21.93 sec.

The steering test is followed by a very simple braking test – cars are timed from a flying start to their front wheels crossing the first line of a 20’ box but the time only counts if the car comes to a complete stop with its front wheels in that box. It was widely predicted that there would be significant numbers of over-shoots on the damp track, but in the end only six failures were recorded from the entry of 60 or so.

Fastest time here was shared by Mary Lindsay in her Plus 8 Morgan with Channon, both recording 4.7 seconds, and the only other competitor to get below 5 seconds was Ian Benthall’s amazing Mk. VI Bentley special with 4.9 secs. There were four other competitors faster than the Capri (which managed 5.3 secs.), Percy, eventual winner Roger Joice in his Le Mans Coupe Frazer Nash, Price and Ken Maddox’ 246 GT Dino Ferrari all on 5.2 secs. Fastest pre-war car was Michael Barker in the Midland Motor Museum’s 328 BMW on 5.3 secs.

The acceleration and the top speed tests are run together in the form of a standing quarter-mile followed by a flying quarter-mile followed by a flying quarter. Cars are started at the Woodcote end of the Club Straight, and so standing quarter times are somewhat divorced from those which might be quoted in contemporaries. Fastest on the acceleration test, by a very long way, was Channon with 13.45 sec., next was Rew with 14.83 sec. and Murch with 14.59 sec. in the 246 GT Dino, while Frank Wall, who was using his 206 GT, was rather slower with 17.73 sec., a fraction slower than the Capri’s 17.69 sec. Benthall’s Bentley special put up a very creditable 15.73 sec. and Ivan Dutton’s 2002 Turbo BMW was very impressive with 16.26 sec. Fastest pre-war car was Victor Gauntlett’s supercharged 4¼-litre Bentley Special with 17.27 sec., but particularly noteworthy was the 20.59 sec. achieved by Chris Chilcott in his 1926 1½-litre Frazer Nash.

Channon was again fastest over the flying quarter, with a time of 7.31 sec., a whole second faster than his nearest rivals, Rew at 8.56 sec. and Murch with 8.63 sec. No-one else broke nine seconds, although Tony Bianchi’s very hot looking E-Type Jaguar came close with 9.03 sec. Moore’s Lancia Stratos looked very ferocious, but could not do better than 9.27 sec., a time bettered by David Green’s E-type, quite standard looking, and Maddox who shared 9.17 sec. The Capri’s time of 10.29 was beaten by Gauntlett, the fastest for the pre-war brigade, with 10.06 sec., but was 0.3 sec. slower than Wall’s Ferrari and 0.2 sec. slower than Percy in the Mazda. Dutton achieved 9.35 sec., showing just what an effective weapon the 2002 Turbo makes, this car being five years ahead of the current turbo trend. Horton’s time of 11.3 sec. is very impressive for a 1928 car, just as Arnold-Forster’s 12.48 sec. is for 1912, these two beating many cars from the post-war era. Bob Jones was somewhat disappointed with his 9.76 sec. in the ex-Briggs Cunningham Lister-Jaguar, but as he had only completed his seven year rebuild of this famous car that morning, it was quite an achievement.

After the lunch break, the cars are tested for reliability: something of a euphemism for a 40 minute thrash round the Club circuit. Each car is given a set number of laps to cover, calculated from the handicap, and drivers are penalised for stopping, spinning and for each lap short of target. In the dry, only very poor touring cars fail to reach their set number of laps, in the wet, things can be quite exciting, as no allowance is made for weather condition. Target laps ranged from 21 for Liddell and Chilcott at one end of the scale to 32 for David Hescroff’s turbocharged AC 3000 ME. The entry was split into two groups, the first being for pre-war and slower post-war cars, which had to do up to 26 laps. In this first session, James Briscoe was first to demonstrate that his car was unreliable: having started off on top ratio, due to selection problems on the GN-Ford special, he pulled off after a couple of very sideways laps with ominous noises emanating from the chain transmission. A number of competitors were short of target, and Simon Phillips had to stop briefly with his 328 BMW, losing ten points and the Pom Trophy in the process.

It was in the second session, however, that competitors were in trouble with no less than 15 the 30 cars failing to reach target. It says a great deal for Channon that he manged to complete a full 31 laps in the allowed time, during which he lapped most others cars at least three times.

Results always used to take a team of three or four people nearly a whole day to compute, but with the advent of programmable pocket calculators, Colin Ayre and his wife published results within half an hour of the end of a most enjoyable event and declared Roger Joice’s 1953 Le Mans Coupe Frazer Nash the winner. A brief look at the results, below, shows that the handicap formula must have something in it, for the award winners, like the competing cars, have nothing noticeable in common. – P.H.J.W.